The Heir From Nowhere(9)

By: Trish Morey

Beyond it all lay an intimate restaurant entrance. On the wall outside, the restaurant’s name was spelled out in florid letters of burnished gold. Marcello’s. They might just as well have spelled out the word expensive. Her footsteps slowed, despite the alluring scents coming from inside. He had to be kidding. She’d been thinking a quick sandwich, but this was a world away from the fast-food-type restaurants she was familiar with.

She stopped so suddenly he was halfway inside before he noticed. ‘I can’t go in there!’ she said as he backed up, one eyebrow raised impatiently in question. ‘Look at me.’ She held out her arms and cast her eyes over her faded top and jeans. Had he forgotten the way he’d looked at her when he’d sized her up before? ‘I shouldn’t be here. I’m not dressed to eat out, let alone in a place like this!’

‘It’s no big deal.’

‘They probably won’t even serve me.’

‘You’re with me,’ he said bluntly, making no concession to her ego by telling her she looked fine. ‘They’ll serve you.’

She shifted nervously. Did she really have to spell it out? ‘The thing is, I didn’t bring…’ She hesitated, not wanting to reveal the sad truth of her finances even if it would probably come as no surprise. ‘Look, I can’t afford to eat in a place like this.’

He didn’t blink. ‘My treat. Ask for anything on the menu.’

‘You’re kidding? Anything?’

‘Anything at all.’

Her stomach applauded with another growl, her resolve wavering even though she resented being made to feel like some kind of charity case. It was no contest. Forget haircuts, she told herself, already imagining the dishes to which those amazing scents belonged—she could cut her hair in front of the mirror for ever and she wouldn’t care. But when was the last time she’d eaten out? Really eaten out in a proper restaurant, not a takeaway outlet? And in a surge of emotion she remembered.

Christmas, five years ago.

The Christmas just before her mother had died…

Hormones combined with harrowed nerves combined with dusty memories, resulting in a spontaneous rush of tears as she remembered a day that had broken her heart and set her on a collision course with disaster. ‘Damn,’ she said, brushing away the sudden moisture. ‘I’m sorry. Thank you.’

‘Don’t read too much into it,’ he said thickly. ‘It’s the baby I’m worried about.’

The door to her memories snapped shut. Arrogant man! Did he really think her tears were out of gratitude? Did he fear she was about to fall to the floor and kiss his feet or was he worried that she might possibly imagine he might be concerned for her welfare?

Not a chance!

She stiffened her spine and drew herself up to her full five feet eight. ‘Tell me something I don’t know, Mr Pirelli.’ She swept past him in her faded jeans and chain store cardigan with as much dignity as she could muster.

Hadn’t he already made it crystal clear with his unveiled disdain that she was some kind of lesser being? She was under no misapprehension at all that he actually wanted to dine with her. His only concern was to make sure she ate something in order to nourish his precious baby.

Fine. But, baby or not, she was determined to enjoy every mouthful.

Her bravado lasted as long as it took to be noticed by the maître d’, who with just one withering look managed to remind her who and what she was. Then he noticed who she was with and instantly he seemed to forgive her unseemly intrusion. He smiled widely, opening his arms in greeting. ‘Signor Pirelli, it is always a pleasure to welcome you and your guests to Marcello’s. This way, please.’

Angie tried to make herself as unobtrusive as possible as she followed in the men’s wake. Except, she discovered, it was impossible to be unobtrusive when you were with the likes of Dominic Pirelli. Heads turned. Women who looked as if they’d been dressed by the boutiques they’d passed outside threw hungry glances his way, their eyes greedily devouring him, before turning to her, eyebrows rising, clearly wondering at the mismatch. She bowed her head and stared at the rich red carpet so she didn’t have to read their expressions, but nothing blocked out the ripple of conversation and the titter of laughter that marked their progress through the room.

Her cheeks burned. Everyone knew she didn’t belong here. Everyone, it seemed, but Mr Pirelli. Or maybe he just didn’t care.

Their table was set in a private room, tucked discreetly away from all the others and boasting a wall of windows that gave an unrivalled view over the sparkling water below and caught her attention.

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