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.