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

Aim for the Ping Pong Ball

 

Hello, my darlings!

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

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

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

The Dower House…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Luca mentioned it. He is most displeased.”

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

“That girl could rule the world.”

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

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

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

Rosie snorted a laugh. “The Greatest Showman?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Of course he is!”

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

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

“I ran away.”

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

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

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

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

The car turned into the driveway of The Dower House.

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

Her wistful tone had Rosie give her big eyes.

“Are you broody again?”

Bronte blinked.

“Me? No!”

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

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

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

“He’s always up for it.”

 

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

Rosie opened her arms and Sophia gave her a hug.

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

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

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

Sophia spun around to face Bronte. “Mama!”

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

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

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

“Is it blocked again?”

Sophia shook her head.

“Nope. But it stinks of wee.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Now, Nico Ferranti was not stupido.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Wanna bet?” his sister said.

“How much?”

“Twenty.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Let’s do it!”

 

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

The Ferranti family were eating dinner.

Bronte blinked. “Omigod. Now what?”

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

Bronte turned to her. “What worked?”

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

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

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

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

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

When she opened her mouth, Nico jumped in.

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

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

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

“I did not splash.”

“Twenty pounds, boyo.”

He stared at his sons.

“How do you know it was me?”

“You dripped.”

His jaw dropped.

“Did not!”

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

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

“You did not!”

“Yup. It’s X-rated, btw.”

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

How embarrassing was this.

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

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

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

Dio, he adored her.

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

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

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

He sat back and placed bare feet on a stool.

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

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

“Boys will be boys.”

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

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

Emerald eyes filled with love and fun stared into his.

“You sulking?”

His nose kissed hers.

“I don’t sulk.”

“Okay, I’d call it a pout.”

“I don’t pout.”

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

Then his mouth took hers…….

 

FINE

 

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

So does my H and my son….

Until next time!

Hugs,

Christine X

 

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

It's the Ludlow Hall Short StoryMarch2018

Hellooooo,

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

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

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

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

Now, Rosie was on children duty…

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

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

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

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

“We do.”

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

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

Best friends shared clothes, that was a rule.

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

“They never let other people down.”

“They don’t,” Sophia concurred.

The girls stripped down to their underwear.

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

She made a face.

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

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

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

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

Emily’s little mouth pouted in clear disappointment.

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

“Okay.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Her belly ache got worse.

She hoped her mama and papa never got a divorce.

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

What if her papa and mama sold The Dower House?

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

The thought made her feel sick.

“How come?” she asked Emily.

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

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

“Never heard of it,” Sophia said.

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

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

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

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

“Let’s ask him,” she said.

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

“Enter,” Tonio called, channelling his papa.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

He returned to his magazine.

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

 

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

Sophia sighed.

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

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

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

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

The martial gleam in her blue eyes seriously alarmed Sophia.

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

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

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

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

Emily sprang to her feet, her eyes bright.

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The girl was a complete sweetheart.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eve glared at her big brother. “Batman!”

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

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

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

Strong words had been exchanged.

Bronte had drawn a red line in the sand.

The woman had to go, she’d told Nico.

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rosie’s eyes went wide.

“Seriously?”

“Yup. That bad.”

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

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

Rosie just shook her head.

“She’s a Rottweiler.”

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

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

God, her niece had a super-sensitive radar.

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

Alexander followed her gaze and nodded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He sent them a cheesy grin.

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

Sophia blinked. “Where?”

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

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

Alexander inhaled his beer.

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

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

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

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

“It’s a poem not a game.”

Tonio looked bitterly disappointed.

“Oh,” he said.

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

“Have you washed your hands?”

Everyone, except Luca, nodded.

Rosie pointed to him. “Go!”

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

 

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

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

Sophia sent him a bland look.

“I can’t find something nice to say.”

Luca’s brows rose.

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

 

END for now

 

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

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

Christine xx

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s the Ludlow Hall Sneak Peek…

fridayludlowhallsneakpeekyougottafriendinme

Hi guys,

This weeks peek at a day in the lives of the Ferranti family is a day late. And never fear, the next Desert Orchid chapter will go live later today – and it’s a doozy!

***

Bronte, Tonio, Luca and Sophia are in the car on their way home…

Sofia Ferranti had to pee.

Nerves, and fear, plus the very rare Coke she’d had for being a good girl while her mamma had shopped in the supermarket all combined to fill her seven-year-old bladder to bursting.

Today had been one of the worst school days of her life.

Ever.

Ms. Brown was not happy with her.

And man, was she in big trouble when her mama and papa found out?

She wriggled in her car seat and wished she was home.

 

Bronte reckoned her children were very quiet considering it was a Friday afternoon. In the rear view mirror she kept a weather eye on Sofia.

A Sofia who was staring out of the window as if she was watching her favourite movie, Frozen. And a Sophia who’d been unnaturally quiet during supermarket shopping. A miracle, because her daughter loathed supermarket shopping with a passion only matched by that of her papa.

“We are nearly home,” Bronte sang.

No response.

Tonio who sat in the front passenger seat of the car turned to look at her.

The boy was growing like a weed. They’d just purchased his second pair of school shoes within three months.

When Bronte caught his eye, he made a face as if to say, what’s the matter with them?

In response Bronte shrugged.

“Is Luca asleep?” Bronte asked Tonio.

Tonio craned his neck to suss out what was happening behind him.

He nodded. “He’s out for the count.”

Bronte again checked on Sofia in the mirror.

She frowned at how pale her daughter looked.

Maybe she was sickening for something?

Please God, not the flu.

So far, they’d managed to escape the virus.

“We’re nearly home,” Bronte said again.

Silence.

She decided to give up.

No point in causing drama while she was driving the car.

 

By the time Sophia had raced to the bathroom to do her business, washed her hands, changed her school uniform for her favorite soft jeans and cozy sweater it was time for dinner.

Every Friday the family all ate together, that was the rule, if Papa got home in time.

Tonight Papa was running thirty minutes late.

And Sofia didn’t know whether to be happy or sad.

Thing was, she was in what her auntie Rosie would call – a hot mess.

Miss Brown, had given Sophia a sealed letter for her mamma and Papa.

A letter which she was sure described in glorious detail exactly what sin Sophia had committed today.

The thing was, Sofia didn’t want to give her mamma and Papa the letter.

She was in enough bother after setting the toaster oven on fire and causing chaos in the house last week.

But how was she to know that taking a baby book to school would have caused so much trouble?

The book was called A Child is Born.

And had the most amazing pictures of how a baby grew inside a mummy’s tummy.

The problems had started when Johnny Lacy had gagged when he saw the picture of a child being born.

And when Sophia had taken time to explain to him exactly how the child had ended up inside the mummy’s tummy in the first place, the Stoooooopid boy had thrown-up all over her best friend Emily’s new shoes. Which meant Miss Brown had not been happy with Sophia. She’d even confiscated book and refused to return it.

Sophia new perfectly well that her mamma and Papa would not have allowed her to take the book to school in the first place.

But she’d wanted to prove to Johnny Lacy that his explanation of how a baby got into a mummy’s tummy was wrong.

And now Johnny’s mummy was upset with Sophia too.

So today had turned into a complete nightmare for Sophia Ferranti.

 

Her best friend Emily had promised faithfully to say nothing to her mummy because she was a good pal of Sophia’s mama. And Tonio and Luca had promised to say nothing too. Now Sophia sat on the couch cuddling Jimmy Chew and felt that her dog was her only friend in the whole wide world.

“Are you sure you’re okay?” Her mother asked for like the tenth time.

Actually, Sofia is feeling a bit sick in her stomach.

“I’m fine,” she whispered, and wished bedtime would hurry up and come.

 

Nico Ferranti was in a good mood.

He’d had a great day at Ludlow Hall.

It looked liked the flu virus from hell had finally burned itself through his staff.

And just to put a cherry on top of the cake, his PA Julie had returned to work.

Yay!

And now he got to spend quality time with his family for the whole weekend.

In his plans were an early night and plenty of good loving with his wife.

Whistling a happy tune, he strolled through the back door The Dower House, and got hit right between the eyes with a scent sent from heaven—his wife’s famous Italian red sauce, featuring basil and oven roasted tomatoes and garlic bread warm from the oven.

His mouth watered.

And then he got all soppy when he spotted the fat glass of Chianti sitting on the worktop, just waiting for him.

His wife knew exactly how to look after him.

He was a lucky man.

To show his appreciation and love, he grabbed Bronte around the waist and kissed the breath from her.

He loved the little purr in her throat. He loved the way she ran her fingers through his black hair.

Her nails scratched his scalp.

“Wow,” she said, when they came up for air. “What did I do to deserve that?”

He grinned at the dazed expression on her face.

“You look after me. You look after everyone. And I love you.”

She stroked the back of her hand down his cheek, her emerald eyes filled with love for him.

Yes, Nico reckoned he was one lucky bastard.

 

During dinner, Bronte put the lack of conversation from Sophia down to tiredness. After all, the kids had had a busy week at school. However, the little niggle in her belly just refused to quit. Bronte decided that tomorrow was another day. A day where she’d spend time with Sophia and get to the bottom of what was bothering her.

 

Once the children had teeth brushed, bathed and put to bed—after three rounds of story time of course, Nico and Bronte had time to themselves.

On the couch, he’d just taken her in his arms for a bit of heavy petting, when baby Eve’s tired cry came over the intercom.

Nico looked to Heaven. “Teething is hell,” he said to Bronte.

His wife stood, lifted her arms as if reaching for the sky, and yawned hugely.

“Her little cheeks are so hot. I’ll give her Calpol. That should sort it.”

Nico stretched out his long legs clad in loose black jeans, and wiggled his bare toes.

It looked as if his plan for an early night and romance may not happen.

Then he counted his many blessings, and shrugged.

He was a lucky man.

“Papa?”

The voice of one of his blessings came from behind him.

Nico looked to heaven.

“Sophia, cara mia, what is the matter?”

He turned, and found his daughter looking pale.

She was dressed in brushed cotton pink frilly pyjamas with the picture of Elsa on the front.

A gift from auntie Rosie.

And in her arms she clutched her Raggedy Ann doll.

A sure sign that something was up.

He watched her as Sophia crept closer.

And it wasn’t until she stood right before him that she looked him dead in the eye and said, “Promise you won’t be a grumpy Papa?”

Uh oh.

Trouble.

Nico leaned back and placed his hands behind his head.

He took plenty of time to study his daughter’s guilty face.

Maybe they were too soft with her?

Maybe she needed a firmer hand?

He rubbed the spot above his heart.

He couldn’t do it.

“On a scale of one to ten,” he said, “One being nothing too awful, what have you done this time?”

Her bare toes made little circles on the thick rug of ivory wool.

And she clutched Raggedy Ann even closer.

“It might be an eight? Maybe? I have a letter from Miss Brown to you and mamma in my schoolbag. And I don’t wanna give it to you.”

Nico’s brows rose into his hairline and he puffed out his cheeks.

“A letter from your teacher?”

Sophia nodded. “Yes.”

And now Sophia’s chin began to wobble and her eyes filled.

And in that moment, Nico knew he was toast.

No way could he harden his heart against tears.

He opened his arms and found his baby girl’s arms wound tight around his neck.

He let her cry.

Sometimes it was good to cry.

He didn’t want to think about the contents of the letter.

He couldn’t begin to imagine.

 

“What on earth is the matter?” Bronte said as she walked into the room.

Nico found his daughter holding him even tighter.

He made a face at his wife.

“Sophia has a letter for us from her teacher.”

“So what’s the problem?” Bronte asked.

“I don’t think it’s a friendly letter,” Nico said.

Bronte took a seat and tucked her legs beneath her butt.

“Hit me with it.”

By this time Sofia’s sobs were down to a snuffle.

“It’s in her school bag,” Nico said.

Bronte rose and padded to the boot room in her bare feet, and returned with Sophia’s schoolbag.

She sat down opened it and rummaged through the detritus until she found the letter.

For a long moment her eyes held his before she opened it and read the contents.

After reading it through twice, she bit down hard on her bottom lip and blinked frantically.

Nico heaved a heavy sigh.

He had a horrible feeling.

“That bad?”

By this time Sofia was sitting on her Papa’s lap, her cheek tucked against his chest and with one eye on her mamma.

Her cheeks were hot.

Bronte shook her head

“Well, it seems Miss Brown wants to know if we’ve been teaching sex education to our kids recently. Because it seems Sophia has been very busy informing her classmates about the birds and bees and vivid descriptions of natural childbirth.”

Nico shifted to catch Sophia’s eye.

“Seriously?”

Sophia drew circles on his T-shirt with her fingertip and all the while her big emerald eyes held his.

“It was all in the baby book,” she said in a small voice.

“What baby book?” Her mama asked.

“A Child is Born.” Sophia told her.

Bronte’s eyes went wide.

“Good Lord, you took that book to school?”

Sophia nodded. “Johnny Lacy said that babies came from heaven. That the stork brought the baby and left it at the hospital for mummies and daddies to collect. I said he was a big fat liar. He pushed me and I pushed him back. So I took the book into school. Because he can’t argue with the photographs, can he? I told him not to spread fake news.”

 

Silence.

No matter how hard Nico tried he couldn’t stop laughing.

His big body shook and he knew he daren’t meet his wife’s eyes.

Bronte meanwhile was reading the rest of the letter.

“Well, Miss Brown says that Sophia Ferranti did a better job than she could have done and that she will return the book the next time she sees me.”

Sophia blinked at her like a baby owl.

“You mean, I’m not in big trouble?”

Bronte leaned over and went nose-to-nose with her daughter.

“See what happens when you don’t give me a letter when you’re supposed to? You worried yourself for hours for nothing. All I am going to say is that you do not take any books from our library without asking permission. You okay with that?”

Sophia climbed off her Papa’s lap and went to receive a hug from her mamma.

A big hug.

Bronte lifted her and headed for the stairs.

“Say goodnight to Papa.”

“Night Papa.”

 

Nico topped up his glass of Chianti, sat back and closed his eyes.

There was never, he reckoned, a dull moment at the Dower house.

And he wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

FINE

 

Aw, no fake news for Sophia.

I’m busy writing Desert Captive, Our Rules, and have Gregorio Ancelotti’s story cooking on the back burner.

Big hugs,

Christine X

It’s Monday and an exclusive book deal…

Happy Monday, my darlings.

The lovely people at Amazon have got BREAK THE RULES on #FREE  exclusive deal for a limited time. Come and get it and tell your friends.  (Link below new cover pic).

BREAKTHERULESJPG

GET IT HERE

 

 

Sean Kennedy had a simple rule when it came to women—if they were hard work—he didn’t bother.
Why put himself through unnecessary hassle?And then he met a blonde bombshell…

From the moment Sean Kennedy frisked T.C. he captivated her. The look in the bodyguard’s tawny eyes for her was too intense, insanely sexy and dominant. He was a powerful man who towered over everyone. And a man who believed he could have anything and anyone. Despite T.C.’s reservations, she had a night of passion with him. A night which brought the demons of her past into her present and her future.
Demons that have no intention of ever letting her go.
But Sean was a man prepared to fight dirty for the woman he wanted.
And a man who’d never lost a battle—yet.

 

Enjoy!

I’m working on the second part of the Desert Orchid duet, Desert Captive, coming soon. And beginning tomorrow I’m posting a chapter a day of Desert Orchid to get you in the mood.

Big hugs,

Christine X

No Rules first chapter excerpt… and a new look…

THE RULES NEW COVERS

iBOOKS   AMAZON USA  AMAZON UK  AMAZON AUSTRALIA

AMAZON CANADA   AMAZON INDIA  BARNES & NOBLE   KOBO

Greetings from a sleety and snowy Cheshire.

It’s FREEZING!

Grab a coffee, sit back and enjoy the first chapter of NO RULES – and isn’t the new look for the series amazing?

NORULES

 

 

CHAPTER ONE

She looked a million dollars.

However, Chloe reckoned there was nothing worse than attending the glitzy party of the year—and wearing a fake happy face.

Nico Ferranti and his team at the five star Ludlow Hall Hotel and Spa sure knew how to throw a superb event. In this case, the engagement party for Chloe’s beloved half-sister Anastacia Morgan and her fiancé, Italian soccer star, Olivier Conti. All the guests were in high spirits and dressed to impress. The enormous Grand Ballroom with its vaulted ceiling was decorated for fun and frolics. In the center of each round table sat a complicated floral arrangement accessorized by gold and silver floating balloons. The fragrance of the waxy ivory freesia and jasmine display was incredible.

Unfortunately for Chloe the combination of the heady scent from the flowers and noise from the band had done nothing to ease her stress headache from hell. Her complicated updo hadn’t been a good idea either. Her hair—caught in a fancy clip, which glittered with glass jewels—dug like the claws into her skull.

What she wanted was a tranquil place to let her hair down, and take a painkiller washed down by a glass of cold water, in that order.

Even though she was worried sick, she’d never ruin everyone’s joy during Ana and Olivier’s Big Night.

She knew she’d only to ask the people who loved her and they would give her unconditional support, but tonight was not the time to rain on her sister’s parade.

The trouble was, she didn’t have a lot of time—four weeks to find money she didn’t have—and no matter how hard she tried, she could not come up with a solution.

Chloe was—according to her mother—bright and creative and smart.

Not that smart or she wouldn’t be hip deep in shit.

Her hands were shaking, so she clasped them over the clutch bag on her lap.

She was a good person.

She was kind and helped others.

And yet, by supposedly helping another, she’d been betrayed in the worst possible way.

Her mood plunged, teetering on the edge of what felt like a dark abyss.

Then she caught herself.

Chloe reckoned the time had come to toughen up, grow up, and stop relying on those who loved her to pick up the pieces of this hot mess.

There was no point in thinking life wasn’t fair.

She’d figure a way out, she had to.

She would fix this—once she worked out a plan.

Shame her bright and creative brain was a complete blank.

Across the table, her mother was deep in conversation with Olivier’s mother. By their excited hand movements and the way they’d put their heads together, she bet they were in the thick of preparing the wedding of the year. Chloe wondered if either had thought to speak to the prospective bride and groom, since the actual wedding date hadn’t been set. Both women might be on the wrong side of forty, but they made a sensational looking pair. Valentina Conti, dark and tall and slim, looked as if she’d just walked off the cover of Vogue Italia. And Maria Rucker, still a leggy blonde stunner, was a force of nature who lived for her family and the many good causes she supported.

Feeling as if someone was taking an axe to her head, Chloe rose from her seat.

The movement caught her mother’s attention.

Vivid blue eyes narrowed as she studied her daughter’s face. Chloe loved her mother to bits, but if she thought there was something wrong with one of her girls, the woman was like a heat seeking missile.

The last thing she needed right now was her mother on her case. A woman who, it had often been said by her father, had spooky powers when it came to sniffing out trouble. It was vital that she remain under her parent’s radar and keep a low profile, especially this evening.

Tanith, Chloe’s younger sister by twenty-two months, grabbed her wrist.

Blue, blue eyes studied her face. “You okay? You look awfully pale and you’ve been awfully quiet tonight, too. What’s the matter?”

“Headache.”

Since Chloe’s stress headaches were infrequent but nothing new, Tanith —always a sensitive soul—nodded. “It’s the combination of noise, scented candles and flowers. Need a pain pill?”

Chloe waggled the small clutch bag in her hand. “Got some. Be back in a minute.”

Her mother caught Tanith’s eye and lifted a smooth brow in query.

Her sister mouthed, headache, in response.

And as her mother turned to resume her conversation, Chloe made good her escape.

Phew, it was a good thing that recently her mother had been distracted by organizing tonight’s party, or she’d be right on top of why her eldest daughter had not been quite herself.

Ordinarily, Chloe loved a good party.

Normally, she’d be the first on the dance floor strutting her stuff with a hot guy, or two.

And since a large male contingent of Olivier’s footballer pals and social circle were in attendance this evening, most of them stag, there were certainly plenty of hot guys to choose from.

In truth, she wasn’t even tempted because there was nothing normal happening in her life at the moment. She was in deep doo-doo. Trapped. And, she’d no idea what the hell to do about it. The last thing her family needed was a firestorm of salacious publicity at the worst possible time—Anastacia’s engagement to one of the world’s biggest soccer stars—along with her father’s long held dream, his appointment as chairman of the national soccer association.

As she made her way to the rest rooms and a few minutes of peace and quiet, Chloe again wondered how she’d been so stupid to let herself be so effectively conned?

Then the couple of the night caught her attention on the dance floor. Her heart melted because she just had to smile at the way her Ana and Olivier were hip-to-hip and forehead-to-forehead to a slow number. Bless them. They were so wonderfully in love and unafraid to show it.

As for looking for love herself, well she was way too young for romance, never mind happy ever after. Naturally, she’d kept her opinion to herself, because who the hell was she to judge another? But in truth Chloe felt Ana might be too young to settle down, too. Then again and to be fair, Ana might be young in years, but she’d overcome difficult and dark times to thrive in her life and career. Unlike Chloe who’d been shielded, until recently, from the natural storms of the world by over-protective parents. Now, she had her own tiny flat in London and she relished her freedom. Freedom was precious. However, with freedom came personal responsibility for the choices a person might make. A single bad decision and now she was snared right in the middle of one of life’s hurricanes. Hell, the very last thing she wanted was marriage, or an intimate relationship with anyone.

But then, she was so happy to have found Ana. Someone she knew she could trust, someone to confide in. Nevertheless, this happy event tonight was neither the time nor the place to spread bad news.

Anxiety tied her belly in knots, made tension tighten like a vice over her shoulders and neck, while the jab of pain in her head made her wince.

Worry nibbled relentlessly on the edge of her mind.

Then she took herself firmly in hand before a wave of self pity threatened to overwhelm her.

Hang on a minute—

Was she going to go running to mummy and daddy and her big sister for help?

Was she hell!

Life wasn’t fair.

Truth was, some people were just toxic bastards.

What it boiled down to was that she was a compassionate person.

Was it her fault those very qualities had been used against her?

Nope.

So why did she feel she was in the wrong?

Maybe because she didn’t want to cause a shitstorm in the now calm sea of her parents’ lives. Her parents were good people. Salt of the earth. People who’d gone through years of heartbreak before they’d finally found and made contact with Ana. After the worry and heartache they’d been through, she refused to bring more trouble to their door.

The anger that brewed in her belly for days surfaced now.

An anger that turned hot and an anger that saved her from descending into a dark place.

How dare those sons-of-bitches spike her drink and strip her like that?

Through no fault of her own, she was a victim.

How dare they threaten to share naked pictures of her across social media, and then treat her to the silent treatment for days?

And how fucking dare they keep her in suspense like this?

Hadn’t she been brought up to deal face-on with the hard stuff life threw at a person?

Hell, hadn’t she been brought up to kick-ass and put up with no shit?

Feeling more determined, more in control, Chloe threw back her shoulders and lifted her chin. Her feet in high heels picked up speed as she headed for the exit and the reception hall beyond. She’d made her own mess and she’d damn well fix it.

Once she’d come up with a game plan…

Her anxious mind busy, Chloe slammed straight into a man-chest, rock hard, and dressed in a dark suit.

An expensive dark suit.

 

Strong hands clamped on Chloe’s bare shoulders to keep her steady.

The jolt of his touch rocked her system.

Her breath hitched with the shock of it.

The essence of him, male, mingled with an expensive cologne.

She took a deep breath, and his scent sank into her lungs, into her blood, and all at once he seemed familiar in a way Chloe found hard to comprehend.

Something in her mind seemed to click into place.

She swore she heard it.

How weird.

The sudden, convulsive shiver that ran over her body made her frown.

Mio dio. What part of no do you not understand?” he asked, his accent and the deep rumble of his voice seemed to vibrate down her spine.

Chloe was five seven in her bare feet, but even in heels she had to tilt her head back to stare up into cold dark eyes. “Understand?”

Not only tall, he was incredibly well built with broad strong shoulders. His inky hair was tied back from a lean face. Eyes of steel. He had a cute little dent in his chin, just like a movie star.

Her breath hitched as she simply gazed in awe at the physical perfection of male beauty.

Of course, she recognized him.

Like every other women with working ovaries, she knew the whole sorry story.

Serge Morretti, rich, gorgeous and often described as Sardinia’s hottest tourist attraction. He was the black sheep of his mighty family. An orphan who’d been brought up by a powerful uncle. And unquestionably the last man in the world she would have chosen to meet given her need to keep a very low profile.

Up close and personal, she treated herself to a thorough examination of that extraordinary face and saw things the camera missed. Things like the way his dark eyes danced. Things like he wore arrogance like a badge of honor. Then again, she supposed when Serge looked in the mirror each morning and saw that face looking back, how could he be anything but arrogant. A tabloid writer had called him a beautiful bastard, and for once the writer had not exaggerated.

The man was hot!

God, she felt hot and tingly all over.

His dark eyes narrowed as he studied the hectic flush rising from her neck and into her cheeks.

The way he stared at her like that, all intense and brooding, she wondered if he’d heard the odd little click, too.

After all, his hands still held her firmly in place.

“Please accept my apologies, beautiful girl.” Now his eyes sparkled with a sheer devilment that made her knees weak. “I presumed you were someone else.”

“Did you just call me a girl?” she snapped, to hide the weak knees.

Chloe Rucker, she reminded herself fiercely, didn’t do weak knees.

Ever.

He blinked.

Then his gaze took a slow and very thorough study of her from blonde head, over her dress of blue silk, to her nude heels and back again.

His mouth curved and his eyes twinkled into hers in a clear appreciation that told her he more than liked what he saw. “My apologies again. Woman, of course.”

Something in his tone made her doubt he meant a word of his apology.

However, she shifted beneath his hands. “Let me go and I’ll be on my way and you can go hide from a girl.”

The pad of his thumb rubbed gently over her collarbone and she seriously wished he’d stop it because the simple movement was doing strange things to her long dormant libido. A libido that sizzled in a way that seemed to mess with the wiring in her brain.

“I am not hiding. I am keeping out of trouble.”

He was?

Then that made two of them.

“With your reputation, I’d have thought that was an impossible task,” she told him frankly.

He blinked again.

His mouth twitched.

He smelled amazing.

Shame about the man-bun.

“Ah, you have heard the Morretti board is again baying for my blood? Their displeasure is covered in all the newspapers. Worry not. Except for an… um… unexpected distraction last night, this is me being a good boy.”

“Hmm,” Chloe said, beyond tempted, but determined not to respond to the playful smile dancing in his eyes and around the edges of his firm mouth. She adored the cute dent in his chin. “If this is you being good, I’d hate to see you being bad.”

“I am so well-behaved tonight, it is killing me. Particularly right at this moment. What is your name, bella?”

Chloe knew Serge Morretti thought of women as his own walking all-he-could-grab buffet. And wasn’t it a shame she wasn’t on the menu.

Her spine adopted the rigor mortis stiffness of a corpse, even as his big body shifted to almost touch hers in a way that had her heart miss a beat.

Almost against her will, her eyes moved from his mouth to dark eyes that captured hers.

She bet her life that if the rumors were even half true, Serge Morretti was a superb lover.

Then again, he was a man who’d had plenty of practice.

Shocked by the thought of sleeping with him, she took a step back, but he refused to let her go.

A mix of irritation with him, but more with herself by the way her whole body tingled with awareness, as if electrified from her scalp to her toes, had her tilt her chin. She didn’t do body tingling either.

“My name is none of your business. I’ll leave you to it, shall I? Let’s hope last night’s unexpected distraction doesn’t find you.”

He sighed, an exclusively male sound. “I can only hope they have moved on to someone who is a better marriage bet. You did not happen notice them, did you?”

Wow, them?

The guy had had more than one women in his bed?

Seriously?

She shook her head.

And had to bite down hard on her bottom lip to stop the grin at the hard-done-by look on his gorgeous face. This guy was outrageous, a real character, and funny. Except he was the last man any woman with a working brain cell would ever want to marry.

After years of hard study to attain her science degree, Chloe now embraced a heady freedom to do whatever she liked, when she liked. Plus, she had plenty of working brain cells. Plenty. “No. What do they look like?”

He thought hard for a beat, then his take-pity-on-me-puppy-dog eyes—which didn’t fool her for a single moment—met hers. “Deranged and demented?”

She had to laugh. “What are their names?”

“I am trying hard to forget.”

“You’re nothing but a man-slut,” she told him severely, her tone channelling her formidable mother.

Serge didn’t even blush. “One day, when I meet the right woman I will settle down.”

Her snort of female derision made his eyes again narrow with a male interest Chloe had seen many times before. Both her and Tanith took after their mother in looks. They were tall Nordic blondes who seemed to attract the wrong sort of attention from the type of men who regarded all blondes as air-heads. Although it had to be said that Tanith might be reluctant, but she was the official beauty of the family and she had the longest legs as well as a big brain, too. The lovely thing about her sister was she had absolutely no idea of the impact of her looks. In fact, Tanith could care less about fashion or shoes or makeup. All she cared about was writing the next chapter of her horror story. A book that would terrorize even Mr. King’s legion of hardened fans.

But then something else occurred to her.

“Wait a minute. You had sex with two women and now you’re hiding from them?”

He stared hard at her as if he’d received a huge shock.

And then his lips twitched.

“And here I thought I had heard it all,” he muttered. “It pains me to have fallen so low in your regard on such a short acquaintance. No. I did not have sex with either woman. We talked. Or I should say, they talked. A lot. A girl and her mother.”

Fascinated in spite of herself by this tall tale, Chloe blinked. “A girl and her mother?”

Si. A young Russian girl and a woman named Countess Lucretia, who claims to be both her mother and descended from the house of Romanov.” He shrugged, looked thoughtful for a moment. “Although, I am pretty sure the girl was drunk at the time. And her mother, at the very least, is not quite right in her head.”

She opened her mouth to ask him how on earth he’d met such people, and caught the distinct twinkle in his eye.

Yeah, right.

He was spinning her line.

She bet the Countess and her daughter didn’t even exist.

Chloe raised a smooth brow. “Let me go.”

This time his smile went all lazy as his head dipped slowly towards hers.

Her breath caught because she just knew he was going to kiss her.

And the way her lips actually sizzled with anticipation, she just knew she was going to let him.

 

“Chloe!” A small hand clutched hers and gave it a hard tug. “Chloe! I need to go pee-pee.”

With a clear reluctance, Serge released her.

A reluctance that brought a wave of goose-bumps in the wake of the smooth glide of his hand from her bare shoulder to her wrist.

Chloe looked down to find six year old Sophia Ferranti in her best party dress, dancing a fast jig, her huge emerald eyes pleading. And since Sophia was one of Chloe’s favorite people, she didn’t hesitate to help her out.

Serge did not look at all happy at the interruption, but she reckoned it was probably just as well.

Wasn’t life strange?

She’d been saved from a bad boy’s kiss by a little girl desperate to spend a penny.

“Excuse us,” she said to an infamous man who was like catnip to the paparazzi and any woman with a pulse.

Eyes firmly focused on the way ahead, Chloe told herself she was not at all disappointed to have missed his kiss.

In fact, she reckoned she’d had a lucky escape.

And as she led the way to the rest rooms, she had no idea little Sophia looked over her shoulder to give Serge a fierce look and poked out her tongue at him for good measure.

It wasn’t until they were washing their hands in the beautifully appointed rest rooms that Sophia said, “I love your dress, Chloe. You look like a model.”

In the mirror, Chloe caught Sophia’s sparkling green eyes. “Why, thank you. I love your dress, too.”

In response, Sophia’s cheek dimple flashed like lightning. “Who was that man?”

Chloe re-applied nude lipstick to lips that still hummed with an anticipation that hadn’t been met. Meanwhile, her companion studied her every move like a little hawk. “No one important. I sort of bumped into him.”

Sophia leaned her elbows on the worktop, as if settling down for a chat with a girlfriend. “He likes you. I can tell.”

Chloe’s brows rose as she caught Sophia’s twinkling eyes in the mirror. “Can you indeed?”

The child nodded in the way of a person who knew what she was talking about.

“He’s a hand lingerer.”

Chloe blinked and turned to her. “A what?”

“It’s what my Auntie Rosie calls a man who leaves his hands on a woman for too long.”

Shaking her head at this fascinating snippet of information, Chloe studied intelligent eyes in a young head.

“Remind me, how old are you?”

Sophia’s dimple popped again. “I’m six, going on sixty.”

“More of Auntie Rosie’s wise words?”

“Yep.”

“Is Auntie Rosie here tonight?”

“Yep.”

Chloe held out her hand and realized her headache had miraculously disappeared. “Take me to Auntie Rosie. I can’t wait to meet her.”

“My papa says she’s a pistol.”

“I just bet she is.”

 

******

 

Don’t forget, you can grab NO RULES on pre-order now. It’s out next Friday!

Hugs,

Christine X

Time for another sneak peek…

emily's a hoot!

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Ew,” Emily said.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

“Pew,” Tonio corrected from the front seat.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sophia made a snort of derision.

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

“Would not!” her twin roared.

“Would tooooooo!”

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

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

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

 

All was quiet.

Silence reigned supreme—until…

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

She turned to beam a lovely smile on her children.

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

Four hands shot into the air.

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

“Do you find Ludlow Chapel spooky?”

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

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

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

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

“I believe they’re always with us.”

“Anything’s possible,” Rosie said.

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

 

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

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

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

“You’re most welcome, Emily.”

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

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

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

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

“Wanna hear a joke?”

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

You guys make it all worthwhile!

Hugs,

Christine X

No Rules pre-order links available now… So thrilled…

NO RULES BANNEREXCERPT

iBooks     Amazon USA    Amazon UK   Amazon AUS   Kobo   Nook

Greetings from a very cold, windy and it-looks-like-snow, Cheshire.

At long last, I’m beyond thrilled to bring you NO RULES – which will release on Friday 26th January, 2018, but you can pre-order it right now.

I hope you enjoy Serge and Chloe’s story as much as I enjoyed writing it. To tell you the truth, I fell madly in love with Serge. He’s so funny. He’s a lover. He’s a fighter. He’s a man who, in spite of appearances, has a true sense of family and what it means. AND he drives Chloe absolutely mental. Hehehe. However, Chloe might be in trouble, but she is nobody’s fool and it doesn’t take her long to get his number.

There is, of course, the continuation of Olivier and Ana’s love story (with a surprise).  Danni and Olivier dig deep to keep their love alive. AND… T.C. and Sean bring a tear to the eye.

PLUS, this story has a starring role for Ms. Sophia Ferranti. She enlists the help of her papa to ensure the road to true love runs smoothly. Gotta love the Ferrantis!

Here’s the blurb:

A fake engagement?
A fake relationship?
A one-night stand turns into a deception of monumental proportions?

NO RULES ticks all the boxes.
Full of fun and laughter and scorching hot luv’in, this standalone sexy as sin romance set in the Ludlow Nights world, with a swoon worthy hero and feisty heroine, will make you laugh and cry out loud.

No more wild nights. No more wild women.

Serge Morretti’s wild ride through life may have to come to an end, but less partying
means more time to devote to making more money, including winning over the octogenarians who run Morretti Enterprises. Seems if Serge wants to take his rightful place on the board—he needs a wife—and he’s got a grand plan. But when his world collides with a beautiful blonde at his best friend’s engagement party, where’s the harm in one more wild night?

Chloe Rucker’s coping with a few problems just now.
After her drink is spiked, compromising pictures of her are being held for ransom…and a wedding-obsessed family who are driving her crazy.
Her life may be a disaster, but she’s certain of one thing.
She isn’t impressed by silver tongued devils, especially one with dark laughing eyes. She certainly isn’t looking for a sexy fling with a notorious playboy, no matter how big a deal he thinks he is to the rest of womankind.
Chloe doesn’t do casual.
But maybe just this once…

Nico, Bronte and Sophia Ferranti, among others from the Ludlow cast, all make appearances in this standalone page turner.

 

***

Don’t forget to tune in this Friday for a Ludlow Hall Sneak Peek!

And I’m working on OUR RULES, Anders and Tanith’s story. Plus the next Ludlow Hall story, Gregorio Ancellotti’s rocky path to true love, bless him.

I’m also writing in a new genre, romantic comedy/suspense, with MIMI IN MANHATTAN, and a cast of characters that I adore, and so does my editorial team, which is always nice.

Behind the scenes, my admin team are working very hard on my CC MACKENZIE digital book store, and it’s coming along nicely.

Big hugs,

Christine X

Happy New Year from CC and family….

HappyNewYear!

Happy New Year!

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

Love and hugs,

Christine X

It’s the Ludlow Hall Christmas Sneak Peek…

CHRISTMAS2017BANNER

 

 

The Dower House…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“True.”

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

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

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

“Batman!”

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

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

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

Nico rose to his feet with Eve on his hip.

Alexander stood. “Coming, dear.”

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

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

 

***

Three hours later…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Si.” Nico said without a blink.

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

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

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

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

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

Alexander blinked. “Bells?”

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

“I love you, too,” she whispered.

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

“Merry Christmas,” he whispered back.

FINE

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

The Sneak Peeks will return in 2018!

Christine X

SAVE ALL YOUR KISSES FOR ME…

 

SAVEALLYOURKISSESFORME

Greetings!

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

Enjoy!

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

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

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

Sophia shook her head. “Nope.”

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

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

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

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

Nico bit his lip and sent his wife big eyes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Si. We were kissing her arm better.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hmm. It tastes sort of… nice.”

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

Tonio scowled. “I am not doing it.”

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

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

“Batman!” she said.

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

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

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

The boy’s face went bright red.

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

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

“BATMAN!” roared Eve.

 

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

“Hmm?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emily turned back to the movie. “Never.”

Meanwhile, Bronte and Grace had overheard the entire exchange.

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

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

“What do you expect? He’s Italian!”

 

FINE

 

Aww, poor Emily and poor Sophia.

BATMAN!

Until next time,

Christine X