The Sweet Life by Sharon Struth
In Italy, the best attractions are always off the beaten path . . .
Mamie Weber doesn’t know why she survived that terrible car accident five years ago. Physically, she has only a slight reminder—but emotionally, the pain is still fresh. Deep down she knows her husband would have wanted her to embrace life again. Now she has an opportunity to do just that, spending two weeks in Tuscany reviewing a tour company for her employer’s popular travel guide series. The warmth of the sun, the centuries-old art, a villa on the Umbrian border—it could be just the adventure she needs.
But with adventure comes the unexpected . . . like discovering that her entire tour group is made up of aging ex-hippies reminiscing about their Woodstock days. Or finding herself drawn to the guide, Julian, who is secretly haunted by a tragedy of his own, and seems to disapprove any time she tries something remotely risky—like an impromptu scooter ride with a local man.
As they explore the hilltop towns of Tuscany, Mamie knows that when this blissful excursion is over, she’ll have to return to reality. But when you let yourself wander, life can take some interesting detours . . .
Acclaim for The Sweet Life
“Struth’s novel is a great debut for a potential series…The story overall is intriguing, and of course, a setting in Italy is always something that makes for a great book. It comes with a strong recommendation and is worth picking up for a nice treat.” RT Reviews
“The sights, the sounds, the smells and the food. Oh, the food! I had to make spaghetti and meatballs the day I started the book. Sharon Struth puts you right in Tuscany in a way that not only transports you to the crowded streets and vineyards, but surrounds you with them. Masterfully done.” Goodreads 5-star Review
“You will like this if you’d like a nice tour of Tuscany (food, wine, just delightful), a little romance, and a happy ending. Perfect relaxation...” Goodreads 5-Star Review
* * * *
Find Sharon on Social Media at:
Sharon Struth believes you’re never too old to pursue a dream. The Hourglass, her debut novel, is a finalist in the National Readers’ Choice Awards for Best first Book, and her Blue Moon Lake Novels include the bestseller, Share the Moon.
When she’s not working, she and her husband happily sip their way through the scenic towns of the Connecticut Wine Trail, travel the world, and enjoy spending time with their precious pets and two grown daughters. She writes from the friendliest place she’s ever lived, Bethel, Connecticut. For more information, including where to find her published essays, please visit www.sharonstruth.com or visit her blog, Musings from the Middle Ages & More at www.sharonstruth.wordpress.com.
In the driver’s seat sat a square-faced man with a full Romanesque nose and short, dark hair. He greeted her with a wide smile. “Ciao, bella.”
She climbed the steps and smiled back. “Hello. I mean, Ciao. Sorry I’m late.”
Before the nice man in the driver’s seat could respond, a man standing about halfway down the aisle said, “I’m sorry, miss. You’ve got the wrong bus.”
Whoever he was, his cargo shorts and faded Led Zeppelin T-shirt didn’t carry any authority. But he held a clipboard, and his tone suggested he meant business. His Gaelic-looking face carried a slight boyish quality, hardened into a manly appearance due to his trimly cut mustache and beard. Wavy hair the color of cognac peeked out from beneath a gold cap with orange and blue lettering reading Wanderlust Excursions.
“I’m sure the hotel front desk can help you find the right tour.” He gave her a now-hurry-along smile and turned back to the man he’d been talking to.
“Did I just talk to you on the phone?”
He lifted his chin and raised a brow. “We’re waiting for Felix.” His gaze traveled her from top to bottom then he looked her in the eyes. “I’m pretty sure you’re not Felix?”
“No, but…” Mamie became aware of the silence and scanned the passengers.
Everyone in the full bus stared back. Quiet. Curious. She squirmed and her gaze drifted back to the man who seemed to be in charge.
“No. I’m not Felix, but if this is Wanderlust Excursions, it’s where I’m supposed to be.”
He squinted. “Wait. Are you the woman who answered Felix’s phone?”
“Yes. I’m taking his place on the tour.”
He snorted. A short, patronizing laugh. “I don’t think so.”
“Because you’re clearly not Felix.”
“But he transferred his vouchers to me.”
“Nobody told me. Our company rules state that purchased seats are not transferrable without prior home office approval.” He frowned and studied her again. “Besides, this is a specialized tour and you’re not a member of this group. Felix is.”
“How do you know I’m not?”
His lip curled into a little smirk. “Did you attend Woodstock?”
“Is there another one?”
“Well, no, but…” Mamie scanned the other passengers more carefully. Other than the guide—everyone else was probably over fifty-five. Maybe even over sixty. “What group are they part of?”
“They are”—the guide, whose company sponsored tag read Julian, glanced at his clipboard—“the Woodstock Wanderers.”
“Felix may not have been part of it either.” Mamie never heard him mention them before.
“Are you kidding? Felix was one of our founder members.” A man with thinning white hair, dark-rimmed glasses, and a full white beard sitting in the front seat winked at Mamie. “Bernie” in capital letters sat square in the center of a nametag with a tie-dyed background. Beneath his name it said, “Favorite Woodstock Song: ‘Let’s Go Get Stoned,’ Joe Cocker.”
Mamie would’ve never put Bernie together with that song, but… The bus’s silence and everyone watching her jarred her back to the problem at hand. “Felix never mentioned your group to me.”
Guess she knew Felix but didn’t know him. The truth about how she and Felix knew each other, though, wasn’t something she could share.
So she did the only thing she could do. Staring Julian square in the eye, she said, “Uncle Felix wanted me to take this trip. I’m his niece. He insisted I go in his place.”
“His niece, huh?” The tour director rubbed the back of his neck and considered her again. He shook his head. “I’m sorry he’s decided not to come, but on the transfer, I can’t budge. Rules are rules.”
A thin gentleman sitting a couple rows behind Bernie, with salt-and-pepper patches of hair above his ears, piped in. “Julian. Dude. Can’t you just go with the flow? She looks harmless. Let her come.”
Mamie squinted. His tag read Bob, but before she could read more, the others joined in with choruses of “yeahs,” and she looked away.
“You know what they say, Julian.” A woman with curly brown hair, peace sign earnings, and a pretty smile said, “Don’t sweat the small stuff.”
Mamie noted her nametag read Martha and her favorite Woodstock song was “Suite Judy Blue Eyes” by Crosby, Still, and Nash.
Julian pursed his lips. “All due respect Martha, me losing my job isn’t exactly small stuff.”
Martha grinned slyly and winked. “We promise to keep it a secret from the boss.” She glanced around. “Right everybody?”
Another chorus of loud “yeahs” filled the bus.
One slim man with thinning hair who sat in the last row fist bumped the air. “We aren’t afraid of the man.”
The passengers murmured and nodded, complete agreement on that one. Mamie loved this solidarity. Though she’d never considered herself a hippie—more like a loner—she had an incredible urge to be part of this group.
Julian watched them, frowning. He refocused his attention on Mamie. “Sorry. I’m going to have to ask you to step out so we can start. We’re already running late.”
Normally, Mamie respected timeliness, schedules, and rules. But she had a job to do. A mission to accomplish.
“Please. My uncle, he really wanted me to go and—”
Julian took several swift steps to the front of the bus and stopped close to her. He dropped his voice. “Listen, this isn’t personal. The last thing I need is to lose this job. Do me a solid and go see if you can get any of your money back.”
She quietly replied, “You don’t understand. I need to go on this tour.”
He narrowed his hard green eyes, but before he could say a thing, a chant filled the air.
“Let her stay. Let her stay. Let her stay.”
A blond-haired woman with a cherub face who sat at Bernie’s side spoke up over the chant. “Doesn’t she remind you of Tracy, Bern?” Her nametag read Sandra and her favorite Woodstock song was “Amazing Grace” by Arlo Guthrie. She patted Julian’s arm in a very maternal way. “Tracy’s our daughter. We’d love having some young energy around. Tracy’s just too busy working to spend any time with us.”
Julian’s lower lip dropped. He drew in a deep breath, looked at Mamie, and motioned to the door. “Let’s talk outside.”
She turned and headed off the bus. Little did he know, she wasn’t about to back down. Nothing would stop her from getting on this bus or making the most of this adventure. Two very good reasons existed for fighting the good fight.
The memory of her husband and daughter.
Release Date: September 5, 2017
SUGAR, SEA SALT, AND SHOW BIZ
Jen Reid’s life after walking off a reality show has been great–she’s gone from being a broke twenty-four-year-old Seattleite with no love life and no job to the twenty-five-year-old who got the guy, moved to Miami, and is starting a bakery with her best friend. She thinks her showmance love might be about to propose. And with mouthwatering goodies based on everyone’s favorite shows, her business, Sweet Reality, is destined for success.
That is, until a killer competitor opens right across the street. If she’s going to save Sweet Reality, Jen has to come up with a secret ingredient–like the recipe that won Totally 80s Bake-Off. Jen can get it–if she steps back into the spotlight. Soon she and her boyfriend are out to sea on a cruise ship full of reality stars, including her nemesis, Ariana; her lying, cheating ex; and some wicked producers looking to bring the drama. Separate cabins, “surprises” from her past, and scenarios tailor-made to spark fights are just the beginning. But with her self-respect, her business, and her future on the line, the fallout from this made-for-TV plotline will be all too real . . .
Sarah kissed both our cheeks before pulling away and handed me a small, clear plastic container. “You’re the best, both of you. I gotta go before they tow my car. Love you all, I’ll see you next Sunday. Bring me alcohol, and try not to get into any trouble. Especially you, Ed.”
He winked at her, and Justin pulled her aside, supposedly to talk about their mother for a minute before dropping our suitcases with the porter. I suspected he had another reason for this conversation, which made me grin far more than I should at the prospect of having my luggage checked.
This excitement would not be contained. Nearly two years ago, I’d been so sure my ex-boyfriend planned to propose right before I found out he was married. I’d been excited then, but the thought of spending my life with him never sounded as perfect as marrying Justin. He was my other half, the absolute best partner for me.
Sarah winked at me over his shoulder, her way of telling me she’d slipped him the ring. I shifted my weight from one foot to the other, wishing I could share my excitement with someone, but got distracted by the massive ocean liner casting shadows over the dock. More specifically, by the lifeboats.
Eyeing the orange rubber vessels lining the sides, I turned to Ed. “Do you think they brought enough lifeboats?”
“Yes. Also, this isn’t the Titanic. We’re not gonna sink. We have communications devices to call for help. And you, Jen, have your very own hunky stud in Justin to save you if anything goes wrong. Relax. Take your Dramamine.”
I rooted around in my carry-on for a moment before giving up. “My Dramamine must be in my big suitcase . . . which I probably shouldn’t have given to him to check. At least not without putting this Tupperware in first. The carry-on is about to burst.”
Ed gestured at the container Sarah handed me before leaving. “What’s that for?”
“So I can bring her one of Tammy Rae’s cupcakes. They’re doing a tasting after the bake-off tomorrow, remember?”
One of the onboard events pitted reality stars against each other in a baking competition, which Ed apparently forgot to sign up for. Hopefully, he wasn’t going to wing it. My friend created excellent meals for everyone while we were in the Fishbowl, but his laissez-faire attitude to cooking wouldn’t produce the same delicious results in baked goods.
Instead of competing against Ed, I signed up to judge with Justin. Partially as a way of getting on Tammy Rae’s good side, and partially because rumors said everyone involved got to sample her winning cupcakes after the event. I needed to be in the right place to snag one. Well, two. One for me, one for Sarah. Then I could verify whether these things tasted as good as the inter-webs claimed and butter Tammy Rae up by raving about what a baking genius she was before begging for a favor.
Where was Tammy Rae? Hopefully she hadn’t changed her mind and canceled at the last minute. According to E-Entertainment News Online, she’d mysteriously pulled out of Celebrity Poker Match a few years back, despite being a favorite to win. I scanned the docks, looking for her.
With luck, the recipe would be in my hand and I’d be lounging by the pool before the ship arrived in our first port. But one thing at a time. First, Justin and I needed to thoroughly explore and “enjoy” our cabin. Our glorious private cabin where we wouldn’t have to worry about my boyfriend’s sister or his somewhat creepy roommate hearing us through the paper-thin walls of our respective apartments. Or well, at least we wouldn’t know the people on the other side of our walls, so it wouldn’t matter what they heard.
Ed’s voice called me away from those thoughts, back to our conversation.
“What?” I asked.
“I said, calm down. Justin will be back soon, Tammy Rae will arrive before the ship leaves, and your suitcase, with Dramamine, will be delivered to your cabin sooner rather than later.”
“Why didn’t I take seasick pills before leaving home?” I moaned. “Why am I doing this?”
“You mean, freaking out over nothing? I couldn’t tell you.” Ed hugged me. “Really, Jen, you’ll be fine. I’ve cruised before. You won’t feel a thing.”
Finally, Justin walked toward us, sans luggage. I found myself relaxing as he put an arm around my waist and squeezed. I kissed him.
“Ugh. Lovebirds!” Ed moaned. “Get a room!”
“Hey, Ed, isn’t your boyfriend around here?” Justin asked good-naturedly. “Why don’t you go find him?”
Ed met his boyfriend Connor, formerly known to me only as Curly Beard, while filming The Fishbowl. Although the Network strictly prohibited staff from socializing with the contestants, they still found a way to make a connection. More importantly, they’d managed to keep it going ever since. The Network promoted Connor from production assistant to camera operator, and Ed recently moved from Boston to Los Angeles to be with him while pursuing a stand-up comedy career. I couldn’t have been happier for them.
“He’s doing some pre-boarding filming. I’m not allowed,” he said to Justin. “Besides, someone had to keep your belle here from having a panic attack. Did you know she gets seasick?”
Justin tilted his head at me the way he did when he didn’t want to say he thought I wasn’t being one hundred percent truthful. “You never mentioned that. You do?”
“I don’t know. When I was in high school, I threw up on the swan boats at the local fair.”
“Wasn’t that right after you bought tacos out of some guy’s van? Because I’m not sure that was the boat’s fault.”
This was the problem with dating someone long enough for them to hear all your stories. “Maybe…”
“You’ll be fine!” Ed said. “Now, let’s go before they take off without us.”
“Depart,” I said. “Or set sail.”
“Whatever.” Ed took off for the ship, luggage in tow.
“What’s really wrong?” Justin asked.
He gazed into my eyes until I realized I’d been freaking out over nothing. “I don’t know. I’ve been on edge all week. Partially it’s the bakery. What if Sarah can’t come up with new recipes? What if Tammy Rae hates me?”
“You are a resourceful, brilliant woman. You can be very persuasive. Plus, Sarah’s a genius in the kitchen. Even if Tammy Rae says no, the two of you will come up with something.”
I sighed. “You’re right, I’m sorry. I’m being stupid. I don’t know why I’m so jittery.”
Behind me, someone walked by wearing a t-shirt showing a woman with long, dark hair, pouting out from the inside of a clear fishbowl. And suddenly, I realized exactly why I felt so on edge: Ariana. The one person who could always make me act like my brain took a vacation without my body. No one confirmed whether she’d be onboard. I couldn’t relax until we set sail without her.
$20 Amazon Gift Card
About the Author
Laura Heffernan is living proof that watching too much TV can pay off. When not watching total strangers get married, drag racing queens, or cooking competitions, Laura enjoys travel, baking, board games, helping with writing contests, and seeking new experiences. She lives in the Northeast with her amazing husband and two furry little beasts.
Connect with Laura
Newsletter Sign Up: http://bit.ly/2tXagfL
Facebook Author Page: http://bit.ly/2s3Cq7J
Goodreads Author Page: http://bit.ly/2sySwcP
Amazon Author Page: http://amzn.to/2sJNQz8
BookBub Author Page: http://bit.ly/2umbMwF