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

Ludlow Hall sneak peek book is in my reader library – grab it now

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READER LIBRARY LINK

I’m thrilled to bring you the 2016 sneak peeks in one book, all thirty of them.

Enjoy!

Christine x

RING THE BELLS OF CHRISTMAS! IT’S THE LUDLOW HALL SNEAK PEEK

 

a-ludlowhall-xmas-special-sneak-peek

Greetings, peeps!

It’s that time of year when teary-eyed parents cram into school halls to watch the annual nativity play, and the Ferranti family is no different.

Enjoy!

***

The family-kitchen-living space at The Dower House smells of ginger chocolate chip cookies, freshly brewed coffee… and glue.

Bronte, Rosie, Janine and Emily’s mum, Grace are working hard with scissors, yards of thin rope and crisp white cotton sheets—donated for the cause by Nico’s housekeeping staff at Ludlow Hall.

Red curls pinned in a top knot on top of her head, dressed in black leggings and an old cotton shirt of her husband’s to protect her clothes, Grace focuses on the job at hand. “It’s really kind of the hotel to give us old sheets to make sheep and shepherd outfits,” she mutters as she pins two oblong pieces of cotton together to make a simple tunic, leaving space for a child’s head and arms. She turns to a Janine who’s doing the same thing with her fabric. “And thanks for this template. What a genius idea. How do you think up this stuff?”

Rosie, wearing thermal leggings and one of Alexander’s old short sleeved T-shirts over her sweater, lifts two big plastic bags filled with cotton wool balls onto a huge folding table erected next to closed bifolding doors showcasing the stunning winter garden. Another smaller table set at angle holds a large pot of glue with brushes. She sets out a stitched and hemmed tunic on the table, smoothes the fabric and places a pre-made template filled with accurately spaced circles on top, and marks a dot in the middle of each circle. Then she takes a cotton wool ball, dabs glue on it and presses it to the fabric and repeats the process on the front and the back of the tunic. Voila, the beginning of a sheep. “Because she’s a hugely talented creative. Have you seen Boo’s new bedroom? It is beyond amaze balls. The child sleeps and plays in her own magical world with fairies and twinkling stars watching over her. I love the way the white fluffy cat peeks out from behind the gingerbread house.”

Wearing painter’s white cotton coveralls over her jeans and T-shirt, Janine grins. “Boo makes Josh kiss the cat before bedtime. He’s besotted with her. How are you getting on with the glue and cotton balls?”

“Aw, I love Josh. I’m doing good.” Rosie eyes a Bronte who’s busy fingers fiddle with black and white shaped ears from thick felt as she machine stitches them together. Then she pins the ears to a thick black velvet headband, glues a flat piece felt to the top of the hair band and pops the headband over to Rosie’s table for her to glue more cotton balls to the white felt on the top. Voila—sheeple. “Wow, the ears looking amazing. Wait ’till the kids see these outfits. They’re gonna go nuts.”

Bronte smiles as she returned to her kitchen table to stitch together another set of ears. “All this is a far cry from our nativity play. Do you remember what our nativity was like when we were five?” she asks Rosie.

“Sure do. I was a cardboard tree with green arms and gloves as branches and on my head I wore a twig hat made by my mother. It itched like hell. My role certainly lacked glamour,” Rosie says, deadpan. When the girls laugh, she shakes her head. “My mother was gutted because she wanted me to be an angel—as if that was ever gonna happen. With Mrs. Mottershead as my teacher she’s lucky she didn’t make me one of the stars in the sky. Rosie sends Bronte a side-eye. “Of course, Ms Butter-wouldn’t-melt-over-there was an angel.”

Bronte sends her wide eyes and a big toothy smile. “I’ll have you know that, unlike you, I was a perfect angel.”

Rosie nods, takes care to place another cotton ball on the correct spot on the tunic. “It was the cardboard wings, the steel coat hanger wrapped in silver tinsel as the halo and all that long blonde hair. Then the awesome white cotton nightgown with the high frilly cuffs and collar your mother bought in the children’s department in Harrods. I remember being sick with jealousy over that nightie.”

Bronte just laughs. “Not for long, my mum had bought you one as part of your Christmas gift. You cried happy tears and Alexander gave you a cuddle.”

Rosie nods as she makes short work of another tunic. “Yep. I knew even then that I adored him. Then once I stopped crying, he ate half of my selection box of chocolates as payment. Even then he had a business brain. Bastard.”

Grace does a quick recce around the room to check for her daughter and her best friend. “Little eyes and ears, Rosemary, with big mouths.”

“More like little monsters,” Rosie says severely. “They’re upstairs watching Kung Fu Panda in Tonio’s room. That boy will keep them on the straight and narrow. I love Tonio.”

“Yup,” Janine says as she pins more templates to white and black thick felt and cuts out another dozen sheep ears. “He’s settled in well. You and Nico are doing a great job with him, Bronte. He’s so happy.”

Bronte nods as her foot presses down on the sewing machine pedal on the floor beneath the table. “He’s had his moments. I try to have one-on-one time with him a couple of times a week. He helps me with the grocery shopping. As a reward, we stop at the coffee shop to have a hot chocolate and a cookie. It’s the perfect time for me to listen to his day.”

“Is he in the nativity?” Janine asks.

“He’s the narrator.”

Grace rolls her eyes. “A narrator of the nativity with a wonderful Italian accent. All the girls will be swooning. My Emily is besotted with Tonio, and he’s so patient with her, poor boy.”

Rosie shakes her head while Janine laughs. “I don’t know about that. Emily’s not stupid, even if she is a sheep in the play.”

“She’s shy and perfectly content to be one of many,” Emily’s mum says. “She hates the spotlight.”

“Can’t say the same about Sophia,” Bronte mutters beneath her breath.

“What’s up with my favorite niece?” Rosie asks, picking up her friend’s dark tone.

“She wants to be Mary. But, Miss Brown has made her the innkeeper’s wife. In response, my daughter told her teacher she’s a feminist and isn’t ever gonna marry, so it will look bad for the innkeeper to live in sin with a woman. What would God think?” Bronte says. While her friends laugh out loud, she moves into the kitchen to prepare another pot of coffee and set a plate of her homemade ginger and dark chocolate cookies on a plate. “Miss Brown told her that since she’s the boss, she decides who will be Mary, end of.”

Swiping tears from her cheeks, Rosie takes a deep breath. “And what did my favorite niece have to say to that?”

Filling up their coffee mugs on the countertop, her friends gather around and grab a cookie, Bronte shakes her head. “She thought about it for a while, then nodded, and said, ‘Okay. But, since it is MY inn and my papa works in the hospitality industry, I’ll have a room cancellation so the baby Jesus in MY nativity won’t be born in a smelly old barn with sheep and cows and poop.”

Janine laughs so hard she chokes on her cookie. “Omigod. She’s re-writing the Christmas story? What did the wonderful Miss Brown say to that?”

“That maybe the world could learn a lesson from the innkeeper’s wife’s kindness to Mary and Joseph.”

Rosie nibbles on a cookie. “Wish we’d had a teacher like Miss Brown. I bet she’s thrilled about the way we’re all mucking in to make costumes. In our day it was headgear made of tea cloths.”

Bronte nods. “I think it helps to take a little of the pressure off Miss Brown at this time of year. The way she keeps on smiling through the kid’s fevered excitement about the visit from Santa, the woman deserves a medal. She’s organizing each child in her class to bring in a wrapped gift for kids who are in hospital over the holiday, and for children less fortunate.”

Rosie’s black brows wing into her hair. “Ah, that’s what Alexander and Nico were on about. I know the Ludlow Hall team organize food hampers for the elderly living alone in town. But, I heard them making plans to give kids who have nothing a box of goodies, too.”

Looking thoughtful, Janine bit into a cookie. “That’s what the spirit of Christmas is all about. Remember the time I dropped the baby Jesus and the entire audience gasped in shock? Good job he was a doll.”

Rosie grins. “I remember that. I also remember you ran off the stage hand-in-hand with the donkey.”

“The following year they had a real donkey and it peed all over the manger and fused the lights because there wasn’t enough straw to cover the wooden stage,” Bronte says, her emerald eyes all dreamy with happy memories. “Those were the days.”

Grace checks the watch on her wrist. “Better get back to it. I’ve counted eight black long sleeved roll neck T-shirts and eight pairs of black tights. The sheep will wear their black plimsolls. I think we need black woollen mittens, too.”

Bronte makes a note of the mittens, fires up her laptop and goes online. “Eight pairs? Maybe we’d better make it ten, just in case they lose a glove.”

By the time they were all done and dusted and cleaned and tidied the room, eight perfect sheep costumes were complete and boxed ready to be taken to school the next day.

By the time Nico strolls through the door, the kitchen smells of a Ferranti family favorite, home-baked Italian meatballs and pasta. All bathed and ready for bed in her onesie, Baby Eve sits in her high chair. When she sees her papa, she beams a toothy smile and bangs her plastic sip cup on her plastic tray. As he carefully rolls his silk tie, tucks it in a pocket before tossing the jacket over the back of the couch, Nico grabs his baby girl for a hug and a kiss on her hot cheek. By the time the baby nuzzles her face into his neck, Bronte grins and lifts her mouth for his kiss.

“Had a good day?” he asks the love of his life.

“Yep. We had a team effort on the sheep costumes. They look fabulous, Nico, I hope you’re able to make the play.”

He pops Eve into her high chair, offers her a squeaky toy which is accepted with a beaming smile. Then Nico heads to the fridge for a bottle of white pinot. He grabs a couple of glasses from a glass cabinet. “Si. Wouldn’t miss it. Alexander’s making time for it, too.”

When Bronte’s eyes go all shiny, he sets down his glass and moves in to hold her. “Hey, what is this?”

She sniffs and wraps her arms around his waist and inhales the scent of her man. “It’s nothing really. It’s just they’re all growing up so fast. I wish my parents had lived to see our family.”

“It’s Christmas. It always makes us sad to think of those we have lost. I know you find this time of year hard at times.”

Bronte shifts to look up into his amazing face. “He never speaks of her. Do you think Tonio misses his mother?”

He frowns. “From what the good father has told me, she sent the boy money and gifts, but she didn’t visit him.”

“I don’t know how a woman could do such a thing to her child, Nico,” Bronte whispers.

He rests his cheek on her hair. “She is dead, cara mia. Tonio is happy here, with us.”

“I’ve been thinking we should invite Gregorio Ancelotti to spend Christmas with us. Tonio is his only living relative. They need to bond.”

When the rumble of his laugh echoes against her cheek, she looks up. “What’s so funny?”

“I spoke to Gregorio today and invited him myself. However, he wants to stay at Ludlow Hall.”

Anxious emerald eyes stare into his. “But, we have plenty of room.”

Si. However, we must respect his wishes. Perhaps the man needs his space. Let us take little steps, cara mia.”

“Okay.” She reaches up a hand to run her fingers through his hair, happy to mess up his sartorial perfection. “How come you can read my mind?”

Before Nico answers his mouth captures hers in a hungry kiss that makes her toes curl inside her thick socks. When he rests his forehead on hers, Nico’s marvelous mouth curves. “What do you expect, I am Italian!

 

FINE

Ooooh, a visit by Gregorio, sounds like a story to me.

*Evil laugh*

ChristineX

 

It’s Monday and time for another slice of Ludlow life…

thedomesticgoddess

 

 

Greetings from a cold and crisp UK!

It’s time for another Ludlow Hall sneak peek!

***

The family-kitchen-living space in The Dower House…

All relaxed and spread out on swanky velvet couches the color of lilacs in bloom and with their feet up on fat matching footstools, Bronte, Rosie and Emily’s mummy, Grace, are enjoying a coffee break, exquisite white chocolate chip cookies made by the Domestic Goddesss (Bronte)… and girly chat.

Dressed down in long yoga pants and a matching hoodie the color of blueberries, Rosie’s breast feeding baby Mila. “I really put my foot in it with Nico,” she says, still feeling bad about the upset with her niece.

Rocking Eve on her shoulder, who’s in a milk-induced coma, Bronte sends Rosie a sympathetic look. “We’re both at fault and need to remember Sophia’s super-bright for her age. You recovered well, though. My daughter believes she’s a warrior-woman…”

Grace grins. “Yep, without a magic sword like Xena. Emily told me all about it.”

Rosie shifts a slack-jawed Mila to rest her dark head on the terry towelling diaper over her shoulder, and gently rubs and pats her back. When a deep burp emerges and the baby’s eyes open, Rosie attaches her to the other breast, softly stroking a finger down her daughter’s satin cheek. The sound of her baby suckling makes her smile. “When she’s feeding, Alexander calls her Jaws.”

Dressed in skinny jeans and a black cashmere polo neck sweater, Grace laughs, even as her blue eyes go sad. “I’d have loved at least one more. But, it wasn’t to be.”

Bronte shifts to place Eve on the soft mattress of her travel cot-playpen. She places a thermal blanket over her sleeping daughter. After she hands Rosie a glass of water, and tops up Grace’s coffee from the pot, she turns to her friend. “Have you thought of adopting?”

Grace nods. “We’ve looked into it. But, the whole process is terribly complicated. And now  Brian’s been made Managing Director, he’s globe-trotting more often these days. Next week, he’s travelling to China for three weeks. He doesn’t want me alone carrying the burden of integrating a baby or young child into our family.”

“Makes sense,” Rosie says.

Grace nods. “We’re so lucky to have Emily. I don’t get sad very often. But your beautiful babies do make me terribly broody.”

Bronte sits, lifts socked feet onto a stool and crosses her ankles. Today she’s wearing black leggings and an oversized black sweatshirt with Yummy Mummy printed on the front. Her ash blonde hair is tied in a messy top-knot. “It’s a funny old life, isn’t it? When I was engaged to Jonathan and learned I may never have children, I thought my whole life was over.”

Rosie tucks her breast in her bra, settles Mila on her shoulder to rub her back, and slants her best friend a look. “You had a lucky escape there.”

When the baby burps, Grace holds out her arms for a cuddle. “Gimme.” Rosie hands her daughter over to her friend. Then grins as she pops a kiss on her baby girl’s hot cheek. As far as she’s concerned, a child can’t receive too much love.

Cuddling the precious bundle, Grace makes herself comfy on the couch. Her smile is wide as she eyes Rosie and Bronte. “I never did hear the whole story. What happened?”

Rosie settles back on the couch. “Bronte was engaged to Jonathan for about year when she learned she had endometriosis, and may not have children. At first he was supportive, blah-blah-blah. They say bad news comes in threes. It was a horrible time. After her mum and dad were killed, we learned the whole estate was up to its ears in debt. To pay taxes, Alexander sold Ludlow Hall to Nico to build a Ferranti Hotel and Spa. Meanwhile, Jonathan was having a hot affair with Annabel and got her pregnant.

Grace’s jaw is on the floor. “No way,” she whispers, her eyes wide.

Rosie nods, makes a face. “Yes, way. Together, Bronte and I pooled all our monies, and set up Sweet Sensations. Then we worked like dogs for two years until we were in the black. Then Bronte met Nico, and the rest, as they say, is history.”

Grace turns to Bronte. “Even with endometriosis, you managed to have three children?”

Bronte’s emerald eyes dance. “Yup. That man just has to look at me and I’m pregnant. Believe it, there’s no one more shocked than me.”

“Or me,” Rosie says. “Next thing I know they have the twins. And I think we can safely say life has never been the same.”

“Out of the worst of times came the best of times,” Grace whispers softly.

“Yes. Although I admit I didn’t make it easy for Nico,” Bronte confesses.

Grace grins. “So, how did you two meet?”

When Rosie bursts out laughing, Grace turns to her. “I sense a story.”

“And it’s a loooooong story,” Rosie says, her dark eyes dance with sheer wickedness. “Nico caught her climbing out the window of the ladies toilet to escape the blind date from hell. Of course, he thought she’d been stealing. He frog-marched her into Alexander’s office and emptied her bag on his desk.”

Bronte shakes her head. “Yup. And someone had put a box of fruit flavoured condoms—extra large—in my bag. Of course, Alexander and Nico thought the worst of me… it’s not that funny, Rosie.”

Her best friend can’t help but roar with laughter at the memory. “It was hilarious. The chemistry between them then was combustible. And it’s combustible now. And Nico laid it right on the line, told her he didn’t want a wife or a family. Oh, how the might have fallen.”

Grace’s smile is wide as she shakes her head. “How long did it take for him to ask you to marry him?”

“Six weeks,” Rosie says.

Grace’s eyes pop. “Wow!”

Bronte wrinkles her nose, stands up, and leans down to pick up her baby girl. She sniffs her padded bottom and makes a face. “Oops, someone needs changing.”

Grace studies a red-faced baby Mila. “I think someone else does, too.”

Rosie’s on her feet and reaching for her daughter. “Come on upstairs and see the mural Janine painted in Eve’s room. I want one for Mila.”

 

As the friends walk out of the room, all is quiet. Until up pop two little fairies from behind the couch. Their plastic tiaras set at an awkward on their head, Sophia and Emily gaze at each other with big eyes.

“Wow,” whispers Emily. “Your mummy was engaged to Richard Winthrop’s daddy?”

“I can’t believe it,” a pale-faced Sophia says.

“If they ever find out we heard their conversation, we’ll be in BIG trouble,” whispers Emily. Her mummy’s recent warning about listening into adult conversation clear in her mind.

Still in shock, Sophia nods. “We mustn’t ever tell anybody, EVER.”

Emily nods, offers her hand. “Shake on it.”

“We’ll do what Tonio and Luca do when they make a pact,” Sophia says, and spits on her palm.

Emily makes a face, but spits on her palm too. They clasp hands. “We’re sistas!” she says.

Sophia wipes her palm on the pink tulle of her fairy princess dress. “Want a juice? she asks, heading for the fridge with Emily hot on her heels.

By the time both perch on high stools next to the island worktop, sucking down a homemade strawberry smoothie, Emily’s eyes go wide. “What’s a blind date?”

Sophia shakes head and opens the lid of her mama’s special cookie tin. “Dunno. Whatever it was it was from hell.”

“Maybe we should ask Tonio,” Emily says, with hope sparking brightly in her blue eyes.

Sophia stares hard at her friend. “I think you’re in love with Tonio.”

Emily’s copper curls bounce as she frantically shakes her head. “Nope. I thought about marrying him. I’ve changed my mind.”

Since this was news to Sophia, she sits up straight as her brows wing into her hair. “What’s wrong with Tonio? All the girls love him.”

Emily nods. “Exactly! He’s too much for me to handle.”

After a quiet moment of reflection, Sophia nods, offers her pal an oatmeal and raisin cookie from the tin. Deep in thought, the girls nibble on a cookie.

“You could be right about that,” Sophia says. “After all, he is Italian.”

 

FINE

 

Ah, little girls with big ears and big mouths equals big trouble ahead.

The next Golddigger short story, GLORY, will be released at the end of January 2017 and then one per month.

This author is taking a short break over the festive period. However, the Ludlow Hall sneak peeks will still wing their way to you each Monday.

Big hugs,

Christine X

It’s the Ludlow Hall sneak peek…

agirlneedssome-lovetoday

 

Happy Tuesday,

I’ve crawled out of my sick bed to bring you this week’s sneak peek a day late. I’m painting a red cross on our front door. Three of us are down with ‘flu, full blown and horrible. Forgive any errata. My brain is fried.

 

***

With Alexander as his wingman, Nico’s driving his glossy black Range Rover doing daddy duty. He’s going through a mental check list to make sure he’s not missed anything. The guys have had a busy and productive day. Signed a new deal with the Spanish Ortiz hotel group—check. Then they hit Ludlow Hall’s gym and treadmills to see who’d complete five miles first, Alexander won by a hair—check. Pick up Tonio from after-school science club—check. Swing past a birthday party (another one) to pick up Sophia and Emily—check. Now, they’re on their way to The Dower House where Emily’s having a sleepover with her best friend.

While Alexander texts back and forth with Rosie who’s keeping Bronte company at The Dower House, Nico glances in the rear view mirror to eye the three remarkably silent children sitting in the backseat. Tonio’s eyes are drooping. The boy’s doing well at school and working hard, maybe too hard? Hmm. He’ll talk to Bronte. Little Emily’s big blue eyes are fixed with rapt attention on Tonio’s face. Dio mio, the child has a bad case of hero worship. He shrugs, such is life. Sophia stares unblinking out of the window as she watches the world go by. Hmm. His daughter’s been unusually quiet over the last couple of days. Maybe she’s sickening for something? On the whole, she has the constitution of an ox and avoids colds and sniffles, unlike her twin who’s in bed with an elevated temperature and sore throat.

“My mummy,” Emily begins in her high, girly voice, “says she simply adores baby Eve. She told my daddy the baby’s an absolute cutie pie, a little angel. Then she started to cry.”

This information rouses Tonio, who turns to her. “Why was she crying?”

“She can’t have anymore babies. After me, she had to have an emergency historectomy. Sometimes she gets sad. My daddy says we can try and adapt a baby who has no family.”

“Adopt,” Tonio says in a kind voice that pinks Emily’s cheeks.

In the front, Alexander slides an omigod look to Nico.

Sophia heaves a huge sigh. “There won’t be any more babies in our house,” she says in the tone of the prophet of doom. A tone which makes her uncle Alexander go utterly still.

Since this news is news to her papa, he asks in a soft voice, “Why do you say that, cara mia?

Sophia makes a sad face as she stares out the window. “Because Auntie Rosie says I’m a complete and utter nightmare who’s driving my mama cray-cray. I know that means crazy.” The last part is spoken in a small whisper.

There is dead silence in the car.

Nico and Alexander’s eyes go huge as they stare unblinking at the winding road ahead. Nico opens his mouth, but Alexander places a hand on his arm, shakes his head. Meanwhile, little Emily takes Sophia’s hand in hers.

“My mummy says you have a clever and busy brain and that you’re a very good infloonce on me.”

Sophia turns emerald eyes on Emily. “What’s an infloonce?”

“I think she means influence,” Tonio says. He reaches out to tug gently on Sophia’s white-blonde ponytail. “To be a good influence is a great thing. It means you are beneficial for Emily in an important way.”

Paternal pride is his son makes Nico’s eyes sting.

Christ,” Alexander mutters under his breath. “I need to do daddy duty with you more often. Are they always like this?”

Nico takes a deep breath. “Si. In this car, Auntie Rosie is often quoted chapter and verse.”

Alexander nods at the deadpan tone. His mouth goes hard. “Right. And not always in a good way?”

Nico makes a face. “Sometimes we adults forget that someone has very big ears.”

“I’ll talk to Rosie. She tends to run at the mouth at times.”

Grazie.”

 

Meanwhile, after a busy day at The Dower House…

Dressed down in ankle length yoga pants and over sized sweatshirts, Bronte and Rosie kick back on the couch in the family/kitchen/living space. They’re sipping a cup of camomile tea as they await the arrival of the rest of the family. The sublime scent of a herby chicken roasting permeates the air. “At the very least, you should’ve let me peel the potatoes,” Rosie says, wiggling her toes inside thick socks. “Seriously, Mrs. Ferranti, don’t you ever get sick of yourself. You’re a real life Martha Stewart!”

Bronte grins. “Trust me, that woman’s got nuthin’ on me. I run my world like a well oiled machine. Today I replaced four empty toilet rolls. I am the backbone of this house. I’m like a domestic goddess.”

Rosie nods. “What is it with men and empty toilet rolls? How hard is it to take a fresh roll out of the basket we’ve kindly placed next to the holder (because I’ve taken a leaf out of your book and I’m a beyond awesome domestic goddess) and replace it? What is all that about?”

Bronte glances at the huge clock on the wall, fifteen minutes until she takes the chickens out of the oven. “It’s because their brain is busy with more important stuff, like making a living and keeping us supplied with a steady stream of disposable diapers.”

Rosie nods. “True. Very true.” She cocks her head at the sound of car wheels crunching gravel. “The boys are back. There goes peace, quiet and tranquillity.”

As the family troop in after leaving outdoor shoes in the boot room, Bronte and Tonio share a hug and a high five over a one hundred per cent math test. Nico drops a big smoochie on his wife’s curved mouth, pats her bottom, and heads for the fridge for two beers. Alexander plonks himself next to Rosie, grabs her in a hug. Then he cups her cheek to look deep into big brown eyes. “You got some, ‘splainin’ to do, Rosie.”

Rosie blinks. “What have I done?”

He nuzzles the delicate spot beneath her ear. “Later,” he whispers.

Rosie’s bemused frown turns to a grin when she spots Sophia. She holds out her arms for a hug. “How’s my favorite bad girl?” When Alexander hisses out a breath, she wonders what the hell his problem is.

Sophia climbs onto Auntie Rosie’s lap and turns to look up into her face. “Miss Brown says I’ve been a good girl.”

Rosie drops a kiss on her cheek. “Yeah? Bet that won’t last.”

Face pale, Sophia slips off Rosie’s lap and heads over to watch her mama place two chickens, their skin all golden and crispy, onto a huge serving platter. Since she’s greeting Emily, Rosie misses the quick glance between Nico and Alexander.

Bronte crouches to give her daughter, and then Emily, a hug. “Did you have a good time at the party? I hope you didn’t eat too much candy.”

Emily shakes her head, while Sophia rattles her paper goodie bag. “Uh huh. Me and Emily didn’t eat any candy. We’re good girls.”

Bronte gives her big eyes, drops a kiss on her daughter’s blonde head. “Sure you are. Long may it last. Go up and wash your hands and don’t go near Luca, I don’t want either of you catching his cold.”

Sophia opens her mouth to speak, but her mama’s very busy cooking dinner. Emily slips her hand in hers. “Come on, Sophia,” she says in her gentle voice.

Nico waits until the girls have gone up the stairs. He moves to close the kitchen door, then turns to his wife. “That was very badly done, cara mia,” he says, anger ripe in his deep, growly voice.

Since it’s not a tone he uses often with her, Bronte’s jaw drops. “Excuse me? What have I done?”

“You made Sophia sad,” he says.

“And, it’s all your fault,” Alexander says severely to a wide-eyed Rosie.

Bronte looks at Rosie. Rosie looks at Bronte. Both utterly confused and bemused at an attack that’s apparently come out of nowhere.

Bronte walks up to her husband, gets into his personal space. “Perhaps both of you would stop talking in riddles and explain to us exactly what we’ve done?”

“Both of you need to take care what you say in front of Sophia. Haven’t you noticed she has been quiet over the past couple of days?”

“Yup.” Alexander backs his best friend. He turns to his wife. “And you, motormouth, are the biggest offender. In the car, Emily mentioned the fact that at times her mum cries because she can’t have more babies. Sophia says, and I quote, ‘There won’t be any more babies in our house.’ When Nico asked her why she’d say such a thing, Sophia says, and again I quote, ‘ Because Auntie Rosie says, ‘I’m a complete and utter nightmare who’s driving my mama cray-cray. I know that means crazy.’  Honest to God, Rosie, the way she whispered the words broke my heart. Then she tells you and Bronte that she’s been a good girl, even Miss Brown says so. And you ridicule her.” Alexander turns to his white-faced sister. “And you’re just as bad. Can’t you see the kid’s hurt and upset?”

Appalled she’s hurt a child she loves with her whole heart, Rosie turns to a stony-faced Nico. “But, I don’t mean it. You know I adore her. She’s a pistol with the heart of a warrior woman.”

Bronte shifts to sit next to Rosie on the couch. “I thought we’d cured her of listening in to adult conversations, apparently I’m wrong. She heard a small part of what we said.”

Si. But that is not the point, is it? If we continue to box her into a corner about her spirit and labelling her behaviour we will end up with a self-fulfilling prophecy.” Nico turns to a pale and emotional Rosie. “She quotes you chapter and verse, whether it’s about my ‘love muscle’ or how girls will fall in love with Tonio, like his papa. Great care must be taken when we speak. Sophia is like a human sponge.”

Rosie stands, her hands tremble as she clears her throat. “I’ll go up to her. I’m so sorry, Nico. I promise I’ll fix this.”

As Rosie leaves the room, Nico runs a hand through his hair, around his neck. “Dio, I have upset her.”

Alexander stretches out long legs, takes a sip of his beer. “She’ll be fine. I’ll have a heart to heart with her at home.”

Bronte shakes her head. “She’s not the only one responsible. I need to bite my tongue, too.”

Nico’s grey eyes met hers. “We must applaud good behaviour as well as nailing naughty behaviour. To test boundaries is part of Sophia’s personality and intelligence. We cannot go from one extreme to the other. We need a consistent response. My daughter is not a running joke.”

 

Meanwhile, Rosie, Emily and Sophia are having a moment…

On her knees next to the Cinderella coach bed, Rosie holds Sophia’s favourite doll, a battered Raggedy Ann. “I remember the day I bought you this doll. You were six months old and sound asleep in your cot. When you woke up you fell in love with her. Just the way I fell in love with you the very first time I held you in my arms. Did I ever tell you about the time I first met you?”

Sitting crossed leg on her bed, with Emily sprawled on her belly next to her, Sophia’s eyes are glued to her Auntie Rosie’s face. Sophia shakes her head. “What was I like?”

Rosie smiles at the memory. “I knew your mama and papa had a baby boy. So I’d arrived at the hospital with a huge balloon and a blue teddy bear. Papa was looking out the window and mama was holding Luca. First thing I did was to wash my hands to kill any germs. Then your papa turned and you were in his arms. I’ve never been so shocked in my whole life. They’d kept you a big secret. You and Luca were the most beautiful babies I’ve ever seen. I took you in my arms and your tiny fingers clutched my thumb and that was it. I was in love. And each and every day I love you more and more.”

Rosie finds her arms full of an emotional Sophia. “I love you, too, Auntie Rosie.”

After a group hug fest, Rosie shifts to sit back on her heels. She takes the hand of each girl. “Thing is, none of us are perfect. We do our best to be kind, but sometimes we hurt people without meaning to. But I want you to know one very important thing. Never, ever, change who you are because you are scared to make a mistake. Mistakes help us understand where we go wrong and learn to do better. Do you get what I’m saying?”

Sophia’s smooth brow creases as she thinks about it. “No.”

Rosie nods, wonders why the hell she didn’t say it straight out in the first place. “When you heard me say that there won’t be more babies in this house because you’re a nightmare…”

Sophia shifts to go nose to nose with her Auntie Rosie. “No. You said, a complete and utter nightmare who drives my mama cray-cray…”

Rosie frowns. “Sheesh. You have a memory like an elephant. Except you didn’t hear EVERYTHING I said, did you?” She gives Sophia an Eskimo nose kiss.

“What else did you say?” Sophia wants to know, her green eyes wide.

“That I hope my Mila grows up to be just like her cousin Sophia, a warrior-princess.”

Emily claps her hands, and beams at Sophia. “A warrior-princess? That is sooooo cool.”

Sophia’s cheeks go pink with delight, and her Auntie Rosie’s heart fills with relief when she recognizes the return of the spark in her niece’s bright eyes. “What does a warrior-princess do?” Sophia wants to know.

Rosie opens her mouth to say ‘you’ll rule the world, kiddo’, then closes it with a snap. “She spreads kindness everywhere.”

The girls blink. “Won’t I at least have a magic sword like Xena?” Sophia demands.

“A warrior-princess does not believe in violence,” Auntie Rosie says as she gets to her feet to head for the door to get the hell out of Dodge. This parenting gig’s a minefield.

Ten minutes later,Tonio pokes his head around Sophia’s bedroom door. He enters and bounds onto the bed.

“Mama and papa have closed the kitchen door, which means someone’s in trouble.” He eyes Sophia. “What have you done?”

“Sophia’s a warrior-princess,” Emily says in her high, breathy voice. Her blue eyes fill with love and adoration as she stares up into Tonio’s handsome face. “Except she doesn’t get to have a magic sword like Xena.”

Tonio bounces once on the bed to leap to the floor where he does a body roll to his feet. “Sophia won’t need a magic sword,” he says with a certainty that has the girls gaze at him with big eyes.

“How will I be a warrior-princess without a sword?” Sophia wants to know with relentless logic.

Tonio’s smile flashes white and bright. “Easy. You are Italian!”

 

FINE

Ah, we all need to be true to ourselves.

Next up, on Friday we have a very French and very naughty Golddigger and a big sexy beast. I had the best time writing PEARL’S story.

Big hug

Christine X

 

 

ANOTHER SLICE OF LUDLOW LIFE WITH THE FERRANTI FAMILY… There are screams with tantrums and tiaras… no change there, then.

its-a-bug-barn

 

Happy Monday, my lovelies!

This house has been hit by a winter cold bug. It’s not been pretty, but I struggle on. Brain fog hit my creativity for a few days. Soooo frustrating. But, I’m back with a vengeance. Here’s Bronte and Emily’s mom, Grace, having fun with the children from hell.

***

 

The Dower House…

Dressed down in yoga pants and sweaters, Bronte and Emily’s mom, Grace, are enjoying an afternoon coffee, while their daughters are playing ‘princesses’ in Sophia’s room. At least, that’s what they think their daughters are doing…

“How’s Jimmy Chew settling in?” Grace asks Bronte.

Bronte grins at a Grace who’s refusing to relinquish a snoozing baby Eve. The baby adores cuddles. “Now we’ve nipped in the bud Sophia feeding him human food, he’s doing well.”

Grace rolls blue eyes, shakes her head. “I don’t know what it is about men and kids, but they can’t seem to help feeding a puppy treats.”

“Actually, the boys have been great. Lucky for me, neither of them give me a moments worry, unlike my eldest daughter,” Bronte says, deadpan.

“She’s a determined girl,” Grace agrees.

Bronte makes a face. “She’s a chip off the old block, her father’s daughter.”

“Sophia’s incredibly good for Emily. Brings her out of her shell.”

“Hmm. Nico and I are praying Emily’s calm common sense rubs off on her.”

Grace drops a soft kiss on Eve’s inky curls. “You’ll have no problems with this one. She’s adorable.”

Bronte’s mouth curves and her emerald eyes go soft. “She’s an angel. More coffee?”

Meanwhile, upstairs in Sophia’s room…

Dressed in pale blue tulle and wearing a yellow feather boa around her neck, Emily sits cross-legged on Sophia’s princess coach bed. She drops a kiss on each head as she cuddles the two boneless pooches passed-out on her lap. “I like the pink tiara best,” she says to a Sophia whose bottom’s up as she rummages in her dressing up box for her special magic wand. “It goes with your pearl beads.”

Sophia emerges, clutching a plastic pink wand with a wonky silver star glued to the tip. She flicks the wand and then points it to the dogs. “Take two dogs and two frogs to bind them well, jim jam jog, abracadabra, we’ve got a magic spell…” She waves her wand around with a huge flourish. Nothing happens.

Emily shrugs, her big eyes anxiously fixed on the dogs. “Well, thank goodness that one didn’t work. I hate frogs,” she says in her high girly voice. She shifts on the bed. The movement disturbs Bubblegum and Jimmy Chew who stretch hugely. They cock their heads when they hear giggling from Tonio’s bedroom. The dogs leap to the floor and trot out the door.

“Hmm,” Sophia says as straightens the corners of the star on her wand. Her pink tiara sits at a crazy  angle on her ash blonde head. Her bedroom smells of cherry lollipops and cheap scent donated by Emily’s mama. When she hears more insane giggling from her brother’s bedroom room, she jerks her chin. “Tonio and Luca are up to something. Let’s go.”

The girls clomp in a pair of their mama’s high heels down the corridor to Tonio’s bedroom and arrive in time to see Jimmy Chew barking at something hidden behind Luca’s back.

“What are you doing?” Sophia asks her twin.

Luca gives her huge brown eyes. “Nuthin’. We’re doing nuthin’.”

Tonio clears his throat, grabs a Spiderman pillow from his bed and dumps it behind Luca’s back. “You cannot come in here without permission,” he says in a severe voice to the girls.

Sophia’s eyes narrow on two guilty faces and a Jimmy Chew who’s sniffing behind Luca’s back. “It’s my house. I can go where I like, when I like. What’s behind the pillow?”

“Nuthin’ to do with you, nosy knickers,” Luca says rudely.

When Bubblegum begins to growl and yap at Luca, Emily kicks of her heels and goes to rescue her dog who’s trying to dive beneath the pillow. When she sees what’s behind Luca, her little face goes pale and she slaps her hand over her mouth.

“What is it?” Sophia says. She kicks off her heels and joins her friend. Her face goes milk white…

 

Meanwhile, downstairs in the family room…

The sound of dog howls and ear piercing screams have Bronte and Grace on their feet to race up the stairs. They burst into Tonio’s room. The boys are pale and wide-eyed. Sophia and Emily clutch each other as they dance on the spot and scream at the top of their lungs. The dog’s growls have Bronte clapping her hands.

“What on earth is the matter?!” Bronte yells at the top of her voice.

A sobbing Emily is in her mother’s arms.

Sophia dances on the spot, her emerald eyes huge. “I did a spell, mama. A frog spell. And it’s come true,” she cries.

“Don’t be silly,” Bronte says.

But Grace’s eyes are like saucers when she clocks what Tonio lifts up his pillow. “Omigod! What on earth is that?”

Bronte shifts Tonio out of the way. Her jaw drops when she sees what he’s hiding. It’s an insect ‘house’ filled with leaves and twigs. “Tonio Ferranti! What on earth is that bug barn doing in my house?” She moves closer, and something inside the bug barn moves. It’s black. It’s huge. And it has long legs. A horrible shiver runs down her spine. “Is that… is that… a spider?”

 

Not many things give Bronte Ferranti the heebies, but a black spider the size of her fist is one of them.

Tonio heaves a huge sigh and shares a what’s-the-big-deal look with his brother. “Si. I am feeding the frog.”

Bronte clutches her chest. “FROG?!” she screeches at the top her voice.

A sound that makes the dogs bark even louder.

When a huge green toad moves in the bug barn, Grace shrieks at the top of her voice as she hugs a crying Emily and Sophia.

 

Meanwhile, Nico strolls into the kitchen-family room to find his baby daughter sleeping in her playpen with her blankie. His eyes go wide at the sound of yapping dogs, the high voices of his children, and his beloved bellowing at the top of her voice. He heads for the stairs.

As he pokes his head around the door of the room at the centre of all the fuss, Tonio’s bedroom, he takes in the scene. Dio mio. Seems Tonio has his bug barn in the house. Luca’s bottom lip is trembling. Grace clutches Sophia and Emily to her breast as if saving them from shark infested waters. Bronte’s hands are on her hips, her legs spread and she’s ringing a peal over Tonio’s head.

“Out! Out! OUT!” she cries. “And do not dare bring frogs or spiders or any living thing into this house.”

Tonio makes a face, but he carries the bug barn past a Bronte who takes a step back to give it a very wide berth. “It is only a little frog and one measly spider,” he mutters. Then he stops dead when he spots Nico. “Hey, papa.”

“What is going on?”

“It’s cold outside. We just want to help the frog,” Luca says as the boys troop past him and down the stairs.

Nico gives Bronte big eyes. “Frog?”

Bronte shivers dramatically. “Ugh. Don’t ask. What is it with boys and creepy crawlies?”

Nico flashes a white smile upon all the females in the room. “They are male. They are Italian!”

FINE

***

Many moons ago, when we lived in Nairobi, my son had a bug barn. We’d no idea he was keeping it in his bedroom. He was feeding a gecko bugs of every description. I’m not ashamed to say my screams were blood curdling and could be heard for miles.

Thank you so much for sharing the Golddigger love. This Friday we have the release of Golddigger short story number five, RUBY. And the girl is a pistol. I had the best time writing the story of two incredibly stubborn people. Falling in love can be crazy making and scary. Can Andre win the beautiful Ruby’s heart?

You can grab the story on pre-order on the links below.

ruby-banner

iBOOKS    AMAZON   NOOK   KOBO

Until Friday!

Hugs,

Christine X

ANOTHER SLICE OF LUDLOW LIFE WITH THE FERRANTI’S…

 

sophias-in-trouble

 

Happy Monday, my lovelies!

Apparently, we’re about to have a polar vortex impact us over the next few weeks. Oooooooooh. Ice and snow is on its way. Oh, my. And I don’t know about you guys, but I think the world needs love – lots and lots of love – and kindness. Here is my tiny contribution to more love and kindness. The Ferranti family at home. And Sophia’s being… Sophia.

Enjoy!

***

The Dower House…

In the family living-kitchen space, Bronte and Rosie are enjoying mummy time with their babies. Tucked up in her stroller, three month old Mila is in a milk induced coma. Bronte lays a heavy-eyed Eve in her playpen with her blankie.

“Camomile tea?” Bronte asks her best friend and sister-in-law.

Since it’s winter the girls are wearing their usual house uniform of skinny jeans, worn white at the seams, and cashmere sweaters. Rosie’s sweater is fire engine red and Bronte’s is black. Rosie’s Uggs lie abandoned on the floor. She tucks her legs beneath her on the couch and accepts a polka dot mug. “Cheers,” she says. “Can’t wait for my first cup of coffee once Mila’s weaned. Alexander reckons it’s the camomile tea that has her sleeping through the night.”

Bronte makes herself comfortable in a fat velvet chair the color of blueberries. She lifts her socked feet up on the matching footstool. “Cheers,” she says, sipping her tea. “Could be, plus the fact she’s simply adorable and so laid back she’s horizontal. Of course, I’m her auntie so I’m probably biased. Eve is such a good baby, too. Nico reckons it’s because of all the love and attention she receives from the kids.”

Rosie’s inky hair is tied in a messy knot of glossy curls on top of her head. She grins wickedly at her best friend, who looks simply amazing with her ash blonde hair skimming her shoulders. “Six and a half years ago, we were foot loose and fancy free. You thought you’d never marry, never mind have a child. Now look at you, Mrs Ferranti. All loved-up with Nico and mama to four children.”

Bronte’s emerald eyes dance. “You can talk. Your mother is in seventh heaven with her, hint-hint, first grandchild.” Her eyes go sad as she whispers, “I so wish my mum and dad had lived to see theirs.”

Rosie’s bright brown eyes dim a little in heartfelt sympathy. “I miss them, too. With Christmas around the corner, it’s always hard at this time of year.” Then she makes a face. “The mother from hell is already dropping hints about grandchild number two.”

Bronte laughs. “I love your mother. She has no filter between her brain and her mouth.”

Rosie rolls her eyes. “Yeah, she’s a laugh a minute. I told her Alexander won’t be up to making more babies until his love muscle heals. Even though she’s in Cyprus, her shriek of horror nearly broke my cell phone.”

Bronte bites down hard on her trembling bottom lip. “How is the brave little soldier?”

“It’s been two weeks and the love muscle is still healing. My mother told him to dip it in neat TCP. You should’ve seen his face. Stoopid man.”

Bronte grins. “How are you coping with no sex?”

Rosie gives her big, big eyes, and purrs, “Who says we’re having no sex? Dontcha know Alexander Ludlow is nothing if not inventive?”

Bronte holds up her hand in mock surrender. “Okay. Okay. I do not want to know what my brother gets up to in bed.”

Rosie pouts. “You started it.”

The noise of children and a barking dog has them crane their necks to look out floor to ceiling windows into the garden and the kiddie play area built of smooth oak.

“How’s Jimmy Chew?” Rosie asks.

“A complete joy. Sophia’s his favorite human.”

“Hmm,” Rosie says, her eyes narrow as she watches her niece and nephews and the family’s Bichon Frise. “Bet I know why.”

Bronte follows her gaze. She goes utterly still. “That girl! She’s a little monkey.”

“Yup. Dunno where she gets her ruthless streak.”

“Her father,” Bronte says tartly. She shoves her feet into her ankle black Uggs, grabs her duck down jacket and heads out the door with Rosie hot on her heels.

Like her brothers, Sophia is dressed in jeans and a fleece beneath a hooded duck down jacket. On her blonde head sits a cream beanie with a huge fake fur pom-pom the color of ink. She sits on the swing with an open bag of chips in her hands.

“Sit!” she says to the wide-eyed pup bouncing at her feet.

Jimmy Chew’s butt instantly hits the ground.

Sophia gives Jimmy Chew a chip. “One for you. And one for me.”

Her twin’s face is fierce. “You’re not supposed to feed Jimmy Chew human food,” Luca says in a stern voice.

Si!” nine year old Tonio says. “Papa will punish you.”

Unrepentant, Sophia sends them a black look. “MY dog. My food. Piss off.”

“Mama says if you use that kind of language again in this house, you’ll get a smacked bottom,” Luca reminds her.

“And you can shut your big fat mouth, too,” a naughty Sophia says. She makes a horrible face. Then tosses her blonde plait over her shoulder.

“SOPHIA FERRANTI!” Bronte bellows in a tone that makes Miss Sophia’s green eyes go wide. She shoves the bag of chips in her pocket.

The angry tone of his mistress has Jimmy Chew make a high-speed beeline for the safe haven of Tonio who lifts him in his arms.

“You’re in big trouble,” Luca hisses to his twin under his breath.

“Poopie doo, girly hair,” the twin from hell says, referring to a very sensitive subject for her brother—his glossy curls. For good measure, she juts her chin.

Bronte and Rosie eye Sophia and the pup in Tonio’s arms. Bronte bends to sniff Jimmy Chew’s muzzle. Her chin’s bathed in puppy kisses.

“Cheese and onion chips,” she says. Turning to her daughter she holds out her hand palm up and wiggles her fingers. “Gimme.”

The unblinking battle of wills between mother and daughter is short and sweet. Mama wins. “Go to your room. No TV. No tablet. You may read. Papa will deal with you.”

Head held high, Sophia marches into the house.

Bronte turns to Tonio, shakes the packet. “How much did he eat?”

“Only a couple.”

“We TOLD her she’d get into trouble, but she ignores us, mama,” Luca says. “She keeps saying Jimmy Chew is HER dog. But he belongs to everyone.”

Bronte nods, her mind racing. The time has come for her daughter to learn a lesson, and she’s just the mama to do it. “Take him in, it’s too cold out here. Keep him in the family room in case he has an upset tummy.”

Luca’s face goes white. “Do you think she’s made him sick?”

“Well, we won’t know until we know, will we?” she says tartly. “One of you should have come and got me immediately. Jimmy Chew is EVERYONE’S responsibility. Papa will speak to you when he comes home.”

Rosie nibbles on her top lip as two miserable looking little boys trudge into the house with a wide-eyed, alert and perfectly fine little dog. “Omigod. Their faces. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Bronte turns to her. “That girl will be the death of me. When she’s wilful and naughty, my hand itches to spank her bottom. But, that wouldn’t work with her. Nope. We need to hit her where it hurts.”

“Where’s that?” asks a Rosie who was always up for learning a new parenting technique from the Ferranti’s.

“In the heart.”

 

Later, Nico, still dressed for work in one of his fancy suits, stands before his three children. In his arms is a bright and breezy Jimmy Chew. The kids are washed, teeth brushed and ready for bed. Between her brothers, her chin on her chest, sits his daughter. Even when she’s in the wrong her brother’s protect her.

“I am wondering,” he begins in a soft voice, “if we are the right family for a little dog who has already lost an owner. It seems we cannot look after him properly.”

Three heads lift, their faces white with shock. Sophia’s bottom lip trembles. “We love him, papa.”

Nico’s dark brows lift. “Do you? It does not look like it to me. There is a reason we do not give human food to dogs. Their digestive system does not deal well with sugar or fats. If you love him, Sophia, why would you want to make him sick?”

Her emerald eyes huge in her pale face, Sophia shakes her head. “But, I don’t want to make him sick. I just… just…”

“Just what?”

“I want him to love me,” she whispers as a fat tear tips over to run down her cheek.

“You think you can buy love? Do mama and I buy your love, Sophia?”

Eyes swimming, she shakes her head. “No, papa. You love me to the moon and stars and back again.”

Nico clears the huge lump in his throat. “Si.”

“So, what should we do with Jimmy Chew?” Bronte says from the doorway. In her arms is a drowsy baby Eve fresh from her bath. “I need to be able to trust my family to help me look after and care for him. Feeding him chips or cookies is not looking after him, is it?”

Three heads shake.

“I’m thinking that Jimmy Chew needs a family who will put his needs first and love him as he deserves to be loved. What do you think?”

Luca looks her right in the eye. “We love him, mama. We won’t ever let anyone give him human food. We promise!”

“Sophia?” Nico whispers.

His daughter takes a shaky breath. “I’m sorry. I promise never to feed him snacks or treats again.”

Nico nods. “Very well. There are doggie treats, but we do not use them to buy his love. Do I make myself clear?”

“Yes, papa,” three soft voices chorus.

“Okay. It is time for bed.”

All three troop past their parents and up the stairs. The sound of bedroom doors closing has Nico give Bronte big eyes. “Dio mio, that was harsh, cara mia. I feel like crying myself.”

“Don’t waste your sympathy on her. You didn’t hear her telling the boys to piss off and inform Luca he has girly hair.”

Nico’s dark brows lift as he nuzzles a delirious Jimmy Chew. “Little monkey.”

Bronte moves into his personal space. She lifts up on her tip-toes to give his five-o’clock shadow a kiss. “She’s headstrong. She’s ruthless when she wants something, like someone else I know.”

Handsome face serious, Nico nods. “Si. She is Italian.”

 

FINE

Naughty Sophia! I can’t help but love her anyway.

‘Til Friday, when The Golddigger short story, SUKKI, goes live, be good.

Hugs and love,

Christine X

It’s Monday and the sun is shining and it’s another slice of life with the Ferranti family…

 

jimmy-chew

Happy Monday, awesome peeps!

The sun is shining. The weather man’s crystal ball reckons frosts and crisp grass is coming in my future. I love this time of year. In this business, things ebb and flow. Seems this author is in a state of flow. Long may it last.

Here’s the latest family saga with Nico, Bronte and their family, which has a new member.

Do I hear an ‘Awwwwww’ for Jimmy Chew.  Get it?

***

It’s Saturday morning in the family-kitchen at The Dower House…

Dressed in soft jeans and their favorite T-shirts, the kids are busy completing homework tasks at the kitchen table. Tonio helps Luca with basic math. He’s doing a great job. Bronte checks the message from Nico on her cell phone, bites back a smile. Her heart melts at the picture he’s sent. Aww, how cute. How gorgeous. Her eyes mist as she taps out her response. Boy, oh boy. Her kids are gonna go absolutely mental when they see their papa’s surprise. Over the past couple of week they’d weighed up the pros and cons. The decision is made. The Ferranti’s are about to have a new addition to their family.

“Have you tidied your bedrooms?” she asks. Heads lift showcasing three guilty faces. Again, she bites back a smile. Little monkeys. “Well, I suggest you get right on it. I want every single piece of Lego in the box, Luca Ferranti.”

Her beloved boy makes a horrible face. His dark curls bounce as he shakes his head. “But, mama. I’m building a space station.”

“Then use the table and not the floor. Papa hurt his foot this morning,” Bronte says. And the air had turned blue with a roar of expletives in rough Italian. Words which made Tonio run for cover.

Tonio grins at the memory. “Si. He was so mad.”

“He was hopping on one foot. He said bad words,” Sophia says, tossing her papa under the bus. She closes her spelling book, tucks her pencil in her beloved Frozen pencil case with a picture of Anna on the front. Bronte reckons her daughter and her best pal must have watched the movie hundreds of times and never tire of singing the songs.

“Hmm,” Bronte says, eyeing Sophia. “Last time I looked you had the entire contents of your dressing up box all over the carpet, including play makeup. I want everything put away nice and tidy in the right places. Capisce?”

Sophia lifts her chin. “You are not Italian.”

Sophia’s emerald eyes dance as her mama bends to go nose to nose with her. “I’ll have you know, Missy, I am an honorary Italian and that makes me very speshul. And since I am the boss around here, you will jump to it!” She plants a kiss on her daughter’s little snub nose.

Sophia grins and rolls her eyes. “Okay. Okay. Do we get a treat for tidying our rooms?” she asks, as usual pushing her luck with her mama.

Bronte fold her arms and gives a grinning Tonio, Luca and Sophia big wide eyes. “Well, you’ll never know until you do it, will you?”

“Are you gonna give us another room inspection?” Luca growls, remembering what happened the last time his room failed a spot inspection by Nico. No candy for a whole week.

Bronte checks the time on the clock on the wall. “Well, you have exactly twenty minutes before the Big Boss arrives home, so if I were you I’d make the most of the time instead of standing here debating with me.”

As her children slink out of the room, she shakes her head. Good God, a snail with a limp moves faster than those three. When she has the room to herself, she grins as she dances a merry jig on the spot. Omigod, they are going to go crazy. She can’t wait for Nico to arrive home with his precious little package.

Twenty minutes later…

The sound of a car on gravel has Bronte slip on her shoes and head for the kitchen door. Nico exits his shiny black Range Rover. When he spots her, his smile is wide and wicked.

He cranes his neck to look beyond her. “Where are they?”

“Tidying their rooms. You’d have thought I was sending them down a coal mine as slave labor.”

His laugh makes her smile. Then her smile goes all soft and trembly as Nico lifts the pet carrier from the passenger seat. Inside the box a beautiful little face peeks out at her and sniffs Nico’s fingers as he opens the lid and lifts out the most gorgeous ball of fluff she has ever seen.

Bronte’s fingertips press on her lips. “Oh, Nico, he is the cutest thing. Our very own Bacon Freeze.”

Si,” Nico grins as the tiny ball of fluff licks his neck and chin. “He is eight months old, house trained, and smart. The shelter staff are sad to see him go.” He places the wriggling pup into Bronte’s outstretched arms.

“Poor baby,” she whispers as she presses soft kisses on the clipped fur. “Poor little thing.”

Nico’s face goes serious. “Si. His elderly owner had a heart attack and passed away. The puppy has been in the shelter for six weeks. He needs a home and plenty of love.”

“And who’s a beautiful boy, then?” she says to the delirious pup.

Grazie, cara,” Nico says as he opens the trunk to remove a doggy bed, and box of essentials which include food and water bowls, toys, a selection of chews, dry dog food and a leash in bright red leather.

“I’m talking to the dog,” his wife says, tossing him a saucy look. “It’s been a long time since you were a boy.”

His response is to drop a hot kiss on her mouth. “You sit with him the family room. I’ll get the kids.”

She bites down hard on her bottom lip. “Nico, they are going to go nuts.”

Si. I cannot wait.”

 

 

Meanwhile, Sophia is folding her dressing up clothes. Shoes and bags go in the big wooden box first. Then the dresses and then the accessories, as her auntie Rosie calls the myriad of plastic bracelets and necklaces and tiaras and magic wands. And while she’s at it, she lines up all her dolls on her bed. One has a plastic shoe missing, so she bellies beneath her bed to grab it. When she’s fitting the shoe to the foot, her papa pokes his head around the door.

“Sophia, cara. Mama wants you in the kitchen.”

“I’m nearly finished. Is this my room inspection?”

Nico cranes his neck around the door and scans the room. He holds out his hand for hers. “Good job.”

With Sophia’s hand in his, Nico enters Luca’s room to find him and Tonio flying the Millenium Falcon from Star Wars. “Come down stairs, mama has something for you,” he says to the boys.

Luca makes a face. “I haven’t finished yet.”

“Do it later,” Nico says, shocking both boys into silence. When have they ever been told to, ‘do it later’ when it came to cleaning their bedrooms? Never.

Luca shoots his papa a suspicious look. “Are we in trouble?”

Sheesh. How hard is it to get these kids down stairs for their surprise? Nico shakes his head. “No.”

“What is it then?” Luca asks in a sulky voice. The boys trail behind Nico and Sophia as they go down the stairs. “You’re acting funny.”

Nico turns to his youngest son. “How am I acting funny?”

“You’ve gotta funny look in your eye as if you’re gonna laugh or cry.”

By this time they’ve reached the door to the family-kitchen-living space. Bronte is sitting on the couch with the puppy on her lap. When Sophia makes a gasp, Nico releases her hand and grabs his phone from his jean pocket. Eyes like saucers, Sophia takes hesitant steps towards her mama, with a silent Tonio and Luca hot on her heels. Sophia drops to her knees.

“Who does it belong to?” she whispers, her little hand trembling as she strokes the soft, downy fur.

“He belongs to us,” her mama whispers, her emerald eyes swimming.

“He’s mine?” Sophia whispers.

“No,” her papa says. “He belongs to the Ferranti family, to everyone.”

“Wow,” Luca whispers. “If I’d known we were gonna get a puppy, I’d have tidied my room weeks ago.”

Tonio sinks to the edge of the couch and leans into Bronte. “He’s really cute. What’s his name?”

“Well, his previous owner called him Jimmy,” she says as she hands him the pup.

Sophia turns anxious eyes on her mama. “Why couldn’t they keep him?”

“His owner was very sick and couldn’t take care of him. He sadly passed away, so Jimmy needs a new home. What do you think, will we keep him here with us?”

All three children nod, and when Jimmy barks and wriggles to be free, they all laugh.

And so the Ferranti family have a new addition to the household.

“I think Jimmy’s a boring name,” Luca says, gently stroking the puppy.

Nico starts to laugh. “What’s so funny, papa?” Sophia says.

Nico moves to sit. He slides his arm around Bronte’s slim waist. “His full name is Jimmy Chew. And with mama’s love of shoes, I felt he was meant to belong to us.”

Bronte gives him big eyes. “I don’t believe it. You made that up.”

“No. I promise you. His owner named him Jimmy Chew because, like you, she adored Mr. Choo’s shoes.”

“Wow.” Bronte slides her arm around his waist and cosies in. “Rosie would say it’s karma, baby. Karma.”

Si. I understand the workings of the Universe. I am Italian.”

 

FINE

 

Awwwwww. I want a Bacon Freeze (as Sophia calls a Bischon Frise). H says no because he’d be the one to do the walking and pooper scooper. But I still want one.

AND we have Golddigger book two, MILLIE, on Friday.  Every Friday all the way up to Christmas you’ll have a 30-40 minute read (depending on how fast you get through it) Golddigger story to keep you going. I’m having the Best time writing these. They’re great fun, and I hope you enjoy them.

Love and hugs,

Christine X

 

 

 

It’s Monday, so it’s got to be the Ludlow Hall Sneak Peek!

raymond-edwards

Happy Monday, my wonderful peeps.

Here’s this week’s peek into the crazy lives of the residents of Ludlow Hall (and it’s a doozy)…

 

It’s late afternoon in Nico Ferranti’s office at Ludlow Hall…

Ah, it is good to kick back and relax after a busy and productive day. Nico powers down his laptop, leans back to stretch out in his fancy schmancy ergonomic chair of soft black leather. Don’t you just love it when everything in life comes together as it should? Psychologists call the occurrence a state of ‘flow’. Whatever, business is booming. His baby girl’s bruised cheek is healing as it should. The twins have settled into school and are sailing through math and reading tests. Tonio is top of his class and captain of the soccer team Go, Tonio! The baby is finally sleeping through the night, thank you, Jesus. His wife loves him to bits. Hell, when has life ever been this good? A brisk knock at the door and Josh Erichsen pokes his head in, smiles when he sees his pal. He strolls in and closes the door. Today, he’s wearing soft jeans, a pale blue button down shirt, navy sweater and black steel capped work boots. Seems Josh has been on a building site.

“Hey, passed Julie on her way out, she told me to come on through. You got time for a beer?”

Nico spins in his seat to the built-in cooler behind his desk. “Si! Have a seat. How are things?”

Josh eases himself into a fat leather club chair the color of blackcurrants, accepts an icy bottle of Peroni. “Thanks. Good. Broke ground on a new project. And, so far—touch wood—the planners are in harmony with my project manager and crew. Long may it last.”

Nico takes a sip of Italian nectar, closes his eyes to enjoy the moment. “And how are Jan and Boo?”

“Good. Boo’s found her feet and is on the move. Jan’s been teaching her how to climb down stairs backwards. It’s the cutest thing, evah.”

Experienced daddy, Nico nods. “Need eyes in the back of your head when they are at that age.”

Josh rolls blue eyes. “Tell me about it…” But, before he continues, a white-faced and wild-eyed Alexander plunges through the door.

Dressed for business in a smart dark grey suit handcrafted in Savile Row, his crisp white shirt is unbuttoned at the neck and his silk tie is askew. Alexander sinks gingerly into the chair next to Josh. “Thank god you’re still here, Nico,” he says in a squeaky voice. “I’m in deep shit.”

“Rosie? Mila?” Josh asks as he sits up, places his bottle on the leather top of Nico’s oak desk.

Alexander shakes his head, closes his eyes tight. “No. They’re fine. It’s me. I’ve had an accident.”

Alarm shoots up Nico’s spine. “Car accident? Anyone hurt?”

Again Alexander shakes his head, this time he lets out a long low groan. “No. Me. I’ve really messed up. I’ve spent all day trying to fix it. And I can’t. I can’t!”

Nico and Josh exchange a wide-eyed look.

Nico turns to a pale Alexander. “If it is business, you must not worry. There is nothing we cannot fix. Even if we’ve taken a financial hit, we will weather the storm.”

Alexander shakes his head. “No. No. Business is good. It’s… It’s me. I don’t know what to do.”

Josh reaches over to grab Alexander’s hand. “Are you sick? Is it bad?”

Cristo! Nico knew the state of ‘flow’ wouldn’t last. But, this? How will he tell Rosie and Bronte that Alexander is seriously ill? Panic uncoils in his gut.

Alexander closes his eyes tight and slumps in the chair. “No. I’m not sick. But I’ve gotta problem… a big problem.” He opens his eyes to watch their faces. “I need to go to A&E. I’ve seriously messed up, Nico.”

Bemused and bewildered, Nico looks at Josh. Josh looks at Nico, lifts his brows and shrugs in an I-have-no-clue-man gesture.

“What has happened?” Nico asks all at sea without a boat or a life jacket.

Alexander sits up places his elbows on his knees. His Adam’s apple bobs once, twice.

“It happened this morning. We were waiting for ‘the call’ to say we got the deal…”

Si, and we won, so?”

“Well, I was in my bathroom and needed to pee. I was in a hurry. So, when the phone rang I… I…”

Josh leans forward. “You what?”

Alexander’s cheeks puff as he blows out a very long breath. “I pulled up the zipper of my pants too fast… and trapped a long sliver of skin on the underside of my dick in the metal teeth of the zip.”

When Josh takes a deep inhale of utter horror and Nico’s eyes go wide, Alexander nods. “And, it’s bad. Four inches of skin stuck fast.”

“Omigod,” Josh whispers, his face pale. His eyes drop to Alexander’s package. He winces. “Can’t you just, sort of, yank the zipper down?”

“I thought of it, but I can’t bring myself to do it.”

Nico cranes his neck to check out the package in trouble. “Looks okay from here.”

Alexander shakes his head. “No. It’s not this zip! I had to cut myself out of my suit pants. The zipper’s still attached. These are new pants. Christ, how am I gonna tell Rosie? I will never, ever, live this down?”

Never mind Rosie, Nico thinks. What about Bronte? He stands up. “Right. We will go to the emergency room and get this sorted. Nessun problema!”

“I’m coming, too,” Josh says, his blue eyes dancing with sheer wickedness.

“I feel sick,” Alexander mutters as his two best pals escort him out of Ludlow Hall and into the car park and into Nico’s black shiny Range Rover.

“We will fix it!” Nico slaps Alexander on the back so hard Josh coughs to hide a choke of laughter.

In the accident and emergency department of the local hospital, the guys stand at the long narrow desk in reception…

The place smells of antiseptic with an oily undertone of bodily fluids. There are a small number of people seeking assistance, including a young mother with a young baby, and an elderly man sitting on a trolley with a horrible head wound.

“How can I help you?” A grey-haired dragon who protects the gates for the genuinely sick and injured eyes three men who look the picture of health. Her gaze narrows on Josh’s shit-eating grin, Alexander’s white face, and Nico’s I’m-in-charge toothy white smile.

Alexander opens his mouth—but nothing comes out except a pitiful squeak. A squeak that makes the dragon’s black pencil brows rise sharply above the black frame of her reading glasses. “What the problem?” she snaps.

Alexander closes his eyes, drops his chin to his chest. “I have a delicate and personal problem.”

The dragon leans over the desk. “Listen up. In here there is nothing I have not seen or heard. Do you or do you not require the immediate attention of a doctor?”

Alexander lifts his head, his Adam’s apple bobbing. “I’ve trapped my penis the zipper of my pants.” He holds out his thumb and forefinger about four inches. “This much.”

She doesn’t blink. “And these guys are your two amigos who have come to support you in your hour of need?”

“Yes.”

“Okay. Let’s fill in the details.” She turns to the flat screen on her desk to bring up a form, and barks, “Name?”

Thirty minutes later, Alexander’s heart is going crazy against his ribs. Jesus, he needs to keep calm. The thought of a needle going anywhere near his junk makes perspiration bead on his top lip. He’s lying on his back on a narrow bed in a cubicle without his suit pants, his Calvins and his shoes. On either side of the bed are two young nurses. They’re wearing thin latex gloves and holding long metal tweezers. They are total professionals. Not once have they snickered or grinned at his predicament. In fact, if anything, their serious demeanour is having him shit bricks.

“You’ve really caught the foreskin,” one says as she peers up close and personal at his dick. He can feel her breath on super sensitive flesh. He closes his eyes tight and tries to ignore the way her latex covered fingers are fiddling with metal teeth on delicate flesh.

“It’s a good job you didn’t leave it until tomorrow, or you would be in bigger trouble. This sort of thing happens all the time, usually to young boys. But, it’s important to seek help as soon as possible before swelling or infection takes hold,” the other one says. She has a white can in her hand and shakes it with vigour. “I’m just going to use a numbing spray. It’s cold. It won’t hurt.”

When the freezing spray shrivels his junk, Alexander nearly hit the ceiling. His girly yelp mortifies him enough he covers his burning face with the hands. And is that laughter he hears from his two amigos sitting behind the curtain? Bastards.

Twenty minutes later…

“I think we need to get a doctor. He might need a circumcision,” a nurse says. Her wide blue eyes are sympathetic as they meet an Alexander’s who’s lungs have gone tight with something like horror. “Good job you didn’t try to yank down the zip or we’d be dealing with the plastic surgeon. Let me go get the duty registrar.”

As she closes the curtains, she sends a wide-eyed reproof to a Nico and Josh who are suffering great paroxysms of silent laughter.

“Did you hear him whine when she said circumcision?” Josh whispers to a teary Nico.

Si.” Nico inhales a couple of deep breaths through his nose.

“Did you see how he couldn’t speak to the receptionist? He tried twice and nothing came out?” Josh whispers, swiping tears of hilarity from his wet cheeks.

The nurse returns with a young Asian doctor dressed in blue scrubs hot on her heels. The doctor eyes a Nico and Josh who sit up straight in their grey plastic chairs and assume serious expressions of brotherly solidarity. The doctor clearly isn’t impressed as he breezes past them. The nurse closes the curtains with a snap.

“Stop laughing. It’s not funny,” Josh leans over to whisper into Nico’s ear.

Nico nods, but his smooth brow creases as he bites down hard on his bottom lip, his wide shoulders shaking. Dio mio, who would have thought he’d be spending the early part of the evening in a drama involving Alexander’s dick?

Half an hour later…

Josh and Nico walk back to the car with a relieved Alexander between them.

Alexander lets out a shaky laugh. “Rosie’s gonna kill me. No sex until the stitches dissolve and the wound is fully healed, not even with a condom. Honestly, when the nurse mentioned going under the knife, I thought I was gonna pass out.” He places a hand on Josh and Nico’s shoulder. “Sorry I spoilt your evenings. Thank you so much for coming with me.”

Nico turns to give him a toothpaste-white smile. “Nessun problema. I would not have missed this for the world.”

“Are you in pain?” Josh asks from the back seat as the car glides down the winding country road toward Ludlow Hall.

“Stings a bit, but painkillers will deal with it,” Alexander says, and stretches out as he relaxes for the first time in eight hours. He turns to eye a Nico who is biting down hard on his bottom lip. “You’d better warn Tonio and Luca about the dangers of zippers, pal.”

Nico turns to give him big eyes. “No need. They are Italian!”

 

FINE

Ah, men and zips.

The jaws of death.

This Friday we have the first of the Golddiggers short story. I don’t think I’ve ever had such a great time in my entire writing career. There are eight in total to take us right through the holiday season!

Big Hugs,

Christine XX