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

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OUT NOW!     AMAZON    iBOOKS   NOOK

Greetings, dear readers,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big hugs and much love,

Christine X 

New Release – Break The Rules – is out now….

www.breaktherulesoutnow

GET IT HERE:  AMAZON USA     AMAZON UK    iBOOKS      NOOK

Greetings, my darlings,

I’m so thrilled to bring you the third book in the Ludlow Nights franchise. The adventures of Anastacia, Danni and T.C. continue with cameo appearances from the Ferranti family (and Sophia of course).

Here’s an exclusive sneak peek:

Sean Kennedy had a simple rule when it came to women—

if they were hard work—

he didn’t bother.

Why put himself through unnecessary hassle?

And then he met a blonde bombshell…

She is beautiful, and therefore to be wooed; She is woman, and therefore to be won.

 William Shakespeare

From the moment Sean Kennedy frisked T.C. he captivated her. The look in the bodyguard’s tawny eyes for her was too intense, insanely sexy and dominant. He was a powerful man who towered over everyone. And a man who believed he could have anything and anyone. Despite T.C.’s reservations, she had a night of passion with him. A night which brought the demons of her past into her present and her future.

Demons that have no intention of ever letting her go.

But Sean was a man prepared to fight dirty for the woman he wanted.

And a man who’d never lost a battle—yet.

CHAPTER ONE

“You have the luck of the Irish, alright. It is not every day a man saves two lives, is hit by a bus and survives to tell the tale.”

Propped up on pillows in his hospital bed, Sean Kennedy eyed the tall, blonde bombshell.

Theresa Catliff was a stunner all right and mouth-wateringly gorgeous. Today, she wore a floaty summer dress the color of her eyes, a vivid violet. She seemed to have an unending collection of floaty dresses. The way the fabric tightened against her superb breasts, he was sure they were designed to test a man. The dress had little shoestring straps. Little straps that might take a man mere seconds to untie. Her smooth skin had been kissed by the sun.

Sean closed his eyes, not only against the agony of his ribs, but the ache between his legs. He was assigned to protect the head of Ferranti Communications, Anastacia Morgan, fiancée of Italian soccer star, Olivier Conti. And in that role he’d saved Anastacia and her friend Danni. Hence the part where he’d been hit by a bus and was now lying in a hospital bed in Paris. Fortunately for him he hadn’t broken anything. But, he’d ended up with a concussion and banged up ribs.

Theresa, aka T.C., was one of Anastacia’s best pals and the bane of Sean’s existence.

For six days she’d taken on the role of his fake fiancée.

He’d been out of it when, in order to gain access to his room, she’d lied to the medical staff and told them she was his bride-to-be. On day one, she’d pitched up in his room with a silver “Get-Well-Soon” balloon and an enormous purple teddy bear. The bear’s maniacal grin had seriously freaked him out during a delirium caused by his bump on the head. Then she’d proceeded to have an argument with his doctor —in horribly bad French—about pain medication. She appeared to have the uncanny knack of being able to tell, simply by looking at him, he was in pain.

Although Sean didn’t believe in the existence of magic, he’d begun to wonder if she was a witch.

Six days later and the woman had his entire medical team eating out of her hand.

Seemed she’d taken to the role of a loving, caring fiancée like the proverbial duck to water.

As he opened his eyes and examined her flawless face, her dancing blue eyes held their usual challenge. He swore that when he was back on his feet, he’d kiss the very breath from that voluptuous body. “I thought you’d have gone home today with your little pals.”

In response to his cranky tone, her eyes narrowed in a long and very slow study of his face.

A study that saw too damn much.

“Didn’t take your pain meds again. Did you?”

Yup, definitely a witch.

“They make me feel as if I’m floating.”

“Better floating than being a bad tempered growly bastard. I pity the poor nursing staff around you, I really do.” She dropped a leather bag the size of a small town on a visitor chair, moved towards his bedside cabinet and opened the top drawer to rummage around his personal stuff. When the scent of her slid around his senses, warm woman, shampoo and summer, Sean closed his eyes to enjoy the moment. Christ, she smelled incredible. When she didn’t find what she was looking for, she turned to him, held out her hand and wiggled her fingers. “Gimme.”

Wincing, he slid his hand beneath his pillow, found two pills and told himself the only reason he was giving in without a fight was because the pain in his ribs hurt like hell.

He dropped the pills into her palm.

“Stop being such a man, Sean. Don’t you understand that if you don’t take these you won’t get enough rest to heal?”

He knew he’d received a head injury that may make a person feel as if they’re having out of body experiences, but he found it beyond weird that Theresa Catliff was acting as if she gave a hot damn about him. Before he’d been hit by a bus, she’d made it clear, to put it mildly, he was not her favorite person. The idea struck him that perhaps her daily visits to make sure he was alive was a gratitude thing. And didn’t that make him feel sick to the stomach, disappointed and downright pissed off?

“Why do you care?” he growled.

Her brows rose. “Hell if I know. If you carry on with the bad attitude, I won’t give you your present. Open up.” She poured a glass of water, popped the pills into his mouth and watched him wash them down.

Her full lips, painted a glossy red, twitched when he poked out his tongue to prove it.

Christ, now he was behaving like a three-year-old.

He closed his eyes and inhaled her scent.

Truth be told, he was too fucking exhausted to care or to fight with her.

When gentle fingertips brushed his hair back from his forehead, Sean’s eyes blinked wide open. He stared into hers and believed he caught a tender look in those baby blues that reminded him of his mother when he’d had mumps. The look was gone in an instant as if it had never been. Sean decided he was hallucinating because to compare the blonde bombshell with his sturdy but loving Irish mother was plain crazy.

However, the pain meds were kicking in.

He closed his eyes and took a careful deep breath to inflate his lungs, something his physio had told him was crucial to ward off bugs like pneumonia. His groan of agony was heartfelt.

It was pure shock, when her mouth whispered over his and it hit him with the force of a tsunami.

His heart pounded in his ears and his dick snapped to attention as if it was eighteen again.

He squeezed his eyes tight shut because there was no way a sissy cotton hospital gown and single blanket would hide his body’s betrayal.

“Oh, my good Lord,” the witch whispered.

Oh Lord, indeed, Sean thought viciously.

***

Ah, I cannot tell you the fun I’ve had with this couple and I hope you enjoy them, too.

I’m working on NO RULES and OUR RULES as well as this particular finale THE RULES.

There is no rest for the wicked!

Christine X

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 Monday, so it must be a Ludlow Hall sneak peek with the Ferranti family…

 

What do you call an Italian father of four gorgeous children_

 

It’s the Dower House with the Ferranti family…

Nico Ferranti walked into The Dower house wanting nothing more than a hot kiss from his wife, a glass of Chianti and a quiet thirty minutes. He’d had a jam-packed day. A guest who’d goosed the ass of a maid had taken up too much of his time and put him behind. Hence why he was late.

The chorus of three children, his children, wailing at the top of their lungs told him he wasn’t going to get his thirty minutes. Not yet.

It shamed him that for three seconds he seriously considered walking back out and letting Bronte deal with whatever incident had set them off. Taking the stairs, he reminded himself that he’d fathered all three—and enjoyed every second of it—he’d do his husbandly duty.

However, when he entered baby Eve’s nursery, he nearly turned tail.

The twins were balling their heads off. While his wife, looking furiously harassed, was dressing a squalling toddler who was fighting every inch of the way. His brows rose. His youngest daughter, usually, was so laid back she was horizontal. But now, Eve was having what appeared to be a major temper tantrum. He studied the evidence. The twins, and every surface was covered in a fine film of talcum powder. A couple of clean diapers were tossed on the floor along with a wet one.

Sophia, his eldest daughter, had one eye on her mother as she made a heroic attempt to squeeze out a tear. Meantime her twin, Luca, had tears streaming down his face. The boy had a very soft heart.

“Which one,” he asked the room at large, “tried to change her diaper?”

Dressed in a footless pink babygro Eve sobbed against Bronte’s neck.

A Bronte who beaned her eldest daughter with a dark look. “Guess.”

Nico turned his head, eyed his daughter who was dressed in a Beauty and The Beast nightgown. “Sophia, cara mia?”

“I was helping.”

He crouched to look her in the eye and smelled toothpaste, soap. “Bed,” was all he said.

Dressed in Ninja Turtles pj’s Luca’s bottom lip trembled as, head down, he slouched away. Sophia, made of sterner stuff, opened her mouth and closed it when he held up a finger.

With a sigh, an eye-flick to her mother, she turned and walked away.

Nico rose, took his now whimpering baby girl from his wife.

“What happened?”

“I was talking on the phone to Rosie, and turned my back for a moment, just a moment. Eve was grumpy and I told Rosie I needed to change her. Then things were quiet. I should have known something was up. When I walked in Sophia had Eve naked on the changing mat on the floor…” she stopped, closed her eyes, bit down hard on her bottom lip. When she opened her eyes they swam.

“God, Nico. What if…”

He placed his sleeping daughter in her crib, turned down the light and led his wife from the room.

“We will both talk to them.”

Together, they brought the twins into their bedroom, sat them side by side on the couch.

He and Bronte sat on the heavy coffee table facing their twins.

“You must never,” Nico began in a tone that meant business and held up a finger when Sophia opened her mouth, closed it. “Ever lift Eve from her cot. If you had dropped her, she might have been badly hurt. When she cries, fetch mama.”

“We help mama with Eve,” Sophia muttered. And Luca nodded his head in solidarity.

Si, and helping is a good thing. But you must never lift her from her cot. Promise me.”

Sophia’s emerald eyes filled, but she nodded and Luca nodded, too.

“And too much talcum powder is very dangerous,” Bronte added. “If Eve or you breathes it into your lungs it can cause a chest infection.” Or worse, she added in her mind.

“It wasn’t me who spilled it,” Sophia said, giving her twin a hairy eyeball.

Bronte fired up. “It doesn’t matter who spilled it. The point is that neither of you should have touched Eve or her diaper or talcum powder.”

 

It took twenty minutes to settle the twins.

Although beneath her comforter, Sophia turned her back to her mama. Little monkey. By the time Nico had changed into his favourite jeans and T-shirt, poured himself a glass of wine and Bronte placed their meal in the oven and set the timer, the pair of them were exhausted.

He opened his arms and his wife stepped into the hug. “God, Nico,” she drew in a deep breath, slowly exhaled.

Rubbing her back, he lay his cheek upon her blonde head and inhaled the wonderful scent of his woman.

“They would never hurt the baby.”

She lifted her head.

Her eyes flew to his. “I know that—”

She buried her face in his neck and closed her eyes.

Eventually, he felt her settle.

“I miss Tonio so much,” she said.

Si. The house does not seem the same without him. But the summer school at Lake Como is good for him. Plus, he is bonding with Gregorio. We cannot keep him to ourselves.”

She moved out of his arms and into the kitchen to check the timer on the oven. “I know I’m being selfish. It is important he retain his heritage and culture. Apart from the fact I miss him desperately, Luca looks up to him and he’s a superb role model for a young boy. Plus, he keeps Sophia out of trouble. I truly think we’ve created a monster at times.”

Nico didn’t think now was a good time to mention that Sophia’s energy and intelligence needed channelling. The last thing he wanted tonight was a heated discussion with his wife about parenting. Over the years, he’d learned the hard way that timing was everything. He kept his mouth shut.

Bronte eyed him over her wine glass. “You look tired. Bad day?”

He nodded. “Si. Had an issue with housekeeping. One of the new maids had a guest lay his hands on her.”

Bronte’s eyes bugged. “Did he hurt her?”

Nico shook his head. “He goosed her ass. She punched him on the mouth. Blood was spilled. He wanted her sacked. Instead, he has been banned from all of my hotels.”

“Was he a regular guest?”

Nico nodded, made a face. “Unfortunately. On this trip he was without his wife and thought he would chance his luck with a young brunette.”

She looked to heaven. “How old was the maid?”

“Eighteen.”

“How old was he?”

“Sixty-five.”

“He should be thoroughly ashamed of himself.”

Nico had to laugh. “She is Susan and Andy Bradshaw’s youngest daughter gaining work experience.”

Bronte’s jaw dropped. “Omigod. The daughter of a senior police inspector.”

Si. When I made the connection clear, our guest beat a hasty departure.”

“I just bet he did.”

“No wonder you look tired.”

Nico sat back on the couch and stretched out long legs. “Si. All I wanted was a kiss from my wife, a glass of wine and a few minutes of peace and quiet.”

Placing her glass on the worktop, she walked towards him.

Emerald eyes dancing, she took his glass, placed it on the coffee table, slid to straddle his lap and wrapped her arms around his neck.

“And you arrived to find chaos reigning.”

He slid his hands beneath her T-shirt to find warm skin as smooth as silk.

And no bra.

He wiggled his brows.

She rubbed her nose against his. “Is that a subliminal signal for a quickie on the couch?”

In a smooth move, he had her on her back and grinned down into her laughing face.

Dio, he adored her.

Si.”

“What about dinner,” she asked breathlessly after a scorching kiss.

“I can multi-task. I am Italian.”

FINE

I’m working hard on Break The Rules and No Rules. Both stories are clicking along quite nicely.

Christine X

It’s Sneak Peek time… and an exclusive excerpt from Break The Rules…

SHE - SHAKESPEARE

This scene takes place at Ludlow Hall during Anastacia and Olivier’s engagement party. Nico and Sean are keeping an eye on proceedings….

 

“You look very serious, my friend. The ribs still hurting?” Nico Ferranti asked Sean.

“Nah, the ribs are almost back to normal.”

To conform to the dress code on their invitation to Anastacia’s engagement party to Olivier Conti, both wore black tux. They stood next to a huge potted fern with their back to the wall, in the grand ballroom at Ludlow Hall. Even though he wasn’t on duty, old habits died hard, Sean nursed a glass of water, while Nico held a glass of Chianti from one of his many vineyards.

The party was in full swing and the entire Ludlow Hall gang, including children, were out in force to show their love and support for the young couple.

“They look happy,” Sean said, referring to the guests of honor who were grooving on down to a dance hit.

Nico nodded. “Si. She is good for him. And he is good for her. It is a good match.”

Sean grinned. “That’s good. His mother is pleased, which is the main thing as far as Ana’s concerned. I know she was nervous.”

Nico eyes twinkled. “Si. Valentina Conti is a good woman and happy Ana cannot cook to save her life, which means she will continue to rule the kitchen, like all good Italian mamas.”

Sean couldn’t help but laugh because Anastacia’s lack of culinary skill was legendary.

As he continued to scan the room, he caught sight of a man he didn’t recognize talking to Ana’s half-sister, the beautiful Chloe Rucker.

Sean’s eyes narrowed. “Next to the entrance to the hallway to the restrooms, who’s the tall guy with the man-bun talking to Chloe?”

Nico turned. “Ah, that is Serge Morretti. He is a good friend of Olivier’s. And much too old and experienced for young Chloe.”

“He looks rich.”

“He is rich. Very rich. He is Sardinian.”

The dry tone had Sean glance at the expression on Nico’s face. “You say that as if it’s a problem.”

“It may be a problem if Serge decided to have Chloe. Olivier would never permit it.”

“Why?”

“Because like Ana, Chloe and Tanith are now part of Olivier’s famiglia. And he would never tolerate Serge anywhere near one of his sisters or sisters-in-law.”

“Bad news?”

Nico made a face. “Let us say that he is not kind to women.”

“A Prince amongst men?”

“He is damaged. As I said, he is not kind.”

When Serge put his hands on Chloe both men stiffened.

But then little Sophia Ferranti, looking gorgeous in a pale pink party dress made from yards of tulle, skipped into the picture.

The child tugged on Chloe’s hand and said something.

Looking displeased, Serge released Chloe and took a step back.

Chloe turned towards the restrooms with Sophia.

A Sophia who turned to toss a narrow-eyed look over her shoulder at Serge.

She made a horrible face and poked out her tongue.

The utter shock on the Sardinian’s face was priceless.

Sean and Nico’s roar of laughter had heads turn in their direction.

“Christ, that Sophia is something else.”

Nico wiped his eyes. “Si. She is special.”

“When she grows up, you’re going to have your hands full with her.”

“Perhaps. But, she will never bring shame on la famiglia.”

 

Sean’s gaze tracked across the room to another loved-up couple, Danni and Pascale.

He pointed with his chin. “They’ll be next.”

“Hmm. He is smitten with her.”

“Yeah. She’s a sweetheart and a kind and gentle soul.” Sean’s gaze landed on T.C. sitting at a round table. She laughed as she batted her eyes and flirted outrageously with a young man. “Unlike some people.” His eyes narrowed when he spotted she was drinking water instead of her usual white wine.

Nico’s black brow rose as he followed Sean’s gaze. “Ah, yes. Theresa. That one marches to the beat of her own drum,” he drawled, his Italian accent strong. “You sound angry, my friend.”

“She’s like an earworm in my head.”

Nico blinked.

“You know,” Sean continued. “A tune in your head, like an advertizing jingle that simply won’t stop.”

“Sounds… irritating.”

“She is irritating.”

Nico laughed. “She is very beautiful.”

Sean glowered. “What’s that got to do with anything? It’s what lies beneath the skin that matters.” Then he heaved a heavy sigh, feeling as if he had the weight of the world on his shoulders. “I will never understand that woman.”

“You are attracted to her. And she is attracted to you. When you are not looking at her, she is looking at you.”

Sean knew it.

He’d felt her eyes drilling into the back of his head all night, hadn’t he?

“We don’t seem to be following any rules, at least none I can work out.”

Nico rubbed his chin. “Perhaps it is time to start breaking the rules.”

“Nope. I’m a big believer in rules. I live by rules,” Sean said, happily forgetting that he’d broken T.C.’s one night only rule.

“Hmm. How is that working out for you?”

Sean turned to stare hard at a grinning Nico. “Point taken. She’s a pain in my ass.”

“Ah, true love. It is a wonderful thing.”

His belly tremble at the thought of true love had Sean scowl horribly at his friend.

“What’s love got to do with it? he demanded.

The tone of sheer outrage had Nico throw back his head and roar with laughter.

“Ask Tina Turner.”

“F*ck off,” Sean said.

 

T.C. wondered why the hell she’d asked Freddy Beaumont to dance with her.

The man had two left feet and even though they were down to a shuffle, he’d still managed to stomp on her toes, twice.

“Ouch.”

Freddy’s freckles stood out against his pale face. “Sorry, T.C. I hate dancing. You know I’m no good at it.”

Her attention elsewhere, T.C. nodded.

Out of the corner of her eye, she watched Sean Kennedy sending her the stink eye.

He’d been looking at her, just like that, all night.

Bastard.

She turned to bestow a wide smile upon Freddy.

He’d known her since she was ten, so his response to her glittering smile was not one she might have hoped for.

Instantly on guard, Freddy frowned. “Why are you looking at me like that?”

“Put your hand on my ass.”

His eyes, a pale grey, went like saucers. “What?”

“Don’t burst my eardrum. You heard me. Do it.”

“Uh huh. I don’t know what you’re up to, but, I’m not doing it.”

She stared up into his face and fluttered her lashes.

“Freddy,” she said in a low purr that would have had Danni and Ana roll their eyes. “I’m trying to send the right message to a guy who’s refusing to take the word no. Do it.”

Freddy kept a wary eye on her mood and clamped a big hand on her ass.

Out of the corner of her eye, T.C. watched Sean’s face.

He didn’t bat an eye.

Instead, his gaze clicked to the hand on her ass then lifted meet her eyes.

He mouthed. You are a bad, bad girl.

He moved towards them.

T.C. blinked.

Omigod.

What if Sean hit Freddy?

He wouldn’t hit Freddy, would he?

Sean tapped Freddy on the shoulder, while T.C. looked on with something like fear gripping her heart. Freddy was a gentle soul. When they’d been young, he’d had a problem standing up for himself. There was no way he’d be able to handle a big tall Irish man sixty pounds heavier.

Freddy turned and shocked T.C. to the core when he beamed. “Hi, Sean. How are the ribs?”

“Good, Fred. The new pain pills helped a lot, thanks.”

T.C. gaped at them. “You know each other?”

Freddy stared at her, blinked. “Of course. I treated him at the outpatient clinic.”

Which just went to show what a small bloody world it was, T.C. realized, putting two and two together to make four.

“Mind if I take over, Fred?” Sean asked.

It was insulting, T.C. fumed, the way Freddy just handed her over to Sean, as if she was a packet of… of… chips.

 

FINE

Ah, T.C. has met her match, methinks.

I’m working on Break The Rules and No Rules as I type.

Break The Rules will not go on pre-order, it will go immediately up for sale, so stay tuned.

Christine X

It’s throw back Friday…

nicoscreaminagoodway

FREE ON:  AMAZON    iBOOKS   NOOK   KOBO   GOOGLE PLAY

Who remembers the music playing in the background of this scene from RECKLESS NIGHTS IN ROME?

***

A few minutes later, Nico’s car purred to a halt at the back entrance of The Dower house.

He checked the time.

Too early?

Too bad.

Stepping out of the car, the scent of warm apples, sugar and cinnamon poured across his senses.

Pure annoyance fired his blood pressure again.

So she made cakes while he suffered the agonies of hell.

The Dower House throbbed and boomed with the bass of a pop song.

Nico lifted his hand to knock the door and then shrugged.

She’d never hear him over the racket.

Ignoring the little voice that told him he was invading her privacy, he tried the handle and opened the door.

Strolling into the house, he cocked his head.

It appeared Bronte was singing.

Then he thought again.

Nope.

That noise could never be called singing, more like howling or screeching.

And he winced as she let out an endless shriek that didn’t quite make a long top note.

Nico stepped into the kitchen and every particle of angry frustration drained away.

He couldn’t help the big grin that split his face.

Blissfully oblivious she had an audience to her hips bumping and grinding to Rihanna’s big hit, Bronte stripped off her top, swung it around her head and tossed it.

The sweater sailed high through the air to land at Nico’s feet.

Without taking his eyes from her, he picked it up.

Absently, he rubbed the soft wool between his fingers. Absorbing the warmth from her body and inhaling her scent.

She wore black fitness pants slung low, low on her hips and a short skinny vest.

No bra and bare feet.

Still cheerfully unaware of his presence behind her, Bronte continued to sing her heart out as she shook her booty.

Blonde hair, piled in an incredibly sexy knot on top of head, accentuated a long and delicate neck. Her ears, small and perfect, hugged her scalp.

Nico had to laugh when he spotted a black sock over the kettle and another in the middle of the fruit bowl. Rihanna blasted through the speakers telling everyone to please don’t stop the music.

Please don’t, Nico begged, leaning his shoulder against the door frame to relax and enjoy the show. Guilt that he was witnessing something terribly private dug him hard in the ribs, but Nico ignored it.

He wouldn’t have missed this for the world.

God knew she couldn’t sing but the girl had moves.

Skipping to a fridge, her tight little bottom wiggled in perfect time to the beat and Nico bit down hard on a knuckle.

With a bottle of water as a microphone the fabulous Ms. Ludlow step-touched with a sexy swing of her hips, shook her booty and strutted her stuff.

Spinning round he saw her eyes were closed and that stunning face was flushed with exertion.

She opened her eyes and saw him.

And those fabulous eyes bugged right out of her head.

 

Jogging frantically on the spot, Bronte Ludlow screamed her lungs out.

Pure reflex had Nico catch the bottle of water that almost beaned him between the eyes.

“You bastard!”

The girl was on him like a wildcat. He was a big man who knew how to handle himself. Bronte was no match for him. The shock that she’d even think to attack him in the first place made him laugh out loud. A big mistake, he realized, when she growled in his ear. A growl that only made him laugh harder. A flying fist caught him on the chin as she clung like a limpet to his back. An arm locked around his neck in a tight strangle hold. Endless legs wound around his waist like a vice.

Cristo, Bronte, stop.”

Roaring with laughter, Nico couldn’t catch his breath.

His eyes watered when Bronte did her level best to rip his hair out of his scalp.

When her teeth sank into his shoulder, he yelled,

“Okay, that is it!”

“How dare you come into my home without warning?” she yelled in his ear. “You almost gave me a heart attack.”

She made a determined effort to twist his earlobe off and he’d had enough.

Nico landed back against a wall.

And he heard Bronte’s breath whoosh from her lungs.

He spun, pinned her arms above her head and pressed his body against hers.

Her powerful knee thrust missed unmanning him by a whisker.

Panting now, her eyes spat green fire into his.

The feel of her struggling under him sent blood racing to his shaft.

And he knew he was in big trouble.

Her breath was panting into his mouth as she went utterly still and those green eyes grew wary now.

She trembled and not just from fury.

“Let me go,” she panted. “I mean it.”

Her voice was high as her breath heaved in short bursts and he couldn’t take his eyes from her mouth. Her heart bucked against his and the scent of her shampoo and pure Bronte made his mouth water. A pink tongue licked her top lip and Nico knew he desperately wanted, needed, to taste, to take.

A soft whimper made him look into her eyes and what he saw there, arousal battling with alarm, made him stop.

He’d already taken a misstep with her last night and he wasn’t going to take another with her today.

Chest heaving, Nico released her and stepped back, palms up in a gesture of peace.

 

***

Ah, those were the days!

I’m deep in the middle of BREAK THE RULES AND NO RULES.

They’re all coming together!

Christine X

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

HAPPY EASTER TO THE BEST READERS IN THE UNIVERSE. It’s time for a sneak peek…

 

SNEAKPEEKEASTERITALY

Today, the sneak peek takes place at The Ferranti Hotel and Spa in Lake Como where Bronte and Nico and Rosie and Alexander have taken the children, and Emily as company for Sophia, for the Easter break. Alexander is taking the opportunity to do an inspection of the staff at the hotel. Rosie and Bronte have gone for a spot of retail therapy. Nine year old Tonio is spending time with his Uncle Gregorio Ancelotti learning to sail on the lake.

When Gregorio returned Tonio to the Ferranti villa in the grounds of the hotel, he found a lone Nico relaxing on a sun lounger beneath a vast umbrella in the garden doing daddy duty…

Nico had to smile when a windswept and beaming Tonio raced into the garden followed at a more sedate pace by an equally windswept Gregorio. Both wore sneakers, navy knee length cargo shorts and T-shirts.

When Tonio wrapped his arms around Nico’s waist, he received a knuckle scrub on the head for his trouble. “I can see you had a good time. Your T-shirt is damp.”

“I had THE best time,” Tonio agreed. He turned to his uncle Gregorio. “Grazie, for taking me sailing.”

E stato un piacere,” Gregorio said in his deep voice. “My pleasure. You did well at the helm.”

“The helm is how I steered the boat,” Tonio explained to Nico. His bright eyes scanned the garden. “Where is everyone?”

“They are in the rose garden playing The Wedding Game,” Nico told him and bit back a smile at the boy’s obvious dismay.

“Not the Wedding Game. I hate the Wedding Game.”

Since Nico had spent most of the afternoon refereeing Sophia and Emily who wanted a very reluctant Luca to be the groom, he felt his pain. “Go and change your T-shirt.”

When the boy left, Nico opened the cool box and turned to Gregorio. “Beer? The afternoon went well?”

Gregorio took a seat on a sprawling sofa which faced the garden and the lake and mountains beyond. The scent of spring flowers filled the air. He accepted the glass of a full bodied red from Nico and took a sip. “Grazie. Si, even though he never stopped talking, he is good company and a natural sailor.”

Dressed down in knee length ivory cargo shorts and a T-shirt, Nico took a seat and stretched out long bare legs. “He is coming out of his shell and has grown very fond of Bronte and she of him.”

“A family setting has been good for him.” Gregorio frowned and turned enquiring eyes on Nico. “What is The Wedding Game?”

Nico gave him a bland look. “Do not ask.”

 

***

“I don’t wanna marry Emily. I’ve married her eight times already,” Luca said, and tossed the old black jacket and tie that belonged to Nico on the grass. “And I’m not gonna kiss her again.”

Sophia, wearing tea-towel on her head because she was a nun and in her world a nun was reeligis and could marry a couple. She gave her twin a dark look and jerked her chin. “We played super-heroes with you all morning. You said you would play The Wedding Game this afternoon. Fair is fair.”

Luca got into her face and went nose to nose. “Yeah, but a super-hero didn’t do the kissy-kissy stuff. And Emily can’t stop giggling in my face.”

Emily, the blushing bride, said nothing as she watched from the sidelines. She didn’t like dramas. They made her belly feel funny.

Sitting on the grass, fifteen month old Eve picked up the end of the tie and stuffed it in her mouth, all the while her big brown eyes watched the heated debate.

Always willing to pour oil on troubled waters, Emily picked up a drowsy Jimmy Chew. “I’ll marry the dog. He doesn’t mind kisses.”

Sophia frowned at her best friend. “You can’t marry a dog, for goodness sake.”

The arrival of Tonio had Emily blush furiously and hug Jimmy Chew close.

Tonio scooped up Eve and placed her on his hip. “Papa said to come and get a drink and come out of the sun because it’s too hot to play The Wedding Game.”

“Yay!” Luca didn’t need to be told twice and whooped as he raced across the lawn.

Sophia yanked the tea-towel from her head. “Oh well, I expect it is too hot for this. I wonder if papa will let us have a little piece of our Easter eggs?”

Tonio shook his head. “No. Bronte said no chocolate until after supper time and only if we eat our vegetables.”

Sophia sent him a look of utter disgust. “That’s blackmolling little children.”

“Blackmailing,” Tonio corrected.

“Whatever,” she snapped and quoted her Auntie Rosie. “It’s still against the law of the land.”

“My uncle Ethan,” Emily began in her breathy voice. “Is a policeman. He carries a gun. We should tell him.”

Sophia stared at her very hard. “I don’t want anyone to shoot my mama.”

Tonio jiggled Eve who was doing her level best to yank his hair out by the roots. “I cannot believe you two. Bronte is only making sure we eat the correct food groups so we receive all our vitamins and minerals to make our bones grow and give us a healthy skin. It is not as if broccoli is going to kill you. And then you can have chocolate.”

Emily nodded wisely, popped a kiss on Jimmy Chew’s head. “He’s right.”

Still not looking convinced, Sophia turned to her best friend. “Don’t say anything to your uncle.”

“Okay,” Emily agreed.

After the children had scoffed fresh orange juice and cookies, they decided to play statues, which left Nico and Gregorio to relax and discuss the financial management of Tonio’s vast property portfolio left to him by his late mother. The children were busy with their game. The two men were deep in discussion. No one noticed when Eve, on her hands and knees, powered into the house with Jimmy Chew hot on her heels.

 

 

***

Twenty minutes later…

Sophia and Emily wandered into the house to wash their hands, before mama and Auntie Rosie returned from shopping. It was their turn to set the table for supper. When they entered the kitchen-living-dining space, Sophia stopped dead and her eyes popped from her head.

Omigod,” Emily’s whisper was filled with awe and wonder.

Sophia raced outside. “Papa!!” Sophia yelled, the panic in her voice loud and clear.

Nico and Gregorio were on their feet. “What is it?”

Sophia’s face was pale. “Eve and Jimmy Chew. Papa, they’ve got… the Easter Eggs.”

Nico and Gregorio and the boys entered to find Eve sitting on the floor with two huge boxes of large chocolate eggs in pieces. The child was covered in head to toe in dark chocolate, 86% fair-trade cocoa. Her cotton romper had been white once upon a time. And Jimmy Chew was heroically licking her toes making her squeal and gurgle with laughter.

Dio mio,” Gregorio whispered.

Nico swallowed language not fit for little ears. After glancing at the clock, they didn’t have much time, he clapped his hands. “Tonio – go and fill a bath with warm water. Emily – go and get a change of clothes and a diaper for the baby. Luca – pick up the chocolate, foil paper and rubbish and put them in the bin. Gregorio – pour us a drink.”  He made his way carefully through pieces of melted chocolate on the floor until he stood over his baby girl. “Ah, il mio bambino, if your mama could see you now she would kill your papa.”

Nico lifted the baby and was immediately covered in black chocolate. Jimmy Chew, heroically licking the floor, was in seventh heaven. Nico could only hope the dog wasn’t sick as a… dog.

 

Twenty minutes later, Bronte and Rosie strolled through the door with baby Mila in her stroller and her daddy bringing up the rear laden down with bags and boxes.

Bronte surveyed the scene: the dining table was beautifully set, with napkins! And the children were sitting quietly watching the cartoon of Beauty and The Beast, the volume turned low. Probably because Eve was snoozing in her papa’s arms.

She noticed that Gregorio, strangely, seemed riveted on the movie, too. Bronte narrowed her eyes as she studied her husband and baby girl. “Those aren’t the shorts or T-shirt you were wearing when I left this morning. And Eve’s wearing one of her best dresses,” she muttered. When no one looked her in the eye, she folded her arms and cocked her hip. “Okay, what happened?”

Rosie came to stand at her side, her dark eyes dancing. “When the cat’s away the mice will play. What have the mice been up to?”

“It was all Sophia’s fault because she wanted to play The stupid Wedding Game, and then we played statues because I didn’t want anymore kissy-kissy” Luca began. “Which meant we didn’t notice Eve and Jimmy Chew were missing…”

“Missing?” Bronte’s head spun on her shoulders, at bit like a scene from the Exorcist, to stare hard at Nico and Gregorio.

Nico sent Luca a dark look. “Not missing, exactly. The children were playing…”

“And what, exactly, were the two adults doing?”

“They were drinking beer,” Sophia said, tossing a wide-eyed Gregorio and her papa into the fire without a blink. “Emily and I found her and Jimmy Chew eating Easter eggs.”

“Yeah, and you should have seen the big mess they made,” Luca added helpfully.

Bronte simply stared unblinking at the two men sitting on the couch until they wriggled beneath her scrutiny. “I cannot say I am surprised by you, Nico Ferranti. But, Gregorio Ancelotti, I am surprised at you.” And with that she picked up her baby girl and walked out.

Nico stood and turned to his twins. “Do neither of you understand the meaning of loyalty to la famiglia?”

Rosie slid into a dining chair and sat back to enjoy the show.

Sophia, still dressed as a bride, ignored her papa’s outrage, looked him in the eye and lifted her chin. “We’re not responsible. You are the adult here, papa. We’re just little children. You did your best. We all learn from our mistakes.”

“Wash your hands before dinner!” Bronte yelled from the hallway. The children were up and out of the room in about three seconds.

“Phew. Is this what family life is like?” Gregorio wanted to know.

Rosie grinned at him. “It is in this house.”

Gregorio stood. “I should leave. I think Bronte is not happy with me.”

Nico shook his head, put an arm around his shoulders for a man-hug. “Nessun problema. When she yells at you it means she loves you. You are la famiglia. We are Italian.”

Happy Easter!

 

Christine X

It’s sneak peek time at Ludlow Hall…

 

It's the Ludlow Hall Sneak Peekcappuccino

The Dower House on a soggy Saturday afternoon…

Nico, Alexander and the boys, wearing their usual day off uniform of soft jeans, sweatshirts and socked feet (not parked on the coffee table) are slumped on the sofa.

The expression on their faces, abject misery, made Rosie—who’s wearing a white apron of heavy cotton over her leggings and one of Alexander’s university sweatshirts—grin and shake her head. “Would you just look at them? You’d think the world had ended all because United missed a penalty and got a man sent off.”

Bronte, wearing an apron over black jeans and matching short sleeved T-shirt, glanced at their men and her eyes went soft. “At least it’s kept them quiet for five minutes. Taste this batter.” She offered a spoon, watched Rosie lick the end. “What do you think? Too much salted caramel? Not enough? Too much white chocolate? Does it need extra walnuts?”

The girls are experimenting with a new mini muffin recipe.

Rosie sent her a steady look. “Which question do you want me to answer first? I don’t know why you stress about this stuff, it tastes awesome. Not too sweet. I love it.”

“Okay.” Bronte dropped the spoon in a jug, picked up a pen to make notes on a pad. “Being good enough is not good enough, I want it to taste amazing.”

“I’ve decided you have a touch of OCD. I’m thinking the silver paper cases will look good in white glossy boxes with silver ribbon.” Rosie jotted the idea down in her notepad.

“The bride wants gold.”

Rosie didn’t do an eye roll but it was a close run thing. She scored out the note and began again. “Fine! Gold paper cases in white glossy boxes with gold ribbon.”

“She wants black boxes.”

Rosie stared hard at Bronte. “Black at a wedding?”

“It’s her second time and she wants what she wants.”

“I want pink at my wedding,” a little voice piped up from Rosie’s elbow.

She turned to find a little girl in bright yellow silk dressed up as… a princess… a fairy… a…

“I’m Belle,” Emily said, correctly reading the confusion on Rosie’s face.

“Ah,” Rosie said, and grinned. “Hello, Belle. Where’s the beast?”

“She doesn’t like being the beast. The mask is too hot and messes up her hair. So we’re going to share Belle. I’m the wedding Belle and Sophia will be the spirited headstrong village Belle.”

“Staying true to character, huh? Good thinking, Wedding Belle.”

The sound of a little voice singing Tale As Old As Time came down the wide, curved hall stairway. The purity of the sound had Rosie beam at a teary-eyed Bronte. “Jeez, she’s not exactly Celine Dion, but that girl’s got a good set of pipes on her.”

Village Belle glided into the room on bare feet, wearing an outfit that wouldn’t look out of place in the Sound of Music.

Wedding Belle nodded in agreement. “She should put it on YouTube. I bet she’d get plenty of hits. I could record her on my iPhone.”

“Yes! I could be a sensation and make lots of money,” Village Belle cried.

Before Bronte could open her mouth to nix that bright idea in the bud, a stunned looking Rosie blinked at Wedding Belle. “Your mother got you an iPhone?”

Wedding Belle nodded. “An iPhone 7 Plus. I can throw it in a river and it won’t break.”

Rosie gave her a hard stare. “Well, the only river around here is the river Ludlow and I don’t recommend you throw it in there because you’ll never see it again.”

Wedding Belle grinned. “Of course I won’t throw it in a river. It’s a key feature.”

Rosie bent down to go eye to eye with a little sprite with dancing blue eyes, a constellation of freckles on her pretty face and a mass of red curls. “Key feature, eh? How old are you again?”

“I’m six.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes.”

“Well, I think you might be six going on twenty-six.”

“Papa won’t let me have an iPhone,” Village Belle said, sliding a none-the-wiser Nico a dark look.

“I am not having this conversation with you again, Sophia,” her mama told her in a tone that warned her to cease and desist.

Village Belle received the message loud and clear. “When I’m a big girl I’ll have an iPhone 7.”

“By the time your a big girl,” her Auntie Rosie began. “They’ll be obsolete, and we’ll all communicate via a brain implant tucked behind our ear.” When three sets of big eyes stared at her with awe and wonder, Rosie shrugged. “Anything’s possible. We already have virtual screens and keyboards and just think, no one will be able to steal our phone.”

Fascinated, Bronte stared at her. “You know, that sort of makes a lot of sense.”

“Don’t look so surprised,” Rosie said. “I do have a brain.”

“Do I smell muffins?” Tonio said, his eyes examining the two Belles with interest.

“They’ll be ready in about ten minutes,” Bronte told him as she turned to check one of her ovens.

 

Meanwhile, six year old Wedding Belle studied the very handsome ten year old Tonio from beneath her lashes.”I love it when you speak Italian, Tonio. Say something.”

Village Belle and Auntie Rosie sent Wedding Belle an are-you-kidding-me look that made her face hot.

Tonio grinned like a fool.

Cappuccino,” he said in a long, deep drawl sounding like just Nico.

Rosie and Bronte burst out laughing.

“Tonio!” Wedding Belle pouted.

His face went very serious. “Okay—Machiatto.”

When Village Belle giggled, Wedding Belle sent her a filthy look. “Tonio Ferranti…” she began.

Tonio looked to heaven, then his dark gaze met Wedding Belle’s and held.

He said softly,  “Marocchino, bella.”

Wedding Belle blushed furiously.

Still laughing, Bronte pulled the tray of mini muffins from the oven and set them on a wire rack to cool.

Tonio’s eyes went wide as Luca and Nico and Alexander traipsed over to sniff the air like starving wolves.

“Did I hear someone mention a variety of coffees?” Nico said, his knuckles scrubbing the top of Tonio’s black curls.

The boy beamed, his dark eyes dancing with mischief. “I was teaching Emily Italian.”

Nico turned to a furiously blushing Wedding Belle. “Si? Sei molto bella,” he drawled, his voice deep and low. A tone that brought the child’s fingers to her mouth, her blue eyes wide.

“What did you say?” she whispered.

Nico crouched down to take her hand. “I said, you look very beautiful.”

When little Emily sighed in dreamy-eyed delight, Bronte shook her head and turned to Rosie. “That child doesn’t stand a chance, does she? Tonio will have her eating out of his hand.”

Rosie sniffed and watched her nephew with narrowed eyes. “I wouldn’t be too sure of that if I were you.”

Nico, his eyes merry, watched the two Belles and Tonio and Luca dig into their mini muffins. “He is a good boy. He is Italian.”

 

 

***

 

Hehehe.

And it’s a Cappuccino from me!

Don’t forget you can grab the 2016 book of sneak peeks from my author library HERE.

Thank you so much for the feeback. I’m thrilled you’re enjoying it so much.

 

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