It’s the Ludlow Hall Sneak Peek…

 

CCMACKENZIE.COM

Hello, dear readers!

It’s not only the first day of December, but it’s the Ludlow Hall sneak peek.

The Dower House… and six year old Sophia Ferranti is in her bedroom. Her mama had sent her up here for a time-out (with no TV or iPad, which sucked lemons) due to “Excessive rudeness and being nasty” to her twin brother, Luca…

The Bichon Frise nestled nice and cosy on her lap, Sophia gently brushed Jimmy Chew’s silky fur. Her heart hurt because nobody in her family loved her anymore. Was it her fault her brother was as dumb-as-a-turnip, as Auntie Rosie would say? Nope. Auntie Rosie also said that the trouble with Luca was that he was so laid back he was horizontal. Sophia wasn’t quite sure what that meant herself, all she knew was that Luca was lazy and cared for nothing more than playing with his stupid Lego. Lego got everywhere. The memory of her papa dancing a jig in his bare feet in the family room—and the way he cursed in Italian (he only ever said bad words in Italian)—made her snicker. Oh boy, Luca got into Big Trouble for that. Stupid boy.

As far as Sophia Ferranti was concerned, all boys were stupid, and smelly. However, she had to admit that right now her heart was broken into a thousand pieces, and nobody cared. A hot lump lodged in her throat, but she blinked fast to clear her vision because she refused to give the people who lived in this house the satisfaction of knowing she’d been cut-to-the-bone, as Auntie Rosie said.

She lifted her dog, and moved to sit on her chair in front of her dressing table. It was a pink dressing table, painted by Auntie Janine, and it matched the fabulous pink framed mirror, which had a crown painted in Gold at the top. Jimmy Chew yawned hugely, turned three times on her lap, and settled down for more pampering. Her fingers rummaging around a clear plastic box, she searched for the right hair-tie for the dog’s fur to keep it out of his eyes. Once she was happy with the effect, she grabbed a new fancy dog leash—blue with clear crystals—and clipped it on to his new matching collar. She couldn’t wait to take him out for a walk in town. Jimmy Chew was regularly walked in town to socialise him with other dogs and other humans who were strangers.

Out of the corner of her eyes, she spotted her bedroom door opening very, very slowly. In the mirror, Sophia watched it with interest. Then she scowled and glared when Luca’s dark head poked around the door. His grin made her hand itch to slap it from his stupid face. But, if she did that her mama might go to “Extreme measures”. To be honest, Sophia wasn’t sure what that meant, but didn’t want to chance-her-luck, as Auntie Rosie said.

Bravely ignoring the snarl on his sister’s face, Luca, wearing one navy ankle sock and dressed in knee length jean shorts and his favourite Spiderman T-shirt slid into the room. Since it didn’t look as if she’d molest him, he attempted a handstand. He’d been practising handstands for weeks, but had yet to find his balance. His papa said practice made perfect. “I’m gonna be Spiderman. I can climb up walls.”

His high yell as he tumbled to the floor had Jimmy Chew leap to the carpet and bark at him.

Sophia bounced around in her chair. “What are you doing? Why are you creeping into my room like that? And you’ve made Jimmy Chew piddle on my good rug. Go away, stoopid. GO AWAY!”

Luca listened to the blistering rhetoric in mournful silence. When she ceased to take a breath, he took his chance. “Mama sent me to fetch you.”

“Why? What have I done now?”

“Dunno.”

“You know nuthin'”

Luca lifted a shoulder, well used to his twin’s insults. She was full-of-hot-air, as his Auntie Rosie said, and he let it roll of him, like-water-off-a-duck’s-back—another of Auntie Rosie’s sayings. “Auntie Rosie’s arrived, and she has a surprise for her favourite niece.”

Sophia jumped as if she’d been shot. “What? A surprise for me?”

“That’s what she said.”

Up flew Sophia, she grabbed Jimmy Chew and dashed out the door.

Luca had to grin as he strolled after her, his sister loved surprises, and if it cheered her up then he was happy. He knew in his heart that Sophia didn’t mean half of the things she said to him. She had too much energy and thought heavy thoughts, which was why she was a cranky-wee-monkey at times, as Auntie Rosie said. However, the sound of a high-pitched scream and a body falling down the stairs had him run. The sight of Sophia lying on the floor at the bottom of the wide staircase made him yell for his papa. However, it was the sight of blood pooling beneath her blonde head that had him faint dead away.

 

 

 

***

As long as she lived, Bronte Ferranti knew she would never, ever forget the sight of her baby girl lying on the floor as if she was dead. Jimmy Chew’s leash was tangled around her ankle. The dog was unhurt, but howling his little heart out. Face sheet white, Nico had been on his knees and running his hands very gently over Sophia. When Bronte saw that the child’s arm was clearly broken, she’d bitten into the knuckles at her mouth.  Nico’s hands had been shaking as he brushed white blonde hair aside to see how bad it was. Meanwhile, Rosie had a sobbing Luca on her knee as she called an ambulance. The ride in the ambulance, sirens and blue lights blazing, had been another kind of hell. Now, twenty four hours later, they were sitting by their daughter’s hospital bed, waiting for her to waken up.  Her left arm, from wrist to elbow had been set and fitted with a pale pink plaster. The sight of it made tears again sting in Bronte’s throat. She sniffed, and a strong arm came around her shoulders. Bronte turned her face into Nico’s shoulder.

“She is going to be fine, cara mia. All the X-rays and tests are all clear,” her husband said in his deep, rumbly voice. “The doctors are happy with her.”

“I know, but she looks so white.” When Sophia fluttered her eyelids, Bronte leaned over to take her uninjured hand. “Hey, baby girl. Mama and papa are here.”

“Head hurts,” Sophia whispered.

Nico rang for the nurse. “You fell down the stairs and hit your head. Good job it is a hard head because you are going to be fine.”

 

 

***

Two days later…

“When can I go home?” Sophia said, sitting up in her hospital bed, surrounded by toys, but tucked in her good arm was her favourite Raggedy Ann doll.

“Well, that’s nice, isn’t it?” Nurse Jean said, with a twinkle in her eye. She gently placed a thermometer in Sophia’s ear. “I thought we might keep you since you keep us so entertained.”

Sophia just grinned. “I do like you, but I don’t like hospital. It smells funny.”

“Well, if you want to be a doctor one day, you’ll have to get used to it,” Nurse Jean said as she marked up her chart. “We’ll see what the doctor says.”

A brisk knock at the door heralded the arrival of Auntie Rosie, Uncle Alexander, her mama and papa. After greeting the nurse, Nico gently took his daughters little face between his hands and studied her eyes and the huge bump on her head. A bump which had given her black eyes. “How is my best girl?”

“I want to go home.”

“She’s moaning,” Rosie said and moved to sit on a chair, “So she must be feeling better.”

Rosie rummaged in a huge bag of cream leather, and found her make-up bag. When she opened a compact mirror and rolled bright red lipstick on her lips, Sophia watched her with interest. Rosie made kissy noises. “Right, gimme the poorly arm.”

When Rosie very gently placed a kiss on the plaster, Sophia beamed. “Ooooh, a kiss makes my heart bigger.”

Bronte’s emerald eyes went all teary. “Aww, does it? Okay, Rosie, gimme the lippy.”

After her mama kissed the plaster, Sophia eyed her papa.

Nico swallowed.

Seriously?

His baby girl wanted him to wear lipstick and kiss her plaster?

When Alexander snorted a laugh, Nico turned to him. “I will if you will.”

Eyes dancing, Alexander shrugged. “No problem. I’m man enough.”

Nico, wearing lipstick for the first—and last—time in his life, kissed the plaster, all the while manfully ignoring the way his wife and Rosie were bent double with laughter. Then he turned to Alexander and offered him the lipstick. His best friend did his duty, and Nico reckoned it was all worth it to see how such a small thing thrilled his irrepressible Sophia and made her heart bigger.

When nurse Jean popped her head around the door to check out the noise of hilarity, her brows rose at the way two big, handsome men were clapping each other on the back. They rose even higher when she spotted they were wearing lipstick.

Sophia, her smile splitting her little face, held up her arm. “Look! Look what they did. They gave me kisses to make it better.”

“So they did.” She eyed Nico and Alexander. “Would you gentlemen like a tissue?”

Nico, his arm slung around Alexander’s shoulders, shook his head. “No problemo. I am Italian.”

 

 

FINE

Happy Thanksgiving… and a signed giveaway…

HAPPY THANKSGIVING

To all my readers, and especially those across the pond – HAPPY THANKSGIVING!!!

As a gift from me to you, I’m giving away a signed author copy of AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER, A Ludlow Hall Christmas story! This is story is laugh-out-loud and hot… so be warned!

03D_Anaffair

 

At Christmas, there’s nothing more important than family…

Charismatic Marc Atelier, head of security of the Ferranti Group, has arrived at Ludlow Hall hot on the trail of a corporate spy.

Yet, from the moment he focused his intense blue eyes on head receptionist, Elena Kennedy, neither of them can deny the heat of an attraction that’s about to burn out of control.

But there’s more to Elena than meets the eye… and Marc likes what he sees… a lot!

To enter you must follow this website and comment below. You have until midnight GMT on 25th November to enter. Ready? GO!

Hugs,

ChristineX

Who else wants part two of last Friday’s Sneak Peek? You do? Read on….

grab a coffee - it's time for the Ludlow Hall Sneak Peek!

Happy Friday!

PART TWO

 

This story is the continuation from last weeks Ludlow Hall Sneak Peek…..

The Dower House, later in the morning…

Bronte was relieved to see that the arrival of Sophia’s best friend, Emily, her mother Grace, and Emily’s Bichon Frise, Bubblegum, appeared to lift Sophia’s spirits. As had the entrance of Auntie Rosie, Uncle Alexander and baby Mila. It seemed the mummys were about to spend an afternoon of sheer indulgence at the Ferranti Hotel and Spa. Nico and Alexander were in charge of the children, and looking forward to what promised to be a cracking game of soccer between an Italian team and ‘City.’

Bronte picked up a bag of scarlet leather the size of a small town and shoved it on her shoulder. She turned to cast a severe eye upon her husband and her brother. “You know where I am if you need me. Try and keep your ear open for the babies when they wake.”

Nico sent her a slow, sexy smile and waved her away. “Go and enjoy yourselves. Between the two of us and Tonio nothing can go wrong,” he said.”

As she guided them out to the door and down the path to her car, Bronte muttered to her companions, “Famous last words.”

Grace, her auburn curls bouncing on her shoulders and her blue eyes dancing, said, “God, I love Nico’s voice and the way his Italian accent rumbles in his chest.”

When Bronte just laughed, Rosie dug Grace sharply in the ribs. “You’ve been too long without your man. When’s he home?”

“A week today. We’ve missed him. It’s not the same talking everyday on Skype.”

They piled into Bronte’s shiny black Range Rover. As the car sped it’s way through the winding country road, Rosie relaxed in the back seat and wiggled her toes inside her black UGG ankle boots. “I’ve been waiting for this treat for weeks.” She tugged the neck of her T-shirt to check out her girls, and made a face. “Mila’s gobbled up my boobs. I actually had a C cup for about three months.”

Bronte swung the car through the sandstone gates of Ludlow Hall. The car purred up the long winding drive. “You’re lucky. I never had boobs to begin with.”

Grace, studying a glossy leaflet from the Ferranti beauty spa, piped up, “It says here that they offer ‘Breacials’ or breast facials.”

Rose laughed. “Wow, facials for our ta-tas whatever next.”

As Bronte parked the car, Grace continued, “It’s a massage of the breast tissue and surrounding areas, often used in conjunction with lotions, masks, and oils. After a few sessions you can expect perkier breasts (although they won’t make the girls bigger)…”

“Typical,” Rosie muttered as she climbed out.

“However,” Grace added, joining her, “It also says they do deliver glowing skin, may help drain lymphatic fluid and ease pain or tenderness from regular hormonal changes.”

“Sounds kooky to me,” Bronte said as she locked the car, hefted her bag and joined her besties as they made their way up the steps and into Ludlow Hall.

Still reading, Grace said, “Apparently a medical expert in dermatology, cosmetic, and laser surgery says, ‘Draining the lymphatic system helps maintain a balanced body and when applies to breasts, can help with discomfort and increase breast health.'”

“I might just try it,” Rosie said.

“I will if you will,” Grace said.

“How about you?” Rosie turned to Bronte.

“Nah. I have Nico. He keeps my girls pretty perky.”

Meanwhile, back at The Dower House…

In her pink bedroom, Jimmy Chew and Bubblegum were lying on the rug and braving the ministrations of two little girls tying bows between their ears to keep their fur out of their eyes. And Miss Sophia was having a serious talk with Emily…

“I told mama and papa I don’t wanna go and live in Italy.”

Emily’s little face fell and big blue eyes welled up with emotion. “I don’t want you to go to Italy either,” she whispered in her high, breathy voice.

Sophia nodded. “I told them you would be upset.” She waved the brush in the air. “We’re like sistas, like mama and Auntie Rosie.”

Emily sniffed heroically. “We’re besties.”

Sophia nodded, her face fierce. “Yup. And I’m not going to stupid Italy to learn stupid Italian. Papa and Tonio can teach us all the Italian we need.”

Speaking of the Devil, Tonio popped his dark head around the door, his dark eyes twinkling. He opened his mouth and then closed it when he spotted the girls’ handiwork. “Dio mio. You cannot have pink ribbons on boy dogs!”

Sophia sent him a dark look. “They need a trim because they can hardly see. I’d do it myself but mama told me never to touch scissors.”

Tonio entered.

“No wonder,” he said. “The last time you had a pair of scissors, you cut mama’s ponytail and got into Big Trouble.” He wore soft blue jeans, worn at the seams and a replica shirt of his favourite Italian soccer team.

Stung, Sophia fired up. “It was an accident.”

Cheeks pink, in her breathy voice Emily intervened to tell him he’d lost a sock.

Shooting her a grin that caught the little girl’s breath, Tonio tugged off his sock and shoved it in the pocket of his jeans. The way he wiggled his toes and made her laugh.

Hugging Bubblegum to her chest, Emily gazed up adoringly into his face and missed the way Sophia rolled her eyes.

“I can stand on my head,” Tonio told them, and put the words into action.

And of course, the girls had to show him they could stand on their head, too.

By the time they’d finished falling over, their peals of breathless laughter had brought Sophia’s twin Luca into the room to see what all the fuss was about, along with a warning. “You’d better keep it quiet or you’ll wake the babies.”

Tonio nodded. “Si. The game is about to start are you watching it with us?” he asked the girls. Their expression of utter horror made him curl his lip.

“Girls” Luca muttered.

After the boys had left, with Jimmy Chew and Bubblegum hot on their heels, Sophia heaved a deep sigh.

“I forgot!” Emily cried. She spun around to grab her favourite bag—one of Grace’s old handbags—and rummaged around. She held up an item. “Mummy bought me this! It’s a magnifying glass!”

Sophia’s emerald eyes popped. “Wow.”

The next five minutes were spent searching out cool stuff to magnify.

When Emily peered through glass to Sophia’s skin, she muttered, “You have fuzzy chin hair. It’s white.”

Sophia stroked her chin, her eyes wide. “Do I?”

Emily handed her the glass. “Do I have a hairy chin?”

Sophia studied Emily’s chin through the glass. “A little bit. It’s white, too.”

She scrambled to her feet and studied her chin in her dressing table mirror. “I can’t see it here.” Then she spun around. “But, there’s a magnifying mirror in mama and papa’s bathroom.”

She grabbed a white plastic stool and led the way through her parents bedroom and into their huge bathroom. In front of one of the built in sinks, she stepped on the stool and checked out her chin on the extendable mirror. “Oh, yeah. I can see the hair.”

She jumped down and while Emily checked out her own chin, Sophia rummaged around the built in cupboards beneath the creamy marble worktop, and emerged with a can of shaving foam and her papa’s razor.

Emily’s blue eyes went like saucers. “What are you doing?”

Sophia gave her a look that told her she’d just asked a dumb question. “I’m going to shave it off.”

Emily shook her head. “Uh-huh. Nope. My mummy says razors are dangerous to little children.”

“Pooh!” said her sista.

A sista who proceeded to shake the can like a maraca, then pressed the button and a huge blob of shaving foam landed on the counter top. Sophia scooped up the foam in both hands and smeared it over her chin. She turned to a grinning Emily. “I look like Santa Claus!”

But when Sophia picked up the blade, the grin slid from Emily’s little face. “No, Sophia. Don’t do it.”

“Pooh!” However, once she’d made a couple of strokes without disaster, she gained confidence and studied the clean part of her chin in the magnifying mirror. “The fuzz has gone. This is sooooo cooooool.”

She tipped up her chin and tried to copy how her papa shaved his face that very morning. When the shaving foam turned bloody, Sophia dropped the razor, grabbed one of the pristine white cotton towels and pressed it to her face.

“Omigod,” Emily whispered, her freckles dotted like constellations on her white face.

Her legs like jelly, Sophia sat on the white plastic stool, and when she checked out the towel and found it bloody, her eyes rolled back in head and she fainted clean away.

Chanting, “Omigod. Omigod. Omigod.” Emily raced out of the room, down the stairs, through the hall and into the kitchen/dining/living space.

Nico and company, thoroughly enjoying the game, took one look at Emily’s face and muted the flat screen TV on the wall.

“What is it?”

Emily danced a jig in front of him. “She’s bleeding. She’s bleeding. Quick. Quick. Quick.” Then she raced out of the room with Nico, Alexander, Tonio and Luca on her heels.

His heart pounding, his ears buzzing, Nico took in the scene and dropped to his knees in the bathroom and scooped up his baby girl. “Dio, what on earth was she doing?”

“Shaving her beard,” Emily sobbed from the safety of her perch on Alexander’s lap.

Tonio stared at her as if she was crazy. “Girls don’t have beards!”

Dabbing Sophia’s pale and bloody face with hands that weren’t quite steady, Nico was relieved to see the damage was not as bad as it looked. Like Luca, Sophia was not good with blood. He pressed the towel to the wound.

“Does it need stitches?” Alexander asked, then rocked Emily when his question had her wail for her mummy at the top of her voice.

Nico shook his head and lifted the towel to get a better look. “No. However, she has removed a thin layer of skin.”

“Jeez, we can’t turn our back on them for five f… frigging minutes,” Alexander said. “It’s okay. It’s okay, Emily. She’ll be fine. Look, she’s coming round.”

Sure enough, Sophia’s eyelids fluttered madly and then cleared and spotted her papa.

Her emerald eyes filled.

“You are going to be fine,” Nico told her in a rough voice. “Once the bleeding stops, we will put a plaster on your chin.”

“A Frozen plaster?” Sophia asked.

Nico took a deep breath, there was no use in yelling at his child. She’d been frightened enough. “Si. A Frozen plaster.”

By the time he had attended to his daughter, and cleaned the bathroom, Nico reckoned he had earned a Peroni. A large one.

Later, when Bronte and her friends returned to The Dower House, she walked into a scene of peace and tranquillity. Unusually, the room was immaculate. The flat screen was playing the end credits of the movie Frozen, which was nothing new except that the boys and men lined up on the sofa looked a bit glassy-eyed, as if shell-shocked. Nico and Alexander nursed their sleeping baby girls. On a fat love seat of lilac velvet and matching footstool, Sophia and Emily were tucked in together beneath a blanket. Emily had her arm around Sophia and the dogs dozed on the rug.

Bronte frowned at Nico. “Okay. What’s going on?”

He slid a guilty look at his wife and cleared his throat. “Um… we had a small drama. But, everything is fine.”

Sophia turned.

When she spotted the large plaster on Sophia’s chin. A plaster featuring Elsa, the heroine of Frozen blowing a kiss, Bronte’s brows flew into her hairline. “What on earth happened to you?”

“I had an accident in the bathroom.”

“There was blood everywhere,” Luca told his mama. Then he tossed his sister under the bus. “And Sophia fainted.”

Bronte opened her mouth, but Tonio jumped in with, “She was shaving her beard and shaved her skin off instead.”

What?!”

Nico nodded. “Si. With my razor.”

By the time Bronte had checked out her daughter, Rosie shook her head as she cuddled Mila. “Honestly, Sophia Ferranti, what are you going to do next?”

“That’s it,” Bronte said, her eyes burning. “We need to put a lock on our bedroom door.”

Rosie made a face. “Might not be a good idea, knowing them they’ll get hold of the key and probably lock themselves inside and you’d have to break down the door or worse.”

“I think,” Nico said, his deep voice no more than a growl. “She had learned her lesson. She was a brave girl.”

Eyes too bright, Sophia lifted her sore chin. “I didn’t cry. I am Italian!”

 

FINA

Until next time, keep your chin up!

Hehehe.

Hugs,

Christine X

Finally, the Ludlow Hall sneak peek is back….

Join the ferranti family,

 

Guess what I’ve got for you today?

Welcome back to The Ludlow Hall Sneak Peek with Nico, Bronte & Co.

It’s a sunny autumn Saturday morning in The Dower House and Nico Ferranti, his feet bare, dressed in his favorite soft jeans, loose at the waist, and ratty T-shirt stretched tight across wide shoulders, is shaving. Thanks to a six hour delay at Rome airport, he’d arrived home late last night. Too late to kiss his children and baby good night. But not too late to kiss his sleepy wife awake—and of course one kiss led to another and then—his grin went slow and sexy as he lifted his chin to run his razor through white foam. Ah, he was a happy man. A lucky man. Out of the corner of his eye he spotted a movement at the bathroom door. Sophia, wearing her favourite Elsa nightgown and clutching her battered Raggedy Ann to her chest was watching him like a little hawk. His children knew better than to interrupt him when shaving, in case he sliced his face with the old fashioned but lethal blade. His daughter and her twin were nudging towards their seventh birthday and the thought make him shake his head at the way time flew too fast. He rinsed his face, and lifted a white fluffy towel, warm from the heated towel rail, to pat it dry. In the mirror, he caught a glimpse of a few white hairs around his temple. They didn’t worry him. Hadn’t Bronte said he was going to be a sexy white fox? Plus, he worked out regularly. His belly was still flat and hard. Earlier Bronte had explored his belly, and another hard part of his anatomy, and what she called his ‘awesome guns’. Hehe.

“Papa,” Sophia said. “You’re in big trouble.”

Nico blinked, and eyed her in the mirror.

She eyed him right back.

“Considering I’ve been in Rome for three days, I cannot imagine what sin I have committed when I wasn’t even here.”

“You missed Luca’s spelling competition.”

Nico sighed and crouched down to take her little face between his hands and drop a kiss to her nose. “Si. My flight was delayed. Even I cannot grow wings and fly.”

“I know that. But, he came second. It’s a big deal, papa.”

Nico smiled. “Second? Well done, Luca.”

Her face still serious, Sophia nodded, then bonked him on the head with Raggedy Ann.

“He was the youngest boy to reach the final and up against bright sparks,” she said.

“Bright sparks?”

“That’s what auntie Rosie called them.”

“Hmm. I can hear her say it myself.”

She nodded again and said seriously, “Uh huh, auntie Rosie said the word that tripped Luca up at the last damn hurdle was tricky.”

Nico bit down hard on his bottom lip. “What was it?”

“Liaise. He missed out the second i.”

Impressed, Nico studied her face and realized his twins were growing up fast. Maybe too fast. “That is tricky. Did you know how to spell it?”

“No. But I do now.”

He stood, took her hand and they headed for the kitchen for one of his wife’s Saturday breakfasts. “It is always the way with spelling,” he said. “We always remember the mistakes. English is not easy even for people for whom English is their first language.”

As they entered the kitchen/living/family room, the delicious aromas of pancakes cooking on the eight burner stove had Sophia race to take her seat beside her twin. At eighteen months, Eva, still wearing her pink pj’s edged with a frill at the waist and ankles was ensconced in her high chair, her fingers sliding over sliced banana in her pink plastic bowl. When she spotted her father, she forgot her banana, clapped her hands as her fat little legs pumped and she yelled in joy, “Papa!!”

“Good morning, neonata.” Nico took time to bend down for a cuddle and to blow raspberries on her neck, while her hands gripped his hair and pulled.

“Papa!” Luca crowed. “You have banana in your hair.”

Si, your sister likes to make a mess, Nico said in his deep voice, as Luca tossed him a white cotton napkin.

He decided not to tell his son his Spiderman T-shirt was on inside out. Instead, he kissed Luca’s hot cheeks and scrubbed his knuckles over a grinning Tonio’s black curls. Then he headed for his wife who was busy preparing breakfast, admiring the way her tight butt, clad in dark jeans, wiggled to a rock song on the radio. From his position of his dog bed set in the corner of the room, their Bischon Frise, Jimmy Chew, kept an eagle eye on food preparation in case anything dropped to the floor. Nico gave in to temptation and wound his arms around Bronte’s slim waist. She had the figure of a girl. He hugged her tight while he nuzzled his favorite spot on her neck. “Good morning, bella. You smell amazing.”

When Bronte promptly used her spatula to slap his hand that had whipped a piece of crispy bacon from the pan, the Ferranti children howled with laughter.

“Try to pretend you’re civilized, sit at the table and wait until I’ve finished,” she told him.

Unoffended, he crunched the bacon and gave a solid pat to her butt.

Then he did as he was bid and headed to his spot at the head of the table.

When everyone was settled and digging in to a mountain of buckwheat pancakes, bacon, eggs, fresh juices for the kids, and coffee for the adults, Nico took time to simply enjoy the moment.

“I hear you did very well in the spelling competition. I am sorry I missed it,” he said to Luca.

Luca made a face. “I lost.”

“Luca’s really hot on English. I’m hot on Math,” Sophia said.

“I hate Math,” Luca said. “I just don’t get why we’ve gotta learn stupid stuff.”

“Math is not stupid,” Tonio piped up.

“Try not to speak with your mouth full, Tonio,” Bronte reminded him.

Tonio swallowed, shot her grin. “Sorry. But, it is sooooo good. I love your cooking.”

Bronte beamed. “You’re very welcome.”

Nico reckoned Tonio knew exactly how to charm and stay in Bronte’s good books.

He turned his attention back to Luca. “It was a great achievement to come second against a boy who is two years older than you. Well done. I am proud of you.”

Luca’s cheeks flushed. “I wanted to win.”

Si. But again, we cannot win at everything in life. All we can do is give it our best shot and then try again.”

Luca nodded. “I’ll win next time.”

Silence prevailed, until…

“Mama and I have been thinking…” Nico said and waited until he had everyone’s attention. “How do you feel about a move to our villa in Italy and you attend school in Lake Como? Perhaps for a couple of years—to improve your Italian?”

Tonio blinked. “I would like it very much.”

Luca made a face. “I dunno. Do they have spelling competitions in Italy?”

Si,” Luca beat Nico to it.

Bronte caught Nico’s eye and nudged her chin towards a very quiet Sophia who was pushing a piece of bacon around her plate with her fork.

Nico studied his eldest daughter’s body language, the hunched shoulders and dropped chin. Uh oh. “Sophia, bella?”

Sophia lifted her head and met his eye. “No.”

“You do not enjoy our house at Lake Como?”

“I love it. But, I don’t wanna live there forever.”

“It wouldn’t be forever,” Bronte said. “And you would see more of your cousins.”

Sophia made a face. “Yes. But, I’d miss Emily.”

Nico nodded. “Si. But, Emily can visit regularly and you can stay with her in the holidays, too.”

Sophia’s emerald eyes glittered with unshed tears as her chest rose and fell. Her bottom lip trembled. “She’s my best friend. I see her every day. And without me she would be lonely because she has no brothers or sisters. I like my school and my friends and my teacher. I don’t wanna go to Italy.”

Nico exchanged a look with Bronte. “We will think about it,” he said.

Sophia slid from her chair, grabbed Raggedy Ann from the floor and clutched her doll to her chest. The light of battle lit her emerald eyes. “No! I’m not going to Italy. You can’t make me.”

She ran from the room with Jimmy Chew hard on her heels. Child and dog thundered up the stairs, seconds later Sophia’s bedroom door banged.

“That went well,” Bronte muttered.

“If Sophia doesn’t wanna go to Italy, I don’t wanna go,” Luca said, his face fierce.

The twins might bicker, but when push came to shove they looked after each other.

Nico’s brows rose. “We are only thinking about it. No decision has been made.”

Tonio took a break from hoovering up his breakfast. He eyed Sophia’s full plate and stole her bacon. “There is no point in causing a big upset,” he said with a calm wisdom far beyond his years. “I love my football team. And my English is getting better. I am happy anywhere.”

“May I leave the table?” Luca asked his mother.

“Yes. Make sure you’ve done your Math homework by lunchtime. I don’t want a repeat of last Sunday evening’s multiplication drama,” she said severely.

Luca shot her a dark look, but he nodded as he left.

The way his feet dragged a person might think his mother was sending him down the mines to dig for coal.

“He hates Math,” Tonio stated the obvious. “I will help him.”

Nico reckoned the day Tonio had come into their lives had been a lucky day. The boy was kind, hard working, and easy going. “Grazie. When you are finished we will watch football this afternoon.”

Nico saw his wife eye their baby girl.

A baby girl who was holding her breath, her face red as she filled her diaper.

Bronte whipped the baby out of her chair and headed for the nursery and a spot of belated potty training.

“You two clear the table and tidy the kitchen.”

“I reckon we got the best job,” Nico said to Tonio as they worked as an efficient team to fill the dishwasher and wipe down the table and worktops.

“I do not think it is a good idea to make a big upheaval in the twins lives for no good reason,” Tonio said as he polished the glass table to a shine, then placed a goldfish bowl filled with fresh flowers in the middle, exactly as Bronte liked it. “Sophia would miss auntie Rosie, too. They are very close.”

By this stage, Nico wished he had kept his big mouth shut. “It was just an idea. As I said nothing is set in stone.” He eyed Tonio. “You would see more of your uncle Gregorio.”

“I can stay with him during the holidays, or perhaps he can visit with us at Christmas.”

Nico set the dishwasher programme before turning to him. “That is an excellent idea. I will ask him about his plans.”

Tonio moved to the huge velvet sofa set in front of a massive flat screened TV. He picked up the remote control and found the sports channel. “I think he is lonely.”

Nico settled himself in his favorite chair and placed his bare feet on the matching stool.

“He has been a bachelor for too long. He needs a wife.”

Tonio’s black brows rose. “From what I have seen he doesn’t have a girlfriend. Maybe he does not like women.”

Nico knew that Gregorio Ancelotti liked women well enough and enjoyed the company of plenty. However, it was hardly the conversation to have with a ten year old. “However, he is descended from a wealthy Italian family and can trace his ancestors back to the time of the Borgias. He needs to find the right one.”

“Women,” Tonio said. “Are hard work.”

Nico turned amazed eyes upon him. “Some are. But most are easy to live with if a man knows how to handle the woman he loves.”

“The way you handle Bronte?” Tonio said, his dark eyes twinkling with sheer mischief.

Nico shrugged, and sent him a shit-eating grin. “Si. I am Italian!”

 

*Part two of this story coming next week…..*

 

Big hugs, girlies!

Christine X

 

 

All Ludlow Hall single title books available on Google Play books…

GOOGLE PLAY

 

Get it HERE: GOOGLE PLAY BOOKS

Greetings dear readers,

I’m working hard on final edits for NO RULES, working on OUR RULES and the next Ludlow Hall Romance!

The Ludlow Hall sneak peeks will return at the end of August, after the summer break, and I’m looking forward to getting back to ‘normal’.

I hope everyone is having a wonderful summer and chilling out.

Big hugs,

Christine X

Ludlow Nights – new series covers reveal.

twitterheadertherules3

HIS RULES AND HER RULES – READ FREE ON KINDLE UNLIMITED!

BREAK THE RULES AND NO RULES, COMING SOON!

 

Greetings,

The Ludlow Nights books have new covers. Each book stands alone within the Ludlow Nights world. The stories have a younger, romantic comedy vibe, which the awesome Gabrielle Prendergast of Cover Your Dreams has nailed.

Break The Rules is coming soon. I’m looking at early June. The book will be placed in all distributors for seven days to give iBooks and Nook readers a chance to grab it and then the book be available on Amazon only. As soon as it goes live I’ll let you know.

No Rules will be released at the end of July.

#amwriting #amediting

Hugs,

Christine X

It’s Monday, so it must be a Ludlow Hall sneak peek with the Ferranti family…

 

What do you call an Italian father of four gorgeous children_

 

It’s the Dower House with the Ferranti family…

Nico Ferranti walked into The Dower house wanting nothing more than a hot kiss from his wife, a glass of Chianti and a quiet thirty minutes. He’d had a jam-packed day. A guest who’d goosed the ass of a maid had taken up too much of his time and put him behind. Hence why he was late.

The chorus of three children, his children, wailing at the top of their lungs told him he wasn’t going to get his thirty minutes. Not yet.

It shamed him that for three seconds he seriously considered walking back out and letting Bronte deal with whatever incident had set them off. Taking the stairs, he reminded himself that he’d fathered all three—and enjoyed every second of it—he’d do his husbandly duty.

However, when he entered baby Eve’s nursery, he nearly turned tail.

The twins were balling their heads off. While his wife, looking furiously harassed, was dressing a squalling toddler who was fighting every inch of the way. His brows rose. His youngest daughter, usually, was so laid back she was horizontal. But now, Eve was having what appeared to be a major temper tantrum. He studied the evidence. The twins, and every surface was covered in a fine film of talcum powder. A couple of clean diapers were tossed on the floor along with a wet one.

Sophia, his eldest daughter, had one eye on her mother as she made a heroic attempt to squeeze out a tear. Meantime her twin, Luca, had tears streaming down his face. The boy had a very soft heart.

“Which one,” he asked the room at large, “tried to change her diaper?”

Dressed in a footless pink babygro Eve sobbed against Bronte’s neck.

A Bronte who beaned her eldest daughter with a dark look. “Guess.”

Nico turned his head, eyed his daughter who was dressed in a Beauty and The Beast nightgown. “Sophia, cara mia?”

“I was helping.”

He crouched to look her in the eye and smelled toothpaste, soap. “Bed,” was all he said.

Dressed in Ninja Turtles pj’s Luca’s bottom lip trembled as, head down, he slouched away. Sophia, made of sterner stuff, opened her mouth and closed it when he held up a finger.

With a sigh, an eye-flick to her mother, she turned and walked away.

Nico rose, took his now whimpering baby girl from his wife.

“What happened?”

“I was talking on the phone to Rosie, and turned my back for a moment, just a moment. Eve was grumpy and I told Rosie I needed to change her. Then things were quiet. I should have known something was up. When I walked in Sophia had Eve naked on the changing mat on the floor…” she stopped, closed her eyes, bit down hard on her bottom lip. When she opened her eyes they swam.

“God, Nico. What if…”

He placed his sleeping daughter in her crib, turned down the light and led his wife from the room.

“We will both talk to them.”

Together, they brought the twins into their bedroom, sat them side by side on the couch.

He and Bronte sat on the heavy coffee table facing their twins.

“You must never,” Nico began in a tone that meant business and held up a finger when Sophia opened her mouth, closed it. “Ever lift Eve from her cot. If you had dropped her, she might have been badly hurt. When she cries, fetch mama.”

“We help mama with Eve,” Sophia muttered. And Luca nodded his head in solidarity.

Si, and helping is a good thing. But you must never lift her from her cot. Promise me.”

Sophia’s emerald eyes filled, but she nodded and Luca nodded, too.

“And too much talcum powder is very dangerous,” Bronte added. “If Eve or you breathes it into your lungs it can cause a chest infection.” Or worse, she added in her mind.

“It wasn’t me who spilled it,” Sophia said, giving her twin a hairy eyeball.

Bronte fired up. “It doesn’t matter who spilled it. The point is that neither of you should have touched Eve or her diaper or talcum powder.”

 

It took twenty minutes to settle the twins.

Although beneath her comforter, Sophia turned her back to her mama. Little monkey. By the time Nico had changed into his favourite jeans and T-shirt, poured himself a glass of wine and Bronte placed their meal in the oven and set the timer, the pair of them were exhausted.

He opened his arms and his wife stepped into the hug. “God, Nico,” she drew in a deep breath, slowly exhaled.

Rubbing her back, he lay his cheek upon her blonde head and inhaled the wonderful scent of his woman.

“They would never hurt the baby.”

She lifted her head.

Her eyes flew to his. “I know that—”

She buried her face in his neck and closed her eyes.

Eventually, he felt her settle.

“I miss Tonio so much,” she said.

Si. The house does not seem the same without him. But the summer school at Lake Como is good for him. Plus, he is bonding with Gregorio. We cannot keep him to ourselves.”

She moved out of his arms and into the kitchen to check the timer on the oven. “I know I’m being selfish. It is important he retain his heritage and culture. Apart from the fact I miss him desperately, Luca looks up to him and he’s a superb role model for a young boy. Plus, he keeps Sophia out of trouble. I truly think we’ve created a monster at times.”

Nico didn’t think now was a good time to mention that Sophia’s energy and intelligence needed channelling. The last thing he wanted tonight was a heated discussion with his wife about parenting. Over the years, he’d learned the hard way that timing was everything. He kept his mouth shut.

Bronte eyed him over her wine glass. “You look tired. Bad day?”

He nodded. “Si. Had an issue with housekeeping. One of the new maids had a guest lay his hands on her.”

Bronte’s eyes bugged. “Did he hurt her?”

Nico shook his head. “He goosed her ass. She punched him on the mouth. Blood was spilled. He wanted her sacked. Instead, he has been banned from all of my hotels.”

“Was he a regular guest?”

Nico nodded, made a face. “Unfortunately. On this trip he was without his wife and thought he would chance his luck with a young brunette.”

She looked to heaven. “How old was the maid?”

“Eighteen.”

“How old was he?”

“Sixty-five.”

“He should be thoroughly ashamed of himself.”

Nico had to laugh. “She is Susan and Andy Bradshaw’s youngest daughter gaining work experience.”

Bronte’s jaw dropped. “Omigod. The daughter of a senior police inspector.”

Si. When I made the connection clear, our guest beat a hasty departure.”

“I just bet he did.”

“No wonder you look tired.”

Nico sat back on the couch and stretched out long legs. “Si. All I wanted was a kiss from my wife, a glass of wine and a few minutes of peace and quiet.”

Placing her glass on the worktop, she walked towards him.

Emerald eyes dancing, she took his glass, placed it on the coffee table, slid to straddle his lap and wrapped her arms around his neck.

“And you arrived to find chaos reigning.”

He slid his hands beneath her T-shirt to find warm skin as smooth as silk.

And no bra.

He wiggled his brows.

She rubbed her nose against his. “Is that a subliminal signal for a quickie on the couch?”

In a smooth move, he had her on her back and grinned down into her laughing face.

Dio, he adored her.

Si.”

“What about dinner,” she asked breathlessly after a scorching kiss.

“I can multi-task. I am Italian.”

FINE

I’m working hard on Break The Rules and No Rules. Both stories are clicking along quite nicely.

Christine X

It’s the Ludlow Hall sneak peek… featuring Sophia…

here-comes-trouble-its-the-ludlow-hall-sneak-peek

The Ferranti’s are still at Lake Como for their Easter break. Nine year old Tonio, and his best pal from his time at the Jesuit boarding school, Michael, are spending time with his Uncle Gregorio Ancelotti sailing on the lake.

When Gregorio, Tonio and Michael return to the Ferranti villa in the grounds of the Ferranti Hotel & Spa, they find the family preparing for lunch. Bronte and Rosie, with help from Sophia and Emily, are setting a vast long narrow table set beneath a pergola…

Sophia and Emily, wearing white sundresses spattered with yellow daisies over white knee length leggings, turned to eye the new arrival. Michael Baccello was as tall and dark as Tonio, but skinny in a way that made Sophia narrow her eyes. He was handsome, and appeared shy and modest when her papa shook his hand. In fact, she decided there and then he was just about perfect, apart from the hair cut.

Bronte returned Tonio’s hug and ran her hand over his back. “I know you must be starving after your morning on the lake. Tonio, go get changed out of that damp top, give Michael a dry T-shirt and then wash your hands.”

When the boys ran off to do her bidding, Sophia and Emily and Luca were hot on their heels.

“Michael seems a nice boy,” Rosie said, lifting a comatose baby Mila from her papa’s arms and settling her in her stroller in the shade.

Gregorio accepted a glass of red wine from Nico and nodded. “He seems to be. Very quiet. Although he couldn’t get a word in with Tonio constantly asking questions.”

Dressed down in knee length ivory shorts and a black T-shirt that fit him like a glove, Nico nodded. “Tonio has an active, thinking brain. It is like a sponge. His teachers wish to place him in a grade ahead. But I am not certain it is a good idea. He has made firm friends and I do not like the behaviour of some of the older boys. They do not come from good families.”

Gregorio raised a brow. “He will need to learn how to deal with hard choices in life. Perhaps it is never too soon to learn.”

Bronte placed a bowl of salad on the table. “He’s had a hard enough start in life, Gregorio. I want him to settle down and find his feet and understand that we have his back through thick and thin.”

Gregorio’s smile rarely reached his dark eyes, but it did now. “He is a lucky boy to find himself in such a family.”

Bronte shifted to pop a kiss on Gregorio’s dark cheek and smelled the lake. “You are part of his family and now this family. There’s no ‘i’ in team. We work together.”

As she strode past the long table and into the house, Gregorio turned to a watchful Nico and a grinning Alexander. “She is a beautiful woman. You are a lucky man.”

“She made me a better man. She is my life.”

 

***

Meanwhile, Sophia and Emily were sitting cross legged on the floor in the hallway outside the closed door of Tonio’s bedroom. No girls allowed. But that didn’t mean girls couldn’t sit and listen to what was going on inside. Sophia rose to her bare feet and placed her ear to Tonio’s bedroom door. If her mama caught her, she’d be in Big Trouble. “I can’t hear anything. Can you hear anything?” she whispered.

Emily knew better than to earwig, but she placed her ear to the door. “Uh-huh. Nothing.”

Sophia thought for a moment and then her brows rose. “I know where we can go. Come on.”

The girls raced down the hall and out a side door. They crept down a shady path and Sophia pointed to the two open windows, one from Tonio’s bedroom and the other from the bathroom. She hauled herself up on a wide drainpipe and could see the inside of part of the bathroom. Tonio and Luca were washing their hands and discussing what was for lunch. Boy talk. When Emily joined her on the drainpipe, Sophia shushed her. Then they settled down to wait.

Standing in the middle of Tonio’s bedroom Michael rubbed the soft fabric of the Fantastic Four super-hero T-shirt Tonio had handed him. He took a deep inhale of the scent of fabric softener. He gazed around the large room with the fun comforter and pillow on the bed. He’d never seen such luxury or so many interesting books in one place. He had missed sharing a room with his friend Tonio and their conversations long into the night about what they would do in the world when they grew up. He’d wait until Tonio and Luca were finished washing their hands in the attached bathroom and then he’d change. He didn’t want anyone to see the bruises.

He entered the beautifully appointed bathroom with Tonio and gazed in opened-eyed wonder. The bath might fit a football team.  Tonio caught his look and grinned. “A bit different from those dark and cold shower rooms at school, isn’t it?”

Michael nodded. “Si.” He studied Tonio’s face. “This family who care for you, they are good to you?”

Si! Nico is my half-brother, but I call him papa. Gregorio is my mama’s brother.”

Michael frowned. “Sounds complicated.”

Si. But as papa says, such is life.”

After Tonio left, Michael whipped off his T-shirt and turned to check out his back in the mirror. His bones stuck out from his skin. They only hit him where the injuries couldn’t be seen. In his heart, he understood he needed to tell someone soon, or run away. He didn’t know which was worse. The thought crossed his mind to tell Tonio, he was sure his friend would believe him that he had never stolen any money. But would the priests at school? He washed his hands and pulled on the borrowed T-shirt and inhaled the scent. His eyes stung because he longed to keep the T-shirt and keep the scent, but he knew that miracle would never happen. In the mirror he studied the state of his hair, the gauntness of his face and knew that the time had come for him to run.

A very pale Sophia stared into the shocked eyes of her best friend. “Somebody has hurt him.”

“What are we going to do?” Emily whispered, her freckles stood out like paint splatter on her white face.

“We’ll speak to my papa. He will fix it,” Sophia said with a surety that made Emily nod.

“When?”

“After lunch. Did you see him? He is skin and bone and needs a good meal,” Sophia said, channelling Auntie Rosie.

***

Bronte eyed her daughter and Emily.

They’d been almost silent during lunch, which for them was either a miracle, they were sick, or they’d been up to something.

Her eye caught Rosie’s and she jerked her chin towards the two little girls sitting there as if butter wouldn’t melt.

“What’s going on with you two? You’re too quiet and lloking far too serious. What have you done and don’t think to fib because I’m a witch and I can tell,” Rosie said, her eyes twinkling.

Sophia sent her aunt a who-me? look. “We have been very good girls,” she said, while Emily kept her eyes glued to her empty bowl on the table.

“Hmm,” Rosie studied their little faces. “You have a seeeeekrit.”

When Emily’s head popped up to stare at Rosie in awe and wonder, Bronte nearly burst out laughing. Trust Rosie to guess. Ah, well, little girls always had secrets. They’d been young once and had kept plenty of secrets themselves. “Why don’t you both go and play football with the boys and Alexander?”

Sophia shook her head and sent her mama an are-you-kidding-me look. “I hate football.”

Bronte made a face. “Of course you do. How could I have forgotten. Whatever it is you’re up to—the babies are sleeping and papa and Gregorio are having a meeting in his study—do it outside.”

When the two little girls trooped into the garden holding hands, Rosie watched them go with a frown in her eyes. “Something’s brewing.”

Bronte lifted a bottle of white wine from the cooler on the table to top up their glasses. “Doesn’t seem like five minutes since we were that age.”

Rosie took a sip of her wine. “Good times. Good times.”

 

***

Thirty minutes later…

Nico reckoned the family holiday at the Lake had been a great success. One of his goals had been to integrate Gregorio into the family to bond with Tonio. The man still held himself back a little, but he could hardly be blamed for that. Gregorio’s late sister had left a huge emotional and financial mess behind her. However, nothing positive ever came from brooding over mistakes made in the past. The key was to move on, together, to guarantee Tonio’s future was secure.

The soft knock at his study door had Gregorio’s brows rise. Nico frowned, because Bronte had made it clear no one was to disturb them. “Come in,” he said, in a tone that made it clear he was Not Pleased.

When Sophia’s blonde head popped around the door, the pleading look in her emerald eyes and the way her bottom lip was caught between her teeth, told him she was well aware she wasn’t supposed to disturb him. And yet she’d done it anyway.

“What is it, Sophia? Can it not wait a few minutes?”

Her eyes flicked to a serious-faced Gregorio and her face paled a little, but she entered the study, dragging a trembling Emily behind her. At once, Nico’s spidey senses tingled. He rose and walked around his desk to crouch before his daughter and her friend.

He took each of their hands, and smiled. “What is wrong, cara mia?”

Sophia’s eyes stayed rock steady on his. “Papa. Something bad has happened to Michael. He has been beaten. His back is covered in bruises. And he is too thin.”

When Emily burst into tears, Nico lifted them in his arms and moved to the couch to sit with one on each knee.

Gregorio moved to lock the door. He went to the built-in fridge and poured two small glasses of fresh orange juice and placed them on the coffee table in front of the couch. He took a seat.

“Why don’t you tell us exactly what you saw.”

When the girls had finished their story and their juice, Emily’s face was still pale, but her tears were gone.

Nico turned to Gregorio. “Is the boy still living at school?”

Gregorio shook his head. “After what happened to Tonio, I have been sponsoring an outreach programme within the community for the boys with no immediate relatives to be placed with good families. Michael was placed with a large family ten days ago.”

“Then you should make sure little children go to a safe place,” Sophia piped up before her papa could open his mouth.

Gregorio’s eyes grew big, but he nodded. “You are quite right.”

Sophia turned emerald eyes on Nico. “Michael must stay with us tonight, papa. Then Uncle Gregorio can find a safe place for him.”

Nico drew her close for a hug and dropped a kiss on her blonde head. When his baby girl grew up she was going to do great things. “Si. Now, I want both of you to say nothing of this to Michael or Tonio or Luca until I have spoken to mama.”

Sophia took a deep breath, nodded and slid from his knee. She took Emily’s hand. Together, they moved towards the door.

She turned to study the serious faces of her papa and Gregorio. “Do you promise to fix this?”

Both men spoke, “Si.”

***

Hours later…

Rosie lay on her back on a couch in the sitting room, her bare feet resting on Alexander’s lap. “Well, they’re all sound asleep, at last. What a day!”

Face hard, mouth hard, Bronte nodded. “That poor boy. What kind of parents bring up children who beat on a boy so much younger than themselves?”

“Apparently, the father does not spare the rod,” Gregorio said, nursing a cognac. “I am meeting with Father Ricardo who is in charge of the programme. We need better safeguards in place.”

“No system is perfect. There is not much you can do against a liar,” Nico growled. “After they held him down and cut his hair, Michael’s plan was to run away.”

Gregorio paled. “He is close to Tonio. I like the boy. I am preparing to settle here and I am prepared to offer him a home. I have a plan.”

Bronte sent him a narrow-eyed look. “I applaud your need to do the right thing by the child, Gregorio. I doubt the priests will allow him to live with a single man.”

“Who said I will remain single?”

“Ooooh,” Rosie sang into the shocked silence. She wiggled her toes. “Seems there’s a lot of seeeeekrits going around.”

Gregorio’s firm mouth curved in a reluctant smile. “Let us just say my future plans have changed.”

“What’s her name?” Rosie wanted to know.

“Clio.”

Cue another silence.

When Rosie opened her mouth, Alexander tweaked her big toe. He stood and lifted his wife in his arms. “None of your business. Leave the man in peace. It’s time for bed. Let’s see if we can get six straight hours before our daughter decides she wants to play.”

As they left, Gregorio’s face was thoughtful as he watched them go. “Rosie reminds me very much of Sophia.”

“There is a very good reason for that,” Bronte told him. “They bonded when she was a baby. They are like two peas in a pod.”

She gave Gregorio a hug goodnight before she left him and Nico to it.

As a companionable silence stretched, Nico poured another cognac for the road and relaxed in a fat chair of soft suede the color of the liquid in his glass. “A child is a big responsibility and not one you can hand back.”

Gregorio nodded. “I let Tonio down—”

“Nonsense!” Nico interrupted. “Neither of us knew he existed.”

Si,” Gregorio’s deep voice was no more than a growl. “But, she was my sister. I should have—”

Nico sat up, elbows on his knees, and stared into the other man’s eyes and read guilt, shame and a deep regret. “You cannot take responsibility for her behaviour. All we can do is to take care of Tonio. If you want to look after Michael there are other ways to do it. The boy needs a happy home and stability.”

“You think I cannot provide both?”

Nico shrugged. “I have no idea. Who is Clio?”

For a long moment Gregorio didn’t respond, then his gaze met Nico’s and held. “Have you ever made a huge mistake for all the wrong reasons?”

“I did with Bronte. But she loved me and so she forgave me.”

“I doubt very much if Clio could ever bring herself to love me.”

“Ah, but you have feelings for her?”

Gregorio nodded. “I wonder why it took me so long to understand what was happening to me?”

“Love makes fools of us all,” Nico said wisely.

“It is a bit more complicated than that,” Gregorio murmured.

“That, mio amico, is because we are Italian.”

 

FINE

 

Oooooooh, who is Clio?

All y’all are gonna LOVE her and that’s all I am saying.

I’m working on Break The Rules and The Rules – and Gregorio’s story is coming after those and will be set in the Ludlow Hall world, but will stand alone. I’m busy and having the best time.

 

Christine X

HAPPY EASTER TO THE BEST READERS IN THE UNIVERSE. It’s time for a sneak peek…

 

SNEAKPEEKEASTERITALY

Today, the sneak peek takes place at The Ferranti Hotel and Spa in Lake Como where Bronte and Nico and Rosie and Alexander have taken the children, and Emily as company for Sophia, for the Easter break. Alexander is taking the opportunity to do an inspection of the staff at the hotel. Rosie and Bronte have gone for a spot of retail therapy. Nine year old Tonio is spending time with his Uncle Gregorio Ancelotti learning to sail on the lake.

When Gregorio returned Tonio to the Ferranti villa in the grounds of the hotel, he found a lone Nico relaxing on a sun lounger beneath a vast umbrella in the garden doing daddy duty…

Nico had to smile when a windswept and beaming Tonio raced into the garden followed at a more sedate pace by an equally windswept Gregorio. Both wore sneakers, navy knee length cargo shorts and T-shirts.

When Tonio wrapped his arms around Nico’s waist, he received a knuckle scrub on the head for his trouble. “I can see you had a good time. Your T-shirt is damp.”

“I had THE best time,” Tonio agreed. He turned to his uncle Gregorio. “Grazie, for taking me sailing.”

E stato un piacere,” Gregorio said in his deep voice. “My pleasure. You did well at the helm.”

“The helm is how I steered the boat,” Tonio explained to Nico. His bright eyes scanned the garden. “Where is everyone?”

“They are in the rose garden playing The Wedding Game,” Nico told him and bit back a smile at the boy’s obvious dismay.

“Not the Wedding Game. I hate the Wedding Game.”

Since Nico had spent most of the afternoon refereeing Sophia and Emily who wanted a very reluctant Luca to be the groom, he felt his pain. “Go and change your T-shirt.”

When the boy left, Nico opened the cool box and turned to Gregorio. “Beer? The afternoon went well?”

Gregorio took a seat on a sprawling sofa which faced the garden and the lake and mountains beyond. The scent of spring flowers filled the air. He accepted the glass of a full bodied red from Nico and took a sip. “Grazie. Si, even though he never stopped talking, he is good company and a natural sailor.”

Dressed down in knee length ivory cargo shorts and a T-shirt, Nico took a seat and stretched out long bare legs. “He is coming out of his shell and has grown very fond of Bronte and she of him.”

“A family setting has been good for him.” Gregorio frowned and turned enquiring eyes on Nico. “What is The Wedding Game?”

Nico gave him a bland look. “Do not ask.”

 

***

“I don’t wanna marry Emily. I’ve married her eight times already,” Luca said, and tossed the old black jacket and tie that belonged to Nico on the grass. “And I’m not gonna kiss her again.”

Sophia, wearing tea-towel on her head because she was a nun and in her world a nun was reeligis and could marry a couple. She gave her twin a dark look and jerked her chin. “We played super-heroes with you all morning. You said you would play The Wedding Game this afternoon. Fair is fair.”

Luca got into her face and went nose to nose. “Yeah, but a super-hero didn’t do the kissy-kissy stuff. And Emily can’t stop giggling in my face.”

Emily, the blushing bride, said nothing as she watched from the sidelines. She didn’t like dramas. They made her belly feel funny.

Sitting on the grass, fifteen month old Eve picked up the end of the tie and stuffed it in her mouth, all the while her big brown eyes watched the heated debate.

Always willing to pour oil on troubled waters, Emily picked up a drowsy Jimmy Chew. “I’ll marry the dog. He doesn’t mind kisses.”

Sophia frowned at her best friend. “You can’t marry a dog, for goodness sake.”

The arrival of Tonio had Emily blush furiously and hug Jimmy Chew close.

Tonio scooped up Eve and placed her on his hip. “Papa said to come and get a drink and come out of the sun because it’s too hot to play The Wedding Game.”

“Yay!” Luca didn’t need to be told twice and whooped as he raced across the lawn.

Sophia yanked the tea-towel from her head. “Oh well, I expect it is too hot for this. I wonder if papa will let us have a little piece of our Easter eggs?”

Tonio shook his head. “No. Bronte said no chocolate until after supper time and only if we eat our vegetables.”

Sophia sent him a look of utter disgust. “That’s blackmolling little children.”

“Blackmailing,” Tonio corrected.

“Whatever,” she snapped and quoted her Auntie Rosie. “It’s still against the law of the land.”

“My uncle Ethan,” Emily began in her breathy voice. “Is a policeman. He carries a gun. We should tell him.”

Sophia stared at her very hard. “I don’t want anyone to shoot my mama.”

Tonio jiggled Eve who was doing her level best to yank his hair out by the roots. “I cannot believe you two. Bronte is only making sure we eat the correct food groups so we receive all our vitamins and minerals to make our bones grow and give us a healthy skin. It is not as if broccoli is going to kill you. And then you can have chocolate.”

Emily nodded wisely, popped a kiss on Jimmy Chew’s head. “He’s right.”

Still not looking convinced, Sophia turned to her best friend. “Don’t say anything to your uncle.”

“Okay,” Emily agreed.

After the children had scoffed fresh orange juice and cookies, they decided to play statues, which left Nico and Gregorio to relax and discuss the financial management of Tonio’s vast property portfolio left to him by his late mother. The children were busy with their game. The two men were deep in discussion. No one noticed when Eve, on her hands and knees, powered into the house with Jimmy Chew hot on her heels.

 

 

***

Twenty minutes later…

Sophia and Emily wandered into the house to wash their hands, before mama and Auntie Rosie returned from shopping. It was their turn to set the table for supper. When they entered the kitchen-living-dining space, Sophia stopped dead and her eyes popped from her head.

Omigod,” Emily’s whisper was filled with awe and wonder.

Sophia raced outside. “Papa!!” Sophia yelled, the panic in her voice loud and clear.

Nico and Gregorio were on their feet. “What is it?”

Sophia’s face was pale. “Eve and Jimmy Chew. Papa, they’ve got… the Easter Eggs.”

Nico and Gregorio and the boys entered to find Eve sitting on the floor with two huge boxes of large chocolate eggs in pieces. The child was covered in head to toe in dark chocolate, 86% fair-trade cocoa. Her cotton romper had been white once upon a time. And Jimmy Chew was heroically licking her toes making her squeal and gurgle with laughter.

Dio mio,” Gregorio whispered.

Nico swallowed language not fit for little ears. After glancing at the clock, they didn’t have much time, he clapped his hands. “Tonio – go and fill a bath with warm water. Emily – go and get a change of clothes and a diaper for the baby. Luca – pick up the chocolate, foil paper and rubbish and put them in the bin. Gregorio – pour us a drink.”  He made his way carefully through pieces of melted chocolate on the floor until he stood over his baby girl. “Ah, il mio bambino, if your mama could see you now she would kill your papa.”

Nico lifted the baby and was immediately covered in black chocolate. Jimmy Chew, heroically licking the floor, was in seventh heaven. Nico could only hope the dog wasn’t sick as a… dog.

 

Twenty minutes later, Bronte and Rosie strolled through the door with baby Mila in her stroller and her daddy bringing up the rear laden down with bags and boxes.

Bronte surveyed the scene: the dining table was beautifully set, with napkins! And the children were sitting quietly watching the cartoon of Beauty and The Beast, the volume turned low. Probably because Eve was snoozing in her papa’s arms.

She noticed that Gregorio, strangely, seemed riveted on the movie, too. Bronte narrowed her eyes as she studied her husband and baby girl. “Those aren’t the shorts or T-shirt you were wearing when I left this morning. And Eve’s wearing one of her best dresses,” she muttered. When no one looked her in the eye, she folded her arms and cocked her hip. “Okay, what happened?”

Rosie came to stand at her side, her dark eyes dancing. “When the cat’s away the mice will play. What have the mice been up to?”

“It was all Sophia’s fault because she wanted to play The stupid Wedding Game, and then we played statues because I didn’t want anymore kissy-kissy” Luca began. “Which meant we didn’t notice Eve and Jimmy Chew were missing…”

“Missing?” Bronte’s head spun on her shoulders, at bit like a scene from the Exorcist, to stare hard at Nico and Gregorio.

Nico sent Luca a dark look. “Not missing, exactly. The children were playing…”

“And what, exactly, were the two adults doing?”

“They were drinking beer,” Sophia said, tossing a wide-eyed Gregorio and her papa into the fire without a blink. “Emily and I found her and Jimmy Chew eating Easter eggs.”

“Yeah, and you should have seen the big mess they made,” Luca added helpfully.

Bronte simply stared unblinking at the two men sitting on the couch until they wriggled beneath her scrutiny. “I cannot say I am surprised by you, Nico Ferranti. But, Gregorio Ancelotti, I am surprised at you.” And with that she picked up her baby girl and walked out.

Nico stood and turned to his twins. “Do neither of you understand the meaning of loyalty to la famiglia?”

Rosie slid into a dining chair and sat back to enjoy the show.

Sophia, still dressed as a bride, ignored her papa’s outrage, looked him in the eye and lifted her chin. “We’re not responsible. You are the adult here, papa. We’re just little children. You did your best. We all learn from our mistakes.”

“Wash your hands before dinner!” Bronte yelled from the hallway. The children were up and out of the room in about three seconds.

“Phew. Is this what family life is like?” Gregorio wanted to know.

Rosie grinned at him. “It is in this house.”

Gregorio stood. “I should leave. I think Bronte is not happy with me.”

Nico shook his head, put an arm around his shoulders for a man-hug. “Nessun problema. When she yells at you it means she loves you. You are la famiglia. We are Italian.”

Happy Easter!

 

Christine X

It’s sneak peek time at Ludlow Hall…

 

It's the Ludlow Hall Sneak Peekcappuccino

The Dower House on a soggy Saturday afternoon…

Nico, Alexander and the boys, wearing their usual day off uniform of soft jeans, sweatshirts and socked feet (not parked on the coffee table) are slumped on the sofa.

The expression on their faces, abject misery, made Rosie—who’s wearing a white apron of heavy cotton over her leggings and one of Alexander’s university sweatshirts—grin and shake her head. “Would you just look at them? You’d think the world had ended all because United missed a penalty and got a man sent off.”

Bronte, wearing an apron over black jeans and matching short sleeved T-shirt, glanced at their men and her eyes went soft. “At least it’s kept them quiet for five minutes. Taste this batter.” She offered a spoon, watched Rosie lick the end. “What do you think? Too much salted caramel? Not enough? Too much white chocolate? Does it need extra walnuts?”

The girls are experimenting with a new mini muffin recipe.

Rosie sent her a steady look. “Which question do you want me to answer first? I don’t know why you stress about this stuff, it tastes awesome. Not too sweet. I love it.”

“Okay.” Bronte dropped the spoon in a jug, picked up a pen to make notes on a pad. “Being good enough is not good enough, I want it to taste amazing.”

“I’ve decided you have a touch of OCD. I’m thinking the silver paper cases will look good in white glossy boxes with silver ribbon.” Rosie jotted the idea down in her notepad.

“The bride wants gold.”

Rosie didn’t do an eye roll but it was a close run thing. She scored out the note and began again. “Fine! Gold paper cases in white glossy boxes with gold ribbon.”

“She wants black boxes.”

Rosie stared hard at Bronte. “Black at a wedding?”

“It’s her second time and she wants what she wants.”

“I want pink at my wedding,” a little voice piped up from Rosie’s elbow.

She turned to find a little girl in bright yellow silk dressed up as… a princess… a fairy… a…

“I’m Belle,” Emily said, correctly reading the confusion on Rosie’s face.

“Ah,” Rosie said, and grinned. “Hello, Belle. Where’s the beast?”

“She doesn’t like being the beast. The mask is too hot and messes up her hair. So we’re going to share Belle. I’m the wedding Belle and Sophia will be the spirited headstrong village Belle.”

“Staying true to character, huh? Good thinking, Wedding Belle.”

The sound of a little voice singing Tale As Old As Time came down the wide, curved hall stairway. The purity of the sound had Rosie beam at a teary-eyed Bronte. “Jeez, she’s not exactly Celine Dion, but that girl’s got a good set of pipes on her.”

Village Belle glided into the room on bare feet, wearing an outfit that wouldn’t look out of place in the Sound of Music.

Wedding Belle nodded in agreement. “She should put it on YouTube. I bet she’d get plenty of hits. I could record her on my iPhone.”

“Yes! I could be a sensation and make lots of money,” Village Belle cried.

Before Bronte could open her mouth to nix that bright idea in the bud, a stunned looking Rosie blinked at Wedding Belle. “Your mother got you an iPhone?”

Wedding Belle nodded. “An iPhone 7 Plus. I can throw it in a river and it won’t break.”

Rosie gave her a hard stare. “Well, the only river around here is the river Ludlow and I don’t recommend you throw it in there because you’ll never see it again.”

Wedding Belle grinned. “Of course I won’t throw it in a river. It’s a key feature.”

Rosie bent down to go eye to eye with a little sprite with dancing blue eyes, a constellation of freckles on her pretty face and a mass of red curls. “Key feature, eh? How old are you again?”

“I’m six.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes.”

“Well, I think you might be six going on twenty-six.”

“Papa won’t let me have an iPhone,” Village Belle said, sliding a none-the-wiser Nico a dark look.

“I am not having this conversation with you again, Sophia,” her mama told her in a tone that warned her to cease and desist.

Village Belle received the message loud and clear. “When I’m a big girl I’ll have an iPhone 7.”

“By the time your a big girl,” her Auntie Rosie began. “They’ll be obsolete, and we’ll all communicate via a brain implant tucked behind our ear.” When three sets of big eyes stared at her with awe and wonder, Rosie shrugged. “Anything’s possible. We already have virtual screens and keyboards and just think, no one will be able to steal our phone.”

Fascinated, Bronte stared at her. “You know, that sort of makes a lot of sense.”

“Don’t look so surprised,” Rosie said. “I do have a brain.”

“Do I smell muffins?” Tonio said, his eyes examining the two Belles with interest.

“They’ll be ready in about ten minutes,” Bronte told him as she turned to check one of her ovens.

 

Meanwhile, six year old Wedding Belle studied the very handsome ten year old Tonio from beneath her lashes.”I love it when you speak Italian, Tonio. Say something.”

Village Belle and Auntie Rosie sent Wedding Belle an are-you-kidding-me look that made her face hot.

Tonio grinned like a fool.

Cappuccino,” he said in a long, deep drawl sounding like just Nico.

Rosie and Bronte burst out laughing.

“Tonio!” Wedding Belle pouted.

His face went very serious. “Okay—Machiatto.”

When Village Belle giggled, Wedding Belle sent her a filthy look. “Tonio Ferranti…” she began.

Tonio looked to heaven, then his dark gaze met Wedding Belle’s and held.

He said softly,  “Marocchino, bella.”

Wedding Belle blushed furiously.

Still laughing, Bronte pulled the tray of mini muffins from the oven and set them on a wire rack to cool.

Tonio’s eyes went wide as Luca and Nico and Alexander traipsed over to sniff the air like starving wolves.

“Did I hear someone mention a variety of coffees?” Nico said, his knuckles scrubbing the top of Tonio’s black curls.

The boy beamed, his dark eyes dancing with mischief. “I was teaching Emily Italian.”

Nico turned to a furiously blushing Wedding Belle. “Si? Sei molto bella,” he drawled, his voice deep and low. A tone that brought the child’s fingers to her mouth, her blue eyes wide.

“What did you say?” she whispered.

Nico crouched down to take her hand. “I said, you look very beautiful.”

When little Emily sighed in dreamy-eyed delight, Bronte shook her head and turned to Rosie. “That child doesn’t stand a chance, does she? Tonio will have her eating out of his hand.”

Rosie sniffed and watched her nephew with narrowed eyes. “I wouldn’t be too sure of that if I were you.”

Nico, his eyes merry, watched the two Belles and Tonio and Luca dig into their mini muffins. “He is a good boy. He is Italian.”

 

 

***

 

Hehehe.

And it’s a Cappuccino from me!

Don’t forget you can grab the 2016 book of sneak peeks from my author library HERE.

Thank you so much for the feeback. I’m thrilled you’re enjoying it so much.

 

Christine X