Two cancellations for weekend craft class. Main boiler playing up. Rained
all night. Need more buckets.
Agnés Prideaux’s Journal
KAM Faulkner leaned forward against the
steering wheel, peering through the rain blanketing the Creek to catch
his first glimpse of Priddy Castle.
Fourteen years ago he’d been an angry teenager looking back out of the
window of the van containing all their possessions. Angry, afraid and
desperately hoping for some signal, a last-minute reprieve until the
very last moment when the island had cut off the view of the only home
he’d ever known.
Cutting off the last view of the girl who had caused all the trouble.
He’d sworn then, as the ferry had docked on the far bank and his mother
had forced a reassuring smile, a brave “don’t worry, we’ll manage” that
he’d be back and he’d make her pay. He’d make them all pay.
It has been raining then. Not this soft stuff, little more than mist
that clung to the windscreen, blurring the view. It had been drenching
rain that had soaked their clothes as they’d stowed their home into a
It had run off Agnés Prideaux’s long dark hair, down her face, her
soaked t-shirt clinging to her as she stood on the quayside, watching
the ferry leave. Saying nothing, not even a shouted sorry even though
the loss of his mother’s job, the loss of his home was all her fault.
The ferry cleared the island and his throat dried as he caught his first
glimpse of his destination.
Castle was too grand a name for it.
Priddy wasn’t one of those great grey
fortresses built by the Normans. It had started life as little more than
a stone watch tower thrown up to guard the entrance to the river and the
once important trading port upstream from raiders, would be invaders,
its fortunes ebbing and waning like the tidal river it guarded.
It had been regularly abandoned, only remembered when new dangers
threatened until an enterprising man left in possession after some
forgotten crisis, had decided to stay. He’d built himself a gentlemen’s
residence alongside the tower, which became a decorative irrelevance
until the eighteenth century when the risk of invasion from France gave
it a renewed purpose.
The only invasion had been from smugglers carrying brandy and silk.
They slipped into the Creek without challenge because Sir Arthur
Draycott, baronet and magistrate, whose duty it was to guard the coast
and hang smugglers, was in cahoots with Henri Prideaux, the most
infamous smuggler in that part of the coast.
Not that Sir Arthur had lived to enjoy his ill-gotten gains. But his
daughter had married the smuggler and Henri Prideaux had become king of
the castle, his own title bought from equally corrupt politicians he’d
done business with.
There was nothing to guard now and, with the last baronet gambling away
what remained of the fortune, Priddy Castle had become little more than
an upmarket B&B.
He had wondered if it would look smaller than his imagination remembered
but, looming out of the mist, the rain-darkened grey tower retained
every bit of its threatening presence.
Chains clanked as the old pontoon ferry reached the slipway and the ramp
was lowered. He forced himself to relax and joined the vehicles heading
along the quay, past the row of old fishermen’s cottages tucked in
beneath the protection of the castle.
The fishermen had shaken off the shackles of the Priddy estate when the
railway had arrived on the far side of the Creek, opening up the
lucrative London market for their catch.
Artists, drawn by the light, and the cheap cost of living, had flocked
to the area until, around the turn of the century, it had become a
It had all been a bit ramshackle and scruffy when he left but today
there were tubs of spring flowers, vivid against the freshly
white-washed walls and an upmarket deli was doing brisk business serving
the yachting fraternity that had grown up in the safety of the Creek.
Even the old chandler’s store, where he’d once conducted a lively
back-door trade in the sea trout he’d poached from the Creek, had been
given a make-over.
The number of fishing boats heading out to sea may have dwindled to a
handful, but tourism, the marina, had filled the gap. The town of Castle
Creek, with its pastel-painted cottages rising on the opposite bank in
theatrical stages, had become a desirable place to have a holiday
cottage. A place to bring your children for the summer. A place to build
sandcastles on the beach, mess about in boats, build happy memories if
you were among the privileged few.
Kam took the lane leading up to the
castle, slowing as he rounded a bend and then pulled over in front of
the cottage that had once been his home.
Tied to his mother’s job at the Castle, the cottage had been neglected
by a careless owner, but the windows had shone, the garden had been neat
and cared for.
He’d seen photographs, but the reality shocked him. Roof tiles had
slipped, there was a cracked pane stuffed with cardboard to keep out the
weather. It was in the shelter of the hill, but paintwork needed
constant attention this close to the sea. As for the garden. He would
have to fight he way through the rank weeds to reach the front door.
If it was no use to the estate, why hadn’t they sold it? Or done it up
to let as a holiday rental. Things were bad now, but they hadn’t always
After a moment to compose himself, he carried on up the hill.
On the sheltered, landward-side of the tower, the original house had
been extended by successive generations until it had become a rambling
muddle of styles but as he swept through the gates, it was the rose
bricks of the Tudor frontage that appeared though the soft filter of the
It looked better than he’d expected after seeing the cottage.
The gravel drive was weed-free and raked and while the drifts of
naturalised daffodils that would have lit up the long curve of the drive
early in spring had died back, there were early tulips glowing pink
through a haze of forget-me-nots in huge tubs by the heavy oak front
They did a good job of distracting the eye but, this close, the stains
on the brickwork where the sagging gutter had overflowed during the
heavy overnight rain, were obvious.
There was an arrow pointing to the designated parking space where half a
dozen cars were neatly lined up. He ignored it and parked near the front
door. He grabbed his bag and, ignoring the damp mist that clung to his
face, stood back to get a better look at the roof.
It wasn’t only the guttering that needed urgent attention.
. . . . .
‘Please, Jimmy…’ Agnés Prideaux was beyond pride. She was begging. ‘I
did the jiggly thing that you showed me to get it going but just
juddered a bit. It needs your magic touch.’
‘What that boiler needs is a one-way ticket to the scrap yard.’
‘It’s top of my list,’ she assured him.
Along with patching up the roof, fixing the gutters and half a dozen
other problems that her grandfather had ignored for years and then,
having invested all the estate’s disposable assets in a bank offering a
high interest rate that anyone could see was a disaster waiting to
happen, had drunk one bottle of brandy too many and died, leaving her to
deal with the mess.
‘If you could just pop over in your lunch hour and do your thing, I’ll
treat you to the chef’s special in the Conservatory.’
This was happening so regularly that she didn’t need to mention the
cash-in-hand payment that would come out of her own purse.
Jimmy sighed. ‘I’m sorry, Agnés, but the boss has laid down the law. The
Castle is off limits until your account is paid.’
This morning had been a disaster. Without the boiler there would be no
hot water for the guests after a long hard day creating their
‘Even in my own time,’ he added, before she could plead.
‘Can he do that?’ she demanded as her struggle to maintain a swan-like
calm while paddling frantically to keep ahead of her creditors, already
stretched to breaking point, finally snapped. ‘The miserable old goat
knows he’ll be paid as soon as the lawyers stop faffing around and
settle the probate.’
She’d not only snapped but far worse, she was lying. She was that
Probate had been granted a week ago but between her grandfather’s lack
of judgement and a looming inheritance tax bill, she was about to
descend into negative equity in a big way. Her only chance of keeping
the castle was to convince the bank that it was a viable business, but
if the boiler wasn’t fixed the comments on the digital review sites
would ensure that there would be no more guests to feed the maintenance
bills and the bank that liked to say yes would be saying not a chance…
‘Can I speak to him?’ she asked.
Another voice said, ‘The miserable old goat has you on speaker phone,
Miss Prideaux and to answer your question, yes, if Jimmy wants to keep
his job, he can.’
She swallowed. ‘Mr Bridges—’
‘Priddy Castle business is always welcome,’ he said, cutting off her
apology before she could even think how to recover the situation, ‘but
our terms are one month. We’ll be happy to oblige just as soon as the
outstanding account is settled.’
She held the phone to her ear for a long moment, but the connection had
been cut. She’d been left hanging in space with nowhere to go.
Agnés jumped at the unexpected sound and
swung round on her chair.
The guests were all supposed to be safely out of earshot in the barn
creating collages. The man leaning against the doorframe didn’t look as
if he spent his weekends messing about with scraps from the attic. At
all. What was clear, was that he’d been here long enough to have heard
every word of her embarrassing conversation with the heating engineer.
She took a breath and did her best to arrange her face into a welcoming
smile. ‘Can I help you?’
‘I have a reservation,’ he said, ‘but there’s no one at the
‘I’m so sorry. Suzanna must have been called away.’
‘A complaint about the lack of hot water, perhaps?’
She felt the hot flush rush to her cheeks but rose to her feet,
indicating with a gesture that he should lead the way. ‘Are you here for
the class?’ she asked, reminding herself not to judge by appearances. He
might want to tap into his creativity. ‘It’s already started but—’
‘I haven’t come here to upcycle rubbish into art.’
He hadn’t used his fingers to make quote marks but the way he said “art”
he might as well have done. He had however, paraphrased the poster
pinned up on the wall behind her that listed the craft weekends she’d
organised to bring in guests during the winter months.
His tone did suggest that he had something on his mind and her heart
sank. Was this another of her grandfather’s debts come to haunt them?
She cleared her throat to ask, since there was no use putting off bad
news, but he beat her to the question.
‘You don’t recognise me, Agnés?’
Distracted by the crisis with the boiler, eyes gritty from scouring the
accounts in a rob-Peter-to-pay-Paul attempt to find money for the
outstanding plumbing bill — not to mention the eye-avoiding
embarrassment —she hadn’t given him much more than a glance. Total good
But then he said her name and a flicker of butterflies stirred beneath
He waited for her brain to catch up with what she had heard, what she
A fuzz of the misty rain that had blanketed the creek since dawn clung
to a familiar mop of unruly dark hair, a close-cut beard, olive skin…
As she met the steady gaze of dark eyes, the years fell away, she was a
teenager again and in the desperate, painful throes of first love…
‘Kam?’ Agnés breathed the name, reached out to touch his jacket, as if
to reassure herself that he was real. Curled back her fingers before
they came into contact with the damp leather.
His beautiful boyish face had been battered into manhood, his shoulders
had widened and the growth spurt that came later to boys had taken him
past six feet. He seemed twice the size of the fifteen-year-old boy
who’d been banished from the castle by her grandfather. Larger, tougher.
‘Kam Faulkner,’ she said.
‘There,’ he said, the corner of his mouth pulling up in the nearly-smile
that had stolen her heart the first time she’d seen him and, she
discovered, still had the power to make it leap. ‘That wasn’t so
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From the book
THE BILLIONAIRE'S CONVENIENT BRIDE by Liz Fielding
Copyright © 2018
by Liz Fielding