Thursday, September 20, 2018

First chapter of "Christmas with the Poker Group"

I'm delighted to be part of Sweet Christmas Kisses 5, an anthology with nine sweet romances! This month, you can discover the first pages of each story on this blog - and if you like what you read, buy it now from your favorite retailer for only $0.99!

For the first time in months, my mood lifted. Maybe
I could turn this around. Maybe I could make Christmas
special again. Maybe I could revoke that old feeling I'd
had as a child, the tingling thrill that made my face split
into an expectant grin whenever I thought of the gifts to
come, of the cookies I would decorate with my granny,
of the tree ornaments I would hang with Gramps. And
later, that delicious shiver when I met Nico and when he
kissed me for the first time underneath the mistletoe,
seven years ago.
I swallowed. All gone. Eight months ago, Nico had
left me and had moved in with some clingy woman who
wasn't even able to open a bottle of soda without male
help. No doubt she was ready to give him all the children
he wanted, something I couldn't bring myself to do.
Maybe she was already pregnant. And two months ago,
Granny had died.
Now it was only Gramps and me here in Florence,
and whenever I was reminded of the upcoming
Christmas season, my thoughts shied away from it. I felt
like a horse that sees something scary and wants nothing
more than to run away as far as possible. Christmas
feelings? Not for me. No more tingly joy. No more
expectation. Instead, dread and a horrid sense of
loneliness, of things irretrievably gone, of the best of allthe times gone by.
I shook myself. I was thirty-two, with some decades
still ahead of me. And Gramps ... I tried to swallow
again, but this time, my throat hurt too much to allow it.
He'd grown old before my eyes, in the two months since
Granny had gone. She had it in her to be a real Tartar,
and she had ruled him with an iron hand, but then, she'd
also been kind and helpful - when she'd deemed it
necessary. A complex character, and it had taken me
years to understand her. When I was a teenager, I'd often
wondered why Gramps stood it, but somehow, they had
worked out their relationship. Now that she was gone, he
just fell to pieces, and I couldn't do a thing to stop it.
How I missed her, rushing through the house, shouting
“Giuseeeeeeppeeee” with all the force of her loud voice.
But the worst was when I thought about only the two of
us, sitting down to our Christmas dinner ...
I shook myself and sat up straighter. Stop being
maudlin, I told myself. So, with an effort that felt like
lifting a heavy weight, I turned my thoughts to the new
idea I'd just had. I was not going to do Christmas this
year like we always did. I was going to give it a theme,
something totally different. Something that wouldn't
make us long for Granny every single second, something
that would stop us from staring at her empty chair as we
did every single night.
Several decades ago, Gramps had spent a year in the
United States, in Texas. It was an experience he never
forgot, and he often told me about everything he'd
learned. So why not do an American Christmas? Grannyhad been one hundred percent Italian in everything she
did. No, one hundred and ten percent, so foreign customs
weren't accepted, no matter how interesting or fun they
Well, I would research how to do a real American
Christmas, and I would buy Stetsons for Gramps and me,
and we would listen to country music from the States,
and we'd watch an old western movie, something with
Bud Spencer and Terrence Hill. It would be so very
different from everything we'd ever done before that we
wouldn't have time to miss Granny at all.
I swallowed again. Yes, it felt like a tumbling flight,
anything to get over the hurt, but it was better than
waiting for that terrible hole to come up and swallow us.
And it would give me something to do, so I could stop
thinking of Nico playing love-birds with his malleable
Once my mind was made up, I dived into the
preparations. I searched the internet, downloaded
recipes, hunted online shops that shipped overseas and
soon became an expert on a real American-Western-
Christmas. Ignoring the fact that turkey is mostly eaten
for Thanksgiving, I decided to roast a small one for
myself and Gramps and ordered it from the butcher next
door, swearing the owner to secrecy. The day I got the
Stetsons, I whooped with joy, and then I quickly hid
them in my wardrobe. Things were really lightening up,
and I could even see the lights and hear the Christmas
music without pangs.
Then the big day came, the day I wanted to revealmy plans to Gramps. I lived in the apartment above
Gramps, but since Granny's death, I'd fallen into the
habit of going downstairs and eating dinner with him
every evening. I'd tried to teach him to cook, but he was
an old school Italian who believed that cooking was a
job for females. I wondered why Italian men never had a
problem with the many male chefs in restaurants but
decided that at home, cooking wasn't a proper
occupation for them. Talk about being illogical. But then,
Gramps wasn't always logical.
I wasn't a good cook, but I usually managed to get
some basic dishes together. Tonight, we had spaghetti
alla carbonara. I put the big bowl onto the table, with
the freshly mixed spaghetti and sauce inside, and spread
the napkin on my lap. Then I waited until Gramps had
first served me, then himself. He believed in courtesy,
and I enjoyed it, though this time, I found it hard to start
without blurting out my surprise first. However, that
would never do, because Gramps didn't start to eat until
I'd started, and I didn't want us to starve in front of the
steaming dishes. So I picked up my fork, put the first
bite into my mouth, swallowed hastily, and when I'd
made sure he'd followed suit, I said with a big grin on
my face. “Gramps, I've got a surprise for you.”
He lifted his bushy eyebrows and looked at me with
his keen, blue eyes. “A surprise, Sabrina?”
“Yes. A Christmas surprise.” I felt like jumping up
and down on my seat, but I contained myself.
He gave me a slow nod. “That reminds me, I also
wanted to tell you something about Christmas.”“Oh?”
“Yes. You see, I felt that Christmas without your
grandmother would probably be difficult –“
“My thoughts exactly!” Now I did bounce in my
seat. “And I –“
“And I organized a surprise for you.”
My jaw fell to my chest. “You ... you organized a
... a surprise for me?”

Buy the anthology now to learn more about Sabrina's Christmas (and eight other stories!)