The Secret His Mistress Carried

By: Lynne Graham

Gio closed down his laptop and studied his old friend. ‘Did you expect anything different?’

‘Even for you, that sounds arrogant,’ Leandros countered.

‘We both know that even if I threw a non-alcoholic party in a cave, it would be packed,’ Gio said drily, well aware of the pulling power of his vast wealth.

‘I didn’t know you were going to throw a divorce party.’

‘That would be tasteless. It’s not a divorce party.’

‘You can’t fool me,’ Leandros warned him.

Gio’s lean, strong face was expressionless, his famed reserve kicking in hard and fast. ‘Calisto and I had a very civilised divorce—’

‘And now you’re back on the market and the piranhas are circling,’ Leandros commented.

‘I will never marry again,’ Gio declared grimly.

‘Never is a long time...’

‘I mean it,’ Gio emphasised darkly.

His friend said nothing and then tried to lighten the atmosphere with an old joke, ‘At least you could trust Calisto to know that Canaletto isn’t the name of a race horse!’

Momentarily, Gio froze, his lean, dark, devastating features tightening, for that gag had worn thin years before he stopped hearing it. Sadly, not Billie’s most shining moment.

‘I mean...’ Leandros was still grinning ‘...I don’t blame you for ditching that one...what an airhead!’

Gio said nothing. Even with his oldest friend Gio was not given to making confidences or baring his soul. In actuality, Gio had not ditched Billie; he simply hadn’t taken her out with him in public again.

* * *

In the garage, Billie was going through garments and costume jewellery that she had acquired during the week to sell in her vintage clothes shop. She was sorting items into piles for washing, repair or specialist cleaning while dumping anything past its prime. While she worked, she talked non-stop to her son. ‘You’re absolutely the most cute and adorable baby ever born,’ she told Theo warmly as he kicked his legs in his high chair, smiled beatifically and happily got on with eating his mid-morning snacks.

With a sigh, she straightened her aching back, reflecting that all the bending and stretching had at least started knocking off a few pounds of the extra baby weight she had been carrying for months. The doctor had told her that that was normal but Billie had always had to watch her weight and she knew that while putting it on was easy, getting it back off again was not. And the problem with being only five feet two inches tall with an overly large bust and hips was that it only took a few surplus pounds and a thicker waistline to make her look like a little barrel.

She would take all the kids to the playground and walk round and round and round the little park with the pram, she decided ruefully.

‘Coffee?’ Dee called out of the back door.

‘I’d love one,’ Billie told her cousin and housemate, Dee, with a smile.

Thankfully, she hadn’t been lonely since she had rediscovered her friendship with Dee, yet they might so easily have missed out on meeting up again. Billie had been four months pregnant when she attended her aunt’s funeral in Yorkshire and got talking to Dee, whom she had gone to primary school with although Dee was several years older. Her housemate was a single parent as well. At her mother’s funeral her cousin had sported a fading black eye and more bruises than a boxer. Back then Dee had been living in a refuge for battered women with her twins. Jade and Davis were now five years old and had started school. For all of them life in the small town where Billie had bought a terraced house was a fresh start.

And life was good, Billie told herself firmly as she nursed a cup of coffee and listened to Dee complain about the amount of homework Jade was getting, which related more to Dee’s inability to understand maths in any shape or form than the teacher overloading Dee’s daughter with work. This life was ordinary and safe, she reasoned thoughtfully, soothed into relaxation by the hum of the washing machine and the silence of the children while they watched television in the sitting room next door. Admittedly there were no highs of exciting moments but there were no gigantic lows either.

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