The Villa of Dreams- Lucy Coleman (Digital Sample)

Read on for an exclusive extract from ‘The Villa of Dreams’ by Lucy Coleman.

The Villa of Dreams

Lucy Coleman



How many people are lucky – some might say foolhardy – enough to grab the chance of a fresh start? Well, I’ve been offered a job opportunity which is going to turn my whole life upside down. Three weeks today, I will be saying goodbye to the UK and jumping on a plane to Lisbon.

After working for my father for six years, the day that I finally decided I’d had enough and I handed him my letter of resignation, his reaction was one of disbelief.

‘You’re making a big mistake, Seren,’ he warned me. ‘Don’t expect me to bail you out if things go wrong. It’s a tough world out there and you’ve led a privileged life – you just don’t appreciate that fact.’

With his words ringing in my ears, I walked out of the office feeling… free. You can’t live life trying to please a man who uses a balance sheet as a measuring stick.

My father takes pride in the fact that he worked hard to build up his business, which allowed him to provide a good standard of living for his family. That makes him sound like a loving man, doesn’t it? But somewhere along the way it changed him, and not for the better. In a sad twist of irony, the father I remember from my childhood was different – as a family man he was kinder, more forgiving and less driven. I can’t remember when exactly he stopped appreciating the small things in life, but it’s a loss I mourn.

Working for my father for the last six years has destroyed not only the relationship I have with him but has also meant stifling my own ambitions. And my poor mother is caught in the middle, her heart torn as the chasm grows between us all. My father longed for a son and instead he got a daughter. One who wanted to please him, until he side-lined me for a total stranger. Three months after Stuart Lang arrived, I resigned. He saw me as a threat and wasted a ridiculous amount of time and effort in systematically undermining every decision I made. Obviously, he wasn’t quite as astute, or confident about his own abilities as my father perceived him to be. Mind you, my plans to leave were well in hand, even before his first day on the job.

It’s time to pack up my things and put them in storage.

There is no looking back, only forwards from now on. It’s up to me to manifest the sort of life I want to live and, yes, I’m a little scared, but it’s also empowering.


Chapter 1

Kindred Souls Forever

The sound of tinkling bells makes me snatch up my iPad and swipe right, placing it on the table next to my breakfast plate. The familiar face of my best friend, Judi, comes into view. We met on our first day at pre-school and being naturally shy and timid little souls, we gravitated towards each other. To this day, we have an unbreakable bond.

Judi had little support from her fractured family, who were all too caught up in the constant battle between warring parents and stepparents. I, on the other hand, was being moulded by a father who wanted to control every aspect of my life. We were at opposite ends of the spectrum in one respect and yet we were spiritual sisters and confidantes in another. Judi had freedom but no advantages; I had advantages but no freedom. Helping each other through the tough times made us realise that everyone’s personal battles may be unique, but we all have them.

Now, here we are, about to begin the next exciting phase of our lives – nearly two-thousand miles apart.

‘Well?’ I say, excitedly. ‘Are you ringing with good news?’

‘A good morning would have been nice.’ She gives me a little wave.

‘Sorry. Good morning, Judi. How’s the weather in wonderful Wales?’

The smile on her face dissolves into a grimace. ‘There’s a bitingly cold frost this morning, but it’s supposed to warm up a little. Snow is forecast later today and well into tomorrow. If it’s heavy, then I’m stuffed, because I have a meeting in Birmingham this afternoon and then I’m off to London in the morning.’

Giving her a sympathetic smile, I ignore the bed hair and the fact that she’s still in her pjs. Normally she’s in the shower, dressed and ready to go before most people have even opened their eyes.

‘It’s funny you should call right now, as I was just thinking about our little jaunt to the Loire Valley. I still smile whenever I think of our bonne année – it was the best Christmas and New Year ever, wasn’t it?’

‘Ha!’ she laughs. ‘Well, it was certainly a brilliant way of avoiding our families at the worst time of the year. We must make it an annual pilgrimage, as it already seems like an eternity ago. So much has happened in the last three weeks and I’m flagging already.’

She sounds maudlin and that’s not like her. When we booked the gîte, this time last year, I had no idea I’d be living in Lisbon by then. But the holiday had turned out to be the perfect answer to all our problems. I had a legitimate reason not to go back to the UK to spend Christmas with my parents; Judi avoided a house crammed with people and the risk of being drawn into personal squabbles with unforgiving kin.

‘Has something gone wrong? You sound a bit down.’

There’s a moment of hesitation before she clears her throat. ‘The promotion is mine if I want it.’

I stop nibbling on my toast and lean forward, unable to contain my delight. ‘But that’s brilliant news!’

Judi shrugs her shoulders nonchalantly and I’m struggling to understand why she’s not punching the air.

‘What’s that saying? Be careful what you wish for… Well, everything comes at a price, I suppose. I should know that by now.’

I’m totally confused. Judi has been working hard towards this promotion for over two years now and she’s been almost obsessive in her dedication. As the social media coordinator for a company making eco-friendly cosmetics, she never switches off because it’s her dream job. Normally, she’s bouncing off the walls, her head full of crazy ideas which frequently turn into ‘aha!’ moments.

‘What do you mean if you want it? You didn’t get the assistant campaign manager post, after all? I wasn’t aware there was more than one position up for grabs.’

She gives a sigh, avoiding eye contact – which is a bad sign.

‘No, that’s not the problem. There’s been a general restructuring. I’d be reporting to Alex Martin, as Tim is leaving next week.’

She glances directly at me, as if that should mean something, which it doesn’t, and I’m at a loss for words. I continue munching in silence.

‘Why did this have to happen now?’ she continues softly, sounding like she’s talking to herself, rather than to me.

I’m trying my best not to stare back at her blankly. Alex… Alex… I think that’s the new guy who started a few months ago. At times like this, the UK feels like it’s a million miles away and it’s frustrating not being able to pop round, put the kettle on and give her a comforting hug. I had no idea she was having problems and can’t believe she didn’t raise the subject when we were in France. Normally, we talk everything through like sisters. In hindsight, it’s obvious that with my own life in such turmoil, she was simply ensuring nothing spoiled our break away. ‘Judi, did you get any sleep at all last night?’

‘About an hour, in between bouts of pacing around, and drinking several cups of herbal tea to try to relax me,’ she groans. ‘If I can avoid Alex, I’m okay. But working in close proximity to him – can you imagine how impossible that would be?’


‘You’ve mentioned his name in passing probably… twice. The only thing I can remember you telling me was that he was brought in to shake things up.’

‘Yes, that just about sums it up. So, what do you think I should do?’ The eye contact is intense.

‘Do?’ I ask, but her lips stay firmly shut. ‘Well, you say yes and get on with it. If he has a problem with you, then take it to HR.’

‘Yes, well… the problem isn’t his, it’s mine. Whenever Alex is around, it makes me extremely nervous, so I’ve been avoiding him.’

Nervous? ‘Is he trying to intimidate you?’ I ask, appalled.

‘No, nothing like that!’ Her response is firm.

‘Then stand your ground. You’re obviously the best candidate for the job and it’s not like you to back away from people unless… you’re attracted to him, aren’t you?’

I groan, inwardly. Almost two years ago now, a guy named Peter transferred into her department. Even Judi will admit that she has a type. Given the chaotic environment in which she was brought up, it’s not difficult to see why. To protect herself, she’s a perfectionist and someone who values her privacy, above all else. Peter was a consummate professional: organised, focused and discreet. Not only was he her type, he was an A+, but, to Judi’s horror, her worst fear was realised when they had a row at work. The thought of everyone suddenly knowing her business mortified her. Worse still, when an opportunity for promotion came up and they were both interviewed for the same post, she was passed over and Peter got the job. Judi was angry with herself, as not only did she have seniority in the department, but everyone thought it was a foregone conclusion that she’d get the position. So, then she had the added indignity of her female colleagues commiserating with her and inferring she should challenge the decision. She told me at the time that it was like living a nightmare, but she held her head high and kept working through it. It was ironic that less than six months’ later Peter was headhunted by another company but, by then, Judi had changed jobs. As they say, everything happens for a reason and she was much happier, but her pride had taken a serious knock and for a while her confidence had dipped. It was a big price to pay.

The pained expression on her face now tells me that just when the memories of the past had begun to fade, this is raking it all up again.

‘There’s something about him that’s different,’ she explains.

The pause is ominous.

‘He’s the first guy to catch my attention in ages and you know that’s true, Seren.’

A part of me wonders if what’s really behind this is a growing sense of loneliness. Judi and I spent a lot of time together and now there’s a gap in her life. I just wish this wasn’t her potential future boss she was talking about.

‘It’s unfortunate, given the timing, Judi, but is it possible that you’re panicking a little unnecessarily? Just don’t jump into anything and see how it pans out,’ I reply, my voice full of compassion while trying to reassure her.

‘I can’t seem to help myself. I’ve worked damned hard to get to this point and I can’t risk making myself look foolish a second time around.’

Judi and I made a pact before I left… get ourselves in a position where we can afford to have the freedom to do what we want to do. Our dreams for the future might differ, but more responsibility means a better salary and being able to set money aside to turn a dream into a reality. If this developed into another Peter scenario it could be disastrous. The sooner Judi addresses the situation, the better.

‘Okay. Let’s put this into perspective. He’s just a man, like any other. It’s been a while since you met anyone you really fancied and, heck, we all get that urge from time to time. Just get your emotions back under control and let that business head of yours rule. You can’t pass up an opportunity like this because you’d end up regretting it when this little flurry of emotion turns out to be a passing thing.’

Her forehead puckers up as she digests my words. ‘I know that. But this is weird, Seren, because I just can’t seem to get him out of my head and, goodness knows, I’ve tried. I’m only too aware that I don’t need this sort of distraction right now, as this is my time to step up and demonstrate what I can do. That’s why I haven’t been able to talk about it. I thought I could rationalise it and move on.’

She sounds wistful and it saddens me. We both decided to step off the dating treadmill for a while. All that time spent getting to know someone new is exhausting. Then by date number three, it’s a case of ‘where’s the exit?’ when you realise why no one has snapped them up. We’ve often laughed together, over a glass of wine or two, wondering if we were just too fussy. Neither of us are pushovers though, and reject out of hand the sort of guys who spout the usual, inane dating drivel. We decided that if we are meant to find true love then it will probably happen when we least expect it and our energies are better spent manifesting the life we want. I think there’s an element of self-sabotage wrapped up in this and Judi’s insecurities are in play.

‘Hit the problem head-on. Just ask him out and see what happens. A couple of dates and you’ll probably be done, just keep it friendly and everything will be fine.’

‘Now you sound jaded.’

‘I do, don’t I?’ I reflect.

‘It’s not that easy, Seren, and I don’t know what to do about it. What I do know is that the moment we first met, I looked at Alex, he looked at me and there was something. I mean, something there between us. Like we’d met before. There was a connection.’

‘Can you hear yourself, Judi? It’s called instant attraction and it usually doesn’t last very long.’

‘But what if that isn’t the case and he’s the one?’

She has a point, but how on earth would I know?

‘Well, it’s time to woman-up. Take a deep breath, calm yourself down and then accept the job offer. It’s not as if you’ll be with him every minute of the working day, is it?’

She pauses for thought, raising an eyebrow as if she’s weighing it up very carefully. ‘No.’

‘To begin with you’ll be a little cautious around each other, but everyone – him included – will assume it’s because you’re settling into a new role, with a new boss. Your back is covered as long as you hold it together.’

‘But what if I can’t hide how I feel?’

I roll my eyes. ‘You’ll soon get to see his flaws and start looking at him in a different light. No one is perfect, trust me. And when it comes to work, once you’re sitting at your new desk, there will be no stopping you and he’s going to be impressed. He won’t want to risk losing your skills if he’s trying to make his mark.’

‘Thanks. I guess you’re right. It’s difficult not having you around. I needed that little pep talk as I’ve been stressing over this big time. Anyway, how about you? Have you been in touch with your parents since you’ve been back?’

‘I’ve been emailing Mum, but there’s not a lot to say right now.’

‘Seren, emailing her, really?’ Judi makes it sound like an accusation, but I ignore it. ‘And how is Lisbon?’

‘It beautiful, vibrant and busy. My new life is everything I hoped it would be. Coming back after Christmas made me realise that I am beginning to feel at home here. I love this little place I’m renting. My neighbour, Maria Santos, is a delight. Her English is much better than my Portuguese, thankfully. Her daughter-in-law, who was born in Surrey, and her grandson live with her, and they are both bilingual. She doesn’t mention her son, but I get the impression that he died. I do miss… well, I miss my bestie and meeting up with friends to hang out.’

‘Oh, me, too. It was a brave decision to make, and I don’t know if I would have had the guts to face the upheaval. It takes time to get to know people, longer when you come from a totally different culture. Is there anyone you’ve managed to become friendly with, I mean, outside of work?’

I can hear concern in her voice.

‘I’ve been working closely with the gallery’s publicity manager, Carolina. We have quite a bit in common. She’s single and ambitious, too, and she’s about our age – thirty-two, I think. She also lives in Almada, about a ten-minute walk from where I’m renting, and we often travel into work together.’

‘Well, that’s a good start. I can’t even imagine what it’s like for you now. Sometimes it still doesn’t feel real, you know, that you have this whole new life going on.’

‘When you fly over for your first visit, think of the fun we’ll have. By then I’ll know my way around properly and I’ll be able to give you the tour like a local. You will utterly and completely fall in love with Lisbon, I promise.’

‘Please do not mention the L word.’ She sighs. ‘And the job is going well?’

I feel an immense sense of satisfaction wash over me as I realise that this is the happiest I’ve felt in a very long time. Admittedly, I do have moments when loneliness creeps up on me without warning, but I think it’s more akin to homesickness. The one thing I do know for sure, is that I have no yearning to go back to my old life and no regrets. ‘In June it’s the fifth anniversary of the opening of the gallery. My proposals to mark the occasion are being considered by the directors and I’m waiting for their decision. I am nervous about it. It’s a huge deal and I could be way off the mark. I wanted to impress them and I know I can pull it off, but I wonder if they’ll think my plans are too ambitious.’

Judi stares straight into my eyes, giving me her no-nonsense look. ‘I’m sure you’ve got it right. As much as I hate the fact that you’re so far away, you’re not stifled any more, and I’m honestly thrilled for you. And has being around all that arty stuff inspired you?’

‘Maria’s seventeen-year-old grandson, Luis, helped me to set up a little workshop in the garden.’ I can’t help breaking out into a huge smile.

‘I knew that artistic streak of yours was still alive and kicking! Well, done, Seren. Freedom can be exhilarating when there is nothing, and no one, to hold you back.’

My father didn’t want me wasting time on things that didn’t further my career, but that need to create is a part of me. A part I’ve given too little attention for far too long.

‘Well, freedom also comes at a price and if I mess up at work the rent won’t get paid and my savings will begin to dwindle. Renting out my house in the UK keeps the mortgage ticking over and covers the cost of the management company, but that’s only a temporary solution.’

‘There really is no turning back for you, now?’

‘No. Anyway, keep everything crossed for me that my ideas are well received and that I can prove my worth.’

‘They’re crossed,’ she says, holding up a hand in front of the screen. ‘But you won’t need it as this job was made for you.’

‘And in return I’ll be sending calming thoughts your way. If this Alex guy unsettles you, just conjure up a mental image of him doing something ordinary. Like washing his hair in the shower. I’d say sitting on the toilet, but that’s an invasion of a person’s privacy. Even if it is just a mental image.’

She bursts out laughing. ‘Oh, my focus wouldn’t be on the bubbles in his hair, or the fact that he’s just like everyone else. He is simply gorgeous, intelligent, super-organised and… fascinating. Alex has this wonderfully intimate little smile. It gives me goosebumps.’

Goosebumps? What has gotten into her?

‘And you’re getting this from faraway glimpses of each other?’

‘Oh no, is that the time already? I’d better go or I’ll be late for work.’ Her words come tumbling out and I wonder whether she’s purposely cutting me off. ‘Thanks for listening and for the advice. Good luck and a virtual hug, Seren! Speak soon.’

Ping, she’s gone. I’m left shaking my head sadly. I can tell she still hasn’t made up her mind what to do about the promotion and I can only hope I said enough to tip her in the right direction.

That’s one of the disadvantages of being so far away. It’s too easy to avoid talking about the real issues and I don’t want to worry Judi, either. I am lonely at times and feeling a little isolated. A small fish in a huge pond and I’m anxious to make my mark. The big fear is that my father is right, and I think I’m more capable than I am. Was it his influence and money that backed up whatever skills and talent I have?

I groan. Why do you keep doing this to yourself, Seren? I ask myself. You are your own person, treading your own path. Own it, girl, and show the world what you’re made of.

I think it’s time to fire up the welding torch and work the metal. I can fit in an hour before I jump in the shower. The only monster in my world is the one I’m creating for myself. He’s shaping up to be a gloriously majestic marsh sandpiper of epic proportions, because I don’t do twee. I snapped him when I was walking along the banks of the Tagus estuary, and he’s going to be the first sculpture in my new collection.


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