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Alfie the Holiday Cat Rachel Wells The Sunday Times bestseller returns for a fourth book! Alfie and his mischievous kitten George are back for more adventures – this time taking them a long way from home…Alfie and George just can’t seem to keep out of trouble. So when they hear that their owners have got a new holiday home, they can’t wait to visit it and enjoy some new adventures.But when they arrive, they don’t find the comfort they’re used to. Crumbling walls, peeling paint, dripping ceilings…this little Cornish cottage is clearly on its last legs.Family and friends rally round to try and save the cottage – but it soon becomes clear that the locals don’t want them there at all. It’s up to Alfie and George to make sure their family is welcomed into the village – that’s if they can keep out of the way of the nastiest cat they’ve ever encountered… Copyright (#ulink_b62144c6-2acb-527d-9913-06907d78be6c) Published by AVON A Division of HarperCollinsPublishers Ltd 1 London Bridge Street London SE1 9GF www.harpercollins.co.uk (http://www.harpercollins.co.uk) First published in Great Britain by HarperCollinsPublishers 2017 Copyright © Rachel Wells 2017 Cover design © Head Design 2017 Cover photograph © Shutterstock Rachel Wells asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work. A catalogue copy of this book is available from the British Library. This novel is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or localities is entirely coincidental. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this e-book on screen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, down-loaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of HarperCollins. Source ISBN: 9780008253325 Ebook Edition © November 2017 ISBN: 9780008253332 Version: 2017-09-22 Dedication (#ulink_b4ef5306-eb16-58e8-b1a4-120ec40898f8) For Tammy Contents Cover (#u97f7633c-0d1a-518f-b93e-8eeb2c89e44a) Title Page (#uca979fff-f62b-5eee-a4c6-392e6c24b88f) Copyright (#u95cbebf2-1179-5815-a65f-4d4e56ae02f8) Dedication (#u1c445686-5523-58b7-b6ff-8e0f030cf0e0) Prologue (#u4e850e60-0d8e-512a-bb78-6d6e331404a0) Chapter One (#u4bce4a26-314a-5366-bf88-ee2877403244) Chapter Two (#uacafc19d-2fb8-5460-bcb7-7b52bb46661f) Chapter Three (#ud8d8ece5-6ab3-51fe-b8d4-f188bdade28a) Chapter Four (#u02a1641d-d35a-5ec3-915f-8f3b25bdfb16) Chapter Five (#u4c42ab6f-6957-5488-b2a6-cdd1fba89d64) Chapter Six (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Seven (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Eight (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Nine (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Ten (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Eleven (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Twelve (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Thirteen (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Fourteen (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Fifteen (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Sixteen (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Seventeen (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Eighteen (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Nineteen (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Twenty (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Twenty-One (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Twenty-Two (#litres_trial_promo) Epilogue (#litres_trial_promo) Japan: a cat lover’s heaven (#litres_trial_promo) Acknowledgements (#litres_trial_promo) Keep Reading … (#litres_trial_promo) About the Author (#litres_trial_promo) About the Publisher (#litres_trial_promo) Prologue (#ulink_eeab1879-2332-58f9-a7f5-e9882b87729b) I was dreaming about pilchards when I felt a tail tickling my fur. I opened one eye to see George, my kitten, hopping around my bed excitedly. I opened the other eye. ‘Wake up, Dad, it’s Christmas,’ he purred in my ear. I raised my whiskers. It felt far too early to be awake. ‘Wake up, everyone!’ Summer’s voice shouted, shattering any peace and quiet. ‘It’s Chrissssmass.’ She had joined George and they were both jumping around, making me feel quite dizzy. ‘Meow,’ I replied. I saw shadowy darkness poking through the landing window, but I knew no one would be getting back to sleep. When Summer made up her mind, no one stood a chance, and George was turning out to be the same way. The door opened and Claire, wrapping her dressing gown around her, emerged with a sleepy, tousled Jonathan on her heels. ‘Goodness, it’s only five,’ Claire complained. ‘But Santa’s been, I know he has,’ Summer shouted. ‘So, it must be Christmas time right now!’ She stamped her little foot. George tried to stamp his paw but he hadn’t mastered that. ‘Where’s Toby?’ Jonathan said, picking Summer up and giving her a hug. ‘Happy Christmas, my little princess.’ She snuggled into him. ‘Meow,’ I replied. He was still in bed. Toby was the only sensible member of the family, it seemed. It was George’s first Christmas ever and Toby’s first with us, which meant it was one of the most special Christmases ever in Edgar Road. We had all been full of excitement and expectation, although Summer had been the most excited, with George a close second. Toby had been a little hesitant. Claire and Jonathan said it was because he hadn’t had a good life up until now. Toby had been adopted by us. He was five years old and, although Claire and Jonathan hadn’t shared details of his life so far, I knew he had been taken away from his parents and had lived in foster care before he came to us. That meant he had had more than one home up until now. Claire said to him, to Summer, and to me and George that we were his forever family and he had a forever home with us now. I understood that better than most. I had had a life before here too, although that did seem so long ago now. When I first came to live on Edgar Road, I had also had a home before. My home had been happy, full of love, but my old owner died leaving me homeless. Instead of being put in a shelter I had taken matters into my own paws and I’d taken a treacherous journey to Edgar Road where I learnt many things along the way, and then I became, as I am today, a doorstep cat. This means I have more than one home and more than one family to love me and love in return. It so happens that I mainly live with Claire and Jonathan now – this is my forever home too. But they used to live separately, and I lived with them both until I brought them together and they got married. I also have two other houses I visit and we’re all great friends, more like family even. Claire and Jonathan, with Summer and Toby; Polly and Matt who have two children, Henry and Martha; and Tomasz and Franceska, my Polish family who have two sons, Aleksy and little Tomasz. They are my families, and since George came to live with us as a tiny kitten – I adopted him – they are his families too. But back to Toby; he had obviously had a traumatic beginning in life and although he was loved and safe now, it was a big adjustment for him. When he first came to live with us he cried every night. Claire would go and cuddle him, Jonathan would read him stories and in the end George took to sleeping in his bed, right beside him. He does that every night now. Toby sleeps really well with George beside him, it’s the only way he will sleep I think. I worried at first that Summer might mind, she is a madam and she thinks that George is her kitten, but actually she’s been very lovely about sharing. Although she tried to demand a goldfish, which is a terrible idea. A fish where two cats live, whoever heard of such a thing? So Toby and George have a very special bond, which I like to think is down to me a bit. They were both the newest members of the family, which helped to bind them, but of course we all love them both very much. It is clear, though, that George has been instrumental in helping Toby to feel at home – he’s a chip off the old block it seems – and now he’s settled in it feels as if Toby has always been with us. Before Christmas, when Claire and Jonathan tried to get him to write to Santa and ask for presents, he was reluctant. In the end Jonathan got a catalogue with lots of toys in it and they went through it together; it was a slow process as Toby didn’t want to ask for anything. And this is the heartbreaking part: he told George, when they were in bed one night, that it was because he thought if he asked for things he might get sent away. When George told me this I felt my heart shatter, and trying to convey that to the humans wasn’t easy but in the end they seemed to get it. I did have to work quite hard, and George shredded the catalogue in the process, but I think they began to understand. Jonathan and Claire sat Toby down and told him he was their son now and that nothing he could do would change that. They also showed him Summer’s list – although she couldn’t yet write, she managed to draw pages of toys she wanted (it was pretty much an entire toyshop), and in the end they managed to coax a letter to Santa out of Toby. Jonathan explained that Santa would bring him a special present but Mummy and Daddy would buy him some as well. This seemed like an alien concept for Toby but he seemed to understand a little. Claire went to Toby’s room, where he was waking up, rubbing sleep from his eyes. ‘Is it Christmas?’ he asked. ‘It is, darling,’ Claire replied. ‘Now shall we go and see if Santa’s been?’ She kissed him and engulfed him in a hug. ‘But what if he hasn’t?’ Toby asked. ‘I know he has, and do you know how I know that?’ Claire asked. Toby shook his head. ‘Because I have it on good authority that you were on his good boy list,’ she said gently. She was such a good parent, to all of us. ‘Really?’ She nodded, then picked him up and carried him downstairs. Summer had already bounded ahead with Jonathan trying to hold her back as she rushed to open the living room door. George had almost flown down after them and I trotted behind Claire and Toby. I was trying and failing to restrain George. The run-up to Christmas was exhausting for parents, I had heard that before, but this year I experienced it first-hand. George, as well as being full of excitement, loved the shiny baubles on the Christmas tree. He liked to look at his reflection in them – no idea where he gets his vanity from – trying to use his paw to get them off the tree, and on occasion he succeeded. He had been told off many times by Claire, Jonathan and me for playing with them, and there had been breakages. He also liked to try to hide under the tree, jumping out to surprise us, which had meant that the tree had been relieved of a few of its branches and quite a lot of pine needles. (By the way, having to get the pine needles out of George’s fur had been pretty much a festive full-time job.) Jonathan moaned about the mess, Claire complained about the broken baubles, and I had possibly lost enough of my lives with the shock of having him jump out at me on numerous occasions. There was nothing we could do to stop it, however, except keep a close eye on him, keep the living room door closed and Claire had moved his favourite mirrored baubles higher up the tree. Jonathan stood at the door. We all crowded around. ‘I should check that Santa really has been,’ he said. He opened the door a crack and George skirted through – honestly there was no keeping him back once he saw the tree. I noticed that Jonathan switched the Christmas tree lights on before fully opening the door and, as they winked and twinkled, we all made our way into the living room where a mountain of presents waited. Before the children could dive in we all stopped. ‘George!’ Claire shouted. George, it seemed, had spotted the mirrored baubles straight away and launched himself at the tree, jumping about half way up. It seemed to play out in slow motion as he yowled, having not thought it out, and ended up clinging to some of the branches. He had got his paw tangled in the lights and the bauble that he had been after fell to the floor with a thump, eliciting another cry. As the tree began to lean to the left, it looked as if it might fall. I didn’t know what to do as I stared on in horror. ‘Yowl!’ George shouted. ‘Daddy, do something,’ Summer cried. Jonathan sprang into action, grabbing the tree and pushing it back upright. Claire batted her way through the piles of presents to secure it again, emerging looking a little dishevelled with pine needles in her hair. And as I meowed anxiously for George to let go, he did, managing to disentangle his paws from the lights and falling into Toby’s arms. Toby appeared surprised as he caught him, and then as George nuzzled him to say thank you he smiled. ‘Oh George,’ he said. We’d been hearing that a lot since the kitten had become part of the family. I looked at Jonathan. I was ready for him unleash his anger, using words unsuitable for children or cats, but instead he grinned. ‘It wouldn’t be Christmas without a near disaster,’ he said. ‘Nice catch Tobe.’ Claire hugged him. Relief flooded me, from my paws to the tips of my whiskers. ‘Right, kids, presents.’ Summer instantly dived into her pile. Toby hung back a bit, but Jonathan took his hand. ‘Shall we go and see what Santa got you?’ he asked. Toby nodded. Shock graced his face, as if he’d never seen anything like it before. He probably hadn’t. Neither had George, who was now playing with the wrapping paper that Summer discarded as if it was the best present in the world and as if he hadn’t just nearly ruined our beautiful tree. I turned my head to Claire. She had tears in her eyes as she pulled out her phone and took pictures of the children, my kitten and Jonathan by the Christmas tree. I felt emotional as well as I went and rubbed against her legs. ‘Oh, Alfie, this is the best Christmas ever,’ Claire said as she picked me up. I blinked at her and purred my agreement. ‘I really need coffee,’ Jonathan said, as the children took a break from present-opening. ‘Mummy, Daddy, I love Peppa Pig,’ Summer announced as she played with her Peppa Pig playhouse. Toby was playing with a remote control car, exclaiming that it was the best present in the whole world. Jonathan went and put his arm around Claire. ‘This is such a whirl, I’m exhausted. But I’ll make us coffee and then I’ll give you your gift.’ He kissed her. ‘What about George and Alfie? Can we give them their presents first?’ Claire said. ‘Oh yes, come on, boys, we’ve got a special Christmas breakfast for you.’ I really hoped it was pilchards. As George and I tucked into our pilchards – they were big juicy ones from the fishmonger – we enjoyed a bit of peace and quiet. ‘This Christmas business is quite overwhelming,’ George said. ‘All that stuff everywhere. Although I really like the paper and the boxes.’ ‘I know, and we are the lucky ones, George, look at us, fish for breakfast, a stocking full of toys and cat treats for us to enjoy later, a loving family and not to mention that after a big lunch we will get some yummy turkey. Honestly, you will see what a lucky kitten you are this Christmas.’ ‘Of course I’m lucky, I’ve got you.’ George nuzzled me and I grinned. I was the lucky one actually. I had an idea. ‘George, would you like to give me a Christmas present?’ I asked. ‘Course I would. Dad,’ he replied, sweetly. ‘Please, no more climbing the Christmas tree.’ I had my paws crossed. ‘Oh, I can do that. I promise I won’t climb it ever again. It was too scary when I thought I might fall down.’ Breakfast was a distant but lovely memory by the time we went outside for a breath of air and also in the hope that we would see Tiger, my cat girlfriend, who George thought of as his mum. It was becoming parents to George that had brought us together, and we were very happy in our roles and our relationship. I had been madly in love once, with a cat called Snowball who lived next door. At that time Tiger and I were only friends. But when Snowball moved away, leaving me heartbroken, Tiger did all she could to help me and when George was adopted as my kitten, she took on a motherly role, which made me see her in a different light. I was an older and, I liked to think, wiser cat by then, and so a relationship with Tiger was what I needed. We had been friends for a long time, she kept my paws firmly on the ground and I made her more adventurous. We complemented each other and being parents to George, who liked to get himself into scrapes, was definitely a bonding experience. He kept us both on our paws. The cold nipped at us as soon as we entered the garden, but we kept going. The sky was thick and grey, it was early still. I could tell that it was going to be a crisp winter’s day, there was a little frost sticking on the grass, which made walking quite uncomfortable, cold and wet. We didn’t hang around, as we ran to Tiger’s. We lurked at her back door, under a bush, out of sight of her humans in case they came out. They didn’t mind George but they didn’t like me being around. I couldn’t think why; most people seemed to think I was quite a charming cat. Before long I heard the clang of the cat flap and Tiger emerged. ‘Tiger mum!’ George bounded up to her and they nose-kissed. It always melted my heart to see the love between them, I was a softy when it came to those I loved, humans and cats alike. ‘Happy Christmas,’ I said, trying to keep my emotions in check. ‘To you both too,’ Tiger replied. ‘Gosh, you are early though, I had barely woken up. Anyway, George, how is your first Christmas so far?’ she asked with a swish of her tail. ‘Well, Santa brought me wrapping paper and we got pilchards for breakfast so so far it’s the best day ever!’ George’s enthusiasm was so refreshing; I know it taught me a lot. I loved the way that he made me see things through his eyes, as if I was seeing them for the first time. That was the joy of kittens and children if you paid enough attention to them. ‘And he jumped on the Christmas tree and nearly sent it flying,’ I added. George conveniently left that out. ‘Oh, George,’ Tiger said, but she didn’t sound cross, she was amused. I was the disciplinarian in this parenting duo. ‘How is your day so far, Tiger?’ I asked. ‘It’s barely started! But you know, my family have a very quiet Christmas. We haven’t exchanged gifts yet, although I get one of those cat stockings every year so, surprise! Thankfully they are cooking a proper Christmas dinner but really Christmas is for the kids, isn’t it?’ She nuzzled George. ‘It is, you should see Toby, he’s so happy now. I think he was so scared by the whole thing, I don’t think he’d had very good Christmases before, which is really upsetting, but he’s playing with his toys and he’s having a lovely time now.’ George was playing with a leaf which was wet as the frost had melted and drops kept falling onto his head. We laughed as he tried to brush the water away, indignantly, with his paws. ‘And Summer?’ ‘Summer is Summer. She’s obsessed with this pig called Peppa, and she’s got toys, games and all sorts. She’s still our little ray of sunshine. They’re all happy, which makes me happy.’ I snuggled into Tiger and grinned. Life was good right now, and Christmas was just the icing on the (fish) cake. I was always conscious of the fact that me and all my families had been through tough and challenging times, so when things were good I had learnt to appreciate them. I was an optimistic cat but even I knew the good times didn’t always last. In fact they rarely did. ‘Well, long may it last,’ Tiger said, echoing my thoughts. ‘Are you seeing your other families today?’ I swished my tail; I had told Tiger, but she had a terrible memory. I had three families altogether. Claire and Jonathan’s was my main home, but also on Edgar Road lived Polly and Matt, Henry and Martha. Franceska, big Tomasz, Aleksy and little Tomasz (who now insisted on being called Tommy) lived a few streets away but I had met them on Edgar Road when I first moved here and they moved from Poland. Aleksy, being the oldest of the children, was my first child friend – he and I are still best friends actually. ‘Well Polly and Matt have gone to Manchester to spend Christmas with their parents and Tomasz and Franceska have gone to Poland. It’s very exciting for them; their first Christmas back there since they moved to England. I miss them but they’ll all be back before New Year. We’re all going to be together on New Year’s Eve in fact.’ ‘Does that mean you get turkey again?’ Tiger’s eyes were wide with envy. ‘I hope so!’ I grinned. I hadn’t thought of that. ‘And have you heard from Tasha?’ ‘We Skyped her yesterday.’ I was a cat of the computer age after all. Although it was Claire who’d actually called her on the computer, I’d sat on her lap so I could see her and Elijah. Tasha was Claire’s best friend and one of mine. Her son Elijah was almost the same age as Summer. She had gone through a bad break-up with Elijah’s dad and lived on Edgar Road for a while, becoming another family for us. Then Claire did something called match-making with a friend of Jonathan’s called Max, which worked out a bit too well as she moved to somewhere called Dubai with him. He got a very good job there and she said she and Elijah needed a fresh start. I was happy for her, but sad for me. We missed them very much – Claire and me especially – so every week she calls them on the computer and we chat. They are all very happy, so although I miss them, I am pleased at the same time. Saying goodbye is a fact of life. I have had to do so more than your average cat, so I should know. It doesn’t get any easier but you learn to accept that it’s necessary sometimes, I guess. It always hurts but there is nothing to be done. Life is like that, it moves all the time, it rarely stands still and so we have to move along with it. I am trying to teach George that, but it’s not an easy lesson to learn. ‘Right, well I better get this little one inside. Fancy a stroll later?’ I asked Tiger as I tried to get George’s attention. He was chasing his tail and totally ignoring me. ‘Yes, call round after lunch and we can go and see if anyone else is hanging out.’ ‘You’re on.’ I nuzzled her goodbye and finally managed to get George to stand still long enough to tell him we were going home. I was exhausted as I lay curled up on the armchair, resting. Claire and Jonathan were clearing up, and then I expected they would snuggle up on the sofa to watch a film or something. The children were in bed, exhausted after a day when their excitement levels knew no bounds and George was the same. He was sleeping with Toby, of course. I checked on them earlier and he was lying next to Toby on the pillow – they looked so cute together, I felt choked with emotion again. I looked in on Summer who was clutching one of her new toys to her as she slept. She looked angelic. I was so full of lovely food, so I felt sleepy too. This really had been the best Christmas I’d ever had. I gave a thought for all of those I loved in my life: Margaret my first owner, Agnes my sister cat, all my cat friends, Snowball of course, and I also gave thanks for all I had now. I was the luckiest cat in London if not the world. ‘So, what’s this last surprise?’ I heard Jonathan ask. I opened one eye and saw that he and Claire had entered the room. Intrigued, I woke up properly, stretched out and went to join them on the sofa. ‘Here,’ Claire said, handing him a photograph. I peered at it over his shoulder. It was a picture of a house, a shabby-looking house. It was quite big though, I thought as I looked at the windows. In front of a large wooden front door stretched a lawn, which was overgrown, and the house was cream with peeling paint. ‘Please don’t tell me you’ve bought a house?’ Jonathan said, holding the picture, blinking at it in confusion. ‘No, of course not. I’ve been desperate to tell you but I got the idea that today, Christmas Day, would be the best time to surprise you.’ ‘Surprise me with what exactly?’ Jonathan was suspicious but then I couldn’t blame him. Claire tended to spring things on him. And when he objected she would normally wear him down. It was the same with the adoption. She wanted to adopt so badly but Jonathan was reluctant, but she persuaded him, and of course he’s delighted she did as he loves having Toby, but you get the idea. ‘So you know we went to the funeral of my Great Aunt Claire, the woman I’m named after?’ ‘Yes, Claire, that was about three months ago.’ ‘I know, but it takes time, you know probate, but recently her estate was sorted out and it turns out she left me this cottage in Devon.’ ‘She left that to you? A house?’ Jonathan looked again at the photo. ‘I had no idea she still owned it.’ Claire’s eyes gleamed with excitement. ‘You see we used to go there when I was a child for holidays but when Aunt Claire got dementia she went into a home, and I assumed that the house had been sold. But no, it was there, empty all this time. She probably forgot she owned it.’ ‘How can someone forget they own a house?’ Jonathan frowned. I guess it was a big thing to forget. ‘Well she did have dementia remember, and her accountant took over her affairs, or whatever you call them … Anyway Dad told me that she wanted me to have the house because I loved it so much when I was young. It’s called Seabreeze Cottage and it’s right opposite the beach.’ Claire had a wistful look. ‘I remember the best holidays there as a child, spending days on the beach, playing on that lawn, eating jam sandwiches in the big old kitchen …’ ‘So why didn’t you tell me?’ Jonathan narrowed his eyes. ‘Jon, we’ve been given a house, it doesn’t happen every day!’ Claire pushed and I knew there was a but. ‘But?’ he echoed my thoughts. ‘OK, so the reason I didn’t tell you was that we don’t know what state it is in. Mum and Dad went down there for me and they said it’s been neglected and is in need of a bit of work. They took these photos.’ ‘So how much work are we talking?’ Jonathan flicked through the photos. ‘We don’t know exactly yet. When all the paperwork is done, I can get quotes, we can even go there, but at the moment I’m not sure if I’m honest.’ She chewed her lip as she did when she was nervous. I went and sat on her lap. ‘And what do you want to do?’ he asked. ‘Well, obviously it depends on the cost and everything, but ideally I want to keep it. I just felt as if I’d been taken back to my wonderful holidays as a child and I want that for Summer and Toby, more than anything. Imagine, Jon, weekends away, summer holidays by the sea, it would be wonderful for us all.’ ‘Darling,’ Jonathan turned to his wife, ‘I know this cottage means a lot to you and it would be lovely for us to have a house by the sea but you know how feasible it is. You’re not working at the moment and yes I have a good job but with the kids’ education, and everything … My guess is that the kind of money we probably need to put into this cottage might be a step too far for us right now.’ ‘I know and I thought you’d say that. I just dreamt of my children having holidays like I did as a child.’ She looked wistful. Jonathan softened and put his arm around her. ‘If there was any way … Listen, honey, has it been valued?’ I saw tears in Claire’s eyes. Christmas wasn’t ending quite as planned after all. ‘Jonathan, I’m not sure I could bring myself to sell it. It feels like selling my childhood.’ Claire was nothing if not dramatic. I think she got it from me … or vice versa. ‘Well, listen, let’s have a think, find out what exactly is involved, but you know unless we get a large mortgage, one which would make me feel very uncomfortable, I don’t know how we can do it.’ ‘Oh, we’ll find a way. I’m sure.’ Claire didn’t appear as confident as she sounded but as they settled down to watch a film I could almost see her mind whirring. I looked at the picture again. A cottage by the sea. I had been to the seaside once, it hadn’t exactly gone according to plan but I did have a lovely time. I could picture us all, sitting on the lawn, George chasing butterflies, Toby and Summer playing, Claire lounging in a deckchair with a book, and Jonathan lying on a picnic blanket. It was like a perfect idea, and one which suddenly I wanted for us more than anything. I looked at Claire, who still seemed to be deep in thought, as was Jonathan, and I said a silent prayer that they would find a way to make this work. After all I quite fancied being Alfie the holiday cat. Chapter One (#ulink_ba6241b9-fc23-5d08-a8b6-64df22e7b2b6) ‘I’m going to miss you all,’ Jonathan said, in a moment of tenderness as he kissed Claire. ‘We’ll miss you, but be honest, you’ll love the peace and quiet, and then when you come down for the weekends you’ll be flavour of the month with the kids.’ ‘And with my wife?’ ‘Of course.’ She smiled and snuggled into him. I purred from my place on the armchair. It was summer now and a lot had changed since Christmas. An awful lot. Claire had got her way. Sort of. As if there had been any doubt. She had been very clever about it, though even I, cat of many successful plans, was impressed with this one. Seabreeze Cottage was going to be our holiday home for now. And now the summer holidays were upon us, we were all decamping to Lynstow and Seabreeze Cottage for the school break. And I mean all.It was beyond exciting. After Christmas, unbeknown to Jonathan, Claire had persuaded her parents to take a friend of theirs to Seabreeze, and do what they called a survey. It turned out that they needed to do some work on the roof, but otherwise the house was structurally sound. However, the interior needed a lot doing to it, new heating and hot water system, and all sorts of modernisation. There was also a big attic which could be converted, so Claire had got together a rough idea of how much the work would cost and then had presented this to Jonathan, who just couldn’t see how they could afford it unless he sold some vital organs, whatever that meant. Claire was despondent but over drinks just after New Year, the women from my other families, Polly and Franceska, had a brainwave. Or actually Polly did. ‘Hey, Claire, this sounds fantastic. What’s the village called again?’ ‘Lynstow in North Devon. It’s on the estuary, perfect for sailing, windsurfing or paddleboarding. The village itself has three pubs, a lovely village shop and a café. It’s changed a lot since I was last there, which was over twenty years ago, but Mum and Dad said it was still charming.’ Claire sounded wistful again, I knew she was thinking of the childhood summers she had spent in Lynstow and I knew how much she wanted it for her children. To be honest, the way she spoke about it, I was desperate to go there too. And I’m a cat, who certainly wouldn’t be doing any sailing or anything to do with water, actually. But I am a romantic and I was definitely caught up in the romance of it all. Polly asked to see the details, and Claire pulled out her folder with the pictures and the details from the builder in it – she was nothing if not organised. Polly sipped her wine and looked over it, then passed it to Franceska. ‘It is so pretty, my boys would love it here,’ Franceska said. ‘I agree,’ Polly said. I could almost see her thoughts racing. ‘And I can see the potential. This could be such a beautiful house with a bit of love. And of course I could manage this project easily.’ ‘That’s what I keep saying to Jonathan. If we did the work it would be worth so much more money, not that I want to sell it ever. As I said, I would love it for Toby and Sum, and you guys could join us for holidays – it’s got five bedrooms at the moment, but the attic is huge and ripe for conversion. There’s only one bathroom but the builder said that it would be easy to put in one en suite and one in the attic, and three bathrooms would be plenty. I mean it’s a big house. When I was little I thought it was enormous, because it was so much bigger than Mum and Dad’s house. I thought it was the biggest house ever.’ I rubbed against Claire, I didn’t want her to be sad, because I knew how much she wanted this. But I also understood Jonathan. They couldn’t just magic up money, that was a human problem I had learnt about in my life. Thankfully not something us cats needed to concern ourselves with. The women lapsed into silence as they all sipped wine and Franceska nibbled an olive. ‘This might sound crazy but here’s an idea,’ Polly started. Claire looked at her hopefully. ‘Of course we all live in London, and we all want our children to see there are beaches and countryside out there, but it’s expensive going away, even in the UK. We went to the Lake District last holidays, and the cottage we rented cost more than a five-star hotel in Spain.’ ‘I agree, Polly, but I don’t understand what your point is?’ Franceska interjected. ‘Oh yeah, sorry it’s the wine. So here’s my mad idea. How about we pool our resources? I can help re-design the place as you know and I am also used to dealing with contractors. As I’m freelance now I can devote time to it and Franceska, your restaurants are doing really well, so I thought, mad I know, but if we all chip in maybe we can restore Seabreeze and use it for our holidays. Like a sort of joint holiday home.’ I was amazed when I heard this. A holiday cottage for us all – I assumed she was including me and George of course – and I meowed loudly to show I for one thought it a very good idea. ‘Alfie approves,’ Claire laughed. ‘And now I think of it, imagine if our families shared the cottage?’ ‘But it is your cottage, Claire, and there is an issue of ownership if we get involved, no?’ Franceska said sensibly. Oh, I hadn’t thought about that. After all I’m a cat, not a solicitor. ‘I have thought of that,’ Polly said. She seemed to have done a lot of thinking in a very short space of time. ‘We get it valued now, then whatever we each put in gives us a share but not the main share, which stays with Claire. I was thinking that one day it will go to her children and, well, in our ideal world our children will carry on like we are, the best of friends, but anyway we can get it all done properly and above board. I know it’s unorthodox but it could work, we could make it work. And of course it would have to be done legally, that would be the only way the men would agree to it.’ ‘Ah the men.’ Claire looked a bit perplexed. ‘Firstly, in my wildest dreams I didn’t think we would have a holiday house.’ Franceska suddenly sprung to life. ‘I didn’t think we would have all this but for the boys it will be so amazing. It would be like a timeshare for us, we could all use it together or at other times and if we need to make money we could always rent it out. We need to show it to the men as a business proposition. An investment for all of us and our futures and our children’s futures. Right, how much money are we talking?’ Franceska was now caught up with enthusiasm. And just like that my three favourite women formulated a plan. I felt proud of them, it was as if they had learnt their planning skills from me – and OK, some of my plans do go a little awry but they always end up successful. Anyway, they weren’t going to leave anything to chance so they cooked a fantastic dinner – Franceska was the best cook so she took charge of food. The children were all asleep; they were having a sleepover here which I was excited about, as was George, who was asleep with Toby and Henry, who was sharing his room. Aleksy wasn’t asleep; I had been to see him and he was playing on a computer thingy, but that was our secret. So, after the food and quite a lot of beer and wine, the women swooped in with what they called their presentation, which Claire was in charge of. It was funny how formidable they all looked, standing there in a row, with the men almost quaking with fear. As well they should – they didn’t stand a chance. ‘But you mean we would all own the house?’ Jonathan scratched his head as they finished talking. ‘Yes, but obviously to different degrees. The input from us would give us a share but a minor one, and we’d do it all legally. So for example if we wanted to sell or get our money out we couldn’t just do that,’ Polly expanded on the legal side, which I couldn’t concentrate on; I was eyeing up the left-overs and wondering how long I’d have to wait before they would remember to give me some. ‘So we all go there for holidays?’ Tomasz asked, his eyes narrowed. ‘We could do! Imagine, Tomasz, the children get to see the sea and the countryside when they’re not at school. And we thought that we could all go this summer, us women and the kids, and then when you could get time off work you join us, that way we can supervise the work and the kids will love it, it’ll be an adventure.’ ‘But hang on, it sounds as if the house is going to be a building site this summer, will that be safe for the children?’ Matt asked. ‘It’ll be safe but obviously a bit chaotic,’ Polly said. ‘Listen, I’ll manage the restoration and I’ll do it so there’ll be minimal disruption. The children will be out all day when the builders are in, there’s so much to do: the beach, trips to the countryside, the older ones can learn to surf or paddleboard. Honestly, I’ll make sure the house is safe.’ Polly gave Matt’s shoulder a squeeze. ‘And if you all agree, we can get essential work done before the summer,’ Claire chipped in. ‘You’ve thought this all through, haven’t you?’ Matt said, shaking his head. ‘If you mean have we anticipated all of your objections, then yes,’ Polly replied with a wry smile. ‘Look, between the three of us we can afford to get the cottage looking amazing again,’ Claire started. ‘We’ve done the figures and, worst-case scenario, we will have added value and can sell it for a profit for everyone. Best-case scenario, we enjoy it with our families, together at times, on our own at others, but we will have a holiday home and the children will get to enjoy beach life the way I did growing up.’ ‘But it was valued for more than I expected,’ Jonathan said. ‘So I still think the sensible option is to sell.’ ‘This way, though, Jonathan, we can do it up and sell it for even more if we decide to,’ Polly persisted. ‘But we all think that this summer, when we get the work done, we’ll all fall in love with it and won’t want to let it go.’ ‘Just look at the figures, I promise they make sense.’ The men all studied the spreadsheet that Claire thrust at them. ‘But are you sure it’s habitable for the children?’ Matt reiterated, looking worried. And for cats, I wondered. ‘Well, not exactly, but the summer holidays aren’t for two months so we thought we could all take it in turns to go down before, just the adults, and each time we could do what is needed to make it habitable. We can buy beds, appliances, make sure the water and heating works, we’ll get it ready for the summer and also get some alone time.’ Polly raised her eyebrows at her husband. He shrugged, defeated. Honestly, these women had thought of everything and my whiskers stood up with pride. ‘We can do this!’ Claire added with a smile. ‘You make it sound like a fantastic idea,’ Tomasz said. ‘And now I take more time from work I can come and join you more I guess.’ He looked at the other men for reassurance. ‘I can arrange to work from home on a Friday and come down for weekends,’ Matt said. ‘Hold on, how do we even get there?’ Jonathan asked. ‘Ah, well we’ll be taking the cars but there’s also the trains. The station is only a forty-minute drive away, direct from London, so really there’s no problem.’ ‘Have I been stitched up again?’ Jonathan asked. I jumped onto his lap and yelped. Of course he had. Everyone laughed. ‘Well the house will be quiet, no Claire, no children, just me, Alfie and George this summer.’ I suddenly looked up. ‘Oh no, darling, Alfie and George will be coming with us. It’s their holiday cottage too.’ I purred with delight. Yay! We were going on holiday. ‘Claire, you do know it’s strange the way you take Alfie and now George everywhere with you, as if they were dogs?’ I yelped. How dare he compare me to a dog? ‘They’re part of the family and, anyway, Alfie came on holiday with us before, didn’t he?’ I put my head down, as a bolt of sadness hit me. We went on holiday with Snowball, my then girlfriend, before her family moved her away, leaving my heart broken. It was all OK now but I still remember my last holiday with a pang. Actually, perhaps this was going to give me new holiday memories, which would mean the old ones would properly fade away. It was about time, after all. ‘Well yes, but you know, George hasn’t been away from here before,’ Tomasz pointed out. ‘Yes but Alfie will take care of him and anyway how will Toby sleep without George next to him,’ Claire said, indicating any debate was over. As I finally got my left-overs they discussed the finer details. Everyone, even Jonathan, seemed a little swept away with excitement now. I certainly was, my fur was tingling with the thought of the adventures that awaited us. We were all going to decamp to Seabreeze Cottage for the summer, and we would all spend a lovely, perfect, English summer by the sea. Yes the men had been ambushed, but really it was all for the best. ‘I’m not sure Seabreeze or Lynstow know what’s going to be hitting them,’ Matt said. ‘Edgar Road decamps to Devon,’ Polly laughed. ‘And you know, it will be so great for the children,’ Franceska reiterated. ‘Meow!’ I clambered up her, nudging her with my nose. ‘And the cats of course,’ Claire finished. Chapter Two (#ulink_8702e49a-4453-5483-9c60-8d5200130001) ‘As you’re all off tomorrow, today I’m going to take you and the kids out for lunch and then I thought we’d go to the dinosaur museum,’ Jonathan announced proudly. ‘Yay!’ Toby said. ‘Will Peppa Pig be there?’ Summer asked. ‘Can I go too?’ George asked me. I told him no. ‘I’m not sure Peppa will be there but there will be lots of dinosaurs to see, darling,’ Jonathan said. ‘Sounds good to me. I’m nearly all organised anyway.’ Claire grinned. Truth be told she had been pretty much packed for weeks. Claire was nothing if not well organised. She had made lists and more lists and, well, possibly even more lists before we headed off to Devon for the summer. I was glad at times like this that I was a cat. All I had to do was to make sure that George and I were clean and ready to go. As everyone left, I ate some biscuits, had a drink of water and then cleaned myself. ‘George, you might want to give yourself a quick groom,’ I suggested. ‘Why, Dad?’ ‘Because we are going out to enjoy our last day. With the rest of the neighbourhood cats,’ I told him. ‘Goody!’ He started licking his fur. We had a group of friendly cats on Edgar Road. As well as Tiger, there were Rocky, Elvis and Nellie who all lived on our street and we often hung out together. They were a good bunch who always helped whenever we were in trouble – like last year when George was catnapped by a woman who snatched quite a few cats in the area and they all rallied to help us. Other cats had come and gone but we were the core Edgar Road cat gang and they were all incredibly important to me. While Jonathan had a day planned for the rest of the family, Tiger had planned something for George and I. She told me because she didn’t trust surprises; they normally went wrong. I couldn’t argue with her, they did tend to, in our world anyway. She told me to bring George to the recreational grass at the end of our road. It was a small patch, tucked away from the street and where us cats converged regularly without being bothered by humans. Or dogs for that matter. We made our way to the end of the street and found all our Edgar Road cat friends waiting for us. It was like a party. A leaving party, I guessed. ‘You’re all here,’ George exclaimed excitedly, bounding from cat to cat. ‘Of course we are,’ Rocky said, gruffly. ‘We wouldn’t miss a party,’ Nellie added, nestling into George. If Tiger was George’s mum then Nellie was like his favourite aunt. ‘Although I nearly didn’t make it, I was eating one minute, then the next I fell asleep. Must be old age.’ Elvis wasn’t a young tom, and I could sympathise with him. Sometimes I found myself drifting off to sleep these days. I wasn’t as young as George, but then I wasn’t ready for old age yet – there were lives in this old cat yet! ‘Well I’m glad you did make it,’ I said warmly. Tiger looked very pleased with herself. ‘We have been friends for a long time now,’ she said. ‘Since Alfie moved here really, and it’s just amazing to see that we’ve all remained friends.’ It was true we had. ‘It’ll be strange without you guys this summer,’ Elvis mused. Just then there was a rustle in the bushes and my friend Dustbin, who lived with Franceska and Tomasz, or more accurately in their yard, appeared. He was a feral cat who worked for the restaurant in return for food, a job which suited him perfectly. When I first met him I was a little intimidated by this wild cat, but he had a heart of gold. ‘Wow, Dustbin, you’ve come!’ I was touched. He lived a few streets away and was always busy keeping the rodents under control. Not my kettle of fish, or rats more accurately, but Dustbin loved his work. ‘Wouldn’t miss it, Alfie,’ said Dustbin. ‘Seeing you and the boy off. It’s going to be strange not having you popping round.’ George and I stayed with Franceska’s family quite often, which meant we got to spend time with Dustbin. He was a truly good friend. ‘It won’t be the same without the lad,’ Rocky said, sounding emotional. ‘Um, you do know we’re going away for a few weeks, not forever,’ I said, wondering why everyone was so emotional. ‘We know that,’ Nellie said. ‘But you know how much we see of each other. It will be strange not to see George. And you too, Alfie,’ she added as an afterthought. Despite the fact that some said I was quite a vain cat, I was used to playing second fiddle to George. ‘We’ll be back here before you know it, and then we can tell you all about our summer.’ I tried to lift everyone’s spirits. ‘Yes, we’re going to the seaside,’ George explained. ‘I know and not many cats are lucky enough to go to the seaside,’ Rocky said. ‘I am so very lucky,’ George said. ‘But now I want to play hide and seek.’ He ran off before anyone could answer. The rest of us cats looked at each other, indulgently. There were only two bushes but we always had to pretend it took us ages to find him. That was what you did with kittens. We spent a lovely afternoon, seeking with George, playing with leaves and sunbathing. When it was time to go, I knew I would miss each and every one of my friends, but then I also knew we were going to have such a great time on holiday that time would fly by. We would be back before we all knew it. I still felt a bit emotional as I sat on my back step with Tiger that evening. George had gone to bed with Toby, and Tiger and I were going to say our last goodbye. According to Claire, we were going to be gone for about six weeks. I didn’t know exactly how long that was but it sounded like a fair amount of time. I had been away before but not for this long and we were leaving the others behind. I kind of understood now that being left was the hard part, although of course we were coming back. ‘Don’t you go going off with any of those seaside cats,’ Tiger said, not meeting my eyes. ‘Don’t be silly,’ I replied. ‘I have all I need back here. Yes, we are going to have a lovely holiday but you know my job will be looking after George. Goodness knows what mischief he could get up to, not to mention the humans.’ ‘Of course. I know it’s supposed to be a holiday but I’ve got a feeling you’ll have your paws full. Look after our kitten, won’t you?’ her voice urgent. ‘Oh, Tiger, I know you’ll miss him, but I promise I won’t let him out of my sight.’ Just thinking about that made me feel tired. Hopefully it would be a bit relaxing as well. What was I thinking? Looking after George was the least relaxing thing ever. But I wouldn’t change it for the world. ‘I know you’ll take care of him, but take care of yourself too.’ ‘I’ll miss you, Tiger, and I will really look forward to seeing you when we get back.’ I wasn’t sure how to express myself, but I was trying. ‘Good, and make sure you do miss me. Alfie, I love you more than all the cat food in the world.’ ‘And I love you more than pilchards.’ I nuzzled into her neck. We stayed there for what seemed like ages in comfortable silence. That was what I liked about my relationship with Tiger; we knew each other so well, nothing needed saying, and that was how I liked it. A shadow loomed over us and I looked up to see Salmon. He used to be my nemesis, but since George went missing in the summer we had called a truce. It had been the worst time of my life not knowing where my kitten was and all our cat friends had rallied to help, as had Salmon. He was very fond of George, if not so much me. ‘Salmon,’ I said. Tiger scowled; she still wasn’t his biggest fan. To be honest he was a bit of a busybody, like his owners who ran the neighbourhood watch and lived opposite us. They made everything that was going on in Edgar Road their business. ‘I was going to say goodbye to the lad but I’m guessing he’s in bed?’ he said, sounding gruff. He didn’t really know how to be friendly, but it wasn’t his fault. ‘He is, Salmon,’ I said, kindly. ‘But I’ll tell him you came by. Are you alright?’ ‘Yes, just so you know I’ll look after things while you’re away. I mean, you know, keep an eye on things.’ ‘What things?’ Tiger asked. ‘I’ll make sure everything is OK, Alfie,’ Salmon said. He raised his tail. ‘My owners are going to see yours to say the same. Anyway, have a good trip and hope the lad enjoys himself.’ I raised my whiskers at him and then he left. ‘You could be friendlier,’ I said to Tiger. ‘And you could be less so,’ Tiger retorted. ‘Anyway, I better get back, supper will be waiting. Bye, Alfie.’ She sounded sad but I didn’t prolong the farewell, I understood how she felt, and I knew that by snapping at me, it would make it easier for her. I hated goodbyes too, even temporary ones. When I let myself back in through the cat flap, Claire and Jonathan were on the sofa together. The doorbell interrupted them. I went to wait by the door, having been warned that it was Vic and Heather Goodwin, Salmon’s owners. ‘Oh God, we don’t even get five minutes’ peace,’ Jonathan muttered as he opened the door. Before he could say anything, Vic and Heather were inside the house, a skill they seemed to have. Without being asked they made their way to the living room. ‘Well this is a surprise,’ Claire said, standing up. I went to join her, as did Jonathan. Vic and Heather always made us feel guilty for some reason, as if we had done something wrong. That was always how it was with them. And Claire and Jonathan didn’t invite them to sit down – they weren’t being rude but they’d done that once before and Vic and Heather had stayed for hours; we all thought they were never going to leave and Jonathan said if they’d stayed any longer they would have claimed squatters’ rights! It was always better not to be too welcoming – we’d learnt the hard way. ‘Well, dear,’ Heather said. They were both wearing matching blue shirts today; they were always coordinated. ‘We wanted to reassure you that, although you are going away, your house is in safe hands.’ She grinned, slightly menacingly, I thought. ‘Well yes, it’s in my hands,’ Jonathan replied, tetchily. ‘Oh we know,’ Vic laughed, ‘that you’ll be here some of the time, but with your big important job and then when you are going to stay with the family … Where is it you’re going again?’ ‘North Devon,’ Claire stuttered, terrified; I wondered if they were going to ask for the address. ‘Perhaps we should have the information – you know, for emergencies,’ Heather said. ‘What emergencies? I am going to be here most of the time, you know,’ Jonathan reiterated. ‘I’ll give you my mobile number,’ Claire said, reluctantly. ‘Just for emergencies and of course Jonathan and I are very grateful that you’ll be keeping an eye on the house while we’re away, thank you.’ ‘Um, yes, but when I’m here, you’ll know because there will be lights on, so you don’t need to worry,’ Jonathan said. He grimaced. I could imagine that was because Vic and Heather’s binoculars would be trained on the house from across the road. Not that he had anything to hide, but I had learnt through the years that humans liked privacy rather than being stared at by neighbours. ‘Of course, we just want to make sure that your house is safe when it’s empty. Imagine if you came back from your holiday and found it burgled.’ ‘It’s unlikely,’ Jonathan said. We had alarms on the house, it was very safe apparently. ‘It’s more than unlikely with us on the case, you see. Now we really ought to get moving, we need to go and see Matt and Polly to give them the same reassurance.’ Vic smiled. ‘Oh but, Claire, if you could just scribble your number down?’ he added. Once Claire had given them her number, and they left, Jonathan turned to her. ‘They’ll be calling you whenever anything, I mean anything, happens,’ he teased. ‘Well at least I know you’ll behave yourself. Being watched all the time.’ Claire giggled, I purred. ‘I hadn’t thought of that, although of course I’ll behave myself. I’m looking forward to some peace and quiet, but I will miss you all,’ he quickly added. I knew what he meant. Our house could be chaos and sometimes Jonathan said going to work was his way of relaxing. I would miss him though, I was used to him always being there and he had very good taste in cat food and cashmere jumpers, which I would ‘accidentally’ use to sleep on. ‘Shall we warn Matt and Polly?’ Claire asked. ‘No, why let them escape the fun of the Goodwins? I think we should have a last drink and then go to bed. You’ve got a long drive tomorrow.’ ‘I’m so excited to see the cottage again. It’ll be beautiful when we’ve finished.’ ‘I know, darling.’ Jonathan put his arm around her. ‘It could be amazing but please, let’s just all keep our heads out of the clouds. You, Polly and Franceska are all in love with the idea of having this holiday cottage – and I do understand – but if it gets too expensive … And of course the school holiday is just under six weeks, we don’t know how much you’ll be able to get done.’ ‘I know, darling, but it won’t. It’s all going to be perfect, I just know it is. Our families will have this wonderful second home and our holidays will be so good for the kids, it’s just like a dream come true.’ Claire had that faraway look in her eyes, which meant she was already at Seabreeze Cottage. ‘Great Aunt Claire would love that we’ve filled it with children and cats too.’ When Claire made up her mind, it was impossible to argue, and Jonathan seemed to agree with me as, shaking his head, he went to put the kettle on. Chapter Three (#ulink_d91ecf66-363c-50f2-a726-4c23111c73c3) Car journeys are not on my list of favourite things. Being hustled into a pet carrier usually heralds destinations you certainly don’t want to visit – like the vet. But to go on holiday, it was necessary. Claire had got a carrier that was big enough for both of us, plus some snacks if we got hungry on the way. George was so excited, he wouldn’t keep still, which made the journey a little bit annoying as he kept falling into me. I was battered and bruised in no time. ‘George, just settle down,’ I chastised, not that it did me any good. We left London in the first week of the school holidays. We were in Claire’s car with Toby and Summer, driving in convoy with Polly and her children, and Franceska and hers. All three cars were packed up with our belongings too. Jonathan had huffed and puffed a lot when Claire barked instructions at him as he squashed everything in the boot. George and I were on the front seat next to Claire but we were too low down to see anything from the carrier. I thought I would try to sleep as much as I could, it seemed a good opportunity to rest, but George had other ideas. ‘Are we nearly there yet?’ he asked for the millionth time. ‘Yes,’ I said, with no idea if that was true but I’d heard Claire saying the same to Summer and Toby, so I guessed it was an appropriate parental response. ‘Tell me about the seaside?’ George asked as he finally sat down. ‘Well I only went there once and that was a different seaside I think. But there were big birds, seagulls, which you need to watch out for as they’re not very friendly. And of course we keep away from the water at all costs.’ As I repeatedly warned George about the perils of the seaside that I knew about, I hoped there weren’t any others. But I knew I wouldn’t let George out of my sight. I had done so once and it had all gone horribly wrong, with him being catnapped, and he could be a bit of a pawful. Also, the fear of not knowing where my boy was had been unlike anything I have ever experienced. ‘I will do, Dad. But what can we do there?’ he asked. I actually didn’t know. ‘We’ll do what we do at home, look after our humans and enjoy ourselves in any way we can,’ I replied vaguely. Sea air would do us good, I knew that much. Well, that was what everyone said. The journey seemed to go on forever, I was beginning to feel impatient. We stopped a few times so the children could eat, and when we did, we were allowed out of the cat carrier, although not out of the car, so we could move around a bit. I had to be careful, because I had an old injury from when I was hurt in Edgar Road, saving Claire from a horrible man, which bothered me at times, and as I’d been sitting for so long, my bad leg was stiff. I was fine, although I had to be careful, but it was a stark reminder that people weren’t always good. I snuck a glance at George and hoped he would never encounter anyone like that. But then, I smiled. George was standing on his hind legs looking out of the car window, paws against it, as people stopped and took photos of him. ‘Get down, before you fall,’ I chastised him. He loved attention. By the time Claire got back to the car with Summer and Toby, he’d acquired quite a crowd. ‘Oh gosh,’ Claire said. ‘I better get them back in the pet carrier.’ ‘Lovely kitten,’ someone said to her and she smiled and thanked them. She strapped Summer and Toby into their car seats and then I ushered George into our carrier and we settled down again. ‘Not far now,’ Claire said, as she started to drive off. But, of course, we had heard that before. It felt like we had been in that pet carrier forever when we finally stopped. I couldn’t see anything at first, but then Claire lifted the carrier out of the car and put us on the ground and I saw that we were on a lawn. It was still light outside too, although the sun was dulling. ‘Can I let them out?’ I heard Aleksy’s voice. ‘Yes, but make sure they don’t run off,’ Claire warned. Aleksy opened the door. George sprang out, but Aleksy scooped him up. I walked out behind him, sniffing the air. Yes, it did smell different to that in London, and I looked around. Wow, I could already see that it was pretty lovely here. Claire had parked her car next to Franceska’s at the edge of the lawn, where there was a kind of parking area. Then there was a fence, not too high, but with a gate which we had walked through. The lawn in front of the house was bigger than it looked in the photos, and as it was enclosed, it would be our playground. The cottage was detached and there were lush bushes surrounding the garden. The lawn looked neat and tidy, and the grass felt warm under paw. I turned and looked away from the house. ‘Wow,’ George said, joining me. We sat side by side for a moment taking in the view. There was a road, but on the other side of it was a sandy beach, which stretched to the water, glimmering in the sun. It was beautiful. Toby and Summer were jumping up and down. ‘Can we go to the beach now?’ Toby asked. ‘Well, darling, I’ve got to get unpacked and it’s nearly teatime,’ Claire said. ‘And we need to wait for Polly to arrive too.’ ‘I tell you what, Claire, I take the children over, they’ve been cooped up in the car for so long and then you have some time to get organised,’ Franceska offered. ‘Yes!’ Toby grinned. ‘Come on, Tobe,’ Tommy said, taking hold of his hand, and they all headed off towards the beach. Claire had her arms full as she stood next to us on the lawn watching them run off. ‘Right guys, come inside and I’ll get you fed,’ she said. I purred. ‘I know, it’s so beautiful here, isn’t it? I can smell my childhood,’ she said, before heading into the house. Claire opened the door and George and I ran between her legs to explore. On first glance the house was a bit of a shock, compared to what we were used to at home. The carpet was shabby and almost threadbare. As we made our way through the entrance hall, I noticed the walls were all peeling. With George following me, the first room I came to was large and square with two big windows overlooking the lawn; I guessed this was the living room. As George jumped on the windowsill, I padded around. It had two big old sofas and two floral armchairs in it – I knew from the humans’ conversation that they had got them from a charity shop, just until they furnished it properly. There was an open fire on one side, and an old coffee table. It was a nice room, or it would be. I was happy to see there was also a television in the corner. I wasn’t sure how the children would have lived without that. I left the room and went to the next room, which was smaller, with two small sofas in it and a fire. Again the walls were peeling, and the carpet was thin. It had a window to the back of the house, where I could see a courtyard. I guessed the lawn at the front was the main garden, and that was enormous. Anyway, the empty room held little interest so I went back to the hall and saw George there. ‘What do you think?’ I asked. ‘It’s a bit empty,’ George said. It wasn’t but I knew what he meant – it was un-lived in. ‘We’ll soon make it our home,’ I told him. There was another smaller room at the front of the house, on the other side to the front door, again it was empty, and next to that was a large kitchen. A massive table dominated the room, and although you could tell it was old fashioned – there were no fixed cupboards like we had at home – the kitchen felt a bit like the life of the house already. Claire was boiling a kettle and she was arranging cupboards. I was about to go upstairs to continue my tour of the house when a noise from the front interrupted me. ‘We’re here,’ I heard Polly call out. ‘In the kitchen,’ Claire replied. Henry and Martha ran in first, and made a fuss of both me and George. ‘Hi, love,’ Polly said, as she appeared. ‘Thank goodness we’re finally here.’ ‘Bit of a drive, wasn’t it?’ ‘Well the traffic wasn’t great, but then it is the start of the summer holiday.’ ‘Cuppa?’ Claire asked. ‘Love one. Where is everyone else?’ ‘Frankie’s taken the kids to the beach, they were stir crazy after being in the car for so long.’ ‘Can we go? Please?’ Henry asked. Polly groaned. ‘OK, come on then.’ ‘I’ll put the tea on hold.’ Claire grinned. ‘But how about some food for you two?’ She looked at me. ‘Meow!’ Yes please. I forgot about the tour of the upstairs, as we settled down to eat. The cottage had a nice feel about it, I decided. The rooms were big and, despite being old and a bit run-down, it was very light. I don’t know why but I thought that cottages were meant to be small and gloomy. Well that was what Jonathan said, until he’d visited of course. Seabreeze felt a bit like its name. It was big, it was bright, and when the work was done I knew it would be lovely. It was definitely a bit shabby now but I felt excited about the summer, not only were we going to have a lovely holiday but Seabreeze would be transformed into a dream house, I just knew it. The children came back all covered in sand which they scattered like stardust through the house until they all emerged in the kitchen. ‘I was thinking, shall we take them to the pub for tea?’ Claire asked. ‘It’s just none of us are quite unpacked, and it might be easier.’ ‘Cool,’ Aleksy said. The other children were all jumping about with excitement. ‘Look at all this sand,’ Franceska laughed. ‘I suppose we need to get used to this.’ ‘Well, in my plans,’ Polly said, ‘which I’ll unveil properly later, I thought the utility through there,’ she pointed to a door at the back of the kitchen, ‘could be the sand room – and we can knock through so you come in the back door directly into it. That way the sand is containable. Oh, and that’s where the downstairs loo is too,’ she said. ‘Which works now, by the way, although needs replacing.’ I looked. I hadn’t noticed the room before, but now the door was open I could see it was actually quite big. ‘You’re a genius, Pol,’ Claire said. ‘Wait till you see what else I’ve got planned. I’m not sure that we’ll get it all done this holiday but we’ll give it our best shot! Anyway, pub sounds good to me. I’m too exhausted to think about cooking,’ Polly agreed. The children were all ushered into the utility space where sand was emptied from shoes and clothes. Then they said goodbye to us and were off. ‘Right, George, while we’re alone I want to get the proper measure of the house.’ ‘OK, Dad. I might nap, I’m a bit sleepy,’ he said. I followed him to the big living room where he curled up on the windowsill. The sun was setting but it was a warm spot. I went back to the downstairs rooms and wondered what the two empty rooms would be used for. The back door, which I was delighted to see had a cat flap in it, was right next to the wall where the utility room was. I decided not to go through it yet, because although he was asleep I didn’t want to leave George alone in the house. Instead I headed upstairs. The stairs were uncarpeted and at the top was a big open landing. I decided which way to go and found myself nudging the door of the furthest room. It was a medium-sized room in which they had put two sets of bunk beds. I guessed this was for the four boys. The window looked out onto the sea, and I thought how lucky the boys would be to wake up to that. I also guessed it was going to be George’s room as he’d have to sleep with Toby. Luckily, if he did have to sleep in the top bunk, George wasn’t afraid of heights. I was a bit, but that’s a whole other story. I made my way to the room directly opposite which was a smaller room. There were two beds, both with pink covers. For Martha and Summer. They had got the short straw as the view out back was of other houses and fields, but then there were only two of them. Next to those rooms at the back of the house was a big bathroom. In it was an old fashioned bathtub, with a shower hose, a toilet and a sink. Again, it had all seen better days. I went to the rooms on the other side of the landing, and at the front was the biggest bedroom. It had a lovely view out over the front, and it also had a sink and a toilet in a small room off it. I knew this was what they called the master bedroom and Franceska and Polly insisted it was Claire’s room. There were two other small rooms behind it, which Polly and Franceska were staying in. All beds had been set up, and although it was going to be a bit of a squeeze, it was big enough for all of us. Just. I saw there was a staircase leading up to a door and I had heard them talk of an attic room, but I couldn’t get through the closed door to explore that. I tried to quell the feeling of disappointment. Yes the location was spectacular but the house really did need a great deal of work. I tried to imagine how it could be but being a cat it was too hard. I just had to put faith in Polly that it would be like home when finished and of course the beach looked lovely, I couldn’t wait to go and explore that, having no real experience of sand. I went to find my kitten. It was time to try to enjoy the holiday. I walked back into the kitchen and smelt something funny. There was no sign of George, or of my humans as I went to investigate. I nosed around the utility room but couldn’t see anything. However, the smell was distinctive; it was the smell of cat, but not George or me. I wondered if some of the local cats had been round when the house was empty. I shook my fur, maybe I was just imagining things. There was no sign of any cat, just the smell. I reluctantly left my investigations to go and get George. ‘Meow!’ I said loudly. He needed to wake up or I’d never get him to sleep tonight. ‘Yelp!’ George jumped and fell off the windowsill, landing on his tail. ‘Sorry,’ I said, trying not to laugh. ‘I just wanted to wake you.’ ‘What’s up?’ George asked, licking his fur. ‘Nothing, I thought we could go out for a quick explore before the others came back.’ I was itching to get another sniff of that sea air. ‘OK, but can we go to the beach like the children?’ George asked. ‘No, not tonight, I don’t want Claire to worry if she comes home and we’re not here, but soon, I promise.’ For now we contented ourselves with jumping out of the cat flap, and making our way round to the front of the house. As we sat on the edge of the lawn staring at the sun setting into the water, I was mesmerised. Yellow sand seemed to sparkle, as the water rolled softly, filling the air with a salty aroma. It was intoxicating. The bright orange sun looked as if it was floating on the water, and the sky was alive with colours of orange, yellow and the electric blue of the beckoning night sky. The smell here was different to that in Edgar Road. It smelt of salt, and sun and combined a heady aroma which made me want to sit there and sniff the air; which was what I did. I understood why this meant so much to Claire. It was the most beautiful view I’d ever seen and I was so glad, so thankful, as George sat next to me, that I got to share it with my kitten. And it hit me, that we were really on holiday, our first holiday together. Chapter Four (#ulink_932225b6-7299-5c15-a976-5765b237f3f4) I was woken by George tickling my head with his tail yet again. I had opted to sleep on Claire’s bed, which was pretty comfortable, and also, I liked being near her when it was the two of us. I guess I felt that, without Jonathan around, I was her protector, the way I was when we first met. Claire was my first human on Edgar Road. She moved there after getting divorced and she was very sad when I first met her. I was lonely, she was lonely, it was as if we were meant to be together. She cried a lot and I comforted her, which in turn comforted me. We have an unshakeable bond and I love all my humans, I really do, but Claire will always have an extra special place in my heart. In a way it was meeting her that led me to meeting my other families, and then in turn I led Claire to them too. It took me a moment to remember where I was, before I realised that we were by the sea. On our holiday, in our home which, if all went to plan, would be our holiday home. I leapt up excitedly. Claire opened her eyes. ‘Hey, boys, are the children awake?’ she asked, just as Toby and Summer came running in. ‘Mummy, Mummy,’ Summer shrieked, jumping on Claire and as Claire laughed, Toby climbed next to her and hugged her. ‘Did you sleep well, Tobes?’ she asked, stroking his hair. ‘I did, Mummy, George kept me warm,’ he said and I looked at George, proudly. I saw the sun streaming in through a small gap in the curtains and I couldn’t wait to see the sea again. ‘Right then, who wants some breakfast?’ Claire said, moving the covers and getting up. ‘Me, me, me,’ Summer chanted, jumping on the bed, sending me up and down with her. ‘Meow,’ George said loudly. Claire laughed. ‘Right, children and cats, let’s get you fed.’ It was so nice, us all being together, I thought; the kitchen was full of chatter and laughter. Yes, I missed the men but I could see this house, or cottage, or whatever it was supposed to be called, working already. Franceska was making a cooked breakfast, Claire was making coffee and Polly was organising the children around the table. ‘Mum, can I help?’ Aleksy said, as he joined his mum by the stove, which worked but had definitely seen better days. It looked a bit like the stove that my first owner Margaret had and I knew that that was very old. ‘Yes, darling, you can be in charge of toast.’ Luckily we had a new toaster. ‘And I’ll help you, Aleksy,’ Tommy said. Everyone was getting on harmoniously. It seemed that Lynstow, Seabreeze Cottage and the sea air were having a magical effect on us already. The children generally got on well but they also bickered a fair bit too. But not today. ‘Toby, do you want to play snap?’ Henry asked. Toby and Henry were of similar age, and Henry had been so sensitive in befriending Toby that he had made me proud. They were great friends, although it was more like Henry was his protector, because Toby needed it. Toby had made great progress since being with us, but he was still scarred and vulnerable and we all had to be mindful of that. But all my children were wonderful and I had done a good job with them, if I did say so myself. Aleksy, who was the oldest at nearly eleven, looked after them all and Tommy who was a bit younger, but actually almost as big, did too. In fact, all my children looked after each other. The older boys definitely looked out for the younger ones, and Summer and Martha as the youngest were taken care of by all. Honestly, no one would ever hurt those girls! Jonathan joked that if they ever dared get a boyfriend, the other boys would definitely scare them off! But it filled my heart to see how our families had grown and bonded, and really the idea of us all being together like this for our holidays was a dream come true. ‘What are the plans for today?’ Aleksy asked, as he spooned up a forkful of beans. I was sitting on his lap, hidden from view because the humans didn’t like us being so close to food, but anyway, apart from the egg, I wasn’t that keen on his breakfast anyway. George was sitting at Summer’s feet. She used to throw her yoghurt and George developed quite a taste for it. Although she didn’t really do that any more, he still lived in hope. ‘Well I thought we would all go to the beach. We’ll take a blanket for us adults and you children can take buckets and spades and just enjoy the sand.’ ‘Can we go in the water?’ Tommy asked. ‘If the tide’s in, but it might be cold,’ Franceska said, reasonably. It was sunny, we could see that, but also it looked as if there was a bit of a breeze as the trees in the garden swayed gently. ‘Anyway, we’re only across the road if we need anything from home,’ Claire pointed out. ‘Pol, we’ll pop back for lunch and to see how it’s going.’ ‘Of course, can’t wait to get them working,’ Polly said, referring to the builders who were due to arrive shortly. ‘Right, Henry, Martha, you be good for Claire and Franceska.’ They both nodded. Last night, after the children had gone to bed, Claire, Franceska, Polly and I had sat around the kitchen table, discussing plans for the house and drinking wine. Well I’d actually lain on the table, and dozed while half listening to them. Polly had already hired the builders, and they had done some of the work before we arrived – although, as the cottage looked as if it needed a lot more, I wasn’t sure what. But anyway, they were now going to be working under Polly’s supervision. First job was to get the utility room knocked through to the back door so the sandy children could be contained. It had now been christened the ‘sand room’. Apart from that, the main job they were starting on was the attic that I hadn’t seen. They were going to turn the space, which was apparently huge, into two bedrooms and a bathroom, which would be the children’s floor. The idea was that the boys could sleep up there in one room, the girls in another and a bathroom would adjoin the two rooms. They were keen to get that done so the children had their space first. Being a parent myself now, I was learning that parents were like that – always putting the children first. I knew from ‘discussions’ with the men that the house wasn’t being done up extravagantly but Polly knew how to get the best without paying the earth, and they had persuaded the men that if it was worth doing it was worth doing as well as they could. Basically it was costing a lot of money, but at the same time it would definitely be worth more than it was now by the time they finished. It made economic sense, Claire kept saying, but I had no idea what that meant. I just hoped that it was a bit brighter and more comfortable when they finished. All this cat needed from his holiday home. However, they were all confident that at the end they would have a gorgeous second home and I know Claire spoke dreamily of the children all holidaying here with their families one day. Cynical Jonathan muttered often that it would be sold at some point but I knew when he came here again with the children and saw how much we loved it he’d fall in love too. Anyway, I digress. I watched as the breakfast dishes were cleared away, and then when George went to play with the children, I cleaned myself up and got ready for our day. We had been out for a runaround and seen the children off for their trip to the beach but I’d had to restrain George once again. He was so eager to go but I’d told him we needed to check it out together, to make sure it was safe for cats. After all, I could see that water was involved, so we needed to be cautious. And Claire hadn’t suggested taking us so I didn’t want to take any chances. ‘George, we’ll go a bit later so we can check it out properly,’ I said sensibly. ‘But I want to go now,’ George persisted. ‘George, be a good kitten, we can’t just do what we want, you know that. Anyway, I promise if you are good today I will take you later.’ ‘OK,’ he conceded but he didn’t really like having to give in. I was just about to lead George back in the house when a van pulled up outside. A stocky man got out and made his way towards us. ‘Well hello,’ he said, bending down to stroke us both. We both purred and nuzzled into him. He was big and burly, with not much hair. The front door opened and Polly emerged clutching a mug. ‘Hey, Colin, nice to see you,’ she said. She was wearing flip-flops, her hair was tied back and she was smiling broadly. Polly was beautiful, she used to be a model, and I saw Colin’s eyes light up at the sight of her. She had that effect on people. ‘Alright, Mrs, I mean Polly. How are you?’ he said, striding towards her. We trotted along after him. ‘Good, although chaotic. Right, come in and we’ll go through the plans again. When are your men getting here? We really are on a tight schedule.’ Her forehead wrinkled in worry. ‘I’ve got three lads and the big van on the way, don’t you worry.’ He was cheerful with an accent I hadn’t heard before, but it was nice and friendly; a Devon accent maybe? We followed them as they headed to the kitchen where Polly showed him what she wanted doing with the utility. ‘That won’t be a problem. I see what you mean, you want to knock through so you come in the back, straight in there, and don’t get a desert of sand in the house.’ ‘Exactly. We’ve got six children, as well as the two cats, it can get messy.’ ‘So, you’ll be using the cottage a lot then?’ Colin scratched his head. ‘Yes, that’s the plan. As there are three families there’ll be someone in the cottage most of the year I expect. I mean, holidays definitely but also weekends – we want to use it, not just have it empty most of the year. We want it to be a home.’ ‘That’s good, Seabreeze needs some love, that’s for sure,’ Colin said. ‘It’d be good to get the downstairs toilet cordoned off.’ It was in the utility space but there was no door on it. ‘Right you are.’ He seemed agreeable. ‘We won’t order a new toilet until we order the rest of the bathrooms though, to keep costs down.’ ‘That’s fine, if we can get a door that’ll do for now.’ Polly beamed. She was in her element. Since going to study interior design when the children reached a certain age, Polly had bloomed. She’d been modelling before she had Henry, and then she’d been a full-time mum to him and Martha. When she first arrived on Edgar Road, Henry was a baby and Polly was suffering from post-natal depression. It had taken a while but she’d recovered, thankfully. Last year, when Matt was made redundant from his job, Polly had thrown herself into interior design work. She had worked long hours in that job, it’d been difficult for both her and Matt, but now she freelanced, which meant she got to pick and choose her jobs a bit more carefully and, although she had some work to do, she was able to do most of it while sorting out the cottage, which was definitely lucky. I felt exhausted as I followed them round, listening again to what was going to be done. It was another good thing about being a cat, we got to live in houses (well the lucky ones did) without having to worry about all this. ‘Right, well when the lads get here we’ll get stuck in. It might be best if the kids stay out of the way, and the cats,’ he said, pointing at George and me. ‘We don’t have hard hats to fit cats.’ He laughed at his joke, although I didn’t get it. ‘Don’t worry, the children will be out as long as this weather stays, and the cats are very clever,’ Polly said, picking George up. ‘Fingers crossed the rain stays off,’ Colin said. Yes, paws crossed. If we had to stay out of the way at least the sun should be shining for us. Shortly after that, a larger van pulled up. It blocked all our cars in, not that we needed them, and three men, younger than Colin, each with more hair, jumped out. Suddenly there was a lot of noise and bustle. It was clear we would be better out of the way. I looked at George, and thought perhaps we could risk checking the beach out now. ‘Remember, George, don’t leave my side and be very vigilant,’ I said as we slid under the gate. ‘Yes, Dad, of course,’ he replied. His fur was bristling with excitement, I could see how much this meant to him. We stood on the pavement, there were cars driving slowly past, as the road was quite narrow, and there were lots of cars parked on the road opposite. When it was safe we crossed. We both jumped up onto a wall and looked out onto the beach. Wow, I had never seen anything like it. There was a lot of flat sand, but also these sandy hills which looked like a lot of fun. The sand was yellow in colour, there was grass poking out of the hills, and in the distance I could see the water but it looked as if it was miles away. However, before we could go further I spotted a real danger. ‘Oh, George, look, there’s a dog,’ I yelled, moving closer to my boy protectively. I saw a solitary dog running around in circles nearby. How annoying, the whole beach could have been ours but a dog was going to ruin it. However, just as I was going to get George and run back to the cottage, a man came up to the owner. ‘I’m afraid dogs aren’t allowed on the beach during the summer months,’ he said, pointing at a sign post behind us. ‘But Trevor loves the beach,’ the owner replied, looking distraught. I wanted to squeal for joy. Dogs weren’t allowed on the beach and there was no sign about cats. ‘I’m not scared of dogs, Dad.’ George puffed his little chest out and I moved closer. George claimed not to be scared of anything, which of course scared me. As the owner put the lead on the dog and dragged him, huffily, off the beach, we prepared to join the others. ‘George, I am not going to say this again. Dogs are silly creatures, of course they aren’t as clever as us cats, but they are bigger and if they’re off the lead they might try to hurt us. We can’t risk that.’ As if to prove my point, the dog, Trevor, barked aggressively as he was being led away from the beach. We went to join our family. As we started walking on the sand, I turned to George. ‘It’s a bit weird,’ I said, not really able to articulate what it actually felt like. ‘It’s, like, very sinky,’ George said, as his paws disappeared into the yellow, grainy stuff. It took us a while before we could actually walk properly, but we finally made our way to our families. ‘Oh, Alfie and George, I’m not sure that cats are supposed to be on the beach,’ Franceska laughed. ‘No dogs aren’t allowed,’ Toby pointed out. ‘I read the sign.’ ‘Good boy,’ Claire said. ‘But is there a sign for cats?’ ‘No, no sign for cats,’ Toby replied. ‘Toby, can I bury your feets?’ Summer asked, approaching with a spade. Toby nodded and put his feet out in front of him for her. ‘OK, Alfie, George, sit down here with us and don’t get into any trouble,’ Claire said, pointing to the blanket next to her. Trouble? What on earth could she mean? We spent a very lovely morning on the beach. It was warm but at times there was a pleasant breeze that ruffled our fur. George let Summer bury his paws but then he didn’t like it and squealed a lot. George and I did attract a few funny looks and some people came over to talk to us but Claire and Franceska told them that we liked to go everywhere with them. Some people even took photos of us. And best of all there were no seagulls. I lay down to enjoy the sunshine as I kept an eye on the children and my kitten. Aleksy was supervising building a very elaborate castle, Tommy was running down to get wetter sand from further down the beach and running back, Summer and Martha were looking for shells to decorate it, and Toby and Henry were in charge of something called a moat. Wow, I thought, this was really something special. Even George was now getting used to the sand and was only sinking a bit, but that was alright because all the children took delight in rescuing him. As I lazily watched everything going on, I felt as warm inside as it was outside. I did feel a bit hot though, something which didn’t seem to bother George, who was basking in the sun. Aleksy was showing off his latest building – it was a sand igloo and he cleverly explained how it was hollow inside. I had to say, with its domed top and entrance hall, it looked quite inviting. While they were finding more wet sand to add to the sides and top, I thought I would see if I could fit in. I wiggled through the entrance with ease. Wow, it was cool, and just comfortable enough. I could hear everyone chattering outside as I lay down and decided to shut my eyes for a quick cat nap. A little while later, after a refreshing nap, I opened my eyes but I couldn’t see anything – it was pitch black. I tried to move but I couldn’t, there was pressure pushing down on every side. I wiggled in fear, but I was surrounded by sand. I could barely breathe and I panicked, which made it even worse. The sand igloo must have collapsed, I needed help, now. I opened my mouth to yowl and it filled with sand. As I attempted to spit it out and tried again, I started meowing as loudly as I could, until I was exhausted and my mouth grainy with sand. Finally I could hear voices outside, so I yowled some more, hoping to draw their attention. I tried not to panic any more than I was, as the more I moved the more trapped I seemed to be. I couldn’t even swish my tail. I was breathless from all the screeching and although I could breathe, I was feeling more terrified by the minute. Even my voice was sounding wrong as I squealed again. If someone didn’t come soon I might be living in a sand igloo forever, being washed out to sea, possibly ending up in a far and distant foreign land! I heard the voices coming closer and finally a glimpse of daylight through a crack in the sand. ‘See, Aleksy, I told you Alfie must be in there,’ Tommy shouted. ‘My goodness, he could be hurt!’ ‘Oh no, poor Alfie, I didn’t know, I’m so sorry.’ Aleksy’s voice was distraught. They kept digging until I was free, and Aleksy took me in his arms, brushing the worst of the sand off. I slowed my breathing down and the panic began to subside. I had to blink a few times so I could see and adjust to the bright light. The children and George surrounded me, full of concern. Franceska appeared with some drinks, while I tried to shake the rest of the sand off my fur and catch my breath. Claire approached with Summer and Toby – they’d been for a paddle in the water. ‘What happened to Alfie?’ Claire asked. ‘I turn my back for five minutes.’ She shook her head. Five minutes? It was far longer than that, more like hours. Being buried in sand had now been added to my near-death experiences. Others involved a bad man hurting me, almost being run over crossing the road, nearly drowning in a lake, being stuck up a tree – oh and once I was nearly attacked by a seagull. George nuzzled me, whispering that he was so happy to see I was alright. I felt slightly embarrassed; I was constantly warning George of trouble yet it was me who’d put himself in danger. ‘He’s OK, he was in my sand igloo and then when we were making another castle, it sort of collapsed. We didn’t know Alfie was in there.’ ‘It’s usually George who gets into trouble these days,’ Claire pointed out. I rested my case. ‘We’re exhausted,’ Claire said as Polly appeared on the lawn. Claire had told us all it was time to go home for a bit to get lunch. I was quite pleased as I was still recovering from being buried alive. Earlier, I had wanted to take George to explore the sand hills, which I heard were called sand dunes, but Claire wouldn’t let us out of her sight now. And although I wouldn’t let my experience put me off the beach, I knew I would be more careful from now on. ‘Chasing the children round in the sun has taken its toll but they love the beach already,’ Claire continued. ‘And the beach loves us,’ Franceska laughed, brushing sand off her legs. ‘Right, well let’s have a picnic lunch out here. It’s a bit dusty in there, although by teatime the kitchen should be usable,’ Polly said, coming over to join us. ‘What are we doing about lunch then?’ Claire asked. ‘I thought we could get sandwiches, crisps and cold drinks from the village shop,’ Polly said. ‘I daren’t go into the kitchen. Aleksy, do you want to help me? You can also choose some treats for everyone.’ ‘Yes, I’ll help.’ Aleksy stood up proudly, as he went with Polly. ‘Any special requests or are you happy with whatever?’ ‘You know what the kids like, and I’m happy with anything. Do you want some money?’ ‘No, I’ve got some. Right, let’s go.’ ‘Yelp!’ I said. I wanted something too. ‘I’ll see what seafood they have for you two, of course,’ Polly laughed. ‘After all, we are by the sea, so they should have something nice.’ She bent down to give me a pat and I purred. I deserved a treat after my ordeal. We passed a lovely afternoon on the lawn. It was too hot for us to go back to the beach, I told George. In truth I wasn’t ready to revisit it just yet, I was still feeling a little bit anxious. We could see so much from here in the shade of a lovely bush. I did ask George why he hadn’t noticed I was missing earlier but he just raised his whiskers and said he was far too busy digging holes, as if that was the most natural answer in the world. As we watched, there was even more activity on the beach; children, and people on the water, which had moved closer up the beach – Claire said it was the tide coming in. There were some flat boards that people seemed to be standing on. I didn’t know what they were, having not seen them before. ‘Can I learn to paddleboard?’ Aleksy asked. Ah, that’s what those people were doing. ‘Yes, kochanie,’ Franceska said. ‘We’ll find out how to do it and then you and Tommy can learn.’ I hoped they would be careful, water was tricky and although I knew humans seemed to quite like it – the bath, a swimming pool, the sea – us cats sensibly steered clear. Aleksy set up a game of football for the kids as us adults relaxed on a blanket. Polly went to check on the builders every now and then, Claire dozed off and Franceska read her book. I watched George chasing the football around, pretty unsuccessfully, but I knew he would sleep well tonight. In fact, the sea air was making me sleepy again. ‘Dad,’ a voice woke me. I looked up to see George standing there. I must have nodded off. ‘George.’ ‘Everyone’s gone inside for tea, the builders have gone and I think it’s our teatime.’ I glanced across at the beach again to see it was emptying. The sky was still bright but I felt hungry so, yes, it must be teatime. ‘Let’s go then, George, come on, round the back.’ We went through the cat flap and saw there was a doorway into the utility room which hadn’t been there before. It was a bit messy but not too bad as we made our way into the kitchen via the ‘sand room’. It was good because it took a while for George and I to shake even more sand off our fur – it sure did like to stick and I didn’t want Claire to insist on bathing us. Before we headed into the kitchen I stopped. There was a funny smell again, I could have sworn it was a cat but there was no other feline here apart from me and George so I couldn’t understand it. I had a good poke around in the corners but there was no sign of anything, just the smell. I didn’t like it though. I lingered for a bit longer, double checking around as I heard George being greeted in the kitchen. Then I heard a lot of laughter. Reluctantly leaving my search, I made my way into the kitchen where I saw George sitting on the kitchen table near Summer. Claire was shrieking but everyone else was laughing. I took a closer look. All the children had ice-cream cones and George had his face in Summer’s. ‘Look, George likes ice cream,’ Henry said, giggling. Summer was holding the cone out to him. ‘Don’t encourage him, Sum, and you can’t eat that now,’ Claire chastised, taking the cone off her. But the damage had been done. George was covered in ice cream, and as he licked the ice cream off his face a big grin appeared either side of his ice-cream-white nose. ‘This is special local ice cream, made from clotted cream,’ Polly explained, reading the tub she had taken it from. ‘It’s delicious, but I’m not sure we should be feeding it to the cats,’ Franceska said. ‘It’s very cold but I really do like ice cream,’ George said to me when no one was listening. I licked a bit off his head. Um, actually it wasn’t bad, I could see the appeal. I saw Claire put the rest of Summer’s ice cream onto a plate by the sink. I jumped up and started licking and George joined me. Franceska took her phone out and started taking photos. ‘Only we could have cats who get to eat Devon’s finest ice cream,’ Polly laughed. ‘Meow,’ I said, as I lapped up the creamy, cold mixture. It was delicious. ‘Well I suppose it’s their holiday too,’ Claire finished. ‘Although I am still not sure they should be allowed it.’ ‘Surely the odd treat?’ Franceska said, giving me a big smile. Our holiday was suddenly looking up. Chapter Five (#ulink_ed2b2fab-d094-5d3f-9be7-fd60f4bffbef) We were all having breakfast in the kitchen when there was a loud, persistent knock at the door. ‘Is that the builders already?’ Claire asked, looking up from where she was trying to coax Summer to eat some fruit. All the children were sitting nicely at the table, and George was licking porridge off the floor. I was trying, and failing, not to notice him doing so. ‘They’re not due for an hour, I’ll go,’ Polly said, making towards the door. I went with her. As she opened the door, we both were taken aback for a moment. Standing on the doorstep was a very glamorous woman, who I first thought was carrying one of those tiny dogs but on closer inspection it was actually a cat. A Persian, I thought, very pretty, but she took one look at me and waved her tail in a hateful way, hissed and started squirming. ‘Chanel darling, behave,’ the woman said as the cat wiggled in her arms. I stood my ground; this was my ground after all. ‘Hello?’ Polly said, looking bemused. The woman was tall, very slim and wearing a dress and really high heels. Her blonde hair was long and very neat and she was wearing make-up. I felt a little sorry for Polly – although she is the most beautiful woman I know, she didn’t look great in an old T-shirt, cropped leggings, her hair piled messily on top of her head and there was no make-up on her face. The cat was as immaculate as her owner but I didn’t like her, she was hostile and, I decided, as she hissed at me again, more than a little bit mean. ‘Sorry, sorry.’ The lady’s voice was confident and a little too loud. ‘Allow me to introduce myself. I’m Andrea. I live next door and, well, I wanted to come and meet you, with Chanel of course. I didn’t realise you had a cat though,’ she said giving me what I can only describe as a ‘look’. It was a bit disdainful. ‘Oh, hi.’ Polly looked at the woman unsurely. ‘Nice to meet you. I’m Polly, this is Alfie. We actually have two cats here,’ she explained. ‘Meow,’ I said, trying to tell Chanel I wasn’t scared of her. She looked at me as if she’d like to kill me. ‘Right, so are you living here now?’ Andrea asked. Her grey eyes narrowed and she tried to peer round the door into the house. ‘No, not exactly. We’ve just arrived but we’re on holiday. It’s a long story.’ Finally Polly found her smile. ‘Right, well no time like the present.’ And somehow Andrea managed to manoeuvre herself around me and Polly and into the house, Chanel still in her arms. ‘Um, everyone else is in the kitchen,’ Polly said, but Andrea had headed that way already. Claire was sipping coffee, the children were squabbling and Franceska was trying to clean up but she kept tripping over George who was insistently scrabbling around her feet. ‘George, stop,’ she chastised. ‘Children, shush,’ Claire shouted. ‘Um, everyone, hello,’ Polly interrupted. As they all turned to look at Andrea, everyone went quiet. Even George. ‘This is Andrea, she’s our neighbour?’ ‘Well yes, I live in the next house to your left, Beach Villa, and I’ve come to welcome you.’ She didn’t sound welcoming. Chanel glared at me and George. George was now still and staring at Chanel, his eyes wide. ‘And you’ve got a cat?’ Aleksy said, looking puzzled. ‘We love cats.’ ‘Yes, sorry Chanel is like my baby, my third baby as I have two daughters, but I take her everywhere. I wouldn’t have brought her here if I knew you had cats, she doesn’t care for other felines.’ ‘Meow,’ Chanel concurred. ‘Right, well I’m Claire, this is Franceska and these are our array of children.’ Claire smiled, and held out a hand but Andrea was unable to take it because she was still trying to contain a squirming Chanel. ‘Lovely to meet you all. I would stay but I think darling Chanel is a little uncomfortable.’ As Chanel was hissing and wriggling that seemed to be a bit of an understatement. ‘Right,’ Claire said, uncertainly. ‘But I tell you what, I’ll pop back this evening, on my own,’ she glared at me as if it was my fault, ‘with a bottle of something fizzy and we can have a proper chat.’ ‘Um?’ Franceska said. ‘Well we are in a total mess, what with builders and everything.’ Конец ознакомительного фрагмента. Текст предоставлен ООО «ЛитРес». 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