Desert Captive, episodes seventeen and eighteen…..

DESERTCAPTIVEBANNERbella1

Greetings from a steamy UK. The temperature today was thirty three degrees in Cheshire. It’s hot, baby. Let me begin by apologising for the lack of episodes last week, I was dealing with an arthritis flare, which the hot weather has fixed…. every cloud, etc.

Here’s the next two episodes…. It’s a slow burn….

Copyright © C C MacKenzie 2018

EPISODE SEVENTEEN

“Why do I get the feeling I’m not their favorite person?” Arabella asked Sarif an hour later as the room emptied and the huge double doors closed after the meeting.

Taking her hand in his, Sarif stood.

Arabella stood too.

“In time, once my son is born, they will come to love you.” His dark eyes found hers and held.

She tried to tug her hand from the heat of his, but his fingers tightened imperceptibly.

Seemed he wasn’t quite ready to let her go.

With a feeling of inevitability, she let him tow her out of the room.

“Where are we going?”

He glanced at her face.

“You said you wanted a walk. We’re going for a walk.”

“Outside?”

Again he glanced at her.

“Outside. It is time my people met their Queen.”

Arabella, the Queen of Quarram.

Somebody was having a laugh.

And if ever she felt like a big fat fraud it was now.

Sarif, still holding her hand, kept the pace out of the palace down to a leisurely stroll.

The setting sun turned the land from desert into a fiery glow.

As they proceeded towards huge metal gates far ahead, Arabella spotted Sarif’s close protection detail move into position. The men were uniformly tall, tough and lethal, but they didn’t come too close to overhear their conversation, she noticed.

Now Sarif brought her hand to his lips.

The jolt of attraction shot straight to her throat.

How on earth did every single move he made catch her breath?

“You have not asked me about your brother,” Sarif said in a soft voice.

She rubbed a hand over her throat.

“I figured no news was good news?”

“Go ahead, ask.”

The trouble with the way his thumb rubbed her hand was that she couldn’t think a single coherent thought.

Baby brain, she decided.

“Okay. I’ll play. What’s new?” she asked him in a sharp tone that brought a dark brow up.

A single cry from above had Sarif halt their walk to study an eagle.

“In less than forty-eight hours Rupert will be free.”

“You’ve organized an attack force?”

“But of course. Did you seriously expect me to leave your brother to his fate?”

She shrugged, and guessed. “Bruce and Wallace?”

“And others.”

She bit her lip, her mind spinning, thinking that her and Leila would need to refine the timing of their original plan.

“And you’re telling me this, why?”

“You’re anxious, which is perfectly understandable, but anxiety is not good for the baby.”

Of course his first concern would be for the baby, so why the belly plunge of disappointment?

“Plus,” he continued, “you are in no fit state to try something desperately stupid yourself. Don’t forget I am familiar with your, er… professional… capabilities.”

Arabella held in the snort of disgust at the implication that because she was pregnant she was helpless.

“True,” she lied straight to his face. “I can’t see me rappelling down the side of a building for a while.”

“Or at any other time,” he said and his deep voice held a clear warning that her military days were behind her.

That’s what you think, boyo.

Then another thought hit her.

“Is there a reason you’re preparing a rescue attempt now?”

He made a face.

“It seems Nazari has another captive, a Jordanian pilot whose plane was shot down last month. Apparently, he is preparing to murder him, streamed live on social media.”

A wave of nausea made her dizzy.

“Beheading?”

His jaw tight, Sarif shook his head.

“Put in a cage, poured with petrol and burned alive.”

“Omigod.”

“I leave tonight.”

Any idea of cancelling her plan to rescue her brother flew from her mind.

Time was of the essence.

He took her silence as a woman who was worried sick about her brother, which she was, and not as a woman who was busy reorganizing plans in her mind.

“I promise you, I will bring him back safe,” Sarif said in a soft voice.

Her gaze shot to his and held, while her heart fluttered madly against her ribs.

Relief warred ferociously with worry about her brother and worry for what she was about to do might mean for the safety for her and her child.

Worry won.

When she said nothing in response to his statement, he studied her face again.

“You are angry with me,” he said. “You have every right.”

Too true she had every right.

She was more than angry with him.

“I warn you now, if my brother has been harmed…”

Again he brought her hand to his mouth.

“You will… what?” his deep voice had gone soft again, and something in his eyes made something inside her simply melt.

He smelled of bergamot, probably something in his cologne and soap.

“Make you pay,” she whispered as her mind centred on the fact his bodyguards were within striking distance and might not react well to her threatening their King.

He nodded.

“Understandable under the circumstances, but don’t you think you have made me pay enough?”

Was he serious?

Hell, she hadn’t even begun to make him pay.

“Nope.”

He bit his bottom lip, and although his eyes were serious enough, she got the feeling he was amused by something… her.

“You’re walking along a very shaky edge,” she told him, her eyes steady on his.

“I stand warned.”

As they approached the gates, they stopped while the gates opened.

About fifty yards away was a large encampment of tents, horses and camels.

The tinkling of goat bells rang out as night fell.

The smell of camel dung, oil lamps, smoking fire, desert and many unwashed bodies hit her.

Then something else hit her, everything about the scene, the scents and the sounds told her she was home.

“What is it?” he asked, and she realized she’d made a little sound of distress in her throat.

The sense of place felt so right, her eyes stung.

She shook the feeling off.

“Nothing.”

His look told her he didn’t believe her, but he let it go.

The thought that he could read her so well disturbed her.

It disturbed her a lot.

The last thing she needed was to let this man get under her skin again.

“I never thought you were a hypocrite,” she said, going immediately on the attack, to show no weakness. “Arrogant and selfish, yes. A hypocrite, no.”

The little tic in his jaw told her she’d hit the spot.

“I made a mistake. Perhaps you could find it in your heart to see me as a desperate man who did a stupid and desperate thing to get your attention.”

Hadn’t Wallace Monroe said pretty much the same thing to her earlier?

“I needed time,” she said, “to adjust to my rather unexpected reality.”

“I want you in my bed,” Sarif said again in that soft tone. He used that tone a lot with her these days.

The thought of sharing his bed had her whole body switch on to a state of high alert, and then something she’d overheard Hafar mention entered her mind.

She pulled her hand free.

“What about your French mistress?”

He didn’t even miss a beat.

“Our friendship is at an end.”

“I hear it cost you a swanky apartment in Paris and loadsamoney. Some friend you are.”

He shrugged.

“She was a loyal and good friend.”

“Good friends don’t need to be bribed, they either are or they’re not.”

His eyes narrowed. “You see the world through a very narrow lens.”

“Do I? I see the word in black and white with the occasional shade of gray. I like to keep things simple.”

“You are also, a coward,” he shot back clearly stung and going on the attack so fast it made her dizzy.

Not sorry at all she’d annoyed him, nevertheless Arabella bristled at the charge.

“That’s a first. I’m not the one who kidnaps young men…”

“I have apologized…”

She spun, her hands on her hips. Her chin lifted so high she peered down her nose at him.

“So that makes it all okay then?”

He shifted to enter her personal space.

“You ignored every single overture I made. What was I supposed to do?”

“You were supposed to wait, wait until I was ready to come to terms with the consequences of what we did.”

“You were taking too long.”

“Because I…”

She stopped and bit her tongue, reluctant to tell him the truth, because the truth sounded utterly ridiculous even to herself.

“Because what?” he ground out, his eyes glued to her face.

Oh, for the love of…

“It’s a hormone thing. I have… had… maybe still have… baby brain.”

He looked at her as if she’d lost her mind.

Maybe she had.

He scratched his chin.

“And what—” Sarif said, a bemused look on his face that made her hand itch to smack him,”—on earth, is baby brain?”

She sent him a bland look.

“Something you will never experience because you do not have a vagina.”

With a shake of his head, he reached for her hand and found it.

Then he turned towards a group of people, nomads, who stood watching them with wary eyes.

“I am beginning to think you are quite mad.”

Taking a deep breath, Arabella caught the heady scent of horse manure and human sweat.

She spotted a girl of about ten holding the hand of a small boy, pinned a smile to her face, and headed in their direction.

“That makes two of us.”

 

 

EPISODE EIGHTEEN

 

Even as she led Sarif towards the children, he refused to release her hand and it occurred to her that this was the first time in her life she’d ever held a man’s hand.

The strength in his fingers were a clear sign of his physical superiority, and again she felt that lovely little ripple in the blood, something she was coming to accept would probably never change between them.

Actually, when they’d come together that first and last time, it hadn’t been a ripple, it had been a tsunami—of lust—that had washed them both away—and left them stranded on the rocky shore of life.

The dusty-haired boy clutching the hand of the girl was around six years old. By their faces, she reckoned siblings. The boy had bright dark eyes, a scab on one knee, dirt on his cheek and the kind of angelic face that spelled trouble.

The elderly man standing next to them looked fierce.

Warrior fierce.

And not happy.

While Sarif spoke to the man, Arabella focused on the children.

She crouched down and studied the little boy dressed in an oversized T-shirt that had seen better days.

He could have done with a bath.

“You the Sheik?” she asked in Farsi.

“No.” He grinned, his dark eyes twinkling with fun. “You’re the Queen?”

“So they say.”

“You don’t look like a Queen.”

“True.”

He jerked his little chin towards the desert.

“There are strange men digging for bones out there. They say they are looking for dinosaur bones. Do you like dinosaurs?”

Strange men, eh?

Arabella guessed the strangers were MI5 and working with a certain Colonel.

“Doesn’t everyone like dinosaurs?”

He moved closer. “My sister doesn’t like dinosaurs. I like fossils.”

Delighted with him, Arabella grinned and rolled her eyes towards the men above still talking in clipped tones.

“Plenty of old fossils around here.”

The cough from above brought her eyes up to the girl who was trying hard, and failing, not to laugh.

“How do you do, I’m Arabella.” Arabella stood and offered her hand.

The girl studied her hand for a moment and then took it.

“Amira Hussein.”

“Cute kid,” Arabella said and ran her hand over the boy’s dusty head.

“He is Malik.”

“Brother?”

“Yes. Please come and sit with us, eat and listen to the music.”

Deciding that was the best offer she’d had all day, Arabella left Sarif and the older man to it and followed her two small guides towards a large gathering of women and children sat around a campfire. The scent of roasted meat, onions and spices filled the air. Four men with guns strapped to their backs and holding instruments sat cross legged on rugs. One held a violin, another plucked the strings of an Oud, while another held a wind instrument called a Ney, the last man held a percussion instrument.

She was led to a slightly raised area, covered in rugs and fat cushions.

As she sat, she found her elbow gripped by Sarif and nearly overbalanced.

These days her centre of gravity was affected by the weight of the child she carried.

“To be invited to sit and eat with the Bedouin is a great honor,” Sarif said as he sat next to her. “Sheik Al Qasimi believes it is unseemly of me to hold your hand and to sit with women.”

“You should listen to him,” Arabella told him.

“Changes are coming to my land and people need to adapt.”

“It seems such a little thing to cause trouble over.”

“I want to sit with you, therefore I will sit with you.”

“Stubborn,” she muttered.

When Malik appeared holding a heavy metal plate piled with flatbreads, Sarif washed his hands first in a silver bowl filled with fragrant water and dried it on a cloth held by Amira, before he thanked the boy and took two breads and placed them on plates.

Arabella went through the same hand washing routine, and waited until Sarif served her with a plate filled with fragrant rice, bread and meat and yoghurt mixed with spices.

The scent alone made her mouth water.

As she ate her fill and told Amira the food was delicious, Arabella let the music, the smells and the peace of the evening wash over her.

“If you want to understand a culture,” Sarif’s deep voice spoke in her ear, his breath kissed her cheek, “listen to the music. The tune, the words when there are words to hear. When you truly listen, hear it, you will begin to understand me and my people. Music is the heart of all peoples, all cultures, because it comes from here.” Sarif placed the palm of his hand on his heart.

She turned to him to find those dark eyes on her face.

“And that’s why certain terrorist organisations want music banned…”

“That, and they want the people left without hope. People left without all hope are easily manipulated.”

The music changed, the tone shifting to something so terribly heart wrenching, she blinked.

Sarif dipped his head.

“It is about a brave warrior, doomed, dying a terrible death of pain and torture, for his country, for his people.”

Arabella could understand that.

She understood a person being prepared to die for what they believed in.

Honor.

Duty.

Freedom.

“Like your culture,” Sarif continued, “in our culture we do not forget our heroes.”

***

Much later that evening, Arabella stood alone on the balcony of her rooms and studied the half moon lighting a landscape filled with dips and shadows.

The camp far below was almost quiet, except for the flicker from the fires and the occasional sound of an animal disturbed. Even the goats slept, huddled together for warmth. At night the desert was a cold, harsh place.

A sound had her turn to find Leila standing there.

The girl was dressed from head to toe in black, only her eyes were uncovered.

The machine gun strapped to her back, plus straps of ammunition and a lightweight backpack meant her hands were free.

Leila ran her gaze over an Arabella dressed exactly like her, except of course, for the baby bump.

Leila shook her head.

“I don’t like this. What if…”

Arabella held up her hand.

“We don’t have time to debate. We’re doing this tonight.”

“Don’t have much of a choice now anyway,” Leila muttered.

“The deed is done?”

“Yep. The guards are out for the count.”

“Then let’s go.”

Since they’d trained together in the same unit at Sandhurst, the women moved fast, their footsteps soundless as they sped down dimly lit stone corridors and the servant’s staircases until they came to a side entrance.

Leila went first, quick fingers making short work of the digital code to unlock the door.

Arabella knew that once Sarif had figured out how they’d left, he’d change the locks and the codes, but she couldn’t think of him at the moment or his reaction to what she was about to do. If their luck held, then Rupert would be safe, Yussuf Hassam Nazari would be dead, and she would be on her way back home in England.

Result.

Leila took the lead as they jogged at a steady pace away from the palace and the encampment, heading for the hills.

Arabella ignored the niggling stitch in her side, but was happy to catch her breath when she found two horses and supplies waiting in the dip of scrubland.

A closer look at the beasts, had Arabella blow out a low whistle.

“Sarif won’t be happy you’ve purloined a couple of his best Arabians.”

Leila shrugged as she ran a hand over a shiny black flank.

“Over thousands of years, the Bedouin’s breeding programme of natural selection in a harsh environment have perfected the ideal instrument of war. These horses are swift, responsive, agile and tolerant, with courage, loyalty and the ability to remain firm in the face of privation. I’d rather have a fine horse in the desert than a vehicle any day.”

Arabella placed her foot in the stirrup and nimbly settled into the saddle.

The beast was fresh and tested her mettle until she quickly brought it under control.

“How far?” she asked a Leila who was studying the gadget in her hand.

“Eight miles as the crow flies.”

“Shame we’re not crows.”

“No, but I reckon we might be called fools,” Leila muttered beneath her breath.

Arabella turned to her, only seeing her shadow in the darkness.

“They’re going to burn one of their prisoners alive.”

She heard Leila’s quick intake of breath and then, “Fuckers.”

“We can’t let it happen.”

“The Monroe brothers might not be too happy to have us along,” Leila said now.

“By then it will be too late for them to do anything about it.”

“Sarif won’t be happy either. I see the way he looks at you, Bella. He cares.”

“All Sarif cares about it is Sarif,” Arabella said and even as the words spilled from her mouth, she wondered if she was truly being fair to the man. Hadn’t he shown her how much he cared by the way he’d looked after her this evening, seeing to her every need in front of his people?

Then later, as he’d walked her to her rooms, he’d asked to come in and she’d refused him.

He hadn’t got angry, instead he’d held her close and rested his forehead on hers.

“Don’t be afraid, Arabella. I will never hurt you.”

The look for her in his eyes, stormy with needs that had almost brought her to her knees.

Almost.

She’d entered her room and closed the door on his handsome face.

Now she took a deep breath, shook off the memories, and told herself to focus on the task ahead.

As they trotted into a night lit only by the silvery light of a half moon and glittering stars cascading through the heavens, Arabella used all her military skill and expertize to halt the feeling of dread and the nerves dancing in her belly.

For once in her life she wasn’t following her instinct.

Then the words of her Colonel entered her mind, “If you quit, you fail.”

The phrase firmed her resolve to do what was right.

Failure was not an option.

 


 

I just want to say that next week shit hits the fan…….

AND, if all y’all want to read the entire thing from episode one to now then click on this  ‘rolling’ link. Keep the link because it will be updated each week.

https://ccmackenzie.com/about/test/

Love and hugs and smoochies,
Christine X

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

 

Thank you so much for the love for No Rules…..

norulesreviewlove2

KOBO    NOOK   iBOOKS  AMAZON USA  AMAZON UK   AMAZON AUSTRALIA  AMAZON CANADA     GOOGLE PLAY BOOKS

27 January 2018

Format: Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Omg I have read this in one go. I love cc characters ,and the other cast that make an appearance Nico,Bronte,sophia, marvellous.what of oliver and Ana bannana beautiful wedding just what she wanted. Love the scene in the doctors with Ana and oliver so funny tickled my funny bone. Just wish there wasn’t such along period between books. But I know you can’t hurry the creative process. Well done thumbs up for this one can’t wait for taniths story. Xxxxx

3 February 2018

Format: Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I must admit I was a bit apprehensive to read this book because I didn’t know Chloe but boy am I glad I did. I loved her so gutsy a good Ludlow female. I will be reading it again and again. CC has done it again. Wonderful!

8 February 2018

Format: Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Brilliant. I Love CC’s writing and books and this excelled as always. Totally recommend.
5.0 out of 5 starsNo Rules is an understatement!
29 January 2018 – Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
All the rules were thrown out and turned upside down, which made for so much fun. I can’t let go of these characters, Serge worked his way into my heart and squeezed so hard I laughed and cried at the same time. I blame it on the hand lingering and that noble penis….I need to know more, what’s ahead for them now that he has found love for the first time.
5.0 out of 5 starsPassion and humor!
30 January 2018 – Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition
C C Mackenzie’s latest installment into the Ludlow Nights series is captivating. No Rules is the story of Serge Morretti and Chloe Rucker. Chloe has gotten herself in a bit of a hole she is trying to dig herself out of. Serge is into his family business and vying for a position on the board that seems to come with strings attached. They strike a deal to help each other reach their goals. Will it work? Follow these characters on their journey of ups and downs. C C Mackenzie writes with passion and humor in this series. Highly recommended.
5.0 out of 5 starsLove.
27 January 2018 – Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I must say that each time I read one of CC’s books I’m filled with joy. I love the way all the stories intertwine and the connections with each character grow. I’ve especially enjoyed this book because of Serge and his ‘noble penis’. He’s so hellbent about showing that he’s not being a good man that he doesn’t realise he’s already a good man. And perfect for Chloe who needs him to help her stand. At least that how I feel. I also love that Ms CC always includes a lesson within her stories. She just slips it in so neatly and its absorbed easily. I’ve enjoyed this series and cannot wait for it to continue. Now on to my second read of this book 😊
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.

Thank you again for all the support!
My editorial team and I are beyond thrilled you enjoyed Serge and Chloe’s rocky road to love.
Love,
Christine X

THE GIFT THAT JUST KEEPS ON GIVING….. It’s the LH sneak peek…

 

 

The gift that keeps on giving

Hello, my darling readers,

It’s Friday and it’s the Ludlow Hall sneak peak time. Yay!

The Dower house…

Bronte was having a bad day. It’s half-term. And the children were driving her crazy.

She’s way behind with a mountain laundry—thanks to a washing machine Armageddon. The consequence of a blocked waste pipe, which she fixed herself. One of life’s great mysteries was how a sock had managed to find its way into the waste pipe. Smaller mountains of assorted dirty laundry littered the floor. Whites. Dark colours. PE kits. And baby clothes. Plus, a huge pile of bedding. Eve had thrown up last night. The child’s projectile vomit like something out of a horror movie. Which meant Bronte stank to high heaven of disinfectant, baby puke and sweat.

After too much pushy-shovey during and after breakfast, and in spite of their red-faced mother screaming at them at the top of her lungs to desist, the kids were banished to their separate bedrooms. Winter half-term, pouring rain, and bored kids, Bronte decided, was its own special kind of hell.

The sound of a car crunching over the gravel drive had her look to heaven. She hope to hell it wasn’t an unexpected visitor. If it was Rosie that would be okay, ’cause Rosie would sympathise and probably pour her a huge glass of wine. If it was a member of the local mums and tots group, she gazed at her clothes and sniffed her armpit, and decided she wouldn’t answer the door.

In the event it was neither.

Her husband walked through the door carrying a brown cardboard box.

She took one look at Nico, all dressed to impress in a smart dark suit and crisp shirt, silk tie, with not a freaking hair out of place, and she growled low in her throat.

“What are you doing home?” She checked the clock on the wall, just in case she’d lost track of time. “It’s only 2.30 in the afternoon. What’s this, a half-day?”

Nico, his gaze taking in the complete and utter disaster that was the laundry room, and breakfast dishes still littering the kitchen, read the situation easily enough.

His brows lifted.

“I brought you a present,” he said. “Although with that welcome, I’m not sure you deserve it.”

He gave her a huge smile.

She didn’t smile back.

“Piss off,” she hissed.

Nico winced.

“Trust me,” he said. “This will make your life so much easier, cara mia.”

Bronte moved to the sink, washed her hands, dried them, and turned to him.

“Do you want a coffee?”

Nico stepped over the detritus on the floor, placed the cardboard box on the worktop.

Grey eyes twinkling, he turned to her and opened his arms.

“Wanna hug?”

His wife simply gave him a bland stare.

“I stink of baby puke. I haven’t even managed to drag a brush through my hair. In fact, the way I’m feeling right now the last thing I want from you or anyone else is a hug.”

Nico ignored what had turned into a rant, and just grabbed her and held her tight.

His nose twitched.

She was right, she didn’t smell her usual fragrant self.

“Bad day?”

She snuggled into his chest and gave a heavy sigh.

“The worst, she muttered into his silk tie.

He smelled absolutely amazing, freshly laundered shirt, shower gel and the cologne she loved so much.

“I hate half-term,” she said.

Nico nodded.

“Don’t worry, he said into her hair and gave her another quick squeeze. “We will do this together.”

Bronte sniffed, step back and rubbed her hands on the legs of her jeans.

She studied the box on the worktop.

“Okay,” she said, and hoped to heaven it wasn’t some new piece of digital equipment. “Hit me with it.”

 

Nico shifted, opened the box and brought out what looked like a tall black tube.

Bronte just stared at it.

Her heart fell, it was a new piece of digital equipment.

Nico, on the other hand, looked thrilled.

He said, “It’s Alexa. And she is going to change your life.”

Bronte was not convinced.

She scratched her nose.

Folded her arms and cocked her hip.

“Okay,” she said, “show me exactly how that tube of metal is going to change my life.”

Nico took off his jacket hung it carefully over the back of a kitchen chair, rubbed his hands again, whipped out the instruction booklet and set up by linking it to their Wi-Fi and integrating the device from what he called, the mother-lode.

“It’s from Amazon.” He sent her a cheeky wink. “Its voice recognition artificial intelligence. All you have to do is tell Alexa what music you want to listen to, or turn on the radio, or order items from the store, and she does it. It’s like magic.”

Bronte, pouring two black coffees into cups, and lifted her brows.

She sank to a kitchen chair, folded her arms and just watched.

What was it with boys and their toys, she wondered.

It didn’t take long for Nico to set it up.

And within half an hour he had ordered a couple of items from Amazon.

Bronte reckoned she quite liked Alexa’s voice, she sounded friendly. And when Bronte asked Alexa to play rock music and she did, she couldn’t help but laugh.

“That is so cool,” she said. Her temper improving by the minute.

Looking pretty pleased with himself, Nico dropped a kiss on her cheek.

“I’ll have a shower. I’ll be down in a couple of minutes and I’ll help you with all this. There’s nothing we cannot do when we work as a team.”

Well, Bronte had to agree with that sentiment.

She strolled out the door with him, and gave his tight butt a pat.

“Maybe we could shower together and save water?” she whispered.

His strong arm came around her waist. “Just what I was thinking,” he said in a deep, growly voice.

As Bronte and Nico strolled out the door, a little blond head appeared slowly, very slowly, from behind the back of a lilac velvet sofa.

Sophia, dressed in pink leggings that hit above her ankle, and an oversized white hoodie that proclaimed, ‘The Snuggle Is Real,’ and clutching a battered looking Raggedy-Ann doll,  strolled over on bare feet to check out Alexa.

Emerald eyes wide, she placed her arms on the worktop and stared unblinking at the machine.

“Hello, Alexa,” said Sophia.

***

Next morning, Bronte was busy at her twelve burner stainless steel hob, making a full English breakfast for her hungry horde. In a good mood, she shook her booty to a rock song via Alexa. The device was soooooo cool.

The peal of the doorbell had her yell, “Nico! Could you get the door?”

Si,” he yelled back from his study.

She heard him opening the door, and chatting to the postman.

A minute later, he walked into the kitchen-dining-living space, carting at least six cardboard boxes.

Her brows rose. “Good Lord, what’s all that?”

Checking the parcels, Nico shook his head. “I ordered two items.”

Using tongs to lift a pile of crispy bacon onto a plate, she placed the plate in the middle of the table. Wiping her hands on the tea towel tucked into the waistband of her black skinny jeans, she wandered over to find Nico using a sharp knife to open the boxes.

“From Amazon,” she muttered.

When Nico took out a large box of Lego—Elsa’s Sparkling Ice Castle, she goggled.

“Whoa,” she said.

The next box opened, it was like Christmas all over again, held more Lego—this time a BIG selection of Mighty Micros Spiderman VS Scorpion Street Showdown.

“Wow,” she whispered.

By this time, Nico’s shoulders shook so hard, he needed to take a breath as he opened box number three. A huge box of Mega Blocks for ages 1-5.

“Aww, that must be for Eve,” Bronte said, her eyes going all teary. “What’s in this one, it’s big.”

Nico opened it, and blinked. “Mio dio. It is the iScoot Blaze Tonio’s been after.”

Bronte picked up a receipt invoice, and bit down hard on her top lip. “Alexa ordered it. All of it.”

Her eyes met his as they turned their attention to another box.

A heavy one this time.

“What do you thinks’ in here?”

His grey eyes, twinkling, met hers. “There must be something you’d love to have.”

She shook her head. “I’ve no idea.”

When he opened it, she slapped her hand over her mouth. “Omigod. It’s the Tefal Cook4Me Multicooker. But… it costs a fortune.”

He opened the last box, it didn’t weigh much.

And Bronte collapsed into a chair laughing so hard, she nearly peed her pants.

It was a ‘Man Tin’ (Leads, Screws & Other Pointless Stuff I must keep.)

 

And right then, Tonio and Luca strolled into the kitchen.

They wore below the knee jean shorts and hoodies.

The boys stopped dead, and stared, wide-eyed, at all the goodies lined up on the table.

“Wow!” said Luca, diving on the Lego box. He held it in his hand as if it was the crown jewels. His beaming smile split his face. “This is sooooo cool. Thank you, papa!”

Tonio’s dark eyes flew to Nico as he grabbed the box containing the much-longed-for scooter.

Grazie. Grazie!”

“We’ll need to buy him protective gear for that,” Bronte whispered into Nico’s ear.

Si.

And then, without a word, Sophia slid into the room.

She wore soft blue jeans and navy hoodie.

Her big emerald eyes studied the toys, her brothers’ clear deeeeeelight, and then flicked to her mama and papa’s wide eyes as they watched her face.

“Um…,” she said, her fingers playing with her blonde tail.

“Um?” Bronte said in a soft voice.

Nico crouched down in front of his daughter, took her little hand in his.

“Were you speaking to Alexa?” he asked in a soft voice.

Sophia’s brows flew into her hairline. “She’s nice.”

Luca, carefully unwrapping Lego, glanced at his sister. “Who’s Alexa?”

Sophia, eyes glued to her papa’s, said, “Alexa? What time is it?”

There was a slight delay and then a woman’s voice said from the tall black tube, “The time is 9.20 am.”

Luca’s eyes nearly popped out of his head. “Wow! That is amazing,” he whispered.

Bronte ran her hand through his dark curls. “Isn’t it?”

“Did you ask Alexa for all of these?” He indicated the boxes on the table.

“Uh huh,” she said in a soft voice.

“Didn’t Alexa say how much they cost?” Nico wanted to know.

“Uh huh.”

“They cost a lot of money,” Nico said.

Sophia went nose to nose with her papa.

“I know.” Then she stroked a small finger down his cheek. “But you’re filthy rich, papa. We can afford a nice surprise now and then. And mama’s always wanted one of those Cook4Me pots because she works too hard looking after all the heathens in this family. So I asked Alexa to send one and she said yes.”

In response to the absolute logic of her statement, Nico grabbed her in a big hug.

“Your heart is in the right place, bambina.”

 

Meanwhile, Bronte couldn’t help but laugh.

Wait until Rosie heard all about Alexa.

Seriously, she couldn’t make this stuff up!

 

FINE

Hehehe!

Real life is stranger than fiction. This actually happened to someone I know. Not on the scale of Sophia. One dozen boxes of cake mix. LOL!

 

Christine X

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

WAKE-UPCALLLUDLOWHALLSNEAKPEEK

Hello, my darlings!

It’s Friday and time for another slice of Ludlow life with our favourite family, The Ferranti’s…..

The Dower House – it’s two a.m. Nico’s cosy in his vast bed and all snuggled up to the love of his life. The Egyptian cotton sheets are crisp and smell lightly of lavender. His big body’s spooning and holding her close. Very close. With every deep inhale, his system seemed to absorb the scent of her hair, her skin, her very breath. Si, he cuddled to curve around her, and slid a heavy leg between hers, he was a very lucky man.

Right on cue his libido, tucked inside his Calvins, stirred.

His low moan was heartfelt.

No.

No.

No.

Behave, he told his lurve muscle.

Bronte’s exhausted.

His body settled and he slid deeper into the land of nod.

 

The night was still and clear and freezing cold.

A half moon spilled silver light through a gap in the heavy curtains.

Nothing stirred, not even a mouse.

Everyone was asleep—or were they?

 

The sound of the fire alarm had Nico explode out of bed, into jeans and a sweater.

He shoved bare feet into running shoes.

And Bronte wasn’t far behind him.

Shoving her arms in a black cashmere sweater, her head popped out of the neckline.

“I smell smoke.”

Emerald eyes wide, she grabbed her phone and dialled the emergency services.

Then she lifted her chin and, like a she-wolf, sniffed the air.

“Do you smell smoke?”

Si.”

Shouts from Tonio and Luca had Nico run into the hallway, and here the smell of smoke was strong.

Both in pj’s their dark curls sticking up on end, Luca clutched a yapping Jimmy Chew in his arms, and Tonio carried a howling baby Eve wrapped a thick blanket.

He handed her to Nico.

“Quick,” Nico said, his brain speeding through likely scenarios. “Remember the fire drill.” Two pale-faced little boys stared at him, as if mute, as he rubbed the toddler’s back. “We go to the guest bedroom, out the window, onto the roof of the laundry room. Mama is calling for help.” His head spun around, and his racing heart seemed to screech to a stop before knocking against his ribs. “Where are Sophia and Emily?”

“Their beds are empty.”

“Omigod,” Bronte said.

Nico turned to her and thrust a screaming Eve into her arms. “Get the boys out, and I’ll find them.”

Heart pistoning in his chest, he spun and headed for the stairs and the kitchen.

Smoke belched through the open kitchen door into the hallway and drifted up, up, the stairs and into the cavernous roof space.

When he skidded to a halt in the kitchen-living space, he saw a weeping Emily dressed in her Elsa from Frozen nightgown, tucked into a corner of the sofa, her little face sheet white.

And the perpetrator of the night’s drama, his seven year old daughter, eyes streaming and gasping for breath, was standing on a chair dragged next to the black granite worktop, and frantically waving a dish towel over the entrance to a stainless steel toaster oven which belched dark grey smoke.

Nico whistled low through his teeth, pulled the electric plug from the wall, slammed the door to the toaster oven shut and grabbed his daughter by the waist. On his way to the kitchen door, he scooped up an Emily crying for her mummy, and headed through the boot room.

As he opened the door to the driveway, he thanked God when he found the rest of his family intact and, by the look of them, scared to death and blue with cold.

The sound of a fire-engine and ambulance, blue lights flashing, roared up the road and into the driveway.

Two firemen grabbed a girl-child each and handed them to the paramedics who got them into the ambulance to check them over. Meanwhile, three other fire-crew prepared their hoses. The leader entered the house. He didn’t loiter. When he flung open a kitchen window and popped his head out, he yelled to the crew,

“Need a fire blanket. Toaster oven.”

Immediately, all tension left the men.

They began rolling up their hoses and chatted to Bronte.

“We’ll open all the windows to let the smoke out.”

Her brain reeling, Bronte nodded.

Clutching a sobbing baby girl to her breast, she was shaking so hard, her teeth rattled like castanets in her head. On trembling legs, she jogged to the ambulance, to find Emily wrapped in a blanket and Sophia being given oxygen and checked over by paramedic, Susan Henshaw. Bronte had gone to school with Susan, and she found her eyes stinging as she caught her eye.

“Never a dull moment with this one,” Susan said.

Bronte puffed out her cheeks. “Tell me about it.”

She studied her daughter’s white face and the way her breath wheezed in and out.

“We’ll take Sophia to A&E just to make one hundred per cent sure she’s okay. Smoke inhalation can be nasty.”

Nico arrived and took the baby, his face pale as he watched Sophia cough so hard, she struggled for breath. “They were making toast,” he muttered, the vision of of the way his daughter had tried to fight a fire kept flashing in his brain. Dio mio, things could have been a lot worse. “Rosie and Alexander are on their way to look after the kids.”

And just as he spoke, a black shiny Range Rover sped up the drive.

Before Alexander had switched off the engine, a wide-eyed Rosie, wearing leggings tucked inside ankle Uggs, and one of Alexander’s hoodies over her pj’s, was out the passenger door and racing towards the ambulance.

“Who’s hurt?”

Susan poked her head out of the ambulance door and flashed Rosie a grin.

“Ah, I see the gang’s all here. Sophia’s inhaled a bit of smoke. Emily’s fine. A little shaken up, but her oxygen levels are good. We’re taking Sophia in, just to make sure she’s okay.”

Rosie puffed out a relieved breath.

“Okay. Gimme Emily.”

 

As Rosie carried Emily back into the house, the child wound her arms around her neck. “We were hungry and made toast.”

Rosie popped a kiss on her pale cheek. “Yeah, and nearly burned the house down.”

“We didn’t want to wake anyone. We wanted toast and peanut butter.”

When Rosie entered the kitchen-living space, the evidence spread around the worktop told its own story. Slices of wholemeal bread, toasted to a variety of degrees, were spread over the worktop. Clearly, the girls hadn’t had much luck in their endeavour. The toaster oven was buried in a fire blanket.

“Who’d have thought a toaster oven could cause this amount of mess?”

With his helmet tucked under his arm the fireman nodded.

“Everything electrical in a kitchen can be a hazard, especially in the hands of a child. On a positive note, it was clear they had a fire escape plan.” He jerked his chin. “There’s a fire extinguisher on the wall, but no way a child could use it. Everyone needs a fire blanket or an extinguisher in a kitchen. Preferably both, neither are expensive. And everyone in the house should be shown how to use them in case of an emergency.”

Rosie nodded and rocked a sleepy Emily.

“It’s certainly a wake-up call.”

***

Six hours later….

When Bronte and Nico, carrying Sophia, opened the door of the house and entered the kitchen, the reek of smoke still hung in the air.

His knots in his belly went tight at the thought of what might have been.

A hollow-eyed Rosie had Eve and baby Mila in their high chairs and was feeding them breakfast. The kids looked bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and none the worse for their evening excursion.

“Coffee’s ready,” she said.

Nico winked as he took his daughter upstairs.

Meanwhile, her best friend simply slumped into a chair and rested her blonde head on her folded arms.

Rosie poured her a cup of the black stuff, and then shifted to give her a shoulder rub.

“You’ve had a bad scare.”

“I don’t know what I’m going to do with that child,” Bronte whispered.

Rosie made a face. “My mother used to say the same thing about me.”

Bronte lifted her head. “You were bad.”

“To the bone.”

Bronte laughed, which had been Rosie’s plan all along. “God, do you remember the time we climbed onto the barn roof to see if we could touch the clouds?”

Rosie grinned at the memory. “Five years old and Stoooooopid.”

Bronte took a sip of her coffee, and stared unseeing through the glass sliding doors into the garden. “We’ve had a lucky escape.”

“What we’ve had is a wake-up call,” Rosie said and took a seat at the table. “I’ve already been online and ordered fire blankets for this kitchen and mine. Something a child could easily use if they found themselves confronting an emergency.”

Bronte reached out and took Rosie’s hand, and squeezed. “Thanks. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

Rosie squeezed her back. “We’re family. We do what families do.”

 

Nico entered, and a made a face.

“It is going to take time to get rid of the smell of smoke.”

He took time to study his wife’s exhausted face, then picked her up and sat with her on his lap.

She rested her weary head on his strong shoulder.

“When Sophia and Emily have had a long nap, we will need to sit them down and have a serious talk about touching electrical appliances…. again,” he said, his voice deep and growly.

Bronte heaved out a sigh. “What’s the answer, punishment?”

“I think,” Nico said, rubbish his cheek on her head. “The fright they gave themselves, and us, may be punishment enough.”

“Can I just say one thing?” Rosie asked.

Nico nodded. “Anything.”

Rosie bit down hard on her bottom lip.

“Your toaster’s…. toast.”

 

FINE

 

Nothing like a little kitchen drama.

Don’t forget NO RULES is out today. We’re just waiting for the Google Play links and I’ll do an alert here and talk to you live right NOW on my Facebook author page!  A new release is always a huge feeling of excitement tinged with hot white fear. It never gets any easier.

Love and hugs,

Christine X

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

Happy Thanksgiving… and a signed giveaway…

HAPPY THANKSGIVING

To all my readers, and especially those across the pond – HAPPY THANKSGIVING!!!

As a gift from me to you, I’m giving away a signed author copy of AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER, A Ludlow Hall Christmas story! This is story is laugh-out-loud and hot… so be warned!

03D_Anaffair

 

At Christmas, there’s nothing more important than family…

Charismatic Marc Atelier, head of security of the Ferranti Group, has arrived at Ludlow Hall hot on the trail of a corporate spy.

Yet, from the moment he focused his intense blue eyes on head receptionist, Elena Kennedy, neither of them can deny the heat of an attraction that’s about to burn out of control.

But there’s more to Elena than meets the eye… and Marc likes what he sees… a lot!

To enter you must follow this website and comment below. You have until midnight GMT on 25th November to enter. Ready? GO!

Hugs,

ChristineX