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Liz Fenwick's Cornish Summer Blog Tour: Extract and Giveaway
Today is my stop on the Bumper Summer Blog Tour for Liz Fenwick celebrating all her books, all of which are displayed above! To celebrate I have an extract of the wonderful The Cornish Affair and a fantastic Giveaway. Don't miss your chance to win a book bundle with all Liz's books:
Extract: The Cornish Affair
~ One ~
Osterville, Cape Cod, Massachusetts
I stood in front of a full-length mirror and didn’t recognise the woman who appeared there.
‘Breathe out.’ Sophie, my best friend, instructed. ‘How much weight have you lost since the last fitting?’
‘I don’t know.’ The dress hung on me. ‘Can we stuff something in it to fill it out?’
Sophie reached into her dress and pulled out two gel objects. ‘Here, use these.’
I waited while she undid the buttons at the back of the dress. I was not a pretty sight, and not how I ever imagined I’d look on my wedding day.
‘I just don’t understand why you are in this dress.’
‘Don’t go there. Mother wanted this one.’
Sophie rolled her eyes. ‘I was there. This dress would have suited Rose, or even your mother. It’s not you at all.’
I took a deep breath and shoved the inserts into the corset. My boobs popped up but not really out. Sophie buttoned me up again. I knew exactly what she meant about the dress. It was fussy, and I looked like a coat hanger wearing a meringue.
‘Sorry to mention Rose.’
Sophie gave me a swift hug, both of us blinking away emotion. I was wearing far too much mascara to cry.
‘Are you ready?’ My mother, Jane, walked into the room without knocking. She studied me from head to toe. I held my breath.
‘You look ...’ Mother came up to me and adjusted the neckline of the gown over the bolstered curve of my bust. ‘Perfect.’
‘Thanks.’ Another glance in the mirror confirmed her words were a lie. Mother stood beside me, gazing at our reflections. I towered over her delicate frame. Her lilac dress set off her blond hair. The only similarity between us was our mouth; I had her full lips. Rose had been the image of Mother, where I was gangly and dark.
‘I knew I was right about the dress. It’s far better on you than the one you preferred.’
I nodded. There was no point in disagreeing at this stage; I’d left it too late.
The leaves on the birch trees surrounding the church were still. It was as if time had stopped, yet I heard the chatter inside. I stood at the porch and tried to breathe. The air was heavy, threatening. Despite the haze, the temperature was over a hundred degrees. How could it be so hot on Cape Cod in early June?
‘OK?’ Dad asked as he appeared from behind and took my elbow.
I frowned, but then turned and gave him a grin.
‘Nervous?’ He glanced at his watch. It was three o’clock. Any moment now the music would change and I would begin my last walk as a single woman. I looked through the door and down the aisle. The church was filled with pink flowers – hundreds of lilies, to be precise. The altar was barely visible for all the massed blooms in every shade of the wretched colour; particularly pale pink. I’ve always hated pink. I should have said so, but I hadn’t.
Beside the altar stood my fiancé, John: tall, blond and gorgeous, but even he hadn’t escaped the colour. His waistcoat matched the flower girls’ dresses. Like dolls, they spun around my knees with pink, stinking lilies clutched in their fists.
I held my bouquet away from me. The scent of lilies was overpowering at any time, but in the heat it was worse, unlike the fragrance of some other flowers. I looked up into Dad’s eyes.
‘What’s on your mind, Jude?’
I leaned over and rested my head on his shoulder for a second. ‘The garden we created in Abu Dhabi.’
‘It was this hot too.’
‘Yes, it was.’ Abu Dhabi had been special. Rose had still been well when we’d lived there, Mother less frantic, and the garden was sublime. The fragrance of frangipani and night-scented jasmine came to mind. ‘I loved that garden.’
‘Me too.’ Dad straightened his waistcoat. The heat was bad enough in my dress. It must have been unbearable in a morning coat.
‘It was the first one we made from scratch.’
‘A long time ago now.’ He put his hand on my arm.
‘Almost twenty years.’ The music stopped. I felt the pressure of Dad’s grasp increase on my arm. My mouth went dry.
‘Ready?’ he asked.
I nodded, but then I saw Mother signalling to the choir loft. ‘False alarm.’ Dad took a hankie out of his pocket and wiped his brow. The rosebud in his buttonhole had gone limp. I touched it.
‘Not made for this heat, me or the rose.’ He put his hankie away.
‘I love roses, though.’ A lump formed in my throat.
‘She’d love all of this.’ His glance made a broad sweep of the church. ‘She’s with us in spirit.’ He found my hand and gave it a squeeze. ‘Your mother’s walking back down the aisle. I’d better go see what the delay is.’
He moved quickly and led Mother back to her seat. The church was packed with five hundred people all in their finest. Between John and me we might know half of them, but only a hundred could be called friends. My parents had splashed out, and I hadn’t the heart to rein them in. After all, this was their one chance. I was their only child now, and had been for eighteen years. It was all I could do. They would never see Rose’s wedding day, so mine was their only chance to throw a big party.
My parents stood beside the front pew with their heads together. Around them the congregation buzzed with hushed discussions. The simple lines of the church were obscured with all the decorations. No detail had been too small for Mother’s attention.
I closed my eyes, wondering what was up. I fiddled with my charm bracelet. The hump on the camel should have been worn off because of all the times I had rubbed it, wishing that Rose were still with me. Seven years my senior, I had adored her. If she were here, if the kidney disease hadn’t killed her, I wouldn’t be nervous and Mother wouldn’t be fussing.
The music changed and I opened my eyes. Where was Dad? Shouldn’t we be walking down the aisle? Searching the church, I found him settling Mother. He pressed a kiss to her temple and began to pull away.
A car drew up to the bottom of the church steps and I recognised the thick ankle that was emerging. I dashed to help Great-Aunt Agnes out of the car. She batted me away with her walking stick as her driver came round to help.
‘I’m pleased I’m not late.’ She grabbed the other stick from the driver and made for the steps. I walked beside her, ready to steady her. She was ninety-four and still lived independently, despite everyone except me trying to push her into a home.
‘No need to fuss, Jude.’ She turned to me. ‘I’ve managed to stay alive until your wedding day, so I can damn well make my own way into the church.’
I loved her spirit. Despite Agnes’ insistence on walking in alone, I glanced about for one of the ushers. It wasn’t tradition for a bride to seat her guests, but Agnes was special, so I might risk Mother’s ire and do just that.
We reached the church door and she took a few breaths while she studied me from head to toe. ‘Nice shoes. Ghastly dress. Your mother’s choice, I expect. She’s always got her own way.’ I opened my mouth to reply but then shut it.
‘You’re a dear girl, but have always been too biddable for my taste. Keep wondering where the Warren backbone is in you.’ Her voice rang out, and I wondered if she had forgotten to turn on her hearing aids. I placed a hand on her arm. ‘Mind you, your father seems to be missing it too. Your mother’s always had him by the balls, from what I can tell.’
I glanced around, hoping that no one could hear her over the organ. Clasping her elbow, I began to lead her into the church when Sophie’s boyfriend Tim came to my rescue. ‘Handsome boy.’ Agnes took his arm, then turned to me and winked.
I back-stepped to the lobby, feeling Mother’s wrath as her gaze burned into me. A drop of sweat trickled down my bolstered cleavage. A breeze swept past, stirring the delicate birch leaves. Only a thunderstorm could relieve the oppressive atmosphere.
Peering down the aisle, I caught a glimpse of John standing with his best man. He looked so distant, so formal. His glance met mine and he smiled. It would be all right. Nerves were normal.
‘Hasn’t Jane done well with Judith marrying John? This is what she’s been trying to achieve for years.’ A woman spoke over the music.
‘I know. The Stewarts are such a good family, and he’s already a partner in the firm. But I have to say I still wonder what he sees in the Warren girl. She’s nothing like Jane, has none of her style. Jane did well to marry her off.’ They looked at my mother as she resumed her seat at the front.
I didn’t know either woman, but they knew me, or more precisely, Mother. Mother had been over the moon when I had begun dating John, and thinking about it now, moving me towards this day from that moment. Was John my choice or hers?
The bouquet I held reached the floor with its cascade and, almost as if I weren’t really there, I watched my hands tremble so much that I dropped the candyfloss mess. One of the flower girls dived to retrieve it and I extended my hand, looking at the artful design of the arrangement. It wasn’t right. It wasn’t me. This whole thing was wrong. I dropped my hand, then I ran as fast as my shoes would let me, never looking back.
The incoming tide lapped over my red toenails and wet the brilliant white froth of my wedding gown. Tears caused it all to blur to pink, reminding me of the wretched lilies. That was hours ago, and now the salty water of the Gulf Stream had removed the stiffness from the skirt so that it collapsed against my legs. Finally I felt at peace with the damn dress.
A seagull dive-bombed into the water. I wiped my eyes so that I could see if it was successful. It was, and I smiled. At least someone had gotten what he wanted. But then, the gull knew what it wanted, and I hadn’t. Big difference. I had only discovered what I hadn’t wanted at the worst possible moment. It was an effort to stand. My legs had gone a bit dead. I’d lost count of how long I’d been sitting staring at the water. It didn’t hold any answers, and now I had to go back and face everyone. The sun had set, and by rights I should be on my way to Boston for my wedding night, then onto Maine to start my honeymoon, not standing by an empty lifeguard tower.
Looking at the sea again, the enormity of what I’d done hit me. I needed to talk to John, but I had no words, or none that could begin to make amends for what I had done to him.
I brushed the sand off as best I could, wishing I had a phone. All I had was a soaking dress, a veil and a useless pair of highheeled shoes. My progress across the beach was slow. The dress hindered my movement. It hadn’t been light to begin with, but Mother had been so excited, and I’d wanted to make her happy if I could. In a way, this was to have been her day as much as mine.
My legs ached. The walk felt endless. A car’s horn sounded as it whooshed past me. I knew I looked a sight, and the sooner I could change the better. The house came into view and I stopped.
The flowerbeds at the front of the house were a riot of colour with the orange Hemerocallis, or daylilies, shouting for attention over the soft tones of the white peonies. Dad had thrown his heart and soul into making sure the garden would be beautiful for my day. My day ... I squeezed my eyes shut. Those happy moments when John and I had worked with Dad seemed ages ago, but it was only a few weeks.
Caterers came out, and I hid in the shadow of a large pine. Once they’d gone back inside, I limped onto the lawn and studied the one constant in what had been my peripatetic life: a weatherboard house with dark green shutters. We had come here every summer, and when Dad retired it had become our permanent home. I didn’t want to go in. Mother would be in a state; and why wouldn’t she?
Standing by the house, it appeared so peaceful, but that could be deceptive. It didn’t look as if it was on the water from this angle, but it was. From here it could be in the woods, but walk through the door and the house opened out to reveal Eel River. It was originally built by my great-grandfather as a summer cabin in the 1920s when summer cabins were ambitious, with room for servants, and you came to Cape Cod on the train with steamer trunks.
I had let all of them down, past and present, by not walking up the aisle. Everything was so clear in my mind, but how could I explain to everyone without hurting them more? Now, hours later, I was facing what I’d done as lights shone out of all the windows of the house. It looked happy. It was dressed for a party, my party, and I hadn’t turned up until it was over. The cost of the whole thing made my eyes water.
Pushing aside these thoughts, I knew that what held me in the shadows was not fear of Mother’s huge displeasure, but of Dad’s disappointment. How was I going to explain to my rock why I had bolted?
I moved towards my car. It was parked out of the way, waiting for my return from honeymoon. What was John doing? Getting drunk, I should imagine. That sounded appealing, but before I could do that, or anything else, I needed to get out of this damn dress. As quietly as I could, I moved to the side door where the sounds of chairs being stacked and orders given almost drowned out my mother’s voice. I stood still and listened.
‘What was that child thinking?’ Her English accent was always more pronounced when she was angry. Her words carried on the night air.
Child? Thirty is not a child. I began to walk out of the shadows, but stopped as she continued.
‘Jane.’ Dad cut her off.
‘Leaving John at the altar was such an overdramatic, asinine thing to do.’ Mother paused. ‘Did you see Mary’s face? There was her beloved son, standing at the altar looking like a fool and our daughter was the cause. I doubt they will ever speak to us again.’
‘It was terrible.’ Dad’s voice broke.
‘I’ve never been more embarrassed in my entire life.’ Jane sighed. ‘I don’t know how I’ll ever be able to show my face again.’
I couldn’t see my father, and whether he agreed with her or not. ‘You’re tired. You put so much work into making this day wonderful for her.’ His voice trailed away. ‘Where the hell is she?’
Jane sighed. ‘I’m sure she’s fine and thinking only of herself, and not of John or his parents or even us. Hasn’t that always been the way with her? I’m so disappointed.’
‘Rose would never have done this. She was so thoughtful, and not at all selfish.’ Jane sobbed.
I remained in the shadows. I couldn’t move. Mother’s words echoed in my head. She was right. Rose would never have done this.