You can read a sample chapter of Love At The Beachside BNB below…
Below them the streets of Paris glittered and twinkled, highlighting the twisting path of the River Seine like a strand of diamonds and illuminating historic landmarks such as Notre Dame and the Sacre Coeur.
The wind teased at Millie’s hair. She snuggled in closer to Nick for extra warmth, inhaling his familiar scent of sage and sandalwood as he wrapped his arms more tightly around her from behind, his breath tickling her neck. She waited patiently with a happy, expectant smile playing at her lips. The evening had been perfect – dinner at a ludicrously priced restaurant followed by cocktails, a walk hand-in-hand along the riverbank, topped with a romantic night-time climb up to the very top of the Eiffel Tower. Nick had been as affectionate and attentive as he had been in the early days, so much so that Millie had completely set aside her mounting doubts of the last few months. They’d been working too hard; they were passing ships – all they’d obviously needed was some quality time together.
So, if ever there was a right moment, it was now. Sure enough, a moment later Nick squeezed her hand then dropped to the floor on one knee.
‘Oh my gosh, yes!’ cried a woman about fifty feet away, as moments later a sparkly ring was slipped onto her finger by her handsome beau and she threw herself into his arms then kissed him deeply, her legs wrapped about his waist as he supported her bottom with his cupped hands.
Millie couldn’t quite make out what Nick was doing down there in the darkness, but he seemed to be removing his shoe. She frowned. Perhaps the ring was in there? His white shirt and dark blue jeans clung so tightly to his muscular frame, she doubted he’d have the space to hide a box on his person.
‘Got it!’ he declared triumphantly, after what appeared to have been a bit of a struggle.
Millie peered down and beamed him her widest smile. She was ready for this. She extended her hand and he put something cool, hard and sharp into it. It didn’t feel quite how she’d imagined – the diamond must be enormous! Then again, he’d had a recent pay rise.
‘Oh, Nick!’ she cried. ‘Yes!’ and she pulled him into a tight hug, her eyes squeezed shut and her face flushed with happiness.
‘Whoa!’ said Nick, taking a step backwards out of her embrace. ‘It’s just a stone,’ he said. ‘That thing’s been giving me gyp all evening. I was going to see if I can chuck it all the way into the Seine from here.’
‘Oh!’ said Millie, only narrowly resisting the temptation to throw Nick into the Seine too, along with her hopes and dreams. ‘Oh.’
Fifty feet away, the newly engaged brunette gave her an awkward smile, and it only got more awkward when the two couples found themselves in the lift together travelling all the way back down to earth before exiting out into the night – themselves, their lives and their relationships heading in two very different directions.
‘Who wants to get engaged in Paris anyway?’ remarked Ash, her best work friend over lunch a couple of days later. ‘It’s been done to death!’
Me, thought Millie. I do.
She’d added the Tuesday onto her long weekend as a ‘mental health’ day which she’d spent in front of Netflix in her pyjamas, eating her way through a tin of Roses and drinking her way through a bottle of rosé. The only positive was that for once she’d had no-one to argue with about what to watch.
‘For all you know he could still be planning to propose, just in some way a little more original.’
‘Unfortunately not,’ said Millie, picking at her falafel. She’d been cleared of that illusion when the weekend that was supposed to have brought them closer together had instead brought them crashing spectacularly apart. ‘Turns out he’s met someone else.’
Ash’s mouth dropped open and she put down her knife and fork. ‘You’re kidding me!’
‘I wish I was. The only reason he’d been so attentive towards me during our trip was guilt. He’d hoped to forget all about his bit on the side during our time in Paris apparently, but the moment he’d found himself in a proposal-type scenario, he’d suddenly realised it wasn’t me he wanted after all – it was her. Amy.’
‘Gosh, I don’t know what to say!’
‘You could tell me there are plenty more fish in the sea, like my dad did.’
‘Plenty more fish on Plenty of Fish you mean? Haha.’
‘I’m really sorry,’ said Ash, resuming her grilled chicken salad. ‘I genuinely thought you’d come back sporting a ring. I was a little jealous if you must know.’
‘Well, you have nothing to envy me for now.’
‘I dunno, you’ve always looked better in a pair of skinny jeans than me.’
‘Fortunately for you, skinny jeans are out now anyway, so it looks like we’re even.’
‘What a pair of spinsters we are.’
‘What a pair,’ Millie agreed. ‘If we weren’t due back at the office in five minutes, I’d order us a bottle of wine.’
‘What the heck, let’s do it. We deserve it! You especially.’ Ash summoned the waiter. ‘We both work our arses off, so I’m sure Mr Hughes won’t notice if we’re ten minutes late.’
Only Mr Hughes did notice, and within the hour not only were Ash and Millie two spinsters, but they were also two unemployed spinsters.
Initially they couldn’t help but find this fact absolutely hilarious, but the hilarity wore off as the night wore on and more drinks went down, and everywhere they looked they seemed to see couples. Couples walking hand in hand down the high street, couples sitting opposite one another over dinner at a restaurant, groups of couples standing together at the bar. Couples, couples, couples. But the worst part of the evening, the absolute worst, was when they ran into Nick and Amy. The only saving grace was that Nick did look slightly ashamed.
‘You’re supposed to be at work,’ said Nick, tugging at his collar.
‘We had an early finish.’ Ash shrugged as nonchalantly as she could manage.
‘And we’re supposed to be engaged,’ said Millie. ‘You’re not supposed to be here with that trollop two days after leaving me.’
‘Taxi,’ said Ash. ‘It’s time for a taxi!’
‘We can’t afford a taxi,’ Millie sniffed.
‘Oh, I think we can stretch to one today.’
Millie cried all the way home. ‘Did you see her?’ she asked. ‘Did you?’
‘Yes,’ said Ash, for the umpteenth time.
‘She had such amazing hair. My hair doesn’t fan out like that.’
‘And a Beyoncé bum.’
‘And massive eyelashes.’
‘Fake! Honestly, Millie, at least with you, what a man goes to bed with at night is what he wakes up with in the morning. And at least your body parts don’t come with a warranty and need replacing every ten years.’
Millie glanced at herself in the taxi driver’s rear-view mirror. Her eyes were puffy, her cheeks were red, and streaks of black mascara tracked down her face. ‘I’m not sure that’s much of a consolation right now.’
Back at Millie’s flat, the girls opened another bottle of wine and put on an old movie. ‘Bridget Jones, anyone?’
‘This movie is too depressing,’ she complained an hour or so later. ‘I don’t know what Bridget is complaining about – at least she meets the man of her dreams.’
‘Oh, Millie,’ said Ash, passing her another tissue, ‘you’re looking at this the wrong way. Unlike Bridget, you are a woman of the next millennium – you don’t need a man to complete you or make you happy, you need to find your happiness within. Perhaps you could view all this awfulness as an opportunity – to find a less despicable man, and a job you like or can at least tolerate instead of one you hate.’
‘Hmm,’ said Millie doubtfully.
‘Or maybe you could set your sights even higher – to like yourself even if you find none of those things. Like me.’
Somewhere in the alcohol-induced fog of her mind, Millie conceded that perhaps Ash did have a point. Ash had suffered through a terrible break-up with Sam only a couple of years ago, and it was their mutual dislike of their office jobs and their boss that had cemented their friendship, yet nothing ever seemed to dent her naturally sunny disposition.
‘I’ll try,’ Millie sniffed, picking up her phone. ‘If I can send Nick some angry text messages first.’
‘Oh, no you don’t,’ said Ash, whipping her phone from her hand. ‘Be the bigger woman and don’t look back. Only ever look forwards, do you hear me? Forwards.’
‘Ok,’ said Millie. ‘Forwards. I’m looking forward to… bed?’
‘Bed, ok, that’s a start.’
‘You can stay over too, if you like.’ Millie dragged herself up from the couch.
‘I thought you’d never ask.’ Ash grinned. ‘Within a month I won’t be able to afford my rent anyway, then I might just have to move in with you!’
‘Forwards,’ Millie reminded her, ‘to the job and flat of your dreams.’
‘Forwards,’ Ash agreed, ‘though I think I’d prefer a nice period semi, rather than a flat if it’s alright with you.’ And they turned out the lights and went to bed.
Millie awoke with a start when her alarm clock went off first thing the next morning. Her head was cracking and she winced as a shaft of light from a gap in the curtains pierced her sore eyes. She felt a momentary pang of panic that she would have to drag herself up and into work in this state, then remembered she didn’t have a job to go to anymore so it was with some relief that she hit the snooze button and sank back into the pillows. She groaned aloud as her sluggish mind struggled to process the previous day’s events. Bacon. She was fairly sure she could smell bacon.
‘What’s all that moaning and groaning about?’ She heard Ash’s unseemly perky voice yell from the kitchen, which to be fair was only about ten feet away – Millie’s flat was absolutely tiny. ‘This is the first day of the rest of your life, remember.’
‘I hope the rest of my life involves an actual income, as well as an endless supply of your famous bacon and egg sandwiches.’
Ash smiled and knocked the kettle on, pushing a plate of bacon and egg sandwiches topped with a lavish amount of butter and brown sauce towards her, followed by a strong cup of instant coffee. Unlike Millie she was as chirpy as ever, with her sleek black hair tied back in a neat ponytail and her olive skin scrubbed clear. ‘Get this down you, then we can reconvene after breakfast and figure out what it is we want to do with the rest of our lives.’
Millie popped a couple of paracetamol then devoured her breakfast. ‘This is good,’ she said, wiping a smear of brown sauce off her chin. ‘If marketing doesn’t work out for you, you could always give cooking a go!’
‘Haha, that’s what my food tech teacher used to say when I was young. She said I had a ‘natural aptitude’ for flavour or something like that when all it was was lashings of salt. My mum would have kittens if I threw away the UK education she worked so hard for on anything less than a six figure salary.’
‘Hmm.’ Millie knew she was right. At least she didn’t have that sort of pressure and expectation to live up to. Her parents seemed to have written her off against her high-achieving brother long ago, even if half the reason he was so high-achieving in the first place was that his wife and nanny did everything to enable him to be so. They’d barely batted an eyelid when they’d heard that Nick had strayed, almost as though they’d expected nothing less.
‘Oh, I meant to say, your neighbour dropped off a pile of post for you on her way to work this morning. One of the envelopes looks quite important.’
‘Really?’ Millie hoped it wasn’t a bill or a fine.
Ash pushed the pile of letters towards her. They were largely bills, and several were addressed to Nick who’d been living between her place and his parents (and probably his bit on the side’s too), whilst committing to neither. The bottom one was the most interesting. The envelope was thicker than the others, weightier, with her address written by hand, and there was a waxed red seal at the back which appeared to detail a firm of solicitors.
‘I wonder what this one is?’ said Millie. She unfolded the letter, and as she read her eyes grew wider and wider.
‘Don’t keep me in suspense!’ said Ash. ‘What is it?’
Without a word, Millie passed the letter over to her.
Dear Millie Carter,
I am writing to you regarding the final wishes of your deceased great aunt, Mildred Moore, who has bequeathed to you her property – Whitecliff House, Beaumouth, which is currently operating as a bed and breakfast. It is her express wish that if you are to assume ownership of this property, you must also endeavour to keep her business operating for a period of at least three years – I’m afraid she was most particular about this point. Please contact me on the number below to arrange a time to discuss this matter in more detail.
Laws & Lawson Solicitors
‘Well, I never!’ Ash gasped. ‘I know!’ said Millie. ‘There must’ve been some mistake! I barely know Aunt Mildred. My mum hasn’t spoken to her in years – some sort of family rift. I can’t imagine why she would’ve left anything to me.’
‘Maybe there was no-one else – did she have any children?’
‘I don’t think so.’
‘Well then, why wouldn’t she leave it to you? You don’t have any brothers or sisters, and I doubt your mum would feel like running a BnB at her age, so the point is that you’ve been left a fabulous piece of real estate either way, you lucky thing.’
‘But I don’t know the first thing about running a BnB.’
‘There’s no time like the present to learn. Let’s Google the place.’
It looked absolutely fabulous. It was a huge white painted three-storey building perched at the very top of a white cliff, with a wide stretch of yellow sand beneath and endless ocean views. The guest rooms were quaint and cosy, each one unique. It looked like a blissful getaway, somewhere Millie wouldn’t mind getting away to herself if she wasn’t unemployed.
‘It’s stunning!’ said Ash. ‘Nick will be regretting abandoning you for Amy now, that’s for sure.’
‘Hmm, I’m not quite so sure – look at these reviews.’
Dilapidated, depressing, and nothing at all like the photographs. One star.
Do not trust the photos! They’re as old as the building and the woman who owns it. One star.
Stay somewhere else! Two stars (one for the view).
‘Oh dear,’ Millie groaned, ‘I think she’s doing this to punish me for whatever’s happened in the family in the past.’
‘Nonsense,’ said Ash, ‘and even if she did, it’s never too late to turn the business around. I’ll help you if you like, I’ve got nothing better to do now that I’m skint and soon to be made homeless.’
‘Well,’ said Millie, scarcely able to believe it, ‘you do make a bloody good breakfast.’