Mistress Arrangements

By: Helen Bianchin

For the first three months of her marriage she had been blissfully, heavenly happy. Then the demands of her husband’s business interests had begun to intrude into their personal life. Initially she hadn’t queried the few occasions he rang to cancel dinner; nor had she thought to doubt that his overnight business trips were anything other than legitimate. Their reunion    s had always been filled with such a degree of sexual urgency that it never occurred to her that there could be anyone else.

Yet the rumours had begun, persistently connecting her husband with Angelica Agnelli. The two families had been linked together in various business interests for more than a generation, and Angelica, with qualifications in business management to her credit, held a seat on the board of directors of numerous companies.

Tall, slim, soignée, Angelica was the visual image of an assertive, high-powered businesswoman with her eye firmly set on the main chance. And that had included the man at the top of the directorial board. The fact that he had been legally and morally unavailable was considered of little or no consequence, his wife merely a minor obstacle that could easily be dismissed.

Carly’s husband was possessed of an entrepreneurial flair that was the envy of his contemporaries, and his generosity to numerous charities was well known, thus ensuring his presence at prominent social events in and around Perth.

Carly reflected bitterly that it hadn’t taken long for the gossip to take seed and germinate. Nor for the arguments to begin, and to continue unresolved until ultimately a devastating confrontation had finally supplied the will for her to escape.

Throughout her flight east she had been besieged by the machinations of her own imagination as it provided a litany of possible scenarios, and during those first few weeks in Sydney she’d lived on a knife-edge of nervous tension, fearful that her whereabouts might be discovered.

The bitter irony of having figuratively burned her bridges soon had become apparent with the knowledge she was pregnant.

The solution was something she’d chosen to face alone, and even in the depths of her own dilemma it had never occurred to her to consider abortion as the easy way out. Nor in those first few months of her pregnancy had she enlightened her widowed mother, and afterwards it was too late when emergency surgery resulted in her mother’s death.

That initial year after Ann-Marie’s birth had been difficult, caring for a child while juggling study and attempting a career. However, she’d managed…thanks to a private day-care centre and Sarah’s help.

It was a source of pride that not only had she achieved success in her chosen field of accountancy, she’d also added a string of qualifications to her name that had earned respect from her peers.

‘Sorry I took so long.’

Carly was brought sharply back to the present at the sound of Bradley’s voice, and her lashes swept down to form a protective veil as she struggled to shut out the past.

‘Your drink. I hope you like it.’

She accepted the glass with a slight smile, and murmured her thanks.

It was relief when several minutes later one of the firm’s partners joined them and the conversation shifted entirely to business. A recent change in tax legislation had come into effect, and Carly entered into a lengthy debate with both men over the far-reaching implications on various of their clients’ affairs.

Carly became so involved that at first she didn’t notice a change in the background noise until a slight touch on her arm alerted her to examine the source of everyone’s attention.

Clive Mathorpe’s bulky frame was instantly recognisable. The man at his side stood at ease, his height and breadth a commanding entity. Even from this distance there was sufficient familiarity evident to send her heart thudding into an accelerated beat.

A dozen times over the past seven years she’d been shocked into immobility by the sight of a tall, broad-framed, dark-haired man, only to collapse with relief on discovering that the likeness was merely superficial.

Now, Carly stood perfectly still as logic vied with the possibility of coincidental chance, and even as she dismissed the latter there was a subtle shift in his stance so that his profile was revealed, eliminating any doubt as to his identity.

For one horrifying second Carly sensed the dark void of oblivion welling up and threatening to engulf her.

She couldn’t, dared not faint. The humiliation would be too incredible and totally beyond conceivable explanation.

With conscious effort she willed herself to breathe slowly, deeply, in an attempt to retain some measure of composure as every single nerve-end went into a state of wild panic.

Stefano Alessi. Australian-born of Italian parents, he was a proven successor to his father’s financial empire and a noted entrepreneur, having gained accolades and enjoyed essential prestige among his peers. In his late thirties, he was known to head vast multinational corporations, and owned residences in several European cities.

It was seven years since she’d last seen him. Seven years in which she’d endeavoured to forget the cataclysmic effect he’d had on her life.

Even now he had the power to liquefy her bones, and she watched with a sense of dreaded fascination as he glanced with seeming casualness round the room, almost as if an acutely developed sixth sense had somehow alerted him to her presence.

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