If, like us, you can’t get enough of Liz Fenwick’s bestselling Cornish romances, The Cornish House and A Cornish Affair, you’ll be glad to hear her spell-binding new novel Under A Cornish Sky is out in the shops on 7th May.
Read on for a sneak peek at Liz’s latest tale of romance and intrigue, set against the gorgeous Cornish coast.
The scent of honeysuckle drifted through the open window and late afternoon sunshine fell on the tangled sheets. Victoria smiled. She could still smell Adam’s aftershave. She pulled the duvet over the bed and plumped the pillows. It was all well and good to have a lazy afternoon of sex with her toy boy, but it would be decidedly unpleasant if Charles walked in to see the evidence and she’d heard his car come up the drive a few minutes ago.
Removing the green silk shift from the hangar she pulled it over her head, enjoying the feel of the fabric as it slid across her nipples. She shivered. It was a shame they had this party. Charles might well have stayed in London for longer and she could have enjoyed Adam for the whole evening and not just the afternoon. He was training up rather well. Property, old houses and sex . . . total bliss.
Victoria ran her fingers through her hair. Despite the fact that it had turned grey a few years ago, it wasn’t any old shade of grey but gleamed like polished steel and the texture had held up well. She slipped earrings on then picked up her pearls. Charles had given her these for her fiftieth birthday. She, of course, had chosen them and they were exactly the right shade for her skin tone. Pearls reflected such a wonderful radiance on to the face. She touched her neck. Considering her sun exposure over the years her skin was good. No need to resort to a surgeon.
She straightened her back as she tried to fasten the clasp on her pearls, but couldn’t manage it by feel alone. ‘Where are my glasses?’ she said aloud as she scanned the surfaces in her bedroom.
‘On your head.’ Charles stood in the doorway. He wore a dark suit, which, despite the clever cut, didn’t disguise his paunch.
‘Thank you. Why the suit?’
‘Business.’ He shifted on his feet. This was not a good sign.
‘You haven’t un-retired have you?’ It would be excellent news if he had.
‘No.’ He walked up to her and took the pearls from her hands. She let him drape them around her neck but his fingers struggled with the clasp and his aftershave filled the air around her; she wished he’d put on a bit less. Her nose was far too sensitive to the fragrance after forty years. He rested his hands on her shoulders when the pearls were finally secured and rubbed gently. Victoria tried to enjoy the sensation, but it didn’t work, and as he kissed the side of her neck she watched the displeasure cross her face in the mirror. She changed her expression when Charles’s blue eyes looked up to meet hers.
‘As always, you look beautiful, Tori.’
‘Thank you.’ She turned around in his arms and adjusted his tie. He was a good soul – she must remember that.
‘Remind me what the Smiths are having this do for?’
‘An engagement party for their daughter.’ She swallowed. That was something they would never be able to celebrate.
‘Ah, yes.’ He turned from her.
‘I hate it when you sound that way.’ Victoria ground her teeth. Even the view of the garden out of the window couldn’t fill the emptiness inside her.
‘What are you talking about?’ He shook his head and then puffed before he said, ‘I have something I need to discuss with you. It’s important.’
She spun round. ‘You know exactly what I mean.’ Oh, she loathed him. The sadness she’d heard in his voice irritated her now and he looked like a hurt puppy. It was absolutely not the way a sixty-two-year-old man should look.
‘Tori, there really is something I need to discuss with you.’
She looked up at him and caught sight of the clock on her bedside table. ‘Will it be quick? We are supposed to be there already.
Are you going in your suit?’
‘No, it won’t be quick.’ He looked down at his trousers. ‘Do I need to change?’
Victoria sighed. ‘No. Let’s go.’ She walked out of the bedroom and only paused at the top of the stairs. From here, she could see the full sweep of the staircase down to the hall. She had Charles to thank for all of this. Without his money, she never could have bought back her family home, Boscawen. Hearing his heavy footsteps behind her, she turned and smiled and held out a hand for him.
Almost forty-one years to the day since they had walked together down these stairs on the night of their engagement party. Victoria shivered, remembering the expectant faces waiting for them at the bottom. Only one face hadn't been smiling.
Tori, where are you?’ Charles gave her hand a squeeze.
‘Sorry, were you saying something?’
‘Yes, something rather important. Don’t tell me you didn’t hear a word?’ He frowned and his chins multiplied.
‘Sorry, I was just remembering our engagement party.’ That brought a smile to his face.
‘Forty wonderful years together.’ He kissed her. ‘Thank you, darling.’
‘A pleasure,’ she lied and collected the keys to his car. If they didn’t leave now, they would be seriously late, especially if they had the misfortune to get caught behind a tractor.
Demi wouldn’t let her mother down. She owed it to her memory. Morwenna had been so proud of her and the work she’d done here at Bottel and Lampard. Today of all days Demi could have used her mother’s belief in her abilities. Her mother’s death had been too sudden. How could her fit and able mother have just died? Swallowing back the tide of grief about to emerge, Demi stopped. This was not the best time to be thinking about it. Positive thoughts were required. She would get this job. She’d earned it by working hard and, of course, she’d loved it too.
Straightening her skirt and crossing her ankles, she heard her mother’s voice in her head, reminding her to sit with her shoulders back, not hunched, trying to hide what her mother had called her assets. How Demi hated them. Not only had they resulted in her being continually tormented by boys at school, she would never be able to look elegant. They attracted too much attention.
Josh, sitting opposite, looked relaxed. Unlike her, he wasn’t in the watery glare of the sunlight making its way through the dirty window. She frowned. The architect who had designed this building had thought only of the appearance and not of the practicalities of cleaning and fresh air.
It must have been a man just like Josh. Demi had been on a practical with him for a year and during that time she’d constantly had to fix his designs. He’d asked for help and she’d given it – although she wondered why she had, because at the end of the year only one of them would be taken on permanently. Josh was all about lines and appearance, not about the practicalities.
And that was why she should get this job, because she looked at both and so her designs functioned on every level. This is what she loved.
He kept looking at her and then away. Who knew what he’d done while she’d been away for weeks on compassionate leave? She hoped he’d been a disaster because this job would solve one key problem of the moment. Money. Although she had earned at bit during the practical, she had paid most of it to her mother for living expenses and the cost of the funeral had drained her mother’s account.
Morwenna’s life insurance would eventually cover those costs but it hadn’t paid out yet. Demi took a deep breath. It still didn’t seem real that her mother was gone and she didn’t want it to be, but it was. She couldn’t afford to take anything but a full-time, well-paid job now. She wouldn’t even have a roof over her head if not for her boyfriend, Matt. Demi bit her lip. Thinking about how dire things were wasn’t going to put her in the right frame of mind for the coming interview.
A drop of sweat ran down her neck and she saw Josh’s eyes follow it until it slid under the neckline of her blouse. It was too warm for the jacket she was wearing, but if she took it off she had no chance of anyone looking at anything but her cleavage, modest though her blouse was. They wouldn’t talk to her but to her chest. It was easy for men. The worst error for them was a bad tie – and Josh’s tie was a big mistake. It showed he had no taste. Surely they wouldn’t give the job to someone who would choose to wear a large, pink-spotted tie with a green striped shirt and a suit in a Glen plaid? It was wrong on so many levels.
Her own clothes were a bit old, but expressed an understated elegance – or as close as she could achieve with her curves, she thought wryly. If she were the one making the choice she would pick the employee who performed to a higher level and whose dress sense showed a basic understanding of colour, shape and design.
Thunder rumbled outside and the sun disappeared just as the door to the HR department swung open. She couldn’t help feeling that it was an ominous start. Her opponent smiled in her direction but avoided eye contact.
‘Demi and Josh, come through.’ Demi stood, and in her head she imagined that she was taller than five foot one. The sooner this interview was over and she had the job, the better.
‘Take a seat.’ The woman went to her desk and Demi sat far away from the window. She didn’t need to melt further.
‘First, I’d like to say thank you. You’ve both done a great job during your internships here at Bottel and Lampard.’ She smiled at them in turn. Demi laid her hands flat on her skirt. This was not going well. Josh hadn’t done a good job; passable, maybe, but only because she’d helped him.
‘It’s been an honour to be a part of the team.’ Josh spoke and Demi cursed him as a brown nose. He’d done nothing but complain and try and get her to shag him the whole time. He was an arse, but he was smooth. She’d allow him that, but only that.
‘As you know, we can only take on one of you at this time and it’s been a very hard decision.’ The woman lifted her mouth in a smile, but her eyes told a different story. Demi knew what she was going to say by the way her glance fell on Demi’s left hand. She’d let slip that things were getting serious with Matt and yes, they were, but she wasn’t planning to start a family just yet.
‘So, after consulting the whole team, the consensus was the job should be offered to Josh for the stellar work he did on the design of the bathrooms.’
‘But—’ Demi began but Josh stood.
‘Wow, thank you so much.’ He moved between Demi and the desk so that she couldn’t be seen.
Demi stood and moved from side to side, trying to get past him. That was her design, not his. She needed to set this straight. He was claiming her work as his. She couldn’t let this theft pass. ‘That design . . .’ She went to the side of the desk.
‘Ah, Demi, your work has been of an excellent standard but I’m afraid we only have the one position and Josh fits on every level. Of course, if you’d like to continue on as you have been we would be delighted.’ Again the woman’s mouth lifted but that was all. ‘And I will write you a glowing reference should you decide to look elsewhere.’
One of the firm’s partners walked in. ‘Congratulations, Josh. Excellent work.’ He turned to Demi. ‘So sorry to see you go.’ He looked away, totally dismissing her. Then she realised. ‘Josh fits on every level.’ How many times had Demi been asked to go to the pub after work and said no to get home to Matt. But Josh had gone every time. They knew him, or thought they did, and she was a world-class idiot who hadn’t played the game.
Demi couldn’t move. Josh was shaking the director’s hand and he wouldn’t look at Demi. He was a thief – but what could she do? If she protested she’d sound like a bad loser, and she would still be the loser . . .
A bottle of champagne popped open as the rest of the partners appeared. No one would make eye contact.
‘Thank you.’ She would do this as gracefully as she could. It was what her mother would want, for Demi to be graceful and generous. She slipped out the door while they were pouring the champagne.
Outside the HR office, she stopped and leaned against the wall. She’d let someone else take the job that should have been hers. Anger – with herself as much as with Josh filled her. This wasn’t trying out for the school play. This was life. This was survival. Should she go in there and confront Josh with his deception? No. It was too late now. If she had done it straight away it might have worked, might not have seemed like sour grapes. It was best to let go. It was easier.
The receptionist came down the corridor. ‘Demi, so sorry they didn’t offer you the job.’
Demi’s eyes widened. Everyone, not just the partners, knew already. Even if she went in and told them the truth they wouldn’t alter their decision. They’d look like fools and no one wanted to do that, including her.
She wasn’t right for the job, but a man who claimed other people’s work as his own was? She went to her desk, head down and pulled out her umbrella and her laptop. She was out of here without a job and she couldn’t help thinking it was her own fault. Her mother would be so disappointed. Maybe it was a good thing she wasn’t around to see this. No, that could never be a good thing. Demi bit her lip then fled before she had to see anyone else’s pity.
In the crush of people at Westminster tube station Demi fought with her umbrella but it wouldn’t open. After a few more attempts she cast it into the bin and walked out into the rain. The umbrella was useless. Just when she needed the damn thing it refused to work. Rain flung itself at her from every direction like a rebuke for her stupidity. It slapped her face and drenched her suit. By the time she reached the middle of the bridge her feet were squelching in her shoes.
Pulling out of the flow of people across the bridge she leaned on the wall. She needed to think, to make a plan. The raindrops hit the surface of the river and after the initial resistance they merged peacefully, doing what rivers do, flow. She hadn’t bounced; she’d just faded away and let that sod take credit for her work. Now he had a job and at best they would consider for another practical.
That bastard had claimed what was hers while she was burying her mother. And what had she said? What had she done about it? Nothing. She hadn’t even tried to bounce before becoming invisible.
Turning from the river she joined the rest of commuters. It would be a wet walk back to her boyfriend’s but at least there would be wine waiting.
‘Cheer up, love, it can’t be that bad,’ the newsvendor on the corner said as he handed her a paper, which she held over her head and smiled back at him. He was right. It wasn’t all bad. She had Matt.
As she walked she focused on things to look forward to, like moving in officially with Matt. She’d been living there unofficially since she’d handed her mother’s flat back to the landlord. She swallowed; she wouldn’t think about her mum, not now. Instead she would think of Matt’s delight when she told him yes and she would think about what she could do with the flat. It was all a bit dreary and grey at the moment, despite the designer paint – which was in a shade of lavender that appeared grey on the flat’s north-facing walls. The furniture was big, black and leather, all meant to complement the bloody huge television. It wasn’t simply masculine; it was without personality. Demi had always puzzled how a man who dressed so well and took so much care with his clothing choices could care so little for making his flat feel personal.
She smiled: this would all change now. With a coat of paint – which sadly she would have time to give it, and a few accessories – she could soften the flat and make it feel more ’them’. Matt probably wouldn’t even notice the changes. He would just smile that movie-star grin and she would melt.
Thinking back to the HR person’s glance at her left hand she wondered why she had let slip that they were getting serious? They were, of course, and Matt was certainly committed, but that didn’t mean she was about to get married immediately and start pushing out kids. Her career was important and she was only just twenty-five.
Drenched, and desperate for a glass of wine and a hug, she stopped outside his flat. The lights were on which was unusual, but maybe Matt had come home early. Probably planning a surprise celebration. God, had she really thought she’d get the job? She was such a fool.
Well, they would laugh at what an arse she’d been. Laughter was something she hadn’t done enough of recently, for obvious reasons. Seeing her friends at her mum’s funeral had shown her how much she missed them all and the fun they had had together. Matt didn’t like them, which was OK – well, sort of – but she must get out more. She loved him, but he could be overpowering. Standing at the door she frowned when she heard the music they had been listening to two nights ago. She hesitated. They had had too much to drink that night and didn’t want to think about what she’d done . . .
She turned the key in the lock and nearly fell over from the sound – boys and their toys or, in this case, surround sound. She put her bag down, hoping her computer had stayed dry, then tiptoed into the sitting room. The walls were empty of all ornament, just the big screen as centre stage. She closed her eyes, imagining it with just a few framed prints or a large oil painting. It would give the room the personality it deserved. Maybe when her mother’s life insurance paid out she could treat him to that painting they had seen together. It would good to say thank you for the huge support he’d been. He’d been such a rock as her world fell apart.
There were grunts coming from the speakers. She sighed and opened her eyes. Matt was watching porn again. She hated that. It had the opposite affect on her that he wanted it to have. Watching it made her go off sex. Her heart sank, but she came up behind him and put her hands on his shoulders, but just as she bent to kiss his head, she froze. There, on the 50-inch screen, was her naked body.
‘Demi, you’re back.’ He grabbed her hand and pulled her down towards him.
She tried to pull back, shivering as her moans bounced off the empty walls. What had he done?
‘Let go of me!’
He released her and stood up, blocking her view. She studied his handsome face. The smile that had always won her over now looked false.
‘Just . . . just what is that?’
‘Us, Demi. It’s so sexy.’
Demi closed her eyes. She felt faint. Grabbing the back of the sofa for support, she tried to speak but words wouldn’t come out.
How could he have done this? She’d said no when he’d asked. ‘How . . .?’
‘My new phone.’
She shook her head. ‘How could you?’ He’d done this even though she’d said no, that she hated the idea. Didn’t her feelings matter to him?
‘Don’t be a prude. It’s great – really turns me on’
She shook her head furiously. ‘No!’ Clutching her stomach, she ran to the bathroom and heaved.
‘Demi, don’t be like this! It’s so great. You don’t like me watching other women so I’m now just watching you.’ His voice sounded weird through the door.
She didn’t answer, bathing her face, still shaking. He’d asked. She’d said no. And he did it anyway. He was happy, turned on. She was disgusted, used.
‘Demi, come on. It’s just a bit of fun.’
The cold water soothed her flaming skin. She looked in the mirror and big sad eyes stared back at her. What was she going to do? How could she stay with someone she couldn’t trust? He’d said he was disappointed but he wouldn’t film them. Told her not to worry and she hadn’t.
Opening the door, she pushed past him and switched the television off. What else could she do? Glancing around the room she saw it for the soulless place it truly was. She turned to Matt. He was dressed in chinos and a designer shirt, smiling despite what he’d done. He had no idea, no remorse. There was only one thing she could do: leave. She picked up her bag and her shoes.
She turned to look at him. ‘You just don’t get it.’
‘No, you don’t.’ The smile had left his face. ‘You need to grow up. It turns me on – really turns me on.’
‘I said no, Matt.’ She slipped her shoes on and her toes curled at the dampness.
‘You didn’t mean it.’
‘I did. I really did.’
He reached for her and caught her wrist.
‘No!’ She twisted free and left.
She could hear him calling her as she fled down the street, wondering what now? Around the corner, halfway to the tube station she dived into a coffee shop. A cup of strong espresso would help her think. So much for the hug she’d been expecting and drowning her sorrows in a glass of wine. What was she going to do?
Under A Cornish Sky is out on 7th May in trade paperback, eBook and audio.