Read an Excerpt
Marigold Chance scrolled through the images on her digital camera with her thumb, and cringed. Of all the crimes against photography she had ever committed for her sister Rosa, of which there had been many, the past few hours had been a low point.
Mari might be forgiven for the portrait of the dry cleaner's miniature dachshund in a cute beaded princess sweater, or even the popcorn-puff hooded jacket Rosa had made for the hairdresser's Pekinese. But persuading the newsagent's fox terrier to pose with a knitted plaid waterproof raincoat with the name 'Lola' in gold chain stitch on the back was the last straw.
Her sister Rosa had a lot to answer for.
'Oh, you are such a genius.' Rosa grabbed the sleeve of Mari's coat and squealed so loudly that two elderly ladies in the street looked across in alarm. Mari gave them a smile and a small wave with the hand that was not firmly in the fierce grip of her sister, the budding internet entrepreneur, who was wrestling to see the back of the camera.
'Lola looks amazing. You see? I knew it would be useful to have an IT expert in the family one day. You told me how important it was to have great visuals on the website you made for me and now I have. It was hard work but so worth it.'
Mari snorted in reply and lifted the camera out of her sister's reach. 'You spent most of the time lying on the floor playing with the puppy and feeding her treats. I was the one doing the hard work.'
Rosa waggled her fingers at her dismissively. 'What can I say? Some of us are blessed with the creative touch. Animal models are hard to find in the world of Swanhaven pet fashion and Lola wasn't too keen on posing for more than a few seconds. I think bribery is acceptable in the circumstances. After all, it's not often my big sister has a chance to be a fashion photographer for the day. The least I could do was sacrifice my dignity in the name of your future career. You might need that extra line on your resume one day soon.'
Mari sighed and gave her head a quick shake. 'I should never have told you that my department is laying off technical staff. I'm fine. Seriously. There are lots of hardware engineers who want to take the package and do other things with their lives, but not me. I love what I'm doing and don't plan to change any time soon.'
'Urn.. fine. Right. Is that why you were looking for IT jobs around Swanhaven on the internet this morning?'
'Hey!' Mari play poked Rosa in the arm. 'Were you spying on me, young lady? I can see behind that sweet innocent face, you know.' Mari paused for a moment and decided to give Rosa a half version of the truth. 'I wanted to compare the freelance rates in dorset compared to California, that's all,' she replied with a smile and shrug. 'Things have certainly changed a lot in the years since I last lived here. Apparently there's Wi-Fi in the yacht club. Could this really be possible?'
And the moment the words had left her mouth, Mari instantly felt guilty about not telling her only sister the full truth. But she couldn't reveal her secret just yet, no matter how much she was looking forward to seeing the look on Rosa's face when she broke the news that she was buying back their childhood home. Rosa had been inconsolable when their little family of women had been evicted from the home where they'd once been so happy, and Mari knew how much she'd wanted to live there again.
But she couldn't even hint that the house could be theirs until she was certain that everything was in place.
Rosa was sensitive enough to pick up that Mari was worried about her job security and with good reason. Mari Chance had been the provider in this family since the age of sixteen, when their father had left and their mother floundered in grief and despair.
It had been Mari's decision to sacrifice her dreams of university so that she could leave school as soon as she could to work for a local business and become the breadwinner for Rosa and their mother. And she felt even more responsible now that Rosa was on her own and she had a high-flying job with a salary to make sure that Rosa was taken care of. Even if it did mean that they were aparther sister had to come first before anything that Mari wanted in her own life.
Rosa was the only person in Mari's life who she truly trusted but this was one time when she wasn't ready to open up and share her fears and dreams for the future. She had worked too hard to give Rosa hope, only to see it replaced with bitter disappointment.
Luckily her sister was distracted by a lovely spaniel who dared to be out in the cold air without one of her knitted coats and, spotting a potential customer, Rosa pulled Mari closer and whispered, 'See you back at the cottage. I'm on a mission. Bye for now. Ohand thanks again for the photographs. I knew I could rely on you. We'll talk more later.' And with that, she released Mari all in a rush and scampered off in the direction of the spaniel, her hand already in her pocket looking for dog treats.
'You're welcome, sweetie,' Mari replied in a low whisper nobody was going to hear as she watched Rosa laugh and smile with the spaniel's lady owner. 'You know you can always rely on me.'
Marigold Chance was never the girl called for sports teams or talent contests. She'd left that to her brilliant older brother Kit and her little sister Rosa. Both extroverts to the core. No, Mari was the person who'd stayed in the background and made the teas and watched the other people having fun. Usually at events she had organised and made happen. Every family needed a Mari to keep things working behind the scenes to make sure that everyone was safe and well and had what they needed. No matter how great the personal cost.
Especially in times of crisis when the whole world fell apart.
Mari shrugged off a shiver of sad memories, turned the corner and started down the narrow cobbled street towards the harbour, and was rewarded by the sight she never grew tired ofSwanhaven bay stretched out in front of her.
The sea was a wide expanse of dove-grey, flecked by bright white foam as the waves picked up in the icy wind. A bright smile warmed Mari's face despite the cold. Swanhaven harbour had been built of granite blocks designed to protect the fishing fleet from the harsh English Channel. Now the long wide arms held more pleasure craft than local fishermen, but it was still a safe harbour and delightful marina which attracted visitors all year round, even on a cold February afternoon.
But that was not where she wanted to go before the early winter darkness fell. There was somewhere very special she wanted to visit now she was free for the rest of the day. The one place that meant more to her and Rosa than anywhere else in the world. She could hardly wait to see her old home again. Snow or no snow. Nothing was going to stop her now. Nothing at all.
'Well, you know what your father's like. Once he gets an idea in his head, nothing is going to stop him.' His mother chuckled down Ethan Chandler's cellphone, her voice faint and in snatches as it was carried away in the blustery wind. 'He's out by the pool at the moment and quite determined to experiment with all of the fancy extras on his new barbecue, even if we are in the middle of a mini heatwave. Which reminds me. How is the weather in Swanhaven at the moment?'
Ethan Chandler took a firm grip with his other hand on the tiller of the small sailing boat he had hired from the Swanhaven sailing school and let the fresh wind carry the light boat out from his private jetty into deeper water before answering. A spray of icy sea water crashed over the side of the boat and he moved the phone closer towards his mouth and under the shelter of his jacket.
'You'll be delighted to know that at the moment it is grey, wet and windy. And cold. Cold by Florida standards at least. You're going to freeze next week.'
Her reply was a small sigh. 'I did wonder. I remember only too well what February can be like. But don't you worry. Your father and I wouldn't miss seeing our new holiday home for anything. We are so proud of you, Ethan.'
Ethan inhaled a slow calming breath. Proud? Proud was the last thing his parents should be.
Far from it.
Apart from a couple of one-to-one sailing classes he had run as a personal favour to his old mentor at the Swanhaven Yacht Club, he had made it his business to keep out of sight and hide away at the house. The work that needed to be done was an excellent excuse for not socialising in the town but, the truth was, in a small town like Swanhaven, people had long memories. Ten years was nothing, and Kit Chance still had a lot of family in the area and the weight of the accident which killed Kit had become heavier and heavier the longer he stayed here.
Proud? No. The minute his parents were settled, he would be on the first flight back to Florida.
Luckily his mother did not give him a chance to reply. 'And how are you managing at the house on your own?'
Ethan turned his head back towards the shore and enjoyed a half smile at the sight of the stunning one-storey home which hugged the wooded hillside on one side and the wide curve of the inlet on the other. Now that was something he could be proud of.
It was a superb location. Quiet, private and secluded but only ten minutes drive to Swanhaven, which lay around the headland in the next bay, and even faster by boat. Perfect.
'Everything's fine. I'm just heading out now to Swanhaven to pick up some groceries. But don't worry, Mum. The team have done a great job and it will all be ready for next weekend.' I hope.
'That's wonderful, darling. You've been so secretive these past few months; I can hardly wait to see what you've done with the place. And don't you worry about your father. I know he was reluctant at first to let you manage the project, but you know how hard it is for him to hand over control of anything to anybody. He's so pleased that you agreed to finish off the work for us. We both are. Who knows? With a bit of luck your father might actually start slowing down and think about retirement one day soon.'
Ethan fought down a positive reply but the words stuck in his throat.
It had taken a few years before his parents understood that their only son had no interest in becoming the fourth generation architect in Chandler and Chandler, Architects. Ethan had no intention of spending his life in an air-conditioned office looking out on the ocean when he could be on the waves himself, pushing himself harder and harder. He felt sorry to let them down but they eventually accepted the fact that he had his own life to lead and they had supported him as best they could.
The least he could do was come over to Swanhaven and finish off their retirement home for them. It was ironic that his mother had chosen to come back to Swanhaven of all places, but she had grown up in the area and they had some happy memories of the summers they spent here before the accident which changed all of their lives. His most of all.
They had talked about Swanhaven many times and he knew that, although his mother loved this bay, they had chosen not to come back here because of the accident and how he felt about it.
But now they were ready to move on and this house was a symbol of that.
And if they could cope with having a holiday home here, then he would have to learn to live with that. It was the moving part that he had a problem with. But that was his problem, not theirs, and there was no way he was going to spoil his mother's delight in her new house.
'Good luck with that one, Mum. If anyone can do it, you can.'
'Well, thank you for that vote of confidence. Oh, I'm now being called to ogle some gizmo or gadget. Keep safe, darling. And see you next Saturday. Keep safe.'
Keep safe. That was what she used to say at the dock-side before he set out on a dangerous sea journey. They were always her final words. Only a year ago they had been squeezed out through tears when he left for the Green Globe round-the-world race. Now he could hear warmth and an almost casual tone in her voice through the broken reception.