Renee Conoulty: April 2016


Saturday, 30 April 2016

Live For This by Kathryn R. Biel

Hey Everyone!

I'd like to introduce you to Kathryn Beil, who has just released her latest novel, Live For This.

Kathryn Biel hails from Upstate New York, and is a spouse and mother of two wonderful, but exhausting kids. In between being Chief Home Officer and Director of Child Development of the Biel household, she works as a school-based physical therapist. She attended Boston University and received her Doctorate in Physical Therapy from The Sage Colleges. After years of writing countless letters of medical necessity for wheelchairs, finding increasingly creative ways to encourage the government and insurance companies to fund her client's needs, and writing entertaining annual Christmas letters, she decided to take a shot at writing the kind of novel that she likes to read. Her musings and rants can also be found on her personal blog, Biel Blather.

Connect with Kathryn via

Live For This by Kathryn R. Biel

Samirah Lundgren is living the party girl life. While she's trying to forget about her past and put off having a meaningful future, her lifestyle catches up with her, leaving her in a wake of personal destruction. Alone and homeless, she encounters Michael Salinger, a man carrying his own baggage in the form of a spinal cord injury, not to mention his former fiancé is marrying his former best friend.

Can a man with a broken body and a woman with a broken soul help each other find the redemption they need to become whole again?

Hey! Here's my review.

Can two broken people help each other heal? There's one way to find out.... Read the book :)

I loved Kathryn's writing style. It's emotionally engaging without making me cry, well not cry the whole way through anyway. I loved both main characters and hoped they would let each other in. 

It was interesting to read about a character with a spinal injury and how he managed so independently. Kathryn has experience as a physical therapist, so the details about Michael's spinal cord injury and rehab are authentic.

I received this book free in exchange for an honest review.


  • Where: KEPR Tours
  • Format: ebook

Thursday, 28 April 2016

Heartbreaker by Kat & Stone Bastion

Kiki Michaelson wants one wild night to forget her starving-artist worries. Simple.

Only instead of Darren Cole becoming her one-night stand, he taunts her with a challenge. Then while she’s trying to best him at his own game, he turns out to be the last thing she’s prepared for: someone she wants to keep.

Which means all he can ever be…is a friend.

Darren Cole never allows a girl to get close—not close enough to matter.

Then storms in Kiki Michaelson, a beautiful, fearless temptation that rocks his world off-balance. But he fights their attraction, unwilling to gamble something physical with their close ties. Until the passionate sculptor exposes her heart and breaks his wide open.

In that moment it becomes clear: she could never be just a friend.

Sometimes what you run from…is exactly what you need.

***HEARTBREAKER is a standalone, full-length new adult romance told in dual POV. Due to mature themes and adult language, this book is for those 18 and older.***

Hey! Here's my review.

Ever since I discovered the "No Weddings" series and binge read it, I've kept an eye out for more from Kat and Stone Bastion. I jumped at the chance to read Heartbreaker and was excited to see a few glimpses of the characters I loved from the "No Weddings" series. This is a stand alone book, so you don't need to have read that series, but if you have and you enjoyed it, then I think you will enjoy this too. Kat and Stone's contemporary romance style continues in this novel, combined with a dollop of New Adult angst. 

I received this book free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.


  • Where: NetGalley
  • Format: ebook

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Carol Maloney Scott *Spotlight*

Hey Everyone!

I'd like to introduce you to Carol Maloney Scott, who has just released her latest novel - Accidental Makeovers. This is the fourth book in the Rom-Com on the Edge series, but can be read as a stand alone. Here's Carol.

My name is Carol, and I’m addicted to Romance.

I grew up in the Hudson Valley area of New York, surrounded by “city folk,” like my Manhattanite mom and Bronx-native Dad, who taught me to be sweet on the outside, yet tough on the inside.

As a result, I’m often gifted sassy labels like “firecracker” or “feisty,” which I choose to take as a compliment, due to my Irish/Eastern European heritage.

My romantic history is as real (and complicated) as that of the heroines in my novels. I’ve been divorced, relocated, plunged fearlessly into the turbulent waters of online dating—only to retreat, yelping, at the occasionally shocking climate before bravely renewing my efforts—until finally, I grabbed hold of happiness and refused to let go.

While I did eventually find my “HEA” in the form of a real life relationship, I also fell in love with writing, and it’s a romance I can’t get enough of.

That’s why I can’t help chasing after that thrill of first love, of never-ending passion, of self-discovery, of romance—even if that chase leads me to (and sometimes over) the edge.

Connect with Carol via

Accidental Makeovers by Carol Maloney

Twenty-something, single mom Bianca yearns for more. The cosmetology license she worked so hard to get is collecting dust while she waitresses for her mother’s catering business, but she has no clue how to turn her dreams of being a makeup artist into reality. Adding to her unhappiness is her dead-end relationship with her immature, video game-obsessed baby daddy, Max. Although he runs a successful business and Bianca still gets a thrill whenever she sees him play the drums in his cover band, Chain, she can’t deny that he’s starting to feel like her big, tattooed second child.

In desperate need of a life makeover, her fortune takes a positive turn when she crosses paths with an impulsive, runaway bride who has the connections to help Bianca achieve her goals. Suddenly, doors are being opened for her and she has a fabulous, new job that’s reigniting her zest for life. Too bad Max isn’t on board with these changes, and he starts acting like a jealous jerk, which brings their faltering relationship to a boiling point just about the time Bianca meets Eric, a sexy and charming financial manager. Eric comes from a different world, but one Bianca is increasingly eager to join.

Bianca expects her friends and family to be supportive of her budding romance with Eric, but to her surprise, they’re all on Team Max and they rally behind him when he launches a campaign to win her back. Nothing wrong with bar fights, fake girlfriends, and strategically placed rodents when they're all in the name of true love, right?

Quite by accident her world is transformed overnight, but can a career makeover beautify her love life?

Monday, 25 April 2016

ANZAC Day Tribute

Amy buttons her blue shirt and brushes imaginary fluff from her sleeves. Standing tall and proud before the full-length mirror, she systematically checks each minute detail: shirt crisp and ironed to military precision; long blonde hair scraped back into a tidy bun, tied low enough to ensure her hat sat straight; shoes shiny enough to reflect the sun, if it were up. 

Her four-year service medal nestles beside her grandfather's medals. Amy lifts it from the display box and pins it to her chest. Her shoulders slump as the memories flood back. She recalls the pride in Pop's eye as he watched her first medal presentation. All I've done is turn up to work every day to get mine, he'd almost died to get his. 

War has changed so much since then, become impersonal. Technology has built up a distance between us and them. She'll never need to look the enemy in the eye like he did. Amy places her hand on her medal, over her heart, and sends up a silent prayer. Miss you Pop. I'll have a beer for you. Send me some luck with the two up. 

One last glance as she plucks a red poppy from the mirror's edge. Her grandfather's blue-grey eyes peer back at her. Amy smiles wistfully at the memory of him, then stuffs the poppy in her pocket to give to him after the dawn service. 

war memorial poppy grandfather veteran pop march uniform

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Natasha Lester *Spotlight, Guest Post & Review*

Hey Everyone!

I'd like to introduce you to Natasha Lester, who is about to release her next novel, A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald.

Natasha Lester is the award winning author of A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald, a 1920s New York love story, and two other novels, If I Should Lose You, and What is Left Over, After.

The Age newspaper has described her as "a remarkable Australian talent." She has been awarded grants by the Australia Council for her work, and writing residencies from Varuna, The Writers House and the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers Centre.

She loves teaching writing courses and when she's not working on her novels or teaching others how to write, she can usually be found reading, going to yoga, or playing dress-ups with her three children. Natasha lives in Perth, Western Australia.

Connect with Natasha via

Making an Audiobook of A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald

Having an audiobook made of A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald is a pretty exciting thing. I never imagined that my book would be considered good enough to be published in any form other than paperback and ebook and, I know it sounds weird, but I can’t wait to listen to it! Here’s how a book gets made into audio.

The Audiobook Contract

The first step was actually locking down an audiobook contract and I thank my amazing agent Jacinta di Mase for taking the initiative with this. Each book has lots of different rights attached to it—ebook rights, serial rights, extract rights etc—and an agent is a huge help in knowing how and when to sell these rights.

Given that we’d had so many offers for the paperback end ebook rights for A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald, my agent felt we could try to sell off the audio rights separately to flush out the best offer. It would never have occurred to me to do this.

So she went and met with the audiobook producers and publishers and came back with a couple of offers. The offer from Audible included an extra advance, which was wonderful, and a good royalty rate. Our decision was made; we’d go with Audible and Audible promised to work with Hachette to make sure the audiobook was ready for a simultaneous April 26th release with the paperback.

Producing the Audiobook

Producing the audiobook required very little involvement from me, which was actually great! Audible worked with Hachette to use the same cover design to leverage of the other’s marketing, and to make sure they received the finished manuscript with enough time to record the audio.

Then I had to give them some feedback about what kind of narrator I wanted. I chose to go with an American accent because, given the book is set in New York and the characters are all American, I just didn’t think it would sound right to be voiced with an Australian accent. Other than that, the brief was that the narrator should be bubbly, bright, strong, warm and friendly.

Choosing the Narrator

Audible then sent over audio files for about three proposed narrators. I sent the files to both my agent and publisher as I really value their feedback and our overwhelming response was that the narrators sounded too old. Evie, the main character, is only twenty when the book begins and all of those narrators sounded as if they were well into their thirties. The narrator’s age wasn’t something I’d even thought about until hearing these samples and I suddenly realised it was actually quite an important thing.

Audible then came back with another audio file for a narrator who I knew instantly was perfect. My publisher and agent both agreed. So, we locked her in and she’d been busily recording the book in the studio, ready for it to be released on April 26th!

If you’re an audiobook lover, I really hope you enjoy the chance to listen to A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald on audiobook. And thanks so much for having me on your blog Renee!

A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald by Natasha Lester 

If you loved THE PARIS WIFE and Z: A NOVEL OF ZELDA FITZGERALD, you will devour this deliciously evocative love story of a small-town girl with big ambitions in 1920s New York.

It’s 1922 in the Manhattan of gin, jazz and prosperity. Women wear makeup and hitched hemlines – and enjoy a new freedom to vote and work. Not so Evelyn Lockhart, forbidden from pursuing her passion: to become one of the first female doctors.

Chasing her dream will mean turning her back on the only life she knows: her competitive sister, Viola; her conservative parents; and the childhood best friend she is expected to marry, Charlie.

And if Evie does fight Columbia University’s medical school for acceptance, how will she support herself? So when there’s a casting call for the infamous late-night Ziegfeld Follies on Broadway, will Evie find the nerve to audition? And if she does, what will it mean for her fledgling relationship with Upper East Side banker Thomas Whitman, a man Evie thinks she could fall in love with, if only she lived a life less scandalous?

Captivating, romantic and tragic, A KISS FROM MR FITZGERALD follows a young woman ahead of her time amid the fragile hearts and glamour of Jazz Age New York.

Audiobook purchase links

A Beautiful Dare by Natasha Lester

A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald
A free short story set in the roaring twenties by the author of the deliciously evocative love story A KISS FROM MR FITZGERALD.

It's 1922 in Concord, Massachusetts, a time when women are expected to do nothing more than marry as well as they can, as soon as they can. And whether she likes it or not, this is exactly what Evelyn Lockhart's conservative parents expect of her. While Evie's waiting for her handsome, wealthy neighbour Charles to propose, she has convinced her parents to let her study literature at college.

But when a chance meeting leads to a day of exciting adventure, Evie begins to realise that there could be so much more in her future than marriage, if only she dared imagine it . . .

If you loved THE PARIS WIFE and Z: A NOVEL OF ZELDA FIZGERALD, you will devour this short story that takes place before the full-length novel A KISS FROM MR FITZGERALD.

Hey! Here's my review.

I fabulous short story that I devoured in one sitting. I immediately liked Evie and can't wait to read more of her story in A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald. She has spunk and I can't wait to see how she pushes against society to find her way in the world.

This snippet of Evie's life took me back to my university days, into the Anatomy lab and the wonder/discomfort of discovering what's really inside someone. Natasha's writing is beautiful and engaging. She is able to balance attention to detail with action to keep the story flowing.


Friday, 22 April 2016

Rose's Vintage by Kayte Nunn *Guest Post, Review & Giveaway*

Hey Everyone!

I'd like to introduce you to Kayte Nunn, who has just released her debut novel, Rose's Vintage. Don't forget to enter the giveaway at the bottom for your chance to win one of two paperback copies of  Rose's Vintage (open to Australian residents only). Handing the reins over to Kayte.


Without being really aware of it, I have always written - diaries, bad poetry, little bits of stories and so on. After studying English and Publishing at university I worked in book publishing as an assistant and then an editor. Realising that I wanted to do more of my own writing, I went to work in magazines, first as a features writer, a copy editor and then an editor. 

I have been a freelance features writer and project editor for five years, and it was during this time that I began to write fiction. ROSE'S VINTAGE came about as I was musing one day what it would be like to arrive in Australia and find it completely unlike anything you'd expected. Its vineyard setting came about as a result of many visits to wineries during the years I edited Gourmet Traveller WINE magazine. I loved the sense of community I found in these regions, and wanted to capture that in the novel.

I have finished a second book in the series, called The Angel's Share (yet to be published), and both books sold at auction to Piper verlag in Germany. 

I am currently working on my third novel, a historical thriller.

Guest Post - Writing Tips

Kayte Nunn is the author of Rose’s Vintage, a novel set in the fictional Australian winemaking region of the Shingle Valley. Here she shares a few tips for getting started as a writer. 

1.     Read. It goes without saying that if you are not a reader then you have no business thinking of becoming a writer. But, more importantly, read critically – re-read your favourite books and try to work out what you love about them. Is it how the author builds tension, the language they use, the way they start and finish paragraphs, the detail they include, how they create the voice of the main characters, even the balance between description and dialogue.

2.     Write the book you would love to read – you’re going to be working on this project for a long time, possibly even years, so it makes sense to spend your time on something that appeals to you.

3.     Pay attention – to what’s going on around you, how people speak, to language, to slang, to what you are reading, to the little details of a person’s appearance, to landscape. Think about how you’d write about these things.

4.     Set yourself goals – whether that is writing for an hour a day or 500 words a day, or setting your alarm and getting up earlier to write a few mornings a week. Turn off the TV and write. Think about your story when you’re not writing and make notes as ideas come to you – always have a notebook handy, or even use the notes function on your phone.

5.     Be a storyteller, not just a writer. Storytelling is an art, but it can be learned. It’s like opening up the back of a watch and seeing how it all works. Read a few books on creative writing, take a workshop or a course run by a writer you admire if you can. A couple of books that were recommended to me and were particularly helpful were Stephen King’s On Writing, Donald Maass’ Writing the Breakout Novel, and Immediate Fiction by Jerry Cleaver.

6.     Have courage and ignore the tiny voice in your head telling you it’s not worth it, or your writing is terrible, or it’s all too hard. Just keep going!

Rose’s Vintage is published on April 18 by Black Inc Books and is available on or from Book Depository. 

Connect with Kayte via

Rose's Vintage by Kayte Nunn

British blow-in, Rose Bennett, is heartbroken, overweight, irritable and a long way from home. She isn’t sure what exactly she’s doing at Kalkari Wines in the Australian Shingle Valley – it’s the middle of winter and far from the lush, romantic vineyard setting she’d been expecting. 

Her brother thinks she’s spying for him, her bad-tempered new boss thinks she’s the au pair and the nanny can’t wait for her to clean the place up. 

Discovering pagan bonfire ceremonies, bizarre winemaking practices and a valley full of eccentric locals, Rose just wishes she’d ended up somewhere a bit warmer. But as the weather improves, the valley reveals its beauty, and Rose starts to fall in love: with the valley, the wines, the two children she’s helping to look after, and one of the men there. 

When her boss’s estranged wife returns and her brother descends, wanting answers, Rose is forced to make the hardest decision of her life.

Hey! Here's my review.

This is the latest in the string of lighthearted Aussie vineyard romances that I've read. I love them and keep coming back for more. I thought I had this one all figured out, but Kayte threw a few twists at me to keep me on my toes.

I loved Rose, although I wanted to talk some sense into her at times. If she wants some warm Aussie weather, she can come visit me in Darwin! The kids were adorable and the ex-wife a manipulative psycho, the perfect mix to keep things entertaining. 

I received this book free in exchange for an honest review.


  • Where: Author Invitation
  • Format: ebook

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Quote - William Goldman

When I was your age, television was called books.

Hey Everyone!

Do you spend more time watching TV or reading books?

Monday, 18 April 2016

The Wish Puppy by Holly Webb

No one knows why Star, the King Charles Spaniel, is so unhappy. That is until Molly realises she's been separated from her twin sister. Can Molly find Star's twin before their magic disappears forever?

Hey! Here's my review.

**Interview with my 5 year old**

Me: What did you think of this book?
Her: I like it.

Me: What was your favourite bit?
Her: When she wished for ice cream but got broccoli.

Me: Who is your favourite character?
Her: Molly, cause it's my name.

(I think she will say that for every book in this series)

Me: What would you wish for if you had a wish puppy?
Her: That Daddy would come home.
Me: and that wish came true a couple of days later.


  • Where: Own copy
  • Format: paperback

Saturday, 16 April 2016


Hey Everyone!

It's my birthday today! I've officially entered the last year of my thirties, though if I'd taken a leaf out of my Mum's book, I'd still be in my twenties. My Mum was 29 for the majority of my childhood. It took me a bit longer than it should have to figure out that this wasn't quite true. She was 29 the year I was born and figured that was a more believable age than saying she was 21. She also managed to convince me for years that the only place on her body that was ticklish was her kneecaps... Nice one Mum.

I used the 29 line at work the other day. I work as a teacher's aide in a primary school with children in grade three. A few of the girls were talking about pierced ears, one didn't have them, a couple of others had them done at two and six. I told the girls that I didn't get mine done until I was 24. (My Mum wouldn't let me when I was their age and by the time she said I was old enough, I didn't want to be like everyone else, so I rebelled by not getting them pierced.) 
One of the girls said "Wow, I thought you were younger than that. Are you 24?"
Hmm, how much truth to tell... "No, I'm a bit more than that."
"Are you 29?" 
"Yes, I'm 29." Sounds good to me.

This is me when I was 29, moments after Luke proposed to me.
(I said yes - you can see our wedding dance HERE)

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Shtum by Jem Lester

Powerful, darkly funny and heart-breaking, Shtum is a story about fathers and sons, autism, and dysfunctional relationships.

Ben Jewell has hit breaking point. His ten-year-old son Jonah has severe autism and Ben and his wife, Emma, are struggling to cope.

When Ben and Emma fake a separation - a strategic decision to further Jonah's case in an upcoming tribunal - Ben and Jonah move in with Georg, Ben's elderly father. In a small house in North London, three generations of men - one who can't talk; two who won't - are thrown together.

A powerful, emotional, but above all enjoyable read, perfect for fans of THE SHOCK OF THE FALL and THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME.

Hey! Here's my review.

Shtum is a Yiddish word that means silent or noncommunicative. It's a theme that runs throughout the novel, between three generations of Jewish men who can't or won't communicate.

I was drawn to this book because of my interest in Autism. I've worked with many people on the Autism spectrum and find it interesting to see how they are depicted in literature. Most of the books I have read are about the more highly functioning end of the scale such as people with Asperger's or Savant's. My experience with Autism is more on the other end of the scale and I felt it was well depicted here with Jonah's character. 

I found the story emotionally engaging. I really liked Ben, imperfections and all, and I hoped everything would work out for him. 

I received this book free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.


  • Where: NetGalley
  • Format: ebook

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Homecoming by Tanya Bullock

Quite Possibly The Strangest Romance Ever Told
Rosie and Tom belong together.
For too long, war and its devastating aftermath have kept them apart.
Now that Tom has finally returned home, Rosie hopes that they will be able to put the past behind them.
But when a mysterious sequence of events unfolds, their love is put to the test once more.
With a shocking secret hanging heavily over their relationship...
With circumstances conspiring against them at every turn...
Rosie and Tom find themselves caught up in the biggest battle of their lives.
Will their demons ultimately consume them?
Or will love conquer all in the end?

Hey! Here's my review.

A touching and engaging romantic novella telling an unusual tale of love with a twist. I loved the way it wove the story of the present with the story of the past, tugging on my heartstrings in a similar way to The Notebookby Nicholas Sparks. I devoured this book in one sitting and look forward to reading more from Tanya.

I received this book free in exchange for an honest review.

  • Where: Review Request
  • Format: ebook
Purchase link

Sunday, 10 April 2016

What Happens in the Alps... by T.A. Williams **Interview, Excerpt & Giveaway**

Hey Everyone!

Yesterday I introduced you to T.A. Williams, who is on tour with his latest novel. I invited him back again today for a Q&A, and to share an excerpt of What Happens in the Alps. Don't forget to enter the giveaway at the bottom for your chance to win an ebook copy of one of Trevor's other books, What Happens in Cornwall...


TA Williams. We know the T is for Trevor, What's the A for?

Anthony. Why on earth my parents chose to call me Trevor I will never know. I hate the name. I would have much preferred Anthony, maybe shortened to Tony but, oh no, they insisted on Trevor, so Trevor it was. I suppose it could have been worse though. Wasn’t there some English guy who named his daughter after all eleven of the England World Cup winning soccer team?

What's it like to write in a female dominated genre?

Mmh, interesting question. I’ve spent most of my working life surrounded predominantly by women. And at home there was my wife and my daughter although the Labradors were all male. (Goldie the Labrador was actually rather too male in a fairly embarrassing bottom-sniffing sort of way.) The fact is that my female characters aren’t girly girls (in spite of mostly being very good-looking). They all have to face problems in their lives (inflicted upon them by heartless old me) and their reaction is pretty much the same as mine would have been in similar circumstances. When it comes to the big stuff, we all react pretty much the same. And, anyway, when I go to meetings of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, at least people recognize me easily!

Does your wife read your books?

Yes, all of them, and often I give her the first third, or first half to read of the latest as I’m going along. She’s invaluable at pointing out anomalies or things that strike her as unconvincing, as well as providing valuable technical know-how like how front opening bras fasten or how tricky it is to get in and out of sports cars in a tight skirt.

You write romantic comedy. What genre do you prefer to read? What genre movies do you watch?

I hardly ever read romantic comedy. I do, however, enjoy the genre on TV or at the movies. Films like Four Weddings and a Funeral or TV shows like Friends or How I Met Your Mother appeal to me a lot. I actually read more historical non-fiction than anything else. I’ve got hooked on the First World War at the moment and I’m reading anything I can find about that awful time. It’s a sobering thought that if I have been born just 50 years earlier, I would have been involved in that madness.

Which character do you relate to most and why?

In What Happens in the Alps, I definitely relate most to Leo the Labrador. No, not really, I’m just joking… although I reckon he has a pretty great life wandering around all that open space apart, of course, from the visit to the vet he had a few years back. Seriously, I relate most to the heroine, Annie. She’s making her own way in life, working hard, playing hard. There’s a lot of me in there, although she’s far younger and much more attractive than me.

Is there anything else you would like to share with us?

I’ve now had seven books published in three years and the eighth is already written and scheduled for publication in July. Since Carina UK gave me my first book deal in 2013, it has revitalized my life at a time when I could easily have slumped into lazy retirement (I’m 66). I love my work and I’m so grateful to all the friends who have helped me, like you, Renee!

Connect with Trevor via

What Happens in the Alps... by T.A. Williams

Up in the magical, snow kissed mountains… Two years ago, Annie Brewer’s life was turned upside down when her adrenaline-junkie husband died in a tragic climbing accident. So she’s hoping that moving to the beautiful village of Santorso in the Italian Alps will finally put her life back on track! …anything can happen! She might be going into business with her oldest friend – notorious lady-charmer Matt Brown – but men are definitely out of the question for Annie! That is, until she bumps into tall, dark and delicious Alessandro Lago on the ski slopes…and spontaneously says ‘Yes’ to a date! It must be the crisp mountain air but suddenly, anything seems possible. The only trouble is, chivalrous Matt is looking more gorgeous than ever… A sparkling romantic comedy guaranteed to beat the winter blues, What Happens in the Alps…is one story you don’t want miss in 2016! 

Book links


‘Annie, can I ask you something? What about you? Are you all alone or have you got a boyfriend or a husband? You’re very pretty, you know.’
Annie took a deep breath. ‘I used to be married, but my husband was killed in a rock climbing accident.’ She stopped to take another breath and was pleasantly surprised to have been able to speak about Steve’s death in an almost normal voice.
‘Oh, how awful.’ Rita and Paolina exchanged glances. ‘When did it happen? Were you married long?’
So Annie told them the story. And, for once, she managed to tell the whole tale without breaking down. She told them about how she and Steve had first met at an excruciating drinks party at the British Council, how they had got married in a little church near her parents’ home in South Devon, how they had lived so happily together in Turin until that awful day. But, this time, as she told the story, she found she was recounting it factually, almost emotionlessly, almost dispassionately. And, as she told it, her eyes swept out over the snowy slopes, up the valley towards the high Alps. The sun was reflecting off the ice on the rocky summits, sending sparkling rays out in an explosion of light that disappeared into the vastness of the cloudless sky. The powerful and almost terrifying beauty of the scenery reached deep inside her and a sense of unexpected serenity spread throughout her whole body. She suddenly found she was smiling across the table at the two girls. ‘I loved him dearly, you know, and he loved me, but the mountains were in his blood.’
‘How awful for him, and for you.’ Rita was appalled. Annie managed to keep the smile on her face.
‘It was awful, really awful, but what’s done’s done. I can’t bring him back, however much I’d like to.’
‘Oh, Annie.’ Paolina didn’t know what to say.
‘It’s all right, Paolina. Life goes on. It’s taken me two years to realise it, but I know that now.’ And she meant it.
When it was time to leave, they ran into a problem. First Paolina and then Annie went downstairs to the basement area of the restaurant in search of the toilets. They found them all right, but the queue of desperate-looking women waiting to take their turn was so long, it reached halfway back up the stairs. They looked at each other and Paolina shook her head. ‘Looks like a long wait.’ She gave Annie a little smile. ‘And I’m not sure I can last that long.’ Annie felt the same way, so she came up with a pragmatic suggestion.
‘Into the woods?’
Paolina nodded and they climbed back up to break the news to Rita. They left the terrace and went across to where they had left their skis. Once they were all clipped in again, Annie led them off down the slope. She scanned the trees on either side of the piste until she saw a likely spot. A couple of ski tracks ran into the trees along what was probably a path in summer. She slowed, glanced back at the others and pointed, then skied into the trees for ten or twenty metres until they were safely out of sight of anybody on the main piste.
Paolina wasted no time in stepping out of her skis and disappearing behind a bush. The snow was so deep she had trouble walking in it, but such was her desperation, she struggled through it until she reached her objective. Rita kept guard while Annie sidestepped across to a thicket on the other side of the track. Having seen the trouble that Paolina had had, she decided not to unclip her skis. She took a good look round, pulled down her trousers and squatted, praying that nobody would choose that moment to come skiing down the path.
She had just about finished doing what she had come into the trees to do when, to her horror, she saw something charging straight towards her. She just had time to realise that the big black shape was a very friendly Labrador, when the dog reached her. He was clearly delighted to find her down at his level and he put his paws up on her shoulders and set about licking her face. She put up her hands to fend him off, but he was insistent. Unfortunately, the effect of this weight suddenly pressing against her began to push her backwards. She felt herself moving, slowly at first, but gradually gathering speed, and she realised she was sliding backwards towards the main piste. She ran over a clump of some kind of plant, probably heather, covered in snow, and got a frozen, wet bottom as a result. She had ditched her poles so she scrabbled desperately at the passing branches until, mercifully, she managed to get a grip on something solid enough to arrest her descent. She glanced up and around her. The dog had stopped following her and was sitting in the snow, looking on with what could have been a smile on his face. Another six feet and she would have emerged onto the open mountainside, bare bum on display for all to see. As it was, she was still just about hidden and was able to pull up her trousers without being spotted by anybody. Well, almost anybody.
From behind her she heard hoots of laughter as Rita and Paolina followed her trail in the snow. As Annie got to her feet and zipped herself up, her face glowing with embarrassment, Rita handed her her poles, still unable to utter a word, such was her mirth. Behind her, Paolina concentrated on petting the dog, her shoulders shaking as she creased up with laughter.

‘Well, that’s a lesson learnt.’ Annie was conscious that some of the snow, if not the heather, she had run over was still sticking to her under her clothes and she felt it begin to melt. It was an uncomfortable feeling. ‘Always, always, always take your skis off before having a pee.’