Today I’m taking part in the blog tour for Samantha Tonge’s new book, ‘My Big Fat Christmas Wedding’. I absolutely adored ‘Game of Scones’ so I’m delighted that I can help out with this and I hope ‘My Big Fat Christmas Wedding’ is as much of a success! So, below you’ll find chapter 2. Enjoy!
As her Christmas wedding approaches, a trip back to snowy England for her ex’s engagement party makes her wonder if those are wedding bells she’s hearing in her mind, or warning bells. She longs for the excitement of her old London life – the glamour, the regular pedicures. Can she really give that all up to be… a fishwife?
There’s nothing for it but to throw herself into bringing a little Christmas magic to the struggling village in the form of a Christmas fair. Somewhere in amidst the sparkly bauble cakes and stollen scones, she’s sure she’ll come to the right decision about where she belongs…hopefully in time for the wedding…
Perfect for fans of Lindsey Kelk and Debbie Johnson. Don’t miss the Christmas Wedding of the year!
The palm of my hand ran over the smooth surface, fingers trailing across tasty contours. Was there anything more sensuous than firm, creamy scone dough, rolled out, its bumps of coloured ingredients promising bursts of different flavours?
Okay – Niko’s chest might come a close second, taut from hauling fishing boats onto the beach. My mind filled, for a moment, with an image of the way his mouth would quirk up on one side, as if daring me to kiss the corner, although, truth be told, my knees became more wobbly at the sound of his crazily caring, Greekish tones – especially when he teased me if my baklava came out of the oven drier than a beached bunch of seaweed. There were several local dishes that still got the better of me.
Humming, I picked up the circular scone cutter. In a couple of hours the taverna would buzz with villagers, here to discuss my Christmas market idea. We’d set a meeting for late afternoon, after Saturday trade had finished. I’d already made cranberry and white chocolate scones to test out. This batch boasted festive sage and onion, plus a handful of chopped walnuts (my secret ingredient for a great British stuffing recipe).
Mmm. What a taste-bud seducing smell. Cue happy memories from Christmases past, even though Mum and Dad were never far from their smartphones and we usually ate out in a swanky restaurant. More than once I’d wished to spend the day at home, the three of us basting the turkey. I’d never seen the Queen’s speech, nor eagerly searched for chocolates on a Christmas tree. My busy parents would simply pull a ready-decorated pop-up one out of the loft.
My lips upturned. That’s why this Christmas was going to be really special. Just like the one from my childhood when we visited Taxos. Georgios and Sophia had insisted that we join their family celebrations. What fun, with everyone mucking in with cooking and washing up, before playing cards. Georgios even got Dad dancing, after they’d shared a carafe of red wine. We’d enjoyed board games whilst snacking on pomegranates and nuts. Mandarins and fairy lights added sparkle and colour to every room. Late evening, Niko and I had snuck off to the beach with torches and hidden in a boat to scoff a secret midnight feast.
‘Those Christmas cookies were yummy,’ I said, still reminiscing, a few hours later, as villagers arrived.
Niko chuckled. ‘I could hardly see what I was eating as we pulled the tarpaulin over us to keep warm.
‘I pushed it off quick enough when that slimy frog jumped into my lap.’
Harmonica in one hand, Cosmo strode in. He embraced us before sniffing loudly.
‘Ya sou, talented Pippa. What scone recipe do you please us with today?’
‘Guess,’ I said, as potter Demetrios came over, shook Niko’s hand and kissed me on both cheeks. The two men breathed in deeply.
‘Tea?’ said Cosmo, brow furrowed.
I shook my head. ‘Not a bad attempt, though.’ Sage was an ingredient of a favourite hot Greek beverage.
‘Asapargus and walnut?’ said Demetrios, who had taken off his scarf to reveal one of his signature brightly coloured cravats – today’s was lagoon-blue.
‘Close,’ I said and took a plate from passing Sophia. I offered the men the sage and onion scones. ‘They are stuffing flavour,’ I announced.
‘Huh?’ they said, in unison.
‘What this stuffing?’ said Cosmo, tired eyes a-twinkle. ‘Stuffing is a material to fill cushions and soft toys, no? Whereas this has…mmm…real flavour.’
Someone tugged at my elbow and I looked down – it was Theo, the eldest son of the Dellis farmers. In one hand he clutched a Nintendo. Almost out of primary school, he spoke a few words of English.
‘White chocolate good, Pippa,’ he said, flecks of cranberry around his mouth.
I ruffled his wavy locks and bent down to explain, in my best Greek, that I’d put two aside in the kitchen for him and his little brother to take home. Puzzlement crossed his face, so Niko quickly translated. I might have been missing mathematical problems to solve, but linguistically I’d never felt more challenged.
From behind, a small hand fiddled with my hair.
‘Honey dumpling!’ I said (sounding like an old Greek mama for a moment) and spun around. Sure enough it was the toddler girl from a few doors down, in her mum’s arms.
‘Pip…Pip…’ the two-year-old managed and leant out to grab my cheek. I gave a wide grin. Ever since she’d first seen me, this little tot had been obsessed with my red hair and freckles.
Across the room, Niko welcomed villagers. My heart swelled as he shook hands and clapped shoulders. Sophia caught my eye and nodded. It was time to call everyone to attention. However, a grape-like smell distracted me – Grandma’s favourite perfume. She’d appeared at my right side, a floral scarf tying back her wispy grey hair.
‘I just hear the news, Pippa.’ She slipped an arm around my waist. ‘Your Henrik – back in Taxos.’
‘He’s not my Henrik any more.’
Crepey skin around Grandma’s cinnamon eyes crinkled. ‘The ladies of the village will be pleased that their Gigantes has returned.’ She gave one of her gap-toothed smiles.
With his Titan height, half-Dutch Henrik had made quite an impact this year. His easy charm, coupled with the suave clothes and Atlas shoulders, had only fuelled the local girls’ crushes.
Grandma stared at me. ‘Must be strange for you – seeing a friend from home after all this time.’
‘Not really,’ I said, my voice coming out in some sort of squeak. ‘He hasn’t texted to meet up. But then we haven’t spoken at all for the last few months.’
She studied my face. ‘Of course. Henrik is now part of your past.’
Did she really believe that? Over the years Grandma had been my greatest confidante in the summers, listening to my worries about school. She always knew when something was bothering me. Not that anything was today. Any sort of relationship between me and Henrik was well over. She squeezed me before pulling away her arm.
‘Have you been reading coffee sediment again, Grandma?’ I said and grinned. ‘Perhaps Henrik will marry one of his Greek fan-girls?’
‘Never joke about the coffee sediment,’ she said. ‘Didn’t it tell you last week that a new pair of shoes will bring you good luck?’ Grandma gazed down at my shiny ankle boots, picked up last weekend in Kos Town. ‘Today is the first time you wear them and I think your Christmas idea – it’s going to go down well.’
I kissed her forehead and glanced across the room at Sophia who nodded again. Loudly, I cleared my throat.
‘Thanks for coming, everyone, it’s appreciated.’
A few people still chatted. Grandma tutted and clapped her hands. Georgios stood ready at the back to translate for the villagers who couldn’t speak much English.
‘Right…so…I have a suggestion on how we can boost our income over the Christmas period.’
‘Go, Pippa!’ called Pandora and unbuttoned her stylish, red winter coat. ‘Your ideas are always the best.’
Murmurs of agreement echoed around the room and my ears burned.
‘Any plan would be most welcome,’ murmured Mrs Dellis. ‘Our pickle and cheese sales are down. Praise God that this time next year, visitors to the Maritime Museum will have big appetites for local wares.’
I smoothed down my apron, as Apollo the cat promptly sank onto one of my feet. ‘Okay…here goes – how about we hold a Christmas market with a difference? From the twenty-sixth of December to the lunchtime of the twenty-ninth – my and Niko’s wedding day. A market to offer tourists and islanders a different shopping experience to the annual one in Kos Town.’
Shoulders slumped and several heads lowered.
‘A market?’ said Cosmo, eventually, and ran his harmonica across his lips, without blowing. ‘How exactly would it stand out?’
‘For a start, in England we have something called Santa’s Grotto – we could set this up in Pippa’s Pantry. St Nicholas sits in there with a bag of presents and parents pay for their children to go in. I reckon you’d look really good in a white beard, Cosmo,’ I said.
‘Efharisto for thinking of me.’ He bowed his head and smiled. ‘To represent our patron saint of sailors would give me great honour.’
‘Demetrios, perhaps, could make small pottery ornaments, such as ceramic angels and reindeer for the gift bags,’ I continued. ‘Pandora’s sweet treats could go in. I would set out my festive scones inside the teashop, alongside hot drinks.’
‘And children would play a big part in this market, wouldn’t they, Pippa?’ said Niko, encouragingly.
‘Yes, you see—’
The door flung open. Local hotel owner Mrs Vesteros stood there, hair ruffled, chest heaving.
‘Otis is missing!’ she wailed. ‘He saw a cat and pulled away whilst I tied my shoelace. He headed towards the beach. I no understand why he not come back.’ A sob escaped her lips.
Without waiting one second, Yanis, the son of local butcher Mrs Manos, sprinted out of the taverna. After giving Mrs Vesteros a quick hug, I followed with Niko and many of the villagers. Otis had become well known in Taxos over the last couple of months, since Mrs Vesteros had found him abandoned in Kos Town.
‘Yanis can run fast,’ I puffed to Niko. ‘He’s obviously still quite the hero. Isn’t he always helping elderly villagers with their DIY?’
‘He used to,’ said Niko, in between gulps of air. ‘Although these days Yanis keeps himself to himself, working at the butcher’s or picking up brickie or plastering work. He and his family live in a caravan in his mum’s back garden. Even though his dad died, the house isn’t big enough for them all to fit in together.’
No surprise there. Caravans had sprung up all over the island, housing Greeks who couldn’t afford to meet the demands of banks or landlords.
‘His wife never looks very cheery,’ I said, tired chest aching now.
‘You know she lost her job in the deli, next to the Flamingo inn, in Kos Town?’
‘That’s why she and Yanis could no longer afford their house. I guess it made sense to move here, when his dad died.’
‘Moving here must have been a life-saver, then.’ But perhaps not for old Mrs Manos, who had recently lost loads of weight, plus chain-smoked more than ever.
‘Yanis headed left, towards Caretta Cove,’ shouted a passing villager as we stopped by the fishing boats to catch our breath.
‘Okay, we turn right then,’ said Niko, already recovered, unlike me whose daily exercise only involved beating, whisking and kneading.
We rummaged through boat sheds and gardens, all to a soundtrack of villagers calling Otis’ name. However an hour or so later, the dog still wasn’t found – and Yanis wasn’t back.
With rosy cheeks, and heaving chests, everyone sat in the taverna. Grandma and old Mrs Manos handed out coffees and slices of honey cake.
‘Otis will wander back home, I’m sure of it,’ I said to Mrs Vesteros and slipped an arm around her shoulders.
Her face crumpled. ‘I don’t understand. Someone must have him, otherwise he would have returned.’
Perhaps. But I doubted it. Greece was overrun with stray dogs at the moment, many dumped by financially-stretched owners who also couldn’t afford to neuter them, so numbers easily swelled. Some pets, like Otis, might run off to join roaming packs.
‘Let’s look again once we’ve warmed up,’ said Cosmo. ‘I’ll go a bit further afield on one of my bikes.’
‘And this time all of you put your coats on,’ said Grandma.
But the door opened and Yanis stepped in, along with a gust of cold afternoon wind. His face looked flushed. Hair unkempt. Clothes damp. And in his hand was… Oh no. Otis’ distinct leopard-print lead.
‘My baby?’ stuttered Mrs Vesteros.
Slowly Yanis nodded. ‘Sorry. Spotted him just past Caretta Cove. He must have seen something in the water. I followed him in but…’ Yanis glanced away. ‘The dog sank. Perhaps his lead got caught on some rocks and held him down.’ He held up the lead which was broken around the neck. ‘This washed up on the shore.’
A howl followed by sobs came from Mrs Vesteros’ body and she fled the taverna. A couple of her neighbours followed. Yet crying still came from the room – Mrs Manos. She looked distraught.
‘Poor dog,’ she finally muttered, in between sniffs.
All the villagers nodded. It was especially hard for dog-loving Mrs Manos who had taken in a couple of strays, keeping them in the shed at the back of her property. She fed them unsellable scraps from the butcher’s business. I’d wanted to home one, but Niko wasn’t keen. Not until we moved out of the taverna into our own place. Which made sense. Since we’d got engaged and talked of the future I’d seen a new side to Niko that was less spontaneous; more logical. That was good, right?
Mrs Manos stood up and went over to Yanis. ‘We go,’ she said and sniffed loudly before nodding at Niko’s parents. ‘Thanks for the coffee and cake.’ She glanced at me. ‘As for this meeting…a Christmas market? What difference will that really make?’ Her voice wobbled. ‘Until our businesses take off next summer and the Marine Museum is completed…’ She threw her arms in the air. ‘I know not where the money comes from to pay the electricity for my big refrigerators, let alone help pay for my young grandson’s measles jab. And as for Christmas presents…this pointless idea belongs to a thriving English town, not a Greek village crippled by debt.’
Yanis patted his mother’s shoulder as my mouth went dry.
‘Mama is right,’ he said. ‘Everything going to still be a struggle, for a few months at least. A market no make any difference.’
Mrs Manos shook her head. ‘At the moment I see so few prospects for our children. How will a Christmas market change that?’
I swallowed and thought back to Mrs Manos’ comment about her grandson’s measles jab. Only last week I’d got talking to a doctor in Kos Town, who shook his head saying he had diagnosed many a case of malnutrition in hard-off adults and children.
‘Mrs Manos, Yanis, I know my idea doesn’t seem like much at the moment, but—’
She snorted. ‘A market stall won’t raise enough to buy even the door of the new money-saving freezer we need, to cut down running costs.’
Pandora glared at her but I noticed the way Mrs Manos’ chin trembled; how she wrung her nicotine-stained hands. A lump formed in my throat.
‘It’s got to be better than doing nothing,’ I said softly. ‘Let’s see… Taxos schoolchildren do a dance performance each year for the parents, don’t they? Maybe they could perform a couple of times a day, out in the street, for visitors? We could have fun games like…like hook-a-turtle,’ I said, ignoring the blank stares from people who’d clearly never heard of hook-a-duck.
Uncle Christos rubbed his chin. ‘Really, it would be more like a fair.’
My eyebrows raised. ‘Yes, that’s an even better concept. We’d have Christmas music playing or carol-singers…’
‘Mama, Papa, you could serve hot egg-lemon chicken and rice soup in mugs, with chunks of sourdough bread from the taverna, for local visitors who want their traditional festive food,’ said Niko.
‘Pandora, what about selling some of your handkerchiefs?’ I said. She’d built up quite a collection since her husband had died in a local forest fire, when Niko and I were children. Clearly, sewing had filled many an empty evening.
‘Me and Niko could plan a Christmas-themed treasure hunt each day for children, with some strategically placed boats on the beach,’ said Niko’s cousin Stefan.
Vigorously I nodded my head.
‘Perhaps your friendly goats could wear cardboard antlers,’ I said to the Dellises.
Yanis muttered something under his breath, rolled his eyes and left with his mum.
Ignoring their departure, Mr Dellis bowed. ‘And we could offer donkey rides. Our youngest ass loves children and we’d make sure she got a number of rests during the day.’
I smiled. Mr Dellis had obviously heard that the English were huge advocates of animal welfare. Every time I visited to buy some of their delicious goat’s cheese, he would describe, in great detail, how he tended to his livestock’s every need.
A couple of hours later, the villagers had switched from coffee to wine and Sophia had put on one of her compilation Christmas CDs. She was a big fan of Bing Crosby and Michael Bublé. Despite the chilly December breeze, several people spilled onto the back patio where someone accompanied Cosmo’s harmonica with guitar. Fairy lights lit up the outside and inside of the restaurant. Most people seemed to be coming around to the idea of giving my venture a go.
‘I have started making scented candles,’ said Postie’s wife, a gifted jewellery maker. ‘Perhaps, Pippa, you can help me think up some Christmas fragrances?’
‘And my legs are used to walking,’ said her husband, a squat man with enormous, postbag-carrying shoulders. ‘Like in the summer, when the village put together that leaflet to advertise our new businesses, I can ask my bosses at the post office if you can borrow our big printer again for the flyers. Then on my day off I will post them around Kos Town.’
‘Excellent,’ I said. I took a big glug of one of Taxos Taverna’s famous orange granitas as alcohol wouldn’t refresh the parts of me worn out by the several hours of animated chat. Grandma sat next to me, in a chair, with a half-empty glass of ouzo.
‘You a good girl, Pippa. People laugh with sparkly eyes – once again you have fired their ambition.’
‘Not the Manoses’,’ I mumbled. ‘Do you think it was a stupid suggestion of mine? Did it…’ My voice wavered. ‘…sound patronising? I’d hate that. I mean, Mrs Manos is right – selling a few festive scones and gifts won’t give people back their decent incomes and dignity overnight.’
Grandma squeezed my shoulder. ‘It’s a great idea. Like you say – at least better than nothing. And who else is looking out for Taxos? Mrs Manos will come around. It’s not been easy for her, since April when her husband died.’
Arms slipped around me and I turned to face Niko’s intense gaze.
‘The Christmas fair is a great idea, even if it will just fill our wallets in the short term. Papa is going to make bags of Greek yogurt-dipped nuts, raisins and figs – any tourists will love those. And Demetrios will make pottery flamingos, seeing as they inhabit Kos at this time of year.’ He shrugged. ‘It will give everyone something positive to focus on.’
Grandma sipped her drink. ‘Just like in the summer, lots of small ideas, pooled together, make one big success.’
‘I’m determined they will,’ I said and pursed my lips.
The villagers started to put on their outdoor clothing, to go home and make a late dinner. Someone tugged at my sleeve. Sheepishly Theo grinned up at me. Of course, the chocolate scones! I dashed into the kitchen and a minute later returned.
‘Thank you,’ chorused Mr and Mrs Dellis.
Pandora came over and hugged me goodbye. ‘Tell us, dear Pippa – the most important thing: what other flavour scones will you bake for the fair?’
‘I’m thinking plain, with a generous dollop of glittery jam in the middle, in different colours, like Christmas baubles…lime green, blueberry purple and apricot orange…’
‘So preeetty they will look!’ Pandora buttoned up her coat. ‘I must work on some festive recipes too, to go alongside my traditional December sesame baklava and cinnamon cookies.’
I smiled and glanced over her shoulder, as a draught swept into the restaurant. A group of young women near the front window giggled and fiddled with their hair. One quickly applied a slash of lipstick and then stared at the doorway. I shivered. Someone must have gone home and left the door open.
But why were some of the girls staring at it, cheeks red, heads shyly cocked? My gaze switched to the front of the taverna. Ah. Now I understood why their hearts must have been beating like the hooves of reindeer pulling a sleigh.
‘Hey, Pips.’ Slate eyes crinkled as the song ‘Santa Baby’ played in the background. ‘Why the party?’
There, looking as debonair as ever, holding a leather briefcase, stood Henrik.
Samantha Tonge lives in Cheshire with her lovely family and a cat that thinks it’s a dog. When not writing, she spends her days cycling and willing cakes to rise. She has sold over 80 short stories to women’s magazines. Her bestselling debut novel, Doubting Abbey, was shortlisted for the Festival of Romantic Fiction best Ebook award in 2014. Her summer 2015 novel Game of Scones hit #5 in the UK Kindle chart.