Desert Orchid, Chapter Twelve…




Copyright © C C MacKenzie 2014


Chapter Twelve

Charisse awoke in a sunny bedroom.

She smelled antiseptic and flowers.

All was quiet.

She had a cannula in her left arm.

Her other hand was held by Khalid’s. His dark head rested on her bed. He was sound asleep. Deep lines of exhaustion ran down each side of his beautiful mouth.

A young woman wearing a nurses’ uniform popped her head in the door and padded to her bedside.

She smiled at Charisse. “Would you like to suck on ice?”

Charisse nodded as Khalid’s head jerked up.

His dark eyes flew to hers. “Hey, honey. How’re you feeling?”

The nurse slipped a sliver of ice in her mouth and the liquid melted in her parched throat. She gave her another as Charisse became aware of a dull ache near her left hip.

“What–?” she croaked.

“What happened?” Khalid finished the question for her, and she gave a nod. “You were shot.” His eyes stayed on hers as a black brow rose. “And when you’re feeling better, we are going to have a little chat about your late night jaunts into the desert.”

“Diablo?” she whispered.

She read the grief and sad truth in his eyes.

His fingers squeezed hers. Her mouth trembled. Asim had given her Diablo as a colt. She’d even helped to train him. Her eyes closed tight as the pain of yet another loss battered her heart.

Then her eyes flew open.

“The dogs?”

Hot tears ran from her eyes, into her hairline, to seep into her pillow.

“They are fine,” Khalid said, his voice brusque.

Her eyes met his and she read the fury.

Who could blame him?

She’d left the palace without his permission.

By now he knew about her meeting with Sheik Abbas, about Omar, and he’d want to know exactly why she hadn’t told him. It now hit Charisse hard that she’d behaved very badly. In fact, by leaving the palace without proper protection she’d been incredibly stupid. On the day of their marriage Khalid would become the ruler of Onuur. She hadn’t given him his place, or the proper respect.

The ache in her side reminded her of why she was here. Pushing down the blanket, she lifted her hospital gown to investigate the wound. And winced when she saw a livid bruise the size of a man’s fist glowing red and angry under a white dressing taped to her side.

“A little nick,” Khalid told her in a drawl that did nothing to hide his annoyance.

Her face burned as his hand reached over to slide her gown over the wound and pull up the sheet.

She opened her mouth, but before she said a word, a doctor entered.

As the medic gently examined her wound, Charisse expected Khalid to leave the room, but he didn’t budge. The doctor made it clear she’d had a lucky escape. She was expected to make a full and quick recovery.

But when the nurse turned her over to lie partially on her tummy, Charisse’s face burned. The soft moan that escaped from her throat was not just of pain, but of mortification, too.

Oh no.

Khalid’s shocked inhale of breath made her bite down hard on her bottom lip.

He’d be horrified and appalled. Any normal man would be by the livid scars that marred the flesh of her lower back, her buttocks.

The nurse returned her to rest on her back, and Charisse closed her eyes. She couldn’t look at the nurse, or the doctor. And certainly not at Khalid who now held her hand as if he’d never let it go.

The sound of the door closing had her open her eyes to find they were alone.

“Look at me.” His tone informed her it was an order, not a request.

Heart pounding in her chest, she did as she was told.

Dark eyes burned into hers with an intensity that made her lick her dry lips.

Her eyes stung.

“Did my uncle do that to… ?”

Horrified he should even consider such a thing, she shook her head.

“No,” she whispered.

Those eyes never left hers. “Your father? Don’t look so surprised. I’ve been hearing plenty about that son-of-a-bitch.” Now he took her hand to his mouth and pressed a gentle kiss on her fingers. “Why on earth didn’t you tell me what had happened to you?”

Not prepared to go there with him, not yet, she shook her head.

Another fat tear escaped and ran into her hairline.

He pressed another kiss to her fingertips.

“Okay. You need to sleep. But, Charisse, we have a lot to talk about.”

And she looked forward to that conversation with nothing but dread.

Ten days later, Charisse lay on a fat cushioned daybed made of white wicker.

The bed was set in the shade of a tree in the stunning rose garden of the royal palace in Dhuma.

She was dressed in a light kimono of silk the colour of fresh butter and buttoned to the neck, fitted matching pants, and gold ballet slippers. With drowsy eyes she watched honey bees buzz lazily from flower to flower. The air, warm and scented, was having a soporific affect on her senses, leaving her more relaxed than she had been for months.

Arabella was now seconded to Prince Sarif’s personal staff. And she was co-ordinating the search for Omar. The man had disappeared. The theory was that someone was hiding him. And Khalid feared a conspiracy.

Sheik Abbas had arrived to see for himself that Charisse was in fact alive and gaining strength by the day. He’d offered his support to help root out the source of growing dissent against Khalid in Onuur. Sheik Abbas had also managed to receive an undertaking from the King Abdullah and his sons that once Omar was found, he would be handed over to him to receive a just punishment for his crimes. For once Khalid and Charisse were in agreement, perfectly happy to let the tribes deal with the man.

There had been a tricky moment when Khalid had made it crystal clear to the Sheik that his future wife would no longer be meeting him in the middle of the night in the desert. Things had been tense between two proud men before they’d come to an understanding, as Arabella called it.

The stitches in Charisse’s wound had been removed.

And although still in a little discomfort, she was healing very nicely and had cut back on painkillers. The doctors were more than happy with her progress.

Arrangements for her delayed wedding to Khalid were also well underway.

They were to be married in a low-key ceremony in two days at the royal palace in Dhuma, followed by two weeks alone at Sarif’s ocean-front hideaway.

Khalid still hadn’t had his little talk with Charisse. And her nerves were in shreds every time she thought about digging up a past she preferred to keep buried nice and deep in her psyche. She believed in living in the moment and thinking about the next day, not time travelling into the past or the future.

Now she turned to the woman who was making herself comfortable in the chair next to her.

Queen Janaan was slim and tall. Dressed in a sheath of navy blue silk, she was a stunning brunette with delicate features and an amazing bone structure that she’d handed down to her sons. Although in her late fifties, she looked a decade younger. Her smooth skin was unlined. Now Janaan poured mint tea into a fragile cup and handed it to her.

Charisse smiled. “Thank you.”

Over the past days she’d found Khalid’s mother to be a lovely, warm woman. A woman who cared deeply for her family and her country. Her name before she’d taken the honorary name of Janaan, which meant the soul of the people, had been Catherine.

Pale grey eyes, just like her son’s, twinkled now as she smiled.

“You’re welcome,” she responded, her voice friendly with a lovely soft Texan drawl that always made Charisse smile. “Charisse is a special name. Did you know it means beauty, grace and kindness? It suits you.”

The beautiful woman wrinkled her nose and shook her head, which made Janaan’s eyes dance. “You don’t like compliments?”

A quizzical look entered those grey eyes when Charisse puffed out her cheeks, deciding that was a no-win question.

“I’ve never found my appearance to be a blessing, Highness. More of a curse.” And that was putting it mildly.

Janaan’s eyes went cool. “What happened to you after your mother died was the work of a monster, not a man.”

Refusing to let the sly slide of fear take root in her stomach, Charisse gave a jerky shrug of a narrow shoulder.

“It is what it is, Highness.”

Charisse didn’t want to be rude, but neither did she want to talk about her past. God knew she’d done enough of that with the psychologists Amir had insisted she’d talked to. As far as Charisse was concerned she was all talked out. She accepted that nothing that had happened to her had been her fault. That she’d done nothing to provoke her father’s behaviour towards her. That she could have done nothing to stop her mother taking her own life. She’d accepted all of it, and more.

“When it is just the two of us talking like this, please call me Janaan. Highness becomes  a little wearing after a while, don’t you agree?”

Charisse grinned in response to the twinkle dancing in the Queen’s eyes.

Now Janaan’s eyes went wide. “I can see why Khalid is madly in love with you,” she said.

Sincerely shocked, Charisse simply stared. “He doesn’t know me. It’s only been weeks since we met.” Alarm and something like excitement skittered up her spine. “Surely you are mistaken?”

Janaan’s dark brows winged into her hairline. “I know my son. He understands women very well.” Now her lips thinned in annoyed disapproval. “Of course, he’s had plenty of practice… of a certain type… You, I imagine, are a unique experience for him.”

Charisse still felt the after effects of a general anaesthetic, a sluggish thought process. But her pulse kicked as the words sank into her brain.

“I am not altogether sure I want to be a unique experience for him. There’s nothing special about me.”

Janaan blinked.

Then her grey eyes went sharp and cool in a way that made Charisse wonder what on earth she’d said to offend her.

“You do not strike me as a stupid woman, Charisse,” she said briskly.

The verbal slap on the wrist was a shock.

Stung, Charisse lifted her chin.

“I’m not. However, neither am I delusional. Khalid craves excitement. He craves the next thrill. I’ve never known a man who jumps from one thing to another. He finishes nothing, except his paintings.” With relief she saw Janaan relax and the warmth return to her grey eyes. Khalid’s mother, she realised, was no pushover. “He will soon tire of me,” Charisse added, believing every word.

Janaan shook her head.

“You have much to learn about men. However, I won’t interfere.” She smiled, took a sip of her tea. “It will be interesting to see how he copes with his feelings.”

Charisse frowned as she took a sip of her own tea.

Didn’t Janaan understand how damaged her youngest son was?

Placing her cup and saucer on the table between them, Charisse gazed at the older woman.

“Do you have any idea how greatly he suffers? That he never sleeps? He paints all day and all night.”

Colour drained from Janaan’s smooth skin, leaving her too pale. Her slim hands fisted on her lap, and Charisse’s stomach clutched. Wondering if she was doing the right thing by talking to Khalid’s mother about him, she swung her legs down and moved carefully to sit next to her. She took the queen’s hand before continuing,

“He never speaks of the accident that killed my sister and his. If I try to broach the subject of his past, he closes himself off. I believe he carries the burden of guilt. And it is a heavy burden too hard to bear. It may destroy him.”

Janaan stared at Charisse in fear. A fear which turned to confusion and upset.

The queen rose, and began to pace back and forth.

She stopped and turned to look down at her future daughter-in-law.

The grey eyes were stormy now as they clashed with hers.

“None of us blame him. The powerboat came out of nowhere and shot cross their path. There was nothing, nothing, Khalid could have done to avoid the collision…” The horror of that day poured into her mind. She placed a hand over her mouth, eyes huge and filled to the brim with swimming emotions. “Dear God, I know he’s always held himself responsible, but I had no idea he…” She blinked back tears and sank to the edge of the couch. Her eyes were fixed on Charisse. “After the accident, we were so devastated to lose Jamila. And we feared we were going to lose Khalid, too. He was in a coma for many days. He recovered physically. But psychologically he has remained closed off to us. I have tried to reach him…

“And I know Sarif has fought a battle to bring him back to us, but his attempts have led to nothing but arguments and made Khalid distance himself even further from his family, and his country.”

The whole family, Charisse realised now, had never come to terms with the loss of a beloved daughter and sister.

Something that had struck her quite forcibly when she’d arrived at the beautiful palace in Dhuma now entered her mind. “I notice there are no photographs of Jamila.”

Janaan flinched, as if from a hard slap. Charisse was famous for her tact and diplomacy. Now she wondered where the hell it had gone.

“I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to…” Horrified to have hurt a woman who’d been nothing but kind to her, she closed her eyes. “I have a big mouth…”

“No. No, child.” Janaan lifted her purse of soft leather, plucked a tissue and dabbed her eyes. “You are quite right. There are no photographs of Jamila in the main reception areas. We’ve been selfish enough to keep her to ourselves in our private apartments. Please, Charisse, do not look so stricken. You have not offended me.”

After an endless moment, during which Charisse silently berated herself for her crass stupidity and insensitivity, Janaan blew her nose heroically.

Their eyes locked as the queen shook her head.

“You were far too young to be married to Amir. If only I’d known about it. I’d have kept you with me. Amir was old enough to be your grandfather. And grandfather’s, Charisse, do not make love to their granddaughters,” Janaan said in a tightly disapproving voice.

Baffled, Charisse blinked.

Then her mouth made an O shape in shock.

Heat burned up her neck, into her face, and she shook her head.

Her voice was no more than a whisper, “Oh no. No. Our relationship was not a physical one.”

With dismay growing by the moment, she read the patent disbelief in Janaan’s sharp gaze.

When, Charisse wondered, would she learn to shut her mouth?

However, there was no way she would permit the queen to make wrong assumptions, or blame Amir, a man who had treated her like a daughter, for something he had not done.

With her heart hammering in her throat, Charisse realised that nothing but the truth would do. It didn’t matter that just thinking about the circumstances that had brought her to Amir made her body tremble, or that a cold sweat trickled down her back. For years she’d blamed herself, her looks, for what had happened. Until Amir had brought in two therapists who specialised in helping victims of child abuse to help her understand, and to finally accept, that her father’s behaviour was not her responsibility.

But she couldn’t seem to help the sense of shame – a shame that went too deep in her psyche – for the fact that her own flesh and blood had used his fists, and worse, on a vulnerable, defenceless, child. A child who had already lost so much. Mortification incinerated her flesh from her toes to her scalp as Charisse bowed her head to fix her swimming gaze on the white knuckles of hands clenched too tightly in her lap.

Her voice was no more than a hoarse whisper, “My mother didn’t have an easy or happy time of it in her marriage. My father was too controlling and demanding, obsessed with Mia, and not in a healthy way. Looking back, I think that was why my mother fought for my sister and I to attend boarding school in England. After Mia and my mother died, my father, I think, became unhinged. At least that’s what Amir believed. My father tried to have…” Her whole body gave a convulsive shudder as she gave Janaan the edited version of events. “Intimate relations with me… I fought him… but he is big and strong and I couldn’t… in the end he couldn’t maintain an… he wasn’t able to do it. So he used his fists, his feet, and a riding crop to beat me until I bled.

“By the time I came to Amir I was ill, and emotionally traumatised. For six months I couldn’t utter a word. Amir looked after me, cared for me, educated me, and loved me as a father should love a daughter. He never once looked upon me as a sexual object of desire. I owe him my life.”

“Bastard!” The way Janaan snarled the world viciously, brought Charisse’s head up. Their eyes met and she read nothing but fury, along with an unstinting support, which lightened the heavy load Charisse carried deep within her heart. “I am referring to your father, child. Amir kept you in seclusion?”

“Yes. To protect me. But it was my choice, too.”

Janaan narrowed her eyes. Her soft mouth went tight.

“And you always wear the veil?”

Charisse felt tension built across her shoulders at the implied criticism. “Yes, when I leave the palace. My husband requested that I comply with tradition.”

“Forgive me, but I am confused. For a woman who complies with tradition, what on earth were you doing riding out in the middle of the night to meet a Sheik in the desert?”

It was a very good question.

And now Charisse wondered how she was going to explain the complex working relationship she’d had with her late husband.

“Amir was a unique mix of the old world meeting the new. I might be a woman, but he only saw my intellectual capabilities and skills, not my gender. He regarded me as the right person for the job. Because my only agenda was to represent him and do what was best for the people, he trusted me implicitly to be his voice during government meetings. And, yes, he did permit me to meet with the most powerful man after the king in our country. He also expected me to be modest at all times and to wear traditional dress and to behave in a certain way. I did not and do not have a problem with his beliefs.”

“I find the idea of me standing in for Abdullah in meetings simply… fascinating. As far as clothing is concerned, you might find, my dear, that Khalid believes differently. Although, as my son, he respects a woman’s right to choose.” She paused, thought hard for a long moment. “And so your father wants you dead.” The remark was a statement rather than a question.

Charisse shrugged. “If he is the one who has put a price on my head. And we must remember that we do not have proof. If it is, then he fears losing everything he has worked for if the truth comes out.”

Even though she’d expected to have this conversation with Khalid, Charisse had found it a huge release, even cathartic, to talk about her past and the present situation with Janaan. And she found it easy to tell her nothing but the truth.

“The more powerful my father became, the more Amir believed he would harm me. And that, I think, is why Amir thought of Khalid as my husband. He spoke to King Abdullah of his plan.”

Janaan lifted a perfect eyebrow and nodded very slowly.

“And my husband, as I discovered very long ago, is perfectly capable of keeping secrets.” She gave a twisted smile, and patted Charisse’s cold hand. “Don’t look so anxious. You are not telling tales. This is typical behaviour of an El Haribe male. The little women are to be protected at all costs while the big strong men keep them safe.”

With a decided gleam in her grey eyes, she lifted a little silver bell and rang it once.

A servant, clad in the livery of the royal household, materialised and bowed deeply.

“Champagne on ice. And a platter of fresh fruit,” the queen ordered in an unexpected slow Texan drawl that had Charisse biting down hard on her bottom lip.

Trying hard not to laugh at how much the queen resembled Khalid when she was in the mood to be naughty, Charisse grinned into grey eyes brimming with sheer wickedness.

“Are we celebrating?”

“You betcha, honey!” Janaan sat back on the couch. Crossing long legs, she folded her arms and stared into the distance, apparently deep in thought.

After a timeless moment, Charisse placed her elbow on the arm of the couch, rested her chin on her hand, and decided to nudge the conversation along.

“Want to give me a clue what we’re celebrating, Janaan?”

The queen simply held up a finger as a silver platter of sliced mango and a variety of berries was placed on the table. Tall glasses of delicate crystal were filled with liquid bubbles that sparkled and fizzed. A heavy ice bucket of solid silver was placed on the table and held an open bottle of the best champagne.

Once the servants had bowed and left, Janaan handed a glass to Charisse and picked up her own. She clinked their glasses together and announced gaily, “To us! Never let the bastards get you down.” She took a sip, then their glasses clinked musically again. “Don’t get angry, get even.” Another sip and another musical clink. “And welcome to the family, honey.”

Charisse rarely drank alcohol.

She didn’t have the head for it.

Then she decided, what the hell, it would be churlish of her to refuse.

So she took a long sip. It was fruity and gorgeously pleasant. So she took another.

Janaan sat back, again deep in thought.

Watching her, her future daughter-in-law realised there was a tough cookie under Janaan’s fragile, polished exterior.

Silence reigned until the first glass was empty and refilled.

Then Janaan made a low, “Hmm,” sound under her breath.

Charisse wondered what on earth was coming next.

She didn’t have long to wait.

“Khalid cares deeply for you. He is madly in love. He is worried about you. Very worried. And that is a very, very, good thing,” Janaan drawled, sounding as if she was back in Texas.

Bewildered, but having the time of her life, Charisse gave her big eyes.

“Why is the fact he is worried about me a good thing?”

“Because if he’s worried about you, it means he is not brooding. It means he’s not in one of his black moods.” Janaan’s eyes slid to hers. “You’d better prepare yourself for those. I’ve often wondered if we should have insisted that Khalid have counselling after the accident. But he refused to entertain the idea. My son is very stubborn. You do realize he’ll blame himself for everything that has happened to you.”

Annoyed, Charisse took another sip of her wine. “That’s ridiculous. How is he responsible for my father’s behaviour?”

“Cause and effect. He’ll see the death of Mia, which he firmly believes is his fault, as the catalyst that killed your mother, tipped your father over the edge, and made him abuse you. Then there’s the fact you were shot on his watch. Since his bodyguard is in the frame, he’ll quite happily take the blame for that, too. And then there’s the orchestrated unrest in Onuur, which he’ll worry over like a dog with a bone. All the while holding himself responsible. Do you see where I’m going with this?”

Tiny wings of anxiety fluttered at her throat as Charisse did indeed see where Janaan was going.

“If you’re correct, then there is no logic to his thinking. He’ll put himself under immense pressure.”

The queen considered the remarks as they sipped their wine.

“Logic has nothing to do with Khalid’s thinking, or his behaviour. When he’s in a funk you’ll need to learn how to distract him.” Grey eyes studied her over the rim of her glass and Charisse felt the need to squirm under a direct gaze that reminded her so much of Khalid.

“You are a virgin?”

Charisse inhaled wine and choked.

Janaan handed her a tissue.

Once she’d caught her breath, her eyes flew to Khalid’s mother who’d cocked her head to watch her carefully. Since the truth was burning her cheekbones, what on earth was the point of lying? Taking a deep breath as if she was about to dive into the deep end of her swimming pool, she met eyes that missed nothing.

“Khalid made love to me shortly after we met.”

The delighted peal of laughter from Khalid’s mother was the last thing she’d been expecting. Janaan shook her head. Torn between mortification and the thrill of being able to talk about such things with another woman, Charisse couldn’t help but grin in return.

Thank goodness the woman didn’t think she was a slut.

“That’s my boy! He never hangs around when he wants something. I’ve heard all about Khalid’s sexual prowess.”

“Really, mother?” a deep voice drawled from behind them.

Copyright © C C MacKenzie 2014


Chapter Thirteen tomorrow… and Khalid takes things into his own hands…..

Christine X

Who wants to read a chapter a day – right here – from beginning to end of Desert Orchid?






Hello, my darlings.

Isn’t the new cover gorgeous? My editorial and branding team and I are working hard on the second book of the Desert Princes duet, DESERT CAPTIVE. It’s taken too long to get all my ducks in a row with this project, but now we’re ready to move forward. Before DESERT CAPTIVE is available on pre-order, we decided to let you guys read DESERT ORCHID on the blog. Please note steamy scenes will not be shared on this open platform. To do that, I’d need to hide the blog behind an 18+ firewall, and I’m not prepared to do that. I’ve added DESERT ORCHID buy links for those who want to grab it. It’s on a $2.99 deal as I write.

So, grab a coffee, sit back and enjoy!



Copyright © C C MacKenzie 2014


Think ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’ meets ‘Taken’.

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?


Chapter One

Blood is thicker than water – John Ray.

Water is thicker than blood – Queen Charisse El Haribe.


Prince Sarif El Haribe, arriving at Connaught Square in the wintry twilight, was informed at the door that His Royal Highness was immersed in his art and could not be disturbed. He received this news from his brother’s close protection officer without comment, but as the butler helped him take off his heavy cashmere overcoat, he eyed the mountain of a man who stood before him and inquired in an unemotional voice, “I feel quite certain that message does not apply to me, don’t you?” The bitter cold of a London winter made his deep voice no more than a growl.

Immaculate in a black suit, white shirt and black tie, Omar snapped to attention. He resembled a bulldog. And had a shaved flat head along with a face that bore the marks of a pugilist. Trained never to show emotion, a muscle jerking in Omar’s wide jaw was the only outward sign that Sarif’s unexpected arrival caused dismay. Perhaps it was the small bird like eyes but something about the man always made Sarif uneasy and looking at him now that feeling returned times ten.

Omar gave a jerky bow from the neck, turned and ran up the wide marble staircase. For a big man, he was pretty nimble footed.

Sarif couldn’t say he was looking forward to the meeting with his younger sibling. He should be in his own country, Quaram, dealing with his own issues rather than bringing a wild and out of control puppy to heel. It had been a while, months, since he’d seen his brother and their last conversation had not been a happy one.

Strolling into an airy room that on a good day would be an opulent drawing room, he studied the evidence of a sybaritic lifestyle. His eyes narrowing in distaste on a couple of empty champagne bottles. Khalid certainly enjoyed the high life. And the British and European tabloids were happy to document every single second of his partying and womanising.

The toe of Sarif’s polished shoe, hand-crafted in Italy, nudged an absurd fragment of acid pink silk, a thong. A matching padded bra hung on a table lampshade made of the finest silk. Knowing his brother, he’d probably paid for the impressive breasts that filled the bra, too. Then he studied another bra tossed on a low sofa, black silk this time, and revulsion fanned the flame of disgust deep in his belly.

In many ways it was unfortunate that his brother had been blessed with the face of a pagan god and the body of a top athlete. Which just went to show that looks were deceptive, since Khalid wouldn’t know one end of a gym from the other. Considering the amount of booze he put away, how he’d kept his looks was nothing short of a miracle. According to their American mother, he and Khalid had been blessed with good genes, which accounted for the height, the broad shoulders, and the raw bone structure of their faces. Faces, if his mother was to be believed, that came from an Apache Indian in the eighteenth century. Something she never failed to mention whenever she got the chance.

A soft knock at the door and Omar entered, bowed his head.

“My Lord, His Highness will be but a moment.” The high voice didn’t quite fit with the physical picture Omar presented to the world. Idly, Sarif wondered if that was why he found the man utterly repulsive? The bodyguard kept his head bowed.

“How many?” Sarif wanted to know.

Standing on a plush Persian carpet Omar kept his eyes glued to his shiny shoes.

“Two, my Lord.”

Beady eyes, black as jet, flicked to his and Sarif’s unremitting stare had the man swallow audibly.

Sarif kept his voice silky soft as a flick of his wrist indicated the discarded clothes, “Return these items to the, er…ladies.”

Omar scrambled around the room picking up underwear, scraps of fabric purporting to be dresses, along with two pairs of killer heels, before bowing as he backed out of the room.

The double doors closed behind him with a soft click.

Sarif moved to the bar, poured himself a soft drink in a heavy glass of Edinburgh crystal and a very large brandy for his brother. He would need it after he broke the news. All good things must come to an end. And he wondered how Khalid would take it, no more parties, no more whoring, and no more freedom.

The doors opened and he turned just as a voice hoarse from sleep demanded,

“You can’t just waltz into my home without notice, Sarif. What the hell do you want?”

The slow Texan drawl reminded Sarif forcibly of their American mother. Sipping his drink, he turned and met Prince Khalid El Haribe’s grey eyes with a bland stare. Studying his younger brother over the rim of the crystal glass, Sarif’s eyes narrowed now both at the insolent tone and the appalling decline in his brother’s physical condition. The last six months had not been good to him.

Khalid flushed under his scrutiny.

His eyes were bloodshot and underlined with dark circles. Deep lines of dissipation ran down either side of his mouth. Black hair, damp with sweat, curled over his ears, brushing his shoulders. The hair cried out for a cut and the gaunt face required a shave. Khalid wore soft denim jeans, which were white at the knees and seams and sat too loose on his narrow hips.

There were times when deep brotherly affection battled through anger and a desperate sadness that their relationship had deteriorated to the point where they barely tolerated each other these days, and this was one of those times. God, Khalid had lost too much weight, his stomach was concave and he could see his ribs. Loathing the feeling of utter helplessness, Sarif finished his drink and turned to place the glass on the bar to hide the swift shaft of anxiety that fisted in his gut.

He took a breath and turned back to find his brother tugging a tatty black T-shirt over his head, which told the world ‘Elvis Had Left The Building.’

Khalid ran a shaky hand through his hair.

Since he hadn’t been invited to sit, Sarif made himself comfortable on a plush couch of ivory silk. And decided that his brother’s manners were absolutely deplorable.

“If you spoke to me like that in my kingdom you would lose your tongue, little brother,” he reprimanded in a voice as soft as silk.

Heat rose over Khalid’s high cheekbones as he gave him an ‘Aw, shucks,’ grimace.

“Sorry, had a bit too much bubbly tonight.” He gave a jerky shrug. “You know how it is.”

“I know how it is with you,” Sarif drawled, then held up a hand as his brother’s eyes flashed with a temper that was always too near the surface. “Trust me, I’ve better things to do than to interrupt your busy evening. However, I’ve brought news. Sad news, from home.”

Alarm flared in Khalid’s grey eyes. And Sarif was very pleased to see it. Perhaps there was hope for his brother after all.

“Father? Mother?”

“No. They are well.” Sarif paused as the butler entered carrying an ornate gold tray holding tiny cups of aromatic thick black coffee and refreshments. He waited until they were served and the door closed before he continued, “Our uncle, King Asim of Onuur, died this morning. He was sixty-five. A heart attack.”

Khalid blinked, shrugged once and then helped himself to a coffee and sweetmeat.

Waiting for a response that wasn’t forthcoming, Sarif ordered himself to be patient.

“Do you remember him?” he wanted to know.

Khalid frowned and yawned hugely. “I met him years ago, before he fell out with papa. Into ancient history, that sort of thing. He was an eccentric, wasn’t he?”

“That might account for it,” Sarif muttered, his eyes narrowing again as they remained on his brother.

“Account for what?”

“Naming you as his heir, amongst other things.” Again he paused, and this time his smile didn’t reach his eyes, as he watched the blood drain from Khalid’s face. He continued, “Onuur is tiny, but wealthy, with plenty of natural resources that for some reason Asim was reluctant to mine. Something to do with the destruction of the natural flora and fauna, along with temples dating back to a time before Christ. Temples that are now protected as a world heritage site. It’s probably too much to expect from you, but if you’ve been following world events, you’d know that our uncle’s death could not have occurred at a worse time. Under the guise of freedom and democracy covetous eyes are watching and waiting to get their sticky fingers on that wealth. Father is in agreement that the strategic advantage of having an El Haribe Prince ruling the Kingdom ensures political stability for the people and the region.”

Khalid blinked twice.

“Is this some kind of sick joke?”

If only it was.

“The King is delighted,” Sarif told him. “I’ve been instructed to bring his prodigal son home. Tonight.”

His brother shook his head, even as those bloodshot grey eyes met his. Eyes that were filled to the brim with anxiety and something that looked like fear.

“I’m not King material, Sarif.”

Sarif nodded.

Too true.

“Apparently, our late uncle didn’t agree.” Watching Khalid very carefully, he took another sip of coffee and delivered the killer blow. “Oh, and you’re to marry his widow, Her Royal Highness, Queen Charisse. The time has come for you to pack away your paint box and sober up.”

End of Chapter 1

Chapter 2 is coming tomorrow and chapter 3 the following day until the end of the story.

Big hugs,

Christine X

Desert Orchid is available at:



A wake-up call – it’s the Ludlow Hall sneak peek…..


Hello, my darlings!

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.

Bronte’s exhausted.

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.

“Who’s hurt?”

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,

Christine X

It’s the Ludlow Hall Christmas Sneak Peek…




The Dower House…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

Nico rose to his feet with Eve on his hip.

Alexander stood. “Coming, dear.”

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

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



Three hours later…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Si.” Nico said without a blink.

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

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

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

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

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

Alexander blinked. “Bells?”

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

“I love you, too,” she whispered.

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

“Merry Christmas,” he whispered back.


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

The Sneak Peeks will return in 2018!

Christine X





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


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

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

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

Sophia shook her head. “Nope.”

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

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

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

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

Nico bit his lip and sent his wife big eyes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Si. We were kissing her arm better.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hmm. It tastes sort of… nice.”

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

Tonio scowled. “I am not doing it.”

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

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

“Batman!” she said.

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

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

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

The boy’s face went bright red.

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

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

“BATMAN!” roared Eve.



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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emily turned back to the movie. “Never.”

Meanwhile, Bronte and Grace had overheard the entire exchange.

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

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

“What do you expect? He’s Italian!”




Aww, poor Emily and poor Sophia.


Until next time,

Christine X





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



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.




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.)


Christine X

Anyone for another slice of Ludlow life?





Happy Monday, my lovelies,

Time for another slice of life with the Ferranti fam-lee!

*Nico and the boyss are chilling at The Dower House babysitting baby Eve, while Bronte and Sophia and Auntie Rosie are having a ‘girly’ day*

“So.” Nico rubs his hands and gives Tonio wide eyes. “Soccer or rugby, what’s your poison?”

“Soccer,” Tonio yells and dashes to the closet, pulls out a couple of throws, races back and smoothes them over the new couch covered in a totally impractical velvet the color of pale lilac. And Bronte’s pride and joy.

Nico shoots him two finger pistols. “Good thinking, Batman. Now remember, no soda for Luca and no chocolate ice-cream. Mama left us snacks in the fridge. We’re responsible for the baby so we cannot have the TV too loud or we won’t hear the monitor when she wakes.”

“You should be Batman, papa. I’m Robin,” Tonio says with a logic his papa can get right behind.

Nico grins. “Si, and we will use paper plates and paper cups. Less mess. Sorted.”

*In short order, they organize their favorite space. Tonio lifts the remote, clicks the sports channel. They settle down, making sure their bare feet are not on the table. Nico never again wants to go through what happened last time when Bronte blow torched his ear. Luca pads into the room in bare feet wearing below the knee navy shorts and a white T-shirt proclaiming the words ‘I’m Italian, which means My Family Is Temperamental. Half Temper. Half Mental’. His right fist holds his blankie (a sure sign he’s tired), while his left hand tugs his ear (another sign he’s tired). Nico pats the couch, but instead of sitting next to his papa, Luca stops in front of him, eyeball to eyeball*

“Eve’s pooped in her diaper.”

*Five simple words that brings an icy fist to his papa’s heart, and a clutch of dread to his papa’s belly*

Nico blinks, remembers with a shudder the heavy diaper his daughter had filled not twenty minutes ago. “But, mama changed her just before she left. How can this happen?”

“She had a vaccination shot yesterday, sometimes they give her a runny tummy,” Tonio says helpfully.

*Dio mio, a runny tummy? The mere thought breaks Nico out in a cold sweat. He is a good father, he knows he is. But he’s never really managed to get over the gut churning ordeal of a dirty diaper. A wet diaper, no problemo. His sons are well aware of this, and both are watching him with wide eyes. He stands. He can do this. He is Italian. The boys are hot on his heels as he takes the stairs two at time and enters the nursery. The heady scent of bad news hits him hard. This, boys and girls, is not going to be pretty*

“Okay,” he says. His voice brings his baby girl’s head up, black glossy curls bouncing as she sits and then stands holding onto the bars of her cot. A stain, the color of mustard, oozes from the top of her leg onto her pink sleep suit. Dio mio. What he needs, Nico realizes, is a plan. He strides to the changing table, plucks a couple of wet wipes from the plastic container, rolls them into the size of a pencil, folds them in half and stuffs one in each nostril, much to the choking hilarity of his sons. He sends them slitty eyes. “Grab bottle of aftershave from my bathroom,” he orders a Luca who is swiping tears from his cheeks. Luca races off to do his bidding. Then he turns to a Tonio who is laughing so hard he’s clutching his belly. “We need a clean sleep suit and new diaper, plastic bags for the dirty diaper and plenty of wet wipes. Go, Robin, go.”

*Luca returns to hand his papa a bottle. Nico squirts aftershave on each nostril and inhales the scent through the wet wipes. He can do this. He lifts his excited baby girl from her cot and lies her on her back on the plastic changing mat, and carefully, very carefully begins to unsnap the poppers. The scene of utter carnage has a tiny whimper escape from his throat*

“Whoa,” Tonio says, shock a living, breathing, thing in his voice.

Si,” Nico squeaks, then clears his throat.

“Luca, you wait outside. Robin, I need at least five wet wipes, hold out the plastic bag and let’s do this thing.”

*Baby Eve’s dark brown eyes are riveted to her papa’s face. He takes his time to release first one chubby leg from her suit before going for the next*

“She’s a wriggler,” Tonio warns. “You need to hold her ankles high, and clean the top of her legs before you undo the diaper.”

*Good advice. Maybe Tonio would like the job? Nico’s tempted, but he refuses not to man-up in front of his son. He can do this. By the time he’s got Eve naked and clean with the contents of two full boxes of wet wipes, perspiration is beading his top lip.*

“She needs a bath,” Tonio says, tying the handles of two plastic bags.

The words bring Nico’s head up with a jerk. “Bath?”

Tonio gives him a funny look. “You bath the twins all the time.”

Si, but they are old enough not to drown. Eve is like an eel. She never sits still.”

Tonio rolls his eyes to heaven. “Luca and me will help. Nessun problema.”

*By the time Nico and the boys are finish bathing Eve, the bathroom looks like something out of a warzone with baby powder the weapon of choice for mass destruction. Sopping wet T-shirts cling to their skin. But they’re all happy and most importantly the baby’s cheeks are pink, her curls damp. Wrapped in a thick towel of white cotton, she tucks her face in her papa’s neck. Pleased with how they all work together as a team, Nico tells the boys to change into dry clothes, and takes his baby to her changing mat for a clean diaper, and makes short work of dressing her in a clean sleep suit*

“Hellooooooo, anybody home?” Alexander Ludlow yells from the bottom of the stairs. The boys whoop and holler and race down the stairs to welcome their favorite uncle.

*Nico strolls into the family room cuddling his daughter to find Alexander with baby Mila over his shoulder. He’s sitting on the couch with the boys watching soccer*

“Hear you had a pooh-bomb to deal with,” Alexander says with a wicked gleam in his eye.

Nico sits on the short end of the L shaped couch with a now unconscious Eve boneless in his arms. He drops a kiss on her hot cheek. “Si. She is teething and had a vaccination shot yesterday. It wasn’t pretty. I see you have your hands full.”

Alexander gently rubs his seven week old baby daughter’s back. “My princess is the best thing that ever happened to me. No one can tell you how you’ll feel when a man becomes a daddy, know what I mean?”

Si,” Nico agrees, feeling all lovely and warm inside. “Being a papa is the best thing in the world.”

Tonio’s snort of derision has both men eye him. “You say that now. But in a few years they’ll be like Sophia and Auntie Rosie, or worse. And then there will be… dan-daran-dan… boyfriends.”

*With something like horror on their pale faces, Nico Ferranti and Alexander Ludlow clutch their babies close to their manly chests*

Nessun problema,” Nico growls. “I am Italian. I have contacts in the Cosa Nostra. Our girls will be protected.”

Alexander turns to his best pal. “Never thought I’d live to see the day I’d say this, but can I have the Mafia’s number?”



The things a man will do for family, eh?

I’ve had readers ask me to put the scenes in a book, and I’ve decided to use some of the sneak peeks in SEAN’s story, coming soon.

Until next week, be good.


Christine X









Think Easy Virtue meets No Reservations

 …She’d wasted enough of her life madly in love with a man she could never have…

Perhaps it was time to give another man a chance…

But now Rosie has two men who want her and will stop at nothing to win her heart…

Which one will she choose…



Hello my darlings,

Just to let you know that Run Rosie Run will be delayed due to revisions/edits/copy edits. The work is technically finished, but I wasn’t happy with a couple of issues and I suspect my target was a leetle bit unrealistic.

But I’ve been receiving so many emails asking where she is that I thought I’d better do a post and humbly prostrate myself before you.

I’m looking at the end of November.

And it’s my wedding anniversary tomorrow – I’m being wined and dined by H.

And have you guys seen this? It is hilarious. A little girl (nearly five) tells her brother how to behave after he’s been very naughty. Reminds me of my eldest daughter when she was five – those were the days!




Due to the bulging nature of my inbox I bring you – Tongue in cheek Quips, Tips and Common Sense from CC MacKenzie.


Nothing like stating the obvious is there?  However, there is a reason behind this date because today is my very first Dear CC post.

Confused? Not for long.

Life today is too complicated. Between the internet, emailing compromising pics and messages and tweeting undesirable tweets that can get you sacked from the job you love while texting rude jokey messages, we still worry about how to cope with crab claws along with how to boil the perfect egg; friends who break mighty fine wind, limp husbands, monstrous children and raunchy neighbors.

From childcare to dried flowers to glue guns, from diet to how-to-exercise-while-writing-the-next best-seller, I am here for you to help and guide you through the minefield that is the reader/writer’s life today.

So, whether you are deeply concerned with your sudden addiction to liquorice, the lack of a sex life to dealing with an errant husband and how to deal with naughty neighbours, to why you’ve hit a wall, this blog is just for you every Monday.

To give you a taste of what to expect here’s an email I received last week:

Dear CC

I loathe and despise the overuse of the word ‘shagging’ in novels today. Surely writers are capable of using their supposedly impressive imaginings to come up with an alternative? This is a huge issue for me because my husband has picked up the phrase and instead of stroking my arm or giving me a cuddle, his idea of foreplay at bedtime these days is to yawn hugely, scratch his belly and say, ‘Fancy a shag?’ I simply cannot cope with it any longer. Help.

Mrs P from Plymouth

Dear Mrs P

Ah yes, the reason we were put on this earth, procreation is a primal biological urge and something to be encouraged in a partner. However, these days we’re encouraged to be unrepressed, liberated sexually and told that we live in an age of egalitarianism where the power balance has shifted towards the female and that men are no longer the boss in a relationship. Unfortunately, with you this does not appear to be the case. It never ceases to amaze me how much women are prepared to tolerate. There is no hope for this man. Pack your bags and leave the lazy slob immediately.

As for the overuse of the word ‘shagging’ that is purely your opinion. Get over it.


So what would your advice to Mrs P be?

Is she right to be upset?

Do you use the word ‘shagging’?

You know I love to hear your thoughts and comments.

Share with us your valuable insights and advice.



So, here’s the thing.

It was my son’s birthday yesterday and all the family including my two daughters were all here celebrating in our very green garden. He doesn’t want me to name him or say how old he is in case some of his friends twig that I am his mother.  Of course they know that I am his mother but they don’t know that, and he said this in a voice of utter mortification, ‘His mother has published two steamy romantic novels with ‘good’ bits in them.’ Or that she’s in the process of writing even more romantic stories. Excuse me?

He won’t be saying that when we’re sunning ourselves in Fiji on a beach of sugar white sand sipping cocktails while Sven’s cleaning our sunglasses and serving us fresh fruit. Anyway, I got my own back by reminding him of the twenty-eight hours of labour I went through to bring him into the world. He was three weeks late (started life as he obviously means to go on) and almost ten pounds. I can actually feel all the women reading this wince in feminine solidarity. Thanks girls.

Now I’m used to him treating me like a taxi service, and a portable cash machine. But he’s fine with what I do when it suits him to treat me like a newsagent ‘Do you have the latest edition of GQ?’ And I’m a library, ‘Do you happen to have that copy of A Game of Thrones?’ And new technology disappears into the jungle of detritus that is his bedroom. And he’s actually building a new computer with his friend, so you’d think he’d be helpful with my new Mac. But not a bit of it, ‘This technology is wasted on you.’ I was told in a voice edged with utter disdain. (I should point out that he made the comment because I was having trouble switching it on.)

Why is it that derision and goading comes as naturally as teething and nappy rash used to. There’s nothing my son likes to do more than tell me what to do. Just recently he had a go because I used the word ‘cool’ on twitter. Apparently I’m no longer permitted to use the word ‘wicked’ either. Then his sisters’ got in on the act reminiscing about the time I used to teach Dance Fit and would start to boogie in Gap when a Madonna song came on and ‘totally mortified them all the time in public.’

Hugo just grinned (traitor) and reminded me of a time I really embarrassed myself on a bus when my eldest was a toddler in the days when I didn’t get out much. I was pregnant with my second daughter, (apparently you lose 30% of your brain capacity when pregnant – that’s my excuse) anyway, the toddler was being babysat by the daughter of a friend and I was alone on a bus going to meet Hugo when he finished work for an early dinner with friends. It was a lovely summer evening and since we lived in the country the fields were alive with cows and sheep and fields ready to be harvested. So I was sort of daydreaming and totally forgot I didn’t have the toddler with me. ‘Oh look!’ I cried in a high chirpy voice. ‘Cows! Tell me, what do cows do?’ And I swear to God I will never, ever live this down, at least twenty people on the bus all cried ‘Moooooo.’ They did, along with roaring with laughter.

So a good time was had by all yesterday as my family basically took the mickey. But I got my own back, I asked my son, ‘What do you want to do when you grow up?’ Hinting that the time was fast approaching when he’d need to start fending for himself. But he just batted the question right back to us. Hugo said he’d wanted to join the army or the police but his eyesight let him down. ‘When I was twelve I decided I wanted to be a nurse or a doctor,’ I said, scooping up a spoonful of birthday cake and thinking nothing of it.

‘Really?’ said my son without an ounce of derision. ‘So what you’re really saying, mother, is that you had more ambition as a child than you did as an adult.’

The sooner he moves into a flea-bitten tiny apartment, living on tins of baked beans and doing his own laundry, the better.

So come on guys and girls. Tell me, have your parents ever embarrassed you? Or have you ever embarrassed them?

Which birthday was THE best one ever?

Share it with us, you know I love to hear from you.

Oh, and the pictures above are of my garden. We’ve actually had three whole days of summer, but clouds are gathering so it might not last. And The Olympic ceremony starts tonight so I’ll put good money on it we get thunderstorms and fat rain over the next few weeks.