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Authors: Leonie Fox

Up Close and Personal

PENGUIN BOOKS

Up Close and Personal

Leonie Fox is a former magazine journalist. She has written two novels,
Private Members
and
Members Only
, both of which are published by Penguin. She lives in Kent.

Up Close and Personal

LEONIE FOX

PENGUIN BOOKS

PENGUIN BOOKS

Published by the Penguin Group

Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA

Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4P 2Y3 (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.)

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Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

www.penguin.com

First published 2010

Copyright © Claudia Pattison, 2010

All rights reserved

The moral right of the author has been asserted

Except in the United States of America, this book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser

ISBN: 978-0-141-95950-4

Acknowledgements

A big thank you to all at Penguin, especially Mari Evans, Lydia Newhouse, Naomi Fidler, Katy Szita, Tom Chicken, Julia Connolly and John Hamilton.

Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

1

In the first week of April, the weather turned suddenly, unseasonably, insistently lovely. At this time of year, the historic market town of Loxwood was at its prettiest. Hyacinths and anemones filled the hanging baskets outside the town hall and the well-kept churchyard was dotted with clusters of wild daffodils, their golden heads turned to catch the watery sunshine. As her mini-cab turned off the high street and headed towards open countryside, Juliet Fisher caught her first glimpse of Ashwicke Park. She’d spent the winter in Aspen, staying with her cousin Harry, who owned a ski school and a string of luxury condominiums. Initially, she’d turned down his invitation, generous as it was, unwilling to abandon Ashwicke for an entire season. Managing the hotel was a demanding job – especially for someone who, like Juliet, had no experience in the hospitality industry. But Harry wouldn’t take no for an answer and eventually Juliet had relented. With hindsight, it was the best decision she could have made.

Feeling as if she might burst with happiness, Juliet turned to Dante, her husband of ten days. ‘I’m so excited to be back in England,’ she said. ‘I hope you are too.’

‘You bet,’ said Dante, gazing at her worshipfully. ‘Although, to be honest, I’m feeling kinda nervous too.’

Juliet’s eyes widened in sympathy. ‘I’m not surprised; your whole life’s been turned upside down … new wife,
new home, new country. It’s bound to take you a little while to adjust.’ She gave his hand a comforting squeeze. ‘I can’t wait to show you the house – and introduce you to all my friends.’

Dante smiled shyly. ‘I sure hope they like me.’

‘Of course they will.’ Juliet looked at her new husband, taking in his long eyelashes, strong jaw and the pectorals bulging beneath his thin cotton sweater. ‘I should think most of them will be green with envy. One look at you and they’ll all be wanting toyboys of their own.’

Dante frowned. ‘I wish you wouldn’t use that word.’

‘I’m only teasing,’ Juliet said, resting her head on his shoulder. ‘You know the age difference means nothing to me; I married you because I love you.’

‘And I love you too,’ Dante replied. ‘I loved you the minute I saw you.’

He broke into a grin as he recalled the occasion in question. It was the third night of Juliet’s stay in Aspen and she’d arranged to meet her cousin in one of the resort’s more exclusive après-ski watering holes for pre-dinner cocktails. She’d already been sitting at the bar for half an hour when Harry called to say he’d be late. One of the condos had been inadvertently double booked and, it being high season, he was struggling to find alternative accommodation for his well-heeled and very irritable guests. Flipping her mobile shut with an exasperated sigh, Juliet leaned across the bar and ordered a second margarita from the cute bartender with the blue eyes. ‘Have one yourself,’ she added as an afterthought.

Dante, who tried to avoid drinking on the job, smiled at her. ‘Thanks. I’ll just take a Coke.’

It was a full two hours later when Harry finally arrived, flustered and full of apologies – by which time Juliet and Dante had struck up quite a rapport. The bartender was used to women coming on to him and, most of the time, he was immune to their charms. As far as his work was concerned, Dante was a perfectionist and he resented anything that took his mind off the job. But that night he welcomed the distraction, for there was something deeply fascinating about this cool blonde with the cute English accent and the slightly aloof air. In those two hours, as he expertly mixed one cocktail after another for the slick team of waiters to ferry to the thirsty punters, Dante found himself opening up to Juliet. He told her about dropping out of college and how he’d left his family and friends in Montana to come to Aspen, fuelled by a love of skiing and the dream of setting up his own bar. Although she was rather less forthcoming about her own background, Juliet had apparently enjoyed herself every bit as much as he had, because before she left she handed him a napkin with her mobile number scrawled across it.

‘In case you feel like some company on the slopes on your next day off,’ she said as a faint wash of colour spread from her jaw to her earlobes.

This casual offer turned out to be the start of a passionate, and entirely unexpected, love affair. At first, Dante found the enigmatic Englishwoman rather reserved. She preferred to listen, rather than to talk, and didn’t give up her secrets readily. But, after some gentle probing, her story slowly emerged – the blissfully happy childhood, the private-school education, her marriage to a high-flying businessman, followed, some years later, by her husband’s tragic death.

At twenty-eight, Dante was seven years Juliet’s junior but, from the very beginning, the age gap didn’t seem to matter. What started as a holiday fling quickly turned into something much deeper and when, nine weeks after their first meeting, Dante got down on one knee in the powdery snow at the foot of a blue run and proposed to Juliet she didn’t hesitate to say yes. Dante had envisioned a long engagement and he was stunned when Juliet suggested they get married, right then and there in Aspen. Unable to think of any good reason to refuse her, they had tied the knot without fuss in a log cabin nestling at the foot of the mountain, with a bemused Harry and his wife as witnesses.

There hadn’t been much discussion about where they should live – it seemed only natural that Dante, who had fewer ties than Juliet, should move to England. A six-month tourist visa was hastily arranged and a single airfare booked. Dante didn’t stop to think whether or not he was making the right decision. All he knew was he was in love with Juliet and, given that he would have gone to the ends of the earth for her, England didn’t seem so very far away. It was only now, as the cab turned right, heading for a pair of tall iron gates open wide to the long drive beyond, that he was beginning to realize just what a huge jump into the unknown he had taken.

‘We’re here,’ Juliet said excitedly as the cab sailed through the gates. ‘Welcome to your new home.’

Dante had been expecting something on a fairly grand scale. He knew Juliet’s late husband, Gus, came from a well-off family. But nothing could have prepared him for the full splendour of Ashwicke Park. With its ivy-covered colonnades and graceful arched windows, it looked like a
Roman temple and seemed quite surreal, nestling there amid the sprawling gardens – which were, Dante couldn’t help noticing, rather overgrown.

‘Well,’ said Juliet after a few moments. ‘What do you think?’

‘It’s huge.’ Dante licked his lips, which were suddenly dry. ‘And very beautiful.’

‘It’s Grade-I listed,’ Juliet told him. ‘Built in the eighteenth century for the second Lord Brownlow.’

Dante dragged his eyes away from the house and frowned at his wife. ‘Second Lord
who
?’

‘He was a member of parliament and a bit of a rogue by all accounts. He’s said to have impregnated half a dozen housemaids during his time at Ashwicke.’

Dante couldn’t help smirking. ‘Sounds like a busy guy.’ His eyes returned to the house. ‘I didn’t know people actually
lived
in places like this. It looks like the kind of thing you’d see in a guidebook.’

‘Yes, but Ashwicke’s no museum piece,’ Juliet said. ‘It’s a much-loved family home. Gus’s great-grandfather bought it for a song after the war, and when he died it was passed on through the male line. And then Gus died …’ Her voice wavered. ‘He’d be horrified if he knew I’d turned the place into a hotel – but needs must.’

Dante looked at Juliet. It was barely a year since her first husband’s death. She’d found him herself in the garden, early one morning. He was hanging from the lowest bough of a horse chestnut, his last breath long extinguished. She hadn’t talked a great deal about the circumstances surrounding his suicide, but Dante could see his death had affected her deeply. How could it
not
have? Seeing the concern in his eyes, Juliet gave him a faint smile and mouthed,
I’m fine
.

A few moments later, the cab drew to a halt outside the house. Dante could see it wasn’t quite as well maintained as it appeared from a distance. There were tiles missing from the roof and the stucco façade was streaked with cracks. As his gaze travelled upwards, he noticed a row of faces ranged at one of the first-floor windows. They were very young – some no more than teenagers – and they were staring down at the car, wide-eyed and curious. ‘It looks like we’ve got a welcome committee.’

Juliet looked up and smiled. ‘That’s the hotel staff.’ Craning her neck, she waved at them. ‘They’re a nice bunch, if a little high-spirited.’

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