Ludlow Nights – new series covers reveal.

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HIS RULES AND HER RULES – READ FREE ON KINDLE UNLIMITED!

BREAK THE RULES AND NO RULES, COMING SOON!

 

Greetings,

The Ludlow Nights books have new covers. Each book stands alone within the Ludlow Nights world. The stories have a younger, romantic comedy vibe, which the awesome Gabrielle Prendergast of Cover Your Dreams has nailed.

Break The Rules is coming soon. I’m looking at early June. The book will be placed in all distributors for seven days to give iBooks and Nook readers a chance to grab it and then the book be available on Amazon only. As soon as it goes live I’ll let you know.

No Rules will be released at the end of July.

#amwriting #amediting

Hugs,

Christine X

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

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

Bronte’s collected the twins and Emily from school.

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

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

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

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

“For kindness,” Luca piped up.

“That is cool. Who were you kind to?”

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

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

Hmm.

“You okay, Sophia?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Okay. What’s up?”

“Me and Emily gotta kindness badge.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rosie grinned at the determined tone.

“What’s not to love?”

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

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

“Home made pizza.”

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

“No broccoli.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Can’t say I disagree.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Luca glowered. “Sophia’s not dead.”

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

 

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

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

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

“Yay!”

“How about you, Emily?”

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

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

Emily smiled. “Okay.”

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

“Thank you, Bronte.”

“You’re very welcome, Emily.”

 

 

***

 

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

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

“Sorry.”

In response, Rosie scooped up Sophia and the dog.

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

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

“I’m watching for papa’s car.”

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

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

“Bad how?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Wow.”

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

“Why did she change?”

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

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

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

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

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

“I didn’t think of it like that.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Auntie Rosie?”

“Yes, my child?”

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

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

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

Rosie could not lie. “No.”

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

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

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

“That, too.”

“Growing up is hard.”

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

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

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

 

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

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

“God.”

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

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

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

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

“Scary shit, isn’t it?”

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

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

 

 

 

FINE

#bekind #kindness #amwriting #amediting

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

here-comes-trouble-its-the-ludlow-hall-sneak-peek

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michael frowned. “Sounds complicated.”

Si. But as papa says, such is life.”

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

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

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

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

“When?”

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

***

Bronte eyed her daughter and Emily.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

***

Thirty minutes later…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Both men spoke, “Si.”

***

Hours later…

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Who said I will remain single?”

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

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

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

“Clio.”

Cue another silence.

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

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

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

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

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

Gregorio nodded. “I let Tonio down—”

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

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

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

“You think I cannot provide both?”

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

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

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

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

“Ah, but you have feelings for her?”

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

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

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

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

 

FINE

 

Oooooooh, who is Clio?

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

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

 

Christine X

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

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READER LIBRARY LINK

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

Enjoy!

Christine x

It’s the Ludlow Hall sneak peek…

agirlneedssome-lovetoday

 

Happy Tuesday,

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

 

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is dead silence in the car.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grazie.”

 

Meanwhile, after a busy day at The Dower House…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rosie blinks. “What have I done?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You made Sophia sad,” he says.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

FINE

Ah, we all need to be true to ourselves.

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

Big hug

Christine X

 

 

Golddigger short story, SUKKI, is out today!

sukkireleaseday

Greetings, my lovelies!

I bet you’re all pleased it’s Friday and time for another Golddigger short story extravaganza. Thank you so much for the Golddigger love. I appreciate the messages and feedback so much. My readers seriously rock.

Today it’s the turn of SUKKI. I had the best time writing this one. The hero, Jon Castro, is desperate to make amends for past wrongs. Will he convince Sukki to give him another chance? And if he does, will they live happy ever after? Grab the story and see.

 

sukki

Jon

“Once upon a time there was a beautiful and sweet but dirt poor girl who met a wealthy guy with the world at his feet. Against the odds, they fell madly in love. But the guy was a complete dick and broke the girl’s heart.

My name’s Jon Castro. I’m a top ball player and I’m the dick.

The girl’s name is Sukki Silver. These days she’s a Golddigger. A fully paid-up member of the top burlesque troupe in the world. Yep, seems my sweet girl didn’t wallow for long in heartbreak and misery. In the time we’ve been apart, she’s moved on to carve herself a wonderful career, while I did my level best to destroy mine.

If you haven’t already guessed, I’ve had issues to work through. I say had because over the last two years I’ve been forced to deal with the emotional crap that kept me trapped in a past I found I can’t out-drink or outrun.

Basically I had two choices, deal or die. I chose to deal.

Now I’m in a better place, as part of my treatment is to atone for my many sins. To reach that goal I want Sukki back where she belongs — with me. Trouble is, she isn’t giving me the time of day. Who can blame her? See, love’s a tricky thing. Seems a man doesn’t choose not to love someone. The heart wants what the heart wants.

And this dick is back, and I’m gonna go down on my knees to make amends. Have you heard the phrase ‘talk’s cheap’?  I agree with the sentiment, which means actions speak louder than words. It’s actions Sukki needs from me. Will she give me a chance? Who knows? Nothing’s ever certain in life, but by God I’m gonna fight for her…

Wish me luck.”

iBOOKS   AMAZON USA   AMAZON UK   AMAZON AUSTRALIA  NOOK    KOBO

Next up, pre-order links for RUBY and PEARL. Two girls who know what they want out of life.

And on Monday, it’s another slice of Ludlow life, and we have tiaras, tantrums, and screaming good fun with the Ferranti family.

Hugs,

Christine x

It’s Friday. Time for another Golddigger release.

millieistpromo

iBOOKS    AMAZON USA   AMAZON UK   AMAZON AUSTRALIA   NOOK   KOBO

 

Happy Friday, you wonderful readers!

All ready for the weekend?

We have Guy Fawkes lighting up clear frosty skies across the land over the next couple of days. Lucky for us we can sit cozy and warm in the conservatory and watch the fireworks.

There’s plenty of fireworks in store with the next stand alone Golddigger instalment out today. Man, oh man. Miss Millie is a modern day Calamity Jane in stiletto’s and corsets who knows how to make a certain man weak at the knees. Which is all very well, but is she prepared to forgive him?  Hmm. Read on and find out.

My lovely Australian readers are incredibly thoughtful. They read Millie yesterday and spent hours teasing and torturing their reader friends in the UK and the USA until the story went live. You guys are crazy in a good way. I like that about you.

Here’s Millie’s blurb:

“Money. Fame. Success.

Honey, I’m a GOLDDIGGER.

I’m truly walkin’ in high cotton.

I have it all.

Sure, I’ve gone through real hard times and made mistakes along the way.

Who hasn’t?

I’m not a perfect person.

But success comes with a price.

Seems I have a stalker.

Since I’m his object of desire, the notes detailing what he’s gonna do to me have gotten everyone from the police to my boss’s knickers in a knot.

You might ask, am I scared?

’Scuse me, sistas. I’m from Texas. I learned to shoot a gun before I could walk.

A nut job don’t worry me none.

Remember I mentioned a past mistake?

Well, the mistake just walked through the door.

Cole Buchanan’s always been too good looking with a hot bod and sultry bedroom eyes. Once upon a time, Cole and I did a lot of messin’ up the straw in my daddy’s hayloft.

These days, he’s an ex-navy seal, runs a personal protection business, and looks like a man straight out of central casting for the Men in Black, complete with the shades and piss poor attitude.

And he’s here to protect me.

(Hang on a minute while I stop laughing).

But then a tragic secret from the past comes back to bite my ass, and both our lives are changed…

Forever.”

 

 

Thank you so much for sharing the Golddigger love, and the fabulous reviews. I’m thrilled you’re enjoying these short stories as much as I enjoyed writing them.

Up next week is SUKKI. Bless her. She’s Birdie’s favourite.

Hugs,

Christine X

 

 

Fall in love with Noah in the Golddigger first short story… ELLIE

7-days

CLICK HERE FOR BUY LINKS

Only seven days to go and ELLIE will be winging her way into your eBook/reading App. I cannot tell you how excited I am to bring you the first of eight 30-40 minute stories (depending on how fast you read). Each story is released every Friday to set you up for the weekend and well-earned ‘me’ time.

They are romances, heavy on comedy, focusing on the moment when two hearts beat as one. All the stories are set in the world of The Golddiggers, where Miz Birdie rules the roost. But, each romance is a standalone with no cliffhanger. They are the perfect length for the commute to work, or lunch break, or relaxing in the evening or weekend.

I can promise you lots of feel-good fun and laughter. And I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I’ve enjoyed writing these feisty ladies and the men who adore them.

And I have a Big Surprise coming in the next few weeks, but shh, don’t tell anyone.

 

Big hugs,

Christine X

It’s Monday, which means another peek behind the curtains of life with the Ferranti family. Grab a coffee, settle down, and enjoy . . .

Tentacles-

Happy Monday, my darlings,

Working hard and nearly at The End of SEAN.

Here’s the latest from the Ferranti Fam-lee . . .

Bronte is driving Nico’s Range Rover with Luca, Sophia and Emily in the back, and Tonio in the front. Luca, Sophia and Emily have been attending a birthday party, which means they’re checking out their party bags, all hyped up on sugar. And Tonio has had soccer practice, which means he’s a bit bruised and battered since he’s a fearless Ferranti.

*Emily and Sophia begin their own unique rendition of The Lonely Goatherd*

“Yodelaaaaaay-eeeeeeee, yodelaaaaaay-eeeeeee-eeeeeeee, yodelaaaaaaaaay-eeeeeeee,” shrieks Sophia with Emily right behind her.

All hot and bothered and tired, of girls, Luca squeezes his eyes shut and bangs the back of his head on the car seat. “Mamaaaaaaa, tell them to stop.”

“Okay, girls, no distractions while I’m driving please,” Bronte says. Out of the corner of her eye she spots Tonio making a horrible face. To be honest she can’t blame him, the singing is pretty horrible. “That’s enough now.”

*And silence once again reigns across the land*

“How come,” Emily begins in her soft little voice. Her fingers smooth the skirt of her pale pink party frock. “Boys can wear dresses? I’ve never seen a boy in a dress.”

Out the corner of her eye, Bronte sees Tonio’s eyes go wide. She clears her throat, guessing someone’s been talking to Emily about gender equality in schools, where boys were given permission to wear a dress if they so wished. “Well, yes they can,” she says. “Most boys don’t, but if they wanted to they could.”

Sophia’s watching the word go by. She shakes her head and pipes up, “I can’t imagine my papa in a dress.” She’s wearing her best party frock and it’s pink, too. “I mean papa’s got hairy legs, and muscles . . . and tentacles.”

*Oh. My. God. Bronte cannot imagine Nico in a dress either. And as for tentacles . . . Stifling a giggle, she drives the car through the winding country road. She spots Tonio biting down hard on his knuckles, his shoulders shaking with laughter*

“Boys have testicles,” Tonio correct Sophia.

Luca frowns. “So what have tentacles?”

“Octopus have tentacles,” Tonio says.

Little Emily shakes her head, her smooth brow creases. “I don’t think that’s right. My mummy says my daddy’s like an octopus. He’s all hands.”

Tonio turns to give a wide-eyed Bronte big eyes. Bronte clears her throat. “Remember Ursula in The Little Mermaid?” she asks, desperately trying to guide the conversation into safer waters. “She was part octopus.”

Sophia nods. “Uh huh. Ursula is half-witch. My auntie Rosie says Ursula’s bad to the bone.”

“My daddy says my mummy turns into a witch at the time of the month,” Emily pipes up.

Wide-eyed, Luca turns to Emily. “Is that the time of the full moon? My papa says mama goes nutso during a full moon. Witches fly over the moon at Halloween. Does your mummy have a broomstick?” he asks hopefully.

“Uh huh,” Emily says, shaking her head so hard her bright corkscrew curls dance. “My mummy says that she is not a witch and knows he really means she’s a bitch and he’s not fooling anybody and if my daddy keeps it up, she’s gonna nail his tentacles to the wall.”

*Oh. My. God. Bronte decides she needs to have an urgent chat with Emily’s mummy, Grace, and with Nico about his Big Mouth*

“Well,” Bronte says in a high cheery voice. “Another octopus is Pearl in Finding Nemo. I think Pearl is sooooooo cute.”

*When Emily beams and nods, Bronte heaves a relieved sigh that none of the kids could find a problem with Pearl. Until . . .*

Sophia turns to Emily. “The reason your mummy and my mama get cranky at the time of the full moon is because they are cursed. And because you and me are female, Emily, when we hit pubsinthecity we’re gonna be cursed too. My auntie Rosie says we are cursed because inside us we have eggs to make babies. When we don’t make a baby, once a month we have an egg and we have belly cramps and spots and horrible hair and we put the men in our life through merry hell.”

“Eww,” Luca says.

Sophia nods as Emily stares at her with big blue eyes. Sophia continues, “Auntie Rosie says men don’t know they are living.”

“God,” Tonio mutters, sliding down in his seat.

With a determined smile fixed on her face, Bronte steers the car into Emily’s driveway. She turns to the three children in the back seat and says, “And here we all are. Safe and well.”

*Minutes later, back at The Dower House, Nico Ferranti is waiting for his family, baby Eve tucked on his hip. And since the baby’s cutting teeth her little cheeks are apple red, and she’s wearing a white cotton bib. She’s gnawing heroically on a plastic ring filled with ice water*

“How was soccer practice?” Nico asks Tonio as the boy heaves his kit bag from the trunk.

Tonio turns to send him a slow smile. “I made the team.”

Nico and Tonio slap a high five. “Well done.”

Nico eyes the twins, notices Sophia giving him a head to toe appraisal of his bare feet, battered blue jeans and black thermal. “What?” he asks her.

She shakes her blonde head as she walks past him. “Papa, there’s no way you’d ever look good in a dress, it’s sooooo not your style. You’re Italian.”

A stunned Nico turns to a laughing Bronte to give her wide eyes. “Me? In a dress?”

Bronte stretches up on her tip toes to plant a kiss on his cheek. “It all began with tentacles and an Octopus….”

 

Finito

 

Writing final scenes for SEAN last night and I cried a river . . . and all y’all know that if I cry, you cry. I love this couple soooooo much, so many feels . . .

Before final edits, I’m placing SEAN on pre-order, the links are coming soon.

AND I have a huge surprise for you guys at the end of SEAN, with pre-orders for the surprise, too.

Stay tuned . . .

 

Christine X

IT’S ANOTHER SLICE OF LUDLOW LIFE WITH NICO, OLIVIER CONTI, AND….. DRUM ROLL….. SOPHIA.

 

NICO'S BABYSITTING

Greetings, my lovelies,

It’s August 1st.

Where has the summer gone?

Time for another slice of life with the Ferranti family………..

All is quiet on a hot and sultry Saturday at The Dower House. Bronte and Anastacia Morgan, Italian soccer star Olivier Conti’s fiancée, are out having a girly day at the Ferranti Hotel and Spa, Ludlow Hall. Luca and Tonio are spending the weekend at a summer sport camp. Nico and Olivier are on daddy duty looking after baby Eve, and… Sophia.

Since the guys are off duty, today they haven’t bothered with a razor, and both wear below the knee khaki shorts and ratty T-shirts.

We join them, dear readers, snoozing on the L shaped couch in the family-living-kitchen space. Yup, my friends, the boys have taken their eyes off the ball. Oh dear, oh dear…..

Meanwhile, in Sophia’s world, also known as her bedroom…….

*Before she’d gone out with Anastacia, Sophia’s mama had brushed Sophia’s silver blonde hair back in a complicated plait arrangement threaded with pink satin ribbon. At the same time Anastacia (Sophia ADORES Anastacia) painted Sophia’s tiny toenails with five different shades from ruby red to a sparkling pale pink.

Now a beyond thrilled Sophia is kicking back in her bedroom where it’s nice and cool. She’s wearing her favorite pink cotton sun dress. She’s added a purple ostrich feather boa around her neck and painted her pink mouth bright lemon from her stash of kiddie make-up – a gift from her auntie Rosie. She and four of her favorite dolls are watching the final credits at The End of the movie, Frozen. When the song Let It Go begins, Sophia’s on her twinkling toes, her hairbrush is her microphone as she sings along at the top of her voice. Maybe one day she could be a pop star. Four smiling dolls watch her with wide-eyed unblinking blue eyes*

 

Dio mio,” Oliver murmurs and turns to lie flat on his back. Eyes closed, he yawns huge enough to crack his jaw, scratches his flat belly. “What the hell is that noise?”

Nico cranks open an eye. Listens to his daughter murdering Idina Menzel’s brilliant vocals, and joins Olivier in a yawn. It is true. Yawning is contagious. He and Olivier have been hard at it, with Anastacia cracking the organizational whip, since six thirty discussing the next marketing film Olivier is due to star in next week for the Ferranti Boutique Hotel campaign in Rome. “Ignore her. It is Sophia singing along to Frozen. It can go on for hours.” Like Olivier, he rolls onto his back and closes his eyes. Dio, the heat is oppressive, this must be the hottest day of the year so far. Through folding doors opened wide to the garden, he can hear the buzz of lazy bees rumbling from rose to rose. The silence, apart from Sophia, is golden. Heaven.

Meanwhile, back in Sophia’s world…..

*In bare feet, Sophia skips along the thick carpet running along the wide corridor outside her bedroom, and tip toes into baby Eve’s room next door to her mama and papa’s huge bedroom suite. The baby is sound asleep, the window shades drawn to keep out the heat. She’s is sooooooo cute with her black crazy curls and pink cheeks and tiny mouth. And she has the teeeeeeniest fingernails.

Pursing her lips, Sophia slides into the hallway, cocks her head to listen for any sign of life from her papa or uncle Olivier, and hears nothing. The football season is over for the summer, which means Olivier is spending ‘quality time’ with Anastacia. Sophia sidles into her mama and papa’s bedroom. The place smells faintly of her papa’s cologne and her mama’s shampoo and fresh flowers in the huge class vase on the serving table between his and her walk-in closets. Her little fingertips run along the velvet edge of a low backed couch. Her nails are unpainted because her mama might permit toe nails to be painted (on special occasions) but not fingernails because, ‘Sophia is too young.’ Hmmmmmmm. But like a moth to the proverbial flame (as auntie Rosie says) Sophia is enticed by the devil temptation to the open double doors of her mama’s walk-in closet. And, like a magnet, is drawn to her mama’s make-up area. Also known as (auntie Rosie says) ‘The cosmetic mother-lode.’

Sophia switches on the array of lights surrounding the huge mirror, and an entirely new world of wondrous opportunities opens up before her very eyes. Her eyes go wide at the vast array of make-up, brushes, pots, and all sorts of marvellous things (many unopened because her mama cannot be bothered, but her papa keeps supplying mama with lots and lots from the Spa) laid out before her. There are lipsticks, eye shadows, and a couple of little jewelled pots.

She reaches out a hand, her fingers just itching to explore the pretty pots, when the thought enters her mind she is NOT permitted to touch ANYTHING in her mama’s closet.

Battling two voices in her young mind, touch it versus don’t-you-dare, Sophia heaves a deep sigh as she chooses the latter.

But then, her emerald eyes linger on the bottles of nail polish. In particular a couple Anastacia had used on Sophia’s beautiful pink toenails.

The devil temptation whispers.

Between one heartbeat and the next, she’s got two bottles in her hand, and she’s back in her bedroom.

The four dolls on her bed seemed to beg, literally beg her, to paint their toes.

What was a responsible doll owner to do?*

Minutes later, and screwing the lid on the pink glitter nail polish, Sophia studies her hard work. Pink nail polish had dripped, just a little, on her favorite Frozen comforter, but it’ll probably come off in the wash. A couple of the doll’s plastic legs are streaked with drips she rubbed off with her thumb, but all in all it isn’t a bad effort. “It’s a bit like coloring in,” she says softly to her dolls. “I just need to keep inside the lines. And you’re looking good, girlies.” (As auntie Rosie would say.)

*On a roll, Sophia clutches the two sticky bottles of nail polish as she skips down the hall. She hesitates at the baby’s room. After all, little Eve has beautiful tiny fingernails. But what if the baby doesn’t stay still? Instead, she tip toes past the baby’s room and down the stairs and into the family room. She stops dead. Papa and uncle Olivier are sound asleep. Papa is snoring gently, even though he swears he never snores. Her gaze lights upon their bare feet. Nothing small about those hairy feet. But her eyes go wide as her little heart soars with a thrilled delight. Look at those bare feet. Look at all those toenails.

She skips over, places a bottle on the table, the top isn’t on properly and lands on the glass with a soft clink. For a moment she freezes as if she’s playing statues with Luca and Tonio. Unblinking eyes are glued to her papa’s face, but no one stirs. With her tongue caught between her teeth, Sophia picks up a bottle, gives it a shake, and gets to work.

Fifteen busy minutes later, both bottles are empty. Shame about the smeared drips on the floor, and the cotton tea cloth. They’ll wash off. But Sophia Ferranti is tickled pink with the two sets of beautiful pink toes. She managed to stay within the lines. Mostly. That’s ten toes for each man, that makes twenty because she can count all the way up to one hundred. Papa says she’s so clever one day she might become the President of the ‘Nighted States.

The sound of a car on the gravel driveway, has her skip to dump the empty bottles in the trash, and dance out to greet her mama and auntie Anastacia. Wait ’till they see what a good girl she’s been*

Anastacia, dressed in a linen sleeveless sheath the color of black coffee, in her usual sky high heels with her jet curls dancing down her back, bends down with arms wide open to greet a beaming Sophia. “Hey, baby girl. Did you miss me?”

“Yes! I watched Frozen two times… and…”

Anastacia spins Sophia in a wide circle making her squeal with glee.

Bronte grins at her daughter, emerald eyes running over her, and can’t see anything amiss. Makes a change. “Did you have a good time with papa and Olivier?” she asks.

Sophia shakes her blonde head. “They’ve been sleeping on the couch all day. And papa snores even if he says he doesn’t.”

Bronte rolls her eyes at a grinning Anastacia. “Might have known it. Is Eve still asleep.”

Sophia hop-skips behind her mama and Anastacia as they walk through the door, and takes time to admire Anastacia’s fabulous black curls that fall to her tiny waist. Sophia wishes God had given her hair that curls. Anastacia looks like a princess. A real one. “Yep,” she says to her mama. “She’s been good as gold.” (As auntie Rosie says.)

*They enter the family room and her mama and Anastacia stop dead*

Anastacia slaps a hand across her mouth as her blue eyes fill with mirth. “Lemme get my phone,” she whispers, digging into her purse. “I’ve gotta get a picture of this for posterity. Omigod.”

*Meanwhile, her mama’s emerald eyes go wide. Sophia’s little chest puffs out with pride. She’s done a good job. Her papa and uncle Olivier’s toenails are a dark pink and sparkly pink, one after the other*

*Bronte’s gaze turns slowly upon her daughter, and reads the beaming face and who the culprit is with no problem. No problem at all*

Bronte knows exactly who’s responsible for the mess on her coffee table, AND her floor. And those responsible were going to be very busy with nail polish remover. Honestly, MEN! She claps her hands and clears her throat, loud. Her husband cracks open an eye, sends her a slow, sexy smile. “Hey, cara mia. Have a good time?”

Bronte ignores the way Olivier is eyeing Anastacia, as if he could lick her from top to toe. And talking about toes… She sends her husband big eyes. “Not as much fun as you two have had. Check out your toenails.”

*The great thing is that Anastacia is still filming with her phone and catches the entire shock, awe, and roars of male laughter in real time. Nico grabs Sophia and turns her upside down, holding her by the ankles. His baby girl screams with laughter*

“You little diavolo!”

“Serves you right,” the daughter from hell says, her head at his feet. “You’re supposed to look after little children, not snore like a pig.”

*Later… much later… Sophia is in bed sound asleep after a busy day and dreaming about featuring in the starring role in Frozen… Her parents and Anastacia and Olivier are enjoying an after dinner drink in the garden as the sun goes down*

A grinning Olivier wiggles his toes. “I like it. I could start a new soccer trend.”

Anastacia digs a sharp elbow in his ribs. “You’ll have to wax the revolting black hairs on your toes.”

Nico’s feet are propped on a chair as he admires his daughter’s handiwork. He has hairy toes, too. “Waxing will hurt. Maybe another color. Aubergine, something like that would work.”

Sitting across the table, Bronte sips her white wine, shoots the men a hard stare. “I cannot rely on you two for one little thing, can I?”

Nico sends her a slow smile, and she knows exactly what’s coming. “Ah, bella mia. Did you see Sophia’s little face? She is so happy. My job as her papa is to make her happy. After all…”

“You are Italian,” they chorus.

Nico grins, shrugs. “Si.”

 

FINITO

Many moons ago, H was looking after my youngest daughter while I was out buying shoes for her big sister, and when we returned home we found my baby girl had raided my nail varnish. She was nearly three. She’d painted dark pink varnish on her eyelids, around her mouth, and on my bedroom carpet. All I can say is it was not pretty for H or for her. Not pretty at all. MEN!

If you haven’t read the story of how Anastacia and Olivier got together, here’s the blurb:

 

Ambitious, workaholic Anastacia Morgan runs Ferranti Communications

with a cool-head and an iron will. Her latest project is ensuring sports star Olivier Conti does what he’s told in a series of adverts. Olivier is impossible with a huge ego she’s more than able to handle. His smile may do wonderful things to her libido, but Ana is determined to succeed where other women fail and resist the gorgeous soccer star.

However, in this game there are no rules and Olivier’s never missed scoring a penalty, yet.

 

 

Here’s an excerpt:

 

Anastacia studied her PA’s hurriedly cobbled together file on the footballer. According to Nico, Olivier Conti’s good looks, charisma, work ethic and skills on and off the field were going to make working with him a breeze.

Yeah, right.

Easy for him to say.

Anastacia glared and glowered at the glossy ten-by-twelve publicity pic.

Almond shaped eyes the color of bitter chocolate twinkled into hers.

She sniffed.

He looked… charming.

Anastacia didn’t trust charming.

He also had an in-your-face confidence.

Anastacia didn’t trust a man who was over-confident.

His thick black hair had been styled. Not too much.

She loathed too much hair product on a man.

Good bone structure. Strong jaw. Smoothly curved mouth. Kissable. A straight nose, sharp black brows and a taut smooth skin combined to produce a face that women all over the world (according to the gushing blurb) dreamed about.

Anastacia’s PA, Linda, was a blood-hound when it came to digging up the juicy stuff in a client’s private life. So far she hadn’t found too much juice on Olivier. However, from the photographs and gossip pages it appeared he was fond of leggy blondes. A lot of leggy blondes, which was pretty representative of his type of breed.

Footballers.

Men who were too young to deal with too much money and the pulling power that money brought them.

Men who were notoriously fickle when it came to commitment.

Men who walked away from their responsibilities.

Even if that responsibility was a child.

She’d avoided the sport and the people in it like the plague.

And she had a very good reason.

A reason which was no one’s business except her own.

Now she tossed the photograph on her desk, and spun her chair to stare broodingly out over the city.

She could smell it a mile away.

Trouble.

Olivier Conti was trouble with a capital T.

 

While Anastacia was nose deep in everything Olivier, the man himself was giving Nico Ferranti plenty of grief.

Olivier dragged his hands through short black hair. He was six foot two inches, tall for a footballer, and as lean and fast as a greyhound.

“Nico, I cannot believe that a casual conversation about an investment has led to this.”

Nico sent him a big grin. A grin that a killer whale might have been proud of.

“In five years, or less, you will be burned out. Finito. It is time you learned the hotel business.”

“I do not know what my agent is going to say about this. He knows I cannot act. I am not doing any of that modelling shit in my underwear, showing the world the size of my package, either.”

“You would probably need to fill out your package with a pair of socks.”

Nico’s droll response had Olivier wiggle dark brows and toss him an evil grin.

“I do not like to boast, but…”

Nico threw back his head and roared with laughter.

Once he’d found his equilibrium again, he shook his head.

“Your personal business has nothing to do with your agent. No one has asked you to strip. And, there will be no modelling your impressive package. It is small scenes in three cities, endorsing hotels in which you have invested a large sum of money.” Nico decided not to mention a certain bathroom scene, which was pencilled in for the Rome shoot. He’d let Anastacia deal with it.

Olivier swore, paced to the hotel suite’s floor to ceiling window and back again.

“This is not the same thing. I am not endorsing a watch or a car. This is acting, per amor di Dio! I am going to make an ass of myself.”

He might feel like one, but he wouldn’t look like one, Nico decided, as he sipped his espresso. He studied Olivier over the rim of the tiny cup.

The boy was tall, hard muscled, lean and wore clothes with a style and flair that was perfect for the Ferranti brand. Olivier’s tanned, chiselled face, the drop-your-panties-eyes, had women all over the world drooling, while his skill and sportsmanlike play on the soccer field had won over male fans of the beautiful game. Olivier was highly intelligent, easy-going, good-looking and charismatic. And Nico reckoned he’d be a natural in front of the camera.

Plus, the boy had good instincts. He was no fool.

“You will not make an ass of yourself,” Nico said in a reassuring tone. “And I can guarantee that I have the best person in the business who is going to see to it.”

Olivier looked less than impressed as he flopped into a chair and stretched out long legs clad in black designer jeans.

“I do not need a babysitter,” he growled.

The thought of Anastacia Morgan babysitting anyone flashed into Nico’s brain. Somehow, he couldn’t quite see it. But he ignored Olivier’s sulky comment and changed tack.

“What if you get injured again? What if this time there is no going back?”

Olivier sent him a black look of sheer disbelief.

But Nico knew how much Olivier had panicked last year when an injury had put him out of the game for three months.

“I am one hundred per cent fit.”

He was indeed.

And he was scoring goals.

Si. But how many footballers, the best, disappear into depression, and worse, after they have played their last game?”

“I am not my father…”

Si. I know this. But… it is never too early to plan for the future. You have a responsibility to your madre, your sorelle.”

“I have planned for the future and I understand my responsibilities to mia famiglia. I can go into coaching…”

Nico raised his hand to brush away that bright idea.

“It is always wise to spread our skill base. What good is a business degree if you do not use it?”

“So, instead of chilling out in a hot tub with hot women in Las Vegas, this summer I will be cooped up in hotel rooms?”

“Think of it as investing in your future,” Nico said in a cheery voice, tossing in a big smile for good measure. “Plus, having a work ethic instead of partying will set a good example to young players who look up to you. And it will be good for the image of the sport.”

Silence.

“I need to prepare for the game,” Olivier said as he stood. When he reached the door, he turned and beaned Nico with a dark look. “And if I end up flat on my face in this advertising campaign, I promise to tell Bronte about you and four showgirls in Vegas.”

Nico felt the blood drain from his face.

“What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. Anyway, that happened long before I met my wife. I am a changed man.”

Olivier gave him a hard stare. “Si,” he said, sounding like his mentor. “Do not say I did not warn you.”

As the door closed behind Olivier, Nico tipped back his chair and finished his coffee.

Ah, he loved it when a plan came together.

 

 

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Coming to The End game of SEAN and then it goes for editing. It’s reading good, girlies.

Hugs and blessings and peace to my favorite peeps.

Christine X