Her New Year Baby Secret(7)

By: Jessica Gilmore

Marco took a deep sip of wine, barely tasting the richness. He wouldn’t think about it tonight, his last night of freedom. He needed a distraction.

His eyes skimmed the room, widening with appreciation as four women stopped at a table opposite. They were talking over each other, faces lit with enthusiasm as they took their seats. His gaze lingered on a laughing blonde. Her silver minidress was an interesting choice in what was a mainly conservatively dressed ballroom, but Marco wasn’t complaining, not when the wearer possessed such excellent legs. Excellent legs, a really nice, lithe figure and, as she turned to face him as if she were aware of his scrutiny, a pair of familiar blue eyes. Eyes staring straight back at him with such undisguised horror Marco almost turned and checked, just to make sure there wasn’t an axe murderer creeping up behind him.

The girl from the snow. The one who had disappeared...

Marco muttered a curse, unsure whether to coolly acknowledge her or ignore her presence; it had been a novel experience to wake up and find himself alone without as much as a note. Novel and not exactly pleasant; in Marco’s experience women clung on long after the relationship was over, they didn’t disappear before it had even begun.

And they certainly didn’t run away before dawn.

His eyes narrowed. She owed him an explanation at the least, apology at best. There were rules for these kinds of encounters and Sophie Bradshaw had broken every one. Besides, he was damned if he was going to spend the evening marked as the big bad wolf with Little Silver Dress going all wide-eyed at the very sight of him. He had a fortnight of difficult encounters ahead of him; tonight was supposed to be about having fun.

Mind made up, Marco took a step in Sophie’s direction, but she was already on her feet and shouldering her way through the ballroom. Away from him. So she liked to play, did she? He set off at an unhurried pace, following the silver dress as it darted across the crowded room and through a discreet door set in the wooden panelling. The door began to close behind her, but his long stride shortened the distance enough for him to catch it before it could close fully and he slipped inside...

To find himself inside a closet. A large closet, but a closet nonetheless, one filled with towering stacks of spare chairs, folded tables and several cleaning trolleys. Sophie was pressed against one of the tables, her hands gripping the sides, her heart-shaped face pale.

He allowed the door to close behind him, leaning against it, his arms folded, staring her down. ‘Buongiorno, Sophie.’

‘Marco? Wh-what are you doing here?’

‘Catching up with old friends. That’s what I like about these occasions, you never know who you might bump into. Nice corner you’ve found here. A little crowded, lacking in decoration, but I like it.’

‘I...’ Her eyes were wide. Scared.

Incredulity thundered through him. He’d assumed she had hidden because she was embarrassed to see him, that maybe she hadn’t told her friends—or boyfriend—about him. Or because she was playing some game and trying to lure him in. It hadn’t occurred to him that she would be actually terrified at the very thought of seeing him.

Although she had fled from his bed, run away from her friends the moment she had recognised him. How many clues did he need? His mouth compressed into a thin line. ‘Apologies, Sophie,’ he said stiffly. ‘I didn’t mean to scare you. Please rest assured that I will leave you alone for the rest of the evening.’ He bowed formally and turned, hand on the door handle, only to be arrested by the sound of her low voice.

‘No, Marco. I should apologise. I didn’t expect to see you here, I didn’t expect to see you ever again actually and I overreacted. I’m not...I don’t really do... You know. What we did. I have no idea how these things work.’

What we did. Marco had spent the last three weeks trying to put what they’d done out of his mind. Tried not to dwell on the satin of her skin, the taste of her, the way she laughed. The way she moaned.

Ironically he usually did know how these things worked. Temporary and discreet were the hallmarks of the perfect relationship as far as Marco was concerned. Not falling into bed with strangers he’d met on street corners. He was far too cautious. He needed to be certain that any and every prospective partner knew the rules: mutually satisfying and absolutely no strings.

But somehow that evening all his self-imposed rules had gone flying out of the window. It had been like stepping into another world; the snow deep outside, the city oddly muted, the world contracting until it was only the two of them. It seemed as if there had been no other route open to him, booking the hotel room an unsaid inevitability as they’d moved on to their second drink, walking hand in hand through the falling snow but not really touching, not yet, waiting until the room door had swung closed behind them.