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Veronica Henry

The Beach Hut

The Beach Hut

On Everdene Sands, a row of beach huts holds the secrets of the families who own them - secrets of unrequited love, plain old-fashioned lust, childhood dreams and long-forgotten hopes...

'FOR SALE: a rare opportunity to purchase a beach hut on the spectacular Everdene Sands. "The Shack" has been in the family for fifty years, and was the first to be built on this renowned stretch of golden sand...'

Jane Milton doesn't want to sell her beloved beach hut, which has been the heart of so many family holidays and holds so many happy memories. But when her husband dies, leaving her with an overwhelming string of debts, she has no choice but to sell.

The Beach Hut follows the stories of the people who own the beach huts, families who come to Everdene each year, people who fall in - or out of - love, remembering their pasts, or trying to forget them...

Alight breeze ruffled the steel-blue ocean. The sun, growing ever bolder as the season progressed, was determined not to be intimidated by the clouds that had hovered earlier. They had rather reluctantly drifted away an hour ago, threatening to be back as they left, like playground bullies, but in the meantime the beach was bathed in light and warmth. The chill gradually came off the sands. Lundy Island sat squat and determined on the horizon, looking as if it might cast off any moment and float its way across the Atlantic.

Roy Mason emerged from his shed at the head of the beach, hands curled round the second mug of tea of the day. The first had been just before he left his tiny stone cottage high up in one of the winding streets that made up the village of Everdene. If he could have had a pound for every time someone stuck a note through his door asking if he wanted to sell, he would have been able to afford one of the new-build split-level homes that were being built on the top road. The developer’s sign proudly boasted that all of phase one had been sold. There might be a housing slump in the rest of the country, but not here. Not when the air smelled sweeter than any fabric conditioner, the surrounding hills were soft and rolling and studded with the fluffiest white sheep, and the view took your breath away. Roy had never tired of it, in all his years. Not that he’d ever seen much else. His mug, by dint of a large red heart, might proclaim that he loved New York, but he’d never been, and nor did he want to go. His daughter had brought it back when she’d been Christmas shopping. Roy didn’t begrudge her the experience, but he didn’t want to share it.

He drained the last of the sugary tea, put down the mug and collected up his tools. Proper tools, with wooden handles that had moulded themselves to fit his hands over the years, smooth and solid beneath his fingers, not like the lightweight plastic efforts they sold now that snapped and bent and buckled as soon as you put them to task. It was all about cost-cutting these days. Shaving down the margins. There was no pride.

To Roy’s mind, there was no point in doing something unless you gave it your best. He never cut corners. He did things properly, the old-fashioned way. Someone had sent a flyer round once, undercutting his prices, and a few of the owners had been tempted. The lad might have been cut-rate, but he was also cack-handed and ham-fisted. Roy had watched him trying to hang a new door. It was comical. He felt sorry for him, he was only trying to make a living, but he hadn’t a bloody clue. In the end, he’d given up, gone off up country, and Roy had picked up with the old customers where he’d left off, no hard feelings, nothing said. He wasn’t one to bear a grudge.

He’d been the unofficial caretaker for the beach huts since they first went up. His father had built them for the estate, and Roy had been his gofer, the fetcher and carrier. Twelve to start with, but they had gone like hot cakes, and gradually the line grew until it had doubled, then tripled, until it reached as far as the line of rocks that created a natural stopping point. And now he was kept on by most of the owners, to do maintenance and repairs, to check for damage and break-ins over the winter. Some owners were tight and only paid for their hut to be repainted once every three or four years. A false economy. The wind and rain that swept through over the winter, sand-blasting the wooden slats, was unforgiving; the wood needed protection.

Some owners kept their huts plain; others saw it as an excuse to express their personality and chose garish colours that somehow worked in the seaside setting, a fairground riot of reds and greens and pinks and oranges. Some of them had their own names: ‘Oysters’; ‘Atlantic View’; ‘Valhalla’. Nothing sparklingly original, but it added to the sense that this was a community, that each hut was a home from home.

Roy loved the lack of logic, the crazy mismatched line that marched down the length of the beach. He knew each one of them, their idiosyncrasies, their histories, who had owned them over the years. Each time one of them was sold, he was unsurprised by the astronomical prices they fetched. It was the same all over the country, if you were to believe the Sunday supplements, and these huts were a cut above the rest, being big enough to sleep in if you didn’t mind bunk-beds and a howling wind. They were still pretty basic, but there was electricity and running water, and at night the fronts twinkled with fairy lights. Despite the lack of luxury, people still flocked to buy them. There was a waiting list in the estate office. All Roy hoped when a hut changed hands was that the new incumbents would treat their hut with respect and obey the unwritten rules of the beach.

He had applied the last lick of paint, oiled the last lock, replaced the last piece of flapping roof felt. The huts were pristine, ready for the season to begin. Soon the beach would be alive with the special sounds of summer. The shouts and squeals of children frolicking in the surf. The thwack of tennis balls against cricket bats. The smell of burning charcoal and roasting meat. The thrum of the coastguard’s helicopter as it passed by on its patrol, swooping low over the sands and then shooting up into the sky, off to the next cove.

He spent the morning fixing a new price list to the side of his shed. Roy still worked for the estate as well, maintaining the huts they owned and organising their letting, and renting out windbreaks and deckchairs. At night, he took people out fishing for sea bass. It satisfied the inner Hemingway in them, mostly the men. There was something about fishing that bonded men. Women never took to it in the same way – they were always slightly mystified by the attraction, if they ever ventured out. He could see they were bored. They would much rather buy their bass from the converted ice-cream van that drove along the coast road every evening, selling lobster and crab.

His mobile rang in the pocket of his shorts. Another reason for the popularity of this beach – a good phone signal for all those BlackBerry-toting career people who needed to keep in touch with the office. Roy didn’t see he point. It wasn’t a holiday, if your employers could keep tabs on you, or if you could keep tabs on yours. But that seemed to be the way of the world.

It was Jane Milton. Her warm voice danced down the line and his stomach gave a little squeeze of pleasure. He liked Jane. She always paid her bill on time, never expected things to be done yesterday. She spoke to him as an equal, not like some of the buggers.

‘Roy. It’s Jane. I’m in London with a friend at the moment – how’s the weather down there?’

‘Set fair for the week, I should say.’ He had no idea if it was. The weather here had a mind of its own. But that was what she wanted to hear, so that was what he told her.

‘Marvellous. I’ll be back down this afternoon. The rabble won’t be arriving until the weekend, so I’ll get a couple of days’ peace and quiet. Many people down yet?’

‘Just the regulars.’

He could see a few hardy surfers in the water, which still had an icy chill. It took till September to warm up.

‘Good.’

He heard a slight tension in her voice.

‘Everything all right?’

She sighed.

‘This is going to be the last summer, Roy. I’ve hung on as long as I can, given the circumstances, but I’m going to have to sell.’

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Reviews for The Beach Hut

'Beautifully written and scorched with breathtaking drama, you'll simply want to park your deck chair in a quiet spot and revel in the mesmerising world of Everdene Sands'

Shari Low, Daily Record

'It may well be my read of the summer so far. Simply brilliant'

Chick Lit Reviews

'A perfect summer delight'

Natasha Harding, The Sun

'This sweet book would be a great beach companion *****'

Star magazine

'The perfect romantic read for long, lazy days at the beach'

Netmums

'An exuberant novel of love, lust, hopes and dreams'

Fanny Blake - Woman & Home

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