Her New Year Baby Secret(2)

By: Jessica Gilmore

So she was a little lonely? Far, far better to be lonely alone than lonely with someone else. She knew that all too well.

She straightened her shoulders and lifted her chin as if she could physically banish her dark thoughts, but her chest still ached with a yearning for something more than the narrow existence she had lived since moving to London just over a year and a half ago. The narrow existence she’d trapped herself in long before that. What must it be like to be a guest at one of the many glittering parties and events she worked at? To wear colour and shine, not stay demure and unnoticed in black and white?

With a sigh she looked around once more, hoping that the bright smile and can-do attitude of her old friend might help her shake this sudden and unwanted melancholy, but although the snow fell thicker and faster than ever there was still no sign of Ashleigh. Nor was there any sign of the bus. The board in the shelter was resolutely sticking to an arrival in twenty minutes’ time, even though at least five long minutes had already passed...

Sophie blew on her hands and thought of the warm, inviting glow of the hotel lobby just a few metres behind her. She was staff—and temporary staff at that—but surely, after a night run off her feet catering to some of the most arrogant ignoramuses she had ever had the misfortune to waitress for, they wouldn’t mind her sheltering inside for just a few minutes? Besides, a snowstorm changed the rules, everyone knew that. Even a posh hotel turned into Scrooge after the three ghosts had visited, welcoming to one and all. And it would be easier to keep a lookout for Ashleigh if she wasn’t constantly blinking snow out of her eyes...

Mind made up, Sophie stepped cautiously away from the limited shelter of the bus stop and onto the increasingly snowy pavement, her feet sinking with a definite crunch in the snow as she began to walk back towards the lobby. She kept her head down against the chill, picking up speed as she neared the door, and warmth was in sight when she collided with a tall figure, her heel slipping as she did so. With a surprised yelp Sophie teetered, arms windmilling as she fought to remain upright, refusing to surrender to the inevitable crash but knowing that any millisecond now she would fall...

Just as she started to lose the battle a strong hand grasped her elbow and pulled her upright. Sophie looked up, startled, and found herself staring into a pair of the darkest brown eyes she had ever seen, framed with long thick lashes. ‘Careful! It’s snowing. You could hurt someone—or yourself if you don’t look where you’re going.’

Italian, she thought dreamily. She had been saved by an Italian man with beautiful eyes. Then his sharp tone permeated the fog in her brain and she stepped back, sharply moving away from his steadying grasp.

‘Snowing? So that’s what this white cold stuff is. Thank you for clearing that up.’ She stopped, the anger disappearing as quickly as it came as shock flared up on his face—followed by the ghost of a smile. It was a very attractive ghost; he was probably rather gorgeous when he relaxed. Not relevant, Sophie. More to the point, she had bumped into him. ‘I’m sorry, you’re right, I wasn’t looking where I was going. I just wanted to get inside before I turned into the little match girl. I’ve had to admit defeat on finding transport. It’s looking like I’m going to have to walk home...’ She looked ruefully down at her black heels. They were surprisingly comfortable—comfortable enough for her to wear them to work—but patent court shoes probably weren’t high on most Arctic explorers’ kit lists.

‘Typical London, just a few flakes of snow and the taxis disappear.’

Sophie didn’t want to contradict him and point out that there was a little more than a drop of snow—several inches more in fact—or that she wasn’t actually looking for a taxi but for a far more prosaic bus. ‘It’s always the same when it snows,’ she said airily, as if she were a real Londoner, blasé about everything, even the fairy-tale scene unfolding before her, but instantly ruined the effect by shivering.

‘And you’ve come out inappropriately dressed.’ The disapproval was back in his voice, but before Sophie could react, he shrugged off his expensive-looking coat and wrapped it around her. ‘You’ll catch pneumonia if you’re not careful.’

Pride warred with her frozen limbs and lost. ‘I... Thank you... Although,’ she couldn’t help adding, ‘it wasn’t actually snowing when I left home.’ She snuggled into the coat. The lining felt like silk and there was a distinct scent on the collar, a fresh citrus scent, sharp and very male, rather like the smartly tailored man standing in front of her. She held out her hand, just the tips of her fingers visible, peeking out of the long coat sleeves. ‘Sophie Bradshaw.’