The Hotel Rivieraby Elizabeth Adler
American Lola Laforet was swept away in a whirlwind wedding and found herself the chef/owner of the Hotel Riviera. Her life seemed to be a dream come true. But then her husband disappeared one day with nothing more than a wave goodbye. Six months later, Jack Ferrar, an American ex-pat living on his boat, drops anchor in Lola's harbor and teaches her the true… See more details below
American Lola Laforet was swept away in a whirlwind wedding and found herself the chef/owner of the Hotel Riviera. Her life seemed to be a dream come true. But then her husband disappeared one day with nothing more than a wave goodbye. Six months later, Jack Ferrar, an American ex-pat living on his boat, drops anchor in Lola's harbor and teaches her the true meaning of attraction. When various shady people-all claiming ownership of the Hotel Riviera-and the police appear, Lola and Jack have to track down the mysterious Patrick. And along the way, they fall in love. With great food, wonderful sensuality, and lush scenery, Elizabeth Adler holds you under her spell and transports you to one of the most romantic places on earth.
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The Hotel Riviera
By Elizabeth Adler
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2003 Elizabeth Adler
All rights reserved.
It was late September when I first met Jack Farrar, on one of those balmy, soft-breezed south-of-France evenings that hinted summer was finally over. And though I didn't yet know it, it was a meeting that would effect great changes in my life.
My name is Lola Laforêt — and yes, I know you're thinking I must be a stripper. Everybody thinks that. Actually, what I am is chef and patronne of the Hotel Riviera, and I used to be the much more normal Lola March from California before I married "the Frenchman." But that's a long story.
It's been six years since I welcomed my first guests to the Hotel Riviera, though "hotel" is far too grand a title for this old villa. It's a casual sand-between-the-toes, cool-tile-floors kind of place. There are just eight rooms, each with tall French windows opening onto a terrace spilling over with bougainvillea and night-scented jasmine. You'll find it on a spit of pine-covered land off the Ramatuelle road near Saint-Tropez, down a long sandy lane shaded with umbrella pines and alive with the chirruping of cigales. We have our own little private beach here with sand as pale as platinum and soft as sugar, and in summer it's dotted with marine-blue umbrellas and sunny-yellow loungers, and the golden-tan bodies of our guests. Small children run in and out of the lacy wavelets while grown-ups sip iced drinks in the shade. And in the heat of the afternoon they retreat to their shuttered rooms to nap, or to make love on a cool white bed.
Imagine a sunny sea-lapped cove, gift-wrapped in blue and tied with a bow like a Tiffany box, and you'll get the feel of my little hotel. It's a place made for Romance with a capital R. Except for me, its creator.
Somewhere in the process my own Romance withered on the vine. Somehow it was never my "Frenchman," Patrick, and I dining alone on the candlelit terrace with the moon throwing a silver path across the dark water, and champagne fizzing in tall glasses. It was never Patrick holding my hand across the table and gazing into my eyes. Oh no. I was always in the kitchen cooking delicious feasts for lovers who had the romance in their lives I so badly wanted, while my own "lover" took in the delights of summer in Saint-Tropez nightlife.
When I met and married Patrick six years ago, I thought I had found "true love." Now, I don't believe that such a thing exists. Yes, I admit I'm wounded, and I know I have always had a penchant for rogues, and that those straight-and-true guys, strong-jawed, steady, the good providers, are definitely not drawn to me. I seemed to attract riffraff like summer flies to a glass of wine.
Which brings me back to Jack Farrar again.
So, there I was, alone on the terrace, taking a breather before the first dinner guests arrived. It was my favorite time of the year, the end of the long hot summer season when the crowds are gone and life drifts back into a more leisurely pace. The sky was still a flawless blue and the breeze soft against my bare arms, as I sipped a glass of chilled rosé, gazing blankly out over the pretty bay, brooding over my problems.
I'm a woman in limbo. And here's the reason why. Six months ago my husband, Patrick, climbed into his silver Porsche, en route, he said, to buy me a birthday gift. As usual, he'd forgotten my birthday, but I guess someone must have reminded him. He was wearing dark glasses and I couldn't read the expression in his eyes as he lifted his hand in a careless goodbye. He wasn't smiling, though, I do remember that.
I haven't heard a word from him since. Nobody has. And nobody seems to care, though I went crazy trying to find him. Of course, the police tried to trace him, his picture as a "missing person" was posted everywhere, and they followed clues leading as far as Marseilles and Las Vegas, without any luck. Now the case is on the back burner and Patrick is just another missing person. "Missing husband" is what they mean. It's not unknown around here, when the summer beaches are crowded with gorgeous girls and the yachts filled with rich women, for a husband to go missing.
You might have thought Patrick's friends would know, but they swore they didn't, and anyhow they were always Patrick's friends, not mine. In fact, I hardly knew the guys he hung out with, or the women. I was far too busy working at making our little hotel perfect. And Patrick had no family; he'd told me he was the last of the Laforêts who had lived and worked their fishing boats in Marseilles for decades.
Speaking of boats, I'm back to Jack Farrar again.
A small black sloop had drifted across my line of vision. Now I don't like my cove to be disturbed by vacationers partying all night, with disco music pounding across the water and shrieks and screams as they push each other into the water. I took a long hard look at the sloop. At least this wasn't one of those megayachts; in fact, I didn't believe they would allow such small fry into the Saint-Tropez marina, even if its owner could have afforded it, which, from the look of his shabby boat, I doubted. And which was probably why he'd chosen to anchor in my protected little cove with a free view of my pretty little hotel instead.
The black sloop cut across the horizon, sails slackening in the tiny breeze, then tacked into the cove where, as I had guessed, it dropped anchor.
I grabbed the telescope at the end of the terrace and got the boat in focus; the name Bad Dog was inscribed in brass letters on her bow. I moved over an inch and got a man in my sights. Muscular, broad in the shoulders, powerful chest tapering to narrow hips ... And oh my God, he was totally naked!
I knew I shouldn't but okay, I admit it, I took a peek — actually a long look. What woman wouldn't? After all, he was just standing there, poised for a dive, almost flaunting his nakedness. And I want to tell you the view was good. I'm talking about his face of course, which was attractive in an odd sort of way. Actually, I thought he looked like his boat: tough, workmanlike, rather battered.
I watched the Naked Man make his dive, then cut cleanly out to sea in a powerful crawl until all I could make out was a faint froth in his wake. From the corner of my eye, I caught a movement on the sloop; a young woman, all long legs and long blond hair and wearing only a bright red thong, was stretched out on a towel in the stern, catching the final rays. Not that she needed them; like him she was perfectly toasted. Spread her with butter and jam, I thought enviously, and she'd be perfect for his breakfast.
The Naked Man was swimming back to the sloop and I got him in my sights again. And that, you might say, was my big mistake.
He climbed back onto the boat, shook himself like a wet dog in a cloud of rainbow-colored droplets, then flung out his arms and lifted his head to the sun. He stood for a moment, beautiful, hard-bodied, golden from the sun and the sea winds, a man at one with the elements. There was something so free about the gesture, it took my breath away.
I followed as he padded aft, saw him reach for something. A pair of binoculars. And then he had me in his sights, caught in the act of peeking at him.
For a long moment our eyes met, linked by powerful lenses. His were blue, darker than the sea, and I could swear there was laughter in them.
I jumped back, hot all over with embarrassment. His mocking laughter drifted across the water, then he gave me a jaunty wave and, still laughing, stepped into a pair of shorts and began unhurriedly to clean his deck.
So. That was my first meeting with Jack Farrar. The next one would prove even more interesting.CHAPTER 2
I retreated into the dining room in back of the terrace, and began hurriedly to check the tables, polishing a knife here, adjusting a glass there. I checked that the wines were cooling, checked that the linen napkins were properly folded, checked my long ginger hair in the mirror behind the bar, wishing I could call it copper or even red, but ginger it was. I wished one more time that I had exotic almond-shaped eyes instead of my too-round ones, wished I knew a recipe to get rid of freckles, that I was taller and leaner and maybe ten years younger. I was thirty-nine years old and after the events of the past six months, I decided gloomily, I looked every year of it.
I wasn't exactly into a glamorous mode either, in my baggy houndstooth chef's pants and shrunken white tee, with no lipstick and, even worse, no mascara on my ginger-cat lashes.
Horrified, I realized I was looking at exactly what the Naked Man had seen through the binoculars. I thought worriedly I really must make more effort but that anyhow he certainly wasn't interested in me; then I forgot about him and headed for my true domain.
The jewel-colored bead door curtain jangled behind me and I was in my favorite place in the whole world, my big tile-floored kitchen with ancient beams and a row of open windows overhung with blossoming vines.
I'd known the first day I saw it, this had to be my kitchen. It had stolen my chef's heart even more than the magical view from the terrace and the sandy winding paths, the shady pines and the wild overgrown gardens. More than the cool upstairs rooms with their tall windows and lopsided shutters, and the downstairs "salon" with its imposing limestone fireplace that was far too grand for such a humble seaside villa. More than any of that, this kitchen was home.
It was the place where I could put all thoughts of sophisticated city restaurants behind me and get back to my true foodie roots, back to the simple pleasures of local produce and seasonally grown fruits and vegetables. Here, I would grill fish that swam almost at the bottom of my garden and pick the herbs that grew almost wild to flavor my dishes. I knew I could relax and be myself in this place.
It all seemed so perfect. But first "true love" disappeared; then Patrick had disappeared, and now my only love left was my little hotel. Oh, and Scramble, whom I'll tell you about later.
My private life might be a mess, but all was well in my culinary world. Sauces simmered on the stove; fishes shone silver and bright-eyed in the glass-fronted refrigerated drawer; perfect little racks of Sisteron lamb awaited a hot oven, and individual tians of eggplant and tomatoes were drizzled with succulent olive oil from Nice, ready to be popped into the oven.
A fifteen-foot pine table stood under the windows. On it a couple of tartes Tatin cooled alongside a big blue bowl of sliced ripe peaches marinating in vermouth. Next to them were the spun-sugar cage confections, a remnant of my old "grand" restaurant days and with which I liked to top my desserts, because I enjoy the delighted oohs and aahs they evoke from my guests. Oh, and as always, a tray of my signature nut-topped brownies, my American specialty that I like to serve with the coffee.
You'll find no huge white plates centered with tiny "culinary arrangements" here. Our food is simple but lavish, our plates are locally made stoneware, the color of good honey, and we garnish them with only fresh flowers and a sprig of herbs.
I dropped a kiss on my assistant Nadine's cheek in passing. She's been with me since the beginning, all traumatic six years, and I love her to pieces. She's a local woman, dark-haired, dark-eyed, olive-skinned, with a raucous laugh and a sense of humor that's gotten us through many a kitchen disaster. Along with her sister, she takes care of the housekeeping as well as helping in the kitchen, while I deal with the food, the marketing, the menus, and the cooking; and Patrick supposedly took care of the business end, though from our meager bank account, I'm not sure how good a job he had been doing.
Petite dark-haired Marit, straight out of culinary school and a new recruit this season, was chopping vegetables, and Jean-Paul, the seventeen-year-old "youth-of-all-work" was busy cleaning up. The real season was over; it would be an easy night with just the remaining hotel guests and perhaps a couple of last-minute strays who might wander our way.
I slid a Barry White album, my current favorite sexy man, into the CD player, grabbed a brownie, pushed my way back through the jangling beads, and came across Scramble. Okay, so Scramble's not a dog, she's not a cat, or even a hamster. Scramble is a hen. I know it's crazy, but ever since she emerged from the shell, a soft fluffy yellow chicken cradled trustingly in the palm of my hand, I've adored her, and I'd like to believe she loves me too, though with a hen it's hard to tell. Anyhow, the fact is I'm the only woman who cried the whole way through Chicken Run. And though you might think it's a sad state of affairs, giving all my love to a hen instead of a husband, Scramble deserves it more. She's never unfaithful, she never even glances at anybody else, and she sleeps in my bed every night.
She's quite big now, soft and white with yellow legs, ruby crest and wattles, and beady dark eyes. She's scratching energetically in the big terra-cotta pot with the red hibiscus outside the kitchen door that she's claimed as home, preparing to settle down for the night, or at least until I go to bed when she'll join me on my pillow.
I gave her an affectionate little pat as I passed by, which she returned with a hearty peck. "Ungrateful bird," I said. "I remember when you were just an egg."
I cast a cautious glance at the black sloop as I walked back along the terrace. Lights twinkled and banners fluttered festively. I wondered what the Naked Man was up to, and whether he might row the boat's little dinghy into my cove and join us for dinner on the terrace.
I sighed. I wasn't betting on it.CHAPTER 3
"That's a pretty little sloop," Miss Nightingale called. "Rather different for these waters, don't you think?"
"It is, and I hope they're not going to play loud music and interrupt your peaceful dinner," I said.
"Oh, I shouldn't think so, my dear, it doesn't look the right boat for that sort of thing. It's more of a proper sailor's boat, if you know what I mean."
I smiled at my favorite guest. Mollie Nightingale was a retired British schoolmarm, and by way of being my friend. Nothing had ever been said, but it was just there between us, that warm feeling, a kind of recognition I suppose you might call it. She had certain qualities I admired: integrity; an offbeat sense of humor; and a personal reticence that matched my own. Miss Nightingale kept her own counsel and I knew little about her private life; just the woman she was here at the Riviera. A woman I liked.
She had been my first guest, the week the Hotel Riviera opened for business, and she had been back every year since, coming late in the season when prices were lower and she could afford to stay for a month, before heading home to her cottage in the Cotswolds and her miniature Yorkie, Little Nell, and another long English winter. Meanwhile, she lived out her annual dream here, alone at a table for one, with a small carafe of local wine and book to hand, and always with a pleasant word and a smile for everyone.
Miss Nightingale was, I would guess, somewhere in her late seventies, short, square, and sturdy, and tonight she wore a pink flower-print dress. A white cardigan was thrown over her shoulders, though it was still warm out, and as always she had on her double row of pearls. Like the Queen of England, she always carried a large handbag, which, besides a clean linen handkerchief and her money, also contained her knitting. Now, I'm not sure if the Queen of England knits, but Miss Nightingale, with her determinedly gray hair set in stiff waves and curls, and her piercing blue eyes behind large pale spectacles, was a dead ringer for Her Majesty.
She was usually first down for dinner, showing up about this time for a glass of pastis, a little self-indulgence to which I knew she looked forward. She'd mix the anise liqueur with water in a tall glass then sip it slowly, making it last until dinner, which I also knew was the social highlight of her day.
I sat with her while she told me about her outing to the Villa Ephrussi, the old Rothschild house with its spectacular gardens up the coast near Cap-Ferrat. She always liked to tell me about the gardens she had discovered; she was a keen gardener herself and her own roses had won many local prizes. In fact, she was often to be found pottering about the gardens here, straw sunhat slammed firmly over her eyes, pulling up a naughty weed or two, or snipping back a recalcitrant branch of honeysuckle that threatened to overwhelm the already out-of-hand bougainvillea.
Settled at her usual table, the one at the end of the terrace nearest the kitchen, glass of pastis to hand, she gazed at the spectacular view and heaved a satisfied sigh.
Excerpted from The Hotel Riviera by Elizabeth Adler. Copyright © 2003 Elizabeth Adler. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Beautifully written! The lovely location and the pleasant characters combined with the exotic adventure, twists and surprises make for a great read.
Beautifully written! The description of the scenery makes me feel as if I've been to this lovely location and met these pleasant characters. The unique storyline is full of love, friendship, exotic adventure and a few surprises and twists.
I have read (and re-read) many of Adler's novels including Hotel Riviera. They will hold you captive until the last sentence. I am always hoping there will be a new book coming out. I read a lot (probably too much) but always enjoy this author.
I like Adler's wonderful descriptions of the settings of her stories. They make you want to visit them or happily remember when you did.Her romances are sweet love stories rather than graphic sex.
I dont normaly jump from author to author but this cover caught my eye in the book store and i fell in love. i feel like i met every single person in this book and i've been there.. when pain touchs the chactures it touches you! Read this book please!