To celebrate the U.S. release of The Unexpected Consequences of Love by Jill Mansell, we’re sharing excerpts from the book to get you geared up for some Valentine’s Day love – from your book boyfriend or otherwise – with an excerpt from her newest book!
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Sophie stretched, satiated. As well as the blackberry ice creams, they’d had fish and chips and malt ball candies. And Diet Coke. It had been a lovely day, spent gossiping, swimming, then later joining in with a game of volleyball on the beach. Now they were enjoying the last couple hours of sunshine and listening to the chatter and snippets of conversation going on around them. Children were engaged in building sand castles and digging moats, couples were idly bickering and the group of posh girls directly behind them were eyeing up the talent and providing a running commentary on their various attributes.
“The one in the yellow board shorts? He’s pretty fit.”
“Not bad. I’d rather have the blond one with the tan. Nice abs.”
“But he’s got one of those noses. There’s big and there’s too big.”
“Oh, come on, it’s only a nose. That can be fixed! See the guy with the long, dark hair? He’s good–looking but his body’s too long for his legs… Now that’s something you’re never going to be able to sort out.”
Cue giggles. Sophie opened her eyes and tilted her head to the left to see what Tula was doing. True to form, she was propped up on her elbows, surveying the view. Which included, naturally, the men in question.
Of course it did. Tula would never miss an opportunity to ogle.
Following her line of gaze, Sophie saw Josh Strachan emerging from the sea with his surfboard. He shook water from his hair and glanced over in their direction, prompting a flurry of interest among the posh girls.
“Now that’s much better. That’s what I call a body,” the loudest of them said in admiration. “How did we manage to miss him before?”
The answer to this was quite simple: for the last hour or so, Josh had been busy surfing, and it was presumably the first time he’d left the water. Sophie, who’d spotted him earlier, watched as he made his way over to the café.
“Unzip your wet suit, unzip your wet suit,” one of the other girls chanted quietly. “Come on now, let’s see your chest.”
“Ooh, spoilsport,” said the loud one as Josh disappeared from view with his wet suit still zipped. “I may have to go over there and get myself a drink. Show him what he’s missing.”
“Hang on, here he is again, and he’s got a dog with him now! Ooh, look at that, sooooo cute…”
Because that was the thing about Griff: he did have the knack, when he wasn’t being a mud–spattering, havoc–causing holy devil, of looking ridiculously cute. Sophie, plugging her earphones back into her ears, turned the volume on her iPod up to maximum to block out the chatter of the girls behind them, and closed her eyes once more.
Less than a minute later, someone was licking her toes.
Or, more accurately, something. Having done a shuddery, whole–body twitch, Sophie jackknifed into a sitting position and saw that it was Griff at her feet, tongue lolling and tail wagging away happily.
At the other end of his leash was Josh.
“Sorry.” He grinned down at her, evidently not meaning it. “Thought it was you earlier. Hello again.”
The last time he’d seen her, she’d been upright, wearing jeans and a top, and her hair had been loose. Today she was prone in a bikini with her hair tied back and dark glasses half covering her face. Lifting the glasses, she said, “You’ve been in the sea the whole time. I’ve been here. How could you know it was me from that far away?”
It had all gone quiet behind her. Josh Strachan looked briefly surprised. At last he replied mildly, “I recognized your bag.”
Oh. Right. Sophie glanced over at the oversized holdall she carried with her everywhere. Made of bright turquoise leather and studded all over with nuggets of silver that reflected the sun and glittered like camera flashes, it probably was quite…standoutish.
“And how about you?” Josh’s tone altered. “How are you feeling now?”
What? What was that supposed to mean? Opening her mouth to ask, Sophie belatedly realized he was addressing Tula.
Which made even less sense.
Tula, clearly thinking the same, said, “Excuse me?”
“I saw you swimming earlier. And playing volleyball. Seems like a pretty miraculous recovery.” He paused, tilting his head to indicate the shopping bag at her side, containing all the empty drinks cartons and food wrappers. “After last night’s questionable prawn curry.”
Last night? What was he on about? “You’ve got the wrong person,” Sophie protested. “Tula wasn’t even here last night.”
Josh smiled and replied pleasantly, “I didn’t say she was.”
If it were possible to have an awkward silence on a noisy, crowded beach, this was it. Even more bizarrely, Tula had gone bright red. The girls behind them were doubtless agog.
With all the finesse of a five–year–old, Tula shook her head and said, “I’m sorry, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
She never had been able to tell a convincing lie.
“Don’t you?” Josh Strachan was evidently finding the situation entertaining. “So the girl I saw sitting on the grounds of our hotel earlier, the one talking to someone on her phone about how incredibly ill she was, thanks to a prawn curry…that wasn’t you?”
“Fine,” Tula blurted out. “Great, brilliant, thanks a lot. The whole point of doing it up there rather than down here, believe it or not, was because I was trying to be discreet.”
“Okay. Sorry,” said Josh, although he clearly wasn’t. “Anyway, looks like you’re feeling much better now. So that’s good, isn’t it?”
“Josh! You off?” Another surfer arrived, greeting him with a slap on the back. “Are we going to see you at the party tonight?” Flashing a dazzling white smile at…well, pretty much every girl in the vicinity, he added cheerily, “Hello, ladies!”
Behind Sophie and Tula, evidently entranced by the sight of two attractive men in wet suits, the posh girls chorused, “Hello!”
Sophie hid a smile, because that was Riley Bryant for you: the ultimate charmer in a “hello, ladies” kind of way. With his long, sun–bleached hair, caramel perma–tan, and sea–green eyes, he was Joey from Friends personified, only blonder and thinner and with a trace of a Newcastle accent. He loved women, any women, flirted incessantly, and his vanity knew no bounds.
What saved Riley from being insufferable was his talent for self–mockery. Outrageously and unapologetically hedonistic, he lived a life designed to suit only himself. Since holding down a proper job didn’t appeal, he survived instead on the proceeds of a trust fund set up by his doting aunt. Any criticism of his choices simply rolled off his back; he had the ability to laugh at himself and didn’t take offense. He spent his days surfing, traveling the world, partying like there was no tomorrow, and sleeping with girls. If they had the choice, he argued, who in their right mind wouldn’t want to do that?
Basically he’d be every parent’s nightmare son–in–law. But if you regarded him simply as harmless entertainment, he was always good value and amusing company to have around.
One of the posh girls, evidently coming to the same conclusion, seized her chance and said, “Actually, you look like the right person to ask. We’re just down for the weekend, wondering where’s the best place around here to go for the evening. Is there anywhere fun you can recommend?”
Riley raised a playful eyebrow. “Fun?”
“And lively,” her friend chimed in. “Some place we can let our hair down.”
Glancing at them over her shoulder, Sophie noted that they did indeed all have plenty of hair, the gleaming, swishy kind. And teeny–tiny bikinis. They were also wearing the full complement of jewelry, fake tan, and makeup. Which wasn’t something you saw that often down here on the beach.
“Well, we’re going to the Mermaid.” Riley turned and pointed in the general direction. “It’s at the far end of the esplanade. A friend’s celebrating his birthday there… It’ll be lively, I can guarantee that.”
“And he wouldn’t mind us turning up?”
“Are you kidding? More the merrier, wouldn’t you say?” Riley turned to Sophie for confirmation. “You know what CJ’s like. Hardly going to complain, is he, about a bunch of gorgeous girls showing up at his party?”
Sophie shrugged and shook her head, because this was undoubtedly true.
The posh girl in the teeniest pink and white polka–dotted bikini said, “Awesome!”
With over 9 million copies sold, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Jill Mansell writes irresistible and funny romantic tales for women in the tradition of Marian Keyes and Sophie Kinsella. She worked for many years at the Burden Neurological Hospital, Bristol, and now writes full time. She lives with her partner and their children in Bristol, England.