Blog Tour - A Winter Affair by Minna Howard & Extract!

Saturday, 3 September 2016

A Winter Affair
By Minna Howard 
Publication Date: 1st September 2016
Publisher: Aria Fiction 
Pages: 273
Genre: Romance, Contemporary
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley

Amazon UK / Amazon US

A wonderful warm, seasonal treat, whisking you on a magical adventure to the Swiss Alps. Full of food, laughter and fun. 

With a recent divorce and empty nest Eloise Brandon is facing Christmas alone until a harried phone call from her godfather changes everything. 
Accepting his challenge, Eloise finds herself en-route to Verbier and to her godfathers chalet in the beautiful Swiss Alps to help cater for some seriously rich, high rolling guests. 
What ensues makes it a Christmas to remember. A heady alpine mixture of old friends, ex-husbands, mega-rich, super demanding guests, a dishevelled proprietor and Bert the dog.

Eloise Brandon has had a rubbish year, from her marriage ending to now having to spend Christmas alone with her children away on a gap year, she is left with an empty nest and heart as well. Just when she had give up hope on this magical season, Eloise gets a phone call from Desmond, her godfather. He asks her to help his son Lawrence at the old yet very charming chalet that Eloise has been to not been too in years. 
Eloise is very unsure at first on whether she should help Lawrence or ring him to say that she was unable to do as he asked. Although before Eloise knows it she is on a plane flying to her destination. Where she is thrown head first into cooking for the rich guests, Eloise knows that she isn't the best at cooking fancy food but she hopes that home cooked real food is the best thing for the chalet. There is also the added fact that the chalet is in danger due to the upgrades needed Lawrence isn't sure about what will happen after this festive season. 
I loved this Christmas story for two reasons, one I love, love Christmas stories who doesn't?! and two it had everything I could have ever wanted in a Christmas Book, With its strong family themes, beautiful surroundings and romance that sneaks up on you when you least expect it. A Winter Affair is a truly magical Christmas story that will show you a different meaning to Christmas and how sometimes change is good, no matter how big or small. 
I would have to say that Eloise, Theo and Bert were my favourite characters. Eloise as I think she is so strong and sweet to everyone and that she knows she will never be as good as a professional chef but she doesn't let that stop her from trying which I admire. Theo as he is such a helpful and sweet boy who faces a lot of issues in the book (once you read it, you will understand what I mean!) but his lovely natural and desire to help others makes him one of my favourite characters. The last one is Bert, the dog, I don't think I have to explain why I loved Bert so much. He makes this Christmas story a funnier and more loveable just from the silly antics that Bert gets up too.  

Don't forget to check out the first chapter/ extract below that will 

make you want to read this amazing Christmas book!

Magical, Wonderful and Christmassy. 



Eloise had written three Christmas cards before she realised her mistake, but old habits die hard. Love from Eloise, Harvey and the twins. 
But Harvey wasn’t here and would not be coming back. She tore up the cards and threw them into the bin and then gave up on the whole idea; she would not be sending cards this year. She sat at her desk in the still unfamiliar room of her new home in Wimbledon, struggling to repress the ache in her heart. 
Through the window she saw the driver of the supermarket delivery van wheeling cases of wine and boxes of goodies to number 27 ready for the Christmas celebrations. She better go and buy her turkey breast, pudding for one and wine and chocolate to eat while she immersed herself in box sets, she thought wryly. 
This year she’d be home alone for Christmas for the first time in her forty-three years. The telephone rang, cutting through her thoughts. It could be the twins calling from Tibet. She answered it full of hope. Her spirits fell a little when she realized it was not them but Desmond Maynard, her godfather, calling from his sunny home in Antigua.
 ‘What are you doing for Christmas, my dear?’ his voice boomed from across the world. She’d told him all about her divorce. Perhaps he was going to ask her to stay with him for Christmas. Her heart rose as she pictured warm beaches and soft seas. She hadn’t seen Desmond, her father’s best friend, for a couple of years, he was good company and she’d always been fond of him. 
Knowing him, he’d even offer to pay for her ticket, which he could well afford, so she wouldn’t feel bad about accepting. Now he was alone without Maddy, his beloved partner, he probably yearned for company at this emotional time of the year. She’d be happy to read to him, go on walks in the lush countryside and swim in the sea with him. So maybe her Christmas wouldn’t be so bad this year after all. 
‘I haven’t decided yet, Desmond. The twins are in Tibet. I’m going to catch up with them in the summer when I visit my parents in New Zealand and…’ She was about to accept the invitation he had not yet given when he interrupted.
 ‘Good, there’s trouble at the chalet. Lawrence is tearing his hair out, he’s had to sack two already and he has a big Christmas party for very important clients and is at his wit’s end and doesn’t know what to do.’ 
‘Sack who… and what’s it to do with me?’ Eloise was puzzled. 
Desmond had inherited an ancient chalet in Switzerland from his parents’ years ago and had given it to his son 4 Lawrence, who was mad about skiing and mountains and now ran it as an expensive holiday let. 
‘A chef.’ Desmond almost shouted as if her ears were defective.
 ‘The one he had left unexpectedly… in a private plane with one of the guests. I warned Lawrence not to employ any attractive women, but he wouldn’t listen. But I was right and he was wrong: she made a beeline for some rich tycoon and ran off with him, leaving poor Lawrence in the lurch at this crucial time.’
 ‘I’m sorry, but…’ Eloise began, but Desmond went on, his voice getting louder and more strident. ‘And the last two chefs that arrived couldn’t cook an egg, but you can: you’re cordon bleu trained and you cook wonderfully and are reliable… aren’t you?’ he demanded. 
She was shell-shocked: she hadn’t seen Lawrence for years and hadn’t much liked him then. Had Desmond told him she would cook for a chalet full of people without even asking her first… and assured him that she was not attractive enough to lure away any passing zillionaires? It was years since she’d done the cordon bleu course and it was only a Foundation one, which in no way qualified her as a chef. 
She tried to explain this to Desmond, but he stopped her mid-flow, his voice calm as if he were soothing a wild animal. ‘My dear, I’ve no doubt you’ve been through a terrible time with your no-good husband, but you need to keep your wits about you, not waste away picking over every painful detail. Lawrence is frantic, he needs a chef at Jacaranda from now until early January and you’ve just said you’re free and you can cook. He’ll send you the fare and you’ll have a wage, board and lodging and even time to ski. Surely you’d jump at the chance?’ He sounded peevish.
 ‘You’ve sprung this on me, Desmond, let me think about it.’ She was stung by his remark about wasting life while she agonized over Harvey’s departure. It was true that she had lost much of her confidence over her divorce and no longer having the twins at home, and so making the two main points to her life – being a wife and mother – redundant almost simultaneously. 
‘But what are you doing for Christmas, Eloise. You sound as if you haven’t got anything planned,’ Desmond went on. 
‘I’m not sure, I’ve just moved house and…’ She was not going to say curl up with box sets and books and eat chocolate, which suddenly seemed very tempting, hiding away to nurse her wounds. 5
 ‘There you are then, problem solved. I’ll tell Lawrence to ring you at once. Jacaranda’s a lovely chalet… of course you know, having stayed there with me and dear Maddy and your parents… and didn’t you all come one Christmas when you and Joanna were children? Oh, what good times they were. I wish I wasn’t so old and infirm and could ski those slopes again.’ He sounded wistful. He went on, ‘You’ll love it, you know you will, all those stunning mountains and powdery snow.’
 ‘Oh Desmond it’s just that…’ but he cut her off once more. 
‘You can do it, Eloise, I know you can. Goodbye, my dear, and thank you.’ He rang off, leaving her reeling. She couldn’t possibly cook for a chalet full of rich, discerning guests, no doubt plagued with food fads. She must contact Lawrence at once and tell him that his father was mistaken. But she didn’t know his number, unless by some fluke she could find it from the times she’d stayed there years ago.
 She remembered the one Christmas she’d spent there as a child, with her family when she was about ten. A truly white Christmas with lashings of snow and she and Joanna making snowmen that lasted the whole time they were there. They’d given them names and been quite sad to leave them behind when they went home. 
She’d loved it, it was a truly wonderful place, but she hadn’t had to cook for difficult millionaires used to the very best. And yet it would be something different to focus on. Hadn’t she promised herself that after the divorce, when she was an independent woman again, she’d take on new challenges? Change the rhythm of her life so she wouldn’t feel so bereft. 
This last year had passed in a mist of pain and confusion with Harvey – who, she admitted, had been making for the exit for some time – finally leaving her, escaping the confines of marriage to ‘find himself’ as he put it, lured away by a large-breasted ‘sex toy’, as she thought her. 
Then, almost harder to bear, her beloved twins Kit and Lizzie, set off on their gap year to the other side of the world, relieved, she couldn’t help thinking but not blaming them, to escape their parents’ explosive break-up. 
It had been a strange sort of marriage, she admitted now, watching yet more boxes being trundled across to number 27. However many people were they going to entertain? Certainly more than her if she stayed home alone as she’d planned. 
Against all the odds their marriage had lasted just over twenty years, though early on, when the twins were babies, to keep her sanity, Eloise had forced herself to turn a blind eye or, rather, not delve too deeply into what Harvey got up to when he went away on his business trips. He worked in the travel industry, which mostly involved beaches and the occasional ski resort, and these, with their skimpy 6 clothing at one, and ski bunnies at the other, provided many opportunities for bedroom sports that she suspected Harvey indulged in. 
He adored the children and always came home to them, until they grew up, and were bitten by the travel bug, and soon after their father left they set out into a wider world, leaving their nest empty. She soon realized, or perhaps more likely accepted, that she was not enough for her husband. In fact since he had put on weight and his beautiful features were sinking into flabbiness he seemed to be more determined than ever to prove that he had not lost his power of seduction. 
The pain tugged tighter as she replayed the scene when he’d told her that he’d always love her, but he felt it was time – he made it sound like a supreme sacrifice on his part – for both of them to move on, breaking her heart. She was twenty-one when they married. It seemed a long time ago. Harvey was twenty eight. 
His parents had died in the same year, she remembered, and Harvey, their only child, had been born late in their marriage and no doubt spoilt rotten. He probably needed a home and someone to care for him, which she probably overdid, loving him so much… too much. When the twins were born two years later, and she had to spread her care for him more thinly, he could get quite grumpy if she couldn’t give him her full attention when he expected it, though he did adore his children. 
When she first met him, Harvey, encouraged by his friends, wanted to be an actor. With his dark smouldering eyes and manly torso, everyone said… well anyway his friends, he’d surely make a perfect romantic lead and even be a contender to play James Bond. But though he was animated in normal life, he became as wooden as a puppet in front of a camera or on stage. 
He tried modelling and Eloise still recalled, with a lurch of sick embarrassment, the time she’d gone to a smart lunch given by one of her girl friends from school. The women boasted about their husbands who were bankers, lawyers, politicians or doctors. 
When it came to her turn, she sort of panicked and bleated out that her husband was a lingerie model, causing shrieks and gasps of incredulity. She hadn’t meant to say it but explain he was modelling at the moment – in between acting jobs – true his speciality seemed to be swimming trunks, but he had also modelled an occasional suit. Regardless, this profession hardly featured in the same class as medicine or law. But in time – after he’d swapped the acting world for the travel world – when she’d met these other women’s husbands, she saw Harvey was by far the best-looking and far more exciting, and when some of their marriages broke down it was Harvey the women sought out to console them. She should have faced up to the signs back then, but somehow she never thought that Harvey would actually leave her, until the divorce had gone through. She kept his name, Brandon, it had been her name longer than the one she was born with and she didn’t want to change everything. They had to sell their family house and she’d been so busy finding and settling into this one and getting the twins off on their travels that Christmas had crept up on her almost without her noticing. She need not be alone for Christmas. 
She could go and stay with Joanna, her older sister, and her family in Scotland, and various friends had invited her to spend it with them, but touched though she was by their kindness, she couldn’t tell them that just now she couldn’t bear to be among happy families when hers had self-destructed. She found it painful to be with couples chatting about their plans, just as she and Harvey used to do: 
‘We are planning a holiday,’ ‘We need to buy a new car.’ Ordinary everyday things that she’d never noticed before she was alone. No, she would spend Christmas alone. It was only one day after all and she’d be perfectly happy with her box sets, books, wine and chocolate. 
The telephone rang again, setting her nerves on edge. Perhaps she’d let it go to the answer phone, but it could be the twins ringing from Tibet, so she answered it.
 ‘Eloise? Lawrence here, Desmond’ – he’d always called his father by his first name – ‘said you are a cordon bleu chef and free to come out here and cook for the Christmas guests.’ His voice was brisk with impatience as if he suspected he was wasting his time. Her confidence had already been smashed by the divorce and his tone of voice now smashed it further.
 ‘Oh… Lawrence, he did ring, I am cordon bleu… but hardly a…’ 
‘Look, Eloise, can you do it or not? I need you here by the weekend and to stay until the second week in January. The guests are sophisticated and used to the best. I want someone reliable and who’s not going to flirt with the guests, worse still run off with them,’ he added sourly. 
‘Desmond is convinced you’ll be able to do it, so can you?’
 ‘Did he say I was nothing to look at, not one to tempt away your paying guests?’ 
Despite her nerves she couldn’t resist teasing him. ‘You can look like the backside of a bus for all I care as long as you can cook,’ he retorted impatiently. His tone annoyed her now.
 ‘I think Desmond could have exaggerated my skills. I can cook, but I’m not a chef as such, and I’m not keen on those fussy little messes arranged in the middle of a plate, they’re too fiddly and far too time-consuming.’ 
 ‘I quite agree,’ he sounded friendlier. 
‘Look, I need roasts, fish dishes, duck, those sorts of things, good vegetables and puddings. People are hungry out here with all the mountain air, but they don’t want school dinners. Can you do it or not?’ She couldn’t, surely couldn’t please a man who sounded so particular? Or please his even more particular guests? But something deep inside her, long squashed by the break-up of her marriage, struggled to assert itself. Hadn’t she wanted to start afresh, change her life? Well, here was her chance. 
‘I’ll give it a go,’ she said, feeling rather weak at the challenge. 
‘Good,’ Lawrence said, ‘let’s hope it works out. Over Christmas I’ve some very important people booked in and it must not go wrong. I’ll email your ticket, give me your details, you’ll fly out to Geneva on Friday and I’ll send Theo, my son, to pick you up and drive you up here.’
 ‘Will he hold up a sign with my name on or something so I can recognize him?’ 
‘Of course. OK, Eloise, see you then, and please, I’m depending on you, don’t let me down’.
 He made it sound as if it was life or death, which perhaps it was, and he rang off. His son… he must be old enough to drive, did Lawrence have a wife there too and why couldn’t she cook, or was she too glamorous, floating about as the perfect hostess? Panic hit again, what on earth did she think she was doing, agreeing to cook for a chalet full of rich – and probably spoilt people? She didn’t want to go, she wanted to hide away, to lick her wounds, hibernate from the world and emerge feeling stronger in the spring. 
She picked up the telephone and dialled ring back and wrote down Lawrence’s number. It was late now and she was exhausted, she’d call him in the morning and tell him she would not be able to come to Jacaranda after all.

Another day, another book, 
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