An Unex­pec­ted Guest

The fifth book in the Isles of Scilly series will be avail­able from the 31st of March. Read the first chapter now…


Chapter 1

The guy in the aisle seat didn’t react to Sylvie stand­ing over him. Not even when she uttered a friendly “hello”. With only nine­teen seats on the small air­craft the plane felt cramped to say the least. There was no way he could have missed her loom­ing there. 

She smiled politely when he finally looked up at her. “That’s my seat,” she said, pointing.

He twis­ted, grim­acing as his knees scraped along the back of the seat in front before they were dis­lodged into the aisle. 

Sylvie tilted her head as she took in the space he’d cre­ated. Depend­ing on which way she man­oeuvred her­self, she’d either have her boobs in his face or her bum against his chest. Maybe that was his plan but giv­en his scowl she didn’t think so. 

“I’m fairly petite,” she said cheer­fully, “but we’re still going to know each oth­er pretty intim­ately if I try and squeeze in there.”

His fea­tures didn’t change as he released his seat­belt and unfol­ded him­self from the chair. For a moment his broad chest blocked her view entirely, then he took a step back along the aisle.

“Thanks,” Sylvie said as she shuffled to her seat, not­ing as she glanced back that he’d not yet said a word. 

His silence con­tin­ued when he returned to his seat and imme­di­ately buckled his belt again. 

With some dif­fi­culty, Sylvie man­aged to wedge her hand­bag under the seat in front of her before turn­ing her atten­tion to her seat­belt. She found one end eas­ily enough, but the oth­er dis­ap­peared beneath her neighbour.

“Sorry,” she said, tug­ging on the strap. With a sigh, he shif­ted his weight so she could free the seat­belt. “Thanks!”

He cast her a side­long glance just as the plane jol­ted and set off at a crawl along the tar­mac. Intrigued as to wheth­er he was mute, Sylvie was about to attempt to draw him into con­ver­sa­tion when the captain’s voice drif­ted through the cab­in. By the time he’d giv­en his spiel about flight times, weath­er con­di­tions and safety instruc­tions, they were poised at the end of the runway.

Sylvie gazed through the win­dow while the plane hurtled along. A fizz of excite­ment stirred in her stom­ach as they ascen­ded shakily into the air. 

“Have you ever been to Scilly before?” she asked as her gaze returned to the cab­in. Her silent friend was fix­ated on the floor, and Sylvie couldn’t tell if he was pur­posely ignor­ing her or if he hadn’t heard over the noise of the plane’s engines. Instinct­ively, she leaned a little closer, get­ting a whiff of his after­shave, which made her want to inhale deeply. 

“Have you been to Scilly before?” she asked again, louder this time. 

His gaze snapped up to her and he blinked as though bring­ing her into focus. 

“Once or twice,” he said, the soft­ness of his voice tak­ing her by sur­prise. 

“What’s it like? I’ve nev­er been but I’ve always wanted to. In pho­tos it looks stunning.”

He curled his upper lip. “It’s quiet.”

“I’m not sure quiet is really my thing,” she said with a laugh. “Sorry. I talk a lot when I’m excited … or nervous. Actu­ally, I think I always talk a lot. But I’m excited now so I’m kind of in over­drive. I might be a bit nervous too.” She was wit­ter­ing, that was for sure. “Sorry, I’ll just …” Pinch­ing her index fin­ger and thumb togeth­er she ran them across her lips in a zip­ping motion. 

“I have fam­ily on St Mary’s,” he said unbidden.

Sylvie took it as an invit­a­tion to con­tin­ue the con­ver­sa­tion. “Do you vis­it often?”

It took him a moment to reply. “It’s been a few years.” 

“I’m vis­it­ing fam­ily too,” Sylvie said wist­fully. “My cous­in. We haven’t seen each oth­er for years. We were really close as kids, but we drif­ted apart as adults.” Her eyes slid over to check if he was even listen­ing. The slight hitch at the corner of his mouth was enough of an acknow­ledge­ment that she con­tin­ued. “He doesn’t know I’m com­ing. I thought I’d sur­prise him.” 

Her stom­ach twis­ted and her pre­vi­ous excite­ment fizzled away. She’d tried to call Lowen a couple of times. When she couldn’t reach him, she decided it was a sign she should track him down in per­son, but now she wondered if she should have left him a mes­sage or tried to con­tact him through anoth­er chan­nel. 

“Sur­prises are fun,” she said, not sure why she was seek­ing reas­sur­ance from the stranger beside her.

“Maybe,” he mur­mured. 

“I think it’ll be good.” She had an image of track­ing Lowen down in his pot­tery stu­dio. He’d stop the pot­tery wheel when he caught sight of her, and his face would break into a wide smile as he wiped his hands on a rag before cross­ing the room to embrace her. She’d seen videos of him work­ing the pot­tery wheel on his social media accounts, so she could clearly envi­sion the scene. 

“There’s a chance he won’t even recog­nise me,” she said, almost to her­self. She shook the thought away and told her­self not to be pess­im­ist­ic. “It’ll be fine,” she said determ­inedly. “Bet­ter than fine. It’ll be great. I’m excited.”

It turned out she was talk­ing to her­self. The guy had closed his eyes, either sleep­ing or just let­ting her know he had no interest in listen­ing to her dron­ing on for the next hour. 

After check­ing his eyes were def­in­itely closed, Sylvie let her gaze travel over him, tak­ing in his dark blue T‑shirt which stretched over his firm chest. His jaw spor­ted a few days’ worth of golden stubble, a shade dark­er than the thick, glossy hair which framed his face. 

Slowly, Sylvie leaned towards him, feel­ing the warmth radi­at­ing from him while she inhaled a hefty lung­ful of his scent. The dis­tinct­ive notes of san­dal­wood were a treat for her nos­trils, and she braved anoth­er deep inhale before shift­ing to look out of the win­dow with a sat­is­fied smile.    

* * *

It had been a long time since Jago had been back to Scilly. The closer he got, the more anxious he felt about facing his fam­ily, and the rick­ety plane caused him fur­ther stress. As the woman beside him chat­ted away about her cous­in, it all felt too much. He closed his eyes as the plane juddered, then didn’t both­er open­ing them again when the women went quiet. 

The last time he’d been back to St Mary’s was for his dad’s funer­al, a little over three years ago. He’d only stayed for a couple of days and only had snip­pets of memor­ies from that time. Jet lag and grief hadn’t been a good com­bin­a­tion. He’d also been guilt-rid­den about not hav­ing seen his dad for a good couple of years before he’d died. 

At six­teen, Jago had left the island to go to sec­ond­ary school on the main­land and had only been back for short vis­its since then. Hav­ing spent longer liv­ing away from his child­hood home than in it, he shouldn’t have been sur­prised by how removed he felt from his fam­ily, but it had unsettled him enough that he left again as quickly as pos­sible. 

Now he was return­ing, but this time he was determ­ined not to flee so fast. The wed­ding invit­a­tion from his broth­er had come around the same time that Jago had found out his Amer­ic­an work visa wouldn’t be renewed. He wasn’t overly upset at the thought of mov­ing on from his life in New York, espe­cially since his job in soft­ware devel­op­ment had lost its sheen. The only real prob­lem was that he had no idea what he’d do next. 

One step at a time, he told him­self. He’d go to Trystan’s wed­ding and set aside enough time with his fam­ily that he could start to build some bridges. At the very least he needed to spend some qual­ity time with his mum. 

“Oh my god!”

He startled at the screech from the woman beside him, then felt the warmth of her hand on his fore­arm. 

“Sorry,” she said. “Did I wake you?”

“I don’t know,” he said hon­estly. 

“You have to look at this.” She squeezed his arm and tipped her chin towards the win­dow. “I know you’ve been before, but I’m sure this view could nev­er dis­ap­point no mat­ter how many times you’ve seen it.”

His skin tingled where her hand touched it, and his eyes were drawn to her rich auburn hair instead of the view. The look of won­der on her face was mes­mer­ising. 

“It’s beau­ti­ful, isn’t it?” she whispered. 

“Yes.” He smiled to him­self, then leaned close to join her in peer­ing out of the window.

Really, he should have anti­cip­ated the effect see­ing the islands again would have on him, but the tight­en­ing of his ribs took him by sur­prise. The cluster of green islands, edged by pale sandy beaches and sur­roun­ded by crisp azure water, was so famil­i­ar it took his breath away. When his gaze locked on his child­hood home sit­ting proudly up on the head­land on the south coast of St Mary’s, he for­got to breathe altogether.

Dis­trac­ted by the sights out­side, Jago didn’t take much notice of the captain’s announce­ment, but the word tur­bu­lence cut right through him, mak­ing every muscle in his body tight­en. 

“Excit­ing!” the woman said. “I love a bit of tur­bu­lence. It’s like a free roller­coast­er ride.”

The muscles in Jago’s jaw loosened enough for his mouth to hang open. Was she ser­i­ous? How could someone be happy about—

The plane dropped, and it was exactly like a roller­coast­er; that hor­rible weight­less feel­ing in his stom­ach and the fear that snaked around his every nerve. 

“Are you okay?” the woman asked. 

“Yeah.” He real­ised he’d grabbed hold of her hand. Sheep­ishly, he loosened his fin­gers, but the plane lurched again, caus­ing him to grip her tightly. His eye­lids snapped shut and he focused on breath­ing evenly.   

A moment passed before his muscles began to relax again.

The woman’s voice came soft in his ear. “I didn’t real­ise you were scared of fly­ing. I thought you were just the strong silent type.”

“I’m not scared of fly­ing,” he replied, open­ing his eyes.

A hint of a smile pulled at her lips. “Any chance I can have my hand back then?”

“I’m not scared of fly­ing,” he said again as he reluct­antly pulled his hand away. “I just don’t like it when the plane feels as though it’s about to drop out of the sky.” 

“Are you also scared of roller­coast­ers? Is it the stom­ach drop­ping sen­sa­tion that both­ers you?”

He turned to look right at her, regis­ter­ing how glossy her hair was and the twinkle of amuse­ment in her eyes. “I don’t care about my stom­ach drop­ping,” he told her. “I’m wor­ried about the entire plane drop­ping out of the sky. I don’t see how any nor­mal per­son would be okay with the plane lurch­ing around so much.”

Her lips twitched. “Since you’re clearly very stressed, I’m going to ignore the infer­ence that I’m not normal.”

“I’m not stressed.” He clutched at the arm­rest when the plane chose that moment to shudder.

“Would you like to hold my hand again?” the silky voice asked in his ear.

“I’m fine,” he grumbled, then closed his eyes and pushed his head into the headrest.