The Sunshine And Biscotti Club

Praise for
JENNY
OLIVER

‘The
Vintage Summer Wedding
is such a lovely book. It’s relaxed laid-back feel with its lovely plot and impressive characters has you smiling and enjoying every single minute.’

The Book Geek in Pajamas

‘… ideal for a summer read.’

Catch a Single Thought on
The Vintage Summer Wedding


The Parisian Christmas Bake Off
is a charming and warm read, one you will not be able to put down once you start reading.’

This Chick Reads

‘… a lovely book, with a beautiful ending’

Crooks on Books on
The Vintage Summer Wedding

‘I thoroughly enjoyed this book it had a sprinkling of festivity, a touch of romance and a glorious amount of mouth-watering baking! I don’t think I have ever felt so hungry reading a fiction book before.’

Rea Book Review on
The Parisian Christmas Bake Off

‘It was a beautiful read with the just right amount of festivities.’

Afternoon Bookery on
The Little Christmas Kitchen

Praise for
JENNY
OLIVER

‘This was one of my first Christmas reads of 2014 and it was really good. Highly recommend this one!’

Book Addict Shaun on
The Little Christmas Kitchen

‘With gorgeous descriptions of Paris, Christmas, copious amounts of delicious baking that’ll make your mouth water, and lots and lots of snow – what more could you ask for from a Christmas novel!’

Bookboodle on
The Parisian Christmas Bake Off

‘… this book had me in tears by the end.’

Rachel Cotterill Book Reviews on
The Vintage Summer Wedding

‘I really enjoyed this book and I loved how it was more focused on a family love, rather than the heroine seeking out a man to help her get over the infidelity of her husband. By the time I finished the book, I got this real
“Frozen”
vibe to it.’

Book Mood Reviews on
The Little Christmas Kitchen

‘What’s not to like about Christmas, Paris and baking?!’

Sheli Reads on
The Parisian Christmas Bake Off

‘Jenny Oliver writes contemporary women’s fiction which leaves you with a warm, fuzzy feeling inside.’

Books with Bunny on
The Vintage Summer Wedding

JENNY OLIVER
wrote her first book on holiday when she was ten years old. Illustrated with cut-out supermodels from her sister’s
Vogue
, it was an epic, sweeping love story not so loosely based on
Dynasty
.

Since then Jenny has gone on to get an English degree and a job in publishing that’s taught her what it takes to write a novel (without the help of the supermodels). Nowadays, her inspiration comes from her love of all things vintage, a fascination with other people’s relationships and an unwavering belief in happy ever after! Follow her on Twitter
@JenOliverBooks
or take a look at her blog
jennyoliverbooks.com
.

The
Sunshine and
Biscotti Club
Jenny Oliver

www.CarinaUK.com

For guaranteed sunshine all holiday long, pack your bags and escape to
The Sunshine and Biscotti Club
– Tuscany’s newest baking school!

LIBBY

As the church clock struck midnight, Libby Price was attempting to haul a double mattress up a flight of stairs on her own.

Now halfway up, the decision to begin the process was beyond regretful. The night was sweltering. The stairs were narrow. She was exhausted. But she’d had to do something. Something that strained every part of her being, because otherwise she would have lain in her bed contemplating her afternoon.

Still she kept being plagued by visions of herself striding purposefully to the bottom of the endless garden. Seeing Jake lounging in one of the deckchairs. Legs up on the metal table, eyes half closed as they soaked up the sun, bottle of water in one hand, sweat trickling off his forehead.

He’d rolled his head in her direction when he’d heard her footsteps. And she knew he thought she was coming out to admire the new outhouse he’d just finished
building. To admire all its sharp angles and big metal framed windows.

He hadn’t expected her to swipe his legs angrily off the table. A move which, admittedly, even Libby had been quite surprised by. He hadn’t expected the fury and the anger, the shouting, and the piece of paper that she’d thrust into his view.

‘It’s a website, Jake,’ she’d half shouted. ‘A website with the slogan:
Marriage is dull, have an affair!
And guess whose credit card and email address is linked to it? Don’t look all innocent, Jake. It’s been bloody hacked. One of my blog followers sent me the link. Do you know how that makes me feel? Do you?’ She’d actually stomped her foot just for some physical manifestation of how furious she was. ‘How could you do this to me? How dare you do this to me? God, I’m so angry.’

That bit she was quite proud of. It wasn’t like her at all. She had somehow summoned this fiery strength from the devastation and even Jake had seemed momentarily startled by the force of it.

The mattress teetered precariously as the memory made her concentration lapse. Her arms strained under the weight as she tried to heft it onto the next step so she could take a break. Sweat was pouring off her. She was boiling hot. The hotel felt stuffy. The scent of the lemon grove next door, usually exquisite, now made her
feel like she was trapped at a perfume counter, the smell too sickly and heady. She tried to get her breath back but could feel her muscles screaming. She was so tired.

The mattress wobbled. Leaning it back against the wall, Libby squeezed herself alongside it, trying to keep it in place with her bodyweight, as she decided to try and shove it up from the bottom.

With her shoulder against the shiny new material she made a move to push but it didn’t budge. The top of the mattress now caught against the step.

Why had she started this? Had it been as much to stop the loop of memories as to test whether she could do all this on her own?

She put her hands over her face. The weight of the mattress was pressing against her body. There was so much that needed doing before the hotel was ready, and getting a mattress up the stairs seemed like one of the more minor items on the to do list. If she couldn’t shift that, what could she do? Perhaps this was a painfully stupid exercise that would prove, as she suspected, there was simply no way she could do it by herself.

Her body slumped.

The mattress slipped a step.

She shouted in annoyance.

A mosquito buzzed around her ear.

She thought about all the plans she and Jake had made for the renovations. All their hopes and ambitions scribbled in notebooks and on napkins. When they’d
first turned up at the dilapidated hotel, he’d squeezed her hand and said, ‘Don’t worry, we’re in this together.’ That was how it was meant to be. Him squeezing her hand, her squeezing his.

How was it possible that could turn so suddenly to such anger and shame buzzing like the cicadas as she’d marched down the garden path?

She squeezed her eyes shut, pressing her face into the mattress, as she thought about the moment when, after her outburst, Jake had stood up, looked down at the lush grass then up to meet her eyes and said, ‘Libby.’ Taking a step towards her. ‘I think actually this might have needed to happen. I think actually it’s a good thing, you know. For me.’

She hadn’t really listened. Instead she’d replied, ‘When you were doing it, when you were shopping online for a mistress, did you think about me? Did you think about hurting me?’

He’d shaken his head. ‘No. Honestly, Libby, I was just thinking about me. And it seemed—I don’t know—separate from you. Libby, I feel like shit but I think it’s right that this has happened. This …’ he’d pointed to the beautiful new outhouse, the garden, the hotel, ‘is all too much. I thought I’d be OK with it, but I’m not. Living here—it’s too remote. I feel like I can’t breathe,’ he’d added with a huff.

‘You feel like shit?’ she’d said. ‘Jake, you’ve shattered me.’

He’d looked at her with pity in his eyes. ‘I miss my life, Libby. I miss life.’

‘But this is our life.’

‘No.’ He’d shaken his head. ‘No. I’m going to go away for bit I think. I’m sorry.’ That was when she had crumpled. When the air had been knocked out of her.

That was the reason why she was hauling a mattress up the stairs like a carthorse, arms stretched behind her as she tried once again to tug it to the top. So that she didn’t have to go to sleep, so that she didn’t have to close her eyes and see herself begging him to stay.

If only she hadn’t cried. If only she hadn’t held on to his arm and tried to pull him back.

She yanked the mattress.

Stupid, stupid Libby.

He’d paused and hugged her when she’d sobbed. Just for a couple of seconds. Enough time for her traitorous mind to think that this could all be forgotten, that they could just focus on the hotel, on the renovations and the imminent arrival of the guests.

But then he’d let her go and held her by the shoulders and said, ‘Will you be OK? Should I call someone?’ in a voice that suggested she was some weak Victorian maiden. With a surge of anger she had bashed his arms off her.

‘I’ll be fine,’ she’d hissed, and he’d had the nerve to look sympathetic. ‘Just go.’

She’d watched him jog up the steps to the terrace and thought,
Come back
.

Then she’d made herself remember the website, the affairs, the fact she’d found out through her own blog.

Go, you bastard
.

No, stop. Come back
.

Now as she stood on the staircase, the harsh halogen lights burning above her, she found herself smacking the mattress, thumping it with all her frustration, humiliation, and anger. It felt quite good until it slipped from its perch mid-step and, as she fumbled to catch it, careered down to the bottom like a sledge thumping hard on the floorboards, smashing into the side table and shattering a glass bowl filled with lemons.

‘Bollocks.’

Libby sat down on the step, chaos on the floor around her. She stared at the lemons rolling along the gaps in the floorboards like trains on a track, stopping when they hit a stack of old mirrors about to be relegated to the garage. She glanced up from the lemons to her own reflection. Tired, sad, angry. Who was this person, she wondered as she stared, if she was no longer one half him?

EVE

‘Do you think the kids are getting enough kale?’ Eve asked as Peter walked into the kitchen having just put their four-year-old twins to bed.

‘Yes. Because I don’t think anyone actually eats kale.’

‘But it’s a superfood. I don’t know if they’re getting enough superfoods. A woman today said that she gets up at five every morning to make superfood smoothies for her and her kids’ breakfasts and then meditates for half an hour before they wake up. I don’t have the energy to get up and meditate.’

Peter was flicking through the local paper open on the table and splattered with spaghetti Bolognese. ‘Is this Bolognese? Did the kids have Bolognese? Are we having Bolognese as well?’

Eve nodded.

‘Excellent.’

‘But what about the kale.’

‘Bugger the kale. I was brought up on frankfurters and chicken Kiev. I’m OK.’

Eve rolled her eyes and went back to the washing up. Then after a minute, after she’d heard Peter get a beer out the fridge and flip the cap, she said, ‘The thing is, sometimes I just want a proper chat about things like kale. I know it’s neurotic so don’t look at me like that, but sometimes I need to talk about it. It’s important to me.’

She saw him sigh. ‘Eve. I’ve had a really long day. I don’t need to talk about kale. You don’t need to talk about kale. You want to talk about kale because you don’t have anything else to think about at the moment because you’re refusing to think about work.’

‘I am not refusing to think about work.’

‘OK, well maybe if you put as much energy into thinking about work as you did about kale then you’d have come up with something new by now.’

She scoffed, indignant. ‘It is not that easy, Peter. I haven’t got any inspiration at the moment. Nothing. I can’t do it if I have nothing.’

He took a swig of beer to mask his slight shake of the head.

‘What’s that supposed to mean?’ she asked, referring to the head shake.

‘Nothing.’

She raised a brow.

‘I just reckon it’s bullshit. Sit in your office, do some work. Just do it,’ he said, and then the phone rang before she could reply. Peter reached round to answer it and said, ‘It’s for you. Libby.’

Eve frowned. ‘From Italy?’

Peter shrugged, handed her the phone and walked out into the living room.

She watched him go, quite grateful for the excuse to end the discussion. There was something simmering underneath her and Peter’s relationship at the moment, had been for a while. Nothing noticeable in the everyday, but just a fraction less between them. Conversations reached sighing point quicker. Less tolerance maybe for the other’s nuances. Less kissing, less sex, less closeness as a couple, while still cemented as a family.

‘Hi, Libby? How’s it going?’

Peter was scrolling indecisively through options to watch on Netflix when Eve walked into the living room. It was by far her favourite room in the house, one she could happily cocoon herself in forever. It had taken her years to get it just right. The sideboard was her most cherished item, vintage wood laminate with a yellow Formica top that she’d got at a car boot sale in the village. She spent a lot of time artfully rearranging the little antique fair statues and old French café jugs she had lined up along it after the kids walloped into it or decided to use it for a dolls’ tea party.

Peter chucked the remote down on the coffee table without picking anything to watch and said, ‘What was that about?’

‘She wanted me to go to Italy. Jake’s gone apparently. She caught him on that affair website, you know the one on the news?’

Peter’s eyes widened. ‘Bloody hell,’ he said, then sat back into the big grey sofa and added, ‘Mind you, kind of thing he’d do, isn’t it?’

Eve frowned, refolding a blanket she had draped over the armrest. ‘That’s not very helpful.’

Peter rolled his eyes and picked up the remote again. ‘Are you going to go?’ he asked, staring at the Netflix options.

‘No,’ she said with a shake of her head, catching sight of some rogue Lego figures and bending down to get them out from under the table. ‘No, I don’t think so,’ she said, stretching her arm to reach the last one. ‘Jessica and Dex have said they’re going to go, so that’s OK,’ she said, chucking the Lego into the box in the corner of the room. ‘I don’t really want to leave the kids.’

There was a second too long a pause before Eve realised what she’d said and as she walked back to the sofa added as casually as she could, ‘And you.’

‘And me,’ Peter said with the raise of his brows.

‘Of course you, it goes without saying,’ she added with a laugh, checking to see if there were any other toys lying about the place.

‘It doesn’t, Eve.’ Peter shook his head.

‘Of course it does,’ she said, spotting a small plastic cow hiding behind one of her French café jugs and going over to pick it up.

‘No,’ Peter said, the rows and rows of Netflix options skimming past at unreadable speed.

Eve was just going over to stand the plastic cow up with the rest of the plastic animals on the toy farm when Peter said, ‘I need to talk to you about something.’

‘What?’

He leant forward so his elbows rested on his knees and his fingers steepled to a point in front of him.

Eve went and sat on the edge of the coffee table in front of him, the plastic cow still in her hand. ‘I didn’t mean to miss you off when I was talking about holidays. I really do just include you by default.’ A small frown appeared on her face—that had sounded better in her head.

He took a breath in. ‘Something’s gone wrong, Eve. With us.’

‘No, it’s fine.’ Eve shook her head. ‘Look at us—lovely house, lovely kids, lovely, lovely, lovely.’ She used the plastic cow to emphasise the point, trotting it in front of her like she might with the kids, and immediately regretted it.

She felt Peter waiting as she put the cow down next to her on the table. Then he said, ‘Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think it’s unfixable, I just know it’s there.’ He
sat up straight, running a hand through hair that really needed a cut. Eve found herself thinking that he could take their son, Noah, with him to the barber’s at the weekend. Noah would like that. ‘I nearly had an affair,’ he said.

‘What?’ Eve stopped thinking about the barber’s and almost laughed. ‘Are you joking? Is this because of Jake?’

Peter shook his head. ‘No. Maybe. I’ve wanted to tell you for ages. I didn’t do anything. One hundred per cent I didn’t. But I thought about it, Eve. I thought about it. And in the past I would never have even considered it.’ He sank against the sofa cushions.

Eve pulled her hair back from her face, holding it there as she said, ‘Jesus Christ, what’s wrong with you all? Why are you all having affairs?’

‘I didn’t! I didn’t have an affair. Don’t lump me in with Jake. But I feel like if I don’t tell you then I am like him,’ Peter said. ‘Eve, the only person I’ve wanted to talk to about this was you—and you’re the only person I couldn’t talk to about this.’

‘I feel sick,’ Eve said. Right deep inside herself sick. Like everything precious was slithering away.

She swept the little plastic cow off the table in annoyance and for a moment sat with her hand covering her face. ‘What does it mean?’ she asked.

Peter sat forward again. ‘I have no idea what it means. It just means that things can’t go on as they
are. It feels like we’ve got a chink. Both of us on different roads. I don’t know,’ he said, rubbing his forehead, ‘I’m shit at explaining stuff like this. That’s what it feels like to me. Like we’re running parallel on different tracks.’

‘Who was it? Do I know her?’

‘That’s not the point.’

Eve bit her lip. ‘I just want to know. So I can see it, you know, in my head.’

He closed his eyes for a second. ‘A supply teacher.’

Eve frowned. ‘Not the little blonde one?’

Peter exhaled slowly. ‘This isn’t about the affair, Eve. There wasn’t an affair. Shit, I shouldn’t have said anything. Are you crying?’

‘No.’ Eve shook her head, desperately holding back any semblance of tears.

She bent down and picked the cow up, putting it on the table next to her again, feeling like she needed a mascot.

‘I think maybe we just need to take some time,’ Peter said. ‘What do they call it? Have a break?’ he said doing quote marks with his fingers. ‘Sorry, I don’t know why I just did that. I hate people who do quote marks. I’m nervous,’ he said.

The oven timer plinked to say the Bolognese was ready.

They both stayed where they were.

‘I think maybe you should go to Italy,’ Peter said in the end.

Eve nodded; needing to look away from him she glanced round the living room, the timer beeping incessantly in the background, the sense of being cocooned gone, everything no longer quite so secure.

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