The Potter´s House

Chapter 1

The kit­chen timer buzzed at the same time that Pippa’s phone rang, start­ling her so much that she almost spilled her cof­fee. After silen­cing the obnox­ious trill of the timer, she swiped her thumb over the phone screen and greeted her sis­ter while peek­ing into the oven. 

“Morn­ing,” she said, draw­ing back from a rush of hot air. Estim­at­ing that the cake needed a few more minutes, she closed the door and straightened up again. 

“Mia’s just gone through secur­ity,” Nicky said in her ear. “It’s such a weird feel­ing. I’m freak­ing out. I don’t know how I’ll cope for the whole sum­mer without her.”

“You real­ise she’s going trav­el­ling in Septem­ber? She’ll be gone for the best part of a year. The sum­mer should be a doddle com­pared to that.”

“Don’t!” Nicky whined. “I’m try­ing not to think about that. Prom­ise me you’ll look after my baby?”

“She’s eight­een,” Pippa poin­ted out. 

“Only just. She’s so inno­cent. I worry about her not being street­wise enough.”

A smile played at Pippa’s lips as she returned to sit on the stool beside the large sol­id oak table in the centre of the room, which was tucked away at the back of the café she’d bought on a whim a little over two years ago. “There are very few streets on the Isles of Scilly, so she should do fine here.”

“Stop teas­ing me and prom­ise you’ll look after her.”

“Of course I’ll look after her.” Pippa picked up her cof­fee again, then stopped with it halfway to her lips. “Also, can I point out that you begged me to give Mia a job for the sum­mer on the basis that you knew she’d be safe and cared for?” Her niece’s first choice had been to spend the sum­mer work­ing at a resort in Ayia Napa. Some­how, she’d been con­vinced that it might be fun to spend the sum­mer with her aunt instead. 

“I’m just walk­ing out of the air­port,” Nicky said. “I have to go home and find out how it feels to be an empty-nester.”

“I’m sure there must be perks to hav­ing your child out of the house.”

“That’s what Tom says, but he doesn’t real­ise that I prefer Mia’s com­pany to his.”

Hear­ing the muffled voice of her broth­er-in-law in the back­ground, Pippa cracked up laugh­ing. “Did you just say that in front of him?”

“Yeah. He claims he already knew. Appar­ently it’s been clear for approx­im­ately eight­een years.” 

Chuck­ling, Pippa stood at the sound of a faint knock­ing com­ing from the front door of the cafe. “I have to go,” she told her sis­ter. “There’s someone at the door.”

“Ooh. Is it a cer­tain hunky potter?”

“I guess it’s Lowen, yes. Though hunky is an entirely inap­pro­pri­ate adjective.”

“You have to admit he’s kind of hot.” Nicky had met him briefly when she’d been over to vis­it the pre­vi­ous sum­mer. “He’s got the broody and mys­ter­i­ous vibe down to a tee. Did you ever find out if the rumour about him being a mil­lion­aire is true?”

“No. I didn’t.” Pippa couldn’t say she wasn’t curi­ous about that mys­tery. She’d been selling Lowen’s pot­tery for as long as she’d been on the island and she still didn’t feel she knew him well. “I have to go,” she said, strid­ing through the cafe and catch­ing Lowen’s eye through a square pane of glass in the top half of the door. 

“You’re going to meet Mia at the air­port, right?” Nicky per­sisted in her ear.

“Yes.” Pippa sighed. “Though I think she could prob­ably find her own way to the cafe.”

“She said the same but I don’t want her get­ting lost.”

“It’s a very small island. I’m not sure how lost she could get. Espe­cially since she’s been here before.” Real­ising she was say­ing all the wrong things, Pippa changed tack as she twis­ted the lock on the door. “I’ll meet her and let you know the minute I have eyes on her, okay?”

“Thank you.”

Pippa ended the call and pulled the door open. Her lips twis­ted at the sight of Lowen. It wasn’t that she didn’t like the guy. On a good day he was per­fectly pleas­ant, but he’d snapped at her enough times that she ten­ded to be on the back foot with him until she figured which side of the bed he’d got out of that day.

“Morn­ing,” he muttered, bend­ing to lift the large card­board box from the little two-wheeled hand trol­ley in the door­way. 

“Hi,” she replied, hold­ing the door for him. Fol­low­ing him across the room, she noticed how his biceps flexed under the weight of the box, stretch­ing the fab­ric of his T‑shirt. Nicky say­ing he was hot made Pippa look at him object­ively. His biceps weren’t a bad fea­ture, she’d give him that. If his eye­brows weren’t drawn into a per­man­ent frown, his blue eyes might be worth com­ment­ing on. His beard showed a smat­ter­ing of grey, and his windswept sandy hair was in dire need of a cut. She guessed he was a few years older than her – some­where around forty.

“You okay?” he asked, mak­ing her real­ise she was star­ing at him.

“Yep. Miles away.”

He tapped a fin­ger on the counter. “I take it sales were good last week?” He punc­tu­ated the ques­tion with a poin­ted glance at the shelves that dis­played his pot­tery but that were cur­rently half-empty. 

“Yeah. Tour­ist sea­son is pick­ing up. Thank good­ness.” She’d known when she opened the cafe that the winter months would be slow. She just hadn’t real­ised quite how slow.   

“Do you want to switch to two deliv­er­ies a week now that it’s busier?” Lowen asked, his eyes linger­ing on the shelves.

They’d done the same the pre­vi­ous sum­mers. He brought new stock once a week, and she went over to Bry­h­er to col­lect once a week. Her need­ing more stock in the busy sum­mer months had been an area of con­ten­tion the first time she’d men­tioned it. He’d snapped at her, telling her if she wanted more stock she’d have to col­lect it her­self. Which she’d prob­ably have found a per­fectly reas­on­able request if he hadn’t been so aggress­ive about it.

“Two deliv­er­ies would be good,” she agreed. “If you stick with bring­ing stuff over on Mondays, I’ll come over to Bry­h­er towards the end of the week when I start to run low. That way I’ll be all stocked up for the weekend.”

“Will you be able to get away?” he asked, sweep­ing his gaze around the room. 

Pippa blinked a few times, sur­prised by the ques­tion. It almost seemed as though he might offer to make both trips him­self. “I have Beth work­ing for me over the sum­mer.” She assumed he’d already know that, giv­en that Beth was his brother’s girl­friend. She and Trystan had moved to St Mary’s a couple of months earli­er, and Beth had been keen to take the job at the cafe even though it wasn’t many hours and was only for the tour­ist sea­son. 

Lowen nod­ded slowly and his eyes trailed to Pippa. “Beth was excited about work­ing here last time I saw her.”

“She did a couple of shifts last week and it went well.”

“That’s good.” He tapped on the counter again, his eyes shift­ing as though the small talk made him uncom­fort­able. “Beth’s lovely.”

“It must be nice to have Trystan liv­ing on St Mary’s again,” she ven­tured. 

He gave a non-com­mit­tal shrug in reply and straightened up as if pre­par­ing to leave. 

“I have Har­riet work­ing on the week­ends for the sum­mer too,” she said idly. “And anoth­er help­er arriv­ing today as well.”  

He rocked on his heels. “Busi­ness must be going really well.”

She smiled lightly. “It’s my niece,” she explained. “She wanted to come over for the sum­mer and earn a few quid work­ing in the cafe. I didn’t feel I could say no.”

“Fam­il­ies,” he said with a slight eye roll. Tilt­ing his head, he sniffed the air. “Is some­thing burning?”

Suck­ing in an aud­ible breath, she turned on her heel and made a dash for the kit­chen. She grabbed a tea tow­el as she opened the oven door, then drew back from the plume of smoke. Cough­ing, she removed the burnt cake and slid it unce­re­mo­ni­ously onto the table, then opened the win­dow above the sink as wide as it would go. 

“Smoky chocol­ate cake is a spe­ci­al­ity, right?” Lowen said, at the same time as the smoke alarm began its high-pitched beep­ing.  

The amuse­ment in his fea­tures irrit­ated Pippa as he reached up to press the but­ton and silence the alarm. Espe­cially since it was stand­ing around chat­ting with him that had made her for­get about the cake in the oven.  

With sting­ing eyes, she fol­lowed him out of the kit­chen, then watched as he walked through the cafe. 

“I’ll see you at the end of the week,” he said, paus­ing at the door.

“Yeah.” She glared at him.

“What?” he asked through barely sup­pressed laughter. 

“You don’t need to look quite so glee­ful about me burn­ing a cake.”

“Sorry,” he said with abso­lutely no sin­cer­ity. “It’s kind of funny how often you burn stuff though. For a cafe own­er, I mean.”

Her whole body tensed and she looked away from him. “Bye,” she said tersely, then waited for a few moments after the front door closed behind him before step­ping out into the early morn­ing sun­shine for a blast of fresh air, leav­ing the door open to dilute the smell of smoke in the cafe.

A couple of gulls stood on the con­crete prom­en­ade, screech­ing and flap­ping their wings at each oth­er. They took flight when she stamped her foot but didn’t go far, land­ing a few metres away to con­tin­ue their squawk­ing. 

Ignor­ing them, she switched her atten­tion to Porth­cressa Beach, which swept in a long cres­cent in front of her. Bey­ond the sand, the list­less sea glistened beneath a cloud­less sky. The view had taken Pippa’s breath away when she’d first moved to St Mary’s. It had seemed unfathom­able that there was a shop for rent right by the prom­en­ade with a lovely cosy three-bed­room flat above it. She’d decided it was fate and snapped it up. 

Glan­cing to her right, she watched Lowen chat­ting to Beth. He smiled at whatever she was telling him. Or maybe the two of them were jok­ing about Pippa’s pen­chant for burn­ing cakes. It didn’t actu­ally hap­pen that often, and it was annoy­ing that Lowen always seemed to be around to wit­ness it when it did. 

“Does this view ever get old?” Beth said cheer­fully as she approached. 

“No,” Pippa lied, for­cing a smile. 

“I still can’t believe I live here.”

“It must be nice to know so many loc­als,” Pippa remarked as they walked inside. “Easi­er to settle in.”

“Abso­lutely. Trystan’s fam­ily are all so lovely and wel­com­ing. And there are so many of them – I feel as though I can’t leave the house without bump­ing into someone I know. I love that about this place. How long did you say you’d been here?” Dur­ing her shifts the pre­vi­ous week, Pippa had been too busy show­ing her the ropes to chat much. 

“Just over two years,” Pippa told her. “I didn’t know any­one when I got here.” 

“That must have been hard.” Paus­ing, Beth sniffed the air in the cafe. Sur­prise flashed in her eyes at the scent of smoke, but she didn’t com­ment. “What made you move here?”

Pippa smiled sheep­ishly. “I read an art­icle about a couple who came to the Scil­lies for a hol­i­day and ended up buy­ing a pub here and chan­ging their whole lives. I was inspired,” she added with a shrug. 

“That’s amaz­ing.” Beth fol­lowed her to the counter. “You’re really brave. I’d nev­er have dared uproot my life if it hadn’t been for Trystan.”

“It’s a bit dif­fer­ent for you. I have no ties and only myself to think of.” She thought about Beth’s six-year-old daugh­ter and how much more dif­fi­cult the decision to move must have been. 

“I was wor­ried about how Ellie would adapt to the move,” Beth said. “But she’s thriv­ing. She already adored Trystan’s fam­ily so she’s in her ele­ment. She loves school here too.”

“That must be a big relief.”

“Yes. Massive.” Beth swept her eyes around the cafe. “Should I get star­ted with set­ting up the tables, or do you need me in the kitchen?”

“Unless you know how to sal­vage burnt chocol­ate cake there’s not much to do in the kit­chen.” She shrugged in response to Beth’s grim­ace. “It’s okay, I have brownies and there’s cake left from yes­ter­day. The pastry deliv­ery should be here any minute too.” She bought pastries in from one of the loc­al baker­ies to make life a little easi­er. “Oh, and how do you feel about me leav­ing you alone for a little while this morning?”

“That’s fine,” Beth said. 

“It’ll only be for an hour. My niece is arriv­ing, so I’ll nip up to meet her at the airport.”

“She’s stay­ing for the sum­mer, right?”

“Yeah. We haven’t spent much time togeth­er in the last couple of years so I’m not sure how it’ll be to live and work with her for two and a half months.”

“I’m sure it’ll be great. The time will fly by.”

“I hope you’re right.” 

Pippa envied Beth’s nat­ur­al pos­it­iv­ity. Maybe if things worked out the way she wanted once in a while, she’d expect the best too. As it was, she felt a pang of unease about Mia’s immin­ent arrival.