Read an extract from Mad by Chloé Esposito, the hottest book of the summer, and enter the competition below for a chance to win a holiday to Italy!
The prize includes:
- Return flights for two people from London Stansted to Palermo, Sicily
- Return private transfer from the airport to the hotel
- 2 Nights accommodation at a 4 star centrally located hotel in Palermo
- Breakfast for two people in the hotel restaurant each morning
- Travel insurance
Read on for an exclusive extract from Mad, the book the Daily Telegraph have called a ‘must have beach-read’…
Holy fuck; my sister lives here?
Dollar signs flash in my eyes. The villa is ridiculous. This place must cost a bomb.
‘Do you own this?’
‘I inherited it from my parents.’
Oh yes. I remember Beth said. They died. Poor Ambrogio. He was only thirteen. Thirteen and a millionaire. Actually, that’s awesome. He probably didn’t mind. And lucky for him, he’s an only child, no snotty big sister to split it with.
‘Benvenuto!’ he says.
Ambrogio opens my door and takes my hand. The seats are so low I need it, especially in these heels. How do people walk in these things? He pulls me up and I steady myself on the top of the car, shield my eyes and blink into the sun.
It looks like the set of a luxurious fashion shoot: Vogue or Elle or Vanity Fair. I expect to see Gisele Bündchen reclining on a sunlounger: gold lamé bikini, daiquiri, tan. Where are the cam- eras? The lightbulbs flashing? The photographers clicking? I’m reminded of the faraway fantasy worlds of Condé Nast Traveller and The Sunday Times Travel, of all those dream properties in A Place in the Sun; except, clearly, I am here, so this must be real.
Ancient pink buildings with terracotta roofs sprawl across acres of garden: manicured lawns, manicured flower beds. The flowers are so beautiful they’re singing: red geraniums, purple fuchsias, every shade of blue, frangipani, bougainvillea, jasmine.
It’s paradise, Eden: roses and cactus flowers, violets and camel- lias. Towering palm trees wave in the breeze, their green leaves exploding like fireworks.
Then I see the pool: cool, deep, seductive. Lava-stone tiles frame opal blue. Inky water sparkles in the stark Sicilian sun; flecks of light blind me as I stare. Palm trees and roses reflect in its mirror: a Hockney painting, an oasis. Cream linen deckchairs and parasols surround it, quiet and neat on the crazy paving. The water looks calm and far too inviting – it’s all I can do to stop myself jumping in. I want to splash around like a hot girl in a pop video, pretend I’m a teenager on spring break.
I turn around and gawk at the house. The villa itself doesn’t even look real, like a still from a golden-age Hollywood movie, something romantic by Federico Fellini or the set from Roman Holiday. I look around for Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck. Crumbling walls are covered with ivy, emerald leaves shining almost too green. The sign by the door says: ‘La Perla Nera’. I catch a glimpse of marble through an open window, curtains billow in the breeze like tethered clouds.
I don’t know how long I stand here staring. I think I’m dreaming.
Someone calls my name.
I see myself (myself on a good day) running towards me, arms outstretched; my stomach flips. It must be Beth. It’s strange, two years is a really long time. I’ve forgotten what it’s like to be half of a whole . . . a double . . . a carbon copy . . . an extra in my own fucking life.
‘Alvie! You made it! Oh my goodness! You’re here!’ My twin leaps on me, a violent embrace. ‘I can’t believe it! You came!’
‘Thanks for the flights. You shouldn’t have,’ I say, struggling to inhale through her arms and exuberance. Beth smells sweet, like breathing in candy floss. She kisses me on both my cheeks and then releases me. At last.
‘What? Don’t be silly. I can’t believe you’re actually here.
Come on, let me show you around.’
Beth takes my hand and I follow after her. She leads me into the cool of a beautiful lemon tree, chattering merrily like a songbird all the way.
‘You look amazing. Make yourself at home. I can’t wait for you to meet Ernesto; he’s asleep right now, but he’s all yours when he wakes up. How was your trip?’
Why is she so happy to see me? Over-bright. Jumpy. Almost nervous. I’m about to reply when a single cloud floats to cover the sun. The garden is suddenly cooler and darker. A lone man dressed in head-to-toe black with blackout sunglasses and a black-and-grey hat glides like a bat from the villa to a car parked up on the gravel. He opens the door of a shiny black people carrier and steps inside. A light breeze flows across my neck and down my spine. I shiver.
‘Who is that?’
I watch the car crunch over gravel and crawl soberly off down the long, snaking drive. The electric gates slide silently open. The people carrier drives around the corner and disappears.
‘Come inside,’ says Beth, then keeps on talking.
Is she talking even more than usual? Or am I just not used to her incessant chatter? Ambrogio hauls the suitcases from the boot and follows just behind. I’m not really listening; I can only stare. There’s too much to look at; all my other senses fade. Elizabeth’s body. Elizabeth’s face. Elizabeth’s hair. My eyes rest on my twin’s tanned shoulder. Her skin is glowing, iridescent. I look into her eyes: viridescent, alive. Her sun-kissed hair is highlighted blonde. She looks amazing. I don’t even think she’s had any work done. It all looks so real. Perhaps it’s good genes? No, it can’t be. It must be the money. The money definitely helps. She looks literally half my age.
I am Narcissus, looking at Beth. Falling in love. Sick with envy. I follow her through a pergola with pink climbing roses, over mosaic tiles, Moroccan rugs. Inside the villa it’s bright and spacious: a majestic atrium, the scent of magnolia. I’ve never been to the Ritz, but I think it must look exactly like this. Everything seems to be made of white marble; specks of silver shimmer like diamond dust in shafts of light. Chaise longues and armchairs are all upholstered in cream and gold. Beautiful tapestries and portraits of ladies hang up on the walls: Renaissance noblewomen in sumptuous silk robes, beads in their hair and sparkling jewels, emeralds, diamonds and shimmering pearls. I follow Beth past gilded mirrors; our faces reflect to infinity.
16th-century original features...
Beth was right, I already love it here. I mean, who wouldn’t?
I never, ever want to leave.
We climb a flight of marble stairs; I stop to admire a picture hanging on the wall. It’s a portrait of a boy, his skin white and luminous against a shadowy background. Black on white. White on black. He is sleeping, peaceful, sweet, angelic. It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen in my life. Beth sees me looking.
‘Oh, do you like it?’ she says with a smile.
I’m about to answer, but she’s already turned and sprinted upstairs.
I watch her feet disappear up the staircase: glitter platform sandals with gold ankle straps. They’re the same ones I saw in the window of Prada. They’re the second most beautiful things I’ve ever seen in my life. I think I’ll throw away those old Reeboks. It’s not like I need any trainers. It’s not like I do any sport.
‘Your room,’ she says, beaming.
Beth flings open the double doors and leads me into a sun-filled guest bedroom; it’s on the first floor with a poolside view. It is vast, palatial: the ceiling’s twice as high as in my old room in Archway. The bed is enormous; there’s room for at least three people in here (I should be so lucky...). On the wall is a painting of the crucifixion, all primary colours and sunny blue sky. Christ looks radiant – in Taormina everyone is happy. There’s a Juliet balcony with wrought-iron railings and an antique screen in the corner of the room. I trace my fingers over Japanese brushstrokes: a stylized image of a bird in flight. A bouquet of flowers stands on the dressing table; their sugary scent fills the room.
I hold my breath; it’s all too much. This can’t be real: it’s a beautiful dream. In a minute, she’ll pinch me and I’ll wake up. I’ll be back in Archway surrounded by slobs, searching for a passport I’ll never find. I rub my eyes and I blink.
‘I bought you some things in case you need them,’ says Beth. ‘I thought you might be travelling light.’ She flutters voluminous Benefi eyelashes, bites her glossy bottom lip. ‘I hope you don’t mind . . .’
I salivate. Six or seven oversized bags line up against a wall. They’re shining white with ‘PRADA’ written along each side, tied up with ribbons in pretty black bows. Beth has hit the shops. Is this all for me? So that’s why she wanted my dress size. Wow. ‘Oh, you shouldn’t have,’ I say. Is that the right way to respond?
‘Just a few essentials really . . . swimming costumes, sarongs, sunhats, skirts. Let me know if there’s anything else you need.’
I empty the bags out on to the bed: dresses and camisoles still with their tags. A summer skirt in floral print. A little crochet cardigan. The bikini alone cost €600. I usually shop at TK Maxx! I run my fingers over luxurious fabrics, stroking, caressing...
‘It’s so wonderful to see you,’ she says.
I stop and look up. I’m not sure I buy it. No one’s ever been this happy to see me, except for maybe my grandma’s old dog, but that was because he liked humping my leg: ‘Fenton! Fenton! Get off Alvina!’
‘So you don’t mind about –’
‘The wedding?’ she asks.
I look away. I was going to say Oxford. ‘About the wedding?’
She hugs me, again. ‘You know, I’ve forgotten all about it.’ ‘OK,’ I say. Her hair smells amazing, like a meadow full of flowers. Perhaps she really has forgiven me. Perhaps she does love me after all?
A cuckoo’s call floats in on a breeze through an open window.
I think I will make myself at home here, Beth. I think I will.
‘What kind of tea would you like? Earl Grey? Ceylon? Rooibos? Darjeeling? I’ve got some lovely oolong in at the moment, loose leaf, from Tibet?’
‘Erm,’ I say. I can’t ask for builders’ or PG Tips. ‘I’ll make us some of the oolong.’
I watch Beth’s back disappear into the kitchen. Her hair swishes behind her, a glossy blonde mane. She looks like a Barbie doll. Brigitte Bardot. She looks like the new and improved version of me: Alvina Knightly 2.0. It’s not a nice feeling. I sit on the edge of a creamy-white armchair and try not to touch anything in case I get it dirty, keep my distance from the glass-topped coffee table, in case it breaks. There’s a tight feeling in my chest, like someone’s wrapped me up in duct tape; I can’t move my ribcage in or out. I dig my fingernails into the fleshy bits in the palms of my hands and wait for Beth to come back. Sweating. I wonder what she wants to ask me. I wonder why I am here...
A cream carpet fills the room, with flowers embroidered along its edges, a swirling pattern of green and white. They’re lilies, I think. I remember our ancient carpet in Archway with things living in it. I don’t recall anyone ever vacuuming. I don’t think we even had a Hoover. I wriggle my toes in the deep, soft pile. It’s all so spotless. Beth probably has staff.
There’s a photo on the coffee table of Beth and Ambrogio; its silver frame sparkles like it’s just been polished. They look like Brangelina or another golden Hollywood couple. Peroxide teeth, too-big smiles: they don’t look real. There’s a blue-and- yellow china vase hand-painted with lemons and frangipani. There’s a fireplace so clean I doubt it’s ever been used.
‘Here we are,’ says Beth, gliding through the door and making me jump. She’s carrying a silver tray, which she sets down on the table. She takes two little teapots, two delicate china teacups and two matching floral saucers and positions them symmetrically on the table before me. She pours the tea from the individual teapots into the individual teacups, as gracefully as a geisha. The tea trickles and tinkles prettily as it fills the cups. It’s positively ceremonial.
‘Is that colour OK for you, Alvie?’ she asks. ‘Not too weak?’
‘No, it’s fine,’ I say.
‘Not too strong?’ ‘No.’
She sets down the teapot. This is it. Whatever it is she needs, here it comes...
‘Would you like some sugar? I have white or brown. Don’t worry, it’s fair trade.’
Did I look worried? ‘No, thank you,’ I say.
‘Or I can get you some sweetener? There’s some stevia in the kitchen.’
What the fuck is stevia? It sounds like an STD. ‘No, thanks,’ I say.
‘It’s no trouble.’
‘I don’t want any.’
I look around for the milk. ‘Can I have some milk?’
‘Oh, you don’t have milk with oolong.’ ‘Oh.’
Of course not. Silly me.
‘So,’ I begin, ‘you had something to ask me?’ But then I get distracted. Sidetracked, more like. Beth takes the cover off a cake stand, lifts the shiny silver dome to reveal the amazing confection beneath. It’s a cake with pastel-yellow cream and a pretty pattern in swirling pine nuts. The pine nuts look toasted, golden, delicious . . . the cream looks fluffy and light.
Beth sees me drooling. ‘Torta della Nonna. It’s my favourite. You’re going to love it.’
She cuts a generous slice of cake and hands it to me on a dainty plate with a folded napkin and a tiny silver fork: the scent of lemons and sugar. The plate is painted with blossoms and rosebuds. The fork looks like an antique.
‘Aren’t you going to have any?’ I ask, incredulous, when I see that it’s just me.
‘Oh no,’ she says. ‘I’m on a diet: gluten-free, dairy-free and sugar-free.’
What the hell does she eat then? Air? I take my fork and stab at the cake.
‘Mmm,’ I say. Beth smiles. ‘Told you.’
She watches as I chew.
I take another forkful, then another and another. Oh my God. I can’t get enough. Is it possible to have a taste-bud orgasm? I think I just did.
‘Can I have another slice?’ I ask, wiping my mouth with the back of my hand and licking my lips. That was good. Really good.
Beth’s expression changes. Her face falls slack. Her lower lip begins to curl...
I stop chewing, my mouth full of cake. Oh no, what have I done?
‘Alvie, you’re getting crumbs on the carpet.’
This competition has closed
Terms and conditions
- No purchase necessary to enter the prize draw.
- This competition is open to UK residents aged 18 years or over, with the exception of employees of the Promoter, their families, agents and anyone else connected with this promotion.
- Entries must be received by 23:59 on 17th July 2017. The Promoter accepts no responsibility for any entries that are incomplete, illegible, corrupted or fail to reach the Promoter by the relevant closing date for any reason. Proof of posting or sending is not proof of receipt. Automatically generated entries or entries via agents or third parties are invalid and shall not be considered. Entries become the property of the Promoter and are not returned.
- Only one entry per person. No entrant may win more than one prize.
- To enter fill in your details on the online form: https://www.penguin.co.uk/articles/competitions/2017/jun/chloe-esposito-mad-holiday-competition
- All valid and correctly completed entries received by the closing date will be entered into a prize draw which will take place on 19th July 2017. The first entry drawn at random will be the winner.
- The prize for the winner consists of:
- Return flights for two people from London Stanstead to Palermo, Sicily. Departure airport used will be London Stanstead. Non UK passport-holders may need a visa for this destination, which they should arrange with the Embassy at their own expense. Includes all taxes, surcharges. Excludes checked luggage, winner and guest may take one piece of hand luggage each.
- Return private transfer from the airport to the hotel. Transfers will be private and not shared with other passengers.
- Two nights’ accommodation at a 4 star centrally located hotel in Palermo. Hotel is classed as a 4 Star and is based on 2 adults sharing a twin or double room (winner’s choice) with ensuite bathroom on a bed and breakfast basis.
- Breakfast for two people in the hotel restaurant each morning
- Travel insurance, subject to normal terms of acceptance. Pre-existing medical conditions may not be covered. No age restrictions apply.
- Travel is subject to availability at the discretion of the Promoter, must be booked at least 3 months in advance of the travel date and excludes Christmas, New Year, Valentines, Easter, school holidays and bank/public holidays (both UK and Italy).
- All prizes must be claimed and booked by the prize winner within 12 months from the date of our initial correspondence with them.
- Prizes are subject to availability. In the event of unforeseen circumstances, the Promoter reserves the right (a) to substitute alternative prizes of equivalent or greater value and (b) in exceptional circumstances to amend or foreclose the promotion without notice. No correspondence will be entered into.
- The winner will be notified via email or post by 31st July 2017. The winner must claim their prize within 30 days of the Promoter sending notification. If the prize is unclaimed after this time, it will lapse and the Promoter reserves the right to offer the unclaimed prize to a substitute winner selected in accordance with these rules.
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- The Promoter is Penguin Books Limited at 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL.
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