Sunday, July 10, 2022

The House on the Hill: A Summer in the Algarve by Chris Penhall - Book Tour

The House on the Hill: A Summer in the Algarve

Layla is calm, in control and is definitely not about to lose her serenity for the man next door!
Surely it can’t be hard to stay peaceful at one of the oldest yoga and mindfulness retreats in the Algarve, surrounded by sea, sun and serenity? Mostly, owner Layla Garcia manages it – with the help of meditation and plenty of camomile tea, of course.
But keeping her grandparents’ legacy alive is stressful, and Layla has become so shackled to the work that, for her, The House on the Hill is fast becoming ‘The Fortress on the Hill’.
Then writer Luke Mackie moves to the villa next door, bringing with him a healthy dose of chaos to disrupt Layla’s plans, plus a painful reminder of a time when she was less-than-serene. But could his influence be just what Layla needs to ‘dance like no-one’s watching’ and have the fun she’s been missing?

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Layla Garcia owns The House on the Hill, a yoga and mindfulness studio in Lagos in Portugal’s Algarve. Family friend, Duarte da Silva owns the property next door and has moved writer Luke Mackie in so he can complete the screenplay for Duarte’s new venture – a film.

 Duarte has asked Layla to keep a friendly eye on Luke. She’d rather not, though – he is a face from a part of her past she’d rather not remember. Although she is sure he doesn’t know who she is, Layla is still nervous about their first meeting.

 Pulling her sunhat further down so her face was completely sheltered from the glare of the early afternoon sun, Layla walked out onto the road and along to Duarte’s villa. A chorus of cicadas grew to an almost operatic crescendo as she moved towards the gate and she felt a trickle of sweat seep slowly down her back. Rolling her shoulders as if that would stop it, she paused for a moment. I haven’t rung the bell at this house ever in my life. She sighed, then pressed the buzzer and stood waiting for it to be answered. The crickets screeched louder and a gecko scurried out from a crack under the fence. Layla watched it as it froze against the white wall, an imaginary clock ticking in her mind. She rang the buzzer again and stepped back, peering through the wrought iron gate in case someone was coming to open it. All she could see was a sports car in the driveway. Taking a deep breath, she pressed the buzzer once more. ‘I’m not impatient,’ she said out loud. ‘I am simply quite busy.’ The cicadas had quietened down, and all she could hear was the distant sound of children playing outside a house further down the road. She bit her lip, then pressed the buzzer a little harder, startling the gecko which dived into a hole. The cicadas began to sing again, and she gave the buzzer one last hard poke before giving up and moving backwards onto the path. A bush bursting with bright pink hibiscus flowers caught her attention, and she leaned towards it, admiring its delicate petals. If I had a vase of fresh hibiscus flowers just outside the room we use for the hotel clients, that would be really striking. She rifled through vase colours and shapes in her mind, wondering which would work best against the patterned tiled walls.

‘All I can see is a hat,’ a male voice crackled suddenly out of the intercom, and she almost jumped. ‘Is there a hat at the door?’ The voice laughed at its own joke. ‘Can I help you?’ it said once it had calmed down.

Layla felt a sudden pressure on her head, steadied herself in order to remain calm, took her hat off and waved. ‘There is a person under the hat,’ she said, forcing herself to sound friendly. ‘My name is Layla Garcia. Duarte da Silva asked me to pop by.’

‘Ahhhh, yes,’ the voice said eventually. ‘You’re keeping me on the straight and narrow.’

‘Am I?’ Layla shook her head. Oh no, I’m not, she thought. Absolutely not. No…

‘Just checking the photo Duarte sent me of you … can’t be too careful.’ The voice went silent. ‘Stupid phone is being slow.’

Layla smiled. This is Luke Mackie. Remember. Luke Mackie.

‘Ah, yes. Definitely you,’ The gate began to open. ‘Come in. There’s no one out on the road though, is there? No one lurking with a camera.’

Layla looked around. ‘I can’t see anyone,’ she said.

‘Well, you wouldn’t. They’re expert at hiding. In bushes and such like.’

‘You don’t expect me to search the undergrowth?’ she asked. Because I won’t, she thought.

‘Ha! No, goodness me, no. What an idea. Quite a good one, actually.’

‘Right, I’m on my way up the drive. I’ll be with you in a moment.’ She put her hat back on and headed towards the house, following the sound of music coming from inside.

A tall, lean figure stood in the doorway, partially hidden by the shadow thrown by the palm tree next to the steps. She hesitated, steeling herself for that glimpse of a past she’d hidden away from herself for a very long time.

‘Apologies for not coming out. I overdid the sun this morning,’ he shouted. ‘I’ve been in Scotland for the past few weeks, so barely know what it is. Caught me by surprise!’

‘No, no. You have to be careful.’ Layla took her sunglasses off and paused on the gravel, her heart racing like a teenager’s.

‘Do come in. I’ll get us a drink.’ He walked towards the kitchen and Layla followed. ‘Alexa, stop,’ he said very firmly. The house fell silent. ‘Lovely to meet you, Minder.’ He laughed, turning to face her. He scratched his face and smiled, his light green eyes crinkling as he did. ‘Decided to grow a beard. Only day three. Rather scratchy, to be honest.’

Layla felt she’d been catapulted backwards. Luke’s face had filled out a little, and there were a few lines around his eyes, but it was as if he’d been suspended in time. She bit her lip and forced herself into the present by grabbing the arm of a chair, filing away the memories that were trying to fling themselves into her mind.

Thank goodness for the beard, she thought. It’s like a disguise. A sort of Luke Acre-Lite

‘Are you okay?’ He took two glasses from a cupboard.

‘Yes,’ she squeaked, then forced her voice deeper. ‘Nice to meet you too.’

‘Oh … do you want something hot or cold to get rid of that frog in your throat?’ Luke opened another cupboard. ‘There are all these herbal teas in here.’ He picked one out. ‘“Mystic Mary’s Drink Me Teas”. I mean, what sort of name is that? Apparently the woman who revamped the place recently brought a load with her.’

‘Alice,’ said Layla. ‘Alice Matthews-Simal. I met her when she came to look around. I have some keys, you see? She’s quite well known …’ Her voice trailed off. Why am I saying this? Calm down!

‘Well, she’s done a very good job. Just had to add a few things of my own, like the piano.’

‘Yes …’ Layla took her hat off, mainly to distract herself from his gaze. His eyes were still as captivating as they had been all those years ago, when she was completely invisible. To him, anyway.

Author Bio –  Chris Penhall won the 2019 Choc-Lit Search for a Star competition, sponsored by Your Cat Magazine, for her debut novel, The House That Alice Built. The sequel, New Beginnings at the Little House in the Sun was published in August 2020. Both are available in paperback, e-book and audio and are part of the Portuguese Paradise series. Finding Summer Happiness, which is set in Pembrokeshire in South West Wales is available in e-book, audio and paperback, and The House on the Hill - A Summer in the Algarve, the third novel in the Portuguese Paradise series, is published in e-book on 28th June 2022.

Chris is an author and freelance radio producer for BBC Local Radio.

She also has her own podcast - The Talking to My Friends About Book Podcast in which she chats to her friends about books. Good title!

Born in Neath in South Wales, she has also lived in London and in Portugal, which is where The House That Alice Built is set. It was whilst living in Cascais near Lisbon that she began to dabble in writing fiction, but it was many years later that she was confident enough to start writing her first novel, and many years after that she finally finished it!

A lover of books, music and cats, she is also an enthusiastic salsa dancer, a keen cook, and loves to travel. She is never happier than when she is gazing at the sea.


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