Why mummy needs wine…. It’s the Ludlow Hall sneak peek…

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Boy, am I glad it’s Friday!!!

Here’s this weeks Sneak Peek with the Ferranti family…

WHY MUMMY NEEDS WINE

The Dower House. It’s the night before, the night before, All Hallows Eve and it has been a looooong weekend in the Ferranti household…

Dressed in their cosy clothes, ancient jeans and T-shirt for him and yoga pants and one of her husband’s sweatshirts for her, a shattered Nico and Bronte are lounging on the sofa in the family room. The lights are out. The room lit by flickering beeswax candles and a glow from the log burner. Nico’s stroking the arch of Bronte’s bare foot. He took a sip from a glass of Chianti, closed his eyes and rested his weary head on the back of the sofa.

Enjoying a sip, the first of many, of a sparkling Prosecco, his wife sighed. “Hmm, that feels so good,” Bronte wiggled her toes. “That was one helluva day.”

Si,” he said, his deep voice rumbling in his chest. “I am ashamed to say I found it hard to find the love for my children today.”

“Nightmare,” she agreed. Quiet and peace reigned, for about five seconds. Her foot nudged his six pack. “Who was it that decided that Elsa and Spiderman are suitable characters for a Halloween party? Who? Back in what Sophia told me were ‘the olden days’ we were witches and ghosts and ghouls – it was all about scaring the bejeesus out of ourselves—AND we made our own costumes. Did you SEE how entire families got into the spirit of the thing at the party? Every single one of the Henderson family were dressed as Power Rangers – even the baby! WTH is wrong with these people. We were the only mummy and daddy who hadn’t made an effort. I could have cried at the bitter disappointment on Luca’s little face when he saw everyone. And then there were the boring Ferrantis…”

Nico opened one eye to study her face. “Do not ask me to do it, cara mia. I will never dress up as a Power Ranger. Mr. Henderson’s outfit left nothing to the imagination.”

Bronte’s snort of hilarity made his mouth twitch. “That’s the trouble with tight lycra,” she said. “He should have worn underpants.”

“Or rearranged his junk,” Nico muttered. “And the way Rosie and Janine couldn’t stop ogling him, like a pair of cackling harpies…”

Bronte laughed. “I didn’t know where to look. What was he thinking?”

“That he enjoyed it,” Nico growled. “It clearly aroused him.”

“And in front of all those children too.”

“The children were so high on sugar and excitement they were non the wiser, thank goodness. I thought the evil clowns were a nice touch,” he said, referring to part of the entertainment.

“Ugh. They were horrible. I’ve never been fond of clowns.”

“They did not scare Sophia.”

Bronte nodded. “Not a lot scares Sophia. Certainly these days I don’t appear to put the fear of God into her.”

“She is growing up fast.”

“Too fast,” she nodded. “She wanted me to carve a picture of Elsa on her pumpkin. Who the hell does she think I am, Damien Hirst? Then she had the cheek to ask, ‘why can’t we grow a pumpkin patch in our garden – it’s not as if we don’t have enough room.’ I told her that I have more than enough to do, thank you very much. Then Rosie and I spent four hours screeching at them to be careful and that knives are sharp while they carved their supermarket pumpkins. Never mind the mess, my heart was in my throat the whole time.”

“You are the best mama,” he told her and dropped a kiss on her big toe.

“I am not. I do my best, that’s all any of us can do.” She sipped her wine, settled back and frowned. “I blame the internet. Have you seen some of those Instagram Halloween pics? The kids see all that stuff and expect me to be able to do it, too. I can make cakes, but don’t ask me to make a spider’s web. Luca told me to my face he’s bitterly disappointed at my lack of imagination.”

“We should dress up and surprise them for Halloween,” Nico muttered, thinking out loud.

Bronte nudged his six pack again, this time harder. “Should we indeed? We have forty eight hours to come up with a plan. What do you suggest?”

Nico placed his glass on the coffee table and grabbed his Smartphone. “I am thinking we should have a theme.”

“The boys are Spidermen and the girls are Elsas. How are you going to combine those tropes intoa theme?”

Nico scrolled through the internet. “Our children have no imagination. We will amaze them.”

Bronte shifted to lift her bottle from the cooler and refill her glass.

She sat back and closed her eyes. “Good luck with that. You’ll need a miracle to pull something out of the bag in forty eight hours.”

“I have a team,” he said.

“That’s cheating.”

He plucked the glass out of her hand, placed it on the table, and then lay on top of her.

Bronte, watching him from beneath her lashes, ran her fingers through his hair, her nails gently scraping his scalp.

He closed his eyes and almost purred with the pleasure of it.

When her legs wrapped around his waist, he settled into the cradle of her pelvis and went rock hard.

His hands busy beneath her sweatshirt, her breath hitched as he found warm and willing flesh. He looked down at the face of the woman he adored. The mother of his children. The keeper of his heart, a heart that seemed to expand in his chest.

His mouth whispered over hers. “Ti amo, Bronte.”

The way her teeth caught his bottom lip and gently tugged made him groan deep in his throat. “Love you, too.”

Their kiss, like their lovemaking, was slow and easy and lovely.

And Nico Ferranti knew he was a lucky man.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Forty eight hours later…

 

“I don’t understand why we can’t get ready for trick or treat at our house,” a belligerent Spiderman (aka Luca Ferranti) said to Batgirl (aka Auntie Rosie.)

Batgirl is dressed to match Batman (aka Uncle Alexander who’s dressed in black rubber and posing in the mirror and showing off his guns, much to the hilarity of his niece.)

“Beeeeeecause,” Batgirl said, as she tugged the final piece of his costume over his head, “The Dower House is the last stop on our trip to gather goodies, and your mummy has organised surprise treats for everyone.”

“I hope there are toffee apples,” Sophia said through stiff lips as Auntie Janine told her to keep still as she perfected drawing cat whiskers on her face.

Batgirl turned to grin at her niece. “You look totally awesome, baby cat girl. Much better than boring old Elsa.”

Elsa’s not boring,” Cat girl cried, then spun to the mirror to check out her outfit. Her emerald eyes popped. “Wow! I look just like black cat.” She turned to check out her fake fur leggings and top. She shook her booty to twitch her ‘tail’.

Auntie Janine handed Cat girl sheepskin mittens, which matched her sheepskin ankle boots. Then she popped a black hair band with cat ears on her blonde head.

Captain America (aka Tonio Ferranti) posed in the mirror with his uncle. “I love the skeletons climbing up wall of the house. They’re awesome.”

“It took a full crew and a cherry picker from Ludlow Hall’s maintenance department two hours to fix them to the barn wall,” Batman said. “With Batgirl directing proceedings and distracting them.”

Batgirl batted her lashes at him. “Aw, they were such good sports.”

“They were drooling over your legs,” he said severely.

Since her role for the evening was baby-sitting duty for Boo and Mila, Janine grabbed her cell phone and opened the camera. “Okay everyone, gather together. That’s it— and say cheeeeeeese!” Once she’d taken a few pics, she opened the main door and had to laugh at their antics as they trooped out to a people carrier with blacked out windows, usually used by Ludlow Hall to pick up guests from the airport. She waved them away, shut the door and studied the detritus they’d left behind.

“Okay. A quick tidy, and then a glass of wine.”

 

 

Two hours later…..

“If you eat another chocolate you’ll be sick, Luca,” Batgirl told Spiderman.

“I’m hungry.”

“Well, if you just wait, you’ll be home in a couple of minutes.”

On their way through the town of Old Ludlow, the people carrier had collected Super girl (aka Sophia’s best friend, Emily.) Now, as the car purred up the driveway of The Dower House, Super girl’s jaw dropped. “Oh, my. Look at the house!”

The house was lit up by up lights set in the grounds. Ivy climbed over the walls and around the chimney pots, and it looked as if a jungle had sprung up around the ground floor and front door.

The car stopped and everyone piled out, the children lugging goodie bags laden with candy.

Cat girl’s eyes went wide as she studied her home. “What’s happened?”

The door flew open and there stood a very fat bellied Baloo (aka, papa) and a sexy Shere Khan (aka mama) holding an incredibly life like baby monkey (aka baby Eva).

Baloo was giving his back a thorough rub on the door frame. “Welcome, welcome one and all to my jungle home.”

Mouths open, eyes wide, the guests wandered into a world of make believe to the sound of the music from The Jungle Book.

Batgirl, Wonder woman and Cat girl couldn’t stop laughing at the way Baloo scratched his huge belly and waddled into the family room. The Jungle Book movie played on the huge flat screen on the wall, while Shere Khan explained to a confused looking Captain America what apple bobbing meant.

 

Much later…

Baloo kissed four exhausted children goodnight (Wonder woman was having a sleep over), and made his way downstairs to his remaining guests.

“Well, all the hard work payed off,” Batgirl said to Baloo. “When he saw you, Luca laughed so hard I thought he was going to throw up. I dunno what I was expecting, but I was certain you’d dress up as a super-hero.”

Baloo grabbed Shere Khan and smacked a hot kiss on her mouth. “We wanted them to go to bed laughing and happy.”

“Yup. Job done,” Shere Khan said as she rubbed Baloo’s belly. “Luca’s gotta a big imagination. At the moment he has a thing about the dark and the creature lurking under his bed. His feet must be tucked in nice and tight beneath the duvet. And Sophia and Emily put on a brave face, but they’re easily spooked too.”

Baloo lounged on the love seat, accepted a beer from Batgirl, and checked out a very relaxed and chilled-out Batman.

“What on earth is that at your crotch?” he asked the caped crusader.

Batman grinned. “A cod piece.”

Baloo blinked. “It looks out of proportion to me.”

“He’s gotta a big, hot, love muscle,” Batgirl said, and received a scorching kiss from Batman as a reward.

“Puleeeeeeze,” Shere Khan begged. “Too much information, that’s my brother you’re talking about.”

“Aw, feeling a little bit intimidated, Baloo?” Batman jeered.

Baloo wiggled his brows. “You have fathered one child, whereas I have fathered three. I am most potent. I am Italian!”

Shere Khan rolled her eyes. “Gawd, dial down all the testosterone, someone pass me the wine!”

 

FINE

I hope everyone had a fun Halloween. In the UK, we’re gearing up for Bonfire night on Sunday (although some people have been lighting fireworks for days).

I’m slowly getting back into writing life, thank goodness, and trying to decipher all my written notes on a variety of projects.

Big hugs,

Christine X

 

#sneakpeek #LudlowHallRomance #TheFerrantiFamily #funstuff #bites

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All Ludlow Hall single title books available on Google Play books…

GOOGLE PLAY

 

Get it HERE: GOOGLE PLAY BOOKS

Greetings dear readers,

I’m working hard on final edits for NO RULES, working on OUR RULES and the next Ludlow Hall Romance!

The Ludlow Hall sneak peeks will return at the end of August, after the summer break, and I’m looking forward to getting back to ‘normal’.

I hope everyone is having a wonderful summer and chilling out.

Big hugs,

Christine X

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michael frowned. “Sounds complicated.”

Si. But as papa says, such is life.”

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

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

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

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

“When?”

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

***

Bronte eyed her daughter and Emily.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

***

Thirty minutes later…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Both men spoke, “Si.”

***

Hours later…

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Who said I will remain single?”

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

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

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

“Clio.”

Cue another silence.

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

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

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

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

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

Gregorio nodded. “I let Tonio down—”

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

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

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

“You think I cannot provide both?”

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

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

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

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

“Ah, but you have feelings for her?”

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

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

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

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

 

FINE

 

Oooooooh, who is Clio?

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

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

 

Christine X

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

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READER LIBRARY LINK

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

Enjoy!

Christine x

Sneak peek book news… and a new release…

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READER LIBRARY

 

Greetings,

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

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

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

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

 

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AMAZON   iBOOKS   NOOK   KOBO 

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

The next Golddigger will be HEATHER out sometime in May.

I’ll keep you posted.

Christine X

Exclusive starter pack for my reader library.

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For library access, click HERE 

Greetings from a soggy and windy Cheshire.

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

There’s no catch and it costs nothing.

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

Sound good?

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

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

Big hugs,

Christine X

 

 

Inspiration and where it comes from…

Reader Question:  Christine, where do you get your ideas for your characters and stories from?

Answer:  Mostly from real life. True. I remember when Reckless Nights In Rome was first published, a reader said that she couldn’t believe any girl would jump out of a window to avoid the blind date from hell and that she preferred REAL LIFE. Well, it DID actually happen to a close relative of mine, not once but twice. When I was told the whole sorry saga, and after I’d stopped laughing, I remember thinking that it would be a great hook for a story… and the rest, as they say, is history. And no, I’m not telling anyone her name.

Anyhow, to get back to the question where my ideas/inspiration comes from…

I write things I’ve been through, seen, understand, lost, loved, hurt, hated, endured, and I place all of those life experiences inside a world that does not exist but mirrors the real world. Does that make sense?

I use those experiences to build and create real characters readers want to root for and care about, even when they make the wrong choice to try to fix a problem (especially the guys) and end up in an even bigger mess. And along with mirroring real life my characters are fun, sometimes insane, and when they make me laugh out loud, I can be pretty certain they’ll make a reader laugh, too.

In the old days when I was submitting stories, I remember an editor telling me to tone down the laughs, the family with the kids and the dog. Hmm. I hope she’s read SEAN because you guys laughed out loud at all that.

Most of all, I write from the heart.

I write about family, whether created by non-blood friends (like Nico and Bronte who embrace many into their fold), or the vampyres who are battling the greatest evil to save our world. At the core of all my books is the bond of family.

Speaking of family, we’re on the road to wellness after pneumonia and getting better every day.

Big hugs,

Christine X

NEWS

cctwitterhotromance

 

Once upon a time, the year was 2007, I started writing a futuristic urban fantasy. This was before I decided to write contemporary romance. I’ve been reading since I was four years old. And I read everything you can think of from paranormal thrillers to memoirs to noir, even now. I’ve loved reading romance since picking up my first Georgette Heyer story when I was fourteen. And I especially loved reading romances with everything— laughter, tears, brave and independent women with hot alpha males and how they fall from lust into love. The romance genre appeals to me because it can, and does, include everything from slapstick comedy, angst, mystery, thriller, suspense, sci-fi, history, dark erotica, gothic, and urban fantasy. As long as the story has authentic and valid emotional conflicts between two characters at its heart and finishes with a Happy Ever After or Happy For Now, a writer can pretty much do what they want.

At that time, with my kids almost grown, two careers behind me, one in international banking and the other in interior design, and a short stay in hospital (which was a huge wake-up call) I returned to my first and secret love—writing fiction. In my head I wanted to write stories that entertain a reader. One reader. Stories that made that reader happy. Even today, twenty four published books later, that reader sits front and centre of everything I write and everything I do.

The first Ludlow Hall story, Reckless Nights In Rome, was published in April 2012. But before that, let me tell you that from 2008 that story went through six or seven lives. Nico was actually Raphael. Bronte was Chloe. The premise and theme were totally different, too. It must have been revised and edited about twelve times. Can you tell I didn’t want to let it go? And it was never supposed to be a series of stand alone romances set in the Ludlow Hall world either. Now there are ten books in the franchise with more to come. And more of the offshoot series, Ludlow Nights, coming too. I’m also working on a Monroe Brothers trilogy linked to my romantic suspense story, Desert Orchid. There are more Golddigger short stories coming, but released monthly. And the sneak peek behind the scenes at Ludlow Hall.

Anyway, back to the futuristic urban fantasy; in 2009 I entered the beginning of the fantasy in a writing competition based in the United States and run by a lovely group of girls who called themselves the Romance Junkies. After months of competition which included the first thousand words and a three thousand word pivotal moment, my story came fifth and reader feedback was awesome. That book was Constantine and The Witch. The story was about a vampire and a witch and was set in our world in the near future, 2069. However, as I began writing Constantine – the vampire, and Azalea – the witch, it became clear that the flashbacks to what had happened to humanity in the past were too numerous and, for me, made the story choppy. Personally speaking, I loathe flashbacks in books and in movies. So I put the story aside to let it simmer in my brain. But on a regular basis I added reams and reams of notes about the future world after a catalogue of global catastrophes happen in our time, an Ebola virus mutating and becoming airborne, and gateways opening to a parallel universe allowing magic to leach into our reality and this world. I also included demons, a variety of witches, powerful vampire clans and, of course, humanity teetering on the edge of extinction. Fun, eh?

My first love is paranormal romance. In the genre, anything goes. Heroes can be as unPC as they like—of course they pay for it big time. *Evil laugh* And so in 2011 I began writing The Vampyre Legal Chronicles, stories based around the powerful family of global corporate lawyers, Gillespie Pattullo and Hindmarch, who just happen to be vampyres. The first four books were published from 2014-2016 and are based in the present day and detail the circumstances of unnatural events which lead to a global crisis, an Ebola pandemic, the virtual destruction of our world and how alternative realities open gateways that allow magic – good and bad – to enter our world. I wrote about an Ebola outbreak before the African Ebola catastrophe. I wrote about alternate realities before the Hadron Collider deep underground in Cern proved the theory. There is tried and tested scientific theory of the earth’s polarity moving from North to South causing birds to fall from the sky, mammals and millions of fish stranded upon our shores.  Make of that what you will.

The first four vampyre books introduce readers to the politics and intrigue and arcane rules that surround the vampyre world in order to keep it secret from humankind. Constantine is mentioned on a regular basis from book one through to book four, but readers don’t actually ‘meet’ him until the end of book four. Book five of The Vampyre Legal Chronicles, CONSTANTINE, jumps right into 2069 where the vampyres, humans and white magic do everything they can to live together and thrive against the ultimate evil. Book five will be released this year. Yes, it’s taken me six years to get to this point with the world and the tale. At the heart of the world are the vampyres with their romantic and non-romantic relationships including family, friends, enemies, because writing about people with the issues common to everyone (whether they’re a vampyre or a cop or a scientist or a hot Italian who owns Ludlow Hall) is what I love to do.

I’m not one of those authors who writes with a complicated coordinated plan. I use an outline as a sort of map but rarely follow it, preferring to see what’s going to happen next. And let me tell you my characters never fail to surprise me. For me I need to be excited and totally immersed in the story to make it work and something needs to tingle my creativity. Nine times out of ten it’s a problem. A character has a problem, comes up with an idea on how to fix it (always the wrong solution) and away I go. For example in Reckless Nights In Rome, Italian playboy and committed bachelor Nico’s problem is that he wants Bronte Ludlow’s house and land to complete his sale of Ludlow Hall and the owner is Not Interested. Doesn’t sound much of a problem does it? But Nico makes BIG mistakes in his approach to Bronte. She surely puts him through his paces before he attains his goal and they fall madly in love into the bargain. Nico, Bronte and Rosie pulled me right into their world and have kept me, and hundreds of thousands of readers, there ever since.

It’s important for me to keep my writing fresh and new. Some readers love the Vampyre series, some don’t and prefer me to write contemporary romance grounded in the real world. When an author provides a mixture of genres, the downside is those who love one genre complain when another is published. That’s life. But I always take notice when I receive that tingle at the base of my spine. An author needs to follow their heart, go where the tingle takes them, and pray that readers come along for the ride.

Early last year I received a major tingle that gave me a character with a truly unique problem and an equally unique set of skills. And it’s taken me down a brand new path of suspense and intrigue. It’s a thrilling trilogy that is broad and wide and incredibly exciting and quite different to anything written in the market today. And that’s all I’m saying.

The Ludlow Hall stories will continue. As will the off shoot Ludlow Nights world. There are more vampyre stories—I’m really just getting started in that world because it Will Not Let Me Go. The vampyres have been a slow burn, but they’ve found their readers. It was a huge blessing to have three PNR books sitting high in the Amazon and iBook store paid charts in October/November 2016. I’ll continue to write fast paced romance with laughs and tears and hot guys like the Monroe brothers and the Kennedy brothers (I’ve already got the character problems and issues all lined up and ready to go). And best of all I have the tingle that is refusing to let me put it aside.

All I need now is to get better from the flu from hell which has laid all three of us who live in this house on our backs for almost eight weeks.

Christine X cctwitterhotromance

RING THE BELLS OF CHRISTMAS! IT’S THE LUDLOW HALL SNEAK PEEK

 

a-ludlowhall-xmas-special-sneak-peek

Greetings, peeps!

It’s that time of year when teary-eyed parents cram into school halls to watch the annual nativity play, and the Ferranti family is no different.

Enjoy!

***

The family-kitchen-living space at The Dower House smells of ginger chocolate chip cookies, freshly brewed coffee… and glue.

Bronte, Rosie, Janine and Emily’s mum, Grace are working hard with scissors, yards of thin rope and crisp white cotton sheets—donated for the cause by Nico’s housekeeping staff at Ludlow Hall.

Red curls pinned in a top knot on top of her head, dressed in black leggings and an old cotton shirt of her husband’s to protect her clothes, Grace focuses on the job at hand. “It’s really kind of the hotel to give us old sheets to make sheep and shepherd outfits,” she mutters as she pins two oblong pieces of cotton together to make a simple tunic, leaving space for a child’s head and arms. She turns to a Janine who’s doing the same thing with her fabric. “And thanks for this template. What a genius idea. How do you think up this stuff?”

Rosie, wearing thermal leggings and one of Alexander’s old short sleeved T-shirts over her sweater, lifts two big plastic bags filled with cotton wool balls onto a huge folding table erected next to closed bifolding doors showcasing the stunning winter garden. Another smaller table set at angle holds a large pot of glue with brushes. She sets out a stitched and hemmed tunic on the table, smoothes the fabric and places a pre-made template filled with accurately spaced circles on top, and marks a dot in the middle of each circle. Then she takes a cotton wool ball, dabs glue on it and presses it to the fabric and repeats the process on the front and the back of the tunic. Voila, the beginning of a sheep. “Because she’s a hugely talented creative. Have you seen Boo’s new bedroom? It is beyond amaze balls. The child sleeps and plays in her own magical world with fairies and twinkling stars watching over her. I love the way the white fluffy cat peeks out from behind the gingerbread house.”

Wearing painter’s white cotton coveralls over her jeans and T-shirt, Janine grins. “Boo makes Josh kiss the cat before bedtime. He’s besotted with her. How are you getting on with the glue and cotton balls?”

“Aw, I love Josh. I’m doing good.” Rosie eyes a Bronte who’s busy fingers fiddle with black and white shaped ears from thick felt as she machine stitches them together. Then she pins the ears to a thick black velvet headband, glues a flat piece felt to the top of the hair band and pops the headband over to Rosie’s table for her to glue more cotton balls to the white felt on the top. Voila—sheeple. “Wow, the ears looking amazing. Wait ’till the kids see these outfits. They’re gonna go nuts.”

Bronte smiles as she returned to her kitchen table to stitch together another set of ears. “All this is a far cry from our nativity play. Do you remember what our nativity was like when we were five?” she asks Rosie.

“Sure do. I was a cardboard tree with green arms and gloves as branches and on my head I wore a twig hat made by my mother. It itched like hell. My role certainly lacked glamour,” Rosie says, deadpan. When the girls laugh, she shakes her head. “My mother was gutted because she wanted me to be an angel—as if that was ever gonna happen. With Mrs. Mottershead as my teacher she’s lucky she didn’t make me one of the stars in the sky. Rosie sends Bronte a side-eye. “Of course, Ms Butter-wouldn’t-melt-over-there was an angel.”

Bronte sends her wide eyes and a big toothy smile. “I’ll have you know that, unlike you, I was a perfect angel.”

Rosie nods, takes care to place another cotton ball on the correct spot on the tunic. “It was the cardboard wings, the steel coat hanger wrapped in silver tinsel as the halo and all that long blonde hair. Then the awesome white cotton nightgown with the high frilly cuffs and collar your mother bought in the children’s department in Harrods. I remember being sick with jealousy over that nightie.”

Bronte just laughs. “Not for long, my mum had bought you one as part of your Christmas gift. You cried happy tears and Alexander gave you a cuddle.”

Rosie nods as she makes short work of another tunic. “Yep. I knew even then that I adored him. Then once I stopped crying, he ate half of my selection box of chocolates as payment. Even then he had a business brain. Bastard.”

Grace does a quick recce around the room to check for her daughter and her best friend. “Little eyes and ears, Rosemary, with big mouths.”

“More like little monsters,” Rosie says severely. “They’re upstairs watching Kung Fu Panda in Tonio’s room. That boy will keep them on the straight and narrow. I love Tonio.”

“Yup,” Janine says as she pins more templates to white and black thick felt and cuts out another dozen sheep ears. “He’s settled in well. You and Nico are doing a great job with him, Bronte. He’s so happy.”

Bronte nods as her foot presses down on the sewing machine pedal on the floor beneath the table. “He’s had his moments. I try to have one-on-one time with him a couple of times a week. He helps me with the grocery shopping. As a reward, we stop at the coffee shop to have a hot chocolate and a cookie. It’s the perfect time for me to listen to his day.”

“Is he in the nativity?” Janine asks.

“He’s the narrator.”

Grace rolls her eyes. “A narrator of the nativity with a wonderful Italian accent. All the girls will be swooning. My Emily is besotted with Tonio, and he’s so patient with her, poor boy.”

Rosie shakes her head while Janine laughs. “I don’t know about that. Emily’s not stupid, even if she is a sheep in the play.”

“She’s shy and perfectly content to be one of many,” Emily’s mum says. “She hates the spotlight.”

“Can’t say the same about Sophia,” Bronte mutters beneath her breath.

“What’s up with my favorite niece?” Rosie asks, picking up her friend’s dark tone.

“She wants to be Mary. But, Miss Brown has made her the innkeeper’s wife. In response, my daughter told her teacher she’s a feminist and isn’t ever gonna marry, so it will look bad for the innkeeper to live in sin with a woman. What would God think?” Bronte says. While her friends laugh out loud, she moves into the kitchen to prepare another pot of coffee and set a plate of her homemade ginger and dark chocolate cookies on a plate. “Miss Brown told her that since she’s the boss, she decides who will be Mary, end of.”

Swiping tears from her cheeks, Rosie takes a deep breath. “And what did my favorite niece have to say to that?”

Filling up their coffee mugs on the countertop, her friends gather around and grab a cookie, Bronte shakes her head. “She thought about it for a while, then nodded, and said, ‘Okay. But, since it is MY inn and my papa works in the hospitality industry, I’ll have a room cancellation so the baby Jesus in MY nativity won’t be born in a smelly old barn with sheep and cows and poop.”

Janine laughs so hard she chokes on her cookie. “Omigod. She’s re-writing the Christmas story? What did the wonderful Miss Brown say to that?”

“That maybe the world could learn a lesson from the innkeeper’s wife’s kindness to Mary and Joseph.”

Rosie nibbles on a cookie. “Wish we’d had a teacher like Miss Brown. I bet she’s thrilled about the way we’re all mucking in to make costumes. In our day it was headgear made of tea cloths.”

Bronte nods. “I think it helps to take a little of the pressure off Miss Brown at this time of year. The way she keeps on smiling through the kid’s fevered excitement about the visit from Santa, the woman deserves a medal. She’s organizing each child in her class to bring in a wrapped gift for kids who are in hospital over the holiday, and for children less fortunate.”

Rosie’s black brows wing into her hair. “Ah, that’s what Alexander and Nico were on about. I know the Ludlow Hall team organize food hampers for the elderly living alone in town. But, I heard them making plans to give kids who have nothing a box of goodies, too.”

Looking thoughtful, Janine bit into a cookie. “That’s what the spirit of Christmas is all about. Remember the time I dropped the baby Jesus and the entire audience gasped in shock? Good job he was a doll.”

Rosie grins. “I remember that. I also remember you ran off the stage hand-in-hand with the donkey.”

“The following year they had a real donkey and it peed all over the manger and fused the lights because there wasn’t enough straw to cover the wooden stage,” Bronte says, her emerald eyes all dreamy with happy memories. “Those were the days.”

Grace checks the watch on her wrist. “Better get back to it. I’ve counted eight black long sleeved roll neck T-shirts and eight pairs of black tights. The sheep will wear their black plimsolls. I think we need black woollen mittens, too.”

Bronte makes a note of the mittens, fires up her laptop and goes online. “Eight pairs? Maybe we’d better make it ten, just in case they lose a glove.”

By the time they were all done and dusted and cleaned and tidied the room, eight perfect sheep costumes were complete and boxed ready to be taken to school the next day.

By the time Nico strolls through the door, the kitchen smells of a Ferranti family favorite, home-baked Italian meatballs and pasta. All bathed and ready for bed in her onesie, Baby Eve sits in her high chair. When she sees her papa, she beams a toothy smile and bangs her plastic sip cup on her plastic tray. As he carefully rolls his silk tie, tucks it in a pocket before tossing the jacket over the back of the couch, Nico grabs his baby girl for a hug and a kiss on her hot cheek. By the time the baby nuzzles her face into his neck, Bronte grins and lifts her mouth for his kiss.

“Had a good day?” he asks the love of his life.

“Yep. We had a team effort on the sheep costumes. They look fabulous, Nico, I hope you’re able to make the play.”

He pops Eve into her high chair, offers her a squeaky toy which is accepted with a beaming smile. Then Nico heads to the fridge for a bottle of white pinot. He grabs a couple of glasses from a glass cabinet. “Si. Wouldn’t miss it. Alexander’s making time for it, too.”

When Bronte’s eyes go all shiny, he sets down his glass and moves in to hold her. “Hey, what is this?”

She sniffs and wraps her arms around his waist and inhales the scent of her man. “It’s nothing really. It’s just they’re all growing up so fast. I wish my parents had lived to see our family.”

“It’s Christmas. It always makes us sad to think of those we have lost. I know you find this time of year hard at times.”

Bronte shifts to look up into his amazing face. “He never speaks of her. Do you think Tonio misses his mother?”

He frowns. “From what the good father has told me, she sent the boy money and gifts, but she didn’t visit him.”

“I don’t know how a woman could do such a thing to her child, Nico,” Bronte whispers.

He rests his cheek on her hair. “She is dead, cara mia. Tonio is happy here, with us.”

“I’ve been thinking we should invite Gregorio Ancelotti to spend Christmas with us. Tonio is his only living relative. They need to bond.”

When the rumble of his laugh echoes against her cheek, she looks up. “What’s so funny?”

“I spoke to Gregorio today and invited him myself. However, he wants to stay at Ludlow Hall.”

Anxious emerald eyes stare into his. “But, we have plenty of room.”

Si. However, we must respect his wishes. Perhaps the man needs his space. Let us take little steps, cara mia.”

“Okay.” She reaches up a hand to run her fingers through his hair, happy to mess up his sartorial perfection. “How come you can read my mind?”

Before Nico answers his mouth captures hers in a hungry kiss that makes her toes curl inside her thick socks. When he rests his forehead on hers, Nico’s marvelous mouth curves. “What do you expect, I am Italian!

 

FINE

Ooooh, a visit by Gregorio, sounds like a story to me.

*Evil laugh*

ChristineX

 

It’s the Ludlow Hall sneak peek…

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Happy Tuesday,

I’ve crawled out of my sick bed to bring you this week’s sneak peek a day late. I’m painting a red cross on our front door. Three of us are down with ‘flu, full blown and horrible. Forgive any errata. My brain is fried.

 

***

With Alexander as his wingman, Nico’s driving his glossy black Range Rover doing daddy duty. He’s going through a mental check list to make sure he’s not missed anything. The guys have had a busy and productive day. Signed a new deal with the Spanish Ortiz hotel group—check. Then they hit Ludlow Hall’s gym and treadmills to see who’d complete five miles first, Alexander won by a hair—check. Pick up Tonio from after-school science club—check. Swing past a birthday party (another one) to pick up Sophia and Emily—check. Now, they’re on their way to The Dower House where Emily’s having a sleepover with her best friend.

While Alexander texts back and forth with Rosie who’s keeping Bronte company at The Dower House, Nico glances in the rear view mirror to eye the three remarkably silent children sitting in the backseat. Tonio’s eyes are drooping. The boy’s doing well at school and working hard, maybe too hard? Hmm. He’ll talk to Bronte. Little Emily’s big blue eyes are fixed with rapt attention on Tonio’s face. Dio mio, the child has a bad case of hero worship. He shrugs, such is life. Sophia stares unblinking out of the window as she watches the world go by. Hmm. His daughter’s been unusually quiet over the last couple of days. Maybe she’s sickening for something? On the whole, she has the constitution of an ox and avoids colds and sniffles, unlike her twin who’s in bed with an elevated temperature and sore throat.

“My mummy,” Emily begins in her high, girly voice, “says she simply adores baby Eve. She told my daddy the baby’s an absolute cutie pie, a little angel. Then she started to cry.”

This information rouses Tonio, who turns to her. “Why was she crying?”

“She can’t have anymore babies. After me, she had to have an emergency historectomy. Sometimes she gets sad. My daddy says we can try and adapt a baby who has no family.”

“Adopt,” Tonio says in a kind voice that pinks Emily’s cheeks.

In the front, Alexander slides an omigod look to Nico.

Sophia heaves a huge sigh. “There won’t be any more babies in our house,” she says in the tone of the prophet of doom. A tone which makes her uncle Alexander go utterly still.

Since this news is news to her papa, he asks in a soft voice, “Why do you say that, cara mia?

Sophia makes a sad face as she stares out the window. “Because Auntie Rosie says I’m a complete and utter nightmare who’s driving my mama cray-cray. I know that means crazy.” The last part is spoken in a small whisper.

There is dead silence in the car.

Nico and Alexander’s eyes go huge as they stare unblinking at the winding road ahead. Nico opens his mouth, but Alexander places a hand on his arm, shakes his head. Meanwhile, little Emily takes Sophia’s hand in hers.

“My mummy says you have a clever and busy brain and that you’re a very good infloonce on me.”

Sophia turns emerald eyes on Emily. “What’s an infloonce?”

“I think she means influence,” Tonio says. He reaches out to tug gently on Sophia’s white-blonde ponytail. “To be a good influence is a great thing. It means you are beneficial for Emily in an important way.”

Paternal pride is his son makes Nico’s eyes sting.

Christ,” Alexander mutters under his breath. “I need to do daddy duty with you more often. Are they always like this?”

Nico takes a deep breath. “Si. In this car, Auntie Rosie is often quoted chapter and verse.”

Alexander nods at the deadpan tone. His mouth goes hard. “Right. And not always in a good way?”

Nico makes a face. “Sometimes we adults forget that someone has very big ears.”

“I’ll talk to Rosie. She tends to run at the mouth at times.”

Grazie.”

 

Meanwhile, after a busy day at The Dower House…

Dressed down in ankle length yoga pants and over sized sweatshirts, Bronte and Rosie kick back on the couch in the family/kitchen/living space. They’re sipping a cup of camomile tea as they await the arrival of the rest of the family. The sublime scent of a herby chicken roasting permeates the air. “At the very least, you should’ve let me peel the potatoes,” Rosie says, wiggling her toes inside thick socks. “Seriously, Mrs. Ferranti, don’t you ever get sick of yourself. You’re a real life Martha Stewart!”

Bronte grins. “Trust me, that woman’s got nuthin’ on me. I run my world like a well oiled machine. Today I replaced four empty toilet rolls. I am the backbone of this house. I’m like a domestic goddess.”

Rosie nods. “What is it with men and empty toilet rolls? How hard is it to take a fresh roll out of the basket we’ve kindly placed next to the holder (because I’ve taken a leaf out of your book and I’m a beyond awesome domestic goddess) and replace it? What is all that about?”

Bronte glances at the huge clock on the wall, fifteen minutes until she takes the chickens out of the oven. “It’s because their brain is busy with more important stuff, like making a living and keeping us supplied with a steady stream of disposable diapers.”

Rosie nods. “True. Very true.” She cocks her head at the sound of car wheels crunching gravel. “The boys are back. There goes peace, quiet and tranquillity.”

As the family troop in after leaving outdoor shoes in the boot room, Bronte and Tonio share a hug and a high five over a one hundred per cent math test. Nico drops a big smoochie on his wife’s curved mouth, pats her bottom, and heads for the fridge for two beers. Alexander plonks himself next to Rosie, grabs her in a hug. Then he cups her cheek to look deep into big brown eyes. “You got some, ‘splainin’ to do, Rosie.”

Rosie blinks. “What have I done?”

He nuzzles the delicate spot beneath her ear. “Later,” he whispers.

Rosie’s bemused frown turns to a grin when she spots Sophia. She holds out her arms for a hug. “How’s my favorite bad girl?” When Alexander hisses out a breath, she wonders what the hell his problem is.

Sophia climbs onto Auntie Rosie’s lap and turns to look up into her face. “Miss Brown says I’ve been a good girl.”

Rosie drops a kiss on her cheek. “Yeah? Bet that won’t last.”

Face pale, Sophia slips off Rosie’s lap and heads over to watch her mama place two chickens, their skin all golden and crispy, onto a huge serving platter. Since she’s greeting Emily, Rosie misses the quick glance between Nico and Alexander.

Bronte crouches to give her daughter, and then Emily, a hug. “Did you have a good time at the party? I hope you didn’t eat too much candy.”

Emily shakes her head, while Sophia rattles her paper goodie bag. “Uh huh. Me and Emily didn’t eat any candy. We’re good girls.”

Bronte gives her big eyes, drops a kiss on her daughter’s blonde head. “Sure you are. Long may it last. Go up and wash your hands and don’t go near Luca, I don’t want either of you catching his cold.”

Sophia opens her mouth to speak, but her mama’s very busy cooking dinner. Emily slips her hand in hers. “Come on, Sophia,” she says in her gentle voice.

Nico waits until the girls have gone up the stairs. He moves to close the kitchen door, then turns to his wife. “That was very badly done, cara mia,” he says, anger ripe in his deep, growly voice.

Since it’s not a tone he uses often with her, Bronte’s jaw drops. “Excuse me? What have I done?”

“You made Sophia sad,” he says.

“And, it’s all your fault,” Alexander says severely to a wide-eyed Rosie.

Bronte looks at Rosie. Rosie looks at Bronte. Both utterly confused and bemused at an attack that’s apparently come out of nowhere.

Bronte walks up to her husband, gets into his personal space. “Perhaps both of you would stop talking in riddles and explain to us exactly what we’ve done?”

“Both of you need to take care what you say in front of Sophia. Haven’t you noticed she has been quiet over the past couple of days?”

“Yup.” Alexander backs his best friend. He turns to his wife. “And you, motormouth, are the biggest offender. In the car, Emily mentioned the fact that at times her mum cries because she can’t have more babies. Sophia says, and I quote, ‘There won’t be any more babies in our house.’ When Nico asked her why she’d say such a thing, Sophia says, and again I quote, ‘ Because Auntie Rosie says, ‘I’m a complete and utter nightmare who’s driving my mama cray-cray. I know that means crazy.’  Honest to God, Rosie, the way she whispered the words broke my heart. Then she tells you and Bronte that she’s been a good girl, even Miss Brown says so. And you ridicule her.” Alexander turns to his white-faced sister. “And you’re just as bad. Can’t you see the kid’s hurt and upset?”

Appalled she’s hurt a child she loves with her whole heart, Rosie turns to a stony-faced Nico. “But, I don’t mean it. You know I adore her. She’s a pistol with the heart of a warrior woman.”

Bronte shifts to sit next to Rosie on the couch. “I thought we’d cured her of listening in to adult conversations, apparently I’m wrong. She heard a small part of what we said.”

Si. But that is not the point, is it? If we continue to box her into a corner about her spirit and labelling her behaviour we will end up with a self-fulfilling prophecy.” Nico turns to a pale and emotional Rosie. “She quotes you chapter and verse, whether it’s about my ‘love muscle’ or how girls will fall in love with Tonio, like his papa. Great care must be taken when we speak. Sophia is like a human sponge.”

Rosie stands, her hands tremble as she clears her throat. “I’ll go up to her. I’m so sorry, Nico. I promise I’ll fix this.”

As Rosie leaves the room, Nico runs a hand through his hair, around his neck. “Dio, I have upset her.”

Alexander stretches out long legs, takes a sip of his beer. “She’ll be fine. I’ll have a heart to heart with her at home.”

Bronte shakes her head. “She’s not the only one responsible. I need to bite my tongue, too.”

Nico’s grey eyes met hers. “We must applaud good behaviour as well as nailing naughty behaviour. To test boundaries is part of Sophia’s personality and intelligence. We cannot go from one extreme to the other. We need a consistent response. My daughter is not a running joke.”

 

Meanwhile, Rosie, Emily and Sophia are having a moment…

On her knees next to the Cinderella coach bed, Rosie holds Sophia’s favourite doll, a battered Raggedy Ann. “I remember the day I bought you this doll. You were six months old and sound asleep in your cot. When you woke up you fell in love with her. Just the way I fell in love with you the very first time I held you in my arms. Did I ever tell you about the time I first met you?”

Sitting crossed leg on her bed, with Emily sprawled on her belly next to her, Sophia’s eyes are glued to her Auntie Rosie’s face. Sophia shakes her head. “What was I like?”

Rosie smiles at the memory. “I knew your mama and papa had a baby boy. So I’d arrived at the hospital with a huge balloon and a blue teddy bear. Papa was looking out the window and mama was holding Luca. First thing I did was to wash my hands to kill any germs. Then your papa turned and you were in his arms. I’ve never been so shocked in my whole life. They’d kept you a big secret. You and Luca were the most beautiful babies I’ve ever seen. I took you in my arms and your tiny fingers clutched my thumb and that was it. I was in love. And each and every day I love you more and more.”

Rosie finds her arms full of an emotional Sophia. “I love you, too, Auntie Rosie.”

After a group hug fest, Rosie shifts to sit back on her heels. She takes the hand of each girl. “Thing is, none of us are perfect. We do our best to be kind, but sometimes we hurt people without meaning to. But I want you to know one very important thing. Never, ever, change who you are because you are scared to make a mistake. Mistakes help us understand where we go wrong and learn to do better. Do you get what I’m saying?”

Sophia’s smooth brow creases as she thinks about it. “No.”

Rosie nods, wonders why the hell she didn’t say it straight out in the first place. “When you heard me say that there won’t be more babies in this house because you’re a nightmare…”

Sophia shifts to go nose to nose with her Auntie Rosie. “No. You said, a complete and utter nightmare who drives my mama cray-cray…”

Rosie frowns. “Sheesh. You have a memory like an elephant. Except you didn’t hear EVERYTHING I said, did you?” She gives Sophia an Eskimo nose kiss.

“What else did you say?” Sophia wants to know, her green eyes wide.

“That I hope my Mila grows up to be just like her cousin Sophia, a warrior-princess.”

Emily claps her hands, and beams at Sophia. “A warrior-princess? That is sooooo cool.”

Sophia’s cheeks go pink with delight, and her Auntie Rosie’s heart fills with relief when she recognizes the return of the spark in her niece’s bright eyes. “What does a warrior-princess do?” Sophia wants to know.

Rosie opens her mouth to say ‘you’ll rule the world, kiddo’, then closes it with a snap. “She spreads kindness everywhere.”

The girls blink. “Won’t I at least have a magic sword like Xena?” Sophia demands.

“A warrior-princess does not believe in violence,” Auntie Rosie says as she gets to her feet to head for the door to get the hell out of Dodge. This parenting gig’s a minefield.

Ten minutes later,Tonio pokes his head around Sophia’s bedroom door. He enters and bounds onto the bed.

“Mama and papa have closed the kitchen door, which means someone’s in trouble.” He eyes Sophia. “What have you done?”

“Sophia’s a warrior-princess,” Emily says in her high, breathy voice. Her blue eyes fill with love and adoration as she stares up into Tonio’s handsome face. “Except she doesn’t get to have a magic sword like Xena.”

Tonio bounces once on the bed to leap to the floor where he does a body roll to his feet. “Sophia won’t need a magic sword,” he says with a certainty that has the girls gaze at him with big eyes.

“How will I be a warrior-princess without a sword?” Sophia wants to know with relentless logic.

Tonio’s smile flashes white and bright. “Easy. You are Italian!”

 

FINE

Ah, we all need to be true to ourselves.

Next up, on Friday we have a very French and very naughty Golddigger and a big sexy beast. I had the best time writing PEARL’S story.

Big hug

Christine X