Authors: Mandy Baggot
Tags: #Contemporary, #Romantic Comedy, #Romance, #Fiction, #Forever Love, #Adult, #Bachelor, #Single Woman, #Sensual, #Hearts Desire, #Corfu Greek Island, #Millionaire, #Brother, #Restaurant, #Family Taverna, #Fantasies, #Mediterranean
’ve bought something
Imogen Charlton’s breath caught in her throat, and her hand, under strain from a Gut Buster Breakfast Special, started to tilt forward. Baked beans swam their way to the edge of the plate. Her brother Harry’s statement had the café noises fading away. Local radio playing the latest from Olly Murs, banter from the truckers, fierce sizzling from the griddle in the kitchen and Old Joe’s bronchial cough – it all slipped into the distance as her brain caught up with the three-word sentence.
Steadying the plate, she looked her brother in the eye. It was a bloody boat. She knew it. A
boat. Some hideously expensive Sunseeker he’d got for a
price from someone at the pub. She scrutinised him closer, wondering if she stared hard enough she might be able to see details of the purchase written on his face. How much money he’d thrown away. How many horsepower and what colour – the listing on eBay when it was confirmed a dud and not good for anything but parts.
‘Aren’t you going to ask me what it is?’ Harry asked in a sing-song tone.
Imogen came to, looking at the plate of sausage, bacon, egg and those watery beans on a slide. She tightened her grip on the china and brushed past Harry, heading for table five. Harry was hot on her heels like an eager, untrained puppy. If he started to pant they really were in trouble. Panting had happened before, just prior to him telling her he had bought a trailer tent.
‘Here we are, Brian, sorry about the delay.’ Imogen slid the plate onto the Formica table near the window in front of their resident hairy biker.
‘Out of Daddies here, darlin’.’ Brian held up the empty bottle of brown sauce.
Imogen smiled at her customer. ‘Can’t have a fry-up without Daddies. I’ll be right back.’ She about-turned, pushing stray strands of her blonde hair back into place and heading off to the kitchen.
Out of the corner of her eye she saw Harry’s smile drop. ‘Why do I get the distinct impression I’m being ignored?’ he asked, crossing his arms over his chest and looking affronted.
Imogen turned back to him, feeling bad. The sparkle in Harry’s blue eyes was fading, his floppy blond hair slightly losing its bounce. She wiped her hands down the front of her apron and forced an upbeat look. She was betting, if it wasn’t a boat, it was something in bulk. She still had a hundred bottles of antifreeze ‘capable of thawing Antarctica’ in her garage.
Harry’s smile was back and Imogen braced herself.
Not a boat. Not a boat
‘I’ve bought a restaurant.’
Be a boat. Be a boat
. Her first urge was to thump Harry squarely in the chest to stop him saying anything else. He couldn’t be serious. It would be something else. A joke. Or maybe it was Lego. Yes, wasn’t he constructing something serious with Tristan? They’d done the Millennium Falcon and everything in between. Now maybe it was time for a building-brick Harvester.
‘Lovely,’ she said, swiping up two finished mugs from table two. ‘How many hours is that going to take to complete?’
Harry blew out a breath, his arms folding behind his head, hands on the back of his skull. ‘Wow, I don’t know.’ His abdomen expanded as he bent his torso back. ‘I mean, you can’t tell everything that’s involved from the pictures.’
Imogen nodded. ‘And the instructions are always pretty useless too.’
She watched Harry’s brow furrow. ‘Well, I have had a couple of really detailed emails.’
‘What?’ Harry laughed.
Imogen grabbed a bottle of Daddies sauce from table two and held it tight in both hands. It
Lego. He’d said the word ‘restaurant’ and he really
‘Like this place?’ Imogen asked, waving the sauce bottle to highlight the tables and chairs and people eating their way to heart disease.
‘Oh no,’ Harry said, shaking his head. ‘Not like this place.’
What did that mean? She didn’t know what to say next. Brian’s waving became frenzied and Imogen rushed over to table five and handed over the sauce with a quick apology.
Coming back she took Harry by his plaid shirt-covered arm and tugged him over to the serving hatch where more orders were waiting for her. The scent of deep-frying wafted through the opening as she pulled a white slip off the door.
‘Harry,’ she begged. ‘The other week you said you were thinking of starting a local club for fans of
‘I might still do that.’ He looked sheepish. ‘Maybe in the winter.’
Imogen shook her head. ‘You
have bought a restaurant.’
‘Why not?’ Harry asked, folding his arms across his chest again and looking close to defiant.
‘Because when people go down the pub they go for a drink… maybe a packet of crisps, or pork scratchings on a particularly rough day. And if they buy something from a dodgy bloke in a hoody it’s pirate DVDs or miracle anti-ageing face cream that turns out to be relabelled Swarfega.’
‘Who said I bought it down the pub?’
‘Harry, tell me what you’ve done,’ Imogen ordered, picking up two plates of scrambled eggs.
told you.’ Harry grinned again. ‘I’ve bought a restaurant.’
This was bad. He sounded genuinely serious. How could that be? She’d only spoken to him two days ago. They’d visited their mum, Grace. Imogen had brought two Jill Mansell books and the latest copy of Bella and Harry had brought pickled onion Monster Munch and ate them all himself. She knew, in between their mum’s talk about the weather – too hot one day, too cold the next – there had been no indication Harry was about to purchase a catering business.
Imogen deposited the scrambled eggs on table six and headed back to the hatch for the accompanying drinks.
‘Tell me it’s another sandwich van.’
Harry laughed, his eyes crinkling at the corners. ‘Why would I want another sandwich van? Sandwiches are old school now.’
. ‘Why would you want a restaurant?’ she responded, moving forward, stepping over Mrs Green’s bag of knitting in the walkway.
‘Because I need another job, Immy and…’ Harry began, following her.
Imogen looked over her shoulder at him as she delivered the coffees. He’d got Mrs Green’s pale lemon three-ply wool stuck in the Velcro straps of his trainers.
‘And…’ Harry started again.
‘Harry, just stop walking!’ She’d raised her voice just as the radio went quiet and forced a smile. ‘Please, just stop before you become part of a matinee jacket for Baby George-slash-Georgina.’
Harry glanced down at his feet and the wool caught up in his shoes. ‘Oh dear. Sorry,’ he said, bending down to unravel himself.
‘Harry, don’t. Just…’ Imogen sighed. ‘I’m really busy. Just spit it out. Tell me about this restaurant in very short sentences.’
Harry stood up, a grin back on his face. ‘I’ve bought it.’
Imogen kept quiet, hoping she could sort this out, help him go back on the deal.
‘And I want you to run it with me.’
‘And you’re going to love this part the best!’
She felt sick.
‘It’s in Corfu! In Greece!’
. She was officially screwed.
t’s got so
much space. There’s a separate function room out the back and a large flat above. It’s right on the beach. I mean, the view is to die for and in the summer it’s going to be packed with holidaymakers. It’s perfect.’ Harry grinned before shovelling in another mouthful of chips. ‘And it’s Corfu! It’s where Janie and I had our first foreign holiday together and three more after that before the children arrived. I can still smell those lemons on the trees and taste the
Harry had come back after the lunch rush and Imogen was huddled over a tuna jacket potato she had no intention of eating, looking at the restaurant details. The price said ninety-nine thousand Euro and underneath was the word ‘Acharavi’ – presumably the place in Corfu this disaster was situated. The building looked far from
definition of perfect. With its roof resembling a pile of tiles a three-year-old had scattered randomly, smashed front windows and graffiti in the Greek alphabet on the outside walls, it looked like something from a warzone, not this appealing summer bistro Harry was describing. There was only one explanation. He was manic. He had to be suffering again and she had missed the signs. She needed to get him to his doctor. Depression was a heavy beast and, when things were at their worst, the whole family had gone through it with him. And he was talking about Janie as if everything was fine. He had never accepted the separation and Imogen wasn’t sure what their current position was.
‘Harry,’ Imogen said softly. ‘You haven’t paid any money out yet, have you?’
He laughed then, eyes shining like a happy Minion. ‘Of course I have. The deal’s done. I’ve been working on this for weeks.’
Had she really taken her eye so far off the ball? ‘You… you didn’t say anything,’ she croaked, her head starting to throb.
‘No, of course I didn’t,’ Harry said, gulping at his glass of Coke.
‘Well, why not?’
‘Because you would have said I was crazy and tried to stop me.’
‘Yes!’ Imogen exclaimed. ‘Yes, I would have and that’s exactly
you should have told me!’ She put her hands into her hair, clenching clumps into her fists.
‘Why are you angry?’ Harry asked, eyes wide, hair rumpled, a blob of ketchup on his shirt, looking a bit like a rejected toy at a jumble sale.
‘I’m angry because this is another one of your fads, Harry.’
‘Impulses… ridiculous urges… mad ideas.’ She sighed. ‘Are you getting the picture?’
‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’ Harry sat back in his seat now, arms folding across his chest.
‘Harry, a couple of months ago you told me you were thinking of being a cox for the next GB Olympic rowing team.’
‘It was just a loose idea. I do have some experience in that area.’
‘Then it was being a rep selling pet food.’ That had been a disaster. He had constantly smelled of liver and he had lost more money than he’d made. ‘And then remember when you decided to “invest” in antique silver and it all started to tarnish pretty much the second you bought it?’
Harry sat forward, pointing his finger at Imogen. ‘Now, that was a good idea. If I hadn’t had to buy so much product up front that could have worked out well.’
Imogen shook her head. ‘This restaurant. It’s a mad idea, Harry.’
There was no point going softly softly. Her brother needed to hear the facts. How could he possibly buy a dilapidated building in Corfu, let alone think he was going to run it as a profitable business? You didn’t need to be an expert in international finance to know that Greece was going through a sticky patch.
‘Why’s it a mad idea?’
‘Because…’ Imogen picked up the details and shook them in the air. ‘Look at it! It looks like it belongs to someone with an ASBO.’
‘It’s just been slightly neglected, that’s all.’
neglected?! The weeds have almost formed a privet hedge.’
Imogen watched as Harry picked at a thread on the leg of his jeans. This sort of behaviour, coupled with his refusal to deal with his depression, was why his marriage was on the verge of collapse. Harry and Janie were on a break. Originally intended to be a few weeks it had so far been almost four months.
For over a year Harry had been unsettled, up and down more than a trapeze artist, making steady employment and being completely present in a relationship akin to trying to run up Kilimanjaro in six-inch heels. Son Tristan and daughter Olivia were Harry’s first priority, but they were having to adjust to their father not living with them and it wasn’t doing them any good. Imogen swallowed. Now there seemed to be a restaurant too. ‘What about Tristan and Olivia?’
Harry looked up, his eyes quizzical.
‘If you head off to Corfu you’ll hardly see them,’ she added.
Harry sat up straighter. ‘This is what’s going to bring us all back together.’ He smiled. ‘Janie loves Corfu. We were in love in Corfu. Think of it, Immy. Olivia would love the beach and Tristan and I could go hiking like we used to.’ Harry reached for the property details on the table and picked them up. ‘This place, it doesn’t look like much now, but I know we can make it work.’ He turned his full attention to her. ‘You and me, working together, making a go of a restaurant.’
He really meant it. Harry thought he was going to be the next Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, spending the summer ankle deep in crushed grapes for wine or boiling up arse of local goat to create an aromatic jus.
‘You’ve got the skills and I had the money.’ He laughed. ‘I can see us cooking up a storm in the kitchen while our customers sit back and relax, their eyes on the sea view.’
‘Harry, I work in a transport café. It isn’t haute cuisine.’
‘You used to do haute cuisine though.’ He grinned, then sang. ‘Watch me whip, watch me flambé.’ He waved a hand in the air. ‘And you’re doing that exam now. Business and stuff.’
‘It’s an NVQ.’ And the truth was, she was struggling with it.
Her career path when she had left school had been to complete a business studies and hotelier diploma. Working in the hotel industry had been a long held dream ever since their father had brought her souvenirs – conch shells, a necklace made of pebbles – and a pen from every different hotel he’d stayed at when he’d travelled for work. Those glossy ballpoints and his stories about the tropical heat of Malaysia and sands of Australia had filled her with ambition and longing to see more of the world – until the day he hadn’t come home. Her grief had killed every single dream and she’d run headlong into marriage with the first man she’d fallen for and planted her feet firmly on English ground.
Ten GCSEs, a finalised divorce and those knick-knacks collecting dust were all she had to show for her twenty-eight years. Study was so much harder now and coming home to hit the books after a full day on her feet at the café just wasn’t working. All she craved was something she hadn’t served up during the day – usually pizza – and a couple of glasses of wine. Her days of taking time to perfect a little Spanish tapas or a rich tagine had been swamped by real life and the need to meet mortgage payments. The only reason she was struggling on with the course was because she had found out about the Wyatt Hotel Group’s Leadership and Development programme. After several chardonnays and a few too many slices of pepperoni, she had filled in the online form to apply. White wine had helped her write truthful and confident-sounding responses to the questions and she’d ended the page with a heartfelt soliloquy about her interest in the hotel industry because of her late father’s travels. The next day, seeing the automated response saying her application had been received, she immediately regretted being so naïve. Re-reading the page made it clear the hotel group wanted graduates, not her and her basic ability to keep Mrs Green happy with a toasted teacake.
‘I’m a waitress, Harry,’ she reminded him.
‘You do a mean paella.’ He blinked his blond eyelashes at her and pouted. ‘And what about when you cooked for me and Janie when she was trying to seduce those clients? Salmon mousse, steak and ale pie and a brandy snap basket that could have been put on display.’
‘None of that is remotely Greek.’
‘Who says we have to open a
‘It’s in Greece. I think that’s a pretty big clue.’
‘Which means they have hundreds of tavernas. We could do something different. Fish and chips… or tapas.’ He nodded at Imogen. ‘You know how to do tapas, don’t you?’
‘I usually open a packet from Tesco.’ She shook her head. ‘And you can’t just go over to Greece and start stamping the Union Jack over everything, Harry.’
In truth her mouth was watering over the thought of Greek food. There was a lovely place not far from her house that was as authentic as you could get in England. Greek scenes in oils on the walls, candlelight, pretty tablecloths and dish after dish of treats – the salty sourness of the feta cheese on hot, fresh bread, the smooth, creamy texture of the
, the succulent aubergine in the
and the tangy, sweet lemon of the drizzle cake for pudding. She could almost taste it.
‘I knew you wouldn’t take this seriously,’ Harry said, his tone cross.
‘I am. Really, you have no idea how serious I think this is.’
Harry reached over the table and took her hand in his. ‘Just picture the scene, Immy. You and me, our own business, in Greece. The sun, the sea, the Soltan Once for my fair skin.’ He laughed. ‘A new start for the both of us.’ He paused. ‘I just know Corfu could make us both happy.’
The excitement and hope in his voice stabbed at Imogen’s heart. As much as she wanted to grab him and shake him to his senses she couldn’t crush this dream to death today. She would just have to hope another grand, ridiculous plan was going to come along before Harry booked the plane tickets. Did she know anyone, anyone at all, who was selling a boat?
She smiled and patted Harry’s hand. ‘We’ll see.’
Harry grinned. ‘That’s as good as a yes, then.’