Villa of Sun and Secrets by Jennifer Bohnet @jenniewriter @BoldwoodBooks #LoveBooks

It’s never too late to live the dream…

Carla Sullivan’s 50th birthday is fast approaching when her whole world is turned upside down. Discovering her feckless husband is having yet another affair and following her mother’s death, she is in need of an escape. Finding an envelope addressed to her mother’s estranged sister Josette in the South of France gives Carla the perfect plan.

Seizing the moment, she packs her bags and heads to Antibes to seek out the enigma known as Tante Josette. But as the two women begin to forge a tentative relationship, family secrets start to unravel, forcing Carla to question her life as she has always known it.

A heart-warming tale on the beautiful French Riviera, which will keep you guessing. From the bestselling author of Summer at Coastguard Cottages, The Little Kiosk by the Sea and Rosie’s Little Cafe on the Riviera. Perfect for the fans of Jill Mansell and Fern Britton.

CHAPTER ONE

Carla was not surprised when Tante Josette didn’t come to the funeral. A nondescript wreath arrived – its white flowers already wilting. The words ‘RIP Amelia. Your loving sister, Josette’ scrawled on a black-edged sympathy card by some unknown hand at the florists.

A congregation of fewer than ten had gathered for the service. Carla knew her mother, Amelia, always a difficult person to get along with, would have been surprised at even that number. The owners of the care home, duty-bound to be there, two neighbours from Amelia’s street, Carla, David and Maddy representing the family. Edward had left the week before for South Africa, impossible for him to return so soon. The wreath he sent his grandmother though, was lovely.

Standing in the crematorium watching her mother’s coffin disappear behind the curtains, Carla felt the first stirrings of sadness, and anger. Sadness for a mother for whom she’d never felt good enough and anger for the fact that Amelia and Tante Josette had been estranged for over forty years. She’d written to Josette when Amelia had gone into the home, mainly to let her know about her twin sister, but a little bit of Carla had hoped Josette would visit and the two sisters would heal their decades’ old rift. It wasn’t to be.

Josette had written back saying she was sorry to hear of Amelia’s decline but she wouldn’t be coming to England to see her for one last time: It seems a pointless exercise, as you say, Amelia’s mind has switched off so she won’t know me. It would be equally pointless if she were still compos mentis because then she wouldn’t want to see me.

An angry Carla had longed to reply, Come for my sake so I can believe that the two of you once cared about each other. That somewhere in the dim and distant past there was a loving, supportive family in the days before we became the prototype model for a modern dysfunctional one. But she’d recognised the truth behind Josette’s words and had sighed before throwing the letter away.

*

Josette sat in the sunshine at her favourite pavement cafe on the quay in Monaco, the coffee on the table in front of her growing cold, her thoughts lost in the past. She and Amelia had often caught the train from Antibes and spent the day wandering around the principality hoping to see some famous people. Today, though, the memory of a long ago visit that was to change everything in their lives was on her mind. Today, for the first time in years, she’d caught the train to Monaco to say a final goodbye to her sister in the principality where decades ago she’d been given the news that would start a chain of events that would ultimately change the course of her own life.

It had been Cannes Film Festival time and Amelia and Josette had sat at another pavement cafe, the Cafe de Paris, hoping to spot some celebrities leaving the Hotel de Paris opposite. Or even sauntering up the steps into the casino for a game of roulette. Josette had just exclaimed, ‘Quick – look over there. I’m sure that’s Sacha Distel,’ and turned towards Amelia to make sure she was looking in the right direction when, to her dismay, she saw Amelia was sitting there with tears running down her cheeks. ‘Que se passe-t-il?’

‘I’m pregnant.’

Shocked, Josette stared at her twin. ‘Is it Robert the sailor?’ she had finally asked. Amelia had told her about meeting a crew member from one of the expensive yachts a few weeks ago. Twenty-three years old, he was spending the summer after his finals working on one of the prestigious boats before returning home and starting his banking career. Amelia had nodded. ‘Papa will kill you both,’ Josette had said. She was silent for a moment. ‘What does Robert say about it?’

‘Je ne lui ai pas encore dit. You’re the first to know,’ Amelia whispered. ‘I was hoping you’d help me decide what to do.’ ‘When d’you expect to see Robert next?’ ‘The yacht is due back in port tomorrow afternoon, so probably our usual place in the evening.’ ‘You have to tell him. Once you’ve done that and we know his reaction, we can decide what you do.’ Josette had glanced at her sister. ‘Do you love him? Do you want to keep the baby? Do you want him to marry you?’

‘Yes. No. Yes. I don’t know what I want other than I don’t want to be pregnant.’ ‘But you are,’ Josette had said, as a sudden thought struck her. ‘You didn’t go to Doctor Lefebvre, did you?’ The old family doctor would have gone straight to their father, she was certain. Amelia shook her head. ‘Je ne suis pas si bȇte. I went to one in Cannes.’ Josette had caught hold of her sister’s hand. ‘If Robert is the kind of man I think he is, he’ll marry you.

‘But his life will be in England. I don’t want to leave here and live over there. I won’t know anyone and his family will probably hate me and—’ ‘Stop it. Nobody could possibly hate you. And after you’ve married Robert and moved over there, I shall be a regular visitor. Tante Josette. Imagine!’ Josette had looked at her sister and squeezed her hand. ‘Try not to worry. Whatever happens, I’m on your side.’

The next evening, a shocked Robert had immediately said they’d marry when Amelia had told him she was pregnant. Had even braved the wrath of her father, holding her hand tightly, as they broke the news together. Now, years later, Josette acknowledged Amelia’s news that day had laid the foundation for the fracture that would tear their family apart in less than five years. If Amelia had never met Robert, so many lives would have been lived differently – she, Josette, wouldn’t have been estranged from all the people she loved the most, would have had a stable life instead of always being on the move from one place to another, she’d have married and had a family with…

Another coffee, madam?’ Josette dragged her thoughts back to the present. She shook her head. ‘Non, Merci.’ She paid for the undrunk cold coffee before standing up and beginning to make her way up to the old town and the cathedral. Climbing the steps and strolling through the gardens to the palace, Josette took her time, stopping once or twice to admire the view out over the town and the harbour. Eventually, she passed under the arch, skirted around the caped sculpture of the infamous monk and founder of the Monaco royal family, Francois Grimaldi, that she personally always found terrifying, and onto the palace precinct.

The large open forecourt in front of the palace was, as always, swarming with tourists and Josette crossed it diagonally, aiming for the small street that led down to the cathedral. Before she reached the flight of steps leading up to the entrance, she pulled a veil-type scarf out of her bag and placed it over her head, glancing at her watch as she did so. Perfect timing. The English funeral would be underway. Inside, the ambience of the cathedral was hushed and reverent. Josette carefully lit a candle and placed it on the stand, whispering to herself, ‘RIP Amelia. Je ne t’oublierai jamais, ma soeur chérie.’ She stood for a moment, eyes closed, mentally saying a final goodbye to the sister who, for some still unknown reason, had cast her out of her life all those years ago. Now death had taken the final, irreversible, step of concealment of what had gone wrong between them all those years ago.

Ever since the news of Amelia’s death had reached her, Josette had waited for the sorrow to engulf her. Now, standing in front of the flickering candles, the tears arrived with the realisation that any possibility of a reconciliation had died with Amelia. Oblivious to the looks of other cathedral visitors, even to the gentle touch of a sympathetic hand on her arm from a stranger, Josette stood waiting for the tears to subside, for her mind to return to its decade old default mode of ‘it’s in the past, let it go’. It was ten minutes before she felt strong enough to become a part of the shuffling crowd making its way around the cathedral, past the last resting places of Princess Grace and her Prince before making for the exit. Blinking as her eyes adjusted to the bright sunlight, Josette thought about the future. She was free to do, to say, as she wanted. With Amelia’s death the need to keep her own secret had died. Hadn’t it? She was the last of the family who knew the truth. If she wanted, she could shout it out to the world. There was no one to gainsay her now. But was it worth upsetting another generation of people with the truth?

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