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

Thank you so much for the book love, Break The Rules…

wwwbreaktherulesfightdirty

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Greetings, dear readers,

A quick thank you for the amazing response to T.C. and Sean’s story. I’m thrilled you are thrilled!

“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”  5*

“Yet again, another winner from one of my favourite authors. Love that we also get to re-visit characters from previous Ludlow Hall books. Can’t wait already for the next book in the series. CC Mackenzie Rocks.” 5*

“She’s done it yet again, satisfied me a little and left me wanting more
Now having to read the whole series yet again for the billionth time
Love love love this series.” 5*

“Another emotional read from C C, once again laughed and shed a tear, loved catching up with other Ludlow characters.”  5*

“Once again Cc hasn’t let us down. When having got anything to read will go back to read again five stars.”  5*

Coming very soon, NO RULES, and as soon as I have the pre-order links I’ll post them.

Big hugs and much love,

Christine X 

It’s Monday, so it must be a Ludlow Hall sneak peek with the Ferranti family…

 

What do you call an Italian father of four gorgeous children_

 

It’s the Dower House with the Ferranti family…

Nico Ferranti walked into The Dower house wanting nothing more than a hot kiss from his wife, a glass of Chianti and a quiet thirty minutes. He’d had a jam-packed day. A guest who’d goosed the ass of a maid had taken up too much of his time and put him behind. Hence why he was late.

The chorus of three children, his children, wailing at the top of their lungs told him he wasn’t going to get his thirty minutes. Not yet.

It shamed him that for three seconds he seriously considered walking back out and letting Bronte deal with whatever incident had set them off. Taking the stairs, he reminded himself that he’d fathered all three—and enjoyed every second of it—he’d do his husbandly duty.

However, when he entered baby Eve’s nursery, he nearly turned tail.

The twins were balling their heads off. While his wife, looking furiously harassed, was dressing a squalling toddler who was fighting every inch of the way. His brows rose. His youngest daughter, usually, was so laid back she was horizontal. But now, Eve was having what appeared to be a major temper tantrum. He studied the evidence. The twins, and every surface was covered in a fine film of talcum powder. A couple of clean diapers were tossed on the floor along with a wet one.

Sophia, his eldest daughter, had one eye on her mother as she made a heroic attempt to squeeze out a tear. Meantime her twin, Luca, had tears streaming down his face. The boy had a very soft heart.

“Which one,” he asked the room at large, “tried to change her diaper?”

Dressed in a footless pink babygro Eve sobbed against Bronte’s neck.

A Bronte who beaned her eldest daughter with a dark look. “Guess.”

Nico turned his head, eyed his daughter who was dressed in a Beauty and The Beast nightgown. “Sophia, cara mia?”

“I was helping.”

He crouched to look her in the eye and smelled toothpaste, soap. “Bed,” was all he said.

Dressed in Ninja Turtles pj’s Luca’s bottom lip trembled as, head down, he slouched away. Sophia, made of sterner stuff, opened her mouth and closed it when he held up a finger.

With a sigh, an eye-flick to her mother, she turned and walked away.

Nico rose, took his now whimpering baby girl from his wife.

“What happened?”

“I was talking on the phone to Rosie, and turned my back for a moment, just a moment. Eve was grumpy and I told Rosie I needed to change her. Then things were quiet. I should have known something was up. When I walked in Sophia had Eve naked on the changing mat on the floor…” she stopped, closed her eyes, bit down hard on her bottom lip. When she opened her eyes they swam.

“God, Nico. What if…”

He placed his sleeping daughter in her crib, turned down the light and led his wife from the room.

“We will both talk to them.”

Together, they brought the twins into their bedroom, sat them side by side on the couch.

He and Bronte sat on the heavy coffee table facing their twins.

“You must never,” Nico began in a tone that meant business and held up a finger when Sophia opened her mouth, closed it. “Ever lift Eve from her cot. If you had dropped her, she might have been badly hurt. When she cries, fetch mama.”

“We help mama with Eve,” Sophia muttered. And Luca nodded his head in solidarity.

Si, and helping is a good thing. But you must never lift her from her cot. Promise me.”

Sophia’s emerald eyes filled, but she nodded and Luca nodded, too.

“And too much talcum powder is very dangerous,” Bronte added. “If Eve or you breathes it into your lungs it can cause a chest infection.” Or worse, she added in her mind.

“It wasn’t me who spilled it,” Sophia said, giving her twin a hairy eyeball.

Bronte fired up. “It doesn’t matter who spilled it. The point is that neither of you should have touched Eve or her diaper or talcum powder.”

 

It took twenty minutes to settle the twins.

Although beneath her comforter, Sophia turned her back to her mama. Little monkey. By the time Nico had changed into his favourite jeans and T-shirt, poured himself a glass of wine and Bronte placed their meal in the oven and set the timer, the pair of them were exhausted.

He opened his arms and his wife stepped into the hug. “God, Nico,” she drew in a deep breath, slowly exhaled.

Rubbing her back, he lay his cheek upon her blonde head and inhaled the wonderful scent of his woman.

“They would never hurt the baby.”

She lifted her head.

Her eyes flew to his. “I know that—”

She buried her face in his neck and closed her eyes.

Eventually, he felt her settle.

“I miss Tonio so much,” she said.

Si. The house does not seem the same without him. But the summer school at Lake Como is good for him. Plus, he is bonding with Gregorio. We cannot keep him to ourselves.”

She moved out of his arms and into the kitchen to check the timer on the oven. “I know I’m being selfish. It is important he retain his heritage and culture. Apart from the fact I miss him desperately, Luca looks up to him and he’s a superb role model for a young boy. Plus, he keeps Sophia out of trouble. I truly think we’ve created a monster at times.”

Nico didn’t think now was a good time to mention that Sophia’s energy and intelligence needed channelling. The last thing he wanted tonight was a heated discussion with his wife about parenting. Over the years, he’d learned the hard way that timing was everything. He kept his mouth shut.

Bronte eyed him over her wine glass. “You look tired. Bad day?”

He nodded. “Si. Had an issue with housekeeping. One of the new maids had a guest lay his hands on her.”

Bronte’s eyes bugged. “Did he hurt her?”

Nico shook his head. “He goosed her ass. She punched him on the mouth. Blood was spilled. He wanted her sacked. Instead, he has been banned from all of my hotels.”

“Was he a regular guest?”

Nico nodded, made a face. “Unfortunately. On this trip he was without his wife and thought he would chance his luck with a young brunette.”

She looked to heaven. “How old was the maid?”

“Eighteen.”

“How old was he?”

“Sixty-five.”

“He should be thoroughly ashamed of himself.”

Nico had to laugh. “She is Susan and Andy Bradshaw’s youngest daughter gaining work experience.”

Bronte’s jaw dropped. “Omigod. The daughter of a senior police inspector.”

Si. When I made the connection clear, our guest beat a hasty departure.”

“I just bet he did.”

“No wonder you look tired.”

Nico sat back on the couch and stretched out long legs. “Si. All I wanted was a kiss from my wife, a glass of wine and a few minutes of peace and quiet.”

Placing her glass on the worktop, she walked towards him.

Emerald eyes dancing, she took his glass, placed it on the coffee table, slid to straddle his lap and wrapped her arms around his neck.

“And you arrived to find chaos reigning.”

He slid his hands beneath her T-shirt to find warm skin as smooth as silk.

And no bra.

He wiggled his brows.

She rubbed her nose against his. “Is that a subliminal signal for a quickie on the couch?”

In a smooth move, he had her on her back and grinned down into her laughing face.

Dio, he adored her.

Si.”

“What about dinner,” she asked breathlessly after a scorching kiss.

“I can multi-task. I am Italian.”

FINE

I’m working hard on Break The Rules and No Rules. Both stories are clicking along quite nicely.

Christine X

It’s Sneak Peek time… and an exclusive excerpt from Break The Rules…

SHE - SHAKESPEARE

This scene takes place at Ludlow Hall during Anastacia and Olivier’s engagement party. Nico and Sean are keeping an eye on proceedings….

 

“You look very serious, my friend. The ribs still hurting?” Nico Ferranti asked Sean.

“Nah, the ribs are almost back to normal.”

To conform to the dress code on their invitation to Anastacia’s engagement party to Olivier Conti, both wore black tux. They stood next to a huge potted fern with their back to the wall, in the grand ballroom at Ludlow Hall. Even though he wasn’t on duty, old habits died hard, Sean nursed a glass of water, while Nico held a glass of Chianti from one of his many vineyards.

The party was in full swing and the entire Ludlow Hall gang, including children, were out in force to show their love and support for the young couple.

“They look happy,” Sean said, referring to the guests of honor who were grooving on down to a dance hit.

Nico nodded. “Si. She is good for him. And he is good for her. It is a good match.”

Sean grinned. “That’s good. His mother is pleased, which is the main thing as far as Ana’s concerned. I know she was nervous.”

Nico eyes twinkled. “Si. Valentina Conti is a good woman and happy Ana cannot cook to save her life, which means she will continue to rule the kitchen, like all good Italian mamas.”

Sean couldn’t help but laugh because Anastacia’s lack of culinary skill was legendary.

As he continued to scan the room, he caught sight of a man he didn’t recognize talking to Ana’s half-sister, the beautiful Chloe Rucker.

Sean’s eyes narrowed. “Next to the entrance to the hallway to the restrooms, who’s the tall guy with the man-bun talking to Chloe?”

Nico turned. “Ah, that is Serge Morretti. He is a good friend of Olivier’s. And much too old and experienced for young Chloe.”

“He looks rich.”

“He is rich. Very rich. He is Sardinian.”

The dry tone had Sean glance at the expression on Nico’s face. “You say that as if it’s a problem.”

“It may be a problem if Serge decided to have Chloe. Olivier would never permit it.”

“Why?”

“Because like Ana, Chloe and Tanith are now part of Olivier’s famiglia. And he would never tolerate Serge anywhere near one of his sisters or sisters-in-law.”

“Bad news?”

Nico made a face. “Let us say that he is not kind to women.”

“A Prince amongst men?”

“He is damaged. As I said, he is not kind.”

When Serge put his hands on Chloe both men stiffened.

But then little Sophia Ferranti, looking gorgeous in a pale pink party dress made from yards of tulle, skipped into the picture.

The child tugged on Chloe’s hand and said something.

Looking displeased, Serge released Chloe and took a step back.

Chloe turned towards the restrooms with Sophia.

A Sophia who turned to toss a narrow-eyed look over her shoulder at Serge.

She made a horrible face and poked out her tongue.

The utter shock on the Sardinian’s face was priceless.

Sean and Nico’s roar of laughter had heads turn in their direction.

“Christ, that Sophia is something else.”

Nico wiped his eyes. “Si. She is special.”

“When she grows up, you’re going to have your hands full with her.”

“Perhaps. But, she will never bring shame on la famiglia.”

 

Sean’s gaze tracked across the room to another loved-up couple, Danni and Pascale.

He pointed with his chin. “They’ll be next.”

“Hmm. He is smitten with her.”

“Yeah. She’s a sweetheart and a kind and gentle soul.” Sean’s gaze landed on T.C. sitting at a round table. She laughed as she batted her eyes and flirted outrageously with a young man. “Unlike some people.” His eyes narrowed when he spotted she was drinking water instead of her usual white wine.

Nico’s black brow rose as he followed Sean’s gaze. “Ah, yes. Theresa. That one marches to the beat of her own drum,” he drawled, his Italian accent strong. “You sound angry, my friend.”

“She’s like an earworm in my head.”

Nico blinked.

“You know,” Sean continued. “A tune in your head, like an advertizing jingle that simply won’t stop.”

“Sounds… irritating.”

“She is irritating.”

Nico laughed. “She is very beautiful.”

Sean glowered. “What’s that got to do with anything? It’s what lies beneath the skin that matters.” Then he heaved a heavy sigh, feeling as if he had the weight of the world on his shoulders. “I will never understand that woman.”

“You are attracted to her. And she is attracted to you. When you are not looking at her, she is looking at you.”

Sean knew it.

He’d felt her eyes drilling into the back of his head all night, hadn’t he?

“We don’t seem to be following any rules, at least none I can work out.”

Nico rubbed his chin. “Perhaps it is time to start breaking the rules.”

“Nope. I’m a big believer in rules. I live by rules,” Sean said, happily forgetting that he’d broken T.C.’s one night only rule.

“Hmm. How is that working out for you?”

Sean turned to stare hard at a grinning Nico. “Point taken. She’s a pain in my ass.”

“Ah, true love. It is a wonderful thing.”

His belly tremble at the thought of true love had Sean scowl horribly at his friend.

“What’s love got to do with it? he demanded.

The tone of sheer outrage had Nico throw back his head and roar with laughter.

“Ask Tina Turner.”

“F*ck off,” Sean said.

 

T.C. wondered why the hell she’d asked Freddy Beaumont to dance with her.

The man had two left feet and even though they were down to a shuffle, he’d still managed to stomp on her toes, twice.

“Ouch.”

Freddy’s freckles stood out against his pale face. “Sorry, T.C. I hate dancing. You know I’m no good at it.”

Her attention elsewhere, T.C. nodded.

Out of the corner of her eye, she watched Sean Kennedy sending her the stink eye.

He’d been looking at her, just like that, all night.

Bastard.

She turned to bestow a wide smile upon Freddy.

He’d known her since she was ten, so his response to her glittering smile was not one she might have hoped for.

Instantly on guard, Freddy frowned. “Why are you looking at me like that?”

“Put your hand on my ass.”

His eyes, a pale grey, went like saucers. “What?”

“Don’t burst my eardrum. You heard me. Do it.”

“Uh huh. I don’t know what you’re up to, but, I’m not doing it.”

She stared up into his face and fluttered her lashes.

“Freddy,” she said in a low purr that would have had Danni and Ana roll their eyes. “I’m trying to send the right message to a guy who’s refusing to take the word no. Do it.”

Freddy kept a wary eye on her mood and clamped a big hand on her ass.

Out of the corner of her eye, T.C. watched Sean’s face.

He didn’t bat an eye.

Instead, his gaze clicked to the hand on her ass then lifted meet her eyes.

He mouthed. You are a bad, bad girl.

He moved towards them.

T.C. blinked.

Omigod.

What if Sean hit Freddy?

He wouldn’t hit Freddy, would he?

Sean tapped Freddy on the shoulder, while T.C. looked on with something like fear gripping her heart. Freddy was a gentle soul. When they’d been young, he’d had a problem standing up for himself. There was no way he’d be able to handle a big tall Irish man sixty pounds heavier.

Freddy turned and shocked T.C. to the core when he beamed. “Hi, Sean. How are the ribs?”

“Good, Fred. The new pain pills helped a lot, thanks.”

T.C. gaped at them. “You know each other?”

Freddy stared at her, blinked. “Of course. I treated him at the outpatient clinic.”

Which just went to show what a small bloody world it was, T.C. realized, putting two and two together to make four.

“Mind if I take over, Fred?” Sean asked.

It was insulting, T.C. fumed, the way Freddy just handed her over to Sean, as if she was a packet of… of… chips.

 

FINE

Ah, T.C. has met her match, methinks.

I’m working on Break The Rules and No Rules as I type.

Break The Rules will not go on pre-order, it will go immediately up for sale, so stay tuned.

Christine X

It’s throw back Friday…

nicoscreaminagoodway

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Who remembers the music playing in the background of this scene from RECKLESS NIGHTS IN ROME?

***

A few minutes later, Nico’s car purred to a halt at the back entrance of The Dower house.

He checked the time.

Too early?

Too bad.

Stepping out of the car, the scent of warm apples, sugar and cinnamon poured across his senses.

Pure annoyance fired his blood pressure again.

So she made cakes while he suffered the agonies of hell.

The Dower House throbbed and boomed with the bass of a pop song.

Nico lifted his hand to knock the door and then shrugged.

She’d never hear him over the racket.

Ignoring the little voice that told him he was invading her privacy, he tried the handle and opened the door.

Strolling into the house, he cocked his head.

It appeared Bronte was singing.

Then he thought again.

Nope.

That noise could never be called singing, more like howling or screeching.

And he winced as she let out an endless shriek that didn’t quite make a long top note.

Nico stepped into the kitchen and every particle of angry frustration drained away.

He couldn’t help the big grin that split his face.

Blissfully oblivious she had an audience to her hips bumping and grinding to Rihanna’s big hit, Bronte stripped off her top, swung it around her head and tossed it.

The sweater sailed high through the air to land at Nico’s feet.

Without taking his eyes from her, he picked it up.

Absently, he rubbed the soft wool between his fingers. Absorbing the warmth from her body and inhaling her scent.

She wore black fitness pants slung low, low on her hips and a short skinny vest.

No bra and bare feet.

Still cheerfully unaware of his presence behind her, Bronte continued to sing her heart out as she shook her booty.

Blonde hair, piled in an incredibly sexy knot on top of head, accentuated a long and delicate neck. Her ears, small and perfect, hugged her scalp.

Nico had to laugh when he spotted a black sock over the kettle and another in the middle of the fruit bowl. Rihanna blasted through the speakers telling everyone to please don’t stop the music.

Please don’t, Nico begged, leaning his shoulder against the door frame to relax and enjoy the show. Guilt that he was witnessing something terribly private dug him hard in the ribs, but Nico ignored it.

He wouldn’t have missed this for the world.

God knew she couldn’t sing but the girl had moves.

Skipping to a fridge, her tight little bottom wiggled in perfect time to the beat and Nico bit down hard on a knuckle.

With a bottle of water as a microphone the fabulous Ms. Ludlow step-touched with a sexy swing of her hips, shook her booty and strutted her stuff.

Spinning round he saw her eyes were closed and that stunning face was flushed with exertion.

She opened her eyes and saw him.

And those fabulous eyes bugged right out of her head.

 

Jogging frantically on the spot, Bronte Ludlow screamed her lungs out.

Pure reflex had Nico catch the bottle of water that almost beaned him between the eyes.

“You bastard!”

The girl was on him like a wildcat. He was a big man who knew how to handle himself. Bronte was no match for him. The shock that she’d even think to attack him in the first place made him laugh out loud. A big mistake, he realized, when she growled in his ear. A growl that only made him laugh harder. A flying fist caught him on the chin as she clung like a limpet to his back. An arm locked around his neck in a tight strangle hold. Endless legs wound around his waist like a vice.

Cristo, Bronte, stop.”

Roaring with laughter, Nico couldn’t catch his breath.

His eyes watered when Bronte did her level best to rip his hair out of his scalp.

When her teeth sank into his shoulder, he yelled,

“Okay, that is it!”

“How dare you come into my home without warning?” she yelled in his ear. “You almost gave me a heart attack.”

She made a determined effort to twist his earlobe off and he’d had enough.

Nico landed back against a wall.

And he heard Bronte’s breath whoosh from her lungs.

He spun, pinned her arms above her head and pressed his body against hers.

Her powerful knee thrust missed unmanning him by a whisker.

Panting now, her eyes spat green fire into his.

The feel of her struggling under him sent blood racing to his shaft.

And he knew he was in big trouble.

Her breath was panting into his mouth as she went utterly still and those green eyes grew wary now.

She trembled and not just from fury.

“Let me go,” she panted. “I mean it.”

Her voice was high as her breath heaved in short bursts and he couldn’t take his eyes from her mouth. Her heart bucked against his and the scent of her shampoo and pure Bronte made his mouth water. A pink tongue licked her top lip and Nico knew he desperately wanted, needed, to taste, to take.

A soft whimper made him look into her eyes and what he saw there, arousal battling with alarm, made him stop.

He’d already taken a misstep with her last night and he wasn’t going to take another with her today.

Chest heaving, Nico released her and stepped back, palms up in a gesture of peace.

 

***

Ah, those were the days!

I’m deep in the middle of BREAK THE RULES AND NO RULES.

They’re all coming together!

Christine X

It’s the Ludlow Hall sneak peek… featuring Sophia…

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

The Ferranti’s are still at Lake Como for their Easter break. Nine year old Tonio, and his best pal from his time at the Jesuit boarding school, Michael, are spending time with his Uncle Gregorio Ancelotti sailing on the lake.

When Gregorio, Tonio and Michael return to the Ferranti villa in the grounds of the Ferranti Hotel & Spa, they find the family preparing for lunch. Bronte and Rosie, with help from Sophia and Emily, are setting a vast long narrow table set beneath a pergola…

Sophia and Emily, wearing white sundresses spattered with yellow daisies over white knee length leggings, turned to eye the new arrival. Michael Baccello was as tall and dark as Tonio, but skinny in a way that made Sophia narrow her eyes. He was handsome, and appeared shy and modest when her papa shook his hand. In fact, she decided there and then he was just about perfect, apart from the hair cut.

Bronte returned Tonio’s hug and ran her hand over his back. “I know you must be starving after your morning on the lake. Tonio, go get changed out of that damp top, give Michael a dry T-shirt and then wash your hands.”

When the boys ran off to do her bidding, Sophia and Emily and Luca were hot on their heels.

“Michael seems a nice boy,” Rosie said, lifting a comatose baby Mila from her papa’s arms and settling her in her stroller in the shade.

Gregorio accepted a glass of red wine from Nico and nodded. “He seems to be. Very quiet. Although he couldn’t get a word in with Tonio constantly asking questions.”

Dressed down in knee length ivory shorts and a black T-shirt that fit him like a glove, Nico nodded. “Tonio has an active, thinking brain. It is like a sponge. His teachers wish to place him in a grade ahead. But I am not certain it is a good idea. He has made firm friends and I do not like the behaviour of some of the older boys. They do not come from good families.”

Gregorio raised a brow. “He will need to learn how to deal with hard choices in life. Perhaps it is never too soon to learn.”

Bronte placed a bowl of salad on the table. “He’s had a hard enough start in life, Gregorio. I want him to settle down and find his feet and understand that we have his back through thick and thin.”

Gregorio’s smile rarely reached his dark eyes, but it did now. “He is a lucky boy to find himself in such a family.”

Bronte shifted to pop a kiss on Gregorio’s dark cheek and smelled the lake. “You are part of his family and now this family. There’s no ‘i’ in team. We work together.”

As she strode past the long table and into the house, Gregorio turned to a watchful Nico and a grinning Alexander. “She is a beautiful woman. You are a lucky man.”

“She made me a better man. She is my life.”

 

***

Meanwhile, Sophia and Emily were sitting cross legged on the floor in the hallway outside the closed door of Tonio’s bedroom. No girls allowed. But that didn’t mean girls couldn’t sit and listen to what was going on inside. Sophia rose to her bare feet and placed her ear to Tonio’s bedroom door. If her mama caught her, she’d be in Big Trouble. “I can’t hear anything. Can you hear anything?” she whispered.

Emily knew better than to earwig, but she placed her ear to the door. “Uh-huh. Nothing.”

Sophia thought for a moment and then her brows rose. “I know where we can go. Come on.”

The girls raced down the hall and out a side door. They crept down a shady path and Sophia pointed to the two open windows, one from Tonio’s bedroom and the other from the bathroom. She hauled herself up on a wide drainpipe and could see the inside of part of the bathroom. Tonio and Luca were washing their hands and discussing what was for lunch. Boy talk. When Emily joined her on the drainpipe, Sophia shushed her. Then they settled down to wait.

Standing in the middle of Tonio’s bedroom Michael rubbed the soft fabric of the Fantastic Four super-hero T-shirt Tonio had handed him. He took a deep inhale of the scent of fabric softener. He gazed around the large room with the fun comforter and pillow on the bed. He’d never seen such luxury or so many interesting books in one place. He had missed sharing a room with his friend Tonio and their conversations long into the night about what they would do in the world when they grew up. He’d wait until Tonio and Luca were finished washing their hands in the attached bathroom and then he’d change. He didn’t want anyone to see the bruises.

He entered the beautifully appointed bathroom with Tonio and gazed in opened-eyed wonder. The bath might fit a football team.  Tonio caught his look and grinned. “A bit different from those dark and cold shower rooms at school, isn’t it?”

Michael nodded. “Si.” He studied Tonio’s face. “This family who care for you, they are good to you?”

Si! Nico is my half-brother, but I call him papa. Gregorio is my mama’s brother.”

Michael frowned. “Sounds complicated.”

Si. But as papa says, such is life.”

After Tonio left, Michael whipped off his T-shirt and turned to check out his back in the mirror. His bones stuck out from his skin. They only hit him where the injuries couldn’t be seen. In his heart, he understood he needed to tell someone soon, or run away. He didn’t know which was worse. The thought crossed his mind to tell Tonio, he was sure his friend would believe him that he had never stolen any money. But would the priests at school? He washed his hands and pulled on the borrowed T-shirt and inhaled the scent. His eyes stung because he longed to keep the T-shirt and keep the scent, but he knew that miracle would never happen. In the mirror he studied the state of his hair, the gauntness of his face and knew that the time had come for him to run.

A very pale Sophia stared into the shocked eyes of her best friend. “Somebody has hurt him.”

“What are we going to do?” Emily whispered, her freckles stood out like paint splatter on her white face.

“We’ll speak to my papa. He will fix it,” Sophia said with a surety that made Emily nod.

“When?”

“After lunch. Did you see him? He is skin and bone and needs a good meal,” Sophia said, channelling Auntie Rosie.

***

Bronte eyed her daughter and Emily.

They’d been almost silent during lunch, which for them was either a miracle, they were sick, or they’d been up to something.

Her eye caught Rosie’s and she jerked her chin towards the two little girls sitting there as if butter wouldn’t melt.

“What’s going on with you two? You’re too quiet and lloking far too serious. What have you done and don’t think to fib because I’m a witch and I can tell,” Rosie said, her eyes twinkling.

Sophia sent her aunt a who-me? look. “We have been very good girls,” she said, while Emily kept her eyes glued to her empty bowl on the table.

“Hmm,” Rosie studied their little faces. “You have a seeeeekrit.”

When Emily’s head popped up to stare at Rosie in awe and wonder, Bronte nearly burst out laughing. Trust Rosie to guess. Ah, well, little girls always had secrets. They’d been young once and had kept plenty of secrets themselves. “Why don’t you both go and play football with the boys and Alexander?”

Sophia shook her head and sent her mama an are-you-kidding-me look. “I hate football.”

Bronte made a face. “Of course you do. How could I have forgotten. Whatever it is you’re up to—the babies are sleeping and papa and Gregorio are having a meeting in his study—do it outside.”

When the two little girls trooped into the garden holding hands, Rosie watched them go with a frown in her eyes. “Something’s brewing.”

Bronte lifted a bottle of white wine from the cooler on the table to top up their glasses. “Doesn’t seem like five minutes since we were that age.”

Rosie took a sip of her wine. “Good times. Good times.”

 

***

Thirty minutes later…

Nico reckoned the family holiday at the Lake had been a great success. One of his goals had been to integrate Gregorio into the family to bond with Tonio. The man still held himself back a little, but he could hardly be blamed for that. Gregorio’s late sister had left a huge emotional and financial mess behind her. However, nothing positive ever came from brooding over mistakes made in the past. The key was to move on, together, to guarantee Tonio’s future was secure.

The soft knock at his study door had Gregorio’s brows rise. Nico frowned, because Bronte had made it clear no one was to disturb them. “Come in,” he said, in a tone that made it clear he was Not Pleased.

When Sophia’s blonde head popped around the door, the pleading look in her emerald eyes and the way her bottom lip was caught between her teeth, told him she was well aware she wasn’t supposed to disturb him. And yet she’d done it anyway.

“What is it, Sophia? Can it not wait a few minutes?”

Her eyes flicked to a serious-faced Gregorio and her face paled a little, but she entered the study, dragging a trembling Emily behind her. At once, Nico’s spidey senses tingled. He rose and walked around his desk to crouch before his daughter and her friend.

He took each of their hands, and smiled. “What is wrong, cara mia?”

Sophia’s eyes stayed rock steady on his. “Papa. Something bad has happened to Michael. He has been beaten. His back is covered in bruises. And he is too thin.”

When Emily burst into tears, Nico lifted them in his arms and moved to the couch to sit with one on each knee.

Gregorio moved to lock the door. He went to the built-in fridge and poured two small glasses of fresh orange juice and placed them on the coffee table in front of the couch. He took a seat.

“Why don’t you tell us exactly what you saw.”

When the girls had finished their story and their juice, Emily’s face was still pale, but her tears were gone.

Nico turned to Gregorio. “Is the boy still living at school?”

Gregorio shook his head. “After what happened to Tonio, I have been sponsoring an outreach programme within the community for the boys with no immediate relatives to be placed with good families. Michael was placed with a large family ten days ago.”

“Then you should make sure little children go to a safe place,” Sophia piped up before her papa could open his mouth.

Gregorio’s eyes grew big, but he nodded. “You are quite right.”

Sophia turned emerald eyes on Nico. “Michael must stay with us tonight, papa. Then Uncle Gregorio can find a safe place for him.”

Nico drew her close for a hug and dropped a kiss on her blonde head. When his baby girl grew up she was going to do great things. “Si. Now, I want both of you to say nothing of this to Michael or Tonio or Luca until I have spoken to mama.”

Sophia took a deep breath, nodded and slid from his knee. She took Emily’s hand. Together, they moved towards the door.

She turned to study the serious faces of her papa and Gregorio. “Do you promise to fix this?”

Both men spoke, “Si.”

***

Hours later…

Rosie lay on her back on a couch in the sitting room, her bare feet resting on Alexander’s lap. “Well, they’re all sound asleep, at last. What a day!”

Face hard, mouth hard, Bronte nodded. “That poor boy. What kind of parents bring up children who beat on a boy so much younger than themselves?”

“Apparently, the father does not spare the rod,” Gregorio said, nursing a cognac. “I am meeting with Father Ricardo who is in charge of the programme. We need better safeguards in place.”

“No system is perfect. There is not much you can do against a liar,” Nico growled. “After they held him down and cut his hair, Michael’s plan was to run away.”

Gregorio paled. “He is close to Tonio. I like the boy. I am preparing to settle here and I am prepared to offer him a home. I have a plan.”

Bronte sent him a narrow-eyed look. “I applaud your need to do the right thing by the child, Gregorio. I doubt the priests will allow him to live with a single man.”

“Who said I will remain single?”

“Ooooh,” Rosie sang into the shocked silence. She wiggled her toes. “Seems there’s a lot of seeeeekrits going around.”

Gregorio’s firm mouth curved in a reluctant smile. “Let us just say my future plans have changed.”

“What’s her name?” Rosie wanted to know.

“Clio.”

Cue another silence.

When Rosie opened her mouth, Alexander tweaked her big toe. He stood and lifted his wife in his arms. “None of your business. Leave the man in peace. It’s time for bed. Let’s see if we can get six straight hours before our daughter decides she wants to play.”

As they left, Gregorio’s face was thoughtful as he watched them go. “Rosie reminds me very much of Sophia.”

“There is a very good reason for that,” Bronte told him. “They bonded when she was a baby. They are like two peas in a pod.”

She gave Gregorio a hug goodnight before she left him and Nico to it.

As a companionable silence stretched, Nico poured another cognac for the road and relaxed in a fat chair of soft suede the color of the liquid in his glass. “A child is a big responsibility and not one you can hand back.”

Gregorio nodded. “I let Tonio down—”

“Nonsense!” Nico interrupted. “Neither of us knew he existed.”

Si,” Gregorio’s deep voice was no more than a growl. “But, she was my sister. I should have—”

Nico sat up, elbows on his knees, and stared into the other man’s eyes and read guilt, shame and a deep regret. “You cannot take responsibility for her behaviour. All we can do is to take care of Tonio. If you want to look after Michael there are other ways to do it. The boy needs a happy home and stability.”

“You think I cannot provide both?”

Nico shrugged. “I have no idea. Who is Clio?”

For a long moment Gregorio didn’t respond, then his gaze met Nico’s and held. “Have you ever made a huge mistake for all the wrong reasons?”

“I did with Bronte. But she loved me and so she forgave me.”

“I doubt very much if Clio could ever bring herself to love me.”

“Ah, but you have feelings for her?”

Gregorio nodded. “I wonder why it took me so long to understand what was happening to me?”

“Love makes fools of us all,” Nico said wisely.

“It is a bit more complicated than that,” Gregorio murmured.

“That, mio amico, is because we are Italian.”

 

FINE

 

Oooooooh, who is Clio?

All y’all are gonna LOVE her and that’s all I am saying.

I’m working on Break The Rules and The Rules – and Gregorio’s story is coming after those and will be set in the Ludlow Hall world, but will stand alone. I’m busy and having the best time.

 

Christine X

Ludlow Hall sneak peek book is in my reader library – grab it now

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READER LIBRARY LINK

I’m thrilled to bring you the 2016 sneak peeks in one book, all thirty of them.

Enjoy!

Christine x

It’s Sneak Peek time at Ludlow Hall…

 

SNEAKPEEKMANTIME

Nico Ferranti’s study at The Dower House…

Since it’s after the family dinner, Nico was relaxing in his study—a glass of Chianti at his elbow—as he talked via Face time to Gregorio Ancelotti, Tonio’s uncle, in Italy.

“It sounds as if Tonio is doing well, Nico,” Gregorio said.

Nico nodded, studied the man on the screen.

Although Gregorio was in his late thirties, tall, slim and wide shouldered, his genes had decreed he had more grey hair than black. Bronte called him a silver fox, much to Tonio’s amusement. Like Nico, tonight the man wore a fitted T-shirt, black, and matching jeans.

“He enjoyed spending time with you at Christmas. Bronte says do not be a stranger. You are welcome any time to our home. You are la famiglia.” Not exactly offended, Bronte had wanted Gregorio to stay at The Dower House over the festive season. Instead he’d stayed in one of the Ludlow Hall’s stunning oak and stainless steel A frame cottages, perfectly happy to have his own space.

Gregorio’s dark eyes narrowed as his firm mouth curved in reluctant smile.

He spoke in his usual deeply accented drawl. “Grazie, Nico. I appreciate the invitation. However, an old bachelor like me can stomach only so much domestic bliss at any one time. You are a lucky man. The Ferranti household only serves to remind me of my—domestic failings.”

Nico had to laugh.

Domestic failings his ass.

Gregorio had his pick of women.

The man was rich, and according to Bronte hot.

Nico had heard a whisper that Gregorio had not spent some of his nights in his cottage alone during his Christmas visit.

None of his business, he reminded himself.

However, he decided that now might be the right time to make a point of an issue that was a cause for concern to his wife. “It is important to Bronte and I that Tonio spends time with what is left of his madre’s family.”

There was a silence as the two men regarded each other.

“Namely me,” Gregorio said, nodding slowly.

“You.”

Gregorio was about to respond, when Nico noticed the door to his study slowly open.

He lifted his head, suspecting the intruder might be the dog, Jimmy Chew, who had a habit of bellying into a room like a ninja. But it wasn’t the dog, instead it was his baby daughter, Eve, who was motoring into the room at a fast crawl.

It seemed someone had escaped from her mama after her bath.

The baby was dressed in a pink sleep suit, her silky black curls dancing on her head.

When she started to pull herself up to her feet, using the heavy oak door as support, he noted little fingers were about to be caught in the door hinge.

Nico was on his feet and had her in his arms, a heartbeat away from disaster.

As he took his seat in front of his laptop, Gregorio leaned forward to study the scene.

His eyes, usually cynical, went all soft. “Ah, Eve, bella. She is a beautiful bambina, Nico.”

Since the baby was busy dropping kisses to his cheek and jaw, it took Nico a while to respond.

“She has found her feet. You should find yourself a good woman and settle down,” Nico advised, and laughed at the wide-eyed look of utter horror on Gregorio’s face.

“I am content and happy and safe just as I am, and so is my money.”

Before Nico could respond, Tonio flew into the room. “Aha. There you are,” he sang to an Eve whose response was to bury her face in her papa’s shoulder, her little arms wound tight around his neck.

“Ah, Tonio,” Nico said, his voice deep and his Italian accent deep. “Here’s Gregorio. Spend some time with him, while I put Eve to bed.”

He strolled out the room and left uncle and nephew to it.

Tonio slipped into the ergonomic chair, the black leather still warm, and gave his uncle Gregorio a shy wave. “Hi.”

Gregorio cleared his throat. “How are you? How is school?”

Tonio wondered why every single adult he knew was totally obsessed with school?

“I’ve received an A* in English and Math and science.”

Gregorio nodded, as if he’d expect nothing less.

“And I am captain of the soccer team,” Tonio added into a silence that had gone for, as far as he was concerned, far too long.

Again his uncle nodded, so Tonio decided to mix it up a little. “And I have two girlfriends.”

Aha, that got a ghost of a smile. “I think you may be a little young to dally with girls.”

Dally?

Tonio made a mental note to look the word up.

He leaned forward and went eye-to-eye with his uncle. “When did you have your first girlfriend?”

Gregorio blinked. “Unlike you, I was unfortunate enough to attend an all boys school, so it took some time for me to feel comfortable with the opposite sex. I think I was fourteen.”

“Was she pretty?”

The smile was swift, like a lightning strike, and then gone. “Si. But of course she was pretty.”

“Did you kiss her?”

His uncle’s inhale made Tonio grin. “I believe I did, eventually. I seem to remember it took me a long time to work up to it.”

“I kiss girls all the time,” Tonio informed him, his chest puffed out with pride.

Gregorio nodded, not looking in the least bit surprised. “I suppose a man is never too young to get into the swing of things.”

“Auntie Rosie says I must take my time choosing the best chocolate in the box and not gorge myself on too much sweetness or they will rot my teeth along with my respect for women.”

At these words of wisdom, Gregorio’s eyes grew round. “Did she? I am sure Auntie Rosie is a wise women, but I would take her recommendation with a large pinch of salt.”

Tonio nodded. “Si. Papa says I don’t want to catch germs, and I must treat girls as equals.”

Gregorio cleared his throat again. “Si. When a man is an expert in a subject, you must listen well to his advice.”

“When are you coming to visit with us?” Tonio asked the question burning in his belly. There was something about his Uncle Gregorio, the way he held himself apart from others, that bothered Tonio.

“I was about to suggest that you and the family come to visit with me here, at Lake Como. Would you like that?”

“Do you still have the jet ski?”

Si. I purchased a  Laser Pico sailing dingy for you and the twins to learn to sail.”

Tonio’s jaw dropped. “Wow! Grazie!”

When Nico entered, Tonio turned a beaming face to him.

“Papa, when can we visit with Uncle Gregorio?”

After he’d settled Tonio on his knee, Nico sent wide eyes to a grinning Gregorio on the screen.

“What is this?”

Before Gregorio could open his mouth, Tonio jumped in, “He’s bought a sailing dingy for us to learn to sail. Can we go, papa? Can we?”

Nico nodded. “Good idea, Gregorio. It is never too early for children to learn to respect water.”

“I thought during the May school break. Speak to Bronte. I will make the arrangements,” Gregorio said.

“Wow! I can’t wait to tell Luca and Sophia. Grazie, Uncle Gregorio!”

And with that Tonio raced from the room.

“You have made his day,” Nico drawled, more than delighted boy and man were bonding.

“Hmm. The boy is highly intelligent with lots of energy. Learning a new physical skill is smart. It will keep his mind occupied with wind speed and direction, current and buoyancy rather than concerned with kissing girls and the wisdom of Auntie Rosie.”

Nico had to laugh, and then groan. “Do not tell me.”

“Tonio needs exposure to our culture. I will invite your brother Gabriel and his family, too. The boy is wealthy. He will be a target for any unscrupulous huntress who will use beauty and sex to entrap him. Between us we will educate him in our ways and prepare him for the choppy waters of life ahead.”

Nico understood the underlying message loud and clear.

Si. We are Italian.”

Oooooh, I see trouble ahead……

And I have news of the Sneak Peek book – LUDLOW HALL After HAPPY EVER AFTER:

it'sallabouttheromancebyccmackenzie

 

It’s being formatted and the file will soon be available exclusively in my reader library CLICK HERE to join.

I’m busy working on Break The Rules and No Rules and a couple of secret projects, so stay tuned.

Hugs,

Christine X

 

Sneak peek book news… and a new release…

it'sallabouttheromancebyccmackenzie

READER LIBRARY

 

Greetings,

Is that picture cute, or is that picture cute? It’s the cover of all thirty sneak peeks from 2016 collected in one book titled LUDLOW HALL After Happy Ever After. The book  is NOT for sale and will be placed in the exclusive reader library next week (it’s being proofed as I type) and is a full length compilation of around forty-nine thousand words. I will do another post when the file goes live in the library.

Editing the thirty sneak peeks has been an incredible journey – who’d have thought an author could forget whole scenes? I laughed so hard at times, and had a couple of teary moments, too. *sniff*

More Ludlow Hall sneak peeks are on the way for this year, too. So worry not.

I’m writing Break The Rules and No Rules together, but will release Break The Rules first and I’m having a great time with T.C. and the gang. The girl is trouble with a capital T.

 

glory-odin-outsidethebedroom

 

AMAZON   iBOOKS   NOOK   KOBO 

AND – the sixth Golddigger short story, GLORY, is available right now for pre-order in the store links above. GLORY is out on Good Friday 14th April. My editor and team love this one and especially the lovely Odin who is brought to his knees by Ms Morning Glory Haden.

The next Golddigger will be HEATHER out sometime in May.

I’ll keep you posted.

Christine X

It’s a LUDLOW HALL SNEAK PEEK with Sophia and Emily and relationship advice by Auntie Rosie…

 

fbsophia & Emily & relationship advice via auntie rosie - it's the 2017 sneak peeks

At The Dower House, in Ms Sophia Ferranti’s pink bedroom—

Dressed as fairy princesses in brand new frocks with yards of white tulle (made by auntie Janine) the girls are sitting cross-legged on huge faux fur white rug and practising plaits (taught by Bronte) on the long hair of their new Ayla dolls.

“I’m gonna marry Tonio,” Emily said, the tip of her tongue firmly gripped between her teeth as she tried to fix the hair-tie to the end of her doll’s wonky plait.

Sophia dropped her chin to stare over black plastic framed glasses (empty of glass) to study the stubborn expression on her best friend’s face. “It’ll never happen if you don’t stop giving him stupid googly eyes,” she said in a severe voice.

“Like what?”

“Like this—” Sophia gave a bug-eyed and dropped-jaw demonstration that made Emily frown.

“Do I do that?”

“Yup. Pitiful,” Sophia said, channelling her Auntie Rosie.

Emily huffed a big sigh. “Trouble is, he’s sooooo pretty.”

Sophia cannot hide her shock. “Pretty? You can’t call a boy pretty.”

“Well, I don’t to his face. But I do in my head.” Emily picked up a small brush to stroke through her doll’s blonde hair. She divided the hair into three sections that weren’t quite even. “What should I do then if I can’t look at him or think he’s pretty and I want to marry him?”

Sophia gave her a wide eyed, how-the-hell-do-I-know, look. “I’m only six. Men are a mystery,” she said, again channelling her Auntie Rosie.

“But, you have two brothers, which is more than I do.”

Sophia reckoned that statement was very true and mulled over the worst of her brothers behaviour. “Well, they fart and burp a lot and they think it’s hilarious. And they smell bad if they don’t spend time in the bath or the shower with soap. Mama said they are disgusting little monsters. Papa just laughs and Auntie Rosie says, ‘that’s men for you.'”

Emily made a face of female displeasure. “Okay. Then who would know how I can get Tonio to marry me?”

Sophia grinned widely. “Auntie Rosie!”

***

Thirty minutes later, Rosie’s sitting, legs crossed, on the rug and sipping pretend hot chocolate, with cream and marshmallows, out of a tiny pink plastic cup.

“You rang, my children, and here I am. What can I do for you?”

Knowing that her mama was baby sitting Mila and Eve with Emily’s mummy, Grace, Sophia got straight to the point. “Emily wants to marry Tonio. I told her to quit with the googly eyes. She does this—” Her demo brought a flush of sheer mortification to her best friend’s freckled cheeks.

Brown eyes dancing, Rosie studied the girls. “Well, you’re both a bit young to think of marriage. But, you only have to look at Bronte and me as excellent role models.”

“How come?” Sophia asked.

Rosie leaned in to her niece and gave her big, big eyes. “‘Cos WE rock, that’s how come. Way back before we even thought of a relationship with a man, WE were financially independent—that’s a key step in getting the man you want. Never, ever look like you want to get married to the man you want to marry or he’ll run so fast, dust will rise behind him, like the yellow-livered coward he is.”

Rightly suspicious of this advice, Sophia gave her favourite Aunt narrow-eyes. “How does that work? Surely girls need to be clear about what we want. Papa’s always saying that men are not mind readers—” she stopped when her Auntie Rosie pointed two forefingers in her face.”

“Aha! That’s just a thing a man says when they Do Not Mean It. Listen up, buttercups, and listen well to the advice of one who has been there, done it, and got the man of her dreams. 1. Men are hunters. If we make the hunt too easy…” She turned to look at a wide-eyed Emily. “By giving them googly eyes and big sighs that tell them we think they are awesome—then they’ve won us without the hunt. This is not good juju to Karma and the Universe. 2. Do not look to men to make you happy, be happy with you first.”

“Emily’s already told Tonio, about twenty times, that she’s gonna marry him. Has she failed before she’s even a woman?” Sophia asked, desperately worried about her best friend’s future happiness.

Rosie sent poor Emily an are-you-kidding-me face, but when the little girl teared-up, she pulled her on her lap for a cuddle. “It’s okay. We’ve all done daft stuff, especially me. All is not lost. Just promise me that from this moment on, no more googly eyes, no more telling him you’re gonna marry him or how wonderful he is. If you really, really want Tonio (personally speaking I think it’s better to kiss a lot of frogs before you find a man you can live with) then you need a Grand Plan.”

“Yeah,” Sophia agreed. “You gotta stop with the googly eyes.”
Emily stared at Rosie with big blue eyes, and clasped her little hands to her heaving bosom. “I KNOW I’m gonna marry Tonio,” she breathed and pressed a fist to her chest. “In here.”

Rosie took a deep inhale, nodded once. “Okay. But if I were you I’d take Sophia’s advice—never thought I’d ever say those words—and definitely stop the googly eyes.”

“And I kiss lots of boys,” Sophia said proudly.

Her Auntie Rosie turned to her. “So I’ve heard, and you need to stop kissing lots of boys.”

“Why?”

“I bet most of them have bad breath because their tooth brushing and flossing skills are not up to speed. And again, it means they haven’t had to fight for you. Kissing them first gives them all the power and it makes them think you’re ‘easy’ and that they are not special. Men always need to feel as if they are special. Give them a peck on the cheek ONLY if they deserve it.”

Sophia and Emily took time to think over advice which made no sense.

Emily turned to Rosie. “So, what should I do to make Tonio feel special?”

Rosie blinked. “Easy. Ignore him.”

“But, that would be rude,” Emily said.

“I don’t mean never speak to him ever again, and definitely respond politely if he asks you a question. What I mean is don’t volunteer information like you want to marry him. In fact, the best thing you can do the next time you see him is to say to Sophia that you’ve decided to become the next leader of the free world, which means no marriage and definitely no babies.”

“This is all soooooo confusing,” poor Emily said in a tone that made it clear she had absolutely no wish to be the leader of the free anything.

“Okay. Lemme give you an example— Tonio is surrounded by girls who flick their hair and give him googly eyes, correct?” When the little girls agreed, Rosie continued, “so, it is important that you, my beautiful Emily, stand out from the crowd. Remember what you and Sophia did two weeks before Christmas?”

It took a while, but Sophia caught on, kind of. “We wrapped presents for the little children who are poor. And papa put them in the big Ludlow Hall box of special Christmas presents.”

“Yup. And I saw the expression on Tonio’s face when you were tying the ribbon on the presents, Emily. He was impressed.”

Emily frowned. “But I didn’t do it to impress Tonio!”

Rose beamed in delight. “Of course you didn’t. You did it because you care about people less fortunate than yourself because YOU, my dear Emily, are the real deal. Men… I mean, boys, like girls who put others before themselves. It makes you very interesting compared to other girls who only care about what their hair looks like or stuff like that.”

Sophia turned to Emily and again gazed at her over her glasses. “What do you really want to do when you grow up? I want to work for Save The Childrens, and papa said I can do anything I want, if I work hard, because I am Italian.”
Rosie laughed. “You don’t need to be Italian, but I’m sure it helps. I always wanted to run my own business and make awesome wedding cakes. We had a lot of ups and downs, but your mama and I did it. And we did it all by ourselves and before we met your papa and I married Alexander.”

“I want to be a doctor,” Emily murmured after a while, then her blue eyes went anxious. “But, I don’t know if I’m clever enough. I hate sums.”

“I’ll help you,” Sophia said, immediately on-side to help her best friend realize her hopes and dreams.

“There you go,” Rosie said, utterly thrilled with both of them. “Teamwork. Be yourself with boys and not like the other girls. Talk about your hopes and dreams—except do NOT talk about marriage or babies—and don’t do anything you don’t want to do.”

Sophia leapt up to grab Rosie in a big hug. “Thank you, Auntie Rosie. No more kissing boys.”

Rosie hugged her back and headed for the door to spread the good news. “Then my work is done. I hear my daughter… Laters, my favourite girls.”

The girls settled back to work on their dolls, and continued in companionable silence until…

“Did you get everything she said?” Emily asked Sophia.

“Most of it. If you want to marry Tonio then you need to act as if you don’t want to marry him. Be polite, but not too nice to him.”

“It’s hard.”

“I don’t think we should worry about it. We’re only six. Let’s go get a cookie and milk.”

***

Meanwhile, in the family/kitchen/dining space, Rosie’s feeding baby Mila and chatting to Bronte and Grace when Nico and Tonio and Luca arrive home. By the amount of soil on the boys clothes and the skinned knees, they’ve been at soccer practice.

When Emily and Sophia enter and politely ask for a cookie and milk and are given permission, Tonio kicks off his soccer boots and places them in the mud room. He slumps into a chair at the kitchen table and turns to beam a big toothy smile at his sister and her best friend.

“While you’re at it, get me a glass of milk and a cookie, Emily,” he demanded.

Without saying a word, Emily pours one glass and takes it to her place at the table to sit next to a Sophia who’s watching the scene play out.

Emily took her time choosing a cookie from the plate before catching Tonio’s eye. “You didn’t say please, so you can get milk yourself.”

When Tonio blinked like a confused owl, Auntie Rosie bit down hard on her bottom lip to hide a smile.

“Manners, Tonio,” Nico said in his deep growly voice.

“And you didn’t wash your hands,” Bronte reminded the boy.

With a frown, Tonio slunk into the boot room to wash his hands. By the time he returned and had helped himself to a milk and a cookie, he studied Emily with interest as she nibbled on a cookie. “What did you two get up to today?” he asked.

Before Sophia could respond, Emily lifted her eyes to his and held. “We were talking about our future careers. I’m going to be a doctor.”

When Tonio’s eyes bugged out of his head, Sophia added, “And I’m going to work for Save The Childrens, and I’m gonna help Emily with her sums because we’re independent women.”

Since there wasn’t much Tonio could say in response to that statement, he said nothing, but watched his sister and her best friend, hand-in-hand, walk out of the room.

“Good lord,” Emily’s mummy, Grace, said to Rosie, “What on earth was all that about?”

With an eye on Nico and Tonio who were discussing the eyesight, or lack thereof, of the referee during soccer practice, Rosie popped a quick kiss on her daughter’s slippery black curls. “Just girl stuff. We can never begin too early to talk about girl stuff.”

“Emily’s growing up,” Bronte said. “I’m hoping it rubs off on Sophia.”

“She’s agreed to stop kissing boys,” Rosie told them.

Bronte stared at her with wide emerald eyes. “Wow. How did you get her to do that?”

“We had a discussion about self-respect and female independence.”

Grace blinked. “And here I thought they were up there busy practising how to braid hair.”

“That, too. They’re girls. They can think of more than one thing at a time.”

When Tonio cosied on the couch next to her to stroke a gentle finger down baby Mila’s hot cheek, Rosie eyed him. There was no doubt at all the boy was a true Ferranti male and a future breaker of hearts.

She nudged him with her elbow. “So, apart from being a future Ronaldo, what do you want to do when you grow up?”

Still stroking the baby, Tonio’s mouth curved. “I want to be James Bond.”

Rosie rolled her eyes. “Figures.”

Nico moved in to scrub his knuckles over the boy’s cropped hair. “An Italian James Bond.”

FINE

And so we are on to the beginning of the 2017 sneak peeks, with more to come from the girls!

By reader request, I’m working on the edits of a book of the entire 2016 sneak peeks (which are coming in at approx 50,000 words). The book will not be available for sale, but it will be exclusively available for readers in my ‘reader library’ H has set up HERE. I’ll let you know when the book’s in the reader library.

The reader library will have exclusive Ludlow Hall short stories for readers who love the series – I’m working on a Nico and Alexander short, before Nico met Bronte, and boys will be boys! So sign up to the reader library and check your spam filter so you don’t miss a story.

I’m also working on the final edit for the next Golddigger short story, GLORY (which is looking like it will be a longer read than forty minutes. I’m loving this couple so much I don’t want it to end.) I’ll give you the pre-order links as soon as I have them. I’m looking at 14th of April for this release.

And I’m also beavering away at Break The Rules, too.

I want to thank everyone who’s reached out to me about H. He had his hospital appointment cancelled at the last minute due to an emergency which had the Consultant’s entire clinic cancelled. But, he received another appointment this morning for Monday 27th March, so we’re keeping our fingers crossed. He’s looking really well, which I feel is a good sign of nothing sinister going on. I hope.

Christine X