Be Mine Epilogue — Part 4
Her heart was beating a frantic rhythm by the time she reached the pillar Nathan had been leaning against. But the only people there were four women sipping colourful cocktails. One of them, an older lady with thin glasses atop her hawkish nose, smiled at her.
Aura at once recognized Monica Duchenne, a Parisienne designer she’d met during her week in Paris. Hiding her disappointment at not finding Nathan, she smiled back.
“Aurora.” Monica’s high-class French accent rolled her name. “Let me introduce you to Selina Aubrey…”
The young blonde next to Monica smiled.
“…And her business partner, Janelle Olson,” Monica continued with a nod for the curly-haired brunette standing close to Selina.
“And this is Erica Bon.” Monica indicated the last of their group, a wispy young woman with short platinum-blonde hair. “She is based in London like you.”
Aura smiled at Erica. “I’ve seen your name somewhere recently.”
“London Fashion Show this year,” Erica said. “I have the slot after you.” She laughed. “It means I’ve got my work cut out to make an impact if you’re up first.”
“You’ll do fantastic,” Aura said. “I love my collection this year, but it’s honestly not as earth-shattering as a few of the interviews are making it out to be. Though of course, I’d be over the moon if it is.”
“Wow, you’re too humble to be true,” Selina said with a toss of her long blonde hair. “If I’d won ‘Designer of the Year’, you can bet I’d be crowing from every rooftop about it.”
Aura’s face heated. “It’s not that I don’t want to shout from the rooftops. It just feels awkward to make a fuss.”
“Ah, the famous English reserve,” Monica said, smiling.
“That’s us English.” Erica beamed. “We don’t want to make a fuss.”
Janelle shook her curly head. “You can’t stand back. You’ve got to shout. It’s the only way you’ll be heard in the crowd. The louder the better.”
“The ride will be rough if you’re the shy and retiring type,” Selina said with a smirk.
“Yes, loud is the new ‘in’ thing, unfortunately.” Monica sighed. “In my younger days, we could afford to be quieter. But now it is all about being out there. The designer herself, she has become the brand.”
“I struggle with that big time.” Erica ran a hand through her platinum hair. “It’s probably why I’m still a prawn in the game.”
“You’re not the only one,” Aura said quietly. “It’s worse when you have to leave your family behind just to go meet the people you need to meet.”
Erica grimaced. “I don’t have children yet. But my husband is definitely reaching the end of his tether adjusting to my brutal schedule.”
“Try never to marry outside the industry,” Monica said sagely. “But at the very least, hire a good nanny or two for when the children come along.”
“But Nanny or not, you never get to see your children grow up,” Aura protested.
Monica shrugged. “It is only when they are young it feels like a sacrifice. Both my children went to boarding school, and now they are grown up and happy. I am here where I want to be, and it has worked out well for us all.”
Aura fell silent. The thought of sending Aidan and Alexa off to boarding school made her stomach clench. She couldn’t do it in a million years. Besides which, Nathan would bring down the roof if she even suggested it.
“Marriage and children.” Selina gave a fine shiver. “So complicated. I’m glad I’m postponing all that.”
Janelle gave her friend a sly grin. “You didn’t postpone it. You’re just waiting for a certain Italian hunk to notice you.”
“Who?” Erica asked, her eyebrows shooting up with curiosity.
“Massimo Fiorelli,” Janelle said smugly. “He took over the Fiorelli retail chain a month ago when his father retired.”
Erica’s eyes widened. “I know Fiorelli. They own the Ellora and Clayton brands, don’t they?”
“And Phoenix Jewellery,” Aura added.
“Fiorelli is huge,” Monica said. “They are everywhere.”
“And Massimo is quite a catch.” Janelle’s eyes twinkled at Selina. “At least the droves of women swarming him all the time seem to think so.”
Selina shot Aura a narrow-eyed look. “You’ll see him tomorrow.”
“I will?” Aura asked.
Selina nodded. “I heard you’re meeting Mark and Cela Rochas. Massimo is a partner in the Rochas Group, so he’ll be there.” Her voice twanged with envy.
“I never knew,” Aura said.
Not that it would make any difference if this Massimo Fiorelli was at the meeting in New York tomorrow or not. He was just another potential business partner in the sprint to make it big.
“He’ll like you.” Janelle gave her an appraising look. “He’s Italian, and you have an Italian look with your dark hair. And ‘English reserve’ might be an interesting change for him.”
Aura shook her head. “I’m happily married.”
But the ‘happily’ part was debatable right now, and her heart sank again at the thought of Nathan. She glanced at the marble pillar. If he’d been here tonight, she wouldn’t have wasted a minute more at this function. She’d have sped back to the hotel room with him, wanting nothing more than to be in his arms.
Selina snorted. “Oh, please. Since when was ‘being married’ a problem to hooking up? Haven’t you seen the not-so-secret couples around here? Being married to others hasn’t slowed them any.” She gave Aura a thoughtful once-over. “Yeah, Massimo will like you.”
“Don’t sweat it.” Janelle gave Selina a friendly nudge. “He’s here today. So catch him early before all the other hopefuls, and with some Valentine’s magic on your side, you never know.”
Selina blushed and looked around eagerly. “I didn’t know Massimo was here.”
“Look for the excited crowd of women,” Monica said with a smile.
Erica rolled her eyes. “I’m glad I’m married now. At least I escape all this chasing about. Hubby’s meeting me in fifteen minutes, and then it’s Valentine’s Night for us.” She grinned at Aura. “Bet your night is sorted too, huh?”
“Actually, I think I saw my husband around here somewhere,” Aura said. “I’d better go find him.” And with a farewell smile for the women, she left them.
That had been a lie.
Aura made her way to the front of the hall past a table of colourful fruit salads that looked to be bursting with flavours.
She’d seen someone, but had it been Nathan? Mum had said he was working tonight. So he wouldn’t be in Milan anyway.
But she still slowed her pace and glanced around, hoping for a glimpse, something.
A waiter carrying a tray of wine-filled glasses approached her. “Drink, signora?”
“No, thank you,” she said quietly and turned to head for the hall entrance. She had three hours before her flight to New York, and waiting that time out in the peace of her hotel room seemed preferable to staying on in this crowd.
With a tip of his head, the waiter left her, and Aura cast one last look around the packed hall.
Her heart jumped to her throat.
Nathan stood several metres away.
He had his back to her and was surrounded by a group of people. He was speaking animatedly to those closest to him, but there was no mistaking his black hair, his broad shoulders in his dark evening suit, his tall athletic physique.
Aura could only stand and stare. He’d been here… all this time. And he hadn’t once come and spoken to her.
Sadness numbed her.
Had their relationship disintegrated so much that Nathan would give her the cold shoulder even on this special night? But then why had he even bothered to come to her awards ceremony in the first place?
Sadness blazed to anger.
It was not okay that he snubbed her and spent that time chatting with others. Her fingers curled into her palms. It would have been better if he’d just stayed away.
The delighted look on the faces of some of the women crowding him caught Aura’s eye. And anger boiled to rage. How dare he…
She marched over to where he stood. “Nathan!”
And Aura took a step back. “Oh! I’m so sorry…”
“Va bene.” A broad smile crossed his handsome angular face. But this close the differences between him and Nathan were obvious.
This man was almost as tall and well-built, but his skin was bronze tanned, and his eyes were light almond not silver. He also looked to be a few years older than Nathan.
She gave him an apologetic smile. “I thought you were someone else.” For goodness’ sake, her desperation to see Nathan tonight was turning any similar-looking man into him.
“Aurora Travers,” the man mused as she was about to make an excuse and escape. He held out his hand. “Massimo Fiorelli.”
Aura’s eyes widened. “Signor Fiorelli.” She took his hand. “Pleased to meet you.”
“Massimo, please.” He raised her hand to his lips. “And the pleasure is all mine,” he murmured.
Aura bit her lip. She knew all about Italian charm, but coming from a man like Massimo, it was deadly. She snatched her hand back as soon as he released her. “I… I should be leaving,” she said, taking a step back.
“But what is the hurry? Let us speak.” And excusing himself from the people around him, he came to her. “I have yet to congratulate you on your award.”
“Thank you.” He was close. Aura looked up at him. How could she have mistaken him for Nathan? He was so different. Even his scent—a sharp citrus—was so far removed from the delicious musk and sandalwood essence that was Nathan’s.
“I have heard much about you, Aurora.” His light gaze took her in. “You are the right talent for this award, I believe. The perfect mix of charm and skill. I sense you will go far.”
Heat rose to Aura’s cheeks. “That’s very kind of you.”
“And modest,” he said with an appreciative smile. “As you showed on stage. It is a quality I like.”
“I… um… heard you know Mark and Cela Rochas?”
“Si. I am a partner in the Rochas Group. I arranged for you to meet me tomorrow in New York. But now I feel it is better we are meeting tonight.”
He had arranged her meeting with the Rochas Group? The new knowledge wasn’t comforting. He seemed to know far more about her than she knew about him.
“You wouldn’t want to spend tonight talking about business,” she said with a quick smile. “Maybe it should wait for tomorrow.”
“Business? No. That would be boring. But there is so much more to talk about. So much more to do…” Something glittered deep in his almond eyes.
Her cheeks were blazing like a furnace now. Dear God, the effect this man could have on women was crazy. But this wasn’t the direction she’d expected talks with a potential business partner to take.
“It’s been a long day,” she said. “And I’d be a poor companion for the night. Also, I have a flight to catch, so…”
“Your flight is to New York, si?”
“Yes, and it leaves very soon.”
“Then you must travel with me. We are going to the same place, and my airplane waits.”
“Oh, I don’t want to impose. It would be inconvenient for you.”
“But I insist. And it is always a pleasure to travel with a beautiful woman.”
And no doubt many a beautiful woman had already travelled with him. Aura stared at him. It would look churlish if she said ‘no’. And she could also kiss goodbye any hope of swaying the Rochas contract in her favour.
Besides, maybe she was overreacting.
For all Massimo’s smooth talk, nothing would happen between them if she didn’t want it to. He was surely too well known in the fashion world to try anything crazy. So the smart thing to do was accept.
But travelling with Massimo on his plane without Nathan knowing seemed wrong, and she couldn’t bring herself to say that important ‘yes’.
He frowned at her hesitation. “Often, you travel faster if you take the right offer,” he murmured. “But a refusal might mean doors become difficult to open in future.”
Aura sucked in a breath. “Is that… advice?”
“You could take it as such.”
God! he was actually compromising her. “Well…” she breathed. “I suppose I should thank you. I wasn’t sure at first, but you’ve helped make it very clear. It’s a ‘no’. I won’t be travelling with you anywhere, now or ever. Goodnight, Signor Fiorelli.” And turning on her heel, she stalked away.
The bloody nerve of the man!
Aura quickened her pace to the front of the hall. Sure you had to make connections to get ahead in this business, but what sort of connections? She wasn’t looking to sleep with someone just to get a leg up in her career. Maybe others were ready to do whatever it took, but not her.
She slowed and looked back to where she’d left Massimo.
Women surrounded him again. And closest to him and trying to commandeer his attention was blonde-haired Selina who looked like a kid in a candy store now she’d chased down her prey.
Aura shook her head. They probably deserved each other. But as for her, she wanted nothing more than to be gone from this place. And turning away, she walked on towards the hall entrance.
How things had changed since her first catwalk show in London two years ago. She’d been ecstatic then. So much hard work and sacrifice, and it had all paid off. Afterwards though, she’d been under no illusion about the work still ahead of her, but she’d been determined to get ahead.
She stopped by the now dimmed stage. The young girl she’d been in Langley had once naively thought everything was straightforward. She’d thought success was purely based on dedication and skill and a willingness to learn. That Aura would he surprised to hear that the happy times she’d spent working one-to-one with her clients in Langley had been the best of her career.
The dark stage filled her vision and brought the stark reality of her situation to clear focus. Now that she’d turned down Massimo so thoroughly, he’d never let her have the Rochas contract. Maybe someone like Selina would get it. Well… good for her. She was welcome to it.
But loss still weighed a ton, and Aura turned away from the stage. That head-to-head with Massimo may well have closed other doors for her too. She breathed out in anguish. She had to be ready for that. But what would she tell Mum? Nathan? How did she face them knowing she may have to start all over again?
She glanced down with a shake of her head and walked straight into someone.
“I’m so sorry!” she said hastily and looked up and gasped.
To be continued tomorrow…
How the heart became THE HEART
Why is a heart heart-shaped?
Sounds like a stupid question, I know, but I’ve often wondered why a heart is always drawn with that iconic upside-down, dented-teardrop shape (you know what I’m talking about).
If you look at an actual human heart, it’s not cute and symmetric like the shape we’re so used to seeing at Valentine’s and other times. And did you know? Originally, the heart didn’t even represent the idea of love until after the thirteenth century.
Before then, the heart was seen as a book of memories, or the place in the body where God’s commandments were inscribed (though I bet if you cut me open, all you’ll see inscribed in my heart is ‘coffee’).
Now. that’s all very nice and religious, but not very Valentiney.
It was in the fourteenth century that painters (especially in Italy) began using the heart-shape we’re so familiar with. They used it in their depictions of Cupid. You know… the God of love. The pesky brat with a bow and arrow who apparently has the power to make you fall in love with a donkey if he so feels like it.
(Yup, that’s the guy)
Anyway, it seems people loved this new heart-shape so much that they began lavishing it everywhere.
And now, I can’t imagine a world without the iconic heart. That would be a very dull world indeed, don’t you think?