Mel felt under-dressed. A grey suit and crisp white shirt had looked great when she’d boarded the plane from London. Businesslike and neat was the image she’d wanted.
Now, here at this country villa in Croatia, it felt dull and downbeat. Why had she ever imagined it would look right for an interview with Maksimilijan Yurcich?
True, she had known her prospective new employer was rich, but she hadn’t realised the Villa Lavanda was so splendid.
Mel’s taxi negotiated the winding driveway up the hill to the villa. She unfolded the job advert she’d seen six weeks ago, creases worn into it.
It had been a dream then. A new life, a route to happiness after the trauma of turning down Cesare’s marriage proposal.
On a wet day in London, the advert had jumped out at her from the newspaper.
Wanted: reliable individual to be personal assistant to businessman residing in Croatia. You will act as general factotum/aide de camp in helping this successful entrepreneur manage his interests. These include fields producing lavender oil products, olive oil plantations and wine production. This is an interesting and varied post.
The successful candidate will also act as companion to this gentleman’s wife. You will be organised, have a pleasant, outgoing personality and relish hard work. Flexibility is a must.
The post offers excellent conditions, including a studio flat in the Villa Lavanda near the town of Vodnjan, the use of formal gardens, a swimming pool and a path to a private beach. A competitive salary is offered.
If you meet these requirements, send a CV to Villa Lavanda, Vodnjan, Istria, Croatia 94573.
Mel folded the ad and placed it in her purse. As the taxi crunched along the drive, her eyes grew wide.
It wasn’t just the gold-tipped gates glistening in the sun at the estate’s entrance. Nor was it the acres of olive trees planted in rows, or grapevines carefully tended by workers.
As they approached the villa, she rolled down the window and breathed in the heady scent of thousands of glorious lavender bushes, mauve-striped over sun-burned hills.
She smoothed her skirt. Modestly priced, it now felt cheap. She wished she were more elegant. Particularly once the magnificent house came into view.
Master of its surroundings, painted peachy cream, the villa nestled coolly under its cedar of Lebanon umbrella. A wooden overhang, supported by white pillars, created a veranda with cane seating.
Bedrooms above had balconies with views to the sea, and in the distance to the harbour of Fazana and the port of Pula. Even the double-fronted door was splendid, a concoction in carved cherry wood depicting lavender fronds and the family coat of arms.
Was it really only yesterday Mel had chatted about her future with her close friend Caroline?
She’d been relaxed about the move to Croatia.
“Your flight is booked, case packed. Aren’t you risking it by flying into Pula just six hours before your final interview?”
“The weather in July’s perfect, so there won’t be delays. After lunch I’ll catch a taxi to the villa. Everything’s sorted. It’s cool.”
“So are you, Mel, like a cucumber. That’s one of the reasons I’ll miss you.” There was a catch in Caroline’s throat.
Mel felt the parting from her friend just as badly. She wished they were saying goodbye in person rather than over the phone, Mel in London, Caroline in Italy.
“It’s a short flight from Italy. You’ll come to visit. Remember we’ve got your wedding dress to choose.”
“But you’ve been looking after that brother of mine for fourteen years, and Izzy. She’s distraught at you going. You were like a mother to her. The time we spent in Sorrento together while we sorted out that beach house was such fun. I miss the days we all spent in Italy together.” Caroline sniffed, holding back tears. “Do you miss Cesare?”