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Harlequin Presents January 2015 Box Set 3 of 4(7)

By:Lynne Graham

Well, if there was another man in Billie’s bed, he would soon find out, Gio rationalised with clenched teeth and a jaw line set rock hard with tension. In twenty-four hours he would have the background report from Henley Investigations. Regrettably he was not a patient man and he had assumed she would throw herself back into his arms the instant he told her that he was divorced. Why hadn’t she?

Her response when he’d kissed her had been...hot. In fact Gio got hard just thinking about it, his libido as much as his brain telling him exactly what and who he needed back in his life. He wondered if he should send her flowers. She was crazy about flowers, had always been buying them, arranging them, sniffing them, growing them. It had been selfish of him not to buy her a house with a garden, he conceded darkly, wondering what other oversights he must’ve made when the woman who had once worshipped the ground he walked on now felt able to show him the door. No woman had ever done that to Gio Letsos. He knew he could have virtually any woman he wanted but that wasn’t a consolation when he only wanted Billie back where she belonged: in his bed.

* * *

After a disturbed night of sleep, Billie rose around dawn, fed all the kids and tidied up. It was only at weekends that she and Dee saw much of each other. On weekdays, she took the kids to school to allow Dee, who worked evenings as a bartender in a local pub, a little longer in bed. Theo went to work with Billie in the mornings and Dee collected him at lunchtime and minded the three kids for the afternoon. After the shop closed, they all ate an early evening meal together before Dee went off to do her shift. It was an arrangement that worked very well for both women and Billie was fond of Dee and her company because her two years in a city apartment where Gio was only an occasional visitor had been full of lonely days and nights.

Of course, in those days she had learned to make good use of her free time, she acknowledged wryly. In those two years with Gio she had acquired GCSEs and two A-levels, not to mention certificates in various courses ranging from cordon-bleu cookery and flower arranging to business start-up qualifications. Gio might not have noticed any of that or have shown the smallest interest in what she did when he wasn’t around, but making up for the education she had missed out on while she was acting as her grandmother’s carer throughout the teenage years had done much to raise Billie’s low self-esteem. After all, when she had first met Gio she had been working as a cleaner because she had lacked the qualifications that would have helped her to aspire to a better-paid job.

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.