The Romance Reviews

The Romance Reviews

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Under the Mistletoe

Day Two and story number two! Feeling festive yet?

Over Egg Nog Lattes © Billy London

There had to be something in here. Reya begged all the possible ghosts of Christmas to help her. Reya’s sister had to be the fussiest cow ever, and having made her case to their parents, bemoaning the lack of birthday gift and Christmas present last year. She had ways to go to ensure she had a peaceful day - and that was all anyone could hope for over Christmas. A little bit of sodding peace.
“What are you looking for?”
Reya whipped around. A slender, beautiful woman looked at her with disinterest, waves of sleek black hair tumbling over her lace blouse. “I don’t know.” Reya offered.
The woman rolled her eyes. “Well, who are you buying for? Do hurry up darling, it’s closing time.”
“My sister.”
“And what does she like?”
“She’s really fussy,” Reya said. “That’s why I’m stuck.”
“Aren’t we all? Here.” The woman handed over a dress. “Silk, lined, classic. Took me a long time to convince the designer to let me stock, but she did. Because I’m persuasive.” The arch of her brow told the story of her success. “I’m assuming your fussy sister is a size eight.”
How she knew that, Reya would never know. “Spot on.”
“Come along, I have to be in Sheen in two hours. My sister in law has well deserved champagne chilling for me.”
Fascinated by the woman’s accuracy, Reya followed her to the ornate cashier desk. Carefully, she folded the dress in scented tissue paper, then inside a glossy box, and finally placed it into a luxurious, glossy bag, the name Sofia swirled across the front in gold lettering. “How long have you been open?”
“Three months,” the woman announced with pride, her green eyes narrowing with amusement. “And we’re magnificently in profit already.”
“Didn’t it used to be some wiccan boutique?”
“Exactly. It’s much better as my boutique.” She rang up the dress and Reya handed over her credit card. “Your sister will be pleased. I was named in Charisma magazine as a destination shop.” She smiled at Reya, and she was convinced no one ever said no to her. “Merry Christmas and all that soppiness.”
“And to you. Thanks Sofia.”
She waved a thin hand through the air, and returned to tidying the racks of beautiful rainbow of clothes. Relieved that her final shopping was complete, Reya stumbled into a coffee shop and collapsed into a chair. She felt something tugging at her coat and looked down. Oh come on. Day away, please! Little Owen from her nursery class gazed up at her with his big brown eyes.
“Hello Miss Reya.”
No one could pronounce her surname. It was a given anyone over four would have the same problem.
“Hello Owen,” she murmured, scooping him from the floor and sitting him on her lap. “Where are your parents?”
“Daddy’s buying you a coffee. He said you look tired.” Reya’s eyes went straight to the counter where tall, dark and strictly off-limits for being a far too good looking father, was busy handing over his card. Doctor Be Good To Me, the mums called him. He and his partner had finally started behaving like normal adults for their son’s sake. Actually, it had been his former partner, Carol who had blazed a trail of hatred through the nursery, trying her best to keep Niven away. Reya truly wished parents wouldn’t bother. Their children wouldn’t appreciate it when they were older.
Niven set the ceramic mug in front of her and sat down opposite. “Someone looks comfortable,” he commented, nodding towards his son, who had snuggled into the crook of Reya’s neck.
“Sorry Daddy,” Owen murmured, lifting a hand to rest against Reya’s collarbone.
“Looks like it.” He replied, lifting an eyebrow. Despite speaking to him up close on several occasions, he didn’t come over as any less intimidating outside the nursery. “Finished your shopping?”
Reya looked over Owen’s head to check on her bags. “All done. Last minute dot com as per usual. What about you? Why aren’t you at home wrapping?”
Niven’s face shifted. “Carol’s picking him up in half an hour. We’ve got about two hours together on Christmas day.”
Oh. How disappointing for him. “At least you’re able to talk and make plans.”
He smiled at her, and she felt as mushy as a marshmallow in hot chocolate. “You’re sweet. What are you doing for the holiday?”
“Spending time with my parents, my sister who happens to be married to my ex boyfriend.” Saying it aloud over time lost its shock value. Except to people who hadn’t heard the story before. Niven looked appalled. Reya glanced down at Owen who was fast asleep. “It sounds worse than it is. We’re all friends now. I’ve even bought her a present.”
He stared at her thoughtfully. “What time’s dinner?”
“Oh, we never eat before four.” She glanced up from brushing Owen’s forehead with the tips of her fingers. “Why?”
“Can I come? To be honest with you, once Owen goes with his mum, the rest of the day’s going to be seriously lacking any entertainment.”
She stared at him. “Why? Seriously, why?”
“I never like unfair fights,” he replied, lifting his coffee cup. “Your parents won’t mind will they?”
“Or you like fighting too much?”
“No,” he said with a laugh. “My GP told me I’m not confrontational.” He laughed again. “It’s true. Don’t make that face. Owen, you awake?”
His son shook his head against Reya’s breast. Niven retrieved his phone from his pocket. His expression darkened briefly, then he shucked on his coat and scooped Owen from Reya’s lap. “Carol’s here. Can you stay for five minutes while I explain the beauty of my plan?”
Reya nodded, dumbfounded. 
“Excellent. Owen sweetheart? Wake up and say bye to Miss Reya.”
Owen lifted his sleepy head and waved a hand weakly in Reya’s direction. “Happy Christmas Miss Reya.”
“And to you Owen.”
“I’ll be back,” Niven mimicked Arnold Schwarzenegger to Reya’s burst of laughter. Once he left, she sent her father a text message. He was more au fait with technology than her mother. 

Have a friend who wants to come for dinner tomorrow. Is that okay? She sent swiftly.

A little notice would have been courteous. But as we are cooking for Armageddon, one more mouth won’t make a difference. Any dietary requirements for her?

It’s a he, Dad. And not that I know of.

Is this a boyfriend?!!! 

The extra exclamation marks sent another ripple of laughter through her. Niven returned to the cafe and gently touched her arm as he sat back down.

I hope so Dad. We’ll see you tomorrow.

“Are you sure?” Reya asked eventually, when she couldn’t stare at those arched cheekbones of his. 

“You know Owen adores you. And I’d do anything for someone my son loves. So yeah. We’re going together.”

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Noel Noel

I said I wouldn't promise but after listening to Kings College Cambridge singing Christmas Carols, I am finally in the damn mood! So, here, we, go...

Magic Noel© Billy London

“How does anyone get this excited about Midnight Mass?” Aydin asked, struggling to hold back the gigantic yawn that interrupted the pause between verses in O Come All Ye Faithful, while his sister had hit the top C note to piercing acclaim. The only reason he’d gone with her, was because his sister knew blackmail. His sister and blackmail and Christmas happened to be the worst combination of guilt he normally encountered. It was their first Christmas together as a family since their parents’ divorce, and he had been looking forward to a quiet one at his flat. But Kina had sung In the Bleak Midwinter down the phone to him, then Silent Night and much to his eternal shame, Away in a Manger, and tears clogged his throat.
“Are you going to come and be happy with Dad and me?”
“Why Dad’s?” Aydin asked, once he could speak.
“Because Mum’s going off on a cruise with that friend of hers whose blatantly been trying to get mum to switch teams. We’re not as fancy as London, but we’re good fun in t’country,” she faked a farmer’s accent.
Aydin had put Hertfordshire behind him, along with anything else that remained there. Except his sister, of course. But he hadn’t been able to bear the indignity of his life falling apart to an audience, who would comment at each turn. First his relationship, then his job having to move back in with his parents, then finally unable to help feeling he contributed to the last straw of their struggling marriage breaking once and for all.
An old school friend messaged him. Told him he’d be able to help him out with some construction work if he came to London. With the last of his savings, and a loan from Kina, he got a studio flat on the outskirts of the city and worked until he was able to get back to what he was used to, what he felt comfortable with. There he’d stayed for the last two years, until Kina with her voice to make even Scrooge cry, dragged him back.
“Where are we going?” he asked, noting they weren’t on the path back to the house.
“We’re going to the pub,” she announced. “Alfie’s there as well.”
“The Fox and Hound?” Aydin groaned. “No, please, that pub is so tired…”
Kina flickered her eyebrows. “You haven’t been here for a while, have you?”
He curled his lip, unable to hide his disdain for the crusty old house. It always seemed to be furnished with old men who smelled of old beer and wee. When Kina pulled up, he rubbed the condensation from the window, and blinked. A huge tree roped with gold blinking lights and edged with red bows sat outside of what seemed to be a gleaming building. People were spilling outside into the below freezing air, under heated lamps cradling steaming mugs.
“All right Kina?” a hairy looking bloke acknowledged Aydin ’s sister, his hefty arm around the slender neck of a thin man.
“Merry Christmas Aaron! Hi Zlatan!” Kina beamed at both men, opening the door for Aydin to squeeze inside.
The pub had to be different. It couldn’t at all be the same place his dad had dragged him to on his eighteenth birthday to celebrate his manhood. It seemed to glow, and smelled incredible. The scent of mulled, spiced wine, mingled with the wafting delight of baking.
“All right Aydin!” his father called out, a hand of cards waving in his direction. He waved back in confusion. How strangely happy his dad looked. A tall, sleek woman drifted through the tables with bowls full of flaming Christmas puddings.
“Kina!” she called from around her tray. “How are you?”
“Great, thanks Mike. This is my brother, Aydin.” She shoved him in the shoulder. “He’s home for the holidays.”
Mike – how such a woman ended up with such a butch name – handed him a bowl and a spoon. “Find yourself a seat. I’ll bring you some spiced ale.”
“I’m…” He lost his words in the dark blue pools of her eyes.
“Hello I’m, my name’s Mical. Pleasure to meet you. Merry Christmas”
He wanted to speak, he really did, but he wasn’t quite sure he’d ever seen anyone as naturally beautiful as her.
“Be careful staring at me like that,” She warned, swaying to the bar. “My husband will have your eyes out.”
Aydin blinked again, trying to shake the fog from his brain. Kina shoved him to a small table in the corner that was miraculously free. “What’s happened here?” he hissed to his sister, astounded by the change of the place.
“That bird,” Kina pointed to Mical. “Is magic. Oi, watch out. Paris is here.” Of course, he thought. Why not add to it? 
“I really should find my husband.”
“Kina,” Aydin warned. “Don’t you fucking dare.”
His sister grinned, before calling out, “Hi Paris!”
His ex-fiancĂ©e saw them both and seemed to burst with embarrassment. Same, he thought, sighing heavily. Unable to avoid either of them, it seemed, Paris made her way through the throng and sat at the table. 
“Hello.” She sounded so very quiet. Just as quiet as when she’d broken his heart and handed back his engagement ring. It had stayed in his old bedroom at his parents’ home.
Mical leaned over the table, placing a bowl of Christmas pudding in front of Paris, along with two pints of the delicious smelling ale.
“Lovely to see you here tonight Paris,” Mical said with such warmth, the other woman smiled. Mical tapped them both on the hands and commanded, “Talk.”
“Why are you here?” Paris blurted. “I could have coped if you weren’t here.”
“Kina brought me,” Aydin returned, unable to halt the words falling from him. They seemed to gush like a waterfall. “Because whatever you think, this is my home. This has always been my home.”
“You never said that,” she said, in a similar rush. “You were just ready to get out, and get as far away from here as possible.”
“I wanted you to come with me!” he yelled, quieting the pub. “But you didn’t want to support me.”
“I didn’t want to hold you back. You had this look in your eye that everything here meant the end of your life. And I didn’t want to be that bitch. Not me. That’s not me.”
Mical tapped the bell, calling the pub’s attention. “Last orders!”
The scraping of chairs and bustling of feet drowned the rest of Paris and Aydin ’s conversation. Paris rolled her hands as she spoke, talking faster as if she would be in pain if she stopped. “I was really scared that you and I were going to end up like your parents, hating each other because neither of them did what they wanted to do. And to be honest, I think your mum’s a lesbian.”
“Everyone knows she’s been in love with Francine forever,” Aydin dismissed. “Is that really all it was? You were scared?”
“Yes,” Paris admitted, tears filling her eyes. “You’re the only boyfriend I’ve ever had. I didn’t want to regret giving up everything for you and you just finding some London bird to replace me.”
He caught both her hands tightly in his. “Paris, I haven’t dated anyone since I left here. I haven’t even looked at anyone, because I love you, I haven’t stopped…”
She sobbed, reaching across the table to pull him into her. “I still love you,” she cried, her tears soaking into his skin. The relief that swept through him allowed him to only grip her as tightly as she did him. If only the honesty they’d shared in the last five minutes been obvious when they were arguing… Suspicion made him lift his head. That bird is magic. His sister said, without a bit of artifice.
No, he thought, trying to refocus on Paris wiping his cheeks with her thumbs. It can’t be…
“You drinking or kissing?” An accented voice demanded. Aydin looked up into a red bearded face, a huge man hovering over the table.
“Both?” Paris and Aydin suggested, like naughty children stealing Santa’s snacks.
He frowned at them. “Do it quickly. We close in an hour. I’d like five minutes of quiet with my wife before Christmas.” With that he turned to the other tables, collecting glasses and bowls with his gigantic hands.
“The hell?” Aydin whispered.
“That’s Mical’s husband,” Paris confided. “Possessive.”
He could fully understand why but Paris’ sweet smile pulled him back to her. “We’re all coming back here tomorrow night. Will you come?”
Aydin looked for Kina, who was bellowing along to Last Christmas on her husband’s shoulders. His dad crowed with laughter surrounded by his friends. The joy that permeated the very air of the pub caused tears to sting his eyes. How he’d ever left his home…
He turned back to Paris, lifting her hand to his lips. “I’ll be here.”

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year

It's Christmaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaas!! It's a comin'!! I cannot tell you how much I love this time of the year. I get to dress up in something unsuitable (low cut and short for the win), go to fancy parties, kiss people under the mistletoe (girl, boy, I don't discriminate especially if you're buff), I get to field nonsensical questions about my womb from relatives I don't speak to for eleven months of the year with an array of clapbacks that get more stinging the longer they think about it.
But best of all, I get to eat. EAT! Everything I can possibly imagine. Whatever I sodding well like. Bring the pate, bring the mince pies (I have had two today. I could go for three), the salted beef, the brandy cream poured over Christmas pudding, the gammon with crumbly cheese and apricot jam. It works, don't judge me. Stuffing! And all these delights come with a comatose-like rest after.
More importantly, Christmas is romance mecca, second to V-Day. So, it means I should get on with a few Christmas freebies on here. I won't make any Season of Love promises - especially not after NaNo wiped me out, but I will try to do my best to tide you over until the new year. There we are then! Food and sexy fumble spectacular! I'm hungry just thinking about it...