When Joanna Whitman's ex-husband, one of California's most beloved celebrity chefs, dies in a car accident, she doesn't know what to feel. Their dysfunctional marriage held more secrets than she cares to remember, but when she discovers a young woman was with him in the crash--who's now in hospital, on her own, and pregnant --Joanna sees red. How dare he ruin yet another woman's life? More than anyone, Joanna knows the brutal spotlight this girl is going to find herself in...unless she can find a way for them both to disappear?
Ashley can't believe it when Joanna shows up in her hospital room and offers to spirit them both away for the summer to her secluded beach house on the Californian coast. Joanna should be hating her, not helping her. But orphaned and pregnant, Ashley can't turn Joanna down. Even though she knows that if Joanna ever discovers the real truth of why Ashley was in her ex's car, their tentative bond would never hold.
Together, they escape to the beach house, nestled high above the sleepy Californian town where Joanna grew up, and left without a backward glance. Joanna's only goal for the summer is privacy, but her return creates waves in the community, not least for the best friend she left behind. Both Joanna and Ashley are hiding secrets, but as they fall under the spell of their summer home - and draw on each other's courage - these unlikely friends realise that to seize the futures they want, they must step out of the shadows and into the sunshine.
She slid into his car, hoping this wasn’t a mistake. It hadn’t been her first choice of plan, but the others had failed and she was desperate.
He smiled at her, and there was so much charm in that smile that she forgot everything around her. The way he looked at her made her feel as if she was the only woman in the world.
To add to the charm he had the car, a high-performance convertible, low, sleek and expensive. It shrieked, Look at me, in case the other trappings of wealth and power hadn’t already drawn your attention.
Her mother would have warned her not to get in the car with him, but her mother was gone now and Ashley was making the best decisions she could with no one close to offer her advice or caution. She remembered the first time she’d ridden a bike on her own, unsteady, unbalanced, hands sweating on the handlebars, her mother shouting, Keep pedaling! She remembered her first swimming lesson where she’d slid under the surface and gulped down so much water she’d thought she was going to empty the pool. She’d been sure she was going to drown but then she felt hands lifting her to the surface and a voice cutting through water clogged ears: Keep kicking!
She was on her own now. There was no one to tug her to the surface if she was drowning. No one to steady the wheels of her bike when she wobbled. Her mother had been the safety net in her life and they’d grown even closer after her father died. But now if she fell she’d hit the ground with nothing and no one to cushion her fall.
He turned onto Mulholland Drive and picked up speed. The engine gave a throaty roar and the wind played with her hair as they sped upward through the Hollywood Hills. She’d never been in a car like this before. Never met a man like him.
They climbed higher and higher, passing luxury mansions, catching glimpses of a lifestyle beyond the reach of even her imagination. Envy slid through her. Did problems go away when you had so much? Did the people living here experience the same anxieties as normal people or did those high walls and security cameras insulate them from life? Could you buy happiness?
No, but money could make life easier, which was why she was here.
Spread beneath them were views of downtown, Hollywood and the San Fernando Valley.
“I know the best place to see the sunset.” His warm, deep voice had helped propel him from yet another TV personality to a megastar. “You’re never going to forget it.”
She was sure of it. This moment was significant for so many reasons.
What would happen to that confidence when she told him her news?
Nausea rolled in her stomach and she was relieved she’d been unable to eat breakfast or lunch.
“You’re quiet.” He drove with one hand on the wheel, supremely confident. One hand, his eyes mostly on her. She wanted to tell him to keep his attention on the road.
“I’m a little nervous.”
“Are you intimidated? Don’t be. I’m just a normal, regular guy.”
He was driving fast now, enjoying the car, the moment, his life. She knew that was about to change. She’d rehearsed a speech. Practiced a hundred times in front of the mirror.
I’ve got something to tell you.
“Could you slow down?”
“You prefer slow?” His hand caressed the wheel. “I can go slow when I need to. What did you say your name was?”
He didn’t recognize her. He didn’t have a clue who she was. How could he not know?
She sat rigid in her seat. Was she really that forgettable and unimportant?
In this part of town, where everyone was someone, she was no one.
She fought the disillusion and the humiliation.
“I’m Mandy. I’m from Connecticut.”
Her name wasn’t Mandy. She’d never been to Connecticut. Couldn’t even put it on a map.
He should know that. She wanted him to know that. She wanted him to say, I know you’re not Mandy, but he didn’t, of course, because women came and went from his life and he was already moving on to the next one.
“And you’re sure we’ve met before? I wouldn’t have forgotten someone as pretty as you.”
She’d had dreams about him. Fantasies. She’d thought about him day and night for the past couple of months, ever since she’d first laid eyes on him.
But he didn’t know her. There was no recognition.
Her eyes stung. She told herself it was the wind in her face because her mother had drummed into her that life was too short to cry over a man. She wouldn’t be here at all except that she’d felt alone and scared and needed to do something to help herself. She was afraid she couldn’t do this on her own, and he had to take some responsibility, surely? He shouldn’t be allowed to just walk away. That wasn’t right. Like it or not, they were bonded.
“We’ve met.” She rested her hand on her abdomen. Blinked away the tears. The time to wish she’d been more careful was long gone. She had to look forward. Had to do the right thing, but it wasn’t easy.
Her body told her she was an adult, but inside she still felt like the child who had wobbled on that bike with her ponytail flying.
He glanced at her again, curious. “Now I think about it, you do look familiar. Can’t place you, though. Don’t be offended.” He gave her another flash of those perfect white teeth. “I meet a lot of women.”
She knew that. She knew his reputation, and yet still she was here. What did that say about her? She should have more pride, but pride and desperation didn’t fit comfortably together.
“I’m not offended.” Under the fear she was furious. And fiercely determined.
She wasn’t going to let this guy ruin her life. That wasn’t going to happen.
They were climbing now. Climbing, climbing, the road winding upward into the hills while the city lay beneath them like a glittering carpet. She felt like Peter Pan, flying over rooftops.
Should she tell him now? Was this a good moment?
Her heart started to pound, heavy beats thudding a warning against her ribs. She hadn’t thought he’d bring her somewhere this remote. She shouldn’t have climbed into his car. Another bad decision to add to the ones she’d already made. The longer she waited to tell him, the farther they were from civilization and people. People who could help her. But who would help? Who was there?
She had no one. Just herself, which was why she was here now, doing what needed to be done regardless of the consequences.
Thinking of consequences made her palms grow damp. She should do it right now, while half his attention was on the road.
She waited as he waltzed the car around another bend and hit another straight stretch of road. She could already see the next bend up ahead.
“Mr. Whitman? Cliff? There’s something I need to tell you.”
Excerpted from Beach House Summer by Sarah Morgan. Copyright © 2022 by Sarah Morgan. Published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.