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Always and Forever

BOOK: Always and Forever
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ALWAYS AND FOREVER

BY

CATHY KELLY

Fairy godmothers exist, even in the tranquil hil s of Ireland…

Once upon a time, in the beautiful town of Carrickwel , lived three women. Three women who thought they had life pretty much mapped out.

Ambitious Mel had a high-flying career, caring Daisy wanted a child with the boyfriend who was everything to her, and hot-headed Cleo was ready to step into the family business once she’d finished her hotel management degree.

Until the landscape shifted and it al came tumbling down.

Now Mel’s job comes second to the guilt of being a working mum-of-two. What should be the most natural thing in the world for Daisy becomes the most torturous. And Cleo has to watch the cherished family business crumble along with her relationship with her parents and siblings.

Suddenly everything the three women have always worked for, always desired, looks in jeopardy.

But Carrickwel is a magical place. Nestled in the shadows of Mount Carraig, it’s as ancient as time itself. And the opening of the new Clouds Hil spa by Leah, a woman with her own secret turmoil, is destined to cause ripples no one could ever have imagined. The arrival of Leah brings change for Mel, Daisy and Cleo - and the courage to find out what real y matters, always and forever…

Photograph Š Simon Warren

ALWAYS AND FOREVER

Cathy Kel y is the author of seven other novels Woman to Woman, She’s the One, Never Too Late, Someone Like You, What She Wants, Just Between Us and Best of Friends - al of which were top 10 bestsel ers in the UK and Ireland. Someone Like You was the Parker RNA Romantic Novel of the Year. Cathy Kel y lives in Wicklow with her partner and their twin sons. She is currently working on her next novel.

For more information about Cathy Kel y, visit her website at www.cathykel y.com.

For automatic updates on Cathy Kel y, visit HarperCol ins.co.uk and register for AuthorTracker.

By the same author:

Woman to Woman She’s the One Never Too Late Someone Like You What She Wants Just Between Us Best of Friends ALWAYS AND FOREVER CATHY KELLY

HarperCol insPublishers

This novel is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or localities is entirely coincidental.

HarperCol insPublishers 77-85 Fulham Palace Road, Hammersmith, London W6 8JB

www.harpercol ins.co.uk

Published by HarperCol insPublishers 2005 35798642

Copyright Š Cathy Kel y 2005

Cathy Kel y asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work

A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

ISBN 0 00 718287 2

Typeset in Sabon by Palimpsest Book Production Limited, Polmont, Stirlingshire

Printed and bound in Australia by Griffin Press Al rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publishers.

For Dylan and Murray

PROLOGUE

The woman stood as stil as the mountains around her, taking in the view from Mount Carraig House - the windswept, overgrown gardens and the ragged path leading down to the smal lake. Behind her towered Mount Carraig itself. Rob, the estate agent, had told her that

‘Carraig’ meant ‘rock’ in Irish, and that’s exactly what Mount Carraig was: a spectacular rock dominating a smal er range of mountains known as the Four Sisters, which swel ed to the southwest.

Spread out before her lay Carrickwel , the bustling market town that took its name from the mountain. It was bisected by the silver line of the River Tul ow, and from here, high up, she could make out the gently winding main street, the sprawl of houses, shops, parks and schools, and the medieval cathedral at the centre.

A quarter of a century before, Carrickwel had been a sleepy backwater, within reach of Dublin but stil very much a rural community. Time and the price of houses in the city had turned it into a busier town, but the air of tranquil ity had remained. Some said this was because of the ancient ley lines that crossed it. Druids, early Christians, religious refugees - al in their turn had come to Carrickwel and set up home in the benevolent

shadow of Mount Carraig where they could seek refuge and thrive on the pure mountain spring water.

On a slope to the left of the mountain were the ruins of a Cistercian monastery, now a honey pot for tourists, watercolour painters and scholars. There was also the remains of a round tower where the monks had raced up rope ladders to safety when invaders came.

Across the town, near the pretty but slightly crumbling

“Wil ow

Hotel, was a smal stone circle that archaeologists believed to be the site of a druidic settlement. Mystical Fires, a smal shop in the town that sold al manner of alternative artefacts, from crystals and tarot cards to dream catchers and angel pins, did a roaring trade in books about the druids at midsummer.

At Christmas, visitors drifted unconsciously away from Mystical Fires to The Holy Land, a little Christian bookshop, where they could buy recordings of Gregorian chant, as wel as prayer books, delicate Hummel Holy Water fonts, and the shop’s speciality, mother-of-pearl rosary beads.

The respective owner of each shop, a pair of lovely septuagenarian ladies, each devout in her chosen creed, didn’t mind in the slightest that their businesses waxed and waned in this manner.

‘The wheel of fortune turns in its own way,’ said Zara from Mystical Fires.

‘God knows what’s best for us,’ agreed Una from The Holy Land.

With al the spiritual vibes, there was a great sense of peace hovering over Carrickwel and it drew people to the town.

It was certainly this aura that had drawn Leah Meyer to Mount Carraig House on a cold September morning.

Despite a thick wool en jumper under her old ski jacket, Leah could feel the chil sneaking into her body. She was used to the dry heat of California, where cold weather meant 68 degrees

Fahrenheit, and the possibility of using less sunscreen.

Here, the climate was so different and the unaccustomed cold made her feel achey. I’m beginning to feel my age, she thought, shivering, though she knew everyone marvel ed at how young she looked. She’d taken good care of herself over the years, but time had marched on and, eventual y, no cream could keep away its mark. It had taken a discreet eye and brow lift a few years ago to give her back the finely sculpted face she’d been born with. Sixty real y could be the new forty, Leah smiled to herself - as long as you had the right plastic surgeon. And she could put up with the aching joints for a while because she’d final y found it, the place she had been looking for for years in which to build her spa.

Carrickwel and Mount Carraig House were perfect. And in that state of mind, she didn’t feel the air as cold, but as pure and cleansing. ‘Calm,’ she said final y, turning to the estate agent, who was standing a polite distance away. ‘That’s the word I was looking for. Don’t you feel instantly calm when you stand here?’ Rob, the estate agent, studied the tumbling wreck that was Mount Carraig House and wondered whether it was he who needed his head examining or whether it was the elegant American visitor.

Al he saw was a ruin in a wilderness that had been on his agency’s books for four years with ne’er a sniff of serious interest from anyone. A few people had come to look, al right, drawn by the lyrical description written by a one-time employee who had a definite flair for making a silk purse out of the proverbial pig’s ear.

This elegant eighteenth-century family house, once home to the famous Delaneys of Carrickwel , is designed in the grand classical style and boasts the fabulous high-ceilinged rooms of the period. The sweeping gravel drive and the great portico are reminiscent of a romantic era of horse-drawn carriages, while the abundant formal rose gardens, sheltered from the mountain breezes, need only a skil ed gardener’s hands to bring them back to their former glory.

The views of the fierce beauty of Mount Carraig and the val ey below are unrival ed, and a stately rhododendron walk, planted over a hundred years ago, leads down to the majestic Lough Enla.

The blarney had worked its magic on Mrs Meyer, for sure, because she’d seen the house on the firm’s website and now, here she was, clearly captivated. Rob could tel when clients liked a place: they stopped noticing him and noticed only the property, imagining their furniture in the rooms and their family’s laughter echoing in the garden. This woman showed al the signs of being besotted. He knew she had money too, because she’d arrived in a sleek black chauffeur-driven car from the airport. It had to be said she didn’t dress like a mil ionaire - she wore jeans, a very ordinary blue padded coat, simple soft cream pumps and no jewel ery.

It was hard to work out how old she was. Rob liked to put a date to property and people: eighteenth-century house;

‘seventies bungalow; forty-something rich businessman buyer. But this woman’s age eluded him. Elegantly slim, with silky chestnut hair and big dark eyes, she could have been anything from thirty to sixty. Her olive skin was unlined and glowing, and she looked so happy within herself. Early forties, perhaps … ‘I love the house,’ Leah said, because there was no point beating around the bush. ‘I’l take it.’ She clasped Rob’s hand and smiled. Now that she’d made the decision, she felt peace flooding through her.

She’d felt tired for so long, but already she was impatient to start work. Mount Carraig Spa? The Spa on the Rock? The name would come to her. A name suggestive of a haven, not a place where bored women would have their toes painted and men could do a few lengths in the pool and hope they were staving off the onslaught of Father Time.

No. Her spa would be about making people feel good from the inside out. It would be a place where people would come when they were exhausted, drained and didn’t know where else to go. They could swim in the pool and forget about everything, they could lie on the massage mat and feel their worries drain away along with their aches. With the refreshing water from the mountain running past the door, and the tranquil vibes of Carrickwel in the air, they would be revitalised and healed. The magic of a similar place had once given her back some semblance of peace and serenity. Cloud’s Hil had been its name, from the ancient American Indian name for the hil on which it had been built, and suddenly Leah realised that the same name would be perfect here.

The other Cloud’s Hil , where she’d learned to enjoy life again, was a world away from here, but there was magic in this place too, she knew it. And with this spa she could do for other people what the original Cloud’s Hil had done for her. Giving something back was her way of saying thanks, and setting up the spa was what she’d dreamed of for years, but had never found the perfect place to do so before. And, she calculated, if she started the work straight away, the spa would be open within a year - or a year and a half at the latest.

‘You … you mean you’l buy the house?’ said Rob, shocked at the speed of the decision.

Leah’s face was serene. ‘I wil ,’ she said softly. ‘This cal s for a drink,’ said Rob, relief washing over him. ‘On me.’

CHAPTER ONE

January, a year and a half later.

Mel Redmond dumped her fake Italian leather briefcase onto the cubicle floor, pushed the loo seat down with a loud clang, sat on it and began trying to rip the cel ophane from the packet of tendenier barely blacks. Haste made her clumsy. Damn packet. Was everything childproof?

Final y, the packet yielded and the tights unfolded in a long, expensively silky skein. The convenience store beside Lorimar Health Insurance was out of black and barely black sheers ridiculous real y, given that the store was bang in the centre of Dublin’s office-land - so Mel had had to rush to the upmarket boutique beside the bank and shel out a whopping 16 for a pair. She would get a ladder in her tights on a day when the firm’s chief executive was addressing the troops.

Years in public relations had taught Mel one of the central tenets of the working woman: look great and people notice you; look sloppy and they notice the sloppy part, whether it was smudged eyeliner, chipped nail polish or omigod, look at her roots!

Anyway, Hilary, head of Lorimar’s publicity and marketing departments and Mel’s boss, would probably turn chalk white

under her Elizabeth Arden foundation if Mel committed the crime of turning up at the meeting with ripped tights. Mel joked that Hilary was the person she wanted to be when she grew up: always organised, as opposed to doing her best to look organised, and with an emergency supply of headache tablets, tights and perfume in her briefcase, which was real Italian leather. Mel’s fake one contained her own emergency supplies of half a chocolate bar, a tampon with the plastic ripped off, one fluffy paracetamol, several uncapped pens and a tiny toddler box of raisins so desiccated they now resembled something from Tutankhamun’s tomb. Raisins were great for snacks, according to the toddler-feeding bibles, but Mel had discovered that chocolate buttons were far better for warding off tantrums in the supermarket at home in Carrickwel .

BOOK: Always and Forever
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