The seventh book in the Hope Cove series will be available from the 29th of May 2021. Scroll down for a sneak peek…
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It was the view that Lizzie had first fallen in love with. Seaside Cottage was wonderful, but it was the moment of stepping through the crumbly wooden door in the tall hedge at the end of the garden that had taken her breath away.
The view had left her speechless the first time she’d seen it. Now, more than four years later, the rugged Devon coastline still had the power to stop her in her tracks.
“Did you forget something?” Max asked, turning to see why she’d paused.
“No. Just admiring the view.” Most of the time, she was too busy shepherding two toddlers and her loyal old springer spaniel to enjoy it. “It never gets old.”
“Just like me,” he quipped.
She spluttered a laugh. “Your hairline would suggest otherwise.”
“Hey!” He ran his hand through his hair. “I’m in my prime, I’ll have you know.”
“We’ll have to start thinking about how to celebrate your fortieth before long.”
“I’m not forty for two years!” Max ran his teeth along his bottom lip. “You really love teasing me, don’t you?”
“Only about your age. And only because you’re so sensitive about it.”
“I’d like to remind you that you’re older than me.”
She nodded. “Only by a year. And I look great for my age.”
Taking a step towards her, he slipped an arm around her waist. “What are you implying about me?”
“Nothing.” She laughed at how easy it was to wind him up. “I think you look great. For your age!”
“You’re mean.” He tickled her until she squirmed to get away from him. “Are we going? We’ll be stumbling along in the dark if we don’t get a move on.”
It had been Lizzie’s idea to walk along the coastal path rather than along the road. She always chose that way if daylight permitted.
Pausing, she glanced up at the house. “Are you sure the girls will be okay with Dotty?”
“We’re only going to the pub. And the girls are fast asleep.”
“We should probably have asked Emily and Jack to come over instead of leaving them with a woman in her seventies.”
“Dotty offered,” Max said. “She likes to feel useful. Can we just go? I’m hungry. We’re wasting date night, hanging around at the back of the house.”
“We’re not wasting anything. First, I was enjoying the view. Then I was enjoying teasing you. So far date night’s going brilliantly.”
He rolled his eyes. “Let’s go.”
Taking his hand, she pulled him away from the path and down the couple of uneven steps to the beach.
“This is the wrong way,” he pointed out.
“It’s so beautiful.” Lizzie looked out to the horizon as the last rays of sunlight shimmered on the water. “I want to have a paddle.”
“Your feet will freeze off.”
“It’s not that cold.” Actually, there was a nip in the air, but considering it was October that was to be expected.
“You’re in a strange mood,” Max said while she took her shoes and socks off, hanging onto his arm for support.
“Humour me.” She gave him a quick kiss before hurrying to the water’s edge. The cold water made her gasp as it rolled over her toes. After a moment she got used to it and rolled up her trouser legs to venture a little deeper. “You should come with me,” she called to Max.
He sat on the sand further up the beach and only shook his head as he watched her in amusement.
“It’s wonderful,” she told him, but he still didn’t move.
After a few minutes of walking in the waves, her toes began to go numb and she walked back up the beach to Max. He had a stick in his hand and had written I love Lizzie in the sand.
“You’re so romantic,” she said, sitting heavily beside him. “Keep on like this and you might get lucky tonight.”
He smiled lazily and gave her a lingering look that she couldn’t quite read.
“You’re quiet,” she remarked. “Everything okay?”
“Everything’s great. Apart from the fact I’m about to starve to death.”
“Is that a subtle hint for me to hurry up and put my shoes and socks back on?”
“It wasn’t supposed to be subtle.”
After brushing as much sand as possible from her feet, she pulled her socks on and pushed her feet into her shoes. “I might regret putting my feet in the water. I’m going to have damp socks all evening. Then I’ll end up with sand in the bed tonight.”
“There’s always sand in the bed,” Max said. “There’s sand everywhere. I thought you said it’s good exfoliation.”
“I have to find a way to put a positive spin on it or it’d drive me crazy.” She held out her hand for Max to pull her up and they set off again.
“Are you really worried about Dotty looking after the girls?” Max asked when she glanced up at the house.
“No.” Their neighbour wasn’t exactly sprightly, but the girls were asleep, and they’d told Dotty she should call if they woke up. “Having Dotty to babysit makes me miss Scarlett. And that’s something I never imagined myself saying.”
Scarlett was the niece of the local cafe owner and had done a lot of babysitting for them over the past six months. Unfortunately, she’d moved away the previous month to attend university in Exeter. It was only an hour away and she’d said she was happy to come back on weekends to babysit, but they didn’t feel they could ask her to drive all that way just so that they could go for dinner at the local pub.
“The girls will miss her too,” Max said. “University should be good for her though. Not just the degree, but socially.”
Lizzie wasn’t so sure; Scarlett was one of the most socially awkward people she’d ever met, and she wondered whether the university environment might be too much for her.
“I messaged her a few times,” Lizzie said. “But she only ever sends me a few words in reply.”
“Probably because she only ever used us for money. It’s going to be a much cheaper night out with Dotty babysitting.”
“Scarlett didn’t only babysit. She used to hang out a lot, even when we weren’t paying her.”
“Yeah. Like when she wanted you to edit her books for free.”
Lizzie had to admit Max might have a point. She liked to think that Scarlett saw them as friends, but it was always hard to tell what was going on in her head.
“It’s nice to be out anyway,” she said, as she walked hand in hand with Max. “What made you desperate for a night out? Hard week at work?”
He shot her a sidelong glance, his eyes sparkling at her teasing. After cutting down to working part-time, he currently only worked on Monday and Tuesdays. The rest of the week he was in charge of childcare and housekeeping.
“I think you’re a great house-husband,” Lizzie said, giving his hand a squeeze. Beneath the light-hearted jibes, she really did appreciate him working part-time. It had taken a lot of pressure off her and meant she could concentrate on her freelance editing business without worrying that the twins were being neglected.
“I wasn’t desperate for a night out,” Max said. “I just like to spend time with my beautiful wife. If I’d have known how much teasing there’d be, I’d have opted for a takeaway and an early night.”
She leaned briefly into him as they walked. “I only tease you because I love you so much.”
“And because it’s fun,” he said.
“Yes. I do find it very enjoyable.”
He gave a gentle laugh and they continued on in silence. Soon, the path curved with the coastline and began the descent to the pretty little bay at Hope Cove. The daylight was fading fast, but the streetlights cast a gentle glow across the beach. Gusty winds lifted a fine spray from the water, forming a mist which reached up to low-hanging grey clouds. Even when the weather wasn’t at its best, Lizzie still loved the view. Fishing boats sat tilted on the sand, and seagulls hopped between them, their incessant cries drifting on the wind.
When they reached the pub, the warmth of the room enveloped Lizzie and she rubbed her arms to warm herself further. She smiled at the owner of the local cafe as they approached the bar. Verity was a lovely, gentle soul and had been one of the first friends Lizzie had made when she moved to the village.
“Have you found yourselves a new babysitter?” Verity asked, while Max ordered drinks.
“Dotty offered to stay with the girls for the evening.” Lizzie bent to stroke the chocolate Labrador nuzzling at her legs. His owner, Bill, stood beside Verity at the bar. “I was just saying we miss having Scarlett around. You must miss her too.”
“I do,” Verity said. “Have you heard much from her?”
“Not really. Just the odd message but she doesn’t say much.”
Verity shook her head and clicked her tongue. “I’m worried about her.”
“Isn’t she having a good time?” Lizzie asked, secretly hoping Scarlett hated university and would move back to the village and be available for babysitting at the drop of a hat.
“I’ve no idea,” Verity said. “She doesn’t say much, only that it’s fine. I’m sure she sees me as her fuddy-duddy old aunt, so I was hoping she might have confided in you or Emily. She’s very fond of you both.”
“I don’t think that’s how she thinks of you. But she hasn’t said anything to me about uni either.”
Bill smiled at Lizzie then instructed the dog to lie down with a firm nod of the head. “If Scarlett says she’s fine, I’m sure she is,” he said kindly.
“She’s at an impressionable age,” Verity said. “I’m worried she’s got in with a bad crowd.”
“What makes you say that?” Max asked.
Verity’s cheeks were flushed and her brow creased in concern. “It’s probably nothing, but she’s living with a new friend. She won’t let me visit, and she won’t answer my questions. Before she went away she was worried about money. She even thought she couldn’t afford to go to uni for a while. Now she suddenly has money. I don’t know where it came from.”
Max smiled. “Scarlett’s always good at figuring out a way to get what she wants. I wouldn’t worry. She’s a student and wants her independence.”
“I hope that’s all it is.” Verity touched Lizzie’s arm. “Will you let me know if you hear from her?”
“Of course.” Lizzie smiled at her and Bill, then followed Max to a booth at the far side of the room.
“I’ll give you two minutes to decide what you want to eat,” he said as he passed her a menu. “Then I’m going to the bar to order, and if you haven’t decided I’ll choose for you.”
“You get very grumpy when you’re hungry,” she said, then told him what she wanted without looking at the menu.
When he returned from ordering food, he slipped onto the seat beside her, draping an arm around her shoulders and kissing her cheek.
“You’re very affectionate this evening,” she remarked.
“Am I?” His gaze drifted across the pub with the faraway look that he often had recently.
“What’s going on with you?” Lizzie asked.
He snapped from his trance. “Nothing, why? Do you have a problem with me being affectionate?”
“No. I didn’t mean that. You just seem as though you have a lot on your mind.”
Lizzie suspected she knew exactly what was bothering him. She’d been bracing for a conversation where he told her he was fed up with only working part-time and wanted to increase his hours. His days spent doing housework and looking after the girls probably weren’t very fulfilling. Max was like her – he’d always thrived on his work. Even when he’d switched careers from law to property management, he’d still worked long hours.
“The only thing on my mind,” he said, “is spending a relaxed evening with my gorgeous wife.”
She was prevented from commenting on how cheesy he sounded by the butterflies that fluttered in her stomach. His leg pressed against hers as he leaned closer, and she felt like a teenager as they shared a tender kiss.
“That was actually a lie,” he said as he pulled away. “You’re not the only thing on my mind.”
“What else?” she asked, feeling slightly light-headed.
“Food. I’m starving.”
Playfully, Lizzie shoved at his arm. She was sure there was a lot more going on in his head, but she was also happy to delay the conversation. Finally, she was perfectly content with their family life and really didn’t want things to change.