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10th Jul 2019

Read the first chapter of Melissa Hill’s new feel good novel, The Summer Villa

Keeley Ryan

The Summer Villa by Melissa Hill is a feel-good novel about friendship, love and family – and it all takes place under the Italian sun. 

Kim, Colette and Annie all came to the villa in need of escape and in the process forged an unlikely friendship. Now, years later, Kim has transformed the crumbling house into a luxury retreat and has invited her friends back for the summer to celebrate.

But as friendships are rekindled under the Italian sun, secrets buried in the past will come to light, and not everyone is happy that the three friends are reuniting… Each woman will have things to face up to if they are all to find true happiness and fully embrace the sweet life.

The Summer Villa hits shelves on August 8 and is available for purchase here

You can check out the first chapter of the book below.

Chapter One

The word transformation was an understatement.

The once-crumbling Villa Dolce Vita was now one of the loveliest restorations on the Amalfi Coast area, in Kim’s opinion at least.

She and her business partners had wholly achieved their intention to create a very subtle, yet contemporary architectural update that reinterpreted the character of the building, while staying faithful to its origins.

Outside, the cast iron perimeter and window railings had all been lovingly restored, external plasterwork and sash windows replaced with wholly sympathetic but weatherproof alternatives, and every last one of the terrace limestone tiles and steps had been completely relaid to ensure a sleeker, less rickety poolside surface.

The gardens had been well-maintained throughout the years, and while they’d had no choice but to cut back some of the more aggressive bougainvillea so as to retouch the exterior plasterwork, and earmarked a patch previously overrun with dying trees for a lawned area, little else had been required.

The remaining good olive and lemon trees still bore heavy fruit, and the familiar citrus scent now filled the warm summer air as Kim wound her way through the courtyard.

Once a ramshackle budget guesthouse, Villa Dolce Vita had now been transformed into the perfect location for a wellness centre/retreat, and was going to be the ultimate real-life showcase for her business, The Sweet Life.

Given that this very place had been where it all started, it felt like a fitting honour to the root of her inspiration and a means to really showcase her entire brand.

Planning ahead was her specialty, and Kim had great plans for the villa when the company bought it over two years before. The Villa Dolce Vita Wellness Retreat was due to open next month and she couldn’t wait.

“Just here,” she said, as she supervised the delivery guys. The patio furniture some of the locals were carrying had been hand- picked by her, each piece reflecting her own classic style as well as the influence of their Amalfi coast surroundings.

“Giving orders already I see,” an amused male voice called out from behind her.

She smiled.“Someone once told me that if you want something done right you have to do it yourself.”

“Yes, I think I have heard that one.” Antonio Berger had been one of Kim’s business partners for the past five years. More than two decades her senior, the Italian was more of a father figure and mentor, and encouraged her in every venture she pursued.

When she’d first met him and his wife, Emilia on her first visit to Italy almost six years before, they’d been a welcome presence in her life and a much-needed guide as she tried to navigate away from her upbringing and figure out what to do with her life.

Antonio as ever, was dressed in a light coloured linen suit and square front brown leather shoes. His salt and pepper hair was brushed back regally, accentuating his long face and square jaw, and his lively brown eyes lit up as he smiled at her.

“As always, you already seem to have everything covered,” he commented stepping back and casually slipping a hand into his pants pocket as he regarded the villa’s freshly-renovated grandeur. “You certainly don’t need me.”

“I always need you,” she answered with a grin. “So do you want the grand tour?”

The pair walked back toward the main house together. “You haven’t been here since we bought it, have you?” she realised as she led him through the narrow hallway to the kitchen at the rear, smiling fondly as the memories of her first arrival here all those years ago came rushing back.

How the kitchen had once been a cornucopia of blue, green and yellow with its grubby tiling, mismatched cheap kitchen units, and equally mismatched plates and cups on the open shelves.

Now a brand new staircase replaced the old heavy wooden steps and rails, completely redefining the formerly dark and dreary entryway. Constructed in white-coated metal the stairs appeared as if suspended from a softly curved aperture above the main space, adding instant character and interest to the reception area.

The interiors in general felt lighter, brighter, and much more spacious, with blues and greys of the ocean incorporated primarily in the soft furnishings, bringing a restful classic feel that could be easily updated.

The colour ochre also recurred throughout, contrasting with new glass openings overhead and lighter shades on the walls. Bright terrazzo flooring had been installed throughout the space in place of the dark terracotta mishmash that had welcomed Kim on her first arrival six years before.

All the kitchen units were now bespoke in dark wood, complimenting the ochres and light blue accents, and contrasting the wider openings and light tinted walls.

“Actually no,” he replied. “I meant to, but you know … with Emilia,” he added gently, referring to his wife who had recently been diagnosed with dementia.

“How is she?”

Kim noted the way Antonio’s chest rose and fell before he spoke. She couldn’t imagine what it was like to come to terms with the fact that the person you loved would eventually lose all memory of you and the life you shared.

It was difficult enough for Kim to get her head around the decline of a sunny, vibrant woman into the confused and fright- ened soul she apparently was now.

Not that she’d seen Emilia recently, she thought guiltily, given how busy she’d been getting this place ready for the launch. The Bergers were based in Milan, while Kim lived in California where her husband was from, and whenever she travelled to Italy to check on the renovation project, her short visits had been restricted to Amalfi Coast.

“It is hard to say. Sometime she is perfectly lucid, the same Emilia, while others …” he trailed off solemnly. “The doctors have been talking about residential care but I think that is premature,” he added almost to himself and Kim knew the very idea of it was killing him.

She stepped forward to give him another hug.

“It’ll be lovely to see her at the party and once all of this is over, I’m looking forward to spending some quality time with you both..”

He patted her back paternally. “It’s OK, I’m coming to terms with it, and for the most part she is still my Emilia. We’ve had a good life and have been through a lot together. She gave me two beautiful children and almost forty years of true love,” he said with a fond smile. “I would be nowhere else than by her side.”

“Then I’m even more grateful that you carved out the time for me. I know it must’ve been a wrench to leave her.”

He shook his head lightly. “No no, she is OK and excited about this. You needed me also, and of course she and I are not just your partners, but your friends too. I any case,” he teased, “perhaps she will not even miss me.”

Though she knew he was joking she could still hear the pain behind his words. Ever the optimist, she knew he was trying his utmost not let his wife’s diagnosis blight their lives or dampen their spirits.

Now he took both of her hands in his. “So how are you, bella?” Kim smiled gamely but knew it didn’t reach her eyes and Antonio would likely see through her own pretence just as easily. “Just OK,” she answered, averting her gaze. “I’m a bit tired. There’s been a lot going on and still loads to get through but at least I’m here on the ground now, the invites are out and the guest list is finalised …”

“Well, it’s a long list. Are your friends going to make it? The ladies who were with you that summer?”

Kim had almost forgotten she’d first met Antonio the same time as Annie and Colette. The three had come together as strangers six years ago at the villa but in the ensuing years had managed to maintain their friendship, albeit a long-distance one though their contact was now sporadic.

She and Colette had been guests at each other’s weddings, and she’d managed to meet up with Annie on a business trip to Dublin the year before last.

Of course, social media made it easy to keep track of each others’ lives too, but Kim missed the closeness they’d shared that summer.It would be so lovely to get the gang back together in person for a long overdue reunion. Here at the villa especially.

“I hope so,” Kim said, realising that she needed to check in on the RSVPs. She’d sent invites to both women, asking them and their respective plus ones to next month’s official Villa Dolce Vita Wellness Retreat launch celebration, including flights and a hotel stay over a long weekend.

Once the party was done and the centre officially open for reservations, Kim would be temporarily free from work obliga- tions and she relished the chance of catching up with them here and revisiting some of their old haunts.

She hooked her arm in Antonio’s.“Let’s keep going. I’ve still got lots to show you. The bedrooms have been transformed too and wait till you see where we managed to slot in the massage area.”

When she’d finished her tour of the premises’s accommodation area, and its new state of the art wellness facilities, Antonio nodded satisfactorily. “You’ve done an amazing job, Kim. The investors will be more than happy.”

“I just hope it’s enough to get those reservations flooding in,” She smiled. “Now, how about lunch? We can head down to Il Buco maybe? I’m feeling in the mood for pizzaiola beef.”

Antonio looked at her with a sad smile. “Bella, in all the time I’ve been here you have not once mentioned your husband. Gabe is coming next month too, I hope?”

Kim’s heart stuttered guiltily. “Of course. He and Lily are flying in soon actually.” Her three-year-old, a beautiful little girl she barely saw these days.

The plan was to have some long overdue family time in Italy together before everything kicked off. But that had been Gabriel’s plan, and Kim only hoped that things would run smoothly in the run-up to the launch so that she could carve out the necessary time.

Much like Antonio, her husband was an optimist at heart.

Now she could feel her mentor’s eyes following her as they meandered back out to the courtyard and down the steps to the pool terrace perched on the edge of the property and overlooking the glittering sun-drenched coast. When she turned to look at him, the expression on his face said it all. “Don’t …”

He smiled weakly.“I’m sorry but thirty odd years of marriage has taught me well. I know trouble when I see it.” He stepped closer, taking Kim’s hand in his as he patted her knuckles. “Why don’t we go to lunch and you tell me everything. Alright?”

But Kim didn’t want to talk about her personal life. She really didn’t. She had enough on her mind.

“I won’t take no for an answer,” he insisted gently and she knew there was no point in refusing.

Where she’d never been able to talk to her father, to trust or confide in him, Antonio was so much more. He understood her, sometimes even better than she did herself.

Minutes later, Kim leaned her head back against the plush leather seats of Antonio’s convertible Maserati as the car wound along the coast toward Sorrento. She gazed out over the water, catching sight of the magnificent island of Capri in the distance and held her hand out, allowing the warm breeze to pass through her fingers as sunlight danced across the glittering blue of the sea.

She would never, ever tire of this view and doubted there were many others in the world to compare.

This place had transformed her life six years ago. Perhaps it could do the same again now.

A good book can do just about anything; from taking you on a wild and fantastical adventure to making you feel like an all-knowing super sleuth (if you figure out the killer twist).

Every week at #Bookmarked, we will be taking you through some of our all-time favourite books – as well as the newest novels hitting shelves in Ireland.