Author: Melissa Hill
Publication Date: April 28, 2020
Publisher: MIRA Books
When a little white lie becomes the story of your life, what if the truth comes out?
For three women, it’s a life-changing trip: one finds the man of her dreams, another discovers inspiration amidst Italian food and culture, while a chance encounter with a handsome local usher in the ultimate life change for the third. But most importantly, it’s the beginning of a deep and lasting friendship between all three.
Now years later, Kim Weston – entrepreneur and owner of internationally successful Italian food and lifestyle business, The Sweet Life – has bought and restored the tumble-down villa to its former glory — and plans to reopen Villa Dolce Vita as a wellness/cultural retreat – a fitting honor to the root of her business inspiration.
To celebrate the villa’s grand opening, she and her Italian business partners are throwing a huge three-day party; flying a group of family, business and media contacts to the Amalfi Coast to join in the celebrations. And most importantly, the (still) close friends who started the journey with her: Annie and husband Nate, whose love story began at the villa, and single mum Eva, whose son was the result of an ill-advised Italian fling.
But in the run up to the planned weekend in Italy, it becomes clear that not everyone is happy about the party, nor are they on board with such ambitious plans for the location. And, as Villa Dolce Vita’s grand relaunch draws closer, old memories and past secrets come to light, and the three old friends are forced to question if anything that happened on that first fateful trip to the villa is at all what it seemed.
It was just a little white lie. A way to kick-start her freedom.
And Kim Weston was now officially a runaway.
She couldn’t help but laugh at the idea as she stared out the window of the airplane into the abyss around her. Thirty years old—an adult—and here she was, running away from home.
She’d boarded a flight from JFK earlier and watched as the sky turned from pale blue to black. They were already six hours into a nine-hour journey and she was tired but couldn’t sleep.
There wasn’t a star to be seen, no way to discriminate the ocean below from the sky above. Nothing but emptiness.
Ironic because it was exactly how Kim felt inside. She had no reason to, or so everyone told her.
She had everything—the luxurious Manhattan apartment,a personal driver to take her wherever she wanted to go, generous expense accounts at all the best Fifth Avenue stores, and a black Amex to service every last one of her spending needs.
She and her friends were the crème de la crème of New York’s Upper East Side society set and partied with celebrities and VIPs alike. By all accounts, she had the quintessential dream life.
So why was she running away?
She could still hear her parents’ voices in her head and her own guilt in her heart as she sat quietly nursing a vodka and orange juice.
Most of the cabin’s passengers were asleep, and the crew was moving around less frequently, but Kim’s mind simply wouldn’t quit.
For once, she wasn’t playing the role she’d been allotted. If she was expected to assume her part in the Weston family script for the rest of her life, then she needed a chance to play the rebel, even if only briefly.
Everything was planned to ensure that her parents wouldn’t find her—at least not for a little while.
Her destination (and certainly choice of accommodation) wasn’t somewhere Peter or Gloria would ever think to look for her since it was so far removed from the kind of places the Westons usually frequented.
No five-star luxury hotel suite awaiting Kim when she arrived. Instead, she was staying at a tumbledown villa she’d found on the internet, where she’d be sharing living space and possibly even a room with other guests. She shuddered involuntarily.
Kim was roughing it, in as much as someone like her could. The house had no on-site staff, apparently, there was someone who’d come by daily to tidy and meet and greet, but that was it. No concierge, butler, in-house chef—nothing.
For once, she was going to have to cater for herself—in more ways than one.
That gave her some sense of unease; she wasn’t exactly Martha Stewart, which was why she also planned to maybe enlist herself in an Italian cooking class, as suggested by the booking site she’d used. Failing that, she’d just survive on pizza and pasta. It was Italy after all.
And she could afford that much, for a little while at least.
It was early afternoon when the flight landed at Naples airport and the transfer service she’d arranged (her final luxury—she wasn’t going to rough it entirely after a transatlantic economy flight) picked her up outside the terminal.
“Signorina Weston?” the driver holding the sign with her name on it queried as she approached.
“Buongiorno. Right this way,” the young Italian man instructed as he directed Kim to a waiting black Mercedes.
She stepped outside of the terminal, her long slender legs clad in white jeans, which complemented her hot pink poncho. Sunglasses protected her eyes from the bright sun but she still held a hand to her forehead to shield them as she stared up at an almost cloudless Italian blue sky.
“I am Alfeo,” the driver introduced himself as they walked, taking her luggage along with him. “How was your flight?”
“Long,” she answered. She was bone-tired, a little cranky and not particularly in the mood for small talk.
Alfeo nodded and opened the car door for her. “The journey will take just over an hour and a half depending on traffic. But we can stop along the way if you need anything.”
“That’s fine,” Kim replied as she slid into the back seat and tipped her head against the leather headrest. She closed her eyes, suddenly spent and exhausted from worrying now that she was here.
She was really doing this…
It seemed as if only a few minutes had passed when she was woken by Alfeo’s voice announcing arrival at their destination.
Kim blinked several times as she tried to gather her bearings, then lowered the window to look out at her surroundings. They were parked down some kind of laneway, and up ahead she could make out a grubby wall of peach-colored plaster, and a paint-chipped wooden door—the only interruption on an otherwise blank facade.
Unimpressed, she regarded the weather-worn door and its tarnished brass ring and hid a frown as she dragged manicured nails through her tousled blonde mane, pulling her hair partially over her shoulder.
Her heart fell. This place looked like a complete dump. She sincerely hoped the inside was a helluva lot better.
“This is Villa Dolce Vita, right?” she asked, casting a fatigued gaze at Alfeo as she stepped out onto the dusty gravel pathway.
“Sì. Villa Dolce Vita.”
“I’ll need your number,” she stated as she walked toward him with her phone in hand. “Just in case.”
Alfeo complied, assuring her that he’d be available whenever she needed, the suggestive grin on his face indicating he meant for more than just transportation. Were Italian men really such unabashed flirts?
“Can you maybe just help get my cases inside before you go?”
“Of course.” He duly took her suitcases out of the boot, while Kim wandered further along the perimeter wall to where a break in the trees gave way to a view of the sea.
Realizing that they were on an elevated site, high above the glittering Gulf of Naples, she glanced to her left to see a group of impossibly beautiful pastel-colored buildings and terra-cotta roofs, clinging and huddled together.
The setup immediately put her in mind of a huge piñata cake: the center of the green and gray mountain cut open to release a tumbling selection of irresistible pastel-colored candy.
Now, this is more like it…
Further, along down the coast, rock promontories jutted out above diverging bays, beaches, and terraces, all presiding over cerulean waters. Hills dotted with lush vineyards, olive trees, and citrus groves looked down over the colorful shops, cafés, hotels and historic buildings scattered below.
Sailboats dotted the clear blue waters and, looking down from where she stood, Kim could see snaking wooden steps leading all the way to the rocky shore below.
The whole thing was dizzying in every sense of the word.
By the time she returned to the villa entrance, Alfeo was gone, but the old wooden door had been left ajar.
Kim slipped through into the courtyard area to discover a hidden garden of sorts.
The dark pea gravel of outside gave way to a lighter-colored, more decorative kind, and she noticed heavy stone planters dotted throughout the small courtyard area, housing rows of mature lemon and olive trees.
Coupled with vibrant magenta bougainvillea tumbling down the edge of an old stone building—evidently the villa itself—the garden was a riot of color and, against the azure sky and glittering water on the bay, made for a picture-perfect entrance.
Citrus scent from the lemon trees followed as Kim walked to the front of the property, her senses now well and truly awakened.
The villa was of the same blotchy peach plaster as the out. The sidewall, a pretty two-story house with a terra-cotta roof and rustic windows trimmed with dull cast-iron railings that had long since seen better days.
Turning to check out the view from the front of the house, Kim noticed a terraced area beneath the gardens, accessible by four or five stone steps leading down to a small pool bordering the edge of the entire site overlooking the panoramic bay.
Without the ornate bougainvillea-laden perimeter railings holding everything together, it was as if the entire site could easily slip right off the edge and plummet down to the rocky shore below.
OK, so this place was old but surprisingly charming, and while Kim didn’t have high hopes for the quality of accommodation, given the crumbling exteriors, she already felt a weird sense of calm at just being here.
It was as if Villa Dolce Vita had already cast a spell on her.
A chipped wooden front door with a ringed black-painted knocker at its center stood wide open, and Kim hesitated momentarily as she listened for noise from inside.
She wasn’t sure if there were other guests staying there already or if anyone was even expecting her, but there was no going back now.
She took a deep breath. She was really here. Doing her own thing, finding her own path.
Time to take the plunge.
Here goes nothing…
Excerpted from The Summer Villa by Melissa Hill, Copyright © 2020 by Melissa Hill. Published by MIRA Books.
MELISSA HILL lives in south Dublin with her husband and daughter. A USA TODAY and international #1 bestseller, she is the author of 13 novels, including The Gift of a Charm and A Gift From Tiffany’s. The Gift of a Charm was a USA TODAY bestseller. Hailed “the queen of the big plot twist,” she combines all the warmth and humor of contemporary women’s fiction with plots that keep readers guessing from page to page. Melissa also cowrites forensic thrillers with her husband, Kevin, under the pseudonym Casey Hill, featuring crime scene investigator Reilly Steel. For more information, visit www.caseyhillbooks.com.
Author Website: http://www.melissahill.ie/