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Postcards from Hawaii

Guest TelephotoMarigold

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Chapter 51

Roman looked in his fridge and glared at the empty shelves before closing the door and looking over at Mike who was chopping down on a sandwich, using the last of the bread and the last of cheese. Turning he saw the state of his kitchen and growled softly under his breath.

“That is it!” he muttered and paced over stand in front of Mike and blocking the other man’s view of the tv. “What happened to you Mike? Why did you turn into a slob?”

Mike choked on his bite of sandwich at the question before narrowing his eyes and looking round the room. He saw what Roman was seeing and frowned some more before placing his sandwich carefully on his plate and putting that on the coffee table. Reaching for the remote he clicked off the tv and stood up. His eyes made a 360o degree sweep of the room and he equally carefully moved over to the long dining table where he’d dumped his bag and the many piles of marking he had. Shuffling the papers around, he quickly sorted through them before stacking them all in one pile and then tidied up and put his laptop away. He moved methodically, his gestures precise and neat and within minutes he had the table cleared and everything put away. Only then did he turn and look at Roman.

“Because Danni wanted me not to be perfect,” he finally admitted his voice shaken. “You know Mum, and well army,” Mike shrugged. “Well Danni needed me to have a flaw.”

“And you developed this untidiness.”

“It fitted in with Danni,” Mike shrugged again. “I guess, I just got used to being this way.”

“What are you going to do about her Mike? You can’t change who you are to fit with a person,” Roman murmured. “It doesn’t work out so well,” he added and flicked his hand around the room in a sweeping gesture indicating his living there in the house when he wanted to be the other side of the Bay with Ella. Walking past his son he moved into the kitchen and took out the whiskey and a couple of glasses pouring them both a drink.

“Did you change for Mum?”

“No,” Roman said immediately. “She changed for me.”

“But you were happy?”

“I was an idiot.”

Roman handed over the glass and took a drink of his grimacing at the truth in his last sentence. He had been an idiot especially taking Ella for granted most of the time. As he talked he began cleaning the kitchen tops and stacking all the used cutlery and pots into the sink and putting them in soak. The small kitchen had no room for a dishwasher and sometimes he didn’t mind that, enjoying the manual labour. Today was an exception to that rule and he left them to soak as he wiped his hands dry on a cloth and moved to sit at the table with his drink noting Mike sitting opposite him.

“Dad,” Mike began, “So er,”

“Your mother did all the compromises Mike, moving to Summer Bay, getting married, taking on Nicole and you may not realise this but at the time I refused to talk about the army stuff,” Roman grimaced as he sucked in a long swallow of whiskey letting the earthy flavour roll over his tongue.

“The Mark stuff,” Mike murmured quickly.

“Yeah, your mother dragged that out of me eventually, only after Elliot pitched up again though,” Roman nodded slowly. “I couldn’t see how I was that Roman and also the Roman who your mother loved. It didn’t make sense to me that she could be with the person who’d done so much ‘bad stuff’ so I showed her a Roman that was different. Except of course, she already knew most of it and just waited for me to be able to talk about it.”

“I felt the same in some respects.” Mike said finally noting that the pair of them had finished their drinks. “Like how what I did out there I can’t really tell Danni but at the same time I’m not ashamed of it. I just feel that Danni wanted me to not be a soldier because she doesn’t want to deal with that aspect of my personality.”

“It wasn’t like that with your…”

“I know it wasn’t exactly like that with my mother. She accepted your boundaries even if a few times she tested them. But Danni, she doesn’t even let me talk about those days. She doesn’t want to meet any of my army buddies,” Mike stated slowly.

“Well of course not, who knows what they could be like after all she has met Jacko and Pete.”

Mike chuckled at the joke before lifting a hand to wipe his face.

“I want to marry her.”

“I know son,” Roman grinned. “I want to marry your mother.”

“Again? Are you out of your mind?”

Roman laughed before standing and collecting the whiskey. He poured it into their glasses and took another sip before speaking again. “She doesn’t want that, so we compromise.”

“There isn’t one for me and Danni.”

Mike looked into the depths of his glass and swirled the liquid around the glass. He watched the dark amber liquid clinging to the side for a few seconds before slipping back down and morphing back with the remaining liquid. He took a long swallow and looked at Roman.

“But Danni, how do I fix her?”

“Now that you’ve picked up from me. With depression there isn’t a fix.”

“I know, I didn’t mean fix her, I meant this. How do I get her from hating me to accepting who I am? And moving forward?”

“Maybe you need to move out of the poolhouse and become independent.”

“You just want me to move out of here, old man,” Mike chuckled at the expression on Roman’s face before he grinned. “I pay Mother rent.” He added quietly.

“What?” Roman choked on his drink.

“Always have done, didn’t want anyone to know.” Mike shrugged carelessly. “She didn’t want the money of course, so I pay it into a savings account for the kids.”

“She never said a word.”

“She wouldn’t.”

“Yeah, but we did a financial statement for the divorce.”

Mike nodded.

“I know, she told me. We talked about if I should tell you because it wasn’t benefiting her directly.”

“I think your mother and I are going to be having words.” Roman muttered standing up and going over to the fridge. He took out a couple of beers and put them on the table before collecting the menu for the Chinese takeaway. Scanning it as he sat down he selected what he wanted and handed it over to Mike for him to make his choice.

“I don’t want to cause any friction between you,” Mike said slowly.

Roman shot him a look and grinned.

“It’s cool son, I just didn’t know. I think I should have done.”

“But well I didn’t want you to know. I didn’t want you to feel like, well like I didn’t believe that you were capable of looking after everyone. Money, well,” Mike frowned as he used the word ‘well’ again in the same sentence. He put it down to the whiskey and grinned at the relief he didn’t teach English at Summer Bay High. “it’s been a thing between you and Mum since you were first married. You didn’t like not buying her stuff.”

Roman muttered something under his breath even as he nodded at Mike’s words.

“It wasn’t that,” although Roman admitted to himself that there was some truth there. He hated it when Ella wore designer stuff around him because he knew that even at his smartest he wasn’t a match for her. He frowned disguising his discomfort by taking a long swallow of the beer. “Maybe,” he groaned.

“See, old man.”

“Still you both should have told me.”

“Egg fried rice and sweet and sour pork.”

Roman grunted at the change in conversation before he picked up his phone and placed the order.

“You haven’t spoken about Jennie.”

Mike paled and looked at the way his hand had tightened around the beer bottle at the mention of the little girl’s name.

“Until the paternity is decided Danni won’t let me near her.”

“You could push that.”

Mike shook his head.

“No, I think she needs to get into a routine with her and realise she is a good mother.” Mike stopped talking as a knock sounded at the door and looked up in surprise, he hadn’t realised how long they had been talking, obviously long enough for their food order to arrive. He stood and went over to answer it accepting the order and carrying it back to the table afterwards. He motioned for Roman to remain seated as he sorted out plates and cutlery and served up the food, grabbing another couple of beers in the process. He sat back at the table and began eating before looking at the other man.

“She’s doing ok,” Roman murmured. “Sorting out her shifts and getting childcare arranged. She works hard.”

“I know. Her colleagues from the Travel Agency loved her.”

“Maybe she needs to go back to that; after all she does have qualifications in Travel and Tourism.”

Mike nodded.

“I don’t think she’s even put her CV out there. I know there are a couple of Travel Agencies in Yabbie Creek she could look into.”

Mike looked at Roman and nodded and then grinned at the other man.

“You do realise that if she knew we were talking about her like this she’d kill us,” he told him before stabbing a piece of pork with his fork and lifting it to his mouth.

“Now that she gets from her mother,” Roman commented.

Mike nodded again his laden fork pausing halfway to his mouth, a light appearing in his eyes.

“What is that look for?”

“What? Oh..” Mike grinned suddenly. “I think I’ve just thought of a solution to my problem.”

“Mike,” Roman said warningly catching the look on the other man’s face.

“If you were convinced that Mum wanted to get married again but she’s just nervous about it what would you do?” Mike asked suddenly.

“I’d probably persuade her… woah. Mike, no!” Roman gasped.

“Exactly Dad!” Mike laughed softly, “Exactly.”


“I’m going to arrange a wedding.”

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Chapter 52

“What are you doing here?”

Ella smiled at Roman’s question as she moved across the room and discarded her clothes. She smiled some more as he lifted the covers and she climbed into his bed.

“Mike told me that you were in need of a cuddle.”

“Seriously?” Roman muttered, “A cuddle. He used the actual word?”

“He did,” Ella confirmed, “I think he may be drunk he did tell me he’s getting married and I’m to keep it secret,”

She chuckled as Roman let out a laugh before he turned and reached for her. His lips descended on hers and he kissed her. Mike was right, he had been missing her. They hadn’t spent a lot of time together recently, not without other people around.

“You’ve been drinking,” She commented.

He flinched and pulled away at the reminder. He and Mike had been knocking back the whisky.


“It’s okay,” Ella whispered and placed her hand on the side of his face. She leaned forward and kissed him, sighing against his lips as she felt his arms going around her and pulling her close. She moved her head pressing soft kisses down his neck and along his collarbones before trailing them back again. She heard him sigh and chuckled softly.

“More,” he murmured running his hand down her spine.


Ella smiled feeling the stirs of passion inside her. She loved the feel of his hands on her skin. Loved the way his eyes lit up as he looked at her, the way his lips framed her name as he moaned during their lovemaking.

“Please,” Roman begged huskily.

She leaned down and teased her tongue down his chest drawing random patterns, her fingers following. She heard his indrawn breath as she teased him, and knowing she was arousing her man also stirred her.

He lifted her up and on top of him, her legs straddling his hips as he ran his hands over her skin. When he touched her he had this way of making her skin seem like it was silk. More kisses and touches followed until she couldn’t bear not being joined with him and slowly teasingly joined her body with his.

They reached the peak of fulfilment before collapsing together, both breathing heavily. Roman reached for her, stroking his hands down her back as he lifted her to lie beside him.

“Remind me not to kill Mike in the morning,” he murmured as he turned so he could wrap his body around hers.

“I might be gone in the morning,” Ella spoke quietly, “This might all be a kinky dream you are having!”


She giggled at him before kissing the arm he’d slotted around her.

“I’m serious about disappearing though, got Danni looking after the kids.”

“That will do her good.”

“It will. But I don’t want them to find me not there if I can,” Ella said with a yawn.

“It’s ok, I understand,” he murmured, “But when can we see each other?”

“I’m at the studio next week.”

She sighed as she snuggled into him before slipping fully asleep.

Roman woke alone with a dry throat and a slight pounding in his head. He remembered the midnight visit from Ella and then the drinking most of a bottle of whisky with his son. With a groan he got up from the bed and moved into the bathroom as a hot shower beckoned him.

Freshly dressed he moved down the stairs and found the living room and kitchen spotless with Mike sitting at the table a stack of wedding magazines beside him and the laptop open in front of him.

“I thought you were joking,” Roman muttered as he went in search of coffee.

“No,” Mike chuckled.

“So you are going ahead with organising a wedding day without Danni knowing?”

“Oh yes.”

Roman grinned remembering the lengths he and Ella went to in order to sneak off to the city to get married the first time. “Planning on telling Colleen?” He asked.

“No, I’m planning on telling no one. Especially Sammy.”

“Or Lily?”

“What are you trying to say about my favourite sister, Dad?” Mike looked over at him a scowl on his face.

“I’m trying to say that it’s probably not going to work. Unless you get someone to help you. Someone good at weddings.”

“You’ve had enough of them,” Mike began.

“Exactly, so I would know,” Roman shot back interrupting the other man, “so chose someone carefully.”

Mike sat back looking at him.


“Yup,” Roman confirmed.

“I’ll let her know in a couple of days when I’ve done some research.”

Roman couldn’t help the grin on his face when he heard that comment coming from Mike. It reminded him so much of the younger Mike and also, a little bit of Sammy. His boy loved nothing more than escaping to his room and working on one project or another. He frowned suddenly remembering the webcam episode from a few weeks back. Sammy. Who else would have done it, he asked himself with a grin on his face at his ingenious boy.

Turning to Mike once more he asked, “I’m going for a run, coming?”

“Er, yeah,” Mike murmured,

Roman walked over to the door and began stretching and warming up. He glanced back at Mike seeing him once more engrossed in what he was doing and slipped out the door leaving him to it. The fresh air felt good as it hit his lungs, refreshing him. A year ago he recognised that sprinting his way around the Bay would have been too much for him, getting back his fitness was an important part of his recovery.

His Meggy though, was more than a match for him when it came to running, and he told himself that it was because she was so much younger than him. He knew that she was more interested in gymnastics than athletics though and wondered if she knew that Ella had done both.

Stretching his legs he ran the last bit of his route heading back towards his house. He saw Ella’s car parked outside and smiled before frowning. Sprinting along the last section of his run he reached the door just as it opened.

“Hey,” Ella murmured. “I was just about to go.”

“Well, hey,” he said feeling at a loss.

He eased past her and walked into the kitchen reaching into the fridge and taking out a bottle of water before taking a drink.

“Mum has asked if I want to go to dinner,” Mike mumbled before looking up from his laptop. “Brett is going to be there,” he added curling his lip in distaste at mentioning the other man.

“Sounds like a good idea. You can only get things sorted out if you start talking,” Roman began.

Mike stood up from the table and pointed at Roman.

“That is exactly what she said. So if you are going around talking alike you should really just get back together,” he snarled before storming out the front door and slamming it behind him.

“He’s er..” Roman murmured.

“It’s ok; he’s been way too calm recently.”

Roman nodded before lifting up his T shirt to wipe his face. He felt underdressed compared to Ella, she had on a pair of high heel sandals, with ankle straps he’d noticed, a long black skirt and a black lace vest top underneath a crisp looking white blouse. As she moved her head he caught a glimpse of silver hoop earrings glinting through the caramel tresses of her hair. As she lifted a hand to her hair he noticed that she was wearing the charm bracelet he’d bought her a few years ago. He made a mental note to buy some more charms to go on it before he found himself asking, “So does this dinner include me?”

“Aden and Belle will be there.” Ella responded and he smirked at the way she didn’t quite answer him before walking over to where she was standing and looking down into her face.

“I’m sure I can control myself.”

Ella breathed in slowly. He smelt of sweat from his run and mixing with that was the musky scent of his shower gel. It was calling to her, this strong aroma, swirling around her senses and luring her in. She’d barely crawled out of his bed; she needed to get a grip she muttered to herself. But sometimes, a little voice whispered, sometimes you just can’t get enough of each other, sometimes you could spend days just touching, and kissing, and making love.

“I’m sure you can too,” she murmured in a breathy voice.

“I really can,” he whispered stepping closer, “but maybe you don’t want me too.”

Ella looked up at him and sighed before his lips descended on hers. She put her arms around his neck and felt him pressing closer to her. She could feel his head pounding in his chest and knew that hers was beating a similar tattoo within her own chest.

“I have to go,” she murmured breaking away from him.

“Really have to go?”


She gasped as he yanked her back into his arms, his lips crashing on to hers again and the passion that she’d tried so hard to bank down on just a minute ago flared into life. She placed her hands flat on his chest feeling the hard muscle under her hands before she slid them up and around his neck.

“Ella,” he moaned against her lips.

“Stop, we so need to stop,” she muttered as she pushed up his top and ran her hands over his abs and then slid them around the back to trace patterns up his spine.

“Then stop,” he whispered knowing he didn’t want her to, just as he didn’t want to himself.

Ella shook her head and released her grasp on him and stepped back.

“Half six.” She told him before spinning around and heading to the door.

“I’ll make sure we’re there,” he confirmed and watched her disappear out of the door. He waited a heartbeat before turning and heading up the stairs. He needed a shower. A cold one.

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Chapter 53

Roman steered Mike to the car. They were already a half hour late but as Ella hadn’t texted him to tell him off he knew that she’d already factored in the extra time knowing her son’s reluctance to see Brett. He remembered the image of seeing Nate for the first time and thinking the other man was more than just Ella’s brother. In fact thinking that the man was responsible for Ella’s pregnancy, the baby they had lost in the end, and how he’d been torn between fighting for his marriage and killing them both. Yeah, he could understand Mike’s reluctance, and maybe it was harder for him because he’d formed a bond with Jennie, that and the fact that Brett was his best friend. He glanced over at Mike seeing the tension in the other man’s jaw.

“Got to face it sooner or later,” he murmured.

“I know. Later would be good,” Mike shot back, “Or how about never, and thinking about it actually never would be preferable.”

“Thought you wanted to move on with Danni, can’t do that without facing a few things.”

Mike grunted, “Again you are sounding like Mother.”

“Mike, we’ve been married for nearly seventeen years. Bound to share the same viewpoints on some things,” Roman muttered affronted for some reason. He steered the car into the road that led to the house.

The house had no near neighbours, part of the reason that Ella chose it, he supposed thinking about it. He’d told her he had issues with the house and the fact that he’d felt so shut out when they’d divorced but he knew that Ella loved it; he’d seen that look on her face when he’d helped the kids with an improvised tea party. The kicker was he also knew that if he’d put his foot down Ella would move house.

“You aren’t married anymore.”

“Thanks for pointing that out son,” Roman muttered drily.

“You seemed to need the reminder. Don’t screw it up this time Dad.”

Roman glanced at his son before he looked back at the road. A few more minutes and he’d turn off into the driveway. Then they’d get out of the car and he’d have to pretend that he was just a guest and he never wanted to feel that way again; so no, he wasn’t going to screw things up this time.

“I won’t,” Roman promised.

“Good,” Mike shot him a grin before his expression changed as Roman indicated before turning the car into the drive easing his speed and coasting along, hearing the crunch of tyres over the gravel.

“You going to be ok Mike?”

“I have to be don’t I?”

Roman grimaced, wondering if this were a good idea after all, “If you need to get out of there, let me know ok?”

Mike turned and looked at Roman and pinned a lopsided grin on his face. It was obvious he was struggling but suddenly the other man turned and looked out of the passenger side window and smiled genuinely.

“Do you think she’s been waiting for you?” Roman asked on seeing Lily standing on the front veranda.

“Nah, she’s probably looking out for you,” Mike muttered but he was still smiling at seeing his sister there.

“Come on,” Roman stopped the car and turned off the engine. His eyes strayed to Aden’s parked car so he knew the others were already here. Climbing out of the car he reached into the back seat and took out the boxes of chocolates and the bottle of wine he’d brought over. He watched carefully as Mike eased out of the car and made his way towards the house and smirking as Lily ran off the veranda and over to her brother.

“Hey Lils,” Mike murmured picking Lily up before she ran him over.

“Mikey, you’s no see me for ages,” Lily complained.

Roman smiled at the pained expression on Mike’s face at Lily’s comment before lowering his head and kissing the top of his daughter’s head.

“Not true Squeals, he’s seen you loads,” Roman murmured to her before moving away and heading into the house. He was glad the door was open because that whole should he knock or not stuff was still making him crazy. “Hello!” He called out.

“Hey Dad,” Sammy answered coming down the stairs.

“Hey yourself,” he called back.

“Hey Mike,” Sammy called seeing his brother coming up behind his dad. He grinned at them all before speaking again, “She’s been waiting out there for an hour.”

Mike laughed feeling himself relaxing. He gave Lily an extra squeeze and a kiss on her cheek before setting her down and squaring his shoulders he moved into the lounge.

“Mike,” Brett shot to his feet and looked at him.

“Brett, I’m sorry for hitting you,” Mike murmured and moved over to him holding out his hand. He couldn’t blame Brett for hesitating before he reached out his own hand. They shook briefly before Mike stepped back and away from him. He saw Aden and Belle exchange a look as he moved away and walked into the kitchen to see his mother.

“Hello,” Ella murmured as she looked over at him from the cooker.

“Is Danni…”

“She knows about it.”

“So she’s…”

Ella sighed, “She’s looking after the twins and Lily and Liam for me. Well not so much Lily because your sister refused to move off the veranda for the last hour.”

“I didn’ts!” They heard called from the hallway.

“Ah,” Mike murmured his eyes going to the poolhouse.

“Take Lily down?” Ella suggested to her son.

“Sneaky Mother!” Mike chuckled before fetching Lily and striding out the back and down to see Danni.

“Why is he always surprised when you are being sneaky?” Roman asked moving into the kitchen himself. He smiled over at Ella before approaching her carefully and kissing her cheek. “Here,” he murmured handing her the wine and chocolates.

Immediately Ella saw that he’d selected a bottle of wine she liked, the rose he’d brought when they were at the studio.

“Thank you, although you didn’t have to,” she blushed at the look in his eyes, “why don’t you go say hello to the kids?” she suggested and watched as he smiled as he took a step back and disappeared up the stairs to go see the kids.

“Ok, do you want any help?” Sammy murmured coming into the kitchen.

“You lost?” Ella asked. She’d asked for one of them to come down and give her a hand a few minutes before.

“Yup,” he grinned and nodded.

“Ok, I need the table set please and then you can scoot back upstairs with Tyler,” she murmured. She knew from his grin that he’d been missing spending time with Tyler and made a note to arrange a sleepover with the kids soon as she moved through into the lounge. “You ok for drinks?”

“Thanks, we’re fine,” Aden said politely.

“Dinner won’t be long,” Ella noticed Belle looking around the room and gave her a smile. “It needs redecorating. Lily has this habit of drawing on the walls.”

“Oh Kai does too,” Belle murmured sounding relieved at having something to say.

“I’ve bought her washable pens but every so often she manages to get her hand on a permanent marker.”

Belle laughed reaching for her wine and taking a sip.

“Kai likes to draw dogs,” she murmured.

“Is he after a puppy?”

“Oh yes,” Belle nodded exuberantly, “And if it were up to Granddad here he’d have one already.”

“Babe,” Aden protested.

The two women laughed at the look on Aden’s face before Ella straightened and turned back to go into the kitchen.

“Do you need any help?” Belle asked quickly.

“Sure,” Ella murmured sensing that Belle wanted to talk to her. They walked into the kitchen together, Ella pointing out something for Belle to do.

“I’m worried,” Belle confessed quietly as she worked.

“I know,” Ella commented, “But we have to work through this to move on.”

“I think Brett is going to leave.”

“Ah, ok.”

“If he goes, he won’t be back.”

Ella spun around and looked at Belle’s face. “What do you want me to do?”

“Stop him Ella, you always know what to do, what to say. You must be able to stop him from going,” Belle suddenly looked distraught and wrung her hands together, “Please, if you want me to beg I will.”

Ella sighed before she faced the other woman.

“I don’t know if there is anything I can say to him until this business is sorted out.”

“I knew it, you only care about…” Belle stopped and sucked in a deep breath.

“I think these potatoes need mashing,” Ella murmured as though Belle had begun to insult her. She drained them before placing them into a bowl and handing that to Belle. “Here,” she murmured to her.

“Thank you,” Belle said the shimmer of tears in her eyes as she looked at the bowl. She reached for the potato masher and set to work.

“Table is all set,” Sammy called out moving into the kitchen.

“Thank you Sammy,” Ella said as she began putting the vegetables into serving bowls. “Do you want to get the others down?”

Sammy nodded and ran off up the stairs.

“What are we eating?” Aden asked from the archway.

“Roast Chicken and vegetables,” Ella muttered as she lifted the chicken out of the oven. Placing the roasting tin down she smirked as she recognised that it was one of Roman’s cooking tins that she’d obviously missed when packing up his things. She wondered if he’d recognise it if he saw it before lifting the chicken out and placing it on a serving platter. She heard footsteps on the stairs heralding the advent of everyone coming for food and grinned as she caught Belle tilting her head and listening too. “Have you been to Roman’s house?” She asked her.

“No,” Belle murmured before giving Ella a sly grin.

“You should hear the kids there, they sound like a tribe of Elephants,” Ella murmured trying not to blush at the look Belle was continuing to give her.

“I guess he needs to be careful about the noise he makes then,” Aden murmured.

Ella shot a look at Aden just as Roman appeared in the archway.

“Need a hand?” He asked unaware of what had been said.

“No, no, it’s fine,” Ella stuttered before turning and focusing on the food hearing Aden’s laughter mocking her. She glanced up at Roman and saw him smirk before he turned and looked at Aden.

“How are things with you? Never see you in the diner anymore.”

Aden grimaced and patted his stomach.

“Belle has put us on a health kick.”

“Health or hell?”

“Yeah one of those,” Aden murmured before grinning as Belle turned her head and glared at him.

“Kids, do you want to get seated please?” Ella called out as they started walking into the room.

“Where’s Mike?” Meggy asked looking round for her brother.

“Gone to see the younger kids,” Ella murmured avoiding using Danni’s name although she knew her son had wanted an excuse to go down to the poolhouse.

“Want me to fetch Mike?” Georgie offered.

She nodded at him and grinned as he ran down the garden to the poolhouse before she carried the first of the bowls to the table. She saw that Belle also helped and smiled before glancing at Brett sitting nervously over the other side of the room. A glance at Meggy confirmed her daughter had also noticed and she gave her a quick nod watching as Meggy stood and walked over to him.

“Best get your seat Brett; otherwise the others will grab all the food!” Meggy murmured to him.

“That right,” Brett said a slight note in his voice.

“Especially Sammy and Tyler!” Meggy smiled as her brother grunted the other side of the room.

Brett nodded and moved to take a seat at the table still looking nervous, his eyes not quite meeting anybody else’s.

“Ok everyone, take a seat!” Ella called as she saw Mike and Georgie moving into the house. She placed the last bowl on the table and smiled as Belle and Aden sat together, choosing a seat near their elder son and also noticed that Roman debated where he was going to sit before the kids shuffled round so the only choice for him was to sit next to her.

“Shall I carve?” Roman asked formally as he looked at the roast chicken.

“Please,” Ella murmured, “Sophie want to get the wine for me?”

Sophie nodded and shot up from her seat, “Does anyone want a beer instead?” She asked.

“Please..” Brett choked out.

Ella leaned back in her chair before speaking, watching as her daughter placed the wine bottle on the table and the beer for Brett before sitting down.

“Help yourselves guys,” She murmured with a gesture at the food.

Sammy reached for the mash, scoping a big spoonful on to his plate before handing the spoon to Tyler so he could serve himself.

“Did you do carrots?” Meggy murmured.

“I did.”

Ella rolled her eyes at her daughter’s expression before watching everyone get their food. Around the table was silence and she knew that people were afraid to talk knowing Brett and Mike’s situation. Glancing at Roman she saw him give a half nod like he was reading her thoughts before he began the conversation asking the kids what they’d been up to.

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Chapter 54

“Thank you kids, up you go now,” Ella murmured to them. They had cleared up after dinner putting away leftovers and clearing the table whilst she and the other adults had moved over to the long sofas and sat down.

“We should talk,” Mike said at last looking over at Brett.

“Use the study,” Ella said quickly.

The two men nodded and moved out the room across the hallway. They heard the door open and then close with a silent click.

“Will….” Belle began.

“They will be fine,” Roman murmured, “they are still best friends underneath it all, it’s just going to take some time for things to return back to normal.”

“I guess,” Belle said turning her head slightly and looking at Aden.

Roman immediately envied that connection the couple had, not because he and Ella didn’t have one of their own but that the other couple were able to show it, to demonstrate it openly. The novelty of his and Ella’s relationship being kept secret was wearing on him, even though he understood in principle the reasons why Ella wanted them to remain secret until they were at a place in their relationship where they could be open and confide in people.

Mike grimaced as he looked over at Brett. He could tell from the other man’s body language that he was as uneasy as himself. Moving to the desk he took the chair from behind it and placed it opposite the sofa before sitting on it. Gesturing with his hand he motioned for Brett to sit down too, watching as the other man moved to the sofa and sat down.

“I don’t want to hear details,” Mike said out loud the first thing that came into his head.

“I can’t tell you anything anyway.”

“What do you mean by that?” Mike shot out the question, frowning immediately at his over aggressive tone.

“I mean, I don’t remember anything, Danni and I were drinking, she’d split from you. We began talking about stuff and the next morning I woke up in the same bed as her.”

Looking down at his hand Mike was unsurprised to see that he’d clenched them into fists. He knew that Brett had no reason to lie to him; there was nothing for the other man to gain. Plus, it was true at the time everyone was drinking and partying a little too hard to get over Roman’s death. Then within weeks he’d been served with recall notice and sent overseas. Danni had already ended it by this time. He couldn’t hate her for finding comfort with someone else, even if he hated her lying to him.

“So,” he muttered.

“You want to do a DNA test,” Brett spoke quietly.

“Yeah, yeah I do. And if Jennie is yours, we need…”

“No, I’ll sign over my parental rights so you can adopt her. She’ll be yours and you won’t have to worry about me.”

“I can’t let you do that. We were friends Brett, we can work out so you can see her, be part of her life,” Mike felt his words rush and tumble out of his mouth because he was shocked by Brett’s offer. And he had to admit he felt humbled by it, knowing that if the situation was the other way round he would not have been so quick to make that offer.

“I think it would be best,” Brett murmured before meeting Mike’s gaze. “I’m planning on doing some traveling so I won’t be around much anyway.”

“Brett, don’t do this, if she is yours you’ll regret not knowing her,” he muttered.

“I won’t regret it Mike, I’m not ready to be a dad, I know that. Some people are cut out for families.”

“Brett what are you talking about? I’ve seen you with Kai? With Tyler and with the other kids, how can you say you aren’t …” Mike trailed off as Brett shot up from the sofa.

“If I’m so great at being a parent how come no woman wants to be with me, huh Mike? Tell me that…” Brett’s lip curled into a snarl as he muttered the words.

“Is that about Gabby? Brett, you can’t just…”

“Forget it!”

Brett spun around and strode over to the door.

“Brett,” Mike tried again unprepared for the look of pain on his friend’s face. Suddenly he knew this was more than Gabby, this was a mix of everything in Brett’s life and he just wanted to fix things. Standing up himself he moved to the door and placed his hand flat on the wood panels. “For what it is worth I think you are worth someone special. Obviously it will have to be someone short sighted and hard of hearing to put up with you but they are out there,” Mike murmured seeing by the subtle twitch of Brett’s lips that the other man had got the joke.

“I’m still going travelling, who knows I may find that blind deaf girl out there.”

Brett yanked open the door and moved into the lounge. He gave a long look at his parents and Roman before speaking. “We need to go, it’s been a long night,” he murmured.

The goodbyes were brief as they filed out to their car and set off home. Mike waited until they had gone before he looked over at his mother and grinned at her expression.

“How are you going to fix him?”

“Fix him son,” Ella muttered, “I don’t fix people,” she protested and ignored the look from Roman as he smirked at her.

“He said he’ll sign over rights to Jennie if he is the father.”

“I thought he might say that.”

“I need to talk to Danni and set out a date for when we can get tested,” Mike said and rubbed at his face as the enormity of it hit him.

“Go to the studio and get it done there,” Ella suggested.

“No, I know that Rachel will keep things quiet and if we do it here we can control the next bit better. But maybe I’ll keep the studio in mind for suggesting Danni and I go to talk about things,” Mike smiled thinking about spending time with Danni. A few weeks ago he’d hated her for everything and now, well now he couldn’t wait to spend some time with her. Looking over at his parents he couldn’t help the smirk on his face. It was obviously the same for them he thought grinning.

“What is that look for?” Roman asked him.

“Just thinking a few things.”

“Well you two can go think a few things on your way to the poolhouse and collect the kids; it’s past their bedtime already.”

Roman gave her a look before he moved with Mike out of the back of the house and down the garden. Ella watched them go before reaching for her bag and taking out her phone. She typed out the message quickly and sent it before she changed her mind. Looking up she saw Roman carrying Lily and Liam and Mike with the twins. Danni was standing in the doorway of the poolhouse with Jennie in her arms. Ella couldn’t see the expression on her daughter’s face but she suspected that for sending Mike down there twice tonight she’d be in Danni’s bad books.

“Take them straight up and put them to bed,” Ella instructed and saw Roman giving her a smile as he moved through the house with them.

“Sneaky mother,” Mike commented as he followed Roman out of the room and up the stairs.

Ella half shook her head and moved to check the kitchen making sure the tops were clear. She titled her head as she heard footsteps on the stairs and smiled some more as Roman peered through the archway towards her.

“They gone down?”

“Only just, Lily is insisting that Mike reads her a story,” he murmured walking over to her and leaning down.

Ella smirked at him before letting him kiss her.

“Hey you,” he said softly.

“Hey yourself, thank you for the wine, when do you suggest I drink it, knowing of course how me and wine get on.”

“Oh, well how about on a picnic with me?”

“In the sand dunes?”

He titled his head as though he was considering it his eyes trailing over her body and then back to her face again.

“Yes,” he murmured.

Mike coughed from the doorway indicating he was there.

“Fine,” Ella said softly reaching out and running her fingers down his chest before giving him a push towards the door. “I’m busy tomorrow but Friday.”

“Friday it is,” Roman said as he eased away from her and walked towards the door. “Come on then,” he murmured to Mike.

“See ya, Ma.”

“Night, I’ll call you tomorrow.”

Ella walked them out and watched as they got into the car and slowly disappeared from view before closing the door.

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Chapter 55

Ella pulled the car into the driveway and frowned. Looking over at the doorway she gave a small grimace before easing her face and climbed out the car before helping the twins out of the back.

“Dada!” Fleur cried running towards him.

“Yeah,” Ella muttered, “and I wonder what he is doing here with that look on his face,” she added in a quieter voice as she followed Fleur with August holding on to her hand.

“Hey,” he murmured still looking smug.

“Hello,” Ella replied cautiously.

“I know,” he held his hand up, “what we said,” he murmured obviously being mindful of the kids nearby.

“Yeah, we said I was too busy to see you,” Ella said quietly, “Come on kids inside.”

“Dada too?” August asked picking up on their conversation even though she didn’t understand it.

“Dada too,” Ella said with a sigh.

Roman chuckled before sweeping up Fleur in his arms and carrying her inside.

“Shall we tell Mama why I’m here?”

“Why are you here Roman?” Ella muttered.

“Well since you said you were now busy,” he murmured referring to the picnic they had arranged to go on that she’d cancelled. “And you sounded a little stressed so I thought I would do a surprise for you.”

Ella shot him a look over her shoulder as she walked into the kitchen. She moved to the fridge and took out two juice boxes and handed them to the girls.

“Go sit and drink these,” Ella instructed pointing to the table.

Roman slowly lowered Fleur to her feet watched as she ran with her twin into the other room. He grinned as they skirted the table and then after a few seconds the tv came on.

“So they’ve learnt how to switch the tv on?” He asked redundantly.

“Lily shows them stuff,” Ella shrugged. “What are you doing here?” She asked in a fierce mutter.

“I know,” Roman held his hands up in a defensive gesture, “I’ve made a little surprise for you in the garden.”

“Uh huh, that isn’t reassuring me Solider!”

“Come on,” he murmured grinning because she’d called him that name. The one she always did when she was happy. Grabbing hold of her hand he led her out of the back door and down the garden smirking because he heard her sighing under her breath.

“Roman Harris, stop for a minute will you. Seriously, you can’t just come here and pull me about like this, in fact you aren’t supposed to be here at all, remember, and I know you want to go on a date and er….that’s a hammock.”

He smiled at her as he turned and looked into her face. He’d spent a frantic half hour fixing it to two of the trees in the orchard after she’d left to pick up the twins.

“You always wanted one,” he murmured to her.

“Is it…”

“Want to try it?”

“I can’t, the twins, work, study,” she listed the things she had to do that afternoon her eyes on the long criss-crossed strings of the hammock. “This really is turning into a fairy grotto,” she added with a look at the nearby tree with all the ‘treasures’ in it.

Roman smiled before pulling her into his arms.

“I know that you are stressed,” he paused as a ridiculous impulse to call her ‘babe’ floated through his brain, “and I can’t do anything to help you, as I am your ‘ex’,” ok, so he may have sneered just a little, a fraction, as he referred to himself as her ex. He was working on it, he pacified himself, “except this, give you somewhere you can go to escape your study,” he shrugged.

“Thank you,” Ella murmured.

“Do I get a kiss?”

“No, absolutely not,” Ella said primly.

Roman chuckled. “Go on then try it out,” he said softly, his breath floating past her ear.

Ella sighed before she approached the hammock seeming cautious. He watched as she sat in it daintily before moving and spreading her weight out as she lay back on the netting. She uttered a single sigh before rocking herself and letting the hammock sway.

“So did I do ok?” He asked her and watched her nod before patting the netting beside her. “Nur’hur, I’m not getting on there with you!”

“Scared that it won’t take your weight?”

He glared at her for a moment before climbing on to the hammock with her. It dipped and swayed alarmingly for a moment as he settled down next to her.

“See,” he murmured triumphantly and groaned as it lurched under his movements.

Ella giggled at him before turning her head and placing a soft kiss to his lips.

“You know what I’m thinking now don’t you?” he whispered against her lips.

“Yes I do and no we aren’t,” Ella moved off the hammock in fluid movements leaving him clutching at the webbing as it swung underneath him. He gave her a look before getting up himself and walking with her back to the house.

“So, promise me that you’ll make time to come and escape every day,” he coerced her.

“Roman, I don’t have the time. I’ve got the kids to sort out. I can’t keep leaving them to Sophie or Georgie to keep an eye on, yeah of course I want to spend time with you but seriously I don’t have five minutes to myself,” Ella stopped and took a breath feeling a lead weight in her chest was trying to stop her breathing. She turned and looked at him, “I’ve got an exhibition to plan for, three essays to write, Meggy is doing a gymnastics tournament at the weekend which she only just told me about and it’s on the same day I have Sophie booked in for a haircut. The twins need some new clothes because they are growing out of theirs and Sammy wants to go see Marcus and go camping,” she listed all the things for the week giving him a faintly panicked look, “and somehow I get lumbered with sorting all that out because you just get the good stuff!”

She saw Roman sucking in a sharp breath at her comment before he spoke.

“ Ella,…”

“No, don’t Ella me. Even when we were married it was like that. I’m tired. I’m flipping too tired to date you.”

She stalked away from him and into the house before striding into the lounge where she found that one of the twins had spilled their juice all over the cream coloured sofa. Her temper increased and for the first time ever she felt like hitting one of her children. Although the thought was fleeting she was immediately struck with guilt, only once had she ever hit one of the kids, not even Lily had been spanked and she was enough to drive a saint to drink when she got going. Looking at the large purple stain on the sofa she turned and saw a sheepish looking Roman standing in the doorway looking as though he were afraid to come in.

“Look,” she said softly and pointed at the stain, “and you seriously think I can escape for five minutes in the garden?”

Roman cautiously approached her before his eyes went to the splotch on the sofa.

“Ok, right, girls go fetch your things,” he announced pointing them to the stairs as he picked up the remote and switched off the tv. “You are coming with Dada,” he added.

“Roman,” Ella growled out at him.

“Come on,” he moved to the twin’s side and took their hands leading them to the stairs. Within minutes he’d taken over as Ella gave him a frustrated look and retreated to the study. Eight kids. He’d walked out on her and left her dealing with eight kids and just how many years had he been nagging her about finishing her degree. Yeah, exactly, he snarled at himself feeling extremely guilty as he left the twins sorting out their things while he went and dealt with the sofa. He knew that Ella kept stain remover in the utility room and he fetched that and a clean cloth. The juice paled as he ministered to it but didn’t come out all the way and he felt frustrated as he was forced to leave it as he went to get the twins. Leading them out to the car he settled them in before getting behind the wheel and setting off. As he looked up he saw that Ella hadn’t even come to the door to find out what he was doing. He knew that he was right to worry about her then and frowned at the thoughts going through his head.

Driving over to his house he let the kids loose in his lounge as he called Nic to help out by collecting Lily and Liam for him and then sent a text to Sophie telling her and the others to come to his place. Then moving to the kitchen he began compiling something to feed them.

“Dada,” August murmured coming over to him and pulling on the bottom of his shorts.

“What?” He asked before grimacing at his grumpy voice. Frowning, he eased down to kneel in front of her. “What do you want Gust?”

“We’s hungry Dada,” August pouted at him.

“And what would we like?”

“Cheese!” Fleur called running over to them.

Roman grinned at his daughters, “What would you like with the cheese?”

“Toms,” August said quickly with a sly look at her sister.


“no’s,” Fleur muttered shaking her head.

“That’s ok Miss Flower, Gust can have tomatoes and you can have something,”

“No’s we eats the sames,” August said fiercely.

“Well how about we have a cheese and tomato toastie?” Roman suggested and saw them nod, albeit Fluer’s nod was unenthusiastic. He smiled at that as he eased up and quickly made the toasted sandwiches. When they were done he moved over to the sofa with them and helped the twins as they ate. From there it was watching a couple of cartoons before he took them upstairs and settled them down for their nap. He smiled as they fell asleep facing each other before backing slowly out of the room and heading down the stairs and into the kitchen. He finished fixing dinner and setting things on to cook before getting a coffee and sitting down.

From there he had no peace for the next couple of hours. As soon as Lily and Liam came in the twins awoke and came down, then the older kids had come in. Before he knew it dinner had come and gone and he was settled the younger kids in bed before coming down the stairs to the other kids. Mike was seated at the table with his brothers playing some game on his laptop with them and the girls were sitting on the sofa.

Sophie turned her head and fixed him with her blue eyed gaze and he sucked in a breath before shaking his head.

“Want to tell me why we are here?” She muttered.

“To give your mother a break,” Roman answered his daughter immediately opting for the truth.

“What? Seriously?” A scathing note in her voice now, with a matching expression on her face. He had to resist going over to her and pacifying her.

“Sophie,” he began.

“No, you don’t get to be all nice now, not after walking out on us,” She began in a scathing tone.

“Sophie Nicole Harris, I’m tired of you throwing that at me all the time, yes I left and I will regret it for a long time.”

Sophie shook her head and stepped towards him. She had her arms folded in front of her and was tapping her foot on the floor. He recognised the arms as something he did and the tapping foot was Ella, but the expression on her face was pure Nicole from back when she’d first pitched up in the Bay. It made him want to pull his teenage daughter into his arms and give her a reassuring hug, which he couldn’t do, of course, because if she was anything like Nic or her mother she would kick him somewhere painful.

“You regret it? He regrets it, he says, except that is what he keeps doing over and over again. You are a coward and I hate you!”

Sophie glared at him before she spun around and pounded her way up the stairs. He flinched when the door shut with a small bang as she moved into the bedroom.

“Well,” Mike murmured slowly.

“You’ve got the kids Mike I need to take a drive.”

Roman turned and walked out of the house.

Meggy looked over at the boys before she spun around and ran upstairs herself. She found Sophie lying full length on her bed her head buried in a pillow.

“Nice one Sis, I think you really hurt him that time,” Meggy muttered.

“I told you I can’t do this anymore,” Sophie said, “Leave me alone Megs.”


Sophie lifted her head from her pillow and glared at her sister.

“Leave. Me. Alone.”

“Okay, okay, I’m going.”

Meggy back out of the room quietly and went back down the stairs. She gave the boys a look and half shook her head before sitting on the sofa and looking back at the tv.

Roman pulled up outside the house and confidently walked inside. He heard loud music coming from the study and headed there. Looking around the room he noticed that the usual chaos and associated clutter had been tamed and he half smiled.

“Shut up,” Ella muttered from the desk.

“I didn’t say anything,” he denied quickly.

“Uh huh,” she murmured and reached for the remote turning off the music. He watched as she clicked some keys on the laptop, adjusted the ruler she was using as a bookmark on the pile of pages next to it before standing and walking over to him. “Did you return my kidnapped children?” She asked him.

“No, you won’t get them back until Monday evening. That should give you time to finish everything,” he said resisting the urge to smirk at the conflicting expressions on her face.

“So what are you here for?”

“Because we need to talk,” he murmured hating the slight tremor in his words.

Ella shook her head and moved to the sofa, sitting down primly on it. He could only watch with fascination as she tugged her skirt down covering her knees before he too sat next to her. He reached into the bag he’d brought in with him and took out a small oblong box placing it in her hands. “Take the test,” he instructed.

Ella’s mouth dropped open in shock as she looked down at the pregnancy test he’d bought and handed her.

“I’m not pregnant!” She gasped out.


“Really,” she muttered her face flushing.

“So your panic about the kids was just…”

“Fine, so I’m a couple days late. But Roman, I’m on the pill and we, er, have used…”

“Yeah apart from the time in the bath at the studio,” he pointed out still smirking at the way she was turning red.

“Still, I’m not pregnant, like I would know,” she stuttered starring at the pink box in her hands.

“Take the test and we’ll both know then, won’t we?”

“Roman,” Ella protested.

He stood from the sofa and reached for her hand pulling her up too, before leading them both up the stairs and into the bedroom. From there he gave her a gentle push towards the en suite whilst he sat down on the bed and waited.

He found his heart beginning to pound in his chest and groaned aloud at the feelings going through him let alone the stuff flying around his head. He wasn’t a teenager, he knew about birth control, he should be more careful. Especially with Ella. He should have taken a lot more care of her over the years and not been selfish. Especially giving her the twins when they had enough kids.

He lifted his head and looked in the doorway of the en suite as Ella came out. She moved over to him and sat next to him the test stick in her hand.

“I can’t look,” she finally confessed.

“So you were worried,” he muttered, “El, why didn’t you speak to me, I could have…”

“What Roman? We aren’t together, remember. Just…”

“Like before when I was in witness protection,” He realised. And she’d lost that baby. And even more important, he’d never seen her cry over it. “Whatever this test says we will be together, we will face this together, and I swear I’ll never let you down again,” he vowed to her taking the small white stick from her hand.

“You don’t let me down, see, you knew that…”

“Don’t do that Ella, you praise me up to make things feel better, I’m still a jerk, ok, I always will be.”

“But you are my jerk,” Ella whispered. “And I kinda like you like that.”

Roman turned to her and smiled before he leaned down and pressed a soft kiss to her lips. They broke apart after a minute and turned to look at the test kit where a single pink line had appeared in the display window.

“Does that mean negative?” Roman murmured, “Omphf!” he gasped out as Ella hand hit his rips.

“Didn’t you read the box?”

“Actually, that was the first time I’ve bought a pregnancy test kit.”

Ella gave him a look before getting up from the bed and striding into the bathroom to look at the box it came in. He heard her give a strange half sob-half laugh before she came out and looked at him.

“Negative,” she said softly.

Roman shot up from the bed and strode over to her in three long strides. He pulled her into his arms and held her for a minute as it sank in.

“We’re ok with that aren’t we?” He asked finally.

“Ecstatic,” She muttered in response.

“Uh huh, so why are you crying?”


“We need to find time to talk about this seriously, a proper talk Ella, where we, as a couple, work out a …”

“I don’t want to,” she sniffed before he’d even finished his sentence.

“Ok then, I’ll just have a vasectomy and not tell you,” he began and quickly stopping, “Omphf! Woman stop doing that!”

Ella lifted her head and wiped her eyes.

“No you are right; we should do something permanent about birth control. Just that I know I don’t really want any more kids, but at the same time…”

“I know my beautiful Ella, I know,” he lowered his lips to hers and they kissed again.

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Chapter 56

“Er Nic,” Geoff murmured, “This is for you.”

Nic looked up from her seat at the table where she was having breakfast with Robbie and Mira and somewhat sullen Angel. Placing her cup carefully on the table she stood and moved over to the door where Geoff was standing.

“Sign here please,” The courier asked for the second time. He held out a clipboard and a pen towards her and she frowned again before slowly accepting the pen and signing in the box he’d indicated, only then did he hand her the bulky envelope. “Have a good day,” he said before turning and heading back down the path.

Nic watched him go before she weighed the envelope in her hand. Her puzzlement increased when she recognised the name of a law firm in the top left corner of the envelope.

“Are you divorcing me?” she murmured quietly to Geoff.

“Yeah,” he answered back, “Did I forget to tell you?”

She smiled before leaning up and placing a soft kiss to his lips.

“Must have done,” she commented.

“Yuck, like seriously,” Angel grumbled.

Nic shared a smile with Geoff before walking over to the table and resuming her seat. She slid a perfectly manicured nail under the flap at the back of the envelope and began opening it.

“What is it Mummy?” Robbie asked.

“Not sure yet,” Nic said with a smile.

“Hurry up,” her son said leaning forward.

“Eat your breakfast,” Geoff said having also sat back at the table. He placed his hand gently on Robbie’s shoulder and guided him to sit back on his chair.

Nic shared a look with her husband as she pulled out the heavy bond paper. She looked at the header and her frown increased before she began to read the letter. She gave a small gasp blinking back tears.

“What is it Nic?” She shook her head at him before handing over the letter for him to read. “Wow Nic,” he commented after a moment.

“I know, I need…”

“Go on babe, I’ve got the kids,” he encouraged and handed the letter back to her.

She nodded their fingers touching and connecting for a moment before she shot up and collected her handbag and keys and shot out of the door.

“What did it say Dad?” Robbie asked his voice excited.

“I’m sure Mummy will tell you later.”

Nic heard her husband tell him as she rushed down the path. She climbed into her car and set off her eyes straying to the letter lying on the top of her handbag as she changed gears. It was crazy. A completely batty concept. Within minutes she pulled up outside his house and slipped out of her car and headed to the door her heels clicking on the pavement behind her. Lifting her hand she knocked once and waited.

The door swung open and she looked into the eyes of her father before throwing her arms around him and hugging him.

“Crazy man,” she gasped out as more tears slipped down her cheeks.

“I owed it to you.”

“A lawyer’s letter telling me you want visitation rights with me?”

“The least I could do,” Roman said softly, “I should have done it a long time ago Nic and I will never be able to make up for not being there when you were growing up.”

“Dad, you were there so many times when I screwed up and made mistakes,” she muttered easing back to wipe at her eyes and looking up at him, “So many times you could have said to me that I had to work it out. When I ran away with Elliot. When I got involved with Trey. When I made those silly mistakes with Aden. But you didn’t. You went through hell to rescue me from the island. ”She paused as she heard murmurs coming from behind him catching a glimpse of her siblings. “Well anyway.”

“Nicole, there have been times I’ve been frustrated by the stuff you did, times I’ve just not understood anything,” Roman shrugged remembering not Nic and some of the stunts she’d pulled in the past but the way Sophie was with him now, “but the one thing I knew through it all was that you were, and still are, amazing. You are kind and special. You have an amazing heart and the love that you give me, and also Ella and your brothers and sisters, just makes me so proud.”

“Dad, I’m going to need to redo my make up at this rate,” Nic gasped. She lifted a shaky hand and wiped once more at her overfilling eyes.

“Come on,” He put his arm around her and led her inside grinning at the kids who’d obviously been trying to listen in.

“Nic!” Lily cried excitedly jumping down from her seat and running over to her sister.

“Hey trouble,” Nic greeted her kneeling down in front of her.

“Did Mira’s come too?” Lily asked peering round her and looking at the door, “are you sad?” Lily lifted her hand and wiped Nic’s face.

Nic smiled at her sister, placing her hand on top of Lily’s.

“Mira is at home eating her breakfast, which is what you should be doing,” she murmured to her grinning as Lily sighed loudly and after turning stomped over to the table and resuming her seat.

“Morning,” Mike called coming down the stairs. “Hey Nic.”

“I forgot the annoying one was staying here,” Nic murmured under her breath making Mike grin. He strode over to her and placed a kiss to her cheek before stepping around her and into the kitchen. Within moments he’d poured out a coffee for himself.

“Nic?” he asked gesturing with the coffee pot.

“Thanks,” she said at his offer watching as Mike poured out a coffee and passed it to her. “What are you lot doing here?” Nic asked her siblings.

“Dad kidnapped us,” Meggy cried out.

Nic gasped and looked at her dad seeing him give a rueful grin.

“That is more or less true, but I will be returning you on Monday night.”


“Ella told me she had some essays due so I offered to have the kids,” he shrugged.

Nic smirked and continued to hold his gaze before smiling as she saw his cheeks colour slightly at the continued scrutiny. That alone told her that there was something going on between him and Ella.

“That’s good,” Nic nodded and sipped from her cup. She looked over at the kids before moving to sit on one of the benches giving the kids a smile as they moved up to make room for her.

“What did Dad do?” Sophie muttered sounding sullen to Nic’s ears she shot her dad a look and saw a slight tightening of his jaw. So her sister, and namesake, was causing a few issues for him. She bet Sophie hadn’t even come close to some of the things she’d got up to herself, feeling a sudden flushing to her cheeks as she remembered the bikini incident. Her gaze drifted to Mike and she saw her brother grin at her. The annoying one knew far too much, Nic thought.

“He sent me a solicitor’s letter outlining visitation and a formal apology for not asking before.”

“Woah Nic,” Mike murmured before grinning at his Dad, “Bet that was an interesting discussion you had with your solicitor!”

“Yeah, went along the lines of, so you want access to your daughter, how old is she…”

“Dad!” Nic muttered giving him a look.

Meggy giggled looking at them all before catching the expression on Sophie’s face. For once she didn’t know what her sister was thinking and it worried her. She reached for her drink and took a drink before trying and finally making eye contact with Georgie. He gave a small almost un-noticeable shake of his head covering it with taking a drink himself and that only increased her worry about Sophie, the fact that her twin didn’t know what was going on with her. They had all agreed to the plan and assigned rolls to try and get the parents back together, this time not involving Mike and Danni, or Gabby; Mike and Danni because they were going through some stuff of their own and Gabby, well Gabby because she had Daniella, her daughter, to look after.

“Well anyway, I explained the issue and why I felt I needed to do it and we came up with that letter,” Roman continued, “I owe all my children an apology for various things….”

“Does this mean you are going to apologise for grounding me?” Mike shot out interrupting his dad.

“As if, I remember that you were only ever grounded once,” Nic said giving Mike a saccharine grin.

“What did he do?” Sammy was the first to ask.

“Yeah, once compared to how many times for you Nicole?”

“I think the point is that they gave up on you after the first time, I was obviously worth more effort!”

Roman let out a chuckle at hearing the banter between Nic and Mike. It had been a long time since he’d heard them talk so easily. His focus had shifted away from them and on to the other kids, which a part of him regretted because now thinking about it he felt like he’d just abandoned them when they became adults. He grinned suddenly as he imagined Ella’s voice in his head telling him he was being stupid, if he’d abandoned them then what was Mike doing living with him, amongst all the other stuff she’d be telling him. Whenever he felt like he wasn’t doing so good a job at this parenting stuff there would be Ella reassuring him.

“So anyway,” he began and caught Sammy bouncing up and down on the bench and giving him a look, “Samson?”

“I want to know what Mike did…” Sammy whined.

“It was a long time ago,” Nic murmured, “doesn’t matter…”

Roman smiled at the way Sammy pouted before giving Nic a look.

“As I was about to say, how about you, Geoff and the kids come over Saturday night and we have dinner?”

“We’d like that,” Nic confirmed, “I think you might get the kids wanting to stay over though.”

“I’m sure we can fit them,” Roman murmured. “What do you think?” He turned and asked his kids hearing excited voices talking.

“There isn’t enough room for us,” Sophie drawled in a scathing voice before standing from the table. “What makes you think that the others will actually want to be around you,” She moved away from the table and out of the room without even glancing at anyone.

“Sophie’s sad?” Lily asked giving her Dad a sad look.

“Maybe,” Roman said softly, “but anyway, its school time, so can you all go brush your teeth and wash faces please?”

He watched as the kids slowly piled out of the room, Meggy and Sammy taking hold of the twins hands and leading them out before he reached for the coffee pot and filled up his cup.

“Okay, what was that about Dad?” Nic said quickly her eyes meeting his.

“I have no idea,” Roman shrugged, “I just assumed you’d been giving her lessons on how to be stroppy!”

“Ha!” Nic gasped out as Mike laughed. “Do not encourage him,” Nic muttered.

“What? That was funny!” Mike defended before looking at his watch and then over at his Dad, “I can take the older ones,” he offered.

“Thanks,” Roman murmured.

Nic eased up daintily and moved next to her Dad and placing her empty cup in the sink she turned and kissed his cheek.

“Thanks Dad, I’ll text you later,” she murmured. Gabbing her handbag from where she left it she walked over to the door and out of it.

“So you …” Mike said softly.

“Try and find out what is wrong with your sister please Mike, I don’t think she’ll talk to either of us,” Roman interrupted whatever his son was going to say. “If someone has been hurting her…”

“God Dad, no, she would tell you,” Mike muttered thinking immediately of when Jacob had hurt his sister. He felt his hands clench around his cup and breathed out slowly forcing himself to relax.

“I know that it’s probably the divorce and being shipped back and forth between us, but just in case,” Roman made himself give a shrug and avoided folding his arms. Just as he was congratulating himself on the neutral body language he saw Mike smirking at him.

“I’ll see what I can do old man,” Mike promised standing up.

Roman nodded before clearing the table. With everything sorted it was time to get the kids out of the house and into the cars and then to school.

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Chapter 57

Roman woke when the door to his room opened. He rolled over in the bed expecting it to be one of the kids and frowned when he saw it was Ella.

“What are you doing here?” he gasped out before lowering his voice as she closed the door and moved over to the bed. He grinned suddenly as he lifted the covers and she climbed into bed with him, discarding her jacket and shoes before she did so.

“I…” she began.

“Missed the kids?”

“Well yeah,” She murmured and he felt her cheek warm as she must have flushed, her head leant against his shoulder and smirked at her safe that his face was hidden in the dark, “I said goodnight to them but.”

Roman chuckled quietly even as his arms tightened around her.

“Did you get finished?”

“Yeah,” Ella mumbled her lips close to the side of his neck, “Planning on the exhibition, plus a book, and all three essays.”

“Exhibition,” he murmured realising the enormity of what she’d been doing. She’d only had a few of them throughout her career, focusing more on books.

“Yeah,” she said again, “I’ve decided that if I’m studying then,” she stopped and he frowned as he waited for her to resume what she was saying. Did she expect him to protest, he wondered. “I should do my photography too,” she finished.

“I thought you were,” he sighed.

“Yeah well.”

“Ella if there is something that you need to tell me …”

“Nothing,” she said with a sigh.

“Not even you hate me for stopping your photography before?” he muttered the question trying to keep his voice low.

“Not hate exactly,” She sighed again.

“Let’s talk tomorrow,” he decided.

Moving down in the bed he settled down pulling her closer to him.

“I resent it, ok,” she said in a soft whisper as he tugged the covers over them. “I should have stood up for myself more and not let…”

“Tomorrow, El, or we’ll end up not getting any sleep.”

She gave a tired sounding chuckle.

“You used to like not getting any sleep with me.”

“Still do, but I am getting on a bit and I do have to sneak downstairs before Lily wakes up,” he answered her back.

Turning his head he looked into her eyes seeing them shining with unshed tears in the half-light of the room before lowering his lips to hers and kissing her before settling down himself to sleep.

He awoke again just as he heard Lily moving around in the next room. He gave a groan looking down at the sleeping Ella before vaulting out of the bed and stepping over to the wardrobe. Grabbing his dressing gown and yanking it on he searched next for his sleeping bag and found in in the bottom of the wardrobe. He was unprepared for the negative feelings he felt on seeing it again. Reaching over to the bed he scooped up a spare pillow and eased out of the room and down the stairs managing to avoid anybody.

Spreading out the sleeping bag on the floor he made it look like he’d slept downstairs as he moved into the kitchen and began making coffee.

“Get Mother her own key will you,” Mike grumbled from the sofa.

“Rent,” Roman shot back with a chuckle at the hand gesture Mike made in his general direction.

“Morning Dada!” Lily called out leading the twins down the stairs and into the lounge. She moved over to the sofa and patted Mike on his head. “Morning Mikey!”

“Graah!” Mike moaned before pulling the cover over his head.

“Mikey move up we want toons on,” Lily told him bossily.

“Come sit at the table, Lils,” Roman instructed.

“Buts Dada,”

Roman moved over to where the twins were standing and led them over to the table and lifted them on to one of the long benches. He settled them down before fetching drinks for them.

“Dada, can I have eggs?” Lily murmured moving over to the table reluctantly.

“We’ll see,” Roman murmured back trying not to grin at his daughter. Opening the fridge he took out the bacon and tomatoes and began assembling breakfast. Within an hour all the kids had descended down the stairs and were gathered around the table.

“Why is your sleeping bag down here?” Sammy muttered looking across the room.

“Yeah,” Mike added finally pushing back the covers and sitting up. He shot Lily a look as she made a move like she was going to get up and smirked when Roman placed his hand on her shoulder easing her back down on the bench where she was sitting with Liam and the twins.

“Coffee?” Roman asked suddenly titling his head to one side as he heard something.

“Yes,” Mike answered.

“I wasn’t asking you,” Roman murmured smiling at the kids as they shot him a look.

“Who Dada?” Liam shot out.

“Me,” Ella responded from the other side of the room, she was no longer in the short nightdress of the night before.

“Mama,” August squealed excitedly and shooting up she ran over to her only seconds in front of Fleur.

Bending down and hugging her youngest babies she avoided the knowing look on Roman’s face.

“But what are you doing here? Don’t tell me..” Sophie trailed off.

“Now you know why the sleeping bag was down here,” Sammy told his sister.

Ella eased over to the table and helped the twins to sit back down. She placed kisses to the top of Liam’s and Lily’s heads as she sat down herself next to them.

“It seems to me that we have a very busy day ahead of us,” Ella said softly, “With hair appointments, shopping and ..”

“My gymnastic tournament…” Meggy butted in.

Ella nodded, “So I’ve had to draft in extra help,” she murmured, “They’ll be here soon.”

“Mother,” Mike muttered from the sofa.

“Yes son,” she said and grinned as he vaulted up from the sofa and ran over to the stairs. They heard him race up them and slam the door as he ran into the bathroom.

“So what is your plan mother?”

Ella smiled ignoring the caustic note in her daughter’s voice as she reached for the coffee that Roman placed in front of her and took a sip just as there was a knock at the door. She grinned as Sammy jumped up and raced over to open it.

“Gabby, Danni!” he cried out.

“Let us in then,” Gabby murmured guiding Daniella inside, with Danni moving slowly in after her. She glanced around the room and sighed.

“Hey,” Meggy called out.

“Do you want a drink?” Roman asked them.

“Coffee please,” Gabby nodded moving to the table. She gave a look at where Sophie and Meggy were sitting and grinned as they moved up to let her sit down. She lifted Daniella on to her lap and smiled as her daughter reached out a hand to Sophie.


“Nothing for me,” Danni said sounding nervous.

“Squidge up kids,” Ella said lifting Lily on to her lap and watched as the twins scooted along the bench next to her with Liam hopping down and moving a little way along before laboriously climbing back up.

“So what is the plan?” Georgie asked.

“Hello,” Mike said easing back into the room, his hair wet from the shower. “Oh hello Danni,” he added in a casual voice.

“Mike,” Danni greeted back as she sat slowly down lifting Jennie closer to her.

“Right as we are all here,” Ella said with subtle irony her eyes going over to Mike who grinned nonchalantly back at her, “Gabby is going shopping and she will take you Sophie.”

“Oh ok,” Sophie pouted slightly before resuming the bored look she’d adopted.

“And she’ll drop Lily and Liam off with Nic as she collects Angel to go with you,” Ella continued hiding her smile at the way Sophie was trying hard not to look excited at the prospect of spending the day with Gabby and Angel.

“We’s see Mira?”

“Certainly do Missy,” Ella grinned and kissed the top of Lily’s head, “Then Danni here is going to look after the twins along with Daniella.”

“Really?” Mike said quickly.

“Why do you think I… “ Danni stopped when everyone looked at her.

“I think,” Mike began enunciating clearly, “That four kids is a lot for a person to look after at once. Would you like some help?”

Danni flushed and then gave Ella a glare as she smiled innocently back at her.

“Fine, yes,” Danni muttered. “Thanks,” she added.

“So that leaves us,” Georgie murmured.

“Yeah, well I’m sorry but you drew the short straw guys I’m going to have to leave you with your Dad,” Ella murmured.

“Oi,” Roman muttered.

“You taking me?” Meggy stuttered.

“Well me or your Dad, who do you want?”

“You,” Meggy replied immediately.

Sammy chuckled at his sister before looking up at his dad as he spoke.

“Guess we can have a boys day, maybe go for a drive?” he suggested.

“Me’s a boy too,” Liam pointed out.

“I know, but don’t you want to see Mira?” Roman asked him.

Liam shook his head.

“Me not wants to play dress up!” He said indignantly flushing as his brothers and sisters laughed at him.

“I’m sure Lily will find a game you can all play together,” Ella told him quietly.

As usual Roman marvelled at how the kids responded to Ella as Liam quietened down and nodded.

“They’s better,” Liam muttered in a fierce voice giving Lily a look who responded with an innocent smile.

“So have we sorted out everything?” Ella asked.

“We?” Roman murmured giving her a look just like Liam had with Lily moments before and Ella responded with her own innocent look back causing him to have to hide his grin from the kids.

The kids began to sort out things as they moved from the table and got ready for the day ahead. Gabby left with Sophie, Lily and Liam before Mike and Danni disappeared with the younger kids.

“Come on Megs, we need to go,” Ella called up the stairs before turning and looking over at Roman. He had his arms folded and was giving her a look.

“I invited Nic over tonight,” he announced dryly.

“Good,” Ella murmured back.

“So you know nothing about a BBQ?”

Ella gave him a look and shook her head.

“That is funny because Nic has texted me and told me it’s now going to be held at yours,” he found himself flinching at referring to the house as hers.

“Well then I hope she’s going to be doing some shopping because I have nothing in,” Ella stated softly.

“I better speak to my daughter…”

“Oh no what did I do now?” Meggy asked overhearing the last sentence as she moved into the room.

“It’s ok Megs,” Roman told her with a smile, “Not you this time.”

Meggy breathed out a sigh and stepped forward.

“Come on Meggy, we need to get going. I’ll see you later,” Ella added stepping over to the door with her daughter. She grinned at the expression on Roman’s face before adopting a neutral expression and steering Meggy out and over to her car.

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Chapter 58

“Mum,” Meggy frowned as she looked around the big gymnasium. She opened her mouth as she saw one of the girls practising on the parallel bars.

“What Megs?”

“They look so good,” Meggy moaned before looking down at her trainers.

“I’m sure you are just as good,” Ella smiled and placed her hand on her daughters shoulder guiding her across the gym and over to where her teammates were.

“Meggy!” a girl cried out running up to her.

“Casey,” Meggy squealed back, “Can you believe this place?”

“It’s totally amazing,” Casey squealed.

“I’m so nervous.”

“You are?” Casey shook her head and looked around the room again before looking down at her outfit. “I so don’t fit in,” she moaned.

“Megs,” Ella called her daughter over to her as she knelt down looking in the bag she’d brought with her.

“Yes Mum?”

“Here, try this,” Ella muttered keeping her head down as she passed Meggy a new leotard, navy blue with red stripes down the side.

“Ok,” Meggy said before she gave a little gasp.

“What is it?”

“This is too small Mum!”

“Oh,” Ella looked up, managing to keep the shocked look on her face with difficulty, “Oh no,” she took it from Meggy’s hands and opened the wrapping before taking it out of the cellophane bag and looking at it. Somehow she managed to rip off the tag in the process and shook her head as it fell to the floor. “Well I can’t take it back now,” she muttered.

“Oh no,” Meggy murmured mirroring her. She shook her head before grinning. “Sneaky mother,” she said, “Casey!”

“Yes?” Casey ran over to where they were standing.

“Mum bought me this leotard and it’s too small.”

“The tags have come off so I can’t take it back,” Ella said softly.

Casey hung back for a minute before she accepted the leotard.

“I don’t have…”

“Really? Turning down a free leotard?” Meggy chuckled.

“And one that matches Meggy’s,” Ella added pulling the second one out of her bag. “I think this one will fit it’s the next size up.”

“Come on Casey, we’ll match,” Meggy cajoled her friend.

“Girls, come on,” their coach called.

Meggy grabbed the packet from her mum’s hand before turning and grabbing hold of Casey’s free hand and running over to their coach.

Ella smiled as she knelt down and collected the rubbish and taking it over to a nearby bin. She looked up in the seating along the wall working out the best area to sit before collecting her bag and moving there. After looking at her watch and working out that it wouldn’t start for a while she took out her phone and grinning at the flashing message symbol. Opening up her inbox she saw that there were numerous messages from Roman and one from her dad. She read his first and nodded before texting him back. Then steeling herself she opened up the first of Roman’s and read that. Nic had organised with Aden to provide the food and for them to do the cooking but they were holding it at her place. She could imagine his lip curling as he typed out ‘her place’ in the text. Although they hadn’t formally settled the debate of where they would live she was pretty certain he would be moving back in and she knew she was grinning like an idiot with just thinking that. She missed him. Especially at night, not just the lovemaking but the other stuff too, talking with him as they went to sleep and then curling up in his arms.

Unaware of the smirk that crawled on to her face she texted him back telling him that if Nic and Aden set foot on her property she’d have them arrested for trespass and waited for his response as she read the other messages. The phone buzzed in her hand as it rang and she chuckled before answering.

“Arrested? Isn’t that a bit overkill?” Roman murmured.

“Maybe,” Ella said with a laugh, “Did they actually ask me about this plan of theirs?”

“Apparently it was to be a surprise.”

“Well, won’t they be surprised when Charlie pitches up and arrests them,” she said imagining the look on his face, half amused half concerned that she was really going to do it.

“El,” he began making her chuckle.

“It’s ok, just that if they are going to stay then I’ve not tidied the bedrooms.”

“Ok,” Roman paused, “Georgie, want to earn some money?” he called out.

“Roman!” Ella protested with a laugh.

“What?” he murmured sounding innocent, “He’s old enough.”

“Remind me again why I should consider taking you back?”

“Ouch!” Roman groaned. “Thanks just make me paranoid.”

Ella giggled into the phone, “You’re welcome,” she told him.

“Ok, so do I have your permission to spritz the house?” Roman asked after a moment and Ella could imagine that either Sammy or Georgie had moved closer to him, close enough to hear.

“Yeah go on,” Ella said with a loud sigh. “do the boys want to do a bar?”

“Yeah!” She heard Sammy call out and grinned.

“I think that is a yes,” Roman said to her.

“Ok then, go clean, do what you want,” she murmured, “I have to go, see you later.”

“Ok, bye.”

Ella ended the call and placed her phone away in her bag. Glancing at her watch again she saw that the seats around the gym were being filled. She knew from experience how nerve wracking it was to be down on the floor looking up and seeing people filling the stands and could only hope that nerves didn’t stop Meggy from her performance today. She’d been helping her daughter for a few months with somersaults and technique so she knew that her daughter was good.

“Ella,” A voice called and she turned her head to where the sound came from. Standing she greeted the two people approaching her.

“Daddy,” she murmured before looking at the nervous looking woman beside him, “and you must be Casey’s mother?” she added softly holding out her hand to her.

“Yeah, I’m Helen,” she answered putting her hand in her clasp.

“Glad you could come, Casey told Meggy that you didn’t have a car at the moment, and I knew my Dad was coming, so,” Ella shrugged.

“He was very persuasive,” Helen commented.

“I’ve noticed that about him,” Ella smiled as she led the other woman over to the seats she’d chosen and sat down leaving Helen with no choice but to sit next to her. After a few moments her Dad returned and handed out the coffees he’d bought from the refreshment stand.

“Not sure how you like yours Helen so I’ve got milk, cream and sugar,” he commented handing her the tray with the extra things on. “How’s Meggy? Is she nervous?”

Ella smiled at her father.

“A little but more excited than nervous.”

“I bet, Casey was freaking out this morning,” Helen stuttered her response trying to join in with the conversation.

“My eyes popped out of my head when I saw the gym.”

“Ha,” George grinned at Ella and she felt herself blushing, “My daughter is remiss in telling you she used to be part of a gymnastics team. She rose quite high in the rankings. I’m sure if we hadn’t returned to Australia then she may have been noticed at international level.”

“You’ve met my Dad, he’s also my publicist!” Ella scoffed.

She felt her dad place his hand on her shoulder before he shot her a chagrined smile.

“Can I help it if I’m proud of my daughter?”

“Casey has been asked to join the District team.”

“That is good.”

“I’m not sure,” Helen said slowly, “It would mean moving and we can’t afford it.”

“That would be a shame not to give her the opportunity,” Ella commented quietly before pointing to the end of the gym where the kids were coming in.

“Is that Casey?” Helen asked quietly, “She’s…”

“Yeah, sorry, I bought Meggy a new one and because she’s living with her father at the moment I wasn’t sure of the size so had a spare,” Ella butted in quickly before Helen mentioned the new leotard on her daughter.

“Well you need to let me have the cost,” Helen drew herself up and met Ella’s gaze evenly.

“Of course, if you insist.”

“I do,” Helen told her.

“Look at Megs,” George said quietly.

“You start blubbing Dad and I’ll kick you out.”

He shot her a grin.

“She does look like you,” George said.

Ella shook her head before grinning as both Helen and George looked at her. She sipped from her cup and looked over at the square mat in the centre of the gym where their daughters and granddaughter were lining up ready for the tournament to start.

“Mum did you see me? Granddad what are you doing here? Did you see? I did just what we practised,” Meggy said excitedly hopping from one foot to the other in front of them. A little way off Helen was in conversation with the coach from the District team standing with a subdued Casey.

“We saw everything Megs,” Ella said softly.

“I got a cup and everything, this has been the best,” Meggy continued as though her mother hadn’t spoken.

“Dad, you say one more time she’s like me and I’ll kick you,” Ella promised catching him smirking at her again.

“Casey was really good wasn’t she Mum?”

“Meggy, hun,” Ella began softly, “Are you actually going to stop talking for a minute so we can answer?”

“Huh, what?” Meggy groaned, “Oh Mum.”

Ella put her arms around her daughter and held her close for a second before drawing back and looking at the small silver cup that Meggy had won for coming third in the mat exercises.

“Well done sweetheart,” Ella said softly as she gave her a hug.

“Oh mum, I wouldn’t have been half as good without you giving me lessons,” Meggy cried out before looking at her Granddad, “She’s so good isn’t she Granddad?”

“She is,” he agreed.

“Come on then, we need to get home, Granddad is taking you and Casey and I’m bringing Helen,” Ella murmured.

“Ok,” Meggy ran over to her friend and hooked her arm through the other girls before saying something to her. The two of them giggled before comparing trophies. Casey had won first place scoring amongst the highest scores in the history of the tournament.

They moved out to the cars and set off on the journey home. Ella looked over at Helen and seeing the other woman retreating within herself and starring out of the passenger side window.

“You know there are opportunities that a person should go for,” Ella began softly. “If I were to suggest something would you listen?”

“What do you mean?” Helen snapped.

“I have a proposition for you,” Ella said softly as she navigated the car around a roundabout.

“Fine, tell me,” Helen muttered folding her arms across herself, her body straining against the seatbelt as she sat up straighter in the car.

“Casey needs to take this chance. She’s a natural. The only thing that can stop her is the fact that you don’t have a job.”

“Carry on,” Helen spat out.

“So we find you a job, I figure that you need to get some qualifications.”

“Got it figured out haven’t you?”

“Just about,” Ella said without irony.

“Tell me then, how do I get qualifications…”

“You go to Tafe,”

“Oh is it that simple?” Helen spat out another sarcastic question at her.

“Of course not, it’s going to be a lot of hard work,” Ella said softly. “I know myself that going to college and running a house is mission impossible sometimes.”

Ella felt Helen looking over at her.

“Some of us don’t have as many kids as you Mrs Harris,” She shot out.

“No,” Ella said softly in response, “I don’t suppose many people do.”

“Just how many do you have?”

“At last count I think it was fourteen,” Ella murmured drily. “But some of them are adopted or stepchildren.” Grinning as Helen laughed at her. She spotted her Dad’s car up ahead and eased back on the speed as she manoeuvred along the road, turning into the street where Helen lived.

“So if I were to …I don’t even know what you are suggesting?”

“Talk things over with Casey and if she wants to join the district gymnastics team I’ll sponsor the pair of you,” Ella spoke quickly, “we’ll work out the best way to do it so that you are comfortable with the arrangements.”

“Do you do this often Mrs Harris?”

“Ella, please, and yes I like to help others.”

“I suppose it helps having the money to do it,” Helen jibed.

“I worked for my money Helen, for eleven years I was a single Mum just like you.”

“Well really? Am I supposed to feel some empathy for you and let you run my life?”

“No, you are supposed to be Casey’s mum and not let your pride get in the way of her chances.” Ella said back as she eased the car to a stop just behind her Dad’s. She glanced over at the back doors as they opened and their respective daughters got out obviously still hyper from the tournament.

“I’ll see,” Helen muttered as she jumped out of the car and rushed over to Casey’s side. Within moments the two of them had disappeared into the house. Meggy waved at her before getting back into her Dad’s car and setting off. Ella gave a last look at the house before she too started the car up and pulled away heading home. She knew she’d find Roman there and instead of her usual smile she frowned. All she wanted to do was sneak away and take a nap and she had the horrible suspicion that she wouldn’t be able to.

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Chapter 59

“Is Mum here?” Sophie asked quickly looking over at her dad as he stood in the kitchen cooking. She found it slightly disconcerting that he was there if she were honest.

“She’s upstairs in her room having a lie down,” Roman commented to his daughter before he turned and was able to take a good look at her. Her hair had been cut into layers and fluffed around her face. Gone too, were the pink streaks, her hair back to its usual honey colour. “Hair looks good,” he added softly watching as Sophie narrowed her eyes and glared at him without commenting and he sighed, “Why don’t you take her up a drink?”

Sophie stalked over to the fridge and took out a can of coke before stalking over to the stairs and up them.

“Hey Granddad,” Angel said softly.

“Hey yourself, want a drink?” he asked his granddaughter.

“Er sure, what are you doing here?”

“Your mother arranged for the BBQ to be here this evening so I’m pitching in,” he murmured before finishing with the food he was preparing. He looked at the tray of peppers, courgettes and eggplant before placing it in oven to cook. Washing his hands before opening the fridge he took out a couple cans of drink, lemonade for Angel and a coke for himself and walked over to the table. “I like your hair too,” he added softly as he handed over the drink.

“Thanks,” Angel shrugged.

“But?” Roman murmured sensing something about her.

“Oh,” Angel sighed as she sat down and looked over at him as he did the same. She wasn’t used to him being around, let alone asking her what was wrong. Her mum had always said that he avoided anything to do with teenage girls, of course she always laughed when she said it but something about the way her mum’s face would look gave her the impression that there were things her mum didn’t tell them.

“Do you think I’m pretty? I mean Ella is beautiful, that’s what Mum says all the time and I know that Aunt Belle is a bit nervous around her and everything. I mean, if my Mum thinks she’s beautiful then…” Angel stopped and chewed on her lip before speaking again. “Only Sophie always gets the attention. She works and takes care of the…”

“Angel,” Roman interrupted before his granddaughter could say anymore, “I think that Ella and Sophie are beautiful. I think that Meggy is too, but most of all I think your Mum is beautiful too. You look like your Mum in the way that Sophie looks like hers.”

“Oh,” Angel said again pausing to take a long drink of her lemonade. She looked at the can and gave a small smile at the way he knew she didn’t like coke. “So you are saying..”

“I’m saying that you are beautiful. If you don’t believe me just go into the study and look on the bookcase. You’ll see a photograph album there with pictures that Ella took of you and your Mum. See yourself through her eyes,” he murmured softly. “And just because Sophie does all that stuff doesn’t mean that you won’t be doing a whole lot of stuff yourself.”

“Mum doesn’t let me look after Mira,” Angel shook her head.

“Have you asked why?” He asked and saw from the look on her face that she hadn’t.

Angel shrugged. “She says that she has a routine.”

“That may be so.”

Angel looked pensive.

“Look, the only way you’ll find out is by sitting down with your Mum and Dad the way you are with me and talking to them. Sounds like you have a lot of things going through your head and are feeling a little insecure,” Roman sighed. “I know how that feels, Ella and I are divorced and I feel like a visitor sometimes in what used to be my home.”

“Really? I never… well… it never…” Angel sipped at her lemonade as she focused on her Granddad.

“I imagine that your Mum felt the same way when she came to Summer Bay to find me,” Roman added in a soft voice.

Angel’s face lit up and she grinned suddenly.

“Is that why you did the letter? To make mum know she was as special as Sophie?”

“Exactly,” Roman murmured, “Should I do you a letter too?”

Angel shook her head, her new haircut making her hair fluff around her face.

“I’m cool,” Angel looked out of the back and over to where the other kids were gathered. She gave her Granddad a look before standing up. “Thanks,” she whispered shyly and moved out the back and over to the other kids.

Roman nodded before he stood and walked back into the kitchen. More food to prep and get ready.

Ella woke when Sophie eased into the bedroom. She watched as her daughter approached the bed on tip toes.

“Mum,” Sophie whispered.

“Let’s see that hair then,” Ella murmured as she eased up sitting against the headboard. She moved the pillows behind her and peered at Sophie. “I did say no new colours,” she commented.

“It’s not a new colour,” Sophie sighed her hand going to her hair, “I just had the pink and purple taken out.”

“Looks good, and layers.”

“Like Meggy’s.” Sophie confessed.

“I like it but that isn’t what you came up here for is it?”

Sophie shook her head and climbed up on the bed next to her Mum.

“We saw Steve in town, he was with his parents,” Sophie began stopping and biting on her lower lip. Ella gave her daughter a bemused expression knowing that she’d picked that up from her.

“And?” Ella prompted.

“He texted me later and asked if I’ve forgiven Angel how come I haven’t forgiven him.”

“Well that is a point there,” Ella said putting her arm around her daughter’s shoulders and leaning closer. “Do you want to forgive him?”

“Mum,…” Sophie groaned as she leaned closer to her mother.

“Can’t give you the answers Soph, I don’t know how you feel.”

Sophie sighed loudly and looked down at her phone. She sighed again looking at the new message symbol on there and opened up the new message.

“What? Wait, what?” she muttered. “He’s such a …” she added.

“Soph,” Ella said quietly.

“Look,” Sophie thrust the phone at her and Ella read the new message from Steve. She gave a small chuckle.

“Again, he has a point,” Ella said, “I think you want to forgive him but the fact that he hasn’t tried….”

“Oh Mum, he did try, he got me flowers and I threw them away, he wrote me a poem and I threw that away too,” Sophie said before looking at her hand, “well, I did throw it away but then I got it out of the bin and put it in my diary. And he sent me a friendship request with a …” Sophie stopped and looked at her mother who was giggling.

“If you got the poem out of the bin I think that tells you that you aren’t quite ready to say goodbye to him,” Ella confirmed.

“I guess,” Sophie sighed again, “I think I’m like you Mum,” she added.

“Ah, is that what is worrying you?”

Sophie nodded.

“What if Steve is to me what Dad is to you? What if this keeps happening?”

“I’m pretty sure that you can’t tell just yet if you are one man kind of girl. You are a teenager, and as such you are bound to have crushes and fall in love nearly every other week. Steve is very nice, and fits in very well with the family, crazy as we are, but that doesn’t mean that as soon as you graduate University, you know with your PhD and start working that you are destined to get married.”

“PhD?” Sophie shot her a look, “You have that much faith in me?”

“Well, a degree at least and no, my darling girl, Uni, college, cookery school, whatever you decide you want to do is fine by me.”

“I will remind you that you said that!”

“I know you will I’m not in the least worried about you.”

Sophie grinned at her.

“Just the others?”

Ella grinned back. “More like just Lily!” She said with feeling.


“Sophie, if you and Steve are meant to be together then you need to work out if you forgive him and he does have the point doesn’t he? You forgave Angel,” Ella said softly adding, “But forever kind of love? Well we’ll see in a few years. And as for your Dad and me, we didn’t do so badly, we got you and your brothers and sisters.”

Sophie nodded before she looked at her phone again before she picked it up and after scrambling off the bed moving out of the room. Ella heard her daughter speaking into the phone and smiled before getting out of bed herself. She stretched as she moved over to the en suite. Shower, changed and then downstairs to see what the others had got up to.

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Chapter 60

Ella walked slowly down the stairs, her long skirt swishing around her legs as she moved. Choosing to avoid looking like she’d dressed up she picked out one of her many gypsy skirts and teamed it with a white vest top. She’d taken a very long soak in the tub rather than the quick shower needing the extra relaxation before the night’s activities. Not that she should be worried about anything, considering she was surrounded by family but more that she was concerned about what sneaky tricks her children were going to try next. It also meant that her hair was left down, and the steam from the bath had seeped into it making it curl around her face. She knew that Roman would notice that her hair was down immediately and she’d had to resist pinning it up and back off her face to avoid any comments he made.

“Mama!” Liam cried out running up the last few steps and over to her.

“Liam,” Ella greeted her son bending down to pick him up and hug him.

“We’s been waiting for you,” he murmured snuggling into her.

“I can see, and who has been dressing you mister, you are wearing your best trousers.”

Liam shrugged as much as his hold on her allowed and offered her a grin.

“Me’s sisters wearing dresses,” he told her in a whisper.

Ella smiled and walked the rest of the way down the stairs and out the back. She immediately saw all the extra tables and chairs had been put out with the fairy lights strung up adding a romantic glow amongst the flowers with the garden lights also on. She glanced around the people sitting and talking amongst themselves as she approached them. Irene and her Dad were seated with Mike, and then Danni sitting next to Belle on the same table and raised an eyebrow at her son being so close to Danni. She looked at the table with all the younger kids on, Lily and Mira with Daniella, August and Fleur. Someone had placed one of her more colourful tablecloths on that table and she could see party snacks in front of them along with her colourful picnic plates that she had. As Liam told her, the girls were wearing party dresses, each of them looking like Princesses. Someone, she suspected Sophie, had curled Lily’s hair so it hung like ringlets down her back. She lowered Liam to his feet and watched as he ran over to the table and sat down next to Lily.

“Hi,” Roman was the first to notice her and she smiled at that.

A flurry of greetings followed as Ella moved around the tables before selecting a seat and easing into it looking over at her blonde haired step daughter and fixing her with a look.

“Well Nicole what do you have to say for yourself?”

Nic flushed glaring at Aden and Mike who’d chuckled at Ella’s words before flashing Ella a smile.

“Just we don’t get to see you and Dad wanted to get together….” Nic trailed off and looked over at her dad before she lapsed into total silence.

“Uh huh,” Ella murmured before smiling at her stepdaughter. She turned her head and looked over Meggy. “Did you tell everyone?”

“I did…” Meggy sighed placing her head back on her hands, her elbows leaning on one of the tables.

“I hope they all congratulated you,” Ella pointed out in a soft voice.

“Oh they did but…”

“She gloated,” Sammy called out.

“Maybe if her family paid her a bit more attention for her achievement then she wouldn’t have needed to….”

Sammy flushed and looked down at the table.

“It’s ok Mum,” Meggy said quickly glancing around at everyone, her face colouring.

“Do you want a drink Mum?” Georgie asked cutting into the sudden silence.

“Of course she does,” Nic answered for her, “One of those blue things you do.”

“Blue things?” Roman asked glancing at his sons and grandsons as they ran over to the bar.

“They are delicious,” Gabby murmured.

Ella caught Roman looking at her and she smiled innocently back at him, her smile broadening as he shook his head at her. Georgie brought a drink over to her and stood by patiently whilst she tasted it. He grinned at her before returning to the bar. The buzz of conversation started again. Aden and Geoff moving over to stand near Roman at the BBQ and then after a little while they began the serving of food for everyone with Ella and Liam getting served first with their vegetarian options.

Lily moved over to her brother and looked at his plate before pouting.

“Don’t start Missy,” Gabby murmured to her sister.

“Oh dear,” Ella commented, “Did we have tantrums?”

“Not me’s Mama,” Liam said quickly shaking his head.

Nic laughed at her brother before catching sight of Lily getting stroppy.

“Go get some dinner Lils,” Ella said softly and like magic her daughter ran off joining the queue to get her dinner.

“Magic,” Gabby murmured softly chuckling at Angel’s expression, the young girl having come over to sit with her Mum.

They busied themselves eating the food before Angel spoke up, clearing her throat.

“Thank you for paying for my hair cut,” she murmured shyly to Ella.

“Not me babes, I only arranged the appointment to coincide with Sophie’s.”


“I paid for it,” Nic said softly.

“Oh,” Angel looked crestfallen for a moment before allowing herself to be pulled out of her chair and over to her mother’s side. “You said I was grounded,” Angel groaned a tear falling on to her cheek.

“Yeah I did and we know why,” Nic murmured, “but you needed your hair cut, and Sophie was getting hers done so…”

Ella laughed softly at Angel’s expression as Nic pulled her daughter into her lap and wrapped her arms around her. After a small struggle Angel gave up and allowed her mother to hold her before resting her head against her Mum’s.

“What’s up babe?” Nic asked her daughter quietly.

“Just,” Angel sighed.

“I think she needs to hear the story about how she got her name,” Sophie said moving to stand near them, “Because it always cheers us up.”

“Well…” Nic flushed, unaware of course how pretty she looked with the pink tinging her cheeks. “It’s not a good story really,” she sighed herself.

“Of course it is, Mum told us,” Sophie insisted pinning Nic with her bright blue eyes.

“Well,” Nic said again, “We didn’t want to know if we were carrying a boy or girl because we wanted to be surprised. Problem is, I was convinced that I was carrying a boy.”

“Huh,” Angel muttered easing up and looking over at Sophie. She knew that Ella always told these stories to her kids and admitted to Sophie she was jealous.

“So when you turned up we had no girl names picked out, none that I liked anyway,”

Nic continued. “A few that your Dad liked though.”

Aden chuckled at that, catching Geoff glaring at him before the two men laughed.

“Anyway, we told Ella that we didn’t have any picked out and she looked down on you and said you were a complete Angel.”

“Aww…” Sophie murmured looking at her niece.

“And because we think names are important, that they give you a place to relate too, we chose Elizabeth to be your middle name,” Geoff added in his calm voice.

Angel floundered looking from one parent to the other before her mouth opened in a round ‘o’ shape. She closed it after a moment before looking shyly at Ella.

“Your name?” she asked and seeing both Ella and her mother nodding flushed, “Granddad said that you have pictures of me?”

Ella smiled and nodded.

“I have pictures of everybody,” she murmured. “Especially a nice one of your mother with…”

“You so don’t….” Nic cried out.

Angel laughed softly as her mother shook her head.

“Sophie and Meggy can show you later if you like?”

“Of course, Mum’s done some great shots, we look like models don’t we, Megs,” Sophie said.

“Yup,” Meggy confirmed her mouth full of food. “Sorry,” she added when she’d swallowed. “That was at the studio wasn’t it?”

“With Lily,” Sophie added.

“Playing dress up,” Georgie said in a high pitched voice from the other side of the garden where he was seated near the makeshift bar.

“Oh you,” Sophie groaned and rolled her eyes.

Angel gave her mother an extra hug before easing off her lap and moving away with Sophie, the two girls talking about the photos.

“So, you and Dad are close these days?” Nic said quickly.

“Yeah,” Ella murmured taking a bite of her burger.

“Nice is it?”

“The burger is delicious,” Ella commented and heard Roman laughing as his daughter flushed and glared at them.

Leaving the BBQ to Aden and Geoff he moved and sat at the same table as Ella chuckling as everyone moved around so that he was sitting next to Ella.

“So what has everyone been doing?” He asked steering the conversation to neutral topics.

Nic shot him an amused look.

“Well, we’ve been working and avoiding you two,” she told him.

“I wondered why it was so peaceful,” Roman shot back hearing Aden laughing at that.

“Got you there Princess,” he said at that.

“Aden Jefferies!” Nic squawked out.

“Did you save me some food?”

Ella spun around at the new voice and shot up out of her chair going over to where her son Toby was standing with Amy-Belle, Kai and Brett.

“Son, you surprise me one more time and I’ll write you out of the will…” Ella threatened her throat clogging with tears.

“Hey Ma,” Toby said softly returning her hug.

Aden moved to Amy-Belle and hugged her before lifting Kai out of her arms and cuddling his grandson, with Belle moving over to them too.

“Toby,” Roman moved over to them too.

“So have they announced anything yet?” Amy-Belle called out.

“Not yet, but we are giving Ella wine later!”

Ella glared at Nic before joining in with the laughter. She led Toby over to sit with her asking him a dozen questions.

“Come on Brett, let’s get you some food,” Roman murmured guiding the other man to the BBQ and serving up some food for him. He glanced over at Mike and gave a subtle nod to him before hiding his smile as his son shot up and came over to them.

“Hey,” Mike said quietly. “How you been?”

“Please? That the best you can come up with?” Brett replied his voice still showing signs of strain as the tension of being around them was getting to him.

“Well I was going to challenge you to an arm wrestling contest but I haven’t had enough beer yet,” Mike muttered and to his relief Brett laughed.

“Yeah like you could beat me…” he murmured.

Roman left them to it and moved to sit back at the table, handing Toby a plate of food. He noticed Georgie had put his plate to one side and moved to the bar sorting out drinks for the newcomers and that made him smile.

“So, do you think you could put up with me for a while?” Toby was saying.

Roman choked back a laugh.

“Shut up solider!” Ella scolded Roman before looking back at Toby, “How long is a while?”

“Six weeks, Brett has agreed to cover for me at the shop so I can stay a while.”

Ella promptly burst into tears and threw her arms around her son.

“I think that is a yes,” Roman murmured dryly.

“So who did this?” Ella muttered wiping at her eyes as she straightened up. She looked at Nic first and then Gabby.

“Not me,” Gabby cried out sounding guilty anyway. She flushed as the others laughed at her.

“Someone here is hiding something…” Ella began and trailed off when she felt Roman’s gaze on her. She could feel herself blushing, the slow colour rising up from her chest and painting her cheeks with red. She was glad that Lily had run over to them and distracted them by hugging and placing a soppy kiss on Toby’s face. Then Georgie brought over drinks and the conversation moved on.

Later, Ella carried a pile of plates into the kitchen and scrapped off the remains of food before rinsing them off and putting them in the dishwasher. Turning she caught Roman in the doorway looking at her a strange expression on his face.

“You!” She gasped out.

“Me what?” He murmured attempting an innocent tone.

“You are responsible for Toby being here!” She accused.

“Maybe,” Roman shrugged.

“You!” She muttered again torn between kissing him and slapping him for surprising her like that.

“Happy?” he said quietly checking that no one was there to overhear.

Ella nodded tears springing into her eyes again.

“Good,” he added before easing back and walking the way he’d come. He busied himself collecting more plates and cutlery and carrying them inside. He dealt with them seeing that Ella had taken the younger kids up the stairs to put to bed. With the dishwasher full and the rubbish sorted he left the kitchen and over to where Nic was sitting.

“Hey Daddy,” she said quietly. “Ella ok?”

“She is,” he confirmed.

“Good, we didn’t want her to…”

“It’s ok,” he cut her off and pressed a kiss to the top of his daughters head smiling as her frown eased before he stood and moved to where George and Irene were sitting. He hadn’t yet spoken to them and knew that he should.

“Roman,” George greeted his tone harsh.

“George,” Roman began, “Irene.”

“You ok Darl?”

“I’m good, how are you both?”

“We’re fine,” George answered.

Irene gave them both a look before she sighed and stood up.

“Sort it out for gawds sake!” she muttered throwing them a look over her shoulder and moving up the garden and on to the veranda.

“George…” Roman began unsure what he was going to say to the other man and Ella’s father.

“Stay away from my daughter Roman, stay away from her before you hurt her again. Isn’t it bad enough you came sniffing around whilst you had a girlfriend? And then to take Meggy from her?” George shook his head and stood without giving Roman a chance to answer and walked the way Irene had gone.

Roman swore under his breath. He felt the sting of George’s accusations long after the words had been said. Despite Ella’s assurances that she was happy with him and they were moving forward he felt that there were still issues to resolve and he hated the uncertainty that kept creeping in.

Moving to join the others he focused on trying to enjoy himself feeling his shoulders tensing up as Ella moved out to join them. He wondered briefly if she knew that her father was not happy about them seeing each other and then frowned. How exactly did George know about them? Danni and Mike knew, and also Aden but as for anyone else, and then he stifled another swearword trying to cover up with taking a drink of his beer. She’d called him ‘solider’ earlier. Something she always did when she was happy.

His gaze went to George and he saw the other man giving him a long look.

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