Kate Lord Brown’s novels include The Beauty Chorus, Silent Music, The House of Dreams and The Perfume Garden. Her latest novel, A Summer at the Castle is published by Orion on 24 June 2021.
To celebrate publication I have an exclusive short story by Kate to share today.
Recipe for Love
‘Let me help you with that, Mrs Hughes,’ the girl says, taking a pile of plates from my hand.
‘Thanks.’ The kitchen is warm and peaceful after the noise of the party, sunlight slanting across the scrubbed pine table. ‘Have you had plenty to eat?’
‘Too much!’ She laughs, loading the plates into the sink.
‘You’re Niall’s girlfriend, aren’t you?’ I say, pausing on my way to the pantry.
‘Orla,’ she says. ‘We’re not. I mean, we’re new.’ She blushes. ‘Niall and I met up in Dublin a couple of weeks back. It was kind of you to invite me to the party.’
‘It felt like everyone deserved a celebration. Niall’s worked hard, these last months,’ I say, flicking on the light, looking up to the shadows of the top shelf where the cake is waiting. I don’t know what I’d have done without him.
‘This place is beautiful.’ Her voice brings me back to the moment. ‘Niall says it’s amazing how you’ve transformed the Castle.’
‘We’ll be open for our first guests in a few weeks.’ I slide the cake box onto the kitchen table, and look out across the lawn, beyond the roses to the bay. They were blooming the first time Kavanagh brought me here, too. I lift the card lid, and place the perfect white cake onto the silver stand, adjust the spray of sugar flowers.
‘Did you bake it yourself?’ she says. ‘It’s lovely.’
‘Yes. Yes I did.’ We did. It’s all in here. The oranges from the groves we walked in, the falling amber light. Zested fruit, juice squeezed sweet drop by drop. The blossom you threaded in my hair. Here are the eggs we gathered, warm in the hay, the meadow dew wet around our ankles. Here are the cherries and grapes we picked the summer we met, once so firm and succulent, and full of the promise of sweetness like the marriage this cake was made to celebrate. There’s a hint of ginger too, you need a little spice, that’s what you always said. I remember sifting it in with the flour, falling soft on the mixture like the snow falling on Temple Bar the night you asked me to marry you. ‘It was the top tier of our wedding cake.’
‘That’ so romantic!’ she says, her grey eyes widening. ‘You saved it for the christening? It’s traditional isn’t it?’
I take a blue leather box from the dresser, and click open the gold catches. The silver knife is heavy in my hand, the blade gilded by the late sun. ‘We made the cake together,’ I tell her. ‘I can still remember Kavanagh stealing a taste of the mixture. He was always a one for licking the bowl.’ He said it was perfect. Sugar and spice. ‘I should have known there would be trouble ahead when I put the cake together the week before the wedding, just to see if it was alright.’ I lift one of the sugar flowers, turn it over in my fingers. ‘This tier was too heavy, or the one below was too weak. The columns started sinking into the icing-‘ It’s funny now, but it had seemed like a disaster at the time, watching the cake listing under the weight. ‘I remember the little sugar figures of the bride and groom pitching forward-‘
‘Isn’t it bad luck to put them on the cake before the wedding?’ she says.
‘Is it?’ That would explain a few things. But bad luck wasn’t for the likes of us. We were so sure, so much in love, pitching headlong into life. Nothing could touch us.
‘It still looks so fresh,’ she says, standing at my side.
‘Oh, the decoration is new.’ I wipe a speck of dust from the silver stand. ‘You don’t throw away a good cake just because the icing is spoiled.’ I’ve pricked at this cake, over the months, fed it with brandy and tears. It is rich with time and love. Just as we would have done, it’s improved with age. The little figures of the bride and groom are in a drawer somewhere, now. I couldn’t bring myself to throw them away. She has lost some of her sheen, but then so have I. They are together still, though we are not.
‘Are you ready with the cake?’ Niall says, popping his head around the kitchen door, the noise of the party swelling. I see him glance at the girl, the love in his eyes. I saw them together earlier, their hands dancing around one another like butterflies. I remember that feeling, when everything is new. ‘The boys are ready with the champagne at the bar.’
‘Where is she?’ I say, looking past him to all the friends gathered for the party.
‘Sleeping like an angel, being passed from arm to arm.’ He squeezes my shoulder. ‘You’re doing well,’ he says quietly. My throat tightens at our friend’s kindness, tears prick my eyes.
‘You go on,’ the girl says, handing me the cake. ‘I can tidy up in here. You should be celebrating with your husband.’ I see Niall’s face fall.
‘He died,’ I say, and smile to stop her apology. ‘You weren’t to know.’ I glance down at the cake, picture you stirring the mixture, tasting it, so sweet. ‘Just before the wedding. We never married, you see, but I was … well, here we are today.’ I carry the cake through to the reception, and I smile, and smile, to claps and cheers, my eyes bright with love for you, and for her. Our child. The sugar flowers are white and new, as fresh as she is. For her, I kept the cake. For her I smoothed over the cracks. The weight of her in my arms is sweet as we cut the cake without you, and her gaze, so full of love and wonder at the world from eyes I know as your own is sweeter, still.
About the Book
Every summer, Diana Hughes organises a famous baking competition at her beautiful castle in the south west of Ireland, to raise funds for its upkeep. But this year, amongst the bunting and scrumptious cakes, everything is turning out a little differently than planned!
First, her daughter Darcy arrives on the doorstep unexpectedly, after running away to the sunny hills of California with a broken heart a year ago. Then a mysterious stranger tries to sabotage the competition. Diana and Darcy soon find out that the past is quickly catching up with them – and it’s about to turn their lives upside down!…
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