The Secret His Mistress Carried

By: Lynne Graham

As she placed the new pieces of costume jewellery on display in the battered antique armoire she had bought for that purpose, she was a thousand mental miles away on an instinctive walk down the memory lane of her past. Unlike Gio, Billie did not have a proper family tree or at least if she did it was unknown to her. Her mother, Sally, had been an only child, who had reputedly gone wild as a teenager. As Billie’s only source of information about her mother had been her mean-spirited grandmother she was inclined to take that story with a pinch of salt. Billie had no memory of ever meeting Sally and absolutely no idea who had fathered her, although she strongly suspected that his name had been Billy.

Billie’s grandma and her mother had lived separate lives for years before the day Sally turned up without warning on her parents’ doorstep with Billie as a baby. Her grandfather had persuaded her grandmother to allow Sally to stay for one night, a decision she had had Billie’s lifetime to loudly and repeatedly regret because when the older woman got up the next morning she had discovered that Sally had gone, leaving her child behind her.

Unfortunately, Billie’s grandma had neither wanted nor loved her and, even though she received an allowance from social services for raising her grandchild, her resentment of the responsibility had never faded. Billie’s grandpa had been more caring but he had also been a drunk and only occasionally in a fit state to take an interest in her. Indeed, Billie had often thought that her background was the main reason why she had been such a pushover for Gio. His desire for her, his apparent need to look after her, had been the closest thing to love that she had ever known. So, although she would never have admitted it to him, she had been madly, insanely happy with Gio because he had made her feel loved...right up until the dreadful day he’d told her that he had to get married and father a child for the sake of his all-important snobby Greek family and his precious business empire.

Chilled by the sobering and humiliating recollection that Gio had not even considered her a possible candidate for a ring, Billie brought out the new garments she had prepared at home and began to price the stock. Theo was napping peacefully in his travel cot in his little cubbyhole at the back of the shop. Customers browsed, purchased and departed as she served them while she worked. Only a month earlier, she had hired her first employee, a Polish woman called Iwona, who did part-time hours when Billie couldn’t be at the shop. In fact, the business was doing well and was steadily fulfilling all Billie’s hopes. But then she had always loved the character and superior workmanship of vintage clothes and she was careful only to stock quality items. Slowly but surely she had built up a list of regular customers.

Gio climbed out of his limo while his chauffeur argued with the traffic warden and his security team were disgorged from the vehicle behind. He scanned the shop front, adorned with the name, ‘Billie’s Vintage’, and frowned, positively transfixed by the idea that Billie could have opened up her own business. Yet there was the proof in front of him. Theos! He shook his arrogant dark head, thinking that women were strange, unpredictable creatures and finally wondering if he had ever really known Billie at all because nothing that she had done or said so far had appeared on his list of her potential reactions. His frown grew even darker, lending a saturnine quality to his hard, dark features. He had important projects to manage and people to see and yet here he was still stuck after twenty-four exceedingly boring hours in a back-end-of-nowhere Yorkshire town chasing Billie! What kind of sense did that make?

Dee and Iwona arrived at the shop within minutes of each other. Dee strapped Theo into his pram and asked Billie what she fancied eating for supper while Iwona wrapped a purchase for a customer. That was when Gio strode in, utterly frying Billie’s brain cells because she stopped mid-conversation with Dee and totally forgot what she had been about to say.

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