When the car turns into the narrow road leading to the doors of Monte Madre, JJ felt the tension begin to ebb. On instinct Rocco reaches for her hand, giving it a squeeze, their first contact since boarding the private jet to Florence.

Monte Madre. Arriving in this little hamlet is a thrill unlike no other, one narrow long road lined with Cypress trees on either side, leads the way to the door, there are no grand entrances here, no intimidating gates, swivel doors or spruced up reception. Two uniformed concierge personnel hold open your car door for the family, and in a thrice their luggage unloaded from the second car, by the uniformed bellhops whilst the head valet is there to valet the car as soon as they exit. It is a village of sixty inhabitants including the hotel with rooms and suites dotted across the village; the little main road winds to the end of the village, surrounded by astounding views. The local church sits behind the little square flanked by olive trees and wooden benches. The village belonged to Rocks’ grandparents, and now to her and her grandmother, her surviving grandparent. It laid dormant for a while with less than thirty inhabitants, abandoned homes and vast unspoiled lands. Rocks and her Nonna had the brilliant idea to turn it into a little haven, a village hotel that did not demolish rather it was incorporated into the existing structure, sitting atop a hill looking down to the Tuscan valley and Umbria. They worked the land with local farmers and produced all goods; food, wine, cheese, oils for the hotel. The local farmer’s market has become a draw for visitors and locals, famous for its award winning wine and champagne which Rocks and her grandmother produce. Monte Madre has quickly became the place to escape for people in the know, booked up with a waiting list of two years at least. Thirty bedrooms in total and thirty locals, no more. Nonna Viviana, Vivi, has lived in the village her whole life, it was where she met and married her husband Assane, a Senegalese immigrant who called the place home. He is buried here in the local cemetery behind the church long gone over twenty years now, it was here they raised their son Pepe, Rocks’ father.

JJ, Rocco and the girls are met by the matriarch, Rocks grandmother, Viviana, who’d been looking forward to welcoming them. Her granddaughter had been on the phone with her constantly, making sure everything was perfect. She wouldn’t normally meet guests, but JJ is as good as family, a dear friend to her granddaughter. If Rocks could be here she would.

‘Welcome back to home away from home.’ Viviana envelopes JJ in a warm hug.

For a moment JJ did not want to let go so she leans into the hug a little longer and Vivi rocks her a little hoping to ward away the drama that trailed her here. She looked frail in her old age but that was a front because the woman who held her, is strong and sprightly, her gait is quick and her laugh even quicker. All signs of Rocks are easily visible on her.

With the children excitedly chatting away to Vivi following their own hugs with her, JJ wipes away a tear, but not before Rocco sees the action. Damn.

‘Thank you so much.’ JJ is touched that she would come down to the village to greet them even in her advancing age.

‘You my dear are always more than welcome.’ She turns to Rocco with a twinkling smile, ‘Rocco?’

‘Si. Buongorno. Grazie per averci.’

‘Prego.’ Vivi gives Rocco that grandmotherly hug, happy to meet him. They chat for a bit in Italian whilst the staff make much fuss over the girls, keeping them entertained.

‘I would like to host you for dinner tonight if you are not too tired.’ Vivi informs JJ.

‘Thank you, but you don’t have to go out of-’

‘Please,’ Vivi waves away her concern ‘it is no bother at all, it would be my pleasure and give me new things to talk about that village gossip.’

‘We would love to. Grazie mille.’

‘Are we gonna talk or are you just going to stay mad at me and we pretend nothing’s happened.’ With the children now settled, in their bedrooms in the suite, JJ and Rocco are settling in theirs. A team from the wardrobe staff are unpacking their luggage in the walk in closet.

‘Why don’t you call my mother and talk to her, you seem to have hit it off.’

‘JJ she’s your mother.’

‘You keep telling me that like it’s supposed to mean something. It didn’t to her. She left me alone at home when I was five years that’s what I remember about her being my mother. When my father spanked me hard, she wasn’t there like she was for the others. I don’t even remember her holding me. That’s what I remember of her as a mother. And there’s worse. So, no Rocco I don’t want to talk about it, I just want to have a good Christmas.’

‘Why invite your father then?’

‘Because he didn’t leave me, because as hard a father as he was, he raised me and didn’t abandon me. He was there. She wasn’t and I desperately needed her there.’ She desperately needed her mother growing up, needed her when she grew up. She’d needed her there so many times and she wasn’t.

‘I’m sorry.’ Rocco relents, remembering her reaction to being hugged by Rocks’ grandmother. When JJ hugs their children there is a sense she almost never wants to let go and he gets it, her mother hardly ever did the same to her as a child. He only meant well. His family will be the buffer in the tension, they will be arriving tomorrow so hopefully there will be enough people in the mix to avoid a catastrophe. Since her mother and Cleo were not invited that ought to help. ‘JJ, I don’t just want to have a good Christmas, I want to have a Christmas to remember. If you want me to, I will ask everyone not to come so we can have the place to ourselves.’

‘No don’t.’ She knows Rocco, he’ll do it too. ‘Don’t do that, we want to create memories with family so let’s. And let’s not fight okay. I’m sorry for being such a hard head about this.’

‘I didn’t know and if I did, I would not have welcomed her into our home-’

‘Yes you would, you’re a peace maker.’

Rocco laughs pulling her towards him, ‘I love you, my darling.’

‘I love you too.’

The moment to a kiss is interrupted by the youngest Rossi child.

‘Mummy my bed is so big!’ Bella burst into her parents’ bedroom without even bothering to knock.

JJ rolls her eyes they have to lock that door at night. ‘Is it?’

‘Let me show you.’ She takes her mother by the hands and all but drags her to her bedroom. JJ pulls Rocco behind her. Roma whose room is adjacent to Bella is already doing the honours of taking the best on a test drive; bouncing on her bed.

‘I can go higher than Roma. Let’s do it mummy.’

In one room Roma and Rocco bounce on her bed and in the other Bella and JJ take to hers. A moment of bliss for the family, they’ll take it. They’ll absolutely take it.