Friday Night Book Club: Read an excerpt from Lucinda Riley’s The Butterfly Room – a novel full of unforgettable characters and heartbreaking secrets
More about the book!
The Friday Night Book Club: Exclusive excerpts from Pan Macmillan every weekend!
Staying in this evening? Settle in with a glass of wine and this excerpt from The Butterfly Room, a spellbinding, multi-generational story from bestselling author Lucinda Riley.
‘Riley brings us a cast of exquisitely drawn characters and as you slip effortlessly into their lives and share their hopes, dreams and fears, prepare to be intrigued, moved to tears … and ultimately uplifted.’ – Lancashire Evening Post
About the book
Posy Montague is approaching her seventieth birthday. Still living in her beautiful family home, Admiral House, set in the glorious Suffolk countryside where she spent her own idyllic childhood catching butterflies with her beloved father, and raised her own children, Posy knows she must make an agonising decision. Despite the memories the house holds, and the exquisite garden she has spent twenty-five years creating, the house is crumbling around her, and Posy knows the time has come to sell it.
Then a face appears from the past – Freddie, her first love, who abandoned her and left her heartbroken fifty years ago. Already struggling to cope with her son Sam’s inept business dealings, and the sudden reappearance of her younger son Nick after ten years in Australia, Posy is reluctant to trust in Freddie’s renewed affection. And unbeknown to Posy, Freddie – and Admiral House – have a devastating secret to reveal …
Read the excerpt:
Posy was in the kitchen garden picking some carrots when she heard her mobile ringing from the depths of her Barbour. Pulling it out of her pocket, she answered it.
‘Hello, Mum. I didn’t wake you, did I?’
‘Goodness no, and besides, even if you had, it’s lovely to hear from you. How are you, Nick?’ ‘I’m good, Mum.’
‘And how is Perth?’ Posy enquired, standing up and wandering through the garden and into the kitchen.
‘Just starting to hot up as England begins to cool down. How are things with you?’
‘I’m fine. Nothing much changes around here, as you know.’
‘Listen, I’m calling to let you know that I’m coming back to England later this month.’
‘Oh Nick! How wonderful. After all these years.’
‘Ten, actually,’ her son confirmed. ‘It’s about time I came home, don’t you think?’
‘I do indeed. I’m over the moon, darling. You know how much I miss you.’
‘And I you, Mum.’
‘How long will you be staying? Could it be as long as to be the guest of honour at my seventieth birthday party next June?’ Posy smiled.
‘We’ll have to see how things go, but even if I decide to come back here, I’ll make sure I’m there at your party, of course I will.’
‘So, shall I come and pick you up from the airport?’
‘No, don’t worry about that. I’m going to stay in London for a few days with my friends Paul and Jane as I have some business I want to sort out, but I’ll ring you when I’m clearer on my plans and drive up to Admiral House to see you.’
‘I can hardly wait, darling.’
‘Nor me, Mum. It’s been too long. I’d better go, but I’ll be in touch soon.’
‘Righty-ho. Oh Nick … I can’t quite believe you’re coming home.
‘He heard the catch in her voice. ‘Nor me. Lots of love, and I’ll call you as soon as I have things organised. Bye for now.’
Posy sank into the ancient leather chair next to the Aga, feeling weak with emotion.
Of her two sons, it was Nick of whom she had the most vivid memories as an infant. Perhaps, because he’d been born so soon after his father’s tragic death, Posy had always felt that Nick was utterly hers.
His premature arrival – hastened almost certainly by the appalling shock of losing Jonny, her husband of thirteen years, so tragically – meant Posy, with three-year-old Sam on top of the newborn Nick, had found little time to wallow.
There had been much to sort out, a lot of hard decisions to make at a time when she was at her lowest ebb. All the plans she and Jonny had made for the future had to be shelved. With two small children to bring up alone – children who would need their mother’s love and attention more than ever – Posy had realised it would be an impossible task to try and run Admiral House as the business they had planned.
If there was ever a particularly bad moment to lose one’s husband, Posy thought, that had been it. After twelve years of being stationed around the globe, Jonny had decided to leave the army and fulfil his wife’s longed-for dream: to return to Admiral House and give their young family – and the two of them – a proper home.
Posy put the kettle on to boil, thinking back to how hot it had been that August thirty-four years ago, when Jonny had driven them through the golden Suffolk countryside towards the house. She had been newly pregnant with Nick; anxiety mixed with morning sickness had caused them to pull over twice. When they’d finally driven through the old wrought-iron gates, Posy had held her breath.
As Admiral House had come into view, a flood of memories had washed over her. It looked just as she remembered it, perhaps a little older and wearier, but then again, so was she. Jonny had opened the door of the car for her and helped her out, and Sam had run up beside her and gripped her hand tightly as they had walked up the steps to the huge front door.
‘Do you want to open it?’ she had asked him, placing the heavy key into the palm of his small hand.
He had nodded and she had lifted him up so he could slot the key into the lock.
Together, they’d pushed open the heavy door, and the sun had shone a path into the dark and shuttered house. Going on memory, Posy had found the light switch. The hall was suddenly flooded with electric light, and they had all looked upwards at the magnificent chandelier hanging twenty feet above them.
White sheets were draped over the furniture, and dust had lain thickly on the floor, whirling up into the air as Sam had run up the magnificent cantilevered staircase. Tears had come to Posy’s eyes, and she had shut them tightly as she had been assailed by the sights and smells of her child-hood, Maman, Daisy, Daddy … when she had opened them, she had seen Sam waving from the top of the stairs and she had joined him up there to see the rest of the house.
Jonny had loved it too, though with obvious reservations about its upkeep.
‘It’s enormous, darling,’ he’d said as they’d sat in the kitchen in which Posy so vividly remembered Daisy rolling pastry on the old oak table. ‘And obviously in need of some updating.’
‘Well, it hasn’t been lived in for more than a quarter of a century,’ she’d answered.
Once they’d settled in, the two of them had talked about how Admiral House could provide a much-needed income to supplement Jonny’s army pension. They’d agreed that they could set about renovating the house and one day, open it as a bed and breakfast to paying guests.
Ironically, Jonny’s death, after all his years in the military, had come only months later at the metal teeth of a combine harvester, which had hit him head-on as he negotiated a narrow bend only two miles away from Admiral House.
Jonny had left her his pension and a couple of life insurance policies. She’d also inherited her grandmother’s estate when she’d died a couple of years before, and had put the money she’d received from the sale of the Manor House in Cornwall into investments. She’d also received a small bequest from her mother, who had died of pneumonia (a fact that Posy still found odd, given she’d spent many years in Italy) at the age of fifty-five.
She’d considered selling Admiral House, but as the estate agent she’d brought in to value it had told her, few people wanted a house of that size any longer. Even if she found a buyer, the price she’d get for it would be well below what it was worth.
Besides, she adored the house – had only just returned to it after all those years – and with Jonny gone, Posy needed the familiar and comforting walls of her childhood home around her.
So, she’d worked out that as long as she remained frugal with their living costs, and braced herself to dip into her savings and investments to subsidise her income, the three of them could just about get by.
Throughout the lonely, dark days of those first months without Jonny, Nick’s sunny, undemanding nature had provided endless solace, and as she’d watched her baby boy grow into a happy, contented child, toddling around the kitchen garden, he’d given her hope for the future.
Of course, it had been easier for Nick; what he’d never known he couldn’t miss. Whereas Sam had been old enough to acknowledge the chill wind of death as it blew across his life.
‘When’s Daddy coming back?’
Posy remembered him asking the same question every night for weeks on end after his father’s death, her heart breaking as she saw the confusion in his big blue eyes, so similar to his father’s. Posy would steel herself to tell him that Daddy wasn’t coming back ever again. That he’d gone up to heaven to watch over them from there and finally, Sam had stopped asking. Posy stood listening to the sizzle of the water beginning to boil. She stirred the coffee granules into the milk at the bottom of the cup, then topped it up with hot water.
Cradling her cup, she walked towards the window and stared out at the ancient horse chestnut that had stoically given generations of children a bumper crop of conkers. She could see the green, prickly husks already formed, heralding the end of the summer and the beginning of autumn.
The thought of conkers reminded her of the start of the school year – a moment she’d dreaded when her boys were younger, as it marked the buying of new school uniforms, the label-sewing and the trunks she’d heave up from the cellar. Then the dreadful silence when they’d left.
Posy had thought long and hard about sending her beloved boys away to boarding school. Even if generations of both Jonny’s and her own family had been sent away, it had been the late seventies and times had changed. Yet she knew her own experience had not only given her an education, but independence and discipline. Jonny would have wanted his sons to go – he had often talked about sending them to his alma mater. So Posy had dug into her investments – comforting herself with the thought that her grandmother would approve too – and sent them away to school in Norfolk; not so far that she could never see them play rugby or appear in a school play, but far enough so she couldn’t be tempted to fetch them on the occasions when one or the other of them was homesick.
Sam had been the most frequent caller – he’d struggled to settle and always seemed to be falling out with one of his friends. When Nick had followed his brother three years later, she’d rarely heard from him.
In the early days of her widowhood when both the boys were small, she had longed for time to herself, but when both her sons had left for school and she’d finally had it, the cool breeze of loneliness had blown through the damp walls and lodged in her heart.
For the first time in her life, Posy remembered waking up in the morning and struggling to find a reason to climb out of bed. She’d realised it was because the core of her life had been torn away from her and everything around the edges of it was merely padding. Sending her boys away was like going through bereavement all over again.
The feeling had humbled her – up to that point in her life she had never understood depression and had seen it as a sign of weakness, but in that dreadful month after Nick had first left for school, she had felt guilty for ever thinking one could simply snap out of it.
She’d realised she needed a project to take her mind off how much she missed her boys. She’d been in her father’s study one autumnal morning and stumbled across an old set of plans for the garden in the drawer of his desk. From the look of them, he’d obviously been planning to turn the parkland gardens into something spectacular. Having been protected from light, the ink was still vivid on the parchment paper, the lines and proportions of the park rendered in her father’s meticulous hand. She could see that beside the Folly, he had marked a space for a butterfly garden, listing nectar-rich perennials that she knew would be a riot of colour in full bloom. A wisteria walk led to an orchard full of all of her favourite fruits: pears, apples, plums, and even figs.
Beside the kitchen garden, he had marked out a large greenhouse and a smaller walled garden, with a note that had read ‘willow walkway for Posy to play’. Whimsical garden pathways were sketched in to connect the disparate parts, and Posy had chuckled at his plan for a pond near to the croquet lawn (‘to cool off hot tempers’). There was also a rose garden marked ‘for Adriana’.
So, she’d gone out that afternoon with string and willow sticks and had started marking out some of the borders he’d planned, which would be filled with grape hyacinths, alliums and crocuses, all of which didn’t need much attention and were perfect for attracting bees when they woke from their winter sojourn.
A few days later, with her hands deep in the soft earth, Posy remembered smiling for the first time in weeks. The smell of compost, the feel of the gentle sun on her head and the planting of bulbs that would provide welcome colour next spring, had reminded her of her time at Kew.
That day had been the start of what had become a twenty-five-year passion. She’d laid out the vast area into sections, and each spring and autumn, she’d worked on a new part of it, adding her own designs to those of her father including her personal pièce de résistance – an ambitious parterre below the terrace, comprising intricate curves of low box hedges enclosing beds of fragrant lavender and roses. It was an absolute devil to maintain, but the view it afforded from the formal reception rooms and bedrooms was sublime.
In short, the garden had become her master, her friend and her lover, leaving her little time for anything else.
‘Mum, it’s amazing,’ Nick would say when he arrived home in the summer holidays and she’d show him the new work in progress.
‘Yeah, but what’s for supper?’ Sam would ask as he kicked a ball across the terrace. Posy remembered he’d broken the greenhouse windows three times as a boy.
As she gathered the ingredients together to whip up a cake to take over to her grandchildren later, Posy felt the familiar twinge of guilt prompted by any thoughts of her eldest son.
Although she loved Sam dearly, she’d always found him far more difficult than Nick. Perhaps it was simply that she and her second son shared so much in common. His love for ‘old things’, as Sam had called them, watching his younger brother painstakingly restore an old chest rotting away from woodworm. Where Sam was all action – his attention span short and his temper quick to ignite – Nick was far calmer. He had an eye for beauty that Posy liked to think he’d inherited from her.
The terrible truth was, she thought as she stirred the eggs into the cake mixture, one could love one’s children, but that didn’t mean to say one would like them equally.
The thing that upset her most was that her two sons were not close.