The Italian's Pregnant Mistress(4)

By: Cathy Williams

‘And would you have fallen for that very fetching look?’ he asked softly, and Francesca hurriedly looked away.

Falling? No! They had never spoken about falling anywhere, had never once mentioned the word love.

‘Red hair can be a bit tricky for a man to pull off,’ she said, skirting around his question. ‘You might have been bullied at school…’ A less likely scenario she would have been hard pressed to imagine.

‘You think so?’ Angelo shot her a devilishly amused look from under his lashes. ‘Can you imagine me being bullied?’

‘No,’ she said honestly. ‘You’re too scary.’

‘You find me scary?’

‘I don’t, but I can see why some people might.’

‘Why is that?’ He caught the tail-end of her sandwich and took a bite from it.

‘Don’t tell me you don’t intimidate people sometimes, Angelo. When you’re doing one of these great deals of yours? When you’re out to win something and someone’s standing in your way?’

‘I prefer to call it persuasion with intent.’ He grinned at her. Extraordinary to imagine the freedoms she took with him. She had trampled all over his boundaries from the very start and she still did it, and he didn’t care. That was the extraordinary thing. He had become cavalier with his cherished privacy and he didn’t mind.

He thought about later, lying in bed, telling her what he had to tell her, picturing her face.

‘Is that right?’ Francesca said dryly. ‘And I call eating this very fattening bread and cheese flirting with a few calories. When I put on vast amounts of weight and can no longer do my job, I shall blame you.’ She stood up and headed towards the bathroom, chatting to him as she walked, knowing that he would be grinning as he looked at her from behind, appreciating every line of her body, which he refused to accept was anything but perfect.

In her quiet moments, she often thought of the price she had paid for her so-called perfection. Small lies she had told, cowardly lies that told him things she knew he wanted to hear, little images built up of her over time that bore no resemblance to the unsavoury truth. How had all those little lies become an avalanche? Francesca tried never to think about it. The temporary nature of their relationship made it easy.

‘You’ll have to give it up one day,’ he said suddenly.

‘Where did that come from?’ Francesca turned to him, leaning lightly against the bathroom door, and raised her eyebrows in a question.

‘A model’s life is a short one by its very nature,’ Angelo pointed out, pausing as he brushed past her to plant a quick kiss on her parted mouth. ‘You know what they say about beauty. Here today, gone tomorrow.’

‘You do know how to make a girl feel old.’

‘And what will you do then?’ He sat on the edge of the big free-standing bath with its clawed feet and switched on the taps, testing the water with his hands until the temperature was just right, before tipping in a liberal amount of bath foam.

The smile faded from her lips. For the first time since she had met him, he seemed different today. His mood was odd, swinging from teasing to gravity in the space of seconds, and it was disconcerting. Was she supposed to answer his question seriously? Or was she misreading him? Maybe he was tired. Exhaustion could do weird things and, face it, he had been on several long-haul flights over the past few weeks, barely leaving himself sufficient time to draw breath in between.

‘Oh, I don’t know,’ she answered lightly, ignoring the shift in atmosphere. ‘Maybe I’ll start a new line of Francesca Hayley cosmetics. Isn’t that what all ex-models do? Or I could go into acting…’

‘Acting? I would never allow it.’

‘I didn’t realise that you would have a say.’ She folded her arms and looked at him steadily, sure now that something was going on but uncertain as to what it could be.

‘You’re my woman. Of course I would have a say.’

‘Whoa! All that arrogance! Your Italian ancestry is showing again.’

‘You love it. Admit it.’

Love. There it went again. Francesca stepped into the bathroom and pretended to concentrate on the water, bending over to swirl her hand through it. ‘Anyway, it’s a crazy thought,’ she said. ‘I would never go into acting. I can’t think of anything worse. All that falseness.’ She shuddered and then it struck her that she was the last person who had any right to look down on people who spent their lives pretending. ‘Tell me what you’re working on in New York,’ she said, changing the subject. ‘Still that deal to buy property in Greenwich Village?’