Cameron North inherits his Great Aunt Hilda’s tea shop on the remote island of Farlough, a place he hasn’t been since the day his heart was broken a dozen years before. His return may heal some wounds, but threatens to open new ones.
Farlough, alone in the North Sea, is home to a range of eccentric characters, all drawn to the island for reasons of their own. Cam’s great aunt, the guiding spirit of the place, has passed on and left him a legacy he struggles to live up to.
Her will specifies he must find and read a letter she’s left him, but this simple mission casts him back to the lost love of his youth and leaves him wondering why his life since has been so empty.
What he finds on this mysterious island in the middle of the North Sea will change the way he thinks about his past and imagines his future.
Cameron confronts one of the ghosts of his past on Farlough.
The faded sign that stood guard over the Sea Witch hadn’t changed, Cam noted, since he had last seen it, when he was still too young to step inside. He grasped the handle of the oaken door, the cold, thick iron worn smooth by the thirst of generations. Though daylight was just fading, warm air, thick with the rich aroma of pipes being smoked and whisky being nursed, swept over him as he stepped inside.
Mads was at the bar, and he held aloft two pints of deep black porter. Then he turned and walked to the back of the tavern around the other side of the replace. Cam followed, ducking his head under a dark beam laid in a century when people were shorter. Tucked into the side of the chimney was a private nook; once it had held a month’s worth of firewood, but now it was host to two small benches that faced each other over a narrow table. Mads folded himself down until he could slide onto one of the benches, then set the pints on the table.
Cam took up the other bench and shucked off his coat—the heat of the fire emanated through the thick masonry against which he pressed his back warming the little booth. Mads picked up his pint and waited for Cam to do the same. They drank in silence, then set their glasses back down.
Mads stared at the table for a long while.
“I guess none of ‘the lads’ are here?” Cam finally asked. His patience with Mads’s stormy stare was running out.
Without warning Mads reached across the table and grabbed Cam by the neck of his sweater. He yanked roughly until Cam was lifted out of his seat and their foreheads nearly met. They were nose-to-nose, Cam unable even to draw breath.
“Does she know?” he snarled, seething with fury. “Did you tell her?” Cam blinked and tried to pull back, but Mads held him immobile. “Tell me!” Mads roared. The noise level in the pub dropped for a moment as conversations were suspended—obviously, in the hopes of hearing something juicy from the nook no one could see into.
“No, of course I didn’t tell her anything,” Cam whispered, compensating for Mads’s outburst by making his voice almost inaudible. “I didn’t even know she was your wife until you showed up last night.”
Mads released his grip, sending Cam crashing back down into his seat.
“Then why are you here?” Mads spat. Then, as if uninterested in the answer, he picked up his pint and drank fully half of it before bringing it back down with a thump.
“Aunt Hilda,” Cam said quietly.
“Died six months ago. You didn’t seem to notice.”
“She was my only living relative. Of course I noticed. But it wasn’t until two weeks ago that her will was read and I got her instructions to come here.”
“Couldn’t be bothered to come here just because she died? Leaving an entire island mourning her loss? A loss that should have been yours too, if you’d cared a bit about her.”
Cam, chastened despite his anger at being berated so viciously, looked at his hands. “You don’t know anything about me,” he said quietly.
Mads scoffed dismissively. “That’s a true word.” He finished his pint in a gulp.
Cam could take no more. He glared across the table. “You were the one who pushed me away.” His voice quavered with anger and pain and loss.
Mads’s eyes widened while his brow darkened. “You think that’s what happened, do you? Is that right?” His voice became a low growl. “Fuck you.”
Cam sat back and studied the man he once thought he knew better than anyone else in the world—and who he thought knew him too. Now it was clear the gulf between them was larger than a table, wider than a dozen years. “Look, if all you’re worried about is whether I’m going to tell her about us—about whatever happened between us—you can just go now. I’m not going to tell anyone.”
Mads stared hard at him, wheels turning in his head behind the deep brown eyes.
“What more do you want from me?” Cam said, his voice rising as anger began to tighten his throat. “I’m not going to tell anyone you broke my heart, okay?”
Mads startled as if he’d been slapped but still said nothing.
“What do you fucking want?” Cam exploded, and again the pub fell quiet around them. But he was too far gone in his sorrow and rage to stop now. He leaned over the table, his voice a hushed torrent of outrage. “I’m not going to tell anyone that you broke my heart and it’s stayed broken. That I’ve never had a relationship that lasted as long as those summers here with you. You broke my heart, Mads, and you fucking broke me. You tell me why I’d want anyone knowing that. You knowing it is bad enough, but now you do. Happy?”
“I…,” Mads began but seemed to have no idea what would come next. He looked around as if for a sign of some kind, a bit of divine guidance as to what to do or say, but apparently none was forthcoming. He grabbed his coat and slid out of the booth. He’d taken two or three steps when he stopped, then turned back. Walking back to the table, he paused for a moment.
Cam looked up at him, tears welling in his eyes.
Mads pulled some bills out of his pocket and tossed them on the table. Then he turned and left.
Cam, alone, stared at his glass for a long time, and despite the repeated, polite offers of the tavern keeper to bring him a cold one, he emptied it slowly, uninterested in both the taste of the alcohol and its effect. He finished it only because something needed to be finished. Whatever it was he’d had with Mads would, apparently, never be. Or maybe it was finished before they’d begun it.