It’s that time of year when teary-eyed parents cram into school halls to watch the annual nativity play, and the Ferranti family is no different.
The family-kitchen-living space at The Dower House smells of ginger chocolate chip cookies, freshly brewed coffee… and glue.
Bronte, Rosie, Janine and Emily’s mum, Grace are working hard with scissors, yards of thin rope and crisp white cotton sheets—donated for the cause by Nico’s housekeeping staff at Ludlow Hall.
Red curls pinned in a top knot on top of her head, dressed in black leggings and an old cotton shirt of her husband’s to protect her clothes, Grace focuses on the job at hand. “It’s really kind of the hotel to give us old sheets to make sheep and shepherd outfits,” she mutters as she pins two oblong pieces of cotton together to make a simple tunic, leaving space for a child’s head and arms. She turns to a Janine who’s doing the same thing with her fabric. “And thanks for this template. What a genius idea. How do you think up this stuff?”
Rosie, wearing thermal leggings and one of Alexander’s old short sleeved T-shirts over her sweater, lifts two big plastic bags filled with cotton wool balls onto a huge folding table erected next to closed bifolding doors showcasing the stunning winter garden. Another smaller table set at angle holds a large pot of glue with brushes. She sets out a stitched and hemmed tunic on the table, smoothes the fabric and places a pre-made template filled with accurately spaced circles on top, and marks a dot in the middle of each circle. Then she takes a cotton wool ball, dabs glue on it and presses it to the fabric and repeats the process on the front and the back of the tunic. Voila, the beginning of a sheep. “Because she’s a hugely talented creative. Have you seen Boo’s new bedroom? It is beyond amaze balls. The child sleeps and plays in her own magical world with fairies and twinkling stars watching over her. I love the way the white fluffy cat peeks out from behind the gingerbread house.”
Wearing painter’s white cotton coveralls over her jeans and T-shirt, Janine grins. “Boo makes Josh kiss the cat before bedtime. He’s besotted with her. How are you getting on with the glue and cotton balls?”
“Aw, I love Josh. I’m doing good.” Rosie eyes a Bronte who’s busy fingers fiddle with black and white shaped ears from thick felt as she machine stitches them together. Then she pins the ears to a thick black velvet headband, glues a flat piece felt to the top of the hair band and pops the headband over to Rosie’s table for her to glue more cotton balls to the white felt on the top. Voila—sheeple. “Wow, the ears looking amazing. Wait ’till the kids see these outfits. They’re gonna go nuts.”
Bronte smiles as she returned to her kitchen table to stitch together another set of ears. “All this is a far cry from our nativity play. Do you remember what our nativity was like when we were five?” she asks Rosie.
“Sure do. I was a cardboard tree with green arms and gloves as branches and on my head I wore a twig hat made by my mother. It itched like hell. My role certainly lacked glamour,” Rosie says, deadpan. When the girls laugh, she shakes her head. “My mother was gutted because she wanted me to be an angel—as if that was ever gonna happen. With Mrs. Mottershead as my teacher she’s lucky she didn’t make me one of the stars in the sky. Rosie sends Bronte a side-eye. “Of course, Ms Butter-wouldn’t-melt-over-there was an angel.”
Bronte sends her wide eyes and a big toothy smile. “I’ll have you know that, unlike you, I was a perfect angel.”
Rosie nods, takes care to place another cotton ball on the correct spot on the tunic. “It was the cardboard wings, the steel coat hanger wrapped in silver tinsel as the halo and all that long blonde hair. Then the awesome white cotton nightgown with the high frilly cuffs and collar your mother bought in the children’s department in Harrods. I remember being sick with jealousy over that nightie.”
Bronte just laughs. “Not for long, my mum had bought you one as part of your Christmas gift. You cried happy tears and Alexander gave you a cuddle.”
Rosie nods as she makes short work of another tunic. “Yep. I knew even then that I adored him. Then once I stopped crying, he ate half of my selection box of chocolates as payment. Even then he had a business brain. Bastard.”
Grace does a quick recce around the room to check for her daughter and her best friend. “Little eyes and ears, Rosemary, with big mouths.”
“More like little monsters,” Rosie says severely. “They’re upstairs watching Kung Fu Panda in Tonio’s room. That boy will keep them on the straight and narrow. I love Tonio.”
“Yup,” Janine says as she pins more templates to white and black thick felt and cuts out another dozen sheep ears. “He’s settled in well. You and Nico are doing a great job with him, Bronte. He’s so happy.”
Bronte nods as her foot presses down on the sewing machine pedal on the floor beneath the table. “He’s had his moments. I try to have one-on-one time with him a couple of times a week. He helps me with the grocery shopping. As a reward, we stop at the coffee shop to have a hot chocolate and a cookie. It’s the perfect time for me to listen to his day.”
“Is he in the nativity?” Janine asks.
“He’s the narrator.”
Grace rolls her eyes. “A narrator of the nativity with a wonderful Italian accent. All the girls will be swooning. My Emily is besotted with Tonio, and he’s so patient with her, poor boy.”
Rosie shakes her head while Janine laughs. “I don’t know about that. Emily’s not stupid, even if she is a sheep in the play.”
“She’s shy and perfectly content to be one of many,” Emily’s mum says. “She hates the spotlight.”
“Can’t say the same about Sophia,” Bronte mutters beneath her breath.
“What’s up with my favorite niece?” Rosie asks, picking up her friend’s dark tone.
“She wants to be Mary. But, Miss Brown has made her the innkeeper’s wife. In response, my daughter told her teacher she’s a feminist and isn’t ever gonna marry, so it will look bad for the innkeeper to live in sin with a woman. What would God think?” Bronte says. While her friends laugh out loud, she moves into the kitchen to prepare another pot of coffee and set a plate of her homemade ginger and dark chocolate cookies on a plate. “Miss Brown told her that since she’s the boss, she decides who will be Mary, end of.”
Swiping tears from her cheeks, Rosie takes a deep breath. “And what did my favorite niece have to say to that?”
Filling up their coffee mugs on the countertop, her friends gather around and grab a cookie, Bronte shakes her head. “She thought about it for a while, then nodded, and said, ‘Okay. But, since it is MY inn and my papa works in the hospitality industry, I’ll have a room cancellation so the baby Jesus in MY nativity won’t be born in a smelly old barn with sheep and cows and poop.”
Janine laughs so hard she chokes on her cookie. “Omigod. She’s re-writing the Christmas story? What did the wonderful Miss Brown say to that?”
“That maybe the world could learn a lesson from the innkeeper’s wife’s kindness to Mary and Joseph.”
Rosie nibbles on a cookie. “Wish we’d had a teacher like Miss Brown. I bet she’s thrilled about the way we’re all mucking in to make costumes. In our day it was headgear made of tea cloths.”
Bronte nods. “I think it helps to take a little of the pressure off Miss Brown at this time of year. The way she keeps on smiling through the kid’s fevered excitement about the visit from Santa, the woman deserves a medal. She’s organizing each child in her class to bring in a wrapped gift for kids who are in hospital over the holiday, and for children less fortunate.”
Rosie’s black brows wing into her hair. “Ah, that’s what Alexander and Nico were on about. I know the Ludlow Hall team organize food hampers for the elderly living alone in town. But, I heard them making plans to give kids who have nothing a box of goodies, too.”
Looking thoughtful, Janine bit into a cookie. “That’s what the spirit of Christmas is all about. Remember the time I dropped the baby Jesus and the entire audience gasped in shock? Good job he was a doll.”
Rosie grins. “I remember that. I also remember you ran off the stage hand-in-hand with the donkey.”
“The following year they had a real donkey and it peed all over the manger and fused the lights because there wasn’t enough straw to cover the wooden stage,” Bronte says, her emerald eyes all dreamy with happy memories. “Those were the days.”
Grace checks the watch on her wrist. “Better get back to it. I’ve counted eight black long sleeved roll neck T-shirts and eight pairs of black tights. The sheep will wear their black plimsolls. I think we need black woollen mittens, too.”
Bronte makes a note of the mittens, fires up her laptop and goes online. “Eight pairs? Maybe we’d better make it ten, just in case they lose a glove.”
By the time they were all done and dusted and cleaned and tidied the room, eight perfect sheep costumes were complete and boxed ready to be taken to school the next day.
By the time Nico strolls through the door, the kitchen smells of a Ferranti family favorite, home-baked Italian meatballs and pasta. All bathed and ready for bed in her onesie, Baby Eve sits in her high chair. When she sees her papa, she beams a toothy smile and bangs her plastic sip cup on her plastic tray. As he carefully rolls his silk tie, tucks it in a pocket before tossing the jacket over the back of the couch, Nico grabs his baby girl for a hug and a kiss on her hot cheek. By the time the baby nuzzles her face into his neck, Bronte grins and lifts her mouth for his kiss.
“Had a good day?” he asks the love of his life.
“Yep. We had a team effort on the sheep costumes. They look fabulous, Nico, I hope you’re able to make the play.”
He pops Eve into her high chair, offers her a squeaky toy which is accepted with a beaming smile. Then Nico heads to the fridge for a bottle of white pinot. He grabs a couple of glasses from a glass cabinet. “Si. Wouldn’t miss it. Alexander’s making time for it, too.”
When Bronte’s eyes go all shiny, he sets down his glass and moves in to hold her. “Hey, what is this?”
She sniffs and wraps her arms around his waist and inhales the scent of her man. “It’s nothing really. It’s just they’re all growing up so fast. I wish my parents had lived to see our family.”
“It’s Christmas. It always makes us sad to think of those we have lost. I know you find this time of year hard at times.”
Bronte shifts to look up into his amazing face. “He never speaks of her. Do you think Tonio misses his mother?”
He frowns. “From what the good father has told me, she sent the boy money and gifts, but she didn’t visit him.”
“I don’t know how a woman could do such a thing to her child, Nico,” Bronte whispers.
He rests his cheek on her hair. “She is dead, cara mia. Tonio is happy here, with us.”
“I’ve been thinking we should invite Gregorio Ancelotti to spend Christmas with us. Tonio is his only living relative. They need to bond.”
When the rumble of his laugh echoes against her cheek, she looks up. “What’s so funny?”
“I spoke to Gregorio today and invited him myself. However, he wants to stay at Ludlow Hall.”
Anxious emerald eyes stare into his. “But, we have plenty of room.”
“Si. However, we must respect his wishes. Perhaps the man needs his space. Let us take little steps, cara mia.”
“Okay.” She reaches up a hand to run her fingers through his hair, happy to mess up his sartorial perfection. “How come you can read my mind?”
Before Nico answers his mouth captures hers in a hungry kiss that makes her toes curl inside her thick socks. When he rests his forehead on hers, Nico’s marvelous mouth curves. “What do you expect, I am Italian!
Ooooh, a visit by Gregorio, sounds like a story to me.
Greetings from a cold and crisp UK!
It’s time for another Ludlow Hall sneak peek!
The family-kitchen-living space in The Dower House…
All relaxed and spread out on swanky velvet couches the color of lilacs in bloom and with their feet up on fat matching footstools, Bronte, Rosie and Emily’s mummy, Grace, are enjoying a coffee break, exquisite white chocolate chip cookies made by the Domestic Goddesss (Bronte)… and girly chat.
Dressed down in long yoga pants and a matching hoodie the color of blueberries, Rosie’s breast feeding baby Mila. “I really put my foot in it with Nico,” she says, still feeling bad about the upset with her niece.
Rocking Eve on her shoulder, who’s in a milk-induced coma, Bronte sends Rosie a sympathetic look. “We’re both at fault and need to remember Sophia’s super-bright for her age. You recovered well, though. My daughter believes she’s a warrior-woman…”
Grace grins. “Yep, without a magic sword like Xena. Emily told me all about it.”
Rosie shifts a slack-jawed Mila to rest her dark head on the terry towelling diaper over her shoulder, and gently rubs and pats her back. When a deep burp emerges and the baby’s eyes open, Rosie attaches her to the other breast, softly stroking a finger down her daughter’s satin cheek. The sound of her baby suckling makes her smile. “When she’s feeding, Alexander calls her Jaws.”
Dressed in skinny jeans and a black cashmere polo neck sweater, Grace laughs, even as her blue eyes go sad. “I’d have loved at least one more. But, it wasn’t to be.”
Bronte shifts to place Eve on the soft mattress of her travel cot-playpen. She places a thermal blanket over her sleeping daughter. After she hands Rosie a glass of water, and tops up Grace’s coffee from the pot, she turns to her friend. “Have you thought of adopting?”
Grace nods. “We’ve looked into it. But, the whole process is terribly complicated. And now Brian’s been made Managing Director, he’s globe-trotting more often these days. Next week, he’s travelling to China for three weeks. He doesn’t want me alone carrying the burden of integrating a baby or young child into our family.”
“Makes sense,” Rosie says.
Grace nods. “We’re so lucky to have Emily. I don’t get sad very often. But your beautiful babies do make me terribly broody.”
Bronte sits, lifts socked feet onto a stool and crosses her ankles. Today she’s wearing black leggings and an oversized black sweatshirt with Yummy Mummy printed on the front. Her ash blonde hair is tied in a messy top-knot. “It’s a funny old life, isn’t it? When I was engaged to Jonathan and learned I may never have children, I thought my whole life was over.”
Rosie tucks her breast in her bra, settles Mila on her shoulder to rub her back, and slants her best friend a look. “You had a lucky escape there.”
When the baby burps, Grace holds out her arms for a cuddle. “Gimme.” Rosie hands her daughter over to her friend. Then grins as she pops a kiss on her baby girl’s hot cheek. As far as she’s concerned, a child can’t receive too much love.
Cuddling the precious bundle, Grace makes herself comfy on the couch. Her smile is wide as she eyes Rosie and Bronte. “I never did hear the whole story. What happened?”
Rosie settles back on the couch. “Bronte was engaged to Jonathan for about year when she learned she had endometriosis, and may not have children. At first he was supportive, blah-blah-blah. They say bad news comes in threes. It was a horrible time. After her mum and dad were killed, we learned the whole estate was up to its ears in debt. To pay taxes, Alexander sold Ludlow Hall to Nico to build a Ferranti Hotel and Spa. Meanwhile, Jonathan was having a hot affair with Annabel and got her pregnant.
Grace’s jaw is on the floor. “No way,” she whispers, her eyes wide.
Rosie nods, makes a face. “Yes, way. Together, Bronte and I pooled all our monies, and set up Sweet Sensations. Then we worked like dogs for two years until we were in the black. Then Bronte met Nico, and the rest, as they say, is history.”
Grace turns to Bronte. “Even with endometriosis, you managed to have three children?”
Bronte’s emerald eyes dance. “Yup. That man just has to look at me and I’m pregnant. Believe it, there’s no one more shocked than me.”
“Or me,” Rosie says. “Next thing I know they have the twins. And I think we can safely say life has never been the same.”
“Out of the worst of times came the best of times,” Grace whispers softly.
“Yes. Although I admit I didn’t make it easy for Nico,” Bronte confesses.
Grace grins. “So, how did you two meet?”
When Rosie bursts out laughing, Grace turns to her. “I sense a story.”
“And it’s a loooooong story,” Rosie says, her dark eyes dance with sheer wickedness. “Nico caught her climbing out the window of the ladies toilet to escape the blind date from hell. Of course, he thought she’d been stealing. He frog-marched her into Alexander’s office and emptied her bag on his desk.”
Bronte shakes her head. “Yup. And someone had put a box of fruit flavoured condoms—extra large—in my bag. Of course, Alexander and Nico thought the worst of me… it’s not that funny, Rosie.”
Her best friend can’t help but roar with laughter at the memory. “It was hilarious. The chemistry between them then was combustible. And it’s combustible now. And Nico laid it right on the line, told her he didn’t want a wife or a family. Oh, how the might have fallen.”
Grace’s smile is wide as she shakes her head. “How long did it take for him to ask you to marry him?”
“Six weeks,” Rosie says.
Grace’s eyes pop. “Wow!”
Bronte wrinkles her nose, stands up, and leans down to pick up her baby girl. She sniffs her padded bottom and makes a face. “Oops, someone needs changing.”
Grace studies a red-faced baby Mila. “I think someone else does, too.”
Rosie’s on her feet and reaching for her daughter. “Come on upstairs and see the mural Janine painted in Eve’s room. I want one for Mila.”
As the friends walk out of the room, all is quiet. Until up pop two little fairies from behind the couch. Their plastic tiaras set at an awkward on their head, Sophia and Emily gaze at each other with big eyes.
“Wow,” whispers Emily. “Your mummy was engaged to Richard Winthrop’s daddy?”
“I can’t believe it,” a pale-faced Sophia says.
“If they ever find out we heard their conversation, we’ll be in BIG trouble,” whispers Emily. Her mummy’s recent warning about listening into adult conversation clear in her mind.
Still in shock, Sophia nods. “We mustn’t ever tell anybody, EVER.”
Emily nods, offers her hand. “Shake on it.”
“We’ll do what Tonio and Luca do when they make a pact,” Sophia says, and spits on her palm.
Emily makes a face, but spits on her palm too. They clasp hands. “We’re sistas!” she says.
Sophia wipes her palm on the pink tulle of her fairy princess dress. “Want a juice? she asks, heading for the fridge with Emily hot on her heels.
By the time both perch on high stools next to the island worktop, sucking down a homemade strawberry smoothie, Emily’s eyes go wide. “What’s a blind date?”
Sophia shakes head and opens the lid of her mama’s special cookie tin. “Dunno. Whatever it was it was from hell.”
“Maybe we should ask Tonio,” Emily says, with hope sparking brightly in her blue eyes.
Sophia stares hard at her friend. “I think you’re in love with Tonio.”
Emily’s copper curls bounce as she frantically shakes her head. “Nope. I thought about marrying him. I’ve changed my mind.”
Since this was news to Sophia, she sits up straight as her brows wing into her hair. “What’s wrong with Tonio? All the girls love him.”
Emily nods. “Exactly! He’s too much for me to handle.”
After a quiet moment of reflection, Sophia nods, offers her pal an oatmeal and raisin cookie from the tin. Deep in thought, the girls nibble on a cookie.
“You could be right about that,” Sophia says. “After all, he is Italian.”
Ah, little girls with big ears and big mouths equals big trouble ahead.
The next Golddigger short story, GLORY, will be released at the end of January 2017 and then one per month.
This author is taking a short break over the festive period. However, the Ludlow Hall sneak peeks will still wing their way to you each Monday.
I’ve crawled out of my sick bed to bring you this week’s sneak peek a day late. I’m painting a red cross on our front door. Three of us are down with ‘flu, full blown and horrible. Forgive any errata. My brain is fried.
With Alexander as his wingman, Nico’s driving his glossy black Range Rover doing daddy duty. He’s going through a mental check list to make sure he’s not missed anything. The guys have had a busy and productive day. Signed a new deal with the Spanish Ortiz hotel group—check. Then they hit Ludlow Hall’s gym and treadmills to see who’d complete five miles first, Alexander won by a hair—check. Pick up Tonio from after-school science club—check. Swing past a birthday party (another one) to pick up Sophia and Emily—check. Now, they’re on their way to The Dower House where Emily’s having a sleepover with her best friend.
While Alexander texts back and forth with Rosie who’s keeping Bronte company at The Dower House, Nico glances in the rear view mirror to eye the three remarkably silent children sitting in the backseat. Tonio’s eyes are drooping. The boy’s doing well at school and working hard, maybe too hard? Hmm. He’ll talk to Bronte. Little Emily’s big blue eyes are fixed with rapt attention on Tonio’s face. Dio mio, the child has a bad case of hero worship. He shrugs, such is life. Sophia stares unblinking out of the window as she watches the world go by. Hmm. His daughter’s been unusually quiet over the last couple of days. Maybe she’s sickening for something? On the whole, she has the constitution of an ox and avoids colds and sniffles, unlike her twin who’s in bed with an elevated temperature and sore throat.
“My mummy,” Emily begins in her high, girly voice, “says she simply adores baby Eve. She told my daddy the baby’s an absolute cutie pie, a little angel. Then she started to cry.”
This information rouses Tonio, who turns to her. “Why was she crying?”
“She can’t have anymore babies. After me, she had to have an emergency historectomy. Sometimes she gets sad. My daddy says we can try and adapt a baby who has no family.”
“Adopt,” Tonio says in a kind voice that pinks Emily’s cheeks.
In the front, Alexander slides an omigod look to Nico.
Sophia heaves a huge sigh. “There won’t be any more babies in our house,” she says in the tone of the prophet of doom. A tone which makes her uncle Alexander go utterly still.
Since this news is news to her papa, he asks in a soft voice, “Why do you say that, cara mia?”
Sophia makes a sad face as she stares out the window. “Because Auntie Rosie says I’m a complete and utter nightmare who’s driving my mama cray-cray. I know that means crazy.” The last part is spoken in a small whisper.
There is dead silence in the car.
Nico and Alexander’s eyes go huge as they stare unblinking at the winding road ahead. Nico opens his mouth, but Alexander places a hand on his arm, shakes his head. Meanwhile, little Emily takes Sophia’s hand in hers.
“My mummy says you have a clever and busy brain and that you’re a very good infloonce on me.”
Sophia turns emerald eyes on Emily. “What’s an infloonce?”
“I think she means influence,” Tonio says. He reaches out to tug gently on Sophia’s white-blonde ponytail. “To be a good influence is a great thing. It means you are beneficial for Emily in an important way.”
Paternal pride is his son makes Nico’s eyes sting.
“Christ,” Alexander mutters under his breath. “I need to do daddy duty with you more often. Are they always like this?”
Nico takes a deep breath. “Si. In this car, Auntie Rosie is often quoted chapter and verse.”
Alexander nods at the deadpan tone. His mouth goes hard. “Right. And not always in a good way?”
Nico makes a face. “Sometimes we adults forget that someone has very big ears.”
“I’ll talk to Rosie. She tends to run at the mouth at times.”
Meanwhile, after a busy day at The Dower House…
Dressed down in ankle length yoga pants and over sized sweatshirts, Bronte and Rosie kick back on the couch in the family/kitchen/living space. They’re sipping a cup of camomile tea as they await the arrival of the rest of the family. The sublime scent of a herby chicken roasting permeates the air. “At the very least, you should’ve let me peel the potatoes,” Rosie says, wiggling her toes inside thick socks. “Seriously, Mrs. Ferranti, don’t you ever get sick of yourself. You’re a real life Martha Stewart!”
Bronte grins. “Trust me, that woman’s got nuthin’ on me. I run my world like a well oiled machine. Today I replaced four empty toilet rolls. I am the backbone of this house. I’m like a domestic goddess.”
Rosie nods. “What is it with men and empty toilet rolls? How hard is it to take a fresh roll out of the basket we’ve kindly placed next to the holder (because I’ve taken a leaf out of your book and I’m a beyond awesome domestic goddess) and replace it? What is all that about?”
Bronte glances at the huge clock on the wall, fifteen minutes until she takes the chickens out of the oven. “It’s because their brain is busy with more important stuff, like making a living and keeping us supplied with a steady stream of disposable diapers.”
Rosie nods. “True. Very true.” She cocks her head at the sound of car wheels crunching gravel. “The boys are back. There goes peace, quiet and tranquillity.”
As the family troop in after leaving outdoor shoes in the boot room, Bronte and Tonio share a hug and a high five over a one hundred per cent math test. Nico drops a big smoochie on his wife’s curved mouth, pats her bottom, and heads for the fridge for two beers. Alexander plonks himself next to Rosie, grabs her in a hug. Then he cups her cheek to look deep into big brown eyes. “You got some, ‘splainin’ to do, Rosie.”
Rosie blinks. “What have I done?”
He nuzzles the delicate spot beneath her ear. “Later,” he whispers.
Rosie’s bemused frown turns to a grin when she spots Sophia. She holds out her arms for a hug. “How’s my favorite bad girl?” When Alexander hisses out a breath, she wonders what the hell his problem is.
Sophia climbs onto Auntie Rosie’s lap and turns to look up into her face. “Miss Brown says I’ve been a good girl.”
Rosie drops a kiss on her cheek. “Yeah? Bet that won’t last.”
Face pale, Sophia slips off Rosie’s lap and heads over to watch her mama place two chickens, their skin all golden and crispy, onto a huge serving platter. Since she’s greeting Emily, Rosie misses the quick glance between Nico and Alexander.
Bronte crouches to give her daughter, and then Emily, a hug. “Did you have a good time at the party? I hope you didn’t eat too much candy.”
Emily shakes her head, while Sophia rattles her paper goodie bag. “Uh huh. Me and Emily didn’t eat any candy. We’re good girls.”
Bronte gives her big eyes, drops a kiss on her daughter’s blonde head. “Sure you are. Long may it last. Go up and wash your hands and don’t go near Luca, I don’t want either of you catching his cold.”
Sophia opens her mouth to speak, but her mama’s very busy cooking dinner. Emily slips her hand in hers. “Come on, Sophia,” she says in her gentle voice.
Nico waits until the girls have gone up the stairs. He moves to close the kitchen door, then turns to his wife. “That was very badly done, cara mia,” he says, anger ripe in his deep, growly voice.
Since it’s not a tone he uses often with her, Bronte’s jaw drops. “Excuse me? What have I done?”
“You made Sophia sad,” he says.
“And, it’s all your fault,” Alexander says severely to a wide-eyed Rosie.
Bronte looks at Rosie. Rosie looks at Bronte. Both utterly confused and bemused at an attack that’s apparently come out of nowhere.
Bronte walks up to her husband, gets into his personal space. “Perhaps both of you would stop talking in riddles and explain to us exactly what we’ve done?”
“Both of you need to take care what you say in front of Sophia. Haven’t you noticed she has been quiet over the past couple of days?”
“Yup.” Alexander backs his best friend. He turns to his wife. “And you, motormouth, are the biggest offender. In the car, Emily mentioned the fact that at times her mum cries because she can’t have more babies. Sophia says, and I quote, ‘There won’t be any more babies in our house.’ When Nico asked her why she’d say such a thing, Sophia says, and again I quote, ‘ Because Auntie Rosie says, ‘I’m a complete and utter nightmare who’s driving my mama cray-cray. I know that means crazy.’ Honest to God, Rosie, the way she whispered the words broke my heart. Then she tells you and Bronte that she’s been a good girl, even Miss Brown says so. And you ridicule her.” Alexander turns to his white-faced sister. “And you’re just as bad. Can’t you see the kid’s hurt and upset?”
Appalled she’s hurt a child she loves with her whole heart, Rosie turns to a stony-faced Nico. “But, I don’t mean it. You know I adore her. She’s a pistol with the heart of a warrior woman.”
Bronte shifts to sit next to Rosie on the couch. “I thought we’d cured her of listening in to adult conversations, apparently I’m wrong. She heard a small part of what we said.”
“Si. But that is not the point, is it? If we continue to box her into a corner about her spirit and labelling her behaviour we will end up with a self-fulfilling prophecy.” Nico turns to a pale and emotional Rosie. “She quotes you chapter and verse, whether it’s about my ‘love muscle’ or how girls will fall in love with Tonio, like his papa. Great care must be taken when we speak. Sophia is like a human sponge.”
Rosie stands, her hands tremble as she clears her throat. “I’ll go up to her. I’m so sorry, Nico. I promise I’ll fix this.”
As Rosie leaves the room, Nico runs a hand through his hair, around his neck. “Dio, I have upset her.”
Alexander stretches out long legs, takes a sip of his beer. “She’ll be fine. I’ll have a heart to heart with her at home.”
Bronte shakes her head. “She’s not the only one responsible. I need to bite my tongue, too.”
Nico’s grey eyes met hers. “We must applaud good behaviour as well as nailing naughty behaviour. To test boundaries is part of Sophia’s personality and intelligence. We cannot go from one extreme to the other. We need a consistent response. My daughter is not a running joke.”
Meanwhile, Rosie, Emily and Sophia are having a moment…
On her knees next to the Cinderella coach bed, Rosie holds Sophia’s favourite doll, a battered Raggedy Ann. “I remember the day I bought you this doll. You were six months old and sound asleep in your cot. When you woke up you fell in love with her. Just the way I fell in love with you the very first time I held you in my arms. Did I ever tell you about the time I first met you?”
Sitting crossed leg on her bed, with Emily sprawled on her belly next to her, Sophia’s eyes are glued to her Auntie Rosie’s face. Sophia shakes her head. “What was I like?”
Rosie smiles at the memory. “I knew your mama and papa had a baby boy. So I’d arrived at the hospital with a huge balloon and a blue teddy bear. Papa was looking out the window and mama was holding Luca. First thing I did was to wash my hands to kill any germs. Then your papa turned and you were in his arms. I’ve never been so shocked in my whole life. They’d kept you a big secret. You and Luca were the most beautiful babies I’ve ever seen. I took you in my arms and your tiny fingers clutched my thumb and that was it. I was in love. And each and every day I love you more and more.”
Rosie finds her arms full of an emotional Sophia. “I love you, too, Auntie Rosie.”
After a group hug fest, Rosie shifts to sit back on her heels. She takes the hand of each girl. “Thing is, none of us are perfect. We do our best to be kind, but sometimes we hurt people without meaning to. But I want you to know one very important thing. Never, ever, change who you are because you are scared to make a mistake. Mistakes help us understand where we go wrong and learn to do better. Do you get what I’m saying?”
Sophia’s smooth brow creases as she thinks about it. “No.”
Rosie nods, wonders why the hell she didn’t say it straight out in the first place. “When you heard me say that there won’t be more babies in this house because you’re a nightmare…”
Sophia shifts to go nose to nose with her Auntie Rosie. “No. You said, a complete and utter nightmare who drives my mama cray-cray…”
Rosie frowns. “Sheesh. You have a memory like an elephant. Except you didn’t hear EVERYTHING I said, did you?” She gives Sophia an Eskimo nose kiss.
“What else did you say?” Sophia wants to know, her green eyes wide.
“That I hope my Mila grows up to be just like her cousin Sophia, a warrior-princess.”
Emily claps her hands, and beams at Sophia. “A warrior-princess? That is sooooo cool.”
Sophia’s cheeks go pink with delight, and her Auntie Rosie’s heart fills with relief when she recognizes the return of the spark in her niece’s bright eyes. “What does a warrior-princess do?” Sophia wants to know.
Rosie opens her mouth to say ‘you’ll rule the world, kiddo’, then closes it with a snap. “She spreads kindness everywhere.”
The girls blink. “Won’t I at least have a magic sword like Xena?” Sophia demands.
“A warrior-princess does not believe in violence,” Auntie Rosie says as she gets to her feet to head for the door to get the hell out of Dodge. This parenting gig’s a minefield.
Ten minutes later,Tonio pokes his head around Sophia’s bedroom door. He enters and bounds onto the bed.
“Mama and papa have closed the kitchen door, which means someone’s in trouble.” He eyes Sophia. “What have you done?”
“Sophia’s a warrior-princess,” Emily says in her high, breathy voice. Her blue eyes fill with love and adoration as she stares up into Tonio’s handsome face. “Except she doesn’t get to have a magic sword like Xena.”
Tonio bounces once on the bed to leap to the floor where he does a body roll to his feet. “Sophia won’t need a magic sword,” he says with a certainty that has the girls gaze at him with big eyes.
“How will I be a warrior-princess without a sword?” Sophia wants to know with relentless logic.
Tonio’s smile flashes white and bright. “Easy. You are Italian!”
Ah, we all need to be true to ourselves.
Next up, on Friday we have a very French and very naughty Golddigger and a big sexy beast. I had the best time writing PEARL’S story.
Happy Monday, my lovelies!
This house has been hit by a winter cold bug. It’s not been pretty, but I struggle on. Brain fog hit my creativity for a few days. Soooo frustrating. But, I’m back with a vengeance. Here’s Bronte and Emily’s mom, Grace, having fun with the children from hell.
The Dower House…
Dressed down in yoga pants and sweaters, Bronte and Emily’s mom, Grace, are enjoying an afternoon coffee, while their daughters are playing ‘princesses’ in Sophia’s room. At least, that’s what they think their daughters are doing…
“How’s Jimmy Chew settling in?” Grace asks Bronte.
Bronte grins at a Grace who’s refusing to relinquish a snoozing baby Eve. The baby adores cuddles. “Now we’ve nipped in the bud Sophia feeding him human food, he’s doing well.”
Grace rolls blue eyes, shakes her head. “I don’t know what it is about men and kids, but they can’t seem to help feeding a puppy treats.”
“Actually, the boys have been great. Lucky for me, neither of them give me a moments worry, unlike my eldest daughter,” Bronte says, deadpan.
“She’s a determined girl,” Grace agrees.
Bronte makes a face. “She’s a chip off the old block, her father’s daughter.”
“Sophia’s incredibly good for Emily. Brings her out of her shell.”
“Hmm. Nico and I are praying Emily’s calm common sense rubs off on her.”
Grace drops a soft kiss on Eve’s inky curls. “You’ll have no problems with this one. She’s adorable.”
Bronte’s mouth curves and her emerald eyes go soft. “She’s an angel. More coffee?”
Meanwhile, upstairs in Sophia’s room…
Dressed in pale blue tulle and wearing a yellow feather boa around her neck, Emily sits cross-legged on Sophia’s princess coach bed. She drops a kiss on each head as she cuddles the two boneless pooches passed-out on her lap. “I like the pink tiara best,” she says to a Sophia whose bottom’s up as she rummages in her dressing up box for her special magic wand. “It goes with your pearl beads.”
Sophia emerges, clutching a plastic pink wand with a wonky silver star glued to the tip. She flicks the wand and then points it to the dogs. “Take two dogs and two frogs to bind them well, jim jam jog, abracadabra, we’ve got a magic spell…” She waves her wand around with a huge flourish. Nothing happens.
Emily shrugs, her big eyes anxiously fixed on the dogs. “Well, thank goodness that one didn’t work. I hate frogs,” she says in her high girly voice. She shifts on the bed. The movement disturbs Bubblegum and Jimmy Chew who stretch hugely. They cock their heads when they hear giggling from Tonio’s bedroom. The dogs leap to the floor and trot out the door.
“Hmm,” Sophia says as straightens the corners of the star on her wand. Her pink tiara sits at a crazy angle on her ash blonde head. Her bedroom smells of cherry lollipops and cheap scent donated by Emily’s mama. When she hears more insane giggling from her brother’s bedroom room, she jerks her chin. “Tonio and Luca are up to something. Let’s go.”
The girls clomp in a pair of their mama’s high heels down the corridor to Tonio’s bedroom and arrive in time to see Jimmy Chew barking at something hidden behind Luca’s back.
“What are you doing?” Sophia asks her twin.
Luca gives her huge brown eyes. “Nuthin’. We’re doing nuthin’.”
Tonio clears his throat, grabs a Spiderman pillow from his bed and dumps it behind Luca’s back. “You cannot come in here without permission,” he says in a severe voice to the girls.
Sophia’s eyes narrow on two guilty faces and a Jimmy Chew who’s sniffing behind Luca’s back. “It’s my house. I can go where I like, when I like. What’s behind the pillow?”
“Nuthin’ to do with you, nosy knickers,” Luca says rudely.
When Bubblegum begins to growl and yap at Luca, Emily kicks of her heels and goes to rescue her dog who’s trying to dive beneath the pillow. When she sees what’s behind Luca, her little face goes pale and she slaps her hand over her mouth.
“What is it?” Sophia says. She kicks off her heels and joins her friend. Her face goes milk white…
Meanwhile, downstairs in the family room…
The sound of dog howls and ear piercing screams have Bronte and Grace on their feet to race up the stairs. They burst into Tonio’s room. The boys are pale and wide-eyed. Sophia and Emily clutch each other as they dance on the spot and scream at the top of their lungs. The dog’s growls have Bronte clapping her hands.
“What on earth is the matter?!” Bronte yells at the top of her voice.
A sobbing Emily is in her mother’s arms.
Sophia dances on the spot, her emerald eyes huge. “I did a spell, mama. A frog spell. And it’s come true,” she cries.
“Don’t be silly,” Bronte says.
But Grace’s eyes are like saucers when she clocks what Tonio lifts up his pillow. “Omigod! What on earth is that?”
Bronte shifts Tonio out of the way. Her jaw drops when she sees what he’s hiding. It’s an insect ‘house’ filled with leaves and twigs. “Tonio Ferranti! What on earth is that bug barn doing in my house?” She moves closer, and something inside the bug barn moves. It’s black. It’s huge. And it has long legs. A horrible shiver runs down her spine. “Is that… is that… a spider?”
Not many things give Bronte Ferranti the heebies, but a black spider the size of her fist is one of them.
Tonio heaves a huge sigh and shares a what’s-the-big-deal look with his brother. “Si. I am feeding the frog.”
Bronte clutches her chest. “FROG?!” she screeches at the top her voice.
A sound that makes the dogs bark even louder.
When a huge green toad moves in the bug barn, Grace shrieks at the top of her voice as she hugs a crying Emily and Sophia.
Meanwhile, Nico strolls into the kitchen-family room to find his baby daughter sleeping in her playpen with her blankie. His eyes go wide at the sound of yapping dogs, the high voices of his children, and his beloved bellowing at the top of her voice. He heads for the stairs.
As he pokes his head around the door of the room at the centre of all the fuss, Tonio’s bedroom, he takes in the scene. Dio mio. Seems Tonio has his bug barn in the house. Luca’s bottom lip is trembling. Grace clutches Sophia and Emily to her breast as if saving them from shark infested waters. Bronte’s hands are on her hips, her legs spread and she’s ringing a peal over Tonio’s head.
“Out! Out! OUT!” she cries. “And do not dare bring frogs or spiders or any living thing into this house.”
Tonio makes a face, but he carries the bug barn past a Bronte who takes a step back to give it a very wide berth. “It is only a little frog and one measly spider,” he mutters. Then he stops dead when he spots Nico. “Hey, papa.”
“What is going on?”
“It’s cold outside. We just want to help the frog,” Luca says as the boys troop past him and down the stairs.
Nico gives Bronte big eyes. “Frog?”
Bronte shivers dramatically. “Ugh. Don’t ask. What is it with boys and creepy crawlies?”
Nico flashes a white smile upon all the females in the room. “They are male. They are Italian!”
Many moons ago, when we lived in Nairobi, my son had a bug barn. We’d no idea he was keeping it in his bedroom. He was feeding a gecko bugs of every description. I’m not ashamed to say my screams were blood curdling and could be heard for miles.
Thank you so much for sharing the Golddigger love. This Friday we have the release of Golddigger short story number five, RUBY. And the girl is a pistol. I had the best time writing the story of two incredibly stubborn people. Falling in love can be crazy making and scary. Can Andre win the beautiful Ruby’s heart?
You can grab the story on pre-order on the links below.
Happy Monday, my lovelies!
Apparently, we’re about to have a polar vortex impact us over the next few weeks. Oooooooooh. Ice and snow is on its way. Oh, my. And I don’t know about you guys, but I think the world needs love – lots and lots of love – and kindness. Here is my tiny contribution to more love and kindness. The Ferranti family at home. And Sophia’s being… Sophia.
The Dower House…
In the family living-kitchen space, Bronte and Rosie are enjoying mummy time with their babies. Tucked up in her stroller, three month old Mila is in a milk induced coma. Bronte lays a heavy-eyed Eve in her playpen with her blankie.
“Camomile tea?” Bronte asks her best friend and sister-in-law.
Since it’s winter the girls are wearing their usual house uniform of skinny jeans, worn white at the seams, and cashmere sweaters. Rosie’s sweater is fire engine red and Bronte’s is black. Rosie’s Uggs lie abandoned on the floor. She tucks her legs beneath her on the couch and accepts a polka dot mug. “Cheers,” she says. “Can’t wait for my first cup of coffee once Mila’s weaned. Alexander reckons it’s the camomile tea that has her sleeping through the night.”
Bronte makes herself comfortable in a fat velvet chair the color of blueberries. She lifts her socked feet up on the matching footstool. “Cheers,” she says, sipping her tea. “Could be, plus the fact she’s simply adorable and so laid back she’s horizontal. Of course, I’m her auntie so I’m probably biased. Eve is such a good baby, too. Nico reckons it’s because of all the love and attention she receives from the kids.”
Rosie’s inky hair is tied in a messy knot of glossy curls on top of her head. She grins wickedly at her best friend, who looks simply amazing with her ash blonde hair skimming her shoulders. “Six and a half years ago, we were foot loose and fancy free. You thought you’d never marry, never mind have a child. Now look at you, Mrs Ferranti. All loved-up with Nico and mama to four children.”
Bronte’s emerald eyes dance. “You can talk. Your mother is in seventh heaven with her, hint-hint, first grandchild.” Her eyes go sad as she whispers, “I so wish my mum and dad had lived to see theirs.”
Rosie’s bright brown eyes dim a little in heartfelt sympathy. “I miss them, too. With Christmas around the corner, it’s always hard at this time of year.” Then she makes a face. “The mother from hell is already dropping hints about grandchild number two.”
Bronte laughs. “I love your mother. She has no filter between her brain and her mouth.”
Rosie rolls her eyes. “Yeah, she’s a laugh a minute. I told her Alexander won’t be up to making more babies until his love muscle heals. Even though she’s in Cyprus, her shriek of horror nearly broke my cell phone.”
Bronte bites down hard on her trembling bottom lip. “How is the brave little soldier?”
“It’s been two weeks and the love muscle is still healing. My mother told him to dip it in neat TCP. You should’ve seen his face. Stoopid man.”
Bronte grins. “How are you coping with no sex?”
Rosie gives her big, big eyes, and purrs, “Who says we’re having no sex? Dontcha know Alexander Ludlow is nothing if not inventive?”
Bronte holds up her hand in mock surrender. “Okay. Okay. I do not want to know what my brother gets up to in bed.”
Rosie pouts. “You started it.”
The noise of children and a barking dog has them crane their necks to look out floor to ceiling windows into the garden and the kiddie play area built of smooth oak.
“How’s Jimmy Chew?” Rosie asks.
“A complete joy. Sophia’s his favorite human.”
“Hmm,” Rosie says, her eyes narrow as she watches her niece and nephews and the family’s Bichon Frise. “Bet I know why.”
Bronte follows her gaze. She goes utterly still. “That girl! She’s a little monkey.”
“Yup. Dunno where she gets her ruthless streak.”
“Her father,” Bronte says tartly. She shoves her feet into her ankle black Uggs, grabs her duck down jacket and heads out the door with Rosie hot on her heels.
Like her brothers, Sophia is dressed in jeans and a fleece beneath a hooded duck down jacket. On her blonde head sits a cream beanie with a huge fake fur pom-pom the color of ink. She sits on the swing with an open bag of chips in her hands.
“Sit!” she says to the wide-eyed pup bouncing at her feet.
Jimmy Chew’s butt instantly hits the ground.
Sophia gives Jimmy Chew a chip. “One for you. And one for me.”
Her twin’s face is fierce. “You’re not supposed to feed Jimmy Chew human food,” Luca says in a stern voice.
“Si!” nine year old Tonio says. “Papa will punish you.”
Unrepentant, Sophia sends them a black look. “MY dog. My food. Piss off.”
“Mama says if you use that kind of language again in this house, you’ll get a smacked bottom,” Luca reminds her.
“And you can shut your big fat mouth, too,” a naughty Sophia says. She makes a horrible face. Then tosses her blonde plait over her shoulder.
“SOPHIA FERRANTI!” Bronte bellows in a tone that makes Miss Sophia’s green eyes go wide. She shoves the bag of chips in her pocket.
The angry tone of his mistress has Jimmy Chew make a high-speed beeline for the safe haven of Tonio who lifts him in his arms.
“You’re in big trouble,” Luca hisses to his twin under his breath.
“Poopie doo, girly hair,” the twin from hell says, referring to a very sensitive subject for her brother—his glossy curls. For good measure, she juts her chin.
Bronte and Rosie eye Sophia and the pup in Tonio’s arms. Bronte bends to sniff Jimmy Chew’s muzzle. Her chin’s bathed in puppy kisses.
“Cheese and onion chips,” she says. Turning to her daughter she holds out her hand palm up and wiggles her fingers. “Gimme.”
The unblinking battle of wills between mother and daughter is short and sweet. Mama wins. “Go to your room. No TV. No tablet. You may read. Papa will deal with you.”
Head held high, Sophia marches into the house.
Bronte turns to Tonio, shakes the packet. “How much did he eat?”
“Only a couple.”
“We TOLD her she’d get into trouble, but she ignores us, mama,” Luca says. “She keeps saying Jimmy Chew is HER dog. But he belongs to everyone.”
Bronte nods, her mind racing. The time has come for her daughter to learn a lesson, and she’s just the mama to do it. “Take him in, it’s too cold out here. Keep him in the family room in case he has an upset tummy.”
Luca’s face goes white. “Do you think she’s made him sick?”
“Well, we won’t know until we know, will we?” she says tartly. “One of you should have come and got me immediately. Jimmy Chew is EVERYONE’S responsibility. Papa will speak to you when he comes home.”
Rosie nibbles on her top lip as two miserable looking little boys trudge into the house with a wide-eyed, alert and perfectly fine little dog. “Omigod. Their faces. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Bronte turns to her. “That girl will be the death of me. When she’s wilful and naughty, my hand itches to spank her bottom. But, that wouldn’t work with her. Nope. We need to hit her where it hurts.”
“Where’s that?” asks a Rosie who was always up for learning a new parenting technique from the Ferranti’s.
“In the heart.”
Later, Nico, still dressed for work in one of his fancy suits, stands before his three children. In his arms is a bright and breezy Jimmy Chew. The kids are washed, teeth brushed and ready for bed. Between her brothers, her chin on her chest, sits his daughter. Even when she’s in the wrong her brother’s protect her.
“I am wondering,” he begins in a soft voice, “if we are the right family for a little dog who has already lost an owner. It seems we cannot look after him properly.”
Three heads lift, their faces white with shock. Sophia’s bottom lip trembles. “We love him, papa.”
Nico’s dark brows lift. “Do you? It does not look like it to me. There is a reason we do not give human food to dogs. Their digestive system does not deal well with sugar or fats. If you love him, Sophia, why would you want to make him sick?”
Her emerald eyes huge in her pale face, Sophia shakes her head. “But, I don’t want to make him sick. I just… just…”
“I want him to love me,” she whispers as a fat tear tips over to run down her cheek.
“You think you can buy love? Do mama and I buy your love, Sophia?”
Eyes swimming, she shakes her head. “No, papa. You love me to the moon and stars and back again.”
Nico clears the huge lump in his throat. “Si.”
“So, what should we do with Jimmy Chew?” Bronte says from the doorway. In her arms is a drowsy baby Eve fresh from her bath. “I need to be able to trust my family to help me look after and care for him. Feeding him chips or cookies is not looking after him, is it?”
Three heads shake.
“I’m thinking that Jimmy Chew needs a family who will put his needs first and love him as he deserves to be loved. What do you think?”
Luca looks her right in the eye. “We love him, mama. We won’t ever let anyone give him human food. We promise!”
“Sophia?” Nico whispers.
His daughter takes a shaky breath. “I’m sorry. I promise never to feed him snacks or treats again.”
Nico nods. “Very well. There are doggie treats, but we do not use them to buy his love. Do I make myself clear?”
“Yes, papa,” three soft voices chorus.
“Okay. It is time for bed.”
All three troop past their parents and up the stairs. The sound of bedroom doors closing has Nico give Bronte big eyes. “Dio mio, that was harsh, cara mia. I feel like crying myself.”
“Don’t waste your sympathy on her. You didn’t hear her telling the boys to piss off and inform Luca he has girly hair.”
Nico’s dark brows lift as he nuzzles a delirious Jimmy Chew. “Little monkey.”
Bronte moves into his personal space. She lifts up on her tip-toes to give his five-o’clock shadow a kiss. “She’s headstrong. She’s ruthless when she wants something, like someone else I know.”
Handsome face serious, Nico nods. “Si. She is Italian.”
Naughty Sophia! I can’t help but love her anyway.
‘Til Friday, when The Golddigger short story, SUKKI, goes live, be good.
Hugs and love,
Happy Monday, my wonderful peeps.
Here’s this week’s peek into the crazy lives of the residents of Ludlow Hall (and it’s a doozy)…
It’s late afternoon in Nico Ferranti’s office at Ludlow Hall…
Ah, it is good to kick back and relax after a busy and productive day. Nico powers down his laptop, leans back to stretch out in his fancy schmancy ergonomic chair of soft black leather. Don’t you just love it when everything in life comes together as it should? Psychologists call the occurrence a state of ‘flow’. Whatever, business is booming. His baby girl’s bruised cheek is healing as it should. The twins have settled into school and are sailing through math and reading tests. Tonio is top of his class and captain of the soccer team Go, Tonio! The baby is finally sleeping through the night, thank you, Jesus. His wife loves him to bits. Hell, when has life ever been this good? A brisk knock at the door and Josh Erichsen pokes his head in, smiles when he sees his pal. He strolls in and closes the door. Today, he’s wearing soft jeans, a pale blue button down shirt, navy sweater and black steel capped work boots. Seems Josh has been on a building site.
“Hey, passed Julie on her way out, she told me to come on through. You got time for a beer?”
Nico spins in his seat to the built-in cooler behind his desk. “Si! Have a seat. How are things?”
Josh eases himself into a fat leather club chair the color of blackcurrants, accepts an icy bottle of Peroni. “Thanks. Good. Broke ground on a new project. And, so far—touch wood—the planners are in harmony with my project manager and crew. Long may it last.”
Nico takes a sip of Italian nectar, closes his eyes to enjoy the moment. “And how are Jan and Boo?”
“Good. Boo’s found her feet and is on the move. Jan’s been teaching her how to climb down stairs backwards. It’s the cutest thing, evah.”
Experienced daddy, Nico nods. “Need eyes in the back of your head when they are at that age.”
Josh rolls blue eyes. “Tell me about it…” But, before he continues, a white-faced and wild-eyed Alexander plunges through the door.
Dressed for business in a smart dark grey suit handcrafted in Savile Row, his crisp white shirt is unbuttoned at the neck and his silk tie is askew. Alexander sinks gingerly into the chair next to Josh. “Thank god you’re still here, Nico,” he says in a squeaky voice. “I’m in deep shit.”
“Rosie? Mila?” Josh asks as he sits up, places his bottle on the leather top of Nico’s oak desk.
Alexander shakes his head, closes his eyes tight. “No. They’re fine. It’s me. I’ve had an accident.”
Alarm shoots up Nico’s spine. “Car accident? Anyone hurt?”
Again Alexander shakes his head, this time he lets out a long low groan. “No. Me. I’ve really messed up. I’ve spent all day trying to fix it. And I can’t. I can’t!”
Nico and Josh exchange a wide-eyed look.
Nico turns to a pale Alexander. “If it is business, you must not worry. There is nothing we cannot fix. Even if we’ve taken a financial hit, we will weather the storm.”
Alexander shakes his head. “No. No. Business is good. It’s… It’s me. I don’t know what to do.”
Josh reaches over to grab Alexander’s hand. “Are you sick? Is it bad?”
Cristo! Nico knew the state of ‘flow’ wouldn’t last. But, this? How will he tell Rosie and Bronte that Alexander is seriously ill? Panic uncoils in his gut.
Alexander closes his eyes tight and slumps in the chair. “No. I’m not sick. But I’ve gotta problem… a big problem.” He opens his eyes to watch their faces. “I need to go to A&E. I’ve seriously messed up, Nico.”
Bemused and bewildered, Nico looks at Josh. Josh looks at Nico, lifts his brows and shrugs in an I-have-no-clue-man gesture.
“What has happened?” Nico asks all at sea without a boat or a life jacket.
Alexander sits up places his elbows on his knees. His Adam’s apple bobs once, twice.
“It happened this morning. We were waiting for ‘the call’ to say we got the deal…”
“Si, and we won, so?”
“Well, I was in my bathroom and needed to pee. I was in a hurry. So, when the phone rang I… I…”
Josh leans forward. “You what?”
Alexander’s cheeks puff as he blows out a very long breath. “I pulled up the zipper of my pants too fast… and trapped a long sliver of skin on the underside of my dick in the metal teeth of the zip.”
When Josh takes a deep inhale of utter horror and Nico’s eyes go wide, Alexander nods. “And, it’s bad. Four inches of skin stuck fast.”
“Omigod,” Josh whispers, his face pale. His eyes drop to Alexander’s package. He winces. “Can’t you just, sort of, yank the zipper down?”
“I thought of it, but I can’t bring myself to do it.”
Nico cranes his neck to check out the package in trouble. “Looks okay from here.”
Alexander shakes his head. “No. It’s not this zip! I had to cut myself out of my suit pants. The zipper’s still attached. These are new pants. Christ, how am I gonna tell Rosie? I will never, ever, live this down?”
Never mind Rosie, Nico thinks. What about Bronte? He stands up. “Right. We will go to the emergency room and get this sorted. Nessun problema!”
“I’m coming, too,” Josh says, his blue eyes dancing with sheer wickedness.
“I feel sick,” Alexander mutters as his two best pals escort him out of Ludlow Hall and into the car park and into Nico’s black shiny Range Rover.
“We will fix it!” Nico slaps Alexander on the back so hard Josh coughs to hide a choke of laughter.
In the accident and emergency department of the local hospital, the guys stand at the long narrow desk in reception…
The place smells of antiseptic with an oily undertone of bodily fluids. There are a small number of people seeking assistance, including a young mother with a young baby, and an elderly man sitting on a trolley with a horrible head wound.
“How can I help you?” A grey-haired dragon who protects the gates for the genuinely sick and injured eyes three men who look the picture of health. Her gaze narrows on Josh’s shit-eating grin, Alexander’s white face, and Nico’s I’m-in-charge toothy white smile.
Alexander opens his mouth—but nothing comes out except a pitiful squeak. A squeak that makes the dragon’s black pencil brows rise sharply above the black frame of her reading glasses. “What the problem?” she snaps.
Alexander closes his eyes, drops his chin to his chest. “I have a delicate and personal problem.”
The dragon leans over the desk. “Listen up. In here there is nothing I have not seen or heard. Do you or do you not require the immediate attention of a doctor?”
Alexander lifts his head, his Adam’s apple bobbing. “I’ve trapped my penis the zipper of my pants.” He holds out his thumb and forefinger about four inches. “This much.”
She doesn’t blink. “And these guys are your two amigos who have come to support you in your hour of need?”
“Okay. Let’s fill in the details.” She turns to the flat screen on her desk to bring up a form, and barks, “Name?”
Thirty minutes later, Alexander’s heart is going crazy against his ribs. Jesus, he needs to keep calm. The thought of a needle going anywhere near his junk makes perspiration bead on his top lip. He’s lying on his back on a narrow bed in a cubicle without his suit pants, his Calvins and his shoes. On either side of the bed are two young nurses. They’re wearing thin latex gloves and holding long metal tweezers. They are total professionals. Not once have they snickered or grinned at his predicament. In fact, if anything, their serious demeanour is having him shit bricks.
“You’ve really caught the foreskin,” one says as she peers up close and personal at his dick. He can feel her breath on super sensitive flesh. He closes his eyes tight and tries to ignore the way her latex covered fingers are fiddling with metal teeth on delicate flesh.
“It’s a good job you didn’t leave it until tomorrow, or you would be in bigger trouble. This sort of thing happens all the time, usually to young boys. But, it’s important to seek help as soon as possible before swelling or infection takes hold,” the other one says. She has a white can in her hand and shakes it with vigour. “I’m just going to use a numbing spray. It’s cold. It won’t hurt.”
When the freezing spray shrivels his junk, Alexander nearly hit the ceiling. His girly yelp mortifies him enough he covers his burning face with the hands. And is that laughter he hears from his two amigos sitting behind the curtain? Bastards.
Twenty minutes later…
“I think we need to get a doctor. He might need a circumcision,” a nurse says. Her wide blue eyes are sympathetic as they meet an Alexander’s who’s lungs have gone tight with something like horror. “Good job you didn’t try to yank down the zip or we’d be dealing with the plastic surgeon. Let me go get the duty registrar.”
As she closes the curtains, she sends a wide-eyed reproof to a Nico and Josh who are suffering great paroxysms of silent laughter.
“Did you hear him whine when she said circumcision?” Josh whispers to a teary Nico.
“Si.” Nico inhales a couple of deep breaths through his nose.
“Did you see how he couldn’t speak to the receptionist? He tried twice and nothing came out?” Josh whispers, swiping tears of hilarity from his wet cheeks.
The nurse returns with a young Asian doctor dressed in blue scrubs hot on her heels. The doctor eyes a Nico and Josh who sit up straight in their grey plastic chairs and assume serious expressions of brotherly solidarity. The doctor clearly isn’t impressed as he breezes past them. The nurse closes the curtains with a snap.
“Stop laughing. It’s not funny,” Josh leans over to whisper into Nico’s ear.
Nico nods, but his smooth brow creases as he bites down hard on his bottom lip, his wide shoulders shaking. Dio mio, who would have thought he’d be spending the early part of the evening in a drama involving Alexander’s dick?
Half an hour later…
Josh and Nico walk back to the car with a relieved Alexander between them.
Alexander lets out a shaky laugh. “Rosie’s gonna kill me. No sex until the stitches dissolve and the wound is fully healed, not even with a condom. Honestly, when the nurse mentioned going under the knife, I thought I was gonna pass out.” He places a hand on Josh and Nico’s shoulder. “Sorry I spoilt your evenings. Thank you so much for coming with me.”
Nico turns to give him a toothpaste-white smile. “Nessun problema. I would not have missed this for the world.”
“Are you in pain?” Josh asks from the back seat as the car glides down the winding country road toward Ludlow Hall.
“Stings a bit, but painkillers will deal with it,” Alexander says, and stretches out as he relaxes for the first time in eight hours. He turns to eye a Nico who is biting down hard on his bottom lip. “You’d better warn Tonio and Luca about the dangers of zippers, pal.”
Nico turns to give him big eyes. “No need. They are Italian!”
Ah, men and zips.
The jaws of death.
This Friday we have the first of the Golddiggers short story. I don’t think I’ve ever had such a great time in my entire writing career. There are eight in total to take us right through the holiday season!
I can’t believe this is the tenth book set in the Ludlow Hall world (although when I count in the Ludlow Nights books it’s thirteen with BREAK THE RULES coming soon). Who’d have thought when I released RECKLESS NIGHTS IN ROME in 2012 it would lead to this!
Last night H and I were talking about the last four years and we goggled at the thought that by the end of this year there will be TWENTY-SIX books (including The Golddiggers) out by the end of 2016. And if I’m spared and well, there are incredibly exciting things coming for 2017/18.
A big hug and smoochies to my readers who keep me going every single day. I love receiving your emails and messages so keep them coming. For the Sophia Ferranti fans out there (and, boy, there are plenty) your favourite girl has a starring role in SEAN, just thought I’d put that out there. Hehehe.
Sean and Katherine and the supporting characters have been an absolute gift to an author, and I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I’ve loved writing them.
On Monday it’s another Ludlow Hall sneak peek as we join the Ferranti twins on their first day of school. What could possibly go wrong?
It’s Monday, which means another sneak peek into life with the Ferranti family and their friends:
Bronte and Emily’s mummy, Grace, are enjoying a coffee and chat in the family kitchen at The Dower House while their daughters have a play date. What, I hear you ask, could possibly go wrong? Read on, peeps, read on…
Sophia and Emily are sitting on the rug in Sophia’s bedroom. They’re dressed up to the nines – oceans of pink tulle, plastic silver tiaras on their head, feather boas wrapped around their neck, rings on every finger, faces painted with kiddie makeup applied with a heavy hand. Emily rummages in one of her mummy’s old handbags, it’s a battered clutch of patent leather in an eye watering pink.
“I love that bag. It’s my favorite,” Sophia says, eyeing Emily’s bag with feminine lust.
Emily has an almost empty bottle of perfume in her hand. For a moment, she struggles with the stopper, then shoves the bottle under her best pal’s nose. “Me, too. My mummy says she must have been color blind the day she bought it.”
Sophia takes a sniff, makes a horrible face. “Ugh. That’s revolting.”
Emily takes a careful inhale, nods. “It’s not very nice, is it? I found it in the bin in mummy’s bathroom. Does perfume go off do you think, like food?”
Sophia lifts her hands, shrugs and makes a how-the-hell-do-I-know face. Then she frowns when a thought enters her mind. “Mama has bottles and bottles of special perfumes in her walk-in closet. She says if papa buys her any more of the stuff from Paris and Rome, she’s gonna open her own shop.”
Emily turns huge blue eyes to her friend. “Can I see them?”
Sophia stands, and wobbles a bit in a pair of her mama’s old heels. Her papa told her to be careful not to break her neck, but these shoes are a shiny red and make an awesome clicking sound when she clatters on the stone floor in the kitchen. When Emily stands in her pair of her mummy’s discarded heels, these are pink to match her bag, and nearly falls on her ass, Sophia grabs her hand in solidarity.
Together they shuffle their way out the door and down the carpeted hallway, past baby Eve’s room, and into the sacred sanctuary of Bronte and Nico Ferranti’s bedroom suite. Like heat seeking missiles of mass destruction they head for the double doors behind which hides Bronte’s boudoir. Sophia releases Emily’s hand to open the doors. Since the light switch is too high on the wall, she takes off her shoes, just for a minute, to drag over a footstool. She climbs up, illuminates a space that has little Emily’s blue eyes go wide and her jaw drop. Once Sophia’s got her balance in her high heels, she grabs her best pal’s hand and together they move forward.
“Wow,” Emily says.
Sophia nods. “I know. My auntie Rosie says it’s the mother lode. My mama says it’s a total waste of space.”
“When I marry Tonio,” Emily begins with a determined glint in her blue eyes. A glint which makes Sophia roll her eyes to heaven, since there is no way her brother will marry her best friend because unless Emily has a growth spurt she’ll never be a super model or a film star or a pop princess. Undeterred, Emily drags Sophia forward as she continues, “We’ll live in a lovely house just like this one and he’ll make me a dressing room like this. Look at all the shoes! Look at all the bags! And I love the built-in closets. And wow, look at all the pretty bottles.”
When Sophia presses a light switch beneath the dressing table to illuminate the pretty bottles with their gold, silver and glass stoppers. Emily again gasps. “Do you think we can smell one?” she asks, her little fingers twitching as her hand hovers over a crystal bottle with a heavy glass top.
A voice in Sophia’s head whispers, ‘Do-not-touch.’ But where’s the harm in a small sniff? “Sure,” she says, lifts the bottle and struggles to release the stopper.
Meanwhile Emily’s bouncing up and down as if she’s about to pee her pants. “Let me,” she says and snatches the bottle. Her little face goes puce but eventually the stopper pops. A heady scent fills the air as she spills perfume down the front of her Elsa tulle dress.
Sophia tsk-tsks as she opens a drawer to find a white cotton vest to mop up the spill. Meanwhile a beaming Emily takes a deep inhale. “Ooooh, I love it.”
Sophia stuffs the vest back where it belongs, closes the drawer with her hip and reaches for another bottle. “Mama loves this one best. She sprays it in the air and walks through it, like this.” She sprays a couple of blasts in the air and together they stagger through the scent.
Emily closes her eyes and gives a blissful sigh of sheer happiness. “It’s gorgeous. What else does she like?”
Sophia reaches for two bottles and hands one to Emily. “You try that one and I’ll try this one…”
Meanwhile, in the family kitchen-living space, Emily’s mummy is cuddling baby Eve.
“I wish I could have another baby, but it wasn’t to be,” Grace says, giving the baby’s hot cheek a nuzzle. “I could just eat her all up. She’s gorgeous, Bronte. I love the black curls and have you seen the length of those lashes. This one’s going to break hearts.”
Bronte grins, tops up their coffee cups from the pot. “She’s as good as gold. Nico reckons she takes after Luca in nature and I think he’s right. She’s nothing like her sister that’s for sure, thank the Lord.”
Her friend laughs. “Sophia’s brought Emily right out of her shell and I’ll always be grateful for that.”
Bronte nods. “Yep, and Emily keeps Sophia on the straight and narrow, bless her little heart. She’s a good influence on my daughter.”
“They’re like a pair of old women when they get started,” Grace says, her blue eyes dancing with wicked delight. “Emily’s taken to quoting auntie Rosie every five minutes.”
Bronte’s emerald eyes go wide as she shakes her head. “Know something? Rosie’s never changed since she was three. I could write a book about what we got up to when we were small. We gave our mothers grey hair…” She’s warming to her theme when a bare footed Luca wearing below the knee denim shorts and Spiderman T shirt races into the room and slides to a stop in front of the couch. Her son is looking a little flushed, but his dark eyes are glittering with excitement. “What’s up, bub?”
Before Luca can respond, she shifts forward on the couch to sniff his hair. “Is that Joy I smell?”
Luca’s black curls bounce as he nods. “Don’t know the name of it, but Sophia and Emily made me walk through what they call a cloud of scent. They’ve been in your closet and they stink, mama.”
“Omigod,” Grace whispers.
The women are on their feet and out the door so fast Luca has trouble keeping up with them.
Her eyes on stalks as she steps inside Bronte’s closet, Grace whispers, “Wow.”
“SOPHIA FERRANTI!” Bronte yells at the top of her voice in a tone that has Luca sprinting for the safety of his bedroom and bang the door closed. And a yell that has Sophia jump two feet in the air and drop the bottle in her hand. Chanel No 5 pools on the rug.
“Omigod,” Grace whispers again. Her hand covers her mouth and nose to protect her from a toxic mix of scents.
An hour later and both Emily and Sophia have barely survived three baths, and been scrubbed raw by their furious mothers. And still a lingering scent of Joy permeates the bathroom. A weeping Emily’s gone home with a Grace who can’t apologise enough for the olfactory Armageddon in Bronte’s closet and her daughter’s part in it. There will be no movies for Ms. Emily for the foreseeable future. And as for Ms. Sophia…
Half an hour later, Nico and Tonio arrive home from soccer practice to find Bronte lying on her back on the couch in the family room with her feet up and a very large glass of white wine in her hand. When she spots them, she closes her eyes and rests her head on the arm of the couch.
Nico lifts his brows then he sniffs the air like a wolf scenting trouble.
“Phew,” Tonio says. “What’s that smell?”
“Cara mia,” Nico says. “It is not a good idea to mix perfumes. The result is not appealing.”
His wife gazes at him through narrowed eyes. “Tell me about it,” she growls.
He moves to lift her legs, sits on the couch and begins a foot rub. A foot rub usually works for whatever ails her.
“We’re sleeping in one of the guest rooms tonight,” she says, and takes a deep sip of her wine.
“We are, because thanks to our daughter and her best-best-friend we need oxygen just to enter ours. We have a specialist cleaning company coming in tomorrow to deep clean the carpets in our bedroom and my closet and the hallway. Even then they cannot guarantee the toxic mix of Joy and Chanel No 5 and Clive Christian No 1 will be removed.”
Nico’s jaw drops. “Clive Christian?” he whispers in horror.
“Yup. Good job I hate the stuff even if it is expensive. Emily spilled it on her Elsa dress. Grace and I had to give them three baths and even then they still reek to high heaven.”
“They were in you closet?”
“Yes, to ‘just have a little sniff’ of my perfumes. Nico, you’ll need to see it to believe it.”
“Sophia’s being punished,” Bronte says. “No movies for a whole month.”
“Women,” Tonio says with his head buried in the fridge on the hunt for any leftovers. He scores when he finds strawberry milkshake and cheese and pickle sandwiches wrapped in foil. As he piles sandwiches on a plate and places it on the table, he grabs the milkshake and takes a seat. “They’re too high maintenance with perfumes and makeup and hair products. Who needs it?”
“You will think differently when you are nineteen instead of nine,” Nico says.
“Uh-huh,” Tonio mutters with his mouthful. He catches Bronte’s gimlet eye and swallows. “I want a woman like mama. A natural beauty. Not fake.”
Nico bites down hard on his bottom lip as Bronte’s eyes go all soft as she watches Tonio. The boy knows exactly how to play her. But then why is he surprised? He’s Italian.
Ah, that smoothed tongued Tonio. In Italy, they start them young at charm school.
I actually have a story about perfumes and my daughters when they were small. You’ve just read it, except exchange the Chanel No5, etc., for Nina Ricci and Boots. The result was pretty much the same.
SEAN goes live a week on Friday. Put the 30th of September in your diary.
I’m busy writing/editing/formatting/publishing on pre-orders THE GOLDDIGGERS.
Can’t say life is dull in this house!
Here’s our favourite Ludlow Hall girls doing what they do best:
Bronte, Rosie and Janine are holding a management meeting at Sweet Sensations. And Rosie’s still on a high from her meeting with the GOLDDIGGERS the night before …
“You should have seen them, Jan. They looked like long legged gazelles. I’d love to be a Golddigger,” Rosie says wistfully. Lounging on the office couch, dressed in her chef whites with her rubber kitchen clogs discarded on the floor, she certainly didn’t look like a Golddigger. After working on a lace icing design for two hours, the way her neck aches she doesn’t feel like a Golddigger either.
Sitting behind the glass-topped desk, wearing black skinny jeans, Nike running shoes and a white vest, Jan’s fingers fly over the keyboard of her laptop typing the minutes of the meeting. “Uh huh,” she says. “I’d have thought with the amount of work you did today that you’d be too tired to even think about being a Golddigger.”
Oblivious to the way Bronte rolls her eyes, Rosie wiggles tired toes. “My Golddigger name is Ms. Rosie La Fleur, and sitting over there wearing her bored face is Ms. Bronte Bon-Bon.”
Jan’s laugh peals through the loft space of the office. “I can see those names up in lights.”
Rosie grins. “And you’re Midnight Martini.”
“I like it,” Jan says.
“Nico’s not said much about tonight’s stag party, or the Golddiggers,” Bronte muses. She’s wearing her usual black Capri pants and matching short sleeved T-shirt and leather flats on her narrow feet.
“Nico’s not really a stag night sort of guy,” Rosie says. “Unlike Alexander who had a haircut today.”
Jan shook her head. “Josh isn’t excited either. He said he’d be home early.”
“That’s because you’re in the honeymoon period of your relationship and God knows you made him fight every single step of the way to woo you.”
Unoffended with the accurate summary, Jan smiles. “He’s still wooing me.”
“There you go,” Rosie says.
“Nico doesn’t look at other women, when he’s with me I mean.”
“Of course he doesn’t,” Rosie agrees. “That’s because he’s got the equivalent of a Golddigger at home. You’ve got the height and the legs and the looks. It’s a mystery to me why I don’t hate you, but in spite of the fact you’re a cranky pants at times, I don’t.”
Bronte’s emerald eyes twinkle. “Why thank you kindly, Ms. La Fleur.”
Rosie turns to a Jan who’s still rattling the keys, and pouts. “And you’ve got the height and the legs and the looks, too. It’s only me who’s vertically challenged.”
Jan gazes at her over her laptop. “Good things come in small packages. Josh adores you.”
“He does. And I adore him. But not in a dirty way.”
“I should bloody well hope not,” Bronte says. “You’re married to my brother.”
Rosie’s smile grows wicked. “I wore my best Agent Provocateur last night. Black silk and lace corset with tiny panties and …”
She stops when Bronte shoots her a finger. “I don’t want to hear it,” she says in a tone that means business.
“I do. Ignore her. Tell me everything,” Jan says, her blue eyes twinkling.
“I was about to show him some of the moves the Golddigger’s taught me, but my plan didn’t work out.”
Jan stops typing. “What happened?”
“Next thing I know I’m over his shoulder and he’s taking the stairs two at a time.” Rosie ignores Bronte’s heartfelt groan. “Apparently Alexander Ludlow knows some kinky moves himself.”
“Good Lord,” Bronte mutters.
“How many times did you see Jesus?” Jan wants to know.
Rosie hold up three fingers.
“Aww,” Jan says. “I love it when that happens.”
Bronte gazes at her best friends, smiles like a cat who’s got the cream. “Three times in one night is nothing to an Italian.”
Ah, that Nico, why am I not surprised?
It’s gonna be a busy September and October here on the blog. SEAN is out two weeks on Friday then the GOLDDIGGERS short stories are released every Friday from the end of October.
Love and hugs,