A Summer In Europe

A Summer In Europe

4.4 17
by Marilyn Brant

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On her thirtieth birthday, Gwendolyn Reese receives an unexpected present from her widowed Aunt Bea: a grand tour of Europe in the company of Bea's Sudoku and Mahjongg Club. The prospect isn't entirely appealing. But when the gift she is expecting—an engagement ring from her boyfriend—doesn't materialize, Gwen decides to go.

At first, Gwen

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On her thirtieth birthday, Gwendolyn Reese receives an unexpected present from her widowed Aunt Bea: a grand tour of Europe in the company of Bea's Sudoku and Mahjongg Club. The prospect isn't entirely appealing. But when the gift she is expecting—an engagement ring from her boyfriend—doesn't materialize, Gwen decides to go.

At first, Gwen approaches the trip as if it's the math homework she assigns her students, diligently checking monuments off her must-see list. But amid the bougainvillea and stunning vistas of southern Italy, something changes. Gwen begins to live in the moment—skipping down stone staircases in Capri, running her fingers over a glacier in view of the Matterhorn, racing through the Louvre, and taste-testing pastries at a Marseilles cafe. Reveling in every new experience—especially her attraction to a charismatic British physics professor—Gwen discovers that the ancient wonders around her are nothing compared to the renaissance unfolding within. . .

"A thinking woman's love story, it swept me away to breathtaking places with a cast of endearing characters I won't soon forget. Bravissima!" –Susan McBride, author of Little Black Dress

Praise for Marilyn Brant's According to Jane

"A warm, witty and charmingly original story." —Susan Wiggs, New York Times bestselling author

"Brant infuses her sweetly romantic and delightfully clever tale with just the right dash of Austen-esque wit." –Chicago Tribune

"An engaging read for all who have been through the long, dark, dating wars, and still believe there's sunshine, and a Mr. Darcy, at the end of the tunnel." —Cathy Lamb, author of Such a Pretty Face

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Gwendolyn Reese prides herself on being cautious and reliable. She expects to marry Richard, her dependable boyfriend, and is disappointed when he doesn’t propose on her 30th birthday. But then Gwen’s aunt Bea surprises her with a monthlong European trip with Bea’s “S&M” club (sudoku and mah-jongg), and Gwen, reluctant at first, soon realizes how hard it will be to stick to her conventional routines abroad. She’s pushed even further out of her comfort zone when she meets the charismatic English brothers “Thoreau” and “Emerson” Edwards. Emerson introduces her to the pleasures of the continent, from gelato to music in the streets, while they do their best to keep their budding romance under control; Gwen still has a boyfriend in Richard (whose stuffiness pales in comparison to Emerson’s delight in the sensual). But Richard has a grand gesture up his sleeve—surprising Gwen in London at the end of her trip—and it throws her into turmoil. The trip has changed her, making her question what she wants out of life. Brant’s newest (after Double Dipping) is a retread of classic themes, but distinguishes itself with a charismatic leading man and very funny supporting cast, especially the wonderful elderly characters with their resonant message about living life to the fullest. (Dec.)

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A Summer in Europe



Copyright © 2011 Marilyn B. Weigel
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-7582-6151-9

Chapter One

An Unexpected Turn of Events

Tuesday, June 26

The thing no one understood about Gwendolyn Reese was that she was three ages at once: thirty chronologically, forty-five intellectually and fifteen experientially. The people inhabiting her small circle of acquaintances planned to celebrate the first of these maturational milestones with Mylar balloons and devil's food cake. The second, they revered privately, hoping their appreciation would score them a shot at being her partner during the odd game of Trivial Pursuit. But, with the possible exception of her eccentric Aunt Beatrice, they were patently oblivious to the third.

Aunt Beatrice—who clocked in at sixty-seven chronologically, twenty-four intellectually and a whopping one hundred-ten experientially— knew how to have a good time. Even if Beatrice's idea of "a good time" didn't exactly mesh with Gwendolyn's own.

A point Gwen was painfully reminded of when she was awakened— at five a.m.—by the persistent ringing of the telephone and realized that on this, her thirtieth birthday, and in complete disregard of her intentions for a quiet solo dinner and a warm bath to the emotionally soaring melodies of Andrew Lloyd Webber, she'd be spending the evening instead with Beatrice and all thirteen wack-job members of her aunt's S&M club.

The day was off to a disturbingly atypical start.

"Gwennie! Happy birthday!" her aunt chirped on the phone.

Gwen yawned, sat up on her extrafirm mattress, swung her legs over the side and slipped her feet into her sensible beige slippers on the floor. "Thanks, Aunt Bea."

"I know you're an early riser, so I set my alarm special, just to wake up in time to catch you before you left. You're going to your, whatchamacallit, spinning class now, right?"

Gwen rubbed her eyes and glanced at the clock—a palindromic 5:05. "Yep. Soon." She didn't have the heart to tell her aunt that she only went to the five-thirty class during the school year when she had a full teaching day ahead. She slept late during summer vacation and never, ever got to the gym before six forty-five. Not in June.

"Well, I won't keep you for long then, honey, but it's Tuesday so, of course, the club is getting together tonight. And we have a special birthday celebration planned just for you. When can you get here?"

Gwen smothered a sigh. "Um ..." Her aunt's "club" was something she tried to avoid like mosquitoes at twilight, like filing her taxes any later than March 1, like her eighth-grade math students coughing in her face during flu season. Those club people—however sweet, bighearted and well-meaning—were nothing short of crazy, and her aunt always wanted to drag her into their gatherings. All of them were sixty or older, but they acted like irresponsible teenagers half the time and horny college students the rest. Case in point, even though "S&M" technically stood for sudoku and mah-jongg, some of the members liked to imply that they weren't opposed to the other meaning.

Retired vet Dr. Louie Strand even had T-shirts made up that said, "I'm into S&M ... wanna play with me?"

And Mrs. Matilda Riesling, at age eighty-three (and a former Presbyterian Church secretary no less!), apparently thought Dr. Louie's shirts weren't suggestive enough, so she countered with, "The S&M Club: It's even more fun when we're tied."

These were not people Gwen could relate to with ease.


"I, uh, have to meet Richard for lunch downtown. One o'clock sharp, he said. But I could be at your house in the late afternoon or early evening." Maybe if she arrived before five, she'd get to leave by seven.

"Oh, good. Come around four-thirty, then. No later than five-fifteen, you hear? We're seniors. We like to eat early."

Gwen agreed.

"And, Gwennie, enjoy your lunch date. You'll tell us all about it tonight, right?"


Aunt Beatrice hung up and Gwen was left holding the phone. She stared out the window of her condo into the rising eastern sun of a bright Iowa summer day, the mighty Mississippi River glinting in the distance. June 26. Her thirtieth birthday. She hoped, with a shiver of pure excitement, that she'd have more to celebrate than a new decade by the day's end—provided, of course, she survived until bedtime.

She set about skipping through the paces of her scrupulously well-structured morning. She may have been awakened a tad earlier than anticipated but, on a day as significant as this one, a little extra time to prepare wouldn't be a bad thing, would it?

She performed her series of twelve flexibility stretches, just as she always did, vacation or no. Her one really good friend from the school district, Kathy, her team-teaching partner in the junior-high math department, would always laugh when Gwen would do a few extra stretches during their lunch breaks, and she'd make up goofy animal descriptions of Gwen poses. It made Gwen smile to think about it. Kathy was funny, sweet-tempered ... and away on a summer-long missionary trip to El Salvador. She wouldn't be calling Gwen up and asking if she were a Squatting Ostrich or a Twisted Ferret today.

She sighed, feeling the twinge of her aloneness spreading like a low, slow ache. She wasn't the type to make hordes of friends, so she missed having another woman to talk to on weekdays. Someone who'd sincerely listen. There was always her aunt, of course, but, well ... not really. And were it not for Richard, she'd be more than alone this summer. She'd be lonely, too.

She walked into the kitchen and poured one measuring cup of her high-fiber bran flakes into her favorite white ceramic cereal bowl—the one with daisies very cheerfully ringing the circumference. She topped the flakes with two tablespoons of dried California raisins, half of a sliced banana and one level scoop of slivered almonds. She then poured exactly two-thirds of a cup of 1 percent milk over all of it and took her first bite.

Mmm. Wholesomely balanced, delicious and even leisurely. And, because she could indulge in the extra time, she savored her healthy meal to the sounds of Andrew Lloyd Webber's GOLD: The Definitive Hits Collection.

She chewed her food with diligence while jumping between tracks. Barbra Streisand's beautiful version of "As If We Never Said Goodbye" stirred her. When she heard the strings, she glanced, as she always did, at the violin hanging on the opposite wall. Her dad's. She could almost imagine him playing that song. Feel the emotion he surely would have brought to it.

She flipped to Sarah Brightman's famous rendition of "The Phantom of the Opera," even humming along since no one else could hear her. But it wasn't until an especially melodious moment in selection #11's "Love Changes Everything" from Aspects of Love that she felt the oddest wave of longing rise up and crash into her rib cage. Far more powerful than usual. She didn't know why.

Quite possibly, it was Michael Ball's incredible vocals and haunting musical interpretation.

Or, perhaps, she was still caught in that netherworld of sleepiness and was too easily affected by lyrics that mentioned "trembling" at the sound of someone's name.

Or, maybe, she was just getting old and sentimental.

She inhaled sharply, swiped away an unexpected tear that blurred her vision and gulped the last spoonful of cereal. Maybe, if she had someone to share this music with in the morning, she wouldn't feel the pang of loss that jabbed at her when she wasn't expecting it. Richard might claim he wasn't big into musicals, but that was only because he'd never really gone to any. At least not to any good ones. Hadn't they just watched Singing in the Rain on TV? She bit her lip and nodded to herself, remembering. He seemed to enjoy that well enough, so she had reason to be hopeful. Once they were living in the same house together, he would surely understand, wouldn't he?

Then again, Richard prided himself on being very constant in his opinions. Something she generally appreciated about him. She prized this constancy in herself, too.

But, oh, this was the big day!

Gwen snapped off the music, trying to shrug off dancing nerves of indistinct origin. What was with these senseless jitters? This was going to be wonderful! It was the day she'd been waiting for....

She forced herself to take a deep breath and then floated down the hall to get ready. She brushed and flossed, meticulously chose an outfit for her luncheon (white blouse, floral peach and pale pink skirt, brown leather sandals, dangling pearl earrings that had once belonged to her mother—for good luck) and packed her gym bag. She pulled her straight, dark blond hair back into a ponytail and prepared to drive the 8.6 miles to the gym.

The rest of the morning progressed in perfect thirty- to sixty-minute intervals, precisely as planned. She took her class, cleaned herself up, did a few household tasks and even spoke briefly to each of her brothers.

George, six years her junior, called to say, "Happy birthday, Sis," from his computer-programming internship in Atlanta.

And Geoffrey, eight years younger than Gwen, phoned in from his accountancy work-study site in Seattle with the jovial greeting, "So, whoa, three decades! You're an old lady."

"Very funny," she'd said to Geoff, laughing, but she only pretended amusement. As excited as she was about her date with Richard, she'd been dreading this particular birthday for months. Years, if she were to be completely honest.

Of course, just hearing her brothers' voices again, while delightful, underscored how alone she'd felt since she'd moved to Dubuque to take this math teaching position. The big city on the Mississippi may have been less than two hours away from her tiny hometown of Waverly, Iowa, but all of her memories of her parents and her life growing up were back there. Her brothers had moved away now, too, and much farther than she had after their dad died two years ago. They'd expanded their view of the world, and a part of her wished she could shake off her origins just as easily and be more like them.

She shoved away her combination of homesickness and irritation and, finally, when noon came around, she changed into her preselected clothing, put on a touch of makeup and found herself uncharacteristically giddy with anticipation.

This was it!

She sang a few bars of "Love Changes Everything" to herself— aloud!—before she realized it and stopped herself in embarrassment. She was that happy. Richard had hinted more than once in the past few weeks that he thought she'd "be pleased" with his gift. Knowing him, she more than suspected she'd love it.

By three this afternoon, four at the latest, she'd no longer be the unattached newish teacher Gwendolyn Anne Reese, the subject of some speculation and slight pity amongst the too-inquisitive junior-high teaching staff at Midland Park School District #76. She'd be the future Mrs. Richard Sidney Banks. And she knew exactly what that would be like: warm, caring and secure. Richard was smart, kind, steady, responsible. A man she could understand. She liked knowing what to expect out of people, and liked it even more when they consistently delivered.

"You and Richard seem, um, well matched," her aunt had admitted once, after having polished off half a pitcher of piña coladas. This was as close as Gwen had ever gotten to an enthusiastic endorsement from Beatrice. But, although Gwen had dated casually in college and afterward, Richard was the most serious boyfriend she'd ever had.

"Yes, he's just wonderful, isn't he?" she'd told her aunt, and she meant it earnestly. Gwen had met him after only a few weeks in Dubuque and easily felt more affection toward him than any other guy she'd ever known, aside from family. He was so easy to be with, and so naturally right for her. They seemed to innately understand each other.

And today would be the start of the next stage. A new beginning. Something good. Something that might even make turning thirty worth it.

In her eagerness to get a jump on the afternoon, she headed to The Surfing Cow Supper Club a bit earlier than necessary. It was Richard's restaurant of choice—a high-quality seafood-and-steak place along the river. As she sat in her parked car waiting for him, she breathed deeply and fiddled with her late mother's pearl earrings until she spotted Richard's steel-blue sedan pull into a space by the door, promptly at one p.m. Her heart swelled. Her future husband was fabulously punctual!

She stepped out of her car and waved to try to get his attention. But he didn't see her. He was carrying a small silver gift bag and was focused on getting in the restaurant via the revolving door. This sent a momentary sizzle of delight through her. He looked as excitedly impatient as she felt. And that package was the perfect size for a ring box.

She tried to relax. Don't rush the moment, her friend Kathy always said. Savor it.

Gwen inhaled again, exhaled and then called out Richard's name. He turned, spotted her and grinned.

She crisscrossed the lot and slid up to him. "Hello, Richard," she murmured, her voice oddly breathy. Was this what it was like to tremble at somebody's name? She thought of the Michael Ball song from that morning. Well, she wasn't shaking, but she did feel rather unsettled.

His grin broadened, brightening further his already attractive face. "Happy birthday, Gwendolyn."

"Thank you," she said, pressing her lips to his, feeling the coolness of them despite the scorching summer heat.

He placed a hand on her lower back, a reassuring gesture, as he guided her into the restaurant. "I took the afternoon off, but I'll have to make an appearance at work again later today. We've got a bunch of claims that need to be filed before the weekend."

She nodded, a bit disappointed, of course, that he didn't suggest spending the evening with her, too. Perhaps he'd finish early and surprise her at her aunt's house. Well, no. That was unlikely. Or, maybe, he'd visit her at her condo later in the night. She was, however, used to Richard's industriousness at work. As he did with all tasks, he took his responsibility as an up-and-coming insurance agent at Iowa Insurance Corporation very seriously. Hardworking and ambitious, he even had their company's slogan ("Providing first-rate insurance services to every first-rate Iowan—and, yes! That means YOU!") printed on a rather large, Day-Glo yellow bumper sticker and pasted across the back of his car. His company devotion was unmissable.

"So, how are you?" she asked when they were seated and had each ordered the Tuesday Surf-n-Turf Special—not Richard's usual meal of baked chicken and mashed potatoes, but a real splurge. Further proof that today was a special day. Gwen smiled, her excitement rising.

"Doing well. Getting things done. But glad to get a little time off to celebrate your big day with you." He raised a glass of the white wine he'd selected to accompany their lunch. She raised her glass in return and they clinked.

She took a sip, appreciating the light, slightly fruity flavor. He'd gotten this brand for her before. A number of times. "Mmm," she murmured. Richard's taste in such things was so competent and experienced, she rarely bothered to wrestle with meal and drink selections anymore. She'd grown accustomed to just ordering whatever he did. And, while her friend Kathy would likely declare she wasn't being adventurous enough, Gwen hadn't been disappointed yet.

Richard smiled affably at her as he chatted about the particulars of his workday. A morning meeting. The latest big claims. Some funny memos from his coworkers. An upcoming conference. After twenty-three months of serious dating, she knew almost as much about the minutiae of his office job as she did about her own school district. It wasn't uninteresting, though. Just kind of ... unchanging. "And, oh. There's going to be a company Fourth of July picnic next week, so mark your calendar," he told her.

There was an unmistakable sparkle in his eyes as he spoke about this event. Was he thinking of introducing her as his fiancée at the picnic? "Of course," she said, elated.


Excerpted from A Summer in Europe by MARILYN BRANT Copyright © 2011 by Marilyn B. Weigel. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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