Authors: Jenny Oliver
Christmas at the Davenports’ house was always about one thing:
But when sisters Ella and Maddy were split up, Ella to live in London with their Dad, and Maddy staying in Greece with their Mum, mince pies lost their magic.
Now, a cheating husband has thrown Ella a curved snowball…and for the first time in years, all she wants is her mum. So she heads back to Greece, where her family’s taverna holds all the promise of home. Meanwhile, waitress Maddy’s dreams of a white Christmas lead her back to London…and her Dad.
But a big fat festive life-swap isn’t as easy as it sounds! And as the sisters trade one kitchen for another, it suddenly seems that among the cinnamon, cranberries and icing sugar, their recipes for a perfect Christmas might be missing a crucial ingredient: each other.
The Vintage Summer Wedding
The Parisian Christmas Bake Off
wrote her first book on holiday when she was ten years old. Illustrated with cut-out supermodels from her sister’s
, it was an epic, sweeping love story not so loosely based on
Since then Jenny has gone on to get an English degree, a Masters, and a job in publishing that’s taught her what it takes to write a novel (without the help of the supermodels). She wrote
The Parisian Christmas Bake Off
on the beach in a sea-soaked, sand-covered notebook. This time the inspiration was her addiction to macaroons, the belief she can cook them and an all-consuming love of Christmas. When the decorations go up in October, that’s fine with her! Follow her on Twitter
The meeting was tedious. The air conditioner was broken and whirring too loudly, so it muffled the execs calling in on speakerphone. The stuffy air smelt of aftershave and strong coffee with a hint of the marker pen that kept running out on the flipchart. Big bushy garlands of tinsel were looped along the wall, baubles hung in bunches like grapes on the windows and a white fake Christmas tree with glittered branches twinkled in the corner.
Ella was having to look anywhere but at the new account assistant, Katya, who was presenting –nerves had made her voice catch and her cheeks flush a blotchy red. Ella couldn’t stomach the embarrassment she felt for her.
Their boss, Adrian, was tapping frustratedly on his Blackberry, not listening. She knew he was getting the presentations out the way before he brought up the accounts they lost last week and what it would do to revenue. As she glanced around the room, taking in the glazed faces and the distracted looks of her colleagues all wired on too much coffee and bourbon biscuits, her gaze stopped on the building opposite where an aerobics class was in full swing. As Ella watched the women jumping up and down in their Sweaty Betty lycra, she wondered when she’d last had time to do any exercise. She’d cancelled her gym membership soon after she’d got her last promotion – when she realised she rarely left work before eight.
Tonight she was leaving early though. Tonight she was being wined and dined. Tonight they were going to Fera at Claridge’s and she had a brand new Stella McCartney chocolate silk dress hanging on the back of her office door ready to team with her nude Manolo Blahniks and an aztec print scarf. It was all from Net-a-Porter – she’d ordered the entire outfit that the model was wearing. Shamefully, she always ordered exactly what the model was wearing. The grey pencil skirt she had on at the moment, and the cerise mules, was a case in point. Occasionally, when she went completely off-piste and gave her own eye a go, Max would walk into the bedroom, himself dressed like a Ralph Lauren model, and say something like, ‘Really?’ or ‘I don’t think that’s quite right for…’ whatever event they were off to – Ascot or Henley or the Hunt Ball. Then he’d pinch her bottom and kiss her cheek and say, ‘I’d love you in anything but you know what the girls are like…’
The girls. Ella narrowed her eyes at the baubles. The girls…
Friends since school, Max’s tight little gang were ferocious. A terrifying mix of confidence and boredom that came with being too good-looking and having too much money. All caramel highlights and butterscotch tans, they had ample time on their hands to be as vicious as they were whip smart and wickedly hilarious. Ella was like a fish gasping at the surface of a puddle when she was with them, not that she’d ever admit it to Max. What perplexed her the most was that she could handle the hardest CEO in the boardroom, present to rooms of the coolest, most guarded clients without breaking into a sweat, but those girls… they could pierce her with look, undermine her with a laugh, leave her flustered and blushing and wanting to cling onto Max’s hand when he was wandering off with the boys to check out a new sports car or race horse and reminisce about boarding school.
At the front of the room Katya was ploughing on through the presentation. From the way she was stumbling and relying so heavily on her notes, Ella knew she’d be packed off on a presentation course before the day was out. She glanced at her watch. She was booked in for a blow dry in forty minutes.
, she thought,
this is child’s play, we all know this stuff, why do we need a bloody meeting about it
Tonight was their anniversary – her and Max – seven years. Seven years and look how far she’d come. If she was the kind of person to put stuff on Facebook then she’d plaster it with pictures of the diamond bracelet he’d given her that morning. Almost just to reaffirm to them all that he loved
. Even after all this time she still heard the whispers behind the smiles. But if she ever mentioned it, Max would squeeze her tight and lift her in the air and say,
they’re all just jealous
. Burying her face in his neck she would close her eyes and breathe him in and hope this life lasted forever.
She glanced down at the gems sparkling on her wrist. She loved it. Or at least she thought she loved it, was it her taste? Yes, it was her taste. It was a bit thin and delicate for her wrist, but yes, no, she loved it. I love it, she thought as it winked under the strip light.
Her Blackberry vibrated where it sat on top of her iPad on top of her laptop on the boardroom table. She let the bracelet tip forward over her hand as she reached forward, wondered if anyone else had noticed it sparkle, and slipped her phone off the table, holding it under the desk, out of sight, as she opened the new email.
‘This is all very well–’ her boss said, sitting up and stretching his back in an arch. ‘But I can’t see anything different here. I can’t see what you’ll be offering the client that every other firm won’t be offering? We’ve seen all this before. And if I’ve seen it, they’ve seen it.’ He frowned, frustrated. ‘Come on people. We need a bit more blue sky thinking. A bit more oomph.’ He sat forward. ‘Basically, we need this new business. It’s Christmas for crying out loud. Wow them with a bit of sparkle. Ella can you take charge of this one–’ He paused. ‘Ella… are you with us?’
Ella wasn’t with them at all. Every ounce of her concentration was caught by the email she’d just opened on her phone. Her mouth had hung open of its own accord. Her right eye, that had recently developed a tiredness tic, was flickering. Her stomach had tightened like she’d forgotten to exhale.
Subject: I just thought you should know
Your husband is having an affair with my wife. Photo attached confirms. Suggest you get yourself a good lawyer. I’m going to annihilate her in court
Ella recognised Prague in the background of the photograph. Saw the ornate buildings dark and dirty and snow speckling the canopies of the market stalls. She recognised it because she’d been there with him. Last Christmas. His company had an office there, he could get business class flights and a room in the Mandarin Oriental on expenses.
‘Ella?’ Her boss repeated.
‘Yes, sorry.’ She pressed her phone off and cleared her throat. ‘Sorry, I just…’ She shook her head. ‘Yes, absolutely, I totally agree. Great presentation Katya. Just fabulous, exactly what we were looking for. Really, really great. Good, let’s get started then…’ she said, her mouth stretched into her work smile as she started to stand up, gathering her iPad, notebook and pen to her chest and pushing her chair back.
She felt everyone in the room watching her. Mark, her colleague who sat to her right, whispered, ‘There are still three more presentations.’
‘Oh sorry.’ Ella paused. Felt her cheeks begin to pink.
‘Ella?’ Her boss sat back, put his hands behind his head. ‘Is everything all right? Did you hear what I was saying?’
She looked around the room as she sat down, everyone seemed suddenly distracted by their notepads, or the wood grain of the table top.
‘Yes,’ she lied quietly.
He made a face. Ella was his secret weapon. Ella was the reason he’d been promoted. Her work, his leadership. Ella had won them the last four accounts and was possibly the single reason they were still in the black. Ella, who worked twenty-four seven and never took her eye off the prize. Award winning Ella. ‘Let’s talk afterwards,’ he said, and she nodded vaguely. Her hand burning like her phone was on fire.
‘If I tell my mum about the job then she won’t let me go because she won’t approve. If I don’t tell her that I have a job then she won’t let me go because she’ll say that I’ll just be bumming it round London wasting my life when she needs me to work here.’ Maddy wiped her oily hands on the old rag hanging out her jeans pocket and then took the hand Dimitri was offering to haul herself out of the boat and up onto the jetty.
‘Maddy,’ he said, bending down to pick up the board of his windsurfer, the sail already propped up by the side of the taverna. ‘You’re twenty-four. Don’t you think it’s about time you just went anyway?’ He raised a dark brow and looked at her with a fairly patronising smirk on his lips, but then got distracted when he noticed a scratch on his board. ‘Shit, when did that happen? It’s those kids isn’t? Oi you lot–’ he shouted at the gaggle of little kids who were messing around at the end of the jetty, dangling bits of rope into the sea with worms on hooks to try and catch the millions of silver fish that darted around the wooden posts. They looked up all big eyed and terrified when Dimitri yelled. ‘Did you mess with my board?’