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When Dani Smiled
by Athina Paris
Genre: Romantic Suspense
Dani clutched the portfolio pages tightly to her chest as she stepped out the door and glanced at the January sky. It was clear in the east but ominous clouds gathered in the west, broadcasting a possible downpour. Typical Johannesburg weather, surprises every other hour. She held the drawings closer, not prepared to lose years of hard work to potential torrents. Better rush too if she planned to make it to the art shop before ten; had to look professional at the interview. She gazed at her Jack Russell sitting on Mrs. Brown’s windowsill, glad the kind woman had offered to look after the little rascal whenever she was out. She tapped the glass and there was an instant pricking of ears and wagging of tail. She smiled at the furry face staring back at her, ‘Coco, go play.’ Instead, Coco hopped around, pawed the pane, and licked it. Poor Mrs. Brown, another slobbered window to clean. Coco had been a gift from Sams, and generally, she regretted accepting anything from him, because every time she did, he felt entitled to some part of her life. She was convinced Sams was a freak of nature, because he was that one thing so many men wanted to be but were not, and she could not remember a time when he had not been number one at just about everything he had put his mind to throughout their school years. As far back as she could recall he had always been good-looking, smart, charming, and excelled at sports, especially rugby. A lot of idolatry had flown around that school. He thrived on it, she found it disturbing. Her heart dropped as she reached her car, there was a deep dent and crack on the Beetle’s front bumper. She peered at it, poked it, gave it a kick then looked around; trying to find someone who might explain it, but there was no one in sight. Now, when exactly did this happen, here, or at some parking lot? Her father had bought it just two months previously. ‘Ugh,’ she uttered. It was a new car with a scar and she with no idea how it had been inflicted. She felt like crying but what would that accomplish? She should have known then that this was not to be a normal day but ever the eternal optimist she set forth into it as if it were an adventure. The damaged bumper returned her thoughts to Sams. Once, when they were still learning how to drive, he had taken his mother’s car without permission and gone over to her house. She hated it when he turned up unexpectedly because he was constantly looking for things she did not intend giving him. He sort of kissed her... She labelled it sort of, because she had been unresponsive. However, when he forced his tongue into her mouth, she became responsive, by pushing him away and locking herself in her bedroom. Sams did not understand or accept rejection easily and left in a huff. She should rephrase that, he tried to leave in a huff but proceeded to scratch a long ugly line all the way down the car’s side as he drove past the gate, so instead, he left in a furious mood. Something curious happened to Sams that particular January morning. Just as he was about to sit down to write an exam, he had the overwhelming urge to call Dani, not a mere flicker of an idea, but a burning anxiety to contact her. He glanced at the time. Nothing doing, that call had to wait until he was done here, and that was at the very least two hours away. Yet, the urgency persisted. He glanced at the clock again then shrugged; there was nothing he could do about it now. Slowly, the feeling waned, then, vanished, having lasted a total of two minutes. Sams was not to know that two powerful forces were at work that morning; the first endeavoured to give him another chance at attaining what he wanted, and the second conspired to give Dani what she needed. He was not to know that had he given up writing that exam and called her, the selfless gesture would have finally shown him in the light he wished to be seen, and worked favourably in his pursuit of Dani Marie Creswell. For at that very moment, she stood on the side of a highway, cursing the damaged bumper that had come off completely. She had ridden over the mangled mess and it was now stubbornly stuck under the Beetle, with a sharp edge dug deep into the front right tyre, which leaned at a strange angle in shreds to the right. Now, did she call to announce that she would be late for her interview, get a tow-truck, inform insurance, or her father? Safe was probably the best way to go about this. ‘Galfrey’s, good morning,’ said a prim and proper voice. After a quick greeting, she stated her business. ‘...I have an interview with Mr. Ridley at eleven, but I would like to speak with him first, if possible.’ ‘One moment please.’ Prim and proper checked the schedule. ‘Are you sure it’s today?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Why are you calling?’ Did people not listen? ‘I have an interview but I’m in a bit of a situation.’ Prim and proper glanced at the schedule on the computer screen. She was here three days and did not yet understand all the lists, rolls, rosters, appointments, interviews, and consultations. And the name Ridley... now what was it that she was forgetting? ‘Miss Creswell, what are you coming in for? I don’t have a Mr. Ridley on my register.’ ‘I’m coming for...’ What was that absurd title? ‘Creative Virtual Assistant,’ she didn’t think it had anything to do with fashion, but Mr. Ridley had called because her former lecturer, Julia Morris, had referred her. He had not divulged much else either, except to mention that he was from Galfrey’s IT Department, as he had been in a rush to get somewhere. The mere fact that he was from Galfrey’s was exciting enough, but she would have preferred it if one of the designing department heads had called. ‘Now I know where to look.’ Prim and proper said, but she didn’t. Removing the earpiece, she pressed speakerphone on, so she could talk as she wheeled herself to the other computer. A man sauntered over to the workstation and stopped, seemingly having something of importance to impart. Becoming aware of his presence, prim and proper blushed. Who could concentrate with a man like him standing around? Besides, she had no clue what to tell the young woman at the other end where her interview was, or where to find Mr. Ridley. She pressed a few keys, but unable to find the required information, glanced towards the man. Seeing she was flustered and in some quandary, Nicholas decided to step in. ‘Is there something I can help you with?’ He asked and focused on the name tag on her breast. ‘Simone.’ ‘Sorry sir, but I can’t find Mr. Ridley on my roster.’ For a moment he didn’t know if he should find it funny or simply a lack of professionalism, then realising this was the new receptionist, who had started mere days ago—without receiving much training as the previous one had simply left for who knew where or what reason—he accepted that she was probably not aware of much yet. ‘Simone, Mr. Ridley is in the hospital, he was involved in a serious car accident five days ago.’ Prim and proper gasped, that’s what she had forgotten. But she heard of it on her very first day, while trying to assimilate all that was going on and, well... ‘Miss Creswell, I have terrible news.’ Dani caught prim and proper’s gasp loud and clear, just been unable to follow the discussion that preceded it, so resigned to disaster for the rest of the day, she retorted annoyed. ‘Well, what can you do, just give them to me. Can’t be worse than what I’m looking at.’ Nicholas grinned at the sarcasm and leaned against the granite counter. Now this he had to hear. ‘Mr. Ridley had an accident and is in hospital. When his PA called to ask for the list, I emailed it back, so I don’t...’ She opened a file on the PC and clicked a few times. ‘Oh bother, there were three pages, the first only had two names, the second was blank, so I didn’t see yours on the third.’ She muttered. Dani was upset. If they had checked their appointments properly, they could have called and avoided all of this. ‘What am I supposed to do now? I’m stuck, and alone. Are you coming to keep me company?’ Prim and proper’s face turned red. ‘Excuse me?’ ‘I am stuck on the side of the highway, on my way to a place I shouldn’t have been on my way to, some careless person damaged the front bumper, so it has now fallen off and become lodged under the car, there is a punctured and destroyed tyre, and I can’t do anything until a tow-truck gets here. I also need to call the insurance. I just thought I should let Mr. Ridley know first.’ Intrigued by venting lungs, Nicholas decided to step in again. ‘Who is that?’ ‘Please hold,’ Simone muted the line. ‘Miss Creswell, sir. She was supposed to see Mr. Ridley today, but her interview wasn’t cancelled... so this.’ She made an apologetic gesture and pointed to the phone. ‘Ask her where she is and we will send someone to pick her up and take her home. It’s the least we can do. Then, check with Mr. Ridley’s PA to reschedule the interview.’ He advised. ‘Miss Creswell,’ she repeated Nicholas’ message. ‘But... you don’t understand. When will they come, before or after the tow-truck gets here? And what if I have to wait until dark? You know people do whatever they want, when they feel like doing it nowadays. I don’t want to waste anyone’s time, I can’t take the chance of someone stealing my car, and I definitely cannot loiter around here alone for an entire day either. I need to call my father. Ugh daddy, you are so busy... Drat it.’ Dani continued talking to herself. Nicholas smiled. When last had he heard such a mild curse, or a woman who wanted to call her father? And now that annoyance had transformed into worry, he could hear the warm tones in her voice. Without thinking and forgetting why he had stopped there, he asked for a connection to another phone. ‘Let me take care of this.’ ‘Thank you, sir.’ Simone sighed with relief. ‘Miss Creswell,’ Nicholas began. ‘Yes,’ the male voice surprised her. ‘Where are you?’ ‘Huh.’ Dani looked around. ‘Almost across Melrose Arch, facing south. I came down Grayston Avenue.’ Why she had gone to Benmore Gardens for the few items that were hardly necessary then headed for the highway, she didn’t know either. ‘I know where that is. Are you safely off the yellow line, cones set out, hazards on, etc,’ ‘Yes. What a horrible morning.’ She sighed deeply. ‘But wait, it could be getting worse.’ ‘What is wrong now?’ ‘There are three men walking towards me.’ ‘Miss Creswell, get into your car and lock yourself in, I’m on my way.’ ‘But...‘ ‘Give me your cell number, and I’ll call you right back.’ He wrote quickly, grabbed the paper, and dialled from his own phone, as he made his way back to the lift. ‘Hello,’ Dani answered. ‘There you are. Where are the men?’ ‘Still walking.’ ‘Are you safe?’ ‘I think so.’ Reaching his floor, he went into the office, grabbed his jacket, and car keys. ‘Are you scared?’ ‘Not really.’ Thank goodness. It would be so much worse dealing with a fearful or hysterical woman. ‘So, how long have we been chatting and we still haven’t been properly introduced?’ ‘Ten.’ ‘What?’ ‘You asked how long, ten minutes.’ ‘Miss Creswell, are you trying not to give me your name?’ He grinned, thinking he felt her smile. ‘But you have been calling me Miss Creswell all this time.’ She pointed out. ‘Yes,’ he agreed, but the point was to make her feel at ease until he got to her. ‘I meant your name. We don’t have to continue so formally.’ ‘It’s Dani.’ He liked it instantly and imagined a tomboy. She probably loved pants, short hair, male sports, and had climbed trees as a child. ‘Short for?’ He asked as he got into his car. ‘Nothing, it’s Dani Marie Creswell. Mom liked Kylie and Dannii Minogue when she was younger. I think she said she flipped a coin, so there it is.’ He laughed, a happy laugh, as if he were having a conversation with an old friend. ‘I like it.’ ‘Thanks.’ She couldn’t see him but she also liked the way he sounded. ‘Marie?’ ‘My grandmother’s name. What's yours?’ ‘Nicholas.’ Her first image was of Saint Nicholas, and she wanted to giggle as she imagined a man in a red suit pulling over on the side of the road in a sleigh. ‘Do you like it like that, or another version?’ ‘You mean Nick or something? No, just plain Nicholas.’ ‘Oh no...’ ‘What?’ ‘The men stopped to see what is happening.’ She opened the window. ‘I’m...’ she began. She must have either dropped the phone onto her lap or muted it because he couldn’t hear the rest. He might not know her but suddenly, he was concerned for her safety. She took a few seconds to return to the call. ‘I’m back,’ ‘Dani,’ he exhaled with relief and realised that saying her name gave him a rush. He wondered if this was what men felt when they called those hotlines late at night, where the voices held so much more promise than looks ever would. ‘Are you okay?’ ‘Yes. They were concerned about me sitting here alone, and offered to change the tyre, until they saw what it looks like. They moved on when I told them someone is on their way.’ ‘Nevertheless, stay alert. By the way, what do you drive?’ ‘A Beetle,’ In his mind’s eye, he saw fading yellow, a brighter hue on a door, pink daisies on the bonnet and side, and an accompanying incredible racket. No wonder the thing was falling apart. ‘Nicholas,’ It felt as if she had wrapped his name in silk and slowly unwrapped it again. He couldn’t wait to see what she looked like. A silence followed. ‘I forgot what I was going to say.’ She admitted. ‘Oh yes, what car should I expect?’ ‘A white Audi,’ he gauged traffic, trying to figure out how long it would take to get to her. ‘Are the men gone?’ ‘Yes. Have you ever been stuck?’ ‘I think twice.’ ‘Recently?’ ‘No, when I was a student.’ ‘Who helped you?’ ‘My friends,’ ‘Are they still your friends?’ He could not understand why this felt like the best conversation in the world. ‘Two of them are, Andrew and Leon,’ ‘It’s funny how that happens. Nicholas,’ She had to stop doing that. ‘Yes,’ ‘About the insurance and tow-truck—‘ ‘Just hang on, I don’t want to disconnect. And we’ll decide what to do when I get there.’ ‘That thing is wedged tight and I’ll damage much more if I ride over it again. Never mind that, the tyre is not only flat, but beyond repair, and I doubt changing it is the solution anyway, the rim looks twisted and bent. Do you know how much longer you will be?’ He glanced around, getting his bearings. ‘I’m on Katherine Street; so it could take fifteen or fifty minutes. It’s not as if I can drive at two-twenty.’ ‘No, you can’t do that.’ ‘Did you ever get a speeding fine?’ ‘Not for speeding. But I did get a ticket for failing to stop at a stop sign.’ ‘Why on earth would you do that? Was anyone else at the intersection at the time?’ He asked curiously. ‘Not driving. But the van that made me get the trick ticket.’ ‘The what?’ ‘There was never a stop there. So in the morning I drive, nothing. In the afternoon, I never saw the new painted line or the sign because of the parked van.’ He grinned. ‘Oh, I see. Did you complain?’ ‘I did, but paying less wasn’t what I was after. I wanted to explain that it was unfair to catch people like that.’ ‘And you know where fair lives.’ Goodness, but he was enjoying himself. ‘Sorry about your day, it shouldn’t have turned out like this.’ ‘I needed to know the thing was going to fall off, so I guess today was as good a day as any other.’ ‘How did that happen?’ ‘I don’t know. When I got to the car, I noticed someone had bashed it. I just didn’t realise it was that loose. I have no idea if it happened where I live or somewhere else.’ ‘Was there a note?’ ‘No, and that is what really upset me. Whether they can pay or not is beside the point, I have insurance. I just wanted someone to say sorry.’ ‘Are you big on apologies?’ ‘Sorry is a wonderful word, it fixes many things, especially when meant sincerely.’ ‘And people lie all the time.’ ‘A cynic, huh?’ ‘Not about everything, but I know many liars.’ ‘Sadly, so do I,’ and how was it possible that she was having such a natural conversation with a complete stranger? ‘Ugh, imagine this on Oxford, Corlett, or Nelson Mandela Drive... during rush hour. The nightmare I’d have caused then.’ ‘You would be famous, but more likely infamous,’ he grinned. ‘During the traffic report. And get many evil eyes.’ She laughed. Looking in the rear-view mirror, she noticed the lanes emptying of traffic, except for a white spec in the distance. ‘I see a white car coming towards me, is that you?’ ‘Yes, that’s me.’ Her face scrunched up in surprise as the vehicle approached. That was no sleigh, and what were people earning at Galfrey’s? ‘Oh,’ he said as he peered into the distance and realised it was a recent model Beetle, not a 1960 battered jalopy. ‘Do you want to wait in the car or get out and stretch your legs?’ What nonsense, he was debating how he wanted to meet her. Dani decided. Getting out quickly, she then ducked back for her handbag. Say he’s a weirdo, pervert, or psycho? She wondered, but somehow, didn’t think so. Then taking a deep breath, she readied herself to meet her rescuer. Nicholas turned the Audi’s hazards on and pulled up behind the Beetle. All he could see as she leaned into the car was a pretty ankle-length summer dress, dainty flat sandals, and light brown hair tumbling over her left side; so much for the tomboy idea. Alighting from the car, he grinned and took a few steps. She straightened her back, turned and smiled. She had learned early but specifically around her teenage years, that she possessed two smiles. Number one was a somewhat pasty grin for strangers. And two... there was something about that smile that made people, but especially men, lose their heads. Now, relieved that he was here, she forgot about such things and simply expressed her gratitude. The grin disappeared from Nicholas’ face. What was this walking towards him? He could half-see and the rest imagine as a breeze toyed with the delicate fabric of her dress and light brown hair. She was on the short side, but had the nearest to perfect face he had ever seen. He gulped as his heartbeat scaled a wall, must be an erotic hallucination because he had never seen anything as... a bunch of adjectives flew through his mind and he discarded every one. Somehow, and he could just tell, she was neither a dish nor a possession, definitely no bird and much less a sport. What she was, was just right, and he felt like falling to his knees at her feet. Dani was having a similar experience, just not as carnal. She had imagined Nicholas to be a regular office guy—and he might still be that guy—but there was nothing regular about him. His clothes were impeccable; light blue cotton shirt, well-cut blazer, and a pair of jeans that sat perfectly. That is why we designers bother, she thought. But clothes were secondary, he was well-defined. Insipid word; he obviously looked after himself, had dark hair, an expressive face, brown eyes that danced, and a friendly smile. How apt, she thought. Why shouldn’t a knight rescuing a damsel in distress look like a knight in shining armour? Now, how did they greet? Nicholas made that decision. He offered his hand. ‘Dani,’ She took it willingly and smiled again. ‘Hello, Nicholas.’ He couldn’t help himself and simply stared, then, shaking himself back into reality, he turned to look at the damaged vehicle. ‘So, this is the dilemma.’ He walked the short distance, bent down, and peered under her car. ‘Yep, you have it quite right.’ Then he went to the front of the Beetle. ‘Bummer,’ ‘Don’t you mean bumper?’ He laughed. ‘So, what do we do?’ ‘As you said, we can’t touch this car again. Okay, what’s the tow-truck’s number? I’ll call them and you deal with the insurance.’ She searched for a card and gave him a reference number to quote. ‘Right,’ he walked towards the embankment, then returned a few minutes later. ‘They'll be here shortly.' He announced. ‘Or so they said. Grab your things and put them in my car.’ She realised then that she had not thought this thing out properly, because now, she was at his mercy. Perhaps she should have called Sams... Her eyes returned to Nicholas in a flash, willing to take her chances with him. Besides, he didn’t look dangerous. Actually, he did, but it was a different kind of danger that he presented. Seeing her expression, he knew where her thoughts had gone. ‘I’m not going to attack you.’ A blush rushed up her face. When last had he seen one of those? Then again, the women he mixed with were world wise, sophisticated, and classy. This... this was a wondrous woman child who was doing strange things to his senses. He wondered how old she was. ‘Can I help you?’ ‘There is only my portfolio.’ Returning to the Beetle, she realised that she had been holding her breath. Was it even normal to get butterflies when looking into a strange man’s eyes? Glancing at him through the rear-view mirror, she wondered what he was thinking, or feeling because he seemed to be going through something himself. Never in his thirty years of life had he imagined that he would meet someone who looked like her, and for him, there were no two ways about it. Who cared about magazine perfect? That she wasn’t tall enough? In his eyes, she was perfect. And those green eyes... forget about blue ponds, lakes, rivers, and seas where men drowned themselves. These were a meadow, soft and gentle, with the promise of life. She clutched the loose pages carefully. ‘Drat,’ she said, half talking to herself, and half to him. ‘Now, I can’t go to the art shop.’ ‘Is that where you were headed?’ He asked as he opened his car’s door. She nodded as she placed her things neatly down. ‘Coco, my Jack Russell, ate my folder and I wanted to get a new one before the interview. To look professional. Not arrive with piles of stuff in my hands.’ ‘Your dog ate your bag?’ He asked amused. ‘Well, she didn’t eat it all at one go, but she sure chewed every corner, handle, and strap. Which is funny as she never touched anything at home.’ He didn’t understand something, if she was seeing Adam Ridley, who was in IT, why was she carrying her portfolio around? ‘Right,’ he said as he glanced at the top page of her work, which was an interesting take on the military look. ‘You mentioned dad before, is there also mom, boyfriend, anyone?’ It was possible she was in the presence of the fastest moving playboy in Johannesburg, or... sneakily she darted her gaze to his left hand. Okay, no ring, but that didn’t mean he was single. ‘Yes.’ She told him ambiguously. ‘Then pick a number and let someone know you are safe.’ She was travelling in the clouds, better come down fast. ‘Thank you for reminding me.’ She dialled. ‘Hi honey, how did it go?’ ‘It has been postponed.’ She imagined they would do that much since Mr. Ridley was in hospital. ‘Mom, something happened to my car...’ and she explained. ‘Then what are you doing now?’ Carol asked concerned. ‘Waiting for a tow-truck,’ ‘Alone, on the side of the road... do you know where you are?’ ‘Mom, I’m fine.’ Dani assuaged as she noticed Nicholas watching her. ‘And a friend is here with me.’ ‘Sams?’ ‘No, Nicholas.’ Carol’s interest was instantly pricked. ‘Who’s Nicholas?’ Dani pressed the mute button and asked. ‘Who are you? My mom wants to know.’ He had wondered whom she would call. ‘May I speak to her?’ Dani was surprised but said, ‘sure,’ and gave him the phone. ‘Mrs. Creswell,’ he began politely and walked away for a few minutes, then came towards her again. ‘Don’t worry Mrs. Creswell, and I’ll see that she is not stuck without transport. And if she needs to see you before her car is repaired, I will either take her myself or let her borrow mine.’ Dani stared at him. Was he serious? Then she stared at the car. Was he mad? She did not have to know much about cars to know that that model was obscenely expensive. She definitely could not chance getting anything stuck under there. So it seemed as if there was only one way she was seeing her parents in the near future if she wanted to. She looked at him again. Was it okay to like the idea so much? ‘Goodbye,’ he handed the phone back. ‘I think she’s okay about me. I don’t blame her, so many ugly things can happen on the side of a road.’ He shivered, relieved that he was the one standing here. ‘Are we going to stand outside until we bake, or can we at least sit in my car while we wait?’ Right behind her, he opened the door so she could get in. As he did, she turned around and it was as if she were in his arms. He restrained himself from reaching out. ‘Thank you, Nicholas.’ He could smell her; perhaps jasmine, but subtly diluted. He leaned in to test if the scent became stronger, but no, it stayed in that alluring plane. He felt lecherous, but imagine a creepy man here... No, he couldn’t leave her alone; especially while she was without a car. Dani watched his face as something was obviously going through his mind, as if he were planning something quite complicated but also stunningly simple. And how was it possible that one could become attracted to a stranger in so short a time? She had never felt anything as acute as this. Was this what Sams felt? Then she felt very sorry for him because it would never be reciprocated. Her eyes found Nicholas’, if he moved another inch, he could touch her. Her heartbeat accelerated, making her feel dizzy. ‘Have we met before?’ He asked unexpectedly. She shrugged, uncertain, also thinking there was something vaguely familiar about him. ‘Maybe we have walked past each other at a fashion show.’ She suggested. ‘Maybe,’ he told her but was unconvinced. ‘Oh, look, they actually kept their word. Then again, they are never far from calamities.’ He said as a tow-truck rolled out in front of the Beetle. The man was helpful and friendly and had the car ready quickly. After having her sign the required papers, he climbed back into the tow-truck, waved at them, and drove away. ‘So,’ Nicholas said as they watched the Beetle disappear. ‘Where to my lady?’ She smiled. ‘Am I not holding you from something important?’ ‘You don’t want me here?’ ‘You were busy at work and now you’re not.’ ‘I was leaving the office when this exciting episode of Johannesburg life happened. I also heard you tell Simone to give you the bad news and then asked her if she wanted to come keep you company. It made me curious.’ ‘I spoke that loud?’ She asked embarrassed. ‘The entire reception area heard you.’ Colour suffused her cheeks. He grinned. ‘I’m teasing, the speakerphone was on and no one else was around. So, where is this art shop?’ ‘Is it really okay for you to be here?’ ‘Absolutely,’
Love & Madness
by Athina Paris
Genre: Romantic Suspense
‘Sofia,’ a little concern seeped into Sister Margareta’s voice. ‘Are you sure you want to be doing this? It’s such a beautiful day,’ she pointed to the heavens. ‘Shouldn’t you be outside doing something more appropriate to your age?’ Sofia smiled. ‘But I love marking the little ones’ books,’ she held the basket up, where about twenty exercise books sat in a neat pile. ‘And I am so thankful that you find the time to help me. I am inundated with all these problems... Mother Superior is under immense pressure. We are not doing as well as we should, and there is even talk of possible closure.’ Sofia’s brown eyes widened in surprise. ‘Oh, I’m so sorry to hear it, I didn’t realise.’ ‘Well,’ Sister Margareta gave her a reassuring smile. ‘Whatever happens, it will only be by year’s end as we are committed to all our girls until then. So, at least you will be able to finish your school career in peace.’ ‘I thank you for that.’ Sofia gazed at the high convent walls where a creeper tumbled indolently over the thick wall, the cobbled path she had walked thousands of times wound gently round the bend, and the cypress trees stood guard. She felt sad at the possibility that it could all simply end. ‘You know, it is true,’ Sister Margareta continued. ‘When doors close in one place others open elsewhere.’ Reaching the gate, she swung its wide mouth open and with a caress, let her hand run along its weather-beaten wood and metal studs. ‘I had a good time here,’ Sofia sighed. ‘And I always thought that after I qualified I would teach here.’ ‘Yes, that was something I was also looking forward to. But those children who will eventually get you have no idea what a blessing you will be to them.’ Sofia dropped her gaze shyly. ‘Thank you Sister Margareta, you have always been encouraging.’ ‘I still think you should be swimming or doing something fun,’ Sister Margareta pointed to the basket. ‘This is fun.’ A gorgeous smile spread across Sofia’s face. ‘And it’s hardly hard work.’ ‘Okay then, go enjoy your afternoon.’ Sister Margareta held the gate open. ‘And don’t forget to write all those positive little messages. The children love it when you mark their books.’ She laughed. ‘And they are all doing better in English because they want to impress you so hard.’ ‘That is sweet.’ Sofia lifted a hand in greeting. ‘Goodbye Sister Margareta, see you tomorrow.’ Turning left, Sofia stopped then walked to the end of the block. Unexpectedly, a boy on a bicycle flipped around the corner, clearly out of control. She screamed, he screamed, and his three friends, all on bicycles, screamed. She threw herself against the wall, dropping everything she was carrying, and within seconds, the exhibitionists disappeared. She sat there a moment, a hand on her chest, feeling her pounding heart. About to get to her feet, she saw a hand outstretched to her. Glancing up, she recognised the young man she had noticed a couple of times during the last few months in the park across the convent. ‘Are you all right?’ Pulling her to her feet, he gave her a quick appraisal. She was almost certainly from one of the Mediterranean countries. Not what one would call exotic but pretty, with beautiful dark hair and kind brown eyes. ‘Friends of yours?’ ‘No, just school kids. Robert Thomas Powell.’ He liked to say his entire name when introducing himself. It made him feel important to carry his two grandfathers’ names. She watched the blue gaze intently, light hair blowing in the wind, and a nice smile. She placed her hand in his. ‘Sofia Andriotti.’ ‘Pleased to meet you,’ he quickly gathered the pile of exercise books into the basket again, grabbed her discarded school bag, and handed them to her. Then sauntering across the street, he got onto his motorcycle and rode away. Robert leaned against the tree, stretched his lithe legs over the motorcycle seat, and gazed upward. Gnarled branches swayed and nodded in the breeze, revealing intricate web-like patterns against the pale blue sky, as if it were a living puzzle. Quite possibly, this was the last season the oak would stand here. Ancient and decayed, exposed roots gave it a crab-like appearance. Feeling pity for the wasted giant, he pulled a drawing pad from the saddlebag and captured some of its last moments of glory. A noise across the street interrupted his concentration. Amused, he watched as the same four boys arrived. Five minutes later, the convent’s metal-studded gate swung open, pouring out dozens of schoolgirls. Seeing the boys, they did what girls do to valiant heroes, pretend to ignore them. Robert smiled, understanding the game rules well. Laughter and giggling floated towards him as some threw him furtive glances. Over the months he had been coming here, a few had been bold enough to start conversations but he had quickly and politely let them know that he had neither the time nor the inclination to support teenage fantasies. As the street became vacant, the boys started spinning and flipping again. Hearing the gate swing its wide mouth almost shut, Robert glimpsed Sofia slip through the gap and grinned when the boys disappeared at the sight of her. Beyond sight, a woman’s voice said something and both laughed, then, closing the gate, she went about her duties behind its comforting protection. He watched Sofia with interest. Every day, she did exactly the same thing. She stood there a moment, as if she went through her walk home plan mentally, before she tackled it physically. ‘Sofia,’ He greeted days later, as he turned the corner on foot. ‘Hello. Where’s your bike?’ She tried to balance a pile of books under one arm. ‘Hopefully still in the park. May I carry some of those?’ She gave him part of the load. ‘Where’s your basket?’ ‘Sister Margareta needed it for something.’ She dismissed with a hand. ‘Robert, right?’ He nodded and fell into step beside her. ‘I’ve never seen you walk home with friends, don’t you have any?’ ‘I stay behind to help Sister Margareta. She says it’s part of my training.’ ‘Don’t tell me...’ A hint of a smile crossed her lips. ‘I want to be a teacher.’ He sighed visibly. ‘I thought you were about to say nun.’ ‘Strangely,’ she told him conspiratorially. ’It never crossed my mind.’ They chatted about nothing in particular and he noticed that she was curious and smart. ‘Do you have brothers or sisters?’ She asked. ‘Two younger brothers, and you?’ ‘I have one older brother, Andrea. He and his wife Sarah live in England. But right now,’ she told him brightly. ‘I want to hear about yours.’ ‘Charles,’ Robert took a deep breath. ‘There’s a crazy for you. Will try anything at least once and is afraid of absolutely nothing. Before mom died she used to say that he would be the death of her.’ ‘I’m sorry.’ She commiserated and placed a finger on his arm. It felt as if a ladybird had made a pit stop. ‘One gets used to it.’ ‘So, was Charles the death of her?’ ‘No, she had cancer. Now William... William is a sensitive boy and tragedies affect him deeply; maybe because he lost her so young. He is also very talented, an exquisite poet.’ ‘I live here.’ Glancing at the freshly painted house and manicured garden, Robert nodded approval. ‘After helping me carry these books I feel awful that I can’t invite you in, papa’s rules.’ She told him apologetically. ‘Not to worry, my lady.’ He bowed. She giggled. ‘Thank you, Robert.’ ‘Have a nice day and I’ll see you tomorrow.’ Waiting until she was in the house, he returned to the park.
by Athina Paris
Genre: Contemporary Romance
After losing her mother to cancer, Gabrielle swears off love. Because loving hurts too much when things go wrong. Then, she travels to Africa to meet her father - a man whose existence she was oblivious to. Before long, there is also a baby sister to look after, and intuitively she knows that she needs to protect her. Promptly, there is another tragedy, and more than ever, Gabrielle realises how wise she is to lock away her heart. But that was before she met Jonathan Knight, a man who amuses and confuses her, and Paul, his best friend, who is just as smart and funny. Through an unfortunate sequence of events, she finds herself in a troublesome situation, but being who she is, she tries to handle it alone, unwittingly sinking into a morass of danger. A solution comes in the form of Paul, who makes a harebrained suggestion, which Jonathan - for reasons of his own - grabs and presents her with the providential arrangement. Instinctively, she declines the proposal, but Jonathan is persuasive and paints a wonderful picture of security. She accepts out of need, but soon, Jonathan’s ulterior motives unravel, and nothing is as it should be. But she can’t disclose the truth, for her secret could undo the safe future she is trying to create for her little sister.
‘Hello,’ Gabrielle called, as she entered the house and dropped her bag and car keys on the hall table. Classes had been a mad rush today and she was truly bushed, but now, she had to go sit with Charles Dickens, and write a paper on why his novels still influenced modern day society. ‘Hi honey,' Eleanor said from the study. ‘Please come see me after lunch.’ Gabrielle knew days like this; in fact, they were becoming quite common. After making lunch, Eleanor would go lie on the sofa in the study, exhausted for the rest of the day. Gabrielle worried a great deal, but the more she tried to probe and query, the more Eleanor clammed up. ‘I had a sandwich earlier,’ Gabrielle said from the doorway, then walked in, leaned over, and kissed her mother’s brow. ‘Mom, you look so pale, you have to go see a doctor.’ Eleanor dropped her gaze, as if caught in an indiscretion. ‘I have already been to see a few.’ ‘What? Then... what did they say?’ Gabrielle sat in the armchair closest to the sofa. ‘I’m very sick.’ Eleanor took a laborious breath. In contrast, Gabrielle’s suspended for a second. ‘What’s wrong? What do you need, what can I do?’ ‘I have cancer.’ Fear sprung forth like a hidden monster, making Gabrielle feel weak and numb. She grabbed the chair’s armrests, digging her fingers in. ‘It’s treatable, right? Do you need surgery, chemo, radiation...?’ Eleanor shook her head. ‘I’m beyond that. It’s just too late— I’m dying.’ A world-crushing hand grabbed her heart, flipped her over, and made her feel as if she were dying herself. Tears filled her eyes as she fell on her knees before her mother, dropping her head into her lap. ‘No mommy, you can’t.’ ‘I’m sorry baby, but there is nothing more to do. And you know it too.’ Eleanor caressed her child’s hair. ‘But you will always have the happy times, the joy and laughter we brought each other. I’ve put everything is in order, and Charles is aware of it, so when—’ They did not have many friends in Switzerland, but there was one constant visitor, when he was in the country. Charles Knight was somehow related to Eleanor by a flimsy in-law thread, but he had taken it as his duty to see to their comfort and safety. Gabrielle liked him very much and she figured that he must like her too because he always brought her gifts, treated her like a daughter, and never told her to stop calling him daddy, which she had started doing when she was ten. Consequently, Eleanor often turned to him for advice. She hated being scared, but right now, she was petrified. ‘Stop talking like this, you are not going to die.’ Tears flowed freely. ‘Listen to me.’ Eleanor said softly. ‘It is going to happen, so you have to accept it and prepare for when it does.’ ‘I don’t want to, I need you.’ Gabrielle hiccupped, feeling so much like a little girl that she wanted to curl up into her mother’s lap. ‘Charles and I have already discussed everything.’ Eleanor paused. ‘We have decided that the best course of action is for you to go to South Africa.’ ‘What?’ Gabrielle exclaimed. Not only was her mother dying, but she was going to be uprooted as well. ‘You can’t stay here alone.’ ‘But... Anna and Luc are here.’ Anna was the cleaning, nanny, and everything else lady, and Luc, her seventeen-year-old son. Gabrielle and Luc had always been close; she had kept an eye on him throughout school, made sure he did not mix with the wrong crowd, and been his emotional support when he lost his father. Eleanor took her daughter’s chin, looking into the beautiful hazel eyes. ‘You need to live, not be concerned and afraid, or alone.’ ‘I dreamt of going to Africa, where I should have been born, but not like this, and... What about my studies?’ ‘You know those can be continued and completed anywhere. Charles loves you just as if you were his child, so he will keep you safe. But if you don’t want him to...’ Eleanor stopped. Even through the tears, the bad news, and the utterly helplessness she felt, she knew something much worse was about to happen. ‘Mommy,’ she could barely say the words. ‘Please tell me you are not dying today.’ Eleanor attempted a smile and failed. ‘Not so soon, but I do have to unburden my heart. Naturally, Charles is completely against it.’ She moved on the sofa with some difficulty. Gabrielle sobbed. ‘Please, mommy, please don’t talk like this.’ ‘I am sorry I lied but I wanted to protect you.’ Eleanor took a deep breath. ‘If you had known, if he knew— well, I don’t know.’ Gabrielle looked up. ‘What are you talking about, mommy? Please don’t tell me daddy— Uncle Charles.’ She corrected herself. ‘Is my real father.’ ‘You should be so lucky my darling, but no, Charles is not your father. And as much as it pains me, I have to finally make a confession.’ ‘Yes, that you told me a terrible joke and that you are not dying.’ Gabrielle wiped her face furiously. ‘Gaby,’ Eleanor said gently. ‘I have kept something from you, something I wished you would never hear, never see, never experience, but now... I hate the way I feel because I believe the earth will refuse to eat my bones if I don’t tell you.’ She paused to catch her breath and find new words. ‘Your father is not dead. I told you he was so you would never try to see him. And he doesn’t know that you exist either because I left before you were born.’ This was the epitome of a speechless moment, because what could anyone possibly say to that? In the same day she hears her mother is dying, she finds out that her dead father is not dead. Emotions she had never experienced coursed through her. Why this horrid lie? She could not think, so all she did was fall over and break into heart-wrenching sobs. ‘I am sorry baby and if I meant to rip out your heart, I have succeeded. But you have to understand—’ Gabrielle’s beautiful hazel eyes swam with unstoppable tears as she got to her knees again. ‘I have a real father? How could you not tell me all these years? And— you are dying and I’m going to lose you, and there is a father I don’t know... why mommy?’ ‘If only I could undo so many things. But you, the meaning of my life, I could never, I would never want to undo, even if your father was the worst criminal.’ ‘My father is a terrible man?’ ‘Not terrible that way, but the results turn out the same. If you do meet him, be prepared, because he will eventually disappoint you. It’s just how he is, and no one can change him.’ ‘But why don’t I know him?’ ‘Because I did not want him disrupting your life as he did mine.’ ‘None of this is fair,’ Gabrielle cried. ‘How— I don’t know what to do.’ ‘Know what you can do?’ Eleanor told her encouragingly. ‘Continue making those cute videos you like to send to Charles, but now, make them for yourself. And we will record our last times...’ Eleanor’s voice broke. Catapulting to her feet, Gabrielle tore through the house, out the back door, and smacked straight into the property wall, unaware that an agonising scream had ripped through the tranquil afternoon. Then, sinking onto her knees, she buried her face in her hands. Those who said someone’s life could change in a second had probably undergone something similar, for during the course of a few minutes, everything she knew, everything she had believed in, disintegrated.
All I Ever Wanted: Jessie
by Athina Paris
Genre: Contemporary Romance
When Jessie meets John at college, they begin a friendship that should have never happened, for the Stevens and Barrymores parted ways 60 years ago, under acrimonious circumstances.
“Tell me again what I was on when I agreed to this?” Jessie asked as they neared the estate. “Pizza. And, they think we’ll soon be hitched.” “Nice,” sarcasm laced the word. “I can’t imagine who planted the seed and then fuelled the idea. Is it too late for me to wonder about insanity in your family?” “There is the question of Grandma Margaret, who was known for bizarre behaviour, but that’s another tale altogether. Just a hug here, a kiss there, one of those looks…” “I’ll give you a look all right. I’m not implying they’re incapable of acceptance, but how did you explain my visit?” “I told them your name is Lewis.” “What?” Horror spread on her face. “You got me here under false pretences! How am I going to avoid awkward questions now?” “You worry too much.” “Hah!” She tried to calm the uneasiness that crept over her. “You know perfectly well people such as our parents always ask questions, lots of them. They want to know everything—including blood groups.” John roared with laughter. “When the charade blows in our faces, and it will, I’ll hold you personally responsible. Now, I also know I’m going to regret it dearly but for some reason I can’t demand you take me back.” She flashed her eyes angrily at him. “Let’s see, James: twenty-eight, dark blond, brown eyes. Mathew: twenty-five, brown hair and eyes. Mark: twenty-three, dark blond, I don’t recall the eyes. John, the maddest twenty-one-year-old I know.” He pointed to the tall iron gates in the distance. “Oh, gosh, it’s so much grander up close.” She placed a hand on her chest. “I think I’m developing a heart condition.” “You’ll be fine. You know, people have come, pretended to rearrange the furniture, didn’t bother throwing anything out, and left it as crammed as ever. I wish mom would ask you to do something about it. But it’s a waste of time, father won’t let her. Or more correctly, Aunt Monica would have a conniption.” “And I’m hardly qualified to give advice on a house this size.” It was old, grey, and magnificent, all four wings of it. The view instantly transporting her to an unforgettable summer she had spent in England with her family when she was fourteen. “When they ask, what shall I say my father does?” “Make something up.” “And that’s exactly when they’ll ask questions I can’t answer. Can’t you see what we’re doing?” “Yes, having an adventure.” Stopping the car, he turned to her. “Obviously, we can’t tell them who you are because then they’d be suspicious of everything you did and I’d have to fight everyone, ruining a perfectly good weekend. To save ourselves unnecessary grief, we’ll be slightly deceitful, and you get to tour the museum.” He smiled encouragingly. “It’s just…” The lies started at the front door when John introduced her to the butler, Mr Adams. She felt terrible, hoping she could be truthful, but imagining how her family might receive him one day, she bit her tongue and followed his example. The interior was everything she imagined, and more, precious pieces on every surface and she felt almost dizzy as she tried to catalogue eras and centuries mentally. She saw Grace Barrymore, the short blonde bob a perfect frame for the still beautiful face, who although looking younger, Jessie knew that like her own mother, was fifty-five. The curious and interested gaze regarded her firmly, making her feel shy. Not much flew past that powerful blue scrutiny. “Mom, my best friend,” “Hello, Jessie,” Grace smiled warmly, extended a hand, and eyed the young woman with interest, liking the demure look of her. “Welcome to our home.” “So, this is she.” Monica said from a wingback and an intense appraisal followed. The girl was casually dressed in a pair of jeans and silk blouse, and her expert eye told her those were designer labels. She also had a pair of Nine West shoes on, a matching belt, and a pretty decent handbag. None of the items were new, so she had not rushed off to buy them to impress. Good, she might have some means and taste. Tea was served in the Louis XIV salon and Jessie struggled to keep her gaze on the two older women, simply wanting to look at and absorb everything. It was a gorgeous room; polychrome commodes, bureaux, gilded chairs, mirrors… No, she could barely focus on Grace Barrymore, who was enchanting, entertaining, and an absolute gem as a hostess and enjoying the company of another woman who was not Monica. Now there was an extremely critical individual. If something wasn’t to her liking, it was wrong, and this applied to every avenue, be it yard paving or the way one turned a collar. From the little Jessie had gleaned and John harped on, Monica sounded exactly like Margaret, who had been another strange character. Naturally, it was Monica who asked what her father did. She was silent for a second and then told her that he was in plastics. Which was not a lie; Taylor had recently acquired Amalgamated Plastics in Durban. Mark trudged in, draped himself over a velvet sofa, started on some interior decor conversation, and asked if she would be willing to do his penthouse in New York. No one had to tell her interior design had not yet entered his mind; the blue eyes were hard to read and yet, it was all so easy to understand. Those designs were not what she wanted to inspire. He beckoned to James, who appeared in the doorway, and told him to come have an audience. She took a deep breath, trying to ignore the annoyance she felt. James was quiet and polite, but after a few minutes, excused himself and disappeared. “Mom, is tonight very formal?” John asked. “It’s such lovely weather that I asked for the summer dining-room. Something light will do, and the gentlemen don’t have to wear ties.” The look of disapproval on Monica’s face was instantaneous. John saw it too. “Aunt Monica, if you’re not careful, traditions and rituals will take you to the grave. But I appreciate the gesture, mom. Come, Jessie,” he took her hand. They walked through salons, chambres, salles, and corridors, stopping often to touch and study. Jessie wondered who, in prior generations, had been so taken with French décor, although, some rooms were the epitome of 40’s and art deco. They reached a passage where 19th century animal paintings adorned the panelled walls and she was delighted to recognise the artist’s name. When they reached the end, her hand ran over a wrought iron balustrade then stopping on the landing, her fingers slid up a marble column. “It’s exquisite.” “Thought you’d like it, and I’ll show you more after dinner and tomorrow morning.” Pausing outside a beautifully polished door, he told her. “From today this is your room.” She made an incongruous sound. “Ah, the youthful dreamer. Please come in and show me what your mother meant by light.” “After I introduce you to Mathew,” Their colouring was different, but Mathew was John’s taller, mature, and more handsome version. “Hello, Jessie.” He neither smiled nor offered a hand. She did likewise. “Mathew.” “When did you get here?” Mathew asked John. “In time for tea.” Mathew’s brows rose. “Are you ill?” Jessie suppressed a giggle. It was common knowledge at college that he would rather die than touch the liquid. John laughed. “I had to keep her company as Aunt Monica grilled and Mark gawked. You know how intimidating the Barrymores are.” “Absolute ogres,” Mathew agreed then turned to her. “But don’t let any of them frighten you. And I apologise, but I have to make a call.” He smiled, raised a hand, and continued down the passage. As soon as they entered the room, John threw himself onto the four-poster bed, and fixed his gaze on the sunburst roof. “I’ve always liked this room, and it suits you. What do you think?” She glanced around the well-proportioned room, velvet sofas, delicate silk bedspread, Adam open armchairs, and exquisite ornaments. “Straight out of a fairy-tale.” He patted the place beside him and stretched out his arm in invitation. As her head dropped on it, she queried. “What are we doing?” “This,” turning his head, he kissed her. All the ingredients were present for a perfect romantic interlude; gorgeous setting, handsome boy, beautiful girl, and he did everything right, his mouth sweet and gentle. Jessie snapped an eye open and looked at him, he was as much in this as she was. Over the past year, she had vacillated between wanting and not wanting at all, and at times imagined he might be in the same boat. Now, it felt forced, contrived, put on, and uncomfortable. Something was wrong between them but right now, she didn’t care. In fact, a wave of relief flooded her and before he did anything else that was even more stupid than that kiss, she caressed his face, smiled, and sat up. “I do love you but also knew it would be like this.” “Some things aren’t meant to be, and lovers is not for us.” “You didn’t feel anything either?” He asked between concern and relief. “It was like kissing one of my brothers and we never have to do it again.” Squeezing his arm reassuringly, she got off the bed, opened the small suitcase, unpacked the few items she had brought, and held up two dresses. “Which is it?” John was good at putting outfits together, as he excelled in textile studies and pointed to what she should wear. Then after a few minutes, he announced. “I’m bushed, going to rest. You should do the same before dinner, which is at seven-thirty. Promptly.” This was not how she envisioned the weekend unfolding and she lay on the bed ruminating. The occasional fostering of romantic notions came and went, as he never showed actual interest in that avenue. So today, it wasn’t just the surprise that he finally tried but that she had her concrete answer, numb disinterest. Turning a few times, she watched the lace curtains float gently in the afternoon breeze, a soft laziness enveloping her as her lids drooped slowly. Being the only young woman at a dinner table had its advantages and she smiled with amusement as four bachelors vied for her attention, though, each had a different approach. James was careful with his compliments, seeming to take more pleasure in watching and listening. Mathew wasn’t outrageous or extravagant. Mark had a way of giving double meanings to everything, which she found disturbing, and John was plain ridiculous. After dinner, Mark annoyed her again when he asked if she could estimate a vase’s worth. She had quickly realised there were pieces of dubious origins scattered among the treasures, a crazy practice from Margaret’s days as lady of the house. It was as if he imagined she had come with a cash-register and put price tags on everything already. She was in no mood for his nonsense. “Why does he do it?” She queried when John led her down a garden path. “Because he thinks you’re after my money. I may only be fourth in line but my inheritance is sizeable.” “Ah, of course,” she made an odd gesture. “So is mine.” “But he doesn’t know that. And who’s ever heard of a rich Plastics Baron?” He teased. “It’s usually Aunt Monica’s job to scrutinise everyone with a magnifying glass, but he sure gives her a run for her money lately. I say it’s grandma’s fault; he was her favourite and she taught him weird stuff. But cheer up, he’ll be gone on Monday so who cares what he thinks. How about a swim?” She looked at the beautiful swimming pool area on the side of the house, white marble statues standing guard next to a fountain. “I have no wish to prance around half naked.” “Not here, we also have an indoor pool you haven’t seen. And for your peace of mind, Mark is not into water sports anymore.” Walking down the side of the house, he pushed open two wooden doors. “What do you think?” “Not what I expected.” She stared at the pool filling most of the room. “It used to be a courtyard, but when grandma moved to the south wing after grandpa died, she requested all passages, doors, rooms, and windows be sealed off. We were all at school and in various swimming teams and mom hated watching us turn blue in winter, so father had it built, with only that door leading into the house.” He pointed. “And just so you know, no one goes into the south wing, it’s creepy there. Therefore, I won’t be showing you that.” The freedom they felt in each other’s presence turned them into children as they laughed and raced each other, and knowing they were making a racket, neither was surprised when Mathew peered in. “Come join us.” John beckoned. “I don’t want to intrude.” “Pfft. Besides, I haven’t raced you in years.” John grinned, which meant he had complete confidence in his own abilities. Mathew drew closer and gave his brother a lopsided smile. “If I win, what’s my reward?” John scratched his head. “What do you want?” “What did medieval heroes get?” Mathew asked curiously. “I think they got a handkerchief. Or a kiss from the princess, or some such silliness.” Jessie blushed as two pairs of male eyes turned to her. She made a gesture, implying she didn’t know anything. “You’ll be sorry.” Mathew warned. Sitting on the edge to watch, Jessie was engulfed in a blur. John wouldn’t give up and kept losing, Mathew laughed and kept winning, and she reached a state of confused stupor. Not only her cheek and lips were smacked, but also a calf and thigh landed under his mouth. “How am I doing?” John gasped. She told him. “Not at all, shame on you.” “Is that so?” Reaching her, he pulled her into the water. “Let’s see you do better.” She spluttered. “Wait until I get my hands on you. And it’s unfair competition. Look at him, he’s taller, stronger, broader, will be there long before me.” “Okay, two second head-start.” Mathew conceded. John laughed. “No way, she’s trying to sucker you in. Ready…” Mathew discovered how right his brother was, Jessie swam like a fish and was just as fast. “Now I know what you were doing,” he wheezed. “You put me out of commission and then she finishes me off. Clever.” Jessie climbed out of the pool and wrapped herself in a towel. “Thanks for the workout, guys; I’m going to change.” “Thoughts?” John queried. “Interesting,” Mathew managed out of breath.
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Athina Paris lives in South Africa but spent her formative years in Mozambique, where she was born and went to school. Years in convents and boarding schools prompted a deep curiosity and the need to liberate her mind, which quickly developed into an avid interest in reading and storytelling and led to a lifelong obsession with the written word and books. By fifteen she had read most of the classics, discovered ancient civilizations and became fascinated with various mythologies; a love she has kept to this day.
Raised in a culture where meddling is seen as 'caring', she became a spectator of human nature. Quiet and shy, she preferred recording conduct rather than participating in what she calls familial mass hysteria, and so built a treasure-trove of relationship observations from which she eventually drew backgrounds for the characters in her romantic novels.
She studied Interior Design, but soon felt the pull of her dormant talent and turned to Creative Writing, as she realised the significance of those notebooks packed with ideas. She soon followed it with Scriptwriting.
Set in faraway and exotic places, Athina's epic romantic work takes her characters on voyages of self-discovery while dealing with catastrophic love lives and an imperfect world.
A stint as a high school English teacher polished her skills. However, she has recently vacated the position to concentrate on her professional goals of writing, editing and proofreading.
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