The new witty and warm novel from the Sunday Times best-selling author and TV presenter, Fern Britton.
Secrets. Sisters. The summer that changed everything . . .
Life in the Cornish village of Pendruggan isn’t always picture perfect. Penny Leighton has never told anyone why she’s estranged from her mother and sister. For years she’s kept her family secrets locked away in her heart, but they’ve been quietly eating away at her. When an unwelcome visitor blows in, Penny is brought face to face with the past. And a postcard, tucked away in a long-hidden case, holds the truth that could change everything.
Young Ella has come back to the place where she spent a happy childhood with her grandmother. Now she’s here to search for everything missing in her life. Taken under Penny’s broken wing for the summer, the safe haven of Pendruggan feels like the place for a fresh start. Soon, however, Ella starts to wonder if perhaps her real legacy doesn’t lie in the past at all.
The following morning Simon crept out of bed and left Penny snoring quietly. She hadn’t been sleeping well at all since Jenna had arrived, but she always refused his offer to share the night-time feeds. He knew how tired he was with a baby in the house, so goodness knows how tired she was. Simon stood on the landing and looked through its curtainless window. From here, in the winter before the trees were in leaf, you could just see the sea at Shellsand Bay. The waning moon was low in the sky and spilling its silver stream onto the dark waves. It was so peaceful. He sent a prayer of gratitude for his wife, his daughter and his life.
Downstairs he put the kettle on and, while he waited for it to boil, he tidied up the previous day’s newspapers. Tomorrow was recycling day.
He enjoyed the order of recycling and was fastidious about doing it correctly. He opened the paper box. Someone – Penny presumably – had put a wine bottle in it. Swallowing his annoyance he picked it out, replacing it with the newspapers, then opened the box for glass. It was almost full. He counted eight wine bottles, not including the one in his hand. All were Penny’s favourite. He put the lid back on and stood up. So this was why Penny had been so moody. She was drinking.
She had always liked a drink. When they first met she had never been without a vodka in her hand. But she’d settled, and although enjoying the odd glass of wine, he had not seen her the worse for wear since she’d been pregnant with Jenna.
Upstairs, he woke her gently. ‘Coffee’s here, darling.’
Penny opened one eye. Her wavy hair was over her face and she pushed it out of the way as she sat up. ‘Thank you.’
‘How are you feeling?’ he asked.
She looked at him with suspicion. ‘Fine. How are you feeling?’
‘Good. Yes. Very good.’ How was he to broach this new and tricky subject? ‘Shall I buy some more wine today? I think we’re low on your – our – favourite.’
‘Are we? We polished off a bottle with the steak last night, I suppose.’
Simon thought back to last night. She had been halfway down a bottle of red wine by the time he got home. ‘Yes,’ he said carefully.
‘Well, if you’re passing the off-licence, get some.’ She took the coffee cup he was proffering.
He took a mouthful of his own coffee. ‘We seem to have got through the last lot of wine quite quickly. And you are still breast-feeding.’
She gave a heavy sigh. ‘Oh, I see. Are you lecturing me?’
‘It sounds like it.’ She put her cup down and got out of bed. ‘I need a pee – and, as it happens, an aspirin. I have a headache.’
He pushed his glasses a little further up his nose and looked at the carpet.
‘Don’t give me that attitude.’ She glared at him. ‘I have a headache, not a hangover.’
The morning followed its usual routine. Penny treated Simon with the cool indifference that had recently become second nature to her. (When had that habit started, she wondered.) And he trod round her as if on eggshells. Eventually he left the house to do God knew what and Penny saw to Jenna.
Jenna was washed and dressed, breakfasted, entertained and put down for her nap. She was overtired and it was making her silly and difficult. Penny checked her forehead. ‘Is it those naughty teeth?’ she asked. Jenna nodded her pink-cheeked face and a string of drool dribbled from her mouth. ‘Poor old Jen.’ Penny kissed her daughter’s damp head. ‘I’ll get the Calpol.’
Cuddled on Penny’s lap, Jenna suckled at Penny’s breast while keeping a sleepy eye on the picture book being read to her. She fell asleep before the end giving her mother a chance to drink in the sight, sound, and smell of her. The overwhelming love Penny had for Jenna hurt. It also filled her with a kind of panic. She had never been the maternal type and had honestly thought that she would never marry. She had had endless unsuitable affairs with glamorous and handsome men, not all of whom were single, but she hadn’t ever imagined falling in love with someone. Or someone falling in love with her. But both things had happened when she’d found Pendruggan, the ideal location for Mr Tibbs. She had been cruel to Simon when she’d first arrived, had thought him a parochial innocent, a drippy village vicar, wearing his vocation on his sleeve.
He had originally been keen on her best friend Helen,
who had just moved into the village. Penny had teased him, but Cupid had shot his arrows capriciously. The oddest of odd couples fell in love and were married. That was a miracle in itself, but Simon’s God had one more surprise for them. Jenna. Penny leant her head back on the Edwardian nursing chair and looked around the nursery: soft colours and peaceful, the Noah’s Ark night-light that the parishioners had presented to them on Jenna’s birth, the cot given to her by her godparents, Helen and Piran, the photograph of Penny’s father. How he would love his granddaughter. And next to his picture, legs dangling over the shelf, was her love-worn Sniffy, the bear her father had given her when she was a baby.
Penny shut her eyes for a moment and felt the familiar stab of grief. She missed her father every day. In her unsettled childhood he had meant everything to her, until he died. She spoke to him, ‘Daddy, look how lucky I am. Jenna, Simon, success.’ She felt her throat tighten. ‘Why aren’t I happy, Daddy? Can you help me to feel happy? Help me to be nicer to Simon? A good wife?’
Once Jenna was tucked into her cot, Penny felt drained; if the pile of laundry on the landing hadn’t been winking at her she’d have gone back to bed. The aspirin was working on her hangover but not her spirits. She heard the sound of raking from the garden and closed Jenna’s door. Looking out of the landing window she saw Simon, returned from wherever he’d been, raking leaves on the back lawn. His breath was steaming in the chill air. He looked happy creating neat piles. He stopped for a moment, aware of her gaze. He waved up at her. She waved back and debated whether to take him out a cup of tea as a peace offering.
She took the tea out to him and gave him a kiss.
‘What have I done to deserve this?’ he asked, pulling off his warm gloves.
‘It’s a thank you,’ she said. ‘And an apology. I am so sorry I’m being a cow to live with. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.’
He put an arm around her waist and hugged her. ‘You’re just a bit tired. We both are. Babies do that, apparently. You’ll be fine.’
‘Absolutely. By Christmas you’ll be as right as rain.’
Penny nuzzled into the comfort of Simon’s old gardening jumper. ‘I don’t want to hear the C word.’
Simon kissed the top of her head. ‘Well, there’s a few weeks to go yet and Jenna is old enough to sit up and enjoy it this year. You’ll bring her to the Nativity service, won’t you?’
‘Only if I can put her in the manger and leave her there.’ She looked at Simon to check his reaction. ‘Only joking. Of course I’ll bring her. She’ll enjoy seeing her daddy at work.’
Fern Britton is the highly acclaimed author of five Sunday Times bestselling novels. Her books are cherished for their warmth, wit and wisdom, and have won Fern legions of loyal readers.
A hugely popular household name through iconic shows such as This Morning, Fern is also a much sough-after presenter.
Fern is deeply committed to a number of charities, in particular the Genesis Research Trust. She lives with her husband, Phil Vickery, and her four children in Buckinghamshire and Cornwall.
To find out more, connect with her at www.fern-britton.com, @Fern Britton and facebook.com/officialfernbritton.