The Potter´s House
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?”
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.