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The Ruby Talisman Chapter One
The Ruby Talisman
Chapter One – Salut
Tilly pulled the mesh face guard down to protect her face, and limbered her right wrist in a circle nervously, her long, thin fencing foil drawing in the air. She was dressed all in white, with padding to protect her chest and padded gloves on her hands. She jigged up and down, adrenaline surging through her body.
Tilly lifted the foil in front of her face in a formal salute to her opponent on the other side of the mat.
‘En garde.’
The long, slim foils flashed forward into the defensive position.
The two fencers leapt forward, their right feet lunging forward, foils flashing and slashing. Tilly felt her hot bubbling anger, turn cold and hard as steel. Her mind stilled from its seething thoughts, and became totally focused on the silver weapon surging towards her. She judged her opponent’s body language, scanning for a weakness, a hesitation, a moment’s delay. The two opponents tested each other, lunging and feinting, dancing back and forth, parrying their blades.
Tilly saw her chance and lunged, her foil slipping through the defense and stabbing her opponent’s chest.
‘Touche,’ yelled the umpire. ‘Retreat.’
Tilly leapt back behind her line, a warm glow of satisfaction surging through her. Her opponent shook her head in frustration, her long black ponytail swinging.
‘En garde. Allez.’
The two girls fought again, graceful as dancers, gliding across the mat, in an elaborate carefully choreographed series of moves, back and forth. This time her opponent saw the opening and lunged. Too late Tilly tried to parry the thrust, but missed, the foil finding its mark on Tilly’s shoulder.
Stupid. Stupid, thought Tilly, angrily. I should have seen that coming.
‘Touche,’ called the umpire. ‘Retreat.’
Tilly’s mistake and her anger with herself backfired. She seemed to lose her focus and her rhythm. The next bout was shorter and easily won by her opposition. Tilly bit her lip in frustration and disappointment. She felt like hurling her foil across the room at the peeling wall.
But Jack, her coach, would never tolerate such bad sportsmanship.
Tilly gritted her teeth and shook hands with her opponent.
‘Well done, Tilly,’ congratulated Jack, smiling warmly. ‘It was a close match. You’re really improving. Keep up the good training.’
Jack was two years older than Tilly, and helped teach fencing at the local community hall every Thursday afternoon. He was tall, with short dark hair, green eyes and the narrow frame and graceful movement of an athlete.
Tilly blushed and hunched her shoulders.
‘I lost,’ she muttered, scowling, but secretly she felt warmed by Jack’s praise.
The easy smile dropped from Jack’s face. He stepped away.
‘I know you are having a hard time at the moment, Tilly, but you should try not to be so angry all of the time. It gets so boring.’
Tilly’s heart contracted sharply. She turned away, tears smarting her eyes.
In the changeroom, she pulled on a big, baggy sweater that had belonged to her dad, a pair of old faded jeans and scruffy runners. She carefully packed away her fencing clothes and foil into her kit bag, checking it all carefully. She ignored the other girls chatting and giggling in the corner. They were congratulating Bella, who had just competed against Tilly.
Bella had her long black hair swept up into a ponytail. She looked gorgeous with her deep brown skin, and black eyes. Dressed now in black leggings and top, a purple and black tartan skirt and silver ballet shoes, she looked graceful and confident, surrounded by her friends.
‘Bye Tilly,’ called Bella, cheerfully. ‘You fought well today.’
A hot flush stained Tilly’s cheeks.
‘Thanks,’ Tilly muttered, her eyes glued to the floor, as she loped for the door.
Tilly glanced back to see Bella, raising her eyebrows and shoulders in a ‘what’s up with her?’ gesture to the other girls, who shrugged and tittered in reponse.
At the park on the corner, Tilly sat on a bench, staring at the hole in the toe of her runner and scuffing her heel in the dirt.
Tilly was angry.
The last few months had been the worst in her life. Six months ago she had been a normal girl, with normal friends and a normal family. Then one night, everything had changed. Her dad had come home from work and explained that he had met a woman at work. That he had fallen in love. That he would be moving in with ‘Bunny’ and her children. That he still loved Tilly but he didn’t want to live with her and her mother any more.
Tilly had run up to her room and slammed the door, the anger boiling up like bubbling lava, threatening to boil over. The anger had come like lightning and it had stayed. Tilly was angry with her mother for not doing whatever it took to make her dad stay. Tilly was angry with her brother for being so annoying, that he’d probably driven their dad away. She was angry with her father and his new friend ‘Bunny’, and her horrible children. She was angry with her teachers, her friends and most of all with herself for not being loveable enough.
Tilly’s head ached with the memory of it.
Her younger brother Tim, often went to stay with dad and ‘Bunny’ and the new family, but Tilly refused. She would rather lie on her bed with her ipod turned up high to drown out the world. A tear trickled down Tilly’s face and she wiped it away fiercely with the back of her hand.
Reluctantly she picked up her kit bag and walked home. In the hallway she met her brother Tim in his soccer training gear, zooming a lego spaceship through the air.
‘Mum’s cross,’ announced Tim, as he walked past her, his soccer bootlaces undone.
A wave of annoyance washed over Tilly. Tim was always messy and always in the way.
‘Poor bubba,’ hissed Tilly. ‘Is mumsy cwoss with you? Did you leave lego all over the lounge room floor again?’
A flash of pain crossed Tim’s freckled face, then a mask of nonchalance dropped down.
‘No, she’s cross with you,’ retorted Tim, quickly. ‘Again!’
Tilly’s heart sank. What had she done now?
Tilly’s mother Juliette was in the kitchen, unpacking the dishwasher.
‘Where have you been?’ cried Juliette, her hand on her hip and her face furrowed with anxiety. ‘You were supposed to pick Tim up from the neighbour’s house half an hour ago. She rang me at work, and when I couldn’t find you on the mobile I had to come home early. And you were supposed to unpack the dishwasher before school.’
Tilly threw her bag down on the floor. A flood of guilt washed over her. She had forgotten about Tim, and the dishwasher. She pushed away the guilt and reached for the anger.
‘I..I…I was caught up after fencing. Besides why should I always have to look after Tim? He’s so annoying and never does what I tell him. No-one else has to mind their pesky little brothers. It’s so unfair.’
The headache came pounding back.
‘I don’t want to argue with you, Tilly,’ Juliette sighed. ‘Could you please finish unpacking the dishwasher?’
Tilly shook her head, making a W letter with her two hands. ‘Whatever,’ she mouthed.
Juliette closed her eyes and gritted her teeth, resolutely refusing to answer.
Tilly groaned loudly and stomped around the kitchen, dropping knives in the drawer with a clatter, banging saucepans, and clashing plates. Life was so unfair Tilly thought.
When the dishwasher was emptied, Tilly crept upstairs before Juliette could give her another job. As she tiptoed past her mother’s room she heard a funny sound coming from behind the almost closed door.
It sounded like sobbing. Tilly listened carefully, outside the door.
‘I just can’t do any more, Kara,’ Juliette sniffled. ‘Tilly’s being revolting all the time. I think she hates me….. I know. I know….She’s so angry with me, as if it’s all my fault….But so do I….. All I do is work and clean and cook and wash and help the children. I just feel like my life is a misery…… Yes, but where would I go?..........I couldn’t possibly!...…I know ..It would be wonderful…but the children?... Tilly won’t go to Richard’s. Tim will but…..Would you?.....Are you sure?.........That would be fantastic….Thank you Kara,.I just need to get away from everything and everyone…….
Tilly heard her mother stand up and quickly tiptoed away. What was going on? Was mum going away too? Tilly thought anxiously, her stomach churning.
Nothing more was said until the next morning, when Juliette was making tea, looking pale and drawn, her eyes puffy and dark circles under her eyes.
Tilly looked at her mum closely. She had aged suddenly. There was a thread of grey in her dark hair, which hadn’t been there before, and two deep furrows between her eyes. Had Juliette aged overnight? Or had Tilly simply not noticed?
‘Are you all right, mum?’ Tilly asked. ‘You look tired?’
Juliette smiled gratefully, and rubbed her forehead gingerly. ‘I didn’t sleep very well, last night,’ she admitted. ‘But then, I haven’t been sleeping very well for ages.’
Juliette poured the tea.
‘Actually Tilly, there’s something I need to talk to you about. I’m going away for the weekend. I simply need to get away from everything. Tim is going to stay with your father, but I thought you might prefer to go and stay with Auntie Kara.’
Tilly scowled.
‘But I don’t want to go to..’
‘Please, Tilly,’ interrupted her mother. ‘For once, can you just not argue with me. You have no choice. I’m going away today and you can’t stay here on your own. I know it’s been hard, believe me. But now you just need to grow up a little and realize how your behaviour is affecting everyone else. You just aren’t that nice to be around anymore, Tilly.’
Tilly scowled again, then stormed out of the room, banging the door behind her. Unfair, unfair, she thought. Nothing is right anymore.
‘Kara will pick you up from school,’ Juliette called up the stairs.
That afternoon after school, Tilly dawdled out of the classroom. In the bagroom, she could hear some of the girls chatting and giggling. Last year, these girls had been her friends. When Tilly had first been sad and angry at school, they had been sympathetic and supportive. But gradually over time, they had started to avoid her.
‘Don’t forget your pillows on Saturday night,’ Maddie reminded the other girls. ‘Mum’s going to set up a whole pile of mattresses in the lounge room. She’s making popcorn and pizza to eat in front of the DVD.’
‘I can’t wait,’ Jess exclaimed. ‘And I’ve bought you the most awesome present.’
Tilly’s stomach clenched and her heart beat faster. Maddie was having her birthday sleepover this weekend, and Tilly wasn’t invited. Tilly crept away back into the classroom, pretending to look for her ruler. She waited until she heard the girls race down the stairs still laughing and chatting, before she went to the bagroom, tears stinging her eyes.
By the time she came through the gates, she was one of the last to leave. She saw her aunt’s silver sports car, parked near the gates, the convertible roof folded down. Her aunt was chatting on her mobile phone, her arms gesticulating wildly. Kara saw Tilly and waved frantically.
‘Over here, darling,’ Kara cried. ‘How was school?’
Tilly shrugged non-commitally, hoping her eyes weren’t red. Kara gave her a huge bear hug. Kara scanned her niece’s face, noting the pale, pinched skin, the unkempt brown hair and the puffy eyes.
‘Darling,’ Kara murmured, squeezing Tilly’s hand. ‘We are going to have a lovely weekend, and a little bit of girly spoiling. I haven’t bought your birthday present yet, and I thought we might go shopping tomorrow. It will be such fun. I don’t have a daughter to spoil so I just have to lavish all my attention on you. I haven’t seen you for such a long time.’
Tilly squirmed, picking at the hem of her school skirt.
‘I don’t worry much about clothes,’ Tilly admitted. ‘There doesn’t seem much point somehow.’
‘Why not, Tilly?’ replied Kara gently. ‘It’ll be fun. Come on. Let’s go home.’
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The Ivory Rose Chapter One
The Ivory Rose
Chapter One - Rosethorne

Jemma pushed the ornate front door bell nervously. It was the first day of her first job. The bell jangled somewhere deep in the house. Jemma glanced up. The house towered over her, covered in a mass of purple flowering wisteria, its tall turret roof spotted with lichen. Once it had been a grand house, a mansion really. But now the sandstone was cracked, the paint on the windows and doors a dull, flaking grey.
Rosethorne was one of the famous Witches’ Houses of Annandale. A row of creepy old houses built with towers and gargoyles, turrets and crenellations, spires and gables. Many of them had been renovated over the years to reflect their former glory, but not Rosethorne. People said Rosethorne was haunted.
Jemma shivered with nerves. She pushed the bell again, more urgently.
What was the story? Jemma struggled to remember. A little girl? Murdered over a hundred years ago? Her ghost still haunts the house begging for help and retribution…
Jemma glanced over her shoulder, feeling cold despite the warm spring sunshine. A black cat wound around her legs and miaowed, its tail tickling her bare legs. Jemma stooped to pat the sleek fur. She loved animals, but wasn’t allowed any pets at home.
Too much fur, too much mess, too much trouble, Jemma thought, her mother’s words echoing in her mind.
A sound of footsteps thundered down the hall, and the old grey door was flung open by a young girl wearing a maroon-and-white checked school uniform. Her hair was tied up in messy pigtails, and her button nose was sprinkled with freckles.
‘Hi Jemma,’ whispered Sammy shyly, glancing up at her through her long fringe. ‘That’s my cat, Shadow. Mum’s in the studio. She said to bring you in.’
Sammy was seven years old, with honey-streaked hair, chocolate-brown eyes, a dimple in each cheek and two missing front teeth. She was so cute, Jemma wanted to tickle her.
‘Hey, Sammy. Did you have a good day at school?’
Sammy trotted off down the long hall, her shyness quickly forgotten, chatting animatedly about her day. Jemma followed, glancing around curiously, Shadow the cat at her heels. Inside seemed just as derelict as outside, the paint peeling on the walls, the timber floors scuffed, and unstable piles of packing boxes cluttering the grand reception rooms on her left.
At the very back of the house, was an old kitchen, and a shambles of little rooms which must have once been a scullery, pantry and laundry but were now jammed to the ceiling with boxes. Outside, the garden was overgrown with weeds and magnificent old trees, with a mound of rubbish thrown against the remains of a ramshackle fence.
Sammy led the way into a two storey timber outbuilding in the far corner of the block. A rickety door opened into a huge dusty room stacked to the ceiling with shelves. Each shelf held bowls, vases, cups, platters, jugs and pots, painted in a rainbow of flowers and figures.
In the middle of the room sat a woman, Sammy’s mother, hunched over a potter’s wheel, her hands grey and sticky with clay.
She frowned in concentration, a large daub of clay across her cheek, her caramel hair piled in a tumbledown-bun on her head and a shapeless smock covering her clothes.
‘Mama, mama. Jemma’s here,’ cried Sammy, jiggling up and down with excitement, her pigtails flying and cheeks dimpling.
‘Thanks, Sammy darling,’ replied her mother, not taking her eyes off the clay on the wheel. ‘I’ll just be a moment, Jemma. I’m at a crucial stage.’
Jemma watched fascinated as the blob of grey clay on the wheel spun around, rapidly changing shape under those long, slim fingers. In a few moments the sticky blob had transformed into a tall, elegant vase, perfectly proportioned. The woman took her fingers away, nodding in satisfaction. The wheel slowly stopped spinning.
The woman stood up, wiping her hands on her clay-smeared smock, smiling in welcome.
‘Sorry, Jemma. Thanks so much for coming’
‘That’s a pleasure, Mrs O’Donnell.’
‘Please call me Maggie. Mrs O’Donnell sounds like a decrepit old grandmother!’
Maggie led Jemma around the studio, with its cobbled stone floor and rough timber walls, packing crates, kiln and splattered workbenches.
‘This was once the old stables but it makes a perfect studio now.’
Maggie pointed to the benchtop cluttered with pots of paint, brushes and glaze. In the centre was a huge platter.
‘This is my latest piece. What do you think?’
The platter was a deep inky-blue, with a mermaid floating across the centre. Clouds of green hair billowed around her radiant face, and her silvery tail flickered with life.
‘It’s wonderful,’ cried Jemma, stroking the platter with her forefinger. ‘The mermaid looks almost alive.’
‘She’s mine,’ Sammy announced proudly. ‘We’re going to hang her in my room. I’ve called her Clorinda.’
Maggie smiled indulgently, stroking Sammy’s hair off her forehead.
‘Come and I’ll show you around. I’m sorry everything is such a mess,’ apologised Maggie. ‘I’m trying to renovate, but I have a big exhibition coming up and there’s never enough time to get everything done. Which is why I’m so thrilled you can look after Sammy for me after school for a few weeks.’
Jemma smiled warmly. The job was like a dream come true for her too. Although Jemma had required all her powers of persuasion to convince her mother that she could still get her homework done, practice the flute and fit in her three ballet classes a week.
Maggie led the way back into the kitchen, chatting about Jemma’s duties as she walked.
‘If you could stay for a couple of hours it would be wonderful,’ Maggie gushed. ‘You can make yourselves some afternoon tea - just help yourself to anything you find in the pantry. Do some reading with Sammy, she loves her reading, and make sure she does her homework. She doesn’t have much. Then just play or draw or go for a walk, whatever you both feel like. The only important thing is to keep Sammy away from the studio while I’m working.’
Jemma, nodded, taking it all in. The kitchen was old, with an ancient rangehood crammed into the original fireplace. Piles of crockery were stacked on the open shelves, with pans and pots hanging from hooks on the mottled walls.
‘It will take forever to renovate,’ sighed Maggie, gesturing around at the stains and grime. ‘But we bought it for a bargain price. The old house had been divided into tiny flatettes for years and allowed to deteriorate terribly. It had been on the market for months, standing empty. Sammy and I have spent every weekend pulling out rubbish and scrubbing and painting.’
Sammy pulled a hideous face, rolling her eyes at Jemma in disgust. Jemma giggled.
‘The place was a rabbit warren of fake walls as thin as paper,’ Maggie continued, ‘We made an exciting discovery last week – two stunning marble fireplaces hidden behind a false wall in the reception room. It must have been a gorgeous house a hundred years ago.’
Maggie rubbed her forehead gingerly, overwhelmed by everything that needed to be done.
‘Anyway, you two have some afternoon tea and I’d better get back to work. Come and let me know when it’s six o’clock and you have to go. I forget the time completely when I’m working and if you don’t remind me I’ll keep you here ‘til midnight.’
Maggie bustled off back to the studio, leaving Jemma and Sammy alone to crunch on cheese and crackers with orange juice. Sammy read a chapter of The Wishing Chair aloud to Jemma then did her sheets of maths and spelling, while Jemma tidied up.
‘Finished,’ announced Sammy, triumphantly waving her spelling sheet in the air. ‘I’m the best speller in my class. I can spell anything, even really hard words like poltergeist and spectre. I looked them up in the dictionary.’
‘Good work, Sammy,’ replied Jemma, taking the sheet and scanning the spelling words. ‘Let me check it’s all right, then we can go and play. Fantastic – you got it! Every single word perfect. What would you like to do now?’
‘I can show you my room, and you can meet my friend Georgie. We can play up there.’
‘Sure,’ agreed Jemma, wondering who Georgie was. ‘Guide the way, fearless leader. Just be careful of any poltergeists or spectres on the way.’
Sammy galloped out the door and up the wide cedar stairs, with Jemma hurrying to catch up. A threadbare Persian carpet, splotched with the stains of many careless tenants, partially covered the dark timber of the steps.
Upstairs was a wide landing with numerous paneled cedar doors leading off the hallway. Sammy disappeared into one. This bedroom was the prettiest of all the rooms Jemma had seen so far with crowded bookshelves, a fireplace, a rocking chair crammed with soft toys and a wide, pink bed. Portraits of fairies and mermaids were hung on the pale pink walls. Jemma recognized Maggie’s style, while others were obviously drawn by Sammy.
The black cat was curled up asleep in the middle of the patchwork quilt, breathing deeply. Sammy stroked Shadow, who stretched and purred. Jemma perched on the side of the bed, patting the cat.
Sammy introduced Jemma to all the toys on her bed.
‘And this is Purple Lambie,’ explained Sammy, holding up a shabby, grubby, well loved lamb which was an indeterminate colour which might once have been purple. ‘I’ve had her since I was a tiny baby and I sleep with her every night.’
Shadow suddenly started and spat, arching her back. The fur stood up along her spine in warning. Shadow hissed and jumped, darting off the bed and out the open door. The door banged shut behind her.
‘Georgie’s here,’ explained Sammy glumly. ‘Shadow doesn’t like Georgie.’
Jemma shivered with sudden cold.
‘What do you mean?’ asked Jemma. ‘Where’s your friend Georgie?’
‘In the rocking chair,’ explained Sammy. ‘She likes my toys.’
Jemma glanced in disbelief at the rocking chair jammed full of teddies, lambs, bunnies and dolls. A lop eared rabbit fell off the chair on the floor. The chair creaked on its rockers.
‘There’s no-one there,’ contradicted Jemma, her voice a trifle shaky. She remembered back to her own childhood. As an only child, like Sammy, she had spent many hours playing on her own. Her parents had said she had invented a whole family of sisters to keep her company, each one with her own name, personality and dislikes. ‘Do you mean Georgie is your imaginary friend?’
‘No,’ replied Sammy, vehemently. ‘She’s not imaginary. Georgie comes to see me all the time. Georgie’s sad. She wants me to help her. Mama can’t ever see Georgie, but I can. She has beautiful long, dark curly hair and wears the prettiest dresses. Can’t you see her, Jemma? She’s right there. Maybe you could help Georgie?’
A frisson of fear rippled up Jemma’s back, making the hairs on her arms stand on end. She gulped, then laughed nervously.
‘Well, Sammy. I’d help Georgie if I could. But I can’t see her. Why don’t we go downstairs and do some drawing in the kitchen?’
Sammy nodded in agreement, pulling out her pencil case and a sketchbook. Jemma glanced at the fluffy rabbit dropped on the floor, but couldn’t bring herself to go near the rocking chair to pick it up. Sammy did the job, tucking the rabbit gently back into place.
The two drew pictures and played games, chatting happily.
At six o’clock, there was no sign of Maggie. Jemma waited for a few moments, then headed for the studio and softly knocked.
‘Come in. Come in,’ called Maggie. ‘Oh goodness me, it can’t be after six already? Sorry Jemma. I told you I lose track of the time in here.’
On the table beside Maggie was a tray of wet, grey objects ready to be fired. Shadow lay serenely curled on a cushion under the table.
‘Did you have fun, Sammy?’ asked Maggie, unconsciously smearing another daub of clay on her nose.
‘I did my homework and we did some drawings of horses and we played pick-up-sticks and Jemma met Georgie.’ Sammy ticked the list of activities off on her fingers.
‘That does sound like fun,’ agreed Maggie. ‘Thanks so much Jemma. Here’s some money for you and we’ll see you at four o’clock on Wednesday? Will you be all right walking home by yourself?’
‘S.s.sure,’ stammered Jemma, disconcerted by Maggie’s calm acceptance of the invisible ‘Georgie’. ‘That’s great. I’ll see you both then.’
Jemma clutched the pile of notes. Despite her misgivings she felt a rush of pride. This was the first money she had truly earned all by herself. On the walk home she entertained herself by adding up the money she could earn in the next few weeks looking after Sammy, and thinking of all the things she could do with it – save it up for something special, buy some new clothes or music, buy her mum and dad a present…
Jemma’s house was just a couple of streets back from Rosethorne. There was a strip of imposing mansions on Johnson Street, nicknamed the Witches’ Houses because of their tall, conical spires like witches’ hats. The next street back was Annandale Street, with its genteel middle-class villas, then behind that, like chicks clustered around their mothers, were the tiny, cramped working class cottages and semis. These had been gentrified and renovated over the years, and extended out, up and down, but humble workers’ cottages they remained.
It was here that Jemma lived with her parents, in a narrow sandstone terrace with a neat box hedge across the tiny front garden and an antique urn overflowing with mini agapanthus. Jemma used her key to open the black front door, and called out hopefully.
‘Mum? Dad? Is anyone home?’
She was answered by deafening silence. Jemma paused a moment, listening to the quiet stillness of the house. I should go and do my homework, thought Jemma. I should practice my flute.
She glanced over the fence to the cottage next door. The jaunty strain of a violin sounded on the breeze. She could hear squealing and shrieking and giggling, and doors banging. She could imagine the smell of something delicious wafting from the kitchen.
Just a few minutes, thought Jemma.
Carefully she locked her own front door and crept next door, the gate creaking on its broken hinge. This garden was overgrown with roses and lavender and geraniums. Jemma ignored the official entrance, which was rarely used, and took the side path, leading to the back of the house. Jemma knocked tentatively at the open kitchen door. A sharp barking sounded from inside.
‘Come in. Is that you Jemma? Ruby – Jemma’s here.’
Dropping her bag at the back door, Jemma stepped into the kitchen, a wide smile on her face. Latte, the chocolate Labrador, bounded over, wagging her whole body with her tail and licking every part of Jemma that she could reach. Latte rolled over, offering her tummy for a scratch, her golden eyes glowing.
Jemma obediently scratched Latte’s tummy and rubbed her favourite spot right between her eyes. Latte wuffed with pleasure and closed her eyes, tail sweeping the floor.
The warmth and chaos of the kitchen enveloped Jemma like a snug quilt. Ruby’s mum sat on a chair in the centre of the room, a violin tucked under her chin, the music book on a stand in front of her. Ruby was her best friend and neighbor – one of four children. Ruby’s sister Brenna sat on a chair beside her mother, with her own violin tucked under her chin. The twins, Liam and Daisy, raced around the room, waving swords, shrieking and laughing.
‘Hello, Milla. Is it okay if I come in for a while? Mum and Dad aren’t home from work yet.’
‘Of course, darling,’ replied Milla, waving her violin bow, in welcome. ‘Are you hungry? There’s freshly baked banana bread on the bench. Help yourself. Take some up to Ruby. She’s doing her homework upstairs. How did you go looking after little Sammy? She’s a sweetie isn’t she? And Maggie’s gorgeous too. I’m so glad you can help her out.’
Jemma nodded and concurred in the right places as she carved two hunks of warm, moist banana bread and laid them on a plate. Her mouth salivated as she smelt the delicious aroma.
‘Thanks Milla. This smells delicious,’
Jemma had a mock fight with Liam and Daisy, as they tore past her, wielding their swords. She pretended to be mortally wounded, swooning to the ground, the plate of banana bread, carefully cradled on her chest.
‘You’re dead,’ screeched Daisy. ‘We killed Jemma.’
‘Give Jemma a kiss and she’ll come back to life again,’ suggested Milla, as she resumed playing her violin, Brenna copying.
Daisy obediently hugged Jemma and kissed her cheek.
‘Thanks Daisy,’ Jemma whispered, kissing her back. ‘I think you saved my life.’
Upstairs Ruby was in the room she shared with Brenna, working at her desk. When Jemma came in, she slammed her books shut, with a beaming smile.
‘Reprieve!’ Ruby exclaimed, reaching for a slab of banana bread. ‘How was it? Was Sammy good?’
Jemma sat on Ruby’s bed, nibbling at her own portion.
‘It was great,’ Jemma agreed. ‘Sammy is so cute. Maggie was lovely. But the house….well it gives me the creeps.’
‘Why?’ begged Ruby, her eyes sparkling with curiousity. ‘Did something happen? Do you really think it’s haunted?’
Jemma frowned thinking over the odd happenings of the afternoon. Were they strange enough to mean Rosethorne was haunted?
‘Noooo, well yes, in a way,’ Jemma began. ‘Sammy says a girl called Georgie comes to visit her. A girl no-one else can see.’
‘Well, lots of kids her age have imaginary friends,’ Ruby replied dismissively.
‘Yes, but the cat hissed and spat at nothing when Sammy said her friend came in, and I felt suddenly cold, then the door slammed with no breeze and a toy fell off the rocking chair.’
Ruby wrinkled her brow, then shook her head decisively, tossing her long, red ponytail.
‘There must have been just a slight breeze, Jem, and you didn’t notice it. There is always a logical explanation for these things. Kids that age have such amazing imaginations, just like Liam and Daisy. I bet if you’d taken a closer look, the window was open a fraction, or there was a draught from another room.’
Jemma thought back over the scene in Sammy’s bedroom. Was it just my imagination? Was it just a fluky breeze? It must have been. Jemma felt a little silly.
‘Have you finished your English essay?’ asked Jemma, changing the subject. ‘I should go home and get mine done or I’ll be in so much trouble.’
The girls chatted easily about homework and teachers and school friends, then Milla called up the stairs.
‘Jemma, your dad just called. He’s home now so wants you to go and get into your homework.’
Jemma and Ruby thundered down the stairs, dodging the two armed knights and Latte the chocolate war-horse, and into the kitchen. Milla was now cooking dinner, the room filling with the smell of chorizo and bacon pasta. Jemma sniffed surreptiously.
‘Stay for dinner tomorrow night, if you like Jemma,’ Milla offered, her eyes sympathetic.
‘That would be great, thanks Milla. Mum and dad have a work function so they’ll be late.’
‘Bring over your homework and do it here with Ruby.’
Jemma grinned and nodded, as she loped out the back door, scooping up her bag as she left.
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Download TSK_Ivory_Rose.pdf The Ivory Rose Teacher's Notes
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The Locket of Dreams Teachers' Notes
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The Locket of Dreams
Chapter One - Sepia Memories

Sophie and Jessica bent over an old photo album looking at faded sepia photographs of bridal veils, orange blossoms, waxed moustaches and babies in christening gowns that swept the floor. Motes of dust danced up from the black pages and floated in the sunlight streaming through the open window.

Jessica wrinkled her nose at the faint smell of aged dry paper. She fingered a parched twig of heather, and brushed her hand over a photo of a young couple laughing up at the camera. The girls’ grandmother, Nonnie stood beside the antique cedar table pouring tea from a silver tea pot.

‘Nonnie, who are they?’ asked Sophie, pointing to the joyful faces.

Nonnie peered at the photograph and a wistful smile crossed her face.

The young woman wore a tailored suit with a fur collar, the straight skirt nearly brushing her ankles. A small hat perched on her neat curls and her face gleamed with fun, lips painted with a dark lipstick. The man, tall and proud, slung one arm protectively around her shoulder, while he cradled a pipe in his other hand.

‘That is me with your beautiful Papa,’ Nonnie replied, her voice catching. ‘I was twenty and Papa was twenty-two. That photograph was taken a few weeks after we met. I had only known him a short time but we both knew we would marry.’

Sophie and Jessica gazed up at their grandmother, fascinated. Nonnie looked so beautiful and so fragile in the old photograph. They could see the same narrow shoulders and straight back, the same curls although now streaked with grey, and a hint of the same mischievous laugh. more +
Quest for the Sun Gem
Chapter One ~

Hunt for the Wild White Stallion

The full moon had already set and it was dark and chilly. Ethan crouched on the broad branch of a huge old tree, completely hidden by its leaves. He shivered and wrapped his cloak tighter around him for warmth. A slim streak of white hair at his left temple glimmered softly against his light brown hair. He peered through the darkness, ears straining for any noise.

He heard only the sounds of the forest: owls hooting across the valley, a crackle of twigs in the distance as an animal moved through the forest. Could that be the wild white stallion, the object of the Royal Hunt? A rush of excitement surged through
him, warming his body despite the chilly air.

‘Too-wit-to-wooooo,’ came a bird call from behind him.

Ethan listened closely. He couldn’t remember ever hearing that bird call before.

An answering ‘too-wit-to-woooo’ came from the other side of the clearing.

Ethan waited patiently high in the tree as the horizon turned from dark grey to the pearly half light just before dawn. At last he heard it.

Excerpted from The Quest for the Sun Gem. Copyright Belinda Murrell. Excerpted by permission of Random House Australia. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. more +
The Snowy Tower
~ Chapter One ~

The Palace Library

Queen Ashana swept into the palace library, followed by one of her ladies-in-waiting, and a troop of ten Sedah soldiers dressed in black armour. The soldiers set to work thoroughly searching the library. Queen Ashana stood to one side, tapping her foot imperiously, with her arms crossed.

One of the soldiers checked that each of the large glass windows was padlocked. Another checked that there was no-one hidden under the desks or behind the deep velvet couches. When the library had been meticulously searched, the soldiers marched out. Their leader paused at the door.

‘Remember, Lady Ashana,’ Captain Malish snarled, ‘we have your son, and if you try to escape, we will kill him.’

A look of intense pain crossed Queen Ashana’s face.
‘How could I forget that you invaders have kidnapped Caspar?’
Queen Ashana snapped, her voice trembling slightly. ‘Every waking moment I think of my precious children and wonder if they are alive. I already know that you and your masters hold everything in your hands, Captain Malish. Do not begrudge me an hour or two to lose myself in a book.’

Captain Malish’s eyes swept the vast room, with its white shelves groaning with thousands of books, soaring to the magnificent painted fresco on the domed ceiling. Ladders on tracks leant against the shelves so that books could be fetched from above. Glass windows ran in a circle just below the dome, filling the library with light.

‘Enjoy it while you can,’ Captain Malish sneered. ‘I hear that Governor Lazlac plans to burn all these useless books and turn the library into a games room for our soldiers. Perhaps you could join them then for a game of darts?’

Excerpted from The Snowy Tower. Copyright Belinda Murrell. Excerpted by permission of Random House Australia. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. more +
The Voyage of the Owl
Chapter One ~

Sniffer prowled down the staircase of the palace. Behind him tramped twelve Sedah guards, dressed all in black. The sharp tips of their cutlasses glinted wickedly in the light of the candles burning in the wall sconces.

Down one, two, three flights of stairs. They marched through the dim corridors. Maid servants and lackeys scuttled out of their way, staring nervously after the threatening black shadows of the Sedah soldiers.

Sniffer was enjoying this. He felt a rush of adrenalin. So close now. Any moment those brats would be his.

Sniffer threw open the thick, iron-hinged door that led to the kitchens. Apprentices and scullery maids melted away. The heat in the kitchens was stifling. A large joint of beef sizzled on a spit over a huge fire. A second fireplace was banked with hot coals for warming pots of sauces and stews.

The servants huddled wide-eyed against the walls. The kitchen was filled with the mouth-watering scents of roasting meat, pungent herbs and baking bread, but underlying it all was the salty smell of fear.

‘What’s going on?’ demanded the head chef, as she continued stirring a delicate sauce in a large copper pot. Cookie was a well-rounded woman, fierce and loyal, and known to be a tyrant in her domain.

Sniffer ignored her and the other staff. ‘The entrance to the dumbwaiter is somewhere down here,’ he barked, enjoying his newfound authority. ‘Those children must be here – and one of them is the princess. The captain’s orders are not to harm her. Search carefully and leave no pot unturned.’

Excerpted from The Voyage of the Owl. Copyright Belinda Murrell. Excerpted by permission of Random House Australia. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. more +
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