Carrie Nolan is devastated when she is dumped by Kevin Mulvey after more than a decade without even a backwards glance! On reflection, she has sacrificed her own long-term happiness establishing their critically acclaimed Dublin restaurant and pandering to his excessive ego.
Meanwhile, Kevin can’t believe his luck. Valentina, their new waitress is a stunner, the kind of girl that turns heads when she walks in a room and surprise, surprise she has chosen him! He is living the dream!
Carrie seeks solace from a circle of mismatched friends who need her as much as she needs them. Jane, who struggles to run the pub on the opposite side of the street, Luke, who has stopped drifting while his father settles in a nearby nursing home and Teddy, a dog who asks for nothing more than the chance to stay by Carrie’s side.
With Christmas just around the corner, all is not quite as it seems and a catastrophic sequence of events leads to the unthinkable…
How far do you need to fall before you learn the true value of family and friends? And is it ever too late to start again…
It was over a long time before Valentina walked into the restaurant. It was over between him and Carrie, probably for years. The truth was, he needed her and, as Valentina said, that’s no basis for a relationship.
God, she was hot. Valentina was the love of his life, simple as that.
‘It’s just sex, mate.’ His friend Jim said when he told him. Marriage and kids had made Jim philosophical about sex – these days he was more interested in football and property prices, or at least that’s how it sounded to Kevin.
‘It’s not just sex, it’s…’ Kevin couldn’t begin to explain to Jim. Jim above all people, with his safe marriage to Sandra and their two perfect children. ‘It’s the real thing. Valentina is the love of my life, the kind of woman every man wants on his arm.’
‘Yeah, but not the kind we marry,’ Jim muttered into his pint and Kevin knew it was only because most people settled for what they thought they deserved. Well, the worst was over now. He – or rather they – had told Carrie. It wasn’t even as bad as he’d expected, actually, she’d taken it rather well. He’d been steeling himself for weeks if he was honest. It wasn’t cowardice, so much as picking his moment. In the end, Valentina picked it for them and he knew it was for the best. No more sneaking around – the stress of all that, while no doubt it had added a risky excitement to the sex – he knew, he’d probably have a heart attack if he kept it up for much longer. Kevin just didn’t have that additional layer to him that subterfuge required, although, he was flattered that Valentina assumed he might and that all this was standard for a man about town like himself.
‘Pure and simple, I said it to you years ago. You and Carrie, too young to settle into all that happy families.’ But of course, there was no family, just a partnership that never made it to a marriage. Sometimes, Kevin wondered why they hadn’t married – perhaps Carrie had been waiting for him to ask? Of course, she must have known, after all these years, Kevin would never get around to asking. If they were to marry, it would be down to Carrie to organise it – and, of course, she never had.
‘It wasn’t just that,’ Kevin said. He wanted to tell Jim that he’d pursued Valentina, had seduced her and set about staking his claim on the future that was assembling before him. Although the truth was, they’d fallen into their relationship one night when Valentina had teased him into opening a bottle of red after everyone had left and they’d made ravenous love against the stairs in the restaurant. Red wine always made Kevin tipsy; he just didn’t have the constitution for it. Even now, it was like a dream to Kevin. He was seducing this beautiful woman and he wasn’t entirely sure how he’d managed it, but he could no more halt than the world would stop spinning.
‘No, there was no family, but the restaurant that was your baby. It was hers too.’ Jim shook his head, considered his pint of beer. ‘I suppose you’ve thought about what will happen with that?’
‘With the restaurant?’ Kevin had thought about it, but not in any concrete way. First, he’d had to tell Carrie, now that bit was over, they could make plans, decide what to do for the best.
‘I can’t see her walking away from it, and to be fair, you’d be mad to let her.’
‘How do you mean?’ Kevin was a little affronted.
‘Mate, I’ve known you both a long time, remember, we go back to first-year catering college together. Without Carrie, you’d be like all those other guys. True, you have talent, but let’s face it, Carrie is the brains behind the operation.’
‘Hold on, Jim. It’s my food people come for.’
‘Yes, and they also go to the Shelbourne for food and to McDonald’s. They go to your restaurant for the experience and that’s everything from the food to the people-watching, to the comfy chairs and even just to have Carrie look after them.’
‘Valentina is very good with the customers.’ Kevin might have been insulted if anyone else had said those things, but with Jim, well, he was probably telling the truth.
‘She may well be, but she’s not Carrie.’
‘God, no, she’s definitely not Carrie.’ Kevin smiled, remembering the way Valentina affected him. She did things slowly, spoke slowly, ate slowly. God, but she took off her clothes slowly. Each and every item hitting the ground, and his pulse began to beat rapidly just thinking about it.
‘Stop it, you’re torturing yourself.’ Jim could read his thoughts almost as well as Carrie could. ‘Actually, when I think about it, a Colombian hottie, you’re bloody torturing me as well.’ They sat for a while, looking at the giant TV over the bar, neither of them really following the game, both lost in thoughts of their own. ‘You’ll have to sort something with Carrie, mate.’
‘There’s no suppose about it. It’s a right mess. There’s the house, the business and then all the other stuff that’s going to get tangled up in the crossfire.’
‘What other stuff?’ Kevin didn’t want to hear this, probably it was to be expected, but why couldn’t Jim just be happy for him, well, ideally, if he could be a little jealous too – it wasn’t much to ask, was it?
‘Have you forgotten Melissa and Ben’s wedding?’
‘Oh, Christ.’ Kevin had completely forgotten Melissa and Ben’s wedding. It was all planned, and as best friends of the bride and groom, Kevin and Carrie were asked to be maid of honour and best man. ‘That’ll be a bloody nightmare.’
‘Ah well, fun and games,’ Jim said, draining his pint. He nodded to the barman. ‘Must be off, back to the old ball and chain,’ he looked at his watch, ‘getting late for you too, Romeo.’ He slapped Kevin hard on the back. He took up his newspaper and headed into the night winds; leaving Kevin for another half-hour before he was due at the restaurant for the evening rush.
It was a mess. It was a right bloody mess, but he had no choice. He and Carrie were finished. He was in love with Valentina now and there was no going back. Not even for The Sea Pear.
A lovely heartwarming read with a festive edge, the characters are rich in detail and make you interested in their lives, whether you like them or not. Carrie is a strong female lead who you both empathise and admire because she doesn’t give up. Teddy the dog is such a courageous character and I would have loved this story for him alone.
There is a charming festive thread in this autumn- winter story that intensifies the importance of family, friends and caring for others. An authentic, emotional story perfect to read at any time of year. I received a copy of this book via NetGalley in return for an honest review.