Her New Year Baby Secret

By: Jessica Gilmore

To find himself inside a closet. A large closet, but a closet nonetheless, one filled with towering stacks of spare chairs, folded tables and several cleaning trolleys. Sophie was pressed against one of the tables, her hands gripping the sides, her heart-shaped face pale.

He allowed the door to close behind him, leaning against it, his arms folded, staring her down. ‘Buongiorno, Sophie.’

‘Marco? Wh-what are you doing here?’

‘Catching up with old friends. That’s what I like about these occasions, you never know who you might bump into. Nice corner you’ve found here. A little crowded, lacking in decoration, but I like it.’

‘I...’ Her eyes were wide. Scared.

Incredulity thundered through him. He’d assumed she had hidden because she was embarrassed to see him, that maybe she hadn’t told her friends—or boyfriend—about him. Or because she was playing some game and trying to lure him in. It hadn’t occurred to him that she would be actually terrified at the very thought of seeing him.

Although she had fled from his bed, run away from her friends the moment she had recognised him. How many clues did he need? His mouth compressed into a thin line. ‘Apologies, Sophie,’ he said stiffly. ‘I didn’t mean to scare you. Please rest assured that I will leave you alone for the rest of the evening.’ He bowed formally and turned, hand on the door handle, only to be arrested by the sound of her low voice.

‘No, Marco. I should apologise. I didn’t expect to see you here, I didn’t expect to see you ever again actually and I overreacted. I’m not...I don’t really do... You know. What we did. I have no idea how these things work.’

What we did. Marco had spent the last three weeks trying to put what they’d done out of his mind. Tried not to dwell on the satin of her skin, the taste of her, the way she laughed. The way she moaned.

Ironically he usually did know how these things worked. Temporary and discreet were the hallmarks of the perfect relationship as far as Marco was concerned. Not falling into bed with strangers he’d met on street corners. He was far too cautious. He needed to be certain that any and every prospective partner knew the rules: mutually satisfying and absolutely no strings.

But somehow that evening all his self-imposed rules had gone flying out of the window. It had been like stepping into another world; the snow deep outside, the city oddly muted, the world contracting until it was only the two of them. It seemed as if there had been no other route open to him, booking the hotel room an unsaid inevitability as they’d moved on to their second drink, walking hand in hand through the falling snow but not really touching, not yet, waiting until the room door had swung closed behind them.

And then...

Marco inhaled, the heat of that night burning through his body. He didn’t know what he’d have done if she’d been there when he woke up, pulled her to him or distanced himself in the cold light of day. But he hadn’t had to make that decision; like the melted snow outside, she was gone. He’d told himself it was for the best. But now that she was here, it was hard to remember why.

He turned. Sophie was still staring at him, her blue eyes huge in her pale face. ‘How these things work?’ he repeated, unable to stop the smile curving his mouth. ‘Does there have to be a set path?’

Colour flared high on her cheekbones. ‘No, I’m not looking for Mr Right, but neither am I the kind of girl who spends the night with a stranger. Usually. So I don’t know what the etiquette is here.’

‘Nor do I, but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t require us to spend half the evening in a cleaning closet.’

‘No,’ she said doubtfully as if the cleaning closet were actually the perfect place to spend New Year’s Eve. ‘But what happens when we get out there? Do we acknowledge that we know each other or pretend that none of it ever happened?’

The latter was certainly the most sensible idea—but hadn’t he decided he needed a distraction? Sophie Bradshaw in a silver minidress was the epitome of distraction. Marco stepped away from the door, leaving it a little ajar, and smiled as ruefully as he could. ‘Are those my choices? They seem a little limited. How about I throw a third option in there—I ask you to dance?’

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