Mistress Arrangements

By: Helen Bianchin


In seven years there had been no contact whatsoever.

It seemed incredibly ironic that Stefano should reappear at a time when she’d been forced to accept that he was the last ace in her pack should she have to raise more money for Ann-Marie’s medical expenses.

Where her daughter’s well-being was concerned there was no contest. Even it if meant sublimating her own personal reservations, and effecting a confrontation. His power and accumulated wealth could move figurative mountains, and if it was necessary she wouldn’t hesitate to beg.

Carly caught the lower edge of her lip between two sharp teeth, then winced in silent pain as she unconsciously drew blood.

The desire to make some excuse and leave was strong. Yet only cowards cut and ran. This time she had to stay, even if the effort almost killed her.

Carly found each minute dragged interminably, and more than once her eyes strayed across the room to where Stefano Alessi stood conversing with Clive Mathorpe and two senior partners.

In his presence, all other men faded into insignificance. There was an exigent force apparent, which, combined with power and sexual magnetism, drew the attention of women like bees to a honeypot.

It was doubtful there was one female present whose pulse hadn’t quickened at the sight of him, or whose imagination wasn’t stirred by the thought of being able to captivate his interest.

Carly waited ten minutes after Stefano left before she crossed the room to exchange a few polite pleasantries with Clive Mathorpe and his wife, then she slipped quietly from the house and walked quickly down the driveway to her car.

Safely behind the wheel, she activated the ignition and eased the car forward. A quick glance at the illuminated dashboard revealed it was nine-thirty. One hour, she reflected with disbelief. For some reason it had seemed half a lifetime.

Stefano Alessi’s disturbing image rose up to taunt her, and she shivered despite the evening’s warmth. He represented everything she had come to loathe in a man.

For one brief milli-second she closed her eyes, then opened them to issue a silent prayer that fate wouldn’t be so unkind as to throw her beneath his path again.

It was a relief to reach the sanctuary of her apartment building, and after garaging the car she rode the lift to the third floor.

‘Hi,’ Sarah greeted quietly as Carly entered the lounge. ‘Ann-Marie’s fine. How was the evening?’

I met Ann-Marie’s father, she longed to confide.

Yet the words stayed locked in her throat, and she managed to relay an informative account as they shared coffee together, then when Sarah left she checked Ann-Marie before entering her own bedroom, where she mechanically removed her make-up and undressed ready for bed.

Sleep had never seemed more distant, and she tossed restlessly from one side to the other in a bid to dispel a flood of returning memories.

Haunting, invasive, they refused to be denied as one by one she began to recall the angry words she’d exchanged in bitter argument with a man she’d chosen to condemn.





CHAPTER TWO


CARLY SLEPT BADLY, haunted by numerous dream sequences that tore at her subconscious mind with such vivid clarity that she woke shaking, shattered by their stark reality.

A warning, perhaps? Or simply the manifestation of a fear so real that it threatened to consume her?

Tossing aside the covers, she resolutely went through the motions entailed in her early morning weekday routine, listening to Ann-Marie’s excited chatter over breakfast as she recounted events from the previous evening.

When pressed to reveal just how her evening had turned out, Carly brushed it off lightly with a smile and a brief but satisfactory description.

It was eight-thirty when Carly deposited Ann-Marie outside the school gates, and almost nine when she entered the reception area of Mathorpe and Partners.

There were several files on her desk demanding attention, and she worked steadily, methodically checking figures with determined dedication until mid-morning when she reached for the phone and punched out a series of digits.

The specialist’s receptionist was extremely polite, but firm. Ann-Marie’s results could not be given over the phone. An appointment had been set aside this afternoon for four o’clock.

It sounded ominous, and Carly’s voice shook as she confirmed the time.

The remainder of the day was a blur as anxiety played havoc with her nervous system, and in the specialist’s consulting-rooms it was all she could do to contain it.

Consequently, it was almost an anticlimax when she was shown into his office, and as soon as she was comfortably seated he leaned back in his chair, his expression mirroring a degree of sympathetic understanding.

‘Ann-Marie has a tumour derived from the supporting tissue of the nerve-cells,’ he informed her quietly. ‘The astrocytoma varies widely in malignancy and rate of growth. Surgery is essential, and I recommend it be carried out as soon as possible.’

Carly’s features froze with shock at the professionally spoken words, and her mind immediately went into overdrive with a host of implications, the foremost of which was money.

‘I can refer you to a neuro-surgeon, someone I consider to be the best in his field.’ His practised pause held a silent query. ‘I’ll have my nurse arrange an appointment, shall I?’

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