To Love and Be Loved by Amanda Prowse



PROLOGUE

It was an unseasonably warm May night. Still in the cut-offs and t-shirt she had worn all day, nineteen-year-old Merrin ran up the coastal path that led to Reunion Point, a spit of land around the headland where waves crashed below and gulls nested on the steep cliff face. She inhaled the salt-tinged breeze of this little corner of the wild Cornish coast with its caves and rocky shorelines, before coming to a sudden halt.

The sight of him was enough to do that to her: stop her in her tracks. His broad back hunched inside a navy linen shirt and his freckled arms drawn around his knees. He sat on the cliff edge looking out across the water, flanked by gnarled trees and tumbled-down, rough-hewn rocks, rounded pebbles, bottle-green seaweed and scattered shells. The sun, still fierce at dusk, had for the last fortnight lifted its beautiful golden head to warm the bones of the folk who lived here along the higgledy-piggledy harbourside precariously perched on the rocks, and in the fishing village of Port Charles, where the pub, shop, primary school and church sat facing the sea, sitting firm and proud in the same spots for over two hundred years, give or take a few inches.

Slipping off her trainers, Merrin let them dangle from her fingers as she took a moment, pushing her toes into the spongy grass beneath her feet.

‘Hey, you,’ he whispered softly, as she dropped by his side and crossed her legs. The flat of her foot lay comfortingly against his thigh. He took her hand and laced his fingers with hers, and there they sat, letting their breath assume a similar satisfied rhythm and quietly staring out over the wild water, where the broad sails of boats littered the horizon.

‘That’s better.’ He raised her hand and kissed it. It didn’t matter what the day held for her; knowing this moment of reunion was only ever hours away made anything bearable. Even a day of hard work at her cleaning job.

‘I only saw you this morning.’ She leant in with her cheek now resting on his shoulder. He turned so his chin lay on the top of her head. So many perfect ways they fitted together.

‘I know. It’s ridiculous.’ He kissed her scalp. ‘I want to see you every minute of every day. And when I’m not with you, I’m thinking about you.’

‘Really?’ She wrinkled her nose, shamelessly fishing for compliments. ‘Don’t you worry I’ll drive you mad?’

‘“Love is . . . a madness most discreet.” William Shakespeare said that.’

‘Did he?’ She laughed. ‘I’ll have to take your word for it.’

‘So it’s a lost cause, I’m afraid, and far too late to worry about.’

It was not something her family did around the kitchen table: talk about Shakespeare. But that was what he did: he turned her into a different person, a better person. That was the thing about Digby: at twenty-two, he wasn’t only handsome – beautiful in fact, with short, dark-red hair, long eyelashes, perfect teeth and wide, cat-like eyes – but he was also smart. Not country-smart, like the boys she knew, but book-smart, and able to quote Thomas Hardy and Shakespeare. For a girl like her, who had hated every second of school, feeling the confinement of the classroom like a weight and preferring to run and jump in and out of rock pools rather than sit with a book in her hand, his learning was impressive. Sometimes, as she stared at his face, she couldn’t understand why someone as fabulous as him was interested in someone like her.

They sat in the place where they liked to meet at the end of the day, weather permitting, where the ocean was their television, the clifftop their playground and the cawing gulls the only company they needed. As ever, it felt daring to be on the edge of the grass with the waves smashing against the jagged rocks below, watching the last of the sun sink over the brow of the horizon, covering their world in a fiery glaze.

‘I love you, Merrin.’ He ran his fingers over the inside of her arm.

It might have been the thousandth time he had said it to her, yet still she loved to hear it; his words lit sparks within her as well as offering much-needed reassurance.

‘I love you too.’ The acknowledged truth filled her with tiny firecrackers of joy.

‘I meant what I said: I want to be with you all the time.’ He kissed her and then held her in the way that told her he needed her, his grasp tight, his heartbeat steady and his mouth on the skin of her neck, desperate and seeking.

‘Me too.’

‘I’ve been thinking.’ He paused and pulled away. ‘I don’t know how to say it.’