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A Summer Bay Wedding

Guest TelephotoMarigold

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Roman picked up his watch from the dresser. He found his hand reaching down and tugging at the first drawer. He was surprised when it opened. He went to shut it when he looked inside. She had brought the identity discs here out of the way so that they wouldn’t confront him at home. He didn’t know whether he was relieved or upset to find out how sneaky she was and then grinned, as he was now looking in the one drawer she’d asked him not to go in. He pulled them out and put them in his pocket with a wry smile on his face and then saw a moth eaten teddy bear. He chuckled softly as he recognised it. Travel Bear. The bear had been around the world with her since she was little and had sat on the pillow of her bunk in her tent in Afghanistan. Her brother had teased her about it and how she took it everywhere. Well everywhere except Summer Bay, he acknowledged slowly. Was that a good omen? He pushed the drawer closed and went out to join her in the lounge.

“Ready to see my studio?” she asked him.

He smiled but felt his shoulders had tensed up and it was his fault for being nosy.

“Yes.” He told her and bent down to kiss her.

She held out her hands and he helped her to her feet. She was once again barefoot and her hair was loose around her shoulders. He liked the way she was looking. Exactly the same as she dressed and looked in Summer Bay. He couldn’t help making the analogy. He had never been unsure about any relationship, not even the drama with Martha. But this was different.

She stepped forward and pressed herself close to him for a kiss and he obliged. She tugged on his hand and led him downstairs to the studio.

Along one wall she had a row of lockers, similar to those found in a school and she opened a couple and pulled out some albums.

“These are where I have most of my prints.” She told gesturing to the expanse. She pointed out to metal shelving on the other wall, where storage boxes were stacked.

“I have bigger shots over there. And behind you a fireproof safe that holds discs and memory cards.”

He was impressed with the set up he had to admit. She looked proud of her work. He looked through the albums commenting on the odd photo.

“What’s the matter?” she asked him after a few minutes.

“Nothing.” He pinned a smile on his face hoping that she wouldn’t notice that it was false.

“Uh huh.” She said. “Come on.”

She dragged him over to a platform.

“Right, take your T shirt off.“ She instructed.

“What?” he asked puzzled.

“I’m going to take your photo and I want you t shirt off and also your shoes. I want you barefoot.”

“El” he protested but looked at her face.

She put her hands on her hips and just looked at him.

He stripped off the top in a fluid movement and slipped out of his trainers and pealed off the socks too. She guided him to the spot she wanted him and reached down and undid the top button of his jeans.

“El?” he questioned.

“Trust me.” She told him. “Right put your hands in your pockets.” She instructed.

He did so encountering the Identification discs, a guilty expression crept on his face and he frowned.

“No none of that. I want you to smoulder. Imagine I’ve just left wet towels on the floor” she told him and he laughed.

“Uh huh.” She said.

She walked over and picked up one of her cameras, checking the battery and settings for a moment. A click of a switch put on a couple of the studio lights and she moved him slightly.

“Ok, Smoulder!” she instructed, “Think wet towels, burnt toast “ she told him.

He laughed.

“I can’t.” he said.

“What my leaving piles of clothes on the floor doesn’t tick you off?” she asked.

He laughed again, unaware she had clicked a number of shots.

“No not anymore.” He admitted reluctantly.

She laughed and walked over to him pressing a kiss to his lips.

“Do you do that with all your models?” he asked.

“Maybe!” she told him with a quick grin. “Why are you jealous? I have lots of male models come through this place.” She told him with a wicked cat got the cream look on her face.

Roman looked over at her and pulled her towards him.

“Uh huh.” He said and kissed her long and hard.

She lowered her hand and caressed him, running her hand over his chest and stomach before quickly stepping away.

He looked over at her and watched as she quickly raised her camera. She took a quick half a dozen shots.

“Thanks!” she told him.

“What, is that it?” he asked.

“Almost.” She said. She walked over to her laptop and opened it up. She connected the camera to it and after it powered up she clicked through a number of options and he saw his image spread out on the display screen in front of him. He’d assumed it was just a bench top.

“It’s hooked up to my laptop so I can view the photos in more detail.” She explained.

She pressed though another few options and he saw himself displayed in black and white. And she was right he did smoulder, he thought proudly.

“Wow! I’m so impressed right now.” He told her.

“Really?” she asked. She typed a few more commands into the laptop and suddenly he appeared taller and model thin with bigger muscles.

“Uh huh.” He said.

She looked over at him and smiled before typing something else into the laptop and suddenly he looked down at a rather well endowed image of himself.

“Now is that wishful thinking on your part?” he asked folding his arms across his bare chest.

She laughed even as she shook her head.

“I rather like what you’ve got now.” She admitted.

He put his arms around her and pulled her against him, resting his head on top of her shoulder.

“Thank you for sharing this with me.” He said softly.

She turned in his arms and kissed him.

“Its not a sacrifice.” She told him. “I still have this.”

“How did you know that is part of what I was thinking?” he asked.

“I’m a witch and I can read your thoughts.” She said.

“Oh yeah! What am I thinking now?” he asked.

“You’re thinking if I can make that.” She began pointing to a certain part on the picture. “Any bigger so you can print it off and show Miles.” She said.

“Hey!” he muttered. He had thought that …briefly.

“And now you are thinking how long is this going to take because you want to make love to me again.”

He laughed and picked her up carrying her up the stairs.

“You can show me the rest later.” He said softly.

“Put me down I have to sort out my equipment.” she said with a husky laugh.

“I know the feeling and I’m hoping you can give me a hand with it.” he said grinning.

She burst out laughing as he carried her through to the bedroom.

“You do realise that we won’t be able to do this next week.” She said to him.

“What make like bunny rabbits?” he asked grinning.

She laughed and pushed at his shoulders.

“Yes!” she said. “And I really do need to sort out my camera.” She pouted.

He placed her gently on her feet and smiled at her.

“Go on then.” He followed her back downstairs and watched as she cleared the photo on the top and chose a couple of him to print off. She pointed to the printer and he collected the prints while she powered down the laptop and stored the camera back on the shelf unit.

He saw a door the other side of the studio.

“What’s that?” he asked.

“My darkroom for when I go old school.” She told him. She placed a hand on her belly. “Sorry I can’t show you I don’t know what chemicals are ok.”

He smiled at her being protective.

“Speaking of the baby did I hear you in the bathroom this morning?” he asked. “In fact the past few mornings?”

She nodded.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” he asked.

“Because I still feel ok and I’m eating. If it were anything serious I would have done. But this has been like our honeymoon and I wanted to enjoy it.” she told him.

He looked over at her.

She met his gaze evenly.

“I believe you.” He said. “And yes this has been like our honeymoon. I can’t keep my hands off you!” he grinned.

“I had noticed.” She said softly. “There all done.” She told him and started towards the stairs.

“How about we go out for a bit?” he suggested, despite the fact he wanted to whisk her straight upstairs.

She laughed.

“How about a cup of really fattening hot chocolate, a soppy romantic film and then snuggling on the sofa?” she suggested.

“I think I could manage that!” he told her.

He walked over and collected his shoes and top and walked up the stairs with her. She led him into the kitchen and showed him how she made her chocolate. Somehow it involved lots of cuddles and kisses and the first pan boiled over on the cooker.

“What’s up?” he asked her halfway through the film.

“Text message from Ruby.” She told him. “She got my number from Nic’s phone. Said Nic is having a crisis. She’s cleaning.”

Roman’s head shot up.

“Nicole cleaning?” he asked.

“Yes.” She confirmed.

“My daughter Nicole?” Roman asked.

“Do you know any other Nicoles?” she asked him lifting an eyebrow.

Roman blushed when he realised that he may have done at some point.

“Er no.” he said his voice lacking conviction. “So she’s cleaning?”

“Yes. Is this a bad thing?” Ella asked him.

“Well lets see you’ve been in her bedroom.” He told her.

“Perhaps we ought to go home?” Ella suggested.

Roman looked torn.

“Maybe we should just ring and check she’s ok.” He provided an alternative.

She handed him her phone.

He handed it back.

“Might be better coming from another woman.” He said to her.

“Coward.” She told him with a laugh. She pressed a quick kiss on his lips before going into the bedroom to ring Nicole.

She dialled her number and waited.

“Ella!” Nic said.

“Hi Daughter! I was just thinking about you and thought I’d give you a call!” El said into the phone. “Is that the vacuum in the background?” she asked.

“Wait, hang on. Just a sec.” Nic said with a trace of panic in her voice.

The background noise eased.

“Ella it’s all too much I have no idea what I’m doing.” Nic said finally.

“Well do you think you could stop whispering Nic?” Ella asked.

“I can’t. Because they will know that I’m talking to you and I’m trying to be good and not let them know I’m having a meltdown.” Nic said quickly. “I’m hiding in my bedroom right now because they keep talking about the wedding and I can’t do it.”

Nic paused.

“I can’t find a caterer and the material for the bridesmaids and I kissed Aden. And it’s all too much. How was I going to know that the date would be brought up?” Nic started crying. “And I want you home so you can help me. But that is really selfish.”

“Ok Nicole, take a breath. First off I’ll sort the caterer. There is a market here that does wonderful material. Why don’t you Annie and Ruby come here for the weekend? Travel here Friday morning and we’ll show you around and leave you to it. You can go out and have some fun and relax for a bit.”

“Ella I can’t. It wouldn’t be fair on you or Dad.” Nic said softly.

“Well we have to leave on Friday to go pick up Mike from school for the weekend anyway.” She said logically. “Tell Annie and Ruby and see what they think. And it is my idea Nic, you didn’t contact me!” she told the girl.

“I’ll let you know.” Nicole whispered. “Anyway what are you and Dad doing with yourselves?” she asked then laughed. “Forget I asked.”

Ella laughed.

“At the moment I have so totally Notebooked your Father!” she said to the girl.

“You didn’t?” Nic laughed.

“I told him that it was set during the Second World War and he fell for it thinking he was going to be watching some scenes of violence!” Ella laughed.

“Every time I think you can’t get any sneakier you always manage to impress me!” Nicole laughed.

“Thank you daughter! Anyway I better get back to him.” Ella said.

“Wait. El, I need, no never mind.” Nic said.

“What?” Ella said quickly.

“A photographer for the wedding.” Nicole said finally. “I was going to ring round but I wondered if you knew of anyone who could help.”

Ella laughed.

“My assistant Yannis could do it easily.” She told her. “What else?” she asked Nic.

“Flowers.” She said. “I forgot flowers. I thought about cakes and dresses and suits and asking Amy-Belle and Brett and invitations and I forgot flowers. We’ll need to decorate the church and the hotel.” Her voice rose as she went through the monologue.

“Nic breath. We’ll sort those out next week. The hotel should have an idea of who to use and if the church is doing more weddings that day it will have lots of flowers anyway. Speak to the Pastor.” Ella said logically. “Speak to Ruby and Annie it’ll do you good to get away for a bit!” she told her. “I’ll speak to you soon.”

“Bye El. Thank you Step-mama!” Nic said.

“Bye daughter.” She said and hung up.

She walked back into the lounge with a thoughtful expression on her face.

“Hey how is she?” Roman asked.

“Panicking I think is the right term to use.” El told him.

“Do we need to go home?” He asked.

She walked over and sat next to him snuggling up to him. He put his arm around her and kissed her softly.

“No I’ve suggested that she comes here on Friday with the girls for a mini break. If she says yes I’ll organise a pamper session for them.” El told him.

He reached for the remote and restarted the film.

“I have to say I’m not seeing a lot of action in this movie.” He commented. “I thought you said it was a war movie?”

She chuckled.

“I believe I said that it was set during the second world war.” She told him.

“For about 30 minutes!” he grumbled.

“Yes.” She looked up at him and reached for a throw off the back of the sofa, pulling it around her. “I didn’t go into specifics!”

“Yes and now I know why!” he muttered.

He pulled her to him.

“Hey you feel cold.” He said.

“I know. It’s a good job you are hot stuff.” She told him with a smile.

“That would explain why you keep warming your feet on me!” he griped.

She looked at him again.

“You are a big tough guy you can handle it!” she said.

He put a pillow across his lap and she lay her head on it and he put his arm around her.

“Are you feeling rough?” he asked quickly.

“No darling I’m just worn out.” She confirmed. She reached for his hand and squeezed it reassuringly.

“Why don’t you go lay down?” he suggested.

“I will soon but first I want to snuggle some more.” She yawned. “And if I suggest you come to bed for a snuggle I don’t think we will get much rest!”

He laughed.

“True!” he confessed. He moved the throw so that it covered her and noted that within minutes she had fallen asleep. He stroked her hair and dropped a kiss on her temple.

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She woke up slowly and groaned.

Looking around she saw that Roman was sitting on the other sofa with a cup of coffee and reading a book.

“Hey.” He said.

She moaned feeling her stomach somersault on her.

“Not the usual greeting I get.” He said.

He walked over to the kitchen and got her a glass of water.

“Sip this.” He said, helping her ease into a sitting position, sitting beside her.

“How long was I asleep?” she asked her voice still drowsy.

“A couple of hours.” He told her. “Are you feeling ok?” he asked her.

She smiled at him.

“Slightly sick but ok!” she confessed. “I think I need to eat something.”

“Probably. I tried to wake you earlier to eat a sandwich or something but you were out of it.”

She smiled again.

“I had this dream about someone checking my pulse.” She murmured.

Roman looked sheepish.

“Uh huh” he said.

“Can I get some toast?” she asked. “I’ll go freshen up in the bathroom.”

She stood up and stretched.

He stood too and pulled her into his arms and held her.

“Hey what’s this?” she asked.

“I just needed a hug.” He told her.

“I notebooked you didn’t I?” she grinned.

He coughed suddenly trying to cover up that he was feeling emotional.

“If you go into Mike’s room you’ll find a load of action films.” She said to him with a chuckle.

He pulled away.

“You’re telling me that now? After you made me watch that other film?” He moaned.

She chuckled and pressed a quick kiss to his cheek before moving away and into the bathroom. She took a quick shower and pulled on a bathrobe before walking back into the lounge. He had found a pile of films he had stacked by the tv.

“Lethal weapon?” she asked.

“No.” He said, “Lethal Weapon 1,2, 3 and 4.” He grinned.

She laughed and sat next to him on the sofa.

He walked into the kitchen and came back with a glass of juice for her and cheese on toast with a side salad.

She sighed and looked over at him.

“How did you know?” she asked. “If I didn’t think it possible to be more in love with you this would have me falling head over heels all over again.” She sighed blissfully as she bit into the toast.

“See I said you only love me because I can cook.” He grumbled.

“Yeah, that too.” She grinned saucily.

He put his arm around had and pulled her closer to him. She snuggled automatically and he pressed play on the remote. She decided not to tell him that the films were hers, Mike must have borrowed them at some point.

Nic had cooked.

Then Ruby had ordered more Pizza.

They sat at the table.

Annie picked up a slice and bit into it.

“Are you sure that’s what she said?” Annie said again. “For all of us to go there?”

“Yup. And I didn’t phone her.” Nic said.

Ruby and Annie had exchanged a quick guilty look. It had been Annie’s idea for them to get in touch with Ella and Ruby had sent the text.

“What does Geoff think?” Ruby asked.

“He thinks that anything that stops me from trying to cook or clean or cry will be good.” Nic said with a suspicious sniff.

“Did you suggest that more sex would do that?” Ruby asked.

Nic looked up and blushed.

“Yes, he replied with he would take me out for a run or too the gym so I could use up the extra energy.” She muttered. “Like am I a pet dog to be taken out for a run?” she added standing up and clearing the glasses from the table and emptying the half-drunk contents she washed them up.

“Er Nic, we were still drinking.” Annie said finally.

Nicole looked over at the table and then at her hands. She was wearing rubber gloves and an apron.

“Ok when did I become a Stepford wife?” she muttered.

“I don’t know but it is kind of scary. I vote that we go.” Annie told her.

Ruby grinned.

“It’s not kind of scary I’m bloody terrified.” She laughed. “You hoovered my room at 6am this morning. Of course I vote we go.”

“Right then Friday morning we go. I’ll go and phone Ella to let her know.” Nic said and moved over to the phone. She absentmindedly used the dishcloth to wipe the phone and the wall around it. Then sighing she wiped the paintwork around the door.

“Er Nic.” Annie said.

“You did that already.” Ruby added. “Phone Ella before we have to have an intervention or hire you out as a housekeeper.” She grinned at Nicole’s expression.

Nicole dialled.

Ella picked up the phone and handed it to Roman to answer while she ate a piece of the toast.

“Hello?” Roman said.

“Dad?” Nic questioned.

“Ella is eating at the moment.” He explained.

“We are coming up on Friday.” Nic said into the phone, rubbing at a tough spot of dirt on the wall.

“That’s good.” He said. “Ella is looking forward to showing you around.”

“Er Dad.” Nic began.

“Yes?” he asked.

“Where do you keep the window cleaner?” she asked.

“Under the sink.” He replied without thinking.

“Good.” She said and hung up rubbing at the spot on the wall again.

“Er Nic what did he say?” Annie said sharing a concerned look with Ruby.

“That it would be ok.. Ah ah. Got you.” She said to the wall and its now clean surface. She turned and walked over to the sink and searched amongst the products until she found the window cleaner.

Ella looked over at Roman.

“What?” she asked.

“The girls are coming and I think Nic is in trouble.” He said looking over at her. “She wanted to know where the window cleaner was.”

Ella laughed and stood walking into the kitchen she dragged out a pen and paper.

“What are you doing?” he asked her puzzled.

“I thought I’d make a list of jobs that need doing while she’s here.” She said.

Roman vaulted over the back of the sofa and ran over to her.

She tried running away but he caught her easily and pressed her close laughing and kissing her at the same time.

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Ella picked up her cup and took a sip. She and Yannis were sitting and going through the diary and looking at commitments for the next few months and beyond that. She was lucky in that she was able to pick and choose her assignments.

“One more thing Yannis.”

“Yes?” he said raising an eyebrow at her.

“My stepdaughter is getting married.” She began.

“And you need a photographer?” Yannis guessed.

“Yup.” She smiled. “Do you fancy it?”

“I do.” He said and they looked at each other and laughed.

She wrote down the date, time and location for him and he tucked it in his own organiser.

“Now your last chance. You are happy if I use the studio to do some work aren’t you?” Yannis asked her.

“Yes I am. “ she nodded. “I would be offended if you went anywhere else you know that!” she told him. “Now I’m going to take my husband sightseeing.”

She placed a quick kiss on his cheek and left him to finish up while she went upstairs to find Roman.

“Hey!” she called.

He turned around at the sound of her voice.

“Hey. All finished?” he asked.

“Yes and he is happy to do the photography for the wedding.” She told him with a smile.

She walked over to him and kissed him slowly on his lips.

“Very nice.” He told her. “Almost makes up for falling asleep on me last night.”

“Uh huh. Perhaps I needed my rest!” she said.

He handed her a piece of toast and she bit it and chewed slowly.

“Thank you.” She smiled at him.

He reached out his hand and she walked around the kitchen counter to move into his arms.

“Are you feeling ok?” he asked her. “You’ve slept a lot and I heard you again this morning.”

“I know I wasn’t too well this morning.” Ella said with a shrug.

“That’s one word for it.” he said and she rested her cheek on him and felt his arms give her a squeeze.

“I want to take you around the city.” She told him.

“Well how about you save it until the weekend and take us and the girls around.” He suggested.

“Uh huh. Are you trying to get me to rest today?” she asked.

“Yes please.” He said.

“I need to go see Harry at least.” She said. “I told Nic that I would sort out the caterer and Harry is the best person to talk to about it.”

“We will go later.” He agreed.

She lifted her face and he took the hint and kissed her.

“I love you.” She told him.

“That’s good because I happen to love you too.” He told her.

She caught hold of his hand and led him over to the sofa.

“What are you plotting?” he asked her.

“Nothing sinister.” She told him, grinning.

She pushed him back and he sat slowly on the sofa and then she climbed on his lap straddling him. His arms went around her automatically and he kissed her.

“I think I like this.” He told her with a grin.

She laughed huskily.

“I’m sure you do.” She tugged up his T-shirt and pulled it over his head.

She stroked his arms and chest and continued to kiss him deeply. He tried to stroke her in turn but she pulled away.

“Nope.” she told him laughing.

She moved his hands and placed them on her waist.

She continued with her gentle massage of his chest, before she stood up.

“Lay down” she ordered. “On your front.” She added, when she saw his eyebrows lift.

He did so and she once again straddled him, across his prone form. She let her hands glide over his back rubbing his muscles.

“I know I like this.” He almost purred.

“Uh huh.” She told him.

She lowered her head and pressed gentle kisses down his spine.

“I definitely like this.” He told her.

Her tongue slipped between her lips and she let it glide up his spine. She pressed her kisses to the side of his neck and blew softly on a special spot in the way she knew he liked.

“You are not playing fair.” He said. “I so need to touch you.” He moaned.

She laughed.

“No. This is my time to play.” She whispered.

He chuckled.

“I’m liking this.” He said.

Nic stepped into the florists and looked around. She looked down and saw that the floor could do with a clean and resolved to stop doing that everywhere she went. Ruby and Annie had taken it upon themselves to remove all the cleaning products from the house and the vacuum too. Geoff had woken her at 6am and made her go for a run. Technically though fast walk would be a more accurate description. He’d also promised her a designer handbag if she went to gym with him later and she was tempted.

“Hello, you must be Nicole.” A voice cut through her daydream.

She looked up and saw a plump woman with her hair in a bun.

“Hello, yes I am.” Nic confirmed.

The woman shook her hand and said.

“I’m Laura Windsor, Pastor Frank’s wife. It is nice to meet you.”

Nic smiled.

“Good to meet you. I’ve spoken to Pastor Frank a couple of times.” Nic said feeling awkward.

“I know. It’s ok Nicole this isn’t some kind of test. I run this shop and do most of the flowers for the church that’s why he sent you here.” She told her.

Nic sighed.

“Sorry I’m just really tense and nervous. The wedding is 4 weeks away and I have so much to do. I thought I had a handle on it but well things seem to have run away with me. “ Nic babbled. “My mum was helping me but she’s just found out she’s having a baby and so my dad has taken her away for a rest and I can’t do this.”

In her confused state she didn’t even realise she had referred to Ella as her mother.

“What is the most important thing?” she was asked.

“Geoff.” Nic answered back immediately without thinking about it.

“Well then everything will fall into place.” She was told.

Laura placed a comforting hand on her arm and led her through to the back room where she had a patio table set with a tea tray on it.

“I tend to find my brides can be a little tense so I bring them here and give them a nice cup of tea before we get started talking about flowers.” Laura told her.

Nic laughed.

“I’m not a little tense.” She replied. “I’m a lot tense.”

Laura poured the tea and handed Nic a cup. Nic found herself pulling out a tissue and wiping the rim of the saucer with it. She glanced up and saw Laura’s knowing smile.

“Ok, so I’ve become a little wired too.” Nic said. “They kept trying to calm me down with Tea but I think the caffeine is making it worse.” She sighed. “And I never clean.”

Laura laughed.

“I thought I saw you inspecting my floor when you came in.” she said to her.

Nic flushed guiltily.

Laura reached over and patted her hand.

“It’s quite alright. We clean every night because during the day flowers get delivered and the floor becomes a mess.” Laura explained.

“Oh you…” Nic began.

She laughed feeling suddenly less tense.

“Thank you for helping.” She told Laura. “I hope I can do that when Geoff becomes a pastor.”

“You’ll be fine. Geoff has told us all about you.” Laura said. “And the fact that you have made it through some horrifying things and always come back together shows how strong your relationship is.”

Nic blushed then giggled.

“Yeah we have kinda been through a lot.” Nic confirmed.

“And you’ve supported his faith and encouraged it despite having none of your own.” Laura said.

“Oh.” Nic said huskily before she blushed again and tried to think of something to say.

Laura laughed at the expression on her face.

“Don’t worry Nicole.” She told her.

“But is it wrong? To be a pastor’s wife and not believe in God?” she asked, realising this had been on her mind for a long time. She didn’t realise that she had been worrying that her Princess like ways would hold him back.

“Well I’ve done it for 17 years.” She was told.

Nic’s head snapped up at the comment.

“Seriously?” she asked.

“Oh yes, I’m a hippie. Vegetarian. Make my own clothes. Tie Dye. Love beads. Hippie.” Laura told her. “At one point I had my own kiln and insisted that all the plates we used I made myself. Luckily that didn’t last long. I hated the clay under my fingernails.”

Nicole laughed.

“Seriously. Oh my god.” She said and then clapped a hand over her mouth.

Laura looked at her for a moment before they both burst out laughing.

“Finally Frank says to me. The only thing you like doing are your flowers so go sort out a shop and get doing them.” Laura explained when they had sobered. “So here I am.”

Nic reached into her bag and pulled out a white envelope. She opened the envelope and then the tissue paper inside it.

Laura looked over at the pressed flower.

“I want some of these in my bouquet.” Nic said softly.

Laura reached for the tissue and took a look at the flower.

“That’s a blue Dampiera.” She looked up at Nic. “Not usually found around this area.”

Nic smiled.

“He picked it for me when he proposed. So I want this as my something blue.” She explained.

“What a lovely thought. I will do my best.” Laura promised. “Have you had any thought what you want the bouquet to look like?” she asked.

“My dress is a fairytale dress so I want something magical. I was thinking some baby’s breath, which I know is totally 80’s, but I like it. And I’m going for gold as a theme. So in the bridesmaids arrangements I was thinking using gold ribbon.” Nic pulled out her organiser and showed a number of arrangements she had taken out of the various bridal magazines.

Laura stood and picked up her album.

“These are the flowers in the church. As you know there are two weddings before yours and they are going with this theme." she pointed out.

Nic looked at the arrangements.

“Will there be time to add something to them?” she looked over to the other woman.

“Yes. What did you have in mind?” Laura said.

“Well how about tall gold candles in the centre and remove the white ribbon and add some gold ribbon instead. If we pick up one of the flowers from that arrangement for the men’s buttonholes it will tie in both the theme and the flowers.” Nic mused.

“I like that idea.” Laura said to her nodding.

“I’m going to the city tomorrow it will be easier if I pick up the ribbon because I will be getting the material for the bridesmaid dresses at the same time and I can match it up.”

Nic quickly wrote ribbon on her list.

“Will you be wanting headpieces?” she was asked.

Nic shrugged.

“At the moment until I get the material I really don’t know.” Nic told her. “I’m having a very expensive tiara” Nic grinned.

The other woman looked over at her.

“Oh, and I’m having my kinda niece and nephew as part of it so I might need a basket of rose petals for Amy-belle to throw about.” Nic added after looking at the list again.

“Well how about we go for creamy white ones and I add some glitter to them. And maybe some golden confetti shapes.” Laura suggested.

“Wonderful.” Nic said with a sigh. “Thank you Laura. This has been good.”

Laura looked over at the girl.

“The broom and mop bucket are over there if you really need to do the floor.” Laura told her.

Nic laughed.

“Was I so obvious?” she asked.

“No of course not, aside from the 50 million glances at the floor and the 5 millions sighs.” Laura laughed at the expression crossing Nicole’s face.

“I’m sorry Laura but I really do have to clean your floor. I bet I’m one bride you are never going to forget.” Nic sighed and walked over to collect the broom and started sweeping.

“Nicole I’m sure that you and I are going to be friends!” Laura said. “I hate cleaning.”

Nic sighed again.

“Me too, but I seem to be getting better at it these days.”

“Ok how long was I asleep?” Roman asked.

“An hour or so.” She told him grinning. She blew on his neck again and snuggled closer.

He sighed.

“Don’t worry I won’t tell anyone.” She grinned some more.

“Tell anyone what?” he asked grumpily.

“That you fell asleep during a sensual massage just when I’d decide to put you out of your misery and have sex with you.”

He tugged her even closer and pressed a kiss on her lips.

“It was sensual relaxing massage.” He grouched, emphasising the relaxing part of the statement.

“I guess you aren’t 26 anymore.” She said with a sigh.

“No I’m not.” He told her. “I’ve learnt a few things since then.”

He slid his hand up her vest top and started caressing her back.

“I thought you wanted me to rest?” she asked him.

“Yeah I’m thinking you should probably go to bed.” He grinned.

She pulled away and eased off the sofa. She picked up his T shirt from where she’d tossed it earlier and handed it to him.

“Come on we are going out before you get any ideas.” She told him.

He sat up and rubbed his hand over his face before pulling on the T shirt.

“I’ve already got lots of ideas.” He told her standing up. “Would you like to hear some?” he asked.

“No!” she exclaimed. “Well at least not right now I’m hungry and we need to get some fresh air inside of us.” She amended.

He laughed and pulled her to him for a long kiss.

“Are you sure?” he asked.

She smiled and reached out to caress him slowly and teasingly.

“Quite sure.” She murmured stepping away from him and picking up her bag and heading toward the door.

“Ella!” he roared chasing after her.

She laughed and ran down the stairs.

He caught up with her by the bottom door.

“Hey you. Don’t run on the stairs.” He told her catching hold of her hand.

She grinned.

“I thought I would get a warning before you went into over protective.” She told him.

He smiled and kissed her.

“Sorry.” He muttered.

”Uh huh.” She said. “Come on lets go grab something to eat in Harry’s then we’ll have a look and find something to do this afternoon.”

She caught his look.

“That doesn’t involve a bed.”

She caught his look again.

“Fine, which doesn’t involve a bed or sex or petting or…..” she ran out of descriptors.

“Really, I bet I can still find something!” he told her.

She blushed a fiery red colour.

“I know.” She said to him. “Why do you think I married you?” she asked grinning.

“You are so going to pay for being cheeky!” he warned.

She tugged the door closed and locked it

They walked slowly to Harry’s.

“Elizabeth. Two visits in one week?” Harry said as soon as he saw her.

“Is that unusual?” Roman asked the other man.

“That it is so few, yes!” Harry grinned at them.

Roman laughed and watched as she blushed again.

“Harry we so need to talk.” Ella told him, her grinning back spoiled trying to go for a stern tone of voice.

“Sure thing. What would you like to eat first?” he asked.

“I’m not sure I need to look at a menu.” She said and realised that was a first. Normally she adored one of his pasta dishes with lots of cream and garlic, but thinking about that made her feel slight queasy.

She grinned and patted her stomach.

Roman looked over at her and saw this smile on her face he didn’t think he’d seen before.

She looked at him her mouth open.

Reaching quickly for his hand she pressed it on her belly. He felt a slight movement against his fingers, almost a ripple.

“Isn’t it too early?” he asked.

She shook her head unable to speak.

He smiled at her.

“Wow.” He said eventually, pulling her into his arms for a very public display of affection. He led them away to a table at the back. Ignoring the spattering of applause from the other customers.

“That’s our baby.” She said to him, her eyes sparkling as they sat down.

He looked at her and said.


She grinned.

“I hope that is not a name choice you are trying out.” She grinned even wider.

“I like traditional names.” He admitted. “After being saddled with Roman I don’t want my kid bullied because of his name!” he murmured.

She raised her eyebrows at him.

“You want a boy?” she asked.

He grinned.

“I really don’t care as long as you and the baby are ok.” he said softly. “Girls are pretty fantastic and they even let them join the army now if she wanted to follow in my footsteps.” He laughed at her expression.

“Or learn to cook?” he suggested the alternative.

She glowered at him.

“Maybe my daughter will take after me.” She muttered,

“Well that rules out the cooking.” Roman said laughing as her hand connected with his ribs.

He put his arm around her and pulled her closer.

“I really do not care what our son or daughter does as long as they are happy.” He told her and pressed another kiss to her lips.

She smiled.

“I like Grant for a boy and Laurel for a girl.” She told him.

“Grant?” he questioned trying the name out. “Grant Harris”

She shook her head.

“Grant Miles Harris.” She told him. “And Laurel Nicole Harris for a girl.”

“So while you’ve been telling me to take each day as it comes and putting an embargo on buying baby things you’ve been thinking of names?” he asked.

She nodded.

He looked at her.

“Daniel and Natasha.” He confessed. “But I like the idea of Miles as a middle name.”

She laughed.

“See you are as bad as me!” she kissed him. “Daniel Miles Harris.” She tried it out and nodded.

“But not Natasha?” he asked.

“No it’ll be abbreviated” she told him “and I went to school with a Natasha. She wasn’t very nice. I like Freya.” She said to him.

“Freya Nicole Harris.” He murmured. “Are you sure about the Nicole bit?” he asked.

She nodded.

“I want my baby to have a connection and know where she or he comes from.”

Roman kissed her again.

Harry walked over by their table.

“Are you planning to be in here all afternoon because if so I think I could sell tickets.” He told them.

A hint of colour ran across Roman’s cheeks.

Harry put a coffee in front of Roman and a large glass of banana milkshake in front of Ella.

She took a long drink.

“Perfect.” She told him.

Harry sat opposite them.

“What did you want to ask me?” he said.

She looked at him.

“Our daughter Nicole is getting married and we need a caterer. I was wondering if one of your students would like to do it?” Ella asked, referring to the trainee chefs that Harry worked with.

Harry raised his eyebrows.

“That’s funny because you only confirmed you were pregnant a couple of days ago.”

Ella laughed and blushed.

“I mean my stepdaughter.” She amended with a grin.

“I’ll ask. When and where?” Harry told her and wrote down the information. “And if they can’t I’ll do it for you. Now have you decided what you want to eat?” he asked.

Roman looked at the menu and asked for a lasagne. Ella looked at Harry and smiled.

“This can’t be good.” He commented.

“Can I get a chilli?” she asked.

He grinned.

“Just for you I will do one. You still on Soya stuff?” Harry asked.

She nodded.

“And not too spicy.” She added.

Harry smiled and went back into the kitchen.

Roman looked over at her.

“Our daughter Nicole?” he quoted.

She flushed a darker red colour than ever before.

“Yes, ok. I think of her as my daughter.” She said eventually.

He kissed her and pulled her as close to him as possible.

“I love you.” He told her.

“And don’t you even think about tell her I said that I am not giving her a credit card.” She muttered.

Roman looked down at her.

“Uh huh. And how are you going to persuade me to forget it?” he asked.

She lent over and whispered in his ear.

“That will do it. “ he confirmed. “I wonder if we can cancel the order.

She laughed.

“No chance I want my chilli first.” She said.

He mock groaned.

“I suppose I will need to keep my strength up too.” He said softly and watched her blush all over again.

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“Morning!” Ella murmured.

She placed a cup of coffee by the side of him and he yawned sleepily.

“I’m worn out.” He mumbled.

She laughed.

“We are so doing that again sometime.” He mumbled again.

She huddled back under the covers and snuggled up next to him.

“uh huh!” she murmured softly.

“Is there coffee?” he asked his voice sounding as though he was still half asleep.

“Yes and I’ve had a text from the girls. And by the girls I mean all of them have texted me. To say they will be here soon.”

Roman moved and pushed the covers down. He rearranged the pillows behind him and sat up.

Taking a long drink of the coffee he looked at her.

“I think I’m ready. What else did they say?” He said.

“Well Ruby is afraid of Nic’s driving so she made Annie drive. Annie got a bit tense and Ruby and her had a fight over the car. But I don’t think it was about the car. Nic is upset with both of them because they hid the vacuum and she wanted to give the carpets a quick going over this morning before they left.” Ella told him with a completely straight face.

Roman drained the coffee.

“Right. What time do they arrive?” he asked.

“Oh no you don’t.” she told him.

“Don’t what?” he said quickly.

“Don’t think that you can run away. This is your daughter and she is in trouble.” Ella told him with a laugh.

“Funny because yesterday she was our daughter.” He responded.

“Ha Ha. I thought that last night meant you forgot that slip of the tongue.” She muttered a slow stain of embarrassment appearing on her cheeks.

“I hope that last remark was a joke?” he said. “Because if I thought for one minute that you were under the impression you had to…” he trailed off.

“Had to what?” she asked getting out of bed and pulling on her bathrobe.

He grinned but said nastily.

“Perform circus tricks to entertain me.”

“You pig!” she muttered. She picked up the pillow and hit him with it.

He looked at her as she raised the pillow again and caught it tugging her with it. She fell on the bed.

“I’m sorry.” He said.

“You don’t sound sorry.” She told him.

He pulled her towards him.

“I am very very sorry.” He said softly.

He pressed a gentle kiss to her lips.

“I’ve been afraid that you feel you have to keep me…” he trailed off.

“Entertained?” she asked with a wry lift of her eyebrow.

“Uh huh. And I know that you haven’t been feeling well. I am truly happy just to hold you and kiss you,” he said. “And I just said something very nasty to you which I didn’t mean.”

“I like entertaining you.” She murmured.

She pressed a hand to her stomach.

“I know that we won’t be able to do this next week back home and soon we’ll find it difficult because of the demands of a baby. I’m happy with holding and kissing but I really want my husband.”

“Really?” he asked softly.

“Yes. I love being in his arms and feeling him against me. I love the way he touches and kisses me.” She told him softly. “And I really love the way he thinks that we have time for more sex right now because the girls will be here in about 20 minutes.”

He looked at her.

“Maybe they’ll get stuck in traffic.” He suggested.

“Oh I hope so.” She said and kissed him.

“We’ve been buzzing for like 10 minutes.” Nicole said to her again.

“Yes I know but the buzzer isn’t very loud and I was asleep.” Ella told her trying to pacify her.

“And Dad was in the shower where he still is.” Nic said grumpily folding her arms across her chest.

“Not at all like an alibi.” Ruby commented.

Ella blushed and held up her hands.

“Fine. I admit it. I confess. Nicole your father and I were having amazing sex just when you arrived.” Ella told her and watched, as the other girl blushed before turning pale. “I’m sorry I didn’t hear the buzzer but your father is…”

“ENOUGH!” Nic said and put her fingers in her ears.

“Is what?” Ruby asked leaning forward.

“Very distracting.” Ella came up with and grinned.

“Now who would like a drink and maybe some toast.” She asked.

“I would.” Annie said at last. The first words she had spoken. She looked over at Ruby and glared at her. Ruby glared back.

Ella sighed and looked at all three girls.

“Come on let me show you Mike’s room. I hope you don’t mind sharing.” She told them.

They each looked at each other without saying anything.

Ella walked over and opened the door to Mike’s room. Although she referred to it as a room it was more like a suite. It had it’s own bathroom, a sitting area complete with wide screen tv and entertainment system, and the bedroom area had a bunk bed with a double futon underneath it and another couple of futons.

“The sofa opens out as a bed too so you can decide where to sleep.” She told them and left them to it.

Roman stood in the kitchen.

“Hey” he said.

She walked straight into his arms.

“She is so your daughter.” She said grumpily.

“Would you feel better if you hit me with a pillow again.” He asked.

“Maybe, if it had a brick or something in it.” she said without thinking about it.

“Hey!” he muttered.

She looked up.

“Did I say that aloud?” she asked with a blush.

“Yes.” He tried to look offended.

She smiled and kissed him before moving away.

“The girls need breakfast as I understand it they weren’t allowed to eat before they came because Nic didn’t want them to mess up the kitchen. Since that is your area of expertise I’m going for a shower and maybe escape through the fire exit.”

“You said that last bit aloud too!” He muttered.

She turned and looked at him.

“I know. That was just in case you wanted to follow me later.” She winked at him before dashing into the bathroom.

Roman chuckled and started to cook breakfast. He made a strong pot of coffee and poured out a cup for himself. He figured he’d need it.

Nic walked slowly out of the room and into the kitchen area.

“Hey.” She said to him.

He opened his arms and she ran into them and burst into tears.

“What’s up Princess?” he asked.

“It’s all so horrible. I can’t stop cleaning and the girls hate each other and I missed Ella. And Geoff keeps trying to get me to the Gym.” She sniffed.

“Well the Gym might be a good thing. I mean I know you wouldn’t be going there for the same reasons this time round.” He said softly.

She looked up at him.

“Huh?” she asked puzzled.

“To spy on Geoff.” He told her.

“I so did not.” She muttered and blushed. “I so did, didn’t I?” she hid her face.

“And all friends fall out sometimes. But they are here despite it.“ He told her and she sniffed. “Are you going to tell me that you haven’t fallen out with either of them at some stage.” He pointed out.

“And what about the cleaning?” she asked.

“I’m not going to tackle that one I like the house neat and tidy.” He told her with a grin.

She looked up and laughed.

“You’re here now so you won’t be missing Ella. Although I think you stressed her out earlier.” He told her.

“I know I was the old Nicole.” She muttered. “She keeps coming back.” Nic sighed.

“I like the old Nicole. She was a bit stroppy but underneath it she was still a good person. I adore this Nicole who will let me hug her and see her cry because she is not afraid anymore. And I love Nic. She’s the old Nicole and the new Nicole and Geoff’s fiancée and Ella’s daughter.” He said to her.

She looked up at him and blinked. She took a deep breath and then another one before she started sobbing. She threw her arms around him.

“I love you daddy.” She cried.

He held her tight.

“I love you too Princess.” He told her.

He saw Ella walking out of the bedroom and he half smiled at her.

She walked over to them and put her hand on Nic’s head.

“Hey daughter.” She said.

Nic turned around and threw her arms around Ella.

“I’m sorry.“ she said. “I missed you.”

“I missed you too.” She told her.

She handed her phone to Roman and he read the message on the screen. He shrugged but had a puzzled look on his face he handed the phone back to her and she tucked it in her pocket.

“Right then as soon as you’ve had breakfast I’m going to take you to the market so we can look at material for the dresses. Then this afternoon I’ve booked us all in for a pamper session.”

“What time do you have to pick up Mike?” Nic asked.

“It’s ok he’s decided to stay at school again this weekend. Something about a sports event coming up.” Ella told her. “So its up to you girls how long you want me and your Dad this weekend.”

Nic sniffed and wiped at her eyes.

“Seriously? Is he alright?” she said referring to Mike.

“Yeah.” Ella said.

She met Roman’s glance as he looked at her.

“Why?” She asked Nic.

“I just didn’t want him to think I was taking up all your time with wedding stuff.” Nic looked at her. “He’s fine. Doesn’t think that at all.” Ella told her. “But thank you for thinking about him.”

“Come on Nic get some breakfast before it gets cold.” Roman told her.

He waited until she was sitting at the table before following Ella into the bedroom.

“What’s up with Mike?” Roman asked.

“I don’t know but next weekend I am dragging his ass home.” Ella said and started making the bed.

“El?” he questioned.

She looked at him.

“I still haven’t told him about the baby and I’m thinking that maybe Ollie overheard you and Miles talking about it and told him.” She said.

“You said he was giving you some trouble before. Was it anything like this?” Roman asked.

“No he was clingy. Wouldn’t go to school despite loving it.” She said.

She sighed and sat down on the bed.

“So what do you want to do?” he asked.

“I want to go to the school and rip his head off.” She said. “But I am going to leave him until next week and if he sends me another sarcastic text message I will take him out of school and enrol him in Summer Bay high.”

“How about I talk to him?” Roman asked.

She looked over at him.

“Ok. Pretend I am him and tell me what you would say.” She grinned at him.

He folded his arms across his chest.

“No first mistake.” She grinned. “Defensive body language.”

He looked at her.

She nodded.

“He uses every trick in the book.” She told him.

“Ok. How about this? Mike I think we should have a talk.” Roman said.

“What about?” she answered assuming the typical teenager pose.

Roman laughed.

“Well lots of things have been happening lately.” Roman added.

“Whatever.” Ella said dismissive. “Not like you even ask me anyway.”

“I think you’ll find that isn’t true and you know it. But anyway, I wanted to tell you…” Roman began.

Ella shook her head.

“Nope!” she told him. “You bought into the guilt thing and felt the need to tell him it wasn’t true. He knows it isn’t true he’s trying to deflect you and it worked because you went off topic.” She smiled. “I thought you were good at interrogation.”

He laughed.

“Mike is a superbrain. Don’t let him get to you.” She told him. “You can’t get emotional because he will use it against you.”

“Really?” he asked.

She nodded.

“IQ of 147” she told him. “That’s why he’s been at boarding school for most of his life. I’m not an uncaring mother. He really does need the structure and discipline.” She told him with just a touch of pride.

“And you didn’t think to tell me earlier.” He asked.

“You mean like before we were married so you knew you would be getting a teenager with a superbrain someday?” she asked.

“Well yes.” Roman said with a grin.

“No chance you wouldn’t have married me!” she grinned back.

He sat down near her.

“So how did you cope with him?” Roman asked.

She shook her head.

“I didn’t I just lurched from one crisis to the next. Took him out of school for a year and went travelling. Lived in California for another year. I tried to focus him on pretty much everything.” She told him. “Such as sports as well as study.”

“Uh huh crisis huh?.” He said.

“Well…Maybe a little exaggeration.” She said.

“Would these years out of school be so he would still be with the same age range kids when he returned?” he murmured.

She looked at him and grinned slowly before nodding.

He put his arm around her.

“We could drive to see him on Sunday and take him to lunch. Tell him about the baby.” He suggested.

She looked at him and kissed him.

“I love you but seriously if we did that Mike would probably have a hissy fit. He’s hoping that the text message will upset me.” She told him.

“And it has.” Roman told her.

“I’m more annoyed than upset. I was planning to see if he wanted to see Harry while we were here. But he’s blown that chance and now next weekend he will be grounded to the house.”

She said.

She patted her stomach.

“This one had better behave.” She said.

Roman stood and walked over to the bedroom door.

“Not a chance in hell it will be half Nic and half Mike.” He told her.

She groaned.

“Maybe it’ll have all the good bits?” she suggested hopefully.

Roman looked at her for a moment.

She sighed.

“If I hear the Omen theme music when I’m giving birth we’re putting it up for adoption.” She told him.

He held out his hand and she went over to him and he kissed her.

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“So what do you think so far Nic?” Roman asked his daughter.

“The place is lovely. You could fit our entire house in just Mike’s room!” she gasped.

He pulled his daughter towards him and pressed a quick kiss to her forehead.

“I did actually mean the city not just El’s place.” He grouched.

Nicole laughed.

“I know I was just winding you up. But seriously, why don’t you guys buy somewhere bigger in the Bay. I’ve seen you looking on the Internet at houses.”

Ella laughed.

“Because we are too busy to look properly.” She told her.

Ella looked over at Ruby and Annie who were doing their best to ignore each other. She walked over to them and put her hand through Annie’s arm and then the same through Ruby’s.

“And are you two ok?” Ella asked them.

“Fine.” They answered at the same time then glared at each other again.

Ella pressed a kiss to Annie’s cheek and then likewise with Ruby.

“I so believe you.” She told them.

She started running pulling them with her. They had no choice but to keep up with her and after a couple of minutes she stopped and looked at them. Roman followed dragging Nicole who’d groaned.

They were both smiling despite themselves.

“El.” Roman said.

She laughed at him.

“Uh huh.” He said.

“Right ladies and him. This is my favourite place the market. I love buying my ethnic skirts here and my lacy tops. There is a stall that does hand made candles. I get my fresh fruit and veg here.” She told them. “Lots of funky jewellery too.”

She looked at them and saw that they looked happier than earlier.

“So what first? Do you want to look at material?” Ella asked them.

Nic nodded.

Ella led them through the stalls and watched as Roman made another beeline for the stall that sold baby stuff. She waggled her eyebrows at him and shook her head.

“One item.” He said to her.

“No.” she said.

He folded his arms across his chest.

“Fine.” He muttered.

She laughed at him and turned her attention back to Nic and the material.

“Come on Nic. What are you thinking?” she asked her.

Nic looked at Ruby and Annie and narrowed her eyes.

“Structured bodices exactly the same on each dress. With pin tucking to the waist. Embodied bands around the waist. Ruby’s skirt bell shaped. Annie’s skirt straighter.” She murmured.

The other girls looked at each other.

“What do you think?” Ella asked them.

Annie nodded.

“Sounds nice.” She said. “What do you think Ruby, you’ve got a better eye than me.” Annie asked the other girl.

Ruby looked startled by the question coming from Annie but then she smiled and tucked her arm through Annie’s.

“Perfect.” She said.

“Ok I want Gold.” Nic said.

She pulled out her phone and clicked it open so she could look at a picture she had taken off the waistcoats she wanted to use.

Ella found a bolt of cloth that was gold with fleur de lys embroidery in a different shade of gold and she showed it to Nic who nodded.

“Maybe for the band.” She murmured.

Annie and Ruby went round the other side of the stall. They worked together to go through all the material until they came across a bolt of cloth that was pale gold colour with mutli-coloured flowers in.

“Nic?” Annie called.

She walked over to them and looked at their find.

“Yes. For the band. Perfect.” She said.

She put her phone next to it and checked the colour against the waistcoats. She nodded again.

Ella walked round to them.

“That’s nice.” She said. “Will it go with this?” she asked showing Nic round to where she had found more cloth.

Nic looked at it.

“It’s a match but the fabric will be hard to cut.”

“Well it’s up to you Nic. Can you do it?” Ella asked.

Nic nodded slowly.

“Yes.” She said.

Ella looked over at the stall holder.

“Can we have both bolts of cloth?” she asked.

“Certainly. Would you like them delivered this evening?” she asked her.

Ella nodded.

“Saves us lugging it around. Thank you.” She told her.

She pulled out a business card and handed it over.

“What sort of time were you thinking?” she asked her.

“Around half seven if that is ok.”

“Great.” Ella told her.

She handed over the money just as Roman joined her.

“Hey you.” She said to him and then saw that he had another bag.

She grinned at him.

“Another mysterious purchase?” she asked him holding out her hand so the woman could give her the change.

He smiled.

“Might be.” He said.

“Right girls. Shall we leave you to it?” Ella asked them.

They nodded.

“We’ll be over there in Harry’s café. You can’t miss it.” Ella told then.

She took hold of Roman’s hand and went into the café.

“Are you ok?” he asked as soon as they were inside.

“I don’t know.” She answered. “I’ll be back in a minute.” She pressed a kiss on his cheek and went into the bathroom.

She came out minutes later.

“El?” he questioned when she joined him.

“I don’t know Roman, I feel funny not like I’m cramping just strange I know I’ve been doing a lot.”

She said looking worried.

He pulled her gently toward him and put his arm around her.

“And running.” He muttered.

She grinned.

“Sorry I had to do a something or you would have been with 3 very stroppy girls.” She told him.

He smiled.

“We’ll have a drink and if you don’t feel any better after we’ll go home.” He told her. “Ok?”

She nodded.

“El, I love you.” He said.

“I love you too.” She smiled at him.

Harry walked over and handed Roman a coffee and Ella a banana milkshake.

“Hey Harry” She said to him.

“And how are you two today?” Harry asked.

“A little stressed actually. Mike is being a pain. And we have Nicole and friends staying.” Ella told him.

“I told you enrol Mike in the army and he’ll be fine.” Harry said.

Roman laughed.

She turned and glared at him.

“It’s a valid suggestion.” Roman said. “And leave my ribs alone before you even think about hitting me.”

“No it’s not. I will not have my son in the Army.” She hissed at him. “That is one tradition that he will not follow.” She stood up and walked out.

Harry caught Roman’s hand.

“She’ll be back in a minute. What do you know about her family?” Harry murmured.

“I served with her brother. That’s how we met.” He told him.

Harry nodded slowly.

“I thought so. Well after he died her mother committed suicide. Then she lost Jennie. She took care of Mike, while her father is still in the Army and she hasn’t spoken to him since her mother’s death.”

“Woah.” Roman gasped. “She’ll kill you for telling me. And she refers to him as being dead.”

Harry nodded.

“I’m not surprised. Michael was the favoured child. She sometimes had to grab attention for herself." Harry told him.

“So?” Roman questioned.

“Grandbabies are a good way to bring people together.” Harry murmured.

“Yeah and I would like to have the equipment left to father some more of them” Roman told him with a grin. “If you feel the need to meddle then go right ahead.”

“Who’s meddling?” Ella asked folding her arms across her chest.

“I am.” Harry told her.

“Harry I swear to god if you have opened your big mouth I will never speak to you again.”

She told him her eyes shooting sparks at him.

Harry leaned over and kissed her.

“Tough Elizabeth,” He told her.

She swore.

“Damn you Harry you had no right.” She told him.

“And what about you Elizabeth. Shouldn’t your husband know?” Harry asked.

“What that my mother never gave a damn about me and took a bottle of pills rather than help me when I needed her?” Ella said dashing tears from her eyes.

“El.” Roman said standing and reached for her trying to calm her.

She pushed Roman’s hand away.

“Harry you can go to hell.” She told him and walked out.

“And I thought I was the only one who could get her that mad.” Romans said softly. “Is that true?” he asked Harry.

The other man nodded.

“She was selfish woman who only thought of her pain.” Harry said softly.

“Did you know about….” Roman began to ask.

“Yes.” Harry said interrupting the other man.

“I think that is why she keeps things to herself. Her mother blamed the platoon leader for her son’s death. And when Elizabeth came home and found she was pregnant by the same man, all hell broke loose.” Harry said. “I gather you have more information.” His eyes twinkled.

“She was told not to have anything more to do with this man but she told her family that they would lose another child and grandchild if they blamed him. She was there and knew he was blameless. In fact risked his own life to try and rescue her brother.”

Roman sat down heavily on the bench seat.

“She really said that.” He said softly.

Harry sat opposite him.

“Just in case this man has been carrying around any guilt.” Harry murmured. “Anyway she went out to see him and had to come home. By that time it was more or less known that Jennie wouldn’t make it and she had the baby to take care off. She attended 3 funerals in the space of months.”

“That must have been rough.” Roman sighed. “And her father never came around.”

“Well that is another story. The man was hurting and he shut down. He never blamed anyone, being Army but by the time he was able to cope with his loss he had an additional one in his daughter.” Harry finished.

“Have you finished telling my life story.” Ella muttered from behind Roman.

He held out his hand and she took it. She sat down next to him and he pressed a quick kiss on her lips pulling her close, his arm going around her shoulders. She leaned into him needing his warmth.

“I knew there was something more.” He told her.

She half smiled.

”Yes. It was a long time ago.” She said softly.

He looked down at her.

“Why didn’t you come and find me sooner?” Roman asked.

“Because I had Mike. He was my priority.” She said.

“And he’s not one of mine now?” Roman asked.

“I can’t explain it. I had to create a family for him that didn’t involve the Army. I don’t doubt that you would have been an excellent father for him but well I needed to heal and I couldn’t have done that as part of a couple.” She said. “It’s all very mixed up I know. I was just hurting a lot.”

Roman put his hand in his pocket and pulled out the identification tags.

“I know. I remember.” He told her.

She looked at him.

“I asked you to marry me El, and these were your engagement ring.” He said to her. “That’s why you kept them all this time.”

She started crying.

He placed them in her hand.

“It’s why when I asked you to marry me again I didn’t buy you a ring. I thought it was strange. The words felt so familiar when I said them to you.”

She looked at him unable to stem the tears.

“I think I blocked it from my memory because losing you was so hard for me. I thought you blamed me for Michael.” He said emotionally.

She shook her head.

“No I knew what happened and what you risked for him and for me.” She told him her voice breaking. “And I held you in my arms that night, all night long. If I blamed you could I have done that?”

He looked at her.

“I know but it was easier to believe that you blamed me than you didn’t want to be with me.” He said. “I know that wasn’t what happened now but then it hurt. I love you El.”

She leaned forward.

“I love you, but can I have a diamond ring please?”

He laughed.

“Of course. For our anniversary.” He grinned.

She snuggled as close to him as she could get.

“Uh huh. Harry I still hate you.” She told the other man.

Harry stood and leaned over the table and pressed a kiss to her forehead.

“It was worth it.” he told her.

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Nic was looking at the skirts and she saw the Ruby was over at another stall trying on a wig. She laughed as the other girl was transformed into a Blonde with long hair.

Annie joined her and put on a red wig cut in stylish bob. The colour strangely suited her and Nic had an idea. She walked over and joined them. She picked up a wig in brunette and pulled it on.

“What do you think?” she asked them.

“Its interesting.” Annie said.

Nic pulled it off and tried another one in a lighter shade. It was cut in layers with a fringe.

Ruby looked at her.

“That one. Maybe.”

Nic laughed.

“What are you thinking?” Annie asked her as Nic went through more wigs.

“For the Hen night we have a theme. I’m thinking maybe a 1960’s or 1970’s type thing. Minis and flares.” Nic told them.

Ruby laughed and routed in a box under the stall and come up with another wig.

“Ok close your eyes.” She instructed the girls and watched as they did so.

She pulled off the blonde wig and pulled on the one she found making sure her real hair was tucked up inside it.

“Ok.” she told them.

Nic and Annie opened their eyes and burst out laughing.

“Oh my God Rubes!” Nic gasped.

Annie had to wipe tears from her eyes.

Ruby was wearing a black curly Afro wig.

Nic dragged her over to a nearby mirror and made her look at her reflection where she burst out laughing.

“Maybe not quite you?” Annie suggested once they could speak again.

She pulled out another wig and handed that to her.

Ruby put it on and the long black wig, it was parted in the middle with no fringe and somehow suited her.

“Ok I’m coming as Cher.” She said to them.

Annie burst into giggles.

She looked through the wigs until she found one that had been styled into a beehive. She pulled it on and stood next to Ruby.

“Your turn Nic.” They told her.

She routed around until she found a wig.

She stood next to them and pulled it on. It was a deep pink colour and had a full fringe and long straight bob cut. She smiled.

“What do you think?” she asked them.

They looked at each other in the mirror and laughed.

“I think we are so going to have the Hen party to end all hen parties. We’ll just keep Aden and you away from each other, I’ll stop betting with Annie and she won’t ask her brother to strip.” Ruby said and all off them burst into hysterical giggles.

Nic pulled out some of the cash that Ella had given her and went to pay for the wigs and added the Afro to the pile and collected the bag.

“Right lets find that stall that sells jewellery.” Ruby told them. “I’m going to borrow some money off Annie to buy something.”

“No you won’t.” Annie said sticking her tongue out at her. “But if I stay in a good mood I may buy you a present!” she told her.

Nic laughed at them and walked over to another stall that was selling haberdashery supplies. She selected some reels of gold cotton and then remembered she wanted gold ribbon. She looked through all the ribbon they had before selecting some that she liked. She paid for the items and went to find the others. They were next to the jewellery store.

“Hey Nic,” Ruby called.

“Yes?” she asked.

“They have loads of funky beads here but II think you should look at these?” Ruby said showing Nic some headbands with gold and pearl beads on.

“Wow.” Nic said. “These actually look similar to my tiara.” She commented. “She picked up four of them.

“Four Nic?” Annie questioned.

“Well I’ve been thinking of taking back my dress because it was so expensive. If I do then I will need something and we can all match in these.” She explained.

Ruby and Annie looked at each other.

“Isn’t it a bit late to start shopping for an alternative dress?” Annie asked.

“I know. But I am concerned about the dress costing so much. Even if I resell it after the wedding, which I’d hate, I would be able to give Ella the money back.” Nic said.

“Are you stressing over money?” Ruby asked.

Nic nodded.

“My dad took out a credit card to pay for the wedding and I contacted my mother and she said she couldn’t pay anything towards it. I know Ella can pay for lots of things but its not fair and also I don’t think my dad would like it.”

Annie and Ruby looked at each other again.

“And then I take half of you clothes which you could probably sell.” Annie muttered. “And I can’t pay for my own bridesmaid dress.”

“Me either.” Ruby said. “And on top of that your folks let me stay.”

Nic grinned.

“We should buy them a present.” Annie suggested.

She looked over at the stall.

“Or at least something for Ella.” She grinned.

They went through the jewellery and came up lots of different beads they would use for the Hen night, before finding a gold Claddagh ring. Nic tried it on her middle finger looking at it.

“If you wear it with the heart towards you then you are spoken for.” The stallholder told her. ”It’s usually passed down from mother to daughter too.”

“What do you think girls?” she asked them.

Annie grinned.

“I think she’ll love it.” she said.

“Fine. We’ll take all these.” Nic said indicating all the beads and headpieces and the ring.

They turned and made their way to the café immediately seeing her dad, Nic led them to the back of the restaurant.

“Hey girls.” Ella said quietly. ”Have you shopped?”

Nic nodded but looked at her dad, and she saw a worried look on his face.

“Yeah.” Ruby said, picking up on the same vibe.

“Ok do you want something to eat? Harry is very good.” Ella asked, ignoring the look from Roman.

“Ut hum.” He said softly.

She looked at him.

“I’m fine. I’m tired is all, it’s been an emotional day. Seriously.” She told him.

She put her hand on his leg and stroked it.

“Ok, we’ll eat.” Nic said and guided the girls until they were sitting in the booth too.

Harry walked over to the table and said “Hello.”

“Harry this is Nicole, Annie and Ruby.” Ella introduced them. “Girls, do not believe anything Harry says about me none of it is true.” She warned.

“Elizabeth, I am insulted.” Harry grinned at her.

“Yeah and I’m still mad, lets not push it!” she told him but grinned and spoiled the tone she was aiming for.

Harry bent over and kissed her on the top of her head.

“It was worth it.” he told her again. “Now what can I get you lovely ladies to drink?” he turned and asked them.

They ordered drinks and Harry returned moments later with menus for them.

“Elizabeth what would you like?” he asked first.

She shook her head.

“I’m not hungry,” she said and earned another look from Roman. “Fine.” She snapped. “I’ll have a veggie burger and fries.”

She moved away from Roman and folded her arms across her chest.

He chuckled.

She turned and glared at him.

The girls hurriedly ordered, picking up on the tension before Roman added his selection and watched as Harry left to get their food.

“Harry is my godfather. And he will also sort out catering for the wedding.” She told Nic.

“Really?” she asked.

“Yeah, he lectures at a local college on food and cuisine so he knows lots of trainee chefs who will be happy to do it. But he’s promised that if he can’t find anyone he will do it personally.” She explained.

“I’ve booked sessions for you this afternoon in one of the local hotels for massages and beauty treatments.” Ella told them. “You can talk to them about how you want your wedding make up to look and they will arrange for a beautician to come to the Bay to do it.”

“Ella!” Nic gasped.

She looked at the girls and they squealed with excitement.

Ella laughed at their excitement.

Nic stood up from the bench and walked round to where Ella was sitting. She sat next to her and hugged her.

“Thank you step-mama.” She said emotionally.

“You are welcome daughter.” She replied returning the hug.

Nic started crying.

“No really. Thank you.” She said. ”You are so good and I’m a brat.” She added.

“Nicole, you are so not. I couldn’t ask for a better daughter.” Ella told her. “This is just stress.”

She stroked the girls’ hair as she cried.

Harry came over with their drinks and food.

“Ok yesterday you and he could stop kissing and today you all keep crying.” He said.

Ella blushed.

“Harry shut up.” She told him watching as he just grinned at her.

He put their plates in front of them and then the drinks.

“Did she ever tell you what she did when she was 15?” he asked them.

“Harry.” Ella warned.

He sat down at the table undeterred.

“This is so going to be a good story.” Ruby told Annie.

“This is so not.” Ella told Harry.

He smiled at her.

“Elizabeth was at a boarding school at the time. Her parents were so over the moon about her bother being accepted for specialist training that they went on a little bit too much about it.” Harry began ignoring the angry look from Ella.

Roman reached out and stroked her back.

“Harry.” He said warningly.

The other man chuckled.

“Anyway when it came to school holiday’s this one said she was staying with a friend but in reality she pitched up at a recruiting office and joined the army with false papers. She completed Basic training.” Harry told them.

Annie and Ruby giggled.

Ella shook her head and looked over at Roman to see that he was grinning.

Nic looked up.

“So you can shoot and kill and fight and stuff.” She said.

“Yes Nic,”

“I am so going to behave now!” she said to her.

Ella laughed and kissed her.

“I love you daughter.” She murmured.

“I love you too Mama.” Nic said and hugged her.

Roman was grinning.

“Just one question.” Nic asked.

“Yes?” Ella said cautiously.

“Just how has my Dad managed to survive this long?” she grinned at Ella as the other woman started blushing.

“He has his talents.” She confessed in a whisper.

Nic laughed and looked over at him watching as he raised his eyebrows in query.

“Harry, if you have finished trying to annoy me do you think you could get back to your kitchen and do some cooking or something.” Ella told him.

Harry shrugged.

“I’ve got loads of stories to tell yet.” Harry told her, “There is no rush to get back. Like the red jeans story and then the tattoo one”

“Harry!” she muttered.

He laughed and stood from the bench.

“I love you Elizabeth.” He told her and kissed the top of her head before heading back to the kitchen.

She picked up a French fry off her plate and ate it slowly. She felt Roman’s hand stroking her back slowly and she moved against him, forgetting she was mad at him too, she sighed when she remembered and it was too late to move. She didn’t look at him though, because she knew he would be grinning at her.

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They made their way back to Ella’s where she booked a taxi to take the girls to their pamper session watching as they left in an excited rush. She kicked her shows off and picked them up walking through to the bedroom. Roman followed.

“Are you ok?” he asked.

“Yes. I’m tired though. Do you fancy a cuddle?” she asked.

He grinned.

“When don’t I?” he asked.

She smiled and held out her hand watching as he walked over to her. He pulled her slowly into his arms and felt her sigh against him. She pressed herself close her own arms going around his waist.

After a long time she lifter her head and looked at him.

“I’m sorry.” She said.

“Hey,” he murmured. “What is this about?”

“Because I should have told you about my family.” She told him.

He chuckled.

“Uh huh” he murmured. “It’s ok. I understand that you couldn’t talk about it.”

She sighed.

He lowered his head and kissed her gently.

She kissed him back almost desperately. She rubbed herself against him and moved her arms to his neck. He tried to pull back but she was pulling him towards her. She stepped back and toward the bed.

“El no.” he said.

“I need you.” She moaned.

He pulled at her arms.

“I said no.” he told her.

She pulled back as though he had slapped her.

She turned and walked into the bathroom closing and locking the door.

“Ella.” He called.

“Leave me alone.” She replied.

“Fine.” he called through the door and waited.

She opened the door and looked at him.

“That isn’t leaving me alone.” She told him.

“Uh huh.” He said. “I was just waiting to use the shower.” He improvised.

“Really?” she muttered and folded her arms across her chest.

“Maybe.” He admitted shrugging. “Maybe not.”

“I’m sorry. I needed to feel loved and I wanted sex to do it.” she admitted slowly.

“El, I can’t know what you went through with you family and losing them but I do know that we are a family; Mike Nic, you and me and the baby. We can’t replace what you’ve lost but we love you.”

She nodded.

“I know. I just needed…..” she trailed off.

“It is ok El.” He told her. “Now why don’t you lay down for a bit and we can snuggle.”

She pealed off her clothes and lay down under the covers. He climbed in beside her after kicking off his shoes and pulling of his T-shirt.

She clung to him as slow tears squeezed out of her eyes.

“I have no idea why I’m so upset it was a long time ago.” She murmured.

“Because its unresolved. And trust me I know all about that.” He said stroking her hair. “And you said yourself that you were tired.”

She sighed again.

She lifted her hand and touched the dog tags around her neck.

“You were so romantic.” She said.

He laughed.

“Like hell. I don’t do romance.” He grinned. “I may light a few candles and do the odd bit of cooking or maybe even some dancing.”

“Well let’s see you bought me a scarf at the market, a shawl which you put on the bed. Lit candles and incense. You created a picnic and even found a bottle of champagne and glasses.“ she said softly.

He chuckled as he remembered.

“And I came in all grumpy because some chopper pilot refused to take me to where I wanted to go.” She laughed. “I took one look at what you’d done and I knew this night was going to be so special. You poured me out some champagne and we sat at that horrible picnic table I had in my tent and ate. Then we moved to the bed and you were so nervous you spilled the champagne. Then you …”

He interrupted.

“I knelt down on one knee and told you that I was completely mad for you and if you said yes I would be over the moon.”

She giggled.

“I had to ask what I was supposed to say yes to.” She said softly.

“So I took a deep breath and I said, “Ella will you marry me.” And you said you would have to think about it.” he groaned. “I was about to strangle you when I looked at you and saw you were smiling at me.”

“I pulled you onto the bed and kissed you and said ..”

“For the first time I might add!” he muttered.

“That I loved you.” She said. “And yes of course I would marry you.”

“I took off my tags and handed them to you telling you that I would get you a ring as soon as I could. I am so sorry I forgot all that El.” He said to her.

“I’m not.” She said. “I figure it was one of those things that you needed to forget. We are here now.”

“But it must have hurt, especially when I told you to get rid of them.” he told her.

She laughed and pressed a kiss to the side of his neck.

“No I knew you’d either remember or they would be here out of the way. You know hidden in that drawer I told you not to go in.”

He grinned at her.

She yawned and snuggled closer to him.

“Go to sleep El.” He whispered.

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Nic, Ruby and Annie piled out of the Taxi and walked into the hotel. There were greeted by a woman smartly dressed in a black suit.

“Hello, and welcome to the Sheridan. I’m Louisa and I will be your hostess for today.” She told them. “If you would like to follow me we will go through to the Bar first and Migual will be creating a special drink for today.”

Ruby and Annie looked at each other and turned to Nic.

“Hand over your phone.” Ruby said to her.

Annie chuckled.

Nic flushed with embarrassment and poked Ruby in the ribs.

“This way please.” Louisa told them.

“Good afternoon ladies, and which one of you lovelies is our bride to be?” a tall Spanish looking man asked them.

Nic looked at Annie and saw that her cheeks were flushed.

She leaned over and whispered to her. “No asking him to strip.”

Turning she told the barman.

“I am.”

“Now that is a shame that someone as beautiful as you should now be off the market.” Migual told them. “My name is Migual and I will be creating the perfect drink for you today.”

Nic could feel herself blushing and felt Annie poke her in the back.

“I will be back shortly to take you to our salon.” Louisa told them and left them with Migual.

“Would you ladies care to take a seat at the bar?” he asked and they found themselves following him.

He pulled out a stool and assisted each one of them to sit down before walking around to the other side of the bar.

Annie, Ruby and Nic looked at each other and giggled.

“I so love Ella.” Ruby said.

“Tough she’s mine.” Nic said.

“Ut hum, she’s ours!” Annie amended.

“But just for you!” Nic said she pulled out her phone and dialled.

“Yes,” her Dad answered.

“This is so weird are you like El’s answering service?” Nic asked him.

Roman chuckled.

“No she’s in bed asleep.” He told her.

“Is that Lethal Weapon I hear in the background?” Nic asked distracted.

“It might be.” He told her. “What did you want?”

“Well Ruby is feeling left out. “ Nic explained with a giggle. “She wanted Ella to adopt her too.”

“Consider it done She already mentioned it, but I’m not giving her an allowance!” he grumbled.

Nic laughed.

“I’ll tell her and when El wakes up tell her we love her!” Nic said clicking the phone shut. She turned to Ruby. “You’re adopted. She’d already told my Dad she wanted to!” Nic giggled.

“Is she ok?” Annie asked.

Nic leaned over and squeezed Annie’s hand.

“I think so. My Dad didn’t sound worried anyway. “ Nic said.

“Right ladies, Lets get started shall we?” Migual asked.

He placed 3 cocktail glasses in front of them and pick up a tall silver cocktail shaker. He poured out a measure of White Rum and then Coconut milk before adding pineapple juice. He shook the drink.

“This is your standard Pina Colada.” He told them and poured some into each of the glasses. He added a cocktail umbrella to each glass that had a curl of coconut on it, a piece of pineapple and a cherry.

They took a drink.

“Now if you were with Ella I would have to create something with Vodka but you ladies need something sweet that melts your inhibitions.” He told them.

“You know Ella?” Annie asked first.

“Yes.” He grinned, “Very well,”

Ruby and Annie looked at Nic.

“Tell me more about her?” Nic asked.

Migual reached into his pocket and pulled out a small business card he handed to Nic.

Nic looked at it and read it before handing it to the others to read.

‘Do not answer any questions they ask about me on pain of me telling them you are Gay!’ Ella had written. ‘And I so do not drink too much vodka’ she’d added as a postscript.

“You’re gay?” Annie asked sounding disappointed.

Ruby laughed at her.

He smiled at her.

“No querida.” He said very softly.

She flushed again.

They laughed at her again,

She glared at them and took a long drink.

“Now back to your drinks. I want to add a dash of Cointreau to this. And some banana liquor. Perhaps a dash of Mango juice and a dash of lemon just to cut through the sweetness.” He said. He poured it into their glasses and watched as they took a drink.

They looked at each other and grinned.

“Perfect.” Nic murmured.

As they drank he made a big picture of the drinks adding ice and fruit to it.

They looked up to see Louisa standing beside them.

“If you would like to come this way?” she asked.

“One last thing. What are we going to call this creation?” Migual asked them as they stood up.

The girls looked at each other again.

“How about….” Annie began.

“The El.” Nic and Ruby suggested.

“As in tomorrow morning we are going to wonder what the “El” we were drinking.” Annie said and they burst out laughing.

They followed Louisa into the Spa with Migual carrying the tray with new glasses and the pitcher of drinks. He placed it on table nearby and poured out the first drink before leaving them.

Annie sighed.

Ruby leaned over and whispered.

“You swear, gamble and eye up men.” She said. “What the heck has happened to you?”

Annie smiled.

“I grew up. And I might add that I had you and Nic as role models.” She murmured back.

Ruby half smiled.

“I think I was being serious Annie, I like this new you but I kinda miss the old you.”

Annie turned to her and threw herself at Ruby and hugged her.

Ruby returned the hug, admitting to herself only now that she had missed Annie more than her ex-sleazebag. ‘wow’ she thought.

“I couldn’t be your Annie forever.” She whispered. “I just really did grow up. And yes he is cute, “ she said referring to the barman.” But you have to know I wouldn’t do anything.”

Ruby pulled away and looked at her.

Neither girl realised that Nic was frantically distracting Louisa to give them the space to talk.

“What about..” Ruby started to ask then shook her head.

“Nothing happened then apart from me getting him to bed and he pulled me to the bed and wouldn’t let go. I fell asleep. Then you came in” Annie explained. “Then about two years later we met up again and I’m sorry but it did happen then. We were both drunk.” She confessed.

Ruby stiffened in the other girl’s embrace but Annie just held tighter.

“He never loved me Ruby. We married because I got pregnant and now we are almost divorced.” She explained. “Even though we were married it was only the once, we knew it was a mistake.”

Ruby pulled away and looked at her.

“The baby?” she asked.

“I lost it.” Annie said.

Ruby pulled her close and squeezed her.

“I am so sorry Annie. I should have been there for you.” She told her.

Annie shook her head.

“I’m ok. For a long time I wasn’t but now I am. There is something else.” Annie stood on tiptoe and whispered into Ruby’s ear.

“Oh Annie.” Ruby said and started crying.

Annie pulled back and wiped Ruby’s tears away.

“Are we ok?” Annie asked her.

“Yes. I love you Annie.” She told her.

“Good because I’ve missed you.” She told her.

They turned and saw Nic waiting for them, she was lounging in a chair and had finished another glass of “El”.

“Ladies?” she said.

Annie and Ruby joined her.

“Louisa will be back in 10 minutes.” Nic told them.

She placed her glass on the table and held out a hand to each of them.

“Are you ok?” she asked.

They took a hand.

“Yes.” They replied at the same time.

“Good then you better drink up.” She said, only slightly slurred.

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Ella walked out of the bedroom and Roman did a double take when he saw her. She was wearing a very black satin mini skirt, a gathering detail on the top part covered up the fact she was starting to show with the baby, with a black georgette blouse over a tight black vest. She had curled her hair and it was half up with a large red flower in it. He wanted to tell her to go back and change because he didn’t want anyone looking at her in that outfit except him but swallowed those words back quickly. She had a red velvet choker on and ruby studs in her ears. When she moved her arm he saw a group of gold bangles on her wrist. She was wearing full make up, with dark smoky eyes and full pouting red lips.

He felt underdressed in the black trousers and a tight black T-shirt. He watched as she stepped into sexy little shoes and he wondered if he were developing some kind of fetish for her ankles as he found himself starring. She took a couple of steps before grimacing and slipping out of them.

She smiled at him before returning to the bedroom and coming back out in red wedges tying up the straps around the same ankles he had just admired. She took a few steps and smiled.

“Ok?” he asked his voice only slightly strained.

“Yes.” She said and looked at him, raising an eyebrow in query.

He smiled.

“Girls!” he shouted.

They piled out of Mike’s room and Nic stopped dead.

“Ella?” she asked. She walked over to her stepmother and walked slowly around her in a circle.

“Givenchy?” she asked.

Ella nodded.

“Can I look in your wardrobe?” Nic asked breathlessly.

“No.” Ella told her. “Absolutely not.”

“Oh step-mama!” Nic said. “We are going to talk.” She threatened.

“We can talk Nicole but you are not borrowing my clothes.” Ella laughed at her.

“Prada?” she asked.

Ella looked at her.

“Versace?” she asked.

“Nicole.” Ella said laughing.

Nic turned to her Dad.

“You married someone who has designer clothes and she doesn’t wear them in the Bay.” Nic grouched. “I so could have borrowed them.”

“Yes, and that is the reason I don’t have them back home.” Ella told her. “But if you are lucky I might, and that is might, let you have a quick look tomorrow.”

Ruby laughed at the look on Nic’s face.

“Come on the taxi will be waiting.” Ella said and walked out picking up her clutch bag on the way out.

“Ella is that…” Nic started to ask.

“Yes Nicole it is.”

“Can I just touch it?” she said.

Ella handed over the designer handbag and ushered everyone out.

Roman stopped her before she was due to step out.

He swooped her into his arms and held her against him before he kissed her hard and passionately. He looked down at her and noted that her lipstick was undamaged and now her lips looked more swollen and ready for more kisses. She looked at him and smiled.

“You look incredibly sexy.” He told her. “Please never dress like this in the Bay.”

She laughed at him.

“Come on I want to dance.” She told him.

“I am so not going to like this am I?” He asked.

She handed him the keys and pulled the door shut behind them and walked down the stairs and through the outer door to the waiting taxi. She climbed in the back with the girls while he went in the front.

“To the hint of salsa club.” She instructed the driver and they set off.

They walked into a hot steamy club, the walls painted a deep crimson. Couples were on the dance floor moving to hot sexy salsa music.

Ella turned and saw the girls were chattering excitedly about getting on the floor and dancing. She looked at Roman and saw that he was smiling at her.

“No!” he mouthed.

She smiled and shook her head. She led them to a table at the back and a waiter came over and took drink orders. She took a long swallow of the juice she’d ordered before looking at Roman and then heading to the dance floor on her own.

The girls looked over at him seeing that he was smiling.

“Dad?” Nic questioned.

“Go and dance girls.” He told them.

Ruby led Annie away followed by Nic.

They looked over and saw that Ella was dancing with someone, only realising after a moment that it was Migual.

“Oh my god” Nic gasped.

Ruby laughed.

Annie peered at them.

“Is that…” she asked.

“Yes.” Nic said “and that is way beyond dirty dancing.” She added sounding shocked. “I think my dad will punch someone.”

Ruby laughed and moved to the rhythm.

“I have the feeling that it won’t be as bad as you think. However, he is on his way over.”

“Oh no.” Nic groaned.

He stepped behind Ella and pressed a kiss to the side of her neck.

“You win.” He told her and pulled her away to start dancing with him.

“Nic” Ruby began.

“I know. I’m not looking but isn’t he supposed to do like Dad dancing and be really embarrassing, not that him dancing salsa isn’t but I need a drink.” Nic babbled. “A very long drink.”

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Ella cooked scrambled eggs and toast. She only burnt a few pieces of the toast which she hid in the bin before anyone saw. She served up the eggs, mixed to her special recipe, with a handful of chives too, in a serving bowl on the centre of the table. She added the toast in the two toast racks and set about cooking bacon.

She called the girls and they tumbled into the kitchen for the food. She added a large jug of orange juice and glasses. Then picked up a packet of headache tablets she went to put those on the table when Annie took them out of her hand.

“I love you!” she gasped.

“Me next!” Ruby groaned.

“My feet hurt.” Nic moaned biting into a piece of toast.

Ella laughed and turned the bacon on the grill as the timer went on the oven. She opened up the oven and pulled out the muffin tray. Placing the hot muffins on the plate before transferring it to the table.

“Ella you’re cooking.” Nic said eventually.

“I know. Don’t tell anyone.” She knelt down and whispered to the girl. “I don’t want my reputation spoiled.”

Ruby grinned and picked up a muffin, juggling it between her hands.

“Ok it’s hot.” She said as they looked at her laughing.

“Er Nic.” Annie prodded. “The thing from the market.”

“Oh yeah.” Nic groaned. “My head hurts too.” She muttered.

She waited until Ella had served up the Bacon on another plate.

“Ella.” Nic called.

She walked over to the girl.

“What’s up Nic?” she asked.

“We bought you a present yesterday.” They said together.

Nic pulled out the little pouch she’d made to put the ring in and handed it to Ella.

She pulled the ribbon and opened it.

“Wow.” She said looking at the ring.

She put it on the middle finger of her left hand with the heart pointing toward her.

“You know the story behind the ring?” Annie asked.

“Yes. Now can I get hug girls?” she asked and they stood up pulling her into the middle so all of them could hug her.

They broke apart eventually.

Ella walked over and poured out a cup of coffee to take through to Roman when Nic stopped her.

“How.” She began. ”When.” She stuttered.

“Your dad?” Ella guessed.

“Well yes.” Nic said.

“I want to know the story too.” Ruby grinned.

“Well we used to dance when I knew him back then.” Ella said and grinned.

“No. I want the full story.” Nic said folding her arms across her chest as she sat back down at the table.

“Sorry that’s on a need to know basis.” Roman said from behind them. He walked over and kissed Ella on the cheek smiling at her as she handed him a coffee.

Nic looked at the others.

“We need to know.” They said.

He grinned.

“It’s just that we used to dance a long time ago.” Roman said looking at Ella.

She was smiling at him one hand pressed on her belly.

She looked at him and nodded and he pressed his hand on her small bump.

“Oh my God is the baby kicking?” Annie gasped.

Ella nodded.

Annie stood up and walked over.

“Can I?” she asked.

Ella nodded again.

Annie put her hand next to Roman’s.

“Wow!” Annie said.

Roman and Ella laughed.

“Nic?” Ella asked looking at her.

Nic stood and walked over placing her hand where Annie’s had been a moment earlier.

Roman kissed the top of Nic’s head.

“It’s real.” Nic said. “I want one.” She added.

Roman went pale.

Ella laughed and Ruby and Annie squealed with excitement.

“Er… everyone… the baby has stopped kicking now do you think you could let go because I’d like some food.” Ella said after a moment.

Roman and Nic hastily removed their hands and stepped back.

She stood on tiptoe and pressed a kiss to Roman’s cheek.

“Com’on Grandpa I’ve cooked.” She whispered to him pulling him to the table.

He looked at her and smiled.

They sat down and started eating.

“What do you girls want to do today?” Ella asked them.

“Well I thought shopping. There are a couple of vintage clothing shops we could look in.” Nic suggested looking at the others.

Annie grinned.

“We came up with this idea for the hen do.” She explained.

“Yeah it’s going to be so cool.” Ruby added.

“We are going to do a joint party so everyone is included then we will split off into hen and stag do’s.” Nic told them. “But I thought of a theme for it. 1960’s and 1970’s.” she said.

“We bought wigs the other day on the market so we need clothes.” Annie added.

“That sound so funky. I can just see your Dad in something like a John Travolta white suit doing disco dancing.” Ella told them.

“Like hell.” Roman told her grinning.

She just smiled at him.

He laughed.

“No.” he told her.

She continued to smile at him.

He shook his head.

She turned to look at the girls.

“You’ve given me an idea. We’ll go to my studio after breakfast so I can show you something.” She grinned at them.

Roman reached for a muffin and put his arm around Ella.

“I’ll need your muscles too.” She told him.

They ate all the food and finished more than one pot of coffee.

Ruby and Annie cleared the table while Ella went to shower and dress. Nic sat with her dad on the sofa.

“She’s glowing. This break has done her good.” Nic said.

Roman grinned.

“And you guys coming.” He told her.

“Is everything ok with the baby?” Nic asked eventually.

“We’ve had a few problems and Ella has a blood pressure problem so we have to spend a lot of time resting.” He admitted. “I know you have suspected there might be a problem Nic and I appreciate you not letting Ella know you were worried.”

Nic moved into her Dad’s embrace, wondering when it first felt this easy to love him and let him love her.

Ella came out and looked over at them.

“Everyone ready?” she asked and without waiting for an answer she walked downstairs to the studio. She walked over to a door next to her darkroom and opened the door. Roman walked up behind her and watched as she clicked on the light. He saw that it was a normal storeroom.

“You needed me?” he asked.

She turned around and placed a kiss on his lips.

“Always.” She whispered softly.

He laughed.

She pointed to a vintage trunk on a shelf.

“Can you get that for me and I warn you it is heavy.” She told him.

He grinned and lifted the trunk to the floor.

“You said heavy, you didn’t say I should work out for a month before trying to lift it.” he grumbled.

She smiled.

“How about I give you a hand with it?” she asked and waited for the explosion.

He walked over to her and kissed her.

“I think I can manage,” he told her.

She smiled at him and ran her hand down his back.

“Are you going to tell Nic how you came to be able to dance.” She asked him.

He looked at her.

“No.” he grinned. “I really don’t want her to hear that story.” He muttered.

She smiled at him again and stood to one side while he lifted the trunk into the studio.

“Well if you don’t want me to accidentally spill the beans you may have to take me dancing more often.” She said.

“Are you blackmailing me?” he asked quickly.

“That depends will it work?” she said bending down to open the trunk.

He laughed.

“I will take you dancing again.” He told her. “I did kind of enjoy holding you last night!”

He knelt down next to her stroking her shoulder and pushing her hair back so he could kiss her neck.

“I love you.” He told her.

She looked over at him.

“I love you too.” She murmured and touched the dog tags she was once more wearing.

He straightened and turned to go up the stairs.

“Do you want my muscles anymore?” he asked expecting the answer to be no as she was engrossed in looking in the trunk.

“Maybe later.” She muttered distractedly. “Go watch Lethal Weapon.” She added.

He was halfway up the stairs when he head her laughing.

The girls wandered down.

“El?” Nic asked.

“Here.” She said and walked out of the storeroom with a clothes rail. She took it over to the trunk and started hanging up some of the outfits.

There were flapper dresses and Victorian dresses then she pulled up mod dresses and minis in silver. The girls went over and helped her until the rail was full of outfits.

“These are so cool!” Ruby said.

Ella set up a screen close by and wandered back into the storeroom to look in there.

“Help!” she called.

The girls went over to her.

“Right this one is full of accessories and that one has make-up in. I don’t want to lift them although they aren’t heavy.” She told them.

Annie picked one up and Ruby the other taking them to the rail.

“Hang on Nic, if you look in that corner you should see some things that you might like.” Ella told her. “I had a housewarming when I first moved in and I was given a few presents. I’ve never used them.” She explained.

Nic walked over and saw a number of boxes. She looked inside and saw a dinner service, brand new the box not opened, a similar box containing a saucepan set. The other box had a glass set an iron still in original box and a set of cutlery.

“Oh my god! Oh my god! Oh my god!” Nic cried. “Are you totally serious?” she asked.

“Yes. I’ve never used them, if you want them take them.” Ella told her.

Nic responded by hugging Ella and bursting into tears.

“Er… Nic… Are you going to let me go anytime soon?” Ella asked her.

“No. We have you now you can’t escape.” She said, her voice sounding serious. “If things don’t work out between you and my dad promise me you get custody of me.” She said.

Ella laughed.

“Come on you.” She led her out and over to the others seeing that Ruby had spread the make up on the dressing table.

Ella bent down and clicked the switch and the lights around the mirror came on with a slow flicker.

“Hey!” Ruby grinned.

“Now would you like to model for me?” she asked them. ”Not that you have a choice I’m telling you!”

They laughed.

Ella picked up a Victorian lace dress and handed that to Annie. She took the black and white dress and gave that to Ruby, before selecting the silver mini skirt and a matching boob tube for Nic.

“How about we fetch the wigs down?” Ruby suggested.

Nic nodded.

“I think this outfit would go with mine.” She added.

“Mine won’t.” Annie said.

“Tough” Ella told her. “You can get changed first and then chose something else when I’m working with the others. I want to see you in that one!”

Annie laughed.

“Yes Adopted-mama!” she said grinning.

Annie got changed behind the screen while Ruby and Nic went upstairs. Ella selected the Camera and powered up the laptop. She put on a couple of studio lights. And debated whether to ask Roman to move a chair for her but in the end she tested to see how heavy it was and moved it by herself. She really wanted the chaise lounge but considered the size of that decided against it. She would add a bunch of colourful cushions for the other shots to jazz it up.

“Are you ready?” Ella asked.

Annie came out from behind the screen.

“Wow!” Ella exclaimed. “You are so lovely” she told her.

Annie blushed.

“Really?” she asked uncertain.

“Yes Annie.” Ruby told her.

The young girls looked up and saw Nic had tears in her eyes.

“Don’t.” Annie cried out. “Or I’ll start crying!” she added.

“I can’t help it you are really beautiful and I am so lucky you are going to be my sister.” Nic said.

Ella blinked back her own tears.

“Girls focus. You two get changed. Annie come on.” She said and pulled the other girls to the platform. She adjusted the lights and started shooting pictures.

After a few minutes she told Annie to choose something else and took pictures of Nic wearing the pink wig and the silver outfit. She’d found big chunky bangles in the accessories and added those too.

“Hey Nic, you look cool.” Ruby called to her.

“Ok change.” Ella told them.

She looked at Ruby and made her kick off her shoes. She had her sit cross-legged on the chair. After a minute she went round to the accessories box and came back with a large ruby lookalike ring she put on her first finger.

“Ok I want you to looked bored as if you can’t bare to be here another minute” Ella told her.

Ruby grinned and looked down her nose at Ella as she knelt on the floor taking the photos.

“Ok I’m done.” She told her. “Annie!” she called.

Annie walked out wearing a pink mini dress with white polka dots on it and white go go boots. The blonde beehive wig completed the look and she added chunky white bracelets and clip on earrings in the shape of daisies with pink centres.

Ella added the cushions and beanbags to the platform and had Annie stand at the back to start off with. She then had her sit on the chair, her legs over the arm. After taking lots of shots she had all three girls come up for group photos. Another 20 minutes she finished.

She hooked up the camera to the laptop and put the pictures on the display choosing a few to print off. She saved them to disc and then handed some of the prints to the girls.

“Ella!” Ruby said. “I look like I’m a model.” She gasped.

Ella laughed. She powered down the laptop and switched off the lights.

“I’ll let you guys play with the clothes before we put them away.” She told them heading for the stairs.

“Hey.” Roman called. “Did you have fun? I heard a lot of giggling.” He stood and walked over to her.

“Yes.“ She said with a tired smile, she looked at him. “Roman..” she started to say something before feeling darkness wash over her.

Roman caught her before she fell to the floor and he carried her through to the bedroom. He laid her gently on the bed and checked to make sure she was still breathing. Yes, he admitted, he was over-reacting but he couldn’t bare anything to happen to her. After a moment her eyes opened.

“Hey.” He said softly. “How are you?”

“I fainted again?” she asked and watched as he nodded. “Well I have to keep you on your toes somehow!” she said to him.

He adjusted the pillows and helped her sit up a bit.

“How about something to eat, make sure your blood sugar is ok.” he said. “And a drink.”

She nodded tiredly and watched as he left the room.

“Listen to me junior I need you to behave yourself before you give your daddy a heart attack.” She said to her bump a protective hand on it. She stroked the bump slowly.

She looked up and saw him standing in the doorway smiling at her.

He walked over to her and handed her a glass of juice. She placed the drink on the bedside cabinet before she caught his hand and held it to her bump.

“We’re sorry for scaring you.” She told him seeing him smile.

“I think scaring is a mild word, I’m bloody petrified.” He admitted.

She patted the bed and he climbed on it beside her. She snuggled close to him his arms going around her.

“It will be worth it with the sleepless nights, the endless nappies, the look on you face when you realise he or she is going to cost a fortune. Especially the look on you face when you send a her out on her first date.” She told him softly. “How is your panic level now?”

“Oh pretty high.” He admitted. “And no way am I letting her date.” He added.

She kissed him.

“I’m going to stay here for a bit and see how I feel. You may have to take the girls out to dinner on your own.” She warned him.

“No chance. I’m not leaving you and no that isn’t over protective.”

“Just bossy!” she said with a small chuckle.

He smiled at her before going back to the kitchen and making her a sandwich. When he took it through to her she was curled up asleep.

He watched her for a few minutes before walking downstairs to the studio to talk to the girls.

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