Today, the sneak peek takes place at The Ferranti Hotel and Spa in Lake Como where Bronte and Nico and Rosie and Alexander have taken the children, and Emily as company for Sophia, for the Easter break. Alexander is taking the opportunity to do an inspection of the staff at the hotel. Rosie and Bronte have gone for a spot of retail therapy. Nine year old Tonio is spending time with his Uncle Gregorio Ancelotti learning to sail on the lake.
When Gregorio returned Tonio to the Ferranti villa in the grounds of the hotel, he found a lone Nico relaxing on a sun lounger beneath a vast umbrella in the garden doing daddy duty…
Nico had to smile when a windswept and beaming Tonio raced into the garden followed at a more sedate pace by an equally windswept Gregorio. Both wore sneakers, navy knee length cargo shorts and T-shirts.
When Tonio wrapped his arms around Nico’s waist, he received a knuckle scrub on the head for his trouble. “I can see you had a good time. Your T-shirt is damp.”
“I had THE best time,” Tonio agreed. He turned to his uncle Gregorio. “Grazie, for taking me sailing.”
“E stato un piacere,” Gregorio said in his deep voice. “My pleasure. You did well at the helm.”
“The helm is how I steered the boat,” Tonio explained to Nico. His bright eyes scanned the garden. “Where is everyone?”
“They are in the rose garden playing The Wedding Game,” Nico told him and bit back a smile at the boy’s obvious dismay.
“Not the Wedding Game. I hate the Wedding Game.”
Since Nico had spent most of the afternoon refereeing Sophia and Emily who wanted a very reluctant Luca to be the groom, he felt his pain. “Go and change your T-shirt.”
When the boy left, Nico opened the cool box and turned to Gregorio. “Beer? The afternoon went well?”
Gregorio took a seat on a sprawling sofa which faced the garden and the lake and mountains beyond. The scent of spring flowers filled the air. He accepted the glass of a full bodied red from Nico and took a sip. “Grazie. Si, even though he never stopped talking, he is good company and a natural sailor.”
Dressed down in knee length ivory cargo shorts and a T-shirt, Nico took a seat and stretched out long bare legs. “He is coming out of his shell and has grown very fond of Bronte and she of him.”
“A family setting has been good for him.” Gregorio frowned and turned enquiring eyes on Nico. “What is The Wedding Game?”
Nico gave him a bland look. “Do not ask.”
“I don’t wanna marry Emily. I’ve married her eight times already,” Luca said, and tossed the old black jacket and tie that belonged to Nico on the grass. “And I’m not gonna kiss her again.”
Sophia, wearing tea-towel on her head because she was a nun and in her world a nun was reeligis and could marry a couple. She gave her twin a dark look and jerked her chin. “We played super-heroes with you all morning. You said you would play The Wedding Game this afternoon. Fair is fair.”
Luca got into her face and went nose to nose. “Yeah, but a super-hero didn’t do the kissy-kissy stuff. And Emily can’t stop giggling in my face.”
Emily, the blushing bride, said nothing as she watched from the sidelines. She didn’t like dramas. They made her belly feel funny.
Sitting on the grass, fifteen month old Eve picked up the end of the tie and stuffed it in her mouth, all the while her big brown eyes watched the heated debate.
Always willing to pour oil on troubled waters, Emily picked up a drowsy Jimmy Chew. “I’ll marry the dog. He doesn’t mind kisses.”
Sophia frowned at her best friend. “You can’t marry a dog, for goodness sake.”
The arrival of Tonio had Emily blush furiously and hug Jimmy Chew close.
Tonio scooped up Eve and placed her on his hip. “Papa said to come and get a drink and come out of the sun because it’s too hot to play The Wedding Game.”
“Yay!” Luca didn’t need to be told twice and whooped as he raced across the lawn.
Sophia yanked the tea-towel from her head. “Oh well, I expect it is too hot for this. I wonder if papa will let us have a little piece of our Easter eggs?”
Tonio shook his head. “No. Bronte said no chocolate until after supper time and only if we eat our vegetables.”
Sophia sent him a look of utter disgust. “That’s blackmolling little children.”
“Blackmailing,” Tonio corrected.
“Whatever,” she snapped and quoted her Auntie Rosie. “It’s still against the law of the land.”
“My uncle Ethan,” Emily began in her breathy voice. “Is a policeman. He carries a gun. We should tell him.”
Sophia stared at her very hard. “I don’t want anyone to shoot my mama.”
Tonio jiggled Eve who was doing her level best to yank his hair out by the roots. “I cannot believe you two. Bronte is only making sure we eat the correct food groups so we receive all our vitamins and minerals to make our bones grow and give us a healthy skin. It is not as if broccoli is going to kill you. And then you can have chocolate.”
Emily nodded wisely, popped a kiss on Jimmy Chew’s head. “He’s right.”
Still not looking convinced, Sophia turned to her best friend. “Don’t say anything to your uncle.”
“Okay,” Emily agreed.
After the children had scoffed fresh orange juice and cookies, they decided to play statues, which left Nico and Gregorio to relax and discuss the financial management of Tonio’s vast property portfolio left to him by his late mother. The children were busy with their game. The two men were deep in discussion. No one noticed when Eve, on her hands and knees, powered into the house with Jimmy Chew hot on her heels.
Twenty minutes later…
Sophia and Emily wandered into the house to wash their hands, before mama and Auntie Rosie returned from shopping. It was their turn to set the table for supper. When they entered the kitchen-living-dining space, Sophia stopped dead and her eyes popped from her head.
“Omigod,” Emily’s whisper was filled with awe and wonder.
Sophia raced outside. “Papa!!” Sophia yelled, the panic in her voice loud and clear.
Nico and Gregorio were on their feet. “What is it?”
Sophia’s face was pale. “Eve and Jimmy Chew. Papa, they’ve got… the Easter Eggs.”
Nico and Gregorio and the boys entered to find Eve sitting on the floor with two huge boxes of large chocolate eggs in pieces. The child was covered in head to toe in dark chocolate, 86% fair-trade cocoa. Her cotton romper had been white once upon a time. And Jimmy Chew was heroically licking her toes making her squeal and gurgle with laughter.
“Dio mio,” Gregorio whispered.
Nico swallowed language not fit for little ears. After glancing at the clock, they didn’t have much time, he clapped his hands. “Tonio – go and fill a bath with warm water. Emily – go and get a change of clothes and a diaper for the baby. Luca – pick up the chocolate, foil paper and rubbish and put them in the bin. Gregorio – pour us a drink.” He made his way carefully through pieces of melted chocolate on the floor until he stood over his baby girl. “Ah, il mio bambino, if your mama could see you now she would kill your papa.”
Nico lifted the baby and was immediately covered in black chocolate. Jimmy Chew, heroically licking the floor, was in seventh heaven. Nico could only hope the dog wasn’t sick as a… dog.
Twenty minutes later, Bronte and Rosie strolled through the door with baby Mila in her stroller and her daddy bringing up the rear laden down with bags and boxes.
Bronte surveyed the scene: the dining table was beautifully set, with napkins! And the children were sitting quietly watching the cartoon of Beauty and The Beast, the volume turned low. Probably because Eve was snoozing in her papa’s arms.
She noticed that Gregorio, strangely, seemed riveted on the movie, too. Bronte narrowed her eyes as she studied her husband and baby girl. “Those aren’t the shorts or T-shirt you were wearing when I left this morning. And Eve’s wearing one of her best dresses,” she muttered. When no one looked her in the eye, she folded her arms and cocked her hip. “Okay, what happened?”
Rosie came to stand at her side, her dark eyes dancing. “When the cat’s away the mice will play. What have the mice been up to?”
“It was all Sophia’s fault because she wanted to play The stupid Wedding Game, and then we played statues because I didn’t want anymore kissy-kissy” Luca began. “Which meant we didn’t notice Eve and Jimmy Chew were missing…”
“Missing?” Bronte’s head spun on her shoulders, at bit like a scene from the Exorcist, to stare hard at Nico and Gregorio.
Nico sent Luca a dark look. “Not missing, exactly. The children were playing…”
“And what, exactly, were the two adults doing?”
“They were drinking beer,” Sophia said, tossing a wide-eyed Gregorio and her papa into the fire without a blink. “Emily and I found her and Jimmy Chew eating Easter eggs.”
“Yeah, and you should have seen the big mess they made,” Luca added helpfully.
Bronte simply stared unblinking at the two men sitting on the couch until they wriggled beneath her scrutiny. “I cannot say I am surprised by you, Nico Ferranti. But, Gregorio Ancelotti, I am surprised at you.” And with that she picked up her baby girl and walked out.
Nico stood and turned to his twins. “Do neither of you understand the meaning of loyalty to la famiglia?”
Rosie slid into a dining chair and sat back to enjoy the show.
Sophia, still dressed as a bride, ignored her papa’s outrage, looked him in the eye and lifted her chin. “We’re not responsible. You are the adult here, papa. We’re just little children. You did your best. We all learn from our mistakes.”
“Wash your hands before dinner!” Bronte yelled from the hallway. The children were up and out of the room in about three seconds.
“Phew. Is this what family life is like?” Gregorio wanted to know.
Rosie grinned at him. “It is in this house.”
Gregorio stood. “I should leave. I think Bronte is not happy with me.”
Nico shook his head, put an arm around his shoulders for a man-hug. “Nessun problema. When she yells at you it means she loves you. You are la famiglia. We are Italian.”