SAVE ALL YOUR KISSES FOR ME…

 

SAVEALLYOURKISSESFORME

Greetings!

Here’s this week’s (belated) Sneak Peek.

Enjoy!

The Dower House, and Sophia is out of hospital and reeeeeeelaxing in her pj’s and all cozy under a fleece blanket on the sofa in the family room and being spoiled rotten by her papa and her baby sister, Eve. Aww…

Sophia studied all the lipstick kisses on the plaster cast on her broken arm. It didn’t hurt now, although big bump on her head sometimes ached. She counted the kisses… mama, papa, Auntie Rosie and Uncle Alexander, which made four. The sound of a car on the gravel driveway had Jimmy Chew sit and cock his head to listen. Car doors banged and the sound of footsteps running had Sophia eye the door to the boot room. First through the door was Tonio who skidded to a halt in socked feet in front of her. He had mud on his knees and his school tie was wonky.

Tonio’s dark eyes went huge as he studied her face. “Dio, you have two black eyes.” And then he spotted the pink plaster on her arm. “Does it hurt?”

Sophia shook her head. “Nope.”

Since Jimmy Chew was begging for attention, he lifted him for a hug, and sat next to Sophia. Next through the door was Luca and Sophia’s best friend, Emily. An Emily who stopped dead and her face went pale as she stared at her in absolute horror, and then promptly burst into tears.

“What’s the matter, Emily?” Bronte asked as she walked through the door, closely followed by Emily’s mummy, Grace.

“Sophia’s hurt really bad and I don’t like it,” poor Emily sobbed.

And just like that, Luca—always a sensitive soul—burst into tears as well.

Nico bit his lip and sent his wife big eyes.

Meanwhile, Grace hugged her daughter and checked out Sophia at the same time.

“You’re a poor injured soldier, you have been in the wars haven’t you?”

Sophia wasn’t sure what that meant, but she shook her head. “I wasn’t fighting. I fell down the stairs.”

“You were in time-out,” Tonio reminded her, ever helpful.

Luca, feeling better after his papa had gently scrubbed his knuckles on his head, nodded. “Yes, because you were naughty.”

Sophia made a face. “I can be a little bit—naughty, but—good naughty.”

Nico’s dark brows rose. “Good naughty? That’s a new one.”

Emily, feeling better after a hug, wandered over to closely inspect the injured soldier.

“Your eyes are swollen and red and black. Does it hurt?”

“My head hurts a little bit, that’s why I have to have quiet and plenty of rest,” Sophia said, channelling the doctor at the hospital.

Emily squeezed herself between Sophia and Tonio and gently touched a finger to the pink plaster cast. “This just breaks my little heart,” she whispered.

“A cuddle makes your heart bigger,” Sophia told Emily perfectly seriously.

“Aw, that’s a lovely thing to say,” Grace said, and dropped a kiss on Sophia and Emily’s cheek for good measure.

“Yup. The pair of them would bring a tear to a glass eye,” Bronte said from her position behind the counter-top in the kitchen. “Who wants a hot chocolate?” The cries of me, me, me, had her jerk her chin in the direction of the hall. “After you’ve washed your hands and changed out of your school uniform, boys.”

Emily trooped after them to wash her hands, and returned to continue her examination of her best friend’s injuries. Very serious, earnest eyes lifted to Sophia. “You have kisses on your plaster.”

Sophia grinned. “That one was mama, then Auntie Rosie, and then Uncle Alexander and then papa.”

Emily turned to give Nico a wide-eyed look. “You wore lipstick?”

Si. We were kissing her arm better.”

Emily turned to her mummy. “Do you have lipstick in your bag? Can I kiss Sophia’s arm better?”

Grace rummaged around in her bag and found her make-up bag and a red lipstick. Both mother and daughter carefully applied the cosmetic and gently placed a kiss on a thrilled Sophia’s cast.

“That makes six kisses,” Sophia said, her cheeks pink.

Tonio and Luca dashed into the room, Jimmy Chew hot on their heels.

Dressed in soft blue jeans and his clean but ratty Spiderman T-shirt, Luca stood in front of the girls. He shoved a black curl from his forehead even as his brow furrowed. “What are you doing?”

Emily made a kiss mouth with kissy noises. “Kissing her better.”

Grace watched Luca think about it, then offered him her lipstick. “Would you like to do it, too?”

“He’s a boy,” ten year old Tonio said. He wore sweatpants and a Star Wars T-shirt. He puffed out his chest.  “Boys don’t wear lipstick.”

Luca turned to him. “But I want to.” He thought for a minute, then accepted the cosmetic, holding the rose gold case as if it was a grenade with the pin pulled.

“Would you like me to apply it?” Grace offered, her blue eyes dancing.

Luca nodded, and stood solemn and still while the cosmetic was carefully applied to his mouth. Then he placed a gentle kiss on the cast and stood back to admire his handiwork. Rubbing his lips together, he licked to taste it.

“Hmm. It tastes sort of… nice.”

When Eve toddled over and presented her face for lipstick, too, Grace simply could not resist. She carefully applied it and then lifted the child up to kiss her sister, too.

Tonio scowled. “I am not doing it.”

Little Eve turned to Luca and wrapped her arms around his legs. “Batman,” she said.

Luca laughed and pointed to his T-shirt. “No. This is Spiderman.”

“Batman!” she said.

“If you do it that will make nine kisses,” Sophia told Tonio. She batted her lashes. “I bet my arm will heal much faster with kisses.”

Tonio rolled his eyes, heaved a deep sigh. “Okaaaaaay.”

Biting down hard on her bottom lip, Grace kept her face straight as she applied the cosmetic, and when Tonio did his duty, everyone cheered.

The boy’s face went bright red.

“BATMAN!” cried Eve and hugged Tonio’s legs.

Tonio picked her up smacked a lipstick kiss on her chubby cheek. “No. My T-shirt has Star Wars on it.”

“BATMAN!” roared Eve.

 

 

Nico, pouring coffee for the adults, caught Bronte’s eye and grinned.

“It’s her favourite word,” she said. “Everything and everyone is Batman.”

 

By the time everyone had drunk their hot chocolate and coffee, Nico was in his study and Bronte Grace were chatting about their day.

The kids were settled on the sofa with Sophia watching the Disney movie, Frozen… again.

Emily turned big blue eyes on Tonio and gazed up at him with adoration. “Tonio?”

“Hmm?”

“Can I ask you something?” she said in her soft, breathy voice.

Sleepy eyes the colour of dark chocolate met hers. “Sure.”

“Will you promise to keep all your kisses for me?” she whispered, her cheeks hot.

The slow smile reached his eyes and they twinkled into hers. “I do not think I can do that.”

Her little face fell. “Okay. I suppose you want to kiss lots of girls.”

“How will I know which girl is the right one if I do not kiss her?” he asked her with an unshakable logic. “You will kiss lots of boys, too.”

Emily shook her head so hard her fiery curls danced on her shoulders. “No. I’ll save ALL my kisses for you.”

Tonio shrugged. “When you are older you will change your mind.”

Emily turned back to the movie. “Never.”

Meanwhile, Bronte and Grace had overheard the entire exchange.

“Wow. My daughter’s got it bad,” Grace said.

Bronte made a face and topped up their coffee from the pot.

“What do you expect? He’s Italian!”

 

FINE

 

Aww, poor Emily and poor Sophia.

BATMAN!

Until next time,

Christine X

 

 

 

 

It’s the Ludlow Hall Sneak Peek…

 

CCMACKENZIE.COM

Hello, dear readers!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why? What have I done now?”

“Dunno.”

“You know nuthin'”

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

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

“That’s what she said.”

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

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

 

 

 

***

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

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

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

“Head hurts,” Sophia whispered.

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

 

 

***

Two days later…

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

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

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

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

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

“I want to go home.”

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

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

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

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

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

Nico swallowed.

Seriously?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

FINE

Two sneak peeks this week… enjoy.

NICO+BRONTE - SNEAK PEEK

Hello lovely readers!

This week I have two sneak peeks instead of one…

Enjoy!

 

NO HANKY PANKY ON A THURSDAY!

It’s an early(ish) Friday morning at The Dower House….

Bronte lay in bed, snug as a bug in a rug. Was there anyone in the whole wide world who didn’t just love that special time between asleep and awake? She stretched out a bare foot to find a hot body. Seemed Nico was still in bed, which meant it was too early to get up. Her foot stroked his foot. And just like that he rolled over to wrap his big body around hers to spoon her. She wiggled her butt, and just like that he went rock hard. Oh my, she couldn’t help but grin because that was all it took, and after nearly eight years of marriage, how wonderful was that?

“You just purred like a contented kitten,” Nico growled in her ear.

His hands slid up and over her waist to cup and play with her breasts.

Her naked breasts.

She blinked, and opened her eyes.

Through the closed curtains, she saw a chink of daylight.

She blinked again, and her eyes went wide.

Omigod.

In a single leap, she was out of bed and raced to fling open the curtains to find frost on the grass and a frail sun filtering through low cloud.

She spun to face her husband. “What time is it?” she demanded.

Nico reached out to grab his cell from the bedside cabinet.

He groaned. “Dio, it is eight-thirty.”

Bronte screeched so loud he winced.

“Eight-thirty? It can’t be eight-thirty.” She made a move for the door and stopped dead. “Omigod. I’m naked. How the hell am I naked?” Then her eyes grew like saucers. She spun to the love of her life and beaned him with a dark look. “Did you make love to me last night?”

Settling himself comfortably against fat pillows, and enjoying the sight of his wife—naked—scrambling on the floor to find her thermal boy-short panties in black cotton and matching long sleeved top, Nico scratched his jaw. “Si. You had a bad dream. I gave you a hug.” He shrugged. “You know how it is with us.”

Her head popped through the top, and furious emerald eyes held his. “I know how it is with you!” She ran her hands through her blonde hair and tied it in a messy top knot with the hair-tie on her wrist, then she tugged on yoga pants, then rushed to her closet and thrust her bare feet into ankle Uggs. “Omigod, this is a disaster. I slept in because we had sex. On a Thursday. We never have sex on a Thursday. What the hell were you thinking?”

Nico thought about that statement, scratched his flat belly and realized she was quite right about no sex on a Thursday. His brows met. How on earth had it come to this?

“Now I’m late and the kids are late for school. Omigod, the kids are NEVER late for school. We’ll probably receive a warning letter from the headmaster. My whole day is ruined. I have a routine. You know I have a routine.” She headed for the door and turned to him. “WHY the hell did you touch me?”

“You had a bad dream, don’t you remember?”

Her hand on the door knob, she thought about it. “I had a weird dream. Really weird.”

“You can tell me all about it later,” he said, and slid the screen on his cell phone to call his office. His wife was not the only person who was late. On the other hand, he wasn’t panicking over nothing.

He called his PA, Julie, and then had a word with Alexander Ludlow. An Alexander who laughed out loud at the fact that his best friend and business partner had, for the first time in his life, slept in. Alexander also imparted a vital piece of information that made Nico grin like a fool.

“Omigod! Nico—I can’t find the kids!!!!”

The sound of his wife racing down the stairs had him ease himself out of bed to grab his Calvins, tossed on the floor before he’d got down to business with Bronte in the middle of the night. He wandered into the en-suite bathroom to do his business, brushed his teeth and then dressed in sweat pants and one of the ratty T-shirts he loved.

When he strolled into the kitchen/family/living space, he found Bronte slumped over a kitchen table that looked as if a starving hoard had laid waste to the larder. She was reading a note, and appeared utterly bewildered. “Can you believe this? Tonio realized we’d slept in. The kids got dressed, got their own breakfast, and then called Rosie and Alexander. My brother took them to school and Rosie has Eve for the day and has organized the pastry chefs at Sweet Sensations to take over my work for the day.”

Since Nico knew all this already, he said nothing and began loading the dishwasher with dirty dishes, cutlery, and empty glasses. With an efficiency that impressed his stunned wife, he switched on the kettle and then cleared the empty cereal packets, orange juice and milk cartons from the table. By the time he’d wiped the table clean and placed a cup of coffee in front of her, she still looked a little shell-shocked.

“Did you check Tonio’s maths homework?” she demanded.

Kicking back in his chair and enjoying his first coffee of the day, he thought about it for a minute, then shook his head.

She groaned. “Neither did I. And who made sure Luca wore clean socks, and helped him tie his shoelaces? Tell me that!”

Nico, dark eyes twinkling, eyed his wife’s pissy face. “He probably did them himself, his technique is improving.”

She groaned again. “God, knowing him, he’s probably wearing yesterday’s underpants.”

“It will not do him any harm, cara,” he said, the melody of Italy a deep rumble in his chest.

Her emerald eyes fired. “Do not turn the Italian charm on me, Nico Ferranti. How the hell can this have happened?”

Again he shrugged. “We have busy lives. We were obviously tired after a disturbed night. Alexander has everything in hand at Ludlow Hall, therefore my attendance is not needed. You and I, cara mia, are going to play hookey today.”

Her eyes narrowed. “Are we indeed? And who disturbed my sleep, that’s what I want to know.”

“You woke me, remember? What was your dream?”

She settled back in her chair, and eyed him over her coffee cup. “It was weird. Really weird.”

When she flushed scarlett, he grew intrigued, because that was a guilty face if ever he saw one. “Hmm. A dirty dream?”

“Actually, I dreamed of a lover… and he, well…”

He had to laugh. “Ah, what did I do to you?”

She cleared her throat. “Actually, it wasn’t you.”

Nico inhaled his coffee.

By the time he’d caught his breath and wiped streaming eyes, the love of his life was watching him with an extremely wicked glint in her eye.

“Very funny,” he said.

Her brows rose. “Wow, arrogant much? It wasn’t you.”

He sat up straight.

Appalled, he growled, “Who is he?”

She blinked at the spark in his eyes and clear aggression in his tone. “Who the hell do I know? It was a dream.”

“A person does not dream of someone she has not met.”

She bit her lip as, clearly fascinated with his reaction, she studied his face. “You’re being totally ridiculous. You know that, don’t you?”

“All I know is that my wife had dream sex with another man. You have cheated on me.”

For a split second her jaw dropped, and then she roared with laughter so hard, she had to hug herself. “Oh, God. I cannot wait to tell Rosie…”

He made a face, and refilled his cup from the pot. “I have never dreamed of any woman except you since we met,” he said in a brusque tone.

Her jaw dropped. “Phooey, you big liar!”

His chin lifted. “This is true. I dream of only one woman, and that is you. It has been this way since I met you.”

She rested her elbows on the table, her chin on the palms of her hands, and studied him with great interest. “Really?”

“Really.”

“Aww, how lovely.”

Si. I am both loyal and faithful, even in my dreams.”

She bit down hard on her bottom lip, but her eyes danced with mirth. “I’m sorry I cheated on you with dream sex with a perfect stranger.”

“What did he look like?”

She shook her head. “I have no idea. I was in the throes of passion…”

“Ah, that was why you were whimpering in your sleep.”

“Was I?”

He shot her a dark look. “You were, loudly, as I recall.”

“All I remember was his…”

Nico’s brows flew into his hairline. “His?—”

Again she bit down hard on her bottom lip. “Love muscle,” she whispered, and couldn’t quite stifle a giggle.

Silence.

For an endless moment, he considered her lovely face. A face all flushed with embarrassment and a laughter that melted his heart. Then a thought occurred to him.

“If you cannot remember what he looked like, but how he FELT inside you made you whimper, it is clear to me you were dreaming of me. Who else makes you whimper, tell me that?”

Studying the ceiling as she thought about it, his wife eventually gave a nod. “You could be right.”

He smiled, most relieved to have jumped that hurdle. “And who,” he asked in a good-humoured tone, “made you call my name three times in the middle of the night? That would be me, cara mia.”

“Three times?”

He shrugged. “Si. I heard you cry, Nico, Nico, Nico, at the pivotal moment. I counted.”

She placed her empty coffee cup on the glass topped table with a distinct click. “THREE TIMES?”

Now what had upset her about that?

He was a gentleman.

A gentleman always made sure the lady comes first.

“I take my husbandly duties seriously,” he drawled, absolutely thrilled at the way her eyes were shot with molten heat and her smooth cheeks flushed.

“No wonder I was exhausted this morning! You’re insatiable!”

“When it comes to you, cara mia, I can never get enough.”

“Okay. So what are we going to do today?”

His response was to get to his feet, move around the table, scoop her up in his arms and head for the stairs.

“Guess.”

She folded her arms and stared straight ahead as he marched up the stairs and into their bedroom. He kicked the door shut.

When he tossed her on their bed, she scrambled to her knees. “We are not spending the whole day in bed,” she informed him in a tone that meant business.

But, as Nico stripped to his skin, he caught the way her eyes went all hazy with that mix of lust and love he adored so much.

“We will have a duvet day.”

Then he set to work to get her naked with an efficiency that made her laugh a little breathless.

“We can’t Nico. Nico—really, Nico!!”

 

Much later……..

Her cheeks hot, her bones liquid, Bronte lay naked on her back in her bed and stared at the ceiling. Somehow they’d lost the duvet, the pillows and the sheets. “Wow,” she whispered with what sounded like awe and wonder.

Sprawled on his belly, Nico’s heart was racing so fast, he wondered if he was going to have a heart attack. “That was… something else.”

“We’ll never be able to better that,” she said.

He turned his head, and had to laugh at her shocked face.

Hell, he was a little shocked himself.

Cara mia,” he drawled in a voice as smooth as silk. “How quickly you forget. Me, I am Italian!”

FINE!

Ahh, a sexy sneak peek. Whatever will Sophia say….. Stay tuned for part two….

 

 

SOPHIA’S NOT WEARING A HAPPY FACE…

 

Nico Ferranti scratched the scruff on a chin that hadn’t seen a razor today. No time. Hehehe. He was dressed in his favorite jeans, worn white at the seams, a black long-sleeved thermal beneath a duck down vest, his feet nice and toasty in thick socks inside black boots, the leather nicely broken in. He’s driving his big shiny black Range Rover. Since it was all his fault the love of his life had slept-in this morning—for the first time in her life, hehehe—as punishment, he’s on daddy duty and doing the school run. He’s picked up Tonio, Luca, Sophia and her friend Emily. It’s Friday and Emily’s having a sleep-over.

Even though frost had turned the fields into a winter wonderland and dusk was fast approaching, all is sunshine and roses in Nico Ferranti’s world. He’s living in a happy bubble of an afterglow of hot, make that HOT, luv’in. He heaved a happy sigh, and hummed a happy tune. So what if he and Bronte had overslept? What was the big panic? They hadn’t broken any laws, had they? After all, didn’t they deserve a duvet day once, maybe twice—if he was lucky, a year? It wasn’t as if the world as they knew it had ended. Their children had shown a resilience that gladdened his heart in the way they had got themselves dressed, made their own breakfast and telephoned auntie Rosie to collect baby Eve, and asked Alexander to drive them to school. An Alexander who had thoroughly enjoyed the experience, if his unholy glee over the telephone was anything to go by. Hell, Nico would do the same himself for his best pal.

Nico smiled again at the memory of the way Bronte cuddled their baby girl close before he’d left The Dower House for the school run. Then the smiled slipped a little at another memory, of the way Rosie had grinned cheekily at him, her brown eyes dancing with an impudence and suppressed laughter that had made his own cheeks burn. Little devil. There was no point in asking Alexander to control his wife, because the man adored the ground the woman walked on. Nico lifted a shoulder. He could hardly blame the man when he himself adored the ground his own wife walked on. Ah, yes. He and Alexander Ludlow were lucky, lucky men.

Still humming, it occurred to him that the children were quiet. Too quiet. He glanced over to Tonio to find the boy watching him like a hawk, his dark brows raised in a silent question.

“What?” asked Nico.

Tonio might be nine (nearly ten) years old, but he had what Bronte called, the Ferranti stare. Unblinking. Hard. Unforgiving.

“What!?” asked Nico, this time returning the stare in full measure, and keeping one eye on the road.

“You are a disgrace,” said Tonio, as if he was the parent talking to an errant child.

Nico blinked.

But, before he could open his mouth…

“Yup. You and mama were up to a bit of monkey-business,” said Sophia. And Nico bet he knew where his six year old daughter had got that phrase from—auntie bloody Rosie.

“My mummy and daddy,” said Emily in her high, breathy voice, “Call it hanky-panky. They think I don’t know what it means, but I do know…”

“Hanky-panky?” Luca’s dark head swung around as he stared with wide-eyed wonder at an Emily who was sitting between the twins in the middle of the back seat, like a good little angel, as if butter wouldn’t melt in her sweet little mouth. “What does that mean?”

Sophia sniffed. “It meeeeeans,” she said in a tone which made it clear she thought her twin was as thick as a plank. “—that mama and papa were having lots of rumpy-pumpy.”

A bewildered Luca stared unblinking at his sister, then he scowled. “Never heard of it.”

Nico’s pulse beat too fast in his throat.

And Tonio’s choked laugh did not help one iota.

Dio mio.

He swore he would NEVER, ever, pick the children again.

“Stoooopid, boy,” said Sophia.

Luca’s dark eyes fired. “I am NOT stupid. You are not allowed to call anyone stupid. It is very rude. YOU are very rude. In fact, YOU are horrible. I hate you.”

With a very bad feeling in his belly, Nico watched the scene unfold in the rear view mirror, and saw his daughter roll her eyes to heaven. “It means, thicko,” said Sophia—using a word that made her papa’s hand itch to spank her bottom. “That they were fooling around.”

Luca blinked, then his eyes went wide. “You mean they were playing?”

“My daddy calls it a bit of slap and tickle. I know what that means as well,” said Emily, as if her parents were just too stupid to live.

Again, Luca stared in awe and wonder at Emily. “Your daddy hit your mummy?”

Emily’s riot of red curls danced as she shook her head. “Nooooooo. He also calls it, nudge nudge wink wink. I know what that means, too.”

Luca made a face. “I think your family are a bunch of weirdos.”

“For heaven’s sake, Dumbo!” yelled Sophia, clearly at the end of her tether. “They’re talking about SEX!”

Luca’s jaw dropped. “You’re not allowed to say that word, Sophia Ferranti. I’m telling mama.”

Meanwhile, Tonio was laughing so hard in the front seat, he had to stuff the hem of his woollen sweater in his mouth.

“Sophia, (sounded like Sopheeeeeeeaaaa)” said Nico in a soft and silky voice. A voice his daughter knew well.

In the back seat, her cheeks all flushed with temper, his not-sorry daughter caught his eye in the mirror and beaned him with a black look. “Okay, then. You and mama were having high jinks. Is that better?”

“Oh, my goodness,” gasped Tonio, tears running down his hot cheeks. “You English—the language, it is insane.”

Determinedly ignoring the mounting verbal abuse being flung between the twins in the back seat, Nico heaved a heavy sigh and caught Tonio’s eye.

He couldn’t help but respond to the glee dancing there.

He swung the car through the gates of The Dower House, and thanked God he was home.

Si. I thank God I am Italian.”

 

FINE!

 

Why two this week you ask? I was sick and had guests the week before, which threw out my routine, and although I posted the peeks on my author Facebook page – I totally forgot to post it here. I know… terrible.

Going forward, since Fridays are super-busy around here, the Sneak Peeks will be posted during the weekends.

Big hugs,

Christine X

p.s. I have NO RULES pre-order coming soon. Between my illness and my editorial team affected by hurricanes everything went all to hell. Stay tuned!

 

Finally, the Ludlow Hall sneak peek is back….

Join the ferranti family,

 

Guess what I’ve got for you today?

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

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

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

Nico blinked, and eyed her in the mirror.

She eyed him right back.

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

“You missed Luca’s spelling competition.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Bright sparks?”

“That’s what auntie Rosie called them.”

“Hmm. I can hear her say it myself.”

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

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

“Liaise. He missed out the second i.”

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

“No. But I do now.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Luca made a face. “I lost.”

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

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

“Math is not stupid,” Tonio piped up.

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

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

Bronte beamed. “You’re very welcome.”

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

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

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

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

Luca nodded. “I’ll win next time.”

Silence prevailed, until…

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

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

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

Si,” Luca beat Nico to it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That went well,” Bronte muttered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nico saw his wife eye their baby girl.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Women,” Tonio said. “Are hard work.”

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

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

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

 

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

 

Big hugs, girlies!

Christine X

 

 

It’s Sneak Peek and time for a little kindness…

IT'S THE LUDLOW HALL SNEAK PEEK. BE KIND !

Bronte’s collected the twins and Emily from school.

As she eased her Range Rover around country bends heading for home, she glanced in the rear view mirror at her eldest daughter who’s sitting on her booster seat staring out of the window. When Sophia’s too quiet it usually means something’s up. Bronte didn’t have to wait long to find out.

“Our badges are sooooo cool,” Luca said to Emily.

Emily nodded, and checked out the badge pinned to her school blazer. “You have a blue one and mine’s pink.”

“What did you get a badge for?” Bronte asked.

“For kindness,” Luca piped up.

“That is cool. Who were you kind to?”

“Our friends voted for the kindest boy, that’s me, and the kindest girl, that’s Emily,” Luca said. “I sent Tom a get well card when he broke his leg. And Emily gave Susie a cuddle when she skinned her knee when she fell in the playground.”

Another glance in the rear view mirror and the look on Sophia’s face, as if she’d swallowed a wasp, told its own story.

Hmm.

“You okay, Sophia?”

Still facing the window, Sophia sent her mama a side-eye. “Fine.”

Emily stroked Sophia’s arm. “She’s upset because Miss Brown said we shouldn’t have best friends at school. That we should be inclusive and everyone is our friend.”

“She’s as dumb as a turnip,” Sophia said, channelling her Auntie Rosie. “I’ll never be friends with horrible people who are nasty. We need to stand up to bullies, not be friends with them.”

Well then, seemed that by asking a simple question, she’d opened up a whole can of worms. “We’ll talk about it when we get home.”

“Emily’s been my best friend since we were little babies. We’re sistas, just like you and Auntie Rosie. How would you feel if a dumb teacher told you not to be best friends with Auntie Rosie?”

“Calling a teacher names is disrespectful, Sophia. I won’t tolerate it. Modify your language please.”

Sophia heaved a deep sigh as she bored holes through the back of her mama’s head.

“Okay. Miss Brown is wrong. Being kind to bad people is silly because they do not deserve it.”

“We’ll talk about it when we get home,” Bronte repeated and breathed a sigh of relief as she drove the car through the gates of The Dower House.

When Sophia raced past her without offering her usual hug of welcome, Rosie’s dark brows winged into her hairline.

The Ferranti Bichon Frise, Jimmy Chew, was hot on Sophia’s heels.

Rosie turned to eye a pale-looking Emily and suspiciously quiet Luca.

“Okay. What’s up?”

“Me and Emily gotta kindness badge.”

Rosie crouched down to take a closer look. “Nice. What’s up with my favorite niece? She upset because she didn’t get a badge?”

Emily shook her head hard enough to have her curls bounce. “Uh-uh. Miss Brown told us we can’t have best friends in school. Everyone is our friend.”

Rosie made a face. “That’s just stu…” When Bronte looked to heaven, she added, “What I mean is, that of course everyone should be friends. However, in my honest opinion, there is also a place for best friends.”

“That’s what Sophia said. I will always be her bestest friend for ever and ever,” Emily said in her high girly voice.

Rosie stroked a gentle hand down the river of shiny copper curls. “You’re a glutton for punishment, aren’t you?”

Since the meaning of the statement went right over her head, Emily nodded. “I love Sophia.”

Rosie grinned at the determined tone.

“What’s not to love?”

“Since the pair of you are wearing kindness badges, go up and spread a little to someone who needs it. Dinner will be ready in two hours,” Bronte said.

Luca’s dark eyes lit up. “What are we having?”

“Home made pizza.”

He sent her a deeply suspicious look. “The one with stupid vegetables and little trees?”

“No broccoli.”

“Good,” he muttered, leading Emily towards the stairs. “I hate the little trees.”

Rosie had to laugh. “Him and his little trees. Why did you give me a dirty look?”

“Sophia was rude about Miss Brown in the car and I told her name calling is unacceptable.”

Rosie perched on a high stool at the counter top. “Yeah? What did she call her?”

Bronte slid her a black look. “As dumb as a turnip.”

“Can’t say I disagree.”

“Of course you don’t. Just wait until Mila’s six. You’ll change your tune then.”

“Nah. She takes after Alexander in nature, which is just as well. Can you imagine two of me living under the same roof? We’d kill each other.”

Frowning, Bronte filled the kettle and switched it on. “Sophia needs to respect her teacher. Miss Brown’s lovely.”

“Hmm. Respect needs to be earned. The kindness badge is a good idea though. Maybe expand it to include the community at large rather than inside the classroom.”

When a miserable looking Emily and Luca returned to the kitchen and slid into seats at the table, Rosie sent Bronte big eyes. “What’s the matter now?”

“She wants to be left alone,” Emily said.

Her blue sad eyes just broke Rosie’s heart. “She’s doing a Greta Garbo.”

Luca looked at Rosie. “Who’s Greta Garbo?”

“She was a famous Hollywood actress who gave up her career and told the world she wanted to be left alone. She’s dead.”

Luca glowered. “Sophia’s not dead.”

“This is true. Forget I mentioned it. I’ll go speak to her.”

 

As Rosie left, Luca turned pleading brown eyes on his mama.

“I’m starving. Can I have something that isn’t healthy?”

Bronte had to laugh. “You can have a glass of milk and a white chocolate chip mini muffin. How does that sound?”

“Yay!”

“How about you, Emily?”

The little girl shook her head. “Sophia’s sad.”

“Rosie will cheer her up. You can save your milk and muffin until she brings Sophia down, what do you say?”

Emily smiled. “Okay.”

Bronte decided that she was the sweetest child and most definitely deserved her kindness badge. “Why don’t I play the Ninja Turtles video for you and Luca?”

“Thank you, Bronte.”

“You’re very welcome, Emily.”

 

 

***

 

Rosie knocked Sophia’s bedroom door and entered to find her niece dressed in soft jeans and her favorite Elsa T-shirt. She was sprawled on cushions on her window seat with Jimmy Chew dozing on her lap.

“Hey, what’s with the long face. And how come you didn’t give me a hug?”

“Sorry.”

In response, Rosie scooped up Sophia and the dog.

She sat on the window seat with them on her lap and wrapped her arms around both.

“I love the view from here. We can see right over the fields and the river to Ludlow Hall.”

“I’m watching for papa’s car.”

“Emily said the no best friend rule has upset you.”

“I don’t understand how I can be a friend to bad people.”

“Bad how?”

“The girls who pull hair or nip and scratch and say nasty things.”

“Hmm. Thing is, over time, people can change.”

Sophia shifted to look up into Rosie’s face. “Did you have people you didn’t like at school?”

“Sure did. When I was seven I used to dislike Janine.”

Sophia’s eyes were like saucers. “But, I love auntie Janine. She decorated my bedroom and does really cool things for us.”

“Yeah. Like I said, people change. When she was younger, she was a spoilt brat.”

“Wow.”

“Yep. But once she got older and had Boo, she was a changed person.”

“Why did she change?”

“Well, she went through a hard time when she had the baby. She needed help to pay the bills and your mama and me gave her a job at Sweet Sensations.”

“You helped her even when you didn’t like her?”

Rosie wondered why she’d begun this conversation in the first place and decided to keep it simple. “Something like that. But, mostly I fell in love with Boo and realized the Janine I knew as a child and the grown-up were not the same person. Now Janine’s one of my best friends and I love her to bits. Maybe think about giving people a chance. See what happens.”

Sophia nodded. “‘Kay. But Emily will always be my best friend.”

The persistent stubborn streak within her niece made Rosie grin. “That’s cool. But maybe think about including a couple of the shy girls who find it hard to make friends in your circle. That would be a kind thing to do for them.”

“I didn’t think of it like that.”

“Of course you didn’t. You’re only six and I’m the adult who understands these things. Fancy milk and a chocolate chip mini muffin?”

As soon as she’d mentioned the word chocolate, Jimmy Chew leapt off Sophia’s knee and shot out the door.

Rosie looked at Sophia. “I swear that dog understands every single word we say.”

Sophia’s dimple popped. “He understands chocolate and cookie.”

As Rosie took her hand as they strolled out the door, she mused, “And I wonder why that is?”

“Auntie Rosie?”

“Yes, my child?”

“Did you get into trouble all the time when you were my age?”

“Do birds fly in the sky? Do fish swim in the sea? Of course I did.”

“Were you kind to people you didn’t like?”

Rosie could not lie. “No.”

Sophia nodded. “That’s what I thought.”

“I always say to forgive, but never forget.”

“And you always say don’t get angry, get even.”

“That, too.”

“Growing up is hard.”

“Sure is. But you’re lucky because you’ve got me and your Uncle Alexander and your mama and papa to guide you. Trust me, between us there is nothing we haven’t seen.”

Rosie and Sophie entered the kitchen to find Bronte busy preparing dinner, including the ingredients for a huge bowl of salad. Luca won’t be pleased.

When Sophia skipped over to the table to join Emily, Rosie winked at a smiling Bronte.

 

“What did you say to her?” Bronte asked out of the corner of her mouth.

Rosie’s hand hovered over a sliced red pepper. “Just gave her the benefit of my infinite wisdom and vast experience.”

“God.”

“She’s a bright girl. All she needed was time to work through her thoughts.”

“I don’t want to micro-manage her life.”

“I get that. On the other hand, it’s good to keep tabs on what’s going on. We’re all she has between her and the rest of the world.”

Bronte blinked. “I hadn’t thought of it like that.”

“Scary shit, isn’t it?”

“I’ve been wondering what sort of badge Miss Brown could give Sophia.”

Rosie munched on a pepper. “That’s dead easy. I am Italian.”

 

 

 

FINE

#bekind #kindness #amwriting #amediting

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

 

What do you call an Italian father of four gorgeous children_

 

It’s the Dower House with the Ferranti family…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I was helping.”

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

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

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

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

“What happened?”

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

“God, Nico. What if…”

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

“We will both talk to them.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

It took twenty minutes to settle the twins.

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

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

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

“They would never hurt the baby.”

She lifted her head.

Her eyes flew to his. “I know that—”

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

Eventually, he felt her settle.

“I miss Tonio so much,” she said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Was he a regular guest?”

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

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

“Eighteen.”

“How old was he?”

“Sixty-five.”

“He should be thoroughly ashamed of himself.”

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

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

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

“I just bet he did.”

“No wonder you look tired.”

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

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

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

“And you arrived to find chaos reigning.”

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

And no bra.

He wiggled his brows.

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

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

Dio, he adored her.

Si.”

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

“I can multi-task. I am Italian.”

FINE

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

Christine X

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michael frowned. “Sounds complicated.”

Si. But as papa says, such is life.”

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

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

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

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

“When?”

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

***

Bronte eyed her daughter and Emily.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

***

Thirty minutes later…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Both men spoke, “Si.”

***

Hours later…

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Who said I will remain single?”

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

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

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

“Clio.”

Cue another silence.

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

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

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

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

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

Gregorio nodded. “I let Tonio down—”

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

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

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

“You think I cannot provide both?”

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

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

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

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

“Ah, but you have feelings for her?”

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

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

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

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

 

FINE

 

Oooooooh, who is Clio?

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

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

 

Christine X

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

 

SNEAKPEEKEASTERITALY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Blackmailing,” Tonio corrected.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Okay,” Emily agreed.

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

 

 

***

Twenty minutes later…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dio mio,” Gregorio whispered.

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Easter!

 

Christine X

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