I'm so lucky, Nicole tells herself. If the first thirty-two years of her life were exceptionally ordinary, the last two have been anything but.It's almost impossible to believe. There are so many younger versions of herself she'd like to travel back in time and describe this new life to and not one of them would believe her.
The car's soft top is down and sun glints off the bonnet. Nicole's new Chanel sunglasses filter everything the prettiest blush pink, even the lovely sheep grazing in the fields. She doesn't think she's ever felt so hopeful or so happy before, not even on her wedding day or the day it was confirmed that she and Tom were lottery winners and were about to become filthy rich.
Even so, she drives carefully, hands at ten and two on the wheel. Maybe she's gripping it a little tighter than usual as her endorphins surge, but she doesn't consider putting her foot down. Nicole is risk averse; never in her life has she craved an adrenaline rush. Before they were rich, there was nothing impulsive about the tenacious way she sought promotion to the position of administrative manager at Carter, Carter & Dun, solicitors specializing in conveyancing, and persuaded Tom they should put aside every spare penny to save up for a deposit to buy their first home, a tiny house in Swindon's dormitory suburbs. She put in long hours, turned herself out well on a tight budget, and everything she did was for her and Tom, her childhood sweetheart, the love of her life.
Even now that their life has become a fairy tale, she's proud of what she achieved then and she's proud of how she's handled things since they won the money. When the people from the National Lottery arrived at their home to confirm the win and Tom was acting, well, as shocked and stupefied as someone who had won the lottery, she listened attentively to their advice, took notes on everything they told her, twice underlining the advisers' suggestion to think carefully and take their time before making any radical decisions. The only decision Nicole made swiftly was not to go public with the win. The thought of people knowing appalled her. She's instinctually private and Tom is incredibly laid back, so he didn't welcome the idea of the fuss it would bring, either.
She also paid special attention to the financial adviser who opened new accounts for them to take receipt of the money and she took heed of the cautionary tales he told, about previous winners who behaved rashly and lost it all, and decided that would not, ever, be her and Tom. Over her dead body. Tom might have been happy working as a mechanic and going to the pub with his mates on Friday, but she always dreamed of having a bigger, better life and this was their chance.
She slows the car as she approaches a neglected wooden sign that points left, toward Lancaut Nature Reserve, and makes the turn onto the lane that leads to their home, which is also their biggest investment to date. She and Tom built the Glass Barn on the Lancaut Peninsula, an outcrop of land formed by a dramatic bend in the River Wye, on the border between England and Wales. Her father, a keen birder, brought her there as a child. He called it a lost, special place, and it hasn't changed.
Woodland envelops the car, throwing dappled shade across the lane. Trees cover the peninsula like lichen. She drives past the small lay-by where her dad used to park, from where they would walk along the lane and down the steep track to the nature reserve, binoculars swinging from their necks. The walk took them past the Manor House gates, which were, and still are, tall and imposing and offer a tantalizing glimpse of the house behind them. As a girl, she marveled at the place and wondered who lived there. She never dreamed that she might be a neighbor one day in the future.
She doesn't drive as far as the Manor House today. Within minutes, the view opens out to her right and the woodland shrinks back, forming the only large clearing on the peninsula. A patchwork of fields and meadows slopes down toward the river. Nicole's heart rate quickens. It's some months since they moved in but still, every time she arrives home, she feels as if she's reached the end of the rainbow and found a pot of gold.
On a level piece of land in the middle of the area, the Glass Barn rises stark and proud from the remains of a cluster of eighteenth-century farm buildings. In Nicole's eyes, the contrast between the strong angles and uncompromising materials of the new building and the mellow stone ruins at its base is stunning. The sun's reflection flares hotly in the swathes of plate glass. The house is the dominant feature in the landscape, appearing to own not just its site, but the views around it and even the sky above it. Nicole loves it with her whole heart.
They've lived here for six months. She wants to raise a family—they've started trying for their first baby—and grow old here. She told Tom she won't leave until they carry her out in a coffin.