Sophie Henderson loves her job at Carter’s Cider in the picturesque Somerset village of Little Somerby, but with summer dawning before yet another picking and pressing season, and her boss David showing no signs of wanting to hang up his cider jug, perhaps it is time to move on.
She’s all set to hand in her notice when Alex Fraser, an intern from Vancouver, comes to Little Somerby to learn everything he can about the cider business. With Sophie as his mentor, attraction between them starts to grow alongside the apples.
For Alex, however, being in Little Somerby is about more than cider, and as the summer grows warmer, and his relationship with Sophie blossoms, can he find the courage to tell her the truth before it’s too late?
Fay Keenan’s charming, funny and deliciously romantic Little Somerby novels are sure to delight all fans of Jilly Cooper, Fern Britton and Katie Fforde.
‘Moving, funny, thoughtful and romantic. Bring on the next one!’ JENNY KANE.
EXTRACT FROM THE BOOK!
The first week of Alex’s internship passed surprisingly swiftly, and Sophie was starting to get used to having him around as a colleague. He was keen to learn, asked sensible questions and seemed to really listen to the answers she gave. She was actually rather enjoying teaching him. However, they’d not discussed much about their own lives, Alex seeming to prefer to deflect attention from himself to the processes of learning a new trade, and Sophie because she was, by nature, quite a private person; more so since she’d split from Mark, who’d thankfully not contacted her since their impromptu meeting backstage at the careers day. She was curious about one thing, though: how Alex was finding the Rose Cottage B & B. Brenda’s reputation preceded her.
‘It’s fine.’ Alex laughed. ‘At least as far as living locally is concerned. It made sense to live in the village for the duration of my internship, rather than have the expense of hiring a car and living outside somewhere.’ Alex turned back to Sophie, who was waiting by the office door with her iPad in her hand, preparing to check ‘the stats on the vats’ as she called them: overnight figures such as temperature, acidity and tannin levels, fermentation rates and suchlike. The technology was so advanced that each of the forty-eight tanks on the main fermentation floor could be checked remotely at any given time. The up to date figures were accessible online 24/7. David, who suffered from recurring bouts of insomnia, had been known to log in at three in the morning to check the levels as a way of sending himself back to sleep.
‘Means you’re a bit landlocked, though,’ Sophie said. ‘Aren’t you afraid you’ll get sick of the sight of Little Somerby?’
Alex laughed. ‘I grew up in a small country village, so I was used to walking miles to get anywhere,’ he said. ‘It doesn’t really worry me.’
‘You’d better download the app for the local bus company, then, if you want to go anywhere bigger than Little Somerby!’ Sophie smiled back. ‘Or I can always give you a lift if you get stuck.’
‘Thanks.’ Alex looked surprised by her offer. ‘I might take you up on that.’
Sophie blushed. Despite being initially unsettled by the intensity of Alex’s gaze when she first met him, she was getting used to his quirks and ways, and just how far to joke with him. If she’d suggested that to one or two of her other male colleagues, they might have construed it as a come-on. Alex just seemed to take it at face value.
‘So, what’s the schedule for today?’ Alex asked as Sophie consulted her iPad.
‘The usual checks, first of all,’ Sophie replied. ‘And then I thought I’d give you a little treat.’ She grinned. ‘And see how much you’ve taken in about what you’ve been learning so far!’
‘I’ll be sure to try to impress you.’ Alex smiled and looked intrigued. ‘So long as you’re not going to make me eat a whole Dabinett – one mouthful was enough on my first afternoon!’
Sophie laughed. Dabinetts were excellent apples for adding acidity to cider, since they were full of tannin, but they were horrible to eat, tasting dry and bitter, despite their luscious red appearance. Although this year’s crop wasn’t ready, there were still a few of last year’s kicking around in cold storage, and she’d used one to demonstrate a point to Alex yesterday, a kind of variation on a joke that had been pulled on her by David during the early days of her own apprenticeship years ago. She’d not realised he was winding her up until she’d gamely tried to eat the whole apple, such was David’s deadpan expression. These days, having worked with him for so long, she knew how to read him better.
As good as her word, after an intentionally unadventurous lunch at the staff canteen, so as not to ruin her taste buds, Sophie took Alex along to the vat barn to take part in the weekly tasting of the Vintage blends. A tradition since the business had begun, the blenders would take their glass jugs and sample the cider from each of the vats to see how the bespoke varieties were doing. Sophie had been assisting David with this task ever since her apprenticeship days, and it was still a highlight of her working week.
This particular afternoon, David was in a meeting, so she and Alex were heading into the barn by themselves. Usually, one of the Carter brothers would attend the tasting, although for a couple of weeks running now neither of them had. It was a busy time of year, and Sophie had got the testing and tasting down to a fine art.
‘Watch your step as you go up to the gantry,’ she warned Alex as they walked between the barrels to the foot of the steel staircase. ‘It can catch you out if you’re not careful and you might come a cropper.’
‘Come a cropper?’ Alex looked quizzical.
Sophie grinned. ‘Fall on your backside.’
Alex laughed. ‘Thanks for the warning.’
‘David was off work for three weeks when he missed his footing and bruised his coccyx – although he wouldn’t stop emailing me, day in, day out, making sure I was doing everything to his specifications.’
‘Sounds like he’s a bit of a workaholic,’ Alex observed wryly. He’d had a bit of contact with David over the week he’d been at Carter’s, although David had mostly left his internship to Sophie’s tutelage, and he had no doubt that the man took his responsibilities very seriously, from the way he hardly ever cracked a smile. Sophie had warned Alex that David was notoriously straight faced, but it still took a little bit of getting used to.
Heeding Sophie’s advice, Alex held onto the gantry rail as he climbed the steps, his boots clanging on the steel as he rose. From the top of the platform, he could appreciate for the first time the scale of the vats in the barn. Standing solid and impassive, they filled the space, the silence in the air at the top of the barn unnerving in its absoluteness. This was a different perspective from his first time in the vat barn; seeing all seventeen vats at once, from the top of the building, was a little overwhelming. He drew in a deep breath as he looked out over the barrels; he could almost smell the history in the atmosphere. Bracing himself against the sudden onslaught of thoughts unbidden, emotions unchecked, he closed his eyes briefly.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Fay Keenan was born in Surrey and raised in Hampshire, before finally settling back in the West Country.
When Fay is not chasing her children around or writing, she teaches English at a local secondary school.
She lives with her husband of fourteen years, two daughters, a cat, two chickens and a Weimaraner called Bertie in a village in Somerset, which may or may not have provided the inspiration for Little Somerby.
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