The Beast from the East has brought an ice storm along with blizzards and high winds.
See you Sunday!
The Beast from the East has brought an ice storm along with blizzards and high winds.
See you Sunday!
It’s Friday… and time for the Ludlow Hall sneak peek!
Time for a pow-wow at The Dower House…
Bronte, Rosie and Janine had just finished a Sweet Sensations business meeting in Bronte’s kitchen-dining-living space. Eve and Boo are building a tower with huge plastic bricks, and Jimmy Chew was snoozing on his doggie bed, exhausted after a hectic morning with the Ferranti kids.
A fresh pot of coffee sat on the worktop, along with a large plate of mini-muffins, white chocolate and fudge, ready for the hungry hordes who are sure to descend at any moment. The place smells of fresh coffee, spun sugar, chocolate and fresh flowers.
Bronte, dressed in black stretchy pants and an oversized ribbed polo neck cashmere sweater the color of apricot, stretched, rolled her shoulders and wiggled toes all toasty inside thick socks. “In spite of replacing a double oven, we’re well in the black.”
Janine, wearing skinny blue jeans and a white T-shirt beneath a pale grey hoodie, closed her laptop with a satisfied snap. “Yup and our tax reserve account can handle those inland revenue new changes that come into force at the end of April, so we’re cool.”
Rosie, comfy in her usual black yoga pants and huge matching sweater, snuggled a rosy-cheeked Mila who was in the middle of teething hell.
“Thank goodness you have a business brain, Jan. Those excel spreadsheets make my eyes bleed.”
Jan grinned. “And yet I can’t bake or cook the way you two can. Poor Josh fires up his grill more times than not.”
Bronte scooped up Mila and popped a soft kiss on her hot cheek. “Josh loves his grill.”
Rosie, busy with a spoon and Calpol, had to agree. “I’ve never seen a BBQ that big and shiny. I caught Josh patting it once.”
Jan had to laugh. “He calls it darling. How are you this morning, darling.”
Mila opened her mouth like a good girl and took all her medicine, and then snuggled right in for a cuddle with her auntie Bronte.
Eve, dressed in thick tights the color of cream beneath a smocked dress of navy velvet, spotted her mama with her cousin and toddled over to give Mila a hug.
Her little hand patted Mila’s leg. “Aww, poorly, mama?”
“Just a little bit. She has sore teeth.”
“Kiss it better?”
Bronte shifted so Eve could drop a soft kiss on Mila’s cheek.
Then Eve went back to construction with Boo.
“Eve’s speech is coming on,” Rosie said as she topped up their coffees from the pot.
“Yup, better than Batman every five minutes. We all got tired of it after a while.”
“Talking of the super-heroes, where are they?”
Bronte lifted her eyes to heaven.
“Upstairs. Emily and Sophia are quiet, so I’ll check on them in a minute. The boys are watching a movie. Luca’s got a cold.”
Bronte nodded a response to Jan. “Yup. Third one this winter. Doctor can’t find anything wrong with him, except he’s had a growth spurt. Poor child.”
She’d just finished speaking when the poor child in question barrelled through the door, and by the fierce look on his flushed face, he was not happy.
Wearing navy sweatpants and a grey UCLA hoodie, Luca Ferranti, stood with his legs spread on bare feet and folded his arms. “Mama!” he said, his throat scratchy and rough. “Sophia and Emily won’t let me play with their campfire.”
Rosie, dark brown eyes went wide and blinked.
Her fist pressed against her heart.
Jan shook her head. “No. It’s a campfire made of fabric cushions designed as stones, flames and logs.”
Rosie turned amazed eyes on her friend. “You made them a campfire?”
“She did,” Bronte said. “The girls had seen it on Amazon and Jan reckoned she could make it for less, and you know what she’s like, she did. AND she made them a wigwam, too. You should see it.”
Luca turned to Jan, his dark eyes pleading. “Sophia said that they’re playing Pocahontas and I can’t play because I have a… I have a… a… willie.”
Bronte ignored Rosie’s snort of laughter.
“Did she use exactly that word?”
Luca’s gaze flicked to his mother.
He shook his head.
“What word did she say?”
He shook his head again, this time so hard his dark curls bounced.
“Uh-uh. If ever I tattle-tale again, Sophia said that she’ll divorce me and I can speak to the hand.”
Jan, wiping her eyes, cleared her throat. “The hand?”
Luca held up his hand in the universal sign for stop.
“She put it right in my face.”
And just at that moment, two Pocahontas sauntered into the room.
Rosie had to laugh.
Sophia and Emily looked amazing.
Both wore black long wigs, head bands with brightly colored feathers stuck in the back, and two cute mustard colored fringed dresses over their leggings. The dresses had lots of multi-colored glass beads sewn on them. But it was the war paint on their faces that made her grin like a loon. She turned laughing dark eyes on Jan. “Did you make those outfits, too?”
Jan shrugged. “I have the best time practising this stuff on these two.”
Sophia marched up to her brother, got right up into his space, tipped her head back, and said. “HOW!”
Luca simply glared into her eyes, there was notta lotta love between the siblings at the moment.
Sophia made an are-you-beyond-stupid face. “You’re supposed to say, HOW back. It’s how an American Indian say hello.”
“I don’t need to say hello to you. I know who you are. The sister from hell,” Luca’s sore throat by this time was no more than a vehement whisper.
Emily eased her way between the war party and studied Luca’s flushed face.
“You’re sick. You need to see the medicine man,” she said in her soft breathy voice.
Bronte handed Mila to Jan and moved to press the back of her hand to Luca’s forehead.
“Pocahontas is right. Lemme check your temperature.”
“I’m the chief,” Sophia told her brother.
He didn’t look impressed.
“You’re a girl, so how come you’re the chief?”
Bronte, who by this time had found the digital thermometer, slipped it beneath his armpit and told him to sit quietly for five minutes.
Sophia sent him another look, and said, “Equal rights. This is woman’s liberation house. Mama’s the boss, which means I’m an Indian chief.”
By this time, Bronte checked his temperature and nodded.
“It’s up. Calpol for you as well.”
“I don’t like Calpol,” Luca whined.
Undeterred, his mama handed him a glass of water and told him to open his mouth.
After two spoonfuls, and making a horrible face, Luca took his medicine.
Then he sat at the table and simply stared holes through his twin.
Jan moved to stroke his hair.
“Did you really think that I’d made Sophia and Emily a wigwam and forget my Indian brave?”
His dark eyes went huge.
“Did you make me a wigwam?”
Jan nodded. “I did. AND I made you a campfire AND a headband and feathers. You can be two tribes.”
“Did you make me a hatchet and I can scalp Pocahontas?”
Jan rolled her eyes. “Unfortunately I didn’t. However, the two tribes might think about peace talks. Come and help me get them out of the car.”
She headed out the door with Luca hot on her heels.
In the boot room he crammed his feet into Wellington boots.
His face beamed as he hefted a huge black plastic bin bag filled with log, stones and flame cushions.
“Can we put the wigwam up in here, Mama?”
Bronte nodded, happy to see his color was better and so was his mood.
“Sure. Knock yourself out. Maybe Tonio could help?”
Luca raced out the room and up the stairs.
Sophia, sitting at the table, drinking a glass of milk and nibbling on a mini-muffin, her emerald eyes watchful as she observed her brother’s excitement, turned to her best friend.
“It might be time for a pow-wow, what do you think?”
Emily, enjoying her milk and mini muffin, her legs swinging under the chair, nodded like a wise owl.
“Okay. We’ll need war paint if we’re going to war with the boy tribe.”
“We’re the Pamunkeys.”
Luca arriving with Tonio in time to hear this, turned to his twin and curled his lip.
“We’re Apaches. Warriors,” he rasped.
Tonio eyed the girls, and grinned.
Emily simply sighed and gazed longingly at her idol.
When she gave Tonio googly eyes, Sophia shook her head.
“If we’re gonna wipe them from the face of the earth, you can’t look at him like that,” she said in a tone of utter disgust.
Emily turned to stare hard at her.
“We’re not going to wipe him from the face of the earth. Aren’t we talking peace?”
Sophia, her gaze on her twin, curled her lip.
“We don’t have a peace pipe.”
Meanwhile, Bronte, listening to the debate with a riveted Rosie and Jan, staged an intervention.
“As the big boss of this house,” she began. “I actually have a genuine peace pipe that the Pamunkeys and Apaches may use if they really and truly want to live in peace.”
Tonio, who by this time was laughing softly, turned to her.
“Seriously? You have a peace pipe?”
Bronte send him a cheesy smile.
“I do. It belonged to my dad. He used to enjoy the odd pipe, and I have one never used before. However, you must all promise me to take very great care with it.”
Luca, who by this time wore his hair band and three feathers, whirled to face her.
“I promise we’ll take good care of it,” he whispered.
“Okay. But, you must come to a peaceful agreement between the tribes.” She turned to a thoughtful looking Sophia, and raised her brows in a silent question. “Well?”
Sophia pursed her lips and turned to Emily.
Sophia turned back to her mama. “Okay. We agree to talk peace.”
Tonio rubbed his hands as the wigwam, with the help of Jan, was assembled, along with the campfire.
The two Indian braves, grabbed a couple of big cushions from the couch dropped them next to the campfire and crossed their legs.
“Can we bring down our wigwam and campfire too?” Emily suggested.
Bronte lifted her hands.
“The more the merrier. Need some help?”
Twenty minutes later the family room resembled an Indian settlement with a river (thanks to two blue yoga mats) running through it. On one side were the Pocahontas Pamunkeys and on the other were the Apache braves.
Luca stood, legs spread, on one side of the river and Sophia, arms folded, stood on the other.
“Are you coming to our camp for peace talks, or are we coming across the river to you?”
“We’ll come to you in case you burn our camp to the ground,” Sophia said.
Meanwhile, three year old Boo and Eve appeared to walk on water, carrying a selection of huge bricks back and forth to build their version of a wall.
As Bronte, Rosie watched the peace talks, Jan sewed feathers onto headbands for Boo and Eve to join the tribes.
“It’s absolutely fascinating to watch, isn’t it?” Rosie said, her brown eyes twinkling madly.
“Sophia rules that particular roost,” Bronte muttered.
“And she does it so well. We could do with her in parliament, she’d sort that lot out in quick order.”
Raised voices from the peace talks had Bronte clear her throat.
“Don’t be ridicalus,” Sophia said to her twin. “There weren’t iPads in the olden days.”
His eyes shooting daggers right back at her, Luca retorted, “I know that monkey-butt-face. But, we can have Indian music, can’t we?”
“Here’s some flute, forest and river music,” Tonio interrupted, and played it.
Emily, sitting cross legged on a cushion with Jimmy Chew snoring on her lap, began to sway from side to side. “Oooooh, I love it. I feel like I’m in the Rocky mountains.”
On his side of the river, Tonio did a hop-hop-hop dance in time to the drumbeat.
Out of the corner of her mouth, Jan muttered to Rosie who was sneakily videoing it on her cell phone. “Aren’t they fabulous?”
When the howl of a lone wolf came over flute music, Emily’s eyes grew huge.
“And owls,” Sophia whispered.
When more drums and tambourines began, all native Americans got into the spirit of things. At last, an uneasy peace prevailed across the bad lands.
When Nico, Josh and Alexander strolled through the kitchen door, as one they stopped and surveyed the scene.
The lights in the family room were dimmed.
LED candles flickered in the middle of a huge campfire set in the middle of two wigwams. And all the Indian braves were fast asleep, with Jimmy Chew curled up in the middle of the fire that did not burn. Soft meditation nature music played.
And from the looks of things, they’d all had pizza for dinner.
Josh found Boo snoring among the bodies and started to laugh softly.
Bronte popped her head into the kitchen-dining-living space and whispered,
“We’re in here.”
The men tip-toed past those resting, through the hall and into the sitting room where a real log fire sparked and hissed behind a glass screen.
Josh scooped up his woman, sat her on his knee and gave her a hard kiss.
“Love the wigwams and the log fire.”
Jan’s blue eyes danced. “So worth it to see them have such a great time.”
Alexander shrugged off his suit jacket, his tie, and scooped up his sleepy daughter for a kiss. Then he gave one to a Rosie who’d lifted her face in clear invitation.
Meanwhile Nico grabbed Bronte and spun her around.
“Had a busy day?”
“Jan deciphered excel for Rosie and I and then we witnessed peace talks between the tribes. And Luca’s got a sore throat and a temperature.”
Nico made a face.
He turned to his guests.
“Need a drink? Wine? Beers?”
Once he’d served everyone, taken off his suit jacket and tie and reeeeeelaxed in his favorite comfy chair, he raised his glass.
“Here’s to peace.”
Bronte lifted her glass of wine.
“Here’s to Janine, according to Pocahontas, the best auntie in the whole wide world and the universe and beyond.”
Aww, if anyone’s interested there are actually cushions that resemble logs, fire and stones available for sale on Amazon…. just thought you’d like to know!
And for those who need rest, relaxation and probably a glass of wine, here’s the music the kids were listening to: https://youtu.be/5TNNEw2PiyQ
PEACE and LOVE.
Happy Saturday, dear readers,
Here’s this week’s sneak peek, grab a coffee, and enjoy!
The Dower House….
Bronte’s chilling out with her girlfriends; Janine Faulkner and her toddler, Boo, Rosie Ludlow and baby Mila, and Grace, Emily’s mummy.
Grace, her wildly curly hair recently cropped, a style that took years off her, wore navy skinny jeans and a lilac cashmere sweater the exact color of her eyes. She accepted a cup of coffee from Bronte, and studied the tiny mini-muffins served on a white china plate with a greedy eye. “I’d have paid good money to see Sophia talking to ‘Alexa’ and ordering all those gifts.”
Bronte, dressed in black leggings and one of Nico’s pale grey cotton hoodies, offered Janine a top up of her cup, and grinned down a Boo who sat on the floor and was terribly busy with her mummy’s iPhone. The little girl wore thick wool tights the color of milky coffee, and a cute sweater dress of leopard print velvet, and had a cream velvet ribbon in her black curls. She was sooooo cute.
“Thing is,” Bronte said. “According to Miss Brown, she reckons Sophia has an Eidetic memory. She can recall exact words in conversations. However, Nico reckons it could have been worse. She could’ve bought presents on Amazon for all her friends and their families. After the kids went to bed, all thrilled and delighted, Nico couldn’t stop laughing. We’ve no idea what to do with that child.”
Rosie, wearing thermal tights and a matching oversized polo neck sweater the color of ripe cranberries just grinned at Bronte. “You’ve been saying that for six years. And my favorite niece didn’t buy her favorite auntie anything either.” She sipped her coffee and at the same time managed to grab a pen Mila had taken from her bag and was about to stick up her nose. “No, baby doll. No. No. Not up noses, or in ears.”
Grace bent down to lift a grumpy Mila, handed her teaspoon to play with and gave her a cuddle. “I love this age. I’m so jealous, Rosie.”
“Have you thought of adoption?”
“We have,” Grace sighed, and dropped a kiss on Mila’s dark curls. “We’ve done nothing about it. It seems a very complex business.”
Janine nodded in agreement. “There are so many little kids desperate for a good home. They break my heart, they really do. Josh and I have been discussing adoption.”
Bronte raised her brows. “That would be amazing. Josh makes a great daddy.”
“Yep,” Janine said. “The only trouble is, we’d need to get married.”
Rosie gazed at her in amazement. “You don’t wanna marry Josh?”
Janine’s grin was a little wicked. “In a heartbeat. He hasn’t asked me yet.”
Rosie gave her an are-you-kidding-me look. “That’s a load of crock. I know for a fact he’s asked you at least ten times.”
“True. But that was way back in the beginning. He hasn’t asked me recently.”
“Maybe that’s because he’s not a mind reader,” Bronte said. “How’s the poor guy supposed to know you’ve changed your mind?”
“Truth. Is it bad of me that I want him to ask me again?”
“Nah,” Rosie said, and popped a dark chocolate mini muffin in her mouth. “You’re allowed. But you may need to drop him a couple of hints. You know, men are not exactly switched on to our feminine needs. Or should I make that our feminine wiles?”
Once the laughter stopped Bronte just shook her head.
“That’s crazy talk. We’re not being fair to them. The point is, the guys would do anything for us—anything. Hang on a minute,” she said.
Her friends watched in amazement as she shifted to check behind the couch, then tiptoed to the laundry room, opened the door to look inside, and the then tiptoed to the door leading to the hallway which was ajar. She checked behind it before she closed it. Grinning at the bemused look on their faces, she returned to her seat picked up a coffee. “Can’t be too careful in this house. The walls have ears. Ears commonly known as Sophia.”
Rosie couldn’t help but grin. “That girl’s going to turn your hair grey.”
Bronte made a face. “You can’t tell, but beneath this blonde there’s plenty of grey.”
“Well.” Rosie made herself more comfortable on the couch. “You’ve had at least four days where everything’s been peace, quiet and tranquillity. We all know that won’t last. I think she’s wonderful.”
Bronte just sent her a dark look. “It’s okay for you. You’re not her mother and you don’t know what you’re talking about. Wanna know the thing that bugs me the most about half-bloody-term? I want to be the best mummy in the whole wide world, and provide my kids with wonderful memories of childhood they’ll treasure forever.
“Instead, by lunchtime everyday I’m snapping their heads off because they can’t have more sweets or soda that send them up the wall and fighting like cats. Then I’m a ‘bad mummy’ for daring to suggest that if they’re bored they could—wait for the shock-horror—go to their room and read a book. You’d think I’d suggested sending them down a coal mine armed with a toothpick. I swear I cannot wait for Monday morning and a little bit of that peace, quiet and tranquillity you mention, Rosie.”
“Where are the gruesome twosome anyway,” asked a laughing Janine, referring to Sophia and Emily.
Grace lifted her eyes to the ceiling. “They’ve been in the dressing up box. The last time I looked they were dancing to Justin Timberlake on a loop.
“Sounds harmless enough,” Janine muttered.
Actually, Sophia and Emily were in a place strictly forbidden to both—Bronte’s dressing room. They’d painted their faces with Sophia’s kiddy makeup (the gift that kept on giving from auntie Rosie). And once Sophia had mentioned that her mama had a fire engine red lipstick that would look sooooo cooooool with Emily’s charcoal grey eye shadow, there had been nothing for it but to test the colour….
The girls looked like—thanks to the kiddy makeup—demented fairies complete with huge wings of pink gauze and chicken wire (made by the very talented auntie Janine.)
“We mustn’t make a mess,” Sophia whispered to a terribly excited Emily who’s blue eyes were like saucers as she took in the amazing pots and potions lined up in the narrow drawer Sophia had pulled out. The scented drawer liner smelled of lavender. The wall mirror had lots of light bulbs that illuminated their little faces.
Emily leaned in closer to inspect her skin. “I hate my freckles and my stupid hair.”
Sophia, genuinely shocked by this statement because she was secretly quite jealous of those gorgeous flaming ringlets, gazed wide-eyed in the mirror at her bestest friend.
“I LOVE your hair. Papa says you have fairy hair and a beautiful little fairy face. And as my auntie Rosie says, he was a stud before he married my mama, so he knows what he’s talking about when it comes to women.”
Emily blinked. “What’s a stud?”
Sophia, by this time carefully searching through the gold metal tubes of lipstick to find the right one, shrugged. “Dunno. Women always stare with stupid googly eyes at my papa. I think it’s rude. But auntie Rosie says he doesn’t notice them because he’s a lovely guy who’s crazy in love with my mama.”
Emily nodded her head so hard her ringlets danced around her shoulders. “I’m gonna marry Tonio.” Then she sent a viciously dark look to her reflection. “But he’ll never marry me with this horrible hair.”
Sophia halted her search for the lippy, and turned to face her best friend.
She took Emily by the shoulders. “Look into my eyes.”
Emily stared unblinking into Sophia’s eyes.
“I LOVE your hair. Can you see the truth in my eyes?”
Emily, totally serious, nodded. “Uh-huh.”
“Then believe me when I say your hair is amazing.” Sophia returned to the hunt for the lipstick, by this time she had lined up at least six opened tubes all standing like soldiers on parade. “I don’t know what’s the problem with your hair.”
Emily, unmoved by her best friend’s words, resumed a slitty eyed study of her face and hair in the mirror. “When she washes it, Mummy uses a tangle teaser and spray on conditioner. But it always hurts when she combs it and I cry and it’s one big drama. Then she got her hair cut. My daddy just loves it. He tells her every single day. I think I should cut mine.”
“Don’t be daft,” Sophia said, and then found what she was looking for. She held up the lipstick. “Turn around and open your mouth.”
Emily turned to her pal and opened her mouth wide.
With great care, Sophia swiped the lipstick over Emily’s little lips.
“Rub your lips together,” she said.
Emily did as she was told.
Sophia stood back and studied her work with a critical eye. “I like it. What do you think?”
Emily considered her reflection, fluttered her eyelashes like a camel in a sandstorm.
“It makes my eyes pop, doesn’t it?”
With great care, Sophia wound back the lipstick and replaced the top.
Then she danced on the spot. “Need to pee. Don’t touch ANYTHING or mama will kill us and bury us in the vegetable garden.”
Emily’s wide-eyed response was another rapid nod of her head.
After Sophia raced out the door, she took a careful study of all the lovely things on the table top.
Then, she blinked.
And almost of its own volition, her little hand hovered over a pair of scissors.
Three minutes later, Sophia stood rooted to the spot at the door to her mama’s dressing room. Her stifled cry caught the attention of her brothers strolling down the hallway.
Tonio and Luca entered Bronte and Nico’s bedroom and peered over Sophia’s shoulder.
“You shouldn’t be in here,” Luca reminded her.
For once, she was too stunned to rise to the bait.
“What’s the matter?” asked Tonio.
Then both boys looked into the dressing room, and gasped too.
“Well, what do you think?” asked a beyond thrilled and shorn Emily as she did a twirl.
“Omigod,” Sophia whispered, staring with bug-eyed disbelief at the appalling change in her best friend. “Omigod.”
Tonio stepped slowly inside the dressing room, and, his eyes riveted on the red glossy curls spilled on the cream carpet, picked up some with a hand that wasn’t quite steady.
He lifted his head to stare at her. “Dio mio, Emily. What have you done?”
By the way everyone stared at her, in absolute horror, it had begun to dawn on Emily that she may have made a big mistake.
Her fire engine red bottom lip trembled.
Her charcoal lined blue eyes filled.
Her belly hurt.
“Don’t you like it?” she whispered.
Tonio again stared at the curls in his hand, and then at her head.
“We can’t stick it back on with glue, can we?”
Sophia, her face white beneath her makeup, shook her head.
Her blue eyes flooded.
“Uh-uh. It’s gonna take years and years and years for your beautiful hair to grow again.”
“I’m gonna get mama. You two are in BIG TROUBLE, again,” Luca said and raced out the door.
A few hours later, a whistling Nico strolled through the door of the kitchen-dining-living space.
His dark brows rose.
No sign of his bambinos.
No sign of dinner.
He shrugged out of his suit jacket, hung it on the back of a chair, removed his silk tie and rolled it up and tucked it in his jacket pocket—in case the baby had sticky fingers. As he slid open the top couple of buttons on his crisp cotton white shirt, he spotted his wife.
She had her bare feet up on the couch.
Eyes closed, her blonde head rested on a fat cushion.
In one hand she held a glass half filled with Prosecco.
Again his dark brows rose.
“What’s the occasion?” he asked.
When she said nothing, but made a sound like a whimper in her throat, he dropped a kiss on her nose, lifted her legs, sat and settled her narrow feet on his lap.
“Do you want the good news or the bad news?” Bronte asked.
Nico lifted her hand with the wine glass and took a sip.
“Well, today Sophia did NOT cut off ALL of Emily’s hair.”
“You got that right.”
Bronte’s eyes opened. “Because, from what we could decipher in amongst the crying and wailing, she didn’t think Tonio will marry her unless she cut it.”
When Nico simply blinked, she nodded her head. “I know. I swear she’s obsessed with him. Of course, once he’d told he’d loved her hair, she wailed even louder. Poor Grace had to phone her hairdresser for an emergency appointment. And you know what a bloody drama queen Carlo is, I could hear his screeching from here.”
She closed her eyes and laid her head back on the cushion.
“I’ve just about had enough of half-term and kids,” she said bitterly. “To hell with healthy eating. To hell with forcing Luca to eat little trees. To hell with fresh fruit and vegetables. They want to eat pizza every night of their natural lives… let them. I give up.”
Nico rubbed her bare feet.
He brought her foot to his mouth and pressed a soft kiss on the arch.
“What’s for dinner?”
“I am so blessed.”
“Believe it, pal. Believe it.”
I remember so very well the time my youngest daughter, she was four, cut her hair two days before my sister’s wedding…. Good times. Good times.
27 January 2018
3 February 2018
8 February 2018
NO RULES ticks all the boxes.
Full of fun and laughter and scorching hot luv’in, this standalone sexy as sin romance set in the Ludlow Nights world, with a swoon worthy hero and feisty heroine, will make you laugh and cry out loud.
No more wild nights. No more wild women.
Serge Morretti’s wild ride through life may have to come to an end, but less partying
means more time to devote to making more money, including winning over the octogenarians who run Morretti Enterprises. Seems if Serge wants to take his rightful place on the board—he needs a wife—and he’s got a grand plan. But when his world collides with a beautiful blonde at his best friend’s engagement party, where’s the harm in one more wild night?
Chloe Rucker’s coping with a few problems just now.
After her drink is spiked, compromising pictures of her are being held for ransom…and a wedding-obsessed family who are driving her crazy.
Her life may be a disaster, but she’s certain of one thing.
She isn’t impressed by silver tongued devils, especially one with dark laughing eyes. She certainly isn’t looking for a sexy fling with a notorious playboy, no matter how big a deal he thinks he is to the rest of womankind.
Chloe doesn’t do casual.
But maybe just this once…
Nico, Bronte and Sophia Ferranti, among others from the Ludlow cast, all make appearances in this standalone page turner.
Hello, my darling readers,
It’s Friday and it’s the Ludlow Hall sneak peak time. Yay!
The Dower house…
Bronte was having a bad day. It’s half-term. And the children were driving her crazy.
She’s way behind with a mountain laundry—thanks to a washing machine Armageddon. The consequence of a blocked waste pipe, which she fixed herself. One of life’s great mysteries was how a sock had managed to find its way into the waste pipe. Smaller mountains of assorted dirty laundry littered the floor. Whites. Dark colours. PE kits. And baby clothes. Plus, a huge pile of bedding. Eve had thrown up last night. The child’s projectile vomit like something out of a horror movie. Which meant Bronte stank to high heaven of disinfectant, baby puke and sweat.
After too much pushy-shovey during and after breakfast, and in spite of their red-faced mother screaming at them at the top of her lungs to desist, the kids were banished to their separate bedrooms. Winter half-term, pouring rain, and bored kids, Bronte decided, was its own special kind of hell.
The sound of a car crunching over the gravel drive had her look to heaven. She hope to hell it wasn’t an unexpected visitor. If it was Rosie that would be okay, ’cause Rosie would sympathise and probably pour her a huge glass of wine. If it was a member of the local mums and tots group, she gazed at her clothes and sniffed her armpit, and decided she wouldn’t answer the door.
In the event it was neither.
Her husband walked through the door carrying a brown cardboard box.
She took one look at Nico, all dressed to impress in a smart dark suit and crisp shirt, silk tie, with not a freaking hair out of place, and she growled low in her throat.
“What are you doing home?” She checked the clock on the wall, just in case she’d lost track of time. “It’s only 2.30 in the afternoon. What’s this, a half-day?”
Nico, his gaze taking in the complete and utter disaster that was the laundry room, and breakfast dishes still littering the kitchen, read the situation easily enough.
His brows lifted.
“I brought you a present,” he said. “Although with that welcome, I’m not sure you deserve it.”
He gave her a huge smile.
She didn’t smile back.
“Piss off,” she hissed.
“Trust me,” he said. “This will make your life so much easier, cara mia.”
Bronte moved to the sink, washed her hands, dried them, and turned to him.
“Do you want a coffee?”
Nico stepped over the detritus on the floor, placed the cardboard box on the worktop.
Grey eyes twinkling, he turned to her and opened his arms.
His wife simply gave him a bland stare.
“I stink of baby puke. I haven’t even managed to drag a brush through my hair. In fact, the way I’m feeling right now the last thing I want from you or anyone else is a hug.”
Nico ignored what had turned into a rant, and just grabbed her and held her tight.
His nose twitched.
She was right, she didn’t smell her usual fragrant self.
She snuggled into his chest and gave a heavy sigh.
“The worst, she muttered into his silk tie.
He smelled absolutely amazing, freshly laundered shirt, shower gel and the cologne she loved so much.
“I hate half-term,” she said.
“Don’t worry, he said into her hair and gave her another quick squeeze. “We will do this together.”
Bronte sniffed, step back and rubbed her hands on the legs of her jeans.
She studied the box on the worktop.
“Okay,” she said, and hoped to heaven it wasn’t some new piece of digital equipment. “Hit me with it.”
Nico shifted, opened the box and brought out what looked like a tall black tube.
Bronte just stared at it.
Her heart fell, it was a new piece of digital equipment.
Nico, on the other hand, looked thrilled.
He said, “It’s Alexa. And she is going to change your life.”
Bronte was not convinced.
She scratched her nose.
Folded her arms and cocked her hip.
“Okay,” she said, “show me exactly how that tube of metal is going to change my life.”
Nico took off his jacket hung it carefully over the back of a kitchen chair, rubbed his hands again, whipped out the instruction booklet and set up by linking it to their Wi-Fi and integrating the device from what he called, the mother-lode.
“It’s from Amazon.” He sent her a cheeky wink. “Its voice recognition artificial intelligence. All you have to do is tell Alexa what music you want to listen to, or turn on the radio, or order items from the store, and she does it. It’s like magic.”
Bronte, pouring two black coffees into cups, and lifted her brows.
She sank to a kitchen chair, folded her arms and just watched.
What was it with boys and their toys, she wondered.
It didn’t take long for Nico to set it up.
And within half an hour he had ordered a couple of items from Amazon.
Bronte reckoned she quite liked Alexa’s voice, she sounded friendly. And when Bronte asked Alexa to play rock music and she did, she couldn’t help but laugh.
“That is so cool,” she said. Her temper improving by the minute.
Looking pretty pleased with himself, Nico dropped a kiss on her cheek.
“I’ll have a shower. I’ll be down in a couple of minutes and I’ll help you with all this. There’s nothing we cannot do when we work as a team.”
Well, Bronte had to agree with that sentiment.
She strolled out the door with him, and gave his tight butt a pat.
“Maybe we could shower together and save water?” she whispered.
His strong arm came around her waist. “Just what I was thinking,” he said in a deep, growly voice.
As Bronte and Nico strolled out the door, a little blond head appeared slowly, very slowly, from behind the back of a lilac velvet sofa.
Sophia, dressed in pink leggings that hit above her ankle, and an oversized white hoodie that proclaimed, ‘The Snuggle Is Real,’ and clutching a battered looking Raggedy-Ann doll, strolled over on bare feet to check out Alexa.
Emerald eyes wide, she placed her arms on the worktop and stared unblinking at the machine.
“Hello, Alexa,” said Sophia.
Next morning, Bronte was busy at her twelve burner stainless steel hob, making a full English breakfast for her hungry horde. In a good mood, she shook her booty to a rock song via Alexa. The device was soooooo cool.
The peal of the doorbell had her yell, “Nico! Could you get the door?”
“Si,” he yelled back from his study.
She heard him opening the door, and chatting to the postman.
A minute later, he walked into the kitchen-dining-living space, carting at least six cardboard boxes.
Her brows rose. “Good Lord, what’s all that?”
Checking the parcels, Nico shook his head. “I ordered two items.”
Using tongs to lift a pile of crispy bacon onto a plate, she placed the plate in the middle of the table. Wiping her hands on the tea towel tucked into the waistband of her black skinny jeans, she wandered over to find Nico using a sharp knife to open the boxes.
“From Amazon,” she muttered.
When Nico took out a large box of Lego—Elsa’s Sparkling Ice Castle, she goggled.
“Whoa,” she said.
The next box opened, it was like Christmas all over again, held more Lego—this time a BIG selection of Mighty Micros Spiderman VS Scorpion Street Showdown.
“Wow,” she whispered.
By this time, Nico’s shoulders shook so hard, he needed to take a breath as he opened box number three. A huge box of Mega Blocks for ages 1-5.
“Aww, that must be for Eve,” Bronte said, her eyes going all teary. “What’s in this one, it’s big.”
Nico opened it, and blinked. “Mio dio. It is the iScoot Blaze Tonio’s been after.”
Bronte picked up a receipt invoice, and bit down hard on her top lip. “Alexa ordered it. All of it.”
Her eyes met his as they turned their attention to another box.
A heavy one this time.
“What do you thinks’ in here?”
His grey eyes, twinkling, met hers. “There must be something you’d love to have.”
She shook her head. “I’ve no idea.”
When he opened it, she slapped her hand over her mouth. “Omigod. It’s the Tefal Cook4Me Multicooker. But… it costs a fortune.”
He opened the last box, it didn’t weigh much.
And Bronte collapsed into a chair laughing so hard, she nearly peed her pants.
It was a ‘Man Tin’ (Leads, Screws & Other Pointless Stuff I must keep.)
And right then, Tonio and Luca strolled into the kitchen.
They wore below the knee jean shorts and hoodies.
The boys stopped dead, and stared, wide-eyed, at all the goodies lined up on the table.
“Wow!” said Luca, diving on the Lego box. He held it in his hand as if it was the crown jewels. His beaming smile split his face. “This is sooooo cool. Thank you, papa!”
Tonio’s dark eyes flew to Nico as he grabbed the box containing the much-longed-for scooter.
“We’ll need to buy him protective gear for that,” Bronte whispered into Nico’s ear.
And then, without a word, Sophia slid into the room.
She wore soft blue jeans and navy hoodie.
Her big emerald eyes studied the toys, her brothers’ clear deeeeeelight, and then flicked to her mama and papa’s wide eyes as they watched her face.
“Um…,” she said, her fingers playing with her blonde tail.
“Um?” Bronte said in a soft voice.
Nico crouched down in front of his daughter, took her little hand in his.
“Were you speaking to Alexa?” he asked in a soft voice.
Sophia’s brows flew into her hairline. “She’s nice.”
Luca, carefully unwrapping Lego, glanced at his sister. “Who’s Alexa?”
Sophia, eyes glued to her papa’s, said, “Alexa? What time is it?”
There was a slight delay and then a woman’s voice said from the tall black tube, “The time is 9.20 am.”
Luca’s eyes nearly popped out of his head. “Wow! That is amazing,” he whispered.
Bronte ran her hand through his dark curls. “Isn’t it?”
“Did you ask Alexa for all of these?” He indicated the boxes on the table.
“Uh huh,” she said in a soft voice.
“Didn’t Alexa say how much they cost?” Nico wanted to know.
“They cost a lot of money,” Nico said.
Sophia went nose to nose with her papa.
“I know.” Then she stroked a small finger down his cheek. “But you’re filthy rich, papa. We can afford a nice surprise now and then. And mama’s always wanted one of those Cook4Me pots because she works too hard looking after all the heathens in this family. So I asked Alexa to send one and she said yes.”
In response to the absolute logic of her statement, Nico grabbed her in a big hug.
“Your heart is in the right place, bambina.”
Meanwhile, Bronte couldn’t help but laugh.
Wait until Rosie heard all about Alexa.
Seriously, she couldn’t make this stuff up!
Real life is stranger than fiction. This actually happened to someone I know. Not on the scale of Sophia. One dozen boxes of cake mix. LOL!
This weeks peek at a day in the lives of the Ferranti family is a day late. And never fear, the next Desert Orchid chapter will go live later today – and it’s a doozy!
Bronte, Tonio, Luca and Sophia are in the car on their way home…
Sofia Ferranti had to pee.
Nerves, and fear, plus the very rare Coke she’d had for being a good girl while her mamma had shopped in the supermarket all combined to fill her seven-year-old bladder to bursting.
Today had been one of the worst school days of her life.
Ms. Brown was not happy with her.
And man, was she in big trouble when her mama and papa found out?
She wriggled in her car seat and wished she was home.
Bronte reckoned her children were very quiet considering it was a Friday afternoon. In the rear view mirror she kept a weather eye on Sofia.
A Sofia who was staring out of the window as if she was watching her favourite movie, Frozen. And a Sophia who’d been unnaturally quiet during supermarket shopping. A miracle, because her daughter loathed supermarket shopping with a passion only matched by that of her papa.
“We are nearly home,” Bronte sang.
Tonio who sat in the front passenger seat of the car turned to look at her.
The boy was growing like a weed. They’d just purchased his second pair of school shoes within three months.
When Bronte caught his eye, he made a face as if to say, what’s the matter with them?
In response Bronte shrugged.
“Is Luca asleep?” Bronte asked Tonio.
Tonio craned his neck to suss out what was happening behind him.
He nodded. “He’s out for the count.”
Bronte again checked on Sofia in the mirror.
She frowned at how pale her daughter looked.
Maybe she was sickening for something?
Please God, not the flu.
So far, they’d managed to escape the virus.
“We’re nearly home,” Bronte said again.
She decided to give up.
No point in causing drama while she was driving the car.
By the time Sophia had raced to the bathroom to do her business, washed her hands, changed her school uniform for her favorite soft jeans and cozy sweater it was time for dinner.
Every Friday the family all ate together, that was the rule, if Papa got home in time.
Tonight Papa was running thirty minutes late.
And Sofia didn’t know whether to be happy or sad.
Thing was, she was in what her auntie Rosie would call – a hot mess.
Miss Brown, had given Sophia a sealed letter for her mamma and Papa.
A letter which she was sure described in glorious detail exactly what sin Sophia had committed today.
The thing was, Sofia didn’t want to give her mamma and Papa the letter.
She was in enough bother after setting the toaster oven on fire and causing chaos in the house last week.
But how was she to know that taking a baby book to school would have caused so much trouble?
The book was called A Child is Born.
And had the most amazing pictures of how a baby grew inside a mummy’s tummy.
The problems had started when Johnny Lacy had gagged when he saw the picture of a child being born.
And when Sophia had taken time to explain to him exactly how the child had ended up inside the mummy’s tummy in the first place, the Stoooooopid boy had thrown-up all over her best friend Emily’s new shoes. Which meant Miss Brown had not been happy with Sophia. She’d even confiscated book and refused to return it.
Sophia new perfectly well that her mamma and Papa would not have allowed her to take the book to school in the first place.
But she’d wanted to prove to Johnny Lacy that his explanation of how a baby got into a mummy’s tummy was wrong.
And now Johnny’s mummy was upset with Sophia too.
So today had turned into a complete nightmare for Sophia Ferranti.
Her best friend Emily had promised faithfully to say nothing to her mummy because she was a good pal of Sophia’s mama. And Tonio and Luca had promised to say nothing too. Now Sophia sat on the couch cuddling Jimmy Chew and felt that her dog was her only friend in the whole wide world.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” Her mother asked for like the tenth time.
Actually, Sofia is feeling a bit sick in her stomach.
“I’m fine,” she whispered, and wished bedtime would hurry up and come.
Nico Ferranti was in a good mood.
He’d had a great day at Ludlow Hall.
It looked liked the flu virus from hell had finally burned itself through his staff.
And just to put a cherry on top of the cake, his PA Julie had returned to work.
And now he got to spend quality time with his family for the whole weekend.
In his plans were an early night and plenty of good loving with his wife.
Whistling a happy tune, he strolled through the back door The Dower House, and got hit right between the eyes with a scent sent from heaven—his wife’s famous Italian red sauce, featuring basil and oven roasted tomatoes and garlic bread warm from the oven.
His mouth watered.
And then he got all soppy when he spotted the fat glass of Chianti sitting on the worktop, just waiting for him.
His wife knew exactly how to look after him.
He was a lucky man.
To show his appreciation and love, he grabbed Bronte around the waist and kissed the breath from her.
He loved the little purr in her throat. He loved the way she ran her fingers through his black hair.
Her nails scratched his scalp.
“Wow,” she said, when they came up for air. “What did I do to deserve that?”
He grinned at the dazed expression on her face.
“You look after me. You look after everyone. And I love you.”
She stroked the back of her hand down his cheek, her emerald eyes filled with love for him.
Yes, Nico reckoned he was one lucky bastard.
During dinner, Bronte put the lack of conversation from Sophia down to tiredness. After all, the kids had had a busy week at school. However, the little niggle in her belly just refused to quit. Bronte decided that tomorrow was another day. A day where she’d spend time with Sophia and get to the bottom of what was bothering her.
Once the children had teeth brushed, bathed and put to bed—after three rounds of story time of course, Nico and Bronte had time to themselves.
On the couch, he’d just taken her in his arms for a bit of heavy petting, when baby Eve’s tired cry came over the intercom.
Nico looked to Heaven. “Teething is hell,” he said to Bronte.
His wife stood, lifted her arms as if reaching for the sky, and yawned hugely.
“Her little cheeks are so hot. I’ll give her Calpol. That should sort it.”
Nico stretched out his long legs clad in loose black jeans, and wiggled his bare toes.
It looked as if his plan for an early night and romance may not happen.
Then he counted his many blessings, and shrugged.
He was a lucky man.
The voice of one of his blessings came from behind him.
Nico looked to heaven.
“Sophia, cara mia, what is the matter?”
He turned, and found his daughter looking pale.
She was dressed in brushed cotton pink frilly pyjamas with the picture of Elsa on the front.
A gift from auntie Rosie.
And in her arms she clutched her Raggedy Ann doll.
A sure sign that something was up.
He watched her as Sophia crept closer.
And it wasn’t until she stood right before him that she looked him dead in the eye and said, “Promise you won’t be a grumpy Papa?”
Nico leaned back and placed his hands behind his head.
He took plenty of time to study his daughter’s guilty face.
Maybe they were too soft with her?
Maybe she needed a firmer hand?
He rubbed the spot above his heart.
He couldn’t do it.
“On a scale of one to ten,” he said, “One being nothing too awful, what have you done this time?”
Her bare toes made little circles on the thick rug of ivory wool.
And she clutched Raggedy Ann even closer.
“It might be an eight? Maybe? I have a letter from Miss Brown to you and mamma in my schoolbag. And I don’t wanna give it to you.”
Nico’s brows rose into his hairline and he puffed out his cheeks.
“A letter from your teacher?”
Sophia nodded. “Yes.”
And now Sophia’s chin began to wobble and her eyes filled.
And in that moment, Nico knew he was toast.
No way could he harden his heart against tears.
He opened his arms and found his baby girl’s arms wound tight around his neck.
He let her cry.
Sometimes it was good to cry.
He didn’t want to think about the contents of the letter.
He couldn’t begin to imagine.
“What on earth is the matter?” Bronte said as she walked into the room.
Nico found his daughter holding him even tighter.
He made a face at his wife.
“Sophia has a letter for us from her teacher.”
“So what’s the problem?” Bronte asked.
“I don’t think it’s a friendly letter,” Nico said.
Bronte took a seat and tucked her legs beneath her butt.
“Hit me with it.”
By this time Sofia’s sobs were down to a snuffle.
“It’s in her school bag,” Nico said.
Bronte rose and padded to the boot room in her bare feet, and returned with Sophia’s schoolbag.
She sat down opened it and rummaged through the detritus until she found the letter.
For a long moment her eyes held his before she opened it and read the contents.
After reading it through twice, she bit down hard on her bottom lip and blinked frantically.
Nico heaved a heavy sigh.
He had a horrible feeling.
By this time Sofia was sitting on her Papa’s lap, her cheek tucked against his chest and with one eye on her mamma.
Her cheeks were hot.
Bronte shook her head
“Well, it seems Miss Brown wants to know if we’ve been teaching sex education to our kids recently. Because it seems Sophia has been very busy informing her classmates about the birds and bees and vivid descriptions of natural childbirth.”
Nico shifted to catch Sophia’s eye.
Sophia drew circles on his T-shirt with her fingertip and all the while her big emerald eyes held his.
“It was all in the baby book,” she said in a small voice.
“What baby book?” Her mama asked.
“A Child is Born.” Sophia told her.
Bronte’s eyes went wide.
“Good Lord, you took that book to school?”
Sophia nodded. “Johnny Lacy said that babies came from heaven. That the stork brought the baby and left it at the hospital for mummies and daddies to collect. I said he was a big fat liar. He pushed me and I pushed him back. So I took the book into school. Because he can’t argue with the photographs, can he? I told him not to spread fake news.”
No matter how hard Nico tried he couldn’t stop laughing.
His big body shook and he knew he daren’t meet his wife’s eyes.
Bronte meanwhile was reading the rest of the letter.
“Well, Miss Brown says that Sophia Ferranti did a better job than she could have done and that she will return the book the next time she sees me.”
Sophia blinked at her like a baby owl.
“You mean, I’m not in big trouble?”
Bronte leaned over and went nose-to-nose with her daughter.
“See what happens when you don’t give me a letter when you’re supposed to? You worried yourself for hours for nothing. All I am going to say is that you do not take any books from our library without asking permission. You okay with that?”
Sophia climbed off her Papa’s lap and went to receive a hug from her mamma.
A big hug.
Bronte lifted her and headed for the stairs.
“Say goodnight to Papa.”
Nico topped up his glass of Chianti, sat back and closed his eyes.
There was never, he reckoned, a dull moment at the Dower house.
And he wouldn’t have it any other way.
Aw, no fake news for Sophia.
I’m busy writing Desert Captive, Our Rules, and have Gregorio Ancelotti’s story cooking on the back burner.
Happy Monday, my darlings.
The lovely people at Amazon have got BREAK THE RULES on #FREE exclusive deal for a limited time. Come and get it and tell your friends. (Link below new cover pic).
Sean Kennedy had a simple rule when it came to women—if they were hard work—he didn’t bother.
Why put himself through unnecessary hassle?And then he met a blonde bombshell…
From the moment Sean Kennedy frisked T.C. he captivated her. The look in the bodyguard’s tawny eyes for her was too intense, insanely sexy and dominant. He was a powerful man who towered over everyone. And a man who believed he could have anything and anyone. Despite T.C.’s reservations, she had a night of passion with him. A night which brought the demons of her past into her present and her future.
Demons that have no intention of ever letting her go.
But Sean was a man prepared to fight dirty for the woman he wanted.
And a man who’d never lost a battle—yet.
I’m working on the second part of the Desert Orchid duet, Desert Captive, coming soon. And beginning tomorrow I’m posting a chapter a day of Desert Orchid to get you in the mood.
It’s Friday and time for another slice of Ludlow life with our favourite family, The Ferranti’s…..
The Dower House – it’s two a.m. Nico’s cosy in his vast bed and all snuggled up to the love of his life. The Egyptian cotton sheets are crisp and smell lightly of lavender. His big body’s spooning and holding her close. Very close. With every deep inhale, his system seemed to absorb the scent of her hair, her skin, her very breath. Si, he cuddled to curve around her, and slid a heavy leg between hers, he was a very lucky man.
Right on cue his libido, tucked inside his Calvins, stirred.
His low moan was heartfelt.
Behave, he told his lurve muscle.
His body settled and he slid deeper into the land of nod.
The night was still and clear and freezing cold.
A half moon spilled silver light through a gap in the heavy curtains.
Nothing stirred, not even a mouse.
Everyone was asleep—or were they?
The sound of the fire alarm had Nico explode out of bed, into jeans and a sweater.
He shoved bare feet into running shoes.
And Bronte wasn’t far behind him.
Shoving her arms in a black cashmere sweater, her head popped out of the neckline.
“I smell smoke.”
Emerald eyes wide, she grabbed her phone and dialled the emergency services.
Then she lifted her chin and, like a she-wolf, sniffed the air.
“Do you smell smoke?”
Shouts from Tonio and Luca had Nico run into the hallway, and here the smell of smoke was strong.
Both in pj’s their dark curls sticking up on end, Luca clutched a yapping Jimmy Chew in his arms, and Tonio carried a howling baby Eve wrapped a thick blanket.
He handed her to Nico.
“Quick,” Nico said, his brain speeding through likely scenarios. “Remember the fire drill.” Two pale-faced little boys stared at him, as if mute, as he rubbed the toddler’s back. “We go to the guest bedroom, out the window, onto the roof of the laundry room. Mama is calling for help.” His head spun around, and his racing heart seemed to screech to a stop before knocking against his ribs. “Where are Sophia and Emily?”
“Their beds are empty.”
“Omigod,” Bronte said.
Nico turned to her and thrust a screaming Eve into her arms. “Get the boys out, and I’ll find them.”
Heart pistoning in his chest, he spun and headed for the stairs and the kitchen.
Smoke belched through the open kitchen door into the hallway and drifted up, up, the stairs and into the cavernous roof space.
When he skidded to a halt in the kitchen-living space, he saw a weeping Emily dressed in her Elsa from Frozen nightgown, tucked into a corner of the sofa, her little face sheet white.
And the perpetrator of the night’s drama, his seven year old daughter, eyes streaming and gasping for breath, was standing on a chair dragged next to the black granite worktop, and frantically waving a dish towel over the entrance to a stainless steel toaster oven which belched dark grey smoke.
Nico whistled low through his teeth, pulled the electric plug from the wall, slammed the door to the toaster oven shut and grabbed his daughter by the waist. On his way to the kitchen door, he scooped up an Emily crying for her mummy, and headed through the boot room.
As he opened the door to the driveway, he thanked God when he found the rest of his family intact and, by the look of them, scared to death and blue with cold.
The sound of a fire-engine and ambulance, blue lights flashing, roared up the road and into the driveway.
Two firemen grabbed a girl-child each and handed them to the paramedics who got them into the ambulance to check them over. Meanwhile, three other fire-crew prepared their hoses. The leader entered the house. He didn’t loiter. When he flung open a kitchen window and popped his head out, he yelled to the crew,
“Need a fire blanket. Toaster oven.”
Immediately, all tension left the men.
They began rolling up their hoses and chatted to Bronte.
“We’ll open all the windows to let the smoke out.”
Her brain reeling, Bronte nodded.
Clutching a sobbing baby girl to her breast, she was shaking so hard, her teeth rattled like castanets in her head. On trembling legs, she jogged to the ambulance, to find Emily wrapped in a blanket and Sophia being given oxygen and checked over by paramedic, Susan Henshaw. Bronte had gone to school with Susan, and she found her eyes stinging as she caught her eye.
“Never a dull moment with this one,” Susan said.
Bronte puffed out her cheeks. “Tell me about it.”
She studied her daughter’s white face and the way her breath wheezed in and out.
“We’ll take Sophia to A&E just to make one hundred per cent sure she’s okay. Smoke inhalation can be nasty.”
Nico arrived and took the baby, his face pale as he watched Sophia cough so hard, she struggled for breath. “They were making toast,” he muttered, the vision of of the way his daughter had tried to fight a fire kept flashing in his brain. Dio mio, things could have been a lot worse. “Rosie and Alexander are on their way to look after the kids.”
And just as he spoke, a black shiny Range Rover sped up the drive.
Before Alexander had switched off the engine, a wide-eyed Rosie, wearing leggings tucked inside ankle Uggs, and one of Alexander’s hoodies over her pj’s, was out the passenger door and racing towards the ambulance.
Susan poked her head out of the ambulance door and flashed Rosie a grin.
“Ah, I see the gang’s all here. Sophia’s inhaled a bit of smoke. Emily’s fine. A little shaken up, but her oxygen levels are good. We’re taking Sophia in, just to make sure she’s okay.”
Rosie puffed out a relieved breath.
“Okay. Gimme Emily.”
As Rosie carried Emily back into the house, the child wound her arms around her neck. “We were hungry and made toast.”
Rosie popped a kiss on her pale cheek. “Yeah, and nearly burned the house down.”
“We didn’t want to wake anyone. We wanted toast and peanut butter.”
When Rosie entered the kitchen-living space, the evidence spread around the worktop told its own story. Slices of wholemeal bread, toasted to a variety of degrees, were spread over the worktop. Clearly, the girls hadn’t had much luck in their endeavour. The toaster oven was buried in a fire blanket.
“Who’d have thought a toaster oven could cause this amount of mess?”
With his helmet tucked under his arm the fireman nodded.
“Everything electrical in a kitchen can be a hazard, especially in the hands of a child. On a positive note, it was clear they had a fire escape plan.” He jerked his chin. “There’s a fire extinguisher on the wall, but no way a child could use it. Everyone needs a fire blanket or an extinguisher in a kitchen. Preferably both, neither are expensive. And everyone in the house should be shown how to use them in case of an emergency.”
Rosie nodded and rocked a sleepy Emily.
“It’s certainly a wake-up call.”
Six hours later….
When Bronte and Nico, carrying Sophia, opened the door of the house and entered the kitchen, the reek of smoke still hung in the air.
His knots in his belly went tight at the thought of what might have been.
A hollow-eyed Rosie had Eve and baby Mila in their high chairs and was feeding them breakfast. The kids looked bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and none the worse for their evening excursion.
“Coffee’s ready,” she said.
Nico winked as he took his daughter upstairs.
Meanwhile, her best friend simply slumped into a chair and rested her blonde head on her folded arms.
Rosie poured her a cup of the black stuff, and then shifted to give her a shoulder rub.
“You’ve had a bad scare.”
“I don’t know what I’m going to do with that child,” Bronte whispered.
Rosie made a face. “My mother used to say the same thing about me.”
Bronte lifted her head. “You were bad.”
“To the bone.”
Bronte laughed, which had been Rosie’s plan all along. “God, do you remember the time we climbed onto the barn roof to see if we could touch the clouds?”
Rosie grinned at the memory. “Five years old and Stoooooopid.”
Bronte took a sip of her coffee, and stared unseeing through the glass sliding doors into the garden. “We’ve had a lucky escape.”
“What we’ve had is a wake-up call,” Rosie said and took a seat at the table. “I’ve already been online and ordered fire blankets for this kitchen and mine. Something a child could easily use if they found themselves confronting an emergency.”
Bronte reached out and took Rosie’s hand, and squeezed. “Thanks. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”
Rosie squeezed her back. “We’re family. We do what families do.”
Nico entered, and a made a face.
“It is going to take time to get rid of the smell of smoke.”
He took time to study his wife’s exhausted face, then picked her up and sat with her on his lap.
She rested her weary head on his strong shoulder.
“When Sophia and Emily have had a long nap, we will need to sit them down and have a serious talk about touching electrical appliances…. again,” he said, his voice deep and growly.
Bronte heaved out a sigh. “What’s the answer, punishment?”
“I think,” Nico said, rubbish his cheek on her head. “The fright they gave themselves, and us, may be punishment enough.”
“Can I just say one thing?” Rosie asked.
Nico nodded. “Anything.”
Rosie bit down hard on her bottom lip.
“Your toaster’s…. toast.”
Nothing like a little kitchen drama.
Don’t forget NO RULES is out today. We’re just waiting for the Google Play links and I’ll do an alert here and talk to you live right NOW on my Facebook author page! A new release is always a huge feeling of excitement tinged with hot white fear. It never gets any easier.
Love and hugs,
Greetings from a sleety and snowy Cheshire.
Grab a coffee, sit back and enjoy the first chapter of NO RULES – and isn’t the new look for the series amazing?
She looked a million dollars.
However, Chloe reckoned there was nothing worse than attending the glitzy party of the year—and wearing a fake happy face.
Nico Ferranti and his team at the five star Ludlow Hall Hotel and Spa sure knew how to throw a superb event. In this case, the engagement party for Chloe’s beloved half-sister Anastacia Morgan and her fiancé, Italian soccer star, Olivier Conti. All the guests were in high spirits and dressed to impress. The enormous Grand Ballroom with its vaulted ceiling was decorated for fun and frolics. In the center of each round table sat a complicated floral arrangement accessorized by gold and silver floating balloons. The fragrance of the waxy ivory freesia and jasmine display was incredible.
Unfortunately for Chloe the combination of the heady scent from the flowers and noise from the band had done nothing to ease her stress headache from hell. Her complicated updo hadn’t been a good idea either. Her hair—caught in a fancy clip, which glittered with glass jewels—dug like the claws into her skull.
What she wanted was a tranquil place to let her hair down, and take a painkiller washed down by a glass of cold water, in that order.
Even though she was worried sick, she’d never ruin everyone’s joy during Ana and Olivier’s Big Night.
She knew she’d only to ask the people who loved her and they would give her unconditional support, but tonight was not the time to rain on her sister’s parade.
The trouble was, she didn’t have a lot of time—four weeks to find money she didn’t have—and no matter how hard she tried, she could not come up with a solution.
Chloe was—according to her mother—bright and creative and smart.
Not that smart or she wouldn’t be hip deep in shit.
Her hands were shaking, so she clasped them over the clutch bag on her lap.
She was a good person.
She was kind and helped others.
And yet, by supposedly helping another, she’d been betrayed in the worst possible way.
Her mood plunged, teetering on the edge of what felt like a dark abyss.
Then she caught herself.
Chloe reckoned the time had come to toughen up, grow up, and stop relying on those who loved her to pick up the pieces of this hot mess.
There was no point in thinking life wasn’t fair.
She’d figure a way out, she had to.
She would fix this—once she worked out a plan.
Shame her bright and creative brain was a complete blank.
Across the table, her mother was deep in conversation with Olivier’s mother. By their excited hand movements and the way they’d put their heads together, she bet they were in the thick of preparing the wedding of the year. Chloe wondered if either had thought to speak to the prospective bride and groom, since the actual wedding date hadn’t been set. Both women might be on the wrong side of forty, but they made a sensational looking pair. Valentina Conti, dark and tall and slim, looked as if she’d just walked off the cover of Vogue Italia. And Maria Rucker, still a leggy blonde stunner, was a force of nature who lived for her family and the many good causes she supported.
Feeling as if someone was taking an axe to her head, Chloe rose from her seat.
The movement caught her mother’s attention.
Vivid blue eyes narrowed as she studied her daughter’s face. Chloe loved her mother to bits, but if she thought there was something wrong with one of her girls, the woman was like a heat seeking missile.
The last thing she needed right now was her mother on her case. A woman who, it had often been said by her father, had spooky powers when it came to sniffing out trouble. It was vital that she remain under her parent’s radar and keep a low profile, especially this evening.
Tanith, Chloe’s younger sister by twenty-two months, grabbed her wrist.
Blue, blue eyes studied her face. “You okay? You look awfully pale and you’ve been awfully quiet tonight, too. What’s the matter?”
Since Chloe’s stress headaches were infrequent but nothing new, Tanith —always a sensitive soul—nodded. “It’s the combination of noise, scented candles and flowers. Need a pain pill?”
Chloe waggled the small clutch bag in her hand. “Got some. Be back in a minute.”
Her mother caught Tanith’s eye and lifted a smooth brow in query.
Her sister mouthed, headache, in response.
And as her mother turned to resume her conversation, Chloe made good her escape.
Phew, it was a good thing that recently her mother had been distracted by organizing tonight’s party, or she’d be right on top of why her eldest daughter had not been quite herself.
Ordinarily, Chloe loved a good party.
Normally, she’d be the first on the dance floor strutting her stuff with a hot guy, or two.
And since a large male contingent of Olivier’s footballer pals and social circle were in attendance this evening, most of them stag, there were certainly plenty of hot guys to choose from.
In truth, she wasn’t even tempted because there was nothing normal happening in her life at the moment. She was in deep doo-doo. Trapped. And, she’d no idea what the hell to do about it. The last thing her family needed was a firestorm of salacious publicity at the worst possible time—Anastacia’s engagement to one of the world’s biggest soccer stars—along with her father’s long held dream, his appointment as chairman of the national soccer association.
As she made her way to the rest rooms and a few minutes of peace and quiet, Chloe again wondered how she’d been so stupid to let herself be so effectively conned?
Then the couple of the night caught her attention on the dance floor. Her heart melted because she just had to smile at the way her Ana and Olivier were hip-to-hip and forehead-to-forehead to a slow number. Bless them. They were so wonderfully in love and unafraid to show it.
As for looking for love herself, well she was way too young for romance, never mind happy ever after. Naturally, she’d kept her opinion to herself, because who the hell was she to judge another? But in truth Chloe felt Ana might be too young to settle down, too. Then again and to be fair, Ana might be young in years, but she’d overcome difficult and dark times to thrive in her life and career. Unlike Chloe who’d been shielded, until recently, from the natural storms of the world by over-protective parents. Now, she had her own tiny flat in London and she relished her freedom. Freedom was precious. However, with freedom came personal responsibility for the choices a person might make. A single bad decision and now she was snared right in the middle of one of life’s hurricanes. Hell, the very last thing she wanted was marriage, or an intimate relationship with anyone.
But then, she was so happy to have found Ana. Someone she knew she could trust, someone to confide in. Nevertheless, this happy event tonight was neither the time nor the place to spread bad news.
Anxiety tied her belly in knots, made tension tighten like a vice over her shoulders and neck, while the jab of pain in her head made her wince.
Worry nibbled relentlessly on the edge of her mind.
Then she took herself firmly in hand before a wave of self pity threatened to overwhelm her.
Hang on a minute—
Was she going to go running to mummy and daddy and her big sister for help?
Was she hell!
Life wasn’t fair.
Truth was, some people were just toxic bastards.
What it boiled down to was that she was a compassionate person.
Was it her fault those very qualities had been used against her?
So why did she feel she was in the wrong?
Maybe because she didn’t want to cause a shitstorm in the now calm sea of her parents’ lives. Her parents were good people. Salt of the earth. People who’d gone through years of heartbreak before they’d finally found and made contact with Ana. After the worry and heartache they’d been through, she refused to bring more trouble to their door.
The anger that brewed in her belly for days surfaced now.
An anger that turned hot and an anger that saved her from descending into a dark place.
How dare those sons-of-bitches spike her drink and strip her like that?
Through no fault of her own, she was a victim.
How dare they threaten to share naked pictures of her across social media, and then treat her to the silent treatment for days?
And how fucking dare they keep her in suspense like this?
Hadn’t she been brought up to deal face-on with the hard stuff life threw at a person?
Hell, hadn’t she been brought up to kick-ass and put up with no shit?
Feeling more determined, more in control, Chloe threw back her shoulders and lifted her chin. Her feet in high heels picked up speed as she headed for the exit and the reception hall beyond. She’d made her own mess and she’d damn well fix it.
Once she’d come up with a game plan…
Her anxious mind busy, Chloe slammed straight into a man-chest, rock hard, and dressed in a dark suit.
An expensive dark suit.
Strong hands clamped on Chloe’s bare shoulders to keep her steady.
The jolt of his touch rocked her system.
Her breath hitched with the shock of it.
The essence of him, male, mingled with an expensive cologne.
She took a deep breath, and his scent sank into her lungs, into her blood, and all at once he seemed familiar in a way Chloe found hard to comprehend.
Something in her mind seemed to click into place.
She swore she heard it.
The sudden, convulsive shiver that ran over her body made her frown.
“Mio dio. What part of no do you not understand?” he asked, his accent and the deep rumble of his voice seemed to vibrate down her spine.
Chloe was five seven in her bare feet, but even in heels she had to tilt her head back to stare up into cold dark eyes. “Understand?”
Not only tall, he was incredibly well built with broad strong shoulders. His inky hair was tied back from a lean face. Eyes of steel. He had a cute little dent in his chin, just like a movie star.
Her breath hitched as she simply gazed in awe at the physical perfection of male beauty.
Of course, she recognized him.
Like every other women with working ovaries, she knew the whole sorry story.
Serge Morretti, rich, gorgeous and often described as Sardinia’s hottest tourist attraction. He was the black sheep of his mighty family. An orphan who’d been brought up by a powerful uncle. And unquestionably the last man in the world she would have chosen to meet given her need to keep a very low profile.
Up close and personal, she treated herself to a thorough examination of that extraordinary face and saw things the camera missed. Things like the way his dark eyes danced. Things like he wore arrogance like a badge of honor. Then again, she supposed when Serge looked in the mirror each morning and saw that face looking back, how could he be anything but arrogant. A tabloid writer had called him a beautiful bastard, and for once the writer had not exaggerated.
The man was hot!
God, she felt hot and tingly all over.
His dark eyes narrowed as he studied the hectic flush rising from her neck and into her cheeks.
The way he stared at her like that, all intense and brooding, she wondered if he’d heard the odd little click, too.
After all, his hands still held her firmly in place.
“Please accept my apologies, beautiful girl.” Now his eyes sparkled with a sheer devilment that made her knees weak. “I presumed you were someone else.”
“Did you just call me a girl?” she snapped, to hide the weak knees.
Chloe Rucker, she reminded herself fiercely, didn’t do weak knees.
Then his gaze took a slow and very thorough study of her from blonde head, over her dress of blue silk, to her nude heels and back again.
His mouth curved and his eyes twinkled into hers in a clear appreciation that told her he more than liked what he saw. “My apologies again. Woman, of course.”
Something in his tone made her doubt he meant a word of his apology.
However, she shifted beneath his hands. “Let me go and I’ll be on my way and you can go hide from a girl.”
The pad of his thumb rubbed gently over her collarbone and she seriously wished he’d stop it because the simple movement was doing strange things to her long dormant libido. A libido that sizzled in a way that seemed to mess with the wiring in her brain.
“I am not hiding. I am keeping out of trouble.”
Then that made two of them.
“With your reputation, I’d have thought that was an impossible task,” she told him frankly.
He blinked again.
His mouth twitched.
He smelled amazing.
Shame about the man-bun.
“Ah, you have heard the Morretti board is again baying for my blood? Their displeasure is covered in all the newspapers. Worry not. Except for an… um… unexpected distraction last night, this is me being a good boy.”
“Hmm,” Chloe said, beyond tempted, but determined not to respond to the playful smile dancing in his eyes and around the edges of his firm mouth. She adored the cute dent in his chin. “If this is you being good, I’d hate to see you being bad.”
“I am so well-behaved tonight, it is killing me. Particularly right at this moment. What is your name, bella?”
Chloe knew Serge Morretti thought of women as his own walking all-he-could-grab buffet. And wasn’t it a shame she wasn’t on the menu.
Her spine adopted the rigor mortis stiffness of a corpse, even as his big body shifted to almost touch hers in a way that had her heart miss a beat.
Almost against her will, her eyes moved from his mouth to dark eyes that captured hers.
She bet her life that if the rumors were even half true, Serge Morretti was a superb lover.
Then again, he was a man who’d had plenty of practice.
Shocked by the thought of sleeping with him, she took a step back, but he refused to let her go.
A mix of irritation with him, but more with herself by the way her whole body tingled with awareness, as if electrified from her scalp to her toes, had her tilt her chin. She didn’t do body tingling either.
“My name is none of your business. I’ll leave you to it, shall I? Let’s hope last night’s unexpected distraction doesn’t find you.”
He sighed, an exclusively male sound. “I can only hope they have moved on to someone who is a better marriage bet. You did not happen notice them, did you?”
The guy had had more than one women in his bed?
She shook her head.
And had to bite down hard on her bottom lip to stop the grin at the hard-done-by look on his gorgeous face. This guy was outrageous, a real character, and funny. Except he was the last man any woman with a working brain cell would ever want to marry.
After years of hard study to attain her science degree, Chloe now embraced a heady freedom to do whatever she liked, when she liked. Plus, she had plenty of working brain cells. Plenty. “No. What do they look like?”
He thought hard for a beat, then his take-pity-on-me-puppy-dog eyes—which didn’t fool her for a single moment—met hers. “Deranged and demented?”
She had to laugh. “What are their names?”
“I am trying hard to forget.”
“You’re nothing but a man-slut,” she told him severely, her tone channelling her formidable mother.
Serge didn’t even blush. “One day, when I meet the right woman I will settle down.”
Her snort of female derision made his eyes again narrow with a male interest Chloe had seen many times before. Both her and Tanith took after their mother in looks. They were tall Nordic blondes who seemed to attract the wrong sort of attention from the type of men who regarded all blondes as air-heads. Although it had to be said that Tanith might be reluctant, but she was the official beauty of the family and she had the longest legs as well as a big brain, too. The lovely thing about her sister was she had absolutely no idea of the impact of her looks. In fact, Tanith could care less about fashion or shoes or makeup. All she cared about was writing the next chapter of her horror story. A book that would terrorize even Mr. King’s legion of hardened fans.
But then something else occurred to her.
“Wait a minute. You had sex with two women and now you’re hiding from them?”
He stared hard at her as if he’d received a huge shock.
And then his lips twitched.
“And here I thought I had heard it all,” he muttered. “It pains me to have fallen so low in your regard on such a short acquaintance. No. I did not have sex with either woman. We talked. Or I should say, they talked. A lot. A girl and her mother.”
Fascinated in spite of herself by this tall tale, Chloe blinked. “A girl and her mother?”
“Si. A young Russian girl and a woman named Countess Lucretia, who claims to be both her mother and descended from the house of Romanov.” He shrugged, looked thoughtful for a moment. “Although, I am pretty sure the girl was drunk at the time. And her mother, at the very least, is not quite right in her head.”
She opened her mouth to ask him how on earth he’d met such people, and caught the distinct twinkle in his eye.
He was spinning her line.
She bet the Countess and her daughter didn’t even exist.
Chloe raised a smooth brow. “Let me go.”
This time his smile went all lazy as his head dipped slowly towards hers.
Her breath caught because she just knew he was going to kiss her.
And the way her lips actually sizzled with anticipation, she just knew she was going to let him.
“Chloe!” A small hand clutched hers and gave it a hard tug. “Chloe! I need to go pee-pee.”
With a clear reluctance, Serge released her.
A reluctance that brought a wave of goose-bumps in the wake of the smooth glide of his hand from her bare shoulder to her wrist.
Chloe looked down to find six year old Sophia Ferranti in her best party dress, dancing a fast jig, her huge emerald eyes pleading. And since Sophia was one of Chloe’s favorite people, she didn’t hesitate to help her out.
Serge did not look at all happy at the interruption, but she reckoned it was probably just as well.
Wasn’t life strange?
She’d been saved from a bad boy’s kiss by a little girl desperate to spend a penny.
“Excuse us,” she said to an infamous man who was like catnip to the paparazzi and any woman with a pulse.
Eyes firmly focused on the way ahead, Chloe told herself she was not at all disappointed to have missed his kiss.
In fact, she reckoned she’d had a lucky escape.
And as she led the way to the rest rooms, she had no idea little Sophia looked over her shoulder to give Serge a fierce look and poked out her tongue at him for good measure.
It wasn’t until they were washing their hands in the beautifully appointed rest rooms that Sophia said, “I love your dress, Chloe. You look like a model.”
In the mirror, Chloe caught Sophia’s sparkling green eyes. “Why, thank you. I love your dress, too.”
In response, Sophia’s cheek dimple flashed like lightning. “Who was that man?”
Chloe re-applied nude lipstick to lips that still hummed with an anticipation that hadn’t been met. Meanwhile, her companion studied her every move like a little hawk. “No one important. I sort of bumped into him.”
Sophia leaned her elbows on the worktop, as if settling down for a chat with a girlfriend. “He likes you. I can tell.”
Chloe’s brows rose as she caught Sophia’s twinkling eyes in the mirror. “Can you indeed?”
The child nodded in the way of a person who knew what she was talking about.
“He’s a hand lingerer.”
Chloe blinked and turned to her. “A what?”
“It’s what my Auntie Rosie calls a man who leaves his hands on a woman for too long.”
Shaking her head at this fascinating snippet of information, Chloe studied intelligent eyes in a young head.
“Remind me, how old are you?”
Sophia’s dimple popped again. “I’m six, going on sixty.”
“More of Auntie Rosie’s wise words?”
“Is Auntie Rosie here tonight?”
Chloe held out her hand and realized her headache had miraculously disappeared. “Take me to Auntie Rosie. I can’t wait to meet her.”
“My papa says she’s a pistol.”
“I just bet she is.”
Don’t forget, you can grab NO RULES on pre-order now. It’s out next Friday!
It’s Friday and it’s Ferranti time, and time, dear readers, to grab a coffee…
Bronte’s in the car on her way home from the school pick-up. In the car with her today are, Tonio, Luca, Emily and Sophia. She’s had a good and productive day with Rosie at The Dower House where they discussed and tried ideas for new mini-muffin recipes. When the kids return home they’re in for a treat. It’s the end of a busy week, the kids are bound to be tired. All is quiet in the car, until…
“My mummy says that because I brush my teeth until they’re squeaky clean, I’m a Good Christian,” Emily said. Bronte had to smile at the child’s high and soft voice. At this, Sophia stared hard at Emily—a look which made Emily shrug. “I am a good and kind person.”
“You are,” Sophia agreed. And Bronte wished some of Emily’s goodness and kindness would rub off on her best friend. Then Sophia held up a finger. “But, you don’t wannabe a doormat. You need to find a happy medium.”
Luca frowned at his twin. “What’s a happy medium?”
“How do I know?” Sophia said. “Everyone has their own happy medium.”
Luca folded his arms. “I don’t get it.”
Sophia sent him a bland look. “Well, we can’t say you’re a Good Christian can we? Because you don’t brush. You suck the toothpaste out of the tube.”
“Ew,” Emily said.
Luca’s face burned. “I don’t do that anymore,” he roared.
“Ew,” Emily said again, and added more fuel to the fire. “Your teeth will rot and go black in your head and fall our.”
Sophia nodded, her lips pursed in deep disapproval. “No girls will kiss you with bad breath.”
“I don’t have bad breath,” Luca roared again. And to prove it he heaved a big breath over the girls. When both slapped a hand over their nose and mouth, he glared and glowered. “I do NOT!”
“Jesus Christ,” Emily said in a stage whisper filled with awe and wonder, “Can see you.”
“Now, now,” Bronte said, staging an intervention before things got physical in the back seat. “Settle down while I’m driving.” And out of the corner of her eye, she caught Tonio’s head-shake and wide grin.
“Anyway,” Sophia said. “We have our own family chapel at Ludlow Hall. So Luca can go along and kneel in the phew and talk to Jesus and God and the Lords.”
“Pew,” Tonio corrected from the front seat.
“Whatever. And do not interrupt me please, Tonio.” Sophia instructed. “Luca can go along to our chapel and chat to the Holy Ghost and confess his many sins…”
Luca’s head swung around, his dark curls bounced, his eyes flashing. “I don’t have many sins. If you want to see a wicked girl, you just look in the mirror, Sophia Ferranti…”
Undeterred, his sister continued, “… And beg for forgiveness.”
“I think it’s really cool you have your own chapel,” Emily said in her soft breathy voice as she poured oil on troubled waters.
“It is,” Sophia agreed. “We have lots of bodies buried there.”
Emily’s eyes bugged in her head. “Really?”
Sophia nodded like a wise old owl. “Yup. Lots of old bones from the Ludlow family for hundreds of years.”
“Is it spooky?” Emily wanted to know, a constellation of freckles standing out against her pale skin.
Sophia thought about it. “I dunno. It doesn’t feel spooky.”
“The chapel has lots of ghosts,” Luca said. He pressed his fist to his chest. “I feel them in here. But papa said they’re friendly ghosts because they’re our family and they love us.”
Aw, Bronte smiled at that. How sweet was her husband?
Meanwhile, Emily’s eyes were like saucers. “Like Caspar? He’s a friendly ghost.”
Sophia made a snort of derision.
“Luca Ferranti, you’ve never seen a ghost, ever. If you did, you’d scream like a girl.”
“Would not!” her twin roared.
“Okay! That’s enough. I’m driving,” Bronte reminded the twins.
“Yeah, you don’t want mama to crash the car and then we die and end up ghosts, do we?” Luca hissed to the sister from hell.
A sister who made a horrible face and hissed right back, “Stoooooopid… boy!”
All was quiet.
Silence reigned supreme—until…
Bronte brought the car to a halt on the gravel driveway at the rear of The Dower House.
She turned to beam a lovely smile on her children.
“Here we are! Home safe and sound. Hands up who wants a hot chocolate with marshmallows?
Four hands shot into the air.
Bribed with sugar, it worked to keep the peace every single time.
The kids gathered their backpacks from the trunk and barrelled into house.
“Hey.” Rosie grabbed them in a group hug. “How are my favourite people in the whole wide world?”
Hanging up her lightweight duck down jacket and toeing off her sheepskin ankle boots, Bronte flashed her a wink. “They’re all going to take off their shoes and wash their hands, like Good Christians.”
As they trooped out the door and up the stairs, the twins still bickering, Rosie turned to Bronte. “What’s all that about?”
Bronte, organising ingredients for the promised hot chocolate took her time to respond,
“Do you find Ludlow Chapel spooky?”
Rosie blinked. “Ah, place of worship. Good Christian. Spooky—gotcha.” She thought about it. “It has a certain vibe, a sort of frisson in the atmosphere. But lots of really old places have that.”
At the huge stainless steel stove, Bronte held a wooden spoon and slowly stirred the milk, added coco powder.
“I go to the Chapel on birthdays and talk to mum and dad. I light the beeswax candles and stare at the candle light and let my mind go free. I swear I can feel them sitting right next to me.”
Rosie’s brown eyes filled and she moved around the granite worktop to give her best friend a big hug. “They’d have got a such a kick out of your brood. I miss them, too.”
“I believe they’re always with us.”
“Anything’s possible,” Rosie said.
The sound of footsteps on the stairs had Bronte shake her head and laugh. “All this talk of ghosts and family bones buried in the chapel has made me sentimental.”
“And here come the starving hoard,” Rosie said as the kids gathered around the table and eyed a large covered plate. She caught the pushey-shovey going on between the twins. “If you all sit quietly, you’ll receive your just reward. No fighting, please, Sophia and Luca.” Then, like a magician, she removed the plate cover and grinned at the collective ooh’s and ahh’s. “We have dark chocolate, milk chocolate, white chocolate, and… chocolate.”
Bronte laid a laden tray of white porcelain mugs filled to the brim with mini-marshmallows. “And here’s hot chocolate to go with all that chocolate.”
Emily beamed as she scooped up the sweet treat with her spoon. “This is the best muffin I’ve ever tasted. Thank you, Bronte.”
“You’re most welcome, Emily.”
“At breakfast this morning, papa was so tired,” Tonio told the room at large, “he yawned so wide his jaw cracked.”
Emily turned to him and her look of utter love and devotion made Bronte and Rosie look at each other and go, Aww.
“Coffee,” Emily said, her blue eyes twinkling. “He needed coffee. My daddy says a yawn is a silent scream for—coffee.”
When everyone laughed, a thrilled Emily turned to Bronte and Rosie.
“Wanna hear a joke?”
Rosie bit down hard on her bottom lip and nodded. “Hit me with it, Em.”
The little girl stared right into Rosie’s eyes and said, “Decaf.”
Once the laughter had died down, Bronte ran a hand over Emily’s red curls.
“You’re coming out of your shell, darling.”
Emily nodded. “My mummy said it’s because Sophia’s a good influence.”
Her mouth edged with chocolate, Sophia nodded and accepted the accolade as if it was her right. “I’m Italian.”
Like Bronte, I’m having a really productive week, writing wise.
I’m on a roll and working on the next Ludlow Hall story – Gregorio Ancelotti and the woman who only wants him for his body and refuses to commit. Guess who wins?
Plus, I’m more than half way through the first draft of Our Rules, and it’s clicking along at a pace, too. AND I’m working on a couple of Big Projects in the background.
Don’t forget No Rules is available on pre-order.
The story goes live everywhere next Friday – 26th January.
It’s when a story’s about to go live that the nerves kick in, a bit like stage-fright. Doesn’t matter how many books I write the anxiety never ends.
You guys make it all worthwhile!