Springtime at the Cider Kitchen

Written by Fay Keenan

 

My thanks to Melanie Price at Aria Fiction for including me in this Blog Tour

 

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Book Extract

Of all the things to do, Caroline Hemingway reflected, watching your brother’s widow marrying another man was certainly one of the weirdest. She blinked in the warm spring sunshine and glanced around her. Around fifty guests were seated on white covered chairs in the main avenue of apple trees in the Royal Orchard of Carter’s Cider, waiting for the bride to arrive. It was perfect weather for a May Day wedding with not a cloud in the sky. The trees were in full flower, with frothy gowns of light pink and white blossom that made them look like a guard of honour of nature’s own bridesmaids. The scent of newly mown grass was in the air along with the first wafts of early honeysuckle from the old railway track, the Strawberry Line, that ran around the perimeter of the cider farm. Underpinning that was the sweet smell of billows of cow parsley. The groom, who happened to be Managing Director of the cider farm, looked, if not exactly nervous, then definitely on edge, although his expression didn’t detract from his charismatic presence. Dressed in a dark pinstriped suit, but for the pink Old English rose in his buttonhole, he looked as though he could have stepped straight out from behind his desk. Next to him, altogether more relaxed and leaning over to mutter things in the groom’s ear from time to time, was the best man. Caroline noticed the sweep of light chestnut hair, the easy manner and the broad smile as he attempted to lighten the groom’s serious demeanour, and realised from the similar bone structure that this must be the groom’s brother, of whom she’d heard a great deal.
Caroline felt a pang; seeing their easy relationship reminded her of the closeness she’d shared with her own brother, whose widow was now about to marry another man. As the first strains of the wedding march drifted across the orchard she blinked back tears. James would have understood, she thought. James would have wanted Anna to be happy. She should feel that way, too.
Not quite able to bring herself to turn to see Anna walking up the aisle between the assembled chairs, Caroline kept her eyes fixed on the two men at the front. The younger man reached out a hand and touched his brother’s elbow as the music began, and as the groom turned around and caught sight of his bride, a smile lifted his features.
When she sensed the bride drawing closer, Caroline turned. Anna looked lit up from the inside, transported with happiness. Caroline swallowed back the lump in her throat as her former sister-in-law passed the row where she was sitting, her father Richard next to her looking proud and happy to be giving away his daughter. Behind her were the two bridesmaids, one tall and teenaged, the other an adorable four year old, both dressed in the same shade of pink to match the apple blossom.
Anna’s eyes met Caroline’s for a moment and held her gaze. She smiled gently, seemingly aware of the strangeness of this situation for Caroline, then continued down the aisle to the front where her groom, the best man and the celebrant stood. Pausing to hand her bouquet of freesias, roses and apple blossom to the older bridesmaid, Caroline watched as Anna turned to her groom, who, seeming to forget where they were for a moment, raised a hand to his bride’s cheek and placed a gentle kiss on her lips.
‘That’s for after the ceremony, you berk!’ Jonathan said lightly, but audibly enough for the assembled guests to hear. The congregation laughed as Matthew gave a grin. Caroline’s heart flipped as Matthew leaned down to whisper something in Anna’s ear, and Anna’s smile in response showed exactly how transported she was with happiness. How things had changed for her, Caroline thought. How wonderful to have a man so in love with her again. Caroline, despite feeling conflicted, also felt slightly jealous; her life had been so complicated over the past few years; complications that had taken many forms and had nearly destroyed her. But, she thought resolutely, it was time to start putting all that behind her. It was as if, by attending this wedding, seeing Anna so happy, Caroline was also giving herself permission to move on. It was time, after the traumas of the past few years, for a fresh start. The spring always made her feel optimistic and in this beautiful setting it was difficult to feel anything else.
As the celebrant took Anna, Matthew and the congregation through the ceremony, Caroline saw the happiness on their faces and their two bridesmaids; the elder girl being Meredith, Matthew’s daughter, and the younger girl being Ellie, Anna’s daughter and Caroline’s niece. She also found her attention again drawn to the best man. So intent on reassuring his older brother before the ceremony, he was now watching the bride and groom solemnly. He was decidedly attractive, Caroline thought unguardedly; but she had a fair idea that it had taken a lot of time and talk to get the brothers to this point, and that Anna had had a great deal to do with that.

Matthew extended a hand and shook Caroline’s outstretched one. It’s lovely to meet you at last. Anna’s told me so much about you.’

‘Not too much, I hope!’

Matthew laughed and the two women joined in. It’s great that you could make it. We’re both so happy you could come.’ Then, turning his gaze back to his wife fleetingly, Anna said you’d booked into the Rose Cottage B&B in the village. You’re more than welcome to come and stay with us if you’d like.’

Caroline smiled. Thanks, but I thought I’d save you the hassle of a houseguest during your own wedding. And Rose Cottage comes highly recommended.’

‘They’ve had five stars on Trip Advisor since they opened,’ Anna said. But you are coming to dinner tomorrow night, aren’t you?’

‘Definitely,’ Caroline replied. Wouldn’t miss it.’ Looking at the two of them, and her own niece, so happy in this new life, Caroline felt another wave of grief washing over her. Cursing what she knew to be the brightness in her eyes, she searched over Anna’s shoulder for where the drinks were being served. I’d better go and get a glass of this famous sparkling cider!’ she said. Somehow, she knew Anna understood. Just as she was about to turn away, however, Matthew called out.

‘Jonno, come and join us for a moment,’ he said, beckoning to his younger brother.

Jonathan Carter paused on his way to the makeshift bar and took a detour in his brother’s direction. As he drew closer, he smiled at his brother and their guest. Hi. I’m Jonathan,’ he said, extending his hand to Caroline. Caroline immediately noticed the tidy, square cut nails, the long, elegant fingers. It’s lovely to meet you.’

‘Caroline Hemingway,’ Caroline replied. It’s nice to meet you, too.’

‘You’re Anna’s sister-in-law, right?’ Jonathan smiled. Ellie’s aunt?’

‘That’s right.’ Caroline took a moment to study the man in front of her. He was broad shouldered, although not as broad as her sister-in-law’s new husband, and up close, Jonathan looked like the watercolour version of Matthew’s oil painting. His features were similar, but softer, lighter somehow, as if more prone to laughter than his volcanic older brother. Caroline liked the look. The grey suit perfectly offset his colouring, which was itself enhanced by a light suntan. Unguardedly, Caroline wondered how far down the tan went below his clothes.

‘It’s lovely that you could be here,’ Jonathan said softly. He glanced at his brother and new wife. It can’t be easy. Can I get you a drink?’

‘I was just on my way to the bar myself,’ Caroline replied, suddenly very much in need of an escape from Anna and Matthew’s almost incandescent love. Why don’t I join you?’

Jonathan smiled. Sounds good. I can point you in the direction of the better variety of sparkling cider that we’ve got on offer.’ Gesturing in the direction of the bar, he bore Caroline off.

As they walked away, conversation sparked between them. Anna watched them speculatively. Matthew gave his new wife a glance.

‘What are you smiling at?’ he asked.

Anna smiled back. Oh, nothing.’ She slid a hand into Matthew’s, which was still nestled into her waist. You know me; I like to see what happens when people meet new people.’

‘If I didn’t know you better…’ Matthew shook his head. I don’t think Jonno needs any help meeting new people, if the tales Dad keeps telling me about overnight guests at the cottage are anything to go by.’

Anna laughed. He’s still up to his old tricks, is he? And Jack doesn’t mind?’

‘Are you joking? He’s quite partial to a pretty girl, as you know. He might not feel the need to go out on the tiles himself these days, but I think living vicariously through Jonathan has certainly perked him up lately!’

‘You almost sound like you approve,’ Anna wrinkled her brow. You’re not jealous, are you?’

Matthew ducked his head and gave his wife a lingering kiss. What could I possibly have to be jealous of, when I’ve got you in my life?’ he said softly. He followed Anna’s gaze to where Caroline and Jonathan were standing. Although if there’s a chance of making Jonathan as happy as you’ve made me… I’m all for it.’

 

My review of Springtime at the Cider Kitchen is available HERE

 

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About the Author

 

Keenan_Fay_previewFay Keenan was born in Surrey and raised in Hampshire, before finally settling in the West Country. When Fay is not chasing her children around or writing, she teaches English at a local secondary school. She lives with her husband, two daughters, a cat, two chickens and a Weimaraner called Bertie in a village in Somerset, which may or may not have provided the inspiration for Little Somerby.

Fay’s debut novel is ‘The Second Chance Tea Shop’ is the first in the Little Somerby series, and her second novel ‘Springtime at the Cider Kitchen’ is released on 1st January on all major digital platforms.

 

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