It’s the Ludlow Hall short story…

bigguns

Waving atcha, my darlings!

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

It’s time for a Ludlow Hall short story

The Dower House just after dawn on Saturday morning…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They made more noise than a herd of elephants.

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

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

The boys peered through a window.

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

Surely they were not going into the gym?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Luca nodded his head so hard his curls danced.

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

 

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

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

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

All that cloak and dagger this morning for this?

“Cool!” Luca the clueless said.

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

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

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

What was a girl to do?

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

Right.

Now.

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

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

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

His screams of pain had Luca cry out too.

Sophia flew to Tonio’s side.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She shoved him towards the door. “Hurry!”

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

 

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

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

He made a sound like the whimpering of a dog.

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

Her little hands, trembling, hovered over him.

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

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

A sound burst from his throat—a whine.

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

Big emerald eyes, desperately worried, stared into his.

God.

God.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Is he dead?” she whispered.

He wrapped a strong arm around her shoulder.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sophia shook her head.

“I’m brave.”

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

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

They lifted him onto a trolley.

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Susan’s face creased.

“That makes a crazy sort of sense.”

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

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

She nodded and handed him their daughter.

***

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

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

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

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

Sophia sniffed. “Okay.”

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

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

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

“Do you have bacon?”

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

He frowned.

“Do you know you smell of horse poop?”

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

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

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

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

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

“You’re in BIG trouble,” she hissed.

Her twin sent her look of utter loathing.

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

Dio mio,” Nico said.

 

FINE

 

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

Until next time, big hugs,

Christine X

It’s the Ludlow Hall short story… He’s the one – part one…

It's the Ludlow Hall Short StoryMarch2018

Hellooooo,

I’ve been sick with a fever and the usual end of season bug. Roll on Spring!

And here’s the first part of this week’s Ludlow Hall short story…

It’s Friday and school’s out—The Dower house…

After she’d found Bronte sitting in a whimpering puddle on the kitchen floor this morning, and banging her head against the wall (more of why later) Rosie took firm control of the Ferranti household, then sent her best friend for a much needed pampering and massage at Ludlow Hall.

Now, Rosie was on children duty…

After auntie Rosie had ordered everyone upstairs to change out of their school uniforms and wash their mucky paws, Emily and Sophia are in Sophia’s bedroom. They’ve washed their hands as instructed, but had only got as far as removing their school tie, sweater and socks.

Emily reeeeeelaxed back on Sophia’s Princess bed and wiggled her little pink toes.

“We,” she began in her soft, breathy voice, “have the coolest mummies.”

Sophia, rummaging deep in her closet, tossed out a couple of pairs of pink thermal leggings, a pink hoodie with a unicorn on the front for Emily, and for herself a white hoodie with Elsa from Frozen. Once she’d hunted down two matching pair of thick socks, she turned to her best friend and smiled.

“We do.”

“My daddy says they always look well-put-together.”

“They do,” Sophia agreed again and tossed leggings and the pink hoodie on top of Emily’s face.

Best friends shared clothes, that was a rule.

Emily sat up and wriggled out of her pleated skirt of navy wool.

“They never let other people down.”

“They don’t,” Sophia concurred.

The girls stripped down to their underwear.

Emily tugged up leggings and checked out her skinny butt in the wall mirror.

She made a face.

“Did you see Carrie-Anne’s mummy today?”

Sophia’s blonde head popped out of the top of her white hoodie.

Carrie-Anne’s mummy was a hot mess these days, according to auntie Rosie.

“Yup. But auntie Rosie says if we can’t say anything nice, say nothing,” Sophia said, channelling her favorite person in the whole wide world.

Emily’s little mouth pouted in clear disappointment.

After a long while she said, “Can I just say two words?”

“Okay.”

Emily pointed to her own butt. “Panty. Line.”

Sophia made a face, and checked out her own skinny backside.

“Aunty Rosie calls it a Wardrobe Malfunction. Carrie-Anne’s mummy should have worn a thong or panties that don’t show a pantie line. My mama’s got lots of pretty silk panties in her pantie drawer.”

“Do they make them for girls?” Emily wanted to know.

“I dunno,” Sophia said, thinking about it. “But auntie Rosie says thongs are the work of the devil.”

Emily nodded. “My daddy loves my mummy in a thong. My mummy told him he should use dental floss on his ass because that’s how it feels.”

Sophia cringed at the thought. “Eww. That’s a disgusting thing to say in front of a child.”

“I was supposed to be asleep. They didn’t know I was listening.” Emily grinned. “I was quiet, like a ninja.”

Sophia stared hard at her friend, because out of the two of them Emily was the good girl.

“If they catch you your mummy will say I’m a bad influence.”

“Nah, how can you get the blame if you’re not even there? Anyway, I’ve been doing a lot of listening. Carrie-Anne’s mummy’s fighting the battle of the bulge to lose the baby weight. She told my mummy that her life has been transformed since her divorce.”

Feeling weary after another long week at school, Sophia settled back on her pink Fat-Boy beanbag. She thought about how desperately sad their friend Carrie-Anne had been for months and months.

Then she thought about the heated discussion between her parents in the kitchen this morning, and her belly ached. It had ached off and on all day.

And last night, for the first time ever, her papa had slept in the spare room.

Deep in her heart, Sophia wanted to talk to Emily about the argument and the weird mood that had descended on The Dower House recently, but she knew better. Anything that happened in The Dower House, stayed in The Dower House.

Her belly ache got worse.

She hoped her mama and papa never got a divorce.

Carrie-Anne and her baby sister had moved out of their house into a smaller one in the centre of town.

What if her papa and mama sold The Dower House?

Where would she and Luca and Tonio and baby Eve live?

The thought made her feel sick.

“How come?” she asked Emily.

“Carrie-Anne’s mummy said it was boring sleeping with the same man for ten long years.”

Sophia worked out how long her parents had been married—nearly nine years. Then she wondered if ten years was a bad omen or something. Meanwhile, Emily continued her story, “And she was fed up playing the Pirate and The Maiden game.”

“Never heard of it,” Sophia said.

Emily shook her head, her big blue eyes wide. “Me neither. Maybe it’s for Xbox? Do you think Tonio’s heard of it?”

Sophia was not fooled by that huge smile or big-eyed-innocent look.

Emily’s crush on her brother was totally lame as far as she was concerned.

On the other hand, Sophia was vastly intrigued by the idea of a pirates and maidens game.

“Let’s ask him,” she said.

The girls dashed out the door, across a wide landing, and knocked Tonio’s bedroom door.

“Enter,” Tonio called, channelling his papa.

 

They went in to find Tonio dressed in his favorite super-hero sweatshirt, navy sweatpants faded at the seams and too short in the legs, lying on his belly on a fluffy rug, reading a soccer magazine.

Inky curls flopped on his forehead, and his feet were bare.

Since she had no time for football, Sophia got right to the point of their visit.

“Have you ever heard of an Xbox or a PC game called the Pirate and the Maiden?”

Tonio’s brow creased as he stared into space, thought for a long while, then shook his head.

“Nope. Only pirate game I know is Pirates of the Caribbean.”

He returned to his magazine.

When Emily just stood there as if rooted to the spot staring dreamily at Tonio, Sophia grabbed her friend’s arm and dragged her out the door.

 

Back in Sophia’s bedroom, Emily collapsed on the Fat-Boy and lay back with a stupid moony expression.

Sophia sighed.

“Tonio’s voice is like warm chocolate poured over cream,” Emily whispered in her soft voice. “I love his face. I love his dark eyes and his thick lashes. He’s just so… Perfect. He makes me… Happy.”

Sophia rolled her eyes so far back in ahead she nearly lost her balance.

“Eww, Emily, that’s my brother you’re talking about. He’s got smelly feet and he farts and burps. He’s disgusting.”

I’m going to marry him,” Emily said, clearly undeterred.

The martial gleam in her blue eyes seriously alarmed Sophia.

“You can’t get married until you are eighteen,” she said, trying to help her friend see sense. Then she added for good measure, “That’s eleven long years from now. And what if he’s not the one? Variety, auntie Rosie says, is the spice of life.”

Emily shot up to sit. “I just know he is the one,” she whispered and pressed her little fist to her chest. “In here.”

Sophia rubbed her nose—hadn’t they gone over this ground before?

“We need to speak to auntie Rosie. She loved uncle Alexander for ever and ever and ever,” she decided.

Emily sprang to her feet, her eyes bright.

“Maybe she’ll know how to make Tonio fall in love with me?”

“We can only hope,” Sophia said under her breath, and led the way downstairs.

***

Meanwhile in the kitchen-living-dining space, Rosie, and her trusty assistant Luca, were preparing hot milk for hot chocolate. Luca’s job was to test taste a dark chocolate brownie.

The place smelled of chocolate and fresh flowers crammed into a huge clear glass vase set on a wide sandstone window ledge.

Unlike his twin sister’s white blonde hair, Luca took after the Italian side of the Ferranti family. He was definitely, Rosie reckoned, going to be better looking than Tonio or his papa, Nico. At the moment Luca was perched on a bar stool, his bare feet swinging. He wore soft blue jeans and a Spiderman sweatshirt that had faded to pale blue from too many washes. And his mouth was rimmed with dark chocolate.

When Sophia and Emily skipped into the room, he turned to glower and glare at his sister.

“What do you want?” he said by way of a warm welcome.

As if he hadn’t spoken, Sophia hopped up on a bar stool on the opposite side of the granite worktop.

Meanwhile, Emily had wandered over to the huge playpen to give the toddlers, Eve and Mila, a hug and a kiss.

The girl was a complete sweetheart.

Rosie understood Emily’s attraction to the younger members of the family, she was an only child and often got lonely. As an only child herself, Rosie felt her pain.

Then again, Rosie couldn’t help but stifle a laugh at the way her beloved niece and nephew constantly fought a cold war these days. Such was sibling life, she supposed. She’d already prepared five white china mugs which were lined up like soldiers standing at attention.

Testing the temperature of the milk and melted chocolate mix, she poured it carefully into the mugs and added three white marshmallows. When Tonio strolled through the door, she sent him a quick smile.

“Could you sit Eve and Mila in their highchairs for me?”

Tonio changed direction, plucked Mila from the playpen, sat her in her highchair and strapped her in, then repeated the routine with Eve who buried her hands in his hair and yanked hard.

“Ow,” he said, and carefully freed himself. He smacked a kiss on her hot cheek. “No pulling hair.”

In response, Eve grabbed his sweatshirt and yelled, “Batman!”

“No,” Luca said. “It’s the Incredible Hulk.”

Eve glared at her big brother. “Batman!”

Rosie shook her head and placed a Sippy cup of lukewarm milk on each tray and attached a bib on each child.

As she distributed the hot chocolate and treats, she wondered how she gathered herself to break the news that Nico and Bronte were having a night away from The Dower House. Not that her and Alexander doing baby sitting duty was anything new for the young Ferrantis. But the reason for this one was. It seemed Nico and Bronte were going through a tricky patch. It was amazing how something that hadn’t even been on Bronte’s radar had turned into a Big Deal. Frankly, Rosie laid the blame for the whole sorry mess at Nico’s door. Honestly, there were times when men were utterly clueless when it came to women.

Long story short, tabloid journalist Tabitha Crew had written yet another gossip piece taking a swipe at Nico’s past love life. Okay, the woman had crossed a line. Rosie got why Nico was seriously pissed, but to employ a PR consultant who was an old flame to fight the journalist had not been his smartest move. Not only that, it appeared the old flame wanted to reignite a fire between her and Nico. And just to add more fuel, yesterday, the woman had invited a clueless Bronte to lunch at Ludlow Hall.

Strong words had been exchanged.

Bronte had drawn a red line in the sand.

The woman had to go, she’d told Nico.

Nico, never one to take a demand on the chin, said no.

Now all hell had broken loose, and even though she’d never show it in front of the kids, Rosie was worried.

 

So when Alexander strolled through the door and his baby girl went crazy when he picked her up and gave her a cuddle, Rosie’s heart just melted.

He scrubbed his knuckles on his nephews’ heads and tickled Sophia and Emily before heading over to his wife.

Rosie read the worry in his emerald eyes, and her heart fell.

Looked like Nico and Bronte still hadn’t smoked a peace pipe.

“Where are they?” she asked as he pressed a kiss to the spot beneath her ear.

“In their cabin. I told them not to leave it until they’ve resolved this,” he said softly.

“Bronte’s really hurt and furious,” she whispered.

“Tell me about it. Last thing she was telling Nico as I left was that she was going to stay with her father.”

Rosie’s eyes went wide.

“Seriously?”

“Yup. That bad.”

“God, why on earth did Nico bring that bloody woman into Ludlow Hall?”

“She’s really good at her job,” he answered, trying to be fair.

Rosie just shook her head.

“She’s a Rottweiler.”

“Yup and that’s what makes her the best.”

Rosie caught the way Sophia’s wary eyes were zeroed in on them watching every single move.

God, her niece had a super-sensitive radar.

“We’ll talk after the kids have gone to bed.”

Alexander followed her gaze and nodded.

He shot Sophia a wink as he shrugged out of his coat, took off his suit jacket, his tie, and rolled up his sleeves.

Then he helped himself to a beer from the fridge, twisted open the top and took a sip.

“Gimme the skinny,” he said to the room at large. “Who did what to whom today?”

“Where’s mama and papa?” Sophia wanted to know.

The question seemed to turn everyone into a game of statues.

Tonio and Luca, their eyes filled with clear anxiety, examined Alexander’s face.

Oh, boy, this lot were as sharp as tacks.

He sent them a cheesy grin.

“They’ve having a date night,” he said.

Sophia blinked. “Where?”

“They’re not far,” Rosie said. “Just up the road in their cabin with candles, music, and romance.”

Emily, her blue eyes flicking between a serious looking Sophia and Rosie, said in her soft voice, “They’re probably playing The Pirate and The Maiden game.”

Alexander inhaled his beer.

His hand reaching for the box of tissues as he coughed up a lung.

Tonio narrowed his eyes as he watched his uncle fight to catch his breath and his aunt laugh so hard she cried real tears.

“Okay,” he asked in a growly voice that sounded just like Nico. “What’s the game?”

Once Rosie had got her breath back, and wiped her eyes, she took a deep breath.

“It’s a poem not a game.”

Tonio looked bitterly disappointed.

“Oh,” he said.

Thinking she’d dodged a bullet, Rosie clapped her hands.

“Have you washed your hands?”

Everyone, except Luca, nodded.

Rosie pointed to him. “Go!”

When Sophia smirked as he slunk off to do his auntie’s bidding, he shot his sister a black look.

 

Later, when everyone had finished their spaghetti and meatballs, and were taking a rest before pudding, Luca turned to eye Sophia across the table.

“Why aren’t you speaking to me?” he demanded.

Sophia sent him a bland look.

“I can’t find something nice to say.”

Luca’s brows rose.

“Good,” he said. “I like a quiet life.”

 

END for now

 

Ooooh… is it possible there’s trouble in paradise?

All y’all will get to read the back-story to this scene in ‘Hitched to the Italian’ which is in production at the moment. But part two of this short story is coming next week!

Christine xx

 

 

 

 

 

 

No Rules pre-order links available now… So thrilled…

NO RULES BANNEREXCERPT

iBooks     Amazon USA    Amazon UK   Amazon AUS   Kobo   Nook

Greetings from a very cold, windy and it-looks-like-snow, Cheshire.

At long last, I’m beyond thrilled to bring you NO RULES – which will release on Friday 26th January, 2018, but you can pre-order it right now.

I hope you enjoy Serge and Chloe’s story as much as I enjoyed writing it. To tell you the truth, I fell madly in love with Serge. He’s so funny. He’s a lover. He’s a fighter. He’s a man who, in spite of appearances, has a true sense of family and what it means. AND he drives Chloe absolutely mental. Hehehe. However, Chloe might be in trouble, but she is nobody’s fool and it doesn’t take her long to get his number.

There is, of course, the continuation of Olivier and Ana’s love story (with a surprise).  Danni and Olivier dig deep to keep their love alive. AND… T.C. and Sean bring a tear to the eye.

PLUS, this story has a starring role for Ms. Sophia Ferranti. She enlists the help of her papa to ensure the road to true love runs smoothly. Gotta love the Ferrantis!

Here’s the blurb:

A fake engagement?
A fake relationship?
A one-night stand turns into a deception of monumental proportions?

NO RULES ticks all the boxes.
Full of fun and laughter and scorching hot luv’in, this standalone sexy as sin romance set in the Ludlow Nights world, with a swoon worthy hero and feisty heroine, will make you laugh and cry out loud.

No more wild nights. No more wild women.

Serge Morretti’s wild ride through life may have to come to an end, but less partying
means more time to devote to making more money, including winning over the octogenarians who run Morretti Enterprises. Seems if Serge wants to take his rightful place on the board—he needs a wife—and he’s got a grand plan. But when his world collides with a beautiful blonde at his best friend’s engagement party, where’s the harm in one more wild night?

Chloe Rucker’s coping with a few problems just now.
After her drink is spiked, compromising pictures of her are being held for ransom…and a wedding-obsessed family who are driving her crazy.
Her life may be a disaster, but she’s certain of one thing.
She isn’t impressed by silver tongued devils, especially one with dark laughing eyes. She certainly isn’t looking for a sexy fling with a notorious playboy, no matter how big a deal he thinks he is to the rest of womankind.
Chloe doesn’t do casual.
But maybe just this once…

Nico, Bronte and Sophia Ferranti, among others from the Ludlow cast, all make appearances in this standalone page turner.

 

***

Don’t forget to tune in this Friday for a Ludlow Hall Sneak Peek!

And I’m working on OUR RULES, Anders and Tanith’s story. Plus the next Ludlow Hall story, Gregorio Ancellotti’s rocky path to true love, bless him.

I’m also writing in a new genre, romantic comedy/suspense, with MIMI IN MANHATTAN, and a cast of characters that I adore, and so does my editorial team, which is always nice.

Behind the scenes, my admin team are working very hard on my CC MACKENZIE digital book store, and it’s coming along nicely.

Big hugs,

Christine X

Christine’s book store, coming soon

CC 's Bookstore is coming soon!

 

Hello, my darlings,

So, what is this, I hear you ask?

I’ve been intrigued for some time by the recent advances in new technology that will allow me to sell  eBooks direct to readers and I’m  interested in trying it.  I do believe that authors selling books direct to readers is the wave of the future in publishing, and more authors will be doing it going forward.

Plus, my team and I have been wracking our brains for months to work out how to provide you with exclusive content and deals and steals for CC MACKENZIE  digital books.

However, in order for you to purchase new digital books, I need you to…

SIGN UP HERE   

Does that sound good to you?

The first book for sale will be the full compilation of my 2017 Ludlow Hall Sneak Peeks. I’ll keep you informed of what’s coming up, too.

AND, I’m in the process of writing new books/series which will be available first in my store. The first book will be Mimi in Manhattan, a fast paced romantic comedy that’s had my editor laughing so hard she cried. (Always a good sign). Mimi is coming in spring 2018.

I can’t tell you how excited we are to be working with the amazing teams at Shopify who take payment, and Book Funnel who send the book to your device of choice. Book Funnel’s customer service is amazing.

Any questions?

Christine X

It’s the Ludlow Hall Sneak Peek…

 

CCMACKENZIE.COM

Hello, dear readers!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why? What have I done now?”

“Dunno.”

“You know nuthin'”

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

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

“That’s what she said.”

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

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

 

 

 

***

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

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

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

“Head hurts,” Sophia whispered.

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

 

 

***

Two days later…

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

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

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

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

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

“I want to go home.”

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

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

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

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

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

Nico swallowed.

Seriously?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

FINE

Finally, the Ludlow Hall sneak peek is back….

Join the ferranti family,

 

Guess what I’ve got for you today?

Welcome back to The Ludlow Hall Sneak Peek with Nico, Bronte & Co.

It’s a sunny autumn Saturday morning in The Dower House and Nico Ferranti, his feet bare, dressed in his favorite soft jeans, loose at the waist, and ratty T-shirt stretched tight across wide shoulders, is shaving. Thanks to a six hour delay at Rome airport, he’d arrived home late last night. Too late to kiss his children and baby good night. But not too late to kiss his sleepy wife awake—and of course one kiss led to another and then—his grin went slow and sexy as he lifted his chin to run his razor through white foam. Ah, he was a happy man. A lucky man. Out of the corner of his eye he spotted a movement at the bathroom door. Sophia, wearing her favourite Elsa nightgown and clutching her battered Raggedy Ann to her chest was watching him like a little hawk. His children knew better than to interrupt him when shaving, in case he sliced his face with the old fashioned but lethal blade. His daughter and her twin were nudging towards their seventh birthday and the thought make him shake his head at the way time flew too fast. He rinsed his face, and lifted a white fluffy towel, warm from the heated towel rail, to pat it dry. In the mirror, he caught a glimpse of a few white hairs around his temple. They didn’t worry him. Hadn’t Bronte said he was going to be a sexy white fox? Plus, he worked out regularly. His belly was still flat and hard. Earlier Bronte had explored his belly, and another hard part of his anatomy, and what she called his ‘awesome guns’. Hehe.

“Papa,” Sophia said. “You’re in big trouble.”

Nico blinked, and eyed her in the mirror.

She eyed him right back.

“Considering I’ve been in Rome for three days, I cannot imagine what sin I have committed when I wasn’t even here.”

“You missed Luca’s spelling competition.”

Nico sighed and crouched down to take her little face between his hands and drop a kiss to her nose. “Si. My flight was delayed. Even I cannot grow wings and fly.”

“I know that. But, he came second. It’s a big deal, papa.”

Nico smiled. “Second? Well done, Luca.”

Her face still serious, Sophia nodded, then bonked him on the head with Raggedy Ann.

“He was the youngest boy to reach the final and up against bright sparks,” she said.

“Bright sparks?”

“That’s what auntie Rosie called them.”

“Hmm. I can hear her say it myself.”

She nodded again and said seriously, “Uh huh, auntie Rosie said the word that tripped Luca up at the last damn hurdle was tricky.”

Nico bit down hard on his bottom lip. “What was it?”

“Liaise. He missed out the second i.”

Impressed, Nico studied her face and realized his twins were growing up fast. Maybe too fast. “That is tricky. Did you know how to spell it?”

“No. But I do now.”

He stood, took her hand and they headed for the kitchen for one of his wife’s Saturday breakfasts. “It is always the way with spelling,” he said. “We always remember the mistakes. English is not easy even for people for whom English is their first language.”

As they entered the kitchen/living/family room, the delicious aromas of pancakes cooking on the eight burner stove had Sophia race to take her seat beside her twin. At eighteen months, Eva, still wearing her pink pj’s edged with a frill at the waist and ankles was ensconced in her high chair, her fingers sliding over sliced banana in her pink plastic bowl. When she spotted her father, she forgot her banana, clapped her hands as her fat little legs pumped and she yelled in joy, “Papa!!”

“Good morning, neonata.” Nico took time to bend down for a cuddle and to blow raspberries on her neck, while her hands gripped his hair and pulled.

“Papa!” Luca crowed. “You have banana in your hair.”

Si, your sister likes to make a mess, Nico said in his deep voice, as Luca tossed him a white cotton napkin.

He decided not to tell his son his Spiderman T-shirt was on inside out. Instead, he kissed Luca’s hot cheeks and scrubbed his knuckles over a grinning Tonio’s black curls. Then he headed for his wife who was busy preparing breakfast, admiring the way her tight butt, clad in dark jeans, wiggled to a rock song on the radio. From his position of his dog bed set in the corner of the room, their Bischon Frise, Jimmy Chew, kept an eagle eye on food preparation in case anything dropped to the floor. Nico gave in to temptation and wound his arms around Bronte’s slim waist. She had the figure of a girl. He hugged her tight while he nuzzled his favorite spot on her neck. “Good morning, bella. You smell amazing.”

When Bronte promptly used her spatula to slap his hand that had whipped a piece of crispy bacon from the pan, the Ferranti children howled with laughter.

“Try to pretend you’re civilized, sit at the table and wait until I’ve finished,” she told him.

Unoffended, he crunched the bacon and gave a solid pat to her butt.

Then he did as he was bid and headed to his spot at the head of the table.

When everyone was settled and digging in to a mountain of buckwheat pancakes, bacon, eggs, fresh juices for the kids, and coffee for the adults, Nico took time to simply enjoy the moment.

“I hear you did very well in the spelling competition. I am sorry I missed it,” he said to Luca.

Luca made a face. “I lost.”

“Luca’s really hot on English. I’m hot on Math,” Sophia said.

“I hate Math,” Luca said. “I just don’t get why we’ve gotta learn stupid stuff.”

“Math is not stupid,” Tonio piped up.

“Try not to speak with your mouth full, Tonio,” Bronte reminded him.

Tonio swallowed, shot her grin. “Sorry. But, it is sooooo good. I love your cooking.”

Bronte beamed. “You’re very welcome.”

Nico reckoned Tonio knew exactly how to charm and stay in Bronte’s good books.

He turned his attention back to Luca. “It was a great achievement to come second against a boy who is two years older than you. Well done. I am proud of you.”

Luca’s cheeks flushed. “I wanted to win.”

Si. But again, we cannot win at everything in life. All we can do is give it our best shot and then try again.”

Luca nodded. “I’ll win next time.”

Silence prevailed, until…

“Mama and I have been thinking…” Nico said and waited until he had everyone’s attention. “How do you feel about a move to our villa in Italy and you attend school in Lake Como? Perhaps for a couple of years—to improve your Italian?”

Tonio blinked. “I would like it very much.”

Luca made a face. “I dunno. Do they have spelling competitions in Italy?”

Si,” Luca beat Nico to it.

Bronte caught Nico’s eye and nudged her chin towards a very quiet Sophia who was pushing a piece of bacon around her plate with her fork.

Nico studied his eldest daughter’s body language, the hunched shoulders and dropped chin. Uh oh. “Sophia, bella?”

Sophia lifted her head and met his eye. “No.”

“You do not enjoy our house at Lake Como?”

“I love it. But, I don’t wanna live there forever.”

“It wouldn’t be forever,” Bronte said. “And you would see more of your cousins.”

Sophia made a face. “Yes. But, I’d miss Emily.”

Nico nodded. “Si. But, Emily can visit regularly and you can stay with her in the holidays, too.”

Sophia’s emerald eyes glittered with unshed tears as her chest rose and fell. Her bottom lip trembled. “She’s my best friend. I see her every day. And without me she would be lonely because she has no brothers or sisters. I like my school and my friends and my teacher. I don’t wanna go to Italy.”

Nico exchanged a look with Bronte. “We will think about it,” he said.

Sophia slid from her chair, grabbed Raggedy Ann from the floor and clutched her doll to her chest. The light of battle lit her emerald eyes. “No! I’m not going to Italy. You can’t make me.”

She ran from the room with Jimmy Chew hard on her heels. Child and dog thundered up the stairs, seconds later Sophia’s bedroom door banged.

“That went well,” Bronte muttered.

“If Sophia doesn’t wanna go to Italy, I don’t wanna go,” Luca said, his face fierce.

The twins might bicker, but when push came to shove they looked after each other.

Nico’s brows rose. “We are only thinking about it. No decision has been made.”

Tonio took a break from hoovering up his breakfast. He eyed Sophia’s full plate and stole her bacon. “There is no point in causing a big upset,” he said with a calm wisdom far beyond his years. “I love my football team. And my English is getting better. I am happy anywhere.”

“May I leave the table?” Luca asked his mother.

“Yes. Make sure you’ve done your Math homework by lunchtime. I don’t want a repeat of last Sunday evening’s multiplication drama,” she said severely.

Luca shot her a dark look, but he nodded as he left.

The way his feet dragged a person might think his mother was sending him down the mines to dig for coal.

“He hates Math,” Tonio stated the obvious. “I will help him.”

Nico reckoned the day Tonio had come into their lives had been a lucky day. The boy was kind, hard working, and easy going. “Grazie. When you are finished we will watch football this afternoon.”

Nico saw his wife eye their baby girl.

A baby girl who was holding her breath, her face red as she filled her diaper.

Bronte whipped the baby out of her chair and headed for the nursery and a spot of belated potty training.

“You two clear the table and tidy the kitchen.”

“I reckon we got the best job,” Nico said to Tonio as they worked as an efficient team to fill the dishwasher and wipe down the table and worktops.

“I do not think it is a good idea to make a big upheaval in the twins lives for no good reason,” Tonio said as he polished the glass table to a shine, then placed a goldfish bowl filled with fresh flowers in the middle, exactly as Bronte liked it. “Sophia would miss auntie Rosie, too. They are very close.”

By this stage, Nico wished he had kept his big mouth shut. “It was just an idea. As I said nothing is set in stone.” He eyed Tonio. “You would see more of your uncle Gregorio.”

“I can stay with him during the holidays, or perhaps he can visit with us at Christmas.”

Nico set the dishwasher programme before turning to him. “That is an excellent idea. I will ask him about his plans.”

Tonio moved to the huge velvet sofa set in front of a massive flat screened TV. He picked up the remote control and found the sports channel. “I think he is lonely.”

Nico settled himself in his favorite chair and placed his bare feet on the matching stool.

“He has been a bachelor for too long. He needs a wife.”

Tonio’s black brows rose. “From what I have seen he doesn’t have a girlfriend. Maybe he does not like women.”

Nico knew that Gregorio Ancelotti liked women well enough and enjoyed the company of plenty. However, it was hardly the conversation to have with a ten year old. “However, he is descended from a wealthy Italian family and can trace his ancestors back to the time of the Borgias. He needs to find the right one.”

“Women,” Tonio said. “Are hard work.”

Nico turned amazed eyes upon him. “Some are. But most are easy to live with if a man knows how to handle the woman he loves.”

“The way you handle Bronte?” Tonio said, his dark eyes twinkling with sheer mischief.

Nico shrugged, and sent him a shit-eating grin. “Si. I am Italian!”

 

*Part two of this story coming next week…..*

 

Big hugs, girlies!

Christine X

 

 

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

wwwbreaktherulesfightdirty

OUT NOW!     AMAZON    iBOOKS   NOOK

Greetings, dear readers,

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

“I loved this book. The people come right off the page and you can feel every emotion. I can tell I will be re-reading it over and over. I will be sharing this with everyone.xxx”  5*

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

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

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

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

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

Big hugs and much love,

Christine X 

It’s Sneak Peek and time for a little kindness…

IT'S THE LUDLOW HALL SNEAK PEEK. BE KIND !

Bronte’s collected the twins and Emily from school.

As she eased her Range Rover around country bends heading for home, she glanced in the rear view mirror at her eldest daughter who’s sitting on her booster seat staring out of the window. When Sophia’s too quiet it usually means something’s up. Bronte didn’t have to wait long to find out.

“Our badges are sooooo cool,” Luca said to Emily.

Emily nodded, and checked out the badge pinned to her school blazer. “You have a blue one and mine’s pink.”

“What did you get a badge for?” Bronte asked.

“For kindness,” Luca piped up.

“That is cool. Who were you kind to?”

“Our friends voted for the kindest boy, that’s me, and the kindest girl, that’s Emily,” Luca said. “I sent Tom a get well card when he broke his leg. And Emily gave Susie a cuddle when she skinned her knee when she fell in the playground.”

Another glance in the rear view mirror and the look on Sophia’s face, as if she’d swallowed a wasp, told its own story.

Hmm.

“You okay, Sophia?”

Still facing the window, Sophia sent her mama a side-eye. “Fine.”

Emily stroked Sophia’s arm. “She’s upset because Miss Brown said we shouldn’t have best friends at school. That we should be inclusive and everyone is our friend.”

“She’s as dumb as a turnip,” Sophia said, channelling her Auntie Rosie. “I’ll never be friends with horrible people who are nasty. We need to stand up to bullies, not be friends with them.”

Well then, seemed that by asking a simple question, she’d opened up a whole can of worms. “We’ll talk about it when we get home.”

“Emily’s been my best friend since we were little babies. We’re sistas, just like you and Auntie Rosie. How would you feel if a dumb teacher told you not to be best friends with Auntie Rosie?”

“Calling a teacher names is disrespectful, Sophia. I won’t tolerate it. Modify your language please.”

Sophia heaved a deep sigh as she bored holes through the back of her mama’s head.

“Okay. Miss Brown is wrong. Being kind to bad people is silly because they do not deserve it.”

“We’ll talk about it when we get home,” Bronte repeated and breathed a sigh of relief as she drove the car through the gates of The Dower House.

When Sophia raced past her without offering her usual hug of welcome, Rosie’s dark brows winged into her hairline.

The Ferranti Bichon Frise, Jimmy Chew, was hot on Sophia’s heels.

Rosie turned to eye a pale-looking Emily and suspiciously quiet Luca.

“Okay. What’s up?”

“Me and Emily gotta kindness badge.”

Rosie crouched down to take a closer look. “Nice. What’s up with my favorite niece? She upset because she didn’t get a badge?”

Emily shook her head hard enough to have her curls bounce. “Uh-uh. Miss Brown told us we can’t have best friends in school. Everyone is our friend.”

Rosie made a face. “That’s just stu…” When Bronte looked to heaven, she added, “What I mean is, that of course everyone should be friends. However, in my honest opinion, there is also a place for best friends.”

“That’s what Sophia said. I will always be her bestest friend for ever and ever,” Emily said in her high girly voice.

Rosie stroked a gentle hand down the river of shiny copper curls. “You’re a glutton for punishment, aren’t you?”

Since the meaning of the statement went right over her head, Emily nodded. “I love Sophia.”

Rosie grinned at the determined tone.

“What’s not to love?”

“Since the pair of you are wearing kindness badges, go up and spread a little to someone who needs it. Dinner will be ready in two hours,” Bronte said.

Luca’s dark eyes lit up. “What are we having?”

“Home made pizza.”

He sent her a deeply suspicious look. “The one with stupid vegetables and little trees?”

“No broccoli.”

“Good,” he muttered, leading Emily towards the stairs. “I hate the little trees.”

Rosie had to laugh. “Him and his little trees. Why did you give me a dirty look?”

“Sophia was rude about Miss Brown in the car and I told her name calling is unacceptable.”

Rosie perched on a high stool at the counter top. “Yeah? What did she call her?”

Bronte slid her a black look. “As dumb as a turnip.”

“Can’t say I disagree.”

“Of course you don’t. Just wait until Mila’s six. You’ll change your tune then.”

“Nah. She takes after Alexander in nature, which is just as well. Can you imagine two of me living under the same roof? We’d kill each other.”

Frowning, Bronte filled the kettle and switched it on. “Sophia needs to respect her teacher. Miss Brown’s lovely.”

“Hmm. Respect needs to be earned. The kindness badge is a good idea though. Maybe expand it to include the community at large rather than inside the classroom.”

When a miserable looking Emily and Luca returned to the kitchen and slid into seats at the table, Rosie sent Bronte big eyes. “What’s the matter now?”

“She wants to be left alone,” Emily said.

Her blue sad eyes just broke Rosie’s heart. “She’s doing a Greta Garbo.”

Luca looked at Rosie. “Who’s Greta Garbo?”

“She was a famous Hollywood actress who gave up her career and told the world she wanted to be left alone. She’s dead.”

Luca glowered. “Sophia’s not dead.”

“This is true. Forget I mentioned it. I’ll go speak to her.”

 

As Rosie left, Luca turned pleading brown eyes on his mama.

“I’m starving. Can I have something that isn’t healthy?”

Bronte had to laugh. “You can have a glass of milk and a white chocolate chip mini muffin. How does that sound?”

“Yay!”

“How about you, Emily?”

The little girl shook her head. “Sophia’s sad.”

“Rosie will cheer her up. You can save your milk and muffin until she brings Sophia down, what do you say?”

Emily smiled. “Okay.”

Bronte decided that she was the sweetest child and most definitely deserved her kindness badge. “Why don’t I play the Ninja Turtles video for you and Luca?”

“Thank you, Bronte.”

“You’re very welcome, Emily.”

 

 

***

 

Rosie knocked Sophia’s bedroom door and entered to find her niece dressed in soft jeans and her favorite Elsa T-shirt. She was sprawled on cushions on her window seat with Jimmy Chew dozing on her lap.

“Hey, what’s with the long face. And how come you didn’t give me a hug?”

“Sorry.”

In response, Rosie scooped up Sophia and the dog.

She sat on the window seat with them on her lap and wrapped her arms around both.

“I love the view from here. We can see right over the fields and the river to Ludlow Hall.”

“I’m watching for papa’s car.”

“Emily said the no best friend rule has upset you.”

“I don’t understand how I can be a friend to bad people.”

“Bad how?”

“The girls who pull hair or nip and scratch and say nasty things.”

“Hmm. Thing is, over time, people can change.”

Sophia shifted to look up into Rosie’s face. “Did you have people you didn’t like at school?”

“Sure did. When I was seven I used to dislike Janine.”

Sophia’s eyes were like saucers. “But, I love auntie Janine. She decorated my bedroom and does really cool things for us.”

“Yeah. Like I said, people change. When she was younger, she was a spoilt brat.”

“Wow.”

“Yep. But once she got older and had Boo, she was a changed person.”

“Why did she change?”

“Well, she went through a hard time when she had the baby. She needed help to pay the bills and your mama and me gave her a job at Sweet Sensations.”

“You helped her even when you didn’t like her?”

Rosie wondered why she’d begun this conversation in the first place and decided to keep it simple. “Something like that. But, mostly I fell in love with Boo and realized the Janine I knew as a child and the grown-up were not the same person. Now Janine’s one of my best friends and I love her to bits. Maybe think about giving people a chance. See what happens.”

Sophia nodded. “‘Kay. But Emily will always be my best friend.”

The persistent stubborn streak within her niece made Rosie grin. “That’s cool. But maybe think about including a couple of the shy girls who find it hard to make friends in your circle. That would be a kind thing to do for them.”

“I didn’t think of it like that.”

“Of course you didn’t. You’re only six and I’m the adult who understands these things. Fancy milk and a chocolate chip mini muffin?”

As soon as she’d mentioned the word chocolate, Jimmy Chew leapt off Sophia’s knee and shot out the door.

Rosie looked at Sophia. “I swear that dog understands every single word we say.”

Sophia’s dimple popped. “He understands chocolate and cookie.”

As Rosie took her hand as they strolled out the door, she mused, “And I wonder why that is?”

“Auntie Rosie?”

“Yes, my child?”

“Did you get into trouble all the time when you were my age?”

“Do birds fly in the sky? Do fish swim in the sea? Of course I did.”

“Were you kind to people you didn’t like?”

Rosie could not lie. “No.”

Sophia nodded. “That’s what I thought.”

“I always say to forgive, but never forget.”

“And you always say don’t get angry, get even.”

“That, too.”

“Growing up is hard.”

“Sure is. But you’re lucky because you’ve got me and your Uncle Alexander and your mama and papa to guide you. Trust me, between us there is nothing we haven’t seen.”

Rosie and Sophie entered the kitchen to find Bronte busy preparing dinner, including the ingredients for a huge bowl of salad. Luca won’t be pleased.

When Sophia skipped over to the table to join Emily, Rosie winked at a smiling Bronte.

 

“What did you say to her?” Bronte asked out of the corner of her mouth.

Rosie’s hand hovered over a sliced red pepper. “Just gave her the benefit of my infinite wisdom and vast experience.”

“God.”

“She’s a bright girl. All she needed was time to work through her thoughts.”

“I don’t want to micro-manage her life.”

“I get that. On the other hand, it’s good to keep tabs on what’s going on. We’re all she has between her and the rest of the world.”

Bronte blinked. “I hadn’t thought of it like that.”

“Scary shit, isn’t it?”

“I’ve been wondering what sort of badge Miss Brown could give Sophia.”

Rosie munched on a pepper. “That’s dead easy. I am Italian.”

 

 

 

FINE

#bekind #kindness #amwriting #amediting

It’s Sneak Peek time at Ludlow Hall…

 

SNEAKPEEKMANTIME

Nico Ferranti’s study at The Dower House…

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

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

Nico nodded, studied the man on the screen.

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

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

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

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

Nico had to laugh.

Domestic failings his ass.

Gregorio had his pick of women.

The man was rich, and according to Bronte hot.

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

None of his business, he reminded himself.

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

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

“Namely me,” Gregorio said, nodding slowly.

“You.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dally?

Tonio made a mental note to look the word up.

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

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

“Was she pretty?”

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

“Did you kiss her?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do you still have the jet ski?”

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

Tonio’s jaw dropped. “Wow! Grazie!”

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

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

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

“What is this?”

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

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

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

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

And with that Tonio raced from the room.

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

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

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

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

Nico understood the underlying message loud and clear.

Si. We are Italian.”

Oooooh, I see trouble ahead……

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

it'sallabouttheromancebyccmackenzie

 

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

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

Hugs,

Christine X

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

“Like what?”

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

“Do I do that?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sophia grinned widely. “Auntie Rosie!”

***

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

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

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

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

“How come?” Sophia asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why?”

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

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

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

Rosie blinked. “Easy. Ignore him.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s hard.”

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rosie rolled her eyes. “Figures.”

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

FINE

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christine X