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

 

a-ludlowhall-xmas-special-sneak-peek

Greetings, peeps!

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

Enjoy!

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Is he in the nativity?” Janine asks.

“He’s the narrator.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

FINE

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

*Evil laugh*

ChristineX

 

Time for another slice of Ludlow life with The Ferranti family…

cookielove

 

Happy Monday!

It’s time for another slice of Ludlow life with our favourite family……

The Dower House…

Dressed in skinny blue jeans, a cropped T-shirt that’s seen better days, Bronte pads into the family-kitchen living space on bare feet. She’s given Eve her last breast feed of the day. It won’t be long before her daughter is fully weaned, and the thought has a little pang of loss hit her heart. She’ll miss the intimacy and the connection. Her baby won’t be a baby for much longer. The kids are settled down for the night—at last. Sophia is out like a light after her horrible day. Looks as if her right eye is swelling and will be closed by the morning. Her brothers insist on having their bedroom doors open so they can hear her if she calls in the night or has a bad dream. Glancing at her husband, she reckons someone else needs a bit of love and attention. Sprawled on the couch wearing his favorite jeans white at the seams and a black long sleeved thermal, a stony faced Nico stares unseeing into the flames of a stainless-steel log burner. His long legs stretching out before him, his bare feet are long and narrow and sexy. Bronte’s mouth lifts. He’s a big sexy Italian beast and she loves him more each day. In the sexy beast’s hands, he’s nursing a wine goblet. His mouth is a thin, hard line. Bronte takes the seat next to him and curls up her legs and cosies into him. She reaches out for his glass, and takes a sip of the ruby liquid.

“You’re thinking bad thoughts,” she says and offers him the glass.

In response, he places the wine on the vast glass coffee table before taking her in his arms. Bronte closes her eyes to simply breathe in the heady scent of her man. A woodsy cologne, his shampoo, and an alpha male testosterone that feels like home. As much as she loves The Dower House and the life they have here in the old market town of Old Ludlow, in her heart she knows that wherever Nico goes is home to her and their growing family.

“I have had a call from Annabel’s papa,” Nico says, indicating his cell lying on the coffee table. Annabel’s father is a wealthy and influential businessman. Although he has a good reputation, Nico and Alexander tend to give him a wide berth.

“By the look on your face I take it it’s not good news.”

Nico heaves a deep sigh. “It’s not good news for his grandsons. Seems the social services have paid Annabel a visit. Both boys are to be placed on the ‘at risk’ list. Annabel’s papa seems to think we had something to do with it. I put his mind at rest. I’m thinking this might not be a bad thing for those children.”

“Jonathan has them every weekend,” Bronte says, and repeats the local gossip. “They run wild through the town, stealing candy and general mischief making. The man doesn’t have a clue about parenting or taking care of young children.”

“From what Alexander and I saw earlier this evening, he’s not taking care of himself either. I’d say it is either booze or an out of control recreational drug habit. Whatever, it is not bringing out the best in him. I said as much to his ex father-in-law. He is planning to stage some sort of intervention with Jonathan and his sons. His daughter is at her wit’s end.”

“She was a friend—once,” Bronte says. Her mind slips into the past, remembering the hurt and especially the public humiliation she suffered when Annabel and Jonathan had a torrid affair behind her back during the time she was grieving over the tragic loss of her parents. An affair which resulted in Annabel’s first pregnancy. The town had taken sides and the rift between the Winthrops and the Ludlows and Ferranti families had never healed. Seven years seems such a long time to hold a grudge. But, at the time of the betrayal, life for Bronte Ludlow had been tough going. Bronte had lost her parents, her home, her fiancé, and was at odds with Alexander over the shocking discovery that they had different fathers. And then the whirlwind of Nico Ferranti had entered her life, and look at them now! Parents to four wonderful children. The love and commitment they shared grew more each day. While poor Annabel limped from one domestic drama to another. She has an ex-husband with a sly, vicious tongue and a wandering eye. A man always on the look-out for the main chance to get something for nothing.

Si. We cannot say she has not paid for her mistake. Perhaps it is time to offer her the hand of friendship. That is what good neighbours do, is it not?”

Not exactly thrilled with the idea, Bronte makes a face and heaves a big sigh. “I’ll speak to Janine and Rosie and run the idea to reach out to Annabel past them. If we do this, I’ll need their support. We were all a close-knit group once, when we were ten.”

Nico pulls her onto his lap to wrap her in his arms. “I am thinking of the children. If the adults cannot find a solution, what hope do they have? But let me clear, I will never under any circumstances be a friend to Jonathan Winthrop.”

Bronte reaches up to wind her arms around his neck. “Thank God for that. But I can tell by your face you have a plan for him.”

Si. It is nothing for you to worry about,” he says in that deep growly tone her hormones love.

Nico dips his head to taste her mouth. At least that was the idea. Instead, it isn’t long before they’re naked on the couch, replete and relaxed. “My toes are tingling,” Bronte says. Her eyes shut, she adores the way his big hand sweeps lazy strokes down her spine. She smiles as his big body shakes with laughter.

“I can never get enough of you, cara mia.”

Bronte runs her nails gently over a dark nipple, feels him shudder. “Rosie says that when we’re in a care home and hobbling around with Zimmer frames we’ll still be snogging in corners.”

“She can talk,” Nico says severely. A squawk and grizzle from the baby monitor has both of them on their feet. They dress fast. He grins at Bronte’s flushed cheeks. “Ah, I remember the good old days when we walked about naked whenever we felt like it.”

“We need a break without the kids,” she says as they rush up the stairs. Nico heads off to check on Sophia, and Bronte enters the baby’s room. The heady smell of a dirty diaper has her dealing with the problem within minutes. After settling the baby, she searches for her husband and finds him leaning against the door frame of their eldest daughter’s bedroom. The door is wide open. As she approaches, Nico turns to place a finger on his lips, his grey eyes dancing.

As she studies the scene before her, Bronte lifts her hand to smother a laugh. Omigod. Tonio and Luca have dragged their duvets and pillows into Sophia’s room and are sleeping on the floor next to her bed. She tip-toes over the sleeping boys to study her daughter. Yep, the eye is swollen shut. The livid bruise on that velvet little cheek hurts Bronte’s heart. If the chance of letting bygones be bygones with Annabel and her sons prevents a repetition of today’s events, she’ll do it. The idea of offering the hand of friendship to Annabel may not go down well with Rosie and Janine, but they’ll support Bronte and the children through thick and thin—that’s what best friends do.

Tonio stirs, his eyes pop open as he watches them tip-toe out of the room hand in hand.

The boy lifts up on his elbows to crane his neck to check on Sophia. She’s out for the count, as is her twin sleeping on the floor next to him. Tonio settles to lie on his back and counts the tiny lights on a ceiling which replicates the milky way. Bronte and Rosie and Janine painted the ceilings in the twin’s bedroom. And when Tonio joined the family, the women did the same in his bedroom and gave him lights, too. The Ferranti children sleep beneath the stars.

Tonio smiles as his heavy eyes shut. He knows for sure they’ll have fresh cookies tomorrow because he can smell them from here.

It’s the smell of a safe haven.

It’s the smell of home.

It’s the smell of love.

We are mia la famiglia

We are Italian.

 

FINE

Not easy doing the ‘right’ thing, is it?

Working hard on the weekly short stories, the first one released at the end of this month, then I’m diving into the Ludlow world with Break The Rules. I LOVE my job!!!

Big hugs,

Christine X

Pre-order Links for SEAN, and a cover reveal and pre-order links for the first of the GOLDDIGGERS, ELLIE… so excited…

LUDLOWSEANFINITO

 

Greetings from a soggy Sunday,

As you can see from my new banner at the top of the page, we’ve been busy at MORE Press, and we’re about to get busier still. The next Ludlow Hall Romance franchise is SEAN going live on 30th September. Remember the story is stand-alone with no cliffhangers. And because it’s set in the Ludlow Hall world we meet Nico, Bronte & Co.

The book’s pre-order links are available below for the awesome peeps at iBooks, and for Amazon.

(Kobo and B&N links will be added as soon as they become available.)

iBOOKS  USA      iBOOKS UK     AMAZON USA    AMAZON UK

Here’s the blurb for SEAN’s story:

A sizzling love story with a superb cast of characters…

Businessman and model Sean Gallagher is catch-your-breath gorgeous and ruined by his troubled past in Ireland and the tragic death of his brother. All grown up and relocated to New York, he’s become one of the most photographed face on the planet. No one knows the dark childhood secrets that have given Sean a backbone of steel and a heart untouched by love…

No one until Irish showgirl Katherine Mary Kennedy that is…

In his role as best man for the wedding of his best friend, Sean’s keeping a close eye on the stag party. From the moment his former girl-next-door steps onto the stage at Ludlow Hall as Pousse-Café, leader of the GOLDDIGGERS, Sean’s captivated…

Burlesque star Katherine and her troupe might be taking the world by storm, but she’s had more than her share of heartache and broken dreams.

She’s come to give a special one off performance at Ludlow Hall with four of her GOLDDIGGERS, and to prepare for her tole as maid of honor at her cousin’s wedding.

Neither Sean or Katherine believe in romance or a happy-ever-after, but the attraction sparking between them cannot be denied…

Sean and Katherine’s story is one of passion, love lost and love found and changes both of their lives forever…

Get your copy of SEAN today!

***

And now we come to a project my team and I have been working on for months… drum roll… introducing the world famous…

GOLDDIGGERS

A weekly tale of love and scorching desire  best describes the brand new short romance reads from USAToday bestselling author CC MACKENZIE. Let’s face it women today are short of one thing. TIME. We might snatch ‘me’ time during a lunch break, or a commute to and from work, or we’re not in the mood for a committed book relationship. Sometimes we want a satisfying story quick and fast, a bit like a book one-night-stand.

Each story is set in the world of Burlesque with feathers, glitter, love, desire, music and dance where girls tease and tantalize. Each story stands-alone, unrelated to the next, except they are set in the same world. And CC will release an original story every Friday to get you in the mood for the weekend.

The GOLDDIGGERS series of thirty minutes of fun romance from CC MACKENZIE – for busy people everywhere. Get your copy of ELLIE today!

The first thirty minute read, is out on OCTOBER 28TH.

Pre-order links below:

 

ellie (1)

 

iBOOKS USA     iBOOKS UK    AMAZON USA   AMAZON UK

 

 

Here’s the blurb:

ELLIE

“I didn’t plan to talk to him.

Or fall for him.

Or have anything to do with devastatingly handsome Noah Blake, supermodel.

Meeting him had been a complete and utter shock to the system, my reaction took me by surprise. In my line of work, I meet new people all the time and none of them impressed me the way Noah did. Isn’t that just typical in life? A girl can meet hundreds of people and they don’t touch her where it matters, but then she meets the one who changes everything…

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Thing is, I’m a Golddigger, and proud of it. We make the Pussycat Dolls look like kittens. We work hard to achieve one goal, being the best. And to do that we do not need distractions like, for example, men. A Golddigger’s focus is on one thing, her performance. A Golddigger’s priority is the continued success of our Burlesque troupe. Thing is, I learned the hard way men didn’t like coming a poor second in a woman’s life. They appeared to be panic-stricken by a career driven, successful woman. I’ve been called “hard work,” “stroppy,” and “pigheaded.”

Like the rest of the Golddiggers, being free of emotional ties works well for me. Trust me, I had no long term plan to live happy-ever-after.

But then I met Noah.

And he stole my diamanté encrusted panties, and my whole world imploded…

 

***

It’s feast or famine on this blog, isn’t it?

I’m so excited by the GOLDDIGGER project, the girls are brave, funny, hard working, super-talented and don’t put up with ‘no shit’ from anyone. I introduce the world of the GOLDDIGGERS in SEAN, and my team are drooling over him and Katherine and the girls. So from the last Friday in October and every Friday through Christmas, you guys will have stories to enjoy between my full story releases.

Next up will be the usual sneak peek of Ludlow life tomorrow.

Love and hugs,

Christine X

IT’S MONDAY, ANOTHER SLICE OF LUDLOW LIFE . . . Aaaaand she’s back . . .

Rosie

 

Greetings, my awesome readers,

I hope this finds you well after the weekend, and raring to go for the week ahead. It’s been a while since we heard from Rosie … She’s back …

***

Working alone, Rosie Ludlow is busy, busy, at Sweet Sensations running against a deadline to deliver a surprise order of four dozen cupcakes for an engagement party before five o’clock . . .

*The kitchen smells of toffee, chocolate, and vanilla icing. Even though the place is rocking to Ella Henderson praying by a river, baby Mila is sound asleep in her amazing top of the line stroller. White rubber clog tapping to the beat, Rosie’s wearing chef whites, her inky curls tied back beneath a cap and net. With her tongue caught firmly between her teeth, she uses quick flicks of the wrist to pipe tiny spears of white meringue icing to make a ball effect for the topping of the chocolate cupcakes. It takes a steady hand, precision and a good eye to place a red cherry made of icing with a fragile chocolate stalk on the top. Since they were fiddly little bastards, she’d made the cherries the day before. When Nico Ferranti strolls through the door looking for all the world as if he’s just walked off a photo shoot for GQ, she sends him a lightning grin, nods to the pot of coffee on the counter top*

“Coffee’s hot, big boy. Help yourself. Let me just finish up here.”

Nico pokes his head inside one of the eight boxes of white card, checks out the cupcakes. “Amazing. You are a clever girl, cara. But why are you working so late?”

“It’s a favor,” she says, her focus one hundred per cent on the job at hand. “And they’re paying me big bucks for this favor. Bronte offered to help, but Eve’s cutting another tooth and it’s not going well. Her little cheek is all swollen and hot. Poor baby.”

Making himself right at home, Nico helps himself to a cup from the cupboard, pours himself a coffee from the pot. “Si. The twins didn’t suffer as much as la mia bambina. We’ve had to resort to medication to bring down the inflammation.”

*Rosie finishes the final cupcake, lays the cherry on the top, and carefully places the work of art in a box. The box lids are all sitting waiting. By the time she’s placed gold and black Sweet Sensation stickers on each box and ties them with black satin bows, Nico’s grinning at her quick fingered expertize. She checks the huge clock on the wall, turns the music down. While Nico pours her a coffee, she pulls the net and cap from her head to reveal inky curls that fall in a tail between her shoulder blades. She accepts her coffee and closes her eyes as she takes a sip of the black stuff. Heaven*

“Thanks,” she says, leans her hip against the stainless steel counter top, and eyes him appreciatively from the top of his immaculately cut hair, the sharp threads (Italian of course) to his hand stitched shoes. “Are you coming or going from a meeting?”

“Coming,” he says in the deep Italian accent that always makes her mouth curve. Man, with Nico as her husband her pal Bronte has got herself a hunka-hunka burnin’ love. His next words wipe the smirk from her face. “I have been meaning to stop by and have a little chat with you.”

*Little chat? Uh oh. Rosie recognizes the signs, that sharp eyed look, the way his mouth has gone firm. Something’s up*

“Everything okay with Bronte? Things okay at home?”

Nico nods. “Everything is mostly fine. Except for Sophia . . .”

Rosie blinks and can’t help but grin widely. “What’s up with my favorite niece? Been cutting hair again? Putting toys down the toilet? Painting toenails that don’t belong to her?”

Nico’s mouth curves, but he shakes his head. “No. But she’s quoting statements from ‘Auntie Rosie’ almost every time she opens her mouth. And some of the statements, cara mia, are causing her mama and me a few bad moments.”

Not in the least bit fazed by the way he’s glowering at her, Rosie sends him a cheeky grin. “Yeah? That’s my girl. Inquisitive. Smart as a whip.”

Nico’s dark brows lift. “Si. But it seems she knows a little too much about certain things, like child birth, and . . . sex. She was happy to inform a car load of children including her BFF Emily, that according to auntie Rosie, Tonio, just like me, is gonna break hundreds of hearts with his love muscle . . .” Nico waits until a spluttering Rosie stops laughing to continue, “then she told the same audience that women, and I quote, are cursed each month and put their men through hell. Men, according to auntie Rosie, do not know they are living.”

Wiping her eyes on kitchen towel, Rosie takes a breath. “Omigod. The little monkey. She’s been listening to adult conversations again. What the hell is she like? You’ll need to break her of the habit, Nico.”

Nico blinks. “Si, but . . .”

Rosie shifts to top up their cups. “Thing is, Sophia is super bright. She can write everyone’s name. Her reading age is way ahead of her peers. She’s also overcurious and nosey. The trick for you and Bronte will be to channel that investigative trait within her into something positive. I’ve been thinking maybe horse riding to balance all that physical and emotional energy. Or ballet or gymnastics . . .”

Nico shudders at the thought. He cannot imagine what his daughter would be like if she was doing gymnastics. The conversation is not going Nico’s way. He’s here to ensure Rosie bites her tongue around his daughter. On the other hand, he can’t resist the complete lack of guile in Rosie’s dark chocolate Bambi eyes. Hell, he doesn’t want to upset a woman he adores. In truth, he doesn’t want Rosie to be anything other than Rosie, so he treads carefully and tries again, “I, we, feel Sophia is too young to understand certain things like how a woman has eggs in her ovaries . . .”

Rosie nods enthusiastically and jumps in with, “Exactly. You and Bronte are doing an amazing job with your children, but especially with Sophia. It is very important for adults to answer a child’s questions with the facts and total honesty. A penis is a penis and a vagina is a vagina. I simply do not understand why some adults, especially men, cannot be honest about procreation and how the human body works. And I’ll tell you something for nothing, Nico. Not telling a child the truth can set them up for an epic fail when they hit the hell that is puberty. It’s dangerous. Get Bronte to tell you the story of when our mothers were at school in the seventies. In their year was a girl of fifteen who’s first sexual experience with a boy, who just as clueless as her, ended up with her at A&E because of an infected navel. Apparently, the poor kids believed they had sex via the belly button. I am not joking. Our mothers drummed the facts of life into us as soon as we began asking questions.”

Dio mio. Nico knew his jaw was on the floor, knew there was perspiration beading on his top lip. “Si, but . . .”

*Baby Mila stirs, and her mama is at her side in an instant*

“Aw, did you have a good sleepy sloppy?” Rosie coos as she nuzzles the baby. She sniffs her diaper, makes a horrible face. “Phew. A diaper bomb.”

Nico can’t help but grin at how happy Rosie is since she married Alexander and became a mama. Today his mission has been as Rosie would say, ‘An Epic Fail.’ But he loves her. Perhaps he’ll just need to live with her Big Mouth because at the end of the day he wouldn’t change her for the world.

“I’ll leave you to it,” he says.

Rosie jiggles Mila, grabs the diaper bag hanging onto the stroller handle. “Drop in any time. Try not to worry about Sophia. If I were you I’d forget about a convent for her, too. The planet is made up of fifty per cent men, Nico. Better Sophia learns how to handle the suckers. When she grows up, that girl will have the world by the balls.”

And that, Nico decides as he strolls to his car, is exactly the problema. By the time Sophia Ferranti becomes a fully formed new adult, his hair will be white from worry and stress. As he drives towards home, he nods. He’ll handle anything his baby girls will throw at him because, at the end of the day, he’s Italian.

 

FINITO

 

Can’t fault Rosie’s own brand of logic.

Nico didn’t stand a chance!

The pre-order links for SEAN should be up in a couple of days (it was my birthday last week, so I got side-tracked by my wonderful family.)

Hugs

Christine X

It’s Monday, which means another peek behind the curtains of life with the Ferranti family. Grab a coffee, settle down, and enjoy . . .

Tentacles-

Happy Monday, my darlings,

Working hard and nearly at The End of SEAN.

Here’s the latest from the Ferranti Fam-lee . . .

Bronte is driving Nico’s Range Rover with Luca, Sophia and Emily in the back, and Tonio in the front. Luca, Sophia and Emily have been attending a birthday party, which means they’re checking out their party bags, all hyped up on sugar. And Tonio has had soccer practice, which means he’s a bit bruised and battered since he’s a fearless Ferranti.

*Emily and Sophia begin their own unique rendition of The Lonely Goatherd*

“Yodelaaaaaay-eeeeeeee, yodelaaaaaay-eeeeeee-eeeeeeee, yodelaaaaaaaaay-eeeeeeee,” shrieks Sophia with Emily right behind her.

All hot and bothered and tired, of girls, Luca squeezes his eyes shut and bangs the back of his head on the car seat. “Mamaaaaaaa, tell them to stop.”

“Okay, girls, no distractions while I’m driving please,” Bronte says. Out of the corner of her eye she spots Tonio making a horrible face. To be honest she can’t blame him, the singing is pretty horrible. “That’s enough now.”

*And silence once again reigns across the land*

“How come,” Emily begins in her soft little voice. Her fingers smooth the skirt of her pale pink party frock. “Boys can wear dresses? I’ve never seen a boy in a dress.”

Out the corner of her eye, Bronte sees Tonio’s eyes go wide. She clears her throat, guessing someone’s been talking to Emily about gender equality in schools, where boys were given permission to wear a dress if they so wished. “Well, yes they can,” she says. “Most boys don’t, but if they wanted to they could.”

Sophia’s watching the word go by. She shakes her head and pipes up, “I can’t imagine my papa in a dress.” She’s wearing her best party frock and it’s pink, too. “I mean papa’s got hairy legs, and muscles . . . and tentacles.”

*Oh. My. God. Bronte cannot imagine Nico in a dress either. And as for tentacles . . . Stifling a giggle, she drives the car through the winding country road. She spots Tonio biting down hard on his knuckles, his shoulders shaking with laughter*

“Boys have testicles,” Tonio correct Sophia.

Luca frowns. “So what have tentacles?”

“Octopus have tentacles,” Tonio says.

Little Emily shakes her head, her smooth brow creases. “I don’t think that’s right. My mummy says my daddy’s like an octopus. He’s all hands.”

Tonio turns to give a wide-eyed Bronte big eyes. Bronte clears her throat. “Remember Ursula in The Little Mermaid?” she asks, desperately trying to guide the conversation into safer waters. “She was part octopus.”

Sophia nods. “Uh huh. Ursula is half-witch. My auntie Rosie says Ursula’s bad to the bone.”

“My daddy says my mummy turns into a witch at the time of the month,” Emily pipes up.

Wide-eyed, Luca turns to Emily. “Is that the time of the full moon? My papa says mama goes nutso during a full moon. Witches fly over the moon at Halloween. Does your mummy have a broomstick?” he asks hopefully.

“Uh huh,” Emily says, shaking her head so hard her bright corkscrew curls dance. “My mummy says that she is not a witch and knows he really means she’s a bitch and he’s not fooling anybody and if my daddy keeps it up, she’s gonna nail his tentacles to the wall.”

*Oh. My. God. Bronte decides she needs to have an urgent chat with Emily’s mummy, Grace, and with Nico about his Big Mouth*

“Well,” Bronte says in a high cheery voice. “Another octopus is Pearl in Finding Nemo. I think Pearl is sooooooo cute.”

*When Emily beams and nods, Bronte heaves a relieved sigh that none of the kids could find a problem with Pearl. Until . . .*

Sophia turns to Emily. “The reason your mummy and my mama get cranky at the time of the full moon is because they are cursed. And because you and me are female, Emily, when we hit pubsinthecity we’re gonna be cursed too. My auntie Rosie says we are cursed because inside us we have eggs to make babies. When we don’t make a baby, once a month we have an egg and we have belly cramps and spots and horrible hair and we put the men in our life through merry hell.”

“Eww,” Luca says.

Sophia nods as Emily stares at her with big blue eyes. Sophia continues, “Auntie Rosie says men don’t know they are living.”

“God,” Tonio mutters, sliding down in his seat.

With a determined smile fixed on her face, Bronte steers the car into Emily’s driveway. She turns to the three children in the back seat and says, “And here we all are. Safe and well.”

*Minutes later, back at The Dower House, Nico Ferranti is waiting for his family, baby Eve tucked on his hip. And since the baby’s cutting teeth her little cheeks are apple red, and she’s wearing a white cotton bib. She’s gnawing heroically on a plastic ring filled with ice water*

“How was soccer practice?” Nico asks Tonio as the boy heaves his kit bag from the trunk.

Tonio turns to send him a slow smile. “I made the team.”

Nico and Tonio slap a high five. “Well done.”

Nico eyes the twins, notices Sophia giving him a head to toe appraisal of his bare feet, battered blue jeans and black thermal. “What?” he asks her.

She shakes her blonde head as she walks past him. “Papa, there’s no way you’d ever look good in a dress, it’s sooooo not your style. You’re Italian.”

A stunned Nico turns to a laughing Bronte to give her wide eyes. “Me? In a dress?”

Bronte stretches up on her tip toes to plant a kiss on his cheek. “It all began with tentacles and an Octopus….”

 

Finito

 

Writing final scenes for SEAN last night and I cried a river . . . and all y’all know that if I cry, you cry. I love this couple soooooo much, so many feels . . .

Before final edits, I’m placing SEAN on pre-order, the links are coming soon.

AND I have a huge surprise for you guys at the end of SEAN, with pre-orders for the surprise, too.

Stay tuned . . .

 

Christine X

IT’S ANOTHER SLICE OF LUDLOW LIFE WITH NICO, OLIVIER CONTI, AND….. DRUM ROLL….. SOPHIA.

 

NICO'S BABYSITTING

Greetings, my lovelies,

It’s August 1st.

Where has the summer gone?

Time for another slice of life with the Ferranti family………..

All is quiet on a hot and sultry Saturday at The Dower House. Bronte and Anastacia Morgan, Italian soccer star Olivier Conti’s fiancée, are out having a girly day at the Ferranti Hotel and Spa, Ludlow Hall. Luca and Tonio are spending the weekend at a summer sport camp. Nico and Olivier are on daddy duty looking after baby Eve, and… Sophia.

Since the guys are off duty, today they haven’t bothered with a razor, and both wear below the knee khaki shorts and ratty T-shirts.

We join them, dear readers, snoozing on the L shaped couch in the family-living-kitchen space. Yup, my friends, the boys have taken their eyes off the ball. Oh dear, oh dear…..

Meanwhile, in Sophia’s world, also known as her bedroom…….

*Before she’d gone out with Anastacia, Sophia’s mama had brushed Sophia’s silver blonde hair back in a complicated plait arrangement threaded with pink satin ribbon. At the same time Anastacia (Sophia ADORES Anastacia) painted Sophia’s tiny toenails with five different shades from ruby red to a sparkling pale pink.

Now a beyond thrilled Sophia is kicking back in her bedroom where it’s nice and cool. She’s wearing her favorite pink cotton sun dress. She’s added a purple ostrich feather boa around her neck and painted her pink mouth bright lemon from her stash of kiddie make-up – a gift from her auntie Rosie. She and four of her favorite dolls are watching the final credits at The End of the movie, Frozen. When the song Let It Go begins, Sophia’s on her twinkling toes, her hairbrush is her microphone as she sings along at the top of her voice. Maybe one day she could be a pop star. Four smiling dolls watch her with wide-eyed unblinking blue eyes*

 

Dio mio,” Oliver murmurs and turns to lie flat on his back. Eyes closed, he yawns huge enough to crack his jaw, scratches his flat belly. “What the hell is that noise?”

Nico cranks open an eye. Listens to his daughter murdering Idina Menzel’s brilliant vocals, and joins Olivier in a yawn. It is true. Yawning is contagious. He and Olivier have been hard at it, with Anastacia cracking the organizational whip, since six thirty discussing the next marketing film Olivier is due to star in next week for the Ferranti Boutique Hotel campaign in Rome. “Ignore her. It is Sophia singing along to Frozen. It can go on for hours.” Like Olivier, he rolls onto his back and closes his eyes. Dio, the heat is oppressive, this must be the hottest day of the year so far. Through folding doors opened wide to the garden, he can hear the buzz of lazy bees rumbling from rose to rose. The silence, apart from Sophia, is golden. Heaven.

Meanwhile, back in Sophia’s world…..

*In bare feet, Sophia skips along the thick carpet running along the wide corridor outside her bedroom, and tip toes into baby Eve’s room next door to her mama and papa’s huge bedroom suite. The baby is sound asleep, the window shades drawn to keep out the heat. She’s is sooooooo cute with her black crazy curls and pink cheeks and tiny mouth. And she has the teeeeeeniest fingernails.

Pursing her lips, Sophia slides into the hallway, cocks her head to listen for any sign of life from her papa or uncle Olivier, and hears nothing. The football season is over for the summer, which means Olivier is spending ‘quality time’ with Anastacia. Sophia sidles into her mama and papa’s bedroom. The place smells faintly of her papa’s cologne and her mama’s shampoo and fresh flowers in the huge class vase on the serving table between his and her walk-in closets. Her little fingertips run along the velvet edge of a low backed couch. Her nails are unpainted because her mama might permit toe nails to be painted (on special occasions) but not fingernails because, ‘Sophia is too young.’ Hmmmmmmm. But like a moth to the proverbial flame (as auntie Rosie says) Sophia is enticed by the devil temptation to the open double doors of her mama’s walk-in closet. And, like a magnet, is drawn to her mama’s make-up area. Also known as (auntie Rosie says) ‘The cosmetic mother-lode.’

Sophia switches on the array of lights surrounding the huge mirror, and an entirely new world of wondrous opportunities opens up before her very eyes. Her eyes go wide at the vast array of make-up, brushes, pots, and all sorts of marvellous things (many unopened because her mama cannot be bothered, but her papa keeps supplying mama with lots and lots from the Spa) laid out before her. There are lipsticks, eye shadows, and a couple of little jewelled pots.

She reaches out a hand, her fingers just itching to explore the pretty pots, when the thought enters her mind she is NOT permitted to touch ANYTHING in her mama’s closet.

Battling two voices in her young mind, touch it versus don’t-you-dare, Sophia heaves a deep sigh as she chooses the latter.

But then, her emerald eyes linger on the bottles of nail polish. In particular a couple Anastacia had used on Sophia’s beautiful pink toenails.

The devil temptation whispers.

Between one heartbeat and the next, she’s got two bottles in her hand, and she’s back in her bedroom.

The four dolls on her bed seemed to beg, literally beg her, to paint their toes.

What was a responsible doll owner to do?*

Minutes later, and screwing the lid on the pink glitter nail polish, Sophia studies her hard work. Pink nail polish had dripped, just a little, on her favorite Frozen comforter, but it’ll probably come off in the wash. A couple of the doll’s plastic legs are streaked with drips she rubbed off with her thumb, but all in all it isn’t a bad effort. “It’s a bit like coloring in,” she says softly to her dolls. “I just need to keep inside the lines. And you’re looking good, girlies.” (As auntie Rosie would say.)

*On a roll, Sophia clutches the two sticky bottles of nail polish as she skips down the hall. She hesitates at the baby’s room. After all, little Eve has beautiful tiny fingernails. But what if the baby doesn’t stay still? Instead, she tip toes past the baby’s room and down the stairs and into the family room. She stops dead. Papa and uncle Olivier are sound asleep. Papa is snoring gently, even though he swears he never snores. Her gaze lights upon their bare feet. Nothing small about those hairy feet. But her eyes go wide as her little heart soars with a thrilled delight. Look at those bare feet. Look at all those toenails.

She skips over, places a bottle on the table, the top isn’t on properly and lands on the glass with a soft clink. For a moment she freezes as if she’s playing statues with Luca and Tonio. Unblinking eyes are glued to her papa’s face, but no one stirs. With her tongue caught between her teeth, Sophia picks up a bottle, gives it a shake, and gets to work.

Fifteen busy minutes later, both bottles are empty. Shame about the smeared drips on the floor, and the cotton tea cloth. They’ll wash off. But Sophia Ferranti is tickled pink with the two sets of beautiful pink toes. She managed to stay within the lines. Mostly. That’s ten toes for each man, that makes twenty because she can count all the way up to one hundred. Papa says she’s so clever one day she might become the President of the ‘Nighted States.

The sound of a car on the gravel driveway, has her skip to dump the empty bottles in the trash, and dance out to greet her mama and auntie Anastacia. Wait ’till they see what a good girl she’s been*

Anastacia, dressed in a linen sleeveless sheath the color of black coffee, in her usual sky high heels with her jet curls dancing down her back, bends down with arms wide open to greet a beaming Sophia. “Hey, baby girl. Did you miss me?”

“Yes! I watched Frozen two times… and…”

Anastacia spins Sophia in a wide circle making her squeal with glee.

Bronte grins at her daughter, emerald eyes running over her, and can’t see anything amiss. Makes a change. “Did you have a good time with papa and Olivier?” she asks.

Sophia shakes her blonde head. “They’ve been sleeping on the couch all day. And papa snores even if he says he doesn’t.”

Bronte rolls her eyes at a grinning Anastacia. “Might have known it. Is Eve still asleep.”

Sophia hop-skips behind her mama and Anastacia as they walk through the door, and takes time to admire Anastacia’s fabulous black curls that fall to her tiny waist. Sophia wishes God had given her hair that curls. Anastacia looks like a princess. A real one. “Yep,” she says to her mama. “She’s been good as gold.” (As auntie Rosie says.)

*They enter the family room and her mama and Anastacia stop dead*

Anastacia slaps a hand across her mouth as her blue eyes fill with mirth. “Lemme get my phone,” she whispers, digging into her purse. “I’ve gotta get a picture of this for posterity. Omigod.”

*Meanwhile, her mama’s emerald eyes go wide. Sophia’s little chest puffs out with pride. She’s done a good job. Her papa and uncle Olivier’s toenails are a dark pink and sparkly pink, one after the other*

*Bronte’s gaze turns slowly upon her daughter, and reads the beaming face and who the culprit is with no problem. No problem at all*

Bronte knows exactly who’s responsible for the mess on her coffee table, AND her floor. And those responsible were going to be very busy with nail polish remover. Honestly, MEN! She claps her hands and clears her throat, loud. Her husband cracks open an eye, sends her a slow, sexy smile. “Hey, cara mia. Have a good time?”

Bronte ignores the way Olivier is eyeing Anastacia, as if he could lick her from top to toe. And talking about toes… She sends her husband big eyes. “Not as much fun as you two have had. Check out your toenails.”

*The great thing is that Anastacia is still filming with her phone and catches the entire shock, awe, and roars of male laughter in real time. Nico grabs Sophia and turns her upside down, holding her by the ankles. His baby girl screams with laughter*

“You little diavolo!”

“Serves you right,” the daughter from hell says, her head at his feet. “You’re supposed to look after little children, not snore like a pig.”

*Later… much later… Sophia is in bed sound asleep after a busy day and dreaming about featuring in the starring role in Frozen… Her parents and Anastacia and Olivier are enjoying an after dinner drink in the garden as the sun goes down*

A grinning Olivier wiggles his toes. “I like it. I could start a new soccer trend.”

Anastacia digs a sharp elbow in his ribs. “You’ll have to wax the revolting black hairs on your toes.”

Nico’s feet are propped on a chair as he admires his daughter’s handiwork. He has hairy toes, too. “Waxing will hurt. Maybe another color. Aubergine, something like that would work.”

Sitting across the table, Bronte sips her white wine, shoots the men a hard stare. “I cannot rely on you two for one little thing, can I?”

Nico sends her a slow smile, and she knows exactly what’s coming. “Ah, bella mia. Did you see Sophia’s little face? She is so happy. My job as her papa is to make her happy. After all…”

“You are Italian,” they chorus.

Nico grins, shrugs. “Si.”

 

FINITO

Many moons ago, H was looking after my youngest daughter while I was out buying shoes for her big sister, and when we returned home we found my baby girl had raided my nail varnish. She was nearly three. She’d painted dark pink varnish on her eyelids, around her mouth, and on my bedroom carpet. All I can say is it was not pretty for H or for her. Not pretty at all. MEN!

If you haven’t read the story of how Anastacia and Olivier got together, here’s the blurb:

 

Ambitious, workaholic Anastacia Morgan runs Ferranti Communications

with a cool-head and an iron will. Her latest project is ensuring sports star Olivier Conti does what he’s told in a series of adverts. Olivier is impossible with a huge ego she’s more than able to handle. His smile may do wonderful things to her libido, but Ana is determined to succeed where other women fail and resist the gorgeous soccer star.

However, in this game there are no rules and Olivier’s never missed scoring a penalty, yet.

 

 

Here’s an excerpt:

 

Anastacia studied her PA’s hurriedly cobbled together file on the footballer. According to Nico, Olivier Conti’s good looks, charisma, work ethic and skills on and off the field were going to make working with him a breeze.

Yeah, right.

Easy for him to say.

Anastacia glared and glowered at the glossy ten-by-twelve publicity pic.

Almond shaped eyes the color of bitter chocolate twinkled into hers.

She sniffed.

He looked… charming.

Anastacia didn’t trust charming.

He also had an in-your-face confidence.

Anastacia didn’t trust a man who was over-confident.

His thick black hair had been styled. Not too much.

She loathed too much hair product on a man.

Good bone structure. Strong jaw. Smoothly curved mouth. Kissable. A straight nose, sharp black brows and a taut smooth skin combined to produce a face that women all over the world (according to the gushing blurb) dreamed about.

Anastacia’s PA, Linda, was a blood-hound when it came to digging up the juicy stuff in a client’s private life. So far she hadn’t found too much juice on Olivier. However, from the photographs and gossip pages it appeared he was fond of leggy blondes. A lot of leggy blondes, which was pretty representative of his type of breed.

Footballers.

Men who were too young to deal with too much money and the pulling power that money brought them.

Men who were notoriously fickle when it came to commitment.

Men who walked away from their responsibilities.

Even if that responsibility was a child.

She’d avoided the sport and the people in it like the plague.

And she had a very good reason.

A reason which was no one’s business except her own.

Now she tossed the photograph on her desk, and spun her chair to stare broodingly out over the city.

She could smell it a mile away.

Trouble.

Olivier Conti was trouble with a capital T.

 

While Anastacia was nose deep in everything Olivier, the man himself was giving Nico Ferranti plenty of grief.

Olivier dragged his hands through short black hair. He was six foot two inches, tall for a footballer, and as lean and fast as a greyhound.

“Nico, I cannot believe that a casual conversation about an investment has led to this.”

Nico sent him a big grin. A grin that a killer whale might have been proud of.

“In five years, or less, you will be burned out. Finito. It is time you learned the hotel business.”

“I do not know what my agent is going to say about this. He knows I cannot act. I am not doing any of that modelling shit in my underwear, showing the world the size of my package, either.”

“You would probably need to fill out your package with a pair of socks.”

Nico’s droll response had Olivier wiggle dark brows and toss him an evil grin.

“I do not like to boast, but…”

Nico threw back his head and roared with laughter.

Once he’d found his equilibrium again, he shook his head.

“Your personal business has nothing to do with your agent. No one has asked you to strip. And, there will be no modelling your impressive package. It is small scenes in three cities, endorsing hotels in which you have invested a large sum of money.” Nico decided not to mention a certain bathroom scene, which was pencilled in for the Rome shoot. He’d let Anastacia deal with it.

Olivier swore, paced to the hotel suite’s floor to ceiling window and back again.

“This is not the same thing. I am not endorsing a watch or a car. This is acting, per amor di Dio! I am going to make an ass of myself.”

He might feel like one, but he wouldn’t look like one, Nico decided, as he sipped his espresso. He studied Olivier over the rim of the tiny cup.

The boy was tall, hard muscled, lean and wore clothes with a style and flair that was perfect for the Ferranti brand. Olivier’s tanned, chiselled face, the drop-your-panties-eyes, had women all over the world drooling, while his skill and sportsmanlike play on the soccer field had won over male fans of the beautiful game. Olivier was highly intelligent, easy-going, good-looking and charismatic. And Nico reckoned he’d be a natural in front of the camera.

Plus, the boy had good instincts. He was no fool.

“You will not make an ass of yourself,” Nico said in a reassuring tone. “And I can guarantee that I have the best person in the business who is going to see to it.”

Olivier looked less than impressed as he flopped into a chair and stretched out long legs clad in black designer jeans.

“I do not need a babysitter,” he growled.

The thought of Anastacia Morgan babysitting anyone flashed into Nico’s brain. Somehow, he couldn’t quite see it. But he ignored Olivier’s sulky comment and changed tack.

“What if you get injured again? What if this time there is no going back?”

Olivier sent him a black look of sheer disbelief.

But Nico knew how much Olivier had panicked last year when an injury had put him out of the game for three months.

“I am one hundred per cent fit.”

He was indeed.

And he was scoring goals.

Si. But how many footballers, the best, disappear into depression, and worse, after they have played their last game?”

“I am not my father…”

Si. I know this. But… it is never too early to plan for the future. You have a responsibility to your madre, your sorelle.”

“I have planned for the future and I understand my responsibilities to mia famiglia. I can go into coaching…”

Nico raised his hand to brush away that bright idea.

“It is always wise to spread our skill base. What good is a business degree if you do not use it?”

“So, instead of chilling out in a hot tub with hot women in Las Vegas, this summer I will be cooped up in hotel rooms?”

“Think of it as investing in your future,” Nico said in a cheery voice, tossing in a big smile for good measure. “Plus, having a work ethic instead of partying will set a good example to young players who look up to you. And it will be good for the image of the sport.”

Silence.

“I need to prepare for the game,” Olivier said as he stood. When he reached the door, he turned and beaned Nico with a dark look. “And if I end up flat on my face in this advertising campaign, I promise to tell Bronte about you and four showgirls in Vegas.”

Nico felt the blood drain from his face.

“What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. Anyway, that happened long before I met my wife. I am a changed man.”

Olivier gave him a hard stare. “Si,” he said, sounding like his mentor. “Do not say I did not warn you.”

As the door closed behind Olivier, Nico tipped back his chair and finished his coffee.

Ah, he loved it when a plan came together.

 

 

new1 copy

 

BUY HERE

iBOOKS    AMAZON   KOBO   BARNES & NOBLE

 

Coming to The End game of SEAN and then it goes for editing. It’s reading good, girlies.

Hugs and blessings and peace to my favorite peeps.

Christine X

TIME FOR ANOTHER SLICE OF LUDLOW LIFE AND THE FERRANTI FAM-LEE.

 

children-quotes-funny

 

Hi, girlies,

Time for another slice of Ludlow life with the Ferrantis’.

On a baking hot day Bronte is in her car with a full load of groceries and four children.

*Why has she gone supermarket shopping with four children in tow? Why? What the hell was she thinking? The baby’s all hot and bothered and has expressed her feelings by vomiting on a gorgeous sun dress, and baby seat clipped into the passenger seat. The twins are squabbling viciously in the back, and Tonio is boogieing on down to something on his iPod. She’s already pulled over once to deal with the baby. Thank God for Tonio. Nothing ever fazed the boy. Without being asked he’d grabbed Eve’s diaper bag and tucked a stinky dress into a plastic bag, and handed Bronte baby wipes and then a sip cup of fresh water to rehydrate the child. She’s no idea what the hell Sophia and Luca are bickering about, and since there’s no pushy-shovey yet, she left them to it. The twins are all hot and bothered, too, a bit like herself. This whole sorry mess is all her own stupid fault. Her nanny is matron of honor at her best friend’s wedding. Rosie, bless her, offered to take all four Ferranti children while her harassed bestie did grocery shopping, but Luca has a mild cold and Bronte doesn’t want baby Mila to catch it. Why borrow trouble?

And Nico is in Rome for two days, on business, or so he says. Last night he’d called her from one of his clubs, all Ciao, baby, and ti ‘amo, cara mia. Yeah right, there was nothing wrong with her hearing, was there? Hadn’t she heard the low and sexy, “Nicolo, come dance with me?” Then there’d been a short pause on the line before ‘Nicolo’ blew his wife a kiss goodbye. She’d give him more than a kiss when he got back, more like a fat lip and a thick ear. And as for dancing, she’d give him dancing. Temper on a nice steady simmer, she doesn’t notice the beautiful day or the beautiful countryside as she drives home with the air con turned on to full.

Imagine dancing with some sexpot, and doing God knew what, in a nightclub, while his adoring wife runs his home, does his laundry, and looks after HIS four children. AND runs a successful business. Seriously, the broom stick up her ass is beginning to chafe.

As temper leaks away leaving her all weepy and desperately fed up, Bronte tells herself she trusts her husband implicitly and not be stupid. But she tries not to think about the woman who calls him, ‘Nicolo’, and what it meant or she’d be as sick as her baby girl.

“I hate your big fat mouth,” five year old Sophia declares.

“I hate your stupid skinny chicken legs,” her twin snarls.

“I hate your ugly, smelly guts.”

“I hate your stupid bimbo hair.”

*Bronte takes a very deep breath, and turns up the radio. Even Taylor Swift yowling about lost love is better than listening to what’s going on in the back seat*

When she reaches the gates of The Dower House, she stops the car. And just sits still while the invectives rage on in the back seat. Tonio pulls out his earphones, sends her a wary look via her rear view mirror. She turns off the radio. It takes a about twenty seconds for the twins to realize all is not well. After a final, harshly whispered, “And I hate your stinky breath.” Quiet reigns.

“Wanna know what I think?” Bronte says in a silky tone. “I think I’m going to sell two of my children to the gypsies camped in farmer Brown’s fields.”

*Cue a stunned silence. In the rear view mirror she sees Tonio bite down hard on his bottom lip. It’s not often she uses the selling them to the gypsies threat. It’s bad parenting, but at the moment Bronte Ferranti could not give a hot damn*

“Got nothing to say?” she asks. She spins around so she can face her twins. It hits her hard, and not for the first time, what an fascinating blend of herself and Nico they are. Her green eyes in Sophia’s face, Nico’s dark grey eyes in Luca’s. Her mouth in Luca’s, Nico’s in Sophia’s. Her coloring and build – poor child – gifted to Sophia, and Nico’s jet black hair to Luca. She pauses and raises her brows, notices the twins are pale, eyes too big in their little faces. “Do you want me to take you to the gypsies now, or should you go home to pack your belongings first? What do you think?”

“I think I don’t wanna live with the gypsies. I won’t like it there,” Sophia says, her emerald eyes swimming.

“They have lots of puppies and kittens,” Tonio says helpfully.

Luca juts out his chin. “I don’t care about stupid puppies or kittens. I’m not gonna live with the gypsies. I’m gonna live with Auntie Rosie and Uncle Alexander and baby Mila. And without HER,” he says jerking his thumb at his sister. “They won’t sell me to the gypsies because they LOVE me.”

A little voice, might be the voice of reason, is telling Bronte to wind the conversation down instead of up, but she ignores it. “Um, I dunno about that. A little boy like you could make big bucks with the gypsies.”

Now Sophia’s chin jerks as she watches her mama through slitty eyes. “You’re being horrible to us. You’ve been cranky all day. I’m gonna tell papa what you said about the gypsies. He’ll spank your bottom.”

*If only*

She stares hard at the twins, her voice firm and a tone that means business. “You both know better than to argue when I’m driving the car. And I have the baby with me. What would have happened if I’d been distracted by your bad behaviour and had an accident?”

Cue another silence, and Bronte let it go on, and on, until both twins dropped their chin on their chest. “Do I hear a sorry, mama?”

Typically, Luca nods first. “Sorry, mama.”

On the other hand, the stubborn Sophia takes a few seconds longer before she twisted her mouth, nodded. “Sorry, mama.”

Bronte starts the car, continues up the drive. “Well then, I think I’ll keep you both a little longer.”

*As she winds around to the parking space at the back of the house, Nico lifts his suitcase out of the trunk of his car. His smile is big and wide as he spots them. But the smile slides when he sees his wife’s stony face*

As the children barrel out of the car, Luca throws himself at his papa. “Mama’s going to sell us to the gypsies,” he says, then bursts into tears and buries his face in Nico’s belly.

Sophia, wearing a cute little white cotton sundress with sandals on her bare feet, marches past him. “You need to spank her bottom for scaring little children. Mama’s been a bad girl all day.”

Nico’s brows wing into his hairline as he hugs Luca and sends a ‘What happened?’ look to Tonio.

“Eve was sick in the car. The twins have been fighting all afternoon. I think the gypsy plan is a good idea,” Tonio says as he carries a heaving bag of groceries into the house.

“Go and help your brother,” Nico says, giving Luca a gentle pat on the bottom. He turns to his wife, takes the baby from her arms, catches a whiff of baby puke from her black curls. Bronte’s hefting a couple bags from the trunk. Chin high, she marches past him and into the house. Uh oh. Trouble. Can’t be anything he’s done. Can it?

*Three hours later and The Dower House is quiet. Nico’s just finished listening to Tonio read another chapter of Moby Dick. It’s hard going at times, but the boy is doing well. The twins and the baby are out for the count. He pours himself a glass of Chianti and a glass of white for her and goes in search of his wife, and finds her sitting outside on one of the swings watching the sun going down. Her hair’s tied back at the neck in a short tail, she’s wearing a skinny vest, tiny jean shorts showcasing long tanned legs stretched out before her. Her feet are bare, and he notices her toenails are painted deep pink. It’s clear she’s had a bad and tiring day. It’s also clear she’s still in a mood, which is something of a novelty because Bronte’s rarely moody. She simply doesn’t have it in her to hold onto a grudge for long*

He bends to kiss her flushed cheek, hands her the wine. Her eyes flick to his and hold. Now his own narrow as he recognizes something that looks like hurt and disappointment. “Enjoy dancing last night?” she says, takes a sip of wine, and not once do her eyes leave his.

Ah, the light bulb switches on in his brain. “It was the wife of a business colleague. Harmless.”

Her eyes move to study the growing dusk. “I can’t remember the last time I danced. It was definitely before we had Eve.”

*Within a couple of heartbeats, their wine is set on a table, and she’s in his arms. Nico hums, ‘Shall We Dance’ and spins her around the garden until she’s breathless and laughing so hard her sides hurt*

As they move into a slow dance, more of a foot shuffle and hug, she nuzzles her face into his neck to simply take a breath and inhale the incredible scent of her man. And just like that her world steadies again. “I’m a terrible mother,” she says as guilt about the gypsies hits her hard.

“No. What you are is tired and a little out of sorts. What you need, we need, is a special place just for us. A place that’s not far away. A place you, we, can escape to when things get on top of us. A place where we won’t be disturbed when I spank you when you need it.”

Her gurgle of laughter has him shift to stare into her face. He gives her big eyes. “I am not joking. According to our daughter you have been a very naughty girl.”

“And where would this magical place be?”

“You know the new A frame cabin set high in the hills above Ludlow Hall? The place from where we can see The Dower House?” She nodded. “I had it built for you. You and me. Why don’t we visit it tomorrow afternoon and christen the super-king-sized bed?”

Emotions, too many to handle, rose up to block her throat. Dear heaven she adores this man.

“It’s mine?”

He drops a kiss on her stunned mouth. “Si. Somewhere you can chill, listen to music, work on a new cake design. Or simply read and relax. And it has a Jacuzzi.”

“Wow, how did you come up with such a great idea?”

When he sent her an are-you-kidding-me look, she had to laugh. “Cara mia, I am Italian.”

 

Finito

 

 

Until next week.

Remember, be good or I’ll sell you to the gypsies.

Hugs,

Christine X

 

My favorite bad boy becomes a man…

DESERTORCHIDNEWFBBANNER

Hi, guys!

A couple of my readers reached out to tell me they had no idea I had a romantic suspense out there in the digital book world. And that they loved it. DESERT ORCHID was released around the time my mother passed away, so I didn’t do a lot of promotion for it. This story has been a bit of a slow burn, but the reviews are stellar right across all the distributors so I thought I’d give peeps a gentle reminder.

What readers are saying –

‘Regarding the suspense aspect, there were enough twists and turns and heart-pounding scenes to keep me, a mystery writer, intrigued. There are hints at the end of more stories to come about these characters. I cannot wait!’

Kassandra Lamb, author of the Kate Huntington mysteries

‘In this book expect the unexpected it does everything you want, it makes you laugh, makes you cry and the steamy parts are all there. It is the total package. And while you think you make have already read a book similar, let me assure you, you have not!
I won’t repeat the jacket cover as what help is that,you already read that. The Heroine is no push over and she has a thing or two to teach her “rock star”.
If you love romance, laughter some intrigue and HEA then this is not a suggestion, its a must read. 🙂 The book is a total delight and I have read it three times already. Thank you C C Mackenzie’

Amazon reviewer

 

 

 

desertnew2 copy-USA (1).jpg

 

AMAZON USA     AMAZON UK    iBOOKS  BARNES & NOBLE   KOBO

There are plenty of thrills and spills in this one, here’s the back page and a sneak peak:

BLURB:

Think ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’ meets ‘Taken’

He doesn’t want a country. He doesn’t want a wife. He doesn’t want love. He wants to forget.

 A young Arabian Queen must marry a wild, wicked and wilful Prince to save her people from civil unrest and protect the wealth of her Kingdom.

Charisse never expected to find love with a darkly brooding man who looks and lives like a rock star.

Growing up as a member of royalty isn’t everything it’s proclaimed to be. Khalid El Haribe learned that heartbreaking lesson five years ago and isn’t interested in ruling a small desert kingdom or marriage but he cannot forget the debt he owes his family. Perhaps doing his duty will atone for past mistakes? Meeting the beautiful and feisty Charisse comes as a pleasant surprise…the attraction between them burns as hot as the desert.

But tragic events in Charisse’s past threaten to destroy her Kingdom and her life, too. Can their fragile love survive?

 

EXCERPT:

Unfolding the stiff pages of the letter written by the fragile hand of her late husband, Charisse El Haribe’s fingers shook with the emotion that squeezed her lungs, her throat, and stung her eyes.

She shivered even though the temperature outside the palace, under a relentless sun, scorched the land at a steady forty-two degrees. Asim’s passing had been a blessed release for the ravaged shell of his body. But she still found it hard to believe he was gone. Poor Asim, his had been a life filled with suffering. His heart condition had been congenital, which meant no heir for the kingdom of Onuur. And Asim had borne his infirmity with grace, with a highly developed sense of humour and with fortitude.

As was the custom in her adopted land, Asim had been buried within twenty-four hours of his death.

Now she wondered how she could possibly carry on her life without him? The phrase was a cliché, but it was nevertheless very true that Asim had been her rock. And it wasn’t overly dramatic to say he’d saved her life, her heart and even her soul from certain destruction.

Had it really been six short years since he’d brought her, a traumatised sixteen year old, to this fabulous white palace? The structure had been built with Asim’s needs in mind, two thousand feet above sea level on the top of a mountain where the air was cool and clear, and where clouds sprinted across a magnificent expanse of a sky so blue it hurt the eye.

The faint scent of Asim’s signature cologne clung to the thick papers and his presence returned to her in an instant. With a deep inhale, Charisse pressed the missive to her lips. The scent eased the unremitting agony in her heart. And an extraordinary sense of Asim standing at her shoulder overwhelmed her. Even as the feeling brought her comfort, she knew he would expect her to face an uncertain future with bravery, with dignity. After all that he had suffered, the way he had courageously coped with the personal insults of a body reduced to skin and bone, the memory gave her strength.

Asim used to say that she’d given him extra years of life and Charisse hoped he’d been right. He’d been like a beloved father to her, a teacher, and most important of all, a true and loyal friend. And she’d loved him deeply with all of her fractured heart.

Ever since Charisse had been handed the letter from her darling Asim, by a stern-faced Minister of the Interior, she’d had the distinct sensation of waiting for an axe to fall.

The two women who sat opposite stared at her with eyes filled with grief and concern.

With a snuffle and a deep sigh, Boris’s immense head rested on Charisse’s knee. Big hazel eyes locked on her face. They were filled with unconditional love and an intensity that had her press a kiss to his shaggy head of fur the colour of tarnished silver. Charisse raised her index finger. The dog moved with a reluctance that made her bite down hard on her lip to lie on the floor beside his brother Rufus. Her raised brow had Boris hide his face in his paws and heave another great breath from his massive chest. Her Irish Wolfhounds were suffering the loss of Amir, too. She’d take them out for a run later with Diablo. Her stallion needed to vent his excess energy, and it would do her good to escape from the palace for a little while.

Clearing her throat, Charisse blinked to clear her vision and read the letter aloud to her captive audience.

“My darling, Charisse,

I am sorry to leave you. Please find it in your heart to forgive me, but God has need of me in heaven.

You brought joy, laughter, companionship and love to a lonely old man. You opened my eyes and my heart to what is possible for our people and for the future of Onuur. Namely, the children.

It is crucial that you continue your work, Charisse. And you must resume your studies! I know – nag, nag, nag.”

Charisse smiled into the swimming eyes of her sister-in-law, Yasmin. And into the brown eyes, sharp with a ruthless intelligence, of Arabella Faulkner, her bodyguard and trusted friend. Then she took a deep steadying breath and continued,

“You cannot return to the land of your birth. HE now wears a cloak of respectability and has become too powerful. You know too much, and that is dangerous. As I await to leave this earth, my greatest fear is that HE will attempt to strike you down. To prevent such an event I have already set in motion plans to secure your future. Plans that even a man such as HE dare not defy.

I have named Prince Khalid El Haribe as my heir. You must marry him within six weeks.”

 

Stunned disbelief had Charisse blink once, twice.

Her heart rammed to an emergency stop then roared too loud in her ears. She shook her head in denial of what she held in her hands written in black ink by that fragile hand.

She read it twice, three times.

Why?

Why on earth would Asim do such a terrible thing to her, to Onuur?

Looking up, she read her incredulity mirrored in the shocked eyes of her companions.

The dogs whined, and she silenced them with the lift of her forefinger.

A deep frown creased her forehead as she continued more slowly,

 

“I know you will be confused, even dismayed, by my choice of a husband for you, child. But please permit me to explain. Yes, Khalid is flawed. Yes, he is a womaniser. Yes, he is wild, wilful and out of control. But Charisse, there is nothing and no one you cannot tame if you can find it in your heart to forgive him and open your clever mind to his potential. Believe me, he has potential to be a great man and a good husband.

Now I am gone the stability of the country and the region is at risk. Greedy eyes are turned to Onuur. They will surely inflame unrest and undo all the good work we have achieved. Bloodshed, pain and loss must surely follow for the people of this land, which is why I have chosen Khalid.

He will bring with him the security and the stability of the house of El Haribe. The King and his sons are powerful and will protect you and our Kingdom. The King is in agreement with my plan. Look upon him as your father. The Queen will come to love you, too, if you give her a chance.”

 

Charisse gasped and jumped to her feet, the correspondence fluttering to a floor of polished white marble.

Two giant heads snapped to attention as the dogs rose as one and their butts hit the floor.

“I will not!” she cried.

The wolfhounds’ eyes, the colour of jet, tracked her as she paced to the open balcony and back. Wearing a loose top and flowing pants of ivory silk, her soft leather ballet pumps made little sound.

With a fluid movement of her long and lean body, clothed in black military fatigues, Arabella picked up the pages from the floor.

She stood and held out the letter to Charisse.

“Read all of it, Your Highness. We can have a nervous breakdown, if we need to, after we have all the facts.’

Charisse took a steadying breath even as her pulse was hammering in her throat and her eyes stung.

Arabella was quite right.

Where was her self-control?

Having a temper tantrum like a child changed nothing.

She wanted to cry enough tears to fill an ocean.

But tears changed nothing.

With a single nod, she took the letter and sank to the edge of the chair.

The dogs didn’t relax and their black eyes, anxious and watchful, never left her face for a moment. She couldn’t help it, her hand shook as she cleared her throat.

 

“Should you find yourself unable to marry Khalid, the White Palace shall remain yours in perpetuity. On your death it will return to the State. A sum of (she gasped) has been placed in banks in Switzerland for your personal use.

There are conditions to the marriage:

Khalid must not take concubines or another wife whilst you live.

He must provide you with a child within one year of marriage.

Good God!

If the marriage is annulled, the child will remain with you.

So you see, Charisse, you have a choice to make. Get to know Khalid. Open your mind. Help him find joy in service to our people. And at all times remember you are a Queen, beloved by the people of Onuur.

I die a happy and contented man, my darling, and for that I thank you.

Have courage.

All my love, Asim.”

 

Eyes stinging and with a hot rock lodged in her throat, Charisse folded the letter with great care and placed it on the table.

She felt the eyes of her companions on her as she stood, shoulders back and head held high. Like an automaton she moved towards open vast doors and stepped onto a wide stone terrace, which soared high above the valley below. Her sumptuous apartments covered the entire top floor of the palace. Asim had spared no expense ensuring her comfort, providing rooms that were light and spacious with the added luxury of private balconies. There was her office, a state-of-the-art kitchen, gymnasium, a lap pool, and covered deck for lazy days.

Not that she had many of those.

Charisse gazed out, unseeing, over the mountain tops and into the sea, miles beyond.

Up here, the climate was never still, never quiet.

A brisk wind toyed with the long tail of her platinum hair, whipping it around her face. The salty tang of the sea mixed with the scent of jasmine and tea roses planted in huge terracotta pots. A cry from above had her look up and narrow her eyes. A single raptor circled, gliding in the updraft of a cloudless sky.

Dear heaven she missed Amir so much.

But why had he never discussed his plans for the future with her?

They’d agreed never to keep secrets.

The ache in her heart swelled into unbearable pain as her face crumpled.

Her delicate fists pounded the top of the balcony.

A sympathetic hand touched her shoulder.

“Why didn’t he talk to me about this? Why am I not given time to grieve?” Charisse turned into Yasmin’s wiry arms and sobbed into her neck.

As she would an infant, her sister-in-law rubbed her back in lazy circles.

Her voice, filled with sorrow, was the merest whisper, “Hush, child. It has always been thus for the rulers of this land.”

Yasmin’s hand, the skin paper thin and wrinkled with age, tipped up her chin. Dark eyes identical to Asim’s stared into hers and Charisse recognised grief and a hideous loss. Gentle fingertips wiped the tears from her cheeks. Yasmin had lost her favourite brother and here she was acting like a spoilt child. And shame for her selfish outburst smacked her too hard. Yasmin kissed one cheek and then the other. “He prepared you for this day. The men have buried him and the women will weep. Asim was revered in this land. Your Prince has large shoes to fill.”

Charisse couldn’t stop the sting of outrage.

My Prince?”

She whirled, blue eyes blazing as she paced back and forth.

Alert, the dogs took positions in the shade and sat on their haunches like sentinels, one either side of the ornate arched doorway. Not once did their eyes leave her face.

“He’s a tom-cat,” she spat the words. “A drunk. A waster.”

“That’s right, your Highness, tell it like it is,” Arabella drawled and added. “Apparently, his art sells for a small fortune.”

Temper won the war of attrition with grief, and surged through Charisse.

She spun to face her friend with wide eyes.

“Have you seen what he calls art? If I want a visual lesson in what the intimate body parts of the female form look like, I’ll refer to a gynaecological compendium for facts, not fiction.”

Arabella winced at the tone.

“To be fair his work in oils has gathered critical acclaim.”

Bullshit.

Charisse wasn’t having that.

“Yes, by men who need to be titillated by Khalid’s so called interpretation of a clitoris, labia and perineum.” Utter fury spiked through the top of her head as her eyes pinned Arabella’s and it took everything she had to stop her voice shaking, to articulate every syllable, “There are children living in this continent who do not know what it is like to live without the unparalleled burn of an empty belly, who cannot imagine a future further than their next meal.” She took a very deep breath. “While he, who’s never known anything but health, wealth and a fawning society, does nothing but piss away his opportunity to make a real difference to his people.

“Oh, they might not have the good fortune to be born within the hallowed borders of Dhuma or Quaram, but our people are nomads. We are all brothers and sisters and we who rule have a responsibility to the hungry, the sick and the vulnerable of this region.”

 

Having heard it all before, and more, Arabella nodded.

“I’m not defending him. But he’s not had an easy time of it…”

Charisse flicked a hand, rudely interrupting her bodyguard and friend.

She wasn’t having any of that, either.

“He needs to get over himself and grow a pair. Onuur needs a real man, not a dick-swinging fool who cannot go six hours without a drink or a woman or three.”

“Charisse!” Yasmin’s soft voice held a censure that had anger leak out of Charisse like a deflated balloon.

God, she felt physically ill at the mere thought of such a man touching her.

She couldn’t do it.

Arabella frowned now, and sat at a stone table in the shade, drumming her fingernails on the table top. “You know we can’t believe absolutely everything they print in the press? Much of it is bound to be exaggerated.”

Charisse let out an unladylike snort that had Yasmin send her a look of mild reproach.

“If it swims like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck – it’s a duck.”

Charisse’s temperament was usually easygoing. But now her temper bubbled and brewed quite nicely. And her chin tilted.

“He is not fit to lick my feet. And in my bed?” She hissed out a breath of sheer temper. “Never. I’d rather sleep with a…”

The shrill ring of the telephone, the land line, brought an abrupt end to her rant.

Arabella paused, waiting for her Queen’s nod of assent before picking up the receiver.

“Hello?” The bodyguard listened with a deepening crease on her forehead as her dark brows met over her nose.

Now what? Charisse wondered.

Arabella’s dark eyes flicked to hers. “Yes, I will inform her Highness.”

Arabella replaced the receiver and opened her mouth to speak when the distant whop- whop-whop of helicopters brought their attention to the land to the north of Onuur, to Dhuma.

Charisse stepped into her apartments, covered herself with a white hijab and stalked out to observe the approach of three vast military helicopters.

Vultures, she fumed.

As a mere woman, even as a queen, she had no rights.

The El Haribe Princes and their father would rule her land, her people.

Men who were so called modernists.

If she had to marry one, why couldn’t it have been the elder brother?

At least Sarif appeared to have standards, morals.

Although from what she’d seen on the news and on the internet Sarif’s face appeared to be carved from stone, his dark eyes too hard. Plus, he had a reputation for being relentless, even ruthless, in achieving his goals.

Emotions gripped her throat as a tsunami of guilt for the anger she felt with her late husband washed over her.

“Oh, my darling, what on earth were you thinking?” she whispered.

Her eyes narrowed into slits as the helicopters thundered around the Palace in preparation to land.

The racket, the vibration under her feet, spooked the horses in the stables far below and even from here she could hear Diablo’s frantic screams. The magnificent black stallion was already edgy since he’d picked up her grief and her pain. She’d need to take him out later and give him his neck or he’d be impossible for the stable boys to handle.

 

Helicopters the colour of the desert descended kicking up mini tornadoes, sand devils, in their wake.

And the analogy was not lost on Charisse.

One of them carried the very devil himself.

A man so bent on his own pleasure, on his own self-destructive needs, he’d even turned his back on his country, his people and his own family.

She needed time. Time to think. Time to plan.

Determination filled her heart. “I am in seclusion. I will receive no one,” she said, her voice firm and the tone harsh. And she hardened her heart to Yasmin’s sigh of disappointment.

“They won’t like it,” Arabella warned her.

Charisse kept her burning gaze on the helicopters hidden now among huge clouds of dusty sand as they settled outside the palace walls. Her people were covering their eyes and mouths with cloth to protect themselves from the sting of swirling sand. Since they’d never seen a military helicopter up close and personal, some of the children were holding their ears and screaming with fright and shock.

Anger felt a hell of a lot better than guilt and Charisse gave it free rein now.

Stupid, ignorant, macho fools.

Did they not realise the damage they were inflicting on a people and animals unused to such arrogant behaviour.

How dare they arrive at her home in such a manner.

“I will come to them when I am ready. Not before.”

*Finito*

I hope you enjoy reading Charisse and Khalid’s rocky road through villainy, mistrust and a scorching lust, to true love, as much as I loved writing them.

Christine X

It’s (just after) Monday, and here’s more from the Ferranti Fam-lee.

Behind every great daughteris a truly amazing dadand his name is Nico Ferranti

 

 

Hi, guys!

I’m late with this week’s post due to travelling yesterday. A trip that was supposed to take about five hours took nearly nine thanks to an acid spill on the motorway (freeway) which ate up the tarmac. We were stuck in a ten mile tail back in one of the hottest days of the year. Not fun.

Here’s this week’s slice of life with the Ferranti Fam-lee!

BRONTE & NICO EATING A ROAST CHICKEN, WITH ALL THE TRIMMINGS, DINNER WITH THE KIDS AT THE DOWER HOUSE.

*Luca, his little face a picture of complete misery, is pushing a piece of broccoli around his plate with a fork*

Dressed in below the knee jean shorts and an Incredible Hulk T-shirt, he says in a tone of utter disgust, “I hate this stuff.”

Sophia dressed in matching shorts and a Frozen T-shirt swings her bare legs beneath her chair, nods. “Me, too.” She spears a piece of chicken breast, nibbles delicately.

“I’m not eating it.” Luca’s mouth goes tight as he moves his full plate away.

*Bronte studies her youngest son’s stony face. He doesn’t look flushed. He doesn’t look pale. It’s not like him to make a fuss. He’s gone through a sudden growth spurt and is at least a head taller than his twin sister, so maybe he’s tired. He tends to leave food he doesn’t want, which is fine with her. But she frowns when Sophia, in a show of sisterly solidarity, pushes her full plate away, too. Little monkey*

Tonio, who by the amount of food he scoffs at meal times possesses hollow legs, cranes his neck to check out their plates. “Not want the chicken?”

Luca makes a horrible face, shoves his plate across the table to his brother. “Nope. It’s gross.”

*Bronte’s brows fly into her hairline. Excuse me? Since when has her freshly prepared, carefully balanced meals ever been regarded as gross? But before she can open her mouth, Nico steps into the breach*

“Do you have a headache? Are you sick?” he asks Luca.

Luca shakes his head. Big dark eyes meet his papa’s. “I don’t like these little trees. They taste gross, like soil. Why do I wanna eat soil?”

Nico sends Bronte big eyes to tell her he’ll deal with the sudden revolt in his family. He turns to his son. “We have carrots. You like carrots.”

Luca makes another horrible face. “I don’t like cooked carrots. I like raw carrots.”

“I like raw carrots, too,” Sophia says. She turns to Luca. “Maybe you’d like raw trees?”

“Yuk.”

“I do not mind the little trees,” Tonio says, spearing broccoli from Luca’s plate to his own, and then helping himself to chicken breast in gravy. “Mama makes the best food. Much better than school food. The priests used to say that we who have full plates and full bellies are blessed by Jesus. Around the world there are thousands of little childrens going to bed every day with empty bellies because of war… and stuff.”

Sophia’s green eyes went wide. “Little childrens go to bed with no dinner?”

Si.” Tonio broke a table rule by pointing his knife at his sister. “And without breakfast, and even lunch. Sometimes the little childrens have no food for days. Babies, too, have no milk.”

Now Luca’s bottom lip’s trembling, and his big dark eyes swim. “But… You’ve eaten all my dinner. Now I’m gonna go to bed with no dinner, just like the poor little childrens and babies who have no milk.”

Sophia’s bottom lip joins her brother’s in a show of sibling sympathy. “Me, too, just like the poor childrens.”

*Nico’s eyes go huge as he looks at a wife who’s biting down hard on her bottom lip. Dio mio. Just listen to them, a person might think that Nico Ferranti starves his childrens, er children. Tonio’s English is amazing, but sometimes he has trouble*

Nico claps his hands. “We have plenty of food for everyone in this house. There is lots of chicken for anyone who wants it.”

Luca’s big eyes find his papa’s. “But… but… what about the little children who have no food? Can’t we give them our food if we have too much?”

*By this time, Bronte’s hand is covering her mouth to hide her smile. Her baby boy has a good heart, big heart. A heart that is easily bruised*

“Yes,” Sophia cries. “Emily’s daddy says my papa’s a filthy rich typhoon. Papa will send lots of food to the hungry childrens, especially lots of roast chicken and gravy.” She turns big emerald eyes to a Nico who’s still trying to recover from the shock of being called a ‘filthy rich typhoon’. “Won’t you, papa?”

Nico sends his daughter a nod. “Si. Ferranti Enterprises supports many charities, including Save The Children.”

*All three of his kids gaze at him in awe and wonder. Actually, he and his team donate much needed blankets and clothes to the United Nations refugee camps currently based in Jordan and Turkey*

“What does Save The Children do?” Sophia asks.

Nico clears his throat, the last thing he wants is to worry his kids, but it seems they are ready to hear about those less fortunate than themselves. “Well, they make sure children have clean water to drink and that they have a safe place to sleep, and they make sure they have clothes and food.”

Luca’s eyes go huge. “They have no water? No bed to sleep in?”

“Sometimes,” Bronte jumps in. “There is a natural disaster, like a flood or an earthquake, and houses are damaged or crops destroyed, so help is sent from many people all over the world.”

Without asking to leave the table, Sophia slides out of her chair. She moves to kneel on her papa’s lap and goes nose to nose with Nico. “When I’m a big girl and I can read and write good and get all my sums right, can I work for Save The Childrens?”

Nico can hardly swallow the lump of pride in his throat. Dio mio, how lucky is he to have such children? He cups Sophia’s little face, kisses her forehead, her nose. Then shifts to look her in the eye. “Cara mia, if you work hard you can do whatever you want to do in the whole wide world. Do you know why?”

Sophia’s high ponytail of shiny silver bounces as she shakes her head. “Why?”

“Because you are Italian.”

 

Finito

 

Gotta love the kids.

Until next week, enjoy the summer and hold your childrens tight and give them a big hug from me.

Christine X

 

 

 

It’s Monday, which means another slice of Ludlow life…

BLOGBANNERNICOSLICEOFLUDLOWLIFE

READ HOW BRONTE & NICO MET AND THEIR ROCKY ROAD TO HAPPINESS, FREE, HERE!

 

Bronte, Sophia, and Auntie Rosie descend on The Dower House weighed down bags from their shopping trip to find Nico and Alexander snoozing on the couch.

*Bronte dumps her bags on the kitchen table, and grins. Their men are sprawled on their back on the couch. A strong arm holds their daughters close. Rosie gives Bronte big eyes and mouths an, Aww! She tip-toes over to gently lift her daughter, and immediately Alexander’s eyes snap open. His smile is wide, and wicked*

“Hey,” he whispers. “Have a good time?”

“Yep,” Rosie whispers. “Put a nice big dent in the credit card. Don’t kill me.”

“Nah. Whatever you need, babe.”

Rosie bends down to plant a soft kiss on his mouth, shifts to nuzzle her daughter’s sooty curls. “She been good?”

“Not a peep,” he says, and presses gentle lips to Mila’s dark head.

*Nico watches Bronte through sleepy eyes, sends her a panty-melting smile*

“Have fun, cara mia?” he whispers.

“We did,” she whispers back, glances around the spotless kitchen room, nods approvingly. “Where are the boys?”

Nico blinks. “Um. Upstairs.”

*Sophia, dressed in navy below the knee cropped cotton leggings and a navy and white striped sleeveless smock dress, eyes her papa. In her white blonde hair a huge navy bow clings on for dear life*

Nico reaches out his hand to his eldest daughter who skips over to wind her arm around his neck and press a kiss his cheek. “Hi, papa,” Sophia says in a soft voice.

Dark grey eyes study her face. “Were you a good girl for mama and Rosie?”

She nods, leans into his shoulder, while her fingertip gently strokes baby Eve’s flushed cheek. “Uh huh. I had a milkshake and chicken kebabs and strawberry ice-cream,” she says in a stage whisper. “Aaaaaand new shoes.”

“Like mother like daughter,” Bronte says in a soft voice. “Want me to take the baby?”

Nico shakes his head. “Nah, she’s fine where she is.”

“Right then, I’d better go see what the boys are up to, they’re awfully quiet. Usually, they’re all over me to see what goodies I have for them.”

Nico shoots up, careful not to wake the baby, and thrusts her into Bronte’s arms. “I’ll go,” he says, hoping to God the boys have sorted the big mess in the bathroom.

“Actually,” Bronte murmurs, her brow creasing as she thoughtfully studies his face, the wide smile, the big eyes. “I need you to bring in the rest of the shopping.”

Nico blinks. “Nessen problema.”  He jogs out the door.

Bronte turns narrow eyes on her brother who is grinning like a fool. “Okay. Spill. What happened?”

Alexander hands Mila to her mama for a cuddle. “I’m saying nothing that might incriminate me,” he says.

Bronte turns to Sophia. “Go upstairs and tell your brothers to come down, now.”

*Happy to do her mama’s bidding, and wondering herself what’s been going on, Sophia skips out the room and runs up the stairs. She checks Tonio’s bedroom, then Luca’s, and comes up empty. Nada. Then cocks her head when she hears muttering from the family bathroom. She enters and stops dead. Her emerald eyes go wide and her mouth goes into a huge O shape*

 

“Omigod,” she says, and waves her hands in air filled with baby powder. Her twin is busy with a brush and pan to collect baby powder, and only making a bad situation worse. Powder was floating everywhere. Sodding wet bath towels litter the soaking floor.

“You’re not allowed to say God. That’s bad language,” a flushed Luca says, frowning ferociously at her. His normally glossy black curls are a hazy dark grey.

“But… but… this is a big mess. Mama’s gonna go nuts.”

“Not if you don’t tell her,” Tonio says in a tone that means business.

Sophia’s chin jerks both at the tone and the look on his face. “What happened?”

“Eve pooped. It was totally gross. We had to bath her,” Luca says, and elbows Tonio in the ribs.

Sophia’s smooth brow creases. “But… but…”

“Two plastic bags full of dirty diaper and wet wipes,” Tonio says, rubbing his rib.

“Eew,” Sophia says.

“Yep,” Luca says. “I had to stand outside the door in case I was sick. And papa had to stuff wet wipes sprayed with after shave up his nose.”

Tonio chokes with laughter and baby powder. He shakes a dry towel and more powder flies into the air. “Funniest thing, evah.”

*Sophia grins, but then takes a deep breath, eyes her brothers’ pitiful attempts to clean up. They were making it worse. The bath was filled with plastic toys, and an empty baby shampoo bottle*

“Sounds gross. Okay. We don’t want mama upset. Who’s gonna clean up this big mess?”

Tonio scratches his scalp, sends her a wide smile. “Maybe we can all muck in? If I use damp towels to mop up the powder from the counter top, maybe you and Luca can use dry towels from the cupboard to dry and polish the granite?”

*The kids set to work.*

“What did you buy me?” Tonio asks Sophia.

She sends him an angelic smile. “A surprise.”

Luca dances on the spot. “Do I have a surprise, too?”

“Of course,” Sophia says, rolls her eyes to heaven as if he’s the world’s stupidest brother. Then her gaze drops to the mess on the floor. “I don’t know how we’re gonna hide all these wet towels.”

“How hard can it be to use the washing machine?” Tonio asks as he shoves bath toys into a net bag to drip dry.

Sophia gives him big eyes. “We are not allowed to touch electrical equipment, she reminded him. “We’ll get into BIG trouble.”

“I can’t read too good yet,” a worried Luca says, white teeth chewing on his bottom lip.

“I can read,” Tonio says to a wary looking Sophia. “Grab the plastic laundry basket and we’ll take the towels to the laundry room. No one will know.”

“I dunno,” Sophia says, for once in her life listening to the little voice in her head saying this is not a good idea.

Tonio pats her on the head, something he knows full well bugs her. “Nessum problema,” he says, sounding just like papa. “How hard can it be?”

*Sophia jogs to the hall cupboard to grab clean towels, folds them just the way her mama likes. She stands back and studies the bathroom. A fine film of baby powder is again settling on the counter top. Can’t be helped. With a huff of breath she follows her brothers down the back stairs to the laundry room. Tonio opens the tall cupboard to study a variety of soap powders and liquids, all standing to attention like soldiers. He lifts the plastic bottle of liquid on the nearest shelf. The bottle that says, ‘One Squirt Is All You Need’. He piles the towels into the washer, closes the washer door and then opens the detergent drawer*

“According to the instructions this is where the soap goes,” he mutters, and frowns as he studies the manual.

*The manual also says to use the measuring cap. He hunts around and finds a spare plastic ball, measures out the liquid – adding a little extra just in case – pours it into the dispenser and closes the drawer. He turned the dial to Cotton/Whites. Easy. Then he presses ON. And just like magic water roars into the dispenser. All three Ferranti’s crouch down to watch water fill through the glass door. Tonio’s smiles, wide and relieved*

“What did I say? Nessum problema. When it’s finished, we put them in the dryer. Job done.”

Sophia gives him a huge smile. “Wow. I can’t wait to learn to read good.”

“I don’t like reading,” Luca mutters as he follows his brother and sister out the utility room door and down the hall. They head in the direction of voices.

*Meanwhile, back in the family room*

“You changed her diaper? Seriously?” Bronte laughs as she pats Nico’s jaw. “Aww, my brave soldier. How did you manage? How bad was it?”

Nico winces at the memory. “Never seen anything like it, and I don’t want to see anything like it again. Tonio called it a runny tummy.”

Rosie can’t help but laugh as she strokes the black silky hair of her baby rooted to her breast, and greedily chugging down milk. “Well, what goes in has gotta come out.”

“He stuck wet wipes sprayed with after shave up his nose,” Tonio says as he strolls into the room with his siblings hot on his heels. He plonks himself on the couch, grins at Bronte. “The best thing I’ve seen, evah.”

Bronte’s smile is wide as she turns to a Nico whose ears are pink tipped. “Aww,” she says again. “I’ll put sleeping beauty down for her nap and then you guys can tell me all about it.” She strolls out the door.

Nico eyes the boys. “Did you clean up?”

They both nod, give him big eyes. “Si,” they say.

“Clean what up?” Rosie asks, placing Mila on her shoulder and rubbing her baby’s back. She’s immediately rewarded with a deep burp.

“They bathed Eve,” Sophia says. “Made a big mess in the bathroom. But we tidied it all up.”

Nico rubs his hands, his smile wide as he says to Alexander, “Wanna Peroni?”

“Sure.”

*Everything is all right and tight in Nico Ferranti’s world. His wife is happy. His children are happy. His brother-in-law is his best friend. His eyes linger for a moment on a Rosie feeding her baby and chatting to the boys, and he recalls he needs to find time to have a little chat with Rosie about Ms. Big Ears, aka Sophia. But that could wait. Life is good*

*Bronte’s high-pitched scream from the direction of the laundry room has everyone leap to their feet and race out the door*

Nico’s eyes bug out his head to find his wife shooting daggers at him as she stands ankle deep in white foam. “Madre de Dio,” he mutters.

Bronte shoots him a finger, her whole body trembling. “You’ll need more than God to help you, Nico Ferranti. How the hell could you use dish liquid in my washing machine? Are you crazy?”

Nico blinks until the light bulb flashes in his brain. Taking his time, he turns very slowly to stare at the three children lined up behind him, their eyes too big for their faces. “Porca miseria! (dammit) What happened?”

Tonio made a face, shrugged skinny shoulders. “Mi dispiace, papa.”

“Sorry?” Bronte yells, shifts, loses her balance and slides to land hard on her ass as even more foam floods through the utility room door and into the hallway. She slaps Nico’s helping hand away, wipes hair from her eyes and ends up with a lump of foam on top of her head. She tosses foam into his face. “I’ll give you sorry.”

*Tonio, trying hard not to laugh, steps into the mess to help her up and she lifts a handful of foam and tosses it over his head. And of course the twins got in on the act, too*

Rosie and Alexander and baby Mila are standing out of harms way, watching the Ferranti’s turn from humans into foamy blobs. “I just adore those crazy kids. Get your phone and take pics. Honestly, Bronte cannot leave this lot alone for five minutes.”

Alexander drops a kiss on the top of his baby’s head. “They are certifiably nuts.”

“Do you think we’ll be like them one day?”

Alexander snaps pics and then takes a video on his phone. “Nah, we’re normal. We’re not Italian.”

 

Finito

And so endeth another day in the life of the Ferranti fam-lee.

Am working hard on three projects.

#amwriting

Love and hugs,

Christine X