How Sweet It Is | Summerhill


Viola Summerhill needs sex.

Her sisters say a rebound fling is just the thing to wash away the bad taste left from her recently crumbled marriage. But Viola knows she needs more than that. She has to reinvent herself, to regain the identity she lost being a wife and a mother. And she’s going to do it as an art gallery owner.

Stocking her new gallery with work worthy of the grand opening she desires isn’t easy, though. She needs a smashing piece–something that’ll steal everyone’s breath. And she finds the most amazing work she’s ever seen where she least expects it: in the home of what was supposed to be a one night stand.

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How Sweet It Is – Chapter One

“You need sex,” Beatrice proclaimed. “And maybe a new kitchen.”

“I need more than sex. I need a life.” Viola looked at all the chrome surrounding them as she delivered a cup of coffee to her older sister. The kitchen was cold and impersonal, just like her ex-husband Charles, who’d picked it all out. “And definitely a new kitchen.”

“Start with sex. It’s easier.” Smiling as she accepted the cup, Bea pulled the newspaper on the counter closer to her and flipped the pages open.

“Is it?” She sat on a barstool next to her sister. “It seems like sex offers a lot of complications, even under the most casual of circumstances.”

Bea glanced at her, her expression as frank as it always was. “When was the last time you had sex?”

Vi pursed her lips as she thought about it. “In the previous decade, I think.”

“So you might concede that you aren’t the best judge.” Bea turned a page. “I, on the other hand, am an expert, and I think you’re more than capable of having both a life and sex at the same time.”

“The way you’re having a life and sex at the same time lately?” Vi asked with a disbelieving lift of her brow.

“I’ve been busy with business,” Bea said, not meeting her gaze as she turned another page.

Vi knew her sister better than she knew herself, so she didn’t need to look Bea in the eye to know that wasn’t the whole truth. Vi may have been going through hell with Charles the past year, but Bea’s personal life hadn’t been smooth either—not since she’d met Luca Fiorelli.

Cupping her hands around her hot beverage, Vi tried to play casual. “Luca hasn’t been around in a long time.”

“We’re not talking about Luca.” The tightness around Bea’s eyes contradicted her glib tone.

“But maybe we should?” she asked carefully. She knew her sister well enough to know when to push and when not to, and where Luca was concerned Bea wouldn’t even take a nudge.

“We definitely shouldn’t.” Bea pushed the paper aside and gave Vi the stare that made savvy businessmen squirm. “We’re talking about you and the fact that you’ve been in a slump for so long, in so many ways. It’s time you snapped out of it.”

“Is it a slump when your entire life has been that way?” she asked philosophically, pulling the newspaper toward her. Truth of the matter was that her mother enduring thirty years of infidelity had been a wake-up call for Viola. When she’d found out that Charles had been cheating on her, for a second she’d debated not doing anything about it—at least not until their daughter, Chloe, was out of the house.

But what kind of example was that for her daughter? So she’d kicked Charles out, thinking that’d change everything.

It hadn’t. It’d only highlighted all the areas she was lacking as a person.

“I’m worried about you, Vi.” Bea took Vi’s chilled hand and held it in her warm, capable one. “You’ve been especially unhappy lately. I thought once the divorce went through you’d cheer up, but it’s had the opposite effect on you. Tell me what I can do to make it better for you.”

That was Beatrice Summerhill in a nutshell: protective of what was hers. But Bea had always been extra protective of her, because they weren’t just sisters—they were best friends.

Vi was so tempted to put her head on Bea’s shoulder and let her older sister take care of everything, the way she always did.

Only letting other people make her decisions had led her to exactly this place in her life: in this cold kitchen, with a failed marriage, no purpose, and a daughter who resented her. It was definitely time to try something different.

So she squeezed Bea’s hand and said, “I appreciate the offer, but I need to figure things out on my own.”

“I thought you had. A couple months ago you’d decided that you were going to make your mark on the world.”

“I had. I just haven’t gotten around to it yet.”

“And how much longer are you going to put it off?” Bea asked with a sardonic lift of her brow.

“Mother waited until her sixties to figure everything out,” she pointed out. Jacqueline Summerhill was now happily in love and on the verge of publishing her first book, a family memoir. “That gives me over twenty years.”

“Unlike Mother, you kicked your husband out,” her older sister pointed out. “So don’t expect me to believe that you’re keen on following Mum’s footsteps.”

Vi slumped in her seat. “It’s only that there’s so much to change, and I have no idea where to start. I tried shopping for clothes, except everything I picked out looked exactly like what I already had in my closet, so I returned them. And I have no idea what to do with myself because I’m not good at anything.”

Bea shook her head. “That’s not true.”

“Yes, it is. The rest of you have talents. You have amazing business sense. Portia is an expert in the family history. Rosalind is giving Vera Wang a run for her money. Gigi is Sarah Bernhardt reincarnated, and Titania makes Annie Liebovitz look like an amateur. Even Summer has her law practice.” She frowned at her coffee. “What have I ever done?”

“You’ve raised a lovely daughter.”

“A daughter who looks like she only rises at night.” She sighed. “And, really, she’s raised herself, hasn’t she? I don’t think I can take credit for who she is.”

“You’re selling yourself short.” Using her finger, Bea lifted Vi’s chin. “Do you know what I see when I look at you?”

“Someone who was idiotic to stay in an awful relationship for much too long?” Seventeen years, to be exact. She hadn’t been much older than Chloe when she’d married Charles.

What had she been thinking? The thought of Chloe getting married made a tide of fear and agitation rise up her throat. Viola hoped she’d serve as a cautionary tale and that her daughter would do the exact opposite of what she’d done.

A fierce expression lit Bea’s face. “Don’t ever call yourself idiotic. Everyone makes mistakes. Just don’t make them again.”

“Never.” The last thing she wanted was to get married again. She couldn’t imagine being in a relationship with anyone—not when she had no idea who she was.

Her mobile rang. Thinking it might be Chloe, she looked at the screen. Her stomach sank when she saw it was Charles.

She didn’t have to answer to know what he was going to say. Excusing herself, she slid off the stool and left the kitchen to answer.

“Hello, Charles,” she said pleasantly, even though she wanted to punch him in the face. She stepped into her laundry room and closed the door for privacy.

“Viola, I can’t pick up Chloe tonight.”

Of course he couldn’t. He was probably too busy with his new lover. Vi swallowed her bitterness for her daughter’s sake and said, “Again? Chloe was looking forward to seeing you.”

“Yes, well, I have conflicting plans. Tell her I’ll see her this week.”

You tell her, she wanted to fling back at him. You tell her that she’s not as important as the woman you’re shagging. Gripping the phone, she told herself to be calm. “She has a couple school activities this week.”

“Then I’ll see her next weekend,” he said impatiently. “I have to go. I’ll speak to you later.”

“I—” She blinked when the line went dead. She held her phone out and stared at it, wanting to throw it against the wall, but the trouble of replacing a broken phone wasn’t worth the satisfaction. Unless she threw it at his face—then she’d be completely willing to sacrifice her mobile.

The thing was, Charles wasn’t the problem. Their marriage had been shite. What bothered her most was that he’d moved on and seemed satisfied with everything. He had a lover, a new flat, and a new life.

She, on the other hand, was snared in her old life, which had been dull and unsatisfying. Everything was ill-fitting—from her furnishings to her clothing. She plucked at her shirt, which hung on her shapelessly.

Anger filled her chest, and she shoved the laundry door open. Bea was right, of course: enough was enough. It was time to stop talking about making changes and actually implement them.

Bea’s head lifted from her mobile as Viola strode back into the kitchen. “It’s time, Beatrice,” she declared.

Her sister smiled slowly. “That must have been Charles.”

“He’s such a worm,” she whispered, in case Chloe was close enough to hear. Vi may detest the man, but she never spoke poorly about him in front of their daughter.

“I take it he’s not coming to pick her up.”

“He infuriates me,” she all but hissed.

Bea took her hand. “Come out with me tonight. Do you remember Stuart Covington, my friend who’s the art critic? I’m accompanying him to the opening of a show. It’ll be vastly entertaining. Stuart always offers biting commentary on the artwork. Quite frankly, I think he’s an art critic only because he enjoys bashing gallery owners. He believes they’re all inept. Since you’re such an art connoisseur yourself, you’d appreciate his biting wit.”

She shook her head. “I have nothing to wear.”

“Seriously, darling?” Her sister arched her brow. “That’s the excuse you’re going to use?”

“It’s true. My clothing is hideous.” She gestured at her body.

“So go shopping.” Bea eased off the stool, one elegant movement, her clothes hanging perfectly without being bunched up.

If only she’d inherited a little of the fortitude and grace Bea had gotten in spades. Sighing, she stood, too. “I told you that I tried. I wasn’t good at it.”

“Darling, if you want to master life, you need to realize when you have resources that can accomplish what you can’t.”

Vi shook her head. “I have no idea what you mean.”

“Take Gigi shopping. She’s an expert, she loves it, and she doesn’t leave for filming until Friday.” She gave Vi an older-sister look. “I’ll at least see you at Tuesday night drinks, won’t I?”

“Would I miss having a margarita?” she tried to joke. Frankly, Tuesday nights with her sisters is the only thing she had to look forward to. At this point, she didn’t know if that was a blessing or a curse.

Bea hugged her with one arm, kissing her cheek. Before she let go, she gave Vi a direct look. “You can change your mind about tonight. I’ll message you the address of the gallery.”

She didn’t feel good about herself as it was. She didn’t need to compare herself to the posh people who’d be attending a Saturday night gallery opening. “Thank you, but I won’t change my mind.”

“Let me know if you do,” Bea said as she swept out of the house.

“I will,” she mumbled, watching her sister’s graceful exit. She felt an irrational burst of envy, not because of how Bea looked, but because Bea had everything she’d ever wanted.

She closed the door and went upstairs to change into pajamas. Entering her room, she stood and stared at her space.

She hated it.

She’d had that feeling every time she’d entered her room lately, but today it was worse. None of it fit. Not the clothes hanging in her closet, not the furnishings, not anything.

She hated it.

None of it was hers. Yes, she’d bought the clothes, but she’d bought what was expected of her, not what she’d have preferred to wear. She hated the modern furniture. She hated the lack of color.

The only splash of color in the room was the painting hanging over the bed—the painting she’d selected.

Charles had always hated it. It’d been an up-and-coming artist’s she’d found on a trip to Italy. The nude had been too lurid for him, but she’d loved it. It was hazy with love in the afternoon. He’d only let her hang it in the bedroom because no one ever came in there.

No one was going to come in here anytime soon either.

Except her, and wasn’t she the most important? She glared at the bed. She’d never thought so, but maybe that was where she’d gone wrong.

She strode from the room to the spare bedroom and grabbed an armful of pillows from the bed in there. Marching back, she threw them onto her bed in a disarray of color.

So much better. The purples in the cushions complimented the artwork, making it look more cohesive.

Bea was right—she’d always been good with color and art. She couldn’t paint worth a damn, but she knew when a piece would command attention and how to show it off.

Like the painting she’d hung in the hallway.

She went out of the bedroom to look at it. It was a study in blue, with indistinct swirling figures. If you looked closely, there were people and two horses. The only contrasting color was a splotch of red in the top corner. She’d bought it from an art student who’d been painting along the Thames, because she knew it’d look stunning in their beige-walled hall.

She touched the frame. It’d been the first painting he sold. He’d emailed her a couple months ago to say he was having his first showing in Santa Fe. She’d known he’d succeed. She could see it when she looked at his work.

Just like she could see it in the modern canvas hanging in the living room. It was the only one she and Charles had ever agreed on, a large minimalist piece in gray and yellow. She’d never loved it, but she’d kept it knowing it’d resell at a high price.

What if she sold art?

The idea gripped her deep in her chest in a way no other idea had. She’d never be a good yoga instructor, she couldn’t bake, and she hated tea. Art she knew. She had an eye.

“Mum? Are you all right?”

She looked up to see her daughter peeking out of her bedroom. Her hair was in a messy, inky knot on her head, and she wore plaid pajamas that were at odds with her heavy makeup.

A deep longing squeezed her heart, to show Chloe how to be a whole person who went after her dreams and goals. She’d set an awful example these past sixteen years.

Hopefully it wasn’t too late—to set a better example but also to forge a relationship with her daughter. A real one, based on respect and love rather than veiled tolerance and confusion.

Vi cleared the longing to have Chloe be proud of her from her throat. “Your father won’t be by for you.”


Vi pursed her lips. “Is that general teen sarcasm, or are you actually upset?”

Chloe rolled her eyes. “You didn’t really think he’d come, did you?”

No, but she’d hoped, if only for Chloe’s sake.

“Mum?” Chloe frowned at her, her concerned expression too knowing for someone her age. “Are you sure you’re all right?”

She waved a dismissive hand as she faced the painting again. No one could help her with this—no one except herself. “I’m great, actually. Better than I have been for a long time.”

“If you say so,” her daughter said slowly.

She faced Chloe. “Your science teacher called yesterday, by the way. I missed her call. Do you know why she wanted to talk?”

Chloe’s face went blank the way only a teenager’s could. She shrugged and backed up. “Probably because we have a project this term and I haven’t decided what I want to do.”

Vi frowned. “Do you need help with it? You’re usually so good with all your classes, I didn’t think to ask before.”

“I have it under control,” Chloe said as she turned and retreated into her room.

“You’ll tell me if you need help?” she called after her daughter.

Chloe mumbled something as the door closed.

“What does that mean?” she mumbled to herself. She wondered if there was a teenager-to-English translating app.

Shaking her head, she strode back into her room, where she’d left her mobile. She picked it up and called the first number on her list.

“Viola?” Bea said over the din of the gallery opening. “Did you change your mind?”

“Not about tonight, but about my life, yes.” She took a deep breath and claimed her future. “What do you think about me opening an art gallery?”


Vi stood at the threshold of Goddess of the Night, the lounge where she and her sisters met every Tuesday night for drinks. She ran a hand over her new leather coat. It was white—the most impractical of colors—but Gigi had insisted that it was perfect, so she’d had no choice. Truthfully, she felt daring wearing it.

The lingerie Portia had picked out for her helped, too, as did the new hair and makeup. Vi had spent all of Monday being snipped, plucked, and shoved into dressing rooms. She was a new woman. Now when she stepped into the Goddess of the Night, she wouldn’t feel so out of place among the posh people.

If only she felt less like an impostor.

She’d fix that next. She hoped.

Taking a deep breath, she pushed open the door and walked to their usual booth. She knew Titania was away on a photo shoot, and Summer was in Thailand with her fiancé, so they weren’t coming this Tuesday. Her other sister Gigi wasn’t either—she was attending a fancy film premier. Portia had already arrived, though, with Sebastian.

Vi slowed, eyeing him. Sebastian Tate was family, technically—a distant cousin from New York who’d inherited their father’s title. For some reason, he’d shown up out of the blue a few months ago and had stayed. She couldn’t find anything wrong with him, which made her distrust him even more. As far as she knew, he did nothing professionally. No one knew what he wanted or why he’d stayed so long.

Suspicious—all of it. He had to want something.

Of all of them, Portia was the one who was most fiercely protective of the Summerhill name and the Amberlin title. Oddly, Portia was the only sister who’d embraced Sebastian completely. It made no sense, unless the rest of them were judging him harshly.

They both looked up and blinked at Vi, as though they couldn’t believe what they were seeing.

She smiled wryly as she walked to the table. She couldn’t blame them. Every time she’d caught her reflection in a mirror or window today she’d done a double take herself.

Sebastian stood as she approached. “Viola, I don’t know what the occasion is, but I’m in favor of it.”

“No occasion,” she said as she slipped off the leather jacket, knowing that the cashmere dress underneath was highly inappropriate for January in London. She didn’t care. Yesterday she’d discovered a love for cashmere that she knew was going to last a lifetime. She scooted into the booth to kiss her sister’s cheek.

Portia gaped at Viola as she scooted into the booth. “I knew Gigi was a master, but I didn’t appreciate how much of a master she was.”

“You did, too.” Vi adjusted the neckline of her dress, blushing a little as she thought about the racy-lacy things under the dress.

“I really did,” Portia said to Sebastian. “You should have seen the tired old underwear Viola was wearing.”

“No, he shouldn’t have,” Vi said quickly.

“I agree. I really don’t need to. Because it’d be improper,” he clarified quickly, “not because I don’t think there was anything worthy to see.”

Vi squeezed her eyes shut. “Can we change the topic?”

“Yes, please.” Sebastian smiled at her. “Can I get you a drink?”

“She’d love a margarita,” Portia said.

“Done.” He slipped out of the booth and went to the bar.

“Why did Sebastian come?” Vi whispered at her younger sister.

“He’s family, and family is always invited to Tuesday night drinks.” She touched the pearls at her neck, her lips pursing into a disapproving moue. “Really, Vi, try to be nicer to him. He’s our cousin.”

“What happened to calling him the American, like it was a social disease?”

“He’s not what you think,” Portia said, her chin in the air.

Vi shook her head. “What is he then?”

“Lost.” Her sister speared her with a reproachful look. “You of all people should be understanding of that.”

She winced. But before she could reply, Sebastian was back with her margarita.

“Cheers,” he said, setting it before her. He reclaimed his seat next to Portia, but his eyes were on her. “So what’s the occasion for the change?”

Shrugging, she picked up her drink. She had no desire to bare her psyche to him right now. “New career, new wardrobe.”

Portia frowned. “What new career?”

“I’m going to open an art gallery,” she announced.

The proclamation was met with silence.

Fortunately, Bea entered the lounge right then, followed by their other sister Rosalind and their mother. They’d been trying a caterer for Rosalind’s spring wedding, so Vi’d expected them to arrive together.

What she hadn’t expected was for Bea to head straight for her instead of her normal routine of ordering a martini at the bar before joining everyone at the booth.

Not a good sign, Vi decided, steeling herself as her sister charged for her.

Her older sister set her designer bag on the table and began tugging off her leather gloves. “I’m going to lend you the money for your gallery.”

For a second she was afraid Bea was going to tell her she was insane. Vi wilted against the booth in relief. Bea’s opinion was everything. “You can’t do that.”

“Sure she can,” Rosalind said, taking off her scarf. “She’s loaded.”

“I’m loaded,” Bea confirmed with a nod. “I’ll be a silent partner, and we can work out a repayment plan if your pride requires it.”

Vi took Bea’s hand and kissed it before holding it to her cheek. “I love you for the support, darling, but I’m going to do this on my own. I’m taking a loan against the house.”

Her mother eased into the booth next to Sebastian. “Are you sure that’s wise, Viola? It’d be safer if Beatrice backs you.”

“Safety isn’t what I’m looking for. I want to look back and know that I’ve done everything myself, within reason,” she added before Bea could give her a speech about delegation. “I understand my limitations, but I want to do this without my big sister holding my hand the entire way.”

Bea frowned. “I like holding your hand.”

She leaned into her best friend. “I’ll ask for your help in other ways.”

“I’ll give you my real estate contact who can help you find a good spot to lease.” Bea took her mobile out and began tapping at it. “Her name is Bonnie Spindler. She has a magical way of finding the right places.”

“Where is the art coming from?” Rosalind asked.

Vi sat up. This she knew. “I’m contacting the artists I’ve met over the years, and if they all commission work to me, I think I can have a brilliant opening show.”

“What if they don’t?” Bea asked without lifting her head.

Jacqueline smoothly said, “What if we think positively and suppose that they will?”

“You can’t do that.” Bea put her mobile down. “You have to have all contingencies planned for. And when is the opening happening? Because time is money, and you need to realize that there’s a lot more than hanging paintings up to run a successful gallery. There’s the paperwork and accounting, not to mention managing the marketing and press.”

Rosalind made a face. “Bea, do you have to be so harsh?”

“Yes, I do.” Bea faced Vi. “You’re talking about gambling your home for this. I believe you can succeed, but you need to have a reasonable expectation of what’s needed. You can’t do it alone.”

“I’ll help her,” Sebastian said.

They all looked at him.

He glanced at Portia. “I didn’t think it was that much of a stretch.”

Bea’s eyes narrowed on him. “Do you have qualifications?”

“Did you think I lived on the street until I came here?” he retorted.

“Of course not,” Portia said immediately. She glared at everyone. “I’ll have you know that Sebastian is a rather successful advertising executive.”

Their oldest sister raised her brow. “Then why are you here, living with our mother?”

He met her gaze steadily. “Because I have no one and suddenly realized that family is really important.”

They all looked at each other. Vi, for one, felt abashed, and she could see her sisters did, too.

Except Portia, who was righteous. “I told you you’re misjudging him. You’re going to let him help you, Viola.”

She heard the command. She looked at him and felt all the misgivings rise up. But she didn’t have anyone else. What choice did she have?

She tried to smile at him, hoping it looked genuine but knowing it couldn’t possibly. “I’d love for you to help me.”

“Why, Viola”—he put a hand to his chest, his eyes fluttering as though he was pleasantly surprised—”I’d be delighted.”

Rosalind snorted.

“I need a drink,” Bea muttered, standing up.

Vi picked up her margarita. So did she.