Hello, readers! Welcome to Paradise, the first book in my new Resort Series, will be out on 30/10/2021 and is now available for pre-order. Read the first four chapters below to get a taster 🙂
“Hey, pretty lady. Why don’t you put that phone down and come join us in the pool for an aqua aerobics class?”
“No, thank you.” Lisa shook her head, avoiding the young man’s gaze. Manuel’s voice was annoyingly animated as he tried to persuade her to get in the pool for the third time that day. She knew his name because he had the equally annoying habit of talking about himself in third person, and the only reason he kept bugging her was because so far, she’d been the only one to turn down his invitation for an ‘ab-tastic’ class. All the women along the poolside swooned over him, but she would not jump on the Manuel train. Not now, not ever.
“Come on, I know you want to. Ab-tastic Manuel gives the best workouts; you’ll feel amazing after.” He flexed his muscles and Lisa could not resist an eye-roll before she shot him a glare.
“Will you stop bugging me? I’ve asked you nicely three times now. I don’t want to get in the pool, especially not with you, and if you don’t leave me alone, I’ll go and speak to your manager.”
“Of course.” Manuel stepped back and held up a hand, seemingly just now grasping that she really wanted to be left alone. “I’m sorry if I overstepped.” His tone was genuinely apologetic, and Lisa noticed the sideways glances from other hotel guests. She had an idea of what they were thinking; How can anyone be grumpy on holiday in Paradise?
The thing was, she wasn’t on holiday, and although the hotel was called Paradise, it was far from exotic or even pleasant.
Hotel guests jumped in the pool when Manuel blew his red whistle, and Lisa put her phone under her towel to shield it from the splashing water. After the lockdowns in the UK and around Europe, people were desperate for human contact and so craved any opportunity for interaction, even forced fun. She was pretty sure a couple of the holiday makers deliberately jumped in right in front of her, and although she normally wouldn’t care what rowdy and tipsy English tourists thought of her, right then, she felt judged and that wasn’t a nice feeling.
Lisa demonstratively got up from the sunlounger, put on her shorts and grabbed her phone, her suntan lotion and her towel. Then she walked past Manuel, who was yelling inspirational quotes from her end of the pool, without giving him a second glance and headed for the bar. A drink might calm her down, even if it was the cheap, watered-down all-inclusive kind. Again, eyes followed her, and she wished then that she could just disappear into thin air.
They think I’m by myself because I’m too miserable to hang out with. Truthfully, she was miserable; even two months in Spain couldn’t change that. Forget it, she told herself. Most of the guests would leave at the end of the week, new people would arrive and hopefully by then, everyone in the animation team would recognise her as the woman who didn’t want to participate in mass fun.
“Rum and Coke, please,” she said in a forced, chirpy tone to make up for her earlier outburst.
“Rum and Coke coming right up.” The man made a show of pouring the rum over ice, spilled half of the Coke over his wrist and on the floor, then added a pink umbrella and a pink, glittery straw.
“Thank you.” Lisa took a sip, pretending to scan the premises so she wouldn’t have to talk to him. Benidorm was a strange place. The town being so popular with the English, it didn’t feel like she was abroad at all, yet it was nothing like London either. Well, the sunshine was nice, she had to admit that. It certainly wouldn’t have been this sunny in London, especially during June. After only four days there, her tan was already deep, and her long, blonde hair had even paler streaks running through it.
“How long are you staying?” the bartender asked.
Lisa smiled through a clenched jaw. She’d had this conversation with a couple of bartenders already, but she hadn’t met this one yet. Looking away clearly didn’t help and she was starting to realise that it didn’t matter what she tried; the staff were trained to entertain their guests, period. “Two months,” she said. “Maybe three, depending on my situation.”
“Your situation? Well, that certainly doesn’t sound like a bad situation.”
“I suppose so,” was all Lisa could think of to say, and looked over her shoulder when she heard heavy breathing.
“Another beer, mate,” the man who had come up behind her said to the bartender. “Actually, make it two. One for me and one for the missus.” His face was bright red from the sun and sweat was dripping down his hairy chest. When his eyes met Lisa’s, his mouth pulled into a grim smile, exposing chipped, yellow teeth. “Hello there, beautiful.”
“Hi.” Lisa stood up, took her drink and waved her orange wristband at the bartender to show she didn’t have to pay for it. “Thank you. Have a good day.” Talking was the last thing she felt like doing and apparently her small, stuffy room was the only place she could escape the curious questions from the staff and unwanted flirtations from drunken guests.
Crossing the wide, paved square that led to the hotel’s back entrance, she downed her drink in one go and placed it on one of the glass collection stations, regretting she hadn’t ordered another one.
Paradise Hotel looked like a building lifted straight from the old Soviet Bloc. It was a dirty shade of off-white, rectangular and tall, and whoever designed it had crammed as many rooms into the building as possible. To make up for the basic accommodation, they’d planted palm trees around the two big pools outside and placed two tiki bars on the premises, assuming that would be enough to justify the name. It wasn’t the only hotel of its kind. On her walk last night, she’d seen many cheap all-inclusive hotels with similar exotic names lining the beachfront of Benidorm. ‘The Pearl of the South’, ‘The Grand Mermaid’, ‘Emerald Bay’ and ‘Premier Sunset’—a smaller hotel that was entirely blocked from the sun by Paradise Hotel—all had the same worn-out look and eighties architecture.
Going on the cost of her room she’d expected her accommodation to be basic, but nothing could have prepared her for this. The lift rattled loudly as it went up, but with most guests spending the day outside, at least it didn’t stop twenty-four times on the way to her floor. Even with her mask on the smell of mouldy carpet penetrated her nostrils, and with no air-conditioning in the corridors, she held her breath while she rushed to her room. She was grateful for the strict safety measures though, and the hotel guests all seemed to adhere to the rules inside the building, wearing masks in the communal areas and even gloves at the buffet. In her room, she quickly switched on the old air con unit that was stuck to her wall, its sides held together with duct tape. She could only be thankful it worked after hearing guests complain about their broken devices.
Her balcony doors led to a concrete base that was too small to hold the only rickety chair in her room, so she’d made a nest of the throw and her pillows to sit on. Compared to her beautiful South West London flat, which she’d given up last week, this looked more like a room in a halfway house, but she kept reminding herself that coming here had been the right decision as paying almost four-thousand pounds in rent a month just wasn’t an option anymore. Nothing would be the same again, at least not for a while, and she’d have to somehow come to terms with that.
Sinking down in her nest, Lisa leaned against the railing as she opened her inbox for the tenth time that day. Surprised at seeing an email from one of her headhunters, she felt a tiny spark of hope.
I’m sorry to tell you that Levius Tech have decided to go with another candidate. Don’t worry though, you’ve got this and I’m positive we’ll find you something soon. Your CV is strong, but Levius felt that candidate 4 was better suited to their company.
“Fuck,” Lisa muttered, sighing deeply as she flung her phone onto the bed. She’d been willing to take a huge salary cut and lower her standards with Levius Tech, which was a joke compared to the super brands she’d previously worked for. When it rained, it poured. She was still waiting for a reply from another company, and she’d look for more jobs tomorrow. Surely, they wouldn’t all turn her down?
Stella lowered her shades as she watched the blonde woman sneer at Manuel. Being on lifeguard duty meant that she could rest her legs for a couple of hours as well as keep an eye on the team from her chair raised six feet above the pool. Not that they needed much supervising. They were excellent at their jobs, but every so often, people were just not interested in their attempts to entertain them and that seemed to be the case right now. She made a mental note to ask Manuel about their exchange after the team meeting tomorrow and fixed her eyes back on the pool.
Even though this was an over eighteen resort, accidents happened regularly. Some guests got in the pool drunk, others fell asleep in the burning sun, then jumped in oblivious they had caught sunstroke. There had been heart attacks and strokes too, and she’d had to use the defibrillator twice since the resort had fully reopened again. Living an unhealthy lifestyle during lockdown, coupled with the endless supply of unlimited food and drinks in the resort, was a dangerous combination, but it wasn’t her job to educate them. As the poolside manager, she had to make sure everything ran smoothly, that her team performed to their highest standards and that their guests were happy. And occasionally save someone’s life when the on-site doctor couldn’t get there on time. That too.
As Stella followed the woman with her eyes, she noted that she looked irritated as she stomped towards the bar and sat down with a huff. Drunk guests were annoying and difficult to handle, but angry guests were worse. This woman looked way too high maintenance to be holidaying here, and Stella suspected she’d complain about her team before the week was over. Not because they hadn’t done a good job, but because some people couldn’t help themselves; they complained about everything. Fair enough; the rooms, the food and the service weren’t great at Paradise, but this wasn’t the Shangri-La. This was a cheap and cheerful all-inclusive resort where you got what you paid for and all in all, their guests had a really good time.
Just as she’d expected, the woman ordered a rum and Coke. She’d probably tried the wine already and decided it tasted more like vinegar—which truthfully, it did—and that the lukewarm beer wasn’t much better either. She could picture her at the buffet, grimacing at the colourless food that was tailored to the majority of their guests who had simple tastes; fish and chips, chicken nuggets, pie and mash, pizza and garlic bread. All beige and starchy.
Stella refocused on the pool. They couldn’t afford any trouble as times had been hard enough over the past year. They’d been closed for eleven months over the pandemic and now they needed to make up for their losses. Barely surviving on the ten hours a week the staff got paid during the periods the hotel had been closed, many had looked for jobs in factories, farms or in other sectors, and she’d had to train twenty-one new people within three weeks as the decision from management to reopen instead of closing had come last-minute. Now, miraculously, they were at full capacity and it looked like they might be one of the few lucky businesses to survive.
She reached for her walkie-talkie as it crackled. “What’s up?”
“It’s Florence. We have a situation here at tiki bar one. Drunk man throwing a tantrum.”
“Right.” Stella sighed. “Can you come here and take over from me? Tell Dave to keep him there; I’ll deal with him.” Her physical break was short-lived, and although she had no trouble with the intense ten-hour days, it took some time to get used to being on her feet for so long again. She climbed down from her lifeguard chair and handed Florence her fluorescent vest. “Here you go.”
“Thanks,” Florence said, putting it on. “He’s angry because Dave refused to serve him more beer. Good luck.” She shot Stella a grin and chuckled. “By the way, it’s payday today and the day shift is meeting up at that new tapas place for happy hour. Are you coming?”
“Sure, I’ll join you.” Stella shot her a smile and made her way to the bar. She wasn’t a fan of the staff nights out, but they’d worked very hard and the least she could do was buy them a round. The woman was no longer sitting there with her rum and Coke; she’d probably left right after the drunk man had arrived. Curiously, Stella wondered why she was still thinking about her. Guests came and went, and although she was always friendly and pretended to recognise them, the reality was that she rarely did. This woman had only been here for a few days, and yet she’d noticed her every single day.
“Hi there. I’m Stella, the poolside manager. What’s going on?” she asked, looking from Dave to the man and back. “I hear there’s a problem?”
“Yes, we have a problem,” the man sneered. “I’ve paid a fortune to drink whatever the hell I want, and this man is refusing to serve me.” He held up his hand to show his all-inclusive wristband.
Stella crossed her arms in front of her chest and faced him, letting him know she wasn’t one bit intimidated. “What’s your name?”
“Okay, Pete. It’s within our hotel’s policy to refuse alcohol to guests if they are causing disruption or discomfort to others. You’re being loud and obnoxious, so I think it’s safe to say you’ve had enough for now.”
“That’s not up to you to decide,” Pete yelled, leaning in.
“Keep your distance, please, Pete. You know the rules.” Stella took a step back. “And yes, it is up to me, actually, so I suggest you go to your room, drink some water and sleep it off. Come back down when you’ve sobered up, and Dave will be happy to serve you.”
“This is ridiculous!” Pete’s wife said as she joined them. She was unsteady on her feet, her eyes red-rimmed. “Come on, Pete, put your T-shirt on. We’ll go to Pit Stop; happy hour starts in twenty.” Narrowing her eyes at Stella and Dave, she waved a finger in front of them. “And you two… expect a formal complaint tomorrow.”
“Go ahead.” Stella kept her cool as she took the coffee Dave handed her before making one for himself. Thankfully, situations like this didn’t occur very often. “Complaints can be filed at reception.”
Pete and his wife waltzed towards their sunloungers to pick up their bags, and Stella chuckled when Pete tripped on his way to the exit. There was no point getting worked up about it; in a couple of days, they would be gone.
Dinner was most bearable between six and seven pm, and although that was a little early for Lisa, at least the food wasn’t completely stale by that point, and the dining area was still fairly quiet. On her first night, she’d made the mistake of going down at eight, and the place had been like a zoo. People throwing themselves onto the buffet, nowhere to sit, loud talking and shouting, and the cheesy nineties pop songs played in all communal areas had driven her to leave after ten minutes.
Now, it was mainly the cheesy music that tormented her ears, but she could deal with that. Scanning the food that was the same as every other day, her stomach was already protesting and screaming out for something fresh. Perhaps she should just go somewhere else tonight. After all, Spain wasn’t expensive, and dining out one day a week wouldn’t eat into her budget that much.
“What can I get you?” one of the chefs behind the long table asked her. “Today’s special is spaghetti carbonara. Or would you like a bit of everything?”
Lisa shook her head as she knew exactly what that meant. People who asked for ‘a bit of everything’ literally got that: chips piled onto pizza and pasta, topped with brown gravy that spilled onto the floor as they headed to their tables. “I think I’ll just have this,” she said, reaching for a piece of garlic bread with her gloved hand. “Thank you.”
“Hey, you can’t take food outside the dining area,” he called after her, but she was already gone.
Lisa was pretty sure the staff all had their own ideas about her, and she suddenly felt an urge to get off the premises as fast as she could. The animation team thought she was a miserable git, the chefs thought she was a food snob—which admittedly, she was—and the housekeeping team probably thought she was boring for spending too much time in her room.
The night air did Lisa good as she wandered over the Lavante Beach promenade in search of somewhere to eat. It was warm and humid, but the sea breeze cooled her skin a little. At least out here she was anonymous, rather than ‘that woman’. Soon enough, the staff at Paradise Hotel would start to wonder why she was spending months in a place she didn’t even like, and why she wasn’t taking part in the hotel’s extensive social activities—she wasn’t looking forward to the questions they were sure to ask.
The sun was lowering into the ocean, and she stalled for a moment to take in the sunset. The last beachgoers were leaving, looking tired from hours in the sun, but apart from families dragging towels, cool bags and inflatables along, the main stretch was fairly quiet. Lisa had already worked out the daily Benidorm routine. Most holiday makers had gone to their rooms by now, to take a nap and freshen up for the night ahead. Later, they would come out here to ‘parade’ as they called it, before attacking the buffets and enjoying more drinks at their hotels. It was a funny and alien concept to her, holidaying without any culture whatsoever. Spain was beautiful—she’d visited the country many times before—but this town didn’t feel like Spain at all. To her left was the Mediterranean, to her right were numerous hotels, pubs—in the most English sense of the word—and supposedly Italian restaurants that served the same beige food she’d had all week. It wasn’t pretty, but anything outside Paradise Hotel was a bonus by now, and Lisa decided to venture into the side streets, hoping to find an authentic Spanish restaurant.
As she found herself wandering through the old town, restauranteurs left, right, and centre tried to catch her attention. “Best pizza in Benidorm!” one waiter shouted. “Best value for money”, another one said, then added: “Unlimited buffet!”
Lisa upped her pace, making her way through the network of streets filled with bars and restaurants. She didn’t like to be hauled in and she didn’t like to feel forced to join long tables with rowdy strangers. It was a whole new world to her, and she realised then how sheltered she’d been. Not sheltered in the traditional sense; her parents weren’t strict or Victorian in any way, but she’d definitely always lived inside a comfortable, wealthy bubble of politeness and this was not a part of that life. She was not their kind, and they could smell it as they followed her with their judgmental stares. When she finally escaped the crowded streets, her anxiety rose to alarming levels, and she sank down on the pavement. Six more weeks. How am I going to survive this?
Taking deep breaths, she waited for the panic to subside as she held onto her chest. She rarely had panic attacks but her break-up, losing her job and months of worrying about paying rent and bills had made her vulnerable beyond belief. Get a grip, Lisa. You’ve been all over the world, for God’s sake. This is Benidorm, so calm the fuck down.
When she opened her eyes again, the white noise finally faded, and she saw that she was in a quiet alleyway. Opposite her, gentle Spanish guitar music was playing from a small tapas bar where they were setting the tables for the night. It felt daunting to go inside in her current state, but at least it was quieter and sitting out here wouldn’t get her anywhere either, and so she got up and peeked through the window.
“Buenos dias!” A tall waiter with a perfectly groomed goatee opened the door for her and spread his arms. “Our first customer ever.”
Lisa managed a smile as she followed him into the restaurant that only held about a dozen tables. “Ever? I doubt that.”
“It’s true. It’s our opening night.” He rubbed his hands together. “We need to make a good first impression, and that means you won’t find better Spanish food anywhere else in town tonight.”
“That sounds good to me.” Lisa sat down at the window table, after he pulled out a chair for her. The décor was rustic and basic and that was a welcome change after the neon-lit bars and kitschy restaurants she’d just passed.
“I’m Joachim. Give me a shout if you know what you want to order. That’s our menu,” he said, pointing to a blackboard. “We only have house wine, but it’s good house wine.”
“Thank you. Then I’ll have a glass of red, please.” Lisa scanned the board, mentally translating the dishes and already salivating at the look of it. “And can I have the Padrón peppers and a slice of tortilla to start with?” she paused, pursing her lips. “Oh, and a tomato salad and the grilled squid, please.”
“Of course.” Joachim wrote down her order and when he walked off, she heard him whisper something about a potential reviewer to one of his English colleagues. It made sense that he thought she might be from a magazine. She hadn’t seen many people here on their own and with her dark jeans, white shirt and trainers, she certainly looked different from the rest of the British women, who wore colourful dresses with rhinestones and were smothered in make-up and novelty jewellery. She sat back and thought of her ex-girlfriend, Sandrine, who used to nickname her ‘The Slayer’, after the notorious food reviewer. But then again, it could work to her advantage today. If the waiter didn’t ask her straight-up, then who was she to contradict his suspicions?
“Isn’t it a bit early to eat?” Stella asked as she followed Manuel and eight other team members to Hostaria, the new tapas bar Manuel’s cousin had opened.
“It’s never too early to eat.” Manuel waved at his cousin, who was smoking a cigarette outside. “Besides, this coño here was worried no one would show up, so he needs the place to look full. Drinks half price. Just tonight and only for us.” He patted the man’s shoulder, then stole his cigarette and took a drag before they hugged and exchanged some small talk.
While they caught up, Stella’s eyes were drawn to the window table, where a familiar-looking woman was dining on her own. Is that the grumpy woman from Paradise? She didn’t voice her thoughts, as she was worried Manuel, who had already consumed quite a few drinks, may crack a joke a little too loud, and official complaints about her team members was the last thing she needed.
“This is our bossy-boss, Stella,” he said to his cousin, patting her shoulder.
“Hello, Miss Stella. I’m Joachim and this is my new bar.”
“It looks nice.” Stella shot him a smile and held out her hand to let Joachim squeeze it, even though she couldn’t care less about male attention. “And it’s really nice to meet you. Congratulations on your opening and thank you for arranging the staff happy hour.” Her eyes shifted to the window again, drawn to beautiful Miss Grumpy. “Could we have a table in the back?” she asked, just to be on the safe side. The woman really was gorgeous, she decided then, and as she followed everyone inside, her stomach did a flip when her eyes met Miss Grumpy’s for a split second. They were blue and intense, her stare as cold as a winter’s morning, but there was also sadness in them, and something else she couldn’t quite put her finger on.
Joachim, who had seen the brief exchange, leaned in and whispered: “I’m pretty sure she’s a reviewer. It’s cool, no?”
“Really?” Stella gave him a puzzled glance but before she’d had the chance to enquire any further, they were seated and Joachim began to serve everyone wine, followed by sizzling chorizo and bread with dips. It was the first night she’d been out with some of her new team members, and she told herself to forget about the woman and focus on her people instead. After all, in her experience, it was way easier to get them on board if they liked her. It had taken her years to build a well-oiled machine of staff members who always had each other’s backs, and although everything had fallen apart, she knew she could do it again. Even if it would cost her a good chunk of her wages.
“Drinks on me tonight,” she said, smiling at the party. “Now, why don’t you all tell me about your day. Who has a funny story to share?”
There was always something amusing to report, and with most staff members being Spanish, they were even more baffled by the English hotel guests than their English colleagues.
“Someone peed in the pool today,” a girl called Luciana said. “The new signs are big and clear, but there was still an accident and then the water went green.” She laughed. “I love these new chemicals, but it’s so annoying that everyone has to leave the pool for thirty minutes. It means they spend more time at the bar.”
Manuel shrugged. “They did it before too, it’s just that no one ever knew. And now…” He clapped his hands together dramatically. “Bam! Busted!”
Luciana burst out in laughter too, and they speculated about which guests may have committed the crime. The chemicals that turned urine green had led to a lot of hilarity when they’d first started using them, but now that the pool had to be cleaned more often, it was getting rather tiresome.
“I’ll see if we can get some better signs with a visual,” Stella said, turning to Luciana.
“As if that’s going to help.” Manuel rolled his eyes. “Everything changes, but one thing stays the same. The guests.” He sat back and took a sip of his wine. “Although currently, there is this woman who’s quite different from our usual crowd. She’s hot. In fact, she’d be super sexy if she just smiled for once. I swear, that woman is miserable on every level and she even—”
As soon as she put two and two together, Stella kicked Manuel’s leg under the table while her eyes shifted to the woman by the window, but it was too late. Manuel continued his rant of insults and the woman stood up, slammed some cash on the table and walked out.
“Wait, your food is ready!” Joachim called after her. “I can bag it up for you if you like…” He opened the door, but she was already out of sight.
“What the fuck, Manuel!” Stella shot him a glare. “I was kicking you. Did you not get the hint?”
“What hint?” Manuel frowned.
“The woman you were talking about was sitting right over there.” Stella got up and sighed as she shook her head and gave Manuel some money. “Here, pay for the drinks and don’t wait for me. I need to sort this out.” Although she knew it was Manuel who should be apologising and not her, he was too tipsy to do that right then, and anyway, she was much better at smoothing things over than him. “Could you bag that food up for me please?” she asked Joachim. “I’ll drop it off. I know where she’s staying.”
Did you like the sample? You can pre-order ‘Welcome To Paradise’, book 1 in The Resort Series here: