This scene takes place at Ludlow Hall during Anastacia and Olivier’s engagement party. Nico and Sean are keeping an eye on proceedings….
“You look very serious, my friend. The ribs still hurting?” Nico Ferranti asked Sean.
“Nah, the ribs are almost back to normal.”
To conform to the dress code on their invitation to Anastacia’s engagement party to Olivier Conti, both wore black tux. They stood next to a huge potted fern with their back to the wall, in the grand ballroom at Ludlow Hall. Even though he wasn’t on duty, old habits died hard, Sean nursed a glass of water, while Nico held a glass of Chianti from one of his many vineyards.
The party was in full swing and the entire Ludlow Hall gang, including children, were out in force to show their love and support for the young couple.
“They look happy,” Sean said, referring to the guests of honor who were grooving on down to a dance hit.
Nico nodded. “Si. She is good for him. And he is good for her. It is a good match.”
Sean grinned. “That’s good. His mother is pleased, which is the main thing as far as Ana’s concerned. I know she was nervous.”
Nico eyes twinkled. “Si. Valentina Conti is a good woman and happy Ana cannot cook to save her life, which means she will continue to rule the kitchen, like all good Italian mamas.”
Sean couldn’t help but laugh because Anastacia’s lack of culinary skill was legendary.
As he continued to scan the room, he caught sight of a man he didn’t recognize talking to Ana’s half-sister, the beautiful Chloe Rucker.
Sean’s eyes narrowed. “Next to the entrance to the hallway to the restrooms, who’s the tall guy with the man-bun talking to Chloe?”
Nico turned. “Ah, that is Serge Morretti. He is a good friend of Olivier’s. And much too old and experienced for young Chloe.”
“He looks rich.”
“He is rich. Very rich. He is Sardinian.”
The dry tone had Sean glance at the expression on Nico’s face. “You say that as if it’s a problem.”
“It may be a problem if Serge decided to have Chloe. Olivier would never permit it.”
“Because like Ana, Chloe and Tanith are now part of Olivier’s famiglia. And he would never tolerate Serge anywhere near one of his sisters or sisters-in-law.”
Nico made a face. “Let us say that he is not kind to women.”
“A Prince amongst men?”
“He is damaged. As I said, he is not kind.”
When Serge put his hands on Chloe both men stiffened.
But then little Sophia Ferranti, looking gorgeous in a pale pink party dress made from yards of tulle, skipped into the picture.
The child tugged on Chloe’s hand and said something.
Looking displeased, Serge released Chloe and took a step back.
Chloe turned towards the restrooms with Sophia.
A Sophia who turned to toss a narrow-eyed look over her shoulder at Serge.
She made a horrible face and poked out her tongue.
The utter shock on the Sardinian’s face was priceless.
Sean and Nico’s roar of laughter had heads turn in their direction.
“Christ, that Sophia is something else.”
Nico wiped his eyes. “Si. She is special.”
“When she grows up, you’re going to have your hands full with her.”
“Perhaps. But, she will never bring shame on la famiglia.”
Sean’s gaze tracked across the room to another loved-up couple, Danni and Pascale.
He pointed with his chin. “They’ll be next.”
“Hmm. He is smitten with her.”
“Yeah. She’s a sweetheart and a kind and gentle soul.” Sean’s gaze landed on T.C. sitting at a round table. She laughed as she batted her eyes and flirted outrageously with a young man. “Unlike some people.” His eyes narrowed when he spotted she was drinking water instead of her usual white wine.
Nico’s black brow rose as he followed Sean’s gaze. “Ah, yes. Theresa. That one marches to the beat of her own drum,” he drawled, his Italian accent strong. “You sound angry, my friend.”
“She’s like an earworm in my head.”
“You know,” Sean continued. “A tune in your head, like an advertizing jingle that simply won’t stop.”
“She is irritating.”
Nico laughed. “She is very beautiful.”
Sean glowered. “What’s that got to do with anything? It’s what lies beneath the skin that matters.” Then he heaved a heavy sigh, feeling as if he had the weight of the world on his shoulders. “I will never understand that woman.”
“You are attracted to her. And she is attracted to you. When you are not looking at her, she is looking at you.”
Sean knew it.
He’d felt her eyes drilling into the back of his head all night, hadn’t he?
“We don’t seem to be following any rules, at least none I can work out.”
Nico rubbed his chin. “Perhaps it is time to start breaking the rules.”
“Nope. I’m a big believer in rules. I live by rules,” Sean said, happily forgetting that he’d broken T.C.’s one night only rule.
“Hmm. How is that working out for you?”
Sean turned to stare hard at a grinning Nico. “Point taken. She’s a pain in my ass.”
“Ah, true love. It is a wonderful thing.”
His belly tremble at the thought of true love had Sean scowl horribly at his friend.
“What’s love got to do with it? he demanded.
The tone of sheer outrage had Nico throw back his head and roar with laughter.
“Ask Tina Turner.”
“F*ck off,” Sean said.
T.C. wondered why the hell she’d asked Freddy Beaumont to dance with her.
The man had two left feet and even though they were down to a shuffle, he’d still managed to stomp on her toes, twice.
Freddy’s freckles stood out against his pale face. “Sorry, T.C. I hate dancing. You know I’m no good at it.”
Her attention elsewhere, T.C. nodded.
Out of the corner of her eye, she watched Sean Kennedy sending her the stink eye.
He’d been looking at her, just like that, all night.
She turned to bestow a wide smile upon Freddy.
He’d known her since she was ten, so his response to her glittering smile was not one she might have hoped for.
Instantly on guard, Freddy frowned. “Why are you looking at me like that?”
“Put your hand on my ass.”
His eyes, a pale grey, went like saucers. “What?”
“Don’t burst my eardrum. You heard me. Do it.”
“Uh huh. I don’t know what you’re up to, but, I’m not doing it.”
She stared up into his face and fluttered her lashes.
“Freddy,” she said in a low purr that would have had Danni and Ana roll their eyes. “I’m trying to send the right message to a guy who’s refusing to take the word no. Do it.”
Freddy kept a wary eye on her mood and clamped a big hand on her ass.
Out of the corner of her eye, T.C. watched Sean’s face.
He didn’t bat an eye.
Instead, his gaze clicked to the hand on her ass then lifted meet her eyes.
He mouthed. You are a bad, bad girl.
He moved towards them.
What if Sean hit Freddy?
He wouldn’t hit Freddy, would he?
Sean tapped Freddy on the shoulder, while T.C. looked on with something like fear gripping her heart. Freddy was a gentle soul. When they’d been young, he’d had a problem standing up for himself. There was no way he’d be able to handle a big tall Irish man sixty pounds heavier.
Freddy turned and shocked T.C. to the core when he beamed. “Hi, Sean. How are the ribs?”
“Good, Fred. The new pain pills helped a lot, thanks.”
T.C. gaped at them. “You know each other?”
Freddy stared at her, blinked. “Of course. I treated him at the outpatient clinic.”
Which just went to show what a small bloody world it was, T.C. realized, putting two and two together to make four.
“Mind if I take over, Fred?” Sean asked.
It was insulting, T.C. fumed, the way Freddy just handed her over to Sean, as if she was a packet of… of… chips.
Ah, T.C. has met her match, methinks.
I’m working on Break The Rules and No Rules as I type.
Break The Rules will not go on pre-order, it will go immediately up for sale, so stay tuned.