Aim for the ping pong ball… It’s the Ludlow Hall short story…

Aim for the Ping Pong Ball

 

Hello, my darlings!

We’ve actually had a heat wave – a mini heat wave they say – which has brought us the hottest April day since 1949! Love it!

We’re also in the process of major detailing work on the top floor of this house, and like everything else once we began the project other things appeared like extra plumbing and electrics and plasterwork. Bleh.

Don’t know about you, but I need a bit of Ludlow love, or hate as the case may be when it comes to the Ferranti twins, Sophia and Luca.

The Dower House…

“How’s Tonio?” Rosie Ludlow asked Bronte as they jogged down a dirt trail behind Ludlow Hall. They both wore knee length yoga pants and fitted T-shirts, their hair pulled back from flushed faces. The sun’s rays filtered through the tree canopy. The air was filled with the scent of years of leaf mould. A brook babbled into a stream as it made it’s lazy and winding way down to the river Ludlow.

Bronte jogged on the spot, checked her watch. “His shoulder’s doing a lot better and the bruising across his clavicle is improving every day. He knows he’s been lucky, and trying not to fret about no football practice for six weeks, but he’s a bit down in the mouth at times. Poor boy.”

“Kids,” Rosie said. “They’re tricky little buggers.”

Bronte sent her a dark look. “Mine are a nightmare at times.”

Rosie grinned. “You’re crazy about them.”

“You know Sophia’s top in math and English and music?”

Rosie bit down hard on her bottom lip as she joined Bronte in leg stretches.

“Luca mentioned it. He is most displeased.”

Bronte had to laugh. “He’ll never be her equal. When it comes to brains she’s in a class of her own.”

“That girl could rule the world.”

“She does her level best to rule our house, except she’s gotta go through me so that’ll never happen.”

“Now Emily’s back from vacation, she’ll keep Sophia entertained.”

Bronte rolled her eyes. “The latest is they want to join a circus.”

Rosie snorted a laugh. “The Greatest Showman?”

“Yup. Grace is taking them to a double sitting tomorrow. They know every single word to every single song.”

“Did you know Emily asked her for a baby tiger?”

Bronte closed her eyes. “I don’t want to even think about it. Bubblegum and Jimmy Chew are more than enough to deal with.”

When they reached Bronte’s Range Rover in the car park of Ludlow Hall, they took a long drink of water before jumping in.

As Bronte drove down the long driveway lined by huge elm trees, she turned to eye Rosie. “You took it nice and slow today, you feeling okay?”

“Nothing that seven months won’t fix. I’m pregnant.”

When Bronte did an emergency stop, screamed her head off, and grabbed her in a hug, Rosie just held on tight.

Bronte shifted to check her colour. She looked fine. More than fine. “I didn’t know you two were trying for another baby!”

Rosie made a face. “As soon as we talked about it, voila, super-sperm struck again.”

A beaming Bronte hugged her once more. “Aw, Mila’s gonna be a big sister.”

“She’s just found her feet. Alexander’s a great daddy with her.”

“Of course he is!”

Rosie’s big brown eyes went all teary. “I can’t believe how I nearly messed it up with him.”

Bronte turned on the ignition and shook her head. “That’s baby hormones speaking.”

“I ran away.”

“You did. But you needed alone time to think about your relationship. Nothing wrong with that.”

Rose sniffed. “That’s not what you said at the time.”

“No. Well, I’d been worried sick that something bad had happened to you. Thank God your mother kept us in the loop. AND you cut your hair.”

Rosie took a deep breath. “Self inflicted punishment. It’s taken years to grow it back. The curse of curly hair.”

The car turned into the driveway of The Dower House.

“Aw, another baby in the family,” Bronte said.

Her wistful tone had Rosie give her big eyes.

“Are you broody again?”

Bronte blinked.

“Me? No!”

Rosie got out, grabbed her fitness bag from the trunk, eyed a thoughtful looking Bronte.

“You sure? I bet Nico would be up for another one.”

Hoisting her bag on her shoulder, Bronte locked the car.

“He’s always up for it.”

 

“Mama!” Sophia raced out the door, closely followed by her best friend in the Whole Wide World, Emily. The girls were dressed as athletic fairies, at least that was the best description of pink leotards, white footless tights and white wings, Bronte could come up with. They’d also been in the kiddy makeup and by the looks of it experimenting with ‘smoky eyes’. Goth fairies, maybe.

Rosie opened her arms and Sophia gave her a hug.

“What’s this? You been watching ‘Tinker Bell and the Legend of the Never Beast’ again?”

“How did you know?” Emily asked, her big blue eyes wide.

Rosie gave her a hug too. “A lucky guess.”

Sophia spun around to face Bronte. “Mama!”

“That’s the second time you’ve said that, what’s up, Buttercup?”

“There’s a disgusting stink in the downstairs toilet.”

Emily wrinkled her cute little freckled nose and nodded her head so hard in agreement that her red curls danced around her head.

“Is it blocked again?”

Sophia shook her head.

“Nope. But it stinks of wee.”

Bronte made a bitch-face, as Rosie called it, and marched into the house.

Her emerald gaze swept through the kitchen-dining-family space, and found it immaculate, which was just as well since she’d bottomed out the place the day before.

However, the yells and howls from the ‘man cave’ told her a soccer game was in full flow.

As she marched past the door to the ‘man cave’ she threw it a dark look and headed on down the hallway to the ground floor toilet. She opened the door and surveyed the scene, the vile splashes on the wall and floor tiles.

With a face like thunder, she threw open the window.

Rosie, always interested in how a domestic goddess ran her home, poked her head in the door and the smell of a urinal hit her between the eyes. “Jeez, what the hell is wrong with guys? Can’t they pee into the toilet bowl?”

“Nope,” Sophia said. “They’re disgusting. Mama, you should make them sit on the toilet like girls do.”

Emily piped up. “But how would that work? Wouldn’t their penis just stick up and wee would go everywhere?”

“Not if they hold it down into the bowl,” Sophia told her in a tone that meant business. “How hard can it be?”

Meanwhile Bronte, busy gathering cleaning products from the built in cupboard beneath the sink, picked up two pairs of pink rubber gloves, and stalked down the hall and into the ‘man cave.’ The men in her life, unshaven, all laid back in belly scratching mode, plus the empty soda bottles, coffee cups, and water bottles told her all she needed to know.

“You!” She shot a finger at Nico and tossed him a pair of rubber gloves and cleaning spray. And then she aimed her finger at her brother and tossed him gloves too. “And you! With me! Now!”

By this time Rosie, Emily and Sophia were in the hallway, their arms folded and wearing their own unique versions of the bitch-face.

 

Now, Nico Ferranti was not stupido.

He followed the stiff shoulders of his wife, couldn’t help but admire her tight little ass in those yoga pants, the swing of her white-blonde ponytail, and in his mind he made plans for an early night.

“Don’t even think about it, boyo!” Bronte shot over her shoulder.

However, when the love of his life behaved like she was in the military and ready for war, he knew something was up.

Alexander, meanwhile, was not a happy man. “Aw, what’s the matter with you? The game’s just come alive. We’ll miss the good bits.”

“That whiney voice is not a good look on you,” his sister told him sharply as she came to a halt outside the toilet. She threw open the door. “I want this cleaned right now and then we’re all gonna have a little talk on how to pee in my house.”

Alexander took a big step back, held up his hands.

“Whoa! I’m not touching it. This isn’t my house. Why do I need to clean it?”

Bronte went nose to nose with her big brother. “Did you pee in here today?”

Alexander ignored his wife’s shaking shoulders, but shot her a dark look anyway. “Might have. Once.”

“Were you in a hurry?” Bronte lifted her chin.

Alexander scratched the scruff on his jaw. “Maybe.”

“So you weren’t exactly focused on what you were doing?”

“I’ve been peeing all my life. I don’t splash.”

“Wanna bet?” his sister said.

“How much?”

“Twenty.”

“I cannot believe I’m even hearing this conversation,” Nico said on his knees. Wearing pink rubber gloves, he sprayed disinfectant spray on the walls, the floor and thoroughly inside and outside the toilet bowl. “It must have been the boys. And Tonio’s handicapped at the moment.”

Luca and Tonio, wondering what all the fuss was about, peered into the room.

“I didn’t use this toilet,” Tonio said, and missed the sharp look Nico shot him.

“I didn’t use it either,” Luca said. “We use the main bathroom upstairs.”

“Oh well then,” Bronte threw up her hands. “That’s means another bathroom to clean. Guys, the weather is warm and if you don’t drink enough fluids then your wee is concentrated and smells vile. We need to talk about this.”

“Nope. I am not talking about peeing in my own home,” Nico said.

 

When the rhetoric between her mama and papa descended into a row, Sophia grabbed Emily and they made their way to her bedroom and peace and quiet.

“Wow,” Emily said. “That was pretty disgusting.”

Sophia, busy rummaging around in her shelf unit, nodded, and emerged with notepad and pencil.

“We need a plan. My mama can’t do everything in this house.”

Emily followed her to a desk and chair. “What are you gonna do?”

Sophia sat and drew six lines down and six lines across. She wrote the names of her papa and her brothers and her Uncle Alexander in a box.

“We need to track who uses the toilet and when and then check it to see who’s the culprit. We can’t do anything without proof.”

A baffled looking Emily leaned on the desk, her chin on her hand. “Okay, but how to you get proof?”

“We put squares of toilet paper all around the toilet. If they get wet then we know who did it.”

“But that means we might wait for ages to see who needs to pee.”

Sophia thought about it, nodded. “Okay, then we need a better plan.”

Emily snapped her fingers. “I know! My mummy put a ping pong ball in the toilet and told my daddy to aim for it! It worked! No more smelly loos! And when he flushed, the ping pong ball doesn’t flush!”

Sophia sat back and grinned, then gave Emily a high five. “I like it! And I know just the place to get ping pong balls!”

A few minutes later, the girls are in the triple garage and rummaging through boxes.

“Got them!” Sophia held up a plastic box filled with ping pong balls. “How many do we need?”

“One’s enough in each one,” Emily said.

“Let’s do it!”

 

“Can someone tell me why there’s a ping pong ball in the toilet?” Luca asked.

The Ferranti family were eating dinner.

Bronte blinked. “Omigod. Now what?”

Sophia, eyeing her brothers and papa, shrugged. “It worked in Emily’s house.”

Bronte turned to her. “What worked?”

“Emily’s daddy aimed for the ping pong ball and no more splashes.”

Bronte’s brows flew into her hairline. “I like it! Aim for the ping pong ball, guys!”

The males in her life didn’t exactly look enthusiastic.

Luca, carefully removing any sign of broccoli from his meal with the precision of a brain surgeon, said, “How come there are boy toilets and girl toilets?”

Nico, trying to think of a logical way to answer the random question caught Sophia, chewing her food, staring unblinking at her twin.

When she opened her mouth, Nico jumped in.

“Privacy,” he said. “It’s a basic human right.”

“Oh, and by the way,” Bronte said and sent him a big toothy grin. “You owe me twenty pounds.”

Nico placed his knife and fork on the plate, sat back and did his level best to out-stare his wife, and failed.

“I did not splash.”

“Twenty pounds, boyo.”

He stared at his sons.

“How do you know it was me?”

“You dripped.”

His jaw dropped.

“Did not!”

“Did too.” Then she grabbed her phone. “Wanna see proof?”

For the first time in his life, Nico Ferranti felt his cheeks go hot.”

“You did not!”

“Yup. It’s X-rated, btw.”

Fiercely aware of the way his children watched him, Nico grabbed his wallet from his pocket and flicked a twenty towards his wife.

How embarrassing was this.

Later, much later, the kids were in bed and Nico was enjoying a glass of Chianti before bed. He poured his wife a glass of white wine, and waited.

He heard her upstairs doing her nightly round of checking on their kids, and then the sound of her bare feet pad down the stairs.

When she entered the family room wearing an ivory silk dressing gown, he studied her scrubbed face, her slim figure and thought he’d never seen anything more beautiful in his life.

Dio, he adored her.

“The ping pong ball is freaking me out,” he said.

When she threw back her head and laughed so hard she clutched her stomach, he had to smile.

“Omigod,” she said. “You should see your face…”

He sat back and placed bare feet on a stool.

His eyes held hers.”Tonio and Luca are drinking lots of water to see who has the best aim.”

Bronte bit down hard on her bottom lip, gave him wide eyes.

“Boys will be boys.”

“There is nothing sacred in this house,” he muttered.

She slid onto his knees and wrapped slim arms around his neck.

Emerald eyes filled with love and fun stared into his.

“You sulking?”

His nose kissed hers.

“I don’t sulk.”

“Okay, I’d call it a pout.”

“I don’t pout.”

When his hands slid inside the silk to find skin her breath hitched.

Then his mouth took hers…….

 

FINE

 

Ah, I well remember the ping pong ball in the toilet.

So does my H and my son….

Until next time!

Hugs,

Christine X

 

It’s the Ludlow Hall short story…

bigguns

Waving atcha, my darlings!

There’s a rumour going around that a big golden ball will rise in a blue sky tomorrow. I believe it’s called the sun and it’s been a while since we’ve seen it around here. I’m thinking BBQ, maybe…

It’s time for a Ludlow Hall short story

The Dower House just after dawn on Saturday morning…

Sophia Ferranti, tucked up all warm and cozy in her princess bed, was drifting in that lovely space between awake and asleep. It occurred to her the birds were terribly noisy this morning. The Ferranti’s didn’t keep geese themselves, but her papa had let a young couple, the Matthews, rent a smallholding next to their land at the bottom of their lane. The Matthews kept a variety of geese, chickens, goats and four really cute Lamas. Right now the geese squawked and screeched. When a couple of cockerels began to crow to add their voice to the dawn chorus her brows met. She heaved a sigh, rolled onto her other side and snuggled into her The Greatest Showman comforter. It smelled of lavender. In her mind she heard the song A Million Dreams and began to drift off into an awesome world about the circus. But then her eyes flew open…

The creak came again—the movement of someone walking over a floorboard in the hallway outside her room. It wasn’t a usual sound for this time in the morning. Her mama and papa had a certain routine, especially when the baby was teething. No, this was something quite different. Her heart beat faster. But the sound of a boyish hiss made her roll her eyes. It was her stupid brothers. She was about to go right back to sleep when a stifled giggle had her shoot up to sit. Did they seriously think they were being quiet? Then she wondered why were they sneaking around the house at this time in the morning? A tread on the stair told her they were on their way to the kitchen. The kitchen was the place where the last of the chocolate Easter eggs were safe from greedy boys. In fact, Sophia’s favourite milk chocolate egg, an untouched gift from Auntie Rosie, was in a glass cupboard in the kitchen. And that greedy pig, Luca, had had his beady eyes on that egg for days. Like an arrow fired from a longbow, Sophia was out of bed, out the door and tip-toeing down the stairs—careful to avoid the squeaky tread.

In her Elsa nightie, she slid, like a ninja, to press her ear to the kitchen door, she couldn’t hear the rustling of a carboard box opening, or the crackle of golden paper. Instead, her brows flew into her hairline because it seemed someone was pressing buttons to disengage the alarm system. Her mouth dropped open because touching the alarm system was, in the words of Auntie Rosie, verboten. NAUGHTY BOYS. All thoughts of her chocolate egg fled when the sound of the back door closing had her scurry on bare feet through the kitchen to the window to watch ten year old Tonio and her twin, Luca, creep very slowly along a gravel path screened by a tall conifer hedge. The boys were dressed in black from head to toe, T-shirt, jogging pants and running shoes. Through narrowed eyes, her mouth pursing, Sophia Ferranti reckoned she had three choices.

1 – Go straight to mama and papa and tattle tale.

2 – Leave her brothers to it and go back to bed.

3 – Follow and find out exactly what they were up to, gather the FACTS and THEN tattle-tale. Number three it was.

It didn’t take her long to get dressed in black leggings, hoodie and matching sneakers. On her way out the door, she passed the huge mirror leaning against the bedroom wall. It struck her that unlike her brother’s inky curls her white-blonde hair might attract unwanted attention, so she shoved her plait beneath a black woollen cap, and headed out.

Her heart beat fast with thrilled excitement as she raced to the end of the gravel path and paused. She’d never been out alone at this time in the morning. The world was very different. Quiet. Empty of people. Empty of cars or farm tractors. She peeked around the end of the lane and didn’t see a sign of her brothers. She jogged past the Matthews cute cottage. A couple of lama’s, chewing on a straw bale, watched her with unfettered interest, but undeterred, she raced to the bottom of the road, looked right and left and just caught her brothers strolling along the road as if they hadn’t a care in the whole wide world. When they turned into another narrow lane that led back to The Dower House, Sophia was confused. Why sneak out of the house, go down the road and then up the lane that took them back home?

However, she’d got out of her warm bed this morning and come this far.

What was it Auntie Rosie said, in for a penny in for a pound?

When she turned into the lane and tracked them, using huge oak trees that lined the lane for cover, Sophia decided this was THE best fun, evah. If only her best friend Emily was here. She’d get such a rush. Or maybe not. Emily was a scaredy-cat at times, and she was allergic to certain pollens. Since Sophia herself was not allergic to anything or ever got sick, she didn’t have a lotta sympathy for people like Emily and Luca who always had the sniffles and caught every bug.

Meanwhile, her brothers climbed over a wooden slatted fence constructed for ramblers to have a right of way across the countryside. Her papa always made sure the gates were well constructed and in ‘good nick’ as Auntie Rosie said.

When Luca laughed out loud and shoved his brother, Sophia curled her lip.

They made more noise than a herd of elephants.

By this time, she’d reached the fence herself.

The boys, back to creeping on their tip-toes, headed straight for the huge barn conversion that housed her papa’s personal gym and a swimming pool that was STRICTLY VERBOTEN to the Ferranti children without adult supervision.

The boys peered through a window.

As if by magic Tonio produced a silver metal key from his pocket, and Sophia’s jaw dropped open for the second time.

Surely they were not going into the gym?

Oh yes they were, she thought, as they entered.

Oh man, she thought with something like satisfaction, the boys were they in BIG trouble now.

However, typically, they hadn’t closed the door properly, so it didn’t take her moments to slip in and softly click the door closed.

The floor was a polished wood of pale oak. The walls built of ancient red brick. The ceiling was high. Large skylights let in the sun. Dust motes danced in the early morning rays. The place smelled of lemon wipes, chlorine from the pool sparkling like a blue lake behind a floor to ceiling glass wall, and a very faint odor of sweat.

As she crouched behind a wellness ball, Sophia watched her brothers switch on the high ceiling lights. The whole place was suddenly so bright it made her blink.

“Okay,” Tonio said as he approached a bench press and rubbed his hands with obvious glee. “You need to spot me.”

Luca nodded his head so hard his curls danced.

“No probs,” he said, obviously channelling his papa.

 

Watching all the pathetic male posturising, as her Auntie Rosie would call the chest beating behaviour, Sophia’s brows flew into her hairline and her little mouth pursed into a rosebud shape her brothers hated.

Tonio grabbed a barbell and wound a silver metal weight to one end and then the other, then he lay on the bench, grabbed the barbell, took a breath and lifted it up once, twice.

Sophia couldn’t help it, she rolled her eyes.

All that cloak and dagger this morning for this?

“Cool!” Luca the clueless said.

“I started at a low weight to work my way up,” Tonio told him, sounding like a boss. He returned the pole to its slots and rose. He rubbed his hands again. “I’ll add three extra pounds.”

After watching her brothers, Tonio was a bit red in the face by this time, it became clear to Sophia trouble lay ahead because Luca had the muscle tone of a starving flea. He would be less than useless in an emergency if Tonio found himself in difficulties.

It also occurred to Sophia, too late, that she should have grabbed her mama’s cell phone from the kitchen table.

What was a girl to do?

It was her duty, she heard her papa’s voice in her head, to put a stop to it.

Right.

Now.

Like a jack in the box she leapt to her feet and yelled, “What the HELL do you two think you’re doing?”

The boys got such a fright that Tonio lost focus and let go of the barbell.

The weight caught him across the shoulders, pinning him to the bench press.

His screams of pain had Luca cry out too.

Sophia flew to Tonio’s side.

She felt sick when she saw his face white, his eyes wide with shock.

“Stop yelling, Luca!” she spat at her twin. “Help me lift this off him.”

It took a huge amount of effort, but the twins managed to return the barbell to its slots.

However, it was clear one of poor Tonio’s shoulders looked—odd.

And at any moment Luca, by the look of him, was about to pass out.

He did that a lot when upset, either that or he was as sick as a dog.

Sheer panic might grip her belly, but since she didn’t want either to happen, Sophia grabbed Luca’s shoulders and shook him hard, not easy since he was a good five inches taller than her. “Don’t you dare pass out. Run to the Matthews and tell them to call an ambulance. NOW!”

Luca, his appalled grey eyes glued to hers, nodded. “‘Kay.”

She shoved him towards the door. “Hurry!”

Feeling terribly sick herself, in her mind Sophia chanted, oh God, oh God. But she kept it together as she turned to Tonio and promptly burst into tears.

 

Tonio felt as if pain was all over, passing through him in stunning waves that drowned every cell in his body. Pain strangled him until he couldn’t hear, couldn’t breathe.

His breathe came in short little pants, each inhale agony.

He made a sound like the whimpering of a dog.

Out of the corner of his eye he saw his sister.

Her little hands, trembling, hovered over him.

“I don’t want to touch you in case I hurt you. What can I do?” she sobbed.

His breath came faster now in choking gasps that caught another scream in his throat.

A sound burst from his throat—a whine.

Sophia began sob in earnest now, tears tracked down her pale face.

Big emerald eyes, desperately worried, stared into his.

God.

God.

The slam of car doors had Sophia leap to her feet and run towards the door.

Mr. Matthews, a man in his early thirties sprinted into the gym, his wife not far behind him. Both wore jeans, T-shirts and wellington boots.

He sank to his knees in front of Tonio, dark brown eyes taking in the scene.

“Looks like you’ve injured that shoulder. The ambulance is on its way. I won’t touch you, okay?”

Tonio nodded and that was all it took for his world to go black.

Mr. Matthews glanced at a Sophia who had her fist pressed to her mouth.

“Is he dead?” she whispered.

He wrapped a strong arm around her shoulder.

“No. He’s passed out.” He cocked his head. “Ah, sounds like the ambulance.”

Five minutes later and paramedic Susan Bradshaw entered with her colleague hot on her heels. Serious blue eyes took in the scene as she shrugged off her dark green backpack.

“Never a dull moment with the Ferranti family,” she muttered. She opened her backpack. After using scissors to cut off Tonio’s T-shirt, she studied the damage and nodded. “If the worst he has is a dislocated shoulder he’s got off lucky.” She nodded glanced at Mr. Matthews and nodded at a wide-eyed Sophia. “Take her out of here.”

“I’m not leaving him,” Sophia declared, her chin lifting.

Susan took out medication, including a syringe, and made short work of making Tonio more comfortable.

Sharp blue eyes studied Sophia’s face for a moment.

“Fair enough, as long as you don’t feel squeamish at the sight of blood.”

Sophia shook her head.

“I’m brave.”

Susan’s lips twitched, but she kept a straight face as she took Tonio’s vitals and gave him oxygen.

“Of course you are,” she said and stood aside as her partner slid a board beneath Tonio and then wrapped him in blankets.

They lifted him onto a trolley.

“Is he going to be alright?” Sophia whispered, her heart a slow sluggish beat against her ribs.

“He’s a Ferranti. He’s tough. We’ll know more after he’s had an X-ray,” Susan told her. “Ah, I hear the rest of the gang arriving.”

Sure enough Nico and Bronte Ferranti crashed through the doors, and that was when Sophia let all the anxiety and worry out. She raced to her mama and threw herself into her arms.

“Hush now,” Bronte crooned as she nuzzled her daughter, but her eyes were glued to Tonio’s pale face. “Everything’s going to be alright.”

 

Meanwhile, Nico was listening carefully to everything Susan Bradshaw and Mr. Matthews told him. He shoved his hand through his black hair.

Dio, I do not know what they were thinking.”

“We were pumping iron,” Luca told him. “We want big guns like you and Uncle Alexander.”

Susan’s face creased.

“That makes a crazy sort of sense.”

Nico, not in the mood for laughter, turned to Bronte.

“You go with Tonio in the ambulance and I’ll follow in the car,” he said.

She nodded and handed him their daughter.

***

Nico, Sophia and Luca watched as the ambulance rolled down the narrow road.

Grazie,” Nico said to Mr. Matthews and shook his hand.

“We’re happy to keep the children with us. Perhaps they’d like to help feed the chickens and the goats?”

Nico shifted to look at a very pale Sophia. “Would you like that?”

Sophia sniffed. “Okay.”

“We haven’t had breakfast,” Luca reminded his papa.

Mr. Matthews grinned. “Good job Gretchen’s a good cook then.”

Luca, his hand safely tucked in Gretchen’s, looked up at her.

“Do you have bacon?”

“Plenty,” she assured him, her eyes twinkling.

He frowned.

“Do you know you smell of horse poop?”

Sophia gasped. “How rude! They live on a farm, stupid. Anyway, Auntie Rosie says everyone should take a big deep breath of country air and manure, it’s good for the lungs.”

His hand scrubbing the scruff on his jaw, Nico closed his eyes.

“They’ll be fine,” Mr. Matthews told him. “Go.”

“Rosie and Alexander will collect them,” Nico told him. He turned serious eyes on the fruit of his loins. “Behave. We are going to have a long talk when mama and I return home.”

Sophia, nodding like a wise owl, shot a black look at her brother.

“You’re in BIG trouble,” she hissed.

Her twin sent her look of utter loathing.

“I hope you poop a prickly pear,” Luca hissed back.

Dio mio,” Nico said.

 

FINE

 

Poor Tonio. All y’all may be wondering about the inspiration behind this story. I’m on a fitness kick, which includes 15k of steps per day and using (light) weights three times a week. A family member said, ‘You don’t want big guns.’ And so a story was born.

Until next time, big hugs,

Christine X

Best friends… it’s the Ludlow Hall short story…

bestfriends

 

Greetings, my darlings!

We have cloud and wind and rain.

Come on, Spring!

Here’s part two of the Ludlow Hall short story…

It’s the morning after the night before at The Dower House, and Emily finally gets her chance to talk to Rosie about the love of her life, Tonio.

Sophia and Emily, wearing soft blue jeans and their hoodies are sitting at the table in the kitchen-dining-living space with Rosie and the toddlers.

“How old were you when you knew Alexander was the one?” Emily asked Rosie in her soft, breathy voice.

Rosie, wearing black thermal leggings and an oversized T-shirt, her inky curls tied in a messy knot on her head, placed plastic bowls filled with cereal and sliced banana on the high chair tables for Mila and Eve. Out of the corner of her eye, she spotted Sophia’s here-we-go-again face and tried hard not to laugh.

Emily was a lovely kid, but her head was in the clouds much of the time, and Rosie reckoned her obsession with Tonio was not healthy.

“When I was your age I actually didn’t like Alexander very much, mainly because he treated me like his sister. Even Bronte would tell you that having an overprotective big brother is no fun. And things got even worse when we hit our teens. I cannot tell you the number of arguments I had with him over who I dated in high school for example.”

Emily’s blue eyes went wide. “Was he jealous?”

Rosie shook her head. “Nope. He didn’t ever see me as anyone other than part of the family, which he reckoned gave him rights to have an opinion.”

Clearly disappointed, Emily seemed to mull over that statement as she nibbled on her cheese on toast.

“I can’t stop thinking about Tonio,” she finally admitted.

Rosie buttered fingers of toast and set them on the toddler’s high chair tables.

The little girls were still dressed in their pink pj’s since Rosie reckoned there was no point in bathing until after breakfast. When Mila stroked sticky fingers over Eve’s dark curls, Sophia and Emily howled with laughter.

Rosie studied Emily’s little face before she answered.

“Have you ever considered Tonio’s feelings?”

Sophia, unusually for her, had been silent during this exchange, but now she turned to her friend. “You should ask him what sort of girl he likes.”

Emily blinked. “But what if he doesn’t like me?”

“He does like you,” Sophia said. “But not as a girlfriend because number one – you’re too young. Number two – you’re my best friend. Number three – I think auntie Rosie’s right.”

And on cue Alexander, Luca and Tonio entered the kitchen.

Hair damp from the shower, they wore jeans and T-shirts with soccer colors of their favourite team because they were attending a big match today.

They grabbed plates and headed for the mountain of bacon and eggs set on the worktop.

When they settled at the table and Rosie had poured milk for the boys and black coffee for her husband, Sophia gave Emily a very hard stare to get-on-with-it and ask Tonio the question.

Unfortunately, it was clear poor Emily’s courage had failed her.

“Emily wanted to know,” Rosie began, and sent a cheesy grin to the love of her life. “When you knew I was the one.”

Alexander blinked, sent Emily a smile that made her already pink face go nuclear.

“Yeah? Um—I’d always liked her, even when she drove me crazy. But it was when we became close and then she left me that it really hit me hard and I knew I couldn’t live without her.”

Tonio crunched a piece of crispy bacon, then said, “When I am a man I will live in Italy and marry a beautiful Italian girl.” He dug into his breakfast totally unaware that he’d just dropped a bombshell and broken a little heart.

Rosie studied her nephew.

“So, what’s wrong with British girls?”

Tonio glanced at her, then appeared to realize that every single female had her eyes, hard eyes, on him.

“Oops,” Alexander muttered.

It seemed Tonio had mastered the Ferranti smile, the one that could charm the birds off the trees. He turned it on full watt now. Then it slipped a little when there was no response.

“Absolutely nothing,” he said and added a little extra Italian accent for good measure. “But I like dark hair, long legs and girls with energy and good humor. Many British girls are like little mice and do nothing but stare at boys.”

“Well, you can’t blame them for staring,” Rosie said, very aware that a devastated and very pale Emily was gazing at her plate. “The Ferranti males are pretty to look at.”

At that, Luca raised his head from inhaling his breakfast, and stared at his aunt in disgust.

“I’m not pretty!”

Rosie turned to him.

“You’re the prettiest one of them all.”

Luca turned to his uncle Alexander.

“Can you not control your wife?” he asked.

“Nope.”

“I’m never getting married,” Luca told the room at large.

His twin, her face an expressionless mask, simply said, “Trust me, no one with a single working brain cell would want you.”

Luca, dark eyes flashing, leaned over the table and hissed,

“I hope your next poop is a pineapple.”

Silence.

 

Alexander, fighting a losing battle to keep a straight face, got to his feet.

“If we want to get to the kick-off in time we’d better get moving.”

In the scrimmage of hand washing, the hunt for Luca’s missing boot, tugging on coats and hats and goodbye’s Sophia simply sat at the table wearing a face that might turn milk sour.

“Well then,” Rosie said as she correctly read the expressions on two little faces. “That’s the first time I’ve ever seen Luca have the final word.”

Emily sniffed, and even though her big blue eyes looked suspiciously bright, she lifted her chin.

“I’m not Italian and I don’t have long legs or dark hair. I don’t have a chance with Tonio. Do I?”

Rosie sat at the table and desperately wanted to be kind.

“I don’t know. No one knows. Do you want my advice?” Emily nodded. “There’s a big wide world out there and a huge amount to learn, so if I were you I’d get prepared as best you can to explore the world.”

Sophia put her arm around her best friend’s shoulders and pulled her in for a hug.

“We’re starting dance classes soon, and I want to learn to horse ride.”

“Ponies are too big and scary,” Emily said, her little face the perfect picture of misery.

“It’s not just riding,” Rosie told her in a cheery voice. “You’ll learn how to look after a pony, to groom it and keep it’s stall clean and what to feed it and how much exercise it needs. Plus, ponies need company just like humans.”

“Do they get lonely too?” Emily asked.

Rosie nodded. “They do or they become stressed.”

Sophia made an ‘Aww’ face.

But before she could speak, the sound of her papa’s car rolling over the gravel on the driveway had her bounce out of her chair and heading for the door.

***

After catching her daughter in a huge hug, Bronte studied Sophia’s serious little face, those anxious and wary emerald eyes that held hers, and felt terribly guilty.

It was the first time in over eight years of marriage that her and Nico had had a major issue in their marriage, and she hoped it would be a long time before they had another one. Trouble was, at times they were both as stubborn as each other. If there was one thing they’d learned after talking into the wee hours, was that compromise was the name of the marriage game. Usually they were pretty good at compromising. However, on this particular issue, Bronte Ferranti had dug in her heels. Nico had got himself into one hot mess and it was up to him to get himself out of it.

Right now, she watched him as he caught Sophia in his arms and blew a huge raspberry on her cheek. The man only got better looking as he got older. Even dressed down in blue jeans, black boots and a casual black cashmere sweater, he looked good enough to eat. He didn’t have an ounce of spare flesh. His hair was still black as jet with the odd grey hair at the temple. Just looking at him right now with the strong manly jaw, the high cheekbones, and those eyes that turned her knees to jelly every single time, she knew she was a very lucky woman. Plus, he adored her. They might have had a blip in their relationship, but they’d worked through it. She hoped.

“Did you miss us?” he asked his daughter.

Sophia laughed and clung to him like a limpet.

“Of course I did.” Then her big emerald eyes studied his face. “Are you and mama getting a divorce?” she whispered.

“No!” Nico and Bronte said together.

“Okay,” she said, clearly accepting the tone and look of utter horror on their combined faces. Then her brows met as she caught her papa’s face between her little hands and squeezed. “Don’t let a mean girl be mean to my mama.”

Nico blinked, caught Bronte’s big eyes.

She shook her head because she had no idea where Sophia had got that idea from.

“I won’t,” he said.

Sophia squeezed his cheeks even harder and made him look her in the eye.

“Even grown ups need help with mean girls. Know what I mean?”

“I do.”

He placed her on her feet and held her hand as they strolled through the kitchen door of The Dower House.

As for Bronte, she was just happy to be home.

 

Once they’d greeted little Eve and Bronte had thanked Rosie for stepping into the breech and looking after her kids, everyone settled down at the table for a chat.

Bronte’s eye caught a sad looking Emily.

“You okay, Emily?”

Emily nodded.

“I’m good. Did you have a nice time?”

Nico shot his wife a wink that made Bronte blush.

“We did,” she said.

Emily sent them a sad little smile.

“Did you play the Pirate and the Maiden game?”

When Nico inhaled his coffee and a grinning Rosie threw him paper napkins, Bronte could only blink.

“It’s based on a poem,” Sophia said, correctly guessing that her mama had no idea what Emily was talking about.

Nico blew his nose, cleared his throat, and wiped his streaming eyes.

Dio mio, where on earth did you hear about that?” Nico asked Emily.

“It was something we heard at school,” she said.

Rosie clapped her hands and then shot an index finger at each little girl.

“I know, why don’t we have a pampering day?”

“What’s that?” Sophia wanted to know.

“We can make facial masks out of cool stuff that’s edible. They’ll hydrate and moisturise and refresh the skin.”

Emily perked right up, her big blue eyes sparkled. “Will they cure my freckles?”

Rosie made a sad face. “Nope. But they’ll make you even more gorgeous.”

“What stuff do we need?” Sophia asked, her little face pink and happy.

“Well, we’ll start with oatmeal, honey, banana and yoghurt.”

“That sounds really cool,” Bronte said and fluttered her eyelashes at a worried looking Nico.

He shook his head.

“Not for me. I’m off to the match.”

When he moved to hightail it out the door, Bronte had to laugh.

“Coward!” she yelled at his departing back.

 

Twenty minutes later, Emily, Sophia, Rosie and Bronte sat at the table all watching a kitchen timer tick down the seconds.

Sophia took a lick of mashed banana, yoghurt and honey from the edge of her mouth.

“This tastes really good.”

Emily giggled. “You’re not supposed to eat it.”

“Smells nice, too,” Bronte said. Then she eyed the girls. “Did Luca do his math homework?”

“Dunno,” Sophia said. “Probably not since he’s heart lazy.”

“Have you been arguing with him again?” Bronte asked.

“He told me he hoped I pooped a pineapple.”

Bronte bit down hard on her bottom lip.

Good Lord.

What next?

“Tonio only likes Italian girls. He broke my heart,” Emily whispered.

Bronte held out her arms. “Come here, sweetheart. A cuddle makes a broken heart all better.”

Meanwhile, Rosie used a muslin cloth soaked in warm water to gently remove the home made facial from Sophia’s face.

“Ooh, your skin looks all fresh and lovely,” she cooed at her niece.

“Why do we have eyebrows?” Sophia wanted to know as she poked her skin.

“To protect our eyes, I guess,” Emily said as she slipped from Bronte’s lap and lifted her face for Rosie to clean her skin too.

“There we go,” Rosie said when she was all finished. “Two gorgeous girls.”

 

 

Later, in Sophia’s bedroom, the girls shared a Fat Boy beanbag, their eyelids drooping.

“I’m gonna wish upon a star,” Emily said in her soft breathy voice.

Sophia, her eyes heavy, turned to look at her bestie.

“Stars,” she said. “Are made of gas.”

“That’s science,” Emily said. “I’m talking about making a secret wish while looking at the biggest star in the sky.”

“Cool!”

“I bet you can’t guess my wish.”

Sophia rolled her eyes. “Bet I can. You’ll wish that Tonio falls in love with you when you’re both all grown-up.”

But Emily shook her head.

“Uh-uh. I’m gonna wish my mummy and daddy have a miracle and have a baby.”

Sophia threw her arm around her bestie and pulled her close.

“I think that’s a lovely wish.”

“Then I won’t be lonely,” Emily said.

Sophia rubbed her soft cheek against Emily’s.

“You’re never gonna be lonely because you’ll always have me for ever and ever.”

Emily turned big blue eyes on her friend.

“For every and ever.”

“For ever.”

“I love you, Sophia.”

“Love you, too, Emily.”

 

The End….

 

Aw, that’s what friends are for…

Until next time, be kind, peeps, be kind.

ChristineX

It’s the Ludlow Hall short story… He’s the one – part one…

It's the Ludlow Hall Short StoryMarch2018

Hellooooo,

I’ve been sick with a fever and the usual end of season bug. Roll on Spring!

And here’s the first part of this week’s Ludlow Hall short story…

It’s Friday and school’s out—The Dower house…

After she’d found Bronte sitting in a whimpering puddle on the kitchen floor this morning, and banging her head against the wall (more of why later) Rosie took firm control of the Ferranti household, then sent her best friend for a much needed pampering and massage at Ludlow Hall.

Now, Rosie was on children duty…

After auntie Rosie had ordered everyone upstairs to change out of their school uniforms and wash their mucky paws, Emily and Sophia are in Sophia’s bedroom. They’ve washed their hands as instructed, but had only got as far as removing their school tie, sweater and socks.

Emily reeeeeelaxed back on Sophia’s Princess bed and wiggled her little pink toes.

“We,” she began in her soft, breathy voice, “have the coolest mummies.”

Sophia, rummaging deep in her closet, tossed out a couple of pairs of pink thermal leggings, a pink hoodie with a unicorn on the front for Emily, and for herself a white hoodie with Elsa from Frozen. Once she’d hunted down two matching pair of thick socks, she turned to her best friend and smiled.

“We do.”

“My daddy says they always look well-put-together.”

“They do,” Sophia agreed again and tossed leggings and the pink hoodie on top of Emily’s face.

Best friends shared clothes, that was a rule.

Emily sat up and wriggled out of her pleated skirt of navy wool.

“They never let other people down.”

“They don’t,” Sophia concurred.

The girls stripped down to their underwear.

Emily tugged up leggings and checked out her skinny butt in the wall mirror.

She made a face.

“Did you see Carrie-Anne’s mummy today?”

Sophia’s blonde head popped out of the top of her white hoodie.

Carrie-Anne’s mummy was a hot mess these days, according to auntie Rosie.

“Yup. But auntie Rosie says if we can’t say anything nice, say nothing,” Sophia said, channelling her favorite person in the whole wide world.

Emily’s little mouth pouted in clear disappointment.

After a long while she said, “Can I just say two words?”

“Okay.”

Emily pointed to her own butt. “Panty. Line.”

Sophia made a face, and checked out her own skinny backside.

“Aunty Rosie calls it a Wardrobe Malfunction. Carrie-Anne’s mummy should have worn a thong or panties that don’t show a pantie line. My mama’s got lots of pretty silk panties in her pantie drawer.”

“Do they make them for girls?” Emily wanted to know.

“I dunno,” Sophia said, thinking about it. “But auntie Rosie says thongs are the work of the devil.”

Emily nodded. “My daddy loves my mummy in a thong. My mummy told him he should use dental floss on his ass because that’s how it feels.”

Sophia cringed at the thought. “Eww. That’s a disgusting thing to say in front of a child.”

“I was supposed to be asleep. They didn’t know I was listening.” Emily grinned. “I was quiet, like a ninja.”

Sophia stared hard at her friend, because out of the two of them Emily was the good girl.

“If they catch you your mummy will say I’m a bad influence.”

“Nah, how can you get the blame if you’re not even there? Anyway, I’ve been doing a lot of listening. Carrie-Anne’s mummy’s fighting the battle of the bulge to lose the baby weight. She told my mummy that her life has been transformed since her divorce.”

Feeling weary after another long week at school, Sophia settled back on her pink Fat-Boy beanbag. She thought about how desperately sad their friend Carrie-Anne had been for months and months.

Then she thought about the heated discussion between her parents in the kitchen this morning, and her belly ached. It had ached off and on all day.

And last night, for the first time ever, her papa had slept in the spare room.

Deep in her heart, Sophia wanted to talk to Emily about the argument and the weird mood that had descended on The Dower House recently, but she knew better. Anything that happened in The Dower House, stayed in The Dower House.

Her belly ache got worse.

She hoped her mama and papa never got a divorce.

Carrie-Anne and her baby sister had moved out of their house into a smaller one in the centre of town.

What if her papa and mama sold The Dower House?

Where would she and Luca and Tonio and baby Eve live?

The thought made her feel sick.

“How come?” she asked Emily.

“Carrie-Anne’s mummy said it was boring sleeping with the same man for ten long years.”

Sophia worked out how long her parents had been married—nearly nine years. Then she wondered if ten years was a bad omen or something. Meanwhile, Emily continued her story, “And she was fed up playing the Pirate and The Maiden game.”

“Never heard of it,” Sophia said.

Emily shook her head, her big blue eyes wide. “Me neither. Maybe it’s for Xbox? Do you think Tonio’s heard of it?”

Sophia was not fooled by that huge smile or big-eyed-innocent look.

Emily’s crush on her brother was totally lame as far as she was concerned.

On the other hand, Sophia was vastly intrigued by the idea of a pirates and maidens game.

“Let’s ask him,” she said.

The girls dashed out the door, across a wide landing, and knocked Tonio’s bedroom door.

“Enter,” Tonio called, channelling his papa.

 

They went in to find Tonio dressed in his favorite super-hero sweatshirt, navy sweatpants faded at the seams and too short in the legs, lying on his belly on a fluffy rug, reading a soccer magazine.

Inky curls flopped on his forehead, and his feet were bare.

Since she had no time for football, Sophia got right to the point of their visit.

“Have you ever heard of an Xbox or a PC game called the Pirate and the Maiden?”

Tonio’s brow creased as he stared into space, thought for a long while, then shook his head.

“Nope. Only pirate game I know is Pirates of the Caribbean.”

He returned to his magazine.

When Emily just stood there as if rooted to the spot staring dreamily at Tonio, Sophia grabbed her friend’s arm and dragged her out the door.

 

Back in Sophia’s bedroom, Emily collapsed on the Fat-Boy and lay back with a stupid moony expression.

Sophia sighed.

“Tonio’s voice is like warm chocolate poured over cream,” Emily whispered in her soft voice. “I love his face. I love his dark eyes and his thick lashes. He’s just so… Perfect. He makes me… Happy.”

Sophia rolled her eyes so far back in ahead she nearly lost her balance.

“Eww, Emily, that’s my brother you’re talking about. He’s got smelly feet and he farts and burps. He’s disgusting.”

I’m going to marry him,” Emily said, clearly undeterred.

The martial gleam in her blue eyes seriously alarmed Sophia.

“You can’t get married until you are eighteen,” she said, trying to help her friend see sense. Then she added for good measure, “That’s eleven long years from now. And what if he’s not the one? Variety, auntie Rosie says, is the spice of life.”

Emily shot up to sit. “I just know he is the one,” she whispered and pressed her little fist to her chest. “In here.”

Sophia rubbed her nose—hadn’t they gone over this ground before?

“We need to speak to auntie Rosie. She loved uncle Alexander for ever and ever and ever,” she decided.

Emily sprang to her feet, her eyes bright.

“Maybe she’ll know how to make Tonio fall in love with me?”

“We can only hope,” Sophia said under her breath, and led the way downstairs.

***

Meanwhile in the kitchen-living-dining space, Rosie, and her trusty assistant Luca, were preparing hot milk for hot chocolate. Luca’s job was to test taste a dark chocolate brownie.

The place smelled of chocolate and fresh flowers crammed into a huge clear glass vase set on a wide sandstone window ledge.

Unlike his twin sister’s white blonde hair, Luca took after the Italian side of the Ferranti family. He was definitely, Rosie reckoned, going to be better looking than Tonio or his papa, Nico. At the moment Luca was perched on a bar stool, his bare feet swinging. He wore soft blue jeans and a Spiderman sweatshirt that had faded to pale blue from too many washes. And his mouth was rimmed with dark chocolate.

When Sophia and Emily skipped into the room, he turned to glower and glare at his sister.

“What do you want?” he said by way of a warm welcome.

As if he hadn’t spoken, Sophia hopped up on a bar stool on the opposite side of the granite worktop.

Meanwhile, Emily had wandered over to the huge playpen to give the toddlers, Eve and Mila, a hug and a kiss.

The girl was a complete sweetheart.

Rosie understood Emily’s attraction to the younger members of the family, she was an only child and often got lonely. As an only child herself, Rosie felt her pain.

Then again, Rosie couldn’t help but stifle a laugh at the way her beloved niece and nephew constantly fought a cold war these days. Such was sibling life, she supposed. She’d already prepared five white china mugs which were lined up like soldiers standing at attention.

Testing the temperature of the milk and melted chocolate mix, she poured it carefully into the mugs and added three white marshmallows. When Tonio strolled through the door, she sent him a quick smile.

“Could you sit Eve and Mila in their highchairs for me?”

Tonio changed direction, plucked Mila from the playpen, sat her in her highchair and strapped her in, then repeated the routine with Eve who buried her hands in his hair and yanked hard.

“Ow,” he said, and carefully freed himself. He smacked a kiss on her hot cheek. “No pulling hair.”

In response, Eve grabbed his sweatshirt and yelled, “Batman!”

“No,” Luca said. “It’s the Incredible Hulk.”

Eve glared at her big brother. “Batman!”

Rosie shook her head and placed a Sippy cup of lukewarm milk on each tray and attached a bib on each child.

As she distributed the hot chocolate and treats, she wondered how she gathered herself to break the news that Nico and Bronte were having a night away from The Dower House. Not that her and Alexander doing baby sitting duty was anything new for the young Ferrantis. But the reason for this one was. It seemed Nico and Bronte were going through a tricky patch. It was amazing how something that hadn’t even been on Bronte’s radar had turned into a Big Deal. Frankly, Rosie laid the blame for the whole sorry mess at Nico’s door. Honestly, there were times when men were utterly clueless when it came to women.

Long story short, tabloid journalist Tabitha Crew had written yet another gossip piece taking a swipe at Nico’s past love life. Okay, the woman had crossed a line. Rosie got why Nico was seriously pissed, but to employ a PR consultant who was an old flame to fight the journalist had not been his smartest move. Not only that, it appeared the old flame wanted to reignite a fire between her and Nico. And just to add more fuel, yesterday, the woman had invited a clueless Bronte to lunch at Ludlow Hall.

Strong words had been exchanged.

Bronte had drawn a red line in the sand.

The woman had to go, she’d told Nico.

Nico, never one to take a demand on the chin, said no.

Now all hell had broken loose, and even though she’d never show it in front of the kids, Rosie was worried.

 

So when Alexander strolled through the door and his baby girl went crazy when he picked her up and gave her a cuddle, Rosie’s heart just melted.

He scrubbed his knuckles on his nephews’ heads and tickled Sophia and Emily before heading over to his wife.

Rosie read the worry in his emerald eyes, and her heart fell.

Looked like Nico and Bronte still hadn’t smoked a peace pipe.

“Where are they?” she asked as he pressed a kiss to the spot beneath her ear.

“In their cabin. I told them not to leave it until they’ve resolved this,” he said softly.

“Bronte’s really hurt and furious,” she whispered.

“Tell me about it. Last thing she was telling Nico as I left was that she was going to stay with her father.”

Rosie’s eyes went wide.

“Seriously?”

“Yup. That bad.”

“God, why on earth did Nico bring that bloody woman into Ludlow Hall?”

“She’s really good at her job,” he answered, trying to be fair.

Rosie just shook her head.

“She’s a Rottweiler.”

“Yup and that’s what makes her the best.”

Rosie caught the way Sophia’s wary eyes were zeroed in on them watching every single move.

God, her niece had a super-sensitive radar.

“We’ll talk after the kids have gone to bed.”

Alexander followed her gaze and nodded.

He shot Sophia a wink as he shrugged out of his coat, took off his suit jacket, his tie, and rolled up his sleeves.

Then he helped himself to a beer from the fridge, twisted open the top and took a sip.

“Gimme the skinny,” he said to the room at large. “Who did what to whom today?”

“Where’s mama and papa?” Sophia wanted to know.

The question seemed to turn everyone into a game of statues.

Tonio and Luca, their eyes filled with clear anxiety, examined Alexander’s face.

Oh, boy, this lot were as sharp as tacks.

He sent them a cheesy grin.

“They’ve having a date night,” he said.

Sophia blinked. “Where?”

“They’re not far,” Rosie said. “Just up the road in their cabin with candles, music, and romance.”

Emily, her blue eyes flicking between a serious looking Sophia and Rosie, said in her soft voice, “They’re probably playing The Pirate and The Maiden game.”

Alexander inhaled his beer.

His hand reaching for the box of tissues as he coughed up a lung.

Tonio narrowed his eyes as he watched his uncle fight to catch his breath and his aunt laugh so hard she cried real tears.

“Okay,” he asked in a growly voice that sounded just like Nico. “What’s the game?”

Once Rosie had got her breath back, and wiped her eyes, she took a deep breath.

“It’s a poem not a game.”

Tonio looked bitterly disappointed.

“Oh,” he said.

Thinking she’d dodged a bullet, Rosie clapped her hands.

“Have you washed your hands?”

Everyone, except Luca, nodded.

Rosie pointed to him. “Go!”

When Sophia smirked as he slunk off to do his auntie’s bidding, he shot his sister a black look.

 

Later, when everyone had finished their spaghetti and meatballs, and were taking a rest before pudding, Luca turned to eye Sophia across the table.

“Why aren’t you speaking to me?” he demanded.

Sophia sent him a bland look.

“I can’t find something nice to say.”

Luca’s brows rose.

“Good,” he said. “I like a quiet life.”

 

END for now

 

Ooooh… is it possible there’s trouble in paradise?

All y’all will get to read the back-story to this scene in ‘Hitched to the Italian’ which is in production at the moment. But part two of this short story is coming next week!

Christine xx

 

 

 

 

 

 

Time for another sneak peek…

emily's a hoot!

 

It’s Friday and it’s Ferranti time, and time, dear readers, to grab a coffee…

Bronte’s in the car on her way home from the school pick-up. In the car with her today are, Tonio, Luca, Emily and Sophia. She’s had a good and productive day with Rosie at The Dower House where they discussed and tried ideas for new mini-muffin recipes. When the kids return home they’re in for a treat. It’s the end of a busy week, the kids are bound to be tired. All is quiet in the car, until…

“My mummy says that because I brush my teeth until they’re squeaky clean, I’m a Good Christian,” Emily said. Bronte had to smile at the child’s high and soft voice. At this, Sophia stared hard at Emily—a look which made Emily shrug. “I am a good and kind person.”

“You are,” Sophia agreed. And Bronte wished some of Emily’s goodness and kindness would rub off on her best friend. Then Sophia held up a finger. “But, you don’t wannabe a doormat. You need to find a happy medium.”

Luca frowned at his twin. “What’s a happy medium?”

“How do I know?” Sophia said. “Everyone has their own happy medium.”

Luca folded his arms. “I don’t get it.”

Sophia sent him a bland look. “Well, we can’t say you’re a Good Christian can we? Because you don’t brush. You suck the toothpaste out of the tube.”

“Ew,” Emily said.

Luca’s face burned. “I don’t do that anymore,” he roared.

“Ew,” Emily said again, and added more fuel to the fire. “Your teeth will rot and go black in your head and fall our.”

Sophia nodded, her lips pursed in deep disapproval. “No girls will kiss you with bad breath.”

“I don’t have bad breath,” Luca roared again. And to prove it he heaved a big breath over the girls. When both slapped a hand over their nose and mouth, he glared and glowered. “I do NOT!”

“Jesus Christ,” Emily said in a stage whisper filled with awe and wonder, “Can see you.”

 

“Now, now,” Bronte said, staging an intervention before things got physical in the back seat. “Settle down while I’m driving.” And out of the corner of her eye, she caught Tonio’s head-shake and wide grin.

“Anyway,” Sophia said. “We have our own family chapel at Ludlow Hall. So Luca can go along and kneel in the phew and talk to Jesus and God and the Lords.”

“Pew,” Tonio corrected from the front seat.

“Whatever. And do not interrupt me please, Tonio.” Sophia instructed. “Luca can go along to our chapel and chat to the Holy Ghost and confess his many sins…”

Luca’s head swung around, his dark curls bounced, his eyes flashing. “I don’t have many sins. If you want to see a wicked girl, you just look in the mirror, Sophia Ferranti…”

Undeterred, his sister continued, “… And beg for forgiveness.”

“I think it’s really cool you have your own chapel,” Emily said in her soft breathy voice as she poured oil on troubled waters.

“It is,” Sophia agreed. “We have lots of bodies buried there.”

Emily’s eyes bugged in her head. “Really?”

Sophia nodded like a wise old owl. “Yup. Lots of old bones from the Ludlow family for hundreds of years.”

“Is it spooky?” Emily wanted to know, a constellation of freckles standing out against her pale skin.

Sophia thought about it. “I dunno. It doesn’t feel spooky.”

“The chapel has lots of ghosts,” Luca said. He pressed his fist to his chest. “I feel them in here. But papa said they’re friendly ghosts because they’re our family and they love us.”

Aw,  Bronte smiled at that. How sweet was her husband?

Meanwhile, Emily’s eyes were like saucers. “Like Caspar? He’s a friendly ghost.”

Sophia made a snort of derision.

“Luca Ferranti, you’ve never seen a ghost, ever. If you did, you’d scream like a girl.”

“Would not!” her twin roared.

“Would tooooooo!”

“Okay! That’s enough. I’m driving,” Bronte reminded the twins.

“Yeah, you don’t want mama to crash the car and then we die and end up ghosts, do we?” Luca hissed to the sister from hell.

A sister who made a horrible face and hissed right back, “Stoooooopid… boy!”

 

All was quiet.

Silence reigned supreme—until…

Bronte brought the car to a halt on the gravel driveway at the rear of The Dower House.

She turned to beam a lovely smile on her children.

“Here we are! Home safe and sound. Hands up who wants a hot chocolate with marshmallows?

Four hands shot into the air.

Bribed with sugar, it worked to keep the peace every single time.

The kids gathered their backpacks from the trunk and barrelled into house.

“Hey.” Rosie grabbed them in a group hug. “How are my favourite people in the whole wide world?”

Hanging up her lightweight duck down jacket and toeing off her sheepskin ankle boots, Bronte flashed her a wink. “They’re all going to take off their shoes and wash their hands, like Good Christians.”

 

As they trooped out the door and up the stairs, the twins still bickering, Rosie turned to Bronte. “What’s all that about?”

Bronte, organising ingredients for the promised hot chocolate took her time to respond,

“Do you find Ludlow Chapel spooky?”

Rosie blinked. “Ah, place of worship. Good Christian. Spooky—gotcha.” She thought about it. “It has a certain vibe, a sort of frisson in the atmosphere. But lots of really old places have that.”

At the huge stainless steel stove, Bronte held a wooden spoon and slowly stirred the milk, added coco powder.

“I go to the Chapel on birthdays and talk to mum and dad. I light the beeswax candles and stare at the candle light and let my mind go free. I swear I can feel them sitting right next to me.”

Rosie’s brown eyes filled and she moved around the granite worktop to give her best friend a big hug. “They’d have got a such a kick out of your brood. I miss them, too.”

“I believe they’re always with us.”

“Anything’s possible,” Rosie said.

The sound of footsteps on the stairs had Bronte shake her head and laugh. “All this talk of ghosts and family bones buried in the chapel has made me sentimental.”

 

“And here come the starving hoard,” Rosie said as the kids gathered around the table and eyed a large covered plate. She caught the pushey-shovey going on between the twins. “If you all sit quietly, you’ll receive your just reward. No fighting, please, Sophia and Luca.” Then, like a magician, she removed the plate cover and grinned at the collective ooh’s and ahh’s. “We have dark chocolate, milk chocolate, white chocolate, and… chocolate.”

Bronte laid a laden tray of white porcelain mugs filled to the brim with mini-marshmallows. “And here’s hot chocolate to go with all that chocolate.”

Emily beamed as she scooped up the sweet treat with her spoon. “This is the best muffin I’ve ever tasted. Thank you, Bronte.”

“You’re most welcome, Emily.”

“At breakfast this morning, papa was so tired,” Tonio told the room at large, “he yawned so wide his jaw cracked.”

Emily turned to him and her look of utter love and devotion made Bronte and Rosie look at each other and go, Aww.

“Coffee,” Emily said, her blue eyes twinkling. “He needed coffee. My daddy says a yawn is a silent scream for—coffee.”

When everyone laughed, a thrilled Emily turned to Bronte and Rosie.

“Wanna hear a joke?”

Rosie bit down hard on her bottom lip and nodded. “Hit me with it, Em.”

The little girl stared right into Rosie’s eyes and said, “Decaf.”

 

Once the laughter had died down, Bronte ran a hand over Emily’s red curls.

“You’re coming out of your shell, darling.”

Emily nodded. “My mummy said it’s because Sophia’s a good influence.”

Her mouth edged with chocolate, Sophia nodded and accepted the accolade as if it was her right. “I’m Italian.”

 

FINE
Like Bronte, I’m having a really productive week, writing wise.

I’m on a roll and working on the next Ludlow Hall story – Gregorio Ancelotti and the woman who only wants him for his body and refuses to commit. Guess who wins?

Plus, I’m more than half way through the first draft of Our Rules, and it’s clicking along at a pace, too. AND I’m working on a couple of Big Projects in the background.

Don’t forget No Rules is available on pre-order.

The story goes live everywhere next Friday – 26th January.

It’s when a story’s about to go live that the nerves kick in, a bit like stage-fright. Doesn’t matter how many books I write the anxiety never ends.

You guys make it all worthwhile!

Hugs,

Christine X

It’s the Ludlow Hall sneak peek…

 

IT'S THE LUDLOW HALL SNEAK PEEK

 

Greetings and happy 2018!

Here’s the first Ludlow Hall short story of the year!

Enjoy!

It’s Friday evening and Nico and Tonio are in the Range Rover escorting Sophia, Emily and Luca home after their first week of the New Year back at school…

As he drove the car towards The Dower House, home, his wife and his baby girl, Nico wore a dark and brooding face. He’d had one of those days. A day where everything that could go wrong, had gone wrong. A busy and trouble filled day at Ludlow Hall. Six key members of staff were down with flu and needed to be isolated for ten days. He detested using agency staff, but needs must. Three Grand bedroom suites had been negatively impacted by a burst pipe in a toilet in the floor above. The leak hadn’t been detected in time to prevent one unholy mess. Three suites, three sets of floor to ceiling raw silk curtains, expensive handcrafted beds made of smooth oak, mattresses, and carpets—destroyed. And the smell… He didn’t want to even think of it. Their insurance company, in the first instance, hadn’t exactly been nimble footed in their response. Not until he’d lit a fire under their collective ass had they sent a couple of loss adjusters pretty damned fast. The full cost of redecoration, yada, yada, would be covered. And so it bloody well should. Didn’t the premiums cost him a small fortune? Thank goodness the Hall’s interior decorator, Janine, bless her heart, had already organised the professional clean-up, decorating team and suppliers to replace the soft and hard furnishings. Alexander had taken control of the bookings and managed to move two couples to upgraded cottages in the grounds, much to the thrilled delight of the clients. Ludlow Hall was always full to capacity, which was a testament to the hard work of his outstanding staff, but if something when wrong, like it surely had gone wrong this morning, then there was nothing worse than disappointing a client. Nothing worse.

“My mummy,” Emily’s breathy voice began from the back seat. Nico adored the child. She had fairy hair and a lovely little fairy face, and a kind and loving nature. Her parents were rightly proud of their little girl. “My mummy said that my daddy is now a beta male and that’s because he has completely lost his virginity.”

Cue a stunned silence.

Tonio, sitting in the passenger seat, gazed wide-eyed into the road ahead.

Nico’s belly plunged and his hands went clammy on the steering wheel.

Mio dio.

Sophia, staring drowsily out of the window into the darkening and freezing landscape, turned her head to frown at her best friend in the whole wide world. “That can’t be right. They must have lost their virginity years ago, or you wouldn’t be here.”

Emily thought for a while about the sensational logic of the statement.

“You might be right,” she said in her soft voice.

Sophia, still staring hard at her friend, voiced her opinion, “The word is virility.”

Nico prayed to heaven to let the girls stop the conversation right there.

Luca proved he was wide awake by asking, “What’s a beta male and what’s virility and how come he lost it?”

By this time, Tonio had slid down in the seat and was shaking with laughter.

Nico sent him a black look to cease and desist, but it only made the boy laugh harder.

“It means he’s gotta broken penis,” said Miss Sophia Ferranti, who, her father decided, knew far too bloody much about too bloody much.

“Ew,” said Luca, his dark eyes wide with horror. “Can he get it fixed?”

“It’s to do with getting old,” said Sophia, on a roll. She turned to Emily. “Your daddy has grey hair, hasn’t he?”

Emily nodded so hard her curls danced. “Yes. Although he’s lost most of his hair because of low flying aircraft.”

Tonio choked.

Even Nico had to bite down hard on his bottom lip to prevent a laugh at that one.

Meanwhile Sophia, looking at her friend as if she was beyond stupid, said, “That is ridicalus. Your daddy lost his hair because of hormones and his old bones. I heard my auntie Rosie and mama talking about the advance of science and a little blue pill for a man with a broken penis. It fixes it right away.”

Luca’s dark brows rose. “Well then, that’s a relief,” he said.

Nico cleared his throat and tried, without luck, to catch his daughter’s eye in the rear view mirror.

“My daddy was upset at losing his hair, but my mummy said she loves him anyway,” said Emily, loyal to the bone.

Sophia nodded and jerked her chin in the direction of the driver. “My papa is gonna be a hot silver fox,” she said.

The way Tonio crowed in the front seat had Sophia crane her neck to look at him.

“What’s so funny? Papa has five grey hairs. I counted them just the other day. Auntie Rosie said we shouldn’t mention it in case it’s a touchy subject for a hot silver fox. You’re not touchy, are you papa?”

And there he was thinking the day couldn’t get any worse.

He was a silver fox.

And any day now it looked as if he’d need Viagra for his old bones.

As Nico, heart heavy, swung the car through the gates of The Dower House, he shook his head.

“Not at all. Remind me to have a little chat with Auntie Rosie. For each grey hair on my head, I lay the blame for each and every one firmly at her door.”

“I love Auntie Rosie,” said Luca in a whiney and tired voice. “Don’t be mean to her.”

Sophia leaned over to pat him on the shoulder. “Don’t worry. Mama said you will never, ever, need the little pill because you are filled to the brim with toblerone.”

Cue another stunned silence.

“Testosterone,” corrected Tonio, wiping tears of hilarity from his cheeks.

Nico, spirits lifted, brought the car to a halt.

 

It was a happy man who hugged his wife and kissed his baby girl on her flushed cheek.

Bronte wore black skinny jeans and a matching cashmere sweater. Her ash blonde hair was tied in a loose top knot on her head. She smelled amazing, and so did the house.

He took off his coat and suit jacket. Sniffing the air, he recognized the herby scent of beef and his favourite pasta dish.

How had he got so lucky to have such a wife, a family and a wonderful home?

“I heard about the leak. What a bummer,” Bronte said, and went, unresisting, into his arms.

“I am just relieved that I am filled with so much toblerone I won’t need Viagra.” He said and gazed down into her puzzled but laughing face. “How does it feel to be married to a hot silver fox?”

“Oh, Lord, I knew Sophia wouldn’t be able to keep her tongue in her head,” Bronte said. She ran her fingers through smooth hair black as ink. “A sprinkle only. Anyway, you’re too young to be a silver fox.”

He dropped a soft kiss on her soft mouth, and sighed. “Grazie. When that day comes, at least I will be an Italian silver fox.”

“You forgot the HOT bit.”

THE END

 

Aw, poor Nico. We all get days like that. And in book news, NO RULES is finished! Yay! Just a final read-through and then proofing and another read through and formatting and then it will go on pre-order. Once the date is fixed, I’ll give all y’all the links.

I’m already well into OUR RULES and the next Ludlow Hall story about Gregorio Ancelotti and his rocky road to true love. Lots to come!

Hugs,

Christine X

 

 

Happy New Year from CC and family….

HappyNewYear!

Happy New Year!

May 2018 bring you health and happiness, and peace and kindness to the rest of the world.

Love and hugs,

Christine X

It’s the Ludlow Hall Christmas Sneak Peek…

CHRISTMAS2017BANNER

 

 

The Dower House…

Nico Ferranti had escaped to his study with his brother-in-law and best friend, Alexander. It might be considered a cowardly thing to do, to leave Bronte and Rosie to the over-excited mayhem of the fruit of their loins.  However, between making sure Ludlow Hall coped with an unexpected dump of the white stuff (apparently a snow bomb had slid further south than anticipated) and helping the twins build two snowmen in the garden, real men needed a break from an overdose of festivities. Festivities which had included, in no particular order, a variety of Christmas tunes all played at the same time, six children wearing a variety of dumb Christmas outfits (including dumb hats with flashing lights) and all off their head on a sugar high after helping Bronte and Rosie ice an endless variety of Christmas cookies—fir trees, snowmen all made of gingerbread. The house smelled of cinnamon, apple sauce and spun sugar. No wonder the kids were mental.

Alexander sank into a fat leather club chair situated near the blazing fire. Since no one was allowed to wear outdoor shoes inside The Dower House—his sister was more a bit anal about dirt tracking through her beautiful home—he wore thick socks, soft jeans and a cosy long sleeved thermal. He accepted the black espresso and a small brandy Nico handed him.

He eyed his friend as he eased his long body into the chair opposite the fire. Wearing black jeans and a dark grey cashmere polo neck, he placed his socked feet on the footstool and lifted his own glass. “Salute!

“Cheers,” Alexander said. Then he winced at the high whine of an over-tired child. Not his, thank God. Mila was too young to grasp the concept of Santa, reindeer, and presents arriving down the chimney, much to Rosie’s bitter disappointment. At the moment his wife, dressed black yoga pants, a crazy Christmas sweater with a glittering winter scene with flashing lights, and an antler hair band on her head which played ‘We Wish You A Merry Christmas’ on a continual loop. After three hours, and two battery changes, Alexander reckoned he’d earned a break. He winced now as the sound of the love of his life singing ‘I kissed a sexaaaaay Santa Claus’ at the top of her voice drifted into the study from the kitchen/family room. “Jeez. She can’t hold a tune in an empty bucket.”

Nico just grinned. “She is young at heart.”

Alexander placed his glass on the side table and wiggled his toasty toes. “I’ve no idea where she gets the energy from. You should see our house, it looks like a demented Santa’s grotto. Mila just sat there wide-eyed on the sheepskin rug watching her mother wiggle her butt to Elvis crooning about a Blue Christmas. Thank goodness it only comes around once a year.”

Nico cocked his head to listen as Sophia informed her brother Luca that, “If you eat another mince pie you’ll be sick as a bloody pig.”

“SOPHIA! LANGUAGE!” This from his wife at the top of her voice.

Alexander shook his head. “Do you remember the good old days? The days before changing diapers, sticky fingers and drool?”

Nico’s broad shoulders shook in silent laughter. “Si. But I would not change a single thing. And neither would you, my friend.”

“True.”

When the study door opened very slowly, both men turned to watch a damp curled and pink-cheeked Eve toddle into the room. She wore pink pj’s and since she was still to find her balance, she walked like drunk trying to go in a straight line. She headed for her papa and lifted her arms. “Batman!”

Happy to oblige, Nico sat her on his lap and nuzzled the soft black curls. “Hmm. Someone has had a bath.”

She turned to wrap her arms around his neck and smacked a wet kiss on his cheek.

“Batman!”

Alexander had to laugh. “She calls Rosie and me Batman, too.”

Nico gently tickled his daughter. “She does it to make us laugh. Don’t you, cara.”

When Rosie poked her head around the door and took in the cozy scene—the coffee, the brandy snifters, the fire, she narrowed her eyes. “It’s bath time and bedtime and we need all shoulders to the wheel if we want a bit of peace and quite before midnight.

Nico rose to his feet with Eve on his hip.

Alexander stood. “Coming, dear.”

In response, Rosie simply smiled, pressed a button on the Antlers on her head. As ‘We Wish You A Merry Christmas’ began, Alexander groaned long and loud.

Nico turned to look at him. “When will you ever learn that we cannot win?”

 

***

Three hours later…

The adults had retreated to the main sitting room. On the hearth in front of the log burner was a white china plate containing two mince pies dusted with icing sugar and a glass of whisky (for Santa), plus four carrots (for the reindeer). The thud from above, had four sets of eyes peer at the ceiling. “That sounded like Sophia jumping off her bed,” Bronte said in a low growl.

Rosie clapped her hands and stood. “Right. That’s it. We’ve tried bedtime stories, Christmas carols and milk. It’s time to bring out the Big Guns.”

She marched out the door and up the stairs, closely followed by Bronte and the men.

Hands on her hips, she stood in the hallway and eyed the three bedroom doors, all closed.

“Want to know what happens to naughty children who are not asleep when Santa comes?” she called out.

A muffled giggle from Sophia’s room had her open the door to peer at the lump beneath the duvet which was her niece. “I heard that, Ms Sophia Ferranti.”

Sophia’s blonde head popped up. “I’m trying to sleep, but it’s too hard.”

Luca, wearing Spiderman pj’s slid into the room. “I can’t sleep either. I’m too excited.”

When Tonio popped his head out of his bedroom door and simply grinned, Rosie folded her arms and put on her fierce face. “If you hear sleigh bells then that means Santa will know you’re not asleep and not leave any presents because he’ll go on to the next house where the GOOD children are asleep and give them ALL the presents.” She shrugged as if she could care less. “So, sleep or not sleep, the choice is yours.”

Sophia thought for a moment as she eyed her parents. “Is that true?”

Si.” Nico said without a blink.

“Trust me, you don’t want to hear sleigh bells,” Bronte said.

When Sophia lay down and rolled onto her side, and Luca raced into his room and banged shut the door, Nico turned to Tonio. The boy simply lifted his eyes to heaven and closed his door.

The adults waited five minutes and when all was quiet, they trooped back down the stairs.

“Glass of champagne?” Nico asked Bronte and Rosie.

“Yup.” Rosie said. “We’ll give them half and hour and then we’ll bring out the bells.”

Alexander blinked. “Bells?”

His wife turned her big Bambi eyes on him, as if butter wouldn’t melt, and fluttered her outrageously thick lashes.

“But of course. We have a plan. We have sleigh bells. We’ll just let them get warm and cozy and then we’ll sneak out into the garden beneath their windows and jingle the bells.”

Alexander bit his lip. “Why, that’s just a cruel and dastardly trick to play on little children. I love it.”

 

Thirty minutes later, Bronte and Rosie, dressed for a trek to the North Pole, crept into the garden and once they were in place and hidden by a conifer hedge, they jingled their bells loud and long. There was a muffled cry from upstairs, but then all was quiet. And for good measure Alexander hung out the window and called, “Yo-Ho-Ho!” in a deep voice.

 

The women returned, cheeks pink from the cold and their eyes sparkling with sheer mischief. Nico poured them their second glass of bubbly. Then he turned to pick up a remote control and pressed the button. The low sound of Bing Crosby crooning about dreaming of a White Christmas filled the room. Not a sound was heard from the bedrooms above.

Rosie made herself comfortable on Alexander’s lap and kissed him.

While his best friend made out on the sofa, Nico pulled Bronte into his arms and took his time to kiss her senseless.

By the time he came up for air, her arms were wound around his neck and her hands were in his hair. He rubbed his nose against hers. “Ti amo, Bronte.”

“I love you, too,” she whispered.

The carriage clock on the mantelpiece began to chime the midnight hour.

“Merry Christmas,” he whispered back.

FINE

Dear readers, it’s been a crazy year with much writing stuff not achieved by this author. So things, as the song says, can only get better! From my house to your house— MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!

The Sneak Peeks will return in 2018!

Christine X

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

 

 

 

 

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!