Christmas at Lilac Cottage - Holly Martin

Chapter One

The timer went off on the oven and Penny quickly dropped her sketch book and grabbed her oven gloves. Opening the oven door released a waft of gorgeous, rich fruity smells into the kitchen, making Penny smile with excitement. The mince pies looked golden, crisp and perfectly done. She quickly transferred them to a wire rack to cool and gave the warm mulled wine a quick stir as it simmered on the hob.

She looked around at the green-leafed garlands that covered the fireplace and the white fairy lights that twinkled from in between the leaves, the lights that lined the windows also lending a sparkling glow to the room in the dullness of the late winter afternoon. She knew that next door, in the annexe, looked equally inviting now that she had spent hours decorating it in suitable festive attire ready for the new arrivals.

Everything was perfect and Penny couldn’t wait to meet them.

Henry and Daisy Travis had been referred to her by the agency in charge of finding tenants for her annexe. Although Penny would have preferred a single woman like her, the young couple came with great references and no children.

Not that she had an issue with children; she loved them. She had even thought at one point in her life that she might have some of her own but that had passed her by. She just wanted to make friends with people who were at the same point in their life as she was.

One by one all her friends had got married and had children and each time a new child in the town was born it seemed to add weight to her solitary existence. Everyone had someone to love and look after. Penny had a fat, lazy dog called Bernard. The loneliness inside her had grown recently to an almost tangible thing. Whenever people asked if she ever felt isolated up on the hill on her own, she always batted it away with a cheery smile and talk of how she never had time to feel that way with her job. And while it was true that her job as the town’s only ice carver did keep her very busy, she knew she took on a lot of work to try to distract her from how utterly alone she really felt.

She had always lived in Lilac Cottage and she could never imagine living anywhere else. The view over the town of White Cliff Bay and the rugged white coastline that lent the town its name was stunning; she could look at it for hours and never grow tired of it. But the hustle and bustle of the town was a good ten minutes’ drive from where she lived and, although she loved the remoteness of her home, she was starting to hate it too.

Renting the annexe out would be a good way to make some new friends and, even though they would still lead separate lives, Penny hoped they would be able to chat from time to time.

Penny checked her watch again, a nervous excitement pulsing through her. She had cooked lasagne for them and she hoped they could spend the night chatting over the wine and a good meal and really get to know each other.

It was going to be perfect and she couldn’t wait to start this next chapter of her life.

* * *

Henry slammed his hands on the steering wheel as another red light forced him to stop. In a town that was probably no more than a few miles long they seemed to have traffic lights on every corner and every single one of them had been red so far.

This had to be the worst moving day ever. The expression of you get what you pay for couldn’t be more true today. As the annexe he was moving into was fully furnished, he only needed a small van to bring his other belongings. He’d stupidly hired the cheapest company to move his stuff and now the van was sitting in White Cliff Beach in the furthest reaches of Yorkshire instead of White Cliff Bay in rural Devon.

And what was with the people in the town? They asked so many questions. Stopping for petrol in the town’s only petrol station, stopping at a supermarket, and then a café for lunch with Daisy, he had been accosted by about thirty different people who wanted his whole life story. Daisy was lovely and sweet and would chat to anyone and everyone, the complete opposite to