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When the going gets tough...
In the Irish town of Carrickwell, with its lush, endlessly rolling hills and authentic country tranquility, three women's lives are anything but calm. There's Mel, a compulsively ambitious mother/publicity manager at a high-powered PR firm -- living proof that balancing motherhood and a full-time job is no walk in the park. The hot-headed, indomitable Cleo, just out of college with a degree in hotel management, would like nothing better than to modernize and revive her family's dwindling hotel -- but faces a constant battle with her old-fashioned parents. And finally, there's the stylish, sweet-tempered Daisy, a self-consciously curvy fashion buyer for an upscale clothing boutique, who has been struggling -- and longing -- to have a baby with her absolutely perfect boyfriend. Although unconnected, these three women have one thing in common: they all need a break from their stressful lives.
...these tough gals hit the nearest spa!
So each one sets out for a little R & R at the new Clouds Hill spa, built by an American woman with her own secret turmoil. It is there that Mel, Cleo, and Daisy meet -- their worlds and troubles colliding -- forming an intimate bond that helps them to realize what matters most in life, always and forever.
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Cathy Kelly is the Irish bestselling author of twelve other novels, many of which have been number one bestsellers in the UK, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand. She lives in Ireland with her husband and twin sons. In 2005 she was appointed an ambassador for UNICEF Ireland. Contact her on Twitter at @cathykellybooks or follow her on Facebook or at CathyKelly.com.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
The woman stood as still as the mountains around her, taking in the view from Mount Carraig House -- the windswept, overgrown gardens and the ragged path leading down to the small lake. Behind her towered Mount Carraig itself. Rob, the estate agent, had told her that Carraig meant "rock" in Irish, and that's exactly what Mount Carraig was: a spectacular rock dominating a smaller range of mountains known as the Four Sisters, which swelled to the southwest.
Spread out before her was Carrickwell, the bustling market town that took its name from the mountain. It was bisected by the silver line of the River Tullow, and from here, high up, she could make out the gently winding main street, the sprawl of houses, shops, parks and schools, and the medieval cathedral at the center.
A quarter of a century before, Carrickwell had been a sleepy backwater, within reach of Dublin but still very much a rural community. Time and the price of houses in the city had turned it into a busier town, but the air of tranquility had remained.
Some said this was because of the ancient lea lines that crossed it. Druids, early Christians, religious refugees -- all in their turn had come to Carrickwell and set up home in the benevolent shadow of Mount Carraig where they could seek refuge and thrive on the pure mountain spring water.
On a slope to the left of the mountain were the ruins of a Cistercian monastery, now a honeypot for tourists, watercolor painters and scholars. There was also the remains of a round tower where the monks had raced up rope ladders to safety when invaders came.
Across the town, near the pretty but slightly crumbling Willow Hotel, was a small stone circle that archaeologists believed to be the site of a druidic settlement. Mystical Fires, a small shop in the town that sold all manner of alternative artifacts, from crystals and tarot cards to dream catchers and angel pins, did a roaring trade in books about the druids at midsummer.
At Christmas, visitors drifted unconsciously away from Mystical Fires to The Holy Land, a little Christian bookshop, where they could buy recordings of Gregorian chant, as well as prayer books, delicate Hummel Holy Water fonts, and the shop's speciality, mother-of-pearl rosary beads.
The respective owner of each shop, a pair of lovely septuagenarian ladies, each devout in her chosen creed, didn't mind in the slightest that their businesses waxed and waned in this manner.
"The wheel of fortune turns in its own way," said Zara from Mystical Fires.
"God knows what's best for us," agreed Una from The Holy Land.
With all the spiritual vibes, there was a great sense of peace hovering over Carrickwell and it drew people to the town.
It was certainly this aura that had drawn Leah Meyer to Mount Carraig House on a cold September morning.
Despite a thick woolen sweater under her old ski jacket, Leah could feel the chill sneaking into her body. She was used to the dry heat of California, where cold weather meant 68 degrees Fahrenheit, and the possibility of using less sunscreen. Here, the climate was so different and the unaccustomed cold made her feel achy. I'm beginning to feel my age, she thought, shivering, though she knew everyone marveled at how young she looked.
She'd taken good care of herself over the years, but time had marched on and, eventually, no cream could keep away its mark. It had taken a discreet eye and brow lift a few years ago to give her back the finely sculpted face she'd been born with. Sixty really could be the new forty -- Leah smiled to herself -- as long as you had the right plastic surgeon.
And she could put up with the aching joints for a while because she'd finally found it, the place she had been looking for for years in which to build her spa. Carrickwell and Mount Carraig House were perfect. And in that state of mind, she didn't feel the air as cold, but as pure and cleansing.
"Calm," she said finally, turning to the estate agent, who was standing a polite distance away. "That's the word I was looking for. Don't you feel instantly calm when you stand here?"
Rob, the estate agent, studied the tumbling wreck that was Mount Carraig House and wondered whether it was he who needed his head examined or whether it was the elegant American visitor. All he saw was a ruin in a wilderness that had been on his agency's books for four years with ne'er a sniff of serious interest from anyone.
A few people had come to look, all right, drawn by the lyrical description written by a one-time employee who had a definite flair for making a silk purse out of the proverbial sow's ear.
This elegant eighteenth-century family house, once home to the famous Delaneys of Carrickwell, is designed in the grand classical style and boasts the fabulous high-ceilinged rooms of the period. The sweeping gravel drive and the great portico are reminiscent of a romantic era of horse-drawn carriages, while the abundant formal rose gardens, sheltered from the mountain breezes, need only a skilled gardener's hands to bring them back to their former glory. The views of the fierce beauty of Mount Carraig and the valley below are unrivalled, and a stately rhododendron walk, planted over a hundred years ago, leads down to the majestic Lough Enla.
The blarney had worked its magic on Mrs. Meyer, for sure, because she'd seen the house on the firm's website and now, here she was, clearly captivated. Rob could tell when clients liked a place: they stopped noticing him and noticed only the property, imagining their furniture in the rooms and their family's laughter echoing in the garden. This woman showed all the signs of being besotted. He knew she had money too, because she'd arrived in a sleek black chauffeur-driven car from the airport. It had to be said she didn't dress like a millionaire -- she wore jeans, a very ordinary blue padded coat, simple soft cream pumps and no jewelry.
It was hard to work out how old she was. Rob liked to put a date to property and people: eighteenth-century house; seventies bungalow; forty-something rich businessman buyer. But this woman's age eluded him. Elegantly slim, with silky chestnut hair and big dark eyes, she could have been anything from thirty to sixty. Her olive skin was unlined and glowing, and she looked so happy within herself. Early forties, perhaps...
"I love the house," Leah said, because there was no point beating around the bush. "I'll take it." She clasped Rob's hand and smiled. Now that she'd made the decision, she felt peace flooding through her.
She'd felt tired for so long, but already she was impatient to start work. Mount Carraig Spa? The Spa on the Rock? The name would come to her. A name suggestive of a haven, not a place where bored women would have their toes painted and men could do a few lengths in the pool and hope they were staving off the onslaught of Father Time.
No. Her spa would be about making people feel good from the inside out. It would be a place where people would come when they were exhausted, drained and didn't know where else to go. They could swim in the pool and forget about everything, they could lie on the massage mat and feel their worries drain away along with their aches. With the refreshing water from the mountain running past the door, and the tranquil vibes of Carrickwell in the air, they would be revitalized and healed.
The magic of a similar place had once given her back some semblance of peace and serenity. Cloud's Hill had been its name, from the ancient American Indian name for the hill on which it had been built, and suddenly Leah realized that the same name would be perfect here.
The other Cloud's Hill, where she'd learned to enjoy life again, was a world away from here, but there was magic in this place too, she knew it. And with this spa she could do for other people what the original Cloud's Hill had done for her. Giving something back was her way of saying thanks, and setting up the spa was what she'd dreamed of for years, but had never found the perfect place to do so before. And, she calculated, if she started the work straightaway, the spa would be open within a year -- or a year and a half at the latest.
"You...you mean you'll buy the house?" said Rob, shocked at the speed of the decision.
Leah's face was serene. "I will," she said softly.
"This calls for a drink," said Rob, relief washing over him. "On me."
Copyright © 2005 by Cathy Kelly
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