Her personal life, however, is in disarray. Recently divorced, she's also coping with the loss of her mother to cancer. What better time than now to take sabbatical leave, to shake the blues and escape wintery Northern Virginia.
Jessica's choice for a sabbatical in the sun is Southern California where she is hired to housesit the showcase home of George and Lydia Papas whose import-export business has taken them out of the country. She also elects to take graduate courses at USC and it is there she meets John Martin, a university administrator who, unknown to Jessica, has orchestrated their chance meeting and subsequent dates for a very specific purpose: He must gain access to the Papas home.
Later the reasons become clear but at this point, Jessica, despite certain misgivings falls hard for John, and eventually they become lovers.
John is able to persuade Jessica to accompany him during spring break on a business-pleasure trip to Athens, Greece, and then to a resort town in the Peloponnese where, as guests of John's friend, Denis Angelides and his family, the two are swept up into the exuberance of Easter festivities.
But then everything falls apart as Jessica learns she has been brought to Greece under false pretenses, that she has been a pawn in a scheme to recover an heirloom--a priceless coin belonging to the Angelides family--which Denis believes has been smuggled out of Greece by his brother Alex and into the home of George and Lydia Papas. John has used her to gain entry to that home. Worse, their entire relationship has been built on lies, on deceit.
Denis does recover the coin, but it turns out to be a fake. That he has been betrayed either by someone at home or in Los Angeles sets in motion a series of events in which Jessica plays a major role. She becomes the focus of Denis' romantic intentions, as well. John, however, is never completely out of the picture, and after a harrowing adventure involving the coin that nearly costs her life, Jessica and John reconcile.
Among the supporting characters, Alex Angelides is a prominent figure. Unlike Denis, his brash but principled brother, Alex is a conniver, a master at manipulating others. He also hoards a secret about the coin that he shares only when he thinks he is dying.
Of concern to Jessica is the continuing presence in her life of her ex-husband Andrew whose obsession with her turns ugly.
In the face of calamitous events, Mort Abrams, an attorney-advisor for the Angelides family, is the voice of reason, a solid presence. He also becomes a father figure to Jessica, filling a void in both their lives.
If Mort is a stabilizing influence, Bill Warner is its antithesis. A seedy-appearing eccentric man in his sixties, Warner runs the housesitting agency that has hired Jessica, though his more important role is of go-between for parties in Athens and John Martin in Los Angeles. A truly devious person, he appears throughout the story in ever-changing guises and behavior that reveal him in an increasingly sinister light.
Sabbatical in the Sun is a novel of intrigue that deals with the consequences of selfishness and greed. But it is also about love--familial and romantic, about relationships that fall short of perfection. Mainly, it is about forgiveness.