It is the greatest pleasure of mine to be on this blog tour for a book that well and truly got inside my heart. I will be sharing an extract and later you will also find out my thoughts on this beauty. Without further ado I’m going to hand over to my good friends Nessie and Sam at the Star and Sixpence although the menu invitation does not copy well…
A Taste of Autumn
Star and Sixpence
The leaves are turning gold and there’s a chill in the air, so why not join our new chef, Gabe Santiago,
for an evening of smoky flavours and zinging cocktails as he introduces his new brand-new menu.
Booking essential. Thursday 25th October
It was a crisp mid-September morning, the kind that began with dewy grass but promised warmth as the sun rose higher in the sky. Nessie Chapman leaned back against the wrought- iron bench in the garden of Snowdrop Cottage and let her eyes drift shut. Soon, she’d have to walk over to the neighbouring Star and Sixpence and help her sister, Sam, welcome their new chef on his first day. But not right this second. She could steal a moment or two to appreciate the chirp of birdsong and gentle buzz of a nearby bee; Sam wouldn’t begrudge her that. In fact, knowing Sam, she might even prefer to be alone to greet the undeniably gorgeous Gabriel Santiago, although she’d insisted after they’d agreed he was the right person for the job that she was only interested in his prowess in the kitchen.
The truth was, Sam didn’t begrudge Nessie much. She’d cheered to the rafters when Nessie had finally got together with Owen Rhys, the blacksmith who lived next door to the Star and Sixpence, and she’d continued to cheer even when her own love affair with cellarman Joss ended in another tumultuous break-up. And she hadn’t objected a few months later when Nessie tentatively mentioned that Owen had asked her to move in with him, even though it meant Sam would be living in the pub on her own. She’d simply beamed in delight and declared that she couldn’t wait to have the place to herself.
There was a faint creak behind Nessie, alerting her that the back door of the cottage had opened.
‘A penny for your thoughts,’ a deep, Welsh-accented voice said.
Nessie smiled and opened her eyes. ‘If I had a penny for every time you’ve said that . . .’
Owen smiled back, his dark eyes crinkling beneath his coal-black brows and unruly curls. ‘You’d have around twenty pence, I expect. I should up my rates.’
He dipped his head to brush her lips with his and she felt the same familiar rush of delight mixed with incredulity that she still got every time Owen kissed her. Would it ever get old? she wondered, gazing up at him. It was hard to imagine at the moment, when every kiss still felt like their first.
‘So,’ he said, raising an eyebrow. ‘Do I have to guess what you were daydreaming about?’
Nessie laughed. ‘You won’t be surprised to hear I was thinking about the pub. Sam wants to make sure everything is gleaming for the new chef’s arrival.’
‘Ah, yes,’ Owen said wryly. ‘The much-anticipated Señor Santiago. I popped into the bakery yesterday and Martha was like a cat on hot bricks. I hope he’s ready to become Little Monkham’s new heart-throb.’
Nessie pictured the brooding Spanish chef and pulled a wry face. ‘Something tells me he’s already used to that kind of attention.’
‘I can imagine,’ Owen replied. ‘How does Sam feel about him?’
The question was innocent enough, but Nessie felt her- self bristle slightly at the implication behind the words; Sam had been at the centre of village gossip on more than one occasion in the past. Or at least her love life had. Then Nessie reminded herself that this was Owen, who didn’t have a gos- sipy bone in his body, and she forced herself to relax. ‘She’s looking forward to it, I think,’ she said cautiously. ‘We both are. He’ll be a breath of fresh air.’
Owen smiled. ‘He’ll certainly cause a lot of sighing, if his photo is anything to go by. Luke is hoping you’ll be able to sneak some puddings home.’
An image of Owen’s nine-year-old son popped into Nessie’s head; blond-haired and blue-eyed, he was the oppo- site of Owen’s dark Welsh looks, but they shared the same appetite. In fact, Luke didn’t so much eat food as inhale it and Nessie could just imagine him licking his lips at the thought of the kind of desserts that might be going begging at the end of the night in the Star and Sixpence kitchen. ‘I’ll see what I can do,’ she promised.
‘And now I suppose we’d both better get to work,’ Owen said, casting a rueful glance towards the pub. ‘You know where I am if your wonder chef decides to whip up an impos- sibly fancy lunch, although a decent steak sandwich would be just as welcome.’
Nessie laughed. ‘We’ll let him unpack before we start demanding meals, shall we?’
Owen accepted the teasing rebuke with a cheerful nod. ‘I suppose you’ve got a point. See you later, then.’
Dropping another kiss onto her forehead, he crossed the yard and disappeared into the forge.
Nessie sat for a moment longer, then roused herself with an inward sigh; Owen was right, she’d better get moving. Sam might not begrudge her sister’s happiness, but she definitely wouldn’t appreciate cleaning the pub on her own.
Nessie wasn’t sure she’d ever seen Sam as anxious as she was right before Gabriel Santiago was due to arrive. She paced the floor in front of the gleaming bar, casting fret- ful glances back towards the door that led to the newly fitted kitchens.
‘You did steam-clean the floor, didn’t you?’ she asked Nessie, running a hand through her usually sleek blonde bob. ‘After you’d done the oven and swept up the dust?’
Nessie summoned up her most soothing voice. ‘You were there when I did it, Sam. And I’ve double-checked the spare room, before you ask – everything is ready. All we need is the man himself.’
Sam checked the time. ‘He said he’d get here around ten o’clock, depending on traffic.’ She took a deep breath and glanced towards the spotlit bottles that lined the back of the bar. ‘God, this is stressful. Is it too early for gin?’
‘Relax, Sam,’ Nessie said, frowning a little. ‘Would it help to think of him as just another new employee?’
Now it was Sam’s turn to frown. ‘An employee who just happens to be an internationally respected Michelin- starred chef – one we’ve been boasting about for weeks. There’s a lot riding on making sure he settles in fast and sticks around.’
‘He’s also a professional,’ Nessie reminded her. ‘And he’s already inspected the kitchen, before he agreed to work with us. A speck or two of dust won’t scare him off.’
For a moment, Nessie thought her sister would argue, but then she sighed. ‘You’re right. I don’t know why I’m so worried.’
Nessie thought she knew: Sam had been different since her relationship with Joss had fallen apart. It had been a dif- ficult break-up – neither had wanted to accept that the bad times had begun to far outweigh the good – and Nessie sus- pected her sister had been considerably more hurt than she’d ever admit when Joss had made the decision to leave Little Monkham ‘for both their sakes’. He’d been Sam’s first serious love affair and the ensuing fallout had dampened her usual optimism, making her more wary of everything. Including, it seemed, their new business venture.
‘I thought I was supposed to be the worrier,’ Nessie said, her tone gently teasing. ‘Connor and Tilly will be here soon – they’ll get everything ready for opening. Why don’t we go upstairs and grab a cuppa?’
Connor was the burly ex-fireman who looked after the pub’s cellars, and Tilly was their nineteen-year-old barmaid; both were stalwart members of the Star and Sixpence team. And Nessie wouldn’t be surprised if Tilly’s mother, Martha, abandoned the village bakery to catch an early glimpse of the pub’s new chef – he’d been all she had talked about for weeks.
Sam puffed out a long breath. ‘Okay, deal.’
The first-floor rooms were a far cry from the gloom and woodchip wallpaper that had dominated when Nessie and Sam had first moved into the Star and Sixpence. The bedrooms hadn’t needed much; a lick of paint on the wood-beamed ceilings and plush new carpets to take some of the chill out of the early winter mornings. The kitchen had been another story – Sam hadn’t wasted any time in stripping out the boxy wall units and replacing them with something sleek and tasteful. The outdated appliances had gone too, including a fridge that was so vintage it had almost come back into style. In the living room, there were now two matching teal sofas that went beautifully with the oak coffee table and bookshelf, plus a flat-screen TV that Sam and Nessie had rarely found the time to watch. The rooms were still recognisably part of an old building but updated and modernised, in the same way that the pub downstairs was a fresher, more inviting version of the sixteenth-century inn it had been.
‘It’ll be weird having a flatmate again,’ Sam said, as they sat around the small table in the kitchen, sipping tea. ‘And even weirder that it won’t be you.’
‘I’m sure it will just be a temporary arrangement,’ Nessie said. ‘I imagine Gabe will want his own space too, once he’s settled in a bit.’
Sam gazed at her over the top of her mug, her expression pensive. ‘We are doing the right thing, aren’t we, Ness? Expanding the business, I mean.’
Once again, Nessie was struck by the reversal in their roles. Sam had always been impetuous and confident, while Nessie was more thoughtful and reticent. But those differences had grown less marked over the last year and not all of it was due to Sam’s broken heart; Nessie felt more settled in her role as the official landlady of the pub, in her place among the Little Monkham community too. Being with Owen had helped – his placid strength gave her something to lean on and the future no longer looked dark and unknowable. She could see the years stretching ahead, comfortable and safe, and the thought gave her more peace than she’d ever known.
‘Of course we are,’ she told Sam, with a smile of encouragement. We need to keep growing if we’re going to bring home that National Pub of the Year award.’
Sam nodded slowly. ‘I know. But are we being too ambi- tious? We could have gone for a lower-profile chef.’
‘We could,’ Nessie agreed. ‘But when have we ever taken the easy path? More importantly, when have you?’
Sam said nothing.
‘We chose Gabe because he’s a rising star – fresh and exciting and not afraid to take a few risks,’ Nessie went on. ‘Anyone can do good pub grub. We want more than that.’
‘Go hard or go home,’ Sam said, a wry smile tugging at her mouth. ‘Okay, you’ve convinced me all over again.’
The thud of feet on the stairs made them both glance towards the kitchen door. ‘Good,’ Nessie said. ‘Because it sounds like he might be here.’
Tilly appeared in the doorway, her cheeks unusually pink. ‘There’s a man at the door asking for you,’ she said, sounding flustered. ‘It’s . . . He’s . . .’
Nessie took pity on her. ‘Gabe Santiago, I presume?’ The barmaid nodded.
‘Thanks, Tilly, we’ll be right down,’ Nessie said. She
glanced at Sam. ‘Ready?’
Her sister lowered her cup and squared her shoulders. ‘As
ready as I’ll ever be.’
Be sure to pop in for a drink with the rest of the gorgeous tour. I will be posting my review later.