Joss and Braden Carmichael are blissfully married living in their townhouse on Dublin Street with their three beautiful children. It's a life Joss never expected to have, and one she's grateful for every day.
Release date: March 28, 2017
Print pages: 120
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Stars Over Castle Hill: A Joss and Braden Novella
The World We Made
Usually when I finished a book I felt a level of apprehension before sending it to my agent and editor. That was natural, I guessed. But as I watched my printer whipping out the novella I’d spent the last month writing, I had to admit that what I was feeling was a different kind of apprehension.
This was the first time I wanted Braden to read one of my stories before anyone else. Even before beta readers.
It was mostly due to the personal nature of the story.
I squeezed my eyes shut, knowing my twelve-year-old daughter was about to bust into my office, even though my “Crabbit Writer at Work” sign was on the door. Everyone in our family knew I only put the sign up when I was in the zone and really didn’t need interruptions creating havoc with the flow of words.
Braden bought me the sign. After eighteen years in Scotland, I knew that crabbit meant “grumpy as hell.”
As much as I appreciated the sentiment, I argued that I was not grumpy.
I was temperamental. There was a difference.
Braden just laughed but I was being completely serious.
I told him that, too.
He laughed harder.
“Mum!” Beth threw open my office door but I was braced for it. I was already facing the door, waiting to hear her latest catastrophe or thrilling story. Every day in a preteen’s life was wonderful and horrifying and life or death.
At least in my preteen’s life.
“Mum, we need to go shopping on Thursday night. Please! It’s Cassie Hogan’s birthday party and I can’t go in a dress that everyone in my class has already seen.”
“You own a thousand dresses.”
Beth made a face. “Mum, let’s not exaggerate.”
“No, because we wouldn’t want to do that.”
She ignored my sarcasm, very much used to it and adept at it herself. “Please, Mum. Amanda and Sarah said they’re getting new clothes for it.”
“And if Amanda and Sarah ju—”
“Don’t say ‘jumped off a bridge.’ Everyone says that. And you’re a writer, Mum. Doesn’t that mean you have to be original or something?”
I stared at her, trying very hard not to burst out laughing. It would only encourage her and the girl teased me enough. I didn’t think a day had gone by when she didn’t tease me about my accent. Living with Braden for so long, I’d picked up Scottish inflections in a way I hadn’t when my mom was alive. Now I had this weird American-Scots accent that Beth loved mimicking. “I’m sorry, were you asking me for something?” I asked.
Beth smiled sweetly. “Please, Mum.”
Shopping. Hmm. I knew only one way we’d get through it.
Ellie was much better at the shopping thing than I was. It was hilarious how my kid could be so much like me, and yet such a girly girl like her Aunt Ellie. Beth had more clothes and shoes and nail polish and pink and posters of an irritating, globally successful boy band on her bedroom walls than twenty preteen girls put together. “Fine. But we’ll ask Aunt Ellie if she’s free to come with us.”
Beth patted my shoulder, giving me an unintentionally (or at least I hoped) patronizing smile of sympathy. “Already did. We both know you hate shopping. I only asked you to join us out of politeness.”
“And I have the credit card to pay for the dress,” I reminded her.
“That too!” Beth grinned cheekily and sauntered out of my office. “Mum’s busy,” I heard her say snottily.
“You went in!” my nine-year old son replied.
“That’s your answer for everything,” Luke whined as he barged into the room. “Mum,” he raced toward me with all the exuberance and energy of his age. Fuck, I envied him. “Where’s my football socks?”
I brushed his dark blond hair off his face and he ducked to the side to avoid any more grooming. “Which ones?”
“My lucky ones,” he said, like it was obvious. Only nine, and already giving me the “duh” voice. I wanted him to be four again and always running to his mommy for cuddles.
“Damn time and its envy,” I muttered.
Luke made a face. “What?”
“Remember talking rule number two.”
“Mum,” he whined, lolling his head from side to side, “I’m too old for that.”
“Rule number two,” I insisted.
“It’s not ‘what,’ it’s ‘pardon.’” He rolled his eyes.
Seriously. I was so sure the rolling eyes thing happened later with boys. Of course, Beth had been rolling her eyes at me since she was three.
“I haven’t washed your lucky socks yet. You don’t have a game until next Saturday.”
“But I’m going to play Five-a-Side on The Green with Allan.”
“And you need your lucky socks for that?”
“Yeah. I want to win.”
“Baby, I’m guessing by how thin those lucky socks of yours are getting, they only have so many more games in them. Do you really want to waste their luck on a non-game game?”
As he opened his mouth to speak, I said, “And you’re not playing Five-a-Side football that far away from the house.”
I had to stop myself from smiling. When my son frowned, he frowned. Somehow he managed to put all of his face, not just his brows and eyes, into the expression. It was impressive. And adorable. Which I’m sure is not at all what he was going for. “It’s only five minutes away.”
“In a city, five minutes away is far enough for some miscreant to steal you from us.”
“What’s a miscreant?”
In answer, I handed him my dictionary. Accustomed to my method of teaching them to reach for knowledge themselves as much as possible, Luke flipped through it for the answer. “Did you ask your dad if you could go?” I said.
“Yes, but he said no.” Braden strode into the room with our youngest, Ellie (so named after her aunt), in his arms. Ellie was eighteen months old and already a total daddy’s girl. I couldn’t blame her really.
Right now, however, Braden was scowling at Luke. “What have I said about going behind our backs to ask the other once one of us has said no? When one says no, the answer is no, Luke.”
Luke scrunched up his face, and I could sense a tantrum on the horizon. “I’m bored!”
“And I said that I’d come with you if you wanted to play football on The Green.”
“No one else is bringing their dad! I’ll look like a wee kid!”
“News flash,” Braden leaned down, shifting Ellie in his arms, “you are a wee kid. And if you raise your voice at me again, I will ground you for a week.”
“Ground me, then, because I cannae go out anyway!”
“It’s can’t,” I threw in.
“Cannae, cannae, cannae!” he yelled, jumping up and down.
I winced. My kid was loud when he wanted to be. Too loud! “Ah, can it.”
“Right, you’re grounded,” Braden declared.
“Oops!” Ellie cried out and then giggled.
Braden and I looked at each other and struggled not to laugh.
Luke was not in the mood for laughter. “Mum!” he hurried over to me, shifting from side to side like he needed to pee. “Tell him!”
“Kid, bring the noise level down. And you heard your dad. You’re grounded. Believe me, it pains me more than you.”
“Ha ha!” Beth shouted from outside the door.
“You’d better be laughing at your own brilliant thoughts, Beth Carmichael, and not at your brother’s incarceration!” I called.
“Definitely the first one.” She peeked her head around the doorjamb. “And not the funniness of Luke talking himself into a grounding.”
“Shut up!” Luke lunged toward her and Braden caught him by the back of the shirt as Beth took off squealing.
“Oops!” Ellie cried again.
“We need to teach her a new word.”
“I don’t know,” Braden said, letting go of Luke, “it does seem to fit the situation when she uses it.”
“Or not,” I said.
He snorted as Ellie reached out her little arm toward Luke. “Uke! Uke! Want Uke!”
Luke obliged and held out his arms for her. Once she was settled in his strong little-boy arms, my chest filled with more emotion than I could cope with. “I wish Beth was like you, Ellie,” he said.
Braden smirked. “Don’t worry. One day she’ll be old enough to be just as annoying. Enjoy this while you can.”
Luke sighed, as if he had the weight of the world on his shoulders. “Fine. We’ll watch cartoons. Since I’m grounded.” He grumbled to his little sister all the way out the door.
And there was blissful quiet in my office.
Braden turned to stare at me.
I stared back.
And then I huffed, “You’re the one that wanted kids.”
“Yeah, well, I’m not the one who was so damn sexy I couldn’t keep my hands off you or my powerful, baby-making semen out of you.” He grinned.
I wrinkled my nose. “Charming.”
“Okay, I thought you knew this already but clearly not, so heads-up: Semen? Not a sexy word.”
He wandered over to me, sliding his hand around my waist to pull me into him. “Noted.”
I melted into his strong heat, unable, even after all these years, to be in a room with my husband and not eventually end up attached to him in some way.
He kissed the side of my neck, and then my printed manuscript caught his eye. “What are you working on?”
“On that subject … my ‘Crabbit Writer at Work’ sign apparently no longer works.”
“Do you want me to get something with a more aggressive tone?”
“Like, ‘Fuck off’?”
“I think that might offend our kids.”
“I don’t think anything offends our kids. We grew those babies with abnormal amounts of emotional thick skin and way too much energy.”
He laughed and reached for the paper. “Enough of the subject change. What is this?”
I turned to face him, absentmindedly tracing patterns on the fabric of his shirt at his chest. “Actually something I wanted you to read before I consider submitting it.”
Curiosity flared in his pale blue eyes. “Oh?”
“I was approached by this author. She asked me if I’d like to participate in a digital anthology. We are to write a novella that’s kind of personal but fictional.”
“The concept is that I write a novella based on what might have happened to me if a pivotal moment in my life hadn’t occurred.”
He shifted, craning to get a look at the pages. “It sounds interesting.”
“That’s what I thought. So I wrote it. I chose to write an alternate reality based on what might have happened if I’d never answered Ellie’s ad for a flatmate.”
“And you want me to read it?”
I picked up the manuscript and held it out to him. “If you’re not busy.”
“Of course not.” Braden accepted the papers. “I’ll read it now.”
That little flurry of apprehension sprung to life in my belly again. “You’re sure?”
He gave me a quizzical look. “Is there anything in here you’re worried about?”
“No. It’s … you might think it’s cheesy.”
He threw his head back in laughter and then laughed harder at my scowl. He kissed the pout off my lips. “You’re Jocelyn Carmichael. You couldn’t be cheesy if you tried.”
I pushed him away playfully. “Once upon a time I would have agreed with you, but then you came along, made me all mushy, gave me three adorable kids who have completely messed up my hormones so I cry at yogurt commercials.”
Chuckling, he settled into my chair and shooed me away. “Go play with the kids. Leave me to read in peace.”
I huffed at the order but moved to exit the room.
At the door, I glanced back to watch as he settled in, kicking his long legs up onto my desk.
I imagined the first words he’d read and wondered what he’d think about where those words were about to take him …
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