Is Beth Barnes a beautiful con artist or the genuine friend of Evan Morgan, an elderly Welsh chef?
When Evan dies, he hands talented London chef Beth her big break. She has the chance to realise her dream and run her very own restaurant in a village on the wild Welsh Celtic coast. But there are strings attached. Can she comply and gain her inheritance, her dream? Accused of being a gold digger by the family, Beth’s welcome to Wales is not quite as warm as she hoped for.
Burned from a recent divorce, the last thing on architect Gareth Morgan’s mind is another wedding. If he wants to realise his development dreams, he must marry.
It’s a strictly business proposal. But can Beth and Gareth stick to the terms?
Targeted Age Group:: Adults
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I was inspired by the beautiful Welsh coastline and the place I am privileged to call my home. I hope that my readers are drawn into my world and enjoy Freshwater Bay too.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
The characters are drawn from my imagination but I hope that readers will relate to them.
Beth Barnes was busting her ass again to get the orders out. It was Friday afternoon and it seemed like every single London office worker had snuck out early to catch a few rays of the year’s first warm spring sunshine. The sun splashed onto the ice buckets and sparkled on the cutlery and glasses arranged immaculately across the crisp, white linen tablecloths of La Vie en Rose, one of the city’s swankiest French restaurants. The place was bouncing, as usual.
The order check pinged into the busy kitchen where chef Beth Barnes was storming, in full command of service. At five foot two, she was slight and small; underestimated by many at first, with her girlish looks and proportions. But, boy, did they make a mistake if they did. Because when the Pocket Rocket was on fire, Chef Beth was a sight to see.
“One goat's cheese, four turbot,” she called.
The chefs de partie sprang into action. Her own creation, the lunchtime special of turbot with a Pernod velouté sauce, was flying out of the kitchen today, by far the most popular and most profitable dish on the menu. She knew Marcel, her French boss, would be rubbing his hands and popping a champagne cork tonight when he saw the takings.
Table twelve was still empty though.
Worried, she checked the booking system again. He hadn’t cancelled, but he was now well over two hours late. Evan Morgan reserved table twelve every Friday at two, and this was the second Friday he hadn’t turned up. He was such a good customer, it wasn’t a big deal that they’d wasted a table, but this was so not like him.
She knew that Evan, an elderly retired chef, seemed to some like an unlikely friend for Beth to have. They could judge away; she didn’t care. She liked hanging out with him; they were both alone in London and they were both total food geeks, so what was wrong with that? And he was full of it, alright; always setting her off into giggles with his scandalous stories of the Paris and London kitchens where he’d worked. And sometimes he’d tell her wistfully some more about Monique, his French wife, and his restaurant back in Wales, by the sea. It sounded magical. When Monique died, his heart died too, he told Beth sadly. Not being able to face the place without her, and at a loss of what to do, he’d come back to London, where he lived as a young man. Back to the company of chefs.
“With great food and friends like you, cariad, I am never alone,” he’d often tell her.
And when she reeled off her recipe ideas to him, Evan would chip in with suggestions, though he wasn’t ashamed to admit that some of the methods she used completely befuddled him. It was more like chemistry than cooking these days.
“You’re doing Frankenstein food again, my dear,” he joked when she told him how she’d been using liquid nitrogen to set her green apple sorbet.
Chefs moved with the times, food was fashion; and Evan told her quite candidly that he would happily live out the rest of his days without eating her quinoa or tofu ever again. That said, he generally did adore tasting Beth’s creations. She remembered him winking at her, when she’d trialled her turbot dish on him a few weeks ago.
“That’s fantastic. Of course, the secret’s in that Pernod sauce of yours.”
Her food was beginning to get the attention of the London critics too, who were, on the whole, a stroppy, hard-headed bunch. Her friend, Jo, an editor of an online news feed, kept pleading with her to do a regular slot for the food section, dangling the carrot of her becoming a celebrity chef. But Beth didn’t pay any mind to that. Working in the restaurant was exhilarating enough for her. Even though it was hot and hectic, and every busy shift felt like a battle to be won.
Maybe Evan had a bug and had forgotten to cancel? She really had meant to call him when he was a no show the Friday before. But it had totally slipped her mind. She’d covered double shifts for a few days, and somehow, two weeks had zipped by. She told herself off; she was such a flaky friend.
“OK, that’s us done. Great job, folks. We have what looks like a very full box of tips from our city-slickers today.”
Beth wrapped up her lunch service team and mouthed good luck to Gary, the other managing chef, who’d just come in, ready for the evening shift.
Gary raked his eyes over her for a sleazy moment too long. He’d been hinting for a while now about them getting together. He was a good looking guy, but no way was she going there. She knew to her cost that dating co-workers was a dumb idea.
“I’ll go round to his place. Check he’s alright,” Beth decided as she told her friend Alys, who headed up the pastry and bread section, about Evan’s no-show.
“Take some of that pea and wild garlic soup from lunch with you, and this.”
Alys passed her a loaf of her sourdough bread.
Seriously that girl could bake. Just smelling that delicious bread was enough to put two dress sizes on her, Beth thought as she wrapped it up in clingfilm.
“Tell him to call me, okay? I want the recipe for that walnut and avocado loaf he was telling me about.”
Two pots of yellow daffodils framed the glossy black door of the beige brick house where Beth rented an extraordinarily tiny apartment for an extortionately large chunk of her hard-earned wages. The joys of London living, she mused, as she picked up the communal post strewn across the hall floor below the letterbox. Binning the pizza ads and election leaflets, she noticed that one stiff envelope remained, addressed to her, Miss Beth Barnes. She prayed. Please let it not be another wedding invitation. She didn’t need more dilemmas about what gifts to get, who to take and what to wear.
Opening it, she was right. It was an invitation. But this was different. It had formal black edging around a handwritten card.
‘Miss Beth Barnes, we regret to inform you that your friend Mr Evan Morgan passed away peacefully on March 3rd. You are invited to attend his funeral at Freshwater Bay Chapel, 12pm March 19th, followed by a meeting with ourselves 2pm at Le Gallois Restaurant, Freshwater Bay. We look forward to meeting with you and extend our profound sorrow for your loss.’ Mr David Davies, Solicitors.
Evan was dead. She read it again. How could that be? Had he died in his sleep? Had he been ill? Oh no! And she hadn’t called him.
She did the maths in her head. He must have died over two weeks ago. She swallowed a hard, painful lump in her throat. What if they’d found him dead, alone in his flat? Or what if he’d been taken ill and died before he could reach the phone? Guilt and questions in equal measure swam through her mind, making her feel so dizzy that she dropped the soup she was carrying and it splattered all over the floor. Shit!
She mopped the mess up in the hallway, wiped the tears off her cheeks and brushed her unruly golden curls off her face, twisting and clipping them back into a messy bun. March 19th. Monday. Holy crap! It was Friday now. How was she going to get off work and all the way to the west of Wales in two days time?
Later that evening, Beth finally sank into her sofa and sipped a glass of La Clape Languedoc red wine, a bottle that she’d been saving.
“To Evan,” she toasted skywards, sending up a little prayer of hope that he was reunited again with his beloved Monique.
As she’d predicted, Marcel was in an extremely good mood following the busy service; she thought he sounded drunk, although he sobered when she gave him the sad news.
“Take a few days off,” he told her. “Of course, you must.”
“If you need me back or you’re short staffed, call me, okay?”
“But it’s far, is it not?”
“Yeah. About five hours. Probably six in my clapped out tin can of a car.”
The End of the World, Evan called it, right at the tip of the West Wales peninsula. Arse end of nowhere, more like. She’d booked three nights at the Lobster Pot Inn in Freshwater Bay’s only pub. The recent reviews weren’t great but it was cheap.
“Take the holiday, Beth, and forget about work.”
“Evan was always going on about the place. Is it bad to say I’m looking forward to going?”
“It’s sad, for sure, mon cherie, but you must enjoy your vacation too.”
Marcel ended the call and Beth closed her eyes, imagining standing with her bare toes in the warm sand in the middle of a huge sweeping bay; and as she did so, she saw and smelt a delicious dish of lightly grilled mackerel with a rich tapenade dressing and confited tomatoes. She definitely needed to make that.
Maybe she’d even meet Evan’s family? He FaceTimed his brother David and wife Ellen most days. And man, did Evan love a good gossip, Beth remembered fondly, especially about his four nephews.
The eldest, had come back home recently.
“Hell of a good lad, Gareth,’ Evan twinkled at her. ‘A trained architect, you know. Great vision for buildings. Totally blind when it came to her, mind! The poor bugger. Cheating on him, she was, with his best mate. Gareth wanted to do some business with me a while back. But, I thought best not to… not until he’s free of that floozy.”
The second brother was an international rugby player. Evan always got sent tickets for the matches; and if he couldn’t go, he made a good few quid flogging them on eBay. The third was an actor who hadn’t been home in way too long. Beth had never heard of him. Celebs came to the restaurant from time to time, she didn’t know who half of them were. Just that some were nice and others were totally up themselves. And the youngest brother, Madog, worked with his dad on the farm.
Evan was terribly cut up a couple of months back when he told Beth that Caitlin, Madog’s girlfriend, had died giving birth. She was twenty-four.
“David called this morning. There were complications,” he’d told her as they walked through the park. “You don’t expect it in this day and age. Madog’s devastated. He’s got the new baby at home now and Ellen’s taken charge of things, as usual.”
The Morgans certainly seemed to have their fair share of troubles, but Beth still thought how nice it must be to be part of a large family. Not that she’d know. It had always been just her and her mum, and she’d passed away from cancer when she was twenty. That was tough. And if she was honest, she still wasn’t over it.
When she thought about Evan, she realised that he was like the granddad she wished she’d had. And with no kids of his own, he had taken her under his wing too, listening patiently when she told him her news, what she'd been up to at work and what she’d been doing with her friends; joking with him about her pathetic track record of dodgy boyfriends.
Beth remembered their last meeting. Over coffee, she was getting him up to speed on Dave, a man she’d met recently online, and who’d gotten into a bar brawl on their one and only date.
“He was taken off in a police van,” she cringed, gauging Evan’s reaction carefully as she told him about it. “Not sure how he’s going to explain the black eye and split lip back in school. He’s the Guidance Counsellor.”
Evan erupted with laughter.
She was giggling now too.
“Stop it!” she begged. “He teaches Anger Management classes, for God’s sake.”
“Beth, why do you always seem to pick ‘em?”
His laughter winding down, he dipped his shortbread into his latte.
“Forget this online dating rubbish.”
He made for his pocket and got his address book out.
“I’m sure I can find you a nice young man. I have a few in here.”
His blue eyes sparkled at her.
She put her hand to his arm to hush him, signalling him to put it away.
“Thanks, but no.”
Evan continued mercilessly, “Well, you need some serious help, my girl. What did I call that lad again? The one you went out with before this last one?”
“Luke the Leak.”
“Yes. That’s right. Worst plumber in London.”
She rolled her eyes in agreement and drained her espresso.
“Tell me about it. Fixed my tap and flooded out the flat below. Don’t laugh. Cost me five hundred quid that did… and a whole heap of grovelling.”
“Such great taste in food and such bad taste in men,” he sighed.
“I know. Me and my dating disasters.”
All that aside, even though they were close, Beth could never bring herself to tell Evan about Jean-Paul, the chef who sent her running home from Paris with a broken heart, nine years before.
Now Evan was gone. And sitting there alone on her sofa, at twenty-nine years old, saddened by the loss of her dear old friend and a little bit drunk, Beth Barnes suddenly felt an urge within her that she needed to do something more with her life. What exactly it was she needed to do, she didn’t yet know, but she promised herself she’d figure it out soon, as she savoured the last delicious drops of red wine, before falling asleep on the sofa with the television still on.
Sunday morning, after a rather slow start, she locked up her apartment, and with some upbeat tunes pumping, Beth Barnes headed out of London in her faithful, little car. She was not sure why, when she was going to a funeral, but this trip was starting to feel like a new beginning.
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