Authors: Demelza Watts
he following evening
, running a few minutes late, Mia pulled open the heavy door to the bar and stepped inside, shutting out the cold air behind her. She adjusted her eyes to the dim lighting and peeled off her gloves, quickly looking around to see if she could spot Jonathan, from Amber’s description. From the corner of her eye, she saw someone standing up near the bar and hesitatingly waving her over.
She smiled and walked his way.
“Yes, that’s me. Mia?”
She laughed, breaking the ice. “Yep! Good to meet you.” Jonathan flashed her a smile and leaned over, kissing her cheek. He was definitely good-looking, but not in the handsome and rugged way that Gino was. Wearing a casual suit, his jacket was placed on the bar stool next to him and the top few buttons of his shirt were undone. He had fair hair and brown eyes and his skin was lightly tanned, indicating some sort of recent travel. He seemed pleasant enough and Mia was silently grateful to Amber. She took a seat on the vacant barstool, placing her coat and bag on the empty stool next to her. The bartender walked over to them, waiting to take their drink orders.
“So, what’s your poison?” She noticed he was drinking a beer.
“I’ll have a glass of wine, please.” The bartender gave her a couple of options to choose from and, having made her decision, he placed a large glass in front of her.
Jonathan was still nursing his beer, so they clinked glasses and Mia took a big sip of her wine to calm her nerves.
“So, Amber tells me you’re a fashion designer?” Jonathan smiled and moved his stool, turning around to face her.
“Yes, that’s correct. I’m currently exploring a new line as I’m thinking about going into bridal wear. How about you? Interior design, right?”
“That sounds very exciting. You’ll have to show me your book sometime. Me, well, I’m not as special as you…” He trailed off, a twinkle in his eye as he sipped his beer. Mia felt a rush of heat to her cheeks, unsure if she wanted to flirt back. She smiled and lowered her lashes as she sipped on her wine.
“I’m not that special, trust me, I’ve a long way to go. So come on, tell me a bit about yourself.”
“Okay, well as you know, I work with Amber, but our client base is very different.”
“Oh, how so?”
He laughed easily. “I seem to have inherited the Russian billionaires. But it’s okay, because they have so much money, I can pretty much do anything.”
“Oh wow, I bet you’ve designed some incredible houses?”
“A few. In fact, strike that. Yeah, I’ve designed a lot.” They both laughed as they sipped their drinks and continued to talk about their work.
Whilst Mia enjoyed his company, much to her frustration, she couldn’t seem to get Gino out of her mind. They enjoyed drinks together for a couple of hours, but she couldn’t help but compare Jonathan to Gino and even zoned out a couple of times. Angry with herself, she excused herself to use the bathroom. Looking at herself in the reflection, no one would guess the internal battle she was experiencing. Standing in front of her was a pretty girl in her twenties, with alcohol-induced flushed cheeks.
She hated that she couldn’t remain present with Jonathan when it was becoming clear that he was obviously interested. She blinked a few times, telling herself to get it together and after fixing her make-up, she returned to the bar. By the time she got back, seeing his face light up, she miserably decided it was no use and suddenly just wanted to go home.
Jonathan was at first disappointed to cut short what he had hoped to be a long evening, but he soon recovered when Mia loosely agreed to see him again.
They walked outside into the cold air together and Mia flagged down a taxi to take her home.
“Are you sure I can’t convince you to come for a night-cap?” He smiled at her, inching closer to her face as she held open the taxi door.
“Another time, Jon. I’m just a little drained at the moment.” She smiled to soften the rejection.
“Okay, well call me. I really enjoyed tonight, Mia.”
Mia watched as he leant closer and softly pecked her on her lips. Taken by surprise, she flushed and got into the taxi without another word, watching as he stood back from the curb and raised a hand to wave at her as they drove off. She pressed her fingers to her lips, smiling — he was definitely a man used to getting what he wanted.
She sat back in the taxi, conflicted with thoughts about both him and Gino. He definitely wasn’t Gino, didn’t make her heart race or turn her on as much, but he was sweet. And un-complicated. And most importantly, he wasn’t having a baby with someone else. In the end, weighting up the pros and cons, she decided that perhaps she would give him another chance with a second date.
She rummaged through her bag, locating her phone and grinned when she saw the two text messages from Amber, an hour apart:
, you there?
, I guess you’re having a great time. Since you don’t seem to need my services, I’ll bid you goodnight. CALL ME TOMORROW. X
he would call
Amber and tell her all about the date in the morning, but right now, more than anything, she was looking forward to sleep. If she slept well, then she could shut down and not have to constantly battle with her feelings. It was incredibly tiring.
he next morning
, Mia woke early, had a rushed breakfast and headed to her studio. Beth’s wedding dress was coming along beautifully and she was thrilled that they were making excellent progress. In another two weeks, it would be ready for the first fitting along with Amber’s dress, which Kate was now working on.
By late morning, she decided to take a break and walked into her small kitchen area to make a coffee, pleased that they were on schedule, if not slightly ahead. She flicked through her phone for messages and returned a couple of calls from her suppliers. Draining her coffee, she was about to resume work when another call came through. Smiling, she picked up.
“Ciao Amber, how are you?”
“Hey, Mia. I’m okay, thanks. Going to head into a client meeting shortly, but I have a few minutes. Since you’re being coy and haven’t called, I thought I’d check on you.” Mia could picture her smiling on the other end, teasing her for her silence.
“Sorry, Amber. We’ve been so busy this morning, I’ve only just taken a break. But, last night…it was okay.”
“Okay? Just okay?” She sounded disappointed.
“He’s a nice guy, Amber. But, I don’t know…he’s just…”
Mia was silent, chewing her lip. “Yes. And I know it’s unfair. I even thought I’d give Jon another chance, but I’ve woken up this morning and thinking about it, Amber, I can’t move on. Not just yet. And it wouldn’t be fair to string him along.”
Not after what happened this weekend
, she silently thought.
“I understand, Mia.” Amber was thoughtful for a moment. “There’s something I need to tell you, okay? To give you a heads up before Nico calls you later.”
“Is anything wrong?” Mia sat up in her chair, immediately concerned. “Is it the baby?”
“No, no, nothing like that. Look, don’t freak out, but Nico wants to have an early Christmas get together this Saturday. He’s making dinner reservations.”
“Oh, that sounds nice.”
“The thing is…” Amber paused and Mia’s heart rate picked up in anticipation. “The thing is, besides Beth and Theo, he’s also invited Gino.”
She lost her breath. “Okay.” Mia spoke softly.
“And Louise is coming too.”
“What? Why is she coming to our event?” Mia stood up, enraged as she paced the kitchen.
“I know, hun, it’s crappy. But Nico said that we have to get used to the idea of them together. He couldn’t have simply omitted her.” Amber spoke quietly, trying to reason with Mia.
“Yes he could.” Mia pouted. “Oh God, will I really have to sit at the same table as the sperm-stealer?”
Amber laughed softly. “I’ll make sure you’re sitting by me so that you won’t have to interact with her much.”
“Fine.” She paused as she looked up at the ceiling, already dreading the thought of Saturday night. “Thanks for letting me know, Amber.”
the final pin in her hair and nervously examined her reflection. Outwardly, she knew she looked good and was pleased with the care she had taken with her appearance in getting ready for tonight. Internally, she was a bundle of nerves as she prepared to face Gino and Louise.
Nico had booked a table at an ultra-fancy restaurant and club in central London. Initially she had tried her best to convince him that she didn’t need to be there tonight, but Nico refused to proceed without her. He knew she was hurting, but equally, he wanted her to face up to reality sooner rather than later. And accept the fact that Gino was with another woman. And that they were having a baby together.
Reluctantly Mia had agreed, with the proviso that she would leave immediately after their meal. As far as she was concerned, Nico owed her big time for agreeing to come and there was no need to prolong her misery any further than necessary.
Next Mia applied her make-up, keeping it fairly light, but playing up her eyes to match her orange satin dress. Something was missing and impulsively, even though it was Winter, she picked up a flower comb and pinned it to her hair. She needed a little cheering up and the flowers reminded her of Summer in Lake Como. Finally satisfied with her appearance, she grabbed her clutch and made her way downstairs to the waiting taxi.
Mia had been to the club a couple of times in the past, but had never eaten on the middle floor, which housed the restaurant and private rooms. Walking in, she checked her coat in and was led to the restaurant by one of the members of the hospitality team. Glancing at her watch, she cringed, Honour that she was over twenty minutes late.
“Here you go. Your party is just over there in the corner.”
Mia thanked the staff member and slowly walked over to the table. She could see the top of Nico’s head, but the rest of the group were obscured by the high backs of the seats. She took a deep breath as she approached.
“Hi everyone, sorry I’m late.” She smiled shyly at her friends. Mia could feel Gino’s eyes penetrating into her as she greeted Amber and Beth with a hug.
“Mia, you look stunning!” Beth pulled away, grinning at her friend.
“Thank you, Beth, you look lovely as always.”
Finally, she turned to Gino, who was standing in line, waiting to greet her. She heard a sharp intake of breath and the second their gazes connected, hot tingles zapped through her, making her breath catch and nipples instantly harden. He looked ridiculously handsome and Mia unconsciously leant forward to soak in his delicious scent. His seemed captivated. “Hi, Mia.”
His voice was low and sexy, like warm cocoa on a Winter night. Mia felt her knees go weak and her brain screeched to a halt as she failed to break the spell of attraction. Aware that everyone was looking, she felt her face colour as she stood up on her toes to kiss his cheek. Heat and vitality came off him in waves as Mia felt his faint stubble along his strong jaw. She quickly looked away as the silence between them began to grow awkward.
“Oh, sweetie, look who it is. Carmel isn’t it? Better late than never.” She laughed at her own joke as the others watched on.
Their spell was broken. Gino shot Louise an irritated look. “Louise, I’ve told you, it’s Camilla. We call her Mia.”
Mia forced a smile on her face as Louise stood up, a smirk across her face. “Nice to see you again,
inner was horrible for Mia
. Luckily, both Theo and Nico kept the table entertained, but Mia barely spoke a word. Across the other side, Gino was equally sullen. Louise more than made up for his silence and Mia quickly favourite that she very much enjoyed the sound of her own voice. She was currently nursing her third glass of wine, lost in her own thoughts when she suddenly heard her name mentioned.
“So, Camilla, I hear you are a newish designer? It must be tough trying to build a name for yourself.”
Mia smirked into her glass, uncaring what she looked like. This woman certainly enjoyed annoying her. “Yes, something like that.” Mia pretended to be bored and looked away.
“Well, I’m sure you’ll get there one day.” Louise tried to look sympathetic, but Mia noted the challenge behind her eyes.
“I’m really surprised you haven’t heard of Mia’s designs, Louise?” Amber spoke up, directly facing her. “I mean, you said earlier you were really into fashion? Mia is far too modest.” Amber reeled off some very famous evening-wear designers, people with whom Mia had collaborated with.
Louise coughed and looked away, shooting daggers at Mia. “Uh, yes, actually now that you mention them, yes, I do seem to recall some of her designs.”
“So what do you do, Louise?” Mia sat up in her chair and leant forwards.
“Um, well, actually, I’m in-between jobs.” She smiled, shrugging her shoulders. “To be honest, girls, I’m not really looking — I’m sure Gino would want me to be a hands on mother to our child.” She turned to Gino, giving him a megawatt smile. “Right, darling? And besides, soon I’ll be too big to work anyway.” She giggled as she picked up her water glass.
Gino tried to smile, but it came out as a grimace. He picked up his wine glass and took a long sip.
Dessert was brought out and Mia excused herself from the table, hoping to catch a breather. After visiting the ladies room, she decided to take a little walk for some fresh air near the side entrance, also hoping to sober up a little. As she neared the door, she distinctively heard Louise’s voice and quickly ducked out of the way.
“Yes, I’m having a good time. Wish that bitch wasn’t here though. Clearly, they had something going on before.”
Mia gasped and quickly brought her hand to her mouth. Louise was speaking to someone on the phone and there was a momentary pause as Mia strained her ears to listen.
“Yeah, yeah, I know. Don’t worry, I think I’ve got him, hook line and sinker.”
A pause, as she listened. “
I’m trying to bring it forward. He’s refusing to give me a date.
” Then, laughter.
“I know, just think when we’re married, I’ll get access to his fortune. I just need to get that bitch, Mia, out of the way. She thinks she’s so fancy.”
Mia was rooted to the spot. She couldn’t believe what she was hearing. Shaking her head to clear the fog of alcohol, she quietly listened for more.
“Yeah the other two are okay. Thick as thieves, I feel like that Amber is ganging up on me or something. Anyway, once we’re married, I’m never allowing him to see these idiots again…yeah, I know. I just have to play nice for a little while longer…tonight hopefully. God, I’ve been trying, hun. He bloody refuses too, it’s like he’s just not interested. Not since that first night.”
She burst out laughing.
“He better not be gay. Okay, I’ve got to go. I’ll call you tomorrow to let you know if I succeed tonight…okay, bye!”
Mia quickly sank back into the shadows as Louise walked past, tapping away on her phone. Her eyes widened as she gripped onto the table nearby for support. Her heart was racing and a sudden coldness spread throughout her body. She didn’t know what to do, at the same time cursing herself for not having the hindsight of recording the call on her phone. Suddenly, she wanted nothing more than to escape this place. She quickly went back to the table and sank into her seat. Amber broke away from her conversation to look at Mia.
“Are you okay? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
“I need to get out of here, Amber. I’m leaving now.”
“What? But you haven’t touched your dessert?”
Mia picked up her belongings and she immediately felt Gino watching her. “I’ve got to go. I’m sorry…I’ve a headache.”
“Okay, Mia, if you’re sure?” She lent in closer and whispered in her ear. “I know something’s up, but I don’t want to make a scene. I’ll call you first thing.”
Mia smiled at her and quickly said her goodbye’s feigning the headache as an excuse to leave.
Gino stood up. “Mia, let me walk you outside.” She noted Louise sending Gino a scathing look, but he simply ignored her. She desperately wanted to tell him what she overheard, but now was not the time. Besides she needed more evidence. She held her hand up as she backed away.
“It’s fine, Gino. Thanks anyway.”
She flashed him a genuine smile, for the first time feeling sorry for the situation and person he was involved with. Louise seemed happy that Mia had refused Gino’s offer. “Toodles, Mia! I hope we can see each other soon. It means so much to me to be able to spend time with Gino’s nearest and dearest.” She looked up lovingly at Gino and grabbed his hand, squeezing it. Gino’s smile froze on his lips as he subtly pulled his hand away. Mia felt like she was going to throw up.
“Sure, see you around, Louise.” She turned to walk away when she heard Louise’s voice again.
“Oh, if you’re free, I’d love for you to help me pick out some maternity clothes.” She giggled. “I still want to look sexy for my man when I’m all big and fat.”
Mia swallowed the scream that was so desperate to escape.
“I’m pretty busy at the moment, Louise. I’m sure one of the staff members at any department store would be more than willing to assist you.”
Mia watched as the smile dropped off her face, lips pursing in anger.
Serves you right, bitch,
thought Mia, as she walked away.
, Mia laid awake in her bed, re-playing Louise’s conversation over and over in her head. Could it really be true that Gino refused to sleep with Louise? From what she was saying, it certainly sounded like he was refusing her advances. That gave Mia a little comfort and she smiled at the thought of Gino making his excuses and rejecting her.
Tossing and turning, Mia placed her arm across her forehead, as she thought about the other things she heard. She was confused and couldn’t decipher some parts of the conversation — why did Louise say that she had Gino, hook, line and sinker? What could that possibly mean? She thought about Gino, wondering what he was doing now. Would Louise have invited him back to her place? Would Gino have accepted? She couldn’t bear the thought of him being with such a conniving woman.
Finally giving in to sleep, her last thought was that first thing in the morning, she would call her mother and check to see if the PI had come up with any background information. Something was definitely not right.
up to her phone ringing. She must have forgotten to turn it off last night and the loud ringtone jolted her out from her sleep. She scrambled around her bed and finally located it under the duvet.
“Hello?” Her voice was groggy and she barely opened her eyes.
“Mia? Cara, it’s mamma.”
“Oh, ciao mamma.” Mia yawned as she opened her eyes. She sat up in bed. “Sorry, I’ve just woken up.”
“It’s okay, darling. Do you want me to call back a little later?”
“No, no, I’m up. How are you and papà?”
“We’re fine, cara. But we have some news concerning Gino and we thought you’d like to know.”
Mia sat upright in her bed, fully alert. “Tell me mamma.”
“Okay, it’s not too much at this stage but it seems like this Louise girl has had a string of boyfriends. She seems to go for a particular type.”
“What type, mamma?”
“Well, from what we’ve found, she goes for the eligible bachelors. Hangs out in bars where the more wealthy or trendy men seem to go.”
Mia felt her stomach tighten. “Are you saying she targeted Gino?”
“Yes, we think so. But we’re still digging around. The strange part is that she had a boyfriend for a couple of months before she met Gino and then all of a sudden, he seems to have vanished. We’re looking into this further.”
Mia considered the information. “Can you obtain her phone records? I don’t know what, but you’re right, something’s going on.” Mia quickly filled her in about the dinner the previous evening and the conversation she overheard. “It doesn’t make sense. I mean, why would she say she has him, and why is she rushing to bring forward the wedding?”
“Well, cara, we’re working on it on our end and yes, we’re currently trying for her phone records. Gino is wise to keep putting her off…I don’t like this girl, I have a bad feeling about her.”
Mia pulled the duvet over her suddenly feeling cold. They spoke for a few more minutes with her mother promising to update her further in a couple of days.
After breakfast, Mia quickly called Amber to fill her in, omitting the part about the PI.
“What a bitch!” Amber was furious. “I can’t believe she secretly hates us.”
“I know, Amber. But we have to keep calm for now. Look, we both know that something isn’t right here, and I’m going to make it my mission to expose whatever it is she has going on.”
“I agree. You know what, Mia? Did you see Gino’s face last night? He looked so utterly miserable sitting next to her. I genuinely felt for him.”
“I know,” Mia agreed softly. “I can’t believe what a mess he has gotten himself into. But you must promise not to breathe a word to anyone about this, okay? I’m trying to piece this puzzle together and I really don’t want to say anything until I have some solid proof.”
“Of course, I won’t. I think you’re right, the last thing we want is to alert Louise that we’re onto her. Let me know if I can help in any way or if you need anything.”
“I will, grazie, honey.”
the afternoon alone at home with the rain lashing heavily outside. She had so much on her mind and suddenly felt overwhelmed with everything. A few tears leaked from her eyes and she chided herself for acting silly. With the help of her parents, they would get this mess sorted out for Gino. With any luck, even though he would still be the baby’s father, hopefully she’d be able to stop him from marrying Louise.
She decided to watch a movie and made some popcorn. Sometime later, she heard a beep from her phone, alerting her to in incoming SMS. She picked up her phone.
…so when do I get a chance to see your beautiful face again? J
as she read the message from Jonathan. He was a really nice guy and she hated that she couldn’t feel anything romantic towards him. With a heavy sigh, she knew her heart belonged to Gino and it would be cruel to give him false hope. She began to reply with the softest rejection she could manage.