A Perfect Cornish Escape by Phillipa Ashley


September, seven years ago

Marina pressed her back against the door of the wooden building, seeking shelter under what remained of its porch. The coastal lookout station had been left to the mercy of the elements a decade ago, but now she was desperate.

Hail battered what was left of the roof. When she’d set out on her walk an hour before, it had been a fine evening, blowy but with hardly a cloud in the sky. She hadn’t bothered with a coat. She hadn’t expected it to rain and almost hadn’t cared if it did. The little things – getting caught in the rain, getting soaked to the skin – didn’t matter.

Nothing seemed to matter any more, not now Nate was gone.

Marina had headed out for her walk straight after work. The new term had begun at the college where she taught English. It had been the beginning of the summer holidays when Nate had vanished but that was two months ago and she couldn’t stay on compassionate leave forever. Her students needed her, however much she might feel like curling up in a ball howling, or spending her time here, looking out over the coast, hoping, waiting, praying …

She’d been drawn to this spot even more in the few months since Nate had vanished in his fishing kayak off the cove below the abandoned lookout station. The station had once been well equipped with powerful binoculars, which enabled the coastguards to watch and listen in to the marine traffic passing by. They could see for many miles, and alert the search and rescue services to anyone in trouble, not only shipping, but local fishermen, windsurfers, divers, even walkers on the coast path.

Once upon a time, they had watched and logged every vessel, person and incident, large and small, because one day their vigilance might save a life. It had saved lives … but not Nate’s.

The station had been closed long before Nate disappeared. The fishing kayak was a new ‘toy’, one of many, and purchased from a mate at a knockdown price. He said he was going to flog his catch to the fancy restaurants in Porthmellow, Newlyn and St Ives. It would be a nice little earner, he said, and give them some extra income while he got his real business – one of them – off the ground.

She’d told him to be careful, hiding her dismay at yet another of his schemes. At least this one seemed to involve little outlay or risk. Nate had been born and brought up in Porthmellow and for a brief time before she’d married him, had worked on a fishing boat. He knew the sea well, and she’d thought it was one thing he respected.

Not enough. A storm like this one had been forecast when he’d set out in the kayak from Porthmellow Harbour for a fishing session. Even today in the murky conditions, Marina could see the place he liked to fish from, near a rocky outcrop.

The battered craft had been washed up a few days later, minus the gear and minus Nate.

If the station had been open, he would surely have been spotted. Someone would have been watching out for him and surely seen when he got into difficulties. Those eyes would have known he was in trouble and alerted the coastguard and the RNLI. A lifeboat or helicopter would have been scrambled, and he might be here now. She might have been tucked up safe and cosy in their cottage, sharing a glass of wine with him in front of the fire and dreaming of a brighter future.

Their marriage hadn’t been perfect. Far from it. Nate had debts, and he wasn’t always the most considerate of partners and they had their spats. He could be thoughtless, he wasted too much time and money on crazy schemes, but she’d loved him.

They’d had an argument about his latest ‘plan’ the very morning he’d been lost. Marina had taken on some extra private tutoring to help keep a roof over their heads and she’d begged him to try and look for permanent work – he’d turned down a job offer from Porthmellow Sailing Trust because he’d pinned all his hopes on the fishing kayak. He’d claimed he could ‘make a mint’ supplying fresh fish to the local restaurants.

Marina squeezed her eyes shut, letting the rain blow into her upturned face. She wanted to be wet and cold; she wanted to feel she was alive in some way – or was she punishing herself?