Cherished: Love in London Series 2 (2 page)

BOOK: Cherished: Love in London Series 2
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2


W
ait
, let me just get this straight. Nico Moretti wants you to
pretend
to be his girlfriend? And he’s paying you
that
much?” Beth’s eyes widened in surprise, her coffee cup frozen in mid-air.

Amber twirled her finger around her ponytail as she considered the absurd arrangement.

“Yup. We’re flying to Milan on Friday, the party is on Saturday and I’ll be back late Sunday afternoon. To be honest, how hard can it be? It’s just one weekend.”

She smiled outwardly, taking a sip of coffee. Internally, she was already a bundle of nerves. The thought of spending the whole weekend with Nico and his family, as well as pretending to be his girlfriend was overwhelming. As much as she tried to argue against the idea, he was ruthless in his negotiations and she finally caved in. A big part of her was curious to see where he came from and what made him Nico Moretti.

“But, Ambs, I don’t understand. Theo’s heard of Nico in business circles, fully respects him, and no offence, hon, but isn’t he, like, a romeo playboy? I mean, damn, he’s red hot, but are you sure you want to get mixed up with him?” She took a sip of coffee. “You know he’s called “The Closer” in his field?”

“I know, Beth. He’s dynamite at what he does – he’s only twenty-nine and one of the world’s top investment bankers, and yes, you’re right, he is very persuasive.” She shrugged her shoulders. “For whatever reason, he’s picked me.” She lowered her eyes as she felt her cheeks staining. You don’t know half of it, she thought. It felt strange hiding things from Beth, but she wasn’t yet ready to talk about the night they spent together.

“Well, I get it. It’s obvious he’s attracted to you. I mean, look at you, Ambs. I swear you get more stunning each year.” Beth smiled at her best friend and reached across the table to gently squeeze her hand. “I just want you to be careful okay?” She laughed at her words. “Then again, who am I to judge, right? Look how I fell, hook, line and sinker for Theo.” The girls laughed. “Jesus, Ambs, what is it with these international men in our lives.”

“I know, right? Must be something in the water at our flat.” She smiled, looking away. “I can’t get involved though, B. I mean, yes, he certainly is eye-candy but I refuse to be just another notch to add to his bedpost.” She closed her eyes, trying her best to blank her memory from their night together. “I did start to have feelings for him, but you’re right, he’s a player so best to cut my losses now, which is why I handed over his project. I don’t want to compromise our client relationship, so really, it’s best that this is business only.”

Beth nodded her head as she listened to her friend, still concerned over the arrangement but nonetheless deciding to drop the subject.

They spent the remainder of the afternoon catching up, discussing wedding plans, Beth’s trip to meet Theo’s grandparents in New York and other gossip. It was fun to finally have Beth to herself for a few hours.

T
he next couple
of days went by quite quickly as Amber was occupied with designing her storyboards for new clients. She didn’t hear anything from Nico, which slightly disappointed her, but she sternly told herself that she was merely a deal he had closed. He had no reason to contact her until Friday.

On her way home from work on Tuesday night, she had impulsively decided to stop off at the department store, Harvey Nichols, to buy a few new items of clothing with the overly generous payment Nico had transferred to her the previous day.

Impulsively, she went into the lingerie department and couldn’t resist a few new sets even though she strictly told herself that it didn’t matter what she would be wearing underneath, as Nico wouldn’t be getting to see them. These were simply to build her confidence, not for him. In fact, she was determined to take one of her old bra’s just to prove to herself that he wouldn’t be getting near her. No way! This was a pure business arrangement, as she had no desire to be one of the harems of women who fell at his feet.

O
n Thursday morning
, Amber jumped on the tube on the way to work and was browsing through the daily free newspaper. She idly flicked through the paper and then landed on the Gossip and Spotted section. Her eyes were drawn to an article about a movie premier that had taken place the night before in Leicester Square, with numerous accompanying photos of the red carpet.

Immediately, her pulse picked up and her heart started racing. There in the corner of the article amongst the others, was a photo of Nico, looking incredibly handsome in his tux. She noted his messy-looking hair, which she loved, but the rest of him was sharp and impeccably dressed. On his arm was one of the most stunning and well-known models in London. She was grinning at him like the proverbial cat who got the cream.

Nico, Amber noted, looked slightly irritated, but nonetheless was still posing with this gorgeous creature on the red carpet. Her heart sank. She closed the paper, refusing to look at him any longer. What the hell was he playing at, and indeed, what was she getting herself into?

She couldn’t help the jealousy that coursed through her as well as the disappointment she felt. Beth was right – he was a playboy. So why was he bothering with her if he could have any one of these amazing women on his arm?

Then she knew.

She felt used, as clearly, he thought her plain and therefore a suitable and plausible candidate to present to his family. She chewed her lip in concentration as the truth hit her and her eyes stung with tears. So that’s all she was to him, just a quick business deal he had paid for to keep the family pressure off him. It now made total sense.

The tube halted to a stop and Amber quickly jumped out of her seat and exited before the doors beeped shut. She felt tightness in her chest and had to sit down on the platform bench to take stock of the situation. Feeling hurt and used, but more than anything, she was beginning to get angry. How dare he treat her like that?

Impulsively, she crossed the platform and decided to go directly to his penthouse in Notting Hill to confront him. This was a sham and she no longer wanted to be part of it. Keeping tabs on his schedule, Amber knew he would be at home this morning with the designer.

A short while later, she was standing outside his white building, which was situated on a premier road in Notting Hill. His new apartment was the luxury top floor penthouse, formally an artist’s studio with high ceilings and plenty of natural light spanning over five-thousand square feet. It was beautiful and with the renovations he had undertaken, it would be an even more incredible place to live. Grudgingly she had to agree that he had fantastic taste.

Taking a deep breath, she was just about to press the buzzer to the penthouse when the main door flew open. She jumped back in surprise. Nico stood there, a look of disbelief flashing across his face. Dressed in a finely cut suit, Amber had to blink to stop herself from staring. His dark grey suit and white shirt stood out against his lightly tanned skin, which made his green eyes more piercing than ever.

Feeling intimated, she was pleased she had chosen to wear her hot pink shift dress, which stopped a few inches above her knee. It was early September, and the weather was still warm so her tanned legs didn’t warrant the use of tights. She had worn her patent black heels, which elongated her legs and her long wavy hair was left long and gleaming in the sunlight, lightly lifting off her shoulders in the gentle breeze.

Slowly and seductively, his eyes raked boldly over her, taking in her appearance as his gaze slowly slipped downwards. The very air around them seemed electrified, as she felt heavy and warm under his scrutiny. Her heart fluttered wildly in her breast, and annoyed at herself for reacting to him, she cleared her throat, pretending not to be affected.

“Nico, we need to talk.”

“Of course, Amber. I’m on my way to a meeting, but perhaps you would care to ride with me? I’m going in your direction.” If he was surprised to see her there, he didn’t mention it.

“Fine.” She snapped her answer at him and followed him down to the garage at the side of the building. He led her to a black Ferrari. She rolled her eyes. Of course, it would have to be a Ferrari. He opened the door for her, and she mumbled a thanks without making eye contact with him before slipping into the low leather seat. It really was a beautiful piece, she marvelled as her eyes swept across the interior. Nico slid into the driver seat and shot her a wink, infuriating her. He laughed out loud as she shot him a dirty look.

“Carino, why are you so angry?” He smiled, his eyes studying her with a curious intensity. His voice, which was deep and sensual, sent a ripple of awareness through her. Amber fought to contain her emotions. Tossing her hair across her shoulders in a gesture of defiance, she swallowed hard, lifted her chin and boldly met his gaze.

“I’m sorry, Nico. I’ve changed my mind. I can’t go to Milan with you.”

“You can’t or you won’t, Amber?” His teasing tone was suddenly cool and disapproving.

“I, I won’t.” She looked away, wanting to break the intensity of his gaze. She felt him stiffen beside her.

“Do you want to explain why? I thought we had a deal. Have I not paid you enough?” He ground the words out between his teeth, his voice cold and exact.

Nico’s contemptuous tone sparked her anger further and she spun her head towards him, eyes flashing.

“This is not about the money!” Without thinking, she blurted, “Why don’t you take Rosie instead.” Amber immediately bit her lip as she referred to the model from the previous evening. Colour flooded her face at her slip.

“Rosie?” he scoffed. “If you are referring to the premier, I can assure you that I have zero interest in taking her to meet my family. I was merely accompanying her as a favour.”

Her fingers began to tremble, and she tightened them into a fist. She snuck a look at him from under her lashes. He was staring straight ahead, his features hardened. However, she had started this and now felt she had to go through with it.

“I see. But still, Nico, I don’t think it’s fair to your mother to go through with this.”

“Let me be the judge of that. Like I said, we had a deal and I expect you to fulfil your part of the bargain.” He assessed her coolly. Stunned by his bluntness, she took a quick sharp breath. Looking out the window, she was almost at her place of work. What was he doing here, anyway? Distracted by this, she turned to him in surprise.

“Nico, why are you pulling into the underground car park at my office?”

“Because I’m not happy with the designer. I’ve come to meet your MD and request my original one. If they fail to comply, they will lose my account.”

“What?” She sputtered, indignantly, the realisation of what he was saying dawning upon her. “Dammit, Nico. I told you, we can’t work together anymore.”

He gritted his teeth and his response held a note of impatience. “Amber, you are a very talented designer. I believe we work incredibly well together. If you can’t design my apartment, I won’t work with anyone else from your firm.”

“Nico, I—”

“I’m sorry, Amber. If my presence is so distasteful, I’ll look elsewhere. Please note that I’ll mostly be in Milan for the next two weeks. You’ll be on your own anyway.” He looked away, his tone softening as he continued. “About this weekend, my mother is really looking forward to meeting you. So please reconsider. On both counts.”

Amber felt as though she was swimming through a haze of feelings and desires. Baffled by his stern attitude yet soft voice, her anger evaporated, leaving only confusion. She looked at him as his intense gaze travelled over her face and searched her eyes. It was too easy to get lost in the way he looked at her as she felt her heart hammering in her ears. Damn him. She knew in that moment, against rational thought, that she could fall for him deeply. In return, he would no doubt leave her with a broken heart.

Before she could process this any further, the words were out of her mouth. “Okay, fine, Nico. I’ll come to Milan. And if you insist, I’ll help you finish the design work on your penthouse.” She thought she detected a flicker of triumph in his eyes. “However, I have one proviso.”

“Anything, Amber.”

She inhaled sharply, putting her hand on the door in preparation to exit. She couldn’t face him in case her eyes betrayed her. “After all this is done, I think it’s best if we never see each other again.” The car had ground to a halt in the car park. With that, she opened the door and without a backwards glance, she stepped out of the car and walked away.

3

H
aving communicated formally
by email and text messages, they had arranged to meet at Heathrow the following day. Adjusting her sunglasses, Amber peered out of the window as the driver Nico had sent to collect her sped along the motorway.

She was a bundle of nerves, yet there was a tingling of excitement also present in the pit of her stomach. Part of her couldn’t wait to meet Nico’s family and see the other side to this ruthless businessman. The other part was nervous at the thought of playing the part of his pretend girlfriend. How would it be possible to separate her growing feelings from her acting? This was beyond complicated and her head spun with the possibilities of what the weekend would entail.

As the car pulled up to the airport, Amber jumped out of the back with her weekend bag, thanked the driver and then headed to the British Airways desk. Their flight was at three-thirty p.m. and it was just before two o’clock so they had plenty of time. Locating the check-in area, she perched her sunglasses on her head and concentrated on weaving her way through the busy airport.

She felt him before she saw him. Her eyes were magnetically pulled to him as he stood, phone in hand, perched by the first class desk. She stopped in her tracks as his eyes searched hers and drank her up, closing the distance between them.

Dressed in casual khaki trousers, a fitted black t-shirt, which did nothing to conceal his muscular chest and arms, his weekend bag was casually stored by his feet. Amber felt the hustle, bustle and noise of the airport melt away into the distance as she was drawn into their own bubble, gazing intently at each other. No doubt he was attracting attention from some of the giggling women who walked past him, but he was oblivious to them. His face broke into an irresistibly devastating grin and Amber smiled shyly in return as she walked up to him.

“Hi.” She smiled warmly at him, his grin infectious.

“Hello, carino.” His voice was deep and husky, sending tingles up her spine at the affectionate Italian endearment he insisted on calling her. “For a moment there, I wasn’t sure you’d show.”

“I gave you my word, Nico.” Blushing lightly, Amber looked away and moistened her lips. She turned back to him and caught him staring at her mouth, his gaze darkening. Abruptly, he picked up his bag and also taking hers, he placed his hand on the small of her back, leading them to the desk.

H
aving never travelled
first class before, Amber found herself thoroughly enjoying the experience. Throughout the short flight, Nico relaxed her and kept her entertained with funny stories which at times, made her laugh out loud. She found herself feeling very comfortable and enjoying his company as she relayed humorous tales of her clients.

All too soon it was time to land at Milan Malpensa and once again, Amber was overcome with nerves at the thought of the next couple of days together. As if sensing her change in demeanour, Nico studied her before he quietly spoke.

“I’m sorry if I have put you in an awkward position, Amber.” Her head snapped up in his direction, surprised at his confession and moment of humility. Before she could say anything, he held up his hand to continue. “Please don’t worry about meeting my family. I assure you they are good people and also very easy-going so I sincerely hope you’ll enjoy yourself. I’d hate for you to feel uncomfortable.”

“Nico, I, er, don’t know what to say.” She spoke and gestured with her hands. “I’m not quite sure how you expect us to behave around them. Are we, umm, going to have to be…together in front of them?” She found herself stammering and floundering over her words as her thin fingers tensed in her lap. Awkwardly, she cleared her throat, waiting for his response as she found herself concentrating on her nails, unable to meet his eyes.

He didn’t say anything for a beat and Amber wondered if he too was having second thoughts. She felt his finger lifting her chin and turning her to face him.

“Look at me, Amber,” he commanded.

Reluctantly, she met his gaze.

“I want you to be comfortable around me, okay? I don’t want you to do anything you aren’t happy with.” She heard his sharp intake of breath. When he spoke, his voice was cool, but his eyes had darkened with emotion. “If that means you don’t wish to show any affection towards me, then I’ll act accordingly.” He released her chin and fastened his seatbelt in preparation for landing.

A tumble of confused thoughts and feelings assailed her, but before she could respond any further, the plane started the descent and the overhead speakers came on with landing announcements. Each one was lost in their thoughts for the last few minutes of the flight.

O
nce landed
, they swiftly made their way through the arrivals terminal and out into the mild warm weather where Nico’s driver was waiting for him. After what sounded like a few pleasantries in Italian, the driver gave her a wide smile, conspicuously looking at both her and Nico, while he opened the door with a flourish.

“Grazie!” Amber flashed him a smile and shuffled into the back seat, wondering about their brief conversation. Nico slipped into the seat next to her, pulled out his phone and sent off a quick text message. Once finished, he set his phone in his pocket, relaxed into his seat and flashed her a smile. Amber’s heartbeat picked up. This was it, she was here now and there was no turning back. She returned his smile and turned to look out the window as the car manoeuvred its way through the traffic exiting the airport.

After a few minutes of taking in the sights surrounding her, she found herself restlessly bouncing her knee. She had so many questions, but aware that this was nothing more than a weekend business deal, she was unsure how much she could ask about his personal life.

Lost in her thoughts, she felt his large warm hand gently caress and still her knee. Surprised at the contact and thrilled by his touch, Amber felt her skin prickle with goose bumps. Wearing her favourite deep green wrap dress, it was already a few inches above her knee to start with, but sitting down, it had risen further, exposing her lightly tanned thigh. She raised her eyes to Nico to find him looking at her legs boldly. Shifting slightly uncomfortably at his scrutiny, she adjusted her dress, trying to pull it down. Nico gently removed his hand, and she instantly missed his touch.

“Speak, Amber.” His deep voice broke through the tension.

“I’m sorry? Pardon?”

“You have a lot of questions. I can see from the way you’re fidgeting. So ask. What do you want to know aside from what I’ve already told you?”

“Oh.” She looked away; slightly embarrassed that he could read her so well. “Okay, well, can you tell me a little more about yourself….about your family?” She settled back into the seat and turned to face him, tucking her hair behind her ear.

“Sure. Let’s see.” He glanced at his watch. “We have approximately just under an hour and a half until we reach Lake Como, so in return, I want to know everything about you too. Deal?” He raised an eyebrow, waiting for her answer.

She swallowed. Was she really ready to tell him about her screwed up family? She hesitated before answering whilst he patiently waited. However, there was something about Nico Moretti that made her want to trust him, some kind of underlying magnetic force working and drawing her towards him, even though she was trying her best to resist.

“Okay, deal.” She spoke softly.

“Molte bene.” He seemed almost relieved that she agreed to talk about her family. Reaching for a bottle of water, he opened it and passed it to her and then did the same for himself. After taking a long swig, he adjusted in his seat and began speaking.

“So, my family. As I mentioned to you before, I have two sisters. We were all educated at University in England, but my eldest sister, Gabriella, decided to return home. Unknown to me, she had a boyfriend in Italy who immediately proposed upon her return. She has twins, aged two, called Benito and Carlo and we’ve just heard the good news that they are expecting their third child.”

“Wow,” Amber laughed, “Congratulations,
Uncle
. That’s a handful.” She made a mental note to remember their names.

“Si! The kids are great, but definitely entering the terrible two’s.” He laughed too, shaking his head before continuing.

“My sister, Camilla – Mia as we call her – is a few years younger than me, just turned twenty-five, and splits her time between London and Milan.” His face softened as he spoke of her. It was clear to see that they were close. “Mia studied at The London School of Fashion and is now starting to really make a name for herself with her designs.” He frowned slightly. “I’ve told her time and time again that I can set her up with her own boutique but she refuses, wanting to do things by herself.”

“She sounds amazing. I’m looking forward to meeting her.”

“I think you’ll both get on very well…. you’re both very creative, obviously.”

Amber smiled and nodded in agreement. It would be great to meet Mia and learn more about her designs. Amber especially liked the fact that she was keen to work hard and establish herself, rather than just trade on her family connections. She was immediately forming a respect for her.

“And your parents?” she probed, enjoying learning about his siblings.

A warm smile spread across his face. “Well, my parents have been married for the longest time – my mamma, Annalisa, got married when she was seventeen. My papà, Gianmarco, is self-made.” Nico took another sip of water before continuing. “He owns Morretti Investment Banking in Milan, which is where I work, overseeing new business. Started it from the ground up and now it is one of the most respected banking organisations in the industry.” He spoke proudly of his father. “Because he spent most of his time at work, growing up, my mamma played a big role in our lives. She’s pretty amazing.”

Amber impulsively squeezed his hand and then realising what she did, she tried to pull away, but Nico held on and her heart-rate picked up as she watched him entwine their fingers. Heat spread across her face as she looked at him, chewing her lip in uncertainty of the situation. She felt his thumb gently circle her hand, sending tingles to the pit of her stomach. What was he doing to her? Distracted, she didn’t know what to say. She was lost in the sensation.

“Tell me about you. Who is Amber Preston?” His smooth deep voice cut through her thoughts.

She laughed nervously. “There really isn’t much to tell, Nico.” She looked away. God, she wished she didn’t have to reveal things about her messed up childhood.

“Amber,” his voice was soft, almost tender as he brought her attention back to him. “It’s okay, you really don’t have to tell me anything if you prefer not to.”

“No, it’s not that. It’s just that I come from a really different background to you, Nico. I’m not sure where to start.”

“Try me. Tell me about your parents.”

Amber shrugged. It was now or never. “There’s not much to tell, unfortunately.” This time she felt him lightly squeeze her hand. Looking at their joint hands, she felt the courage to carry on. She took a deep breath.

“My dad had a string of affairs whilst I was growing up and each time, my mother forgave him, always welcoming him back.” Her voice hardened as she recalled her mother’s tears. “Unfortunately, one day, when I was fifteen, he just left with one of his women and never looked back. My mother turned to drinking heavily. It got out of control – nothing I could say or do could bring her back.”

Her eyes filled with tears and she took a calming breath. “I don’t have any brothers or sisters, although Beth is just like the sister I never had and her family pretty much took me in and looked after me.” A few tears spilled over onto her cheeks. “One day, I came home from school and found her unconscious on the sofa. I panicked when I couldn’t wake her and called for an ambulance…”

Her voice broke as she recalled that devastating day. “It was too late, Nico. She had taken an overdose with a cocktail of painkillers and alcohol.” A sob escaped from her throat and tears openly spilled over, but she quickly tried to brush them away. “I was sixteen years old.” Before she knew it, Nico moved across the seat and wrapped her up in his strong arms as she broke down crying.

Part of her was mortified as she had never talked about her past, but in some way, she felt a huge burden being lifted off her shoulders by confiding in him. She tried to move away, embarrassed by her outburst, but Nico kept her in his strong arms. He gently stroked her hair as she cried, his voice soothing when he spoke. “Mio Dio. I’m so, so sorry, carino.”

She sniffed as she felt her tears drying up. “It’s okay, Nico. I’m okay now.” She smiled, sadly. “I wasn’t for a long time, not until I was persuaded to have counselling. It really helped. You know, I couldn’t touch alcohol until last year?”

“You are stronger than you know, carino. I hope you know that.”

“I hope so. That’s why I made peace with alcohol. I know the root of her demise was her depression – it was so severe.”

He leaned forward and kissed her forehead, continuing to stroke her hair. “Thank you for sharing something so personal with me.”

Amber sniffed and laughed, wiping away the last of her tears. “Good thing I didn’t give up on alcohol. Got anything stronger than this water?”

BOOK: Cherished: Love in London Series 2
11.72Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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