The wind began to pick up in earnest as the walkers headed briskly across the field to Hiverton Manor.
‘Do you think we’ll get ahead of the rain?’ laughed Ari.
Hal turned back to her with a grin on his face and Will on his shoulders. ‘If we were in Cornwall, we’d already be wet!’ He tugged on the boot of his little rider. ‘One last charge at Daddy and Leo before we get inside?’
Will roared out, pumping his fist in the air, and Hal pretended to be a mighty war horse as he galloped over to Seb, who had Leo up on his shoulders. The two men ran in small circles whilst the boys tried to hit each other.
Pointing to the child in her sling, Ari called back to Rory. ‘You know, as soon as Hector is big enough he’ll require a battle horse as well. Are you up for it?’
‘Lassie, I’ve been a donkey, a dragon and even the Loch Ness Monster for my brother’s lads. It will be my pleasure. If my back hasn’t completely died by then.’
As she looked at Rory, Nick couldn’t imagine such a vital man ever having a bad back. Tiny Clem had fallen in love with a giant of a man. He looked the sort that could probably pull up a tree by its roots. Of the three men, he was definitely the broadest, clearly a very hands-on sort of farmer.
Paddy and Clem were bringing up the rear of the group. ‘Are you looking forward to when Eleanor will be demanding shoulder rides?’ said Nick to Paddy.
Paddy smiled at her tiredly. ‘Yes and no. I love being with her like this.’
Like Ari, Paddy had her baby strapped to her in a sling – country living made a mockery of prams.
‘Although at the moment I could do with a rest. We were up all night with her crying. I don’t know where Hal finds the energy.’
Nick watched as her other two brothers-in-laws pretended to be horses, their little charges shouting with excitement from their shoulders. Like Rory they were good-looking and tall if not quite so broad, but it wasn’t any of their looks that appealed to Nick. It was how the three men seemed to enjoy each other’s company and how well they had joined the family. She had always feared one of her sisters marrying a man she didn’t like, and indeed when Ari married Greg, her first husband, all the sisters had been appalled. Poor Ari, unexpectedly pregnant, said yes when Greg proposed. On reflection Nick felt a tiny bit sorry for Greg as well – after all, he had done the decent thing. It was just that the decent thing was also the wrong thing, once again proving that the road to hell was paved with good intentions. His sudden death had been a blessing for all. Well, nearly all.
‘Why are you laughing?’ asked Paddy.
‘Bad thoughts. Ignore me. Here, can I carry Eleanor? Give you a rest.’
Paddy thought about it which surprised Nick – for her to contemplate it Paddy must be really tired, because she knew Nick wasn’t a baby person. Pets and children were the very pinnacle of chaos.
‘No, I’m grand. We’re nearly there anyway.’
Looking ahead Ari, Clem and Aster had already reached the back door and were chatting to Dickie.
‘By the time we join them, everyone will have their boots and coats off, the fire will be lit, the kettle will be on and we can just sweep in and put our feet up.’
‘The Queens of Sheba!’
Nick stopped and curtsied towards Paddy, who grinned and began to curtsey back, but Eleanor began to grizzle. Nick put her hand out and gently held Eleanor’s little chubby fist.
‘I meant you as well, little one. We three shall all be the Queens of Sheba.’
As they got closer to the back of the house it began to rain. Paddy tried to keep Eleanor protected from the elements, but the heavens had properly opened. Everyone else had now disappeared inside but a back door opened, and Hal came running out towards them carrying two umbrellas. He had already taken his coat and boots off and was now getting his socks wet as he ran across the lawn towards them.
Laughing and gasping from the sudden downpour, they all piled into the house. Hal peeled his socks off and then grumbled about the cold flagstones. As he went off to grab another pair of socks, Nick and Paddy laughed as they heard him shout to Seb that he needed to install underfloor heating. Rory then shouted back that he needed to stop being a great southern Jessie. He might have got away with the jest but for the disembodied voice of Clem who reminded him that he had just installed a heated driveway. As the ribbing and the conversation continued loudly across many rooms, the twins headed towards the large sitting room where a fire was blazing, and the other three sisters were already enjoying hot drinks and were cuddled down into various armchairs and sofas.
Hector was building bricks on the rug in front of Ari but other than that the room was still and quiet. Nick smiled and relaxed.
‘I know,’ said Aster, ‘a moment of calm. Isn’t it lovely?’
‘Enjoy it while you can,’ said Ari. ‘Seb is washing down the dogs, Dickie is feeding the boys and Rory is getting changed, I think.’ Rory had been playing tug of war with Leo and Will and had somehow managed to lose and fall in a muddy puddle – to the boys’ great entertainment.
‘You know, I think he fell in the mud deliberately?’ Ari smiled as she shook her head and continued trying to account for where everyone was. ‘What’s Hal up to?’
‘Changing Eleanor and then they’ll come and join us. He might see if she’ll sleep,’ replied Paddy hopefully.
The door opened and the girls smiled as Dickie came in. She was the only other person who had known their mother and they would regularly plague her for tales of her as a young girl.
‘Ariana, I’ve taken the boys to bed. Their heads were nodding as they drank their milk.’
Ari looked at her wristwatch. It was three o’clock now, they would probably sleep for an hour which suited her perfectly. She had every day to spend with her children but opportunities to spend time with her sisters all together were few and far between. It was only because Aster was about to go travelling that they had all found a free weekend before she left. Ari couldn’t help being uncomfortable that Aster was going so far away for so long. Seb pointed out the time would fly by, and that she would do better being worried for the countries that Aster visited.
‘You know, Aster,’ Ari addressed her little sister, ‘you could always get a secondment to work with some of Nick’s contacts. They’re always looking for computer whizz-kids.’
Aster groaned. ‘It’s not going to work, Ari. I’m serious, I just want to play and explore. I want a change.’
Aster had got a first class Honours degree in Classics from Cambridge. It came as barely a surprise when they discovered that she had also been taking a degree in computing sciences and got a first in that as well. Aster was the brainbox in the family. She didn’t get bored as such, but everything interested her, and she always wanted to know more.
‘I plan to really sink my teeth into Greece and Italy. Imagine the triremes sailing out of Ostia, picture Plato striding around the Agora. I might call in on Otto and Louis.’
‘You’ll need to be quick; I think they’re planning a trip to India before they return to Scotland for the summer,’ said Clem, who had first encountered Otto in Scotland, running the family castle. Both women were creative geniuses who knew their own minds, they were both stubborn and had clashed almost immediately. It wasn’t until Otto was reunited with the love of her life that she had begun to mellow and enjoy life.
For the past year Otto had been living something of a peripatetic life and hadn’t yet decided where it was she wanted to settle. So long as Louis is by my side, what do I care where I am? The woman was a nightmare, but Clem missed her when she was away.
Nick sat and watched her sisters chat, gently mocking Ari for trying to divert Aster. She wriggled her toes in front of the crackling logs and enjoyed the moment. After all that they had been through, these moments were more precious to her than any portfolio or asset. The girls had grown up with next to nothing, just the love of their family, and when their parents had died even that was destroyed. It had been a gruelling childhood, but they had got through it together and now life was good.
The door opened and Seb walked in with the two dogs at his feet – they promptly rolled over Hector’s wooden tower. Seb leant across and gave Ari a small kiss, then sat on the floor with the little one and started to rebuild the tower. The two dogs were scolded and told to settle down in the corner. The problem was that Hector had the best spot in front of the fire guard.
‘Dragon, away,’ and Ari pointed her finger to the other side of the room. Both dogs stood up and headed over to the far side. Dragon looked over her shoulder to see if Ari had changed her mind and then realising she hadn’t, decided to make the most of the warm spot by the radiator. She looked at Ari reproachfully as she discovered it was cold, but Ari didn’t appear to be paying attention, so the dog sighed and lay down.
A moment later Rory – carrying Eleanor – and Hal joined them bearing a teapot and a cafetière and refilled everyone’s cups. Nick shook her head, so much for peace and quiet.
‘What was that look, Letta?’
The others all looked over at her as Aster asked her question.
‘Do you know, I miss hearing Letta,’ said Ari.
Rory was sitting on one of the armchairs drinking a cup of Darjeeling, trying to decide if he liked Clem’s latest fad. He wasn’t convinced. He glanced across at the sisters.
‘Nick is,’ said Aster. ‘Her full name is Nicoletta. Dad used to call her Nick and Mum would call her Letta. I don’t have many memories of them, but I do remember that and how they would sing the two names. Nick knack paddy whack and Alouette, gentille alouette.’
The sisters laughed, remembering the songs, and joined in with the children adding to the noise. Dragon took her moment and slunk quietly closer towards the fire.
‘Anyway,’ shrugged Aster, ‘I don’t hear Letta enough so I like to use that name whenever I can. You don’t mind, do you?’
‘Not in the slightest. I like it as well. It was just you know, being called Nick in the financial market’s never hurt. It’s a lazy and sexist stereotype but one I was happy to use to my advantage. Still, people seem to find other people having more than one name confusing.’
‘It is a bit, though, isn’t it?’ said Rory again. ‘I mean, all of you have multiple names. I know women often change their surnames when they get married but you five are also Byrne or de Foix as well as Hiverton.’
‘Strictly speaking,’ said Seb, ‘only Ari is Hiverton. The others are of the Hiverton family. Like the Duke of Norfolk, there is only one person that could be called Norfolk. It’s a title as much as a name and only one person can have it.’
‘Yes, and that’s bossy pants over there,’ teased Aster.
‘Okay, but you all also have various forenames. Paddy is also Holly McDonald.’
‘That’s just a work thing.’
‘Nick here is either Nick or Letta.’
‘Clem is Clem, Clemmie or Clementine.’
‘You forgot “Bloody Hell, Clem”.’
‘That’s not so much a name as a daily cry.’
Clem threw a cushion at Rory which made the dogs look up in readiness for a pillow fight. One stern look from Ari and they lowered their heads again. Now that Ari had noticed Dragon, she had to move back to the cold radiator.
‘Anyway, you can talk, Rory,’ said Clem. ‘One day you’ll be Invershee, just like Ari is Hiverton. Plus you call me Bo.’
‘I know, it’s just you all have so many names it gets confusing.’
Aster poured a cup of coffee and brought it over to Rory.
‘Here,’ she said handing him the cup, ‘and if it helps I’m just Aster. Short, sweet and uncomplicated.’
That caused everyone to laugh so hard that the dogs got up and started to bark. Hector, surprised by the sudden noise, began to cry.
Nick smiled to herself; Hector was a child after her own heart. She decided that now was probably a good moment to try and calm everyone down.
‘That magazine article came out yesterday, by the way.’ She rummaged in the bag. ‘They’ve actually written a lot more about the family than I wanted, so I’ve got you all a copy.’ She handed each sister her own copy of Financial Focus, the City’s leading financial journal. Cressida was the editor and a friend of Nick’s. She had asked if Nick would be happy to feature in an article, given her recent rise in profile. Nick had reluctantly agreed, and a particularly hopeless reporter had come over to interview her.
Now the article was published Nick vowed never to be interviewed again. In fairness, it wasn’t appalling but she had been hoping for something that focussed on her business and the family’s charitable enterprise – which it did, but at least a quarter of the copy focussed on the rags-to-riches aspect of their family and the sisters’ private lives. Frankly, she was embarrassed to have allowed this breach into their privacy.
‘Oh my God, Nick, where did they get this photo from?’ shrieked Paddy in delight. ‘You look like some ball-breaking dominatrix.’
When Nick had first started out she’d had a professional head shot done. She wore thick black-rimmed glasses; her then short hair had been slicked back and she wore a pin-striped suit. She liked the photo a lot, it portrayed confidence. She looked like every other stockbroker and most importantly, if you saw her in the flesh you wouldn’t recognise her. She knew she came across as a dry old stick but that didn’t really bother her. Growing up with her more flamboyant sisters she never felt the need to sparkle. It looked too much like hard work. She’d rather just beaver away in the background.
‘I like this bit,’ said Ari reading it out loud. ‘De Foix Investments also caters to a different sort of investor. In Byrne’s own words, “I felt that the stock market can seem too off-putting for a large sector of the community. For those that didn’t grow up with money or for people within certain social groups, it really seems like it is for the rich only. I wanted to reach out to people from all walks of life.” That really sums up your ethos.’
‘I guess,’ shrugged Nick. ‘I just wish she had reported more about the charity as well.’
The Five Sisters Charity helped people into jobs or to set up their own business. It also offered support and advice for those struggling with the welfare services, and recently had started to help small community ventures. This was definitely a passion project and one Nick could talk about for hours.
‘Instead, it just keeps harping on about how I brought down the Bank of Harrington’s which everyone knows I didn’t.’ She waved the magazine in Seb’s direction, drawing him into the conversation. ‘Even your brother didn’t actually do it. Harrington’s were responsible for their own failure. George and I merely asked a few questions.’
‘And the financial industry is all the better for it,’ replied Seb. ‘No one needed another run on the stock market. Even if it did cause a few issues for those of us that had invested in Harrington’s.’
Hal winced. His was one of the families that had almost gone under, but he agreed with Seb, none of that was Nick’s fault. He raised his cup in her direction.
‘This bit is good as well,’ called out Paddy. ‘“Of course there are risks everywhere but I wanted to get away from the idea that various socio-economical groups don’t like risk. They do – they’re human after all. They just didn’t know how to get in. So I set up a small company that offered business services, financial advice and money growth. All on a microscale, but I loved it. This is what money is for. It’s about changing lives. It’s about feeding ideas and watching businesses grow.”’
‘That is so you!’ continued Paddy. ‘Why don’t you like this article? It seems really well balanced and ever so positive?’
Nick winced. They hadn’t got to the part where the article wandered off into their private lives. ‘Carry on reading.’
‘Hang on,’ said Clem in an outraged voice. ‘Paddy, have you read this bit? It’s completely unfair. Abandoned by her muse just as her career began to take off. You never abandoned me. I have NEVER felt that way. Who wrote this drivel? Nick, you didn’t say that, did you?’
‘Of course she didn’t, Clem,’ said Paddy. ‘Stop being so touchy. Journalists will write any old tosh. You know that.’
‘Oh dear,’ said Ari. ‘They do love this from-a-city-estate-of-broken-bottles-to-a-country-estate-with-a-title angle.’
‘We grew up on a terrace street. Hardly an estate,’ said Aster.
‘Not as sexy though, is it?’
‘Oh, and look the journalist has trotted out the rich-girl-falls-for-penniless-Irish-student. A hospital porter, doing the best he could for his family. Did Lady Elizabeth ever regret her decision? Bloody hell, that’s a bit rich.’
‘Don’t they mention Dad’s work as an artist?’ demanded Clem. ‘Nick, why didn’t you tell her how talented Dad was?’
Nick sighed; it was all this sort of guff that had really wound her up when she’d first read the article. The sisters knew the truth of their upbringing and it really wasn’t anyone else’s business. Especially if they were going to misinterpret it.
‘Of course I did. I even showed her shots of some of his pictures on my phone.’
‘Well, she hasn’t mentioned them?’
‘Well, all I’m saying is maybe you forgot. Maybe you didn’t think it was that important.’
‘This shit again!’ Nick put her cup down. Maybe it was time to go. She had been really disappointed by the article and now Clem was winding her up with the old you-only-care-about-money crap.
‘I don’t know what’s wrong with you sometimes, Clem. You know damn well that Nick would have been singing Dad’s praises to the rafters,’ admonished Ari.
‘Has it never crossed your mind how proud I am of your talents? You and Dad always had that in common. But oh no. You have to trot out the whole money-grubbing Nick routine.’
‘That’s not fair. I didn’t say that.’
‘As good as,’ Aster joined in.
‘But that wasn’t what I meant.’
‘So what did you mean when you said I didn’t think it was as important?’ challenged Nick.
‘Maybe she meant not important in the context of an interview about your business achievements,’ said Aster and Clem pounced.
‘That was exactly what I meant. I know if I was talking about my business it would take me ages to say how important your skills were to the company. And they are. They are essential. I’m really sorry, Nick.’ Clem jumped up from her sofa and came and settled herself down by Nick. ‘I didn’t mean to make you feel bad. I’m a stupid idiot. Forgive me?’
Nick glared at her briefly then gave her a hug. She knew she was genuinely contrite and was acting from a position of deep insecurity. Honestly, Nick sometimes felt that she was the big sister, not Clem. The awkward moment passed, and they finished browsing through the article.
The three men looked at each other, Rory casting his eyes to heaven. All of the men had found it was safer to step back when the sisters were having a spat. Any time they had tried to get involved, the girls had rounded on them and then the row just escalated and spread out. Rory came from a large family and was used to sibling blowouts. Those same fights tended to make Seb yearn for the rare moments when he and his brother and sister were all in the same country at the same time. Hal, however, as a single child, found them deeply unsettling and Paddy would have to regularly convince him that the family wasn’t, despite all appearances to the contrary, tearing itself apart.
Eventually the clock chimed the hour and Nick sighed. It was time to go.
‘Okay. That’s me.’
‘Do you really have to go? You were the last to arrive on Friday.’
‘Sorry, Ari, there’s a lot going on in the markets at the moment and I have a 4 a.m. call tomorrow morning.’
‘Ouch, poor you,’ said Seb sympathetically. His brother, George, was also a city trader and ran his own investment company. Seb knew how hard his brother worked but like Nick, he thrived off the adrenaline and odd hours.
‘Why don’t you stay for supper,’ tried Ari again, ‘then head off?’
‘Because then I won’t have an early night. And I’ll be groggy all day tomorrow and you know I don’t like to start the week groggy. You know me, plan to succeed.’
The girls all laughed at Nick’s self-deprecating joke. Nick was a stickler for planning ahead. She regularly had to deal with their gentle mockery, but life was so much easier if she didn’t have to think about what to wear or what to eat. Every day, all the mundane stuff had been planned out and laid down the night before so that she could focus on work instead. She knew the efficiency could sometimes make her seem a bit boring, but she didn’t care – she just wanted to spend time thinking about stuff she enjoyed. And that was her job. Popping the magazine back in her bag she asked if anyone could run her to the train station.
‘Me!’ said all four of her sisters, and a lovely warm feeling hugged her. She loved them all so much and wished she had been able to spend more time with them. But loving them also meant looking after them and running De Foix Investments properly. Nick looked across at Paddy, who kept glancing anxiously over at Eleanor on Hal’s lap, and made her mind up. Her twin needed a break, even a tiny one, and she hadn’t spent much time at all with Paddy since Eleanor arrived.
‘Come on, Padster, what say you and I have a tiny road trip?’
Paddy beamed excitedly and stood up and smiled at Hal. ‘I’ll be about an hour; can you hold the fort with Eleanor until then?’
‘I think I can manage a baby,’ drawled Hal.
Which was precisely the moment that poor Eleanor began violently throwing up. Paddy ran across the room and was now using her pashmina to try and clean up Eleanor’s face but as the baby threw up again she and Hal rushed out to the bathroom. The dogs ran forward excitedly until Ari barked at them and sent them to their beds. Nick looked on in horror.
‘Were the dogs about to eat the vomit? This is definitely my cue to leave.’
‘And mine,’ declared Clem with the same look of disgust on her face. ‘Come on, I’ll drive, and I can apologise again for being a thin-skinned eejit.’
Here endeth the first chapter 😀
If you want to see what happens next you can pre-order your copy here.
Liz Hurley as well as being the owner of this blog, runs a bookshop in Cornwall, right by the sea and writes books. You can buy them in her shop (of course), Waterstones and other outlets, as well as Amazon.
When she’s not reading, she’s writing and when she’s not writing, she’s walking. And when she’s not doing any of that she’s binging on box sets and sleeping.
This website is for her fictional works. Her Cornish non-fiction titles and walking guides can be found at https://www.cornishwalks.com