The Whitley is Nantucket's most exclusive waterfront hotel--a sprawling collection of pristine white cottages and an elegant main building on a long stretch of private, white sandy beach.
It's a family owned business--brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts, all work there in various capacities.
Paula is happy in her back office accounting position. But changes are in store when her grandfather promotes her and fires her cousin--who then blames Paula.
Meanwhile, a blond romantic comedy superstar is hiding out at The Hotel for a few months. She meets Paula's brother, a chef--who has no idea who she is--and she likes it that way.
Paula's grandfather also hires a consultant to help her settle into her new role. But she isn't sure what to think of David, who grew up on Nantucket but now lives in Manhattan.
He's a brilliant consultant and will be assessing Paula's suitability for the role. He's also home for another reason, a difficult family issue that makes Manhattan seem very far away.
A new family saga from the Wall Street Journal and USA Today bestseller author of The Nantucket Inn and The Restaurant.
Release date: June 8, 2021
Publisher: Piping Plover Press
Print pages: 270
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Behind the book
I grew up on Cape Cod and one of my first jobs was hotel work--cleaning rooms and babysitting and then during college, working in the kitchens and doing catering.
“Coconut shrimp?” The tuxedo clad waiter held out the silver platter of plump shrimp that were lightly battered, coated with toasted coconut and fried to a golden crisp. Paula never said no to coconut shrimp. She took two and a paper napkin.
“Thank you, Tony.”
The server nodded and wandered off to the next guest. Paula ate her shrimp and took a sip of chardonnay as she glanced around the event and back at the hotel itself. Everything was going beautifully, so far. About a hundred and twenty people were sipping cocktails and nibbling on passed hors d’oeuvres before heading into the hotel ballroom for the dinner part of the wine tasting.
It was a perfect night. A warm, early June evening with soft breezes coming off the shore. If Paula turned, she could watch the sun set over Nantucket Harbor. But her attention was focused on the people milling about. She thought, not for the first time, when they’d held events on the front lawn, that it reminded her of The Great Gatsby. The rolling lawn was so expansive and green. The crowd attending the event was elegantly attired, the women in flowing dresses, the men in expensive suits and in the distance, there was a well-dressed family playing croquet.
This event was the most desired of the many events that happened during the Nantucket Wine festival. All week, various dinners and wine-related events took place at restaurants all over Nantucket. That was in addition to the wine festival itself, which was a fun event, an afternoon or evening of roaming around and tasting hundreds of wines. Of all the wine dinners, the one at The Whitley Hotel, was the most expensive and sold out the fastest.
Paula glanced at the time on her phone. She was waiting for her grandfather to arrive. She’d offered to pick him up at the airport, but he wouldn’t hear of it and insisted she send one of the hotel drivers. He knew she was knee-deep in financials as they were bringing in some kind of a consultant and he’d asked her to pull years of financial data to send to him. He hadn’t explained what the consultant was going to do with the information, but that was fairly typical too. She knew he’d reveal his plans when he was ready to. Her grandfather always had a flair for drama. He’d texted her an hour ago that his plane had been delayed and again she offered to come get him, but he insisted that she stay and keep an eye on the event. She wasn’t in charge of it, that wasn’t her role at the hotel, but he trusted her to be there and to help out if needed.
Paula could see that the catering team had everything under control. She was surprised that her cousin Andrea who was the hotel’s general manager, wasn’t there. Though, she supposed that’s why her grandfather had insisted that she stay. Somehow, he always knew everything that was going on, even when he wasn’t around. She guessed that he and Andrea had been in touch earlier.
Of all her many cousins, Andrea was her least favorite. She was much more assertive and bossier than Paula, who was reserved and content in her back office role at the hotel. Her office was next to her grandfather’s and she handled all the accounting and financials for the hotel. But, because they’d all grown up working there, she’d held just about every other role over the years too, from cleaning the rooms as a teenager, to serving in the restaurant and working at the front desk, checking people in.
When she’d graduated from Amherst College with a business degree, she’d spent a few years working at a big hotel in Boston in their finance department, before returning to Nantucket. She’d wanted to work at the hotel right after graduating, but her grandfather had insisted that she work elsewhere for a few years, and experience living in Boston as a young person. She smiled, remembering how firm he’d been about it. She’d agreed, but she’d known even then that she’d return to Nantucket, and to The Whitley. How could she not?
Although she had to admit, as usual, that her grandfather had been right. It was a good experience working in Boston at one of the big hotel chains. Like The Whitley, the hotel she worked for there was focused on offering luxury and superior customer service. She learned a few things during her time there that they then implemented at The Whitley. And after three years of living and working in Boston, she was more than ready to go home.
Boston was fun, but it wasn’t Nantucket. It was hard to explain to people who hadn’t been to Nantucket, but Paula always breathed a sigh of relief when she drove over the Cape Cod canal, leaving Boston behind. And then again, when she boarded the ferry in Hyannis, and they set off to Nantucket. The air felt fresher, cleaner somehow on Nantucket and it was just home.
Her mother, of course, had been thrilled when Paula decided to move home and work at The Whitley. Both of her parents had worked there over the years. Her father was first, managing all the grounds. And it’s where he met her mother, when she worked at the front desk one summer break while in college. It was love at first sight for her father, but her mother took a bit longer. But by the time she graduated from college though, she’d fallen madly in love too and they married a few months later.
Her mother returned to the hotel, working the front desk until she had Nick, the first of their three children. Paula was next, and then Lucy, the baby. That’s when her father shocked everyone, especially her grandfather, by announcing that he was leaving The Whitley to open his own landscaping business. Her grandfather was upset at first, as he’d hoped his children would love the hotel as much as he did, but he quickly came around and understood that her father wanted more. He wanted to grow his own business. And he had. Whitley Landscaping was the biggest lawn company on Nantucket, and The Whitley was one of its key accounts.
Her brother and sister both worked at the hotel too. Nick was the assistant chef, under Roland, who’d been head chef since Paula was a small child. It was understood that someday, when Roland was ready to retire, Nick would take over. Nick was magically talented in the kitchen and he was the reason why Paula wasn’t worried about this event at all. Lucy, was a different story. She was a sweetheart and everyone loved her, but she was a bit flighty and even though she did a decent enough job working at the front desk, welcoming guests and checking them in, Paula sensed that to her, it was just a job.
Lucy was the artsy one in the family. She liked to paint and create things--jewelry, clothing, hand-painted wine glasses, and wood furniture--whatever struck her fancy. Paula had encouraged her to do something with it, to open a shop on Etsy or maybe put some of her creations with local shops, and until recently, Lucy had resisted. She’d said she wasn’t ready, and it was all just for fun. But, Paula sensed that she was she was trying to come to a decision about something. And she wondered if Lucy was ready to treat her hobby like a business.
But then Paula told herself that she might be imagining things and over-analyzing as usual. Though, her grandfather considered that a strength. Paula loved analysis, to take in information, process it, and consider a solution or to dream about possibilities. She’d had a few ideas over the years that she’d tentatively presented to her grandfather, always wondering if she might be dreaming too big and her ideas were too silly, and far-fetched. But her grandfather had always listened and seriously considered them. He didn’t take every suggestion, but he liked some of them and was impressed when they implemented her ideas and they were successful. And he always encouraged her to ‘keep them coming’.
So, to Paula, she really had her dream job. She liked being invisible, behind the scenes, but still doing work that mattered. And even though her grandfather was almost eighty, he was still so smart and full of energy. In addition to The Whitley, he also had other related business holdings in Boston and New York. There was a company that made linens specifically for the hotel industry and another company that rented them. In addition, he owned office buildings in both Boston and New York and had many tenants in both cities. He’d built quite an empire—and over the years, Paula had taken on overseeing the financials for all of it. Not the day-to-day accounting, but each month, a detailed report was sent to her from each business and she analyzed and summarized it for her grandfather.
Still, as she looked around, Paula was surprised that Andrea wasn’t there. She usually loved these kinds of events. She loved mingling with the guests and having everyone know that she was a Whitley and as general manager, that she was in charge. She treated Paula somewhat dismissively as if she was just a back office AP clerk and she herself was miles above her. Paula had never been impressed by titles and she’d never aspired to a role like Andrea’s. It was too visible, and Paula had never craved the need to be ‘in charge’. She was very happy in her role. So, she always wondered what Andrea’s problem was.
But then she considered that Andrea had always liked to try and push Paula around. They were the same age, and should have been best friends, but instead, Andrea was a bit of a bully at times. For some reason that Paula could never quite understand, she’d bounced back and forth from being a fun friend to seemingly jealous over an imagined slight. It grew to be exhausting and in high school, Paula finally had enough and pulled back from having much to do with Andrea aside from family gatherings where she had no choice.
But Paula had to admit that Andrea’s aggressive qualities had helped her be mostly effective as general manager. Paula kept her distance, aside from their weekly leadership meetings where she distributed the financials to Andrea, Nick and her cousin Hallie who led the sales department. Her grandfather presided over those meetings and Paula usually just kept quiet and listened as Nick reported on the restaurant side of the business, Hallie reported on new meetings and events that were booked, and Andrea gave an overview on the front desk and general operations.
Paula enjoyed the meetings as it was interesting to listen to everyone’s perspectives. Her own report generally consisted of a handout with the financials that no one except her grandfather and Hallie did more than glance at. Numbers were of no interest to Nick. Hallie liked seeing how sales impacted the bottom line and Andrea generally had little interest in the meticulous spreadsheets, graphs and detailed financial summaries that Paula prepared. Like Nick, she seemed bored by data.
But she liked to talk and to tell them all about her various successes no matter how small. Paula listened but often found herself drifting off as Andrea rambled on and on. Her grandfather often had to interject to keep things moving along. Now that she thought of it, Paula hadn’t actually seen Andrea since yesterday morning, before her grandfather left for his overnight trip to his New York office. Maybe she had the day off? Though the timing seemed odd, with one of their biggest events happening. One that Andrea normally would never miss.
“Did you save me a coconut shrimp?” The familiar, teasing voice surprised Paula. Her grandfather had snuck up on her while she was sipping wine and staring out at the ocean, lost in her thoughts.
“You made it!” She pulled him in for a hug and a kiss on the cheek. “Do you want something to drink? I was just about to get another glass of wine.”
He made a face. “You know I hate that stuff.” Her grandfather rarely drank and never wine. But once in a while he indulged. “Although, I think I will have a Kahlua Sombrero as we have something to celebrate. When you come back, let’s find somewhere to sit and chat.”
He looked excited and Paula wondered what he was up to. His trips to the New York office were usually pretty uneventful. Paula went to the service bar that was set up on the lawn, specifically for this event, and ordered their drinks. When she returned, she found her grandfather seated at a small cocktail table, away from the crowd, happily eating a stuffed mushroom with several coconut shrimp waiting for him.
“Have a seat. Have another shrimp. I got extra. I know they’re your favorite.”
Paula reached for a shrimp and they chatted for about ten minutes as her grandfather brought her up to speed on his trip. There was nothing unusual about it. When he finished his summary, he waved a server over who had a platter of pate on baguette slices and took one for each of them. He took a bite and then shocked her with his news.
“I let Andrea go yesterday, before I left for New York. That’s why I wanted you to be here.”
“What happened?” The news was so unexpected. Andrea had been in the role for nine years. Paula and just about everyone, especially Andrea, assumed she’d be there forever.
“Lots of little things that added up to a problem that can’t be fixed. It’s who she is.” He told Paula about the complaints from employees that had come in over the years. How he’d given her so many chances to change, and to do better.
“She’s only gotten worse. And it’s impacting the business in a negative way. Cassie came in yesterday morning and resigned and that was it, the last straw.”
“Cassie quit?” Cassie had worked for The Whitley for close to twenty years. Everyone loved her. She had started as a server, then grew to service manager of the restaurant, and to director of catering. She oversaw all meetings and events.
“She tried to quit. I finally got her to admit that the reason was Andrea. She took a job in Boston, because of course there’s no other comparative job here on Nantucket. But she was miserable about leaving. She said it was the hardest decision she’d over made, but she felt like she had no choice.”
“Because of Andrea. How awful,” Paula said.
“Unacceptable is what it is.” Her grandfather looked stern and disappointed at the same time. “I asked her to please reconsider and I promised that she wouldn’t have to worry about Andrea anymore. She was hesitant, but once I assured her that she would have no interaction with Andrea at all, she agreed to stay.”
“She loves Nantucket. I can’t see her being happy in Boston,” Paula said.
“And she does a fabulous job here. I didn’t want to lose her.”
“How did Andrea take it?”
“Not well. She doesn’t see it. And you have no idea how many chances I’ve given her. It’s a shame. But it’s done now. I did offer her something else of course. She can be charming, when she wants to be, and she loves Nantucket. I offered her the position of head of concierge services. If she decides to take it, it will work out perfectly as Harry put his notice in last week. He’s moving home to Wellesley as his mother needs some help and his wife has never loved Nantucket. She’s wanted to move for years.”
“Is Andrea going to do it?” Paula also thought it could be a good role for her cousin, as the concierge was like an ambassador, answering questions about the island and suggesting restaurants and other places to visit. It was a social position, which played to her strengths. But Paula imagined Andrea might not be happy and would see it as a demotion.
“I don’t know. I hope so. I told her I’d support whatever decision she makes. If she wants to go to Boston and stay in hotel management I’d help with a reference, but I also said I would be truthful on what I feel her strengths and weaknesses are. I hope she’ll realize this will be better for her in the long run. I told her that I didn’t think her future was in people management. I don’t think she liked hearing that though.”
“I can imagine. What will you do about the general manager role? Do you have anyone in mind or do we need to call Elaine?” Elaine Humphrey was the hotel industry headhunter they occasionally used for difficult-to-fill positions, when there was no one local who was qualified. Elaine always found them great candidates that were happy to relocate to Nantucket.
Her grandfather smiled and there was a mischievous twinkle in his eyes.
“I have someone in mind. I’d like to offer you the role.”
Paula thought she must have heard wrong. “What did you just say?”
“I want you to be the next general manager. I think you’re more ready for it than you realize.”
“Me? But I’m not general manager material. I’ve never aspired to that role. I like being in the background, handing the financials.”
“I know you do. But you’re capable of more. You listen to everything in our meetings and you’ve had some very good ideas and as you well know, some have worked out well. You’re also a lot nicer than your cousin. People like you and I think they will like working for you.”
“But I’ve never done any kind of people management before,” Paula protested. She was flattered by her grandfather’s confidence in her, but this was way out of her comfort zone.
“Yes, I’ve thought of that too. I met with a consultant in New York. David Connolly was recommended to me. He’s an expert advisor in hotel management and he agreed to come work with you.”
“Work with me?” What did that mean? Paula felt a bit like Alice in Wonderland when she stepped through the looking glass and her whole world instantly shifted.
“He’s a great guy, and he has family on Nantucket too, so he knows people here. You’ll like him.”
“When is he coming?” This was all happening too fast for Paula. She was not an impulsive person. She liked to process and digest information before making a decision. Especially a decision this big.
“He’ll be here a week from Monday. He just has to wrap up his current engagement.”
“Okay. When do you need a decision by? I need to think about this. Maybe you should call Elaine and give her a heads up, just in case.”
Her grandfather patted her arm. “I know this seems sudden and maybe a bit overwhelming. But I have every confidence that you will do a marvelous job. But I figured you’d need to sleep on it. Today’s Friday. Why don’t you take the weekend, make your pros and cons list or whatever you do and then let’s talk Monday morning. If you really don’t want this, I’ll call Elaine then. But I know you can do it.”
“Thank you. I’m flattered that you have so much confidence in me. I wouldn’t want to disappoint you.”
Her grandfather lifted his glass and tapped it against hers. “I don’t think that’s possible. Unless you say no.” He grinned. “I hope we’ll have something to celebrate on Monday.”
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