The perfect summer escape on the French Riviera. Sun, sea and secrets…
After a disagreement with a billionaire, architect Jess Milton is ‘let go’ from her job. However fortune intervenes – an elderly client asks Jess to dog-sit overweight, but loveable dog Brutus in St. Tropez.
Fed up with the mega-rich, Jess is reluctant to visit the playground of billionaires, but an all-expenses-paid trip and the promise of sunshine seals the deal.
Little does Jess know how much time she’ll be spending with the family living in St. Tropez. The sullen, but very good-looking David and his millionaire father are both welcoming but guarded, haunted by their pasts…
Can Jess bring some sunshine back into their lives – and, just maybe, find love in the process?
‘Jess had appointments all the next day, and she didn’t get back to the office until mid-afternoon. She exchanged pleasantries with Deanne on the front desk and then took the lift up to the third floor, wondering if Drugoi had carried out his threat to talk to her boss. Either way, she knew she needed to speak to Graham herself about the previous morning’s events. She had had it with this particular oligarch.
To her surprise, as she came out of the lift, she found Caroline from HR waiting for her. Warning bells started sounding in her head.
‘Jess, hello. Listen, we need to talk.’
‘Of course, Caroline. What about?’
‘Could we talk in your office?’
Jess led her along the corridor to her office and offered her a seat. Caroline closed the door carefully behind her before sitting down. She waited until Jess was also seated before delivering the body blow.
‘I’ve been talking to Graham, and I’m afraid we’re going to have to let you go, Jess.’
Although Jess had half been expecting it, this demonstration of her boss’s total lack of backbone came as a shock.
‘You’re what? This is about that slimy toad Drugoi, isn’t it?’
‘No, of course, this isn’t because of Mr Drugoi, or any other client. It’s just restructuring.’ Jess noticed that Caroline didn’t meet her gaze, keeping her eyes down as she opened the folder she was holding. ‘You’ve been with us now for almost five years?’
‘Yes.’ Jess felt the anger rising in her veins. She leant forward, resting her elbows on the desk. ‘And you’re firing me? Why? I think you’d better tell me what I’m supposed to have done.’
Caroline looked up, but only briefly, and Jess noted that she surreptitiously pushed her chair back a few inches. ‘Not firing you, Jess. Please don’t think that. Like I said, we have to restructure the business. I’m afraid it’s just that you’re surplus to our requirements. Business is down in the wake of the Brexit vote, and we have to be prudent.’
This didn’t accord with Jess’s assessment of the situation. She had been busier over the past six months than at any time since joining the company. She struggled to get her head round what she was being told.
‘You don’t need me? Who’s going to do all the work I’ve been doing? I’ve got six projects ongoing as it stands, and if we get the Drugoi contract, there’s well over a million pounds’ worth of work in that one job alone.’ Caroline finally raised her eyes, and Jess held them. ‘Have we got the Drugoi contract?’
She caught a flicker of something on Caroline’s face, but it disappeared immediately as she replied in a bland tone. ‘I have no idea. Contractual matters are not part of my remit.’
Jess stared at her for a few seconds until the other woman’s eyes dropped once more. Suppressing a desire to reach across the desk and strangle her, Jess did her best to keep her tone level.
‘So, when do I have to leave? And what about pay and all that?’
Caroline looked up again, clearly relieved to be able to talk about practical matters. ‘We’ve put together a generous severance pay package for you. You’ve been a valued member of staff, and we want to reward you for your efforts on behalf of the firm. Graham told me to make that clear to you. Here… see for yourself.’
She removed a sheet of paper from the folder and slid it across the desk. Jess took it and cast her eye down the figures. It soon became clear that Caroline hadn’t been joking. The settlement was, indeed, generous.
Dropping the page onto the desktop, Jess raised her eyes towards Caroline.
‘And when am I expected to leave?’
‘With immediate effect.’
‘Now? What, this afternoon?’
‘Yes. I’ll get somebody to bring you a box for your things. You are to clear your desk and leave.’ She caught Jess’s eye. ‘Graham told me to tell you that he will provide you with a glowing reference, without any stain on your character.’
‘Why should there be a stain on my character?’
The cold sensation in the pit of her stomach was turning to anger.
Jess got the feeling Caroline was regretting her choice of vocabulary.
‘It’ll be a glowing reference, Jess, but he did ask me to make it clear to you that, in return, he expects you to leave quietly and without fuss. And without contacting any of your colleagues, or any of our clients, now or subsequently. Do I make myself clear?’
‘Crystal clear, thank you, Caroline. I think the expression you’re looking for is gagging order.’
The urge to throttle somebody rose up again and if Graham had been in the room, Jess felt pretty sure she would have been tempted to launch herself at his scrawny neck. She was dimly aware of Caroline standing up and offering her hand across the desk. She took it automatically and shook it, resisting the temptation to squeeze it until the bones cracked.
‘Goodbye, Jess, and thank you on behalf of the firm for all you’ve done.’
‘This is Drugoi’s doing, isn’t it?’
‘Mr Drugoi? How could you possibly think that?’’
If you’re looking for the perfect holiday read, for the beach or even the back garden, this is it.
Sun, sea, a troubled hero, a lovable dog and an intelligent, kind heroine who lives her life with integrity make this an absorbing read with plenty of laughs, most of them doggy related. Conflict-ridden romance and a second chance at life mean this story is full of poignant moments too.
The story reveals St Tropez as something more than a rich person’s playground, with its historic past, unspoilt beauty and intrinsically interesting population. The story has a delightful symmetry when Jess unjustly loses her job only to find a 21st- century fairy godmother provides her with a holiday and a chance to make a difference to two people who life has mistreated.
Believably vivid characters bring this story to life, and there are pockets of excitement amongst the romance and angst to keep you turning the pages.
Full of sunshine, a few clouds and the winds of change this is a lovely, easy to read holiday romance.
I received a copy of this book from Canelo via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
T.A. Williams lives in Devon with his Italian wife. He was born in England to a Scottish mother and Welsh father. After a degree in modern languages at Nottingham University, he lived and worked in Switzerland, France and Italy, before returning to run one of the best-known language schools in the UK. He’s taught Arab princes, Brazilian beauty queens and Italian billionaires. He speaks a number of languages and has travelled extensively. He has eaten snake, still-alive fish, and alligator. A Spanish dog, a Russian bug and a Korean parasite have done their best to eat him in return. His hobby is long-distance cycling, but his passion is writing.