I’ve been sick with a fever and the usual end of season bug. Roll on Spring!
And here’s the first part of this week’s Ludlow Hall short story…
It’s Friday and school’s out—The Dower house…
After she’d found Bronte sitting in a whimpering puddle on the kitchen floor this morning, and banging her head against the wall (more of why later) Rosie took firm control of the Ferranti household, then sent her best friend for a much needed pampering and massage at Ludlow Hall.
Now, Rosie was on children duty…
After auntie Rosie had ordered everyone upstairs to change out of their school uniforms and wash their mucky paws, Emily and Sophia are in Sophia’s bedroom. They’ve washed their hands as instructed, but had only got as far as removing their school tie, sweater and socks.
Emily reeeeeelaxed back on Sophia’s Princess bed and wiggled her little pink toes.
“We,” she began in her soft, breathy voice, “have the coolest mummies.”
Sophia, rummaging deep in her closet, tossed out a couple of pairs of pink thermal leggings, a pink hoodie with a unicorn on the front for Emily, and for herself a white hoodie with Elsa from Frozen. Once she’d hunted down two matching pair of thick socks, she turned to her best friend and smiled.
“My daddy says they always look well-put-together.”
“They do,” Sophia agreed again and tossed leggings and the pink hoodie on top of Emily’s face.
Best friends shared clothes, that was a rule.
Emily sat up and wriggled out of her pleated skirt of navy wool.
“They never let other people down.”
“They don’t,” Sophia concurred.
The girls stripped down to their underwear.
Emily tugged up leggings and checked out her skinny butt in the wall mirror.
She made a face.
“Did you see Carrie-Anne’s mummy today?”
Sophia’s blonde head popped out of the top of her white hoodie.
Carrie-Anne’s mummy was a hot mess these days, according to auntie Rosie.
“Yup. But auntie Rosie says if we can’t say anything nice, say nothing,” Sophia said, channelling her favorite person in the whole wide world.
Emily’s little mouth pouted in clear disappointment.
After a long while she said, “Can I just say two words?”
Emily pointed to her own butt. “Panty. Line.”
Sophia made a face, and checked out her own skinny backside.
“Aunty Rosie calls it a Wardrobe Malfunction. Carrie-Anne’s mummy should have worn a thong or panties that don’t show a pantie line. My mama’s got lots of pretty silk panties in her pantie drawer.”
“Do they make them for girls?” Emily wanted to know.
“I dunno,” Sophia said, thinking about it. “But auntie Rosie says thongs are the work of the devil.”
Emily nodded. “My daddy loves my mummy in a thong. My mummy told him he should use dental floss on his ass because that’s how it feels.”
Sophia cringed at the thought. “Eww. That’s a disgusting thing to say in front of a child.”
“I was supposed to be asleep. They didn’t know I was listening.” Emily grinned. “I was quiet, like a ninja.”
Sophia stared hard at her friend, because out of the two of them Emily was the good girl.
“If they catch you your mummy will say I’m a bad influence.”
“Nah, how can you get the blame if you’re not even there? Anyway, I’ve been doing a lot of listening. Carrie-Anne’s mummy’s fighting the battle of the bulge to lose the baby weight. She told my mummy that her life has been transformed since her divorce.”
Feeling weary after another long week at school, Sophia settled back on her pink Fat-Boy beanbag. She thought about how desperately sad their friend Carrie-Anne had been for months and months.
Then she thought about the heated discussion between her parents in the kitchen this morning, and her belly ached. It had ached off and on all day.
And last night, for the first time ever, her papa had slept in the spare room.
Deep in her heart, Sophia wanted to talk to Emily about the argument and the weird mood that had descended on The Dower House recently, but she knew better. Anything that happened in The Dower House, stayed in The Dower House.
Her belly ache got worse.
She hoped her mama and papa never got a divorce.
Carrie-Anne and her baby sister had moved out of their house into a smaller one in the centre of town.
What if her papa and mama sold The Dower House?
Where would she and Luca and Tonio and baby Eve live?
The thought made her feel sick.
“How come?” she asked Emily.
“Carrie-Anne’s mummy said it was boring sleeping with the same man for ten long years.”
Sophia worked out how long her parents had been married—nearly nine years. Then she wondered if ten years was a bad omen or something. Meanwhile, Emily continued her story, “And she was fed up playing the Pirate and The Maiden game.”
“Never heard of it,” Sophia said.
Emily shook her head, her big blue eyes wide. “Me neither. Maybe it’s for Xbox? Do you think Tonio’s heard of it?”
Sophia was not fooled by that huge smile or big-eyed-innocent look.
Emily’s crush on her brother was totally lame as far as she was concerned.
On the other hand, Sophia was vastly intrigued by the idea of a pirates and maidens game.
“Let’s ask him,” she said.
The girls dashed out the door, across a wide landing, and knocked Tonio’s bedroom door.
“Enter,” Tonio called, channelling his papa.
They went in to find Tonio dressed in his favorite super-hero sweatshirt, navy sweatpants faded at the seams and too short in the legs, lying on his belly on a fluffy rug, reading a soccer magazine.
Inky curls flopped on his forehead, and his feet were bare.
Since she had no time for football, Sophia got right to the point of their visit.
“Have you ever heard of an Xbox or a PC game called the Pirate and the Maiden?”
Tonio’s brow creased as he stared into space, thought for a long while, then shook his head.
“Nope. Only pirate game I know is Pirates of the Caribbean.”
He returned to his magazine.
When Emily just stood there as if rooted to the spot staring dreamily at Tonio, Sophia grabbed her friend’s arm and dragged her out the door.
Back in Sophia’s bedroom, Emily collapsed on the Fat-Boy and lay back with a stupid moony expression.
“Tonio’s voice is like warm chocolate poured over cream,” Emily whispered in her soft voice. “I love his face. I love his dark eyes and his thick lashes. He’s just so… Perfect. He makes me… Happy.”
Sophia rolled her eyes so far back in ahead she nearly lost her balance.
“Eww, Emily, that’s my brother you’re talking about. He’s got smelly feet and he farts and burps. He’s disgusting.”
“I’m going to marry him,” Emily said, clearly undeterred.
The martial gleam in her blue eyes seriously alarmed Sophia.
“You can’t get married until you are eighteen,” she said, trying to help her friend see sense. Then she added for good measure, “That’s eleven long years from now. And what if he’s not the one? Variety, auntie Rosie says, is the spice of life.”
Emily shot up to sit. “I just know he is the one,” she whispered and pressed her little fist to her chest. “In here.”
Sophia rubbed her nose—hadn’t they gone over this ground before?
“We need to speak to auntie Rosie. She loved uncle Alexander for ever and ever and ever,” she decided.
Emily sprang to her feet, her eyes bright.
“Maybe she’ll know how to make Tonio fall in love with me?”
“We can only hope,” Sophia said under her breath, and led the way downstairs.
Meanwhile in the kitchen-living-dining space, Rosie, and her trusty assistant Luca, were preparing hot milk for hot chocolate. Luca’s job was to test taste a dark chocolate brownie.
The place smelled of chocolate and fresh flowers crammed into a huge clear glass vase set on a wide sandstone window ledge.
Unlike his twin sister’s white blonde hair, Luca took after the Italian side of the Ferranti family. He was definitely, Rosie reckoned, going to be better looking than Tonio or his papa, Nico. At the moment Luca was perched on a bar stool, his bare feet swinging. He wore soft blue jeans and a Spiderman sweatshirt that had faded to pale blue from too many washes. And his mouth was rimmed with dark chocolate.
When Sophia and Emily skipped into the room, he turned to glower and glare at his sister.
“What do you want?” he said by way of a warm welcome.
As if he hadn’t spoken, Sophia hopped up on a bar stool on the opposite side of the granite worktop.
Meanwhile, Emily had wandered over to the huge playpen to give the toddlers, Eve and Mila, a hug and a kiss.
The girl was a complete sweetheart.
Rosie understood Emily’s attraction to the younger members of the family, she was an only child and often got lonely. As an only child herself, Rosie felt her pain.
Then again, Rosie couldn’t help but stifle a laugh at the way her beloved niece and nephew constantly fought a cold war these days. Such was sibling life, she supposed. She’d already prepared five white china mugs which were lined up like soldiers standing at attention.
Testing the temperature of the milk and melted chocolate mix, she poured it carefully into the mugs and added three white marshmallows. When Tonio strolled through the door, she sent him a quick smile.
“Could you sit Eve and Mila in their highchairs for me?”
Tonio changed direction, plucked Mila from the playpen, sat her in her highchair and strapped her in, then repeated the routine with Eve who buried her hands in his hair and yanked hard.
“Ow,” he said, and carefully freed himself. He smacked a kiss on her hot cheek. “No pulling hair.”
In response, Eve grabbed his sweatshirt and yelled, “Batman!”
“No,” Luca said. “It’s the Incredible Hulk.”
Eve glared at her big brother. “Batman!”
Rosie shook her head and placed a Sippy cup of lukewarm milk on each tray and attached a bib on each child.
As she distributed the hot chocolate and treats, she wondered how she gathered herself to break the news that Nico and Bronte were having a night away from The Dower House. Not that her and Alexander doing baby sitting duty was anything new for the young Ferrantis. But the reason for this one was. It seemed Nico and Bronte were going through a tricky patch. It was amazing how something that hadn’t even been on Bronte’s radar had turned into a Big Deal. Frankly, Rosie laid the blame for the whole sorry mess at Nico’s door. Honestly, there were times when men were utterly clueless when it came to women.
Long story short, tabloid journalist Tabitha Crew had written yet another gossip piece taking a swipe at Nico’s past love life. Okay, the woman had crossed a line. Rosie got why Nico was seriously pissed, but to employ a PR consultant who was an old flame to fight the journalist had not been his smartest move. Not only that, it appeared the old flame wanted to reignite a fire between her and Nico. And just to add more fuel, yesterday, the woman had invited a clueless Bronte to lunch at Ludlow Hall.
Strong words had been exchanged.
Bronte had drawn a red line in the sand.
The woman had to go, she’d told Nico.
Nico, never one to take a demand on the chin, said no.
Now all hell had broken loose, and even though she’d never show it in front of the kids, Rosie was worried.
So when Alexander strolled through the door and his baby girl went crazy when he picked her up and gave her a cuddle, Rosie’s heart just melted.
He scrubbed his knuckles on his nephews’ heads and tickled Sophia and Emily before heading over to his wife.
Rosie read the worry in his emerald eyes, and her heart fell.
Looked like Nico and Bronte still hadn’t smoked a peace pipe.
“Where are they?” she asked as he pressed a kiss to the spot beneath her ear.
“In their cabin. I told them not to leave it until they’ve resolved this,” he said softly.
“Bronte’s really hurt and furious,” she whispered.
“Tell me about it. Last thing she was telling Nico as I left was that she was going to stay with her father.”
Rosie’s eyes went wide.
“Yup. That bad.”
“God, why on earth did Nico bring that bloody woman into Ludlow Hall?”
“She’s really good at her job,” he answered, trying to be fair.
Rosie just shook her head.
“She’s a Rottweiler.”
“Yup and that’s what makes her the best.”
Rosie caught the way Sophia’s wary eyes were zeroed in on them watching every single move.
God, her niece had a super-sensitive radar.
“We’ll talk after the kids have gone to bed.”
Alexander followed her gaze and nodded.
He shot Sophia a wink as he shrugged out of his coat, took off his suit jacket, his tie, and rolled up his sleeves.
Then he helped himself to a beer from the fridge, twisted open the top and took a sip.
“Gimme the skinny,” he said to the room at large. “Who did what to whom today?”
“Where’s mama and papa?” Sophia wanted to know.
The question seemed to turn everyone into a game of statues.
Tonio and Luca, their eyes filled with clear anxiety, examined Alexander’s face.
Oh, boy, this lot were as sharp as tacks.
He sent them a cheesy grin.
“They’ve having a date night,” he said.
Sophia blinked. “Where?”
“They’re not far,” Rosie said. “Just up the road in their cabin with candles, music, and romance.”
Emily, her blue eyes flicking between a serious looking Sophia and Rosie, said in her soft voice, “They’re probably playing The Pirate and The Maiden game.”
Alexander inhaled his beer.
His hand reaching for the box of tissues as he coughed up a lung.
Tonio narrowed his eyes as he watched his uncle fight to catch his breath and his aunt laugh so hard she cried real tears.
“Okay,” he asked in a growly voice that sounded just like Nico. “What’s the game?”
Once Rosie had got her breath back, and wiped her eyes, she took a deep breath.
“It’s a poem not a game.”
Tonio looked bitterly disappointed.
“Oh,” he said.
Thinking she’d dodged a bullet, Rosie clapped her hands.
“Have you washed your hands?”
Everyone, except Luca, nodded.
Rosie pointed to him. “Go!”
When Sophia smirked as he slunk off to do his auntie’s bidding, he shot his sister a black look.
Later, when everyone had finished their spaghetti and meatballs, and were taking a rest before pudding, Luca turned to eye Sophia across the table.
“Why aren’t you speaking to me?” he demanded.
Sophia sent him a bland look.
“I can’t find something nice to say.”
Luca’s brows rose.
“Good,” he said. “I like a quiet life.”
END for now
Ooooh… is it possible there’s trouble in paradise?
All y’all will get to read the back-story to this scene in ‘Hitched to the Italian’ which is in production at the moment. But part two of this short story is coming next week!