FREE SAMPLE: The Summer House in Santorini Chapter 1
We’re now in the week before publication, and I can’t wait to share it with you! To give you a taste of what you’ll get, I’m releasing the first chapter right here! So keep scrolling to read, and don’t forget to preorder your copy for 99p in the UK here and $2.99 in the US here!
The Summer House in Santorini: Prologue + First Chapter
Something like four thousand years ago, before Troy had fallen, in the height of the Bronze Age of Greece, a volcano erupted in the Aegean, the force of which is unrivaled to this day. The tiny island of Thera was destroyed, ripped apart from the middle, birthing legends of hidden cities and buried treasure that would perpetuate for millennia to come. The volcano erupted over and over again, its magma chamber refilling and depleting, until the entire area had been devastated beyond recognition.
But Thera did not die. It became Santorini, or Thira, a small archipelago of islands – one large, reverse-C-shaped one and a few smaller ones – with an ecosystem defined by its volcanic history. The ashy soil birthed unbelievable produce, especially grapes for wine. The caldera that had formed from the island’s near destruction made for a gorgeous landscape, and tourists eventually found their way to the hidden treasure of Santorini.
In the middle of the island is a small village called Exo Gonia, a town where, from some points in the village, the sea can be seen on every side. The roads up into the village are curvy and narrow, lined on both sides by whitewashed walls concealing houses and gardens that extend farther back into the hills than is evident at first glance. At the top of one such road – up the hill from the Agios Charalambos, a beautiful yellow church with three crosses atop round spires – is a small white house with three archways out front and views over Kamari and the Aegean Sea.
The house was built with just one bedroom. The four-poster bed was carved by the grandson of the man who built the house. He built the kitchen table as well; a long, trestled work of art with knots in the sides and a shine on the top from so many years of food and wine and love and laughter. And when he was done, he made a new front door from the same wood and hung it proudly in the frame.
The family who lives in this house is a humble one. The man of the house is a builder; his wife, a seamstress. The man has lived in the house his whole life. In fact, the house has been in the man’s family for over two hundred years, built by the first of the family to set foot on Santorini, rearing generation after generation of builders who have lovingly cared for and maintained the house, which has remained largely unchanged.
That is, until the man had a son. And that son became a builder, too, and he wanted to add onto the house. But his father wouldn’t let him alter it, so he started building in the garden. He had dreams of entertaining guests from all over the world; strangers who would become friends simply by sitting across the knotted table and eating a meal plucked from the garden and sleeping nestled in the hills of the most beautiful island in the world. “The summer house,” he called it; the thing that would bring new people and new adventures to their tiny little corner of Exo Gonia on the island of Santorini. He decorated it with yellow paint and his hopes of a more exciting life.
Only one person would come to stay in the summer house as long as the man’s son lived, but she would change their world forever.
Anna had always thought that Manhattan summer was the closest one could get to hell, as least as far as temperature was concerned. But as she stepped off the plane and onto the tarmac in Thira, she realized there was a whole other level to that particular inferno, and it was in Greece. Santorini, to be specific.
The sun shone a blinding white, and Anna scrambled to pull her sunglasses out of her purse. As she put them on and the glare subsided, she saw that the sky was a brilliant blue with not a cloud in sight. Off in the distance to her right, the sky and sea melded together at some point that Anna couldn’t quite determine.
The airport itself wasn’t much to look at. Anna wasn’t sure what she was expecting – a whitewashed stone building with a blue-painted roof and a cross on top, perhaps? – but she was expecting more grandeur than what she saw as she entered the terminal. The building was white, but that was about the only part of it that met her expectations.
Anna was running through in her mind the different ways in which she could introduce herself to her grandparents. “Hi, Mr and Mrs Xenakis. I know we’ve never met, but I’m your granddaughter, here to sell your summer house out from under you. Hope that’s cool.”
She’d have to work on that one. Maybe a drink would help.
According to a quick Google search (her international data charges would be through the roof when she got back, but she would manage), the address her sister Lizzy had given her for her grandfather was only about a mile and a half away as the crow flies, but it would take Anna nearly half an hour on a bus to get there, as walking with her three bags was out of the question. So as she went through Immigration – which was incredibly relaxed – she began looking for signs pointing to the buses. Or maybe she’d get to ride a donkey? She remembered seeing in a film once that tourists got to ride donkeys up and down the steep steps, and she started mentally counting her euros to determine if she’d have enough for a donkey ride and lunch. How much was a donkey ride, anyway? Five euros? Fifty? She only had fifty with her, so she hoped it was less. Riding a donkey sounded… well, not exactly appealing, but appropriate.
As she walked through Arrivals, she skimmed over some of the signs being held up for people by their drivers, but there was only one sign that made her do a double-take – in big block letters on a piece of cardboard, it said: “LINTON”.
The man holding the sign stood out from the others as well, not because he looked familiar, but because he was a head taller than everyone else around him. His thick dark hair fell to just above his shoulders, though the top half was tied back away from his face. His arms were lean but visibly strong, and the contours of his muscular chest were visible through his white tee shirt. He wore khaki pants that were covered in paint. Not your typical car-driver’s uniform, but Anna instantly thought of her grandfather’s construction company and began to wonder if the man really could be there for her. But no one knew she was coming… did they?
The man waved as Anna walked nearer. So maybe he was there for her. Or was he just flirting? If she was being honest, Anna wasn’t sure which she preferred.
“You’re Anna?” he asked when she was close enough. He knew her name. Damn, not flirting. At least she was getting a ride, though.
“Yeah, that’s me,” she said, sticking out her hand. The man shook it, his long fingers wrapping firmly around her own, and Anna had to remind herself how a handshake worked. “I didn’t realize I was getting picked up.”
The man didn’t respond; he just tucked the sign under his arm and started walking away, so Anna followed.
“You don’t look half-Greek,” the man said without turning around.
“Well, I am,” Anna said, rolling her eyes. What did it matter? Half the people in the airport were white and blonde. “Who told you to come pick me up?”
“I work for your grandfather,” he said, shoving the sign into a bin as they walked past before carrying on.
Apparently that would have to do for an explanation, as he didn’t offer any further insight as to how they knew she was coming. Anna replaced her sunglasses as they went outside, ready for the brightness this time, but the heat still caught her off guard.
“Your English is really good,” she said, hobbling behind him as he walked.
“I went to university in London,” he replied without turning around.
He kept walking past the cars waiting out front, and Anna figured his car must be in one of the parking areas further on. She struggled to keep up, her duffel bag hitting the backs of her legs, her handbag strap straining against her shoulder and her heels catching on her roller bag as she did a funny little run/walk behind him.
After a couple minutes of walking in silence, him a few paces ahead of her with her legs moving in double-time to keep up, Anna had become confused. They had now walked past the turnoff to the parking areas, assuming a big “P” meant parking in Greece as well. In fact, they were headed out of the airport grounds altogether.
“Um, sorry, but where are we going?”
He looked back at her over his shoulder, his eyebrows pressed together and his mouth in a half-smile, an amused look on his face. “To meet your grandparents, obviously.”
“Yeah, but where is your car?”
He laughed. “So sorry, Princess Anna, no car service for you.”
Anna frowned, and the man pointed ahead to a bus stop. Dozens of other people were huddled outside.
“I could have taken the bus by myself,” she said, hoisting her slipping duffel bag back over her shoulder.
He simply shrugged.
At that moment, a bus appeared around the corner. They were still a couple hundred meters away.
“Give me your bag,” he said. “We have to run.”
Anna felt a bead of sweat drip down her back and shook her head. “No way. Not in this heat.” But she handed over her duffel bag anyway, thankful for the lightening of her load and a bit offended he hadn’t offered sooner.
He took the bag and sped up. “No, really, we have to run or we’ll miss the bus!”
“Then we’ll catch the next one!”
“No, we won’t,” he said insistently. “There isn’t another one for over an hour, and I am not waiting around until then.” And then he took off running as the bus stopped, leaving Anna behind.
Anna pulled her small suitcase up by the handle and started running after him. She wasn’t about to walk – or wait, for that matter – by herself in this heat.
The people who had been waiting by the stop were pushing onto the bus at an impressive rate, and Anna wished they’d get on more slowly to buy her some time. The man who was escorting her had already disappeared into the crowd, but Anna was still too far away. She pushed herself as fast as her legs could move her, her suitcase awkwardly bashing against her side with every step. She ignored it, willing herself forward. She had to make this bus.
But she wasn’t so lucky. When she was still fifty meters away at least, the bus pulled away, leaving behind it a cloud of dust.
Anna stopped running and bent over, half in devastation at missing the bus and half to catch her breath. She couldn’t believe he had left her alone after specifically telling her she couldn’t navigate it alone! She also had no idea where to go next. He even had one of her bags. She pulled her phone out of her purse and checked her cell signal. Despite having full bars at the airport, out here there was basically nothing. Not enough to pull up directions to the house, anyway. She was officially stranded.
But as the cloud of dust cleared, she saw a figure standing by the bus stop, holding a pink duffel bag. It was her escort.
“You waited for me!” she called, amazed but smiling, then noticed his face was stern.
“You made us miss the bus,” he said, his frown set so deeply that Anna now couldn’t picture a different facial expression on him.
She opened her mouth to apologize, but he pushed past her and began walking down the road, leaving her duffel bag behind. Anna grabbed it and followed, struggling once again to keep up.
After half a mile, she began to realize that they were going to walk all the way to the house like this. She called out a couple of times to ask for help with her bags, but her escort continued to ignore her, keeping twenty meters or so between them, even when she tried to close the gap. So all Anna could do was trudge on.
Nearly an hour later, Anna scowled as they arrived at a big resort. Her escort still hadn’t given a word of instruction. He just strolled through the automatic glass doors and across the marbled floor to reception, whispering something to the young man behind the counter before disappearing down a hallway. This couldn’t be right.
The man at the desk looked at Anna expectantly. She walked up to the large counter, which looked like it was made out of driftwood, set her handbag down on it and dropped her duffel bag and suitcase at her feet.
“Are you here to check in?” the man asked.
“No, I’m looking for my grandfather Christos Xenakis. Does he…” Anna looked around, hesitant to ask what seemed like a silly question. “…does he live here?”
The man sneered. “Christos is a worker. A builder. Right now, he will be in the staff room, having lunch. It’s just down that hallway, last door on the right.” He pointed to an open door behind him to the left, beyond which a hallway stretched. The hallway down which her escort had disappeared.
“Can I leave my bags here?”
“Sorry,” he said, “bag drop is for guests only.” Then he picked up a walkie talkie off the desk and walked away.
What is it with nobody wanting to help me today? Anna thought. She put her handbag over her shoulder, picked up her suitcase and duffel bag, and headed toward the door. But as she came around the desk, a short Greek man came through the doorway and locked eyes with her. He had thick eyebrows, leathery skin and a giant handlebar mustache. He would have looked like a cartoon villain if it weren’t for the broad grin that was getting bigger the closer he got.
“Anna!” he shouted – loud enough that some other people in the lobby turned to look – and wrapped her in a hug, her hands still clutching her suitcase handles. This must be her grandfather. She wondered again how he knew she was coming.
“Hi, Christos,” she said, letting go of her bags and lightly patting his back.
After what Anna felt was a few seconds too long, he finally released her. He furrowed his brow and stared at her, and she touched her face to make sure there wasn’t anything on her to make him look so concerned.
“You…” he started, closing his eyes as if to focus more. Anna realized he was simply struggling to find the right words in English. “You eat?” he finally managed, petting his stomach to emphasize his meaning.
“No, I haven’t,” Anna said, shaking her head to make sure he could understand.
He smiled at her and grabbed her bags, nodding for her to follow as he headed back down the corridor.
As they went, Anna realized that she was actually quite hungry. She could go for a gyro or some hummus, or whatever Greek people actually ate for lunch? There was the smell of something delicious on the air, and it seemed familiar, though Anna couldn’t quite place it. Maybe it was something from her childhood?
As they walked through the doors, someone threw a small white package at Christos, and he dropped one of Anna’s bags to catch it. Anna looked around to see what was going on and spotted a young man throwing things to people all over the room out of a brown paper bag.
A brown paper bag with a big yellow “M” on it.
Of course she would come halfway around the world and still not be able to escape McDonald’s. Every man in the room – and they were all men – was now biting into a burger or eating fries from the distinctive red cardboard holder. Not quite what she would have imagined, but it explained the familiar smell at least, a smell now accompanied by sweat and paint.
The men were all dressed the same with the same complexion: hair so dark it was almost black, olive skin, and dark eyes with long, luscious lashes. There were a couple who were middle-aged or older like her grandfather, but the rest were all young and muscular and looked like they should be in an Olympic God of the Month calendar. She was the only woman in a room full of Adonises – not that she was complaining. But as they started to notice her, she saw that their gazes were less flirtatious, not even curious, but more annoyed. The way she would look at tourists who walked too slowly on the sidewalk in Manhattan.
From across the room, she saw her escort amidst the mass of white tee shirts, leaning against the wall and laughing at something one of the other guys had said. He was holding a burger, and, as he took a massive bite out of it, he caught her eye and winked. She felt herself tense everywhere, and her cheeks went red. She tried to remind herself of the ordeal she had endured at his hand to get here, but still she smiled when he started walking toward her.
“Hungry?” he asked as he walked up, grabbing a spare burger the delivery guy had left on the table and offering it to her.
She hadn’t eaten McDonald’s since she was a kid; her father had taken her after school a few times, but her mother had forbidden it once he’d left, and the habit had stuck once she’d moved to Manhattan. Plus, who needed fast-food restaurants when there was a twenty-four-hour falafel cart less than a block from her building? But she was hungry, so she took the burger from him and unwrapped it, relishing the smell of the salty beef as it hit her nose.
“It’s the least you can do,” she said before sinking her teeth into the burger.
“What do you mean?”
“You made me drag my bags all the way across the island, ignoring me the whole time,” she replied, her mouth full. “If I hadn’t been able to keep up, I would still be lost out there.”
He rolled his eyes. “First of all, the airport is not on the other side of the island. Second, you made it just fine, didn’t you?”
“No thanks to you,” she said, but she smiled despite herself. “I’m Anna,” she said, sticking out her hand.
“I know, I picked you up from the airport,” he said, shaking his head.
Anna retracted her hand. “I remember, but I was giving you a chance to introduce yourself properly.”
“Ah, okay,” he said, wiping his hand on his pants before extending it. Based on their state, Anna wasn’t sure it would do any good. “Nikolas Doukas.”
Anna swapped her burger to her left hand and shook Nikolas’s hand with her right. She felt the same tension as she had at the airport, but she managed to shake hands fairly naturally this time. “Nice to meet you, Nikolas,” she replied, trying her best to emulate the accent in which he pronounced his name.
He chuckled in response.
“For someone who’s half-Greek, your accent is terrible,” he said.
“Well, what am I supposed to do about that?”
“You can call me Nikos. Everybody else does.”
“Nikos,” she said, much more naturally. “How’s that?”
“Much better.” He was still holding her hand, and he shook it again. “Listen, I’m sorry I didn’t help you with your bags. Here in Greece, our women can carry their own luggage.”
“Yeah, because Greece is so famous for its progressive feminism,” Anna said, rolling her eyes.
“Yeah, well, we’re making up for lost time,” Nikos said, tilting his head. “You’re here about the summer house, right?”
“Yeah, just to get it signed over and maybe on the market.”
Nikos chuckled. “On the market? In a week? You’ll certainly have your work cut out for you.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“You’ll see,” Nikos said with a dismissive wave. “Tomorrow is my day off. I’ll come by and help you out.”
Anna nodded. “I don’t know how much help I’ll need, but sure. You can make up for today.”
Nikos laughed and nodded. “I have to get back to work in a moment, but help yourself to some more food. Kostas brought more than enough with him.” Then he touched her lightly on the shoulder and left.
Alone now, she looked around her, seeing people’s eyes flicker over to her and then away again. She leaned against the wall eating her burger, but no one came to speak to her. In fact, people actively avoided her as they moved around the room, giving her a wide berth.
A woman came through the door, a Serious Business Woman with a white blouse, stilettos and a power-bob haircut. She looked around the room, greeting some of the guys, then spotted Anna.
“Hello,” she said, walking up with her arm outstretched. Anna set her burger down to shake her hand. “I’m Xenia.”
“Nice to meet you, Anna. What are you doing in my staff room?”
Anna looked around. “I’m here with my grandfather,” she said, “Christos Xenakis. Nikos brought me here.”
“Oh, you’re Giorgos’s daughter!” she said, smiling. “I heard you were coming. Welcome to Santorini, and to Kamari Sands Resort.”
“Thanks, it’s my first time here,” she said. “Are you the manager here?”
“I own it, actually. Family business. Just bringing it into the twenty-first century, which is why these guys are here.” She gestured to the workmen all around the room.
“Nice,” Anna said. “Very impressive.”
“So, what brings you to the island for the first time?”
“Well…” Anna said, rubbing her hands together, “how much do you know about my parents?”
“Not much,” Xenia said, shaking her head. “I mean, I knew your dad, but only casually.”
“Well, my parents met here while my mom was traveling, then she got pregnant and they moved back to Connecticut, where my mom is from. My mom had my sister and then me, and Giorgos had a string of affairs, so my mom kicked him out and he lost his green card. When he died a few months ago, he left me and my sister his house, apparently. So I’m here to sell it.”
Xenia nodded and inhaled sharply. Anna had definitely given too much information, but she wasn’t sure when she’d have another opportunity to talk to someone from Santorini who wasn’t already on Giorgos’s side.
“Question for you,” Anna said, changing the subject. “Does everyone speak such good English? Nikos does too, but not my grandfather.”
Xenia shrugged. “It differs, but Nikos and I both went abroad for college. I went to Dartmouth in New Hampshire, and he went somewhere in the UK, I think.”
Anna nodded, stifling a yawn; she would have to get a nap in at some point.
“You’ll be fine,” Xenia said with a smile. “Besides, your grandmother’s English is excellent. Now don’t hold off on your lunch on my account. I’ll see you later.”
“Thanks, see you later,” Anna said as Xenia left. The guys were starting to filter out, so she grabbed a seat at the table and ate the rest of her burger. There was an order of fries on there, too, so she ate that as well. Afterwards, she sat there for another fifteen minutes or so until her grandfather walked back into the room.
“Anna!” he shouted, just like he had when he first saw her. She would have to get used to that. “You eat?”
Anna nodded. “Yes, yes, I ate,” she replied, getting up and walking over to him. “Now where is your home?” she asked, putting both her arms over her head like a roof when he frowned, clearly not getting it. Finally, his eyes lit up with understanding.
“Home!” he said, just as enthusiastically as he had said her name. “Wait,” he added, holding up both hands, and left the room again.
Already getting used to her grandfather’s disappearing/reappearing acts, Anna decided she would simply wait for him to return again. So, as the room fully emptied of Greek men, leaving behind wrappers and bags and stray fries, Anna sat back down at the table and put her head down.
An undetermined amount of time later, a hand shook Anna awake.
“Who’s there?” she asked, opening her eyes and looking around, feeling a throbbing pain in her neck. How long had she been asleep? As she turned, she saw a woman, maybe in her sixties or seventies, stood behind her with her arms folded across her chest. She wore a navy floral dress with a wide collar and a white apron tied around her plump waist. Her greying hair was secured in a bun with a pencil. She looked like every grandmother from every storybook ever. Which was fitting, since Anna knew from Lizzy’s photos that this woman was her grandmother.
“Hi, Eirini,” Anna said, unsure of how much she would understand. “We go home?”
“Yes, we’ve been ready to go for twenty minutes now,” she said, surprising Anna with her perfect English. “Christos is more patient than I am. If you’re coming with us, please do so now.”
Anna nodded, standing up, grabbing her bags and following Eirini back down the corridor and out the front door. The sun was now low in the sky; Anna must have napped for hours. No wonder her neck hurt. A white pickup truck sat just outside, with Christos in the driver’s seat. Eirini motioned to the back, where tools and building materials crowded the bed.
“You want me to sit back there?” Anna asked, peering over the edge and trying to find an empty spot big enough for her to sit.
“No, of course not. Just throw your bags in the back and sit between Christos and me.” Eirini sighed and stood with the door open.
Anna smiled feebly and nodded, placing her duffel and her roller bag as carefully as possible in the back, but a tool fell loose anyway and clattered about a bit. Anna looked up at Eirini, who was rolling her eyes at Christos.
Eirini then ushered Anna into the cab of the truck, squeezing in next to her, pushing her further and further across the bench until she was pressed up against Christos, who just smiled at her with both his hands on the steering wheel.
As they pulled away from the resort, Anna saw the view out over the island for the first time. She could now see clearly the roads of Kamari that had walled her in before, all of them pointing toward the azure sea. It wasn’t the Santorini she had pictured, with winding paths that cut between white stone houses with domed blue roofs that blended in with the sky. But as they wound through farmland and vineyards, she thought it was beautiful nonetheless. She wondered what the view would be like from the summer house. And as they started up a hill and the airport came into view in the distance, Anna remembered how she had ended up in Santorini to begin with.
If you’re ready to read more, preorder your copy of The Summer House in Santorini for 99p in the UK here and $2.99 in the US here, and it will be waiting for you on your e-reader on the 7th of August!