It’s the Ludlow Hall Sneak Peek…. Peace…

LudlowHallSneakPeekPeace

 

It’s Friday… and time for the Ludlow Hall sneak peek!

Time for a pow-wow at The Dower House…

Bronte, Rosie and Janine had just finished a Sweet Sensations business meeting in Bronte’s kitchen-dining-living space. Eve and Boo are building a tower with huge plastic bricks, and Jimmy Chew was snoozing on his doggie bed, exhausted after a hectic morning with the Ferranti kids.

A fresh pot of coffee sat on the worktop, along with a large plate of mini-muffins, white chocolate and fudge, ready for the hungry hordes who are sure to descend at any moment. The place smells of fresh coffee, spun sugar, chocolate and fresh flowers.

Bronte, dressed in black stretchy pants and an oversized ribbed polo neck cashmere sweater the color of apricot, stretched, rolled her shoulders and wiggled toes all toasty inside thick socks. “In spite of replacing a double oven, we’re well in the black.”

Janine, wearing skinny blue jeans and a white T-shirt beneath a pale grey hoodie, closed her laptop with a satisfied snap. “Yup and our tax reserve account can handle those inland revenue new changes that come into force at the end of April, so we’re cool.”

Rosie, comfy in her usual black yoga pants and huge matching sweater, snuggled a rosy-cheeked Mila who was in the middle of teething hell.

“Thank goodness you have a business brain, Jan. Those excel spreadsheets make my eyes bleed.”

Jan grinned. “And yet I can’t bake or cook the way you two can. Poor Josh fires up his grill more times than not.”

Bronte scooped up Mila and popped a soft kiss on her hot cheek. “Josh loves his grill.”

Rosie, busy with a spoon and Calpol, had to agree. “I’ve never seen a BBQ that big and shiny. I caught Josh patting it once.”

Jan had to laugh. “He calls it darling. How are you this morning, darling.”

Mila opened her mouth like a good girl and took all her medicine, and then snuggled right in for a cuddle with her auntie Bronte.

Eve, dressed in thick tights the color of cream beneath a smocked dress of navy velvet, spotted her mama with her cousin and toddled over to give Mila a hug.

Her little hand patted Mila’s leg. “Aww, poorly, mama?”

“Just a little bit. She has sore teeth.”

“Kiss it better?”

Bronte shifted so Eve could drop a soft kiss on Mila’s cheek.

Then Eve went back to construction with Boo.

“Eve’s speech is coming on,” Rosie said as she topped up their coffees from the pot.

“Yup, better than Batman every five minutes. We all got tired of it after a while.”

“Talking of the super-heroes, where are they?”

Bronte lifted her eyes to heaven.

“Upstairs. Emily and Sophia are quiet, so I’ll check on them in a minute. The boys are watching a movie. Luca’s got a cold.”

“Another one?”

Bronte nodded a response to Jan. “Yup. Third one this winter. Doctor can’t find anything wrong with him, except he’s had a growth spurt. Poor child.”

 

She’d just finished speaking when the poor child in question barrelled through the door, and by the fierce look on his flushed face, he was not happy.

Wearing navy sweatpants and a grey UCLA hoodie, Luca Ferranti, stood with his legs spread on bare feet and folded his arms. “Mama!” he said, his throat scratchy and rough. “Sophia and Emily won’t let me play with their campfire.”

Rosie, dark brown eyes went wide and blinked.

Her fist pressed against her heart.

“Omigod.”

Jan shook her head. “No. It’s a campfire made of fabric cushions designed as stones, flames and logs.”

Rosie turned amazed eyes on her friend. “You made them a campfire?”

“She did,” Bronte said. “The girls had seen it on Amazon and Jan reckoned she could make it for less, and you know what she’s like, she did. AND she made them a wigwam, too. You should see it.”

Luca turned to Jan, his dark eyes pleading. “Sophia said that they’re playing Pocahontas and I can’t play because I have a… I have a… a… willie.”

Bronte ignored Rosie’s snort of laughter.

“Did she use exactly that word?”

Luca’s gaze flicked to his mother.

He shook his head.

“What word did she say?”

He shook his head again, this time so hard his dark curls bounced.

“Uh-uh. If ever I tattle-tale again, Sophia said that she’ll divorce me and I can speak to the hand.”

Jan, wiping her eyes, cleared her throat. “The hand?”

Luca held up his hand in the universal sign for stop.

“She put it right in my face.”

 

And just at that moment, two Pocahontas sauntered into the room.

Rosie had to laugh.

Sophia and Emily looked amazing.

Both wore black long wigs, head bands with brightly colored feathers stuck in the back, and two cute mustard colored fringed dresses over their leggings. The dresses had lots of multi-colored glass beads sewn on them. But it was the war paint on their faces that made her grin like a loon. She turned laughing dark eyes on Jan. “Did you make those outfits, too?”

Jan shrugged. “I have the best time practising this stuff on these two.”

Sophia marched up to her brother, got right up into his space, tipped her head back, and said. “HOW!”

Luca simply glared into her eyes, there was notta lotta love between the siblings at the moment.

Sophia made an are-you-beyond-stupid face. “You’re supposed to say, HOW back. It’s how an American Indian say hello.”

“I don’t need to say hello to you. I know who you are. The sister from hell,” Luca’s sore throat by this time was no more than a vehement whisper.

Emily eased her way between the war party and studied Luca’s flushed face.

“You’re sick. You need to see the medicine man,” she said in her soft breathy voice.

 

Bronte handed Mila to Jan and moved to press the back of her hand to Luca’s forehead.

“Pocahontas is right. Lemme check your temperature.”

“I’m the chief,” Sophia told her brother.

He didn’t look impressed.

“You’re a girl, so how come you’re the chief?”

Bronte, who by this time had found the digital thermometer, slipped it beneath his armpit and told him to sit quietly for five minutes.

Sophia sent him another look, and said, “Equal rights. This is woman’s liberation house. Mama’s the boss, which means I’m an Indian chief.”

By this time, Bronte checked his temperature and nodded.

“It’s up. Calpol for you as well.”

“I don’t like Calpol,” Luca whined.

Undeterred, his mama handed him a glass of water and told him to open his mouth.

After two spoonfuls, and making a horrible face, Luca took his medicine.

Then he sat at the table and simply stared holes through his twin.

Jan moved to stroke his hair.

“Did you really think that I’d made Sophia and Emily a wigwam and forget my Indian brave?”

Luca blinked.

His dark eyes went huge.

“Did you make me a wigwam?”

Jan nodded. “I did. AND I made you a campfire AND a headband and feathers. You can be two tribes.”

“Did you make me a hatchet and I can scalp Pocahontas?”

Jan rolled her eyes. “Unfortunately I didn’t. However, the two tribes might think about peace talks. Come and help me get them out of the car.”

She headed out the door with Luca hot on her heels.

In the boot room he crammed his feet into Wellington boots.

His face beamed as he hefted a huge black plastic bin bag filled with log, stones and flame cushions.

“Can we put the wigwam up in here, Mama?”

Bronte nodded, happy to see his color was better and so was his mood.

“Sure. Knock yourself out. Maybe Tonio could help?”

Luca raced out the room and up the stairs.

 

Sophia, sitting at the table, drinking a glass of milk and nibbling on a mini-muffin, her emerald eyes watchful as she observed her brother’s excitement, turned to her best friend.

“It might be time for a pow-wow, what do you think?”

Emily, enjoying her milk and mini muffin, her legs swinging under the chair, nodded like a wise owl.

“Okay. We’ll need war paint if we’re going to war with the boy tribe.”

“We’re the Pamunkeys.”

Luca arriving with Tonio in time to hear this, turned to his twin and curled his lip.

“We’re Apaches. Warriors,” he rasped.

Tonio eyed the girls, and grinned.

Emily simply sighed and gazed longingly at her idol.

When she gave Tonio googly eyes, Sophia shook her head.

“If we’re gonna wipe them from the face of the earth, you can’t look at him like that,” she said in a tone of utter disgust.

Emily turned to stare hard at her.

“We’re not going to wipe him from the face of the earth. Aren’t we talking peace?”

Sophia, her gaze on her twin, curled her lip.

“We don’t have a peace pipe.”

 

Meanwhile, Bronte, listening to the debate with a riveted Rosie and Jan, staged an intervention.

“As the big boss of this house,” she began. “I actually have a genuine peace pipe that the Pamunkeys and Apaches may use if they really and truly want to live in peace.”

Tonio, who by this time was laughing softly, turned to her.

“Seriously? You have a peace pipe?”

Bronte send him a cheesy smile.

“I do. It belonged to my dad. He used to enjoy the odd pipe, and I have one never used before. However, you must all promise me to take very great care with it.”

Luca, who by this time wore his hair band and three feathers, whirled to face her.

“I promise we’ll take good care of it,” he whispered.

“Okay. But, you must come to a peaceful agreement between the tribes.” She turned to a thoughtful looking Sophia, and raised her brows in a silent question. “Well?”

Sophia pursed her lips and turned to Emily.

Emily nodded.

Sophia turned back to her mama. “Okay. We agree to talk peace.”

Tonio rubbed his hands as the wigwam, with the help of Jan, was assembled, along with the campfire.

The two Indian braves, grabbed a couple of big cushions from the couch dropped them next to the campfire and crossed their legs.

“Can we bring down our wigwam and campfire too?” Emily suggested.

Bronte lifted her hands.

“The more the merrier. Need some help?”

 

Twenty minutes later the family room resembled an Indian settlement with a river (thanks to two blue yoga mats) running through it. On one side were the Pocahontas Pamunkeys and on the other were the Apache braves.

Luca stood, legs spread, on one side of the river and Sophia, arms folded, stood on the other.

“Are you coming to our camp for peace talks, or are we coming across the river to you?”

“We’ll come to you in case you burn our camp to the ground,” Sophia said.

Meanwhile, three year old Boo and Eve appeared to walk on water, carrying a selection of huge bricks back and forth to build their version of a wall.

As Bronte, Rosie watched the peace talks, Jan sewed feathers onto headbands for Boo and Eve to join the tribes.

 

“It’s absolutely fascinating to watch, isn’t it?” Rosie said, her brown eyes twinkling madly.

“Sophia rules that particular roost,” Bronte muttered.

Jan grinned.

“And she does it so well. We could do with her in parliament, she’d sort that lot out in quick order.”

Raised voices from the peace talks had Bronte clear her throat.

 

“Don’t be ridicalus,” Sophia said to her twin. “There weren’t iPads in the olden days.”

His eyes shooting daggers right back at her, Luca retorted, “I know that monkey-butt-face. But, we can have Indian music, can’t we?”

“Here’s some flute, forest and river music,” Tonio interrupted, and played it.

Emily, sitting cross legged on a cushion with Jimmy Chew snoring on her lap, began to sway from side to side. “Oooooh, I love it. I feel like I’m in the Rocky mountains.”

On his side of the river, Tonio did a hop-hop-hop dance in time to the drumbeat.

 

Out of the corner of her mouth, Jan muttered to Rosie who was sneakily videoing  it on her cell phone. “Aren’t they fabulous?”

“Yup. Adorable.”

When the howl of a lone wolf came over flute music, Emily’s eyes grew huge.

“Oh my.”

“And owls,” Sophia whispered.

When more drums and tambourines began, all native Americans got into the spirit of things. At last, an uneasy peace prevailed across the bad lands.

***

When Nico, Josh and Alexander strolled through the kitchen door, as one they stopped and surveyed the scene.

The lights in the family room were dimmed.

LED candles flickered in the middle of a huge campfire set in the middle of two wigwams. And all the Indian braves were fast asleep, with Jimmy Chew curled up in the middle of the fire that did not burn. Soft meditation nature music played.

And from the looks of things, they’d all had pizza for dinner.

Josh found Boo snoring among the bodies and started to laugh softly.

Bronte popped her head into the kitchen-dining-living space and whispered,

“We’re in here.”

The men tip-toed past those resting, through the hall and into the sitting room where a real log fire sparked and hissed behind a glass screen.

Josh scooped up his woman, sat her on his knee and gave her a hard kiss.

“Love the wigwams and the log fire.”

Jan’s blue eyes danced. “So worth it to see them have such a great time.”

Alexander shrugged off his suit jacket, his tie, and scooped up his sleepy daughter for a kiss. Then he gave one to a Rosie who’d lifted her face in clear invitation.

Meanwhile Nico grabbed Bronte and spun her around.

“Had a busy day?”

“Jan deciphered excel for Rosie and I and then we witnessed peace talks between the tribes. And Luca’s got a sore throat and a temperature.”

Nico made a face.

He turned to his guests.

“Need a drink? Wine? Beers?”

Once he’d served everyone, taken off his suit jacket and tie and reeeeeelaxed in his favorite comfy chair, he raised his glass.

“Here’s to peace.”

Bronte lifted her glass of wine.

“Here’s to Janine, according to Pocahontas, the best auntie in the whole wide world and the universe and beyond.”

 

FINE

 

Aww, if anyone’s interested there are actually cushions that resemble logs, fire and stones available for sale on Amazon…. just thought you’d like to know!

And for those who need rest, relaxation and probably a glass of wine, here’s the music the kids were listening to:  https://youtu.be/5TNNEw2PiyQ

PEACE and LOVE.

Christine X

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

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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

It’s the Ludlow Hall Sneak Peek…

fridayludlowhallsneakpeekyougottafriendinme

Hi guys,

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

***

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

Sofia Ferranti had to pee.

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

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

Ever.

Ms. Brown was not happy with her.

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

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

 

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

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

“We are nearly home,” Bronte sang.

No response.

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

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

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

In response Bronte shrugged.

“Is Luca asleep?” Bronte asked Tonio.

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

He nodded. “He’s out for the count.”

Bronte again checked on Sofia in the mirror.

She frowned at how pale her daughter looked.

Maybe she was sickening for something?

Please God, not the flu.

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

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

Silence.

She decided to give up.

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

 

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

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

Tonight Papa was running thirty minutes late.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The book was called A Child is Born.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

Nico Ferranti was in a good mood.

He’d had a great day at Ludlow Hall.

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

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

Yay!

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

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

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

His mouth watered.

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

His wife knew exactly how to look after him.

He was a lucky man.

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

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

Her nails scratched his scalp.

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

He grinned at the dazed expression on her face.

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

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

Yes, Nico reckoned he was one lucky bastard.

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then he counted his many blessings, and shrugged.

He was a lucky man.

“Papa?”

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

Nico looked to heaven.

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

He turned, and found his daughter looking pale.

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

A gift from auntie Rosie.

And in her arms she clutched her Raggedy Ann doll.

A sure sign that something was up.

He watched her as Sophia crept closer.

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

Uh oh.

Trouble.

Nico leaned back and placed his hands behind his head.

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

Maybe they were too soft with her?

Maybe she needed a firmer hand?

He rubbed the spot above his heart.

He couldn’t do it.

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

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

And she clutched Raggedy Ann even closer.

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

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

“A letter from your teacher?”

Sophia nodded. “Yes.”

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

And in that moment, Nico knew he was toast.

No way could he harden his heart against tears.

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

He let her cry.

Sometimes it was good to cry.

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

He couldn’t begin to imagine.

 

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

Nico found his daughter holding him even tighter.

He made a face at his wife.

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

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

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

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

“Hit me with it.”

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

“It’s in her school bag,” Nico said.

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

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

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

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

Nico heaved a heavy sigh.

He had a horrible feeling.

“That bad?”

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

Her cheeks were hot.

Bronte shook her head

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

Nico shifted to catch Sophia’s eye.

“Seriously?”

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

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

“What baby book?” Her mama asked.

“A Child is Born.” Sophia told her.

Bronte’s eyes went wide.

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

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

 

Silence.

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

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

Bronte meanwhile was reading the rest of the letter.

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

Sophia blinked at her like a baby owl.

“You mean, I’m not in big trouble?”

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

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

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

A big hug.

Bronte lifted her and headed for the stairs.

“Say goodnight to Papa.”

“Night Papa.”

 

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

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

And he wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

FINE

 

Aw, no fake news for Sophia.

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

Big hugs,

Christine X

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

Time for another sneak peek…

emily's a hoot!

 

It’s Friday and it’s Ferranti time, and time, dear readers, to grab a coffee…

Bronte’s in the car on her way home from the school pick-up. In the car with her today are, Tonio, Luca, Emily and Sophia. She’s had a good and productive day with Rosie at The Dower House where they discussed and tried ideas for new mini-muffin recipes. When the kids return home they’re in for a treat. It’s the end of a busy week, the kids are bound to be tired. All is quiet in the car, until…

“My mummy says that because I brush my teeth until they’re squeaky clean, I’m a Good Christian,” Emily said. Bronte had to smile at the child’s high and soft voice. At this, Sophia stared hard at Emily—a look which made Emily shrug. “I am a good and kind person.”

“You are,” Sophia agreed. And Bronte wished some of Emily’s goodness and kindness would rub off on her best friend. Then Sophia held up a finger. “But, you don’t wannabe a doormat. You need to find a happy medium.”

Luca frowned at his twin. “What’s a happy medium?”

“How do I know?” Sophia said. “Everyone has their own happy medium.”

Luca folded his arms. “I don’t get it.”

Sophia sent him a bland look. “Well, we can’t say you’re a Good Christian can we? Because you don’t brush. You suck the toothpaste out of the tube.”

“Ew,” Emily said.

Luca’s face burned. “I don’t do that anymore,” he roared.

“Ew,” Emily said again, and added more fuel to the fire. “Your teeth will rot and go black in your head and fall our.”

Sophia nodded, her lips pursed in deep disapproval. “No girls will kiss you with bad breath.”

“I don’t have bad breath,” Luca roared again. And to prove it he heaved a big breath over the girls. When both slapped a hand over their nose and mouth, he glared and glowered. “I do NOT!”

“Jesus Christ,” Emily said in a stage whisper filled with awe and wonder, “Can see you.”

 

“Now, now,” Bronte said, staging an intervention before things got physical in the back seat. “Settle down while I’m driving.” And out of the corner of her eye, she caught Tonio’s head-shake and wide grin.

“Anyway,” Sophia said. “We have our own family chapel at Ludlow Hall. So Luca can go along and kneel in the phew and talk to Jesus and God and the Lords.”

“Pew,” Tonio corrected from the front seat.

“Whatever. And do not interrupt me please, Tonio.” Sophia instructed. “Luca can go along to our chapel and chat to the Holy Ghost and confess his many sins…”

Luca’s head swung around, his dark curls bounced, his eyes flashing. “I don’t have many sins. If you want to see a wicked girl, you just look in the mirror, Sophia Ferranti…”

Undeterred, his sister continued, “… And beg for forgiveness.”

“I think it’s really cool you have your own chapel,” Emily said in her soft breathy voice as she poured oil on troubled waters.

“It is,” Sophia agreed. “We have lots of bodies buried there.”

Emily’s eyes bugged in her head. “Really?”

Sophia nodded like a wise old owl. “Yup. Lots of old bones from the Ludlow family for hundreds of years.”

“Is it spooky?” Emily wanted to know, a constellation of freckles standing out against her pale skin.

Sophia thought about it. “I dunno. It doesn’t feel spooky.”

“The chapel has lots of ghosts,” Luca said. He pressed his fist to his chest. “I feel them in here. But papa said they’re friendly ghosts because they’re our family and they love us.”

Aw,  Bronte smiled at that. How sweet was her husband?

Meanwhile, Emily’s eyes were like saucers. “Like Caspar? He’s a friendly ghost.”

Sophia made a snort of derision.

“Luca Ferranti, you’ve never seen a ghost, ever. If you did, you’d scream like a girl.”

“Would not!” her twin roared.

“Would tooooooo!”

“Okay! That’s enough. I’m driving,” Bronte reminded the twins.

“Yeah, you don’t want mama to crash the car and then we die and end up ghosts, do we?” Luca hissed to the sister from hell.

A sister who made a horrible face and hissed right back, “Stoooooopid… boy!”

 

All was quiet.

Silence reigned supreme—until…

Bronte brought the car to a halt on the gravel driveway at the rear of The Dower House.

She turned to beam a lovely smile on her children.

“Here we are! Home safe and sound. Hands up who wants a hot chocolate with marshmallows?

Four hands shot into the air.

Bribed with sugar, it worked to keep the peace every single time.

The kids gathered their backpacks from the trunk and barrelled into house.

“Hey.” Rosie grabbed them in a group hug. “How are my favourite people in the whole wide world?”

Hanging up her lightweight duck down jacket and toeing off her sheepskin ankle boots, Bronte flashed her a wink. “They’re all going to take off their shoes and wash their hands, like Good Christians.”

 

As they trooped out the door and up the stairs, the twins still bickering, Rosie turned to Bronte. “What’s all that about?”

Bronte, organising ingredients for the promised hot chocolate took her time to respond,

“Do you find Ludlow Chapel spooky?”

Rosie blinked. “Ah, place of worship. Good Christian. Spooky—gotcha.” She thought about it. “It has a certain vibe, a sort of frisson in the atmosphere. But lots of really old places have that.”

At the huge stainless steel stove, Bronte held a wooden spoon and slowly stirred the milk, added coco powder.

“I go to the Chapel on birthdays and talk to mum and dad. I light the beeswax candles and stare at the candle light and let my mind go free. I swear I can feel them sitting right next to me.”

Rosie’s brown eyes filled and she moved around the granite worktop to give her best friend a big hug. “They’d have got a such a kick out of your brood. I miss them, too.”

“I believe they’re always with us.”

“Anything’s possible,” Rosie said.

The sound of footsteps on the stairs had Bronte shake her head and laugh. “All this talk of ghosts and family bones buried in the chapel has made me sentimental.”

 

“And here come the starving hoard,” Rosie said as the kids gathered around the table and eyed a large covered plate. She caught the pushey-shovey going on between the twins. “If you all sit quietly, you’ll receive your just reward. No fighting, please, Sophia and Luca.” Then, like a magician, she removed the plate cover and grinned at the collective ooh’s and ahh’s. “We have dark chocolate, milk chocolate, white chocolate, and… chocolate.”

Bronte laid a laden tray of white porcelain mugs filled to the brim with mini-marshmallows. “And here’s hot chocolate to go with all that chocolate.”

Emily beamed as she scooped up the sweet treat with her spoon. “This is the best muffin I’ve ever tasted. Thank you, Bronte.”

“You’re most welcome, Emily.”

“At breakfast this morning, papa was so tired,” Tonio told the room at large, “he yawned so wide his jaw cracked.”

Emily turned to him and her look of utter love and devotion made Bronte and Rosie look at each other and go, Aww.

“Coffee,” Emily said, her blue eyes twinkling. “He needed coffee. My daddy says a yawn is a silent scream for—coffee.”

When everyone laughed, a thrilled Emily turned to Bronte and Rosie.

“Wanna hear a joke?”

Rosie bit down hard on her bottom lip and nodded. “Hit me with it, Em.”

The little girl stared right into Rosie’s eyes and said, “Decaf.”

 

Once the laughter had died down, Bronte ran a hand over Emily’s red curls.

“You’re coming out of your shell, darling.”

Emily nodded. “My mummy said it’s because Sophia’s a good influence.”

Her mouth edged with chocolate, Sophia nodded and accepted the accolade as if it was her right. “I’m Italian.”

 

FINE
Like Bronte, I’m having a really productive week, writing wise.

I’m on a roll and working on the next Ludlow Hall story – Gregorio Ancelotti and the woman who only wants him for his body and refuses to commit. Guess who wins?

Plus, I’m more than half way through the first draft of Our Rules, and it’s clicking along at a pace, too. AND I’m working on a couple of Big Projects in the background.

Don’t forget No Rules is available on pre-order.

The story goes live everywhere next Friday – 26th January.

It’s when a story’s about to go live that the nerves kick in, a bit like stage-fright. Doesn’t matter how many books I write the anxiety never ends.

You guys make it all worthwhile!

Hugs,

Christine X

It’s the Ludlow Hall sneak peek…

 

IT'S THE LUDLOW HALL SNEAK PEEK

 

Greetings and happy 2018!

Here’s the first Ludlow Hall short story of the year!

Enjoy!

It’s Friday evening and Nico and Tonio are in the Range Rover escorting Sophia, Emily and Luca home after their first week of the New Year back at school…

As he drove the car towards The Dower House, home, his wife and his baby girl, Nico wore a dark and brooding face. He’d had one of those days. A day where everything that could go wrong, had gone wrong. A busy and trouble filled day at Ludlow Hall. Six key members of staff were down with flu and needed to be isolated for ten days. He detested using agency staff, but needs must. Three Grand bedroom suites had been negatively impacted by a burst pipe in a toilet in the floor above. The leak hadn’t been detected in time to prevent one unholy mess. Three suites, three sets of floor to ceiling raw silk curtains, expensive handcrafted beds made of smooth oak, mattresses, and carpets—destroyed. And the smell… He didn’t want to even think of it. Their insurance company, in the first instance, hadn’t exactly been nimble footed in their response. Not until he’d lit a fire under their collective ass had they sent a couple of loss adjusters pretty damned fast. The full cost of redecoration, yada, yada, would be covered. And so it bloody well should. Didn’t the premiums cost him a small fortune? Thank goodness the Hall’s interior decorator, Janine, bless her heart, had already organised the professional clean-up, decorating team and suppliers to replace the soft and hard furnishings. Alexander had taken control of the bookings and managed to move two couples to upgraded cottages in the grounds, much to the thrilled delight of the clients. Ludlow Hall was always full to capacity, which was a testament to the hard work of his outstanding staff, but if something when wrong, like it surely had gone wrong this morning, then there was nothing worse than disappointing a client. Nothing worse.

“My mummy,” Emily’s breathy voice began from the back seat. Nico adored the child. She had fairy hair and a lovely little fairy face, and a kind and loving nature. Her parents were rightly proud of their little girl. “My mummy said that my daddy is now a beta male and that’s because he has completely lost his virginity.”

Cue a stunned silence.

Tonio, sitting in the passenger seat, gazed wide-eyed into the road ahead.

Nico’s belly plunged and his hands went clammy on the steering wheel.

Mio dio.

Sophia, staring drowsily out of the window into the darkening and freezing landscape, turned her head to frown at her best friend in the whole wide world. “That can’t be right. They must have lost their virginity years ago, or you wouldn’t be here.”

Emily thought for a while about the sensational logic of the statement.

“You might be right,” she said in her soft voice.

Sophia, still staring hard at her friend, voiced her opinion, “The word is virility.”

Nico prayed to heaven to let the girls stop the conversation right there.

Luca proved he was wide awake by asking, “What’s a beta male and what’s virility and how come he lost it?”

By this time, Tonio had slid down in the seat and was shaking with laughter.

Nico sent him a black look to cease and desist, but it only made the boy laugh harder.

“It means he’s gotta broken penis,” said Miss Sophia Ferranti, who, her father decided, knew far too bloody much about too bloody much.

“Ew,” said Luca, his dark eyes wide with horror. “Can he get it fixed?”

“It’s to do with getting old,” said Sophia, on a roll. She turned to Emily. “Your daddy has grey hair, hasn’t he?”

Emily nodded so hard her curls danced. “Yes. Although he’s lost most of his hair because of low flying aircraft.”

Tonio choked.

Even Nico had to bite down hard on his bottom lip to prevent a laugh at that one.

Meanwhile Sophia, looking at her friend as if she was beyond stupid, said, “That is ridicalus. Your daddy lost his hair because of hormones and his old bones. I heard my auntie Rosie and mama talking about the advance of science and a little blue pill for a man with a broken penis. It fixes it right away.”

Luca’s dark brows rose. “Well then, that’s a relief,” he said.

Nico cleared his throat and tried, without luck, to catch his daughter’s eye in the rear view mirror.

“My daddy was upset at losing his hair, but my mummy said she loves him anyway,” said Emily, loyal to the bone.

Sophia nodded and jerked her chin in the direction of the driver. “My papa is gonna be a hot silver fox,” she said.

The way Tonio crowed in the front seat had Sophia crane her neck to look at him.

“What’s so funny? Papa has five grey hairs. I counted them just the other day. Auntie Rosie said we shouldn’t mention it in case it’s a touchy subject for a hot silver fox. You’re not touchy, are you papa?”

And there he was thinking the day couldn’t get any worse.

He was a silver fox.

And any day now it looked as if he’d need Viagra for his old bones.

As Nico, heart heavy, swung the car through the gates of The Dower House, he shook his head.

“Not at all. Remind me to have a little chat with Auntie Rosie. For each grey hair on my head, I lay the blame for each and every one firmly at her door.”

“I love Auntie Rosie,” said Luca in a whiney and tired voice. “Don’t be mean to her.”

Sophia leaned over to pat him on the shoulder. “Don’t worry. Mama said you will never, ever, need the little pill because you are filled to the brim with toblerone.”

Cue another stunned silence.

“Testosterone,” corrected Tonio, wiping tears of hilarity from his cheeks.

Nico, spirits lifted, brought the car to a halt.

 

It was a happy man who hugged his wife and kissed his baby girl on her flushed cheek.

Bronte wore black skinny jeans and a matching cashmere sweater. Her ash blonde hair was tied in a loose top knot on her head. She smelled amazing, and so did the house.

He took off his coat and suit jacket. Sniffing the air, he recognized the herby scent of beef and his favourite pasta dish.

How had he got so lucky to have such a wife, a family and a wonderful home?

“I heard about the leak. What a bummer,” Bronte said, and went, unresisting, into his arms.

“I am just relieved that I am filled with so much toblerone I won’t need Viagra.” He said and gazed down into her puzzled but laughing face. “How does it feel to be married to a hot silver fox?”

“Oh, Lord, I knew Sophia wouldn’t be able to keep her tongue in her head,” Bronte said. She ran her fingers through smooth hair black as ink. “A sprinkle only. Anyway, you’re too young to be a silver fox.”

He dropped a soft kiss on her soft mouth, and sighed. “Grazie. When that day comes, at least I will be an Italian silver fox.”

“You forgot the HOT bit.”

THE END

 

Aw, poor Nico. We all get days like that. And in book news, NO RULES is finished! Yay! Just a final read-through and then proofing and another read through and formatting and then it will go on pre-order. Once the date is fixed, I’ll give all y’all the links.

I’m already well into OUR RULES and the next Ludlow Hall story about Gregorio Ancelotti and his rocky road to true love. Lots to come!

Hugs,

Christine X

 

 

It’s the Ludlow Hall Christmas Sneak Peek…

CHRISTMAS2017BANNER

 

 

The Dower House…

Nico Ferranti had escaped to his study with his brother-in-law and best friend, Alexander. It might be considered a cowardly thing to do, to leave Bronte and Rosie to the over-excited mayhem of the fruit of their loins.  However, between making sure Ludlow Hall coped with an unexpected dump of the white stuff (apparently a snow bomb had slid further south than anticipated) and helping the twins build two snowmen in the garden, real men needed a break from an overdose of festivities. Festivities which had included, in no particular order, a variety of Christmas tunes all played at the same time, six children wearing a variety of dumb Christmas outfits (including dumb hats with flashing lights) and all off their head on a sugar high after helping Bronte and Rosie ice an endless variety of Christmas cookies—fir trees, snowmen all made of gingerbread. The house smelled of cinnamon, apple sauce and spun sugar. No wonder the kids were mental.

Alexander sank into a fat leather club chair situated near the blazing fire. Since no one was allowed to wear outdoor shoes inside The Dower House—his sister was more a bit anal about dirt tracking through her beautiful home—he wore thick socks, soft jeans and a cosy long sleeved thermal. He accepted the black espresso and a small brandy Nico handed him.

He eyed his friend as he eased his long body into the chair opposite the fire. Wearing black jeans and a dark grey cashmere polo neck, he placed his socked feet on the footstool and lifted his own glass. “Salute!

“Cheers,” Alexander said. Then he winced at the high whine of an over-tired child. Not his, thank God. Mila was too young to grasp the concept of Santa, reindeer, and presents arriving down the chimney, much to Rosie’s bitter disappointment. At the moment his wife, dressed black yoga pants, a crazy Christmas sweater with a glittering winter scene with flashing lights, and an antler hair band on her head which played ‘We Wish You A Merry Christmas’ on a continual loop. After three hours, and two battery changes, Alexander reckoned he’d earned a break. He winced now as the sound of the love of his life singing ‘I kissed a sexaaaaay Santa Claus’ at the top of her voice drifted into the study from the kitchen/family room. “Jeez. She can’t hold a tune in an empty bucket.”

Nico just grinned. “She is young at heart.”

Alexander placed his glass on the side table and wiggled his toasty toes. “I’ve no idea where she gets the energy from. You should see our house, it looks like a demented Santa’s grotto. Mila just sat there wide-eyed on the sheepskin rug watching her mother wiggle her butt to Elvis crooning about a Blue Christmas. Thank goodness it only comes around once a year.”

Nico cocked his head to listen as Sophia informed her brother Luca that, “If you eat another mince pie you’ll be sick as a bloody pig.”

“SOPHIA! LANGUAGE!” This from his wife at the top of her voice.

Alexander shook his head. “Do you remember the good old days? The days before changing diapers, sticky fingers and drool?”

Nico’s broad shoulders shook in silent laughter. “Si. But I would not change a single thing. And neither would you, my friend.”

“True.”

When the study door opened very slowly, both men turned to watch a damp curled and pink-cheeked Eve toddle into the room. She wore pink pj’s and since she was still to find her balance, she walked like drunk trying to go in a straight line. She headed for her papa and lifted her arms. “Batman!”

Happy to oblige, Nico sat her on his lap and nuzzled the soft black curls. “Hmm. Someone has had a bath.”

She turned to wrap her arms around his neck and smacked a wet kiss on his cheek.

“Batman!”

Alexander had to laugh. “She calls Rosie and me Batman, too.”

Nico gently tickled his daughter. “She does it to make us laugh. Don’t you, cara.”

When Rosie poked her head around the door and took in the cozy scene—the coffee, the brandy snifters, the fire, she narrowed her eyes. “It’s bath time and bedtime and we need all shoulders to the wheel if we want a bit of peace and quite before midnight.

Nico rose to his feet with Eve on his hip.

Alexander stood. “Coming, dear.”

In response, Rosie simply smiled, pressed a button on the Antlers on her head. As ‘We Wish You A Merry Christmas’ began, Alexander groaned long and loud.

Nico turned to look at him. “When will you ever learn that we cannot win?”

 

***

Three hours later…

The adults had retreated to the main sitting room. On the hearth in front of the log burner was a white china plate containing two mince pies dusted with icing sugar and a glass of whisky (for Santa), plus four carrots (for the reindeer). The thud from above, had four sets of eyes peer at the ceiling. “That sounded like Sophia jumping off her bed,” Bronte said in a low growl.

Rosie clapped her hands and stood. “Right. That’s it. We’ve tried bedtime stories, Christmas carols and milk. It’s time to bring out the Big Guns.”

She marched out the door and up the stairs, closely followed by Bronte and the men.

Hands on her hips, she stood in the hallway and eyed the three bedroom doors, all closed.

“Want to know what happens to naughty children who are not asleep when Santa comes?” she called out.

A muffled giggle from Sophia’s room had her open the door to peer at the lump beneath the duvet which was her niece. “I heard that, Ms Sophia Ferranti.”

Sophia’s blonde head popped up. “I’m trying to sleep, but it’s too hard.”

Luca, wearing Spiderman pj’s slid into the room. “I can’t sleep either. I’m too excited.”

When Tonio popped his head out of his bedroom door and simply grinned, Rosie folded her arms and put on her fierce face. “If you hear sleigh bells then that means Santa will know you’re not asleep and not leave any presents because he’ll go on to the next house where the GOOD children are asleep and give them ALL the presents.” She shrugged as if she could care less. “So, sleep or not sleep, the choice is yours.”

Sophia thought for a moment as she eyed her parents. “Is that true?”

Si.” Nico said without a blink.

“Trust me, you don’t want to hear sleigh bells,” Bronte said.

When Sophia lay down and rolled onto her side, and Luca raced into his room and banged shut the door, Nico turned to Tonio. The boy simply lifted his eyes to heaven and closed his door.

The adults waited five minutes and when all was quiet, they trooped back down the stairs.

“Glass of champagne?” Nico asked Bronte and Rosie.

“Yup.” Rosie said. “We’ll give them half and hour and then we’ll bring out the bells.”

Alexander blinked. “Bells?”

His wife turned her big Bambi eyes on him, as if butter wouldn’t melt, and fluttered her outrageously thick lashes.

“But of course. We have a plan. We have sleigh bells. We’ll just let them get warm and cozy and then we’ll sneak out into the garden beneath their windows and jingle the bells.”

Alexander bit his lip. “Why, that’s just a cruel and dastardly trick to play on little children. I love it.”

 

Thirty minutes later, Bronte and Rosie, dressed for a trek to the North Pole, crept into the garden and once they were in place and hidden by a conifer hedge, they jingled their bells loud and long. There was a muffled cry from upstairs, but then all was quiet. And for good measure Alexander hung out the window and called, “Yo-Ho-Ho!” in a deep voice.

 

The women returned, cheeks pink from the cold and their eyes sparkling with sheer mischief. Nico poured them their second glass of bubbly. Then he turned to pick up a remote control and pressed the button. The low sound of Bing Crosby crooning about dreaming of a White Christmas filled the room. Not a sound was heard from the bedrooms above.

Rosie made herself comfortable on Alexander’s lap and kissed him.

While his best friend made out on the sofa, Nico pulled Bronte into his arms and took his time to kiss her senseless.

By the time he came up for air, her arms were wound around his neck and her hands were in his hair. He rubbed his nose against hers. “Ti amo, Bronte.”

“I love you, too,” she whispered.

The carriage clock on the mantelpiece began to chime the midnight hour.

“Merry Christmas,” he whispered back.

FINE

Dear readers, it’s been a crazy year with much writing stuff not achieved by this author. So things, as the song says, can only get better! From my house to your house— MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!

The Sneak Peeks will return in 2018!

Christine X

SAVE ALL YOUR KISSES FOR ME…

 

SAVEALLYOURKISSESFORME

Greetings!

Here’s this week’s (belated) Sneak Peek.

Enjoy!

The Dower House, and Sophia is out of hospital and reeeeeeelaxing in her pj’s and all cozy under a fleece blanket on the sofa in the family room and being spoiled rotten by her papa and her baby sister, Eve. Aww…

Sophia studied all the lipstick kisses on the plaster cast on her broken arm. It didn’t hurt now, although big bump on her head sometimes ached. She counted the kisses… mama, papa, Auntie Rosie and Uncle Alexander, which made four. The sound of a car on the gravel driveway had Jimmy Chew sit and cock his head to listen. Car doors banged and the sound of footsteps running had Sophia eye the door to the boot room. First through the door was Tonio who skidded to a halt in socked feet in front of her. He had mud on his knees and his school tie was wonky.

Tonio’s dark eyes went huge as he studied her face. “Dio, you have two black eyes.” And then he spotted the pink plaster on her arm. “Does it hurt?”

Sophia shook her head. “Nope.”

Since Jimmy Chew was begging for attention, he lifted him for a hug, and sat next to Sophia. Next through the door was Luca and Sophia’s best friend, Emily. An Emily who stopped dead and her face went pale as she stared at her in absolute horror, and then promptly burst into tears.

“What’s the matter, Emily?” Bronte asked as she walked through the door, closely followed by Emily’s mummy, Grace.

“Sophia’s hurt really bad and I don’t like it,” poor Emily sobbed.

And just like that, Luca—always a sensitive soul—burst into tears as well.

Nico bit his lip and sent his wife big eyes.

Meanwhile, Grace hugged her daughter and checked out Sophia at the same time.

“You’re a poor injured soldier, you have been in the wars haven’t you?”

Sophia wasn’t sure what that meant, but she shook her head. “I wasn’t fighting. I fell down the stairs.”

“You were in time-out,” Tonio reminded her, ever helpful.

Luca, feeling better after his papa had gently scrubbed his knuckles on his head, nodded. “Yes, because you were naughty.”

Sophia made a face. “I can be a little bit—naughty, but—good naughty.”

Nico’s dark brows rose. “Good naughty? That’s a new one.”

Emily, feeling better after a hug, wandered over to closely inspect the injured soldier.

“Your eyes are swollen and red and black. Does it hurt?”

“My head hurts a little bit, that’s why I have to have quiet and plenty of rest,” Sophia said, channelling the doctor at the hospital.

Emily squeezed herself between Sophia and Tonio and gently touched a finger to the pink plaster cast. “This just breaks my little heart,” she whispered.

“A cuddle makes your heart bigger,” Sophia told Emily perfectly seriously.

“Aw, that’s a lovely thing to say,” Grace said, and dropped a kiss on Sophia and Emily’s cheek for good measure.

“Yup. The pair of them would bring a tear to a glass eye,” Bronte said from her position behind the counter-top in the kitchen. “Who wants a hot chocolate?” The cries of me, me, me, had her jerk her chin in the direction of the hall. “After you’ve washed your hands and changed out of your school uniform, boys.”

Emily trooped after them to wash her hands, and returned to continue her examination of her best friend’s injuries. Very serious, earnest eyes lifted to Sophia. “You have kisses on your plaster.”

Sophia grinned. “That one was mama, then Auntie Rosie, and then Uncle Alexander and then papa.”

Emily turned to give Nico a wide-eyed look. “You wore lipstick?”

Si. We were kissing her arm better.”

Emily turned to her mummy. “Do you have lipstick in your bag? Can I kiss Sophia’s arm better?”

Grace rummaged around in her bag and found her make-up bag and a red lipstick. Both mother and daughter carefully applied the cosmetic and gently placed a kiss on a thrilled Sophia’s cast.

“That makes six kisses,” Sophia said, her cheeks pink.

Tonio and Luca dashed into the room, Jimmy Chew hot on their heels.

Dressed in soft blue jeans and his clean but ratty Spiderman T-shirt, Luca stood in front of the girls. He shoved a black curl from his forehead even as his brow furrowed. “What are you doing?”

Emily made a kiss mouth with kissy noises. “Kissing her better.”

Grace watched Luca think about it, then offered him her lipstick. “Would you like to do it, too?”

“He’s a boy,” ten year old Tonio said. He wore sweatpants and a Star Wars T-shirt. He puffed out his chest.  “Boys don’t wear lipstick.”

Luca turned to him. “But I want to.” He thought for a minute, then accepted the cosmetic, holding the rose gold case as if it was a grenade with the pin pulled.

“Would you like me to apply it?” Grace offered, her blue eyes dancing.

Luca nodded, and stood solemn and still while the cosmetic was carefully applied to his mouth. Then he placed a gentle kiss on the cast and stood back to admire his handiwork. Rubbing his lips together, he licked to taste it.

“Hmm. It tastes sort of… nice.”

When Eve toddled over and presented her face for lipstick, too, Grace simply could not resist. She carefully applied it and then lifted the child up to kiss her sister, too.

Tonio scowled. “I am not doing it.”

Little Eve turned to Luca and wrapped her arms around his legs. “Batman,” she said.

Luca laughed and pointed to his T-shirt. “No. This is Spiderman.”

“Batman!” she said.

“If you do it that will make nine kisses,” Sophia told Tonio. She batted her lashes. “I bet my arm will heal much faster with kisses.”

Tonio rolled his eyes, heaved a deep sigh. “Okaaaaaay.”

Biting down hard on her bottom lip, Grace kept her face straight as she applied the cosmetic, and when Tonio did his duty, everyone cheered.

The boy’s face went bright red.

“BATMAN!” cried Eve and hugged Tonio’s legs.

Tonio picked her up smacked a lipstick kiss on her chubby cheek. “No. My T-shirt has Star Wars on it.”

“BATMAN!” roared Eve.

 

 

Nico, pouring coffee for the adults, caught Bronte’s eye and grinned.

“It’s her favourite word,” she said. “Everything and everyone is Batman.”

 

By the time everyone had drunk their hot chocolate and coffee, Nico was in his study and Bronte Grace were chatting about their day.

The kids were settled on the sofa with Sophia watching the Disney movie, Frozen… again.

Emily turned big blue eyes on Tonio and gazed up at him with adoration. “Tonio?”

“Hmm?”

“Can I ask you something?” she said in her soft, breathy voice.

Sleepy eyes the colour of dark chocolate met hers. “Sure.”

“Will you promise to keep all your kisses for me?” she whispered, her cheeks hot.

The slow smile reached his eyes and they twinkled into hers. “I do not think I can do that.”

Her little face fell. “Okay. I suppose you want to kiss lots of girls.”

“How will I know which girl is the right one if I do not kiss her?” he asked her with an unshakable logic. “You will kiss lots of boys, too.”

Emily shook her head so hard her fiery curls danced on her shoulders. “No. I’ll save ALL my kisses for you.”

Tonio shrugged. “When you are older you will change your mind.”

Emily turned back to the movie. “Never.”

Meanwhile, Bronte and Grace had overheard the entire exchange.

“Wow. My daughter’s got it bad,” Grace said.

Bronte made a face and topped up their coffee from the pot.

“What do you expect? He’s Italian!”

 

FINE

 

Aww, poor Emily and poor Sophia.

BATMAN!

Until next time,

Christine X

 

 

 

 

It’s the Ludlow Hall Sneak Peek…

 

CCMACKENZIE.COM

Hello, dear readers!

It’s not only the first day of December, but it’s the Ludlow Hall sneak peek.

The Dower House… and six year old Sophia Ferranti is in her bedroom. Her mama had sent her up here for a time-out (with no TV or iPad, which sucked lemons) due to “Excessive rudeness and being nasty” to her twin brother, Luca…

The Bichon Frise nestled nice and cosy on her lap, Sophia gently brushed Jimmy Chew’s silky fur. Her heart hurt because nobody in her family loved her anymore. Was it her fault her brother was as dumb-as-a-turnip, as Auntie Rosie would say? Nope. Auntie Rosie also said that the trouble with Luca was that he was so laid back he was horizontal. Sophia wasn’t quite sure what that meant herself, all she knew was that Luca was lazy and cared for nothing more than playing with his stupid Lego. Lego got everywhere. The memory of her papa dancing a jig in his bare feet in the family room—and the way he cursed in Italian (he only ever said bad words in Italian)—made her snicker. Oh boy, Luca got into Big Trouble for that. Stupid boy.

As far as Sophia Ferranti was concerned, all boys were stupid, and smelly. However, she had to admit that right now her heart was broken into a thousand pieces, and nobody cared. A hot lump lodged in her throat, but she blinked fast to clear her vision because she refused to give the people who lived in this house the satisfaction of knowing she’d been cut-to-the-bone, as Auntie Rosie said.

She lifted her dog, and moved to sit on her chair in front of her dressing table. It was a pink dressing table, painted by Auntie Janine, and it matched the fabulous pink framed mirror, which had a crown painted in Gold at the top. Jimmy Chew yawned hugely, turned three times on her lap, and settled down for more pampering. Her fingers rummaging around a clear plastic box, she searched for the right hair-tie for the dog’s fur to keep it out of his eyes. Once she was happy with the effect, she grabbed a new fancy dog leash—blue with clear crystals—and clipped it on to his new matching collar. She couldn’t wait to take him out for a walk in town. Jimmy Chew was regularly walked in town to socialise him with other dogs and other humans who were strangers.

Out of the corner of her eyes, she spotted her bedroom door opening very, very slowly. In the mirror, Sophia watched it with interest. Then she scowled and glared when Luca’s dark head poked around the door. His grin made her hand itch to slap it from his stupid face. But, if she did that her mama might go to “Extreme measures”. To be honest, Sophia wasn’t sure what that meant, but didn’t want to chance-her-luck, as Auntie Rosie said.

Bravely ignoring the snarl on his sister’s face, Luca, wearing one navy ankle sock and dressed in knee length jean shorts and his favourite Spiderman T-shirt slid into the room. Since it didn’t look as if she’d molest him, he attempted a handstand. He’d been practising handstands for weeks, but had yet to find his balance. His papa said practice made perfect. “I’m gonna be Spiderman. I can climb up walls.”

His high yell as he tumbled to the floor had Jimmy Chew leap to the carpet and bark at him.

Sophia bounced around in her chair. “What are you doing? Why are you creeping into my room like that? And you’ve made Jimmy Chew piddle on my good rug. Go away, stoopid. GO AWAY!”

Luca listened to the blistering rhetoric in mournful silence. When she ceased to take a breath, he took his chance. “Mama sent me to fetch you.”

“Why? What have I done now?”

“Dunno.”

“You know nuthin'”

Luca lifted a shoulder, well used to his twin’s insults. She was full-of-hot-air, as his Auntie Rosie said, and he let it roll of him, like-water-off-a-duck’s-back—another of Auntie Rosie’s sayings. “Auntie Rosie’s arrived, and she has a surprise for her favourite niece.”

Sophia jumped as if she’d been shot. “What? A surprise for me?”

“That’s what she said.”

Up flew Sophia, she grabbed Jimmy Chew and dashed out the door.

Luca had to grin as he strolled after her, his sister loved surprises, and if it cheered her up then he was happy. He knew in his heart that Sophia didn’t mean half of the things she said to him. She had too much energy and thought heavy thoughts, which was why she was a cranky-wee-monkey at times, as Auntie Rosie said. However, the sound of a high-pitched scream and a body falling down the stairs had him run. The sight of Sophia lying on the floor at the bottom of the wide staircase made him yell for his papa. However, it was the sight of blood pooling beneath her blonde head that had him faint dead away.

 

 

 

***

As long as she lived, Bronte Ferranti knew she would never, ever forget the sight of her baby girl lying on the floor as if she was dead. Jimmy Chew’s leash was tangled around her ankle. The dog was unhurt, but howling his little heart out. Face sheet white, Nico had been on his knees and running his hands very gently over Sophia. When Bronte saw that the child’s arm was clearly broken, she’d bitten into the knuckles at her mouth.  Nico’s hands had been shaking as he brushed white blonde hair aside to see how bad it was. Meanwhile, Rosie had a sobbing Luca on her knee as she called an ambulance. The ride in the ambulance, sirens and blue lights blazing, had been another kind of hell. Now, twenty four hours later, they were sitting by their daughter’s hospital bed, waiting for her to waken up.  Her left arm, from wrist to elbow had been set and fitted with a pale pink plaster. The sight of it made tears again sting in Bronte’s throat. She sniffed, and a strong arm came around her shoulders. Bronte turned her face into Nico’s shoulder.

“She is going to be fine, cara mia. All the X-rays and tests are all clear,” her husband said in his deep, rumbly voice. “The doctors are happy with her.”

“I know, but she looks so white.” When Sophia fluttered her eyelids, Bronte leaned over to take her uninjured hand. “Hey, baby girl. Mama and papa are here.”

“Head hurts,” Sophia whispered.

Nico rang for the nurse. “You fell down the stairs and hit your head. Good job it is a hard head because you are going to be fine.”

 

 

***

Two days later…

“When can I go home?” Sophia said, sitting up in her hospital bed, surrounded by toys, but tucked in her good arm was her favourite Raggedy Ann doll.

“Well, that’s nice, isn’t it?” Nurse Jean said, with a twinkle in her eye. She gently placed a thermometer in Sophia’s ear. “I thought we might keep you since you keep us so entertained.”

Sophia just grinned. “I do like you, but I don’t like hospital. It smells funny.”

“Well, if you want to be a doctor one day, you’ll have to get used to it,” Nurse Jean said as she marked up her chart. “We’ll see what the doctor says.”

A brisk knock at the door heralded the arrival of Auntie Rosie, Uncle Alexander, her mama and papa. After greeting the nurse, Nico gently took his daughters little face between his hands and studied her eyes and the huge bump on her head. A bump which had given her black eyes. “How is my best girl?”

“I want to go home.”

“She’s moaning,” Rosie said and moved to sit on a chair, “So she must be feeling better.”

Rosie rummaged in a huge bag of cream leather, and found her make-up bag. When she opened a compact mirror and rolled bright red lipstick on her lips, Sophia watched her with interest. Rosie made kissy noises. “Right, gimme the poorly arm.”

When Rosie very gently placed a kiss on the plaster, Sophia beamed. “Ooooh, a kiss makes my heart bigger.”

Bronte’s emerald eyes went all teary. “Aww, does it? Okay, Rosie, gimme the lippy.”

After her mama kissed the plaster, Sophia eyed her papa.

Nico swallowed.

Seriously?

His baby girl wanted him to wear lipstick and kiss her plaster?

When Alexander snorted a laugh, Nico turned to him. “I will if you will.”

Eyes dancing, Alexander shrugged. “No problem. I’m man enough.”

Nico, wearing lipstick for the first—and last—time in his life, kissed the plaster, all the while manfully ignoring the way his wife and Rosie were bent double with laughter. Then he turned to Alexander and offered him the lipstick. His best friend did his duty, and Nico reckoned it was all worth it to see how such a small thing thrilled his irrepressible Sophia and made her heart bigger.

When nurse Jean popped her head around the door to check out the noise of hilarity, her brows rose at the way two big, handsome men were clapping each other on the back. They rose even higher when she spotted they were wearing lipstick.

Sophia, her smile splitting her little face, held up her arm. “Look! Look what they did. They gave me kisses to make it better.”

“So they did.” She eyed Nico and Alexander. “Would you gentlemen like a tissue?”

Nico, his arm slung around Alexander’s shoulders, shook his head. “No problemo. I am Italian.”

 

 

FINE