Latin Lovers

By: Helen Bianchin


Afterwards he’d flung himself into work, earning a reputation in the business arena as a superb strategist, able to negotiate with enviable skill.

He had dated many women, and selectively taken what they offered without thought of replacing the beautiful young girl who had all too briefly shared his name.

Until last year, when he’d focused his attention on Aysha, strengthening the affectionate bond between them into something much more personal, more intimate.

His proposal of marriage had overwhelmed her, for Carlo had been the object of her affection for as long as she could remember, and she could pinpoint the moment when teenage hero-worship had changed and deepened into love.

A one-sided love, for she was under no illusion. The marriage would strengthen the Benini-Santangelo conglomerate and forge it into another generation.

‘Hungry?’

At the sound of Carlo’s drawled query Aysha offered a winsome smile, and her eyes assumed a teasing sparkle. ‘Starving.’

‘Then let’s go eat, shall we?’ Carlo placed an arm round her waist and led her towards a bank of elevators.

The top of her head came level with his shoulder, and her slender frame held a fragility that was in direct contrast to strength of mind and body.

She could, he reflected musingly as he depressed the call button, have turned into a terrible brat. Yet for all the pampering, by an indulgent but fiercely protective mother, Aysha was without guile. Nor did she have an inflated sense of her own importance. Instead, she was a warm, intelligent, witty and very attractive young woman whose smile transformed her features into something quite beautiful.

The restaurant was situated on a high floor offering magnificent views of the city and harbour. Expensive, exclusive, and a personal favourite, for the chef was a true artiste with an expertise and flair that had earned him fame and fortune in several European countries.

The lift doors slid open, and she preceded Carlo into the cubicle, then stood in silence as they were transported with electronic speed.

‘That bad, hmm?’

Aysha cast him a quick glance, saw the musing cynicism apparent, and didn’t know whether to be amused or resigned that he’d divined her silence and successfully attributed it to a ghastly day.

Was she that transparent? Somehow she didn’t think so. At least not with most people. However, Carlo was an entity all on his own, and she’d accepted a long time ago that there was very little she could manage to keep hidden from him.

‘Where would you like me to begin?’ She wrinkled her nose at him, then she lifted a hand and proceeded to tick off each finger in turn. ‘An irate client, an even more irate floor manager, imported fabric caught up in a wharf strike, or the dress fitting from hell?’ She rolled her eyes. ‘Choose.’

The elevator slid to a halt, and she walked at his side to the restaurant foyer.

‘Signor Santangelo, Signorina Benini. Welcome.’ The maître d’ greeted them with a fulsome smile, and accorded them the deference of valued patrons. He didn’t even suggest a table, merely led them to the one they preferred, adjacent the floor-to-ceiling window.

There was, Aysha conceded, a certain advantage in being socially well placed. It afforded impeccable service.

The wine steward appeared the instant they were seated, and Aysha deferred to Carlo’s choice of white wine.

‘Iced water, please,’ she added, then watched as Carlo leaned back in his chair to regard her with interest.

‘How is Teresa?’

‘Now there’s a leading question, if ever there was one,’ Aysha declared lightly. ‘Perhaps you could be more specific?’

‘She’s driving you insane.’ His faint drawling tones caused the edges of her mouth to tilt upwards in a semblance of wry humour.

‘You’re good. Very good,’ she acknowledged with cynical approval.

One eyebrow rose, and there was gleaming amusement evident. ‘Shall I try for excellent and guess the current crisis?’ he ventured. ‘Or are you going to tell me?’

‘The wedding dress.’ Visualising the scene earlier in the day brought a return of tension as she vividly recalled Teresa’s calculated insistence and the seamstress’s restrained politeness. Dammit, it should be so easy. They’d agreed on the style, the material. The fit was perfect. Yet Teresa hadn’t been able to leave it alone.

‘Problems?’ He had no doubt there would be many, most of which would be of Teresa’s making.

‘The dressmaker is not appreciative of Mother’s interference with the design.’ Aysha experienced momentary remorse, for the gown was truly beautiful, a vision of silk, satin and lace.

‘I see.’

‘No,’ she corrected. ‘You don’t.’ She paused as the wine steward delivered the wine, and went through the tasting ritual with Carlo, before retreating.

‘What don’t I see, cara?’ Carlo queried lightly. ‘That Teresa, like most Italian mammas, wants the perfect wedding for her daughter. The perfect venue, caterers, food, wine, bomboniera, the cake, limousines. And the dress must be outstanding.’

‘You’ve forgotten the flowers,’ Aysha reminded him mildly. The florist is at the end of his tether. The caterer is ready to quit because he says his tiramisu is an art form and he will not, not, you understand, use my grandmother’s recipe from the Old Country.’

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