Copyright © Grace Harper 2023
The right of Grace Harper to be identified as the author of this book has been asserted by the Copyrights, Designs and Patents Act 1988. Copying of this manuscript, in whole or in part, without the author and her publisher’s written permission, is strictly prohibited. All rights reserved
Karl Spencer paced the room, rehearsing his plan aloud. Back and forth, he stomped past the open windows and up to his desk before turning to march back. Wearing the carpet thin for half an hour, he paused to glare at the seagull that had perched on the windowsill. The bird seemed to judge his plan, which centred entirely on Rebecca Patterson, still in love with him.
Karl’s workshop was a small room at the back of the cottage. The room acted as a temporary studio when he was staying in Jackson’s Bay. Karl made bespoke, expensive jewellery for the wealthy and famous, but it wasn’t always like that. Twelve years ago, Karl had fallen in love with Rebecca when he was a poor struggling designer. She was an ambitious woman who stole his heart the first time she looked him square in the eye. He had finished his apprenticeship under his father’s guidance a month before meeting Rebecca. He desperately wanted to make his fledgeling business a success.
When Karl was tired, like that morning, he would forget to duck his head when he left the workshop to step into the living room. More times than he’d cared to admit in the last week, he had given himself a headache by banging his head on the door frame. Rebecca Patterson had dominated his thoughts day and night in recent months.
There wasn’t a week that passed by that he didn’t regret running away from her that night a decade ago. Karl spent a lot of time hating himself for not fighting for their relationship. He’d rationalised that they were too young to marry and start a family. Karl reasoned that if he’d stayed, they might have split up, anyway.
Rebecca and Karl had met at a wedding party. Rebecca was sitting next to him at the singles table, spending most of her time tapping on her phone. She displayed no interest in the happy couple or the ceremony. Rebecca had told him she’d been strong-armed into going to the ceremony and reception to cover the wedding for the magazine she worked for. Karl was only there on the lonely singles table because he had helped design the couple’s wedding rings. Karl had spoken to the bride twice in the year leading up to the wedding and didn’t really know why he had been invited. But, after taking one look at Rebecca in her revealing bottle green silk dress, he didn’t much care how he got there. Instead, he was glad he’d attended.
Karl had gotten Rebecca drunk, and within hours they were sharing a bed as soon as she’d emailed her article to her editor. After that, nothing much changed over the following two years. They spent most of their time together in bed, naked, when they weren’t working. Karl was concentrating on building his bespoke jewellery business. Rebecca had her career goal of becoming editor-in-chief at Ipris Magazine.
Karl had learned the jewellery trade from his father at a young age. Karl’s dad had developed glaucoma and had failing eyesight not long into his fifties. Karl was only too glad to skip further education and take over the business. Helping his father in the workshop was never a chore. He loved creating the designs for the jewellery pieces. Karl especially enjoyed the trips to buy diamonds and pearls, hearing his dad negotiate the prices for the gems. He vowed to make his father proud and carry on the business. His father ran it as a hobby more than a profit-making empire. When Karl got control, he steered the company more towards bespoke items with high-quality jewels.
Over the years, Karl had become a high-end jeweller who only dressed the rich and famous. If there were a red-carpet event, at least one of the guests would be wearing one of his designs. Karl thanked Rebecca for his success. After they split up, he poured every waking hour into the business. The thought of one day reuniting with her drove him to be the best in the industry. Spencer Jewels had stores in New York, Milan, and London and a queue of men and women wanting him to design for them.
A trip to Jackson’s Bay for an Ipris party ten years ago caused Rebecca to pause and take a look around the town. She’d visited the town as a child but only returned for Ipris parties. After many weekend trips from London, over the following months, they fell in love with the slower pace of life in Jackson’s Bay.
Three years ago, Karl had spent a rainy couple of hours in a coffee shop with Harvey Hinder. Harvey, a media mogul and owner of Ipris magazine, was drinking coffee in the far corner, reading a paper. Karl was waiting for his solicitor to phone him, to tell him that the contracts had been exchanged for the cottage he had bought.
Until Karl could pick up the keys from the estate agent, he had nowhere to go. So he spent an afternoon drinking coffee with the head of the Hinder family business. Karl learned so much from Harvey that afternoon, especially about his gifted Editor-in-Chief for Ipris magazine. Harvey wouldn’t shut up about Rebecca Patterson’s talents. Karl wasn’t about to silence him. He was secretly pleased that Rebecca had obtained her dream job and patiently listened to any details of Rebecca’s life, including if she had married. Harvey revealed that Rebecca had a house in the town. Harvey didn’t need to tell Karl which house she had bought when he mentioned that she had a property in Jackson’s Bay. If Karl was correct, Rebecca had gone through with buying the home that should have been for their future.
At first, Karl was livid that Rebecca had gone on to buy the home they’d chosen together. Unfortunately, the mortgage was more than they could afford at the time. Karl had joked that they would have to eat beans on toast for the first few years to make the payments. The property Karl had bought was a ten-minute walk from Rebecca’s house and a complete contrast in size and age to the house she’d bought.
On that day, once Karl obtained the keys to his new home, he walked along the wooden planks on the beach to Rebecca’s house.
Karl stood outside the glass fascia and wondered when she would be back in town. Harvey had told him that Rebecca had only ever stayed at the house for Christmas and New Year. Karl couldn’t get back for the first Christmas because he was snowed in at a hotel in Boston. He made sure he was at home the second Christmas, but she never came.
Karl had stayed in contact with Harvey over the years. He had quizzed him to see if Rebecca would do her usual flying visit for the Ipris Gala that year. Harvey had told him she was coming for a week, to his surprise. As soon as Karl had hung up the phone, he started planning.
Rebecca had loved his muscled back. Karl was going to get her attention first to see if she was still attracted to him. He’d never stopped loving her. He loved the soft curve of her waist and whip-smart retorts for anyone who thought they could take advantage of her good nature.
The night Karl left their tiny London home was the worst night of his life. Rebecca had looked at the pregnancy test and calmly walked into the kitchen to finish washing up the plates from their dinner. Karl paced the living room, thinking she would come back out with soapy hands, but she didn’t. Finally, after half an hour of waiting for her to walk into his arms, he ran upstairs to their bedroom and packed a bag. Karl stuffed random clothes into an overnight bag and thundered back down the stairs. The front door was opposite the kitchen door. He didn’t give her a glance, although he knew she was still in there.
Karl walked out of the house and down the street, where they’d had the happiest of times and never looked back. Only days later did he brand himself a stupid fool and wanted her back, but he was too cowardly to do anything about it.
It didn’t matter. A decade had gone by, Karl was determined to find out if she still felt anything for him.
Leaving his cottage on the first day Rebecca was supposedly in town, he jogged along the path that led to her house. Out of sight of her home, he took off his t-shirt, stuffing the edge into his back pocket. Karl took a deep breath and jogged the rest of the way to her home. Standing with his back to her veranda, he waited. Karl knew Rebecca was home like a sixth sense. He was out of breath from sheer adrenaline and regained his composure while looking out to sea. He felt her stare, and when he’d counted to a hundred, he put his t-shirt back on. Karl made a vow. If she ogled his back, he would move on to phase two.
Closing his eyes for a moment, he turned.
Karl’s heart pounded faster in his chest as he watched her beautiful face freeze with surprise. Her mouth dropped open, with her chest rising and falling in shock. Karl knew that look. He knew she liked what she saw. Karl was thrilled he could move to phase two because there was no backup plan.
Karl would marry Rebecca Patterson. He’d already made her engagement ring. She just needed to say yes.
Rebecca Patterson pressed her foot on the accelerator of the canary yellow sports car. This would be the last opportunity on the journey to speed down the motorway. In a few miles, the junction Rebecca needed would be signposted for the turnoff leading to the small seaside town, Jackson’s Bay.
It had been weeks since she’d seen more than half a day’s sunshine. She had her roof down on her convertible for the whole journey from London. Finally, with only a few miles to go, Rebecca whipped off her baseball cap that had firmly kept her strands of long dark hair from flying in her face. Leaving her Jackie O style sunglasses on to shield her hazel eyes from the blazing sun, Rebecca glanced at the horizon. The blue coastline of the ocean came into view, and her heartbeat slowed as she approached the turnoff from the motorway. The sight of the ocean relaxed all her muscles, and the regret of not coming sooner washed over her. It had been too long since her last visit.
Rebecca loved driving her sports car but rarely had the time to take it out on long journeys. Her friends told her it was a scandal that the vehicle spent most of its life under a tarpaulin in a garage she rented in London. Rebecca’s job as Editor-in-Chief of Ipris fashion magazine afforded her luxuries, like her car and a plush apartment. The only downfall was that her job didn’t allow her any time to enjoy, either.
That week, she intended to indulge in everything she loved. Rebecca had an endless list in her head of the extravagances she would indulge in for the week ahead. It didn’t mean she was abandoning her work. She would do her job from a sunnier location than at her desk in an open-plan office. Rebecca planned to eat pastries every morning for breakfast. She intended to discard her high fashion, tight-fitting dresses for loose shirts and ragged shorts. Rebecca didn’t have the entire week off. She was still head of the magazine and needed to ensure it ran smoothly. Delegation of the annual Ipris Gala was handed to a dedicated team a year ago. For a change, there would be no last-minute panicking about the party for her. It would be someone else’s headache. During the week, Rebecca had several meetings set up, but none was urgent, more like casual catch-up lunches. The rest of the week was hers to do as she pleased. It was rare that she had any time to herself. The last five years had been non-stop since she’d landed her dream job as Editor-in-Chief of Ipris Magazine.
Purchasing the roadster had been a goal she’d set when she began her career in media twelve years ago. Her first job in her local newspaper office was to type up notes for journalists on the road. Rebecca completed her degree at evening school. Eventually, through luck and perseverance, she landed the coveted editor-in-chief position. The editorial was one of the most successful fashion magazines in the world. High-end fashion, with gritty, honest and pointed pieces of journalism. Above all, the magazine was about women’s empowerment, which drew Rebecca to the magazine. Queen Victoria was on the throne when the first edition of Ipris hit the stands in London. That was one of the aspects of the magazine Rebecca loved. It was old as time, steeped in tradition and celebrated women.
Rebecca had travelled the world, living a single life. Although occasionally taking lovers along the way, Rebecca remained unattached. None of her relationships lasted for more than a few months. She was too busy for a relationship, too busy for phone calls at one in the morning asking when she was coming home. Rebecca put her heart and soul into the magazine, and that was why it continued to be successful under her leadership. Of course, it didn’t hurt that she was a control freak.
The deep, dark truth of why Rebecca spent sixteen hours a day at Ipris was that Karl Spencer broke her heart ten years ago. He walked out of her life for his career in America. Yet, she never forgot her first love. One drunken night, a few years ago, after a record-breaking sales month had been achieved at Ipris, she shared her feelings with Harvey about Karl. Rebecca had told him all about Karl and her love for him.
Rebecca had visited Jackson’s Bay as a child and enjoyed playing on the beach with her brothers and parents. For many years, her family would make the pilgrimage to the town for the summer holidays. Their temporary home was one of the holiday cottages not too far from the beach. Her parents were both self-employed when she was a kid, with jobs that allowed them to work wherever they had access to a library. Then, ten years ago, Rebecca bought her own home overlooking the beach. It was meant to be the start of her future with Karl, but all too quickly, the happiest time of her life turned sour. When she signed the contract for the property, she was in tears.
Her week of relaxation would still involve work. She didn’t know how to relax without her phone and laptop within arm’s reach. There was no one else forcing her to put sixteen-hour days in. That was all her. No time would have been ideal for Rebecca to take it easy, so she chose this week. The annual Ipris Gala took place at the Imperial Estate. The grand pile of bricks was old and beautiful, built during Queen Victoria’s reign. It was a fitting place to have the annual gala party. The building had views overlooking the town of Jackson’s Bay at the bottom of the cliffs.
It was the 140th anniversary of the magazine. Rebecca had a week of meetings with the key people who would be special guests at the party. Fortunately for her, they agreed to meet her in Jackson’s Bay. Many of them seemed to be taking advantage of the hot weather and holing up in the town for a few days before the main event. The Imperial Estate opened its doors to the public three days a week and only during the summer months. Except for the week of the Ipris Gala. The magazine had the run of the place for the week leading up to the party and for a few days afterwards. It took an army of people to pull off the extravaganza that brought the fashion royalty and famous to the red carpet and blue ceiling ballroom.
She planned to unplug from city life. The deal she made with herself on the drive down would be to not touch any technology for the first forty-eight hours. She’d opened and closed her mouth a few times, clutching for the words to rationalise why that wasn’t a good idea. Deep down, she knew she was exhausted and needed a break. An entire team of fifty people was planning the Ipris Gala, and all she had to do was make decisions. All of these had been decided and implemented, and everything was set. Her team were at the Imperial Estate preparing the event.
Rebecca had no reason not to relax. Her doctor frowned at her when she attended her annual physical health assessment and chatted through the results. Rebecca vowed to try her best.
Flicking the indicator to signal left, Rebecca came off the dual carriageway. She circled around the slip road until she reached a country road. It was a short road leading up to the local airfield and onto the beachside streets. Rebecca had bought a house overlooking the beach to make a home and a life with the man she loved. These past ten years, she only came during the wintertime to relax at Christmas and New Year, avoiding all the happy couples around her over the holiday season. The magazine had an enforced holiday break for the Christmas holidays, so she escaped city life. Rebecca was too busy to come at any other time. A cleaning service came in once a month to ensure everything was in order with the house and safe from intruders. They had come in yesterday to stock the cupboards and fridge in readiness for her visit.
Pulling up to the house at the far end of the road, she slowed to a crawl so she could take the remote control out of her glove compartment and open the garage door. Slipping in under the garage door before it was fully lifted, she parked the car and pressed the remote once more to seal her arrival. Rebecca pressed the electronic button to pull the roof over her head, and once it was in place, she stepped out of the car, throwing her sunglasses onto the passenger seat. Taking the carry bag from the boot, she unlocked the side door to the house from inside the garage. Rebecca pulled her shoulders back with a violent shudder and entered the house. She loved and hated her second home in equal measure. Dealing with the departure of Karl, she poured all her venom and hatred towards the house, refusing to decorate the walls or fill the place with pretty flowers. Rebecca’s heart shattered when she realised that Karl had indeed left. The pieces of her heart, pebble dashed the lining of her rib cage. It had taken years for gravity to pull her heart back into one beating muscle. There was a temptation to sell the house, but by the time she had paid her third mortgage, the house was in negative equity. Over the years, she had healed from the initial heartache. Then she was promoted to the stage where her mortgage payments didn’t wipe out her bank account, and she could start to spend money on a decent dinner every now and again. It wasn’t until she landed the Ipris job that she could start to enjoy life.
Rebecca’s wardrobe upstairs had enough clothes for a month-long stay, but it was mainly wool jumpers and trousers. With the humidity in the air, there was a chance that she would spend the entire week walking around the house naked, just to keep cool. Eventually, she would need to move all of her clothes to the house, but that was something she could do much later in the year. The case sitting in the car’s boot had what she needed for the week, and Rebecca was in no hurry to get it. The clothes represented what she would wear to her meetings in Jackson’s Bay, and right then, she wanted a large glass of wine. Rebecca would later get her main case from the car, once she had located the bottle of crisp white wine and had eaten dinner. She was starting her forty-eight-hour work free time immediately.
Walking through the hallway, she picked up the letters the cleaning company had left on the sideboard under the mirror. Avoiding her reflection, Rebecca dropped her car keys into the giant seashell bowl. Her small case stayed upright in the hallway while she inspected the fridge. To her delight, there on its side was a bottle of Sancerre. She pulled the cork, poured a generous glass and slowly walked up the stairs to the bedroom while working out the contents of the unopened letters. Attached to the master bedroom was a veranda that stretched the width of the house. Sliding the glass door open, the warm sea breeze swamped her body. The salty air filled her lungs as she took a long, deep breath. Kicking off her heels, she sank into the cushioned seat of the chair and rested her ankles on the balcony railing. She didn’t want to move from that spot for a week. Her friends would be proud of her desire. Rebecca wondered at what point her restless nature would kick in and she would search for her laptop and check her emails. Taking a sip of the dry wine, Rebecca closed her eyes and listened to the faint crash of waves against the pebbles. Children’s excited screams peppered the air alongside the random car engine that idled by. It was only at the sound of the children that she realised she was drinking wine at lunchtime.
After the second glass, she wandered into the bathroom, no longer caring that alcohol had been her crutch for too many years. Not trusting that she would fall asleep in the bath, she opted for a quick shower to wash away the travel grunge that Rebecca always felt she had gained after leaving London and reaching a place as pure as Jackson’s Bay.
Wrapping a towel around her body, she padded back to the balcony and gazed out to the beach again. Right in front of her was a shirtless man, his legs parted shoulder-width apart, with his hands on his hips. His dark hair, almost black, was cropped short to his head but slicked with sweat from running. He was looking out to sea. The man’s shoulders heaved up and down as the sweat dripped down his back. His tanned skin shone with his sweat. A grey t-shirt dangled down from his back pocket, draping past the edge of his white shorts at his knee. Without moving his legs, he pulled the t-shirt out of his pocket and whipped it over his head, covering his torso.
“Damn, that was a stunning view,” Rebecca muttered.
If that was going to be the type of view she would see every day, then she had chosen well in her destination. She hadn’t planned on getting laid, but she would make an exception for the man under her scrutiny.
The man turned his head and stared right at her. She didn’t think she had said the words loud enough for him to hear. He winked at her and then started to jog down the path, turning once to jog backwards and to give her a second wink before he faced the sun and sprinted into the distance.
Rebecca’s heart hammered at an alarming speed in her chest. Gripping the railing with one hand, she held onto her towel with the other, scared that it would drop as her shock sank in. The last person she expected to see was Karl Spencer.
Her relaxing week was about to be turned into a hot mess.
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