An Island in the Sun by Kate Frost (Digital Sample)

Chapter One

Saying goodbye was always hard, but Tabitha Callahan was used to it. Most of her life had been spent moving from one country to another, making new friends, attempting to learn a new language, trying to fit in, only to move again and start over. The one and only time she’d decided to put down roots, it had gone horribly wrong. And the pain… She was trying her hardest to forget how it had all ended. 

Twenty house sits and eleven countries in nearly a year. She’d lost count of how many animals she’d looked after: lots of dogs, a fair few cats, three lizards, a dozen chickens, two sheep and a Shetland pony called Comet. Not all at once, obviously. She’d fallen in love with every pet she’d met, but she had her favourites – a poodle called Midnight and Chester the boxer. There were a handful of locations she’d felt the tug of regret leaving too, but never strong enough to consider living there permanently. Not that she’d be able to afford the equivalent of a luxurious log cabin in Canada or a houseboat in Singapore. She was making new, happier memories, even if it was mainly animals who kept her company on a daily basis. What Tabitha loved the most was the ability to reset her life every few weeks. Starting from scratch in a new place where no one knew her was appealing. 

Adjusting her rucksack, Tabitha gazed up at the flight information board. It was the tail end of summer, a warm afternoon at the beginning of September and Humberto Delgado Airport in Lisbon was filled with families and couples, along with a fair few single travellers like her. With no gate number yet and time to kill, Tabitha went in search of coffee. 

It’s going to be a long day, she thought as she settled herself in a corner of a coffee shop with a latte; it already had been. She’d said goodbye the day before to Lola, the tortoiseshell cat she’d been pet sitting in an apartment in Barcelona. The forty-something owner had returned after two weeks, and Tabitha had handed back the keys, spent a pleasant enough couple of hours over lunch with them before staying at a hotel near the airport ready for an early flight. She was now waiting in Lisbon for her second flight of the day to her final destination, the Portuguese island of Madeira, her home for the next three weeks, housesitting two dogs and a cat. 

Tabitha snapped a selfie and posted it on her Instagram feed. A summer spent in Barcelona, and before that Provence, had left her naturally pale skin gently sun-kissed, the freckles across her cheeks more prominent. A mass of loose auburn curls framed her face where they’d escaped from a messy bun. 

Clasping her latte, and listening to music through her AirPods, she watched the world go by. She didn’t mind sitting on her own. Given the choice, she was perfectly happy to go for days without seeing another person; over the last year, she’d always had at least one pet for company – they were easy to talk to and excellent listeners. Tabitha smiled wryly. She never went days without talking to someone, though. Being part of a large and happy family, and the youngest of five, she was rarely out of contact with them. They had a Callahan family WhatsApp group chat where she kept up with her older brothers and sisters, Elspeth, Jack, Iona and Lorcan, and her mum and dad. 

Elspeth regularly called – she stressed that it wasn’t to check up on her, but Tabitha knew she wanted to make sure she was okay. Tabitha and Elspeth were best friends and closest in age, with only four years between them, compared to twelve with her eldest brother Lorcan. Even though Tabitha was thirty-two, Elspeth still felt the need to look out for her. Tabitha secretly liked it and loved talking to her. And it wasn’t as if she never talked to anyone else. She spoke to her parents every week, plus wherever she’d stayed, people tried to strike up a conversation: a friendly neighbour in the apartment building; the barista in the local coffee shop; or a guy would hit on her, usually if she was having a quiet drink on her own. Her hair was often an opening topic of conversation. Long gone were the days of being teased for being a curly redhead; she’d grown into her looks, which were often described as ‘striking’. The only trouble was, she didn’t want the attention, particularly from men. Getting over heartache was easier on her own; after all, she’d wanted to escape. She was perfectly happy with the company of a dog or two. 

The flight information board flashed with the gate number. Tabitha drained the rest of her coffee, slung her rucksack on her back and set off for her flight to Madeira. 

* * * 

It was unusual to be picked up by the house owners, but Rufus and Cordelia, a British expat couple, were adamant that it was no trouble. The flight was less than two hours, landing in Funchal early in the evening, so at least it meant that Tabitha didn’t have to spend all day with them. She felt rather mean and unsociable thinking like that, but the personal questions were inevitable when having dinner with strangers – why she was travelling from place to place on her own for months on end being the obvious one… 

Tabitha was a pro at this travelling lark, though. Not only was it in her blood, with her family having moved about since she was little with her dad’s job as a water engineer, but she’d had plenty of experience navigating airports, train and coach stations over the last year as a pet sitter, finding house sits around the world as a member of a pet-sitting website. She’d been to countless places, but as the plane flew over the grey-blue Atlantic, she relished the idea of being somewhere far from anywhere. A beautifully green and mountainous island in the Atlantic Ocean took a bit of effort to get to. She liked that. 

The flight landed on time and, as Tabitha waited for her luggage, she glanced at the other passengers. They were mostly tourists, young and old couples enjoying the relative peace that September brought, along with the added bonus of Madeira’s subtropical climate. There were young families too with pre-schoolers, making the most of the cheaper post-summer holiday flights. Her suitcase, covered in stickers depicting her travels, was easy to spot and, with relief, her guitar had arrived safely too. She dragged them off, readjusted her rucksack, slung her guitar across her shoulder and set off. 

Rufus, holding a neatly written sign with her name on it, was the spitting image of his pet-sitting profile picture. He looked relaxed in sunglasses, cream-coloured trousers and a linen shirt, his skin a leathery bronze colour. Tabitha’s immediate impression was that he spent a lot of time outdoors, probably playing golf and sunbathing shirtless in the garden. He must be somewhere in his mid-sixties – she sensed he knew how handsome he was. 

Over the last year, she’d got quite good at guessing not only people’s ages but their personality and hobbies through their first brief meeting. Then, during the house sit, she’d discover if her first impression was close to the truth or not, coming to a conclusion through their pets, their house, the décor and the photos on the walls. It was fascinating to find out about people without having to make the effort of getting to know them in real life. She knew how that sounded, but she’d chosen to cut herself off as much as she could. It had been good for her, even if her family had questioned it. 

Recognition crossed Rufus’s face as he clocked her. With her red hair and distinctive style, Tabitha knew she was instantly recognisable. 

Rufus lowered the sign as she reached him, offering his free hand. ‘Tabitha?’ 

‘Hi there, Rufus.’ She shook his hand firmly. 

‘It’s great to meet you at last. Here, let me take that.’ He grabbed the suitcase handle and manoeuvred them out of the way of the continuing stream of arrivals, towards the exit. ‘We’re thrilled you applied to house sit for us. It will really help to put my wife’s mind at rest while we’re away.’ 

‘Good, I’m glad.’ Tabitha blinked as they emerged into bright sunshine. ‘It’s a win-win for everyone having a sitter.’ 

‘You’re a musician if I remember correctly?’ He motioned to the guitar slung across her shoulder. 

‘A songwriter mainly, yes.’ 

‘Have you written anything I might know?’ 

‘Oh, I’m not sure. Depends if you’re into upbeat pop.’ 

‘Hmm, does Depeche Mode or Tears for Fears count?’ His laugh boomed into the fresh, sunny day. 

Tabitha couldn’t help but smile. ‘They’re a little before my time.’ 

She’d got good at making small talk with the people she was house sitting for – that she could cope with; it was the questions that delved deeper she feared. Even though she craved being alone, she could manage brief pockets of time with new people. What she loved the most was the insight into other peoples’ lives, which, she hoped, was slowly helping her to figure out her own. 

* * * 

Within a couple of minutes of driving away from the airport, Tabitha got her first glimpse of the ocean and a swathe of green-clad hills dotted with white houses with red-tiled roofs, before they plunged into the first of many tunnels as the road cut through the hillside above Funchal. The view of the forested interior on one side and the glittering ocean beyond the gleaming city disappeared and reappeared, making Tabitha blink in the brightness of the sunny evening as they re-emerged. 

‘That’s the botanical gardens on your right,’ Rufus said as they whizzed along the road, with the city of Funchal spread out to their left, its predominately white buildings carpeting the hillside down to the sparkling Atlantic. ‘It’s well worth a visit if you get the chance.’ 

Tabitha gazed at the landscape as it dropped away from the road, a lush valley rising up into jagged green hills, the shadow of a solitary cloud the only thing to taint the sun-drenched hillside. As they powered along the fast road, in and out of tunnels, Rufus chatted about the island, suggesting that Tabitha take Funchal’s cable car up to the gardens at Monte Palace and telling her which levada trails – the system of channels built to carry water to different parts of the island – had the best waterfalls. 

Eventually, they made it through the sprawling metropolis of Funchal and its outskirts. The tunnels continued where the mountainous island rolled right down to the ocean, the road cutting through the hillside and back out again to a village of cream and pink villas with banana plants and palm trees in gardens. Even after a year, the novelty of travelling hadn’t got old. She could already see what a wild and special place Madeira was. 

Rufus seemed more than happy to dominate the conversation, which was fine by Tabitha – although at times his constant chatter felt as if he couldn’t bear for there to be even a few seconds of awkward silence. She found it interesting, though, listening to him talk about the island and the towns they passed as the volcanic interior loomed on their right, offset by the vastness of the Atlantic Ocean to the left. 

The pets that she’d be looking after was another easy topic. After all, it was the reason she was here. 

‘My wife Cordelia has been so worried about leaving the dogs again.’ Rufus glanced at her before turning his attention back to the road. ‘They pined so much for us last time, Bailey in particular. They went to a pet sitter’s house before, but Bailey is rather nervous, a real homebody. It’s just not fair on him, nor Fudge. Misty’s not fussed either way, you know how aloof cats can be, but we think the dogs will be much happier being looked after at home.’ 

‘It’s good to have that peace of mind,’ Tabitha said. 

‘And you’re it.’ Rufus nodded. ‘Particularly as we’re going away for longer than usual.’ 

‘You’re going on safari, is that right?’ 

‘Oh yes, a holiday of a lifetime to celebrate our fortieth wedding anniversary – starting in Cape Town, then exploring Stellenbosch winelands, on to Tanzania for the safari, then Zanzibar for a relaxing last few days.’ 

Tabitha happily listened as Rufus described what they had planned. It was a good fifty-minute drive from the airport to the house in the southwest of the island and the sun was beginning to set, a wash of gold spreading across the horizon. After what felt like an endless day of travelling, Tabitha was eager to reach their destination and meet Bailey, Fudge and Misty. She was relieved when Rufus eventually announced, ‘We’re nearly there.’ 

They turned off the fast main road onto a single-track lane that finished at the gated entrance of a large driveway edged by palm trees and bushes fringed with pink flowers. 

Tabitha had learned not to go by first impressions and she got the sense that it would be the same with this place, the unassuming stone exterior cleverly hiding the luxurious and chic interior she’d seen in pictures. 

‘Well, we just made it back in daylight,’ Rufus said as he parked next to a white BMW. 

They got out into the still evening air, which was pleasantly warm and scented by the flowers filling the borders. Rufus took her suitcase and rucksack out of the boot and Tabitha pulled her guitar off the back seat and followed him towards the villa. 

The front door opened and a woman appeared with a beaming smile. 

‘Tabitha, welcome!’ She greeted her with a kiss on each cheek and ushered her inside. ‘I’m Cordelia.’ 

Cordelia was also in her sixties, elegant and well-dressed for spending an evening at home. She had a deep tan, bright pink manicured nails, lots of rings, and her make-up was flawless. Long flowing baby-blue trousers were paired with a delicate floral blouse. Tabitha had opted for comfort in black cotton dungarees with a simple white T-shirt and she was wearing little make-up beyond mascara and her trademark red lipstick. 

Leaving her bags in the entrance hall as instructed, Tabitha followed Cordelia and Rufus through to the large living and dining area at the heart of the villa. Despite the view through open bifold doors onto a terrace with an oblong pool, Tabitha’s eyes were immediately drawn to the two Cavalier King Charles spaniels rushing towards her. 

‘The tricolour is Bailey,’ Cordelia said with a smile as a black, tan and white Cavalier reached Tabitha. 

Tabitha knelt down and offered the back of her hand. Bailey sniffed, his damp nose connecting with it. 

‘The tan and white is Fudge. They’re brothers and seven years old. Our cat Misty is a law unto herself – she spends most of her time outside, but I’m sure she’ll show herself later.’ 

Fudge was as eager as Bailey for Tabitha’s attention. She stroked their soft heads and tickled beneath their long drooping ears. She’d looked after a Cavalier before and knew them to be the friendliest dogs with a lovely nature. 

‘They’re absolutely gorgeous,’ Tabitha said, thinking what good company they’d be. 

Her attention flicked from them to outside. The tropical garden was bathed in the golden light of dusk and the sun was low on the horizon, retreating into the distant ocean. She breathed a satisfied sigh, knowing how, despite craving travel, she was more than happy to have this place and its four-legged inhabitants to herself for the next three weeks. 

Chapter Two 

Cordelia was as affable and chatty as her husband and Tabitha began to relax. It wasn’t always this way; not everyone she’d met over the last year was as easy to talk to. Cordelia took charge, showing Tabitha around, the dogs following them. The main living area had direct access to the pool and garden, plus stairs going up to a mezzanine level with two en suite guest rooms. At the back of the house was a swish kitchen filled with the delicious smell of something roasting. Rufus pulled on oven gloves and ushered them out. 

‘I chose well,’ Cordelia commented as they returned to the living room. ‘A husband who’s a sublime cook.’ 

Misty, their velvety soft, grey-haired cat, silently appeared, smoothing herself around the furniture while eyeing Tabitha. 

‘I told you she was aloof – just until she gets used to you.’ Cordelia led the way from the living room along a hallway with a bathroom and utility room off it. She pushed open a door on the garden side of the house. ‘You’ll be staying in our room. As we discussed via email, the dogs always sleep in here, Bailey in his basket, Fudge usually on the bed. As Bailey can be quite nervous, we thought it best to keep things as much the same for them as possible. It’s also the best bedroom.’ She smiled and wafted her hand around the space. 

Everything was spotless with not a speck of dog hair visible. The wall behind the king-size bed, painted a deep peppermint green, echoed the outside. The dressing table was empty apart from a box of tissues and an unused scented candle. It looked like a show home, not that there was anything wrong with that, but Tabitha felt the pressure of having to be on her best behaviour. 

‘I’ve cleared space in the wardrobe and the chest of drawers for you to use. The en suite’s through there.’ Cordelia gestured to a closed door. ‘There’s also air con in here and the living room.’ With wagging tails, Bailey and Fudge clattered across the polished wooden floor to the huge sliding door that opened onto a terrace that overlooked the garden. 

Tabitha wandered further into the room. From the bed, she could see past the room’s private terrace, to the edge of the pool. Apart from the solar lights marking the stone paving that dotted the sloping grass, the expanse of garden with its palm trees and tropical plants was now shrouded in darkness. 

Cordelia joined Tabitha by the wall of glass. ‘It’s a view I’ll never tire of. Leave the curtains open and wake up to this, it’s magical. You’ll be very comfortable.’ 

‘I’m sure I will be,’ Tabitha said, tearing her eyes away from the garden. 

‘Our cleaner Dolores comes once a week on Thursday mornings and she’ll continue to do so while we’re away, but please do tidy up after yourself and the dogs.’ 

‘Of course.’ 

‘Hopefully all the information you’ll need is in the welcome pack. We’re going to sleep in one of the guest rooms for the night. It’s no trouble,’ she said before Tabitha could protest. ‘We thought it would be a good idea for Fudge and Bailey to get used to you in their usual environment while we’re still here. I’ll let you settle in. Dinner will be ready in twenty minutes.’ 

‘Thank you,’ Tabitha said as Cordelia left with the dogs on her heels. 

She had a good feeling about this place. A wild and mountainous island with year-round sunshine and a subtropical climate appealed to her, plus Madeira had long been a place she’d wanted to come to, not least because she’d heard lots about it through an old friend. Being here was the perfect chance to heal old wounds and reconnect with him, despite the idea leaving her on edge. But she wouldn’t think about that now; she turned her focus to unpacking. 

Over the last year, Tabitha had got used to being blown away by some of the places she’d stayed. Not all were as large or luxurious as this. A tiny apartment in the artistic Saint-Germain-des-Prés area of Paris looking after a toy poodle had been memorable because of its stunning oak parquet flooring and exposed stone walls, plus a cafe with the most incredible coffee, pastries and macarons just a thirty-second stroll away. Then she’d spent three weeks on a houseboat in one of Singapore’s marinas with a friendly bichon frise. What she loved most was being immersed in the culture of a place, staying in someone’s home and getting to know their particular neighbourhood. She was looking forward to discovering Madeira and staying put in a place for a little longer than she had all summer. 

* * * 

With the front of the villa completely open to the garden, light from the living area pooled onto the terrace. Misty stalked across the grass, her eyes glinting in the darkness, while the dogs settled themselves on the paving. Tabitha sat with Rufus and Cordelia at the table to the side of the pool, beneath a pergola strung with lights and sheltered by leafy palms. Tabitha imagined it would be lovely to sit there during the heat of the day. 

Cordelia hadn’t been lying about Rufus being a good cook. Dinner was carne de vinha d’alhos, tender pieces of pork that Rufus had marinated in garlic and wine for two days before slowly roasting them in the oven, served with salad and milho frito, a fried cornbread. The setting was idyllic and a perfect temperature despite the sun having set. 

‘Thank you so much,’ Tabitha said as Rufus offered her the bowl of pork and she spooned more onto her plate. ‘This is very kind of you.’ 

‘We’re just grateful you’ll be here to look after our babies.’ Cordelia smiled sweetly. 

Tabitha understood that pets were part of the family, but she was put off by the sickly sweet ‘ooh my little cutie-pie’ way some people doted on them. Perhaps it stemmed from not having had a pet growing up. Being the youngest, she’d never had a baby brother or sister to help look after either and she’d never believed herself to be maternal… A dull pain ricocheted from the pit of her stomach to her heart. Catching her upset before it spilled over, she quashed the thought, shifted uncomfortably in her seat and skewered a piece of pork. 

Misty curled herself around Tabitha’s leg with a satisfied purr. 

‘Well, that’s a good sign,’ Cordelia said. ‘Misty doesn’t much like strangers, does she, Rufus?’ 

With his mouth full, Rufus nodded in agreement. 

‘You’re obviously good with animals and have lots of experience house sitting from your profile,’ Cordelia continued, ‘but you’ve never had a pet of your own. Is that right?’ She popped a forkful of salad into her mouth. 

Tabitha nodded and swallowed her mouthful of the unbelievably tender pork. She got asked this question frequently. ‘We moved around a lot when I was growing up so we weren’t able to have a pet. There’s never been a chance since being an adult either, but I love animals and have looked after friends’ pets. Pet sitting seemed like the perfect solution.’ She held off from saying that she preferred them to most humans. 

Cordelia clasped her wine glass and nodded. ‘But you’re obviously in a position workwise to travel?’ 

‘Yeah, I toured as a musician with bands a few years ago, but I’ve been focusing on songwriting more recently, mainly as a topliner, which means I write the melody and lyrics over a beat I get sent by a producer. Working remotely is great.’ 

‘And there’s no partner to miss…?’ 

Tabitha caught Rufus’s raised eyebrow as he shot a look at his wife. 

‘No, there’s no one,’ Tabitha said firmly. ‘Lots of friends and family scattered all over the place, but no, um, boyfriend… not any longer.’ 

‘Oh dear,’ Cordelia said. ‘I did wonder if heartbreak was the reason you were house sitting on your own.’ 

Tabitha’s cheeks flushed and Rufus coughed, blustering through the awkward silence by topping up their wine glasses. ‘So, tell us, Tabitha. Why Madeira?’ 

‘I tend to go wherever fits in with the house-sitting dates I already have scheduled and, honestly, it depends on who says yes to me.’ 

‘Yes, we were amazed by just how many applications we received,’ Cordelia said. ‘We didn’t realise that there would be so many more sitters than there are sits!’ 

‘It is rather competitive from a sitter’s point of view, that’s why I try to be as flexible as possible and never too fussed about where I end up. I’ve discovered some incredible places that way and have been pleasantly surprised by locations that I wouldn’t necessarily have chosen.’ 

Cordelia sat back in her chair and smoothed out a crease in her trousers. ‘Anywhere in particular?’ 

‘Ghent springs to mind because it’s not somewhere I knew much about. Often, it’s the places I would never have considered that have surprised me the most in terms of how much I love them.’ 

‘The places or the pets?’ Cordelia’s eyes twinkled as she looked at Tabitha over her glass of wine. 

‘Oh, both.’ Tabitha smiled. ‘I haven’t yet met a pet I haven’t liked, and everywhere has something appealing about it. Sometimes I hit the jackpot with everything: perfect pet, amazing location and a fabulous home. Much like I imagine your place will be.’ She leaned down and tickled the top of Fudge’s head. 

‘He’ll be the first to sit next to you hoping you’ll drop some food, won’t he, Rufus?’ 

‘He certainly will, although we refrain from feeding them anything from the table.’ 

‘Oh, don’t worry about that,’ Tabitha said. ‘I’ll follow exactly what you’ve set out in your welcome pack.’ 

‘And I’m sure you’ll love Madeira,’ Rufus said with confidence. ‘We certainly do.’ 

‘Have you lived here long?’ 

‘Twenty-two years,’ Cordelia said with a satisfied smile. ‘We lived in Surrey and Rufus worked in finance in the City so he was forever commuting and he wanted to do more, didn’t you, love? He was full of business ideas – a proper entrepreneur.’ 

‘I worked sixty hours a week and brought home a lot of money, but I knew I’d burn out if I carried on at that sort of pace. And Cordelia was a marketing whizz, driving companies to commercial success, which made us think why couldn’t we do it for ourselves. We started our luxury travel company, Sun & Stars, from our spare room, both of us working all the hours we could to get it off the ground. When it felt like a permanent and viable business, we took the plunge, sold up and moved out here.’ 

Folding her arms and clasping her wine glass, Cordelia looked at Tabitha. ‘Friends and family did question why Madeira rather than somewhere like the south of France, but it was an island we’d both fallen in love with on a holiday in our twenties. The subtropical climate appealed, didn’t it, love. We both adore walking and the levada trails across the island are wonderful.’ 

‘Not to mention there’s a world-renowned golf course, which made me rather happy.’ Rufus grinned. ‘Back in Surrey we craved the outdoor life, but England doesn’t exactly have the right climate.’ 

Cordelia placed a manicured hand on her husband’s arm and laughed. ‘When he says “outdoor life”, we’re not talking about hiking in winter or camping in the rain – we love walking, but we are rather partial to home comforts.’ Tabitha could easily believe that. ‘No, we wanted a large garden, somewhere to invite friends over and enjoy barbecues with an ocean view.’ She swept her hand towards the Atlantic Ocean glinting in the moonlight beyond the sloping garden. 

Tabitha could certainly see the appeal. ‘Do you still work from home then?’ 

Rufus nodded. ‘We run our business from our home office at the bottom of the garden, but we’ve grown over the years, so we have an office in London too where most of our employees are based – we’re there a couple of times a year, aren’t we, love.’ 

‘It’s good to touch base, but really we can work from anywhere, so being here is perfect. We have the best of everything.’ 

‘The location too,’ Rufus added. ‘We’re just outside the village with walks on the doorstep and nothing’s too far away. Even Funchal is only forty-five minutes.’ 

‘It’s really peaceful,’ Tabitha said. ‘And no neighbours?’ 

Rufus and Cordelia glanced at each other. 

Cordelia picked up her wine glass and leaned back in her chair. ‘Julie and Anton are next door – well, when I say next door, they’re a couple of minutes’ walk away, but they’re our closest neighbours. We’re all spread out here, which is a dream, but the bottom of their garden butts onto the side of ours.’ Cordelia gave Tabitha what she assumed was a knowing look and wrinkled her nose. ‘The wife is rather nosy, so I do apologise in advance. If, however, you know you’re going to be out for the whole day, then please do ask Julie to check on the dogs. The only good thing about her is she has time on her hands and is always happy to walk them, isn’t she, love?’ She looked at her husband. 

‘They have their uses.’ He chuckled. 

Feeling a little uncomfortable about the downbeat tone over a couple she hadn’t yet met, Tabitha smiled weakly. 

‘They’re aware you’re staying and have a spare key if ever needed,’ Cordelia added. 

‘Just duck behind a bush if you’re out in the garden and Julie pops her head over!’ Rufus laughed. 

One of the greatest appeals about house sitting, beyond the initial meeting with the owners and handing over the keys on their return, was generally only having animals to deal with. From the short time she’d been in Rufus and Cordelia’s company, they were beginning to come across as the sort of couple who could become overwhelming. One evening was probably enough, not that it had been unpleasant in the slightest, but she knew she’d be far happier when she was finally on her own. 

With Rufus and Cordelia leaving reasonably early in the morning, the evening drew to a close. Tabitha helped clear the table, and once Cordelia had stacked the dishwasher and Rufus had locked up, they said goodnight. 

It felt a little like a test: Tabitha having their room with the dogs, while they stayed in the guest room. Not that they could kick her out when they had a holiday of a lifetime to go on. 

The dogs seemed confused when it was Tabitha who headed down the hallway towards the bedroom. She paused outside the door and watched them padding around, both of them glancing back as if trying to work out where their owners had gone. Then, without further hesitation, they trotted down the hallway and followed her into the room. 

‘Good boys,’ she said, crouching down and tickling them beneath their chins. They looked up at her with big brown eyes and she knew in her heart that they’d be another two pets who she’d find it hard to say goodbye to. But there was no need to think about that yet. Her time on Madeira was just beginning. 

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