It’s episodes 6 + 7 of DESERT CAPTIVE…

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Hello, my darlings!

Did you enjoy THE ROYAL WEDDING last Saturday? We loved the whole romance of the special occasion and how much in the love the couple were. Meghan looked radiant in the splendour of the Chapel. I wish them every happiness and know they are going to be a great team.

Speaking of teams, HITCHED TO THE ITALIAN’S final edit is almost in the bag and my editor love-love-loved it. It includes some re-written sneak peeks woven through the torrid tale, and I have the next two outlines fleshed out in the HITCHED TO THE ITALIAN series. My team and I have had the best time coming up with the next two titles and covers. Love my job!  I’m also working on OUR RULES.

Here’s the next two episodes of DESERT CAPTIVE. Remember these are not the final version of the story, things will change in the finished version of the book after many rounds of editing.

Enjoy!

DESERT CAPTIVE

 

Copyright © C C MacKenzie 2018

 

 

EPISODE SIX

Sarif surveyed Arabella, the woman who within a matter of moments, was about to become his wife.

Her scent, lightly floral and warm woman, seemed to draw him in. The slim hand held in his felt cold and even a little fragile. On her finger she wore a giant diamond solitaire ring that appeared too big for her hand. Even as her fingers gripped his, the knuckles white, the stone glittered with a blazing brilliance. It was a beautiful ring befitting a Queen. His Queen. His. A heat he could do nothing about, no matter how hard he tried, burned in his groin. It was her body, he told himself urgently. There was just something about how slim she appeared in an ivory silk pant suit, an outfit sent to her by Queen Charisse’s couturier in the House of Chanel. Queen Charisse was a good friend to Arabella and soon to be her sister-in-law. His brother, Khalid, and Charisse had been unable to attend this very sudden wedding. Neither had his parents, which was probably just as well because it was not a for-ever kind of marriage and he knew they would not approve of his actions. The entire ceremony was nothing more than the only way for him to legally claim his son.

Now he studied Bella’s set face. Her hair was the color of the true brunette, dark chestnut shot through with brandy. Her face was oval, the cheekbones sharp, the skin clear and fresh and quite lovely. Her mouth was full, the bottom lip might even be called voluptuous. It was a mouth that left him painfully turned on. Aware of his scrutiny, her eyes, dark brown, flicked to his and held.

Hot tendrils of a lust that never faded whenever he looked at her spun through his system.

His attraction to her remained a complete mystery to him.

For the past few days this woman, with her face stony, her responses tense and cool to his attempt to make polite conversation, only made him tense and cool himself. And yet now that held her hand, his whole body was ablaze.

The celebrant officiating the legal ceremony asked her a question and finally she smiled and it lit up her grave face like the sun. In truth, the smile was both wooden and formal. Involuntarily Sarif was amused for no woman had ever treated him the way Bella did, with such utter disdain. Then she turned to him and he studied the clear challenge in her eyes and asked himself if marrying her was worth everything he was sacrificing. Of course it was, his intelligence told him. For the loss of his freedom he had to be practical and work within the British legal system and do anything to gain custody of his son. One way or another marriage to this woman was a step forward in attaining his goal to secure the continued heritage of his family and his name. Both would go a long way to securing a better future for his people.

Silence fell as they both said the words that legally bound them, and he had another flashback to how her tight bare bottom had felt as his hands had gripped her as her long legs had wound around his waist and together they’d attained a dizzy height of bliss he’d never felt before or since.

Now he wondered if her clear unwillingness to even speak to him since they’d made love that one time had stoked a weird sort of craving. Again hunger leapt through his veins because now she was his. The thought of her spread across his vast bed in various different positions shot heat to his groin. He could not remember ever wanting a woman with such violent immediacy. Was it possible that her reluctance sustained his desire? Was he truly the type of man who needed the sort of challenge, Bella truly represented? And why was the truth of her standing next to him and pregnant with his child such a turn on? Wasn’t that a little perverted? A hard line of color streaked his exotic, high cheekbones, and he stood upright and told himself to get a grip.

The celebrant smiled.

“You may kiss the bride.”

Slowly, they turned to face one another.

Now he held both of her hands in his as he stared at the narrow band of gold that signified their joining as man and wife.

In his mind, Sarif promised himself the kiss would be a brief touch of the lips.

No more.

No less.

But when those clear dark brown eyes gazed unflinchingly, so intently into his, he found his hand raised to brush a stray hair behind her small ear.

And then as he touched her, the sudden tremble in her body, shook him to the core.

He bent his head and inhaled the scent of her shampoo.

Slowly… agonizingly slowly… his mouth touched hers and he brushed his lips back and forth across the full softness of her bottom lip.

Her shaky exhales came in short, ragged breaths.

The barely there touch of his mouth against hers felt like heaven.

It felt incredible.

His eyes fluttered shut.

His big body shivered.

The moan from her increased his easy exploration of her mouth. Pleasure charged through his system like a jolt of lightning and he nearly orgasmed right in front of witnesses.

His body needed more.

He needed more.

Their bodies, as if magnetised, moved closer until pressed together, but still felt too far apart.

Only the low cough from someone behind him, brought Sarif back to his senses.

He blinked, and lifted his head until their mouths reluctantly parted.

When she tasted her lips, he found himself mirroring the move.

Her taste was like honey.

He couldn’t help it.

Still holding her hands, he rested his forehead on hers.

“Well, well, well,” he muttered under his breath, his eyes locked on hers. “Seems we still have that carnal lust between us. Interesting how one can abhor a person and yet feel attraction, isn’t it?”

Her face paled as if he’d slapped her, but he wasn’t at all sorry.

The last thing he wanted her to believe was that he was a romantic fool.

No point in letting her get too comfortable in this short relationship.

And he most definitely didn’t want her to know that she had any sort of power over him.

Hands down, he’d just had one of the most erotic moments of his adult life.

Maybe being forced to marry Arabella Faulkner had a silver lining.

He wanted her.

She wanted him.

When it came to her keeping the promises she’d just made to him, the fact was he didn’t trust her an inch.

However, maybe they’d both get something unexpected out of the farce she was prepared to play.

After all, it wasn’t as if she could get pregnant when they had sex.

That boat, as the old saying went, had already sailed.

 

EPISODE SEVEN

Bella settled into a corner of the gilded limousine with police outriders whisking them to the airport and a Quarram Royal jet. Queen Arabella. If the whole thing wasn’t so utterly ridiculous, she’d actually find it funny. She studied Sarif’s lean, darkly handsome face. He looked so different from the man she had first met in Onuur. He was proud of his country and his heritage. Yet, he hadn’t worn his national dress for their marriage, something which had surprised her. Now he wore a sharply tailored suit with the style and flair of one born to such formality. Exquisitely tailored in a fine dark grey wool and silk blend, the cut of the suit outlined his broad shoulders and wide chest and enhanced his lean hips and those long powerful legs to a T.

For some reason, her body seemed to tremble like a tuning fork in his illustrious presence, and that seriously irritated her. The truth might be hard to swallow, but the fact was that no matter how much he angered or annoyed her, it appeared he still fascinated her. A voice told her she was emotionally treading on dangerous ground and to take care. However, the voice was unable to stop her temperature rising along with her heartbeat. Pregnancy had sensitized her breasts to the point where they felt constricted by her bra. She pressed her slim trouser-clad thighs together, fighting a losing battle to control the growing heat at the heart of her.

“If you keep looking at me like that I’ll have to do something about it,” Sarif said in a silky voice that held both a threat and a promise.

Bella’s cheeks burned with a mortification that made her want to slap herself.

Jeez, what the hell was wrong with her?

She was acting as if she had a starring role in a romance novel and that this marriage was for real.

Then she found herself saying, “You started it. You kissed me first.”

“In your culture it is expected of the groom to kiss the bride. And anyway, you kissed me back.”

She shut her eyes tight.

True.

She had kissed him back and loved every single minute of it.

“We sound like two bickering children,” she muttered.

“We are both suffering from nothing more than an overwhelming chemical reaction, which has caused an unwanted attraction and an equally unwanted sexual frustration between us,” he said thickly. “I have never gone without sex for so long. In the last two weeks I have had enough cold showers to last me three lifetimes.”

That frank response set her cheeks on fire, a tide of mortification washing up over her neck and face. Her gaze evaded those blazing grey eyes in a face that looked as if it was carved from stone. Something compelling went tight low in her pelvis, a contracting thread of a very physical yearning that was powerful enough to shatter her already frayed nerves.

What the hell had happened to her legendary professional cool?

She was renowned for keeping calm in a crisis.

Well, she was so far from calm right now it wasn’t funny.

All she wanted to do was get the man naked.

Worse, she knew he felt exactly the same way.

The bloody hormone apocalypse strikes again, she thought savagely.

“You were late. I thought you were going to jilt me at the altar,” he said now without a lick of humor in his voice.

“Don’t think I didn’t think about it.”

“What changed your mind?”

Now might be the perfect time to tell him she knew he held her brother captive.

She was sorely tempted to wipe that smirk off his gorgeous face.

However, for once her professional common sense prevailed.

If she tipped her hand too soon, Sarif would discover that the British Secret Service knew too, and that would put the success of their rescue plan at risk. The last thing she wanted was to put her brother in even more danger, so she kept quiet. For now. Let Sarif be the one to confess his many sins and explain himself to her. She looked forward to hearing his reasoning behind her brother’s imprisonment. Knowing Sarif it was bound to be interesting.

“As you said yourself, London is dangerous. I only want what’s best for my baby and to keep it safe,” she said at last.

He sat there with his attitude one of a Lord of all he surveyed.

Including her, she reminded herself.

The man was in superb condition.

He was long and lean.

Fit.

Swept back ebony hair, brooding brows.

A firm don’t-mess-with-me mouth.

“Do you really?” he asked in that horrible silky voice she was coming to detest.

She blinked.

“Of course I do. I’ve no idea why you would think anything else.”

“This is neither the time nor the place to have that conversation,” Sarif told her as the limousine came to halt at the airport.

After that, the chance for any private dialogue ceased until they were whizzed through passport control onto the vast jet.

Once settled in a comfortable chair of the softest leather, and treated like a Queen by the crew, even then, she had no opportunity to ask him just what the hell he meant by that statement. When it came to wanting what was best for her child, as far as he was concerned, what was there to talk about? Obviously, he had no idea that she had no intention of either staying in Quarram long term or of leaving her child behind either.

If Sarif ever discovered she had another agenda, he’d make sure her life wasn’t worth living, and he’d take their child.

She knew he would.

And he might be all laid back and casual about sex, but she wasn’t.

Contrarily, she now wished she hadn’t been a virgin when they’d had sex, that she’d been more experienced in that regard.

As the jet engine roared for take-off, seemed even the air-traffic controllers pulled out all the stops for His Majesty, Bella knew she had just burned many bridges of a personal nature.

Her parents hadn’t come to the wedding, for the simple reason she hadn’t invited them.

What was the point of dragging them to a ceremony that not only meant nothing, but she’d need to explain herself and her actions to her father when she returned to the UK with a baby boy?

As the plane levelled out, she watched Sarif stalk out of a door, which held some kind of office where he’d had a pow-pow with a skinny little man who’d kept giving her the side-eye as soon as she’d stepped onto the aircraft.

Now Sarif strode down the red carpeted walkway towards her.

He had a face like thunder.

Bella reckoned that stick up his ass must hurt—a lot.

Maybe she’d give it a twist.

He stopped by the chair, offered his hand.

“Now we are out of British air space, on this plane we are on Quarram sovereign territory. Come with me.”

Something about they way he looked at her, as if she was a bad smell beneath his noble nose, should have warned her.

Later, she’d bitterly regret giving him her hand and allowing herself to be led like a lamb to the slaughter.

No one took any notice of them as he towed her through the office and that horrible little man who didn’t even raise his head to acknowledge her existence.

Interested in the way the plane was designed, with a sort of private apartment constructed at the rear, she said nothing as he led her past a sitting arrangement and through to what was obviously a luxuriously appointed double bedroom.

“Sit,” he ordered, pointing to the bed.

Heart pounded at the thought of being ravished by this man, because why would he bring her here in the first place?

She sat.

He closed the door, locked it, and turned to face her.

Back resting against the door, he crossed his arms.

“How much is my son worth to you?”

Stunned, she stared at him.

“I’m sorry, you’ve lost me.”

“How much? Ten million? Twenty million? Fifty million? Name your price.”

Feeling as if someone had smacked her on the head with a hammer, she shook her head.

Who the hell was this man?

“Let me get this straight. You want to buy my child?”

“No. I already have my son safely on this plane and almost in my country where he will stay. You may not leave until after my son is born. I am asking you how much it will cost to get you out of my son’s life.”

She took a deep inhale of breath, and let fury rule.

“There is not a chance in hell that I would ever abandon my child.”

Sarif shifted to sit back on a small love seat with an hauteur that was, she realized, not at all contrived. It was an innate part of him, probably from birth. Breeding. That was it. Something told her it would still be a part of him as he took his last breath, which if he kept up this type of behaviour his last breath wouldn’t be long coming.

The contempt corrupting his fine mouth was a grotesque thing.

“Give it up,” he spoke in that slow drawl that she was seriously coming to loathe.

“If you felt like this about me, why on earth did you bring me here?”

He was on his feet so fast, she reared further back on the bed.

“Why?” he roared like a bull.

Whoa.

His complete loss of control, his temper, made her shrink back.

“You were prepared to KILL MY SON, woman. My heir.”

She frowned.

“Utter nonsense,” she returned, her voice sharp.

Those dark brows rose above icy grey eyes.

“I have photographs of you attending an abortion clinic in early pregnancy.”

For about ten seconds, she stared unblinking at the wall over his shoulder, her brain working fast.

When the penny dropped, she studied him and reckoned he’d lost his tiny mind.

He certainly looked as if he had by the way he stared at her now, as if she was beyond evil.

“Actually, you’re quite wrong about that, it was a clinic…”

“Where they kill babies,” he ground out.

She slowly shook her head, wondering how the hell he’d managed to twist the facts in his mind.

“No,” she said in a soft voice. “There are times when a pregnancy goes wrong. Perhaps the baby dies in the womb. Or there’s a genetic issue with one or both parents or even the fetus itself and life is not viable.”

“The place is not a normal ante-natal unit,” he stated. “Why were you there if not to discuss ending your pregnancy?”

She blinked.

Omigod.

He’d never believe her, she realized with something like panic gripping her throat.

“I was sent there to be tested for a genetic anomaly that runs in my family,” she whispered, and just knew what was coming.

“And if you had found that anomaly, what then?”

“Then there would have been a discussion about whether life was viable… or not.”

One black brow rose.

And she knew, she just knew, that she’d lost this man’s trust forever.

If there was one thing she understood about his culture it was that a baby boy was the most precious thing to a man. Even if the child was not perfect in every way, that child was loved and adored.

Then again, when it came to her family, there was a very good reason her brother was very precious to her parents. Before she was born their first child, a son, had died at ten months with the rare genetic condition mitochondrial DNA depletion syndrome. Nothing could be done to save him. Even worse, the joining of her parents DNA had caused the condition in the first place. It had been vital to Bella’s peace of mind that she discover if she’d inherited a gene mutation too. Her relief at being clear had been a heady time of joy for her.

“And you did not think to reach out me at that time, or did you believe I did not have a right to know?”

He had a point, she reluctantly agreed.

“To be honest with you, I didn’t give you a thought. I was sick as a dog. My brain just wasn’t functioning logically and I was terrified of bad news. When the tests results were normal, I focused on me and the baby. I made sure I ate properly and got plenty of rest. That’s it.”

He stood, towering over her.

Big.

Strong.

Masculine.

His scent alone was a potent reminder of the time they’d come together, rutting like wild animals.

Wild.

Free.

Erotic.

Hot.

All those thoughts and more had heat flood her neck, her cheeks.

And her heart sank at the look on his face for her.

“It doesn’t matter. What matters is that as far as I am concerned you were prepared to destroy my child, my son, if you thought it was necessary. I believe everything written in a thorough report of your movements by people I trust, people who are loyal to the throne of Quarram and the El Haribe family. As for your motivations, I do not believe you. You betrayed me and for that betrayal you will pay.”

Now she stood.

“That is not true.”

“To me you are merely a reluctant incubator. Make no mistake. My son will be born safe and well. And then you will be thrown out of my country.”

At that moment Bella knew that in this mood, he’d never believe her side of the story no matter how hard she tried to make him see sense.

Sarif was a man with a plan, and she had no idea what was coming next.

He was stubborn.

He hated her.

She hated him.

In spite of the mutual hate-fest whirling around them, a low throb of lust deep in her belly shocked her.

How in the world could she be attracted to a knuckle dragging Neanderthal?

How did any of this make sense?

When he turned on his heel, unlocked the door and banged it shut, Bella sank to the edge of the bed and just stared into space.

She took time to re-live the drama of their entire conversation.

A woman couldn’t be strong all the time.

Sometimes she needed to be alone

and let her tears fall…

 

 

 

Copyright © C C MacKenzie 2018

 

Aim for the ping pong ball… It’s the Ludlow Hall short story…

Aim for the Ping Pong Ball

 

Hello, my darlings!

We’ve actually had a heat wave – a mini heat wave they say – which has brought us the hottest April day since 1949! Love it!

We’re also in the process of major detailing work on the top floor of this house, and like everything else once we began the project other things appeared like extra plumbing and electrics and plasterwork. Bleh.

Don’t know about you, but I need a bit of Ludlow love, or hate as the case may be when it comes to the Ferranti twins, Sophia and Luca.

The Dower House…

“How’s Tonio?” Rosie Ludlow asked Bronte as they jogged down a dirt trail behind Ludlow Hall. They both wore knee length yoga pants and fitted T-shirts, their hair pulled back from flushed faces. The sun’s rays filtered through the tree canopy. The air was filled with the scent of years of leaf mould. A brook babbled into a stream as it made it’s lazy and winding way down to the river Ludlow.

Bronte jogged on the spot, checked her watch. “His shoulder’s doing a lot better and the bruising across his clavicle is improving every day. He knows he’s been lucky, and trying not to fret about no football practice for six weeks, but he’s a bit down in the mouth at times. Poor boy.”

“Kids,” Rosie said. “They’re tricky little buggers.”

Bronte sent her a dark look. “Mine are a nightmare at times.”

Rosie grinned. “You’re crazy about them.”

“You know Sophia’s top in math and English and music?”

Rosie bit down hard on her bottom lip as she joined Bronte in leg stretches.

“Luca mentioned it. He is most displeased.”

Bronte had to laugh. “He’ll never be her equal. When it comes to brains she’s in a class of her own.”

“That girl could rule the world.”

“She does her level best to rule our house, except she’s gotta go through me so that’ll never happen.”

“Now Emily’s back from vacation, she’ll keep Sophia entertained.”

Bronte rolled her eyes. “The latest is they want to join a circus.”

Rosie snorted a laugh. “The Greatest Showman?”

“Yup. Grace is taking them to a double sitting tomorrow. They know every single word to every single song.”

“Did you know Emily asked her for a baby tiger?”

Bronte closed her eyes. “I don’t want to even think about it. Bubblegum and Jimmy Chew are more than enough to deal with.”

When they reached Bronte’s Range Rover in the car park of Ludlow Hall, they took a long drink of water before jumping in.

As Bronte drove down the long driveway lined by huge elm trees, she turned to eye Rosie. “You took it nice and slow today, you feeling okay?”

“Nothing that seven months won’t fix. I’m pregnant.”

When Bronte did an emergency stop, screamed her head off, and grabbed her in a hug, Rosie just held on tight.

Bronte shifted to check her colour. She looked fine. More than fine. “I didn’t know you two were trying for another baby!”

Rosie made a face. “As soon as we talked about it, voila, super-sperm struck again.”

A beaming Bronte hugged her once more. “Aw, Mila’s gonna be a big sister.”

“She’s just found her feet. Alexander’s a great daddy with her.”

“Of course he is!”

Rosie’s big brown eyes went all teary. “I can’t believe how I nearly messed it up with him.”

Bronte turned on the ignition and shook her head. “That’s baby hormones speaking.”

“I ran away.”

“You did. But you needed alone time to think about your relationship. Nothing wrong with that.”

Rose sniffed. “That’s not what you said at the time.”

“No. Well, I’d been worried sick that something bad had happened to you. Thank God your mother kept us in the loop. AND you cut your hair.”

Rosie took a deep breath. “Self inflicted punishment. It’s taken years to grow it back. The curse of curly hair.”

The car turned into the driveway of The Dower House.

“Aw, another baby in the family,” Bronte said.

Her wistful tone had Rosie give her big eyes.

“Are you broody again?”

Bronte blinked.

“Me? No!”

Rosie got out, grabbed her fitness bag from the trunk, eyed a thoughtful looking Bronte.

“You sure? I bet Nico would be up for another one.”

Hoisting her bag on her shoulder, Bronte locked the car.

“He’s always up for it.”

 

“Mama!” Sophia raced out the door, closely followed by her best friend in the Whole Wide World, Emily. The girls were dressed as athletic fairies, at least that was the best description of pink leotards, white footless tights and white wings, Bronte could come up with. They’d also been in the kiddy makeup and by the looks of it experimenting with ‘smoky eyes’. Goth fairies, maybe.

Rosie opened her arms and Sophia gave her a hug.

“What’s this? You been watching ‘Tinker Bell and the Legend of the Never Beast’ again?”

“How did you know?” Emily asked, her big blue eyes wide.

Rosie gave her a hug too. “A lucky guess.”

Sophia spun around to face Bronte. “Mama!”

“That’s the second time you’ve said that, what’s up, Buttercup?”

“There’s a disgusting stink in the downstairs toilet.”

Emily wrinkled her cute little freckled nose and nodded her head so hard in agreement that her red curls danced around her head.

“Is it blocked again?”

Sophia shook her head.

“Nope. But it stinks of wee.”

Bronte made a bitch-face, as Rosie called it, and marched into the house.

Her emerald gaze swept through the kitchen-dining-family space, and found it immaculate, which was just as well since she’d bottomed out the place the day before.

However, the yells and howls from the ‘man cave’ told her a soccer game was in full flow.

As she marched past the door to the ‘man cave’ she threw it a dark look and headed on down the hallway to the ground floor toilet. She opened the door and surveyed the scene, the vile splashes on the wall and floor tiles.

With a face like thunder, she threw open the window.

Rosie, always interested in how a domestic goddess ran her home, poked her head in the door and the smell of a urinal hit her between the eyes. “Jeez, what the hell is wrong with guys? Can’t they pee into the toilet bowl?”

“Nope,” Sophia said. “They’re disgusting. Mama, you should make them sit on the toilet like girls do.”

Emily piped up. “But how would that work? Wouldn’t their penis just stick up and wee would go everywhere?”

“Not if they hold it down into the bowl,” Sophia told her in a tone that meant business. “How hard can it be?”

Meanwhile Bronte, busy gathering cleaning products from the built in cupboard beneath the sink, picked up two pairs of pink rubber gloves, and stalked down the hall and into the ‘man cave.’ The men in her life, unshaven, all laid back in belly scratching mode, plus the empty soda bottles, coffee cups, and water bottles told her all she needed to know.

“You!” She shot a finger at Nico and tossed him a pair of rubber gloves and cleaning spray. And then she aimed her finger at her brother and tossed him gloves too. “And you! With me! Now!”

By this time Rosie, Emily and Sophia were in the hallway, their arms folded and wearing their own unique versions of the bitch-face.

 

Now, Nico Ferranti was not stupido.

He followed the stiff shoulders of his wife, couldn’t help but admire her tight little ass in those yoga pants, the swing of her white-blonde ponytail, and in his mind he made plans for an early night.

“Don’t even think about it, boyo!” Bronte shot over her shoulder.

However, when the love of his life behaved like she was in the military and ready for war, he knew something was up.

Alexander, meanwhile, was not a happy man. “Aw, what’s the matter with you? The game’s just come alive. We’ll miss the good bits.”

“That whiney voice is not a good look on you,” his sister told him sharply as she came to a halt outside the toilet. She threw open the door. “I want this cleaned right now and then we’re all gonna have a little talk on how to pee in my house.”

Alexander took a big step back, held up his hands.

“Whoa! I’m not touching it. This isn’t my house. Why do I need to clean it?”

Bronte went nose to nose with her big brother. “Did you pee in here today?”

Alexander ignored his wife’s shaking shoulders, but shot her a dark look anyway. “Might have. Once.”

“Were you in a hurry?” Bronte lifted her chin.

Alexander scratched the scruff on his jaw. “Maybe.”

“So you weren’t exactly focused on what you were doing?”

“I’ve been peeing all my life. I don’t splash.”

“Wanna bet?” his sister said.

“How much?”

“Twenty.”

“I cannot believe I’m even hearing this conversation,” Nico said on his knees. Wearing pink rubber gloves, he sprayed disinfectant spray on the walls, the floor and thoroughly inside and outside the toilet bowl. “It must have been the boys. And Tonio’s handicapped at the moment.”

Luca and Tonio, wondering what all the fuss was about, peered into the room.

“I didn’t use this toilet,” Tonio said, and missed the sharp look Nico shot him.

“I didn’t use it either,” Luca said. “We use the main bathroom upstairs.”

“Oh well then,” Bronte threw up her hands. “That’s means another bathroom to clean. Guys, the weather is warm and if you don’t drink enough fluids then your wee is concentrated and smells vile. We need to talk about this.”

“Nope. I am not talking about peeing in my own home,” Nico said.

 

When the rhetoric between her mama and papa descended into a row, Sophia grabbed Emily and they made their way to her bedroom and peace and quiet.

“Wow,” Emily said. “That was pretty disgusting.”

Sophia, busy rummaging around in her shelf unit, nodded, and emerged with notepad and pencil.

“We need a plan. My mama can’t do everything in this house.”

Emily followed her to a desk and chair. “What are you gonna do?”

Sophia sat and drew six lines down and six lines across. She wrote the names of her papa and her brothers and her Uncle Alexander in a box.

“We need to track who uses the toilet and when and then check it to see who’s the culprit. We can’t do anything without proof.”

A baffled looking Emily leaned on the desk, her chin on her hand. “Okay, but how to you get proof?”

“We put squares of toilet paper all around the toilet. If they get wet then we know who did it.”

“But that means we might wait for ages to see who needs to pee.”

Sophia thought about it, nodded. “Okay, then we need a better plan.”

Emily snapped her fingers. “I know! My mummy put a ping pong ball in the toilet and told my daddy to aim for it! It worked! No more smelly loos! And when he flushed, the ping pong ball doesn’t flush!”

Sophia sat back and grinned, then gave Emily a high five. “I like it! And I know just the place to get ping pong balls!”

A few minutes later, the girls are in the triple garage and rummaging through boxes.

“Got them!” Sophia held up a plastic box filled with ping pong balls. “How many do we need?”

“One’s enough in each one,” Emily said.

“Let’s do it!”

 

“Can someone tell me why there’s a ping pong ball in the toilet?” Luca asked.

The Ferranti family were eating dinner.

Bronte blinked. “Omigod. Now what?”

Sophia, eyeing her brothers and papa, shrugged. “It worked in Emily’s house.”

Bronte turned to her. “What worked?”

“Emily’s daddy aimed for the ping pong ball and no more splashes.”

Bronte’s brows flew into her hairline. “I like it! Aim for the ping pong ball, guys!”

The males in her life didn’t exactly look enthusiastic.

Luca, carefully removing any sign of broccoli from his meal with the precision of a brain surgeon, said, “How come there are boy toilets and girl toilets?”

Nico, trying to think of a logical way to answer the random question caught Sophia, chewing her food, staring unblinking at her twin.

When she opened her mouth, Nico jumped in.

“Privacy,” he said. “It’s a basic human right.”

“Oh, and by the way,” Bronte said and sent him a big toothy grin. “You owe me twenty pounds.”

Nico placed his knife and fork on the plate, sat back and did his level best to out-stare his wife, and failed.

“I did not splash.”

“Twenty pounds, boyo.”

He stared at his sons.

“How do you know it was me?”

“You dripped.”

His jaw dropped.

“Did not!”

“Did too.” Then she grabbed her phone. “Wanna see proof?”

For the first time in his life, Nico Ferranti felt his cheeks go hot.”

“You did not!”

“Yup. It’s X-rated, btw.”

Fiercely aware of the way his children watched him, Nico grabbed his wallet from his pocket and flicked a twenty towards his wife.

How embarrassing was this.

Later, much later, the kids were in bed and Nico was enjoying a glass of Chianti before bed. He poured his wife a glass of white wine, and waited.

He heard her upstairs doing her nightly round of checking on their kids, and then the sound of her bare feet pad down the stairs.

When she entered the family room wearing an ivory silk dressing gown, he studied her scrubbed face, her slim figure and thought he’d never seen anything more beautiful in his life.

Dio, he adored her.

“The ping pong ball is freaking me out,” he said.

When she threw back her head and laughed so hard she clutched her stomach, he had to smile.

“Omigod,” she said. “You should see your face…”

He sat back and placed bare feet on a stool.

His eyes held hers.”Tonio and Luca are drinking lots of water to see who has the best aim.”

Bronte bit down hard on her bottom lip, gave him wide eyes.

“Boys will be boys.”

“There is nothing sacred in this house,” he muttered.

She slid onto his knees and wrapped slim arms around his neck.

Emerald eyes filled with love and fun stared into his.

“You sulking?”

His nose kissed hers.

“I don’t sulk.”

“Okay, I’d call it a pout.”

“I don’t pout.”

When his hands slid inside the silk to find skin her breath hitched.

Then his mouth took hers…….

 

FINE

 

Ah, I well remember the ping pong ball in the toilet.

So does my H and my son….

Until next time!

Hugs,

Christine X

 

Best friends… it’s the Ludlow Hall short story…

bestfriends

 

Greetings, my darlings!

We have cloud and wind and rain.

Come on, Spring!

Here’s part two of the Ludlow Hall short story…

It’s the morning after the night before at The Dower House, and Emily finally gets her chance to talk to Rosie about the love of her life, Tonio.

Sophia and Emily, wearing soft blue jeans and their hoodies are sitting at the table in the kitchen-dining-living space with Rosie and the toddlers.

“How old were you when you knew Alexander was the one?” Emily asked Rosie in her soft, breathy voice.

Rosie, wearing black thermal leggings and an oversized T-shirt, her inky curls tied in a messy knot on her head, placed plastic bowls filled with cereal and sliced banana on the high chair tables for Mila and Eve. Out of the corner of her eye, she spotted Sophia’s here-we-go-again face and tried hard not to laugh.

Emily was a lovely kid, but her head was in the clouds much of the time, and Rosie reckoned her obsession with Tonio was not healthy.

“When I was your age I actually didn’t like Alexander very much, mainly because he treated me like his sister. Even Bronte would tell you that having an overprotective big brother is no fun. And things got even worse when we hit our teens. I cannot tell you the number of arguments I had with him over who I dated in high school for example.”

Emily’s blue eyes went wide. “Was he jealous?”

Rosie shook her head. “Nope. He didn’t ever see me as anyone other than part of the family, which he reckoned gave him rights to have an opinion.”

Clearly disappointed, Emily seemed to mull over that statement as she nibbled on her cheese on toast.

“I can’t stop thinking about Tonio,” she finally admitted.

Rosie buttered fingers of toast and set them on the toddler’s high chair tables.

The little girls were still dressed in their pink pj’s since Rosie reckoned there was no point in bathing until after breakfast. When Mila stroked sticky fingers over Eve’s dark curls, Sophia and Emily howled with laughter.

Rosie studied Emily’s little face before she answered.

“Have you ever considered Tonio’s feelings?”

Sophia, unusually for her, had been silent during this exchange, but now she turned to her friend. “You should ask him what sort of girl he likes.”

Emily blinked. “But what if he doesn’t like me?”

“He does like you,” Sophia said. “But not as a girlfriend because number one – you’re too young. Number two – you’re my best friend. Number three – I think auntie Rosie’s right.”

And on cue Alexander, Luca and Tonio entered the kitchen.

Hair damp from the shower, they wore jeans and T-shirts with soccer colors of their favourite team because they were attending a big match today.

They grabbed plates and headed for the mountain of bacon and eggs set on the worktop.

When they settled at the table and Rosie had poured milk for the boys and black coffee for her husband, Sophia gave Emily a very hard stare to get-on-with-it and ask Tonio the question.

Unfortunately, it was clear poor Emily’s courage had failed her.

“Emily wanted to know,” Rosie began, and sent a cheesy grin to the love of her life. “When you knew I was the one.”

Alexander blinked, sent Emily a smile that made her already pink face go nuclear.

“Yeah? Um—I’d always liked her, even when she drove me crazy. But it was when we became close and then she left me that it really hit me hard and I knew I couldn’t live without her.”

Tonio crunched a piece of crispy bacon, then said, “When I am a man I will live in Italy and marry a beautiful Italian girl.” He dug into his breakfast totally unaware that he’d just dropped a bombshell and broken a little heart.

Rosie studied her nephew.

“So, what’s wrong with British girls?”

Tonio glanced at her, then appeared to realize that every single female had her eyes, hard eyes, on him.

“Oops,” Alexander muttered.

It seemed Tonio had mastered the Ferranti smile, the one that could charm the birds off the trees. He turned it on full watt now. Then it slipped a little when there was no response.

“Absolutely nothing,” he said and added a little extra Italian accent for good measure. “But I like dark hair, long legs and girls with energy and good humor. Many British girls are like little mice and do nothing but stare at boys.”

“Well, you can’t blame them for staring,” Rosie said, very aware that a devastated and very pale Emily was gazing at her plate. “The Ferranti males are pretty to look at.”

At that, Luca raised his head from inhaling his breakfast, and stared at his aunt in disgust.

“I’m not pretty!”

Rosie turned to him.

“You’re the prettiest one of them all.”

Luca turned to his uncle Alexander.

“Can you not control your wife?” he asked.

“Nope.”

“I’m never getting married,” Luca told the room at large.

His twin, her face an expressionless mask, simply said, “Trust me, no one with a single working brain cell would want you.”

Luca, dark eyes flashing, leaned over the table and hissed,

“I hope your next poop is a pineapple.”

Silence.

 

Alexander, fighting a losing battle to keep a straight face, got to his feet.

“If we want to get to the kick-off in time we’d better get moving.”

In the scrimmage of hand washing, the hunt for Luca’s missing boot, tugging on coats and hats and goodbye’s Sophia simply sat at the table wearing a face that might turn milk sour.

“Well then,” Rosie said as she correctly read the expressions on two little faces. “That’s the first time I’ve ever seen Luca have the final word.”

Emily sniffed, and even though her big blue eyes looked suspiciously bright, she lifted her chin.

“I’m not Italian and I don’t have long legs or dark hair. I don’t have a chance with Tonio. Do I?”

Rosie sat at the table and desperately wanted to be kind.

“I don’t know. No one knows. Do you want my advice?” Emily nodded. “There’s a big wide world out there and a huge amount to learn, so if I were you I’d get prepared as best you can to explore the world.”

Sophia put her arm around her best friend’s shoulders and pulled her in for a hug.

“We’re starting dance classes soon, and I want to learn to horse ride.”

“Ponies are too big and scary,” Emily said, her little face the perfect picture of misery.

“It’s not just riding,” Rosie told her in a cheery voice. “You’ll learn how to look after a pony, to groom it and keep it’s stall clean and what to feed it and how much exercise it needs. Plus, ponies need company just like humans.”

“Do they get lonely too?” Emily asked.

Rosie nodded. “They do or they become stressed.”

Sophia made an ‘Aww’ face.

But before she could speak, the sound of her papa’s car rolling over the gravel on the driveway had her bounce out of her chair and heading for the door.

***

After catching her daughter in a huge hug, Bronte studied Sophia’s serious little face, those anxious and wary emerald eyes that held hers, and felt terribly guilty.

It was the first time in over eight years of marriage that her and Nico had had a major issue in their marriage, and she hoped it would be a long time before they had another one. Trouble was, at times they were both as stubborn as each other. If there was one thing they’d learned after talking into the wee hours, was that compromise was the name of the marriage game. Usually they were pretty good at compromising. However, on this particular issue, Bronte Ferranti had dug in her heels. Nico had got himself into one hot mess and it was up to him to get himself out of it.

Right now, she watched him as he caught Sophia in his arms and blew a huge raspberry on her cheek. The man only got better looking as he got older. Even dressed down in blue jeans, black boots and a casual black cashmere sweater, he looked good enough to eat. He didn’t have an ounce of spare flesh. His hair was still black as jet with the odd grey hair at the temple. Just looking at him right now with the strong manly jaw, the high cheekbones, and those eyes that turned her knees to jelly every single time, she knew she was a very lucky woman. Plus, he adored her. They might have had a blip in their relationship, but they’d worked through it. She hoped.

“Did you miss us?” he asked his daughter.

Sophia laughed and clung to him like a limpet.

“Of course I did.” Then her big emerald eyes studied his face. “Are you and mama getting a divorce?” she whispered.

“No!” Nico and Bronte said together.

“Okay,” she said, clearly accepting the tone and look of utter horror on their combined faces. Then her brows met as she caught her papa’s face between her little hands and squeezed. “Don’t let a mean girl be mean to my mama.”

Nico blinked, caught Bronte’s big eyes.

She shook her head because she had no idea where Sophia had got that idea from.

“I won’t,” he said.

Sophia squeezed his cheeks even harder and made him look her in the eye.

“Even grown ups need help with mean girls. Know what I mean?”

“I do.”

He placed her on her feet and held her hand as they strolled through the kitchen door of The Dower House.

As for Bronte, she was just happy to be home.

 

Once they’d greeted little Eve and Bronte had thanked Rosie for stepping into the breech and looking after her kids, everyone settled down at the table for a chat.

Bronte’s eye caught a sad looking Emily.

“You okay, Emily?”

Emily nodded.

“I’m good. Did you have a nice time?”

Nico shot his wife a wink that made Bronte blush.

“We did,” she said.

Emily sent them a sad little smile.

“Did you play the Pirate and the Maiden game?”

When Nico inhaled his coffee and a grinning Rosie threw him paper napkins, Bronte could only blink.

“It’s based on a poem,” Sophia said, correctly guessing that her mama had no idea what Emily was talking about.

Nico blew his nose, cleared his throat, and wiped his streaming eyes.

Dio mio, where on earth did you hear about that?” Nico asked Emily.

“It was something we heard at school,” she said.

Rosie clapped her hands and then shot an index finger at each little girl.

“I know, why don’t we have a pampering day?”

“What’s that?” Sophia wanted to know.

“We can make facial masks out of cool stuff that’s edible. They’ll hydrate and moisturise and refresh the skin.”

Emily perked right up, her big blue eyes sparkled. “Will they cure my freckles?”

Rosie made a sad face. “Nope. But they’ll make you even more gorgeous.”

“What stuff do we need?” Sophia asked, her little face pink and happy.

“Well, we’ll start with oatmeal, honey, banana and yoghurt.”

“That sounds really cool,” Bronte said and fluttered her eyelashes at a worried looking Nico.

He shook his head.

“Not for me. I’m off to the match.”

When he moved to hightail it out the door, Bronte had to laugh.

“Coward!” she yelled at his departing back.

 

Twenty minutes later, Emily, Sophia, Rosie and Bronte sat at the table all watching a kitchen timer tick down the seconds.

Sophia took a lick of mashed banana, yoghurt and honey from the edge of her mouth.

“This tastes really good.”

Emily giggled. “You’re not supposed to eat it.”

“Smells nice, too,” Bronte said. Then she eyed the girls. “Did Luca do his math homework?”

“Dunno,” Sophia said. “Probably not since he’s heart lazy.”

“Have you been arguing with him again?” Bronte asked.

“He told me he hoped I pooped a pineapple.”

Bronte bit down hard on her bottom lip.

Good Lord.

What next?

“Tonio only likes Italian girls. He broke my heart,” Emily whispered.

Bronte held out her arms. “Come here, sweetheart. A cuddle makes a broken heart all better.”

Meanwhile, Rosie used a muslin cloth soaked in warm water to gently remove the home made facial from Sophia’s face.

“Ooh, your skin looks all fresh and lovely,” she cooed at her niece.

“Why do we have eyebrows?” Sophia wanted to know as she poked her skin.

“To protect our eyes, I guess,” Emily said as she slipped from Bronte’s lap and lifted her face for Rosie to clean her skin too.

“There we go,” Rosie said when she was all finished. “Two gorgeous girls.”

 

 

Later, in Sophia’s bedroom, the girls shared a Fat Boy beanbag, their eyelids drooping.

“I’m gonna wish upon a star,” Emily said in her soft breathy voice.

Sophia, her eyes heavy, turned to look at her bestie.

“Stars,” she said. “Are made of gas.”

“That’s science,” Emily said. “I’m talking about making a secret wish while looking at the biggest star in the sky.”

“Cool!”

“I bet you can’t guess my wish.”

Sophia rolled her eyes. “Bet I can. You’ll wish that Tonio falls in love with you when you’re both all grown-up.”

But Emily shook her head.

“Uh-uh. I’m gonna wish my mummy and daddy have a miracle and have a baby.”

Sophia threw her arm around her bestie and pulled her close.

“I think that’s a lovely wish.”

“Then I won’t be lonely,” Emily said.

Sophia rubbed her soft cheek against Emily’s.

“You’re never gonna be lonely because you’ll always have me for ever and ever.”

Emily turned big blue eyes on her friend.

“For every and ever.”

“For ever.”

“I love you, Sophia.”

“Love you, too, Emily.”

 

The End….

 

Aw, that’s what friends are for…

Until next time, be kind, peeps, be kind.

ChristineX

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

ludlowhallsneakpeek(1)

 

Happy Saturday, dear readers,

Here’s this week’s sneak peek, grab a coffee, and enjoy!

 

The Dower House….

 

Bronte’s chilling out with her girlfriends; Janine Faulkner and her toddler, Boo, Rosie Ludlow and baby Mila, and Grace, Emily’s mummy.

Grace, her wildly curly hair recently cropped, a style that took years off her, wore navy skinny jeans and a lilac cashmere sweater the exact color of her eyes. She accepted a cup of coffee from Bronte, and studied the tiny mini-muffins served on a white china plate with a greedy eye. “I’d have paid good money to see Sophia talking to ‘Alexa’ and ordering all those gifts.”

Bronte, dressed in black leggings and one of Nico’s pale grey cotton hoodies, offered Janine a top up of her cup, and grinned down a Boo who sat on the floor and was terribly busy with her mummy’s iPhone. The little girl wore thick wool tights the color of milky coffee, and a cute sweater dress of leopard print velvet, and had a cream velvet ribbon in her black curls. She was sooooo cute.

“Thing is,” Bronte said. “According to Miss Brown, she reckons Sophia has an Eidetic memory. She can recall exact words in conversations. However, Nico reckons it could have been worse. She could’ve bought presents on Amazon for all her friends and their families. After the kids went to bed, all thrilled and delighted, Nico couldn’t stop laughing. We’ve no idea what to do with that child.”

Rosie, wearing thermal tights and a matching oversized polo neck sweater the color of ripe cranberries just grinned at Bronte. “You’ve been saying that for six years. And my favorite niece didn’t buy her favorite auntie anything either.” She sipped her coffee and at the same time managed to grab a pen Mila had taken from her bag and was about to stick up her nose. “No, baby doll. No. No. Not up noses, or in ears.”

Grace bent down to lift a grumpy Mila, handed her teaspoon to play with and gave her a cuddle. “I love this age. I’m so jealous, Rosie.”

“Have you thought of adoption?”

“We have,” Grace sighed, and dropped a kiss on Mila’s dark curls. “We’ve done nothing about it. It seems a very complex business.”

Janine nodded in agreement. “There are so many little kids desperate for a good home. They break my heart, they really do. Josh and I have been discussing adoption.”

Bronte raised her brows. “That would be amazing. Josh makes a great daddy.”

“Yep,” Janine said. “The only trouble is, we’d need to get married.”

Rosie gazed at her in amazement. “You don’t wanna marry Josh?”

Janine’s grin was a little wicked. “In a heartbeat. He hasn’t asked me yet.”

Rosie gave her an are-you-kidding-me look. “That’s a load of crock. I know for a fact he’s asked you at least ten times.”

“True. But that was way back in the beginning. He hasn’t asked me recently.”

“Maybe that’s because he’s not a mind reader,” Bronte said. “How’s the poor guy supposed to know you’ve changed your mind?”

“Truth. Is it bad of me that I want him to ask me again?”

“Nah,” Rosie said, and popped a dark chocolate mini muffin in her mouth. “You’re allowed. But you may need to drop him a couple of hints. You know, men are not exactly switched on to our feminine needs. Or should I make that our feminine wiles?”

Once the laughter stopped Bronte just shook her head.

“That’s crazy talk. We’re not being fair to them. The point is, the guys would do anything for us—anything. Hang on a minute,” she said.

Her friends watched in amazement as she shifted to check behind the couch, then tiptoed to the laundry room, opened the door to look inside, and the then tiptoed to the door leading to the hallway which was ajar. She checked behind it before she closed it. Grinning at the bemused look on their faces, she returned to her seat picked up a coffee. “Can’t be too careful in this house. The walls have ears. Ears commonly known as Sophia.”

Rosie couldn’t help but grin. “That girl’s going to turn your hair grey.”

Bronte made a face. “You can’t tell, but beneath this blonde there’s plenty of grey.”

 

“Well.” Rosie made herself more comfortable on the couch. “You’ve had at least four days where everything’s been peace, quiet and tranquillity. We all know that won’t last. I think she’s wonderful.”

Bronte just sent her a dark look. “It’s okay for you. You’re not her mother and you don’t know what you’re talking about. Wanna know the thing that bugs me the most about half-bloody-term? I want to be the best mummy in the whole wide world, and provide my kids with wonderful memories of childhood they’ll treasure forever.

“Instead, by lunchtime everyday I’m snapping their heads off because they can’t have more sweets or soda that send them up the wall and fighting like cats. Then I’m a ‘bad mummy’ for daring to suggest that if they’re bored they could—wait for the shock-horror—go to their room and read a book. You’d think I’d suggested sending them down a coal mine armed with a toothpick. I swear I cannot wait for Monday morning and a little bit of that peace, quiet and tranquillity you mention, Rosie.”

“Where are the gruesome twosome anyway,” asked a laughing Janine, referring to Sophia and Emily.

Grace lifted her eyes to the ceiling. “They’ve been in the dressing up box. The last time I looked they were dancing to Justin Timberlake on a loop.

“Sounds harmless enough,” Janine muttered.

***

Actually, Sophia and Emily were in a place strictly forbidden to both—Bronte’s dressing room. They’d painted their faces with Sophia’s kiddy makeup (the gift that kept on giving from auntie Rosie). And once Sophia had mentioned that her mama had a fire engine red lipstick that would look sooooo cooooool with Emily’s charcoal grey eye shadow, there had been nothing for it but to test the colour….

The girls looked like—thanks to the kiddy makeup—demented fairies complete with huge wings of pink gauze and chicken wire (made by the very talented auntie Janine.)

“We mustn’t make a mess,” Sophia whispered to a terribly excited Emily who’s blue eyes were like saucers as she took in the amazing pots and potions lined up in the narrow drawer Sophia had pulled out. The scented drawer liner smelled of lavender. The wall mirror had lots of light bulbs that illuminated their little faces.

Emily leaned in closer to inspect her skin. “I hate my freckles and my stupid hair.”

Sophia, genuinely shocked by this statement because she was secretly quite jealous of those gorgeous flaming ringlets, gazed wide-eyed in the mirror at her bestest friend.

“I LOVE your hair. Papa says you have fairy hair and a beautiful little fairy face. And as my auntie Rosie says, he was a stud before he married my mama, so he knows what he’s talking about when it comes to women.”

Emily blinked. “What’s a stud?”

Sophia, by this time carefully searching through the gold metal tubes of lipstick to find the right one, shrugged. “Dunno. Women always stare with stupid googly eyes at my papa. I think it’s rude. But auntie Rosie says he doesn’t notice them because he’s a lovely guy who’s crazy in love with my mama.”

Emily nodded her head so hard her ringlets danced around her shoulders. “I’m gonna marry Tonio.” Then she sent a viciously dark look to her reflection. “But he’ll never marry me with this horrible hair.”

Sophia halted her search for the lippy, and turned to face her best friend.

She took Emily by the shoulders. “Look into my eyes.”

Emily stared unblinking into Sophia’s eyes.

“I LOVE your hair. Can you see the truth in my eyes?”

Emily, totally serious, nodded. “Uh-huh.”

“Then believe me when I say your hair is amazing.” Sophia returned to the hunt for the lipstick, by this time she had lined up at least six opened tubes all standing like soldiers on parade. “I don’t know what’s the problem with your hair.”

Emily, unmoved by her best friend’s words, resumed a slitty eyed study of her face and hair in the mirror. “When she washes it, Mummy uses a tangle teaser and spray on conditioner. But it always hurts when she combs it and I  cry and it’s one big drama. Then she got her hair cut. My daddy just loves it. He tells her every single day. I think I should cut mine.”

“Don’t be daft,” Sophia said, and then found what she was looking for. She held up the lipstick. “Turn around and open your mouth.”

Emily turned to her pal and opened her mouth wide.

With great care, Sophia swiped the lipstick over Emily’s little lips.

“Rub your lips together,” she said.

Emily did as she was told.

Sophia stood back and studied her work with a critical eye. “I like it. What do you think?”

Emily considered her reflection, fluttered her eyelashes like a camel in a sandstorm.

“It makes my eyes pop, doesn’t it?”

With great care, Sophia wound back the lipstick and replaced the top.

Then she danced on the spot. “Need to pee. Don’t touch ANYTHING or mama will kill us and bury us in the vegetable garden.”

Emily’s wide-eyed response was another rapid nod of her head.

After Sophia raced out the door, she took a careful study of all the lovely things on the table top.

Then, she blinked.

And almost of its own volition, her little hand hovered over a pair of scissors.

Three minutes later, Sophia stood rooted to the spot at the door to her mama’s dressing room. Her stifled cry caught the attention of her brothers strolling down the hallway.

Tonio and Luca entered Bronte and Nico’s bedroom and peered over Sophia’s shoulder.

“You shouldn’t be in here,” Luca reminded her.

For once, she was too stunned to rise to the bait.

“What’s the matter?” asked Tonio.

Then both boys looked into the dressing room, and gasped too.

Silence.

“Well, what do you think?” asked a beyond thrilled and shorn Emily as she did a twirl.

“Omigod,” Sophia whispered, staring with bug-eyed disbelief at the appalling change in her best friend. “Omigod.”

Tonio stepped slowly inside the dressing room, and, his eyes riveted on the red glossy curls spilled on the cream carpet, picked up some with a hand that wasn’t quite steady.

He lifted his head to stare at her. “Dio mio, Emily. What have you done?”

 

By the way everyone stared at her, in absolute horror, it had begun to dawn on Emily that she may have made a big mistake.

Her fire engine red bottom lip trembled.

Her charcoal lined blue eyes filled.

Her belly hurt.

“Don’t you like it?” she whispered.

Silence.

Tonio again stared at the curls in his hand, and then at her head.

“We can’t stick it back on with glue, can we?”

Sophia, her face white beneath her makeup, shook her head.

Her blue eyes flooded.

“Uh-uh. It’s gonna take years and years and years for your beautiful hair to grow again.”

“I’m gonna get mama. You two are in BIG TROUBLE, again,” Luca said and raced out the door.

***

A few hours later, a whistling Nico strolled through the door of the kitchen-dining-living space.

Silence.

His dark brows rose.

No sign of his bambinos.

No sign of dinner.

He shrugged out of his suit jacket, hung it on the back of a chair, removed his silk tie and rolled it up and tucked it in his jacket pocket—in case the baby had sticky fingers. As he slid open the top couple of buttons on his crisp cotton white shirt, he spotted his wife.

She had her bare feet up on the couch.

Eyes closed, her blonde head rested on a fat cushion.

In one hand she held a glass half filled with Prosecco.

Again his dark brows rose.

“What’s the occasion?” he asked.

When she said nothing, but made a sound like a whimper in her throat, he dropped a kiss on her nose, lifted her legs, sat and settled her narrow feet on his lap.

“Do you want the good news or the bad news?” Bronte asked.

Nico lifted her hand with the wine glass and took a sip.

“Good news.”

“Well, today Sophia did NOT cut off ALL of Emily’s hair.”

Silence.

Dio mio.”

“You got that right.”

“Who did?”

“Emily.”

Silence.

“But, why?”

Bronte’s eyes opened. “Because, from what we could decipher in amongst the crying and wailing, she didn’t think Tonio will marry her unless she cut it.”

When Nico simply blinked, she nodded her head. “I know. I swear she’s obsessed with him. Of course, once he’d told he’d loved her hair, she wailed even louder. Poor Grace had to phone her hairdresser for an emergency appointment. And you know what a bloody drama queen Carlo is, I could hear his screeching from here.”

She closed her eyes and laid her head back on the cushion.

“I’ve just about had enough of half-term and kids,” she said bitterly. “To hell with healthy eating. To hell with forcing Luca to eat little trees. To hell with fresh fruit and vegetables. They want to eat pizza every night of their natural lives… let them. I give up.”

Nico rubbed her bare feet.

“That bad?”

“Worse.”

He brought her foot to his mouth and pressed a soft kiss on the arch.

“What’s for dinner?”

“Pizza.”

“I am so blessed.”

“Believe it, pal. Believe it.”

 

FINE

 

I remember so very well the time my youngest daughter, she was four, cut her hair two days before my sister’s wedding….  Good times. Good times.

Christine X

Time for another sneak peek…

emily's a hoot!

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Ew,” Emily said.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

“Pew,” Tonio corrected from the front seat.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sophia made a snort of derision.

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

“Would not!” her twin roared.

“Would tooooooo!”

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

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

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

 

All was quiet.

Silence reigned supreme—until…

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

She turned to beam a lovely smile on her children.

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

Four hands shot into the air.

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

“Do you find Ludlow Chapel spooky?”

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

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

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

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

“I believe they’re always with us.”

“Anything’s possible,” Rosie said.

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

 

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

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

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

“You’re most welcome, Emily.”

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

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

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

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

“Wanna hear a joke?”

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

You guys make it all worthwhile!

Hugs,

Christine X

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

It’s the Ludlow Hall sneak peek…

 

IT'S THE LUDLOW HALL SNEAK PEEK

 

Greetings and happy 2018!

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

Enjoy!

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

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

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

Cue a stunned silence.

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

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

Mio dio.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tonio choked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He was a silver fox.

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

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

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

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

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

Cue another stunned silence.

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You forgot the HOT bit.”

THE END

 

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

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

Hugs,

Christine X

 

 

Have you heard of Book+Main?

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Hello my darlings!

I have great news for you, and I’m thrilled to be a part of a new platform where readers come first.  Read on…..

★★★ANNOUNCEMENT★★★

Introducing Book+Main Bites—a brand new social media platform to connect readers and authors! Something completely different than anything you’ve experienced before.

Book+Main Bites is a place where readers can follow their favorite authors, discover new books and share their favorites! The site is content-based, which means NO teaser or sale graphics. It’s 100% content in the form of excerpts, bonus scenes, deleted scenes and more.

Our first genre to launch, Book+Main Bites—Romance makes it easy to find what you want, the moment you want it. Looking for something in particular? Single dad? MC? Just type it in our search bar and all the Bites available with that storyline will pop up! Love a Bite and want more? Easily buy the related book from Amazon or iBooks! You can also share your favorites with your friends or bookmark Bites to read later! Fall in love with the writing BEFORE you buy—abandoned books are a thing of the past.

This has been a labor of love for the past year and a half and we have over 135 authors that have been testing the platform for the past 2.5 months. Everyone from #1 NYT Bestsellers to debut authors! YOU. WILL. LOVE. IT!

Pre-registration is OPEN NOW for both readers and authors! Be one of the first ones in ~ sign up now! Reader accounts are 100% FREE!

And follow me @ ccmackenzie

www.bookandmainbites.com 

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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

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

!

Boy, am I glad it’s Friday!!!

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

WHY MUMMY NEEDS WINE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And in front of all those children too.”

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

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

“They did not scare Sophia.”

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

“She is growing up fast.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I have a team,” he said.

“That’s cheating.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And Nico Ferranti knew he was a lucky man.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Forty eight hours later…

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Two hours later…..

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

“I’m hungry.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Much later…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Batman grinned. “A cod piece.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

FINE

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

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

Big hugs,

Christine X

 

#sneakpeek #LudlowHallRomance #TheFerrantiFamily #funstuff #bites