Guernsey – 1987
Olive was cooking her usual meagre supper of scrambled eggs on toast when the sound of heavy footsteps outside made her jump. No-one ever visited and this was how she liked it. Always had. Her heart pounded as she moved the pan off the blackened range and turned to face the back door. Unlocked as was the custom in safe little Guernsey. Or was it safe? Grabbing a knife she watched, immobile, as the knob turned and the door began to open. The man stood silhouetted against the early evening sky and she stared hard at his shape, puzzled. There was something familiar about the slope of the shoulders and the angle of his head. Her mouth went dry in the moment before the door closed and he moved into the light.
It couldn’t be! Not after all this time…She felt her legs tremble and leant back against the range.
‘Hello, Olive. Bet you didn’t expect to see me again, did you?’ He chuckled, humourlessly.
She hid the knife up her sleeve and pulled the darned cardigan around her thin body. Old memories surfaced as she fought to stay calm.
‘We…we heard you were dead. You didn’t come back–’
‘No, well, I found someone and something better, didn’t I? But it doesn’t look as if you have.’ His gaze was contemptuous as he looked her up and down, and Olive was conscious of how unkempt she looked. Poverty does that to a person. Whereas he was immaculately dressed in what looked like a designer suit. A successful man. She watched, helpless, as his gaze wandered over the kitchen, and she registered, for the first time in years, how dirty and shabby it looked. The kitchen which had once been kept spotless. Feelings of shame, mixed with overriding fear, flooded her mind. What did he want?
His eyes alighted on the only personal item in the room. And the last thing she wanted him to see. She moved forward, attempting to block his view, but he pushed her aside and picked up the photo in its cheap wooden frame.
‘Who’s this?’ he demanded, his face flushed with anger.
A look she knew all too well.
Her stomach clenched. Could she lie? Pretend it was someone else? As her head whirled with possibilities he seized her arm, twisting it. She cried out in pain and the knife clattered onto the granite floor. Swiftly he grabbed it while still holding onto her arm. Olive’s knees buckled.
He thrust the knife towards her chest and she screamed.
‘Don’t even think of lying,’ he hissed.
‘It’s…it’s my…our daughter–’
The world went black.
‘And this is the kitchen, Miss Ogier. As you can see, it’s been finished to the highest standard, with all built-in appliances.’ The estate agent spread her hands in the dramatic gesture beloved by agents wanting to impress.
Natalie allowed herself to look, and feel, impressed. Although not a keen cook like her mother, she did appreciate a kitchen which looked as if it could produce an extravagant meal and complete the washing-up at the touch of a few buttons. The glossy cream fronted units, topped with solid granite worktops, encompassed built-in appliances even her mother would envy. The soft grey floor tiles complemented the worktop; all set off by warm yellow-gold walls. The effect was considerably more welcoming than the stark white and stainless steel kitchen she had left behind in London. A definite plus in its favour.
She sniffed. ‘I can still smell the paint. When did you say it was completed, Jess?’
The other woman beamed.
‘Only last week and you’re the first person to view. But I have to warn you there’s been some considerable interest. It’s not often a brand new cottage in such a wonderful location comes up for sale. Shall we continue the tour? I’m sure you’ll be as impressed with the other rooms.’
Natalie turned to follow Jess, but for a moment felt as if something was holding her back. The merest whisper. A soft sound which she couldn’t place. She looked around, wondering if someone else had arrived unnoticed. The room was empty. With a shrug, she stepped into the hall and followed Jess into the sitting room at the back. Although the cottage was new, it had been built to look like a traditional Guernsey cottage on the outside, granite walls and a slate roof, but brought into the twenty-first century with larger windows. One whole wall of the sitting room was taken up by floor to ceiling bi-folding doors opening onto the garden.
This mix of styles was what had attracted Natalie. She had been brought up in an old cottage and loved the feeling of cosiness, but also enjoyed the light and airiness of modern buildings. She could picture her sleek, modern furniture fitting in well with the style of the cottage and began to feel a slight thrum of excitement. Something she badly needed if she were to make a successful return to the island. Pushing down the unwelcome thought of why she was back, Natalie had to smile at the ultra-modern wood burner at the far end of the room. With the latest underfloor heating installed, it wasn’t likely to see much use, but it did mean she could curl up on the sofa in front of a roaring fire if needed.
Jess continued to throw open doors and windows as they walked round, the smell of paint almost oppressive. Natalie liked everything she saw, silently complimenting the architect for his eye for detail and the happy combination of old and new. The tour ended in the garden. Or more accurately, what would be a garden. Natalie frowned as she saw the mounds of earth beyond the tiled terrace. The only saving grace was the uninterrupted view down towards Rocquaine Bay and the white tower of Fort Grey. The deep blue sea reflected light from the bright May sun.
‘Beautiful, isn’t it?’ Jess sighed. ‘A view to die for. I know it’s a cliché, but it’s true. It certainly beats the view from my town flat!’
‘Mm, it’s quite something. Just a pity there’s no garden to sit in and enjoy it.’
‘Ah, yes, I was coming to that. The seller thought it was more important to finish the house and let the buyer decide what they wanted to do with the garden. They’ve commissioned a landscape gardener who would work with you on the final design and then undertake the work.’ Jess faced Natalie. ‘So, what do you think? Are you interested?’
She nodded. ‘Yes, I am. With three bedrooms it’s a bit bigger than I really need right now, but it is lovely and the view…’ she waved her arm towards the sea before looking back beyond the cottage to another property, looking newly renovated, a few hundred yards away. ‘Who’s the neighbour?’
‘Oh, that’s Stuart Cross, a teacher at the grammar school. He only moved in a few weeks ago and he seems a nice man. Related to the original owner of the farm, I understand. I’m sure he’d make a good neighbour,’ Jess said brightly.
‘I don’t believe so, no.’
Natalie ran a hand through her short hair, wondering if it would be wise to move into such a secluded place with a single man as her neighbour. Considering what had happened in London…Telling herself not to be so paranoid, she managed a smile.
‘What happened to the farmhouse? Surely it would have been better to reconstruct it rather than knock it down?’
‘I don’t know the whole story, but I understand it had been virtually destroyed by a fire years ago and it wasn’t practicable to rebuild. This cottage has been built on the site of the original house, and the other cottage,’ Jess said, pointing, ‘was an old barn. Both have been built using as much of the original stone as possible, but the insides are completely new. It’s taken years for the planners to agree on the idea of a new-build and the architect had to redraft his designs a few times. It does mean this cottage is unique, so you’d be buying something quite special,’ Jess finished, with a wide smile
‘I should hope so at this asking price!’ Natalie chewed her lip as she considered. The price was steep, but the London flat had sold well and she wouldn’t need a mortgage. It did seem a bit mad buying something so big when she was on her own but…she gazed once more down towards the sea and took a lungful of the clean, fresh air. Such a relief after the polluted air of the City. Trees set further down the hill formed a protective shield between the cottage and the houses below, without impinging on the view. Turning around she noticed for the first time that similar rows of trees surrounded what had once been the farm buildings, providing further privacy. It was blissfully quiet.
‘Can I have another look around, please? On my own?’
‘Sure. I’ll wait here and you take as long as you want. My next viewing’s not for another hour.’
Natalie wanted to see if the cottage would be overlooked by the one belonging to ‘Stuart’. As she walked back towards the drive she noticed how the other property was set at an angle to the empty one, with its main windows looking down to the sea in a different direction. There was a decent expanse of land between them and trees provided extra privacy without sacrificing the views. Both properties had their personal drives for parking, approached by a shared private lane. Someone had put a lot of thought into the layout, she reasoned, before retracing her steps to the front door.
As Natalie walked round she imagined which pieces of her furniture would fit where. The sumptuous designer leather sofa would take pride of place in the sitting room and the circular maple dining table would set off the dining area next to the kitchen. In her mind’s eye she was already in situ, boxes unpacked, and holding a house warming party. There was so much space for guests even if the weather meant they couldn’t wander outside. A complete contrast to the elegant but tiny flat in Islington. She cast a last glance at the kitchen, head cocked on one side, but all was quiet. Smiling, she walked back out through the sitting room to rejoin the patient Jess, sitting on a large stone.
‘I’ll take it. Although it’s more than I planned to spend, I’m sure it will be worth it.’
Jess jumped up and shook her hand.
‘I’m so pleased. I think it’s heavenly.’ She consulted the notes on her clipboard. ‘You’ve already sold your own property I see. Which is marvellous. Are you looking to move in quickly? I’m afraid the garden–’
‘Oh, don’t worry. I can live with it like this for a little while if necessary. I’d want to get some ideas together first. But I would want to complete as soon as possible as I’m living with my parents at the moment so…’ She rolled her eyes. Jess laughed.
‘Got the picture! Right, let’s go back to the office and we can complete the paperwork. And I’ll ring everyone else interested to tell them Beauregard House has been sold.’
‘Even the name says it all – “nice view”. Quite an understatement. What’s the other cottage called?’ Natalie asked as they headed to the agent’s car.
‘The Old Barn. Originally the properties and land formed Beauregard Farm and it was felt the name should be kept, hence Beauregard House. I believe Mr Cross chose the name for his cottage.’
Natalie nodded and slid in beside Jess. Once she had finished at the agent’s office she’d go home to tell her parents the news. Then it was a question of shipping all her belongings over from England once a completion date was fixed. And she needed to buy more furniture to fill the extra space. It promised to be a busy few weeks. Briefly, she thought of the reason why she had finally returned to the island of her birth. She shuddered at the image of Liam’s red, angry face as his fist connected with her jaw.
Thank God she was now safe.
‘Please be careful with that mirror! It cost a fortune,’ Natalie shouted at the two removal men attempting to squeeze past another man carrying a large chest. She drew a sharp breath as they missed each other by an inch. Natalie had forgotten how stressful moving was, particularly when the move involved a delay between moving out and moving in. If she hadn’t made extensive lists she’d have forgotten what was in the various boxes now scattered around the house. Her parents were going to help her unpack once the removal men had disappeared. But for the moment chaos reigned and Natalie badly needed a coffee.
She slipped into the kitchen and filled the kettle. The men would be glad of a cuppa too, and she tipped out the teabags and pack of coffee from the supermarket bag. Moments later Natalie handed out mugs of tea to the men before pouring herself a fresh coffee. Although only ten in the morning, the summer heat was building up and everyone headed outside, those who smoked going to stand at the bottom of the garden. Natalie sank, with a sigh, onto one of the new garden chairs she had bought a few days before. They formed a solitary row on the terrace, still the only part of the garden which had been finished. As she sipped her coffee her gaze was drawn to the piles of earth and stones only slightly smaller than when she’d first viewed the cottage. The landscaper, Matt, had drawn up a proposed plan and Natalie had approved it, adding extra touches and planting for which she agreed to pay herself. So far all that had been achieved was the redistribution of soil from one area to another. She sighed. Her dream of having the garden finished before the end of summer seemed doomed. It could never compete with Jeanne’s garden but she looked forward to having shrubs and flowers planted. And a small pond with fish. And a pergola over the terrace, smothered in scented climbers…
‘Natalie! There you are. I wondered if you needed a hand,’ called Jeanne as she stepped through the folded-back windows.
‘Hi, I was just thinking about you. Or rather your garden. Where’s the offspring?’ Natalie asked, giving her friend a hug. She thought Jeanne looked trim and full of energy for someone with two children under three. Her dark hair swung behind her in a ponytail and her vivid blue eyes shone as she took in the view. One of the joys of moving back to the island had been re-establishing their relationship. Close friends during their childhood, they had lost touch after Jeanne had suddenly left Guernsey after her parents were killed.
‘Harry’s at nursery and Freya’s at home with Nick. He’s supposed to be supervising the work we’re having done in the attic, but I suspect he’ll be outside playing with Madam. She’s got him wrapped round her little finger and she’s not yet one!’ Jeanne laughed.
Natalie smiled. ‘Clever girl. If you’d really like to help, how about we tackle the boxes in the kitchen? I’ll make you a coffee while we’re at it.’ They walked through to the kitchen, now stacked high with boxes bearing lists of contents. As Natalie opened the first one she thought she heard a voice hiss, ‘Go away! Go!’ Startled, she looked around but there was only Jeanne pulling out pans from the box.
‘Did you hear that?’
Jeanne looked up. ‘Hear what?’
‘I thought I heard someone say “go away”.’
‘No, didn’t hear anything. Apart from the noise of those men clattering up and down the hall. Perhaps you imagined it.’
‘Perhaps. I’ve not entirely felt safe since I left London and…and Liam. I keep thinking he’s going to follow me here.’ Natalie felt foolish even as the words left her mouth.
Jeanne’s brow puckered and she stroked Natalie’s arm. ‘Hey, it’s natural to be a bit on edge after what you’ve gone through. But now you’re surrounded by your family and friends and he wouldn’t dare to cause trouble here. Apart from anything else, he doesn’t even know you’re back in Guernsey, does he?’
Natalie shook her head. ‘No, he doesn’t. You’re right, I’ve been a bit stressed out with the move and starting a new job. I’m sure I’ll be fine. And I’m looking forward to being in my own space again. Mum and Dad are lovely but…’ she grinned.
‘I enjoyed my stay with them when I first came back, too. They looked after me brilliantly, but I knew I had to be independent and move into my own cottage.’ Jeanne laughed. ‘You could say I was Mollycoddled!’
Natalie broke out into giggles, the joke releasing the earlier tension and neither of them could stop laughing for a few minutes. At least the mood was lighter as they continued the unpacking. Being a mere five feet three, Natalie had to stand on a stool to reach the top cupboards. She was called upon occasionally by the men to confirm the resting places for the furniture, but within the hour all the boxes in the kitchen were unpacked and the contents stored in drawers and cupboards.
‘Fantastic! At least I’ll have plates and cutlery for my takeaways,’ Natalie said, pushing a hand through her hair. She had always enjoyed choosing beautiful items for her kitchen, even though some were hardly used. Like the pots and pans. A designer-styled toaster, kettle and coffee machine now graced the worktop. The kitchen was once more immaculate, all signs of the recent invasion of boxes obliterated.
Jeanne’s eyebrows shot up.
‘Takeaways? But surely you can cook? Molly would have taught you.’
Natalie perched on a stool. ‘Oh, she did and I used to cook a bit. But working silly hours in the City meant I was always too tired to rustle up a meal when I crawled home. I’d either grab an Indian takeaway or pick up a ready meal from a 24-hour supermarket. I barely had time to shop let alone cook. But I guess I won’t have that excuse now I’m working normal hours again.’
‘I forgot to ask how the job’s going,’ Jeanne said, sitting beside her at the central island.
‘Okay, thanks. Everyone’s very friendly and although we have to work hard, at least I’m not burning the midnight oil. Being in charge of a team at an investment bank is much more civilised, time-wise. The salary’s well down on my old one, but it’s enough. If I start cooking again I’ll save a fortune on takeaways.’ Natalie smiled, eying the super-duper oven.
‘You were lucky to beat the crash with that last big bonus of yours. I was so envious! Fancy being able to pay cash for your gorgeous flat!’
‘Yes, I was lucky, but I’d worked like a dog for years as a hedge fund manager and the pressure was unbelievable.’ She shook her head. ‘Looking back, I don’t know how I managed to stick it out so long. In a way the crash did me a good turn and made me re-evaluate my priorities, including relationships. You know, I’d hardly been out with a guy since I’d moved back to London. How crazy is that?’ She frowned.
They were interrupted by one of the men asking where she wanted her bed positioned and Natalie went upstairs with him. The main bedroom was light and airy, with views over the bay and she wanted the bed on the wall opposite so she could wake up and gaze at the sea. The floor was almost obliterated by cardboard wardrobe boxes and Natalie decided they were the priority once the bed was assembled. She left them to it and went downstairs to find Jeanne.
‘Are you happy to stay for a bit longer? I thought we could tackle the bedroom unless you need to go home.’
Jeanne glanced at her watch. ‘I’m okay for a bit longer.’
An hour later the bedroom was looking habitable and the bed made up. Natalie flopped onto it and groaned. ‘I could quite cheerfully fall asleep, but there’s so much to do.’
‘And I have to get off and relieve Nick; so come on, up you get and make yourself some lunch. Assuming you have some food in that posh kitchen of yours.’ Jeanne laughed.
‘I bought a few things, enough to make a sandwich. I’ll see how the men are doing; they said they’d be finished by lunchtime.’
Downstairs they arrived in time to see the last of the empty boxes being thrown into the van.
The foreman asked her to sign the ticked-off list. After pocketing the generous tip, he and the other three took their places in the van and drove off. As Jeanne gave Natalie a hug, she reminded her to keep in touch.
Suddenly all was quiet and she would be alone for the first time in her new home. A rumbling in her stomach reminded Natalie she needed to eat and she headed for the kitchen, somewhat reluctant to enter the house alone. Telling herself not to be an idiot, she grabbed ham, cheese and butter from the fridge and opened the pack of sliced bread. A few minutes later she went out into the garden with her sandwich and a fresh mug of coffee, glad to sit in the sun and relax. The move, although exhausting, had been smooth and Natalie found herself thinking back to that awful day she had moved out of her flat. And Liam had turned up.