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…

DCAPTIVEPUNCHINMOUTH

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

 

 

Coming soon….

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Good morning from sunny Cheshire,

HITCHED TO THE ITALIAN has gone for final proofing, do I hear a yay?

As soon as I’ve fixed any bloopers, the file goes for formatting for upload to all the stores. When I receive the pre-order links, I’ll post them. We’re doing a short pre-order so that the book lands at the same time everywhere.

The idea for me to write stories incorporating some of the weekly sneak peeks came from readers. As an author, I’ve had the best time writing HITCHED TO THE ITALIAN. I cannot wait to bring you the full length story showcasing the ups and downs and sometimes chaotic lives of Nico, Bronte, Sophia, Luca and Tonio & Co.

As I drew to The End of this book, it became very clear that there as a lot more potential adventures for the family to come. So stay tuned for a huge surprise next month.

Love and hugs,

Christine X

Aim for the ping pong ball… It’s the Ludlow Hall short story…

Aim for the Ping Pong Ball

 

Hello, my darlings!

We’ve actually had a heat wave – a mini heat wave they say – which has brought us the hottest April day since 1949! Love it!

We’re also in the process of major detailing work on the top floor of this house, and like everything else once we began the project other things appeared like extra plumbing and electrics and plasterwork. Bleh.

Don’t know about you, but I need a bit of Ludlow love, or hate as the case may be when it comes to the Ferranti twins, Sophia and Luca.

The Dower House…

“How’s Tonio?” Rosie Ludlow asked Bronte as they jogged down a dirt trail behind Ludlow Hall. They both wore knee length yoga pants and fitted T-shirts, their hair pulled back from flushed faces. The sun’s rays filtered through the tree canopy. The air was filled with the scent of years of leaf mould. A brook babbled into a stream as it made it’s lazy and winding way down to the river Ludlow.

Bronte jogged on the spot, checked her watch. “His shoulder’s doing a lot better and the bruising across his clavicle is improving every day. He knows he’s been lucky, and trying not to fret about no football practice for six weeks, but he’s a bit down in the mouth at times. Poor boy.”

“Kids,” Rosie said. “They’re tricky little buggers.”

Bronte sent her a dark look. “Mine are a nightmare at times.”

Rosie grinned. “You’re crazy about them.”

“You know Sophia’s top in math and English and music?”

Rosie bit down hard on her bottom lip as she joined Bronte in leg stretches.

“Luca mentioned it. He is most displeased.”

Bronte had to laugh. “He’ll never be her equal. When it comes to brains she’s in a class of her own.”

“That girl could rule the world.”

“She does her level best to rule our house, except she’s gotta go through me so that’ll never happen.”

“Now Emily’s back from vacation, she’ll keep Sophia entertained.”

Bronte rolled her eyes. “The latest is they want to join a circus.”

Rosie snorted a laugh. “The Greatest Showman?”

“Yup. Grace is taking them to a double sitting tomorrow. They know every single word to every single song.”

“Did you know Emily asked her for a baby tiger?”

Bronte closed her eyes. “I don’t want to even think about it. Bubblegum and Jimmy Chew are more than enough to deal with.”

When they reached Bronte’s Range Rover in the car park of Ludlow Hall, they took a long drink of water before jumping in.

As Bronte drove down the long driveway lined by huge elm trees, she turned to eye Rosie. “You took it nice and slow today, you feeling okay?”

“Nothing that seven months won’t fix. I’m pregnant.”

When Bronte did an emergency stop, screamed her head off, and grabbed her in a hug, Rosie just held on tight.

Bronte shifted to check her colour. She looked fine. More than fine. “I didn’t know you two were trying for another baby!”

Rosie made a face. “As soon as we talked about it, voila, super-sperm struck again.”

A beaming Bronte hugged her once more. “Aw, Mila’s gonna be a big sister.”

“She’s just found her feet. Alexander’s a great daddy with her.”

“Of course he is!”

Rosie’s big brown eyes went all teary. “I can’t believe how I nearly messed it up with him.”

Bronte turned on the ignition and shook her head. “That’s baby hormones speaking.”

“I ran away.”

“You did. But you needed alone time to think about your relationship. Nothing wrong with that.”

Rose sniffed. “That’s not what you said at the time.”

“No. Well, I’d been worried sick that something bad had happened to you. Thank God your mother kept us in the loop. AND you cut your hair.”

Rosie took a deep breath. “Self inflicted punishment. It’s taken years to grow it back. The curse of curly hair.”

The car turned into the driveway of The Dower House.

“Aw, another baby in the family,” Bronte said.

Her wistful tone had Rosie give her big eyes.

“Are you broody again?”

Bronte blinked.

“Me? No!”

Rosie got out, grabbed her fitness bag from the trunk, eyed a thoughtful looking Bronte.

“You sure? I bet Nico would be up for another one.”

Hoisting her bag on her shoulder, Bronte locked the car.

“He’s always up for it.”

 

“Mama!” Sophia raced out the door, closely followed by her best friend in the Whole Wide World, Emily. The girls were dressed as athletic fairies, at least that was the best description of pink leotards, white footless tights and white wings, Bronte could come up with. They’d also been in the kiddy makeup and by the looks of it experimenting with ‘smoky eyes’. Goth fairies, maybe.

Rosie opened her arms and Sophia gave her a hug.

“What’s this? You been watching ‘Tinker Bell and the Legend of the Never Beast’ again?”

“How did you know?” Emily asked, her big blue eyes wide.

Rosie gave her a hug too. “A lucky guess.”

Sophia spun around to face Bronte. “Mama!”

“That’s the second time you’ve said that, what’s up, Buttercup?”

“There’s a disgusting stink in the downstairs toilet.”

Emily wrinkled her cute little freckled nose and nodded her head so hard in agreement that her red curls danced around her head.

“Is it blocked again?”

Sophia shook her head.

“Nope. But it stinks of wee.”

Bronte made a bitch-face, as Rosie called it, and marched into the house.

Her emerald gaze swept through the kitchen-dining-family space, and found it immaculate, which was just as well since she’d bottomed out the place the day before.

However, the yells and howls from the ‘man cave’ told her a soccer game was in full flow.

As she marched past the door to the ‘man cave’ she threw it a dark look and headed on down the hallway to the ground floor toilet. She opened the door and surveyed the scene, the vile splashes on the wall and floor tiles.

With a face like thunder, she threw open the window.

Rosie, always interested in how a domestic goddess ran her home, poked her head in the door and the smell of a urinal hit her between the eyes. “Jeez, what the hell is wrong with guys? Can’t they pee into the toilet bowl?”

“Nope,” Sophia said. “They’re disgusting. Mama, you should make them sit on the toilet like girls do.”

Emily piped up. “But how would that work? Wouldn’t their penis just stick up and wee would go everywhere?”

“Not if they hold it down into the bowl,” Sophia told her in a tone that meant business. “How hard can it be?”

Meanwhile Bronte, busy gathering cleaning products from the built in cupboard beneath the sink, picked up two pairs of pink rubber gloves, and stalked down the hall and into the ‘man cave.’ The men in her life, unshaven, all laid back in belly scratching mode, plus the empty soda bottles, coffee cups, and water bottles told her all she needed to know.

“You!” She shot a finger at Nico and tossed him a pair of rubber gloves and cleaning spray. And then she aimed her finger at her brother and tossed him gloves too. “And you! With me! Now!”

By this time Rosie, Emily and Sophia were in the hallway, their arms folded and wearing their own unique versions of the bitch-face.

 

Now, Nico Ferranti was not stupido.

He followed the stiff shoulders of his wife, couldn’t help but admire her tight little ass in those yoga pants, the swing of her white-blonde ponytail, and in his mind he made plans for an early night.

“Don’t even think about it, boyo!” Bronte shot over her shoulder.

However, when the love of his life behaved like she was in the military and ready for war, he knew something was up.

Alexander, meanwhile, was not a happy man. “Aw, what’s the matter with you? The game’s just come alive. We’ll miss the good bits.”

“That whiney voice is not a good look on you,” his sister told him sharply as she came to a halt outside the toilet. She threw open the door. “I want this cleaned right now and then we’re all gonna have a little talk on how to pee in my house.”

Alexander took a big step back, held up his hands.

“Whoa! I’m not touching it. This isn’t my house. Why do I need to clean it?”

Bronte went nose to nose with her big brother. “Did you pee in here today?”

Alexander ignored his wife’s shaking shoulders, but shot her a dark look anyway. “Might have. Once.”

“Were you in a hurry?” Bronte lifted her chin.

Alexander scratched the scruff on his jaw. “Maybe.”

“So you weren’t exactly focused on what you were doing?”

“I’ve been peeing all my life. I don’t splash.”

“Wanna bet?” his sister said.

“How much?”

“Twenty.”

“I cannot believe I’m even hearing this conversation,” Nico said on his knees. Wearing pink rubber gloves, he sprayed disinfectant spray on the walls, the floor and thoroughly inside and outside the toilet bowl. “It must have been the boys. And Tonio’s handicapped at the moment.”

Luca and Tonio, wondering what all the fuss was about, peered into the room.

“I didn’t use this toilet,” Tonio said, and missed the sharp look Nico shot him.

“I didn’t use it either,” Luca said. “We use the main bathroom upstairs.”

“Oh well then,” Bronte threw up her hands. “That’s means another bathroom to clean. Guys, the weather is warm and if you don’t drink enough fluids then your wee is concentrated and smells vile. We need to talk about this.”

“Nope. I am not talking about peeing in my own home,” Nico said.

 

When the rhetoric between her mama and papa descended into a row, Sophia grabbed Emily and they made their way to her bedroom and peace and quiet.

“Wow,” Emily said. “That was pretty disgusting.”

Sophia, busy rummaging around in her shelf unit, nodded, and emerged with notepad and pencil.

“We need a plan. My mama can’t do everything in this house.”

Emily followed her to a desk and chair. “What are you gonna do?”

Sophia sat and drew six lines down and six lines across. She wrote the names of her papa and her brothers and her Uncle Alexander in a box.

“We need to track who uses the toilet and when and then check it to see who’s the culprit. We can’t do anything without proof.”

A baffled looking Emily leaned on the desk, her chin on her hand. “Okay, but how to you get proof?”

“We put squares of toilet paper all around the toilet. If they get wet then we know who did it.”

“But that means we might wait for ages to see who needs to pee.”

Sophia thought about it, nodded. “Okay, then we need a better plan.”

Emily snapped her fingers. “I know! My mummy put a ping pong ball in the toilet and told my daddy to aim for it! It worked! No more smelly loos! And when he flushed, the ping pong ball doesn’t flush!”

Sophia sat back and grinned, then gave Emily a high five. “I like it! And I know just the place to get ping pong balls!”

A few minutes later, the girls are in the triple garage and rummaging through boxes.

“Got them!” Sophia held up a plastic box filled with ping pong balls. “How many do we need?”

“One’s enough in each one,” Emily said.

“Let’s do it!”

 

“Can someone tell me why there’s a ping pong ball in the toilet?” Luca asked.

The Ferranti family were eating dinner.

Bronte blinked. “Omigod. Now what?”

Sophia, eyeing her brothers and papa, shrugged. “It worked in Emily’s house.”

Bronte turned to her. “What worked?”

“Emily’s daddy aimed for the ping pong ball and no more splashes.”

Bronte’s brows flew into her hairline. “I like it! Aim for the ping pong ball, guys!”

The males in her life didn’t exactly look enthusiastic.

Luca, carefully removing any sign of broccoli from his meal with the precision of a brain surgeon, said, “How come there are boy toilets and girl toilets?”

Nico, trying to think of a logical way to answer the random question caught Sophia, chewing her food, staring unblinking at her twin.

When she opened her mouth, Nico jumped in.

“Privacy,” he said. “It’s a basic human right.”

“Oh, and by the way,” Bronte said and sent him a big toothy grin. “You owe me twenty pounds.”

Nico placed his knife and fork on the plate, sat back and did his level best to out-stare his wife, and failed.

“I did not splash.”

“Twenty pounds, boyo.”

He stared at his sons.

“How do you know it was me?”

“You dripped.”

His jaw dropped.

“Did not!”

“Did too.” Then she grabbed her phone. “Wanna see proof?”

For the first time in his life, Nico Ferranti felt his cheeks go hot.”

“You did not!”

“Yup. It’s X-rated, btw.”

Fiercely aware of the way his children watched him, Nico grabbed his wallet from his pocket and flicked a twenty towards his wife.

How embarrassing was this.

Later, much later, the kids were in bed and Nico was enjoying a glass of Chianti before bed. He poured his wife a glass of white wine, and waited.

He heard her upstairs doing her nightly round of checking on their kids, and then the sound of her bare feet pad down the stairs.

When she entered the family room wearing an ivory silk dressing gown, he studied her scrubbed face, her slim figure and thought he’d never seen anything more beautiful in his life.

Dio, he adored her.

“The ping pong ball is freaking me out,” he said.

When she threw back her head and laughed so hard she clutched her stomach, he had to smile.

“Omigod,” she said. “You should see your face…”

He sat back and placed bare feet on a stool.

His eyes held hers.”Tonio and Luca are drinking lots of water to see who has the best aim.”

Bronte bit down hard on her bottom lip, gave him wide eyes.

“Boys will be boys.”

“There is nothing sacred in this house,” he muttered.

She slid onto his knees and wrapped slim arms around his neck.

Emerald eyes filled with love and fun stared into his.

“You sulking?”

His nose kissed hers.

“I don’t sulk.”

“Okay, I’d call it a pout.”

“I don’t pout.”

When his hands slid inside the silk to find skin her breath hitched.

Then his mouth took hers…….

 

FINE

 

Ah, I well remember the ping pong ball in the toilet.

So does my H and my son….

Until next time!

Hugs,

Christine X

 

It’s the Ludlow Hall short story…

bigguns

Waving atcha, my darlings!

There’s a rumour going around that a big golden ball will rise in a blue sky tomorrow. I believe it’s called the sun and it’s been a while since we’ve seen it around here. I’m thinking BBQ, maybe…

It’s time for a Ludlow Hall short story

The Dower House just after dawn on Saturday morning…

Sophia Ferranti, tucked up all warm and cozy in her princess bed, was drifting in that lovely space between awake and asleep. It occurred to her the birds were terribly noisy this morning. The Ferranti’s didn’t keep geese themselves, but her papa had let a young couple, the Matthews, rent a smallholding next to their land at the bottom of their lane. The Matthews kept a variety of geese, chickens, goats and four really cute Lamas. Right now the geese squawked and screeched. When a couple of cockerels began to crow to add their voice to the dawn chorus her brows met. She heaved a sigh, rolled onto her other side and snuggled into her The Greatest Showman comforter. It smelled of lavender. In her mind she heard the song A Million Dreams and began to drift off into an awesome world about the circus. But then her eyes flew open…

The creak came again—the movement of someone walking over a floorboard in the hallway outside her room. It wasn’t a usual sound for this time in the morning. Her mama and papa had a certain routine, especially when the baby was teething. No, this was something quite different. Her heart beat faster. But the sound of a boyish hiss made her roll her eyes. It was her stupid brothers. She was about to go right back to sleep when a stifled giggle had her shoot up to sit. Did they seriously think they were being quiet? Then she wondered why were they sneaking around the house at this time in the morning? A tread on the stair told her they were on their way to the kitchen. The kitchen was the place where the last of the chocolate Easter eggs were safe from greedy boys. In fact, Sophia’s favourite milk chocolate egg, an untouched gift from Auntie Rosie, was in a glass cupboard in the kitchen. And that greedy pig, Luca, had had his beady eyes on that egg for days. Like an arrow fired from a longbow, Sophia was out of bed, out the door and tip-toeing down the stairs—careful to avoid the squeaky tread.

In her Elsa nightie, she slid, like a ninja, to press her ear to the kitchen door, she couldn’t hear the rustling of a carboard box opening, or the crackle of golden paper. Instead, her brows flew into her hairline because it seemed someone was pressing buttons to disengage the alarm system. Her mouth dropped open because touching the alarm system was, in the words of Auntie Rosie, verboten. NAUGHTY BOYS. All thoughts of her chocolate egg fled when the sound of the back door closing had her scurry on bare feet through the kitchen to the window to watch ten year old Tonio and her twin, Luca, creep very slowly along a gravel path screened by a tall conifer hedge. The boys were dressed in black from head to toe, T-shirt, jogging pants and running shoes. Through narrowed eyes, her mouth pursing, Sophia Ferranti reckoned she had three choices.

1 – Go straight to mama and papa and tattle tale.

2 – Leave her brothers to it and go back to bed.

3 – Follow and find out exactly what they were up to, gather the FACTS and THEN tattle-tale. Number three it was.

It didn’t take her long to get dressed in black leggings, hoodie and matching sneakers. On her way out the door, she passed the huge mirror leaning against the bedroom wall. It struck her that unlike her brother’s inky curls her white-blonde hair might attract unwanted attention, so she shoved her plait beneath a black woollen cap, and headed out.

Her heart beat fast with thrilled excitement as she raced to the end of the gravel path and paused. She’d never been out alone at this time in the morning. The world was very different. Quiet. Empty of people. Empty of cars or farm tractors. She peeked around the end of the lane and didn’t see a sign of her brothers. She jogged past the Matthews cute cottage. A couple of lama’s, chewing on a straw bale, watched her with unfettered interest, but undeterred, she raced to the bottom of the road, looked right and left and just caught her brothers strolling along the road as if they hadn’t a care in the whole wide world. When they turned into another narrow lane that led back to The Dower House, Sophia was confused. Why sneak out of the house, go down the road and then up the lane that took them back home?

However, she’d got out of her warm bed this morning and come this far.

What was it Auntie Rosie said, in for a penny in for a pound?

When she turned into the lane and tracked them, using huge oak trees that lined the lane for cover, Sophia decided this was THE best fun, evah. If only her best friend Emily was here. She’d get such a rush. Or maybe not. Emily was a scaredy-cat at times, and she was allergic to certain pollens. Since Sophia herself was not allergic to anything or ever got sick, she didn’t have a lotta sympathy for people like Emily and Luca who always had the sniffles and caught every bug.

Meanwhile, her brothers climbed over a wooden slatted fence constructed for ramblers to have a right of way across the countryside. Her papa always made sure the gates were well constructed and in ‘good nick’ as Auntie Rosie said.

When Luca laughed out loud and shoved his brother, Sophia curled her lip.

They made more noise than a herd of elephants.

By this time, she’d reached the fence herself.

The boys, back to creeping on their tip-toes, headed straight for the huge barn conversion that housed her papa’s personal gym and a swimming pool that was STRICTLY VERBOTEN to the Ferranti children without adult supervision.

The boys peered through a window.

As if by magic Tonio produced a silver metal key from his pocket, and Sophia’s jaw dropped open for the second time.

Surely they were not going into the gym?

Oh yes they were, she thought, as they entered.

Oh man, she thought with something like satisfaction, the boys were they in BIG trouble now.

However, typically, they hadn’t closed the door properly, so it didn’t take her moments to slip in and softly click the door closed.

The floor was a polished wood of pale oak. The walls built of ancient red brick. The ceiling was high. Large skylights let in the sun. Dust motes danced in the early morning rays. The place smelled of lemon wipes, chlorine from the pool sparkling like a blue lake behind a floor to ceiling glass wall, and a very faint odor of sweat.

As she crouched behind a wellness ball, Sophia watched her brothers switch on the high ceiling lights. The whole place was suddenly so bright it made her blink.

“Okay,” Tonio said as he approached a bench press and rubbed his hands with obvious glee. “You need to spot me.”

Luca nodded his head so hard his curls danced.

“No probs,” he said, obviously channelling his papa.

 

Watching all the pathetic male posturising, as her Auntie Rosie would call the chest beating behaviour, Sophia’s brows flew into her hairline and her little mouth pursed into a rosebud shape her brothers hated.

Tonio grabbed a barbell and wound a silver metal weight to one end and then the other, then he lay on the bench, grabbed the barbell, took a breath and lifted it up once, twice.

Sophia couldn’t help it, she rolled her eyes.

All that cloak and dagger this morning for this?

“Cool!” Luca the clueless said.

“I started at a low weight to work my way up,” Tonio told him, sounding like a boss. He returned the pole to its slots and rose. He rubbed his hands again. “I’ll add three extra pounds.”

After watching her brothers, Tonio was a bit red in the face by this time, it became clear to Sophia trouble lay ahead because Luca had the muscle tone of a starving flea. He would be less than useless in an emergency if Tonio found himself in difficulties.

It also occurred to Sophia, too late, that she should have grabbed her mama’s cell phone from the kitchen table.

What was a girl to do?

It was her duty, she heard her papa’s voice in her head, to put a stop to it.

Right.

Now.

Like a jack in the box she leapt to her feet and yelled, “What the HELL do you two think you’re doing?”

The boys got such a fright that Tonio lost focus and let go of the barbell.

The weight caught him across the shoulders, pinning him to the bench press.

His screams of pain had Luca cry out too.

Sophia flew to Tonio’s side.

She felt sick when she saw his face white, his eyes wide with shock.

“Stop yelling, Luca!” she spat at her twin. “Help me lift this off him.”

It took a huge amount of effort, but the twins managed to return the barbell to its slots.

However, it was clear one of poor Tonio’s shoulders looked—odd.

And at any moment Luca, by the look of him, was about to pass out.

He did that a lot when upset, either that or he was as sick as a dog.

Sheer panic might grip her belly, but since she didn’t want either to happen, Sophia grabbed Luca’s shoulders and shook him hard, not easy since he was a good five inches taller than her. “Don’t you dare pass out. Run to the Matthews and tell them to call an ambulance. NOW!”

Luca, his appalled grey eyes glued to hers, nodded. “‘Kay.”

She shoved him towards the door. “Hurry!”

Feeling terribly sick herself, in her mind Sophia chanted, oh God, oh God. But she kept it together as she turned to Tonio and promptly burst into tears.

 

Tonio felt as if pain was all over, passing through him in stunning waves that drowned every cell in his body. Pain strangled him until he couldn’t hear, couldn’t breathe.

His breathe came in short little pants, each inhale agony.

He made a sound like the whimpering of a dog.

Out of the corner of his eye he saw his sister.

Her little hands, trembling, hovered over him.

“I don’t want to touch you in case I hurt you. What can I do?” she sobbed.

His breath came faster now in choking gasps that caught another scream in his throat.

A sound burst from his throat—a whine.

Sophia began sob in earnest now, tears tracked down her pale face.

Big emerald eyes, desperately worried, stared into his.

God.

God.

The slam of car doors had Sophia leap to her feet and run towards the door.

Mr. Matthews, a man in his early thirties sprinted into the gym, his wife not far behind him. Both wore jeans, T-shirts and wellington boots.

He sank to his knees in front of Tonio, dark brown eyes taking in the scene.

“Looks like you’ve injured that shoulder. The ambulance is on its way. I won’t touch you, okay?”

Tonio nodded and that was all it took for his world to go black.

Mr. Matthews glanced at a Sophia who had her fist pressed to her mouth.

“Is he dead?” she whispered.

He wrapped a strong arm around her shoulder.

“No. He’s passed out.” He cocked his head. “Ah, sounds like the ambulance.”

Five minutes later and paramedic Susan Bradshaw entered with her colleague hot on her heels. Serious blue eyes took in the scene as she shrugged off her dark green backpack.

“Never a dull moment with the Ferranti family,” she muttered. She opened her backpack. After using scissors to cut off Tonio’s T-shirt, she studied the damage and nodded. “If the worst he has is a dislocated shoulder he’s got off lucky.” She nodded glanced at Mr. Matthews and nodded at a wide-eyed Sophia. “Take her out of here.”

“I’m not leaving him,” Sophia declared, her chin lifting.

Susan took out medication, including a syringe, and made short work of making Tonio more comfortable.

Sharp blue eyes studied Sophia’s face for a moment.

“Fair enough, as long as you don’t feel squeamish at the sight of blood.”

Sophia shook her head.

“I’m brave.”

Susan’s lips twitched, but she kept a straight face as she took Tonio’s vitals and gave him oxygen.

“Of course you are,” she said and stood aside as her partner slid a board beneath Tonio and then wrapped him in blankets.

They lifted him onto a trolley.

“Is he going to be alright?” Sophia whispered, her heart a slow sluggish beat against her ribs.

“He’s a Ferranti. He’s tough. We’ll know more after he’s had an X-ray,” Susan told her. “Ah, I hear the rest of the gang arriving.”

Sure enough Nico and Bronte Ferranti crashed through the doors, and that was when Sophia let all the anxiety and worry out. She raced to her mama and threw herself into her arms.

“Hush now,” Bronte crooned as she nuzzled her daughter, but her eyes were glued to Tonio’s pale face. “Everything’s going to be alright.”

 

Meanwhile, Nico was listening carefully to everything Susan Bradshaw and Mr. Matthews told him. He shoved his hand through his black hair.

Dio, I do not know what they were thinking.”

“We were pumping iron,” Luca told him. “We want big guns like you and Uncle Alexander.”

Susan’s face creased.

“That makes a crazy sort of sense.”

Nico, not in the mood for laughter, turned to Bronte.

“You go with Tonio in the ambulance and I’ll follow in the car,” he said.

She nodded and handed him their daughter.

***

Nico, Sophia and Luca watched as the ambulance rolled down the narrow road.

Grazie,” Nico said to Mr. Matthews and shook his hand.

“We’re happy to keep the children with us. Perhaps they’d like to help feed the chickens and the goats?”

Nico shifted to look at a very pale Sophia. “Would you like that?”

Sophia sniffed. “Okay.”

“We haven’t had breakfast,” Luca reminded his papa.

Mr. Matthews grinned. “Good job Gretchen’s a good cook then.”

Luca, his hand safely tucked in Gretchen’s, looked up at her.

“Do you have bacon?”

“Plenty,” she assured him, her eyes twinkling.

He frowned.

“Do you know you smell of horse poop?”

Sophia gasped. “How rude! They live on a farm, stupid. Anyway, Auntie Rosie says everyone should take a big deep breath of country air and manure, it’s good for the lungs.”

His hand scrubbing the scruff on his jaw, Nico closed his eyes.

“They’ll be fine,” Mr. Matthews told him. “Go.”

“Rosie and Alexander will collect them,” Nico told him. He turned serious eyes on the fruit of his loins. “Behave. We are going to have a long talk when mama and I return home.”

Sophia, nodding like a wise owl, shot a black look at her brother.

“You’re in BIG trouble,” she hissed.

Her twin sent her look of utter loathing.

“I hope you poop a prickly pear,” Luca hissed back.

Dio mio,” Nico said.

 

FINE

 

Poor Tonio. All y’all may be wondering about the inspiration behind this story. I’m on a fitness kick, which includes 15k of steps per day and using (light) weights three times a week. A family member said, ‘You don’t want big guns.’ And so a story was born.

Until next time, big hugs,

Christine X

Drum roll… It’s the Ludlow Hall sneak peek…

shownoweakness

Hello, my darlings,

 

Welcome to Friday’s sneak peak – it’s time to kick back and reeeeeelaxed…

It’s a Saturday afternoon at The Dower house…

Bronte, Rosie and Janine, are enjoying some girl time in the kitchen–family–dining space.

The men, meanwhile, are dressed down in a jogging pants/T-shirts/Thermals ensemble, in Nico’s new man-cave (formerly known as his study) having the time of their lives watching one of the legs of the European cup, live, on a five foot wide, state-of-the-art-with-surround-sound flat screen, a new addition along with a tall, glass fronted beer-cooler.

When the referee made a ‘crappola’ decision, the men were on their feet and they all wail, long and loud at the screen.

Back with the females, a dull roar came from the man-cave.

As one, their women look to heaven.

“Good God,” Rosie said. She wore skinny blue jeans and a ribbed over-sized sweater of ivory cotton. Her hair was tied in a loose plait that fell down her back. “They seem to forget we have children that understand every single bad word that comes out of their big mouths. They’re a disgrace.”

Bronte, dressed in chocolate brown yoga pants, a matching hoodie over a striped T-shirt and her blonde hair tied in a high tail, shook her head. She cuddled a dozing and rosy-cheeked Eve close. Her daughter wore her favorite fleecy pink bunny pj’s. Teething was not fun.

“Well,” said Janine, keeping a weather eye on Boo’s frantic coloring-in attempts with purple crayon. Mother and daughter wore soft denim jeans and bright pink hoodies. “I just don’t get it, when do we women ever make a howling racket over anything the way they do? They’re like wild beasts.”

Rosie, her eyes like pancakes, stared hard at Janine and said, “How soon you forget! We made plenty of noise when we watched Magic Mike Two.”

Bronte had to laugh.

“Ah yes. I’d forgotten all about that girly night.”

“Well, we did have a couple of bottles of wine,” Janine reminded her.

“Yeah, I remember the hangover. I also remember those awesome six packs, and I’m not talking about beer.” Rosie cackled like an evil witch. “Alexander was absolutely disgusted with me because I kept calling him a Joe Manganiello reject.”

“That was a good night. My favorite stripper, and don’t for the love of God tell Nico, is Channing Tatum. I LOVE Channing.” Bronte said.

“Matt floated my boat. Although not as much as Josh,” Janine said, loyal to the bone. “Where are the kids?”

“Well the boys are with the men,” Bronte said, “picking up all sorts of bad habits and foul language.”

“And my favorite bad girls?” Rosie asked, referring to Sophia and Emily.

“Upstairs. They’re practising with a new Boogie Box my dad sent Sophia for her birthday. It’s like a karaoke machine, except for kids. So the pair of them are pretending to be rock stars.”

“Do you remember when we were about five or six years old,” Rosie began. “We wanted to be Spice Girls. I used to sing into the hairdryer, and you sang into your hairbrush.”

Bronte laughed. “Those were the days.”

Rosie did a bum boogie. “Girl power!”

“I think that was the start of girl power,” Janine said, then send them a filthy look. “Neither of you would let me join your girl band. Bitches.”

“Well you were an absolute little bitch yourself,” Rosie said, as usual not mincing her words. “These days you’d be called a mean girl.”

Janine nodded. “Absolutely right. I was spoiled rotten.”

Bronte studied Janine’s face.

“How are things with your father these days?”

“Pretty good actually,” Janine said. “It helps smooth the path that he absolutely adores Boo, and he gets on incredibly well with Josh.”

“I love Josh,” Rosie said.

Unoffended, Janine grinned. “I know you do. And he loves you too.”

 

 

Meanwhile, in Sophia’s bedroom, a duet, wearing pink leggings and black and pink over-sized T-shirts that said, Girls Rule The World, were practising strutting their stuff to a Little Mix song…

“Do you think we could be on YouTube and make millions and millions of pounds and be superstars?” Emily asked Sophia when they took a well deserved break.

Sophia plopped onto a fat beanbag the color of hot pink, and thought about it.

“No. We’re not very good singers.”

“I don’t know,” Emily said. She sprawled on her belly on Sophia’s Cinderella Princess bed. “I think we could be, if we worked hard enough, be really good. I think all we need to do is practice.”

Sophia rubbed her chin. “You mean like have proper music lessons or singing lessons?”

“Yes. I wanna learn to play the guitar.”

Sophia made an I’m-gonna-be-sick face.

“I don’t know. I’m not sure I come from a musical family. When he’s in a good mood, my papa likes to sing O sole mio, but mama says he can’t carry a tune in a rusty bucket.”

“Do you think that Tonio will could be a good singer?” Emily asked, her blue eyes all dreamy.

Sophia thought about it.

“You know I don’t think I have ever heard him sing. He whistles a lot though. Doesn’t sound very tuneful to me though.”

“Can he dance?” Emily asked in all seriousness.

Sophia shrugged, made big eyes. “Who knows?”

“The thing is, he’s got the look. He could be a huge, huge star—if only he could sing.”

“We can always ask him if he wants to be in our band,” Sophia said.

“What about Luca?”

Sophia pursed her pink lips, made a kissy sound.

“He looks pretty enough. He can always mime.”

So the girls made their way downstairs, along a narrow hallway, turned a corner, and entered—the man cave.

Stunned, they stopped dead.

 

 

Stony-faced, Sophia assimilated the entire scene.

Her narrowed gaze scanned a Big Mess.

The racket of the blaring TV, her papa blowing on some sort of horn, while the rest made a collective noise, which sounded exactly like  male gorilla’s mating call.

Her papa, her uncle Alexander and uncle Josh, AND Luca and Tonio, were all flushed and wild-eyed, and there was a lot of pushey-shovey going on.

Right then, Sophia and Emily shared a purely womanly look of utter disgust.

However, Sophia’s brows flew up when her papa and Tonio started speaking BAD words in Italian about the referee, as if not saying it in English made a difference.

Tonio jumped up and down like a lunatic, his socked feet crunching a bag of potato chips, cheese and onion by the stink, into crumbs that spilled all over an expensive Chinese rug.

There were three cans of what looked like beer on the glossy table, and they hadn’t used mats to protect the table top.

Mama would NOT be pleased.

 

Now Sophia also knew that her best pal Emily had a deep seated aversion to raised voices and too much noise—it had something to do with a small flaw with her hearing.

Sophia turned to a wide-eyed Emily.

“Show no weakness. They have reverted back, in millennia in human evolution, to knuckle-draggers.”

Emily looked alarmed. “What does that mean?”

Sophia shrugged. “Dunno. It’s what auntie Rosie says when they watch Italian football. Men! Pitiful, aren’t they?”

“Are they fighting?” Emily asked in a very small voice as Josh growled like a wild beast and caught Luca in an elbow lock and vigorously scrubbed his head with his knuckles.

“Nah. That’s just male posturing.”

Emily turned to stare at her. “What’s that?”

“Dunno. Auntie Rosie said it’s an alpha male thing.”

“I don’t like it.”

Sophia placed her arm around Emily’s shoulders and pulled her close.

“Don’t be scared. We have girl power.”

Emily hugged her back. “‘Kay.”

Sophia took a good long look at the male shenanigans and guided her best friend out the door.

It was time, she decided, for reinforcements.

***

Bronte, Rosie and Janine listened with deadly serious faces, their mouths tight, to the many sins of their men as listed by Sophia, and a very quiet and pale Emily.

Honestly, Bronte thought, what on earth was Nico thinking scaring Emily like that? The child was like a delicate little flower, all big violet eyes, a soft voice and riot of short red curls atop a creamy complexion kissed by a constellation of freckles. She simply wasn’t used to adults behaving like heathens on the war path. What on earth would her mother, Grace, say? In fact, how embarrassing was this? Now she narrowed her eyes as Sophia, her arms folded and her hip cocked, came to the end of her story.

“They’ve got beer cans on my table?”

Sophia nodded.

“Tonio’s ground chips into my good carpet?”

Sophia nodded.

Bronte handed a still dozing Eve to her auntie Rosie and stood.

“Right,” she brushed her hands together. “Let’s get this sorted.”

But just as she was about to head out the door, the sound of men and boys making their way toward the kitchen assailed their ears.

Nico Ferranti just loved Saturdays when live soccer from the Serie A and Legs of the European cup played on the sports channels. As a bonus, the boys not only had the time of their lives, but male bonding time, which was important and could only be good for them. Ah, he was a lucky man. However, he had a hitch in his stride when he walked into the family room and took one look at his wife’s face, a face that shot sheer terror into his heart.

He sent her his most charming smile with zero affect.

The boys, their antennae more attuned to Bronte’s expression than the laughing and joking Alexander and Joshua, slid towards the door on their socked feet.

Bronte’s arm shot out, her pointy finger zeroed on them.

The stopped dead, like stone statues.

“Don’t even think about it,” she growled.

By this time Alexander and Joshua had received the message that all was not well with their women.

Nico sauntered over to the love of his life, took the hand with the pointy finger and kissed the fingertip. “Problemo?”

“Where shall I begin?” she asked, her tone ice over steel.

Nico turned to his pals, his sons, and shrugged as if to say, What did we do?

“Were we too loud?” Joshua asked, his blue eyes the perfect picture of innocence.

“Well, let’s just say the language was colorful,” Janine told him.

He made an ouch face.

“The referee was a dick,” Alexander muttered.

“How terribly charming,” his wife told him, and jerked her chin towards two wide-eyed little boys. “Shame you couldn’t be an adult and come up with a better descriptive word, like useless, ineffective, or incompetent.”

He made an ouch face, too.

Nico rubbed the bridge of his nose, and his gaze caught the butter-wouldn’t-melt eyes of his eldest daughter.

Sophia raised her brows.

“You said bad words in Italian.”

“I knew it,” Luca said terribly, his dark eyes filled with rage. “You’re nothing but a tittle-tattle. What happens in the man-cave stays in the man-cave.”

In response, his twin sent him a look that would blister paint.

“We,” she said. “Have girl power.”

Nico stepped in before things got physical.

“It is half-time,” he said in a voice meant to soothe. “We are hungry.”

“After using all that adrenaline, I’m sure you are hungry. Help yourselves,” Bronte said and indicated the huge double door American sized refrigerator made of stainless steel.

“But if my table top is damaged by beer cans and my carpet by a packet of chips…” she eyed a pale-faced Tonio, “… there will be trouble.”

Nico held up his hands in a gesture of surrender.

He knew when to pick his battles and this was not one he could win.

“We will clean up any mess.”

“This is because it was World Women’s Day this week, isn’t it?” Alexander muttered to Joshua. Unfortunately for him, his wife, his sister and his best friend’s partner heard him.

Rosie handed Eve to Bronte and strolled up to her husband like a gunslinger.

She poked him in his flat belly, and tipped back her head to stare into those twinkling green eyes.

“Excuse me?”

He poked her right back on the shoulder.

“This is you flexing your rights.”

“I don’t need to flex my rights. I own my rights,” she told him, but her dimples popped.

“Gimme a kiss,” he said, then he grabbed her.

Meanwhile, Nico wound his arms around his wife and child.

Then he went nose to nose with Bronte. “Forgive me?”

“I’ll think about it.”

Joshua grinned at Janine who grinned right back.

“It’s always fun with the Ferranti family isn’t it?”

 

***

 

It didn’t take long for peace to be restored to The Dower House, except not everyone was entirely happy.

“You’re a horrible, stinky, boy,” Sophia told her twin.

“And you have a mouth bigger than the Eurotunnel.”

Emily, her blue eyes wide with what looked like alarm, sat in the corner of the couch.

“Do not worry,” Tonio told her. His shoulder gently nudged hers. “They do not really mean it.”

“At least I don’t have a face like baboon’s butt,” his lovely sister said.

Luca went nose to nose with a narrow-eyed Sophia. “I’m a boy. Boys bathe in shark-infested waters.”

“Pooh,” she said, not once taking her eyes from his. Then her face went so fierce poor Emily sucked in a breath and her hand clutched her throat.

I have girl power,” Sophia growled low in her throat. “I bathe in the blood of my enemies.”

FINE

Well, I’d say Sophia won that round.

LOL!

Until next week, spice up your life!

Christine x

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s the Sneak Peek…

sophia'sbeautybox

 

Greetings from a slightly milder UK!

It’s the sneak peek…..

The Dower House…

Welcome to Sophia’s Beauty Box.

Emily and Sophia, both wearing white aprons over their leggings and hoodies, stared critically at their handiwork.

The room smelled of nail varnish, cleansing wipes and candy.

Two-year-old Eve, sucking on a jelly bean, sat happily on a huge bean bag cushion with Jimmy Chew on her lap.

She wore navy colored tights beneath a smocked dress of pale soft denim edged with a denim frill. Tied in her glossy curls the color of jet were a wide and varied selection of skinny ribbons.

Around her shoulder she wore a hand towel.

A white cotton towel.

A white cotton towel covered with creams and lotions and potions.

“The thing is,” Sophia said. Her black eyeliner had been applied by a wonky hand, as had the fuchsia lipstick on her little mouth. She had lipstick on her teeth, too. Her blonde hair was caught up in a high tail with a hair tie and a variety of ribbons, which fell over her shoulder. “Babies are not supposed to wear makeup. But she’s too pale for what we need.”

Emily tipped her cropped red head.

Her cheeks had been ‘sculpted’ with dark brown bronzer down either side of her little nose, jaw line and cheekbones. She blinked lashes that had congealed into black mascara clumps, and considered the child. “I think just a teeny tiny amount of blush on her cheeks will look fine. Trouble is, we’ve used too much. She looks like a little clown.”

Sophia made a face, thought about it. “But any makeup is not natural in a baby, is it?”

“She’s not exactly a baby,” Emily said.

“True,” Sophia said. “But we can’t photograph her with makeup on her baby skin, it would look really dumb. What we need is something more natural, something that would give her a natural tint, like a little hint of the sun for example.”

Emily craned her neck to look out the window and the three foot deep snowdrift that the beast from the East had dumped on the whole of the United Kingdom this week.

“Well, were not going to get any sun today.”

Sophia nodded, thought for a while.

Then her eyes went big

“I know! What about the new fake tan stuff that auntie Rosie gave to mamma? She said it’s brilliant stuff. It’s called Luxury Tan and you put on with a little mitten thing so that your hands don’t go brown.”

Emily thought about it.

Her blue eyes went wide.

“That might be an idea,” she said, then her brows dipped. “But is it suitable for babies?”

“Lemme go check.”

Sophia raced out of the room and five minutes later came back with a box a silver box.

She squinted at the tiny writing on the back of the box and read, “Two to Three week tan— medium. This looks good. There’s nothing on here that says it can’t be used for Eve, and its for sensitive skin. She’ll have a sensitive skin because she’s a baby.”

While Sophia popped another candy into Eve’s little mouth, Emily opened the box, took out a dark brown plastic bottle, unscrewed the lid and took a sniff.

She put a tiny drop the color of dark chocolate on the back of her hand and rubbed, then checked her fingers.

Sophia handed her a Simple cleansing wipe—for sensitive skin—from the pale green pack.

The cleansing wipe didn’t take all of the tan off.

“How are you going to apply it?” Emily asked, not looking too sure about this bright idea.

Sophia plucked two skin wipes from the pack and tipped up her sister’s chin and gently removed the blush and makeup.

“First of all, we’ll cleanse her skin. Makeup doesn’t look right on her. Okay, Evie?” she said, and rubbed her nose against her sister’s little button nose.

Evie, happy as a clam since she was busy grooming a dozing Jimmy Chew’s fur with a with a soft brush, just smiled.

She lifted her chin and let her sister do her worst.

***

Half an hour later in the main family bathroom of The Dower House…

Sophia and Emily, now dressed in their underwear, used soap-laden sponges to desperately scrub their arms, legs and faces. Their skin had turned a dark brown color. Actually, to be truthful, dark brown streaks of color—and it wouldn’t come off.

Emily, her blue eyes more than a little frantic, caught Sophia’s panicked gaze in the vast wall mirror above the double white ceramic sinks set in a glittering granite the color of sand.

“What are we going to do?” she hissed at Sophia as she rinsed her hands for what felt like the hundredth time.

They stood on soft cotton bath towels, white, and now streaked with brown.

Everything was one hot mess.

Meanwhile, Sophia rummaged in the cupboards built beneath the sinks and came up with a blue bottle of bleach.

“This stuff should sort it,” she said.

However, no matter how hard they tried, neither of them could open the bottle top.

Emily, who by this time, reckoned they were in Big, Big Trouble, read as much as she could of the label.

“This stuff is dangerous. Look, it says so right here.”

A sudden knock at the door had both nearly jump out of their skin.

“What are you two doing?” Nine year old Tonio Ferranti asked?

“Maybe Tonio can open the bottle?” Emily suggested.

Sophia didn’t look as if she liked the idea, but when her brother knocked the door again, and tried the handle, she unlocked the door.

 

Tonio entered.

He wore dark blue jeans, a pale grey UCLA hoodie and thick thermal socks.

In the middle of a growth spurt, he was long and lean, with movie star tousled dark hair, olive skin and dreamy dark eyes. Dark eyes that now went wide.

He was, in the words of Emily’s mummy, Grace, a fine looking young man.

Emily, her little heart going pitty-pat, thought Tonio looked like a Rock Star.

His black brows rose as he took in the mess, and the state of the girls.

Dio mio. Now what have you done?”

Emily held up the bottle of fake tan.

“We used this on Eve, and it looked really cool, so we thought we’d use it too. Except—”

Tonio blinked.

“It stinks in here.”

Sophia handed him the bottle of bleach.

“This will take it off. Can you open it?”

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

“No! This stuff is dangerous, that’s what the red cross means on the label. AND it says Keep Out Of The Reach of Children.” He glared at Sophia and yelled at the top of his voice, “That means YOU!”

The noise had attracted the attention of Sophia’s twin, Luca.

He popped his dark head through the door.

Dressed in navy sweatpants and his favorite Spiderman sweatshirt, faded from too many washes, he took in the scene and headed down the hall. All that could be heard were his bare feet thundering down the stairs.

Sophia made a face of sheer disgust.

“He’ll tittle tattle to mama.”

Tonio clutched the bottle of bleach to his chest.

“You know you’re gonna get into big trouble.” When Emily sniffed, he didn’t show her any mercy either. “Your mummy’s arrived. I wouldn’t want to be you two.”

At the sound of Bronte coming up the stairs and calling for Sophia and Emily, both girls simply clutched each other.

Their eyes wide, they stared at the door.

***

Bronte, wearing black leggings, thick socks and a huge woollen sweater over a white thermal, entered the family bathroom and stopped dead.

Omigod.

She took in the scene.

Both girls were streaked in fake tan from head to toe.

Her brand new towels were ruined.

And for a long moment, she was simply—speechless.

But when Eve toddled into the bathroom, her little face dark brown except for her eyes and mouth, and raised her hands to be lifted, Bronte couldn’t help the gasp of utter shock.

Then she spotted Tonio holding the bottle of bleach and her face paled.

“Tell me,” she whispered to him, “They were not going to use that?”

He nodded.

Bronte turned to the now weeping girls.

“Downstairs—NOW!”

 

***

Nico Ferranti, dressed for Arctic conditions in heavy boots and a Canadian parka, strolled through the door of The Dower House. The weather bomb had caused chaos for three long days. Guests couldn’t leave and guests couldn’t arrive. For the first time since he’d turned Ludlow Hall into a five star hotel and spa, he’d used all of their back-up generators when trees had brought down power lines. It had been one disaster after another. Thankfully, his staff had gone above and beyond. But Christ, the cold had frozen his bones right down to the marrow. Then he lifted his chin and sniffed the air like a starving wolf. He smelled his favorite red sauce, garlic and basil, and meatballs. Yay! He toed out of his boots, hung up his parka, and opened the door into the family-dining-kitchen room

His whole family sat at the long dining table.

He grinned.

It looked as if everyone had been bathed, dressed in pj’s and were ready for bed.

Seemed Bronte had got ahead of herself tonight.

Maybe he’d get lucky and they’d have an early night themselves?

Then it struck him that everyone was quiet.

Too quiet.

His eyes found Bronte’s and when her chin jerked to the high chair and his snoozing baby girl and her brown streaked little face, his brows flew into his hairline.

“What happened?”

Bronte simply turned her head to stare holes through Sophia.

A Sophia who had her chin on her chest.

Luca, eyeing his twin with deep dislike, said, “Sophia and Emily used fake tan on Eve and all over themselves and made a big mess in the bathroom.”

Sophia said nothing.

But her green eyes lifted to shoot a lethal warning to her brother.

Nico shook his head, went to wash his hands at the sink, then he helped himself to a warm pasta plate and helped himself.

It wasn’t until he sat at the table and had a taste of heaven, that he spoke.

“Were you bored, cara mia?” he asked Sophia.

Emerald eyes flicked to her mama and then to him.

She shook her head.

“We opened Sophia’s Beauty Salon.”

When Luca snorted, Nico gave his daughter credit for not rising to the bait.

“Eat your food, Luca,” he said.

Luca dug in.

“Maybe you’d like to explain to her the dangers of bleach?”

“I couldn’t open it,” Sophia whispered, her face flushed beneath brown streaks.

“That’s not the point, is it?” her mama snapped. “And if you’ve finished playing with your food, you can go upstairs, brush your teeth and go to bed.”

By the time Sophia, her feet dragging as she clutched her Raggedy Ann doll, walked out the door, Bronte looked as if she’d reached the end of her tether.

The boys, looking as if butter wouldn’t melt, scoffed their pasta and meatballs with a gusto that made Nico’s lips twitch.

Little devils.

They loved nothing more than to see Sophia sitting in the hot seat.

He shifted to top up his wife’s white wine and poured a Chianti into his glass.

Replete, he settled back and kicked out long legs.

“Perhaps,” he began, “we need to keep certain items under lock and key?”

She nodded.

“I’ve got the locksmith coming tomorrow to put a lock on the bathroom cupboards. Don’t know why I didn’t think of it in the first place. I’ll be glad when this weather eases and things get back to normal.”

“The weather is supposed to improve next week,” Tonio said, and beamed at Bronte.

Her mouth curved.

“Thank goodness.”

“Sophia and Emily are gonna look dumb if they can’t wash off that stuff before we back to school,” Luca said.

“Then let that be a lesson to them,” Bronte said, her eyes sparking.

Nico grinned.

“Ah, just another day in the life of the Ferranti family.”

 

FINE

 

The freezing weather from Siberia is actually an unusual occurrence for us at this time of year. It’s been an experience, that’s for sure. Can’t wait for Spring!

Christine x

 

Boring hair?… It’s the Ludlow Hall sneak peek…

ludlowhallsneakpeek(1)

 

Happy Saturday, dear readers,

Here’s this week’s sneak peek, grab a coffee, and enjoy!

 

The Dower House….

 

Bronte’s chilling out with her girlfriends; Janine Faulkner and her toddler, Boo, Rosie Ludlow and baby Mila, and Grace, Emily’s mummy.

Grace, her wildly curly hair recently cropped, a style that took years off her, wore navy skinny jeans and a lilac cashmere sweater the exact color of her eyes. She accepted a cup of coffee from Bronte, and studied the tiny mini-muffins served on a white china plate with a greedy eye. “I’d have paid good money to see Sophia talking to ‘Alexa’ and ordering all those gifts.”

Bronte, dressed in black leggings and one of Nico’s pale grey cotton hoodies, offered Janine a top up of her cup, and grinned down a Boo who sat on the floor and was terribly busy with her mummy’s iPhone. The little girl wore thick wool tights the color of milky coffee, and a cute sweater dress of leopard print velvet, and had a cream velvet ribbon in her black curls. She was sooooo cute.

“Thing is,” Bronte said. “According to Miss Brown, she reckons Sophia has an Eidetic memory. She can recall exact words in conversations. However, Nico reckons it could have been worse. She could’ve bought presents on Amazon for all her friends and their families. After the kids went to bed, all thrilled and delighted, Nico couldn’t stop laughing. We’ve no idea what to do with that child.”

Rosie, wearing thermal tights and a matching oversized polo neck sweater the color of ripe cranberries just grinned at Bronte. “You’ve been saying that for six years. And my favorite niece didn’t buy her favorite auntie anything either.” She sipped her coffee and at the same time managed to grab a pen Mila had taken from her bag and was about to stick up her nose. “No, baby doll. No. No. Not up noses, or in ears.”

Grace bent down to lift a grumpy Mila, handed her teaspoon to play with and gave her a cuddle. “I love this age. I’m so jealous, Rosie.”

“Have you thought of adoption?”

“We have,” Grace sighed, and dropped a kiss on Mila’s dark curls. “We’ve done nothing about it. It seems a very complex business.”

Janine nodded in agreement. “There are so many little kids desperate for a good home. They break my heart, they really do. Josh and I have been discussing adoption.”

Bronte raised her brows. “That would be amazing. Josh makes a great daddy.”

“Yep,” Janine said. “The only trouble is, we’d need to get married.”

Rosie gazed at her in amazement. “You don’t wanna marry Josh?”

Janine’s grin was a little wicked. “In a heartbeat. He hasn’t asked me yet.”

Rosie gave her an are-you-kidding-me look. “That’s a load of crock. I know for a fact he’s asked you at least ten times.”

“True. But that was way back in the beginning. He hasn’t asked me recently.”

“Maybe that’s because he’s not a mind reader,” Bronte said. “How’s the poor guy supposed to know you’ve changed your mind?”

“Truth. Is it bad of me that I want him to ask me again?”

“Nah,” Rosie said, and popped a dark chocolate mini muffin in her mouth. “You’re allowed. But you may need to drop him a couple of hints. You know, men are not exactly switched on to our feminine needs. Or should I make that our feminine wiles?”

Once the laughter stopped Bronte just shook her head.

“That’s crazy talk. We’re not being fair to them. The point is, the guys would do anything for us—anything. Hang on a minute,” she said.

Her friends watched in amazement as she shifted to check behind the couch, then tiptoed to the laundry room, opened the door to look inside, and the then tiptoed to the door leading to the hallway which was ajar. She checked behind it before she closed it. Grinning at the bemused look on their faces, she returned to her seat picked up a coffee. “Can’t be too careful in this house. The walls have ears. Ears commonly known as Sophia.”

Rosie couldn’t help but grin. “That girl’s going to turn your hair grey.”

Bronte made a face. “You can’t tell, but beneath this blonde there’s plenty of grey.”

 

“Well.” Rosie made herself more comfortable on the couch. “You’ve had at least four days where everything’s been peace, quiet and tranquillity. We all know that won’t last. I think she’s wonderful.”

Bronte just sent her a dark look. “It’s okay for you. You’re not her mother and you don’t know what you’re talking about. Wanna know the thing that bugs me the most about half-bloody-term? I want to be the best mummy in the whole wide world, and provide my kids with wonderful memories of childhood they’ll treasure forever.

“Instead, by lunchtime everyday I’m snapping their heads off because they can’t have more sweets or soda that send them up the wall and fighting like cats. Then I’m a ‘bad mummy’ for daring to suggest that if they’re bored they could—wait for the shock-horror—go to their room and read a book. You’d think I’d suggested sending them down a coal mine armed with a toothpick. I swear I cannot wait for Monday morning and a little bit of that peace, quiet and tranquillity you mention, Rosie.”

“Where are the gruesome twosome anyway,” asked a laughing Janine, referring to Sophia and Emily.

Grace lifted her eyes to the ceiling. “They’ve been in the dressing up box. The last time I looked they were dancing to Justin Timberlake on a loop.

“Sounds harmless enough,” Janine muttered.

***

Actually, Sophia and Emily were in a place strictly forbidden to both—Bronte’s dressing room. They’d painted their faces with Sophia’s kiddy makeup (the gift that kept on giving from auntie Rosie). And once Sophia had mentioned that her mama had a fire engine red lipstick that would look sooooo cooooool with Emily’s charcoal grey eye shadow, there had been nothing for it but to test the colour….

The girls looked like—thanks to the kiddy makeup—demented fairies complete with huge wings of pink gauze and chicken wire (made by the very talented auntie Janine.)

“We mustn’t make a mess,” Sophia whispered to a terribly excited Emily who’s blue eyes were like saucers as she took in the amazing pots and potions lined up in the narrow drawer Sophia had pulled out. The scented drawer liner smelled of lavender. The wall mirror had lots of light bulbs that illuminated their little faces.

Emily leaned in closer to inspect her skin. “I hate my freckles and my stupid hair.”

Sophia, genuinely shocked by this statement because she was secretly quite jealous of those gorgeous flaming ringlets, gazed wide-eyed in the mirror at her bestest friend.

“I LOVE your hair. Papa says you have fairy hair and a beautiful little fairy face. And as my auntie Rosie says, he was a stud before he married my mama, so he knows what he’s talking about when it comes to women.”

Emily blinked. “What’s a stud?”

Sophia, by this time carefully searching through the gold metal tubes of lipstick to find the right one, shrugged. “Dunno. Women always stare with stupid googly eyes at my papa. I think it’s rude. But auntie Rosie says he doesn’t notice them because he’s a lovely guy who’s crazy in love with my mama.”

Emily nodded her head so hard her ringlets danced around her shoulders. “I’m gonna marry Tonio.” Then she sent a viciously dark look to her reflection. “But he’ll never marry me with this horrible hair.”

Sophia halted her search for the lippy, and turned to face her best friend.

She took Emily by the shoulders. “Look into my eyes.”

Emily stared unblinking into Sophia’s eyes.

“I LOVE your hair. Can you see the truth in my eyes?”

Emily, totally serious, nodded. “Uh-huh.”

“Then believe me when I say your hair is amazing.” Sophia returned to the hunt for the lipstick, by this time she had lined up at least six opened tubes all standing like soldiers on parade. “I don’t know what’s the problem with your hair.”

Emily, unmoved by her best friend’s words, resumed a slitty eyed study of her face and hair in the mirror. “When she washes it, Mummy uses a tangle teaser and spray on conditioner. But it always hurts when she combs it and I  cry and it’s one big drama. Then she got her hair cut. My daddy just loves it. He tells her every single day. I think I should cut mine.”

“Don’t be daft,” Sophia said, and then found what she was looking for. She held up the lipstick. “Turn around and open your mouth.”

Emily turned to her pal and opened her mouth wide.

With great care, Sophia swiped the lipstick over Emily’s little lips.

“Rub your lips together,” she said.

Emily did as she was told.

Sophia stood back and studied her work with a critical eye. “I like it. What do you think?”

Emily considered her reflection, fluttered her eyelashes like a camel in a sandstorm.

“It makes my eyes pop, doesn’t it?”

With great care, Sophia wound back the lipstick and replaced the top.

Then she danced on the spot. “Need to pee. Don’t touch ANYTHING or mama will kill us and bury us in the vegetable garden.”

Emily’s wide-eyed response was another rapid nod of her head.

After Sophia raced out the door, she took a careful study of all the lovely things on the table top.

Then, she blinked.

And almost of its own volition, her little hand hovered over a pair of scissors.

Three minutes later, Sophia stood rooted to the spot at the door to her mama’s dressing room. Her stifled cry caught the attention of her brothers strolling down the hallway.

Tonio and Luca entered Bronte and Nico’s bedroom and peered over Sophia’s shoulder.

“You shouldn’t be in here,” Luca reminded her.

For once, she was too stunned to rise to the bait.

“What’s the matter?” asked Tonio.

Then both boys looked into the dressing room, and gasped too.

Silence.

“Well, what do you think?” asked a beyond thrilled and shorn Emily as she did a twirl.

“Omigod,” Sophia whispered, staring with bug-eyed disbelief at the appalling change in her best friend. “Omigod.”

Tonio stepped slowly inside the dressing room, and, his eyes riveted on the red glossy curls spilled on the cream carpet, picked up some with a hand that wasn’t quite steady.

He lifted his head to stare at her. “Dio mio, Emily. What have you done?”

 

By the way everyone stared at her, in absolute horror, it had begun to dawn on Emily that she may have made a big mistake.

Her fire engine red bottom lip trembled.

Her charcoal lined blue eyes filled.

Her belly hurt.

“Don’t you like it?” she whispered.

Silence.

Tonio again stared at the curls in his hand, and then at her head.

“We can’t stick it back on with glue, can we?”

Sophia, her face white beneath her makeup, shook her head.

Her blue eyes flooded.

“Uh-uh. It’s gonna take years and years and years for your beautiful hair to grow again.”

“I’m gonna get mama. You two are in BIG TROUBLE, again,” Luca said and raced out the door.

***

A few hours later, a whistling Nico strolled through the door of the kitchen-dining-living space.

Silence.

His dark brows rose.

No sign of his bambinos.

No sign of dinner.

He shrugged out of his suit jacket, hung it on the back of a chair, removed his silk tie and rolled it up and tucked it in his jacket pocket—in case the baby had sticky fingers. As he slid open the top couple of buttons on his crisp cotton white shirt, he spotted his wife.

She had her bare feet up on the couch.

Eyes closed, her blonde head rested on a fat cushion.

In one hand she held a glass half filled with Prosecco.

Again his dark brows rose.

“What’s the occasion?” he asked.

When she said nothing, but made a sound like a whimper in her throat, he dropped a kiss on her nose, lifted her legs, sat and settled her narrow feet on his lap.

“Do you want the good news or the bad news?” Bronte asked.

Nico lifted her hand with the wine glass and took a sip.

“Good news.”

“Well, today Sophia did NOT cut off ALL of Emily’s hair.”

Silence.

Dio mio.”

“You got that right.”

“Who did?”

“Emily.”

Silence.

“But, why?”

Bronte’s eyes opened. “Because, from what we could decipher in amongst the crying and wailing, she didn’t think Tonio will marry her unless she cut it.”

When Nico simply blinked, she nodded her head. “I know. I swear she’s obsessed with him. Of course, once he’d told he’d loved her hair, she wailed even louder. Poor Grace had to phone her hairdresser for an emergency appointment. And you know what a bloody drama queen Carlo is, I could hear his screeching from here.”

She closed her eyes and laid her head back on the cushion.

“I’ve just about had enough of half-term and kids,” she said bitterly. “To hell with healthy eating. To hell with forcing Luca to eat little trees. To hell with fresh fruit and vegetables. They want to eat pizza every night of their natural lives… let them. I give up.”

Nico rubbed her bare feet.

“That bad?”

“Worse.”

He brought her foot to his mouth and pressed a soft kiss on the arch.

“What’s for dinner?”

“Pizza.”

“I am so blessed.”

“Believe it, pal. Believe it.”

 

FINE

 

I remember so very well the time my youngest daughter, she was four, cut her hair two days before my sister’s wedding….  Good times. Good times.

Christine X

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

 

 

The gift that keeps on giving

Hello, my darling readers,

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

The Dower house…

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

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

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

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

In the event it was neither.

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

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

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

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

His brows lifted.

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

He gave her a huge smile.

She didn’t smile back.

“Piss off,” she hissed.

Nico winced.

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

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

“Do you want a coffee?”

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

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

“Wanna hug?”

His wife simply gave him a bland stare.

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

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

His nose twitched.

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

“Bad day?”

She snuggled into his chest and gave a heavy sigh.

“The worst, she muttered into his silk tie.

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

“I hate half-term,” she said.

Nico nodded.

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

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

She studied the box on the worktop.

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

 

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

Bronte just stared at it.

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

Nico, on the other hand, looked thrilled.

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

Bronte was not convinced.

She scratched her nose.

Folded her arms and cocked her hip.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, Bronte had to agree with that sentiment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hello, Alexa,” said Sophia.

***

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

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

Si,” he yelled back from his study.

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

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

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

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

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

“From Amazon,” she muttered.

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

“Whoa,” she said.

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

“Wow,” she whispered.

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

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

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

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

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

A heavy one this time.

“What do you thinks’ in here?”

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

She shook her head. “I’ve no idea.”

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

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

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

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

 

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

They wore below the knee jean shorts and hoodies.

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

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

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

Grazie. Grazie!”

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

Si.

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

She wore soft blue jeans and navy hoodie.

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

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

“Um?” Bronte said in a soft voice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Uh huh,” she said in a soft voice.

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

“Uh huh.”

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

Sophia went nose to nose with her papa.

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

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

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

 

Meanwhile, Bronte couldn’t help but laugh.

Wait until Rosie heard all about Alexa.

Seriously, she couldn’t make this stuff up!

 

FINE

Hehehe!

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

 

Christine X

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

WAKE-UPCALLLUDLOWHALLSNEAKPEEK

Hello, my darlings!

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

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

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

His low moan was heartfelt.

No.

No.

No.

Behave, he told his lurve muscle.

Bronte’s exhausted.

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

 

The night was still and clear and freezing cold.

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

Nothing stirred, not even a mouse.

Everyone was asleep—or were they?

 

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

He shoved bare feet into running shoes.

And Bronte wasn’t far behind him.

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

“I smell smoke.”

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

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

“Do you smell smoke?”

Si.”

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

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

He handed her to Nico.

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

“Their beds are empty.”

“Omigod,” Bronte said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Need a fire blanket. Toaster oven.”

Immediately, all tension left the men.

They began rolling up their hoses and chatted to Bronte.

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

Her brain reeling, Bronte nodded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Who’s hurt?”

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

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

Rosie puffed out a relieved breath.

“Okay. Gimme Emily.”

 

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

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

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

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

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

With his helmet tucked under his arm the fireman nodded.

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

Rosie nodded and rocked a sleepy Emily.

“It’s certainly a wake-up call.”

***

Six hours later….

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

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

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

“Coffee’s ready,” she said.

Nico winked as he took his daughter upstairs.

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

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

“You’ve had a bad scare.”

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

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

Bronte lifted her head. “You were bad.”

“To the bone.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Nico entered, and a made a face.

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

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

She rested her weary head on his strong shoulder.

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

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

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

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

Nico nodded. “Anything.”

Rosie bit down hard on her bottom lip.

“Your toaster’s…. toast.”

 

FINE

 

Nothing like a little kitchen drama.

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

Love and hugs,

Christine X