One Summer in Italy
Reeda Summer is running from a troubled marriage and a truth she can't face.
When the Summer sisters discover their grandmother's journals after her death, they unlock a mystery that shakes their family to the core. Who is Charlie Jackson? Is he their grandfather? And if so, what happened to him?
Reeda leaves the Waratah Inn and returns to Sydney, her husband, and her thriving interior design business, only to find her marriage in tatters. She's lost sight of what she wants in life and can't recognize the person she's become. Instead of facing her problems, Reeda embarks on a journey to discover more about the grandfather she never knew, leaving her troubles behind her.
Her search takes her to Italy, where a trail of clues leads her across the country with few answers to satisfy her burning curiosity about the past. And instead of helping her to forget, her pilgrimage reminds her of everything she loves and what she's left behind.
Under the Italian sky, Reeda discovers that the joy she was searching for was hidden inside her, all along. And instead of running from her problems, she embraces the healing she needs to face them.
Listeners who enjoyed Inglath Cooper, Rhys Bowen, Lisa Wingate, Debbie Macomber, and Lauren K. Denton will love taking this healing journey through delightful Italy.
Praise for the book:
"If you love historical mysteries and all things Italian, you’ll want to live in the pages of this book.” (Bookbub)
This is the second audiobook in an ongoing series of four.
Listen to the series in order:
- The Waratah Inn
- One Summer in Italy
- The Summer Sisters
- Christmas at the Waratah Inn
Release date: September 17, 2019
Publisher: Black Lab Press
Print pages: 332
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
Listen to a sample
One Summer in Italy
A kookaburra called in the distance, but the sound was soon replaced by the murmur of traﬃc. The bedroom was a study in browns and tans, with a king sized bed, brown satin sheets, and a tan doona the centrepiece. An assortment of throw pillows formed a neat pile at the end of the bed beside a white blanket box, and a pair of long, black stiletto boots leaned lopsidedly on a plush, cream-coloured shag rug.
Sunlight peeked beneath the light brown blackout blinds and Nyreeda Houston’s eyes blinked open as a slice of that light drifted across her face. She yawned and stretched both arms over her head, then swung her feet to the floor. Cold, white tiles met the soles of her feet and sent a shiver up her spine. She fished around beneath the bed for her Ugg boots, eyes still half lidded, and slipped her feet into the cosy woollen slippers.
In the kitchen, Reeda cinched the belt of her dressing gown more tightly around her thin waist before standing on tiptoe to retrieve a large coﬀee mug from an overhead cupboard.
“Good morning,” said Duncan.
She turned to him, the empty mug clasped between her hands. “‘Morning.”
“Did you sleep well?” She nodded. “You?”
He grimaced. “The guest bed is a little hard…might see the physiotherapist today.”
Reeda waited for the jug to boil, then filled the coﬀee plunger with scalding hot water. It made her uncomfortable, talking about her husband’s sleeping habits. He was in the guest room, she in the master bedroom. She wasn’t even sure when he’d begun to sleep there full-time, since he’d done it every now and then for at least two years. Ten months? Twelve?
It was hard to keep track. Especially given the fact that she’d spent the past eight months in Cabarita Beach reno- vating the inn she and her sisters inherited when Nan died.
“I’m sorry to hear that…” What else could she say? She didn’t want him to move back into their bedroom. Space was what she needed. Though sometimes she thought perhaps he gave her too much space.
It was complicated.
Duncan poured himself a cup of coﬀee, then disappeared. He returned a minute later with the morning newspaper folded in one hand and sat at the dining table. Spreading the newspaper open in front of him, he sipped his coﬀee, one leg crossed over the other.
“Surgery today?” she asked. The tension between them gave her a headache. Words helped to break the silence, but they didn’t assuage the anguish she felt over everything unspoken between them.
He nodded with a grunt.
“Yes. I’d better get ready for work. I’ll see you later.”
Another nod, no eye contact. She exhaled a long breath as she padded back along the hallway. A large photograph of the two of them on their wedding day stared back at her from the end of the hall. She glared at it as she turned into the master bedroom.
What had become of their marriage?
They’d been so much in love. Two people with everything in common. They’d been sickening, according to everyone who knew them. Sickeningly, head over heels, in love.
And now, all that remained between them was awkward tension, polite silences, and avoidance pockmarked by yelling matches.
After showering and dressing in a grey skirt and matching suit jacket, Reeda ran a brush through her long, dark hair until it crackled. She grimaced at her reflection then turned to one side then the other as she smoothed her skirt with one hand. She couldn’t hear any noise in the house and assumed her husband had already left for the hospital.
Duncan was a general surgeon; they’d met at the Univer- sity of Technology Sydney. He was in his fourth year of a degree in medicine, she was in her first, studying interior design. He was handsome, sophisticated, and mysterious. The air of intrigue around the handsome surgeon continued throughout their relationship, which she now knew was simply a reluctance to talk. About anything.
Duncan preferred to keep things civil. To ignore conflict in the hopes it would dissolve of its own accord. He hated confrontations and would do whatever he could to avoid them.
She’d found his reticence more and more frustrating with every year of their marriage. Now, after ten years as husband and wife, she wanted to shake the words out of him. But even provoking him hadn’t helped.
Halfway down the long hallway she stood in front of the guest bedroom doorway. It was ajar, so she tapped it with her fingertips. When it creaked open, she saw Duncan wasn’t there. His bed was neatly made, as always, and his briefcase was gone from the place it generally occupied at the foot of the bed.
She inhaled a long slow breath, squeezing her eyes shut.
The door across from the guest room was shut. She turned the handle, leaned on its cool, white surface a moment, then pushed it open.
Yellow paint greeted her, along with the faint scent of plastic.
In one corner, a white cot stood alone, a sheet draped over the mobile that hung above the teddy bear sheets, giving it a haunted look. A yellow bean bag beside the cot was over- shadowed by an enormous teddy bear. Next to the bear, her rocking chair sat still, unmoving, a brown cushion in the place where she should be.
Both hands clenched together as one fist in front of her chest, her brow furrowed as her gaze swept the room. Every- thing was in its place. Each item ready for the baby that had never come.
She spun on her heel and marched away from the room, pain clenching in her gut.
Gum trees rustled with the cool breath of wind
that sent dried, brown leaves scurrying along the footpath. A double story red-brick building squatted, sturdy and bold beside a black square of bitumen. Cars dotted the parking lot,
blocking the path of the leaves forcing them to cluster against the tyres, a smudge of autumn on cold rubber.
The double glass doors pushed open and Reeda hurried out. She tightened a red scarf around her neck, flicked her long, brown hair free, straightened her thin, black coat and stepped oﬀ the curb. Her black stockinged legs strode forward in a military rhythm.
A black folder beneath her arm shifted, almost dropped to the tarmac below, and she caught it at the last moment, shuf- fling the papers back into place. She was meeting a client and had put together a pitch she thought would pique his interest based on her initial research.
Summer had beat a quiet retreat a few days earlier and already the crisp morning air announced a new season. Autumn in Sydney swept in on a biting wind. Something her sisters wouldn’t have to deal with at The Waratah Inn.
The inn stood on the shores of Cabarita Beach, along the state’s northernmost coastline. No doubt they’d already been out for a surf before Kate threw together a gourmet breakfast for their guests and Bindi got to work on guest services and whatever administration needed doing. Still, Reeda loved winter in Sydney, the whistle of a slicing wind, pink cheeks and tightly wrapped coats and scarves.
Even so, she missed being there with them. Missed the warmth, the beachside lifestyle, the casual conversations with all three of them seated around a table in the breakfast nook, or over a hand of cards in the sitting room. Mima would serve them all mugs of hot chocolate, and Jack would snore in an armchair close by, a newspaper open in his lap.
She sighed as she unlocked her BMW sedan, frowned as she slid a fingertip over a new scratch along its sleek black door, then slipped into the leather seat.
Five fingers tapped out a rhythm on the leather steering wheel while she watched the building’s entrance. Finally, the doors flew open and Karen Nguyen, her VP of Design, scurried from the building to the waiting car.
She opened the passenger door and dropped into the bucket seat with a huﬀ.
“Phew, it’s getting cold out there.”
“Finally,” replied Reeda, turning a key in the ignition. “I hate the cold.”
“It’s my favourite time of year.” Reeda grinned as the engine sprang to life.
“That’s because you’re a weirdo.” Karen’s nose wrinkled and she shivered, then reached for the heat controls on Reeda’s dashboard.
Hot air blasted from the vents and Karen leaned back with a sigh. “Ready for the pitch?”
Reeda turned out of the parking lot and into traﬃc with a nod. “I think we’ve got a good chance of landing this contract. Tomoko Restaurants are a big client, if we can get them to sign up with us for this fit-out, we might be able to encourage them to do an update in all of their restaurants. It could be huge for us. I know we haven’t really branched out into restaurants before now, but if it works out, we might have a new division on our hands.”
Karen stared silently out the window for a few moments before responding. “It’s good to have you back.”
Reeda smiled her way, refocusing on the road as she pulled up at a set of stop lights. “Thanks, it’s good to be back. And thank you again for taking care of everything while I was gone. You did an amazing job; it was almost as though I wasn’t gone at all.”
Karen smiled. “I’m glad. Happy to do it any time. It was great to get the chance to try out some leadership skills…”
“You might get another chance sooner than you think,” murmured Reeda.
Karen arched an eyebrow. “Oh?”
“I’ve been thinking of taking a few days oﬀ. No big deal. Maybe longer…if you think you can handle it.” She glanced at Karen, awaiting a response. If Karen could take on the responsibility of running the design firm, it would give Reeda the opportunity she needed to take care of some things.
To investigate something that’d been lingering in her thoughts lately more than anything else.
“Do you want to tell me what’s going on?” asked Karen.
Reeda hesitated. She hadn’t told anyone what she’d been planning. Should she say something now? It almost seemed as though if she spoke the words out loud, the whole thing would disappear like mist hit by the hot rays of a rising sun.
“I found out my grandfather wasn’t my biological grandfa- ther.” She kept her eyes on the road, her knuckles whitening against the black steering wheel.
“My biological grandfather died during the second world war; he was shot down somewhere over the ocean or some- thing like that. Anyway, he was from Bathurst, and I think I’m going to take some time oﬀ to drive out there—see if I can find any family members still living.”
“I get it, that makes sense. What if there’s no one there?” Reeda shook her head. “I don’t know…I guess I’ll drop it.
But I have to try…I can’t stop thinking about it. About him. Nan loved him, but he never came home from the war. So, she and Pop raised my dad together, even though he wasn’t Pop’s child.”
“That’s a lot to take in…”
Reeda laughed. “You’re not kidding.” “How have your sisters taken it?”
Reeda shrugged. “They’re fine, I guess. We’re all in a bit of shock, still mourning Nan, trying to figure out how much Dad knew about it all…It’s hard for me to believe Nan had this secret all her life and didn’t tell anyone.”
Skyscrapers loomed on both sides. The streets narrowed and traﬃc thickened. They pulled into an underground parking lot. Reeda’s stiletto heels clacked across the concrete as they made their way to the lifts.
“So, I’ll take the lead, but you jump in with anything you want to add to the discussion,” she said.
Karen nodded. “Okay, will do.”
On the twelfth floor, they stepped out of the lift and into a spacious reception area. A long, dark timber desk took up one wall, art covered another, and dark leather couches were dotted over a colourful floor rug.
The meeting went well. Mr. Ito, who’d named the restaurant chain after his wife, listened with interest to their pitch, asking questions every now and then. His wife, glossy, black hair swept over one shoulder, perfectly red lips, and sporting a svelte black suit, sat quietly, nodding every now and then in agreement.
Mr. Ito loved their ideas and oﬀered them the contract before the meeting was over. Reeda was happy but couldn’t muster the same level of excitement she felt emanating from Karen. Her employee fairly bounced across the room to talk over the details with their new client, and Reeda was glad to see Karen’s confidence. She was a diﬀerent woman from the graduate Reeda had hired five years earlier—strong, self- assured, and experienced. It warmed her heart.
“You gave a wonderful presentation,” murmured Tomoko, leaning towards Reeda with a smile, hands clasped together on the table between them.
“Thank you. I’m so glad you like our ideas. I think it’ll come together beautifully.”
“I do too.” Tomoko’s voice was like velvet.
“Will you be overseeing the work?” asked Reeda.
Tomoko dipped her head. “I will. I believe you said that Karen will be my contact. Is that correct?”
Reeda nodded. “Yes, she’s very good. I’m sure the two of you will get along great.”
“Wonderful.” Tomoko smoothed her already perfect hair away from her face. “I see you are married.” She nodded in the direction of Reeda’s ring finger.
Reeda twirled her ring with a twinge of sadness. She was, but for how much longer? “Yes, I’m married.”
“Children?” asked Tomoko.
Karen joined them, gathering together the papers that had been spread across the table and pushing them into her briefcase.
The stab of pain to her gut didn’t surprise her anymore. It was as familiar as breathing. “No, no children.”
Karen glanced at Reeda, a flush in her cheeks, and her eyes filled with understanding and sympathy.
Tomoko continued, seeming oblivious to Reeda’s discom- fort. “They will come soon. Children are such a blessing.”
Reeda pursed her lips. “Yes, they are. Do you have any?”
Tomoko’s smile widened. “Yes, I have two. I can’t imagine my life without them, it would be so empty.”
Reeda’s stomach twisted into a knot. She forced a curve to her lips. “I suppose we should be going. Thank you so much for meeting with us.”
Karen hurried after her out of the room. Reeda glanced up and down the length of the hallway. Her stomach roiled.
“Bathroom…where’s the bathroom?” she hissed. Karen pointed. “I think I saw one down there.”
By the time Reeda had stumbled into a stall, her stomach was in full revolt. She threw up until there was nothing left, then slumped against the sink to wash her face and rinse her mouth. Karen stood close by, her back to the wall, arms crossed.
“I’m sorry, Reeda,” she said. “People can be really insensitive.”
“She couldn’t know,” whispered Reeda, dabbing at her lips with a paper towel.
Her face in the mirror was pale with a yellow tinge. Her brown eyes were like coals in the snow. The contact lenses she wore suddenly made the whites of her eyes look irritated and red.
“Still…people don’t realise what they’re saying sometimes. I don’t have kids and my life isn’t empty. It’s a ridiculous thing to say.” Karen’s voice wobbled with emotion. She reached out to pat Reeda’s back. “Do you feel better?”
Reeda inhaled a slow breath. “I think so. There’s been a lot going on lately, I haven’t been myself.”
“Maybe you need a bit more time oﬀ…” suggested Karen. Reeda grinned as she tossed the napkin into the rubbish.
“You’d like that, wouldn’t you?”
She pushed out through the bathroom door with Karen close behind.
“No, it’s not like that—I want you to feel better. You’re stressed…and yes, I’m happy to take over and run things like I did while you were in Cabarita.”
Reeda faced Karen and rested her hands on Karen’s shoul- ders, looking her in the eye. “I’m really glad you were able to do that. You did an amazing job. You proved you’re more than capable of running things, and I’m grateful for you.”
Karen beamed. “So, does this mean I’m getting a raise?”
Reeda chuckled, turned on her heel and strode down the hallway.
“No, really…that sounded like the kind of thing a boss would say to an employee who’s about to get a raise.”
“We’ll see,” replied Reeda.
Karen trotted after her. “So, when you say we’ll see…do you mean soon? Can I get an approximate number of weeks, months?”
The engine ticked quietly as Reeda pulled the key out of the ignition. She sat a moment in her car, one hand pressed to her flat stomach.
She hadn’t wanted to say anything—she didn’t want to think about it at all—but why had she thrown up earlier? Did she have a stomach bug, or was it the poached egg she’d had for breakfast?
Or was it possible…?
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