I’m thrilled to bring you the 2016 sneak peeks in one book, all thirty of them.
I’m thrilled to bring you the 2016 sneak peeks in one book, all thirty of them.
Nico Ferranti’s study at The Dower House…
Since it’s after the family dinner, Nico was relaxing in his study—a glass of Chianti at his elbow—as he talked via Face time to Gregorio Ancelotti, Tonio’s uncle, in Italy.
“It sounds as if Tonio is doing well, Nico,” Gregorio said.
Nico nodded, studied the man on the screen.
Although Gregorio was in his late thirties, tall, slim and wide shouldered, his genes had decreed he had more grey hair than black. Bronte called him a silver fox, much to Tonio’s amusement. Like Nico, tonight the man wore a fitted T-shirt, black, and matching jeans.
“He enjoyed spending time with you at Christmas. Bronte says do not be a stranger. You are welcome any time to our home. You are la famiglia.” Not exactly offended, Bronte had wanted Gregorio to stay at The Dower House over the festive season. Instead he’d stayed in one of the Ludlow Hall’s stunning oak and stainless steel A frame cottages, perfectly happy to have his own space.
Gregorio’s dark eyes narrowed as his firm mouth curved in reluctant smile.
He spoke in his usual deeply accented drawl. “Grazie, Nico. I appreciate the invitation. However, an old bachelor like me can stomach only so much domestic bliss at any one time. You are a lucky man. The Ferranti household only serves to remind me of my—domestic failings.”
Nico had to laugh.
Domestic failings his ass.
Gregorio had his pick of women.
The man was rich, and according to Bronte hot.
Nico had heard a whisper that Gregorio had not spent some of his nights in his cottage alone during his Christmas visit.
None of his business, he reminded himself.
However, he decided that now might be the right time to make a point of an issue that was a cause for concern to his wife. “It is important to Bronte and I that Tonio spends time with what is left of his madre’s family.”
There was a silence as the two men regarded each other.
“Namely me,” Gregorio said, nodding slowly.
Gregorio was about to respond, when Nico noticed the door to his study slowly open.
He lifted his head, suspecting the intruder might be the dog, Jimmy Chew, who had a habit of bellying into a room like a ninja. But it wasn’t the dog, instead it was his baby daughter, Eve, who was motoring into the room at a fast crawl.
It seemed someone had escaped from her mama after her bath.
The baby was dressed in a pink sleep suit, her silky black curls dancing on her head.
When she started to pull herself up to her feet, using the heavy oak door as support, he noted little fingers were about to be caught in the door hinge.
Nico was on his feet and had her in his arms, a heartbeat away from disaster.
As he took his seat in front of his laptop, Gregorio leaned forward to study the scene.
His eyes, usually cynical, went all soft. “Ah, Eve, bella. She is a beautiful bambina, Nico.”
Since the baby was busy dropping kisses to his cheek and jaw, it took Nico a while to respond.
“She has found her feet. You should find yourself a good woman and settle down,” Nico advised, and laughed at the wide-eyed look of utter horror on Gregorio’s face.
“I am content and happy and safe just as I am, and so is my money.”
Before Nico could respond, Tonio flew into the room. “Aha. There you are,” he sang to an Eve whose response was to bury her face in her papa’s shoulder, her little arms wound tight around his neck.
“Ah, Tonio,” Nico said, his voice deep and his Italian accent deep. “Here’s Gregorio. Spend some time with him, while I put Eve to bed.”
He strolled out the room and left uncle and nephew to it.
Tonio slipped into the ergonomic chair, the black leather still warm, and gave his uncle Gregorio a shy wave. “Hi.”
Gregorio cleared his throat. “How are you? How is school?”
Tonio wondered why every single adult he knew was totally obsessed with school?
“I’ve received an A* in English and Math and science.”
Gregorio nodded, as if he’d expect nothing less.
“And I am captain of the soccer team,” Tonio added into a silence that had gone for, as far as he was concerned, far too long.
Again his uncle nodded, so Tonio decided to mix it up a little. “And I have two girlfriends.”
Aha, that got a ghost of a smile. “I think you may be a little young to dally with girls.”
Tonio made a mental note to look the word up.
He leaned forward and went eye-to-eye with his uncle. “When did you have your first girlfriend?”
Gregorio blinked. “Unlike you, I was unfortunate enough to attend an all boys school, so it took some time for me to feel comfortable with the opposite sex. I think I was fourteen.”
“Was she pretty?”
The smile was swift, like a lightning strike, and then gone. “Si. But of course she was pretty.”
“Did you kiss her?”
His uncle’s inhale made Tonio grin. “I believe I did, eventually. I seem to remember it took me a long time to work up to it.”
“I kiss girls all the time,” Tonio informed him, his chest puffed out with pride.
Gregorio nodded, not looking in the least bit surprised. “I suppose a man is never too young to get into the swing of things.”
“Auntie Rosie says I must take my time choosing the best chocolate in the box and not gorge myself on too much sweetness or they will rot my teeth along with my respect for women.”
At these words of wisdom, Gregorio’s eyes grew round. “Did she? I am sure Auntie Rosie is a wise women, but I would take her recommendation with a large pinch of salt.”
Tonio nodded. “Si. Papa says I don’t want to catch germs, and I must treat girls as equals.”
Gregorio cleared his throat again. “Si. When a man is an expert in a subject, you must listen well to his advice.”
“When are you coming to visit with us?” Tonio asked the question burning in his belly. There was something about his Uncle Gregorio, the way he held himself apart from others, that bothered Tonio.
“I was about to suggest that you and the family come to visit with me here, at Lake Como. Would you like that?”
“Do you still have the jet ski?”
“Si. I purchased a Laser Pico sailing dingy for you and the twins to learn to sail.”
Tonio’s jaw dropped. “Wow! Grazie!”
When Nico entered, Tonio turned a beaming face to him.
“Papa, when can we visit with Uncle Gregorio?”
After he’d settled Tonio on his knee, Nico sent wide eyes to a grinning Gregorio on the screen.
“What is this?”
Before Gregorio could open his mouth, Tonio jumped in, “He’s bought a sailing dingy for us to learn to sail. Can we go, papa? Can we?”
Nico nodded. “Good idea, Gregorio. It is never too early for children to learn to respect water.”
“I thought during the May school break. Speak to Bronte. I will make the arrangements,” Gregorio said.
“Wow! I can’t wait to tell Luca and Sophia. Grazie, Uncle Gregorio!”
And with that Tonio raced from the room.
“You have made his day,” Nico drawled, more than delighted boy and man were bonding.
“Hmm. The boy is highly intelligent with lots of energy. Learning a new physical skill is smart. It will keep his mind occupied with wind speed and direction, current and buoyancy rather than concerned with kissing girls and the wisdom of Auntie Rosie.”
Nico had to laugh, and then groan. “Do not tell me.”
“Tonio needs exposure to our culture. I will invite your brother Gabriel and his family, too. The boy is wealthy. He will be a target for any unscrupulous huntress who will use beauty and sex to entrap him. Between us we will educate him in our ways and prepare him for the choppy waters of life ahead.”
Nico understood the underlying message loud and clear.
“Si. We are Italian.”
Oooooh, I see trouble ahead……
And I have news of the Sneak Peek book – LUDLOW HALL After HAPPY EVER AFTER:
It’s being formatted and the file will soon be available exclusively in my reader library CLICK HERE to join.
I’m busy working on Break The Rules and No Rules and a couple of secret projects, so stay tuned.
Is that picture cute, or is that picture cute? It’s the cover of all thirty sneak peeks from 2016 collected in one book titled LUDLOW HALL After Happy Ever After. The book is NOT for sale and will be placed in the exclusive reader library next week (it’s being proofed as I type) and is a full length compilation of around forty-nine thousand words. I will do another post when the file goes live in the library.
Editing the thirty sneak peeks has been an incredible journey – who’d have thought an author could forget whole scenes? I laughed so hard at times, and had a couple of teary moments, too. *sniff*
More Ludlow Hall sneak peeks are on the way for this year, too. So worry not.
I’m writing Break The Rules and No Rules together, but will release Break The Rules first and I’m having a great time with T.C. and the gang. The girl is trouble with a capital T.
AND – the sixth Golddigger short story, GLORY, is available right now for pre-order in the store links above. GLORY is out on Good Friday 14th April. My editor and team love this one and especially the lovely Odin who is brought to his knees by Ms Morning Glory Haden.
The next Golddigger will be HEATHER out sometime in May.
I’ll keep you posted.
At The Dower House, in Ms Sophia Ferranti’s pink bedroom—
Dressed as fairy princesses in brand new frocks with yards of white tulle (made by auntie Janine) the girls are sitting cross-legged on huge faux fur white rug and practising plaits (taught by Bronte) on the long hair of their new Ayla dolls.
“I’m gonna marry Tonio,” Emily said, the tip of her tongue firmly gripped between her teeth as she tried to fix the hair-tie to the end of her doll’s wonky plait.
Sophia dropped her chin to stare over black plastic framed glasses (empty of glass) to study the stubborn expression on her best friend’s face. “It’ll never happen if you don’t stop giving him stupid googly eyes,” she said in a severe voice.
“Like this—” Sophia gave a bug-eyed and dropped-jaw demonstration that made Emily frown.
“Do I do that?”
“Yup. Pitiful,” Sophia said, channelling her Auntie Rosie.
Emily huffed a big sigh. “Trouble is, he’s sooooo pretty.”
Sophia cannot hide her shock. “Pretty? You can’t call a boy pretty.”
“Well, I don’t to his face. But I do in my head.” Emily picked up a small brush to stroke through her doll’s blonde hair. She divided the hair into three sections that weren’t quite even. “What should I do then if I can’t look at him or think he’s pretty and I want to marry him?”
Sophia gave her a wide eyed, how-the-hell-do-I-know, look. “I’m only six. Men are a mystery,” she said, again channelling her Auntie Rosie.
“But, you have two brothers, which is more than I do.”
Sophia reckoned that statement was very true and mulled over the worst of her brothers behaviour. “Well, they fart and burp a lot and they think it’s hilarious. And they smell bad if they don’t spend time in the bath or the shower with soap. Mama said they are disgusting little monsters. Papa just laughs and Auntie Rosie says, ‘that’s men for you.'”
Emily made a face of female displeasure. “Okay. Then who would know how I can get Tonio to marry me?”
Sophia grinned widely. “Auntie Rosie!”
Thirty minutes later, Rosie’s sitting, legs crossed, on the rug and sipping pretend hot chocolate, with cream and marshmallows, out of a tiny pink plastic cup.
“You rang, my children, and here I am. What can I do for you?”
Knowing that her mama was baby sitting Mila and Eve with Emily’s mummy, Grace, Sophia got straight to the point. “Emily wants to marry Tonio. I told her to quit with the googly eyes. She does this—” Her demo brought a flush of sheer mortification to her best friend’s freckled cheeks.
Brown eyes dancing, Rosie studied the girls. “Well, you’re both a bit young to think of marriage. But, you only have to look at Bronte and me as excellent role models.”
“How come?” Sophia asked.
Rosie leaned in to her niece and gave her big, big eyes. “‘Cos WE rock, that’s how come. Way back before we even thought of a relationship with a man, WE were financially independent—that’s a key step in getting the man you want. Never, ever look like you want to get married to the man you want to marry or he’ll run so fast, dust will rise behind him, like the yellow-livered coward he is.”
Rightly suspicious of this advice, Sophia gave her favourite Aunt narrow-eyes. “How does that work? Surely girls need to be clear about what we want. Papa’s always saying that men are not mind readers—” she stopped when her Auntie Rosie pointed two forefingers in her face.”
“Aha! That’s just a thing a man says when they Do Not Mean It. Listen up, buttercups, and listen well to the advice of one who has been there, done it, and got the man of her dreams. 1. Men are hunters. If we make the hunt too easy…” She turned to look at a wide-eyed Emily. “By giving them googly eyes and big sighs that tell them we think they are awesome—then they’ve won us without the hunt. This is not good juju to Karma and the Universe. 2. Do not look to men to make you happy, be happy with you first.”
“Emily’s already told Tonio, about twenty times, that she’s gonna marry him. Has she failed before she’s even a woman?” Sophia asked, desperately worried about her best friend’s future happiness.
Rosie sent poor Emily an are-you-kidding-me face, but when the little girl teared-up, she pulled her on her lap for a cuddle. “It’s okay. We’ve all done daft stuff, especially me. All is not lost. Just promise me that from this moment on, no more googly eyes, no more telling him you’re gonna marry him or how wonderful he is. If you really, really want Tonio (personally speaking I think it’s better to kiss a lot of frogs before you find a man you can live with) then you need a Grand Plan.”
“Yeah,” Sophia agreed. “You gotta stop with the googly eyes.”
Emily stared at Rosie with big blue eyes, and clasped her little hands to her heaving bosom. “I KNOW I’m gonna marry Tonio,” she breathed and pressed a fist to her chest. “In here.”
Rosie took a deep inhale, nodded once. “Okay. But if I were you I’d take Sophia’s advice—never thought I’d ever say those words—and definitely stop the googly eyes.”
“And I kiss lots of boys,” Sophia said proudly.
Her Auntie Rosie turned to her. “So I’ve heard, and you need to stop kissing lots of boys.”
“I bet most of them have bad breath because their tooth brushing and flossing skills are not up to speed. And again, it means they haven’t had to fight for you. Kissing them first gives them all the power and it makes them think you’re ‘easy’ and that they are not special. Men always need to feel as if they are special. Give them a peck on the cheek ONLY if they deserve it.”
Sophia and Emily took time to think over advice which made no sense.
Emily turned to Rosie. “So, what should I do to make Tonio feel special?”
Rosie blinked. “Easy. Ignore him.”
“But, that would be rude,” Emily said.
“I don’t mean never speak to him ever again, and definitely respond politely if he asks you a question. What I mean is don’t volunteer information like you want to marry him. In fact, the best thing you can do the next time you see him is to say to Sophia that you’ve decided to become the next leader of the free world, which means no marriage and definitely no babies.”
“This is all soooooo confusing,” poor Emily said in a tone that made it clear she had absolutely no wish to be the leader of the free anything.
“Okay. Lemme give you an example— Tonio is surrounded by girls who flick their hair and give him googly eyes, correct?” When the little girls agreed, Rosie continued, “so, it is important that you, my beautiful Emily, stand out from the crowd. Remember what you and Sophia did two weeks before Christmas?”
It took a while, but Sophia caught on, kind of. “We wrapped presents for the little children who are poor. And papa put them in the big Ludlow Hall box of special Christmas presents.”
“Yup. And I saw the expression on Tonio’s face when you were tying the ribbon on the presents, Emily. He was impressed.”
Emily frowned. “But I didn’t do it to impress Tonio!”
Rose beamed in delight. “Of course you didn’t. You did it because you care about people less fortunate than yourself because YOU, my dear Emily, are the real deal. Men… I mean, boys, like girls who put others before themselves. It makes you very interesting compared to other girls who only care about what their hair looks like or stuff like that.”
Sophia turned to Emily and again gazed at her over her glasses. “What do you really want to do when you grow up? I want to work for Save The Childrens, and papa said I can do anything I want, if I work hard, because I am Italian.”
Rosie laughed. “You don’t need to be Italian, but I’m sure it helps. I always wanted to run my own business and make awesome wedding cakes. We had a lot of ups and downs, but your mama and I did it. And we did it all by ourselves and before we met your papa and I married Alexander.”
“I want to be a doctor,” Emily murmured after a while, then her blue eyes went anxious. “But, I don’t know if I’m clever enough. I hate sums.”
“I’ll help you,” Sophia said, immediately on-side to help her best friend realize her hopes and dreams.
“There you go,” Rosie said, utterly thrilled with both of them. “Teamwork. Be yourself with boys and not like the other girls. Talk about your hopes and dreams—except do NOT talk about marriage or babies—and don’t do anything you don’t want to do.”
Sophia leapt up to grab Rosie in a big hug. “Thank you, Auntie Rosie. No more kissing boys.”
Rosie hugged her back and headed for the door to spread the good news. “Then my work is done. I hear my daughter… Laters, my favourite girls.”
The girls settled back to work on their dolls, and continued in companionable silence until…
“Did you get everything she said?” Emily asked Sophia.
“Most of it. If you want to marry Tonio then you need to act as if you don’t want to marry him. Be polite, but not too nice to him.”
“I don’t think we should worry about it. We’re only six. Let’s go get a cookie and milk.”
Meanwhile, in the family/kitchen/dining space, Rosie’s feeding baby Mila and chatting to Bronte and Grace when Nico and Tonio and Luca arrive home. By the amount of soil on the boys clothes and the skinned knees, they’ve been at soccer practice.
When Emily and Sophia enter and politely ask for a cookie and milk and are given permission, Tonio kicks off his soccer boots and places them in the mud room. He slumps into a chair at the kitchen table and turns to beam a big toothy smile at his sister and her best friend.
“While you’re at it, get me a glass of milk and a cookie, Emily,” he demanded.
Without saying a word, Emily pours one glass and takes it to her place at the table to sit next to a Sophia who’s watching the scene play out.
Emily took her time choosing a cookie from the plate before catching Tonio’s eye. “You didn’t say please, so you can get milk yourself.”
When Tonio blinked like a confused owl, Auntie Rosie bit down hard on her bottom lip to hide a smile.
“Manners, Tonio,” Nico said in his deep growly voice.
“And you didn’t wash your hands,” Bronte reminded the boy.
With a frown, Tonio slunk into the boot room to wash his hands. By the time he returned and had helped himself to a milk and a cookie, he studied Emily with interest as she nibbled on a cookie. “What did you two get up to today?” he asked.
Before Sophia could respond, Emily lifted her eyes to his and held. “We were talking about our future careers. I’m going to be a doctor.”
When Tonio’s eyes bugged out of his head, Sophia added, “And I’m going to work for Save The Childrens, and I’m gonna help Emily with her sums because we’re independent women.”
Since there wasn’t much Tonio could say in response to that statement, he said nothing, but watched his sister and her best friend, hand-in-hand, walk out of the room.
“Good lord,” Emily’s mummy, Grace, said to Rosie, “What on earth was all that about?”
With an eye on Nico and Tonio who were discussing the eyesight, or lack thereof, of the referee during soccer practice, Rosie popped a quick kiss on her daughter’s slippery black curls. “Just girl stuff. We can never begin too early to talk about girl stuff.”
“Emily’s growing up,” Bronte said. “I’m hoping it rubs off on Sophia.”
“She’s agreed to stop kissing boys,” Rosie told them.
Bronte stared at her with wide emerald eyes. “Wow. How did you get her to do that?”
“We had a discussion about self-respect and female independence.”
Grace blinked. “And here I thought they were up there busy practising how to braid hair.”
“That, too. They’re girls. They can think of more than one thing at a time.”
When Tonio cosied on the couch next to her to stroke a gentle finger down baby Mila’s hot cheek, Rosie eyed him. There was no doubt at all the boy was a true Ferranti male and a future breaker of hearts.
She nudged him with her elbow. “So, apart from being a future Ronaldo, what do you want to do when you grow up?”
Still stroking the baby, Tonio’s mouth curved. “I want to be James Bond.”
Rosie rolled her eyes. “Figures.”
Nico moved in to scrub his knuckles over the boy’s cropped hair. “An Italian James Bond.”
And so we are on to the beginning of the 2017 sneak peeks, with more to come from the girls!
By reader request, I’m working on the edits of a book of the entire 2016 sneak peeks (which are coming in at approx 50,000 words). The book will not be available for sale, but it will be exclusively available for readers in my ‘reader library’ H has set up HERE. I’ll let you know when the book’s in the reader library.
The reader library will have exclusive Ludlow Hall short stories for readers who love the series – I’m working on a Nico and Alexander short, before Nico met Bronte, and boys will be boys! So sign up to the reader library and check your spam filter so you don’t miss a story.
I’m also working on the final edit for the next Golddigger short story, GLORY (which is looking like it will be a longer read than forty minutes. I’m loving this couple so much I don’t want it to end.) I’ll give you the pre-order links as soon as I have them. I’m looking at 14th of April for this release.
And I’m also beavering away at Break The Rules, too.
I want to thank everyone who’s reached out to me about H. He had his hospital appointment cancelled at the last minute due to an emergency which had the Consultant’s entire clinic cancelled. But, he received another appointment this morning for Monday 27th March, so we’re keeping our fingers crossed. He’s looking really well, which I feel is a good sign of nothing sinister going on. I hope.
For library access, click HERE
Greetings from a soggy and windy Cheshire.
Behind the scenes, H has been working hard on a plan to bring you exclusive access to a reader library of some of my work. We needed a place where readers can download a story/sneak peek/book etc., straight to the reading device of their choice.
There’s no catch and it costs nothing.
Readers here and in my Facebook group have been asking me to put all the Ludlow Hall sneak peeks into a book and I’ll be working on collating the stories with my editorial team during the next few months. Then I’ll place the book in the exclusive reader library where you can download the entire content for free before it goes on sale.
H and I are feeling better after pneumonia (and I pray to God we never get it again). He is waiting for biopsy results and we see his consultant on 13th March, so fingers crossed.
The illness means I’m way behind with my production schedule. I’m hoping to get back on track over the next few weeks. Thank you for being patient and for the kind get well messages. They picked me up when days were dark.
Reader Question: Christine, where do you get your ideas for your characters and stories from?
Answer: Mostly from real life. True. I remember when Reckless Nights In Rome was first published, a reader said that she couldn’t believe any girl would jump out of a window to avoid the blind date from hell and that she preferred REAL LIFE. Well, it DID actually happen to a close relative of mine, not once but twice. When I was told the whole sorry saga, and after I’d stopped laughing, I remember thinking that it would be a great hook for a story… and the rest, as they say, is history. And no, I’m not telling anyone her name.
Anyhow, to get back to the question where my ideas/inspiration comes from…
I write things I’ve been through, seen, understand, lost, loved, hurt, hated, endured, and I place all of those life experiences inside a world that does not exist but mirrors the real world. Does that make sense?
I use those experiences to build and create real characters readers want to root for and care about, even when they make the wrong choice to try to fix a problem (especially the guys) and end up in an even bigger mess. And along with mirroring real life my characters are fun, sometimes insane, and when they make me laugh out loud, I can be pretty certain they’ll make a reader laugh, too.
In the old days when I was submitting stories, I remember an editor telling me to tone down the laughs, the family with the kids and the dog. Hmm. I hope she’s read SEAN because you guys laughed out loud at all that.
Most of all, I write from the heart.
I write about family, whether created by non-blood friends (like Nico and Bronte who embrace many into their fold), or the vampyres who are battling the greatest evil to save our world. At the core of all my books is the bond of family.
Speaking of family, we’re on the road to wellness after pneumonia and getting better every day.
Yes, that will be me very soon!
I’m taking a break from the blog over the holidays to spend time with family and friends. H reckons I’ll also be writing because I never stop scribbling ideas and conversations in one of my hundreds of notebooks.
I want to wish each and every single one of you a happy Christmas and a peaceful and prosperous 2017!
See you next year.
It’s that time of year when teary-eyed parents cram into school halls to watch the annual nativity play, and the Ferranti family is no different.
The family-kitchen-living space at The Dower House smells of ginger chocolate chip cookies, freshly brewed coffee… and glue.
Bronte, Rosie, Janine and Emily’s mum, Grace are working hard with scissors, yards of thin rope and crisp white cotton sheets—donated for the cause by Nico’s housekeeping staff at Ludlow Hall.
Red curls pinned in a top knot on top of her head, dressed in black leggings and an old cotton shirt of her husband’s to protect her clothes, Grace focuses on the job at hand. “It’s really kind of the hotel to give us old sheets to make sheep and shepherd outfits,” she mutters as she pins two oblong pieces of cotton together to make a simple tunic, leaving space for a child’s head and arms. She turns to a Janine who’s doing the same thing with her fabric. “And thanks for this template. What a genius idea. How do you think up this stuff?”
Rosie, wearing thermal leggings and one of Alexander’s old short sleeved T-shirts over her sweater, lifts two big plastic bags filled with cotton wool balls onto a huge folding table erected next to closed bifolding doors showcasing the stunning winter garden. Another smaller table set at angle holds a large pot of glue with brushes. She sets out a stitched and hemmed tunic on the table, smoothes the fabric and places a pre-made template filled with accurately spaced circles on top, and marks a dot in the middle of each circle. Then she takes a cotton wool ball, dabs glue on it and presses it to the fabric and repeats the process on the front and the back of the tunic. Voila, the beginning of a sheep. “Because she’s a hugely talented creative. Have you seen Boo’s new bedroom? It is beyond amaze balls. The child sleeps and plays in her own magical world with fairies and twinkling stars watching over her. I love the way the white fluffy cat peeks out from behind the gingerbread house.”
Wearing painter’s white cotton coveralls over her jeans and T-shirt, Janine grins. “Boo makes Josh kiss the cat before bedtime. He’s besotted with her. How are you getting on with the glue and cotton balls?”
“Aw, I love Josh. I’m doing good.” Rosie eyes a Bronte who’s busy fingers fiddle with black and white shaped ears from thick felt as she machine stitches them together. Then she pins the ears to a thick black velvet headband, glues a flat piece felt to the top of the hair band and pops the headband over to Rosie’s table for her to glue more cotton balls to the white felt on the top. Voila—sheeple. “Wow, the ears looking amazing. Wait ’till the kids see these outfits. They’re gonna go nuts.”
Bronte smiles as she returned to her kitchen table to stitch together another set of ears. “All this is a far cry from our nativity play. Do you remember what our nativity was like when we were five?” she asks Rosie.
“Sure do. I was a cardboard tree with green arms and gloves as branches and on my head I wore a twig hat made by my mother. It itched like hell. My role certainly lacked glamour,” Rosie says, deadpan. When the girls laugh, she shakes her head. “My mother was gutted because she wanted me to be an angel—as if that was ever gonna happen. With Mrs. Mottershead as my teacher she’s lucky she didn’t make me one of the stars in the sky. Rosie sends Bronte a side-eye. “Of course, Ms Butter-wouldn’t-melt-over-there was an angel.”
Bronte sends her wide eyes and a big toothy smile. “I’ll have you know that, unlike you, I was a perfect angel.”
Rosie nods, takes care to place another cotton ball on the correct spot on the tunic. “It was the cardboard wings, the steel coat hanger wrapped in silver tinsel as the halo and all that long blonde hair. Then the awesome white cotton nightgown with the high frilly cuffs and collar your mother bought in the children’s department in Harrods. I remember being sick with jealousy over that nightie.”
Bronte just laughs. “Not for long, my mum had bought you one as part of your Christmas gift. You cried happy tears and Alexander gave you a cuddle.”
Rosie nods as she makes short work of another tunic. “Yep. I knew even then that I adored him. Then once I stopped crying, he ate half of my selection box of chocolates as payment. Even then he had a business brain. Bastard.”
Grace does a quick recce around the room to check for her daughter and her best friend. “Little eyes and ears, Rosemary, with big mouths.”
“More like little monsters,” Rosie says severely. “They’re upstairs watching Kung Fu Panda in Tonio’s room. That boy will keep them on the straight and narrow. I love Tonio.”
“Yup,” Janine says as she pins more templates to white and black thick felt and cuts out another dozen sheep ears. “He’s settled in well. You and Nico are doing a great job with him, Bronte. He’s so happy.”
Bronte nods as her foot presses down on the sewing machine pedal on the floor beneath the table. “He’s had his moments. I try to have one-on-one time with him a couple of times a week. He helps me with the grocery shopping. As a reward, we stop at the coffee shop to have a hot chocolate and a cookie. It’s the perfect time for me to listen to his day.”
“Is he in the nativity?” Janine asks.
“He’s the narrator.”
Grace rolls her eyes. “A narrator of the nativity with a wonderful Italian accent. All the girls will be swooning. My Emily is besotted with Tonio, and he’s so patient with her, poor boy.”
Rosie shakes her head while Janine laughs. “I don’t know about that. Emily’s not stupid, even if she is a sheep in the play.”
“She’s shy and perfectly content to be one of many,” Emily’s mum says. “She hates the spotlight.”
“Can’t say the same about Sophia,” Bronte mutters beneath her breath.
“What’s up with my favorite niece?” Rosie asks, picking up her friend’s dark tone.
“She wants to be Mary. But, Miss Brown has made her the innkeeper’s wife. In response, my daughter told her teacher she’s a feminist and isn’t ever gonna marry, so it will look bad for the innkeeper to live in sin with a woman. What would God think?” Bronte says. While her friends laugh out loud, she moves into the kitchen to prepare another pot of coffee and set a plate of her homemade ginger and dark chocolate cookies on a plate. “Miss Brown told her that since she’s the boss, she decides who will be Mary, end of.”
Swiping tears from her cheeks, Rosie takes a deep breath. “And what did my favorite niece have to say to that?”
Filling up their coffee mugs on the countertop, her friends gather around and grab a cookie, Bronte shakes her head. “She thought about it for a while, then nodded, and said, ‘Okay. But, since it is MY inn and my papa works in the hospitality industry, I’ll have a room cancellation so the baby Jesus in MY nativity won’t be born in a smelly old barn with sheep and cows and poop.”
Janine laughs so hard she chokes on her cookie. “Omigod. She’s re-writing the Christmas story? What did the wonderful Miss Brown say to that?”
“That maybe the world could learn a lesson from the innkeeper’s wife’s kindness to Mary and Joseph.”
Rosie nibbles on a cookie. “Wish we’d had a teacher like Miss Brown. I bet she’s thrilled about the way we’re all mucking in to make costumes. In our day it was headgear made of tea cloths.”
Bronte nods. “I think it helps to take a little of the pressure off Miss Brown at this time of year. The way she keeps on smiling through the kid’s fevered excitement about the visit from Santa, the woman deserves a medal. She’s organizing each child in her class to bring in a wrapped gift for kids who are in hospital over the holiday, and for children less fortunate.”
Rosie’s black brows wing into her hair. “Ah, that’s what Alexander and Nico were on about. I know the Ludlow Hall team organize food hampers for the elderly living alone in town. But, I heard them making plans to give kids who have nothing a box of goodies, too.”
Looking thoughtful, Janine bit into a cookie. “That’s what the spirit of Christmas is all about. Remember the time I dropped the baby Jesus and the entire audience gasped in shock? Good job he was a doll.”
Rosie grins. “I remember that. I also remember you ran off the stage hand-in-hand with the donkey.”
“The following year they had a real donkey and it peed all over the manger and fused the lights because there wasn’t enough straw to cover the wooden stage,” Bronte says, her emerald eyes all dreamy with happy memories. “Those were the days.”
Grace checks the watch on her wrist. “Better get back to it. I’ve counted eight black long sleeved roll neck T-shirts and eight pairs of black tights. The sheep will wear their black plimsolls. I think we need black woollen mittens, too.”
Bronte makes a note of the mittens, fires up her laptop and goes online. “Eight pairs? Maybe we’d better make it ten, just in case they lose a glove.”
By the time they were all done and dusted and cleaned and tidied the room, eight perfect sheep costumes were complete and boxed ready to be taken to school the next day.
By the time Nico strolls through the door, the kitchen smells of a Ferranti family favorite, home-baked Italian meatballs and pasta. All bathed and ready for bed in her onesie, Baby Eve sits in her high chair. When she sees her papa, she beams a toothy smile and bangs her plastic sip cup on her plastic tray. As he carefully rolls his silk tie, tucks it in a pocket before tossing the jacket over the back of the couch, Nico grabs his baby girl for a hug and a kiss on her hot cheek. By the time the baby nuzzles her face into his neck, Bronte grins and lifts her mouth for his kiss.
“Had a good day?” he asks the love of his life.
“Yep. We had a team effort on the sheep costumes. They look fabulous, Nico, I hope you’re able to make the play.”
He pops Eve into her high chair, offers her a squeaky toy which is accepted with a beaming smile. Then Nico heads to the fridge for a bottle of white pinot. He grabs a couple of glasses from a glass cabinet. “Si. Wouldn’t miss it. Alexander’s making time for it, too.”
When Bronte’s eyes go all shiny, he sets down his glass and moves in to hold her. “Hey, what is this?”
She sniffs and wraps her arms around his waist and inhales the scent of her man. “It’s nothing really. It’s just they’re all growing up so fast. I wish my parents had lived to see our family.”
“It’s Christmas. It always makes us sad to think of those we have lost. I know you find this time of year hard at times.”
Bronte shifts to look up into his amazing face. “He never speaks of her. Do you think Tonio misses his mother?”
He frowns. “From what the good father has told me, she sent the boy money and gifts, but she didn’t visit him.”
“I don’t know how a woman could do such a thing to her child, Nico,” Bronte whispers.
He rests his cheek on her hair. “She is dead, cara mia. Tonio is happy here, with us.”
“I’ve been thinking we should invite Gregorio Ancelotti to spend Christmas with us. Tonio is his only living relative. They need to bond.”
When the rumble of his laugh echoes against her cheek, she looks up. “What’s so funny?”
“I spoke to Gregorio today and invited him myself. However, he wants to stay at Ludlow Hall.”
Anxious emerald eyes stare into his. “But, we have plenty of room.”
“Si. However, we must respect his wishes. Perhaps the man needs his space. Let us take little steps, cara mia.”
“Okay.” She reaches up a hand to run her fingers through his hair, happy to mess up his sartorial perfection. “How come you can read my mind?”
Before Nico answers his mouth captures hers in a hungry kiss that makes her toes curl inside her thick socks. When he rests his forehead on hers, Nico’s marvelous mouth curves. “What do you expect, I am Italian!
Ooooh, a visit by Gregorio, sounds like a story to me.
Greetings from a cold and crisp UK!
It’s time for another Ludlow Hall sneak peek!
The family-kitchen-living space in The Dower House…
All relaxed and spread out on swanky velvet couches the color of lilacs in bloom and with their feet up on fat matching footstools, Bronte, Rosie and Emily’s mummy, Grace, are enjoying a coffee break, exquisite white chocolate chip cookies made by the Domestic Goddesss (Bronte)… and girly chat.
Dressed down in long yoga pants and a matching hoodie the color of blueberries, Rosie’s breast feeding baby Mila. “I really put my foot in it with Nico,” she says, still feeling bad about the upset with her niece.
Rocking Eve on her shoulder, who’s in a milk-induced coma, Bronte sends Rosie a sympathetic look. “We’re both at fault and need to remember Sophia’s super-bright for her age. You recovered well, though. My daughter believes she’s a warrior-woman…”
Grace grins. “Yep, without a magic sword like Xena. Emily told me all about it.”
Rosie shifts a slack-jawed Mila to rest her dark head on the terry towelling diaper over her shoulder, and gently rubs and pats her back. When a deep burp emerges and the baby’s eyes open, Rosie attaches her to the other breast, softly stroking a finger down her daughter’s satin cheek. The sound of her baby suckling makes her smile. “When she’s feeding, Alexander calls her Jaws.”
Dressed in skinny jeans and a black cashmere polo neck sweater, Grace laughs, even as her blue eyes go sad. “I’d have loved at least one more. But, it wasn’t to be.”
Bronte shifts to place Eve on the soft mattress of her travel cot-playpen. She places a thermal blanket over her sleeping daughter. After she hands Rosie a glass of water, and tops up Grace’s coffee from the pot, she turns to her friend. “Have you thought of adopting?”
Grace nods. “We’ve looked into it. But, the whole process is terribly complicated. And now Brian’s been made Managing Director, he’s globe-trotting more often these days. Next week, he’s travelling to China for three weeks. He doesn’t want me alone carrying the burden of integrating a baby or young child into our family.”
“Makes sense,” Rosie says.
Grace nods. “We’re so lucky to have Emily. I don’t get sad very often. But your beautiful babies do make me terribly broody.”
Bronte sits, lifts socked feet onto a stool and crosses her ankles. Today she’s wearing black leggings and an oversized black sweatshirt with Yummy Mummy printed on the front. Her ash blonde hair is tied in a messy top-knot. “It’s a funny old life, isn’t it? When I was engaged to Jonathan and learned I may never have children, I thought my whole life was over.”
Rosie tucks her breast in her bra, settles Mila on her shoulder to rub her back, and slants her best friend a look. “You had a lucky escape there.”
When the baby burps, Grace holds out her arms for a cuddle. “Gimme.” Rosie hands her daughter over to her friend. Then grins as she pops a kiss on her baby girl’s hot cheek. As far as she’s concerned, a child can’t receive too much love.
Cuddling the precious bundle, Grace makes herself comfy on the couch. Her smile is wide as she eyes Rosie and Bronte. “I never did hear the whole story. What happened?”
Rosie settles back on the couch. “Bronte was engaged to Jonathan for about year when she learned she had endometriosis, and may not have children. At first he was supportive, blah-blah-blah. They say bad news comes in threes. It was a horrible time. After her mum and dad were killed, we learned the whole estate was up to its ears in debt. To pay taxes, Alexander sold Ludlow Hall to Nico to build a Ferranti Hotel and Spa. Meanwhile, Jonathan was having a hot affair with Annabel and got her pregnant.
Grace’s jaw is on the floor. “No way,” she whispers, her eyes wide.
Rosie nods, makes a face. “Yes, way. Together, Bronte and I pooled all our monies, and set up Sweet Sensations. Then we worked like dogs for two years until we were in the black. Then Bronte met Nico, and the rest, as they say, is history.”
Grace turns to Bronte. “Even with endometriosis, you managed to have three children?”
Bronte’s emerald eyes dance. “Yup. That man just has to look at me and I’m pregnant. Believe it, there’s no one more shocked than me.”
“Or me,” Rosie says. “Next thing I know they have the twins. And I think we can safely say life has never been the same.”
“Out of the worst of times came the best of times,” Grace whispers softly.
“Yes. Although I admit I didn’t make it easy for Nico,” Bronte confesses.
Grace grins. “So, how did you two meet?”
When Rosie bursts out laughing, Grace turns to her. “I sense a story.”
“And it’s a loooooong story,” Rosie says, her dark eyes dance with sheer wickedness. “Nico caught her climbing out the window of the ladies toilet to escape the blind date from hell. Of course, he thought she’d been stealing. He frog-marched her into Alexander’s office and emptied her bag on his desk.”
Bronte shakes her head. “Yup. And someone had put a box of fruit flavoured condoms—extra large—in my bag. Of course, Alexander and Nico thought the worst of me… it’s not that funny, Rosie.”
Her best friend can’t help but roar with laughter at the memory. “It was hilarious. The chemistry between them then was combustible. And it’s combustible now. And Nico laid it right on the line, told her he didn’t want a wife or a family. Oh, how the might have fallen.”
Grace’s smile is wide as she shakes her head. “How long did it take for him to ask you to marry him?”
“Six weeks,” Rosie says.
Grace’s eyes pop. “Wow!”
Bronte wrinkles her nose, stands up, and leans down to pick up her baby girl. She sniffs her padded bottom and makes a face. “Oops, someone needs changing.”
Grace studies a red-faced baby Mila. “I think someone else does, too.”
Rosie’s on her feet and reaching for her daughter. “Come on upstairs and see the mural Janine painted in Eve’s room. I want one for Mila.”
As the friends walk out of the room, all is quiet. Until up pop two little fairies from behind the couch. Their plastic tiaras set at an awkward on their head, Sophia and Emily gaze at each other with big eyes.
“Wow,” whispers Emily. “Your mummy was engaged to Richard Winthrop’s daddy?”
“I can’t believe it,” a pale-faced Sophia says.
“If they ever find out we heard their conversation, we’ll be in BIG trouble,” whispers Emily. Her mummy’s recent warning about listening into adult conversation clear in her mind.
Still in shock, Sophia nods. “We mustn’t ever tell anybody, EVER.”
Emily nods, offers her hand. “Shake on it.”
“We’ll do what Tonio and Luca do when they make a pact,” Sophia says, and spits on her palm.
Emily makes a face, but spits on her palm too. They clasp hands. “We’re sistas!” she says.
Sophia wipes her palm on the pink tulle of her fairy princess dress. “Want a juice? she asks, heading for the fridge with Emily hot on her heels.
By the time both perch on high stools next to the island worktop, sucking down a homemade strawberry smoothie, Emily’s eyes go wide. “What’s a blind date?”
Sophia shakes head and opens the lid of her mama’s special cookie tin. “Dunno. Whatever it was it was from hell.”
“Maybe we should ask Tonio,” Emily says, with hope sparking brightly in her blue eyes.
Sophia stares hard at her friend. “I think you’re in love with Tonio.”
Emily’s copper curls bounce as she frantically shakes her head. “Nope. I thought about marrying him. I’ve changed my mind.”
Since this was news to Sophia, she sits up straight as her brows wing into her hair. “What’s wrong with Tonio? All the girls love him.”
Emily nods. “Exactly! He’s too much for me to handle.”
After a quiet moment of reflection, Sophia nods, offers her pal an oatmeal and raisin cookie from the tin. Deep in thought, the girls nibble on a cookie.
“You could be right about that,” Sophia says. “After all, he is Italian.”
Ah, little girls with big ears and big mouths equals big trouble ahead.
The next Golddigger short story, GLORY, will be released at the end of January 2017 and then one per month.
This author is taking a short break over the festive period. However, the Ludlow Hall sneak peeks will still wing their way to you each Monday.