Sophie has no interest in finding love. But what happens when love finds her?
Sophie Wells is a successful photographer with a focus on putting the past firmly behind her. When Josh Strachan returns to the seaside town of Cornwall from the States to run his family's hotel, he can't understand why the fun, sexy girl has zero interest in letting him-or any man for that matter-into her life. He also can't understand how he's been duped into employing Sophie's impulsive friend Tula, whose crush on him is decidedly unrequited. Both girls remain mum about the reasons behind Sophie's indifference to love. But that doesn't mean Josh is going to quit trying...
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In the high-ceilinged drawing room of the Mariscombe House Hotel, Sophie Wells was putting the finishing touches to the setting for the photo shoot.
The original plan, to photograph the Ropers outside and en famille in a Marks and Spenceresque summer meadow, had been scuppered by the abysmal weather. The rain had been hammering down all morning and there was no way of postponing the event, as two members of the family were flying back to Australia tomorrow.
But Emma Roper knew exactly what she wanted. On the phone earlier she'd said, "Okay, if we can't be outside, we'll have one of those all-white shoots instead. You know, all modern and cool. And we'll all wear white too. It'll be like one of those Ralph Lauren ads." Delighted with herself and her artistic vision, she'd announced, "So that's sorted. We'll see you at the hotel at three. It'll be great!"
Some clients liked to have the style and setting of their photo shoot suggested to them, while others preferred to make the directional decisions themselves. In Emma Roper's case it was evidently the latter scenario, and Sophie was happy to go along with it. Accordingly, she'd brought with her the lighting system, the white muslin backdrop on stands, and more swathes of muslin for the floor. If Ralph Laurenstyle was what Emma had set her heart on, Ralph Laurenstyle she would have.
She stepped back to survey the end result and adjust the lighting as Dot Strachan popped her elegant head around the door.
"Oh, I say, I need my sunglasses in here!" Blinking at the brightness of the scene, she went on cheerily, "Just wondered if you'd like a coffee, darling?"
Sophie wanted to be like Dot Strachan when she grew up. At seventy-two, Dot was effortlessly stylish, with killer cheekbones and light blue eyes that sparkled, offsetting her perma-tanned complexion and swept-back white-blond hair. Of course she had wrinkles, but they were the good kind that came from smiling so much and living well. She worked tirelessly, made running a hotel look easy, and had never worn anything frumpy in her life.
"Thanks, but I'd better not." Sophie pulled a face and indicated the expanse of pristine whiteness. "Knowing my luck, I'd manage to spill it. Anyway, I'm fine. The Ropers'll be here any minute and we'll be out by four. Thanks again for letting us use the room on short notice."
"No problem. Any time, I told you before. When they turn up," said Dot, "I'll tell Rose to send them through."
When you'd grown accustomed to the surfing beaches of California, a gray rain-swept afternoon on the north coast of Cornwall didn't quite measure up. Weatherwise, it wasn't what you'd call balmy. Josh Strachan had spent childhood summers here in St. Carys, but today he was giving the icy waves a miss, leaving them to the die-hard enthusiasts.
Like Griff, his grandmother's long-haired terrier cross, currently barking his head off and launching himself into the shallow surf as it rolled up the beach. Josh shook his head, marveling at Griff's boundless enthusiasm for taking on the waves. Okay, enough. The torrential rain was coming down even harder. Time to head back. He stuck his fingers in his mouth and let out a piercing whistle to attract the dog's attention.
Griff determinedly ignored him, like a five-year-old on a playground desperate for one more go on the slide.
Well, he'd only been back in the UK for a week. They were just getting to know each other. Cupping his hands around his mouth, Josh called out with authority, "Griff. Here, NOW." Bloody delinquent animal, he was doing it on purpose. And to think he'd believed Dot when she'd told him the outrageous lie that the dog was well trained.
Josh made his way down to the water's edge, kicked off his deck shoes, and, at the third attempt, managed to grab hold of Griff, snapping the leash onto his collar and hauling him up onto the sand. The tail end of a wave caught them, soaking into the leg of his jeans. He gave the dog a stern-as-possible glare, and Griff returned it with a naughty, unrepentant tail wag. God, the sea was freezing.
As they made their way back across Mariscombe beach before heading up the steps carved into the cliff that gave the hotel its unparalleled view of the ocean, Josh conjured up mental images of the Californian ones he'd left behind. Santa Monica...Laguna...Huntington-amazing stretches of sand, world-class waves, year-round perfect weather...
But it hadn't been the UK, had it? It hadn't been home. And most of the time he'd been too busy working with people he didn't even like to take advantage of the surfing opportunities. Which was why he'd made the executive decision to walk away, leave that artificial, stress-filled world behind him, and aim instead for a better quality of life in the company of people he might actually enjoy spending time with.
That was the plan, anyway. After the Go Destry debacle, he never wanted to see another spoiled, whiny American teenager in his life.
"Right, now you rest your chin on your left hand, and you lean back a bit, and you two tilt your heads up so you can both see your mum..." Honestly, arranging five children and an adult could be as complicated as conducting an orchestra. "And you rest your hands on their shoulders... That's it, that's great. Now all look at each other and say, ‘Wow, you're gorgeous!'"
The brothers and sisters yelled it to each other then burst out laughing, and Sophie snapped away, firing off fifteen or twenty shots. "Brilliant, keep going, say it again to someone else, perfect..."
Amid the giggles and laughter and renewed shouts of "Wow, you're gorgeous," the scrabbling noise on the other side of the door went unnoticed. Next moment, the handle was pushed down, the door burst open, and a wildly overexcited Griff launched himself like a hairy torpedo at the immaculate Ralph Lauren group.
A hairy, wet, mud-strewn torpedo at that.
"AAARRGH." The teenage girls shrieked and attempted to push the dog away as he scrambled over the boys, tail wagging furiously and paws leaving muddy prints over...well, everything.
"No! Griff, down," Sophie shouted with predictable lack of effect. Emma was aghast, the boys had creased up laughing, and the white backdrop was spattered with dark spots where the dog had energetically attempted to shake off some of the mud.
"My dress," Emma wailed. "My beautiful white dress!"
"Naughty boy." Putting down her Nikon, Sophie managed to catch Griff and scoop him up into her arms. Although it hadn't been his fault. Shaking her head apologetically at Emma, she said, "I'll be back in a minute."
Outside the living room, she saw at once what had happened. At the far end of the hallway, by the entrance, a tall figure stood with his back to her. His dark hair was slicked back and wet from the rain; he was wearing a sodden gray and white shirt and jeans and talking rapidly into the phone he was holding in his right hand. From his left dangled a thin leather leash with no dog on the end of it.
As Sophie made her approach, she heard him say, "...Okay, no problem, I'll get that sorted. Bye." Then he hung up and slid the phone into the back pocket of his jeans.
She tapped him on the shoulder. "Excuse me, I think you've lost something."
He turned, eyebrows raised in inquiry, and saw who she was holding against her chest.
"Oh, right. Thanks."
Honestly, talk about unbothered.
"You can't just let Griff off the leash, you know, and leave him to cause havoc."
"I didn't." Clearly taken aback at her tone, he said, "I put him in his basket in the back office."
"He's all wet and muddy!"
"I was about to fetch a towel to dry him off when my phone rang. It was an urgent call."
"Come with me. Let me show you what he's done."
"Oh God." The eyebrows flattened out and he exhaled, following her across the hallway. When they reached the closed door to the drawing room he said defensively, "Hang on, you can't blame me for whatever's in here. I did check the doors on my way through. They were all shut."
Sophie knew who he was; of course she did. They might not have met before, but it was no secret that Josh Strachan had just moved back to St. Carys and into the hotel he'd bought along with his grandmother three years ago.
Goodness, though, he was attractive. It was actually quite fascinating to discover you could be this mad with someone yet simultaneously so hyperaware of their looks.
"And are you going to tell me Dot didn't warn you about his party trick?" As she said it, she put Griff down and lightly touched the brass door handle. Like lightning, Griff sprang up and grabbed the end of the handle in his teeth, swinging in midair for a moment and furiously twisting his body like a Cirque du Soleil gymnast in order to pull it down. As the door burst open, Sophie grabbed him and said, "Et voilà."
She saw Josh Strachan mouth the words Oh shit as he took in the scene of devastation. To his credit, he held up his hands at once and said to the assembled group, "I'm really sorry. It's my fault; I didn't know he could open doors."
Most of the assembled group ignored him; they were all far too busy shrieking with laughter and taking photos of each other on their cell phones. Only Emma, their mother, fixed Josh with a baleful eye and said, "It's all ruined. Our beautiful photo shoot..."
"I know and I'm sorry, but can we rebook it for another day? I'll pay for everything, obviously..."
"The twins are leaving for Australia tomorrow morning. So no, we can't. But thanks for wrecking something so important." Emma's voice had begun to wobble; her eyes filling with tears, she said in a brittle voice, "I can't believe this is happening..."
"Okay, let me sort this out." Sophie dumped Griff in Josh's arms. "Here you are. Take him away and get him dried off. Give us five minutes, then bring him back in."
"Back?" Josh looked at her as if she'd gone mad.
"Why would you want that creature back in here after he's done this?" Emma's voice was shrill.
"Just do it." Sophie signaled to Josh to leave the room with Griff. Then she turned her attention to Emma. "It's okay, please don't cry."
"B-but everything's ruined."
"Listen, of course you're upset. But isn't part of all this because your boys are off to Australia tomorrow?"
Emma took a deep, shuddery breath and carefully dabbed at her eyes with a tissue. She nodded and said, "Of course it is. I can't bear it. They're only eighteen... They're my babies... How am I going to cope without them?"
"I know, but it'll be an adventure."
The older woman's shoulders sagged. "An adventure for them, maybe. Nonstop anxiety for me. I kept thinking they'd change their minds and stay at home." Her voice began to wobble again. "But it hasn't h-happened. And goodness knows how they're going to cope... If I don't leave clean socks out for them every morning, they just put on yesterday's dirty old ones!"
"Ah, it'll be hard for you," Sophie sympathized. "But it'll end up being the making of them, just you wait and see."
"Is she crying again?" One of the boys grinned and shook his head. "Come on, Mum, just chill out. It's all good."
Emma managed a watery smile at her son. "I know, darling. I'm doing my best."
Sophie collected the Nikon, then drew Emma across the room and sat her down in the window seat. "Now, take a look at these." She showed her the initial photos, then the few frames she'd captured when Griff had first burst in on them. The element of surprise had worked brilliantly; formerly stilted and ill at ease, the children's faces had been transformed by laughter and delight. "Aren't they more themselves? Less self-conscious?"
"And that's why you want the dog back? So we can take more photos like this?" Emma sniffed. "It's not going to be very Ralph Lauren."
"I know, but it'll be more informal and relaxed. They'll be the kind of photos that make people smile. Honestly," Sophie reassured her. "They'll be great. Just in a different way. And you won't have to pay for them, either."
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
As all of Jill Mansell's novels, she adds humor in every situation. I get sucked into each characters journey. Love her writing style to pieces!
She is one of my favorite authors-love all her books and this one is fantastic also
My favorite author has done it again! I cannot get enough of these books!! please keep them coming Jill!!!
An amusing and heartwarming story about a young man named Josh who returns to Cornwall to help his grandmother run the family business. He wants to get to know local photographer Sophie Wells better and on a personal level, but she keeps him and every other man at arm’s length. Sophie shows absolutely no interest at all in the dating ritual and would rather bury her wounded heart in her work, where she focuses all of her energy. The more Josh tries to draw Sophie out of her shell, the more resistance he meets, but he is determined to get to the bottom of the matter, no matter the outcome. I really liked all of the characters in this story. Sophie and Josh were wonderfully written and just perfect for each other. I just kept turning pages in anticipation of how they would eventually get together. The secondary characters breathe glorious life into the story in their own right. There’s Sophie’s impetuous friend, Tula who finds herself unemployed and moving to Cornwall after she gets busted calling off sick when she wasn’t. There’s Riley, the attractive beach bum who appears to have no prospects and is living with his successful author Aunt and last but not least, Josh’s divorced grandparents who are still quite fond of one another. I was rooting for all of these characters to receive a happy ending because they were all so likable. I loved the setting of Cornwall for this story. The pace seems slower, which fits this story beautifully. No big city noise or smog polluting the air or the ears here. I got a very real sense of tranquility, peace and relaxation while reading this story. I’m not a fan of the beach setting, myself, but I really felt so comfortable while reading it. My Final Verdict: Overall, I’m fairly new to the writing of Jill Mansell, but after reading this book, I am a fan. I highly recommend this book if you like stories that feature characters who surprise you with their actions. This story will reaffirm that love happens in the most unexpected ways so there is no use fighting it or trying to avoid it.
Jill Mansell has this way of writing multiple story arcs into a single cohesive story that never fails to entertain. Each story is different and unique and often touches on different aspects of the human condition. I loved that this one featured a romance novelist, much like Jill herself, as well as broken relationships, among others. The story has a large cast of characters and luckily I never got confused or lost. Each character was well developed and I loved that the facade the characters portrayed to one another was not the truth. We as the readers were aware that still waters ran deep, even if we didn't know the exact details. I'm hard pressed to mention a character I did not like. Sophie and Tula were sweethearts. I loved how they supported one another. Josh and Riley were handsome hunks. I love how they valued their loved ones. Dot was a hoot. So was Marguerite. You'll see what I mean when you read the book. I think what impressed me the most about this book was how well a number of sensitive issues were handles in this book. Everything was dealt with care and concern which made it feel well balanced and fair. I was also surprised by how much my emotions were engaged while reading. If I wasn't laughing or happy, I was thinking and pensive. There were a few emotional moments as well, but nothing that needed tissues. This book also felt fresh. Having read many of Jill's previous books, I thought it might feel predictable or even formulaic, but I never got that feeling. It was like falling in love will Jill Mansell all over again. She's long been a favorite British author of mine and I used to pay lots of money to get her books sent over. I'm so grateful she's been introduced to American readers and they can now walk into a book store and experience her brand of magic.
This is the perfect mix of romance and what many would call women's fiction. There is love, laughter, tears, a bit of real life, and an amazing Happily Ever After. In fact, there are several HEA's scattered throughout the last half of the book like little candy goodies just waiting to be found. That is one of the things I enjoy best about Jill Mansell - she isn't skimpy with the good lovey feelings. Sophie and Tula were both lovely girls and we are rooting for them to find love (even though Sophie thinks she doesn't want it) the whole way through. We really get to know them and the people in their lives so well. By the end of the book you fell like you've made some new friends. Even the side characters are memorable and every time one shows up, you're happy to see them again. The story has quite a few surprises in store for you, and each one will shock you just a little. I learned a lot about Cornwall as well - I never really thought about people surfing on the coast of England before, but Jill Mansell sure makes it sound like the place to be. If only the town of St Carys was real!! It seems like a dream destination. *This book was received in exchange for an honest review*