Thank you… and why I love Kobo

Kobo - May 2018 Distribution Downloads

Greetings from a boiling hot Cheshire!

We’re in the middle of the hottest spell of the year, so far, and I thought it might interest you to see the world map of my Kobo sales. Kobo give publishers a very nifty monthly map of an author’s global reach. The one above is for May 2018 (and June’s is rocking). In May I had downloads of my books in over one hundred and fifty countries via Kobo, how cool is that? I love Kobo for many reasons, but one of them is how they work closely with authors to bring their books to readers. Remember, the Kobo App is free and was voted the Best Reading App and is compatible with Android and iPhone, so go grab it. Don’t forget to sign-up to Kobo’s weekly free book deals. Each book is curated and recommended by a Kobo editor and spans many popular genres.

Check out my CC MACKENZIE page for steals and deals on Kobo now.

And I want to thank each and every one of you for the fabulous reviews of HITCHED TO THE ITALIAN

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***** “OMG. I just loved this so hard…”  ***** “Wow, CC’s done it again…”  ***** “I don’t know how Christine does it…”

Don’t forget there are two episodes of Desert Captive coming tomorrow and the story’s hotting up, a bit like the weather here.

Christine X

Desert Captive, episodes 9 & 10…

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Good evening from a very hot and sultry Cheshire,

We’ve been working incredibly hard on the final proofs and formatting for HITCHED TO THE ITALIAN. We’re waiting on the buy links from all the distributors, and those can take time, but I’ll post them asap.

I’m also 20K into the next Nico & Bronte story STORM IN A ‘B’ CUP, which is the most fun I’ve had writing in a very long time, and I cannot wait to bring this one.

Here’s the next part of Desert Captive.

Enjoy!

 

DESERT CAPTIVE

by CC MACKENZIE

 

 

Copyright © C C MacKenzie 2018

 

After a six hour sleep and plenty of cold water splashed on her face, Bella felt more like her old sparky self, and put down her temperamental state to baby hormones.

She noticed someone had left her a tray of refreshments.

The ache in her belly told her junior was hungry, so she poured herself a glass of ice cold juice, pomegranate, and helped herself to a little hard cheese with luscious figs and fresh fruit.

It struck her the plane had begun to descend.

She looked out a window, but could see only darkness.

Surely if they were approaching Quarram’s cosmopolitan and capital city, she’d see lights?

Before she could organize her thoughts, the door opened and Sarif entered.

She blinked.

He wore a heavy black Thwab edged in gold and a ceremonial besht.

On his head he wore a gold cord Igaal.

His face looked as if it was carved from solid granite.

Austere.

Unforgiving.

Beneath brooding brows, he stared at her, his grey eyes probing her face.

“You have been crying.” Frowning now, he placed an expensive looking hooded robe of ivory wool on the bottom of the bed. “If I upset you, I apologise, but I want no misunderstandings between us. While you carry my son, it is my duty to attend to your wellbeing. No more arguments. They  are not good for the baby.”

Why those words should hurt so bad, Bella had no idea.

He’d laid his opinion of her firmly on the line, and so had she of him.

Shame he refused to listen, never mind believe her.

“You have judged me and found me wanting without listening with an open mind to what I had to say. I am not ashamed. I have told no lies,” she told him woodenly, misery creeping over her like a noxious cloud that seemed to shut out her ability to remain calm and professional.

Where were all these feelings coming from?

Jeez, what was with the pregnancy hormones?

“You need to be realistic about our marriage. I have set the boundaries…”

“Fair enough,” she shot back. “But you have decided to punish me for sins I did not commit. When you’ve had enough of listening to your own voice and come down off your self righteous soap box, I expect a lengthy apology.”

“Is that all you have to say to me?” he roared, and right then Bella decided that if he raised his voice to her one more time, she’d swing for him.

She stood, long legs spread, her fists on her hips.

“You know something, Your Majesty, I find myself stuck in that place between—I really don’t want to antagonize you and I want to punch you in the mouth.”

“There will be no violence in our relationship,” he said through gritted teeth.

“Then you’d better wind back the bad temper or I won’t be responsible for my actions.”

He shifted and went nose to nose with her.

And God, he smelled amazing.

Spicy.

Hot.

Lickable.

She held her breath and focused on the subject at hand.

“I find when someone claims saintdom, the bigger horns they are hiding.”

Well, she was certainly no saint.

Then again, nor was she a sinner.

“What do I have to hide?”

“Why were you crying?”

“I’m pregnant. It’s hormones. At the moment I’d cry at the opening of an envelope.”

“Admit it. I upset you.”

“You are not worth the price of my tears.”

He opened his mouth to respond, and then obviously thought better of it.

When he lifted the robe from the bed and offered it to her, she simply stared at him in silent enquiry.

“Wear this. It is cold in the desert at dawn.”

Dawn?

She turned to the window and saw the early grey light, the promise of a new day.

“Desert?”

“Yes. You will be safe here.”

All at sea, she shrugged on the robe, and wondered what on earth he was talking about.

“Here?”

“Yes. We are about to land at the private airfield of my winter palace.”

She blinked.

The winter palace was deep in the north of the country.

Near her brother?

“Why not the city?”

“The news of our marriage will be a huge shock to my people. If you remember I had already announced our engagement when you ran away like a coward. Many officials are aware you left Quarram under the cover of darkness. They see your reluctance to marry me as a personal slight upon their King.” The ceiling lights flashed along with the ding of a bell. He held out his hand. “Come, we must take our seats. We are about to land.”

Bella shot him a tense troubled glance, and took his hand.

Then she wished she hadn’t because she couldn’t work out how his touch felt so right when everything between them was so terribly wrong.

As they walked through the outer office, the skinny man she’d seen before watched her out of the corner of his eye.

Normally, she wasn’t a fanciful or overly-sensitive sort of person, but the guy truly gave her the creeps.

Sarif stopped and turned to him.

“Hafar? Has everything been prepared?” Sarif asked in English.

The small twist of Hafar’s thin lips was supposed to be a smile, Bella reckoned.

She was fascinated by the fact that as far as Hafar was concerned, she might as well be invisible.

“Indeed, my Lord. Everything is as you instructed,” Hafar responded in Farsi.

In response, Sarif nodded once, as if he expected nothing less than his will be done.

They continued down the aisle, took their seats, clipped their seatbelts and the plane descended sharply.

Bella stared out the window and all she saw was a vast wasteland.

Then she saw two lines of lit torches dug into the sand.

But it was the long line of horsemen, six deep and dressed from head to toe in black that had her breath hitch.

Bedouin.

She swung around to find Sarif watching her closely.

“What are they doing here?”

“They are here to protect my queen and my child.”

“From whom?”

He leaned into her, his eyes fixed unblinking on hers.

The scent of him seemed to wind around her and draw her in.

His gaze dropped to her mouth, and just like that her nipples peaked.

“Perhaps from herself?”

At the clear challenge in his tone, she turned to study the vast horizon stretching as far as the eye could see and at the tents, the horses, the goats and the men, women and children, who had come to welcome their King home.

In that moment, she’d never felt so alone or so far from home.

 

EPISODE TEN

As the stewards moved to open the jet doors, Sarif took her hand.

“Cover your hair. Put up your hood,” he muttered.

He waited until she’d obeyed his request before leading her to the top of the flight of stairs.

As soon as they appeared a great roar came from the crowd.

Women lifted their voices in a eulogy of sound.

And when Sarif brought her hand to his mouth and kissed her knuckles, the roar only grew.

Although his country was in many ways blessed with great wealth, there were desperately poor people in Quarram. Not as many as when he’d first come to the throne.

But one was one too many as far as Sarif was concerned.

These people, his people, who greeted him now were people of the desert.

They were lean and mean.

The men had guns and belts of ammunitions strapped across their thin chests.

Hundreds of dark eyes, filled to the brim with suspicion, watched Bella as he led her down the stairs and into the back seat of an all-terrain vehicle.

Dusty-haired toddlers clung to their older brothers and sisters.

Once settled in the back seat of the car, he turned to study Bella’s pale face.

He knew she must be wondering why on earth he had brought her here.

If he was a gentleman, he’d tell her why.

Unfortunately, he wasn’t feeling polite this morning.

“Have you considered my offer?” he asked her now.

Those dark eyes flashed into his.

And just like that he went rock hard.

“Neither me or my child is for sale,” she snapped.

“Every human being on this earth has a price.”

She lifted her chin.

“How much did your French mistress cost you for her to walk out of your life?”

“My past is none of your business.”

His words had brought a flush to her cheeks.

“I apologize. You are correct. Your past is none of my business,” she said with a bloody-minded determination he was coming to admire. “But you had better remain faithful to our marriage while we’re in it. I do not share.”

Well now, wasn’t this interesting?

It seemed his reluctant bride was willing to share his bed.

“I agree.”

Something deep and visceral inside him seemed to want to celebrate with a joy he found hard to contain that she wanted him.

He studied her slim figure, swathed within soft cashmere.

The robe could not hide her long legs.

Her breasts and hips were hidden so he could not understand why just looking at her lovely face, that full bottom lip and those dark brown eyes turned him on to the point of pain. He wondered how long it would take for him to discover the secret of her overwhelming attraction, how long it would take for him to weary of her and start living for the day he could seize upon his freedom again. He never stayed with a woman longer than a couple of months and even then on the most casual basis. Now, he realized, that with a child joining them together, forever, he was about to face an incredibly steep learning curve, and so was she.

“So,” she whispered, her dark eyes wary. “How is this thing going to work between us?”

Sarif moved closer, a sparkling sort of intensity and great power forcing him towards her. Gleaming eyes studied her strained face.

“Where it all began. Me determined to have you, and you backing away…”

Bella’s breath caught in her throat because her physical reaction to him was not normal.

Hell, she was a kick-ass, so why did she want to shrink from this man?

“I scare you,” he murmured, obviously able to read her body language.

And didn’t that just annoy the hell out of her?

“I’m not scared,” she told him in a tight little voice, but she knew, he knew, she was lying through her teeth. And right now her whole body was in a state of conflict. Too much adrenaline was humming through her system along with a well-honed and well-trained inner alarm system which rang inside her baby, befuddled brain. She wanted to hold him and she wanted to push him away because she just knew, pushing men away felt like a natural reaction rather than wanting to get one naked. Yet, she was desperate to get him naked. Hell, she wanted him to do things to her she had never wanted before, and all of those feelings seriously messed with her training and common sense.

Yet, she simply could not deny the frissons already inflamed that he sat so close fought with her inbuilt warning device. Her skin prickled, her breasts pushing against the constraint of her bra as her nipples became too tight too fast. Her mouth went dust dry. Just taking a steady breath became virtually impossible while her body already over sensitized with pregnancy, struggled to fight the wave of heat rising from her pelvis.

“You must know I will never hurt you,” Sarif whispered, his voice a low husk, wrapping a strong arm around her with an almost lazy strength, arching her back to trail slow kisses across her cheek and down to her jaw.

Then with an abruptness that made her cry out loud, the world spun sickly.

White dots danced in front of her eyes.

A cold sweat beaded on her forehead, upon her top lip.

And her belly went tight.

Too tight.

“What is it?” she heard Sarif’s voice as if from a long way away. “Arabella?”

There was a buzzing in her ears, as if a million bees were inside her head, and then the world went dark.

 

*****

Ooooh, looks like trouble ahead.

Keep an eye on my next post, it will be the links for HITCHED TO THE ITALIAN, and I cannot wait for you to get your sticky fingers on this one. My editor and proofreading team just love it!

Hugs,

Christine X

 

 

It’s the Ludlow Hall Sneak Peek…

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Hi guys,

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

***

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

Sofia Ferranti had to pee.

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

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

Ever.

Ms. Brown was not happy with her.

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

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

 

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

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

“We are nearly home,” Bronte sang.

No response.

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

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

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

In response Bronte shrugged.

“Is Luca asleep?” Bronte asked Tonio.

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

He nodded. “He’s out for the count.”

Bronte again checked on Sofia in the mirror.

She frowned at how pale her daughter looked.

Maybe she was sickening for something?

Please God, not the flu.

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

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

Silence.

She decided to give up.

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

 

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

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

Tonight Papa was running thirty minutes late.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The book was called A Child is Born.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

Nico Ferranti was in a good mood.

He’d had a great day at Ludlow Hall.

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

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

Yay!

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

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

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

His mouth watered.

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

His wife knew exactly how to look after him.

He was a lucky man.

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

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

Her nails scratched his scalp.

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

He grinned at the dazed expression on her face.

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

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

Yes, Nico reckoned he was one lucky bastard.

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then he counted his many blessings, and shrugged.

He was a lucky man.

“Papa?”

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

Nico looked to heaven.

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

He turned, and found his daughter looking pale.

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

A gift from auntie Rosie.

And in her arms she clutched her Raggedy Ann doll.

A sure sign that something was up.

He watched her as Sophia crept closer.

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

Uh oh.

Trouble.

Nico leaned back and placed his hands behind his head.

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

Maybe they were too soft with her?

Maybe she needed a firmer hand?

He rubbed the spot above his heart.

He couldn’t do it.

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

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

And she clutched Raggedy Ann even closer.

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

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

“A letter from your teacher?”

Sophia nodded. “Yes.”

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

And in that moment, Nico knew he was toast.

No way could he harden his heart against tears.

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

He let her cry.

Sometimes it was good to cry.

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

He couldn’t begin to imagine.

 

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

Nico found his daughter holding him even tighter.

He made a face at his wife.

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

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

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

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

“Hit me with it.”

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

“It’s in her school bag,” Nico said.

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

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

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

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

Nico heaved a heavy sigh.

He had a horrible feeling.

“That bad?”

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

Her cheeks were hot.

Bronte shook her head

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

Nico shifted to catch Sophia’s eye.

“Seriously?”

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

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

“What baby book?” Her mama asked.

“A Child is Born.” Sophia told her.

Bronte’s eyes went wide.

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

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

 

Silence.

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

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

Bronte meanwhile was reading the rest of the letter.

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

Sophia blinked at her like a baby owl.

“You mean, I’m not in big trouble?”

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

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

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

A big hug.

Bronte lifted her and headed for the stairs.

“Say goodnight to Papa.”

“Night Papa.”

 

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

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

And he wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

FINE

 

Aw, no fake news for Sophia.

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

Big hugs,

Christine X

It’s Monday and an exclusive book deal…

Happy Monday, my darlings.

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

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GET IT HERE

 

 

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

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

 

Enjoy!

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

Big hugs,

Christine X

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

Did you know Amazon have Break The Rules on a deal for two days?

 

Happy Wednesday!

We’re recovering from ex-hurricane Ophelia, which battered Ireland and the west coast of Britain. Ireland go the worst of it, poor souls. The storm brought all sorts of weird weather to the UK; twenty degrees with a hazy red sun that was seriously spooky.

Want proof?

My town on Monday 16th October:   unnamed

(HK Carmichael)

 

In other news, the lovely people at Amazon Direct Publishing have one of my Ludlow Nights books, BREAK THE RULES, on a deal for two days only. Remember that all of the stories set in the Ludlow Nights world standalone, so if you haven’t tried one then grab T.C. and Sean’s story now. I’m so thrilled readers LOVED this couple’s journey to their happy ever after as much as I loved writing it.

“I loved this book. The people come right off the page and you can feel every emotion. I can tell I will be re-reading it over and over. I will be sharing this with everyone.xxx”

“Absolutely loved this book,it was brilliant I’ve read all the Ludlow books they make you laugh,cry they are so enjoyable once you start to read you carn’t stop till you get to the end.So looking forward to the next book well done CC don’t keep us waiting to long.”

“Another emotional read from C C, once again laughed and shed a tear, loved catching up with other Ludlow characters.”

“This writer keeps you reading and put twists and turns in. She is amazing.”

Here’s the blurb

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

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

BREAK the RULES is the third installment of the LUDLOW NIGHTS series. It can be read as a standalone. But, to fully appreciate Sean and T.C.’s story, I recommend combining the reading experience with HIS RULES and HER RULES.

 

breaktherulesdeal

CLICK HERE FOR YOUR FREE COPY – AMAZON

 

You’re probably all wondering where the hell I’ve been. Well, the bad news is that I’ve been chronically unwell with an arthritis flare, which has seriously sucked. It’s been one step forward and three steps back for months. Pain meds = brain fog. Brain fog = no writing. No writing = a cranky and miserable author. It’s taken months for the flare to burn out. Bleh. To make matters worse, most of my support team are based in the USA and they were impacted by hurricanes, Harvey and Irma. Between my illness and stormy weather everything came to a grinding halt.

The good news is that I’m slowly returning to writing after weeks of binge reading Georgette Heyer’s historical romances. I adore her work. She lifts the spirit. She makes me happy. And you’ll be glad to know that NO RULES is in final(!) revisions before returning to my editorial and proofreading team. Then I do the final(!) fixes. Then formatting. Then on pre-order on all distributors (iBooks, Nook, Amazon) to give readers a chance to grab it for a few weeks before it is exclusive to Amazon.

So fingers and toes crossed, I’ll be back on track soon.

Big hugs,

Christine X

 

 

 

 

 

His Rules is free on Amazon for a limited time.

HIS RULES FREE ON AMAZON

GET IT HERE

Happy Friday!

I’m thrilled to bring you HIS RULES free for a limited time on Amazon.

I’m working hard on the final edits for NO RULES, and it’s reading well. Because I want to keep ALL my readers happy, the story will go on pre-order everywhere for two weeks and for one week after release, before it heads over to Kindle Unlimited.

For fans of the Ludlow Hall series, I’m writing Gregorio Ancelloti’s story. This will be the eleventh book set in the Ludlow Hall world – where has the time gone? I love Gregorio soooo much and I’ve found an amazing woman for him. “Honey, I grind my pelvis for a livin’, no way am I the right woman for you.” Hehehe! This book will be available in all digital stores. I’ll keep you posted.

Don’t forget the Ludlow Hall sneak peeks will return at the end of August.

Hugs,

Christine X

Exclusive starter pack for my reader library.

fbpicsforstarterlibrarypack

For library access, click HERE 

Greetings from a soggy and windy Cheshire.

Behind the scenes, H has been working hard on a plan to bring you exclusive access to a reader library of some of my work.  We needed a place where readers can download a story/sneak peek/book etc., straight to the reading device of their choice.

There’s no catch and it costs nothing.

Readers here and in my Facebook group have been asking me to put all the Ludlow Hall sneak peeks into a book and I’ll be working on collating the stories with my editorial team during the next few months. Then I’ll place the book in the exclusive reader library where you can download the entire content for free before it goes on sale.

Sound good?

H and I are feeling better after pneumonia (and I pray to God we never get it again). He is waiting for biopsy results and we see his consultant on 13th March, so fingers crossed.

The illness means I’m way behind with my production schedule. I’m hoping to get back on track over the next few weeks. Thank you for being patient and for the kind get well messages. They picked me up when days were dark.

Big hugs,

Christine X

 

 

It’s Monday, so it’s got to be the Ludlow Hall Sneak Peek!

raymond-edwards

Happy Monday, my wonderful peeps.

Here’s this week’s peek into the crazy lives of the residents of Ludlow Hall (and it’s a doozy)…

 

It’s late afternoon in Nico Ferranti’s office at Ludlow Hall…

Ah, it is good to kick back and relax after a busy and productive day. Nico powers down his laptop, leans back to stretch out in his fancy schmancy ergonomic chair of soft black leather. Don’t you just love it when everything in life comes together as it should? Psychologists call the occurrence a state of ‘flow’. Whatever, business is booming. His baby girl’s bruised cheek is healing as it should. The twins have settled into school and are sailing through math and reading tests. Tonio is top of his class and captain of the soccer team Go, Tonio! The baby is finally sleeping through the night, thank you, Jesus. His wife loves him to bits. Hell, when has life ever been this good? A brisk knock at the door and Josh Erichsen pokes his head in, smiles when he sees his pal. He strolls in and closes the door. Today, he’s wearing soft jeans, a pale blue button down shirt, navy sweater and black steel capped work boots. Seems Josh has been on a building site.

“Hey, passed Julie on her way out, she told me to come on through. You got time for a beer?”

Nico spins in his seat to the built-in cooler behind his desk. “Si! Have a seat. How are things?”

Josh eases himself into a fat leather club chair the color of blackcurrants, accepts an icy bottle of Peroni. “Thanks. Good. Broke ground on a new project. And, so far—touch wood—the planners are in harmony with my project manager and crew. Long may it last.”

Nico takes a sip of Italian nectar, closes his eyes to enjoy the moment. “And how are Jan and Boo?”

“Good. Boo’s found her feet and is on the move. Jan’s been teaching her how to climb down stairs backwards. It’s the cutest thing, evah.”

Experienced daddy, Nico nods. “Need eyes in the back of your head when they are at that age.”

Josh rolls blue eyes. “Tell me about it…” But, before he continues, a white-faced and wild-eyed Alexander plunges through the door.

Dressed for business in a smart dark grey suit handcrafted in Savile Row, his crisp white shirt is unbuttoned at the neck and his silk tie is askew. Alexander sinks gingerly into the chair next to Josh. “Thank god you’re still here, Nico,” he says in a squeaky voice. “I’m in deep shit.”

“Rosie? Mila?” Josh asks as he sits up, places his bottle on the leather top of Nico’s oak desk.

Alexander shakes his head, closes his eyes tight. “No. They’re fine. It’s me. I’ve had an accident.”

Alarm shoots up Nico’s spine. “Car accident? Anyone hurt?”

Again Alexander shakes his head, this time he lets out a long low groan. “No. Me. I’ve really messed up. I’ve spent all day trying to fix it. And I can’t. I can’t!”

Nico and Josh exchange a wide-eyed look.

Nico turns to a pale Alexander. “If it is business, you must not worry. There is nothing we cannot fix. Even if we’ve taken a financial hit, we will weather the storm.”

Alexander shakes his head. “No. No. Business is good. It’s… It’s me. I don’t know what to do.”

Josh reaches over to grab Alexander’s hand. “Are you sick? Is it bad?”

Cristo! Nico knew the state of ‘flow’ wouldn’t last. But, this? How will he tell Rosie and Bronte that Alexander is seriously ill? Panic uncoils in his gut.

Alexander closes his eyes tight and slumps in the chair. “No. I’m not sick. But I’ve gotta problem… a big problem.” He opens his eyes to watch their faces. “I need to go to A&E. I’ve seriously messed up, Nico.”

Bemused and bewildered, Nico looks at Josh. Josh looks at Nico, lifts his brows and shrugs in an I-have-no-clue-man gesture.

“What has happened?” Nico asks all at sea without a boat or a life jacket.

Alexander sits up places his elbows on his knees. His Adam’s apple bobs once, twice.

“It happened this morning. We were waiting for ‘the call’ to say we got the deal…”

Si, and we won, so?”

“Well, I was in my bathroom and needed to pee. I was in a hurry. So, when the phone rang I… I…”

Josh leans forward. “You what?”

Alexander’s cheeks puff as he blows out a very long breath. “I pulled up the zipper of my pants too fast… and trapped a long sliver of skin on the underside of my dick in the metal teeth of the zip.”

When Josh takes a deep inhale of utter horror and Nico’s eyes go wide, Alexander nods. “And, it’s bad. Four inches of skin stuck fast.”

“Omigod,” Josh whispers, his face pale. His eyes drop to Alexander’s package. He winces. “Can’t you just, sort of, yank the zipper down?”

“I thought of it, but I can’t bring myself to do it.”

Nico cranes his neck to check out the package in trouble. “Looks okay from here.”

Alexander shakes his head. “No. It’s not this zip! I had to cut myself out of my suit pants. The zipper’s still attached. These are new pants. Christ, how am I gonna tell Rosie? I will never, ever, live this down?”

Never mind Rosie, Nico thinks. What about Bronte? He stands up. “Right. We will go to the emergency room and get this sorted. Nessun problema!”

“I’m coming, too,” Josh says, his blue eyes dancing with sheer wickedness.

“I feel sick,” Alexander mutters as his two best pals escort him out of Ludlow Hall and into the car park and into Nico’s black shiny Range Rover.

“We will fix it!” Nico slaps Alexander on the back so hard Josh coughs to hide a choke of laughter.

In the accident and emergency department of the local hospital, the guys stand at the long narrow desk in reception…

The place smells of antiseptic with an oily undertone of bodily fluids. There are a small number of people seeking assistance, including a young mother with a young baby, and an elderly man sitting on a trolley with a horrible head wound.

“How can I help you?” A grey-haired dragon who protects the gates for the genuinely sick and injured eyes three men who look the picture of health. Her gaze narrows on Josh’s shit-eating grin, Alexander’s white face, and Nico’s I’m-in-charge toothy white smile.

Alexander opens his mouth—but nothing comes out except a pitiful squeak. A squeak that makes the dragon’s black pencil brows rise sharply above the black frame of her reading glasses. “What the problem?” she snaps.

Alexander closes his eyes, drops his chin to his chest. “I have a delicate and personal problem.”

The dragon leans over the desk. “Listen up. In here there is nothing I have not seen or heard. Do you or do you not require the immediate attention of a doctor?”

Alexander lifts his head, his Adam’s apple bobbing. “I’ve trapped my penis the zipper of my pants.” He holds out his thumb and forefinger about four inches. “This much.”

She doesn’t blink. “And these guys are your two amigos who have come to support you in your hour of need?”

“Yes.”

“Okay. Let’s fill in the details.” She turns to the flat screen on her desk to bring up a form, and barks, “Name?”

Thirty minutes later, Alexander’s heart is going crazy against his ribs. Jesus, he needs to keep calm. The thought of a needle going anywhere near his junk makes perspiration bead on his top lip. He’s lying on his back on a narrow bed in a cubicle without his suit pants, his Calvins and his shoes. On either side of the bed are two young nurses. They’re wearing thin latex gloves and holding long metal tweezers. They are total professionals. Not once have they snickered or grinned at his predicament. In fact, if anything, their serious demeanour is having him shit bricks.

“You’ve really caught the foreskin,” one says as she peers up close and personal at his dick. He can feel her breath on super sensitive flesh. He closes his eyes tight and tries to ignore the way her latex covered fingers are fiddling with metal teeth on delicate flesh.

“It’s a good job you didn’t leave it until tomorrow, or you would be in bigger trouble. This sort of thing happens all the time, usually to young boys. But, it’s important to seek help as soon as possible before swelling or infection takes hold,” the other one says. She has a white can in her hand and shakes it with vigour. “I’m just going to use a numbing spray. It’s cold. It won’t hurt.”

When the freezing spray shrivels his junk, Alexander nearly hit the ceiling. His girly yelp mortifies him enough he covers his burning face with the hands. And is that laughter he hears from his two amigos sitting behind the curtain? Bastards.

Twenty minutes later…

“I think we need to get a doctor. He might need a circumcision,” a nurse says. Her wide blue eyes are sympathetic as they meet an Alexander’s who’s lungs have gone tight with something like horror. “Good job you didn’t try to yank down the zip or we’d be dealing with the plastic surgeon. Let me go get the duty registrar.”

As she closes the curtains, she sends a wide-eyed reproof to a Nico and Josh who are suffering great paroxysms of silent laughter.

“Did you hear him whine when she said circumcision?” Josh whispers to a teary Nico.

Si.” Nico inhales a couple of deep breaths through his nose.

“Did you see how he couldn’t speak to the receptionist? He tried twice and nothing came out?” Josh whispers, swiping tears of hilarity from his wet cheeks.

The nurse returns with a young Asian doctor dressed in blue scrubs hot on her heels. The doctor eyes a Nico and Josh who sit up straight in their grey plastic chairs and assume serious expressions of brotherly solidarity. The doctor clearly isn’t impressed as he breezes past them. The nurse closes the curtains with a snap.

“Stop laughing. It’s not funny,” Josh leans over to whisper into Nico’s ear.

Nico nods, but his smooth brow creases as he bites down hard on his bottom lip, his wide shoulders shaking. Dio mio, who would have thought he’d be spending the early part of the evening in a drama involving Alexander’s dick?

Half an hour later…

Josh and Nico walk back to the car with a relieved Alexander between them.

Alexander lets out a shaky laugh. “Rosie’s gonna kill me. No sex until the stitches dissolve and the wound is fully healed, not even with a condom. Honestly, when the nurse mentioned going under the knife, I thought I was gonna pass out.” He places a hand on Josh and Nico’s shoulder. “Sorry I spoilt your evenings. Thank you so much for coming with me.”

Nico turns to give him a toothpaste-white smile. “Nessun problema. I would not have missed this for the world.”

“Are you in pain?” Josh asks from the back seat as the car glides down the winding country road toward Ludlow Hall.

“Stings a bit, but painkillers will deal with it,” Alexander says, and stretches out as he relaxes for the first time in eight hours. He turns to eye a Nico who is biting down hard on his bottom lip. “You’d better warn Tonio and Luca about the dangers of zippers, pal.”

Nico turns to give him big eyes. “No need. They are Italian!”

 

FINE

Ah, men and zips.

The jaws of death.

This Friday we have the first of the Golddiggers short story. I don’t think I’ve ever had such a great time in my entire writing career. There are eight in total to take us right through the holiday season!

Big Hugs,

Christine XX

IT’S ANOTHER SLICE OF LUDLOW LIFE…

here-comes-trouble-its-the-ludlow-hall-sneak-peek

It’s Monday, which means another sneak peek into life with the Ferranti family and their friends:

Bronte and Emily’s mummy, Grace, are enjoying a coffee and chat in the family kitchen at The Dower House while their daughters have a play date. What, I hear you ask, could possibly go wrong? Read on, peeps, read on…

Sophia and Emily are sitting on the rug in Sophia’s bedroom. They’re dressed up to the nines – oceans of pink tulle, plastic silver tiaras on their head, feather boas wrapped around their neck, rings on every finger, faces painted with kiddie makeup applied with a heavy hand. Emily rummages in one of her mummy’s old handbags, it’s a battered clutch of patent leather in an eye watering pink.

“I love that bag. It’s my favorite,” Sophia says, eyeing Emily’s bag with feminine lust.

Emily has an almost empty bottle of perfume in her hand. For a moment, she struggles with the stopper, then shoves the bottle under her best pal’s nose. “Me, too. My mummy says she must have been color blind the day she bought it.”

Sophia takes a sniff, makes a horrible face. “Ugh. That’s revolting.”

Emily takes a careful inhale, nods. “It’s not very nice, is it? I found it in the bin in mummy’s bathroom. Does perfume go off do you think, like food?”

Sophia lifts her hands, shrugs and makes a how-the-hell-do-I-know face. Then she frowns when a thought enters her mind. “Mama has bottles and bottles of special perfumes in her walk-in closet. She says if papa buys her any more of the stuff from Paris and Rome, she’s gonna open her own shop.”

Emily turns huge blue eyes to her friend. “Can I see them?”

Sophia stands, and wobbles a bit in a pair of her mama’s old heels. Her papa told her to be careful not to break her neck, but these shoes are a shiny red and make an awesome clicking sound when she clatters on the stone floor in the kitchen. When Emily stands in her pair of her mummy’s discarded heels, these are pink to match her bag, and nearly falls on her ass, Sophia grabs her hand in solidarity.

Together they shuffle their way out the door and down the carpeted hallway, past baby Eve’s room, and into the sacred sanctuary of Bronte and Nico Ferranti’s bedroom suite. Like heat seeking missiles of mass destruction they head for the double doors behind which hides Bronte’s boudoir. Sophia releases Emily’s hand to open the doors. Since the light switch is too high on the wall, she takes off her shoes, just for a minute, to drag over a footstool. She climbs up, illuminates a space that has little Emily’s blue eyes go wide and her jaw drop. Once Sophia’s got her balance in her high heels, she grabs her best pal’s hand and together they move forward.

“Wow,” Emily says.

Sophia nods. “I know. My auntie Rosie says it’s the mother lode. My mama says it’s a total waste of space.”

“When I marry Tonio,” Emily begins with a determined glint in her blue eyes. A glint which makes Sophia roll her eyes to heaven, since there is no way her brother will marry her best friend because unless Emily has a growth spurt she’ll never be a super model or a film star or a pop princess. Undeterred, Emily drags Sophia forward as she continues, “We’ll live in a lovely house just like this one and he’ll make me a dressing room like this. Look at all the shoes! Look at all the bags! And I love the built-in closets. And wow, look at all the pretty bottles.”

When Sophia presses a light switch beneath the dressing table to illuminate the pretty bottles with their gold, silver and glass stoppers. Emily again gasps. “Do you think we can smell one?” she asks, her little fingers twitching as her hand hovers over a crystal bottle with a heavy glass top.

A voice in Sophia’s head whispers, ‘Do-not-touch.’ But where’s the harm in a small sniff? “Sure,” she says, lifts the bottle and struggles to release the stopper.

Meanwhile Emily’s bouncing up and down as if she’s about to pee her pants. “Let me,” she says and snatches the bottle. Her little face goes puce but eventually the stopper pops. A heady scent fills the air as she spills perfume down the front of her Elsa tulle dress.

Sophia tsk-tsks as she opens a drawer to find a white cotton vest to mop up the spill. Meanwhile a beaming Emily takes a deep inhale. “Ooooh, I love it.”

Sophia stuffs the vest back where it belongs, closes the drawer with her hip and reaches for another bottle. “Mama loves this one best. She sprays it in the air and walks through it, like this.” She sprays a couple of blasts in the air and together they stagger through the scent.

Emily closes her eyes and gives a blissful sigh of sheer happiness. “It’s gorgeous. What else does she like?”

Sophia reaches for two bottles and hands one to Emily. “You try that one and I’ll try this one…”

Meanwhile, in the family kitchen-living space, Emily’s mummy is cuddling baby Eve.

“I wish I could have another baby, but it wasn’t to be,” Grace says, giving the baby’s hot cheek a nuzzle. “I could just eat her all up. She’s gorgeous, Bronte. I love the black curls and have you seen the length of those lashes. This one’s going to break hearts.”

Bronte grins, tops up their coffee cups from the pot. “She’s as good as gold. Nico reckons she takes after Luca in nature and I think he’s right. She’s nothing like her sister that’s for sure, thank the Lord.”

Her friend laughs. “Sophia’s brought Emily right out of her shell and I’ll always be grateful for that.”

Bronte nods. “Yep, and Emily keeps Sophia on the straight and narrow, bless her little heart. She’s a good influence on my daughter.”

“They’re like a pair of old women when they get started,” Grace says, her blue eyes dancing with wicked delight. “Emily’s taken to quoting auntie Rosie every five minutes.”

Bronte’s emerald eyes go wide as she shakes her head. “Know something? Rosie’s never changed since she was three. I could write a book about what we got up to when we were small. We gave our mothers grey hair…” She’s warming to her theme when a bare footed Luca wearing below the knee denim shorts and Spiderman T shirt races into the room and slides to a stop in front of the couch. Her son is looking a little flushed, but his dark eyes are glittering with excitement. “What’s up, bub?”

Before Luca can respond, she shifts forward on the couch to sniff his hair. “Is that Joy I smell?”

Luca’s black curls bounce as he nods. “Don’t know the name of it, but Sophia and Emily made me walk through what they call a cloud of scent. They’ve been in your closet and they stink, mama.”

“Omigod,” Grace whispers.

The women are on their feet and out the door so fast Luca has trouble keeping up with them.

Her eyes on stalks as she steps inside Bronte’s closet, Grace whispers, “Wow.”

“SOPHIA FERRANTI!” Bronte yells at the top of her voice in a tone that has Luca sprinting for the safety of his bedroom and bang the door closed. And a yell that has Sophia jump two feet in the air and drop the bottle in her hand. Chanel No 5 pools on the rug.

“Omigod,” Grace whispers again. Her hand covers her mouth and nose to protect her from a toxic mix of scents.

An hour later and both Emily and Sophia have barely survived three baths, and been scrubbed raw by their furious mothers. And still a lingering scent of Joy permeates the bathroom. A weeping Emily’s gone home with a Grace who can’t apologise enough for the olfactory Armageddon in Bronte’s closet and her daughter’s part in it. There will be no movies for Ms. Emily for the foreseeable future. And as for Ms. Sophia…

Half an hour later, Nico and Tonio arrive home from soccer practice to find Bronte lying on her back on the couch in the family room with her feet up and a very large glass of white wine in her hand. When she spots them, she closes her eyes and rests her head on the arm of the couch.

Nico lifts his brows then he sniffs the air like a wolf scenting trouble.

“Phew,” Tonio says. “What’s that smell?”

Cara mia,” Nico says. “It is not a good idea to mix perfumes. The result is not appealing.”

His wife gazes at him through narrowed eyes. “Tell me about it,” she growls.

He moves to lift her legs, sits on the couch and begins a foot rub. A foot rub usually works for whatever ails her.

“We’re sleeping in one of the guest rooms tonight,” she says, and takes a deep sip of her wine.

“We are?”

“We are, because thanks to our daughter and her best-best-friend we need oxygen just to enter ours. We have a specialist cleaning company coming in tomorrow to deep clean the carpets in our bedroom and my closet and the hallway. Even then they cannot guarantee the toxic mix of Joy and Chanel No 5 and Clive Christian No 1 will be removed.”

Nico’s jaw drops. “Clive Christian?” he whispers in horror.

“Yup. Good job I hate the stuff even if it is expensive. Emily spilled it on her Elsa dress. Grace and I had to give them three baths and even then they still reek to high heaven.”

“They were in you closet?”

“Yes, to ‘just have a little sniff’ of my perfumes. Nico, you’ll need to see it to believe it.”

Dio mio.”

“Sophia’s being punished,” Bronte says. “No movies for a whole month.”

“Women,” Tonio says with his head buried in the fridge on the hunt for any leftovers. He scores when he finds strawberry milkshake and cheese and pickle sandwiches wrapped in foil. As he piles sandwiches on a plate and places it on the table, he grabs the milkshake and takes a seat. “They’re too high maintenance with perfumes and makeup and hair products. Who needs it?”

“You will think differently when you are nineteen instead of nine,” Nico says.

“Uh-huh,” Tonio mutters with his mouthful. He catches Bronte’s gimlet eye and swallows. “I want a woman like mama. A natural beauty. Not fake.”

Nico bites down hard on his bottom lip as Bronte’s eyes go all soft as she watches Tonio. The boy knows exactly how to play her. But then why is he surprised? He’s Italian.

 

FINE

Ah, that smoothed tongued Tonio. In Italy, they start them young at charm school.

I actually have a story about perfumes and my daughters when they were small. You’ve just read it, except exchange the Chanel No5, etc., for Nina Ricci and Boots. The result was pretty much the same.

SEAN goes live a week on Friday. Put the 30th of September in your diary.

I’m busy writing/editing/formatting/publishing on pre-orders THE GOLDDIGGERS.

Can’t say life is dull in this house!

Christine X