Saturday, November 23, 2013
This story is about two-thirds of the way written at this very moment. What that means is that even though this first chapter is fairly solid, there’s a very good chance that it may see some changes by the time it officially publishes. This has also not gone through any professional editing either, so please do allow me some grace if you come across any errors.
Now that that’s out of the way, let me say a huge THANK YOU for your interest in the Masquerade series! I can’t tell you how great it is to know that my work has resonated with readers. I honestly never thought that would happen.
When I finished Her Soundtrack in the beginning of Spring, I was fully prepared to comfortably close the door on Ella and Jonathan and let them live their lives. Of course, I was always day dreaming about what they were up to, but nothing more. Since clicking ‘publish’ at the end of June, all of your wonderful, endearing and encouraging comments have poured in and I couldn’t help but start writing about them again. So it’s thanks to you that this sequel is on the way!
Thank you again for all of your amazing support. In exchange for this chapter, I only ask two things of you… first, tell me what you think of it! And second, please, please, please help me spread the word about the series.
I’ve Got the World on a String – Frank Sinatra
I am a king.
I woke up in my favorite way to wake up. I had a girl under each arm, both brunettes; one with long, dark curly hair and the other with light brown curly hair. They were both devastatingly gorgeous with thick, long lashes and they were both breathing deeply as they slept, snuggled tightly against my chest. My grin had gotten wider these days and it was definitely because of them.
The morning sunlight crept in through the gauzy cream colored curtains of the French doors. Valentina’s eye lids began to twitch a little and I started the countdown to when she’d actually wake up. Even though she had an olive complexion, the skin of her eyelids was pretty pale and thin. Enough so that I could see all of the fine little lines of red networking under the thin skin of her eyelids. I found that intricate network ridiculously pretty and interesting. Who knew I’d ever spend this much time thinking about eyelid skin? And who knew I’d ever call it pretty? Not me.
Claudia probably would have seen it coming, but she’s clever like that. She can read a person pretty well now and she probably would have laughed at me and my stupid eyelid skin thoughts and lovingly told me I was a goner.
It was all thanks to the girl on the other side of me though.
Ella breathed life into me and then gave me one better; our daughter, Valentina. The fact that they were both tucked into my sides was not a treasure I took for granted either. It was a miracle they were both there beside me. They should have died. They would have died. Every doctor in the hospital said so. Just the thought makes me shudder. But my beautiful girls had strength. As a proud man, I always liked to think I had strength, but it wasn’t like theirs. Theirs ran so deep.
Naturally, the best and worst day of my life had to be one and the same.
Both of the curly, brown heads that lay on my bare chest started to stir, but Ella beat Valentina by opening her eyes first. She squinted a few times and then smiled. That smile just killed me every time. I was helpless against it. And believe me, I had to work to get a smile out of her.
The first time I’d seen Ella was at that fated masquerade party in Italy and she definitely wasn’t smiling that night. That doesn’t mean she wasn’t still the most gorgeous woman I’d ever seen, with her perfection of a bowed mouth and big, beautiful eyes. She was just nervous that night. I had suspected as much, but she confirmed to me later that going to the masquerade that night was definitely stepping outside of the box for her. She’d gone against her parents, something she never did, and took a chance; also something she never did. I was stepping outside of the box too, for that matter. I wasn’t even supposed to be there.
I’d only planned on being in Italy for two days, max. I was going to swoop in, snatch the property from Pat Kelly, and swoop back out. But something happened between the swoop and the snatch.
The concierge for the hotel I was staying at caught my eye. She was an unnaturally blond Italian woman with very long legs and a great accent. She was just my type. I don’t even remember her name, but when I attempted my charms on her earlier that day, she easily succumbed like they always did. She encouraged me to go to the hotel’s masquerade party that night, saying she’d be there herself. That night, I threw on my tux, which my personal assistant, Nina, knew was a staple when packing for an international flight, and went down to the terrace to find the tall blonde. Day in, day out, this had been my life. Business warfare during the day, nameless blonde to ride at night. It was all pretty standard for me, procedure wise. What I found instead was anything but procedure. Gabriella Marie Kelly.
She stunned me. And I don’t get stunned. I swear, she was glowing that night. When I think back on it, everyone and everything else at the masquerade but her seems dull and dark; all the men in their black tuxes and the women in their sleek, colorful dresses with these wild masks, but not my Ella. She wore an ivory dress that was all puffy on the bottom, like Cinderella, but fitted at the top like a vixen.
She was hotter than hell. She doesn’t believe me when I tell her that every man was
staring at her that night, but it’s true. There are far too many beautiful women in the world out there who don’t get how attractive they are simply because stupid men are too busy being too intimidated to talk to them. Lucky for my girl, I’m a cocky son of a bitch.
It was a miracle I got that dirty old perv off her when I did. As soon as I saw her, I forgot all about the blonde and went to make a beeline for Ella. I took my eyes off of her for a second, hoping to grab a couple of glasses of champagne to help my charms on my way across the terrace. When I looked back a second later, some trash bag with a gnarled face mask was trying to mark my territory. I immediately abandoned my champagne mission and took back what I knew was already mine.
If I thought she was gorgeous from across the terrace, she was indescribable up close. The first thing I noticed was her eyes. They were big and bright with life and the same dark chocolate color as her hair. When she stared at me that first time, I swear I could see her soul. And it was even more beautiful than her perfect heart-shaped face. I know it sounds crazy, but I think I knew I loved her from the moment I saw her.
When I had thought that she was mine from across the terrace, I had no idea how deep that sentiment would end up being, and how, in all reality, it’s the other way around. I’m hers. I like to walk around like I’m the man of the house, and by default, that term is true, but like the British guy says in that movie she loves, she has bewitched me, body and soul. She could ask anything of me, anything, and as long as it wouldn’t harm her, I’d do whatever I could to make it happen.
And even though she can’t talk yet, I know it’ll be the same when it comes to my Valentina too. Never in a million years did I think I would end up being a sappy family man. I saw my father and mother and the products of that marriage didn’t seem so great. I generally enjoyed the game of the business world and chasing women, but I was under no illusions that I was some awesome human being.
And, at the time, my sister Claudia was such a shell of a person… it was a thought I feel terrible about now, but I didn’t exactly see us as some amazing offspring. Like I said, I was busy being amused with the game that was my life. I thought that wife and kids stuff was for other guys, but definitely not me.
But something changed when I met Ella. She changed the way my heart beats. After meeting this sweet, beautiful, funny person, suddenly the idea of being locked down wasn’t so bad. At first, when I assumed she’d be a fling, long-time fling, but still fling, I actually felt myself missing her. And I didn’t even know her. When she’d shut me out after we first met, she left a gaping hole in my chest and the only remedy was her essence. Before I knew it, I was looking to lock her down, not the other way around. I’m eternally grateful to my baby girl for helping me make serious headway with that mission.
“Hi baby,” my sleepy wife mumbled. Wife and daughter were my new favorite words in the entireEnglish language. It’s just that mine were the best.
I kissed her forehead and inhaled deeply. I could smell Ella’s shampoo, which I’d discovered was some kind of light honey scent, and I could smell Valentina’s baby scent. When the two mixed together, I felt euphoric.
“This is becoming a really bad habit, Jonathan. You know we’re not supposed to have her in the bed with us. They say people roll over when they’re sleeping and don’t even realize they’ve hurt the baby.”
“Come on, Ella, it’s fine. Besides, she was crying and she sleeps longer with us anyway.” She only frowned back. Like any good new mom, Ella was always trying to follow the rules and I couldn’t blame her. Valentina’s face scrunched up to match her mother’s just then and I knew what was coming. Right on cue, she wailed herself awake. Ella sat up and Ishifted my body so I could cradle my little baby in my big arms. “Shh shh shh, it’s okay, pretty girl, shh shh shh.” I gave her a little rock in my arms, but she kept crying. That’s when momma came to the rescue. Ella gently scooped Valentina up from my arms and the crying ceased, but I didn’t take offense. I simply didn’t have what Valentina wanted. And thank God for that.
Ella slid one shoulder of her silky pink nightgown down, revealing half of her perfect chest while I wordlessly put a bunch of pillows behind her. Leaning back onto the new mound of pillows behind her, she let out an exhausted sigh and closed her eyes while Valentina latched on eagerly. We had a nice rhythm and developed a groove as parents. We were a good team and words were often not necessary.
“I feel like a cow,” Ella said with her tired eyes still closed.
I laughed, “Well, you are being drained of milk…”
“I hate you.”
“No you don’t. You love me. A lot,” I replied after kissing her cheek while Valentina sucked on.
“I want a guy to know what this feels like; whipping your giant, engorged boob out and having a little mouth suck away for milk…”
‘Giant’ and ‘engorged’ were actually pretty good descriptors. They were both those things these days. And I loved them. Ella was pushing past a double-D cup size and I was a happy husband.