Read an Excerpt
So, here she was at last. Saffi stretched her limbs and walked across the grass to the clifftop railing, where she stood and looked out over the bay. After several hours on the coach, it was good to be out in the fresh air once more.
From here she could see the quay, where fishermen stacked their lobster pots and tended their nets, and for a while she watched the brightly coloured pleasure boats and fishing craft as they tossed gently on the water. Seagulls flew overhead, calling to one another as they soared and dived in search of tasty tidbits.
In the distance, whitewashed cottages nestled amongst the tree-clad hills, where crooked paths twisted and turned on their way down to the harbour. This little corner of Devon looked idyllic. It was so peaceful, so perfect.
If only she could absorb some of that tranquillity. After all, wasn't that why she was here, the reason she had decided to leave everything behind, everything that had represented safety and security in her life-even though in the end that security had turned out to be something of a sham?
A small shiver of panic ran through her. Was she doing the right thing? How could she know what lay ahead? Had she made a big mistake in coming here?
She pulled in a shaky breath, filling her lungs with sea air, and then let it out again slowly, trying to calm herself. She'd been living in Hampshire for the last few years, but this place ought to be familiar to her, or so she'd been told, and it was, in a way, in odd fragments of memory that drifted through her brain, lingered for a moment, and then dissolved in mist as quickly as they'd come.
'Perhaps it's what you need,' her solicitor had said, shuffling the freshly signed papers into a neat bundle and sliding them into a tray on his desk. 'It might do you some good to go back to the place where you spent your childhood. You could at least give it a try.'
'Yes, maybe you're right.'
Now the warm breeze stirred, gently lifting her honey-gold hair and she turned her face towards the sun and felt its caress on her bare arms. Maybe its heat would somehow manage to thaw the chill that had settled around her heart these last few months.
A lone seagull wandered close by, pecking desultorily in the grass, searching for anything edible among the red fescue and the delicate white sea campion. He kept an eye on her, half cautious, half hopeful.
She smiled. 'I'm afraid I don't have any food for you,' she said softly. 'Come to think of it, I haven't actually had anything myself since breakfast.' That seemed an awfully long time ago now, but she'd been thinking so hard about what lay ahead that everything else, even food, had gone from her mind. Not that forgetfulness was unusual for her these days.
'Thanks for reminding me,' she told the bird. 'I should go and find some lunch. Perhaps if you stop by here another day I might have something for you.'
She felt brighter in herself all at once. Coming here had been a big decision for her to make, but it was done. She was here now, and maybe she could look on this as a new beginning.
She moved away from the railing, and glanced around. Her solicitor had made arrangements for her to be met at the Seafarer Inn, which was just across the road from here. It was an attractive-looking building, with lots of polished mahogany timbers decorating the ground-floor frontage and white-painted rendering higher up. There were window-boxes filled with crimson geraniums and trailing surfinias in shades of pink and cream, and in front, on the pavement, there were chalkboards advertising some of the meals that were on offer.
There was still more than half an hour left before her transport should arrive, plenty of time for her to get some lunch and try to gather her thoughts.
She chose a table by a window, and went over to the bar to place her order. 'I'm expecting a Mr Flynn to meet me here in a while,' she told the landlord, a cheerful, friendly man, who was busy polishing glasses with a clean towel. 'Would you mind sending him over to me if he asks?' 'I'll see to it, love. Enjoy your meal.'
The solicitor had told her Mr Flynn had been acting as caretaker for the property these last few months. 'He'll give you the keys and show you around. I think he's probably a semi-retired gentleman who's glad to help out. He seems very nice, anyway. When I wrote and told him you don't drive at the moment he offered to come and pick you up.'
So now all she had to do was wait. There was a fluttery feeling in her stomach, but she went back to her table and sat down. She felt conspicuous at first, being here in a bar full of strangers, but now that she was tucked away in the corner she felt much more comfortable, knowing that she was partially shielded by a mahogany lattice.
For her meal, she'd chosen a jacket potato with cheese and a side salad, and she had only just started to eat when a shadow fell across her table. She quickly laid down her fork and looked up to see a man standing there.
Her eyes widened. Was this Mr Flynn?
He wasn't at all what she'd been expecting, and her insides made a funny kind of flipover in response.
Her first impression was that he was in his early thirties, tall, around six feet, and good looking, with strong, angular features and a crop of short, jet-black hair. He was definitely no elderly caretaker, and seeing such a virile young man standing there came as a bit of a shock.
He, in turn, was studying her thoughtfully, a half-smile playing around his mouth, but as his dark grey glance met hers it occurred to her that there was a faintly guarded look about him.
'Yes.' She gave him a fleeting smile. 'You must be You're not quite what I expected um, you must be Mr Flynn ?'
He frowned, giving her a wary, puzzled glance. 'That's right. Matt Flynn.' There was an odd expression around his eyes and in the slight twist to his mouth as he watched her. He waited a few seconds and then, when she stayed silent, he seemed to brace his shoulders and said in a more businesslike fashion, 'Your solicitor wrote to me. He said you wanted to look over the Moorcroft property.'
'I Yes, that's right ' She hesitated, suddenly unsure of herself. 'I was hoping I um ' She glanced unseeingly at the food on her plate. 'I uh ' She looked up at him once more. 'I didn't mean to keep you waiting. Do you want to leave right away?'
He shook his head. 'No, of course not- not at all. I'm early-go on with your meal, please.' He seemed perplexed, as though he was weighing things up in his mind, but she couldn't imagine what was going on in his head. Something was obviously bothering him.
'Actually,' he said, after a moment or two, 'I'm quite hungry myself. Do you mind if I join you?' He smiled properly then, the corners of his eyes crinkling, his mouth making a crooked shape. 'The food here's very good. The smell of it's tantalising as soon as you walk in the door.'
'Yes, it is.' She began to relax a little and waved him towards a chair. 'Please have a seat.'
'Okay. I'll just go and order, and be back with you in a minute or two.'
Saffi nodded and watched him as he walked to the bar. His long legs were clad in denim and he was wearing a T-shirt that clung to his chest and emphasised his muscular arms and broad shoulders, causing an unbidden quiver of awareness to clutch at her stomach. Her heart was thudding heavily.
It was strange, acknowledging that she could have such feelings. For so long now it had seemed she'd been going through life on autopilot, stumbling about, trying to cope, and feeling her way through a maze of alien situations. She didn't know where men fitted into all that.
He came back to the table and sat down opposite her, placing a half-pint glass of lager on the table. He studied her thoughtfully. 'Your solicitor said you've been mulling over your options concerning Jasmine Cottage. Are you planning on staying there for a while?' He looked around. 'Only I don't see any luggage, except for a holdall.'
'No, that's right, I'm having it sent on. I thought it would be easier that way. There's quite a lot of stuff-I'll be staying for a while until I make up my mind what to do whether to sell up or stay on.'
'Uh-huh.' There was a note of curiosity in his voice as he said, 'I suppose it would have been easier for you if you had a car, but your solicitor said you sold it a few weeks ago?'
'I Yes. I was I ' She faltered momentarily. 'It was involved in a rearend collision and I had it repaired and decided I didn't need a car any more. I lived quite near to the hospital where I worked.'
It was a fair enough excuse, and she didn't want to go into the reasons why she had suddenly lost her confidence behind the wheel. All sorts of daily activities had become a challenge for her in the last few months.
'Ah, I see at least, I think I do.' He gave her a long, considering look. 'Are you worried about driving for some reason?'
He hadn't believed her lame excuse. She winced. 'Perhaps. A bit. Maybe.' She hoped he wasn't going to ask her any more about it.
He sat back for a moment as the waitress brought his meal, a succulent gammon steak and fries. He was quiet, absorbed in his own thoughts, as though he was troubled by something. Whatever it was, he appeared to cast it aside when the girl had left and said, 'Are you planning on working at a hospital here in Devon?' He sliced into the gammon with his knife.
She shook her head. 'No, at least, not right away. I'm going to take a break for a while.'
It still bothered her that she had to say that, and as she lifted her iced drink to her lips she was dismayed to see that her hand shook a little. She put the glass down and took a deep breath, hoping that he hadn't noticed. 'What about you what do you do? I'm guessing you're not a semi-retired caretaker, as my solicitor suggested.'
A variety of conflicting emotions crossed his face and Saffi gazed at him uncertainly. He seemed taken aback, somehow, by her question.
His dark brows lifted and his mouth made an ironic twist. After a moment, he said, 'No, actually, caretaking is just a minor part of my week. I'm an A and E doctor, and when I'm not on duty at the hospital I'm on call as a BASICS physician, weekends and evenings mostly.'
Her eyes grew large. 'Oh, I see. We have something in common, then, working in emergency medicine.'
Being a BASICS doctor meant he worked in Immediate Care, as someone who would attend injured people at the roadside, or wherever they happened to be. These doctors usually worked on a voluntary basis, so it was up to the individual doctor if they wanted to take a call.
'Yes, we do.' He nodded, and then looked her over once more, a sober expression on his face. He seemed resigned almost. 'You don't remember me at all, do you?'
Saffi's jaw dropped in consternation. 'Remember you? Should I?' No wonder his manner had seemed so strange. Her stomach was leaden. So much for a new beginning. Even here it seemed she had come face to face with her vulnerabilities. 'Have we met before?'
'Oh, yes. We have.' He said it in a confident, firm voice and she floundered for a second or two, thrown on to the back foot. Of course there would be people here she had known in the past.
'I'm sorry.' She sent him a worried glance. 'Perhaps it was some time ago?' She was desperately hoping that his answer would smooth away any awful gaffe on her part.
'We worked together at a hospital in London.'
'Oh.' Anxiety washed over her. 'Perhaps you were working in a different specialty to me?'
He nodded. 'That's true, I was working in the trauma unit. But I definitely remember you. How could I forget?' His glance moved over her face, taking in the soft blush of her cheeks and the shining hair that fell in a mass of soft curls around her face. His eyes darkened as though he was working through some unresolved torment.
She exhaled slowly, only then realising that she'd been holding her breath. 'What were the chances that we would run into each other again here in Devon?' she said, trying to make light of things, but she looked at him with troubled blue eyes.
'I guess it was bound to happen some time. After all, we both knew your aunt, didn't we? That's another thing we have in common, isn't it?'
She hesitated. 'Is it? I I don't know,' she said at last on a brief sigh. He'd taken the trouble to come here, and said they knew one another-perhaps she owed him some kind of explanation.
'The thing is, Matt, something happened to me a few months ago there was an accident, and I ended up with a head injury. I don't remember exactly what went on, only that I woke up in hospital and everything that had gone before was a blank.'
He made a sharp intake of breath. 'I'm sorry.' He shook his head as though he was trying to come to terms with what she had told him. 'Your solicitor mentioned you had some problems with your memory, but I'd no idea it was so profound.' He reached for her, cupping his hand over hers. 'What kind of accident was it? Don't you remember anything at all?'
'Not much.' His hand was warm and comforting, enveloping hers. He was a complete stranger to her, and yet she took heart from that instinctive, compassionate action.
'They told me I must have fallen down the stairs and banged my head. I shared a house with another girl-my flat was on the upper floor-and apparently my friend found me when she came home at the end of her shift at the hospital. She called for an ambulance, and they whisked me away to Accident and Emergency.'
She went over the events in her mind. 'It turned out I had a fractured skull. The emergency team looked after me, and after that it was just a question of waiting for the brain swelling to go down, so that they could assess the amount of neurological damage I had been left with. I was lucky, in a way, because there's been no lasting physical harm-nothing that you can see.' She gave a brief smile. 'Except for my hair, of course. It used to be long and shoulder length, but they had to shave part of my head.'
'Your hair looks lovely. It suits you like that.'