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.