Secrets, surprises and second chances are all on the menu... Out of work and a little desperate, Rosie Featherstone jumps at the chance to help her beloved Italian grandmother at the Lemon Tree Café - a little slice of Italy in the country. Surrounded by the rich scent of espresso, delicious biscotti and juicy gossip, Rosie soon finds herself enjoying her new way of life. But under her smiles, Rosie is hiding a terrible secret, one that even the appearance of a handsome new face can't help her move on from... Then disaster strikes and Rosie discovers that her nonna has a dark past of her own, one that could destroy the café. With surprises, betrayal and more than one secret brewing, can Rosie find a way to save the Lemon Tree Café and help both herself and Nonna get the happy endings they deserve? *Published in the UK as The Lemon Tree Cafe * *** Readers are captivated by Cathy Bramley's heartwarming stories: 'Funny and sweet and as satisfying as a homemade apple pie' Milly Johnson 'As comforting as hot tea and toast made on the Aga!' Veronica Henry 'A delicious tale of friendship, family and baking... I loved its warmth and charm' Cathy Woodman 'Delightfully warm with plenty twists and turns' Trisha Ashley
Release date: March 21, 2019
Print pages: 405
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
The Little Village Café
I shifted my chair but there was nowhere to hide in this glass box. Even the internal walls were see-through.
‘No means no.’ I crossed my legs and eyeballed him defiantly.
My boss, Robert Crisp, the managing director, sighed and loosened the collar of his shirt. As well he might. I wasn’t backing down; some things were worth fighting for and this was one of them.
‘A few quick strokes, Rosie,’ he pleaded. ‘Two minutes and it will all be over. No one outside this room need ever know, if it bothers you that much. You’re the best at this sort of thing.’ He paused for dramatic effect. ‘That’s why I hired you.’
A thinly veiled threat; I looked away, disappointed in him.
The only other person in the room, sales director Duncan Wiggins, tutted.
‘Bloody feminists,’ he muttered, so quietly that only I heard.
Duncan was a prematurely balding thirty-something with a penchant for brightly coloured socks. I’d learned early on to rise above his sexist twaddle. If I argued back, it simply fanned the flames. Nowadays I didn’t give him oxygen.
And yes, I was a feminist. Funny that, really; in my early twenties I’d probably have said I was your classic fun, flirty female. I’d taken equality as read, assumed that women had the same power as men; I thought feminists were just making a fuss about nothing. I’d also thought I was never wrong; I was wrong about that too.
Ignoring Duncan, I tried to appeal to Robert’s better nature. He was, on the whole, a nice man; a father of two teenage girls.
‘Sorry, boss,’ I said, ‘but it’s wrong on so many levels. Surely you can see that?’
I pointed at the image on the computer screen, which had been angled so that all three of us could see it. I couldn’t believe that they wanted me to manipulate the picture of Lucinda Miller to make her thinner. Lucinda was a pretty young actress and soon to be the face of the online campaign against teenage domestic violence that we were launching at noon today. She had a halo of copper curls, a naturally friendly smile and a feisty sparkle in her eyes. She was also currently in possession of boobs, a tiny rounded tummy and – shock, horror – no thigh gap.
Lucinda had overcome a difficult childhood to become a successful actress and as far as I was concerned, she was the ideal role model to be the face of this campaign. Exactly as she was.
The client, however, had asked for a bit of airbrushing to make her tummy and legs slimmer. Not that she was fat, they’d been quick to add, just that it would give a smoother line to the finished image. The boobs could stay, though. Surprise, surprise.
Duncan had already referred to Lucinda as ‘the cuddly one from Raw Recruits’, the gritty police drama she was currently acting in. Which was ridiculous: she was a size twelve, well below average weight and certainly not in need of any digital enhancement by me and my editing software.
‘Have a cake.’ Robert slid the plate of cinnamon pastries across the meeting table.
I leaned forward to take one and my black bobbed hair swung forward over my eyes. I hooked it behind my ear and gave him a slight smile. ‘Buttering me up won’t change my mind.’
He massaged his forehead and sighed. ‘We don’t have a lot of choice, love.’
My expression reverted to glacial. He held his hands up immediately.
‘Sorry. Rosie. Sorry.’
‘Robert,’ I held his eye, ‘there’s always a choice. We can refuse to do it. What sort of a message are we sending out to young women who are looking to this charity for support? It makes us as bad as the media who caused the problem of low self-esteem in girls in the first place. So no, I won’t make her thinner. She’s lovely as she is and frankly her not being perfect makes a much more powerful statement.’
Next to me, Duncan swore under his breath and I tried not to react.
‘Of course Rosie’ll do it.’ He reached for more coffee and raised a sleazy eyebrow at Robert. ‘Women always say no. They never mean it. Not in my experience, anyway.’
Especially when the question is: Do you find Duncan Wiggins utterly repulsive? No one could say no to that and mean it, I thought, taking a bite of my pastry.
‘Remind me again, Duncan,’ I said, dabbing the crumbs from my mouth, ‘when was the last time you went out with a woman who wasn’t your mother?’
He opened his mouth, evidently couldn’t remember and resorted to giving me a withering look instead.
‘And for the record, I do mean it,’ I continued, addressing Robert, who I noticed was starting to perspire. ‘Lucinda likes the picture as it is; I’ve got an email from her agent to prove it. Perpetuating the myth that women’s bodies are open to manipulation is against my principles and I’m not doing it.’ I popped the rest of the pastry in and mumbled, ‘Sorry.’
‘Business is tough at the moment, Rosie,’ Robert argued. ‘You know how important this client is.’
‘Yes. I do,’ I said, folding my arms. ‘They are important to young girls who are currently being bullied by their abusive boyfriends for allegedly being slags or being stupid or for having NO THIGH GAP.’
‘For God’s sake, Featherstone, will you clamber down from your moral high ground?’ Duncan groaned wearily, with a well-timed look at my fitted skirt and high heels. I resisted the urge to adjust my hemline, which wasn’t particularly short; I dressed for me, not for men. So he could go and do one. ‘Have you always been such a barrel of laughs?’
No. Not since one night when I realized that the world wasn’t full of gentlemen like my dad but, unfortunately, tossers like you.
‘Oh, I’m sorry,’ I said with eyes wide, ‘domestic violence is a joke to you, is it?’
‘He’s not saying that, Rosie,’ said Robert, shooting Duncan a warning look.
‘Enhancing Lucinda’s assets isn’t a crime, and even if it is, it’s not our crime,’ Duncan continued in his slimy voice. ‘We obey the client: we airbrush the chubby lass and launch the campaign at noon. End of story. Now let’s move on to something more important: the golf day for top clients. I’ve been looking into venues …’
He began droning on about eighteen holes and teams and trophies and corporate backscratching. I glared expectantly at Robert who squirmed in his seat and lowered his eyes.
At midday the social media campaign went live, spearheaded by a doctored picture of Lucinda Miller with a wasp-like waist, flat stomach and pipe-cleaner legs. God knows who did the airbrushing – probably Billy, the junior graphic designer, who, I knew, was desperate for an invite to that golf day. I didn’t see because I was too busy typing. Ten minutes later, I handed my resignation letter to my gobsmacked boss and quit my job as creative director for the largest social media agency in the Midlands.
It wasn’t just about Lucinda Miller’s thighs, I explained patiently, when Robert accused me of being oversensitive. It was the culture of everyday sexism that was so deeply ingrained in the company’s ethos that the few women who were employed by Digital Horizons simply seemed to accept it and the men didn’t even notice it.
Anyway, I for one wasn’t going to accept it any more. I left the keys to my company car with reception, walked out of the revolving glass doors and jumped on a bus feeling immensely proud of myself. I might have lost today’s battle, but I wasn’t about to lose my principles too.
The bus took me as far as Chesterfield and I jumped in a taxi to take me the rest of the way: I needed privacy to make an important phone call …
‘So I’m available right away,’ I said to Michael, the recruitment consultant who had headhunted me for Digital Horizons. ‘The sooner the better, really.’
I didn’t do ‘unemployed’ very well. I rarely even took my holiday entitlement and relaxing was anathema to me.
‘Gosh, darling ! That’s very sudden. What went wrong?’
I had every faith in Michael. He knew how ambitious I was, how hard-working; I was sure he’d be on my side.
‘A difference of opinion, and theirs was wrong. So …’ I cleared my throat. No use dwelling on the past. ‘On to pastures new. What have you got?’
‘Hmm, nothing of your calibre springs to mind. Bear with, I’ll do some digging.’
I heard the drumming of his fingers on his keyboard and gripped the door handle as the taxi bounced over the Derbyshire hills towards Barnaby, hoping he’d strike gold before we came to a halt. I glanced out of the window just as we passed the ‘Best Kept Village 2012’ plaque on the big oak tree in front of the church.
Barnaby was a pretty village on the edge of the Peak District. Nestled in a valley surrounded by fields of sheep, it oozed olde worlde charm. The cottages were built from chunky buff stone with tiny white windows, a quaint row of shops edged the village green and a stream meandered merrily along, parallel to the cobbled main road.
We passed the end of my steep little street. I’d bought a tiny one-up-one-down cottage at the very top of it last summer with the intention of doing it up and selling it on. I’d had to completely gut it: new roof, dinky log-burning stove, hotel-style bathroom, kitchen with all the mod cons … In fact, I’d done such a good job that I couldn’t bear to part with it. And now it was home.
The children were outside in the playground at the little Victorian school as we passed by, busy with games of hopscotch and football; a few faces were pressed against the railings waving and shouting to attract the attention of passers-by. I smiled to myself as I waved back, remembering how my little sister Lia and I used to do that too.
Michael was still mumbling under his breath as he read through his notes.
‘Ooh, I do have a fab‑ u‑ lous vacancy for a new business director at a full-service comms agency in London. Exciting client list, great benefits package. Interested?’
I was interested. Or rather I would have been had it not been for the location. I’d spent a few months there after graduating from uni and it hadn’t ended well. But maybe I’d have to spread my wings a bit if I wanted to get further up the corporate ladder.
‘Possibly,’ I said vaguely. ‘Further north would be preferable.’
Michael sighed apologetically. ‘It’s fairly quiet at the moment in social media.’
‘Keep looking; I’ll go mad if I’ve got nothing to do.’
He rang off after promising to do his best and I dropped the phone in my bag. I slid back the glass screen between me and the taxi driver as we approached the village green.
‘Over there, please.’ I pointed to the building with the sunny yellow awning over its frontage and a pair of miniature lemon trees in terracotta pots flanking the door. ‘The Lemon Tree Café.’
The old-fashioned bell above the door chimed to signal my arrival and I stepped from one world into another. My grandmother’s café couldn’t have been more of a contrast to Digital Horizons.
Lunch service was over and most of the tables were empty. Doreen, who’d been here as long as I could remember, was rearranging sandwich fillings behind the counter and my seventy-five-year-old Italian nonna, Maria Carloni, was sitting in the toy corner, tidying wooden bricks into a crate. She looked up at the sound of the bell, adjusted her black-rimmed spectacles which magnified her eyes to the size of chestnuts and tucked a stray white curl back into her bun before recognizing me.
‘Santo cielo!’ she cried. ‘Rosanna!’
‘Surprise!’ I laughed as she scurried over, arms wide.
She planted loud kisses on my cheeks and I hugged her plump body tight. She smelled as she had done for decades: of lemon soap and almond hand cream.
The café was chock-full of happy memories for me, stretching right back through my childhood to when Nonna used to look after Lia and me after school: sneaking sweets from the jar on the counter, entertaining the customers with songs and made-up dance routines, and food, of course, lots of food. And after the morning I’d had, it was the perfect place to recharge my batteries.
Doreen waved, her pink cheeks dimpling with a smile as she held up a coffee cup. I gave her the thumbs up as Nonna led me to a stool at the counter and I breathed in the café’s unique aroma: the coffee, the fresh pots of herbs on each table, the sweetness of freshly baked cookies and, of course, the zingy lemons from the pots in the conservatory at the back. It all added up to a welcoming mix of warmth and love and a sense of community and I felt the tension ease from my shoulders for the first time today.
‘Why you not at work?’ Nonna’s eyes roamed my face, full of concern. ‘You working-holic, even weekends. You like your nonna,’ she added with a tinge of pride.
‘No, I …’ I paused to smile my thanks as Doreen set a cappuccino and a ham-and-cheese toastie in front of me. ‘I quit my job. Walked out.’
They listened, agog, as I filled them in on the morning’s events.
‘Dicky heads.’ Nonna scowled, and Doreen turned away to serve two ramblers who wanted tea and toasted teacakes to help thaw them out after their chilly hike. ‘You their top worker. What is wrong with them?’
‘They’re dicky heads. Obviously,’ I said, winking at Doreen.
I loved Nonna’s loyalty. She had no idea what social media was, had never even heard of viral marketing and hadn’t a clue what I did all day at work, yet despite that, in her eyes, I was the bee’s knees.
‘Eh.’ She flicked her ubiquitous cloth at me, sending a shower of crumbs into the air. ‘Language.’
I laughed, dodging the cloth, and she wandered off to clear tables and chat to her customers, leaving me to enjoy my late lunch alone.
‘Here.’ Doreen tutted, holding out her hand for my cup. ‘You can’t drink that now.’
‘Oh. I see what you mean,’ I said, peering into it. The cappuccino had acquired a layer of fluff and crumbs.
Doreen made me another and leaned in towards me conspiratorially.
‘Her and that flippin’ cloth. I spend half my time clearing up after her. I don’t want to speak out of turn,’ she whispered, her face flushing, ‘but I’m a bit worried about Maria.’
‘What do you mean?’ I looked across at Nonna who was leaning heavily on one of the tables and wiping an arm across her brow. ‘Do you think she’s ill?’
Doreen flushed and shook her head.
‘Not exactly …’ She glanced around her nervously. ‘I probably shouldn’t say anything. It feels wrong. Forget it.’
‘You can’t just stop there,’ I whispered. ‘You’ve got me worried now. Come on, spill the beans.’
‘It’s just … It feels like …’ She blew out a breath and twisted the corner of her apron round in her hands. ‘OK. The truth is I don’t think she’s up to the job any more.’
‘What – running the café?’ My eyes widened.
‘Hold on a sec—’ She broke off to serve some customers who wanted to pay their bill.
I sipped my new cappuccino and frowned.
Doreen was a hard worker and extremely loyal to Nonna. She wouldn’t complain without good reason. She shut the old-fashioned till with a clatter and came back over.
‘Take this morning, for instance,’ she said, checking over her shoulder that Nonna wasn’t within earshot. ‘She gave out thirteen pounds in change to someone, instead of three.’
‘Easy mistake,’ I said diplomatically.
‘And I caught her filling the salt cellars with sugar last week.’
I glanced over to where Nonna was seemingly wiping a clean table with her dirty cloth and making it ten times worse.
‘Perhaps she needs new glasses?’ I whispered back.
Doreen shook her head sadly.
‘I thought I’d lost her yesterday; I found her half an hour later fast asleep on an upturned bucket in the courtyard. No, it’s not new glasses. She’s seventy-five. What she needs,’ she said, ‘is a rest. A permanent one. Called retirement.’
My stomach plummeted. Nonna was as rest averse as me and didn’t take kindly to advice, no matter how well intended.
‘Have you tried telling her?’ I said weakly.
‘She doesn’t listen to us.’ Doreen huffed. ‘I can’t even make her take a proper lunch break and she won’t let Juliet and me take over the evening cleaning, she sends us home at four and does it herself. We do bits when we can without her noticing. But the griddle is in desperate need of a deep clean and the loos …’ Her bottom lip trembled. ‘If the health inspector ever comes in, he’d have a field day. I can’t afford to lose this job, neither can Juliet.’
Juliet was the other part-time staff member who worked when Doreen was off. But Nonna had always kept numbers to a minimum, claiming that she did the work of two people. Perhaps those days were gone, but I didn’t want to be the one to break that to Nonna.
‘I understand and I’m sure it won’t come to that.’ I gave her a reassuring smile. ‘Er … shall I, er, mention it to Mum?’
‘Not a good idea,’ Doreen said hastily. ‘Remember the last time your mum tried to help?’
I grimaced. Who could forget? Mum had been made redundant from the council planning department and rather than look for another job had suggested that, seeing as Nonna was at retirement age, she should take over at the café. Nonna compromised and said Mum could work alongside her to learn the ropes. They fell out in the first week and Nonna gave Mum the sack. Things had been decidedly frosty at family get-togethers for the next six months.
‘The problem is,’ I said, trying to put it tactfully, ‘that they both like to be in charge.’
‘Don’t I know it?’ Doreen rolled her eyes. ‘Which reminds me: your mum is having her Women’s Institute meeting here in half an hour. I’d better go and set up the conservatory.’
I pondered Doreen’s problem while I finished my toastie and looked round the Lemon Tree Café with fresh eyes.
None of us had ever visited Nonna’s home town of Naples, but she said that the café reminded her of the house she grew up in. She didn’t have any living family, and she’d settled here in England with Mum in the 1960s after her husband died young. She came to the café as a waitress initially, then was promoted to manager and eventually took over the lease herself. The café was her little piece of Italy, she was fond of saying, and she never wanted to let it go.
The walls were lined with old Italian posters advertising olive oil, flour and lemons, the tables were heavy and dark, the mismatched chairs were a little worn in places, but comfortable enough. A plain wooden dresser bulged with Italian crockery featuring lemons and an eclectic collection of jugs and vases filled the gaps in between the pots of herbs. The effect was a cross between a Mediterranean garden and an old lady’s kitchen: shabby chic with the emphasis on shabby.
I could see what Doreen meant: the café was looking a bit tired and unloved. But it had so much potential. The place was in a perfect spot overlooking the village green; it had room on the pavement for a few tables in summer. It was a shame I was such a useless cook, or I could have offered to help out.
‘So what you gonna do now, eh?’ Nonna’s sharp voice in my ear jolted me out of my reverie.
She propped herself up on the counter to study me and promptly knocked my coffee cup off with her elbow. I caught it in my lap.
Doreen sighed despondently and handed me a napkin.
‘Well,’ I said brightly, ignoring that last thought about my culinary prowess, ‘I was rather hoping you’d let me work for you for a month.’
Nonna’s brow furrowed. ‘I don’t need—’
‘Free of charge, of course,’ I added. ‘You’d be doing me a favour. You know how I hate not being busy and it’ll look better on my CV than doing nothing.’
Doreen put her hands together in a hopeful prayer while Nonna gave my proposal an awfully long consideration.
‘Okey cokey,’ she finally grumbled and wagged a finger. ‘But remember who is boss. No interfering.’
I threw my arms round her neck and kissed her soft cheek.
‘Thank you!’ I winked at Doreen whose face could scarcely contain her pleasure. ‘And don’t worry about me interfering, I can’t even boil an egg, remember.’
It might have been my imagination but Doreen’s smile seemed to slip a bit at that.
I was quite looking forward to my first proper day in the café the next morning as I pulled up the collar on my coat against the biting wind and headed downhill from my tiny cottage. It would be a change from the deadlines and the demands of unrealistic clients who expected their brand to flourish after just a handful of sponsored tweets. This would be good for me; a bit of manual labour, an opportunity to brush up on my sorry cooking skills and, hopefully, the chance to have a subtle snoop at the running of the café while I was at it.
As I approached the village green, I spotted a woman with a streak of pink hair going into Ken’s Mini Mart. That had to be my old school friend Gina. She’d been a colourful character at school too. It would be good to catch up with her now that I would be spending more time in the village. She’d moved back to Barnaby last year, the same as I had, after splitting up with her husband. But what with doing up the cottage and her setting up a new child-minding business, we’d barely had the chance to get together. I waved to Adrian, the landlord of the Cross Keys pub on the opposite side of the green, who was leaning in the pub doorway smoking an early-morning cigarette and chatting away to a couple of people while their dogs chased each other round in circles on the frosty grass.
It was blissfully peaceful compared to my normal commute into Derby; I could hear nothing but the birds twittering in the hawthorn trees and the gentle trickle of the stream which bordered the green. None of the other shops were open yet. There were four including the café: Biddy’s Pets, The Heavenly Gift Shop and Nina’s Flowers. I was smiling at a handwritten sign in Biddy’s window – Pregnant rabbit for sale! Eight (approx.) for the price of one! – when my phone beeped with a text. I grinned when I saw it was from my friend, Verity.
Good luck today! And if all else fails, serve ’em fish finger sandwiches xx
As housemates, we’d hardly spent any time in our kitchen; we’d invariably relied on mountains of toast or, if we were really pushing the boat out, Verity’s speciality: fish finger sandwiches. Funny that we’d both ended up in food-related worlds: Verity at the cookery school and living with a chef, and me at the café. Mine, of course, was strictly on a temporary basis but she had always been a foodie at heart. It had only been when her best friend Mimi died suddenly, leaving a husband, Gabe, and little boy, Noah, that Verity had fallen out of love with cooking. Thankfully her passion returned when the opportunity to run the Plumberry School of Comfort Food came along.
The sign on the café door still said ‘Closed’ but the lights were on. Good old Doreen had come in early to show me the ropes. Which was just as well, I thought, pushing open the glass door and hearing the bell ding, because I was going to need all the help I could get.
While Nonna prepped the jacket potato fillings, Doreen had given me a cursory tour of the kitchen, pointing out all the bits that needed cleaning or in some cases replacing, introduced me to a rather bad-mannered Italian coffee machine and put me in charge of the griddle and making toast. I was surprisingly nervous and very relieved when the first customers through the door were my sister Lia and her six-month-old son Arlo.
‘Oh,’ said Lia, blinking at me in surprise. She peeled Arlo’s coat off him and pulled out various pieces of equipment and toys from a voluminous quilted bag. ‘You’re working here.’
‘I’m volunteering my services for a while,’ I said, cursing myself for not texting her last night. I’d been up until midnight working on my CV (and also watching YouTube videos of how to make patterns in the top of cappuccinos). I took Arlo from her and gave him a cuddle while she mixed milk powder with water in a baby bottle. ‘Just until I find another job.’
‘You won’t be on the shelf for long,’ said Lia when I’d explained why I’d walked out of Digital Horizons. ‘The job shelf, I mean,’ she added, going pink and then realizing that that made it worse. Her blush spread down her neck to her bosom as she held her arms out to take Arlo back for his feed. ‘Or any shelf.’
‘Thank you,’ I said drily. ‘I think.’
My inability to hold on to a boyfriend was a regular topic of conversation in our family. They all thought I was too choosy but the truth was that I preferred short, fun and flirty relationships that ended well before the ‘L’ word got bandied about. Love did strange things to people, in my experience, and I was better off without it.
‘And it’ll be lovely to see more of Auntie Rosie, won’t it?’ she said, smothering Arlo’s face with kisses. ‘We pop in most days. In fact, I feel a bit bad, Nonna. If I’d known you needed help, I’d have offered.’
‘I don’t need help,’ Nonna muttered darkly, plonking herself at Lia’s table.
‘Nonna’s doing me a favour, to keep me busy,’ I said smoothly. ‘And you’re already busy enough with Arlo.’
Lia looked like she was about to argue, so I swiftly pulled my new order pad out of my apron pocket and grinned.
‘So, madam, can I get you some tea and toast?’
‘Please. Just one slice, though,’ she said settling Arlo on to her lap.
‘And espresso for me,’ Nonna added. ‘Double.’
I hurried off with my first order and crossed my fingers that the coffee machine would be gentle with me.
‘I got the toilet rolls you asked for, Maria,’ said Doreen, bending to press a kiss to the top of Arlo’s head.
‘Thank you, thank you,’ said Nonna vaguely.
Doreen hovered at the table and cleared her throat.
‘They cost four pounds for nine rolls,’ she added.
Doreen stood there for a few more seconds and then turned away and disappeared into the kitchen, muttering something under her breath.
I took the tray over and set a plate of toast and some curls of butter in front of Lia who held up her hand.
‘Don’t tempt me with real butter. I’m trying to shift some timber,’ she said, sucking in her stomach. ‘And I’d better just have half a slice.’
She was still carrying her baby weight, but then Arlo was only little. And she might be a bit rounder in places but I’d never seen her look lovelier.
‘Get away!’ Nonna flicked her cloth at her. ‘You eating for two.’
‘I am,’ she agreed. ‘Still. That’s the problem. He’s been eating for himself for some time now.’
My sister was beautiful. She had fine golden curls, soft pink cheeks and a sunny personality which drew people to her like bumblebees to a sunflower. Whereas my black hair was cut into an angular, easy-to-control bob, I was quick-tempered and sharp-tongued. She went with the flow, opting for an easy life, whereas I was more like a spawning salmon: determined to swim upstream even if it killed me. We both had Mum’s brown eyes, shared a deep-rooted passion for Tom Hiddleston and ice cream of any flavour and alongside Verity, who I rarely saw these days, she was undoubtedly my best friend.
Arlo made a contented slurping noise and my heart melted at the sight of him. He was chugging away at his bottle without a care in the world, one hand wound in his fluffy curls, the other cradling his bottle protectively. Maybe I was biased, but my nephew was the most adorable bundle of tiny boyhood on the planet.
‘I remember your mamma when she was that small.’ Nonna’s wrinkled face softened at the memory. ‘Before she learn to answer back. Happy times.’
‘It must have been so hard for you, losing Nonno so young and having to bring up a baby by yourself,’ I said, stroking a finger across my nephew’s velvety cheek.
Nonna picked up a teaspoon and stirred her coffee so roughly that it slopped into the saucer. ‘Long time ago now.’
‘I swear I’d have lost my marbles in the first few weeks if I hadn’t had Ed there to fetch me a cup of tea during those long night feeds.’ Lia bit into her toast and closed her eyes. ‘Oh heaven.’
Arlo pushed his bottle away and began to struggle to sit up. Lia crammed the rest of her toast in her mouth to begin the burping routine.
‘Don’t rush, let me have him.’ I put the little boy over my shoulder, snuggling into his neck and inhaling his sweet milky scent.
‘Look at you.’ Lia brushed the crumbs from her cleavage. ‘You’re a natural.’
‘A natural auntie, maybe,’ I said, forcing a smile.
Motherhood had been part of the life I’d imagined for myself once but now I wasn’t so sure. For the last ten years I’d thrown myself into my professional life instead and I suppose now I was married to my career. I couldn’t see that changing anytime soon either.
A few gentle pats to his back and Arlo produced a couple of soft burps and we all cheered. At which point he decided to g
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