Mandy, Emma, and Jill are as close as three sisters who live hundreds of miles apart can be. Jill lives a glamorous life in Manhattan as a co-owner of a successful executive search firm. Never married and a workaholic, she lives in a stunning corner condo, and everyone thinks there's something going on with her partner, but there's never been anything but friendship between them. Emma lives in Arizona and is an elementary-school teacher and aspiring photographer. She and her husband have been married for over fifteen years, but she's noticed that he’s grown distant. When he shares a surprising secret, her world is turned upside down. Mandy married her high-school boyfriend after college. He joined a successful hedge fund while she took a job as an administrative assistant, but after their first baby came, she quit. When he later opened a competing hedge fund, they moved home to Nantucket. Now that the children are older, Mandy’s eager to return to work, but her husband doesn't want her to. When their beloved grandmother passes peacefully in her sleep, she leaves them her home and—surprisingly—the popular year-round restaurant she was the silent owner of. There is, of course, a catch: she left the restaurant equally to the girls... and to Paul, its chef for the past fifteen years, and before the girls can sell, they all have to work there for a year—or else it will go entirely to Paul—the same Paul who broke Emma's heart many years ago.
Release date: May 19, 2020
Publisher: Piping Plover Press
Print pages: 282
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Jill O’Toole wasn’t supposed to be surfing the net on a busy Thursday afternoon. Her to-do list was a mile long and the most pressing item was front and center on her desk. A crisp, three-page excel spreadsheet of candidate research that her assistant had printed out, highlighted, paper-clipped and delivered to her an hour ago. Names and numbers of people she needed to call ASAP.
Instead, she was mesmerized by a food blog, which was one of her guilty pleasures. It featured mouthwatering photos and recipes accompanied by related stories that made her long to be home puttering around her own kitchen, slicing and dicing, stirring and tasting. No time to browse today however, for she was on a mission to find a fool-proof recipe for the kind of rich, dense and fudgy chocolate cake that would inspire moans at the first bite. Jill could almost always tell just by reading the recipe what a dish would taste like, and she knew that the one she’d just found was as close to the signature dessert at Mimi’s Place as she was going to get. Hopefully, Grams would agree.
For as long as she could remember, they’d always gone to Mimi’s Place for Grams’ birthday. An elegant, two-storied restaurant that was walking distance from Grams’ Nantucket home, Mimi’s Place served Italian-influenced meals that were simple, yet exquisite comfort food. Certain dishes, such as their wafer-thin eggplant parmesan, were so amazing that Jill finally gave up ordering them anywhere else.
Usually, these birthdays consisted of just the immediate family—Jill and her sisters, Emma and Mandy. Mandy’s husband Cory and their two young children, Blake and Brooke were always there too since they lived on Nantucket. But Emma’s husband Peter usually stayed home in Phoenix. He barely knew Grams, and it was just so far to come. Plus, Emma mentioned once that Peter didn’t think that Grams was overly fond of him. Evidently Grams was a good judge of character, because Emma and Peter separated two months ago.
Jill and her sisters had always been close to Grams, but even more so since their mother passed away almost twelve years ago, after an unexpected and short battle with pancreatic cancer. Their father had followed six months later. The doctors called it a massive coronary, Grams said it was simply a broken heart.
Last year, when Grams turned ninety, they threw a real party at Mimi’s Place. Grams had always been a social butterfly, eating out once, if not twice, a day because she couldn’t justify cooking for one. All her friends that were still living and able to make it, came, along with what seemed like most of Nantucket. Everyone knew and loved Grams and wanted to pay their respects. They filled the entire restaurant, and it was quite a party. This year, however, would be different. Grams had decided about nine months ago that it was time to downsize. Her house, just off Nantucket’s Main Street, where she’d lived for over fifty years, was too big.
“As much as I hate to admit it, the stairs are killing me, and I don’t have the energy to start renovating now. I’m going to move into assisted living at Dover Falls.”
Still determined and feisty at barely five feet tall and maybe ninety-five pounds, Grams had smiled brightly and added, “Connie Boyle is there. She goes to Foxwoods casino once a quarter. There’s a whole busload that goes. Doesn’t that sound fun?”
A month after making her announcement, it was a done deal. Grams sold two other properties that she’d owned for many years and rented out to summer tourists. She wasn’t ready to part with her main residence though, or even to rent it out just yet.
Grams settled in quickly at Dover Falls and always sounded happy whenever Jill or one of her sisters called, but recently she admitted to feeling a bit under the weather. A nasty bout of bronchitis had turned into pneumonia and left her so weak that she didn’t have the strength to venture out at all, let alone make the traditional trip to Mimi’s Place. Gram’s suite at Dover Falls had a small kitchen they could use, so the new plan was for Jill to make the cake ahead of time, and then just see what everyone was in the mood for when they all arrived.
Jill was mentally making a shopping list of the ingredients she’d need for the cake when an instant message from her assistant flashed on the computer screen,
Billy’s on his way in. I told him you were busy, but he wouldn’t listen. Just wanted to give you a heads up.
Thank God for Jenna. She was the best assistant Jill had ever had and she couldn’t imagine working without her.
“I knew you weren’t on the phone,” Billy said as he barged into the office and sat on the edge of her desk. He picked up the spreadsheet of names. “Have you even called any of these yet? You know how important this search is?”
Jill sighed. Her partner, Billy Carmenetti, was prone to drama. He wore expensive suits, drove a shiny new BMW, and had house accounts at several of the hottest restaurants. If you didn’t know him better, you’d think Billy wanted people to think he was someone important. But Jill did know better. She knew that he just liked nice things, because he’d grown up without them. At six foot two, with thick, almost black hair, dark brown eyes that perpetually danced with mischief, and a long, lean body, toned from daily gym workouts, Billy was hard to miss.
But, he was also one of the most generous people she knew, and one of the nicest, even if he did drive her crazy on a daily basis. They’d been best friends and business partners for well over a decade and it was only a month ago Jill realized that she might be in love with him. The idea had slammed into her, fully formed and obvious, and she was struggling with what to do about it.
“I know, I know. I’m about to dive into it. I just had something important I had to handle first.”
Billy turned as the printer whirred and groaned. Curious, he leaned over and plucked the freshly printed page off of the machine. He glanced at it, then raised his eyebrows at Jill. “Chocolate cake? Are you kidding me?”
“Oh, relax. It’s for Grams’ birthday. I’m on this search, don’t worry. We’ll fill it.”
“We have to. If we don’t, we won’t get the rest of their business. I heard from their CFO that they are using this search as a test, to see how we do, and what caliber of candidates we can produce. If we get into this company, it could launch us to the next level. Continued business for years to come.”
“Don’t you have somewhere you need to be, other searches of your own to worry about?” Jill teased.
“I’m going, I’m going.” He swung his legs off of her desk and headed toward the door. He turned back and smiled, his voice softer this time, “Tell Grams I said happy birthday.”
And that was one of the many reasons why she loved Billy. He adored her grandmother. More importantly, though, he was just a good person, through and through. And they were as close if not closer than most married couples. Everyone said so and constantly asked why they weren’t a couple, and they’d always laughed it off, said it was impossible as they’d been friends forever, and were like brother and sister as well as business partners. So, the realization that she might be in love with him was troubling. Especially when she considered that Billy had never given the slightest inkling that he was even remotely attracted to her.
Mandy Lawson was running late, and that was unacceptable. She was never late. She had called ahead, told the girls at the club she’d be there at a quarter past ten and they told her not to worry. But she couldn’t help it. Mandy was a worrier. It was her Virgo nature; she craved organization, and made to-do lists for everything. And things generally went smoothly— except for today, when everything seemed to be out of sync.
They’d spent almost thirty minutes searching the entire house for her eleven-year-old daughter Brooke’s homework assignment, which was highly unusual because Brooke never lost things. She was a bit like her mother that way, conscientious and orderly—unlike her younger brother Blake, who was more of a dreamer, and prone to forgetfulness. They found the assignment finally. It was already in Brooke’s backpack, neatly folded and tucked away deep in a side pocket.
“Oops, I forgot that I put it there as soon as I finished.”
“So you wouldn’t forget it,” Blake teased.
Mandy glanced at the clock which seemed to be on fast forward. “We have to go now. Grab your bags and get in the car.”
Twenty minutes later, Mandy pulled into the busy parking lot at The Nantucket New School. The kids jumped out of the SUV, gave Mandy a quick kiss goodbye and ran to join their friends who were already in line. Mandy watched until they were all inside the building. Both children loved it there, and Mandy liked everything about it, especially the fact that, as a private school, the classes were smaller and they encouraged children to explore individual interests.
Before she drove off, Mandy checked her makeup in the mirror and added a swipe of pink lipstick. She wanted to make sure she looked polished for the event. She was in one of her favorite outfits—tailored caramel-colored pants and a pale pink cashmere sweater that looked gorgeous with her vintage pearls. She’d just had her hair touched up yesterday, so the bits of gray along her hairline were gone and Tony had added deep golden highlights to her dark blonde hair that made it shimmer. It just touched her shoulders and gave the illusion of being all one length, but a few clever long layers gave it some shape and movement. Her usual style was just tucked behind her ears and on her, it worked beautifully, giving her a crisp, somewhat preppy look. Or as her husband Cory teased her, it was “old money hair” which he appreciated.
Mandy and Cory had started dating their sophomore year at Boston College and except for one two-week period during senior year when Mandy was feeling ignored and broke up with him, they’d been together ever since. They’d both been business majors and immediately after graduation each started working in Boston’s financial district. Cory joined Brown Brothers Harriman as a junior investment analyst and Mandy went to Fidelity Investments as a market research coordinator.
Mandy quickly fell in love with the marketing aspect of her job and moved into the communications group where she handled events and wrote copy for marketing materials. After working for two years Cory went back to school, to Harvard for his MBA. Upon graduation, he had his pick of offers and decided to return to Brown Brothers Harriman, this time as a senior investment strategist, advising their high net-worth clients on where to put their money.
Cory had a plan. From the time he’d left to get his MBA, he knew he’d be heading back to BBH. They knew him there, and he was getting to know many of their top clients, building relationships that would one day pay off.
That day came five years later, when Cory and his college buddy, Patrick Harris, left to start their own hedge fund, as interest in alternative investments was skyrocketing. Word quickly spread throughout the community about the hot new hedge fund led by two young financial wunderkinds. Many of Cory’s former clients at BBH wanted to invest and by offering access to Cory and Patrick’s hedge fund, BBH was able to satisfy their clients, make an additional profit, and allow Cory to quickly establish a solid customer base. Which was exactly what he was counting on.
Patrick’s company did the same and within a year, Cory and Patrick had over two billion under management with year-end growth of thirty-three percent, which drastically increased demand, and made both of them millionaires many times over. Running a hedge fund was a high risk, high reward business and when things went well, it was one of the most lucrative niches in the world of finance.
After that first crazy year, Cory and Mandy built a gorgeous custom home on Nantucket. It was originally just going to be a summer home, but Cory fell in love with the island and Mandy was happy to be back in her home town. After one summer, Cory decided he could work just as easily from Nantucket and they could serve their client base well by having an office downtown as many of their clients also had second homes on the island. Patrick ran the Boston office and Cory had a small team on Nantucket and occasionally went to Boston for meetings.
Mandy became pregnant for the second time when the Nantucket house was finished and they decided that it made sense for her to stop working and stay home. They didn’t need the money and Mandy wanted to be there for her kids.
Besides, Cory thought it was better for his business if she wasn’t working. Their image of the perfect family, with two beautiful blonde children and a sunny, stay at home wife, was a great marketing tool. Not that he needed it though. His business had exploded as everyone wanted a piece of the next big thing, and their hedge fund was consistently delivering huge returns.
or something to do, Mandy got involved with some local women’s groups and found a way to put her business skills to good use, organizing various charity events. Today’s event was for the town library and was being held at the newer country club, the one that had a seven-figure initiation fee. Cory and Patrick were among the charter members, as Patrick and his wife Daisy were on Nantucket often. Daisy especially loved it on the island and often stayed for weeks at a time.
Though Mandy adored Patrick and had known him since their college days, she had never really warmed up to Daisy. Patrick had met her at a party his friends had thrown to celebrate their first year in business, when the buzz about them was turning into a roar. Daisy was from Charleston, and was a true Southern belle, always perfectly made up and accessorized. When she poured on the charm, men were dazzled. Patrick proposed just a few months after they started dating and they married less than a year later.
Mandy had tried countless times to reach out to Daisy, but for some reason she always held her at arm’s length. Daisy was always sweetly pleasant to her in public, but there was an underlying note of dislike that surfaced now and then. Cory said that Mandy was being paranoid, that of course Daisy adored her. He couldn’t imagine that she wouldn’t feel that way, but Mandy knew better.
Daisy was on this charity committee too and was the first person Mandy saw as she ran through the door.
“Nice of you to join us,” Daisy said sweetly, then turned back to continue tacking swirls of pink crepe paper to the wall.
“I called. Didn’t they tell you?” Mandy said as she scanned the room. It looked like they were almost done decorating. The room looked wonderful and bright, with streamers of pink and white cascading in waves from the ceiling and along the walls.
“Did you? Maybe they did mention something. I’ve just been so busy that I must have missed it.” She looked up at Mandy, waiting for a reaction to the dig. When she didn’t get one, she sighed and added, “They’re out back.”
Mandy hurried to the back of the restaurant where the other girls on the committee were addressing place cards and looking over table settings. Her close friend Barbara looked up and smiled.
“See, no worries. We’re just about done here.”
“Thanks, you guys did a great job with the decorating. I’m sorry I wasn’t here to help.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. You did everything else. This event is going to be great.”
Mandy relaxed a bit and poured herself a cup of coffee, then sat down to review the agenda. As the committee chair for this event, she really had done just about everything except the decorating. She’d negotiated the contract with the club, chosen a caterer, ordered the food and the entertainment, and had carefully chosen the guest list, creating a buzz that made this a must-attend event in their social set. Hopefully the end result would be a cascade of generous checks. To help loosen the purse strings, Mandy also came up with the idea of having an informal wine tasting, with several wines available on each table so people could taste them all and relax and enjoy.
The event went off beautifully. Everyone commented on how great the food was and what a clever idea to do the wine tasting. And it did seem to put everyone into a good and generous mood. The silent auction raised a record amount and Mandy expected that for the next few weeks large checks would be trickling in. Everyone was thrilled with the results, except perhaps Daisy, who had hoped to chair the event and was clearly miffed that the committee had overwhelmingly wanted Mandy to run it.
“I still think it would have been better if we’d had this at that new restaurant downtown, Basil’s. The food there is top notch.”
Barbara shot a knowing glance at Mandy and then said, “Well, I haven’t heard any complaints. In fact, I’ve heard nothing but compliments, especially for the great job that Mandy did in putting this altogether.”
“Right. Well I’m ready for a glass of wine.” Daisy made a beeline for the bar which was nearly empty now that all the party attendees had finally left.
“Has she always been such a bitch?” Barbara asked Mandy once the rest of the group had followed Daisy to the bar. They were all ready to relax now that the event was over and everything had gone off smoothly.
“Pretty much. You’d think we’d be somewhat close, given that our husbands are always together. Sometimes I almost sense a bit of competitiveness there or envy, but then I just shake it off because there’s no reason for it. Cory’s right, I’m a little paranoid when it comes to Daisy. I just can’t figure her out.”
“I wouldn’t waste your energy trying. She’s not worth it. Come on, let’s make our way to the bar. I’ve heard raves about one of the chardonnays we were serving, Cakebread. Sounds like my kind of dessert!”
Mandy’s cellphone rang as they reached the bar. She told Barbara to order her a glass of whatever she was having. She saw her caller ID on her phone flash, and realized she’d had several missed calls, one of them a Nantucket number that she didn’t recognize. She’d turned the ringer off so she wouldn’t be disturbed. It was Jill calling, and that was odd, because she never called during the day.
“Hey, Jill, what’s up? Is everything all right?”
“It’s Grams. Nantucket Hospital just called to let me know she came into the ER from Dover Falls and is being sent to Boston, to Mass General. They suggested the family come as soon as possible.” Mandy had never heard her older sister sound so scared and realized the hospital must have tried to reach her too.
“Are you flying in tonight? I can grab a flight and meet you at Logan.” Then they could grab a cab together to Mass General.
“I’m on my way now, flight leaves in an hour. Can you call Emma?”
“I will. I’ll ask her to meet us at Mass General.”
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