A dreamy Irish romance that will warm your heart and show you that it's never too late for a second chance. For fans of Debbie Macomber, Sheila O'Flanagan and Mary Alice Monroe.
In the tiny village of Sandy Cove in Ireland, Ella Caron is trying to recover. When she moved from Paris to a beautiful coastguard cottage on the sea, she wanted peace and quiet and the space to grieve after her mother's death. She never imagined that her mother's eccentric best friend Lucille would insist on moving in to keep her company. With Lucille by her side, Ella finds herself laughing more than she has in years and it soon becomes clear that Lucille has her own reasons for coming to Sandy Cove: she wants Ella to help her move to her own little cottage by the sea. But then Lucille's son Rory comes to town and her dream is under threat: he wants her in Tipperary, where she can safely grow old in their family home. As Ella and Rory get closer, sharing a moment under the stars that feels meant to be, Ella finds herself caught between the man she is falling for and the loyalty she has to Lucille. Ella knows that she must convince Lucille to tell her family the truth, but it may force them to leave her and Sandy Cove for good…
Release date: August 31, 2021
Print pages: 273
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The Lost Secret of Ireland
Ella was still recovering from a fracture. She had fallen from a ladder while putting the final touches to an eight-foot mural in one of Killarney’s biggest hotels. It was a huge seascape with many details, especially of birds and clouds that were tricky to paint. She had concentrated so hard on getting it right that she hadn’t paid attention, even when the rickety ladder started to wobble. Before she could do anything to save herself, she had crashed to the ground and been unable to move until the ambulance arrived taking her to hospital. That had been two months ago. Now she was sitting on the terrace of her cottage in Sandy Cove, looking out over the ocean, the early morning sun casting a golden glow on the glittering sea. She could see a small fishing boat with a red hull approaching the harbour and wondered what kind of catch they were bringing in. Had the nets been full of hake and cod, ready for the market? Or maybe they had caught some monkfish as well, which might be on the menu at the little seafood restaurant in the village that evening. She thought longingly of a night out there with friends when her phone rang.
Startled out of her musings, she picked it up. ‘Hello?’ she said, her voice a little faint.
‘Hello, Ella,’ Lucille said. ‘How are you?’
The familiar voice made Ella sit up. Lucille called Ella occasionally but they hadn’t been in touch much lately. ‘Hello, Lucille,’ she said. ‘How nice to hear from you.’
‘Sorry for not calling sooner,’ Lucille said. ‘But I’ve been a little busy. And I didn’t want to disturb you while you were recovering. But I hope you’re beginning to feel better by now?’
‘Yes. I’m making fairly good progress,’ Ella said. ‘I’ll be off the crutches in a week or two. How about you? Are you well?’
‘No. Getting worse,’ Lucille said darkly. ‘I can’t hack this living on my own much longer. It’s very boring.’
‘I know,’ Ella said, feeling sorry for Lucille. She and Ella’s mother Rose had lived together in Lucille’s huge Georgian mansion in Tipperary for over five years. When Rose had sadly passed away two years ago she’d left Lucille to live on her own. It had to be very hard to get used to being all alone after so long. ‘You must miss Mum very much.’
‘Yes, I do. Terribly. Nobody to argue with and no more giggles.’
‘You and Mum were such close friends,’ Ella said. ‘Closer than anyone I know. It doesn’t surprise me that it’s taking some getting used to.’
‘Yes.’ Lucille sighed. ‘That’s why I’m calling you. Just for a little chat, really. And a suggestion. Do you have time to listen?’
‘Of course,’ Ella said. ‘Go ahead,’ she continued, her heart going out to Lucille as she heard the sadness in her voice.
Poor thing, she must be so sad and lonely, Ella thought. Lucille and Rose had both been widows when they’d moved in together. They had been friends since childhood but had lost touch when they both graduated. But they had met up again at a class reunion over five years ago and had rekindled their friendship. Lucille had lost her husband fifteen years earlier and Rose had just become a widow after the death of Manfred, Ella’s father, and was trying to cope with her loss.
Fed up with living alone, Lucille had suggested that Rose move in with her, which had been a huge relief to Ella, who, as an only child, was the sole carer for her mother at the time. With Lucille as companion, Rose was no longer on her own and the two women cared for and supported each other, which gave Ella the freedom she craved as an artist. She had moved into the cottage in Kerry she had just bought, where she was inspired by the stunning scenery of the sea and mountains. It also allowed her to travel to Paris when she wanted, where her paintings were often exhibited and sold to lovers of dramatic seascapes. Her other career as the illustrator of children’s books also took off as the little village and its surroundings gave her the peace she needed for her work. It was the perfect guilt-free resolution for her, to see her mother living with Lucille.
Lucille and Rose were happy together for around five years and rural life in Tipperary seemed to suit Rose, who loved animals and gardening. They had three dogs, two cats and a flock of hens. Ella would visit and would always be pleased to see her mother enjoying life again after the death of her husband. It all seemed so perfect and peaceful that Ella began to believe this would last, if not forever, for a long time to come anyway. But then, just as Ella was about to travel to Paris for an exhibition of her paintings, she got the news that Rose had died suddenly.
‘Heart attack,’ Lucille had told Ella on the phone through tears. ‘So sorry, darling.’
‘Oh no,’ Ella whispered, her eyes welling up with tears.
‘She didn’t suffer,’ Lucille said in a soothing tone. ‘And you know, at our age, that’s a blessing.’
‘It’s not a blessing for me,’ Ella said and started to cry. ‘I can’t believe she’s gone, Lucille. Oh God, this is such a shock.’ Unable to say anything else, Ella had hung up. She had cried uncontrollably as it sank in that she would never see her mother again, never hear her voice or feel her arms around her. This was a terrible grief on top of everything else that had happened to her. Ella knew she would always miss her mother no matter how much time had passed. But deep down, she knew Lucille was right. Her mother would have hated to be a burden on anyone.
In the days that followed the news, Ella had remembered a saying of her mother’s: ‘I don’t mind dying, but I don’t want to be half-dead.’ She knew her mother didn’t want to be frail and dependent, that she’d want Ella to look on the bright side, as she always had. And when she spoke to Lucille about the funeral, Lucille agreed.
‘She’s in a better place now,’ Lucille said. ‘A much happier place, with your dad.’
‘That’s a nice thought, of course,’ Ella said. ‘But I hoped she might hang around a little longer.’
‘She hadn’t been that well lately,’ Lucille said. ‘She was very tired and our doctor thought she should go to see a specialist. But it was too late.’ Lucille sighed. ‘I’m rather cross with her, to tell you the truth. She left just like that, without saying goodbye.’
‘I’m so sorry for you,’ Ella said, holding back her tears, realising that Lucille was just as devastated to lose her friend.
‘There’s nobody like Rose,’ Lucille said with feeling.
‘But you have a family,’ Ella said, trying to console Lucille despite her own grief.
‘I suppose,’ Lucille said, sounding as if her family wouldn’t offer her much comfort.
Ella had often seen the two sons when she was at the house for weekend visits, and she hadn’t taken to the older one at all. But Rory, the younger of the two, had been more her type, despite his hot temper. He had always been ready to argue with Ella on any topic under the sun, which she had secretly enjoyed as their repartee was often just for fun. But she forgot about them while she and Lucille planned Rose’s funeral, which, with Lucille’s help, was beautiful but incredibly sad.
Now two years had passed, and Ella was recovering from something very different.
She’d fallen quite suddenly, and had been lucky that her injuries weren’t worse. After a week in hospital, she had spent two months in bed, as her doctor had ordered complete bed rest so, with the help of friends and neighbours, managed to survive the first horrible weeks. She had improved physically but not mentally. The memory of hitting the tiled floor in the hotel where she was painting the mural was still fresh in her mind, giving her nightmares and flashes of anxiety.
‘So you’re getting around now?’ Lucille asked.
‘On crutches, but yes, I’m feeling nearly human. I’m still quite weak, though, which is frustrating.’
‘You’re having physiotherapy?’ Lucille asked.
‘Yes, and it’s excruciating. But my physio says that two months in bed has atrophied my muscles and I need to work hard to get my strength back. You have no idea how broken I’ve felt.’
‘Is anyone looking after you at home?’ Lucille wanted to know.
‘Nobody is living here, but there’s a whole gang of friends in the village taking turns to help out. My lovely Dutch neighbour is on standby if I should take a turn during the night. It’s like having an army of nurses at my beck and call.’
‘Is that good or bad?’ Lucille asked.
‘Uh… a bit of both, to be honest,’ Ella said, amused by how astute Lucille was. ‘There’s always someone walking into the house looking at me as if I’m completely helpless.’ Ella looked at her breakfast of bacon, eggs, soda bread, a bowl of chopped fruit and another with porridge. ‘And they’re feeding me like a battery hen. I’ll be as big as a house if I eat everything they give me. Honestly,’ Ella muttered into the phone, ‘it’s getting on my nerves not to be able to manage on my own.’
‘How annoying,’ Lucille declared. ‘Especially for someone as independent as you. I know how you love your own space and being as free as a bird.’
Ella sighed. ‘Exactly. Everyone hovering around like this is hard for me. I know they mean well, and I should be grateful, but…’
‘I know,’ Lucille said, her voice full of sympathy. ‘But you know what? I think you need someone to actually live with you. Someone you’re not afraid to tell off, who will do what you want but leaves you alone at the same time.’
‘Sounds great,’ Ella said with a wishful sigh. ‘But where will I find such a person?’
‘Right here,’ Lucille stated. ‘I’m coming down to Kerry to look after you.’
‘What?’ Ella asked, alarmed. Although she loved Lucille dearly, she was also rather eccentric – always up to something. ‘When?’
‘Right now,’ Lucille said. ‘I’ll be there tomorrow, so then you can call off the troops.’
‘But I…’ Ella protested. ‘I mean, I don’t think…’
‘No ifs or buts,’ Lucille said sternly. ‘I’m already packing. I know you have a guest room, and I’ll make my own bed and so on. I do have a little trouble getting upstairs, but I’ll manage.’
‘There’s a stairlift,’ Ella said, despite wanting to put Lucille off. ‘The one I put in for Mum. It came in handy after the accident but I was going to have it dismantled when I get back to normal.’
‘Perfect,’ Lucille chanted. ‘See you tomorrow, then,’ she said and hung up before Ella had a chance to say anything else.
Ella groaned and put her phone on the table.
‘What’s wrong?’ someone said behind her.
Ella turned and discovered her neighbour Saskia standing in the doorway with a teapot. ‘Nothing much, except I seem to have a new nurse coming to look after me. My mother’s friend Lucille.’
Saskia put the teapot on the table and sat down on the chair next to Ella. ‘But isn’t that great?’
‘It would be if it weren’t an arthritic eighty-five-year-old woman with attitude.’
‘Oh,’ Saskia said. ‘That could be tricky.’
‘To put it mildly. She’s already busy packing her things, whatever those are.’
‘How is she getting here?’ Saskia asked, sweeping her mane of black hair out of her eyes.
‘She’s driving, God help us,’ Ella said with an exasperated sigh. ‘She has this old Volvo estate that she drives all over the country to visit people. Don’t know how she manages to pass the medical tests, but she does.’
‘She must be in good nick then,’ Saskia remarked, lifting the teapot. ‘More tea?’
‘No thanks,’ Ella said, pushing away her plate. ‘And thanks for the huge breakfast, but it was a little too much for me.’
‘Yes, it would be for someone whose breakfast usually consists of black coffee and a croissant,’ Saskia said with a touch of scorn in her voice. ‘You picked up some bad habits in France.’
‘Oh, I know. But at least I don’t smoke a Gauloises first thing, like my ex-husband,’ Ella said, with a pang of nostalgia as she remembered those three tempestuous years of marriage in Paris with Jean-Paul. ‘But I liked the smell of them, I have to admit. Even now if ever anyone smokes one of those, it takes me right back to Paris, if you know what I mean.’
Saskia nodded. ‘I know what you mean about certain smells. It can be like a time machine. If I smell pickled herring, I’m back in Holland eating maatjes in springtime when I was young. My ex used to love them. But that was a long time ago.’
‘Do you think you might start dating again if you meet someone you fancy?’ Ella asked.
Saskia waved her hand. ‘No, I don’t think I will. I like my peaceful life.’
‘I don’t,’ Ella said with an impatient sigh. ‘I can’t wait to be mobile again so I can get back to painting. And I wouldn’t mind meeting a dishy man with whom I can be desperately unhappy.’
‘You have to try to find someone who’s nice,’ Saskia remarked.
‘Nice men are less interesting.’
‘But more loyal. Why don’t you try to eat more?’
Ella looked apologetically at Saskia. ‘I managed to finish the porridge, but the eggs and bacon were too much for me. Sorcha doesn’t give me such a big breakfast.’
‘I got the morning shift today,’ Saskia said as if she had drawn the shortest straw.
Ella let out a laugh. ‘You two took this on as some kind of mission. With Brian as a backup.’
‘Brian is a nice man,’ Saskia remarked. ‘And single,’ she added, waggling her black eyebrows.
‘I wouldn’t inflict myself on him. I’m sure our local vet has more important concerns than looking after me. You have all been so amazingly kind,’ Ella added. ‘This way I can recuperate at home and don’t need to be in a hospital, which would have been awful.’
‘Well, this is what we do around here,’ Saskia stated. ‘I have to say I like it. In my country, you would still have been in hospital. Dutch people aren’t as helpful and kind as in this part of the world.’
‘It’s unique to this village,’ Ella agreed.
‘That’s true,’ Saskia said. ‘I hope my new neighbours will be as helpful.’
‘You have new neighbours?’ Ella asked, sitting up.
Saskia nodded. ‘Yes. Jason is letting his house for the summer. He and Lydia are moving in together now that Lydia’s daughter has finished school and is going abroad for a gap year before she starts university.’
‘Oh. I missed this news. I’m glad Jason and Lydia are finally going to live together. They were dithering about it long enough.’ It was true. Jason and Lydia’s love story was well known in the village. Lydia had arrived at the little coastguard station and moved into the cottage she had inherited from her great aunt two years ago after the death of her husband. Jason had helped and supported her through the first hard year and they had fallen in love but had been living in separate houses until now.
‘Oh yes, me too. They seem very happy to be together at last.’
‘Who’s the new neighbour then?’
‘I haven’t met them yet. But I plan to knock on their door once they’re settled and introduce myself,’ Saskia declared. ‘And once you’re a bit more mobile, I’ll do a coffee morning for them or something and we’ll all get to know each other.’
‘I’ll be more mobile very soon,’ Ella promised. ‘I know it’s been hard work to look after me. Especially the first few weeks.’
‘It hasn’t been too bad,’ Saskia said. ‘Except that you’ve been a little bit cranky at times. Understandable but from this end, it can be irritating.’
‘I know,’ Ella said, feeling a dart of guilt. ‘I’m sorry about that.’
‘Oh, that’s okay,’ Saskia soothed. ‘Now that your mother’s friend is coming, we can relax a bit.’
‘I wouldn’t be too sure,’ Ella muttered. ‘She might cause more trouble than we think.’
‘At her age? Would she have the energy?’
‘You don’t know Lucille,’ Ella said.
Saskia laughed and started to clear the table. ‘I’m dying to meet her.’
‘You won’t have to wait long,’ Ella said, thinking of the conversation with Lucille. She suddenly felt puzzled at Lucille’s sudden decision to take off from the house that she loved so much. Was it simply loneliness? Or something to do with her two sons? Some kind of family row? Ella thought of the sons and how they hadn’t been very supportive about her mother moving in. Martin, the elder, had been stiffly polite to her on many occasions. He seemed suspicious of both her and her mother, and Ella had wondered if it had to do with the size of Lucille’s house with several hundred acres attached and possibly quite a lot of money in the bank. And what about Rory? Good-looking, but moody, she had thought when they first met. There was a touch of resentment behind his teasing Ella all the time. Or maybe he was jealous? Ella had been quite puzzled by his behaviour towards her when they often clashed and sniped at each other. And now Lucille was coming here to look after Ella. What would her sons think of that?
‘I’ll put these in the dishwasher before I leave,’ Saskia said as she started to walk into the house with the remains of Ella’s breakfast.
‘Thanks,’ Ella said and heaved herself up with the help of the crutches. ‘I’ll go and do my physio exercises and then I’ll do some sketching for the new children’s book I’ve been commissioned to illustrate. Lovely story about a little girl who meets a lost bear in the forest and she helps him find his way home. There are a lot of wild animals in the forest that the little girl makes friends with. And then she discovers how climate change is threatening their habitat. It’s meant to teach kids how they can do little things to contribute to saving the planet. Beautifully told, I have to say.’
‘Sounds lovely,’ Saskia agreed over her shoulder and then disappeared indoors.
‘Yes,’ Ella said to herself when she was alone again. ‘It’s a lovely story. But how will I draw it so it appeals to children?’
Ella adored children and the fact that she hadn’t been able to have any was the greatest sorrow of her life. She had always dreamed of having a family, but that dream had been dashed when during her marriage she’d endured several miscarriages. The road she had taken to try to build a family had been painful and eventually she had given up. It was all just too hard on her. And her marriage, which had been a last-ditch attempt at building a family. She and Jean-Paul had finally divorced as a result of their failure to conceive. That was five years ago, which seemed like only yesterday sometimes.
After the divorce, she had directed all of her energy into her art and her illustrations. Painting had been her first love and she had carved out a successful career in France as her paintings sold well there. Illustration had been just a sideline until now, when she found herself unable to stand at an easel for long. The children’s books she had worked on before had been easy, requiring quite traditional artwork, but this one was special as it would convey an important message and teach children about the importance of protecting the environment. It was quite a challenge and one she wasn’t sure she could meet in her weakened state.
Ella had found that her mental energy had suffered as a result of her accident and she didn’t feel the usual enthusiasm for her commission. But she had to try; her contract demanded it and she needed the income as her painting work had stalled – she wouldn’t be paid for the mural in the hotel in Killarney until she finished it. But how could she? The thought of getting on that ladder again made her feel sick with fear. The trauma of the accident, the pain and the horrible sensation of her body being broken were still so vivid. She would probably never recover from that. Someone else would have to finish the mural, someone with more courage than her, and perhaps b. . .
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