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Authors: Emma Lee-Potter

Beach Combing

 

 

Beach Combing

 

Emma Lee-Potter

 

 

© Emma Lee Potter 2013

 

Emma Lee Potter has asserted her rights under the Copyright, Design and Patents Act, 1988, to be identified as the author of this work.

First published 2013 by Endeavour Press Ltd.

 

 

This is a work of fiction. All names, characters, organisations, circumstances and events in this publication are entirely fictional and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and completely unintentional.

 

Chapter One

 

‘Wow,’
murmured Lara Rawlinson, lowering her sunglasses to get a better look at the surfer.

She
knew next to nothing about surfing but this man was definitely on top of his game. She couldn’t make out his face – he was too far away for that – but even from this distance she could see he had the body of an athlete. He looked lean and lithe in his distinctive aquamarine wetsuit and his stance on the surfboard was cool and assured as he rode the crest of the wave. It was as if the glittering blue ocean was his stage and the holidaymakers sunning themselves on the shore were his audience.

Lara
had paid an astronomical sum to rent a deckchair for the afternoon, planning to spend a peaceful few hours reading her book in the Cornish sunshine. Only she was so enthralled by the surfer’s skill that she hadn’t read a single word yet.

When
the massive breaker slowed and began to run out of power he jumped into the water and paddled back out to sea with his board. Ready to start all over again.

The
spectacle over, Lara leaned back in her deckchair. She closed her eyes, enjoying the warmth of the sun on her skin. This was the life, she thought. No boring essays to write, no tricky parents to pacify and no annoying boyfriend to keep tabs on. Ex-boyfriend, she reminded herself firmly.

Lara
was just drifting into a lazy doze when two bossy fingers jabbed her forearm. She sat up with a start and saw Alfie’s cheery face beaming at her.

‘Why
are you at the beach, La-wa?’ asked the little boy, a confused expression on his brow. ‘Will you come and make a sandcastle with me?’

Lara
beamed at him. Alfie was only five and couldn’t say his Rs yet. No matter how hard he tried to say ‘Lara,’ he just couldn’t manage it. She was always ‘La-wa’ to him.

‘It’s
my afternoon off, Alfie,’ she said, pulling him on to her knee for a hug. ‘I’d love to build a sandcastle with you but your daddy said he’s taking you out for a special lunch with some friends of his.’

Her
eyes quickly scanned the beach. It was so full of deckchairs, beach mats and picnic boxes that hardly a square metre of sand was visible.

‘Where
is your daddy, by the way?’

‘I’m
right here,’ said a deep male voice behind her.

As
Jago Dunlop stepped in front of her deckchair, Lara’s face flushed scarlet. She hurriedly shoved her sunglasses back on, trying to hide her awkwardness. She’d been working for Jago for two weeks and she was still as tongue-tied in his presence now as she’d been on day one. It didn’t help that her employer was one of the most gorgeous men on the planet. Tall and dark-haired, with piercing blue eyes and a lazy, charismatic smile, Jago had starred in a string of blockbuster movies. The press loved him and were always comparing him to George Clooney, even though he was a good fifteen years younger than the American heartthrob, with a cut-glass English accent to boot.

Alfie
scrambled off Lara’s lap and threw his arms round his father’s bronzed legs. In his immaculate polo shirt, long navy shorts and deck shoes (no socks, of course), Jago looked more like a top-drawer aristocrat than an actor. But Lara knew from endless searches on Google that Jago came from a surprisingly humble background. His dad had been an impoverished steel worker and he’d grown up in a village on the gritty outskirts of Middlesbrough. After winning a prized scholarship to drama school he had worked long and hard to ditch his northern accent. While he was at it he’d got rid of his real name too, swapping the more humdrum ‘John’ for the raffish ‘Jago.’

‘Can
we get an ice cream with La-wa, Daddy?’ pleaded Alfie. ‘A cornet with spwinkles on the top? There’s a place where me and La-wa always buy them. You’ll really like it…’

Lara
grinned at Alfie’s childish exuberance and at his pronunciation of ‘sprinkles’ as ‘spwinkles.’ Alfie, who was small for his age and had a mop of dark brown hair, was just as irresistible as his father. Whether he was explaining his passion for
Thomas
the
Tank
Engine
stories or the
The
Jungle
Book
DVD, his all-time favourite, the little boy brought a smile to her face every time he spoke.

‘Maybe
later, Alfie,’ said Jago. ‘We’re having lunch at the Seaview Café, remember? You’ll love it there. It’s got a view right across the bay. You’ll be able to watch all the sailing boats going by. I think there’s a race this afternoon.’

A
worried frown appeared on Alfie’s face and Lara had to stop herself giggling. It was clear that given the choice Alfie would far rather have an ice cream with multicoloured candy sprinkles on top than a slap-up lunch at the best restaurant in St Grace.

‘Can
La-wa come with us, Daddy?’

Lara’s
heart sank at Alfie’s suggestion. She could just about manage the odd bit of small talk with Jago, but lunch with him would be torture.

Jago
raised his eyebrows enquiringly at Lara. ‘Would you like to join us?’ he asked, his voice as smooth as honey. ‘How rude of me. I should have invited you before. Alfie would love it. We’ve got a couple of other guests coming along and I’m sure the restaurant won’t mind laying an extra place.’

Lara’s
brain went into overdrive as she desperately tried to think of an excuse. Feeling at a distinct disadvantage in her deckchair, she struggled to her feet. Even when she was standing up, Jago still towered over her.

‘It’s
really kind of you both,’ she said, looking first at Alfie and then at Jago. ‘But I’m afraid I can’t. I’ve, er, got a prior engagement.’

‘What’s
a pwior engage…?’ chirruped Alfie.

Lara
gazed out to sea again. The waves were more choppy now and the surfer she’d been watching earlier looked like he was having the time of his life. So were the seagulls, swooping and soaring over the water.

‘I’ve
got a… a surfing lesson,’ she muttered, her words coming out in a rush before she even thought about what she was saying.

‘Really?’
said Jago breezily. ‘I didn’t have you down as a sporty type, Lara, but good for you.’

He
was interrupted by a couple of sunburned women in bikinis clutching copies of
Hello
! and
OK
! magazines.

‘Can
we have your autograph, Jago?’ said one. ‘We love you. We’ve seen all your films.’

Jago
looked appalled for a second, then pulled himself together and smoothly acquiesced.

‘Yes,
of course. I’d be delighted.’

Once
he’d scrawled his name and posed for iPhone pictures, he turned back to Lara and Alfie.

‘It’s
a great idea to give surfing a go, Lara. It’s harder than it looks but I’m sure you’ll be surfing like a champion by the time we leave.’

Lara
shifted uncomfortably from one foot to the other, then smoothed a long brown curl behind her ear.

‘I
don’t think that’s very likely,’ she said, remembering her woeful sporting record at school. She’d never made it into any of the teams and had taken far longer than any of her friends to learn how to swim. Even now, her swimming technique was an embarrassment. She could just about do fifty metres of breaststroke (although if she was honest, it looked more like doggy-paddle) and as for the front crawl, forget it.

‘Well,
I hope you enjoy it,’ said Jago. ‘Now come on, Alfie. We should have been at lunch five minutes ago. Lara will tell us all about her surfing lesson later, I’m sure.’

As
Alfie slipped his hand inside his father’s, Lara groaned inwardly. What on earth had possessed her to say she was going surfing? She’d been looking forward to a lazy afternoon in the sun with her new Marian Keyes novel. Now she was going to have to go and book a surfing lesson. Worse still, she was going to have to hire a wetsuit – just about the most unflattering outfit on the planet. Well maybe not if you had a figure like Cara Delevingne, which Lara, 5ft 4ins tall and with an hourglass figure, most definitely didn’t.

 

Chapter Two

 

St Grace was one of the prettiest towns on the rugged north Cornwall coast. In the winter it was a sleepy fishing community where apart from the pub quiz and the cider festival nothing much happened. But in the summer it burst into life and turned into a bustling seaside resort. The place attracted holidaymakers from all over the world, most of them drawn by the winding cobbled streets, the whitewashed fishermen’s cottages and the artists sketching on every corner.

The
town was built around a horseshoe-shaped bay, with a tiny harbour on one side and a long, sandy beach on the other. In the old days fishing and tourism had been the only industries to speak of but the bay was fast making a name for itself for the quality of its surfing – sheltered enough for beginners but, with its bracing wind and near-perfect breakers, challenging enough for seasoned surfers too.

Ed
was hosing down the long line of surfboards propped outside Grace’s Surf Shack. The surfing school had had scores of beginners out this morning and he needed to wash all the sand and wax off the boards in time for the next sessions.

Ed
had been working at the shack on and off for six weeks now and still couldn’t believe what a shambles it was. A surfing fanatic, he’d agreed to help out with one proviso – that he’d still manage to get a couple of hours surfing in every day.

‘Excuse
me,’ said a girl’s voice.

Startled,
Ed whirled round and nearly stopped in his tracks. He’d been miles away, caught up in thoughts about waves and wind conditions and surfboards, but standing in front of him was the prettiest girl he’d set eyes on in months. Small and curvy, with long chestnut hair and grey eyes, she wore a pale pink sundress and trainers and had a worried expression on her face.

‘Hi,’
said Ed. ‘How can I help?’

‘I…
I want to book a lesson. A surfing lesson.’

Ed
grinned. ‘Well, you’ve come to the right place then. Surfboards, wetsuits, rash vests, surfing lessons – you name it, that’s what we do here. Hang on a minute, if you step inside the office I’ll give you a leaflet. It’s got all the details on there.’

Lara
followed him into the office and gaped at the chaos. It was little more than a shed really, with a makeshift desk propped on wooden trestles, a three-legged stool, an ancient armchair and a massive ghetto blaster blaring out a weird electronic mix tape. Lara could barely hear herself think.

Ed
switched the music off and began rummaging through the pile of paper on the desk.

‘Ah,
here we go,’ he said, handing Lara a flier with Grace’s Surf Shack emblazoned across the top in bright blue letters.

‘What’s
your name, by the way?’

‘Lara.
Lara Rawlinson.’

Ed
thrust his hand at her. ‘Good to meet you, Lara Rawlinson. I’m Ed. Now the first thing I need to know is – have you ever surfed before?’

‘Never.’

‘But you can swim?’

‘A
bit, but not very well. I don’t really like it.’

Ed
smiled. ‘So how come you chose St Grace for your holiday? Seems odd to come to the seaside if you don’t like swimming.’

Lara’s
mouth twitched and then she couldn’t help giggling.

‘I
s’pose,’ she conceded. ‘But I’m not exactly on holiday. I’m working down here. Just for the summer.’

‘Whereabouts?’
Ed couldn’t recall seeing her in any of the multitude of cafés and bars in the town. She was so pretty that he was sure he’d remember if he had.

‘It’s
a bit hush-hush. I’m not meant to talk about it.’

‘You
make it sound like you’re in the secret service or something. But you don’t exactly look like a spy.’

Lara
grinned again, her smile lighting up her eyes. ‘Very funny. OK, I’ll tell you – so long as you don’t spread it around. I’m working as a nanny. Looking after a little boy called Alfie.’

‘So
what’s the need for all the cloak and dagger stuff?’

Lara
glanced behind her, just to check no one was listening. ‘His dad’s a film star,’ she said. ‘A really famous film star. And he’s hired me as Alfie’s nanny for the summer.’

‘Sounds
like a cool job,’ said Ed casually. He knew exactly who Lara’s boss must be. St Grace was a close-knit place and everyone knew everyone else’s business. It was common knowledge that Jago Dunlop had bought a house up on the cliff. The actor had barely been in Cornwall for two minutes before the estate agent had tipped off the local paper.

Lara
frowned. It might sound ‘cool,’ but that wasn’t exactly the way she’d describe it. Alfie was a sweet little boy but looking after him was a huge responsibility and her hours were horrendous. Up until today Jago had barely shown an ounce of interest in his young son so Lara had been caring for him from seven in the morning till eight at night, seven days a week. And the trouble was that by day Alfie was gregarious and sunny-natured but by night he turned into an anxious little boy who was frightened of the dark. He frequently had nightmares so Lara spent hours at night trying to coax him back to sleep. And the enigmatic Jago hadn’t once appeared to comfort him, leaving Lara to wonder whether he even heard his son’s plaintive cries. Or whether he was actually in the house at all.

Lara
wrenched her thoughts back to Ed and her surfing lesson.

‘It
has its moments,’ she muttered. She didn’t want to sound disloyal, but the job wasn’t half as glamorous as everyone assumed.

‘Do
you get to travel a lot?’

‘What
do you mean?’ said Lara, slightly puzzled.

‘I
just assumed that working for a hotshot movie star means you’ll be living in luxury and flying all over the place. New York, San Francisco, that sort of thing.’

‘Afraid
not. I’ve got six weeks in St Grace and then a couple of weeks in Oxford. Jago’s filming a few scenes of his new movie there… And after that Alfie will go back to his mum. And I… I’ll be back at uni.’

In
fact Lara had got her job by complete fluke. An impoverished art history student, she’d been job-hunting for weeks when she spotted Jago’s ad on a summer jobs website. She’d spent several holidays in a row looking after children but even so, this post was out of her league and she was astonished to be invited to an interview. As luck would have it, the meeting was at a hotel round the corner from her student flat and the interviewer, a jolly, middle-aged woman who introduced herself as Jago’s sister, had seemed to take a liking to her. A week later, Hilary Dunlop invited Lara to Jago’s white stucco townhouse in Notting Hill to meet Alfie and the pair of them got on like a house on fire.

‘You’re
the first person to sit on the floor and actually play with him,’ said Hilary approvingly as she watched Lara add a red brick to the top of the Lego tower Alfie was building. ‘The others have either been obsessed with Jago or too busy talking to me to take any notice of Alfie, which is definitely the wrong way round. You’ve got brilliant references as well, so if you can commit to looking after Alfie for eight weeks from July 1st I’d like to offer you the post…’

Lara
had been over the moon to get the job. Her student finances were in a shocking state so it would go a long way to getting her solvent again. Even better, it meant she could avoid her parents for the whole of July and August.

‘So
is there anything you want to ask me?’ asked Hilary. ‘I’ve done far too much of the talking.’

Lara
hesitated, all too aware of Alfie playing happily next to her. Thanks to swotting up on Wikipedia the day before she knew loads about Jago but next to nothing about his wife. Well, she knew he’d married an Australian actress called Camille Mansfield back in 2007 but that was about it.

‘There
is something, but…’

Lara
gestured vaguely in Alfie’s direction, not wanting to ask about Camille in front of him.

Hilary
Dunlop cottoned on immediately. She glanced at her watch, a flashy-looking Rolex that was at odds with her frumpy dress. Presumably a gift from Jago, thought Lara.

‘Alfie
love, it’s time for your tea. Mrs Baring told me she’s cooking you something delicious. Let’s go through to the kitchen. Then while you’re eating your tea I can chat to Lara a bit more.’

Alfie
had looked reluctant to leave his impressive leaning tower of Lego, which was now tilting at an alarming angle. But he let Hilary take his hand and lead him out of the room.

‘Will
you guard it for me, La-wa? Please don’t let anyone knock it down. It’s the highest tower I’ve ever built.’

During
the ten minutes it took for Alfie to wolf down his tea, Hilary ran through the turbulent details of Jago’s marriage to Camille. The pair had met in Hollywood (where else, thought Lara), had a passionate fling and married within weeks. Alfie was born less than a year later, by which time they couldn’t stand the sight of each other, let alone contemplate sharing the same bed. So Alfie had spent the first five years of his life being shunted back and forth – across countries and often across continents – between his warring parents. The only constant in his life was Hilary, who’d made it her business to spend as much time with the little boy as she could.

‘Jago
and Camille are both so wrapped up in their careers,’ murmured Hilary. ‘I’m ten years older than Jago so I’ve always helped him out. When he was a penniless drama student it was a matter of lending him a bit of extra cash now and again. These days I help by looking after Alfie.’

Lara
was moved by Hilary’s devotion – both to her brother and to her nephew. She wasn’t sure she would do the same thing but then again, maybe Hilary was fonder of her family than Lara was of hers.

‘So
why do you need someone to look after Alfie over the summer?’ she asked. ‘Can’t you do it?’

A
pained expression crossed Hilary’s careworn face. ‘I’ve got to look after Mum,’ she said. ‘She’s seventy-five and even though she insists she’s as strong as an ox she isn’t. She’s having a hip operation in a couple of weeks and now that Dad’s gone I’m the only person she wants. Camille’s filming in Australia so Jago has taken most of the summer off to be with Alfie, but he… well, he isn’t very patient. I think he needs help. An extra pair of hands if you like. So that’s where you come in…’

Chatting
to Ed outside the surf shack Lara found it hard to believe she’d been looking after Alfie for more than two weeks already. After a few days in Notting Hill Jago had announced that they needed to get out of London and that they were off to his place in Cornwall.

Actually,
‘place in Cornwall’ didn’t do justice to The Captain’s House at all. Jago had made it sound like a tiny bolthole on the coast when actually it was a four-storey mansion on the cliff above St Grace. On the outside it looked like a traditional stone manor house, albeit one with a swimming pool, tennis court and far-reaching views across the bay. But inside it resembled a luxury hotel. Jago had hired an interior designer called Coco Arora to revamp the house at vast expense and the place looked like something out of
The
Great
Gatsby
. The pièce de resistance was a thirty-foot drawing room with a series of elegant French windows opening on to a massive terrace. But instead of filling it with traditional furniture and floral armchairs, Coco had insisted on painting it white, lining the walls with vast abstracts by Patrick Heron and furnishing it with overstuffed pale linen sofas. It was the most beautiful – and probably the least practical – room Lara had ever seen, though to his credit Jago insisted everyone must use it. So Alfie whizzed merrily along the wooden floor on his beloved scooter while Jago spent most mornings sprawled on a sofa drinking endless cups of coffee and learning his lines for his next film.

‘Where
are you staying?’ asked Ed, even though he knew perfectly well.

‘Up
on the cliff,’ said Lara vaguely.

‘Fabulous,’
said Ed. ‘Now then, about this lesson. I haven’t got anything today but tomorrow looks OK. Do you want to be part of a class or go for a one-to-one session? Classes are cheaper but you’ll get on faster if you book a private lesson.’

Lara
hesitated. She wasn’t sure she wanted to book a surfing lesson at all.

‘Come
on, Lara. You look like you’re booking an appointment at the dentist. Surfing is supposed to be fun, remember? And don’t worry. I’ll book you in with Ollie. He’s a great teacher and he’ll take it really slowly. You won’t be surfing twenty-foot breakers on your first day, I promise…’

‘OK,’
said Lara reluctantly. ‘I can’t believe I’m doing this but I’ll book a private lesson for tomorrow. I’d never even have come up with such a mad idea if I hadn’t seen this amazing surfer earlier on. He did an incredible move where he spun right round in the air without falling off. It was a guy with a sky blue wetsuit. Do you know who he is?’

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