United Kingdom

May 23, 2024



USA

May 7, 2024



The Summer Swap

Look out for Sarah's next summer novel, coming in May!

A summer escape

When Cecilia Lapthorne’s 75th birthday celebrations take an unexpected turn, she seeks solace away from the festivities and escapes to Dune Cottage – without telling her family where she’s going.

A new friendship

Lily Thomas, a struggling artist, has secretly been staying in the unoccupied cottage. When Cecilia discovers Lily during a late-night visit, an unexpected bond forms between the two women.

The joy of starting over

When Cecilia reconnects with her first love, and Lily is thrown together with Todd, Cecilia’s grandson, there appears to be a second chance at love for both women. Lily has been in love with Todd forever, and Cecilia finds herself embracing the simplicity of her new life.

But soon the past catches up with both Cecilia and Lily, and threatens their new happiness . . .

* * *

Read an Excerpt


Excerpt

CHAPTER ONE

Lily

Running away from her life wasn’t something she was proud of, but with a view this good it was hard to regret the decision.
Lily tightened her grip on the handlebars and pedaled harder. Here on the northern tip of Cape Cod while the rest of humankind were still sleepy and had barely reached for the coffeepot, the place was hers alone.
All around her were sand dunes and the ocean stretching as far as she could see. She cycled the same route every day, and every day was different. Today the sky was a deep kingfisher blue, but she’d seen burnt orange, flame red and smoky silver.
It was a place favored by migratory birds and tourists, and generally she preferred the first to the second. The day before, she’d seen a blue heron and two snowy egrets. As far as she was concerned the fewer humans the better, but she owed her current job to the influx of summer people, so she wasn’t complaining.
She breathed deeply, letting the salt air fill her lungs and her mind. She felt free here on this windblown, sunbaked strip of seashore. For the first time in months, she felt better. Stronger. As if she might survive after all. The pressure had eased. She no longer woke at two in the morning drenched in sweat and panic, trapped in her life and hating every moment.
She felt something close to happiness, and then her phone buzzed and the feeling left her in a rush.
She pedaled faster, trying to outrun its insistent demand. She didn’t have to look to identify the caller. It was ten in the morning exactly. Only one person called her routinely at that time.
Dammit.
Guilt and an unshakable sense of duty made her squeeze the brakes and she pulled over, breathless, and dug out her phone. If she didn’t take the call now, she’d be taking it later and the thought of it looming in her future would darken the skies of an otherwise cloudless day. This was the price she had to pay for running away. You could run, but with today’s technology you couldn’t really hide.
“Lily, honey? It’s Mom.”
She closed her eyes briefly.
She’d been expecting this call, ever since she’d declined their invitation to come home and “talk things over.” As if talking it over yet again would change the outcome.
Every time she saw her mother’s name pop up on her phone screen her stomach churned. Guilt sank its fangs into all the soft, vulnerable parts of her. Her parents had made huge sacrifices for her, and she’d as good as slapped them in the face. And she hadn’t even given them a reason. At least, not one they could understand.
They deserved better.
“I’m on my way to work, Mom. I can’t be late.” Never had dirty pots and pans and other people’s laundry seemed more appealing. She’d rather deal with that any day than talk to her mother. Every conversation dragged her backward and left her so twisted with guilt she lost all confidence in her chosen path. “Is everything all right?”
“No. We’re worried about you, Lily.” Her mother’s tone was shaky. “We don’t understand what’s going on. Why won’t you tell us?”
Lily tightened her grip on the phone. “Nothing is going on. And you don’t need to worry.” She repeated the same words she’d said hundreds of times, even though they never seemed to settle.
“Can you blame us for worrying? We have a bright, brilliant daughter who has chosen to throw away the life she worked hard for. And with no reason.”
No reason? As if it had been a whim. As if she’d woken up one morning and decided to waste all those years of hard work just for a laugh.
“I’m fine. This is what I want.”
It wasn’t that her parents weren’t wonderful people, but communicating with them was impossible.
“Are you eating? Have you put on some weight? You were skin and bone when you left here.”
“I’m eating. I’m sleeping. I’m good. How are you and Dad?”
“We miss you, obviously. Come home, Lily. We can cook for you, and spoil you and look after you.”
Anxiety settled on her like a cloak, blocking out sunshine and her hopes for the day.
She knew what going home would mean. She loved her parents, but they’d hover over her with frowning concerned faces until she’d end up worrying more about them than herself. And then she’d do things she didn’t want to do, just to please them.
And it wasn’t as if she hadn’t tried staying at home. She’d done that in the beginning (mostly because her options were limited) and the pressure of pretending to be okay had been exhausting.
“I’m happy, Mom. I just need some space. It’s beautiful here. You know I always loved the ocean.”
“I know. I remember when you were six years old, and we couldn’t drag you away from the sandcastle you’d built.” There was a pause. “Honey, Dad made some calls. He thinks it’s not too late for you to go back to medical school if you want to.”
Lily’s heart started to pound. The sweat of anxiety threatened to become a full-blown panic attack. Her chest tightened. Her hands shook so badly the phone almost slipped from her fingers.
Interference, even well-meaning interference, should be designated a crime.
“I don’t want to. I know you and Dad are disappointed—”
“It’s not about us, it’s about you. We tried so hard to give you all the opportunities we didn’t have.”
Lily stared at the ocean and tried to find her inner calm, but it had fled the moment the phone had rung.
They’d made huge sacrifices for her, and she’d thrown it in their faces. She felt terrible. But staying would have made her feel worse.
“This is difficult for me, too, Mom.” The lump in her throat made it difficult to speak. “I know I’m hurting you and I hate it, but this is where I want to be. I can’t be a doctor. I want to be an artist.”
“You say that, but you’re cleaning houses.”
“To earn money while I try to find a way to do something I love.” While she tried to loosen the knots of stress in her body and untangle the mess in her head. “There’s nothing wrong with cleaning houses. I like it. And it’s a respectable way to make a living. You did it.”
“Because I didn’t have the opportunities you had.”
Lily felt guilt overwhelm her.
Her mother sighed. “Do you need money? We still have some savings.”
And she knew just how hard it would have been for her parents to pull that together after everything they’d already spent on her. She’d vowed never to take another cent from them.
“I don’t need money but thank you.” She didn’t want to think about the dire state of her bank account. She was determined to manage on her own now, no matter what.
“Lily—” her mother’s voice was gentle “—your father would kill me for asking because I know I’m not supposed to ask, but did something happen, honey? Did someone hurt you? Your dad and I always thought you’d make a wonderful doctor. You’re such a kind, caring person.”
“Nothing like that.” Lily’s throat burned. She badly wanted this conversation to end. “Could we talk about something else?”
“Of course. Let me think…not much has happened here. Your father has been busy in the garden.” Her mother spoke in a cheery I’m changing the subject to a safe topic voice. “The hydrangeas are beginning to bloom. They’re going to be stunning. I made the most delicious orange cake last week. No wheat. You know your father. Ground almonds instead of flour.”
“Sounds yummy.” She imagined them at home together and felt a pang. Despite everything, she missed them. Part of her just wanted to run home and be looked after but she knew that feeling would dissipate the moment she walked through the door. Within minutes the bands of pressure would tighten, and she’d be gasping for breath.
“I’m sure there was something I wanted to tell you.” Her mother paused. “What was it? Oh, I remember—I bumped into Kristen Buckingham last week. She’s always so charming and friendly. So normal.”
The last person Lily wanted to think about now was anyone with the name Buckingham.
“Why wouldn’t she be friendly and normal, Mom?” Lily knew how self-conscious her mother was around her friends and she hated it. It reminded her of being back at school and feeling like an imposter.
Her parents had scrimped and saved and worked multiple jobs in order to send her to the best school. They’d believed she’d have a great education and make influential friends. She would absorb their greater advantages by osmosis. It would be her ticket to a better life. They imagined her living her life in a bubble of success, mixing with people whose parents owned mansions and yachts and jets. People whose fridges were loaded with food and never had to worry about making it stretch to the end of the week. People who had drivers, and housekeepers, and staff who cleared the snow from their yard.
And she had met people like that, but most of the time Lily had felt like a stray dog that had somehow wriggled its way into a litter of pedigrees. She’d been afraid to reveal anything about her background, because she knew it was different from theirs. She’d masked her true self because she’d known that she didn’t fit. Despite her attempts to blend, she’d been badly bullied. To make things worse she’d also felt crushed by the pressure of work and parental expectation. To fail would have been to let them down, these people she loved so much and who loved her back. They’d half killed themselves to give her the opportunity. She couldn’t let herself fail.
Panic had hovered close to the surface the whole time, threatening to suffocate her. The only thing that had driven her from her bed in the mornings was the knowledge of her parents’ sacrifice and their pride in her. She hadn’t felt able to tell them how unhappy she was, or that locking herself in a cubicle while having a panic attack didn’t feel like success to her.
She’d been thoroughly miserable until the day Hannah Buckingham had rescued her from a bully who was trying to remove her ponytail with a pair of scissors. After that, everything changed.
Hannah was the granddaughter of the famous artist Cameron Lapthorne. She was a champion of the underdog. She had a fierce urge to protect anything threatened. She wanted to save the whales, and Sumatran tigers, and Antarctica. Lily was added to the list, and they’d become best friends from that moment. Hannah had said Lily was the sister she’d never had. Hannah hadn’t cared about the differences between their household incomes. Hannah hadn’t cared that Lily didn’t have her own bathroom, or a housekeeper to keep her room tidy, or tutors to make sure her grades were the best they could possibly be. Hannah had found Lily interesting. Hannah had wanted to know everything about Lily. She’d wanted to access her every thought. For the first time in her life, Lily had been able to be herself.
They’d been inseparable. Protected by Hannah, the bullying had stopped and Lily had flourished. With Hannah as her friend, her confidence had grown. She’d no longer felt like a misfit.
They’d gone to the same college where they’d both studied biological sciences and then they’d applied to the same medical school. When her acceptance letter arrived, Lily’s parents had cried. They’d been so proud and thrilled. It was the happiest day of their lives.
Lily had been happy and relieved that she’d achieved their goals. That she was everything her parents wanted her to be. That she hadn’t let them down. For a brief moment she’d believed that maybe she could do this.
But medical school had turned out to be a thousand times worse than school. She was surrounded by people who were brilliant, ambitious and competitive.
When the pressure started to crush her brain again, she tried to ignore it. She was going to be fine. She’d survived this far. There were many different branches of medicine. She’d find one that suited her.
It didn’t help that Hannah had no doubts at all. She’d known from the start that she wanted to be a surgeon like her father, Theo. Hannah wanted to save lives. She wanted to make a difference.
On the few occasions she’d met him, Lily had found Theo to be terrifying or maybe it was more accurate to say that she found his reputation terrifying.
Hannah’s mother, Kristen, was equally intimidating. She was an art expert, a whirlwind of brisk efficiency with a life so busy it was a wonder she fitted in time to breathe.
And then there was Hannah’s older brother, Todd, who was smart, handsome and kind, and the object of lust among all Hannah’s friends. Lily was no exception. Teenage Lily had fantasized about Todd. Twenty-three-year-old Lily had kissed Todd in a dark corner during a school reunion.
Lily was in love with Todd, but now Todd was dating Amelie.
Lily had trained herself not to think about Todd.
“I just mean that Kristen is very important, Lily, that’s all,” her mother said. “But she always takes the time to talk to me when I see her.”
“She’s just a person, Mom. A person like the rest of us.”
“Well, not really like the rest of us,” her mother said. “Her father was Cameron Lapthorne. I don’t pretend to know anything about art, but even I know his name.”
Hannah had taken her to the Lapthorne Estate once. It had been the best day of Lily’s life. She’d gazed at the paintings hungrily, studying every brushstroke, in awe of the skill and envious of anyone who could build a life as an artist. Hannah had given her a book of her grandfather’s work, and it had become Lily’s most treasured possession. She’d thumbed the pages, studied the pictures and slept with it under her pillow.
Ever since she was old enough to hold a paintbrush, Lily had loved art. She’d painted everything in sight. When she’d run out of paper, she’d painted on the walls. She’d painted her school bag and her running shoes. She’d said to her parents I want to be an artist, and for a while they’d looked worried. They’d told her no one made money that way and that she was smart enough to be a doctor or a lawyer. Lily knew how much they wanted that for her, and she knew how much they’d sacrificed. She couldn’t bring herself to disappoint them. And so she had dutifully gone to medical school, underestimating the toll it would take on her.
“Lily? Are you still there?”
Lily tugged herself back into the present. “Yes. So how was Kristen?”
“Busy as ever. She was in the middle of organizing a big event at the Lapthorne Estate. Celebrating her mother’s birthday and her grandfather, the artist. It’s happening today, I think. Todd will be there with his fiancée—I forget her name. Amelie, that’s right. And Hannah will be there of course. Kristen invited us, and you, which was generous of her.”
Fiancée?
Lily started to shake. “Todd is engaged?”
“Yes. A bit of a whirlwind according to Kristen. They’d only been dating for a few months, and she thought it was casual. Had no idea it was serious and then suddenly they announce that they’re getting married. I’m sure that wedding will be quite an event. Kristen said it was yet another thing for her to organize, although I don’t understand why the responsibility would fall on her. She’s such an impressive woman.”
Lily wasn’t thinking about Kristen. Lily was thinking about Todd.
She imagined Todd in the gardens of Lapthorne Manor with a glass of champagne in his hand, and Amelie gazing up at him with that flirtatious look that fused men’s brains and made them do stupid things, a large diamond glinting on her finger.
Amelie had been the most popular girl in the school. She’d had the highest marks, the fastest time on the running track and the biggest smile. Amelie was the girl most likely to succeed. She was also the girl who had tried to cut off Lily’s ponytail with a pair of scissors. And now she was marrying Todd. Kind, funny, clever Todd.
Todd had broken Lily’s heart, and he didn’t even know it.
Her palms felt sweaty as she tried to focus on the call. “Are you going to the party?”
“No, of course not. Your father wouldn’t know what to say and I wouldn’t know what to wear. They’re your friends really, not ours. Kristen mentioned that Hannah is enjoying her clinical rotation, but you probably know that as she’s your best friend.”
Lily didn’t know that. Lily and Hannah hadn’t spoken since that terrible fight on the night Lily had packed her bags and left medical school for good.
Every time Lily thought of Hannah she wanted to cry. They’d sworn that nothing and no one would ever come between them, and they’d truly believed that.
They’d been wrong.
“I must go, Mom. I’ll be late for work, and I don’t want to let people down.” She winced as she said it, because she was all too aware that she’d let her parents down. “Don’t worry. I’m happy. I like my life.”
“We don’t want you to waste your talents, honey, that’s all. You’re capable of so much. You could be curing cancer—”
Curing cancer? No pressure, then.
“I hated medical school.” The words spilled out of her. “It wasn’t for me.” And the pressure of trying to keep up had almost broken her. She didn’t expect them to understand. They believed that if you were smart enough to be a doctor, why wouldn’t you be one? And she couldn’t figure out how to make her parents proud, but still live the life she wanted to live. “I want to be an artist, Mom. That’s all I’ve ever wanted. You know that.”
“I know, but where’s the future in that? Your dad and I just don’t want you to struggle financially as we did. Life can be hard, Lily.”
Lily closed her eyes. She knew that. She knew how hard life could be.
“I’m managing fine. And I’m going to pay you and Dad back.”
“That’s not necessary, honey. We love you and remember there’s a home and a welcome here whenever you need it.”
Lily’s throat felt full. It would be easier to disappoint them if they weren’t so decent. If she didn’t love them so much. “Thanks. Give my love to Dad.”
She ended the call, wondering why big life decisions had to feel so difficult and wondering why, when there were so many people her mother could have bumped into, she’d had to bump into Kristen Buckingham.
Her little bubble of happiness had been punctured.
Todd was engaged. He was going to marry Amelie, and no doubt they’d have two perfect children and a dog and live a long and happy life with not a single bump in the road.
But she wasn’t going to think about that now. And she wasn’t going to think about Hannah. Twice in the last few months she’d almost texted her. Once she’d even typed out a message, but then she’d deleted it. Hannah had been furiously angry with her, and Lily had been angry with Hannah. They’d both been hurt, and Lily had no idea how to move past that hurt. Given that she hadn’t heard from Hannah, presumably she didn’t know, either.
The friendship that they’d believed could never be damaged, had been damaged. Broken. Amelie might as well have taken her scissors to it.
But that was in the past now.
Hannah was living in the city, and Lily was here on the Cape, and even though she’d brought all her emotions with her it was still preferable to being in the smothering atmosphere of her parents’ home. And at least it had been her decision to come here. For the first time ever, she was living the life that was her choice.
She just wished it felt easier.
Eyes stinging, she dropped the phone back into her bag and pedaled hard. The call had cost her ten minutes, but if she moved fast she’d still get the work done.
The breeze blew into her face and dried the dampness of tears. One day she’d make it up to her parents. She’d find a way to make them proud, even though she wouldn’t be curing cancer.
She turned into the driveway of a large mansion and cycled up to the house, her sudden stop creating a small shower of gravel. Grabbing her backpack, she sprinted to the front door and waved to Mike, the gardener, who was hauling trays of plants from the back of his truck.
This particular house was a prime beachfront property and was booked solid throughout the summer months. It slept fourteen, and the last fourteen to occupy it had clearly had a good time if the state of the kitchen was anything to go by.
The company she worked for catered to the luxury end of the market and it always surprised Lily that those people seemed never to have mastered the basic art of clearing up after themselves.
She scooped up empty pizza boxes, removed a discarded lobster shell from one of the kitchen chairs (she could be curing cancer, but instead she was clearing up lobster shells) and cleared half a dozen empty champagne bottles into the recycling. She wiped, she spritzed, she mopped, she polished, and once she’d restored the kitchen to its usual pristine state and reassured herself that there was no lasting damage, she headed toward the bedrooms.
By the time she’d finished it was midafternoon.
She took a large drink of water from the bottle she kept in her backpack and retrieved her bike.
“I’m all done.” She pushed her bike across to Mike, who was hunkered down over a flower bed.
Mike had worked for an investment bank until he’d suffered a serious case of burnout. Now he worked as a gardener, and said it was the best decision he’d made. It helped, of course, that he’d made himself a tidy sum of money before changing direction.
He straightened, stepped over a clump of petunias and walked over to her. “Where are you off to next?”
“Dune Cottage.”
“That place is a mystery.” He pulled his hat down to keep the sun from his face. “Have you ever seen anyone staying there?”
“Never. Easiest cleaning job I do all week. A bit of light dusting. Clean the windows, sweep the deck. Freshen the bed linen occasionally. Report anything that needs repairing.”
“Who do you think owns it?”
Lily shrugged. “I’m guessing some billionaire from Manhattan who can afford to keep it empty.”
“Isn’t it a bit small for a billionaire?”
“Maybe he’s a small, single billionaire.”
Mike grinned. “A single billionaire. Does such a thing exist? Money is a powerful aphrodisiac.”
“Not to everyone.” In her experience, money didn’t always bring out the best in people. “I have to go. See you tomorrow, Mike.” She climbed onto her bike and pedaled down the drive and onto the cycle track that led to a remote part of the outer cape. The trail took her over sandy dunes and past salt marshes, and then finally the cottage appeared, nestled among the dunes, separated from the ocean by soft sand and whispering seagrass. Its white clapboard walls and shingle roof had been weathered by the elements, but still the building stood firm. It had become as much a part of the landscape as the shifting sands that surrounded it.
Whoever owned it was the luckiest person in the world, Lily thought. And the most foolish, because who would own a place like this and not use it? It was a criminal waste.
She and the people she worked with occasionally played guessing games. It was owned by a rock star who had ten mansions and never quite got around to using this one. It was an FBI safe house. The owner was dead and buried under the deck (as she spent a lot of time alone there, that wasn’t Lily’s preferred theory).
Whoever it was had made sure that they couldn’t be identified. The management fees were paid by an obscure, faceless company. No one could remember when the cottage had last been inhabited. It was as if it had been forgotten, abandoned, except not entirely abandoned because it was maintained as if the owner might be coming home any day. And Lily was responsible for keeping it that way.
It was, in her opinion, the perfect job and if she was ahead of her workload she occasionally sneaked an hour or more to paint because the light and the views in this particular stretch of the Cape were spectacular.
She leaned her bike against the wall where it would be protected from the elements, hoisted her backpack onto her shoulders and headed up the wooden steps to the deck that wrapped itself snugly around the cottage.
If Lily had been asked to name her dream house, this would have been the one. Not for her, the mansions that were dotted along the coast from Provincetown to Hyannis. She didn’t want marble, or hot tubs, a games room, gym or a cinema room.
She wanted this. The ever-changing light. The views. The feeling that you were living on the edge of the world. When she was here, her misery lifted. Her energy returned and she wanted to grab her sketchbook and record the view so that the memories would stay with her forever.
She delved into her pocket for the keys and opened the front door. Every time she stepped over the threshold, she fell in love all over again. She didn’t care that the place was weathered and worn. To her, that was part of its character. This placed had been lived in and loved. It had history.
She tugged off her shoes and left the door open to allow the air and sunshine to fill the place.
The interior was simple, every item carefully chosen to complement the ocean setting. The sofa was shabby, upholstered in a blue fabric that had faded over time and had once matched the armchairs facing it. There were hints of nautical everywhere. The coffee table was made from timber salvaged from a shipwreck, no doubt a casualty of the dangerous waters and shifting sandbars. It was stacked with books and sometimes Lily curled up in the evening and read while listening to the sounds of the sea floating through the open windows.
The living room opened onto a wide veranda, which Lily was continually sweeping. At the back of the cottage there was a studio, north facing, with large windows that flooded the room with light.
Upstairs was a master bedroom with glorious views across the dunes, a large second bedroom and a third bedroom built into the eaves.
Lily headed upstairs, ducked her head to avoid banging it on the sloping roof and dropped her backpack in the smallest bedroom. She felt a stab of guilt and had to stop herself from glancing over her shoulder to check no one was watching her.
Just one night, she’d told herself the first time she’d stayed here. And then one night had become two, and two had turned into a week and she was still here two months later. At first she’d felt so guilty she hadn’t even slept on the bed. She’d unrolled her sleeping bag and slept on the sofa in the living room and woken when the morning light had shimmered across the room. She’d used the shower in the smaller of the two bathrooms and told herself that occasionally running the shower and flushing the toilets were an important part of her caretaking responsibility.
She hadn’t always lived here. Over the winter she’d shared a room with two other girls in a house in the town, but then the tourist season had taken off and every bed was needed for visitors. Lily’s funds didn’t stretch far enough to cover the cost of a new rental.
That was what she told herself, but the truth was she couldn’t bear to leave this beautiful place. Sometimes she felt as if the cottage needed her as much as she needed the cottage. And who was ever going to know? No one came out this far once the sun had set, and she’d already decided that if someone found her here during the day she would simply say that she was cleaning the place. That was her job after all.
Gradually the cottage had embraced her and made her feel at home. She’d graduated from the slightly lumpy sofa to the smallest bedroom in the eaves (the master bedroom was taking it too far) and now her sleeping bag was stretched on top of the bed and she even kept a few toiletries in the shower room.
Over time she’d started to think of the cottage as hers. She cared for it as lovingly as a family member. She couldn’t do anything about the peeling paint or the slightly tired furnishings, but she could make sure it was clean and always looked its best. Sometimes she even talked to the cottage as she was shaking out cushions and dusting down surfaces.
Why does no one come and stay in you? What sort of people are they that they’d leave you alone like this?
Whenever she was asked where she was living she gave a vague response, leading people to believe that she was couch surfing until she found somewhere permanent. The truth was, she’d stopped looking. Partly because her days were full, but mostly because she couldn’t bring herself to leave and saw no reason to do so as the place was empty.
She loved being alone here. It meant that she could be herself, and not have to pretend to be something she wasn’t. She loved the fact that in the evenings she could sit on the deck and watch the setting sun throw streaks of red over the sky and water. If she couldn’t sleep, she could switch on the light and read without anyone asking her if she was okay. She could eat, or not eat, knowing that no one was policing her food intake. She could feel what she wanted to feel without the added pressure of knowing she was worrying someone.
She didn’t have to pretend to be fine.
Because she wasn’t fine. She hurt, inside and out, and until she stopped hurting she didn’t want to be anywhere but here. She couldn’t think of a better place to be wounded.
The cottage nurtured her, tempting her to sit on its sunny deck, or venture into the cozy kitchen to make herself a sandwich or a mug of creamy hot chocolate. With its old wooden cabinets and butcher-block countertops, the kitchen had a warm, welcoming feel that was a contrast to the sleek, modern kitchens that graced most of the homes she cleaned.
But the biggest comfort for Lily were the paintings. The walls were crowded with them. Sketches, oils and pastels—she’d studied them all closely, examining every brushstroke and every line because they were all extraordinary. And she couldn’t believe that paintings of this quality were hanging on the wall of an almost abandoned beach cottage, because they weren’t prints of the sort that were sold by the thousands in various shops along the Cape, or the work of an amateur. She was sure—or as sure as she could be—that at least some of them were the work of Cameron Lapthorne. His initials were in the corner. CL. And she recognized his style.
The best, in her opinion, was the large watercolor hanging in the living room. She’d stared at that painting for hours, seduced by the subtle blend of colors, intrigued by the figure of the woman standing on the sand, staring out to sea. Who was she and what was she thinking? Was she simply admiring the view, or was she planning on plunging into the freezing waters and ending her misery?
Every time she looked at the painting it seemed different. The shadows. The soft flush of light across the ocean. It was as changeable as the scenery that had been its inspiration. Looking at it made her chest ache and her throat close. It wasn’t just a painting; it was a story. It made her feel. Whoever that woman was, Lily felt an affinity with her.
And if she was right that it was an original then this painting alone was worth millions. But she didn’t care about its monetary worth. For her its value was in its beauty. Being able to gaze for hours at that painting was a privilege. It was like having a private view of the Mona Lisa, or Monet’s Water Lilies.
She suspected Mike was wrong when he assumed the cottage wasn’t owned by someone with pots of money. Maybe not a billionaire, but whoever it was had enough money not to care that they were leaving valuable art unattended.
Or perhaps it wasn’t an original.
She’d studied Cameron Lapthorne’s work in depth but had never seen any mention of this painting, and it differed from his usual style.
She tore her gaze away from it now and headed for the studio where she kept her paints and canvases carefully hidden in one of the cupboards.
She’d skipped lunch, but she didn’t want to waste a moment of the light by preparing a meal for herself and, anyway, the conversation with her mother had chased away her appetite. Instead of eating, she reached for her pad and her oil pastels and headed toward the deck.
She wanted to paint. And even if nothing she produced ever came close to capturing the magical light of the Cape in the way Cameron Lapthorne had when he was alive, she would keep trying.
Food could wait. And so could finding alternative accommodation.
There was no urgency. After all, it wasn’t as if anyone was using the place.

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