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#1 NEW YORK TIMES Bestselling Author

Sisters by Choice

FEBRUARY 11, 2020

June 11, 2019

The Summer of Sunshine and Margot

The Baxter Sisters have only ever had one another—until one fateful summer when Sunshine and Margot turn disastrous luck into destiny…

Etiquette coach Margot Baxter knows precisely how to manage wayward clients…until she comes face-to-exquisite-face with Bianca, an aging movie star notorious for her shock-and-awe tactics. Schooling Bianca on the fine art of behaving like a diplomat’s wife is the greatest challenge of Margot’s career. Soon, secrets unravel that bring them closer together and force Margot to confront the truth: Change doesn’t just happen. She has to be brave enough to demand the life—and love—she’s always wanted.

For years, Sunshine has been the good-time sister, abandoning jobs to chase after dreams that will never come true. No more. She refuses to be "that girl" again. This time, she’ll finish college and dedicate herself to her future. And she 100 percent will not let her life get derailed by a man again…no matter how tempting that man may be.

Master storyteller Susan Mallery weaves threads of family drama, wit, heart, and a wish-you-were-there setting into one of the most satisfying books of the year!

"Perfect for a summer read."

Booklist

Starred Review! "Mallery's latest novel is a breath of fresh air for romantics, a sweet reminder that falling in love is never how you plan it and always a pleasant surprise."

Library Journal

"Mallery combines heat and sweet in a delicious tale destined for beach blankets… [She] skillfully weaves in tantalizing details from the sisters’ pasts—romantic hurts, the emotional devastation of being abandoned by their mother when they were children—to make the heart-tugging happily-ever-after all the sweeter."

Publishers Weekly

"I like nothing better than a fun romantic comedy. I think that is how you would label The Summer of Sunshine & Margot...Really fun characters in the story especially Bianca make for an enjoyable story of two sisters, that want nothing more than to find the right man (and the two male characters want nothing more than to find the right woman). A perfect summer read for the beach, water, lake or just sitting outside enjoying the sun."

Red Carpet Crash

"Susan Mallery's The Summer of Sunshine & Margot introduces two sisters I loved from the very beginning, an enchanting young boy, and two men who struggled while remaining good, kind men. This is one of the most endearing books I've read recently...a light, enchanting beach read."

Lesa's Book Critiques

"Such a good story!...It's about not settling for less than we deserve, striving for our dreams, and not being afraid to ask for help in achieving them. Really and truly, it's cemented its way into being one of my favorites of this author's."

Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers

A- "A sweet and delightful read...The revelation of what made her the person that she is is heartbreaking, and the reason she finally lets the secret go is reaffirming...For a good reading time, pick up anything by Susan Mallery."

Reading Reality

"A delightful story about two sisters going through changes in their lives and hoping to find love... a perfect long weekend or vacation read. This one is definitely worth adding to your summer reading list!"

Palmer's Page Turners

"I honestly could not put it down... The Summer of Sunshine & Margot has all the necessities of summer reading: romance, humor, and just all around good story to keep you wanting to read more."

Afternoon Espresso

"My latest beach read obsession... This is truly the must-read book of the summer and is woven with heart-warming and relatable elements of family drama, humor, and romance."

Nines to 5

"One of my top summer reads... add The Summer of Sunshine and Margot to your summer reading list NOW!"

Building Our Story

"One of the Hottest Romance Books Coming Out this Summer!"

BookBub

4.75 Hearts "A story about sisters and love and life... a great summer, or anytime, read!"

Kimberly, Books N Kisses

"Susan Mallery always writes an interesting, engaging story... I really liked the relationship between the book's main characters, sisters Sunshine and Margot. They were completely different both physically and emotionally, yet still supported each other through thick and thin without trying to change each other."

Laurie Reads Romance

"I’ve yet to be disappointed with a book from Susan Mallery... the way the relationship works between these sisters differs greatly from other [books] I’ve read so far. It’s still a fresh theme."

A Life among the Pages

4.5 out of 5 stars "The relationship between Margot and Sunshine was a big part of the book... They bantered and held nothing back from each other, as sisters who have no other family to depend on should... This is a great, fun, summer read for romance lovers of all ages."

Bewitched Bookworms

"Mallery does a masterful job of capturing the journeys that both sisters take... The relationships that they develop with Alec and Declan are as much about the sister's emotional growth as about budding romances."

E-Reading after Midnight

"I just couldn't put it down... Summer of Sunshine & Margot is a real page turner and one of those great summer reads to immerse yourself in on the beach, relaxing in the backyard, or wherever your summer reading spot may be."

Outnumbered 3 to 1

"This book falls somewhere between women’s fiction and romance, but whatever you want to call it, it is an engrossing read. The characters are skillfully brought to life."

Stacy Alesi

"This was such an enjoyable and page turning read!... the perfect read for these early summer days."

Booked on a Feeling

"A summer must-read"

The Denver Housewife

"Swoonworthy...sometimes when you least expect it, what’s meant to be can be right in front of you."

What Is that Book About

"A great beach read...Time flew by."

Broken Teepee

"They are easy characters to like and to cheer on, as are the supporting characters, especially Conner, Sunshine’s young charge. Mallery writes with humor and heart and captures the bond between sisters well... The Summer of Sunshine and Margot is a good choice for your summer reading stack if you like women’s fiction, stories about sisters and family relationships, sometimes snarky humor, romance, and stories about personal growth and second chances."

Kahakai Kitchen

"[Mallery] has a true gift for writing about sibling relationships in a really realistic and authentic way and the family dynamics between Sunshine and Margot were both interesting and also sweet, a perfect combination for a summer read...this book had a little bit of everything, there was romance (and things do get pretty spicy), humor, and family drama, basically everything that I love in a book! Definitely recommended by me, especially to anyone looking for a book full of lovable, relatable characters."

Novel Gossip

"Mallery creates two very authentic characters who are both relatable and deeply flawed. Yet it is their complexity which endears them to us and will have readers cheering them on as they pursue their goals... The Summer of Sunshine and Margot is a delightful journey you won’t soon forget."

Jathan and Heather

"An absolutely charming novel of new beginnings, family and love."

Book Reviews and More by Kathy

"If you are looking for a fun read to throw in your bag for a trip to the beach or the pool, this is definitely it."

Romantic Reads and Such

5 of 5 Stars "The Summer of Sunshine and Margot is an uplifting story of two sisters determined to overcome a family curse...The supporting characters are dramatic and fun-a boy who loves ants, a beautiful and eccentric former actress, a divorcee of questionable character, an acerbic teaching assistant, and several former or want-to-be lovers. Their stories are entertaining and heart touching."

Debra Rieger

"It’s the beginning of summer so it must be time for a Susan Mallery novel! Which is one my happy times of the year, along with Christmas, Thanksgiving, and the day the roadside strawberry stands open... I loved this book and highly recommend it! I couldn’t put it down!"

Carrie Padgett

"[A] summery new novel perfect for your next beach trip."

Writer Mag

"A novel of sisterhood, supposed family curses, career challenges, and love, The Summer of Sunshine and Margot was sincere women’s fiction that will shoot straight to a reader’s heart."

Harlequin Junkie

"I absolutely adored this book... I went into this book assuming that there would be friction between the sisters and this wasn’t so, making their relationship really fun to read about. I loved the way they supported each other despite their differences."

Why Girls Are Weird

"An easy and delightful read...best read in the sunshine with watermelon and a nice glass of wine."

The Smut Report

"Such a fun read! ... Would be great for taking to the beach or on vacation."

Books and Needlepoint

"The Summer of Sunshine and Margot by Susan Mallery is an ideal example of what I love in a light summer contemporary fiction – charming characters, plenty of humor, family drama, just the right amount of romance and most importantly a satisfying and happy ending."

Booktimistic

"An easy and delightful read... best read in the sunshine with watermelon and a nice glass of wine."

The Smut Report

Chapter One

Social interactions fell into two categories—easy or awkward. Easy was knowing what to say and do, and how to act. Easy was witty small talk or an elegant compliment. Awkward social interactions, on the other hand, were things like sneezing in your host’s face or stepping on the cat or spilling red wine on a white carpet. Or any carpet, for that matter. Margot Baxter prided herself on knowing how to make any situation fall into the easy category. Professionally, of course. In her professional life she totally kicked butt. Personally—not so much. If she were being completely honest, she would have to admit that on most days her personal life fell firmly in the awkward category, which was why she never mixed business and pleasure and rarely bothered with pleasure at all. If it wasn’t going to go well, why waste the time?

But work was different. Work was where the magic happened and she was the one behind the curtain, moving all the levers. Not in a bad way, she added silently. Just that she was about empowering her clients—helping them realize it was all about confidence, and sometimes finding confidence required a little help.

She turned onto the street where her nav system directed her, then blinked twice as she stared at the huge double gates stretching across a freeway-wide driveway. She’d been told the private residence had originally been a monastery built in the eighteen hundreds, but she hadn’t expected it to be so huge. She’d been thinking more “extra-big house with a guest cottage and maybe a small orchard.” What she faced instead was a three-story, Spanish-style former church/monastery with two turrets, acres of gardens and an actual parking lot for at least a dozen cars.

“Who are these people?” she asked out loud, even as she already knew the answer. Before interviewing a potential client, she always did her research. Overdid it, some would say, a criticism she could live with. Margot liked being thorough. And on time. And tidy. And, according to some, annoying.

Margot pressed the call button on the electronic pad mounted perpendicular to the gate and waited until a surprisingly clear voice said, “May I help you?”

“I’m Margot Baxter. I have an appointment with Mr. Alec Mcnicol.”

“Yes, Ms. Baxter. He’s expecting you.”

The gates opened smoothly and Margot drove through onto the compound. She parked in one of the marked spots, then took a moment to breathe and collect her thoughts.

She could do this, she told herself. She was good at her job. She liked helping people. Everything was going to be fine. She was a professional, she was trained and she was calm. Calm-ish, she added silently, then reached for the glasses she’d put on the seat next to her briefcase.

Margot stepped out of her car and smoothed the front of her slightly too-big jacket. The outfit—gray suit, sensible pumps, minimal makeup—was designed to make her appear professional and competent. The glasses, while unnecessary, did a lot to add gravitas to her appearance. She was thirty-one, but in shorts and a concert T-shirt, she could pass for nineteen. Even more depressing, in said shorts and T-shirt, she looked ditzy and incompetent and just a little bit dumb, and that didn’t reassure anyone.

She walked up the stone path to the enormous front door. Although she knew nothing about Spanish architecture, she wanted to trace the heavy carved wood doors where angels watched over Christ as he carried the cross toward a hill. Yup, the big-as-a-stadium building really had once been a monastery and apparently the monks had been sincere in their worship.

Before she could get her fill of the amazing craftsmanship, the doors opened and a tall, broad-shouldered, dark-haired man nodded at her.

“Ms. Baxter? I’m Alec Mcnicol. It’s nice to meet you.”

“Thank you.”

She stepped inside and they shook hands. She had a brief impression of two-story ceilings and intricate stained glass windows before Alec was leading her down a hallway into a large office lined with bookshelves and framed maps of lands long forgotten.

She did her best not to gawk at her surroundings. While she was used to working with the rich and famous, this was different. The books made her want to inhale deeply to capture their musty smell and the maps had her itching to trace a path along the Silk Road.

She’d taken a step to do just that when her host cleared his throat.

She glanced at him and smiled. “Sorry. Your office is incredible. The maps are hand drawn?”

He looked slightly startled, his eyebrows coming together in an attractive frown. “They are.”

She looked at them one last time. If she got the job, she would have to ask permission to study the framed drawings. She reluctantly pulled her attention away from the distractions around her and took a seat across from him at the wide desk.

When he was settled, he said, “As I explained on the phone, you’re here to help my mother.”

“Yes, Mr.—”

“Please call me Alec.”

She nodded. “I’m Margot, and yes, I understand she will be my client.”

“Excellent. She and I decided it would be easier if I conducted the preliminary interview to see if you and she are suited.”

“Of course.”

Margot relaxed. Hiring someone like her was often stressful. Her services were only required when something had gone very wrong in a person’s life. Or if the potential client was anticipating something going wrong. Or was overwhelmed. Very few people looked around at their happiest moment and thought, Hey, I should find someone to teach me social etiquette and how not to be odd/uncomfortable/weird or just plain nervous. There was always a trigger that made a client realize he or she needed her services and it rarely grew out of an uplifting event.

Alec glanced at the papers on his desk. They were arranged in neat piles, which Margot appreciated. How could anyone find anything on a messy desk? Her boss, a man whose desk was always covered with folders and notes and half-eaten sandwiches, was forever sending her articles on how messy desks were a sign of creativity and intelligence, but Margot would not be swayed in her opinion. Disorder was just plain wrong.

“You know who my mother is?” Alec asked, his voice more resigned than curious.

Margot filed away the tone to review later. The dynamic between mother and son could be significant to her work.

“I do. Bianca Wray was born in 1960. Her father died when she was an infant and she was raised by her mother until she was twelve.” Margot frowned. “Why she was put in foster care isn’t clear, but that’s where she ended up.”

She flashed Alec a smile. “She was literally discovered while drinking a milk shake with her girlfriends, propagating the myth that in Los Angeles anyone, at any moment, is just one lucky break away from being famous.”

“You’ve discovered my deepest wish in life,” Alec said drily.

“Mine, too,” Margot said, allowing her mouth to curve slightly at the corners. “After a career in modeling, your mother turned to acting. She preferred quirky roles to the obvious ingenue parts that would have helped her have a more successful career. She had one son—you—when she was twenty-four. She and your father, a Swiss banker, never married, but you were close to both your parents.”

As she spoke, she sensed tension in Alec’s shoulders as if he were uncomfortable with her reciting the facts of his personal life. He might not be her client, but he was her client’s son and therefore of note, she thought, but didn’t bother explaining herself. Her methods were excellent and if he couldn’t see that, then this was not the job for her.

“Bianca is a free spirit and despite facing her sixtieth birthday, is still considered a beauty. She acts in the occasional project. From what I could see, there doesn’t seem to be a pattern in why she chooses the roles she does. She enjoys remodeling homes and has made a lot of money flipping upscale houses. She gives generously to charity and has many lovers in her life, but has never married. She is currently dating a man named Wesley Goswick-Chance. Mr. Goswick-Chance is the youngest son of an English earl. His parents divorced when he was an infant and he grew up in both England and the small European country of Cardigania. He is currently their senior attaché to the United States. He is stationed at the consulate here in Los Angeles.”

There was a lot more she could have mentioned about Alec’s mother. There was the time Bianca had been presenting at the Academy Awards and had dropped her dress on national television. Or her sex tapes that, back in the 1990s, had been quite the scandal, although they were fairly tame by today’s standards. Bianca was a colorful protestor, a woman who slept with kings, movie stars, artists and, according to some gossip that was never confirmed, had once had a torrid affair with the wife of the world’s largest yacht builder. While Margot would never admit it to anyone, she was equally intrigued and terrified by the idea of working with Bianca.

“That was very thorough,” he said with a sigh. “And thank you for not mentioning all the salacious bits I’m sure your research uncovered.

Margot nodded. “Of course.”

He looked at her. His eyes were very nice—dark, with thick lashes. She could see traces of his mother in his appearance—the eyes she’d admired, the curve of his mouth.

“My mother has recently accepted a proposal of marriage,” Alec said, his voice stiff. “From Wesley. He’s a nice enough man and he makes her happy, so I have no objection to the union.”

Margot waited quietly, not showing her surprise. How unexpected that after sixty years and countless lovers, Bianca had finally gotten engaged.

Alec’s gaze was steady. “If Wesley were a shipping magnate or a movie star, there wouldn’t be an issue. But he is a diplomat and as such, he moves in the kind of circles that will not be very accepting of my mother’s somewhat, ah, eccentric ways.”

“She wants to learn how to fit in.”

“Yes. To be clear, hiring you was her idea, not mine. I’m not pushing her into anything. She’s worried that her impulsive behavior will be a problem for Wesley and she claims she loves him enough to want to change for him.”

“What do you think?” Margot asked.

Alec hesitated, his gaze shifting from hers. “I believe most people are who they are. Asking Bianca to be a staid, polite and unobtrusive person is like asking the sun to shine less brightly. Ambitious, but unlikely.”

She’d wondered if he would say it was wrong for Wesley to not accept his fiancée as she was. Interesting that Alec had gone in a different direction. “You’re saying she can’t change.”

“I’m saying it’s improbable.” He returned his attention to her and leaned forward. “My mother is funny, charming and generous to a fault. I’m confident you will enjoy her company but if you take this job thinking you’re going to succeed, I’m concerned you’ll be very disappointed.”

Margot smiled. “You’re warning me off?”

“I’m suggesting you consider the possibility of failure.”

“Which only makes me want to take the job more, Alec, if for no other reason than to prove myself.”

“Not my intent, but I can see how it would happen.”

He relaxed as he spoke. Margot found herself as curious about her client’s son as she was about her client. She’d done preliminary research on Alec, in the context of him being Bianca’s only family. She knew that Alec was a scholar who studied ancient texts. When he’d inherited the monastery nearly six years ago, he’d done extensive remodeling, turning much of the space into a research center for the study of obscure written works. He was reclusive, had never married and was rarely photographed. A few people had described him as stodgy and boring, but she knew they were wrong on both counts. Alec was a man who kept tight control over his emotions—a trait she could respect. To her mind, order was a kind of meditation that should be embraced by all.

“Shall we?” he asked, coming to his feet.

She rose as well and followed him out of the office and down a long hallway that opened onto the grounds. The hallway ceiling was fifteen feet high and all hand-carved wood. The stone floor was smooth and she could see faint grooves from the thousands of feet that had walked this same path. She wanted to ask about the history of the monastery and what it was like to live here. She wanted to know if sometimes, in the quiet of those hours after midnight, he heard the whispered echoes of so many prayers. Margot didn’t consider herself religious but she admired those who were. Faith must be a wonderful thing. She was just a little too pragmatic to believe that any divine force was going to help her with her life. As such, she believed in being self-reliant.

To her right were huge gardens. The well-kept grounds went on for acres—a private paradise in the middle of Pasadena. She recognized several of the flowers and plants but many were unknown to her.

“The grounds are lovely,” she said, wishing she had time to explore the paths she could see weaving through hedges and by trees.

“Thank you. They were in disrepair when I inherited the place but I hired a landscape architect to clean things up. He’s done a good job.”

He paused by a stone path and turned to her. “My mother recently sold her house and has moved in with me until the wedding,” he said, his voice carefully neutral. “Should you take the job, she would like you to stay here, as well, for the time you’re working together.” He glanced at her. “Just to be clear, my mother sometimes keeps odd hours.”

“Many clients do,” she assured him, thinking of the business executive who had wanted to work on his Chinese etiquette between four and six in the morning.

“She’s not–” he began, then pressed his lips together. “My mother is…” He shook his head. “You’ll have to see for yourself.”

He started across the lawn toward the garden. Margot followed him along the stone path that was just as worn as the open hallway had been. They passed between two flowering trees onto a huge patio created with paving stones. Stone benches lined the perimeter while hundreds of pots of various sizes overflowed with exotic flowering plants.

The scent was divine—sweet without being cloying. If she had to pick a single word, she would have chosen alive as the fragrance. She found herself longing to sit on one of the stone benches and turn her face to the sun. Farther on, she spotted a table and chairs and desperately wished for a slow-paced dinner at sunset.

“This is the most incredible garden I’ve ever seen,” she admitted, unable to hold in the comment. “It’s magnificent.”

“I can’t take credit.” He gave her a slight smile. “But it is very nice.”

Nice? Iced tea was nice. This was stupendous!

She reminded herself that she was here for an interview and reluctantly let go of her garden lust. As they moved toward the table and chairs, Margot saw a woman seated in a small, hidden alcove, reading a magazine. The woman glanced up when she noticed them and waved a greeting.

Margot rarely worked with celebrities. Her area of expertise was the corporate arena. If you had a quick trip down to Argentina, for example, she was the one who could give you a crash course on things like greetings—while the first greeting with a client or customer involved a handshake, in subsequent meetings, the greeting was likely to be a kiss on the cheek, even if the business meeting was between two men. She could advise that good posture was important and that dinner rarely started before nine. She found comfort in rules and knowing the right thing to do in any situation.

Each employee in her company had a profile that was made available to prospective clients. Coming to an understanding of who worked best with whom was a mutual decision. Movie stars and those in the music business rarely picked Margot and she was fine with that. She’d been on a couple of jobs with directors looking to be more successful in obtaining financing in China, but that was different. Which probably explained why she was unprepared to meet Bianca Wray in person.

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