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.
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!
Ooooh, a visit by Gregorio, sounds like a story to me.
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.”
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!”
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.
Happy Monday, my lovelies!
This house has been hit by a winter cold bug. It’s not been pretty, but I struggle on. Brain fog hit my creativity for a few days. Soooo frustrating. But, I’m back with a vengeance. Here’s Bronte and Emily’s mom, Grace, having fun with the children from hell.
The Dower House…
Dressed down in yoga pants and sweaters, Bronte and Emily’s mom, Grace, are enjoying an afternoon coffee, while their daughters are playing ‘princesses’ in Sophia’s room. At least, that’s what they think their daughters are doing…
“How’s Jimmy Chew settling in?” Grace asks Bronte.
Bronte grins at a Grace who’s refusing to relinquish a snoozing baby Eve. The baby adores cuddles. “Now we’ve nipped in the bud Sophia feeding him human food, he’s doing well.”
Grace rolls blue eyes, shakes her head. “I don’t know what it is about men and kids, but they can’t seem to help feeding a puppy treats.”
“Actually, the boys have been great. Lucky for me, neither of them give me a moments worry, unlike my eldest daughter,” Bronte says, deadpan.
“She’s a determined girl,” Grace agrees.
Bronte makes a face. “She’s a chip off the old block, her father’s daughter.”
“Sophia’s incredibly good for Emily. Brings her out of her shell.”
“Hmm. Nico and I are praying Emily’s calm common sense rubs off on her.”
Grace drops a soft kiss on Eve’s inky curls. “You’ll have no problems with this one. She’s adorable.”
Bronte’s mouth curves and her emerald eyes go soft. “She’s an angel. More coffee?”
Meanwhile, upstairs in Sophia’s room…
Dressed in pale blue tulle and wearing a yellow feather boa around her neck, Emily sits cross-legged on Sophia’s princess coach bed. She drops a kiss on each head as she cuddles the two boneless pooches passed-out on her lap. “I like the pink tiara best,” she says to a Sophia whose bottom’s up as she rummages in her dressing up box for her special magic wand. “It goes with your pearl beads.”
Sophia emerges, clutching a plastic pink wand with a wonky silver star glued to the tip. She flicks the wand and then points it to the dogs. “Take two dogs and two frogs to bind them well, jim jam jog, abracadabra, we’ve got a magic spell…” She waves her wand around with a huge flourish. Nothing happens.
Emily shrugs, her big eyes anxiously fixed on the dogs. “Well, thank goodness that one didn’t work. I hate frogs,” she says in her high girly voice. She shifts on the bed. The movement disturbs Bubblegum and Jimmy Chew who stretch hugely. They cock their heads when they hear giggling from Tonio’s bedroom. The dogs leap to the floor and trot out the door.
“Hmm,” Sophia says as straightens the corners of the star on her wand. Her pink tiara sits at a crazy angle on her ash blonde head. Her bedroom smells of cherry lollipops and cheap scent donated by Emily’s mama. When she hears more insane giggling from her brother’s bedroom room, she jerks her chin. “Tonio and Luca are up to something. Let’s go.”
The girls clomp in a pair of their mama’s high heels down the corridor to Tonio’s bedroom and arrive in time to see Jimmy Chew barking at something hidden behind Luca’s back.
“What are you doing?” Sophia asks her twin.
Luca gives her huge brown eyes. “Nuthin’. We’re doing nuthin’.”
Tonio clears his throat, grabs a Spiderman pillow from his bed and dumps it behind Luca’s back. “You cannot come in here without permission,” he says in a severe voice to the girls.
Sophia’s eyes narrow on two guilty faces and a Jimmy Chew who’s sniffing behind Luca’s back. “It’s my house. I can go where I like, when I like. What’s behind the pillow?”
“Nuthin’ to do with you, nosy knickers,” Luca says rudely.
When Bubblegum begins to growl and yap at Luca, Emily kicks of her heels and goes to rescue her dog who’s trying to dive beneath the pillow. When she sees what’s behind Luca, her little face goes pale and she slaps her hand over her mouth.
“What is it?” Sophia says. She kicks off her heels and joins her friend. Her face goes milk white…
Meanwhile, downstairs in the family room…
The sound of dog howls and ear piercing screams have Bronte and Grace on their feet to race up the stairs. They burst into Tonio’s room. The boys are pale and wide-eyed. Sophia and Emily clutch each other as they dance on the spot and scream at the top of their lungs. The dog’s growls have Bronte clapping her hands.
“What on earth is the matter?!” Bronte yells at the top of her voice.
A sobbing Emily is in her mother’s arms.
Sophia dances on the spot, her emerald eyes huge. “I did a spell, mama. A frog spell. And it’s come true,” she cries.
“Don’t be silly,” Bronte says.
But Grace’s eyes are like saucers when she clocks what Tonio lifts up his pillow. “Omigod! What on earth is that?”
Bronte shifts Tonio out of the way. Her jaw drops when she sees what he’s hiding. It’s an insect ‘house’ filled with leaves and twigs. “Tonio Ferranti! What on earth is that bug barn doing in my house?” She moves closer, and something inside the bug barn moves. It’s black. It’s huge. And it has long legs. A horrible shiver runs down her spine. “Is that… is that… a spider?”
Not many things give Bronte Ferranti the heebies, but a black spider the size of her fist is one of them.
Tonio heaves a huge sigh and shares a what’s-the-big-deal look with his brother. “Si. I am feeding the frog.”
Bronte clutches her chest. “FROG?!” she screeches at the top her voice.
A sound that makes the dogs bark even louder.
When a huge green toad moves in the bug barn, Grace shrieks at the top of her voice as she hugs a crying Emily and Sophia.
Meanwhile, Nico strolls into the kitchen-family room to find his baby daughter sleeping in her playpen with her blankie. His eyes go wide at the sound of yapping dogs, the high voices of his children, and his beloved bellowing at the top of her voice. He heads for the stairs.
As he pokes his head around the door of the room at the centre of all the fuss, Tonio’s bedroom, he takes in the scene. Dio mio. Seems Tonio has his bug barn in the house. Luca’s bottom lip is trembling. Grace clutches Sophia and Emily to her breast as if saving them from shark infested waters. Bronte’s hands are on her hips, her legs spread and she’s ringing a peal over Tonio’s head.
“Out! Out! OUT!” she cries. “And do not dare bring frogs or spiders or any living thing into this house.”
Tonio makes a face, but he carries the bug barn past a Bronte who takes a step back to give it a very wide berth. “It is only a little frog and one measly spider,” he mutters. Then he stops dead when he spots Nico. “Hey, papa.”
“What is going on?”
“It’s cold outside. We just want to help the frog,” Luca says as the boys troop past him and down the stairs.
Nico gives Bronte big eyes. “Frog?”
Bronte shivers dramatically. “Ugh. Don’t ask. What is it with boys and creepy crawlies?”
Nico flashes a white smile upon all the females in the room. “They are male. They are Italian!”
Many moons ago, when we lived in Nairobi, my son had a bug barn. We’d no idea he was keeping it in his bedroom. He was feeding a gecko bugs of every description. I’m not ashamed to say my screams were blood curdling and could be heard for miles.
Thank you so much for sharing the Golddigger love. This Friday we have the release of Golddigger short story number five, RUBY. And the girl is a pistol. I had the best time writing the story of two incredibly stubborn people. Falling in love can be crazy making and scary. Can Andre win the beautiful Ruby’s heart?
You can grab the story on pre-order on the links below.
Happy Monday, my wonderful peeps.
Here’s this week’s peek into the crazy lives of the residents of Ludlow Hall (and it’s a doozy)…
It’s late afternoon in Nico Ferranti’s office at Ludlow Hall…
Ah, it is good to kick back and relax after a busy and productive day. Nico powers down his laptop, leans back to stretch out in his fancy schmancy ergonomic chair of soft black leather. Don’t you just love it when everything in life comes together as it should? Psychologists call the occurrence a state of ‘flow’. Whatever, business is booming. His baby girl’s bruised cheek is healing as it should. The twins have settled into school and are sailing through math and reading tests. Tonio is top of his class and captain of the soccer team Go, Tonio! The baby is finally sleeping through the night, thank you, Jesus. His wife loves him to bits. Hell, when has life ever been this good? A brisk knock at the door and Josh Erichsen pokes his head in, smiles when he sees his pal. He strolls in and closes the door. Today, he’s wearing soft jeans, a pale blue button down shirt, navy sweater and black steel capped work boots. Seems Josh has been on a building site.
“Hey, passed Julie on her way out, she told me to come on through. You got time for a beer?”
Nico spins in his seat to the built-in cooler behind his desk. “Si! Have a seat. How are things?”
Josh eases himself into a fat leather club chair the color of blackcurrants, accepts an icy bottle of Peroni. “Thanks. Good. Broke ground on a new project. And, so far—touch wood—the planners are in harmony with my project manager and crew. Long may it last.”
Nico takes a sip of Italian nectar, closes his eyes to enjoy the moment. “And how are Jan and Boo?”
“Good. Boo’s found her feet and is on the move. Jan’s been teaching her how to climb down stairs backwards. It’s the cutest thing, evah.”
Experienced daddy, Nico nods. “Need eyes in the back of your head when they are at that age.”
Josh rolls blue eyes. “Tell me about it…” But, before he continues, a white-faced and wild-eyed Alexander plunges through the door.
Dressed for business in a smart dark grey suit handcrafted in Savile Row, his crisp white shirt is unbuttoned at the neck and his silk tie is askew. Alexander sinks gingerly into the chair next to Josh. “Thank god you’re still here, Nico,” he says in a squeaky voice. “I’m in deep shit.”
“Rosie? Mila?” Josh asks as he sits up, places his bottle on the leather top of Nico’s oak desk.
Alexander shakes his head, closes his eyes tight. “No. They’re fine. It’s me. I’ve had an accident.”
Alarm shoots up Nico’s spine. “Car accident? Anyone hurt?”
Again Alexander shakes his head, this time he lets out a long low groan. “No. Me. I’ve really messed up. I’ve spent all day trying to fix it. And I can’t. I can’t!”
Nico and Josh exchange a wide-eyed look.
Nico turns to a pale Alexander. “If it is business, you must not worry. There is nothing we cannot fix. Even if we’ve taken a financial hit, we will weather the storm.”
Alexander shakes his head. “No. No. Business is good. It’s… It’s me. I don’t know what to do.”
Josh reaches over to grab Alexander’s hand. “Are you sick? Is it bad?”
Cristo! Nico knew the state of ‘flow’ wouldn’t last. But, this? How will he tell Rosie and Bronte that Alexander is seriously ill? Panic uncoils in his gut.
Alexander closes his eyes tight and slumps in the chair. “No. I’m not sick. But I’ve gotta problem… a big problem.” He opens his eyes to watch their faces. “I need to go to A&E. I’ve seriously messed up, Nico.”
Bemused and bewildered, Nico looks at Josh. Josh looks at Nico, lifts his brows and shrugs in an I-have-no-clue-man gesture.
“What has happened?” Nico asks all at sea without a boat or a life jacket.
Alexander sits up places his elbows on his knees. His Adam’s apple bobs once, twice.
“It happened this morning. We were waiting for ‘the call’ to say we got the deal…”
“Si, and we won, so?”
“Well, I was in my bathroom and needed to pee. I was in a hurry. So, when the phone rang I… I…”
Josh leans forward. “You what?”
Alexander’s cheeks puff as he blows out a very long breath. “I pulled up the zipper of my pants too fast… and trapped a long sliver of skin on the underside of my dick in the metal teeth of the zip.”
When Josh takes a deep inhale of utter horror and Nico’s eyes go wide, Alexander nods. “And, it’s bad. Four inches of skin stuck fast.”
“Omigod,” Josh whispers, his face pale. His eyes drop to Alexander’s package. He winces. “Can’t you just, sort of, yank the zipper down?”
“I thought of it, but I can’t bring myself to do it.”
Nico cranes his neck to check out the package in trouble. “Looks okay from here.”
Alexander shakes his head. “No. It’s not this zip! I had to cut myself out of my suit pants. The zipper’s still attached. These are new pants. Christ, how am I gonna tell Rosie? I will never, ever, live this down?”
Never mind Rosie, Nico thinks. What about Bronte? He stands up. “Right. We will go to the emergency room and get this sorted. Nessun problema!”
“I’m coming, too,” Josh says, his blue eyes dancing with sheer wickedness.
“I feel sick,” Alexander mutters as his two best pals escort him out of Ludlow Hall and into the car park and into Nico’s black shiny Range Rover.
“We will fix it!” Nico slaps Alexander on the back so hard Josh coughs to hide a choke of laughter.
In the accident and emergency department of the local hospital, the guys stand at the long narrow desk in reception…
The place smells of antiseptic with an oily undertone of bodily fluids. There are a small number of people seeking assistance, including a young mother with a young baby, and an elderly man sitting on a trolley with a horrible head wound.
“How can I help you?” A grey-haired dragon who protects the gates for the genuinely sick and injured eyes three men who look the picture of health. Her gaze narrows on Josh’s shit-eating grin, Alexander’s white face, and Nico’s I’m-in-charge toothy white smile.
Alexander opens his mouth—but nothing comes out except a pitiful squeak. A squeak that makes the dragon’s black pencil brows rise sharply above the black frame of her reading glasses. “What the problem?” she snaps.
Alexander closes his eyes, drops his chin to his chest. “I have a delicate and personal problem.”
The dragon leans over the desk. “Listen up. In here there is nothing I have not seen or heard. Do you or do you not require the immediate attention of a doctor?”
Alexander lifts his head, his Adam’s apple bobbing. “I’ve trapped my penis the zipper of my pants.” He holds out his thumb and forefinger about four inches. “This much.”
She doesn’t blink. “And these guys are your two amigos who have come to support you in your hour of need?”
“Okay. Let’s fill in the details.” She turns to the flat screen on her desk to bring up a form, and barks, “Name?”
Thirty minutes later, Alexander’s heart is going crazy against his ribs. Jesus, he needs to keep calm. The thought of a needle going anywhere near his junk makes perspiration bead on his top lip. He’s lying on his back on a narrow bed in a cubicle without his suit pants, his Calvins and his shoes. On either side of the bed are two young nurses. They’re wearing thin latex gloves and holding long metal tweezers. They are total professionals. Not once have they snickered or grinned at his predicament. In fact, if anything, their serious demeanour is having him shit bricks.
“You’ve really caught the foreskin,” one says as she peers up close and personal at his dick. He can feel her breath on super sensitive flesh. He closes his eyes tight and tries to ignore the way her latex covered fingers are fiddling with metal teeth on delicate flesh.
“It’s a good job you didn’t leave it until tomorrow, or you would be in bigger trouble. This sort of thing happens all the time, usually to young boys. But, it’s important to seek help as soon as possible before swelling or infection takes hold,” the other one says. She has a white can in her hand and shakes it with vigour. “I’m just going to use a numbing spray. It’s cold. It won’t hurt.”
When the freezing spray shrivels his junk, Alexander nearly hit the ceiling. His girly yelp mortifies him enough he covers his burning face with the hands. And is that laughter he hears from his two amigos sitting behind the curtain? Bastards.
Twenty minutes later…
“I think we need to get a doctor. He might need a circumcision,” a nurse says. Her wide blue eyes are sympathetic as they meet an Alexander’s who’s lungs have gone tight with something like horror. “Good job you didn’t try to yank down the zip or we’d be dealing with the plastic surgeon. Let me go get the duty registrar.”
As she closes the curtains, she sends a wide-eyed reproof to a Nico and Josh who are suffering great paroxysms of silent laughter.
“Did you hear him whine when she said circumcision?” Josh whispers to a teary Nico.
“Si.” Nico inhales a couple of deep breaths through his nose.
“Did you see how he couldn’t speak to the receptionist? He tried twice and nothing came out?” Josh whispers, swiping tears of hilarity from his wet cheeks.
The nurse returns with a young Asian doctor dressed in blue scrubs hot on her heels. The doctor eyes a Nico and Josh who sit up straight in their grey plastic chairs and assume serious expressions of brotherly solidarity. The doctor clearly isn’t impressed as he breezes past them. The nurse closes the curtains with a snap.
“Stop laughing. It’s not funny,” Josh leans over to whisper into Nico’s ear.
Nico nods, but his smooth brow creases as he bites down hard on his bottom lip, his wide shoulders shaking. Dio mio, who would have thought he’d be spending the early part of the evening in a drama involving Alexander’s dick?
Half an hour later…
Josh and Nico walk back to the car with a relieved Alexander between them.
Alexander lets out a shaky laugh. “Rosie’s gonna kill me. No sex until the stitches dissolve and the wound is fully healed, not even with a condom. Honestly, when the nurse mentioned going under the knife, I thought I was gonna pass out.” He places a hand on Josh and Nico’s shoulder. “Sorry I spoilt your evenings. Thank you so much for coming with me.”
Nico turns to give him a toothpaste-white smile. “Nessun problema. I would not have missed this for the world.”
“Are you in pain?” Josh asks from the back seat as the car glides down the winding country road toward Ludlow Hall.
“Stings a bit, but painkillers will deal with it,” Alexander says, and stretches out as he relaxes for the first time in eight hours. He turns to eye a Nico who is biting down hard on his bottom lip. “You’d better warn Tonio and Luca about the dangers of zippers, pal.”
Nico turns to give him big eyes. “No need. They are Italian!”
Ah, men and zips.
The jaws of death.
This Friday we have the first of the Golddiggers short story. I don’t think I’ve ever had such a great time in my entire writing career. There are eight in total to take us right through the holiday season!
It’s time for another slice of Ludlow life with our favourite family……
The Dower House…
Dressed in skinny blue jeans, a cropped T-shirt that’s seen better days, Bronte pads into the family-kitchen living space on bare feet. She’s given Eve her last breast feed of the day. It won’t be long before her daughter is fully weaned, and the thought has a little pang of loss hit her heart. She’ll miss the intimacy and the connection. Her baby won’t be a baby for much longer. The kids are settled down for the night—at last. Sophia is out like a light after her horrible day. Looks as if her right eye is swelling and will be closed by the morning. Her brothers insist on having their bedroom doors open so they can hear her if she calls in the night or has a bad dream. Glancing at her husband, she reckons someone else needs a bit of love and attention. Sprawled on the couch wearing his favorite jeans white at the seams and a black long sleeved thermal, a stony faced Nico stares unseeing into the flames of a stainless-steel log burner. His long legs stretching out before him, his bare feet are long and narrow and sexy. Bronte’s mouth lifts. He’s a big sexy Italian beast and she loves him more each day. In the sexy beast’s hands, he’s nursing a wine goblet. His mouth is a thin, hard line. Bronte takes the seat next to him and curls up her legs and cosies into him. She reaches out for his glass, and takes a sip of the ruby liquid.
“You’re thinking bad thoughts,” she says and offers him the glass.
In response, he places the wine on the vast glass coffee table before taking her in his arms. Bronte closes her eyes to simply breathe in the heady scent of her man. A woodsy cologne, his shampoo, and an alpha male testosterone that feels like home. As much as she loves The Dower House and the life they have here in the old market town of Old Ludlow, in her heart she knows that wherever Nico goes is home to her and their growing family.
“I have had a call from Annabel’s papa,” Nico says, indicating his cell lying on the coffee table. Annabel’s father is a wealthy and influential businessman. Although he has a good reputation, Nico and Alexander tend to give him a wide berth.
“By the look on your face I take it it’s not good news.”
Nico heaves a deep sigh. “It’s not good news for his grandsons. Seems the social services have paid Annabel a visit. Both boys are to be placed on the ‘at risk’ list. Annabel’s papa seems to think we had something to do with it. I put his mind at rest. I’m thinking this might not be a bad thing for those children.”
“Jonathan has them every weekend,” Bronte says, and repeats the local gossip. “They run wild through the town, stealing candy and general mischief making. The man doesn’t have a clue about parenting or taking care of young children.”
“From what Alexander and I saw earlier this evening, he’s not taking care of himself either. I’d say it is either booze or an out of control recreational drug habit. Whatever, it is not bringing out the best in him. I said as much to his ex father-in-law. He is planning to stage some sort of intervention with Jonathan and his sons. His daughter is at her wit’s end.”
“She was a friend—once,” Bronte says. Her mind slips into the past, remembering the hurt and especially the public humiliation she suffered when Annabel and Jonathan had a torrid affair behind her back during the time she was grieving over the tragic loss of her parents. An affair which resulted in Annabel’s first pregnancy. The town had taken sides and the rift between the Winthrops and the Ludlows and Ferranti families had never healed. Seven years seems such a long time to hold a grudge. But, at the time of the betrayal, life for Bronte Ludlow had been tough going. Bronte had lost her parents, her home, her fiancé, and was at odds with Alexander over the shocking discovery that they had different fathers. And then the whirlwind of Nico Ferranti had entered her life, and look at them now! Parents to four wonderful children. The love and commitment they shared grew more each day. While poor Annabel limped from one domestic drama to another. She has an ex-husband with a sly, vicious tongue and a wandering eye. A man always on the look-out for the main chance to get something for nothing.
“Si. We cannot say she has not paid for her mistake. Perhaps it is time to offer her the hand of friendship. That is what good neighbours do, is it not?”
Not exactly thrilled with the idea, Bronte makes a face and heaves a big sigh. “I’ll speak to Janine and Rosie and run the idea to reach out to Annabel past them. If we do this, I’ll need their support. We were all a close-knit group once, when we were ten.”
Nico pulls her onto his lap to wrap her in his arms. “I am thinking of the children. If the adults cannot find a solution, what hope do they have? But let me clear, I will never under any circumstances be a friend to Jonathan Winthrop.”
Bronte reaches up to wind her arms around his neck. “Thank God for that. But I can tell by your face you have a plan for him.”
“Si. It is nothing for you to worry about,” he says in that deep growly tone her hormones love.
Nico dips his head to taste her mouth. At least that was the idea. Instead, it isn’t long before they’re naked on the couch, replete and relaxed. “My toes are tingling,” Bronte says. Her eyes shut, she adores the way his big hand sweeps lazy strokes down her spine. She smiles as his big body shakes with laughter.
“I can never get enough of you, cara mia.”
Bronte runs her nails gently over a dark nipple, feels him shudder. “Rosie says that when we’re in a care home and hobbling around with Zimmer frames we’ll still be snogging in corners.”
“She can talk,” Nico says severely. A squawk and grizzle from the baby monitor has both of them on their feet. They dress fast. He grins at Bronte’s flushed cheeks. “Ah, I remember the good old days when we walked about naked whenever we felt like it.”
“We need a break without the kids,” she says as they rush up the stairs. Nico heads off to check on Sophia, and Bronte enters the baby’s room. The heady smell of a dirty diaper has her dealing with the problem within minutes. After settling the baby, she searches for her husband and finds him leaning against the door frame of their eldest daughter’s bedroom. The door is wide open. As she approaches, Nico turns to place a finger on his lips, his grey eyes dancing.
As she studies the scene before her, Bronte lifts her hand to smother a laugh. Omigod. Tonio and Luca have dragged their duvets and pillows into Sophia’s room and are sleeping on the floor next to her bed. She tip-toes over the sleeping boys to study her daughter. Yep, the eye is swollen shut. The livid bruise on that velvet little cheek hurts Bronte’s heart. If the chance of letting bygones be bygones with Annabel and her sons prevents a repetition of today’s events, she’ll do it. The idea of offering the hand of friendship to Annabel may not go down well with Rosie and Janine, but they’ll support Bronte and the children through thick and thin—that’s what best friends do.
Tonio stirs, his eyes pop open as he watches them tip-toe out of the room hand in hand.
The boy lifts up on his elbows to crane his neck to check on Sophia. She’s out for the count, as is her twin sleeping on the floor next to him. Tonio settles to lie on his back and counts the tiny lights on a ceiling which replicates the milky way. Bronte and Rosie and Janine painted the ceilings in the twin’s bedroom. And when Tonio joined the family, the women did the same in his bedroom and gave him lights, too. The Ferranti children sleep beneath the stars.
Tonio smiles as his heavy eyes shut. He knows for sure they’ll have fresh cookies tomorrow because he can smell them from here.
It’s the smell of a safe haven.
It’s the smell of home.
It’s the smell of love.
We are mia la famiglia
We are Italian.
Not easy doing the ‘right’ thing, is it?
Working hard on the weekly short stories, the first one released at the end of this month, then I’m diving into the Ludlow world with Break The Rules. I LOVE my job!!!
A weekly tale of love and lust best describes the brand new short romance reads from USA Today bestselling author CC MacKenzie. Let’s face it, sometimes we’re in a hurry or not in the mood for a committed book relationship, or a series. Sometimes we want it quick and fast, a bit like a book one-night-stand.
These stories are set in the world of burlesque with glitter, love, desire, music and dance where girls tease and tantalize. These stories stand alone, unrelated to the next, except they are set in the same world. And CC will release an original story every Friday to get you in the mood for the weekend!
The Golddiggers series of thirty minutes of fun romance from CC MacKenzie – for busy people everywhere.
CLICK TO PRE-ORDER
Happy Friday, peeps!
The pre-orders for The Golddiggers are well underway with the next four coming soon. As an author I’ve probably had the most exciting time of my career writing these fast paced, fun reads. The Golddigger world is introduced to readers in SEAN (Ludlow Hall book ten). Here are just some of the amazing reviews that have come in over the last ten days:
“As with all of the books in the Ludlow Hall series, you become immediately drawn in the busy, crazy hectic life that surrounds Ludlow Hall and will love every minute! The characters are engaging and if you have started with Reckless Nights in Rome you will find it is like catching up with old friends. And of course, spending time with the Ferranti family is always fun and Sophia is the best! Sean has intensity and you can feel his bitterness. Well done CC! Another hit!”
“You will not read anything better than this series. Sean is another funny, heartwarming “episode” in the series. Sophia is the best. I love how the words describe exactly how the facial expressions are in my minds eye. Ms. MacKenzie is brilliant. Read these books, you will laugh out loud.”
“C C MacKenzie has done it again! Sean plus Katherine equals combustible sexy heat and passion that cannot be denied. We also get a wonderful peek into the lives of our favourite family, “The Ferranti’s..So much love and heart in this book”
“If you have never read any of the Ludlow Hall books you are missing out. The characters are fun and you feel like you know them. I love this series because the main characters of Nico and Bronte appear throughout all of the stories. This book was really good, couldn’t put it down, love the story of SEAN & Katherine and what they go through to be together. This story will make you laugh and cry. Another great read from CC MacKenzie.”
“Love these books. Never disappoints. Great read. Love the family, humor, friendships, and hardship of the characters and how they handle each of life’s situations. Even though I am not Italian lol.”
“I fell in love, broke my heart, laughed out loud, got mad, even sang along through tears. Wish I had more stars to give. This story just wonderfully told. Well done CC MacKenzie, you are brilliant.”
“Wonderful story. Loved how strong and independent our girl is. Thanks for another great hit CC. Can’t wait to read about Ellie.”
Thank you so much for the SEAN love! You’ve blown me away with all the Facebook messages and emails. My readers ROCK!
Which means another slice of Ludlow Life!
Nico’s been summoned to his children’s school. He’s standing in the headmaster’s study. Seems there’s been trouble in the playground, with the twins.
His heart beating too fast, Nico juts out his chin. “Let me get this straight. A seven year old boy used his fists and his feet on my daughter?” he says, unaware he’s doing a perfect imitation of Michael Corleone’s voice in the Godfather. Mr Weatherby, the headmaster, goes sheet white. His Adam’s apple bobs once, twice.
He clears his throat. “Yes. Older boys, including Tonio, and staff were on the scene within moments. The boy concerned is suspended until a thorough investigation is completed.”
“What’s his name?” Nico growls.
Nico doesn’t blink. “Any relation to Jonathan Winthrop?”
Again, Mr. Weatherby clears his throat. “His eldest son.”
There’s a knock at the door and a very pale Miss Brown enters with her hand on Sophia’s shoulder, with Luca hot on their heels. Luca’s tie is loose. There’s a rip and blood smear on his shirt collar. But it’s the ink-black bruise on Sophia’s cheek and the fact she walks with a limp that has the blood roaring in Nico’s brain. He crouches down to gently cup his daughter’s sweet little face, to study over-bright emerald eyes in the search for a sign of concussion, and finds none. Her chin trembles, but she bites down hard on her bottom lip.
“Where does it hurt, cara mia?”
“My hip and my cheek.”
He scoops her up, and sits on a chair in front of the headmaster’s huge desk of polished oak. Holding her close, he turns to his Luca. “What happened?”
“I punched Rick in the face and kicked him in the goolies,” says his peace loving son.
Nico nods. “What started it?”
Luca’s chin lifts and his dark eyes go hard. “He called mama a f***ing whore. Scusami, papa.”
Miss Brown clears her throat.
Nico spares her a look that would melt steel. “He is only repeating the words he heard. My children are not exposed to such language.”
Sophia rests her head on her papa’s chest. “Rick is a bad, bad boy. I told him to say sorry and he hit me.”
Miss Brown steps forward, but Nico’s glare stops her in her tracks.
He stands with Sophia in his arms. “I will deal with this,” he says, and moves towards the door.
Mr. Weatherby and Miss Brown share a look of utter panic. She takes another step. “Mr. Ferranti, I—”
Nico’s glance makes her wince. “This is not the time to discuss why my children are not safe in your establishment. Bring Tonio to me immediately. We have had more than enough trouble from the Winthrop family in this school. We are leaving.”
Fifteen minutes later, Miss Brown enters the headmaster’s study.
“Richard Winthrop’s behaviour is escalating. We need to bring in the authorities, headmaster.”
Mr. Weatherby nods. “With Jonathan Winthrop as a father, the boy hasn’t had the best start in life. But, you’re right.”
She walks to the window to stare unseeing at the playing fields and the forest beyond. “What do you think Mr. Ferranti will do?”
“Something tells me Mr. Winthrop and his son won’t cause the Ferranti family any more trouble.”
Nico and Alexander leave the Winthrop estate where Annabel Winthrop and her ex-husband Jonathan have assured them there will be no repetition of the day’s events. Going forward their son will receive specialist counselling.
Alexander’s driving his Range Rover down the winding country road towards Ludlow Hall. He gives a stony faced Nico the side-eye. “I thought the creep was gonna piss his pants. And did you see his kid’s face? The boy’s gotta bad attitude. He’s nearly eight, big for his age and already a bully like his father.”
Nico nods. “Annabel has her hands full with her ex-husband and her sons. Bronte’s been in angry tears all afternoon. Not that she lets the children see her upset. She’s broken the habits of a lifetime and letting them have pizza on a school night. Oscar’s preparing four huge pies. Why don’t you and Rosie join us?”
“Sure. You know Rosie. She’s been talking to Bronte about enrolling the twins in martial arts. I don’t see the harm myself. When I explained the discipline is about avoiding conflict, you should’ve seen her face. She wants them taught the Vulcan mind meld.”
“Luca,” Nico says, as Alexander swings the car through the gates of Ludlow Hall, “is not aggressive, and yet he placed himself between Sophia and a boy twice his size.”
“He’s a Ferranti, Nico. He’d give his life for his sister.”
“Si,” Nico growls.
Alexander brings the car to halt in the car park next to Nico’s Range Rover. This evening Nico needed a witness to his discussion with a man who was a mortal enemy to Bronte. Alexander was more than happy to oblige his brother-in-law. “What if this isn’t the end of the matter?”
“My children will be protected,” Nico says.
Two hours later, during an impromptu pizza party at The Dower House…
With the rest of the family, Rosie sits at the huge table in the kitchen-living-family space. Her feet are bare and she’s wearing skinny blue jeans and an oversized black sweatshirt with the logo, ‘I made a human, what’s your super power?’ Her inky hair’s caught in a messy top knot of glossy curls. She’s cuddling a very quiet Sophia and every other second she drops a soft kiss on the child’s sore cheek to make it better.
“Little s.h.i.t.,” she says, ignoring Tonio’s big eyes and Nico’s what-the-hell face.
“I can spell. I know what you just said,” Sophia says, accepting a sliver of pizza from the plate.
Rosie resolutely ignores her husband’s ‘she gotcha’ grin, and pops another kiss on top of ash blonde hair. “That’s because you’re an Einstein.”
“What’s an Einstein?’ Luca wants to know as he compares the size of his pizza slice with Tonio’s.
Rosie gives him big eyes. “It means she’s a genius.”
When Luca’s mouth opens, Tonio jumps in with, “It means she’s clever.”
Luca shrugs. “I’m not clever like Sophia.”
“Of course you are!” his auntie Rosie says in a tone that makes his cheeks pink. “You’re super-clever in a different way. You’re a thinker.”
Luca frowns as he rolls the words in his mind. “What do I think about?”
Alexander’s soft laugh has Rosie toss him a dark look. “Deep thoughts, like world peace. Or, if we’re talking about right this minute, you’re wondering if you can have a bigger slice of pizza than Tonio.”
“How did you know that?” Luca whispers, his eyes wide.
“She’s a witch,” Sophia says from her cozy spot on Rosie’s knee. “Uncle Alexander says it’s a kind of magic the way she can read minds and everything.”
“Maybe you could turn Richard Winthrop into a toad, or a donkey?” Tonio says, grinning wickedly at Rosie.
“I’ll have you know, young man, that I’m a good witch,” she says accepting the boy’s unspoken challenge and ignoring Bronte’s eye roll. “If I put a bad thought or deed out into the universe, it comes back to me times three.”
“It’s karma, baby. Karma,” Sophia says.
“See? The kid’s a superstar. She takes after me,” Rosie says and drops another soft kiss on a giggling Sophia’s cheek. Then she frowns and shifts to look at the child’s flushed cheeks. “You hot, baby?”
Bronte’s emerald eyes narrow on her daughter’s face. “Gotta headache?”
Sophia nods. “A little bit.”
After a dose of kiddy ibuprofen, she accepts another slice of pie and her eyes droop.
Nico scoops her up and takes her upstairs to bed, with Bronte, Luca and Tonio hot on his heels.
“They’re trying to hide it, but they’re all terribly upset,” Alexander says to his wife. He’s nursing a comatose Mila on his lap while sipping a small glass of Chianti from one of Nico’s Italian vineyards. “Seems we can’t escape the dark deeds of the past.”
“It’s the bloody Winthrops!” Rosie says in a tone that means business. “Every single one of them are twisted. What the hell Annabel was thinking to sleep with that creep Jonathan when he was engaged to Bronte, I don’t know. What I don’t get is the way they see this family as the enemy. What have we ever done to them? Bronte’s the victim in all this, and yet they’re always sniping at her and Nico and now the kids? What’d wrong with some people?”
“It is the result of being unable to deal with losing face and the lack of a working conscience,” Nico growls as he strolls into the room. Grey eyes hard, he helps himself to a glass of wine.
“Do you really think a little chat with that rat is gonna do the trick?” Rosie asks.
Nico sits. Stretching out long jean clad legs, he studies the blood red liquid in his glass.
“I will protect la mia famiglia.”
Alexander gaze meets Nico’s. “Yeah, but what does that mean exactly.”
“I am Italian.”
Oooooh. Someone’s gonna be swimming with the fishes.
I’m working hard to finish the first eight weekly Golddigger reads, first one out at the end of the month, 28th October. Book three, SUKKI, hit the top 50 in Amazon from the pre-orders. I have to admit the cover is awesome. Wait until you see RUBY, she’s a goddess. (RUBY’S pre-order links coming soon).
My cover designer is Gabrielle Prendergast of Cover Your Dreams and you can check 0ut her site HERE.
As soon as I have the KOBO link I’ll add it!
This has got to be one of my favourite Golddigger covers. She is perfect and exactly the like the SUKKI in my head. The Amazon pre-order link went live first and yesterday she was sitting in the top 50 in Amazon short story category, which was such a thrill.
Here’s the blurb: SUKKI
A weekly tale of love and lust best describes the brand new short romance reads from USA Today bestselling author CC MacKenzie. Let’s face it, sometimes we’re in a hurry or not in the mood for a committed book relationship, or a series, or emotional conflicts. Sometimes we want it quick and fast, a bit like a book one-night-stand.
These stories are set in the world of burlesque with glitter, love, desire, music and dance where girls tease and tantalise. These stories stand alone, unrelated to the next, except they are set in the same world. And CC will release an original story every Friday to get you in the mood for the weekend.
The Golddiggers series of thirty minutes of fun romance from CC MacKenzie – for busy people everywhere.
“Once upon a time there was a beautiful and sweet but dirt poor girl who met a wealthy guy with the world at his feet. Against the odds, they fell madly in love. But the guy was a complete dick and broke the girl’s heart.
My name’s Jon Castro. I’m a top ball player and I’m the dick.
The girl’s name is Sukki Silver. These days she’s a Golddigger. A fully paid-up member of the top burlesque troupe in the world. Yep, seems my sweet girl didn’t wallow for long in heartbreak and misery. In the time we’ve been apart, she’s moved on to carve herself a wonderful career, while I did my level best to destroy mine.
If you haven’t already guessed, I’ve had issues to work through. I say had because over the last two years I’ve been forced to deal with the emotional crap that kept me trapped in a past I found I can’t outdrink or outrun.
Basically I had two choices, deal or die.
I chose to deal.
Now I’m in a better place, part of my treatment is to atone for my many sins.
To reach that goal I want Sukki back where she belongs — with me.
Trouble is, she isn’t giving me the time of day.
Who can blame her?
See, love’s a tricky thing.
Seems a man doesn’t choose not to love someone.
The heart wants what the heart wants.
And this dick is back, and I’m gonna go down on my knees to make amends. Have you heard the phrase ‘talk’s cheap’? I agree with the sentiment, which means actions speak louder than words. It’s actions Sukki needs from me. Will she give me a chance? Who knows? Nothing’s ever certain in life, but by God I’m gonna fight for her…
Wish me luck.”
Next up, RUBY who’ll be available for pre-order in a few days.
I’m writing Break The Rules and having huge fun with Ana, Olivier and the gang, as well as the Ferranti family.
Happy Monday, peeps!
I bet all y’all remember your very first day of school. I remember mine, and not with fondness. I well remember the first day for my daughters and son. And on occasion there was a lot of dramarama in this house, too. It seems the Ferranti family are no different…
It’s early morning in The Dower House, and the place is buzzing with excitement because today is the twins first day at ‘big school’. Bouncing with excitement, Sophia’s been ready in her uniform for over an hour. She’s primping and preening in front of her bedroom mirror, while a teary and proud Bronte plaits ash blonde hair and ties a navy blue ribbon on the end.
Meanwhile, in her twin’s bedroom, shame the same can’t be said for Luca…
“I’m not wearing a stupid shirt and stupid tie,” Luca says, he folds his arms while his bottom lip trembles. His cropped black curls are still damp from the shower.
Nico is on his knees before his son, showing him AGAIN how to tie his tie and he’s not winning. Dio, why hadn’t they practised this skill before today? What the hell was he thinking? “Everything will be fine,” he says soothingly.
Luca’s fingers tug at the crisp collar of his white cotton shirt. “I hate this stupid shirt. It’s too tight. It hurts.”
Perhaps they should have run the new shirts through the wash before wearing? Nico makes a mental note to talk to Bronte. “It is normal to feel nervous on your first day…”
Cheeks hot, dark eyes hot, Luca goes nose to nose with his papa. “I am NOT nervous. Stop saying I’m nervous. All my pals will be there. I told you I HATE the shirt and the stupid tie.”
Nico hooks Luca’s red and grey striped school tie around his own neck and stands. He beams at his son, offers his hand. “Why don’t we try the tie again after breakfast? Mama’s made your favourite breakfast, bacon and pancakes.”
Hand in hand they march down the hall and down the stairs and into the family kitchen-living space. Luca slides into his seat, accepts the small glass of fresh orange juice. When Nico slides a plate of crispy bacon and pancakes in front of him, Luca picks up his fork and makes his papa’s morning by sending him the glimmer of a smile. “Grazie, papa.”
Sophia skips into the kitchen, grabs her papa around the waist for a hug. “Ooooh, I love bacon. AND pancakes.” Happy as a clam, she takes her seat, and studies her brother across the table. “Where’s your tie?”
As Luca’s dark eyes fire in response to his sister’s query, Nico jumps in with, “Luca will wear his tie after breakfast. He does not wish to spill food on it.”
“Do you think Miss Brown will be nice to us?” Sophia asks her papa.
Nico nods. “Si. I have heard she is one of the best teachers in the whole school.”
“I’m not a baby,” Sophia says and lifts her chin. “I can write my full name and read and count.”
Nico sends her a warning look over the rim of his coffee cup. “You will obey Miss Brown to the letter.”
“She has kind eyes,” Luca pipes up. “She has brown eyes and brown hair. Is that why she’s called Miss Brown?”
“That is the name of her papa. I doubt the colour of her eyes or hair has anything to do with it,” Bronte says as she slips baby Eve into her high chair and places a plastic bowl of sliced banana on the tray. The baby picks up her sip cup and sucks voraciously on her juice while her big dark eyes study her siblings.
Bronte gazes at Luca who’s tucking into pancakes and bacon. “Where is your tie?”
It cost him, but Nico didn’t roll his eyes to heaven or pray for deliverance. Instead, he gave his wife BIG eyes. “He’ll put it on after breakfast.”
Bronte shrugs, but then Luca says, “I HATE the stupid tie and this stupid shirt.” His knife and fork clatter on the plate. He sits back in his chair, bottom lip stuck out and his arms folded. “I’m not going to stupid school.”
Cue a stunned silence.
Even the sip cup halts on its journey to the baby’s mouth as she gazes at a big brother about to have a temper tantrum of epic proportions.
“Then you will be as dumb as a turnip,” Sophia says severely, quoting auntie Rosie. She climbs down from her seat, without asking her mother permission if she can leave the table, and takes the seat next to Luca to sit shoulder to shoulder with her twin. “Gimme the tie, papa.”
Nico hands her Luca’s tie. Sophie hands Luca his tie. She lifts the collar of her shirt and unknots her tie. She waits until Luca lifts the collar of his shirt and has his tie around his neck. “Right. Watch my hands,” she says. “And do exactly as I do. Okay?”
Tongue firmly caught between his teeth, his eyes focused unblinkingly on Sophia’s hands, Luca nods.
Tonio strolls in just as a beaming Luca has managed his version of a knot. The mangled fabric makes Nico wince, but he claps and cheers along with Bronte and Sophia. Even baby Eve bangs her sip cup on the tray in support.
“What’s up?” Tonio asks.
“I tied my tie!” Luca cries.
“Yay!” Tonio says.
“Now remember what I said,” Bronte says to the twins as she straps them into their booster seats in the back of her car. “Everything that happens in The Dower House stays in The Dower House.” She sends her daughter a dark look. “I caught that eye roll, Sophia Ferranti.”
And the Ferranti twins are on the way to their first day at school.
In class their teacher lives up to her name. Her hair, eyes, and soft pants suit are all… brown.
Miss Brown claps her hands and beams at her new babies with nothing but love in her heart. “Okay, everyone. I want you to draw your best friend’s face…” Emily and Sophia beam at each other, grab a variety of markers from the pot in the middle of the long table, and begin…
Later that day…
A very anxious Nico and Bronte wait at the school gate for their twins. “How do you think it went?” she asks him.
Nico shrugs, runs a hand through his hair, over the back of his neck. “No idea. But I hope we do not have tears before bedtime with Luca over his shirt and tie. By not practising a simple skill, I have let him down.”
Bronte wraps her arm around his waist and leans in for a hug. “It didn’t even cross my mind. The state schools wear polo shirts and sweaters.”
“Si, much more sensible. I will suggest this to the headmaster.”
“Let’s wait until the end of the first week before you go charging in trying to change two hundred years of tradition. Rosie and I got the hang of the tie, eventually. I seem to remember we used to slip it over our head with the knot intact.”
“Luca is clever, he will master the tie.”
Tonio spots them and charges to their side with his fan club posse, mostly girls, hot on his heels. “Hey.”
Nico grins. “Hey, yourself. How did the first day go?”
“Good.” He turns to the flushed and pretty girls at his side. “This is Greta, Angela and Susie.”
Nico and Bronte say hello, nice to meet you. “Did you see the twins? Were they okay?” Bronte asks, the suspense killing her.
“Si,” Tonio says, sounding so much like Nico the girls gaze up at him with adoration befitting a rock-god. “They are fine.”
“What about Luca and his tie?” Nico asks.
“Nessun problema,” Tonio says and turns to one of the girls. “Tell them.”
Angela, blushing furiously as her big eyes study Nico, says, “Our little sisters are in Luca’s class. At break we asked them to make sure he was all right and to buddy him when it came to helping with his tie. Lots of the little kids struggle in the beginning. He’s totally fine. He’s sooooo cute.”
Tonio turns at a commotion behind him. And sure enough a beaming Luca surrounded by his pals and three girls strolls towards his mama and papa. One girl is clutching Luca’s back-pack and another his lunch box. The top button of his shirt is undone, but his tie is in place. Bronte heaves a deep sigh of relief.
She stares over his shoulder on the look out for her daughter and best friend.
“Where are the gruesome twosome?” she asks Luca, referring to Sophia and Emily and making the girls giggle.
“Sophia’s in time out,” Luca says, tossing his sister under the bus without a blink.
“Why?” Nico wants to know.
“When Miss Brown told her to be quiet. Sophia said her mouth didn’t wanna be quiet, and that she’s not a baby and can write her own name and read a whole book and that Miss Brown isn’t the boss of her.”
“Dio mio,” Nico whispers.
“Knew it,” Bronte whispers back to her husband. She turns to Luca. “What’s the punishment?”
“Sophia and Emily are helping Miss Brown tidy the class.”
“Why is Emily being punished?” Bronte demands. Emily, compared to Sophia, is an angel… most of the time.
“Emily said that best friends stick together through thick and thin. She’s helping.”
“Good Lord,” Bronte whispers.
Emily’s mum, Grace appears, gives Luca a hug and turns to study Bronte’s set face.
“What’s up? Where are they?”
“Time out,” Bronte says.
Grace’s blue eyes go wide. “On the first day?”
But then Nico’s huge intake of breath has them look up and here come their girls each one holding Miss Brown’s hand.
“Omigod,” Bronte and Grace chorus in a whisper.
Sophia and Emily’s faces are covered from forehead to chin in marker pen.
“My fault,” Miss Brown says in a cheery voice, her eyes dancing. “I asked the class to draw their best friend and the message sort of got all mixed up in Sophia and Emily’s fascinating little minds. It’ll wash off… eventually.”
Bronte gives Sophia a hard look. “I hear you’ve been rude and naughty…”
But before she could continue, Miss Brown turns to Luca. “Master Ferranti, everything that happens in Miss Brown’s class stays in Miss Brown’s class. Okay?”
Luca’s cheeks are beet red, but he nods.
Miss Brown gave them a wave. “I must admit I’ve had one of the best first days, evah. See you tomorrow.”
Nico drives the twins in his car, while Bronte takes Tonio and his friends in hers.
“And what did you think of your first day of school?” he asks the twins in the back seat, eyeing them in the rear view mirror.
“I think I like Miss Brown,” Sophia says, her eyelids drooping.
Luca beams. “I had the best day. I like school. I have lots of friends.”
Sophia shook her head. “The girls were helping because you are a typical Ferranti male and you look like Tonio. He even has his own fan club.”
Nico frowns. “What’s a typical Ferranti male?”
Luca just smiles and sits back to enjoy the ride home. “Papa, we are Italian!”
I can still remember my first day at school. I loathed the stiff white collars and the school tie, among other things too numerous to mention. Apparently, my mother cried for the first week. (H says probably in relief – my husband’s a laugh a minute.)
I want to thank each and every one of you who bought and read SEAN and left feedback via email, messages and on my incredibly active Facebook author page HERE (I post the sneak peek there every Wednesday as well as updates and chats). For a couple of crazy days over the weekend SEAN broke the top one hundred in three categories in the Amazon stores. He was sitting pretty right next to POLDARK twice, which was a huge thrill. And thank you so much for the amazing reviews from Australia to America to Germany to the UK. They’ve totally blown me away. I don’t have a publisher or street team or ARC team (Advanced Reader Copy of the book which is sent out before a book release) or any other help in getting the word out about my books. I have YOU guys who love the Ludlow World and the characters who inhabit it. The characters are family to me, and are like family to you, too. I cannot tell you how much the love and support for the stories mean to me.
It’s a lonely business being an author. But, let me tell you one truth about creativity and craft that is key for me personally, it’s summed up by this statement by author Colleen Coble:
‘You know the best thing about writing? You never arrive. There is always something you can improve on.’
When I sit down to write I live by those words every single day.
Aaaand, in other news (didn’t I say it’s going to get pretty busy on this blog in the run up to Christmas, and boy, do I have surprises lined up) SUKKI, (Golddigger book 3) is available on pre-order on Amazon HERE. Once she’s live on all distributors I’ll do a post with all the links. Next up RUBY, who is about to go to proofing. It’s all go-go-go in this house.