Saturday, 4 June 2016

Extract from The Secret of Orchard Cottage by Alex Brown

Today it's our stop on the blog tour for Alex Brown's latest book The Secret of Orchard Cottage which was published on Thursday. 

April Wilson feels like a part of her is lost forever after the death of her husband. Hoping to piece herself together again, she returns to the village of Tindledale, where she spent many happy summers  and the place that her Great Aunt Edith calls home.

But April is dismayed when she arrives at Orchard Cottage to find both the house and her aunt in a state of dilapidation. Edith seems to have a tenuous grasp on the present and has retreated into the past, becoming obsessed with the mysterious disappearance of her sister, Winnie, during the war.

With the help of Matt, the enigmatic local farrier and his troubled daughter, Bella, April starts to peel away the layers of neglect that have settled over the cottage to reveal the secrets beneath.  Slowly, she can feel everything coming to life again, but can Orchard Cottage work its magic on her too?

I'm sure you'll agree with me that the blurb alone sounds intriguing and I for one cannot wait to read, am saving for my week off in August, but Emma has read and loved it and we'll be sharing her review on the blog this lunchtime.  But before that I'm also pleased to be able to share with you an extract from The Secret of Orchard Cottage but what's slightly different to the norm is that this is being published as a serial, so if you've not read the first two parts go to Bookaddict Shaun and Becca's Books to read what they have to offer then come back here to enjoy part three :-)

Present day...
In the bedroom of a 1930s bungalow in Basingstoke, April Wilson slipped off her pink hand-knitted cardy and placed it back on the padded hanger before putting it away inside the wardrobe – managing, as she had become accustomed to doing, to avoid making eye contact with her late husband’s shirts still hanging neatly on his half of the hanging rail.
Graham had died eighteen months ago. Motor neurone disease. Ten years her senior, but with a zest for life befitting a far younger man, Gray had been the proverbial life and soul of the party until the cruel disease had taken hold, and then when his breathing muscles had degenerated so severely, he had slipped away one night in his sleep. And April would always be grateful for that. Having given up her nursing career to care for Gray, it had been his wish right from the start, on that sad, drizzly autumn day in the consultant’s room at the hospital when the diagnosis had first been given, to be at home in his own bed when the end came. 
‘Only me,’ the effervescent voice of April’s stepdaughter, Nancy, cut through her reverie as the door opened slowly. ‘Sorry, am I disturbing you? Only these arrived a few minutes ago addressed to Mrs Wilson.’ And a gorgeous array of vibrant red and orange roses appeared in the gap between the door and the frame. 
April quickly closed the wardrobe doors and pulled on a polka-dot towelling robe, before smoothing down her curly brown hair, which had got mussed up from tugging the dress off over her head. 
Gray used to help her with the zip. 
April stopped moving. 
Instinctively, she inhaled sharply and squeezed her right hand, pressing the fingernails hard into her palm to stop herself from going there. It was the best way. And it was always the little things that still managed to catch her off guard. But she’d get out her sewing machine and alter the zip, build in a small ruched panel on either side of the waist to create a looser fit and the problem would be solved. No more tugging at the dress and her heartstrings while yearning for Gray to be there beside her. Of course, that feeling would never completely disappear, but for now, April needed at least some of her waking hours to feel normal, to be free from the near-physical pain of her battered heart. 
‘No, I was just getting changed, come on in sweetheart.’ April smiled, tying the belt as she walked across the room to take the roses from Nancy. ‘Oh they’re absolutely lovely, thank you so much.’ She pressed her nose into the highly scented flowers, figuring they must have cost quite a bit by the looks of the gorgeous white wicker trug and elaborate puff of scarlet tulle ribbon wrapped all around it. 
‘Oh, don’t thank me,’ Nancy grinned. ‘The cookery book and that melt-in-the-mouth steak were your birthday treats from me – flowers are a waste of money in my opinion,’ she added in her usual matter-of-fact way before bouncing down on to the end of April’s bed. Just like her dad, thought April; Gray had been a pragmatist too. ‘Here, see who they’re from,’ and Nancy plucked an envelope from a wire stem and handed it to April. 
After placing the trug on top of the chest of drawers, April opened the envelope and pulled out a gold-embossed cream card. 
To my amazing and beautiful wife on her birthday. Seize the day my darling, wherever or however that may be, as life really is too short.
Bye for now.
Love always.
Gray xxx
April pressed the card to her chest and gasped. Trust him to have remembered, even from beyond the grave, but then Gray always was so thoughtful, and they had joked about this bonkers idea years ago – it was over Sunday lunch in the local pub, shortly after the diagnosis, when they’d all been keen to keep spirits up and put on brave faces. Gray had said he was going to pay his sister, Jen, a florist, up front, to send roses every year on April’s birthday. Gray had then teased April, telling her, ‘But just don’t be living until you’re a hundred years old or the money will have run out by then and you’ll end up getting a measly bunch of dandelions.’ They had all laughed, and then later Jen had taken April aside and explained that she intended on honouring Gray’s wishes no matter what. April would have roses on her birthday. It was the least she could do after all the love and care she had already shown her brother. And April had smiled and shrugged, for she liked taking care of people, loved it in fact; it gave her a purpose and made her feel like she was making a difference. It was the reason she had trained to become a nurse in the first place. 
And then so much had happened since to keep her busy: there had been the funeral to arrange, sorting out his financial affairs and the memorial service – Gray had been a renowned research scientist, involved in pioneering work developing cures for a number of life-limiting illnesses, which Gray had often said was actually very ironic really, given the fate of his own health. And of course there was the grieving process to work through. That had hit April hard and somehow all the brave facing and wry jokes while Gray had still been alive had made it even harder once he’d gone. Back then it had been easy for April to occupy her thoughts and time by caring for Gray as he deteriorated: making sure all his needs were met; showing him she was strong and would be OK without him. It had been important for April to give Gray that, to ease the burden of worry for him, as she knew his biggest fear after the diagnosis was for those he loved and was used to looking after, and would ultimately leave behind – his family. Twenty-two-year-old twins, Freddie and Nancy, how would they cope? Their mother lived on the other side of the world in New Zealand, having emigrated there with her new husband when they were teenagers. But the twins had coped remarkably well, in that robust, resilient way that many young people seemed able to do. Of course, there had been ups and downs, but April admired them, their strength, and having spent some time with their mother they now seemed OK and were starting to normalise . . . which was more than could be said for her. 

To read the next extract make sure you head to Sarah's Book Reviews tomorrow to find out what happens next...

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