Workaholic attorney Samantha Sweeting has just done the unthinkable. She’s made a mistake so huge, it’ll wreck any chance of a partnership. Going into utter meltdown, she walks out of her London office, gets on a train, and ends up in the middle of nowhere. Asking for directions at a big, beautiful house, she’s mistaken for an interviewee and finds herself being offered a job as housekeeper. Her employers have no idea they’ve hired a lawyer—and Samantha has no idea how to work the oven. She can’t sew on a button, bake a potato, or get the #@%# ironing board to open. How she takes a deep breath and begins to cope—and finds love—is a story as delicious as the bread she learns to bake. But will her old life ever catch up with her? And if it does...will she want it back?
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Sophie Kinsella is the author of the bestselling Shopaholic series, as well as The Undomestic Goddess and Can You Keep a Secret? She lives in England.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Would you consider yourself stressed?
No. I’m not stressed.
I’m . . . busy. Plenty of people are busy. I have a high-powered job, my career is important to me, and I enjoy it.
OK. So sometimes I do feel a bit tense. But I’m a lawyer in the City, for God’s sake. What do you expect?
My handwriting is pressing so hard into the page, I’ve torn the paper. Dammit. Never mind. Let’s move on to the next question.
On average, how many hours do you spend in the office every day?
Do you exercise regularly?
I regularly go swimming
I occasionally go swim
I am intending to begin a regular regime of swimming. When I have time. Work’s been busy lately, it’s a blip.
Do you drink 8 glasses of water a day?
I put down my pen and clear my throat. Across the room, Maya looks up from where she’s rearranging all her little pots of wax and nail varnish. Maya is my spa beauty therapist for the day and is in her forties, I’d say. Her long dark hair is in a plait with one white streak woven through it, and she has a tiny silver stud in her nose.
“Everything all right with the questionnaire?” she murmurs.
“I did mention that I’m in a bit of a hurry,” I say politely. “Are all these questions absolutely necessary?”
“At the Green Tree Center we like to have as much information as possible to assess your beauty and health needs,” she replies in soothing yet implacable tones.
I glance at my watch. Nine forty-five.
I don’t have time for this. I really do not have the time. But it’s my birthday treat and I promised my best friend, Freya.
To be more accurate, it’s last year’s birthday treat. Freya gave me the gift voucher for an “Ultimate De-stress Experience” just over a year ago. She’s my oldest school friend and is always on at me for working too hard. In the card that came with the voucher she wrote Make Some Time For Yourself, Samantha!!!
Which I did fully intend to do. But we had the Zincon Petrochemical Group restructuring and the Zeus Minerals merger . . . and somehow a year went by without my finding a spare moment. I’m a lawyer with Carter Spink. I work in the corporate department on the finance side, and just at the moment, things are pretty hectic with some big deals on. It’s a blip. It’ll get better. I just have to get through the next couple of weeks.
Anyway, then Freya sent me this year’s birthday card—and I suddenly realized the voucher was about to expire. So here I am, on my twenty-ninth birthday. Sitting on a couch in a white toweling robe and surreal paper knickers. With a half-day window. Max.
Do you smoke?
Do you drink alcohol?
Yes. The odd glass of wine.
Do you eat regular home-cooked meals?
What does that have to do with anything? What makes “home-cooked” meals superior?
I eat a nutritious, varied diet, I write at last.
Which is absolutely true.
Anyway, everyone knows the Chinese live longer than we do—so what could be more healthy than to eat their food? And pizza is Mediterranean. It’s probably more healthy than a home-cooked meal.
Do you feel your life is balanced?
“I’m done,” I announce, and hand the pages back to Maya, who starts reading through my answers. Her finger is traveling down the paper at a snail’s pace. Like we’ve got all the time in the world.
Which she may well have. But I seriously have to be back in the office by one.
Maya looks up, a thoughtful expression on her face. “You’re obviously quite a stressed-out woman.”
What? Where does she get that from? I specifically put on the form, I am not stressed-out.
“No, I’m not.” I hope Maya’s taking in my relaxed, see-how-unstressed-I-am smile. She looks unconvinced.
“Your job is obviously very pressured.”
“I thrive under pressure,” I explain. Which is true. I’ve known that about myself ever since . . .
Well. Ever since my mother told me, when I was about eight. You thrive under pressure, Samantha. Our whole family thrives under pressure. It’s like our family motto or something.
Apart from my brother Peter, of course. He had a nervous breakdown. But the rest of us.
I love my job. I love spotting the loophole in a contract. I love the thrill of negotiation, and arguing my case, and making the sharpest point in the room. I love the adrenaline rush of closing a deal.
I suppose just occasionally I do feel as though someone’s piling heavy weights on me. Like big concrete blocks, one on top of the other, and I have to keep holding them up, no matter how exhausted I am . . .
But then everyone probably feels like that. It’s normal.
“Your skin’s very dehydrated.” Maya is shaking her head. She runs an expert hand across my cheek and rests her fingers underneath my jaw, looking concerned. “Your heart rate’s very high. That’s not healthy. Are you feeling particularly tense?”
“Work’s pretty busy at the moment.” I shrug. “It’s just a blip. I’m fine.” Can we get on with it?
“Well.” Maya gets up. She presses a button set in the wall and gentle pan-pipe music fills the air. “All I can say is, you’ve come to the right place, Samantha. Our aim here is to de-stress, revitalize, and detoxify.”
“Lovely,” I say, only half listening. I’ve just remembered that I never got back to David Elldridge about the Ukrainian oil contract. I meant to call him yesterday. Shit.
“Our aim is to provide a haven of tranquility, away from all your day-to-day worries.” Maya presses another button in the wall, and the light dims to a muted glow. “Before we start,” she says softly, “do you have any questions?”
“Actually, I do.” I lean forward.
“Good!” She beams. “Are you curious about today’s treatments, or is it something more general?”
“Could I possibly send a quick e-mail?”
Maya’s smile freezes on her face.
“Just quickly,” I add. “It won’t take two secs—”
“Samantha, Samantha . . .” Maya shakes her head. “You’re here to relax. To take a moment for yourself. Not to send e-mails. E-mail’s an obsession! An addiction! As evil as alcohol. Or caffeine.”
For goodness sake, I’m not obsessed. I mean, that’s ridiculous. I check my e-mails about once every . . . thirty seconds, maybe.
The thing is, a lot can change in thirty seconds.
“And besides, Samantha,” Maya goes on. “Do you see a computer in this room?”
“No,” I reply, obediently looking around the dim little room, at posters of yoga positions and a wind chime and a row of crystals arranged on the windowsill.
“This is why we ask that you leave all electronic equipment in the safe. No mobile phones are permitted. No little computers.” Maya spreads her arms. “This is a retreat. An escape from the world.”
“Right.” I nod meekly.
Now is probably not the time to reveal that I have a BlackBerry hidden in my paper knickers.
“So, let’s begin.” Maya smiles. “Lie down, please, under a towel. And remove your watch.”
“I need my watch!”
“Another addiction.” She tsks reprovingly. “You don’t need to know the time while you’re here.”
She turns away, and with reluctance I take off my watch. Then, a little awkwardly, I arrange myself on the massage table, trying to avoid squashing my precious BlackBerry.
I did see the rule about no electronic equipment. And I did surrender my Dictaphone. But three hours without a BlackBerry? I mean, what if something came up at the office? What if there was an emergency?
If they really wanted people to relax, they would let them keep their BlackBerrys and mobile phones, not confiscate them.
Anyway, she’ll never see it under my towel.
“I’m going to begin with a relaxing foot rub,” says Maya, and I feel her smoothing some kind of lotion over my feet. “Try to clear your mind.”
I stare dutifully up at the ceiling. Clear mind. My mind is as clear as a transparent . . . glass . . .
What am I going to do about Elldridge? He’ll be waiting for a response. What if he tells the other partners I was lax? What if it affects my chances of partnership?
I feel a clench of alarm. Now is not the time to leave anything to chance.
“Try to let go of all your thoughts. . . .” Maya is chanting. “Feel the release of tension. . . .”
Maybe I could send him a very quick e-mail.
Surreptitiously I reach down and feel the hard corner of my BlackBerry. Gradually I inch it out of my paper knickers. Maya is still massaging my feet, totally oblivious.
“Your body is growing heavy . . . your mind should be emptying . . .”
I edge the BlackBerry up onto my chest until I can just see the sc...
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