The Dower House on a soggy Saturday afternoon…
Nico, Alexander and the boys, wearing their usual day off uniform of soft jeans, sweatshirts and socked feet (not parked on the coffee table) are slumped on the sofa.
The expression on their faces, abject misery, made Rosie—who’s wearing a white apron of heavy cotton over her leggings and one of Alexander’s university sweatshirts—grin and shake her head. “Would you just look at them? You’d think the world had ended all because United missed a penalty and got a man sent off.”
Bronte, wearing an apron over black jeans and matching short sleeved T-shirt, glanced at their men and her eyes went soft. “At least it’s kept them quiet for five minutes. Taste this batter.” She offered a spoon, watched Rosie lick the end. “What do you think? Too much salted caramel? Not enough? Too much white chocolate? Does it need extra walnuts?”
The girls are experimenting with a new mini muffin recipe.
Rosie sent her a steady look. “Which question do you want me to answer first? I don’t know why you stress about this stuff, it tastes awesome. Not too sweet. I love it.”
“Okay.” Bronte dropped the spoon in a jug, picked up a pen to make notes on a pad. “Being good enough is not good enough, I want it to taste amazing.”
“I’ve decided you have a touch of OCD. I’m thinking the silver paper cases will look good in white glossy boxes with silver ribbon.” Rosie jotted the idea down in her notepad.
“The bride wants gold.”
Rosie didn’t do an eye roll but it was a close run thing. She scored out the note and began again. “Fine! Gold paper cases in white glossy boxes with gold ribbon.”
“She wants black boxes.”
Rosie stared hard at Bronte. “Black at a wedding?”
“It’s her second time and she wants what she wants.”
“I want pink at my wedding,” a little voice piped up from Rosie’s elbow.
She turned to find a little girl in bright yellow silk dressed up as… a princess… a fairy… a…
“I’m Belle,” Emily said, correctly reading the confusion on Rosie’s face.
“Ah,” Rosie said, and grinned. “Hello, Belle. Where’s the beast?”
“She doesn’t like being the beast. The mask is too hot and messes up her hair. So we’re going to share Belle. I’m the wedding Belle and Sophia will be the spirited headstrong village Belle.”
“Staying true to character, huh? Good thinking, Wedding Belle.”
The sound of a little voice singing Tale As Old As Time came down the wide, curved hall stairway. The purity of the sound had Rosie beam at a teary-eyed Bronte. “Jeez, she’s not exactly Celine Dion, but that girl’s got a good set of pipes on her.”
Village Belle glided into the room on bare feet, wearing an outfit that wouldn’t look out of place in the Sound of Music.
Wedding Belle nodded in agreement. “She should put it on YouTube. I bet she’d get plenty of hits. I could record her on my iPhone.”
“Yes! I could be a sensation and make lots of money,” Village Belle cried.
Before Bronte could open her mouth to nix that bright idea in the bud, a stunned looking Rosie blinked at Wedding Belle. “Your mother got you an iPhone?”
Wedding Belle nodded. “An iPhone 7 Plus. I can throw it in a river and it won’t break.”
Rosie gave her a hard stare. “Well, the only river around here is the river Ludlow and I don’t recommend you throw it in there because you’ll never see it again.”
Wedding Belle grinned. “Of course I won’t throw it in a river. It’s a key feature.”
Rosie bent down to go eye to eye with a little sprite with dancing blue eyes, a constellation of freckles on her pretty face and a mass of red curls. “Key feature, eh? How old are you again?”
“Are you sure?”
“Well, I think you might be six going on twenty-six.”
“Papa won’t let me have an iPhone,” Village Belle said, sliding a none-the-wiser Nico a dark look.
“I am not having this conversation with you again, Sophia,” her mama told her in a tone that warned her to cease and desist.
Village Belle received the message loud and clear. “When I’m a big girl I’ll have an iPhone 7.”
“By the time your a big girl,” her Auntie Rosie began. “They’ll be obsolete, and we’ll all communicate via a brain implant tucked behind our ear.” When three sets of big eyes stared at her with awe and wonder, Rosie shrugged. “Anything’s possible. We already have virtual screens and keyboards and just think, no one will be able to steal our phone.”
Fascinated, Bronte stared at her. “You know, that sort of makes a lot of sense.”
“Don’t look so surprised,” Rosie said. “I do have a brain.”
“Do I smell muffins?” Tonio said, his eyes examining the two Belles with interest.
“They’ll be ready in about ten minutes,” Bronte told him as she turned to check one of her ovens.
Meanwhile, six year old Wedding Belle studied the very handsome ten year old Tonio from beneath her lashes.”I love it when you speak Italian, Tonio. Say something.”
Village Belle and Auntie Rosie sent Wedding Belle an are-you-kidding-me look that made her face hot.
Tonio grinned like a fool.
“Cappuccino,” he said in a long, deep drawl sounding like just Nico.
Rosie and Bronte burst out laughing.
“Tonio!” Wedding Belle pouted.
His face went very serious. “Okay—Machiatto.”
When Village Belle giggled, Wedding Belle sent her a filthy look. “Tonio Ferranti…” she began.
Tonio looked to heaven, then his dark gaze met Wedding Belle’s and held.
He said softly, “Marocchino, bella.”
Wedding Belle blushed furiously.
Still laughing, Bronte pulled the tray of mini muffins from the oven and set them on a wire rack to cool.
Tonio’s eyes went wide as Luca and Nico and Alexander traipsed over to sniff the air like starving wolves.
“Did I hear someone mention a variety of coffees?” Nico said, his knuckles scrubbing the top of Tonio’s black curls.
The boy beamed, his dark eyes dancing with mischief. “I was teaching Emily Italian.”
Nico turned to a furiously blushing Wedding Belle. “Si? Sei molto bella,” he drawled, his voice deep and low. A tone that brought the child’s fingers to her mouth, her blue eyes wide.
“What did you say?” she whispered.
Nico crouched down to take her hand. “I said, you look very beautiful.”
When little Emily sighed in dreamy-eyed delight, Bronte shook her head and turned to Rosie. “That child doesn’t stand a chance, does she? Tonio will have her eating out of his hand.”
Rosie sniffed and watched her nephew with narrowed eyes. “I wouldn’t be too sure of that if I were you.”
Nico, his eyes merry, watched the two Belles and Tonio and Luca dig into their mini muffins. “He is a good boy. He is Italian.”
And it’s a Cappuccino from me!
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