Excerpt from Summer on Sunshine Bay
Eva Rosetti willed her body to feel something when the man in her bed nibbled on her neck. She waited for a shiver of desire, a spark of lust, but her body was devoid of anything except frustration. She couldn’t say the same about Ryan. The handsome lobsterman was obviously turned on. So much so that he didn’t seem to notice that Eva wasn’t.
It wasn’t his fault. Eva’s libido had gone into hibernation the winter before she turned fifty. Up until then, she’d been as passionate about sex as she was about food and wine, and she was desperate to get her groove back.
“Mmm, you like that, don’t you, babe,” Ryan murmured as he kissed and licked his way from her neck to her chest, his thick head of tawny hair disappearing under the red silk sheet.
Eva supposed she could simply tell him that no, she didn’t like it at all. But she couldn’t work up the energy for a conversation that would undoubtedly bruise his ego—which she would then have to soothe.
The weeklong heat wave had sapped not only her energy but her patience, which lately had been in short supply on a cool day. Any day, really. By midafternoon Sunshine Bay had shattered a decades-old record for the hottest day in June.
As perspiration beaded along her hairline, Eva edged up on the mattress to get a look at the air-conditioning unit in the window across the room, wondering if it was on the fritz again. Her bedroom was decorated in dramatic reds and antique golds, the lush velvet drapes keeping out the light but not the heat. Today her bedroom felt more like a sauna than a sanctuary.
“Oh yeah, that’s it, babe.”
She frowned down at the head moving beneath the sheet. What was he even talking about? All she’d done was…bring her breast in direct contact with his mouth. Eva sighed. It wasn’t his fault she’d rather be bingeing Chef’s Table on Netflix or finishing the book on her nightstand than indulging in what was supposed to be some late-afternoon delight.
“Do you like this?” he asked, kneading her breasts with strong, callused fingers.
She bit back an ow. She needed to put them both out of their misery. It was too hot for Ryan to work so hard with no reward for his efforts. But just as she was about to fake a foreplay-induced orgasm, a wave of intense heat washed over her, coating her skin in sweat, and not the glowy kind.
Droplets rolled down her face, and beneath the sheet, Ryan froze. Eva was vain enough that she was willing to put up with his groping rather than have him see her with sweat pouring down her face and her hair plastered to her head. She moaned, adding some hip action to distract him.
Apparently her hip action wasn’t distracting enough because he shoved his head from under the sheet, his brow furrowing as he patted the mattress along her side. “Babe, did you, uh, wet the bed?”
Eva swallowed a mortified groan. The air conditioner wasn’t on the fritz; she was having a hot flash! With as much dignified grace as she could manage with sweat dripping into her eyes, she said, “No. I didn’t wet the bed. I’m burning up.” She pressed a palm to her forehead. “I have a fever.”
He cocked his head. “Are you sure it’s not a hot flash? My mother used to have them all the time when she was your—”
She didn’t need the reminder that she was old enough to be his mother and cut him off. “It’s a fever.” Ryan was thirty-two, just four years older than Lila, Eva’s daughter.
“Seriously, babe, you have nothing to be embarrassed about.” He reached for her as she tugged on the sheet, whipping it off the bed.
“I’m not embarrassed.” She stood up and wrapped the sheet around herself.
Then, holding her head high, she started to walk to the bathroom. But her attempt at a dignified exit was ruined when her foot got tangled in the sheet and she tripped. Ryan snagged the sheet, no doubt in an effort to save her from falling on her face. Instead he unraveled her like a burrito.
With a cajoling smile on his face, he reeled her toward him. “Come on, get back in bed,” he said while languidly smoothing his other hand over the mattress and the damp outline of her body. It looked like a crime scene. He wasn’t quick enough to hide his grimace.
She tugged the sheet from his hand. “Fever, remember? I’m probably contagious.”
He came to his feet and closed the distance between them, tipping her chin up with his knuckle. “You know, the thing I admire most about you, Eva, is that you don’t care what people think. You’re unashamedly you. No bullshit, no apologies. “
And that’s why Eva had invited Ryan to her bed. It wasn’t just because he was handsome and had a great body; she genuinely liked him. “Fine. I don’t have a fever. It’s the menopause.”
He grinned. “The menopause?”
“I was channeling my mother. That’s what she calls it.”
“Okay, well, at the risk of offending you and never getting invited back in your bed, which I have to tell you was the highlight of my month, maybe my entire year—”
“I’m serious. You’re gorgeous, and I’ve been dreaming about being with you since I was sixteen.”
Eva was used to men telling her she was the object of their fantasies and usually laughed it off as hyperbole. But she could tell by Ryan’s sincere expression that he wasn’t exaggerating, and she was relieved she hadn’t criticized his performance. If he’d been fantasizing about being with her for years, it was no wonder he’d been trying so hard to please her.
On a rush of affection, she patted his cheek. “You’re a sweet bo—man.”
“Not exactly what I was going for, but if it means we can do this again, I won’t complain.” He searched her face. “We’re not doing this again, are we?”
“I’m sorry, but no, we’re not.”
“It’s because of the Rosetti curse, isn’t it?”
Everyone in town knew the Rosetti women were cursed when it came to marriage. Eva had never doubted the veracity of the claim. Her mother and sister were proof enough that the curse was real, and if any doubts remained, all she had to do was look up the family history.
The curse had been passed down through generations of Rosetti women. Their fiancés either died in the days leading up to the wedding or left them standing alone at the altar. The few brides who had made it past the wedding ceremony had found themselves abandoned by their wayward husbands within months of saying, “I do.”
For the most part, the curse had little bearing on Eva’s life. She had what mattered most to her: her family; their restaurant, La Dolce Vita; good friends; good food; and good wine.
There’d been only one time in Eva’s life when she’d wished she wasn’t cursed. But in the end it had worked out for the best. Her love affair with James had ended in heartbreak, but she had a wonderful daughter as a result of their brief time together. She smiled. After years of living and working for her father in London, England, Lila had moved to Boston the week before.
It took a moment for her to remember Ryan’s question. “Yes, it’s the curse,” she said, telling him what she suspected he wanted to hear. “I can’t risk falling in love with you.”
He smiled, looking pleased that it was a possibility. “We wouldn’t have to get married. We—”
This was why she didn’t get involved with a man. She was up for a good time, not a long time. Lately, as today had clearly demonstrated, she wasn’t even up for a good time. What a depressing thought. She really had enjoyed sex.
“I’m too old for you, Ryan. Fall in love with someone closer to your own age, someone to have babies with, someone to marry,” she said, even though she didn’t believe in marriage, and it had nothing to do with the Rosetti curse. There was a reason the divorce rate was so high. In her opinion, women would be far happier living the single life, as she and the other members of her family did.
“Is there anything I can say or do to change your mind? I really like you, Eva. I want to be with you.”
“I really like you too, which is why you have to trust me when I say it’s better this way.” She cupped his face between her hands and kissed him. “I have to get to work. Why don’t you come for dinner tonight? The special is lobster tagliatelle. On the house.” It was the least she could do. It was because of Ryan that they had enough lobster for tonight’s special.
When she’d arrived at the market to pick up their orders of fresh seafood earlier today, she’d discovered that the chefs from Windemere had offered above the going rate, leaving the bare minimum for everyone else. Eva had been worried about the impact the recently completed high-end restaurant and inn would have on La Dolce Vita, her family’s fine dining establishment. But never in her wildest imaginings had she dreamed they’d be fighting against them not only for customers but also for seafood and produce.
Ryan scooped his board shorts and T-shirt off the hardwood floor. “Can I take a rain check? My sister and her boyfriend are in town, and they’re taking the family out to dinner.”
Eva noticed the way he avoided meeting her eyes and crossed her arms. “You’re going to Windemere like everyone else, aren’t you?” Tonight was the grand opening, and it was all anyone in town could talk about.
He winced as he fastened the button on his shorts. “Yeah. But I wouldn’t worry about it, Eva. You know how people are. The novelty will wear off.”
He didn’t look as if he believed that any more than she did.
“We’re not worried about it,” she said as she walked to the bathroom, turning as she reached the door. “Ryan, what was it you were going to say that you thought would offend me?”
“Just that after my mom started working out and lost fifteen pounds, her hot flashes disappeared.” His voice was muffled behind the T-shirt he pulled over his head, so he missed her jaw dropping.
An hour later, Eva stood behind the stove in La Dolce Vita’s kitchen. She’d been running the restaurant with her sister Gia and their mother, Carmen, for twenty-five years. Before that their mother had run the restaurant with their grandmother and great-aunt. The sisters had opened La Dolce Vita in 1936. It was one of the oldest restaurants on the cape.
Not much had changed at La Dolce Vita, Eva thought as she sautéed chopped onion and celery in bacon drippings. But they’d have to make changes if they were going to survive. Now, if only she could convince her mother. Carmen had shut Eva down every time she’d brought up the subject.
Eva added minced garlic to the drippings, looking over as her sister walked into the kitchen and said something to Mimi, their sous-/line chef. She’d been with them for eight years.
Gia joined Eva at the stove. “Sorry. I forgot to make the clam chowder. Probably for the best anyway. Mr. Santos can always tell when I’ve made it and not you.”
For the past ten years, Mr. Santos had been coming in every Friday night for his clam chowder. He said it reminded him of his late wife’s. The first time he’d eaten it, he’d gotten tears in his eyes. It was a memory Eva cherished. She loved that food had the power to move people—her food, her family’s food.
Eva was usually there to prep for the dinner service, but she’d had a depressing meeting with their accountant earlier in the afternoon. She’d met up with Ryan on her way back to the restaurant.
“It’s because you always forget to add the secret ingredient,” Eva told her sister as she stirred in the cubed potatoes, chicken broth, and clam juice, adding a pinch of pepper and thyme.
Her sister rolled her eyes. “Love isn’t an actual ingredient, you know.”
Gia was an excellent cook, but she wasn’t passionate about food, not like Eva and their mother. As devoted as Gia was to the restaurant, her first love was her art, even if she wouldn’t admit it. In that she was like her father. He’d been an artist too.
Eva and their baby sister, Camilla, shared a different father. Gia’s father had died a week before he and Carmen were to marry. A month later, their mother had discovered she was pregnant. Gia had inherited her father’s caramel-streaked brown hair and honey-brown eyes as well as his artistic talent. She must’ve inherited his temperament too. She was sweet and easygoing, the diplomatic one of the family. Eva, the Madonna help them all, had inherited their mother’s temperament. Her ebony hair, green eyes, and tanned skin tone she’d inherited from her father.
He’d left Carmen a month before Eva was born, returning for a two-week reunion with their mother when Eva was three. Camilla had been born nine months later.
“Ma’s at the bar. Come join us when you’ve finished up in here,” her sister said.
At the beginning of every dinner service for as long as Eva could remember, the three of them had had a glass of wine together.
Eva nodded and brought the soup to a boil and then lowered the heat. Once it had simmered for twenty minutes, she’d combine the flour with cream and slowly add it to the soup, bringing it back to a boil until it was thick and creamy. Then she’d add the clams and the rest of the cream. She covered the bacon bits with plastic wrap. She’d sprinkle them on Mr. Stanto’s bowl of clam chowder before serving it to him.
Wiping her hands on the apron she wore over her black wraparound dress, Eva looked around the kitchen. It was unusually quiet for a Friday. The kitchen staff had filled only five orders while she’d been there.
“Keep an eye on the clam chowder for me, Mimi?”
The older woman shooed Eva away from the stove. “I’ve got it. Your momma needs cheering up. You’re good at making her laugh.”
“I have a feeling it will take more than a couple of laughs to make her feel better, Mimi, but I’ll try.” Eva hung up her apron before making her way into the restaurant. Her mother and sister sat at the bar with glasses of wine the size of fishbowls. At the sight of the nearly empty dining room, Eva poured herself an equally large glass of Chianti.
As she did, she racked her brain for something to say that would lift her mother’s spirits. Carmen looked as if she were going to a funeral. And not only because of the black wraparound dresses they all wore for work. Her mother’s red-painted mouth was clamped tight, and her eyes were too bright. Eva needed something to distract her before Carmen started ranting about their disloyal customers and sent the few diners they had running for the door.
It was a shame Lila had postponed her welcome-home dinner until next weekend. There was no better distraction than having the family together. But Lila wanted to get settled first. Eva imagined her daughter had a long list of things she wanted to accomplish before she allowed herself to relax and have some fun. Lila didn’t take after Eva. She was an uptight perfectionist like her father.
Eva used to joke that Lila had come out of the womb in a beige suit with a BlackBerry clenched in her fist. As she got older, Lila would quip that Eva must’ve come out of the womb in a G-string with a bottle of wine in her hand. Eva smiled. She couldn’t wait to see her.
Despite their differences, they had a wonderful relationship. Gia and her daughters, Sage and Willow, had the same kind of close relationship Eva had with Lila. They’d raised their girls together, and it thrilled them to no end that their daughters were as close as sisters.
Carmen pointed her wineglass at Eva, droplets of bold red liquid splashing onto the bar. “Why are you smiling? We’ve had nine cancellations. We’ll be out of business in a month if this keeps up.” She nodded at Gia. “This one, she’ll be fine. But you and I, Eva, La Dolce Vita is all we’ve got.”
“That’s not fair, Ma. I love the restaurant. You know I do. I put in as much time here as you and Eva.”
“Certo, sure, but it’s not the same. You aren’t like me and your sister. You have your art, cara mia,” her mother said, her Italian accent still noticeable despite having been born in Sunshine Bay.
“It’s a hobby. I need the money I earn from the restaurant as much as you and Eva do.”
“Don’t do that, G. You’re an incredibly talented artist,” Eva protested as she always did when her sister belittled her talent.
Gia pursed her lips. “Who doesn’t make any money from her art.”
“Because you don’t show it to anyone!”
Carmen, who’d been focused on the nearly empty dining room, patted her chest. “My heart, it’s racing. I think I’m having a heart attack. Get me my pills.”
Eva held back an eye roll. Carmen had a heart attack whenever she was upset or wanted to manipulate her family into doing what she wanted. “Ma, you don’t have heart medication. Dr. Alva told you you’re as healthy as a forty-year-old, remember?”
Their mother didn’t look a day over sixty. It probably helped that there wasn’t a single gray strand in her dyed mahogany shoulder-length layered hair. She’d turn seventy-four in December.
Eva had plucked two silver strands from her own head the day before, and one from her chin. Her mother had pointed out the chin hair in the middle of the previous day’s lunch service. She’d spotted it from across the dining room.
The woman had 20/20 vision since filling the prescription that had sat buried in her nightstand drawer for ten years. Eva doubted she would’ve filled it if she hadn’t spotted the chic red-framed glasses in the window of the optical shop.
Carmen took off her glasses and set them on the bar, pressing her thumbs against the corners of her eyes. “What does she know? She’s a bambina.”
Dr. Alva was the same age as Eva. They’d gone to school together.
Bruno, a distinguished-looking tanned bald man in a pristine white shirt and impeccably pressed black pants, stood at the hostess stand with a phone pressed to his ear. Bruno had been working at La Dolce Vita for decades and was one of their mother’s closest confidants. As though sensing Eva’s attention, he turned his back.
Madonna santo. Someone else must’ve canceled their reservation.
“So,” Eva said, drawing her mother’s attention, “you know how you two keep telling me I’m going through the menopause? I discovered this afternoon that you’re probably right.”
She drew out the story, changed it up a bit to protect both her and Ryan’s reputations—portraying him as a talented lover with no mention of her missing libido—culminating with Ryan thinking she’d wet the bed.
Her mother and sister stared at her and then started laughing. The three of them were howling with tears streaming down their faces when Bruno approached the bar.
“Are you going to let me in on the joke?” he asked, but there was no twinkle in his dark eyes, and his movie-star smile was missing.
Eva covered her mother’s open mouth. No way was she letting her share Eva’s hot-flash story with anyone. She should’ve sworn her mother and sister to secrecy before she’d told them. Their word was their bond.
“Now you have me intrigued. Come on, tell me your joke,” he cajoled. If Bruno was about to tell them they had another cancelation, he probably could use a laugh as much as the three of them. But no way would Eva talk about her sex life with the man who’d played the role of her father for the past thirty years.
Her mother pulled Eva’s hand from her mouth; her eyes narrowed at Bruno. “What’s wrong?”
“Ruth called.” He reached for Carmen’s glass of wine, took a large swallow, and then continued. “They had to cancel their reservation for tonight’s birthday dinner. Several members of the family are ill.”
It was bad enough that the reservation had been for a party of ten. The fact that Ruth Hollingsworth was her mother’s best friend made it ten times worse.
“Give me the phone,” Carmen said to Bruno, motioning with her fingers. Bruno would know better than to argue when their mother got that look in her eyes.
Eva wasn’t so easily put off. She wasn’t about to let her mother say something she’d regret and possibly ruin a decades-old friendship. “Ma, you can’t expect them to come when members of their party are sick. Let it go.”
“Eva’s right. We’ll store the balloons in the back.” Gia nodded at a pink bouquet of helium-filled balloons at the far end of the bar. It was Ruth’s daughter-in-law’s birthday. “They’ll be fine until next weekend.”
Eva could tell by the almost imperceptible twitch of Bruno’s left eye that Ruth hadn’t rebooked their reservation. Her sister must’ve caught it too because she gave Eva an oh crap look. Yes, Eva could almost guarantee it was about to hit the fan.
Her mother muttered something in Italian and plucked the phone from Bruno’s hand. She brought it to her ear. Ruth answered on the first ring. She was as loud as their mother, and they heard her apologizing for canceling at the last minute. It would’ve been better if she’d stopped there. Ruth gave herself away when listing the family members who were ill and their particular ailments. She said her daughter-in-law had laryngitis, but they heard her distinct laugh in the background.
The woman was as annoying as her laugh, and Eva wouldn’t put it past her to have had Ruth cancel the reservation when she found out her party was being held at La Dolce Vita. She didn’t like Eva and Gia and barely tolerated their mother.
Carmen made sympathetic noises. Eva might’ve believed she was being sincere if not for the sneer on her face.
Her mother disconnected and hopped off the stool. “Come on. We’re going to Windemere.”
“Why would we go to Windemere?” Eva and Gia asked at the same time.
“Her family’s not sick. They’re at the grand opening, and no one gets away with playing a Rosetti for a fool.”
“What will it look like for people to see you there?” Bruno asked, his voice soothing while behind their mother’s back he gestured for Eva and Gia to help him convince her not to go.
Even Eva knew it was hopeless to reason with her mother now. She saluted Bruno with her wineglass and Gia did the same, and then they sat back to drink their Chianti while Bruno made his case.
“Bah.” Her mother waved off what Eva thought were legitimate reasons for Carmen not to go. Their customers were used to seeing them here, and it would look as if they were worried about the competition if they showed up at Windemere, especially if her mother confronted Ruth in the middle of the restaurant. “No one will see us. We’ll take the beach and look over the retaining wall.”
“Cara, the retaining wall is eight feet high.”
Their mother shrugged, motioning for them to follow her. “Come on, girls.”
Bruno groaned when Eva and Gia drained their wineglasses and did as their mother said. He should know the Rosetti women stuck together no matter what. They always had, and they always would.