Caitlin returned from Italy to her London social scene. She had met Rebecca as planned and continued to spend time with her old friend understanding that she needed a lot of emotional support that she was too proud to ask for. Caitlin herself was feeling down, as she had really liked Mario. The first for a long time she mused. She had been chaste for ages and he had sparked desires that had been dormant. She threw herself into a social whirl and flirted with several potential lovers but none of them really appealed that much. The truth was that she was much more attracted to Latinos than to English men.
One morning she had a call from the lawyer’s office, a young woman asking to speak to Caitlin followed by St John’s plumy tones. He asked after her and then swiftly moved to the business in hand.
‘Will you call into the office at your earliest convenience, say tomorrow at 10.00, to sign the completion papers on the Palazzo?’ Caitlin had agreed and the call ended with a polite, ‘Look forward to it.’
Caitlin had no sooner signed the papers and the money been deposited in the bank when she heard from Mario again for the first time since leaving Rome. Her heart quickened as she recognised his voice on the phone.
‘Caitlin, mia bella, it was good to do business with you but now our business is complete perhaps we could do something more pleasurable?’ Before she was able to frame a cohesive sentence he continued, ‘Perhaps dinner tomorrow? I am flying in from the States and staying at the Savoy.’
‘That would be lovely, thank you Mario’ she replied, kicking herself inwardly for such a trite response.
‘Excellent, I look forward to seeing you again mio caro, I will send a car; around 8.00?’ Caitlin agreed and Mario had hung up with a smile in his voice as he said ‘Ciao, bella!’
Caitlin was thrilled. Her instincts had not been wrong he did really like her; he just had scruples about mixing business with pleasure. Pleasure she thought with an inward stirring. How she could do with a good seeing to! She had really missed the freedom that she had enjoyed in Paris away from the social networks that knew who she was and liked to gossip. She had lived a life of self imposed celibacy since returning to live in London as she associated primarily with the same circle that her parent’s had inhabited.
Shortly after the call from Mario she made appointments for a facial, manicure, pedicure and wax. Her hair had recently been trimmed and hi-lighted. She would call into the new Palmerstone shop to pick up an outfit for dinner with Mario, she needed something very slightly seductive but not obvious. Looking beautifully groomed and glowing with anticipation Caitlin burst into the new Kings Road Palmerstone the following afternoon. Carole who she knew from the Wimbledon shop and from Rebecca’s glowing reports greeted her with professional warmth.
‘Hi Carole’ Caitlin responded brightly, ‘is Rebecca here today?’ she asked as she began to browse the rails.
‘I am sorry Miss Alexander, Rebecca has taken a few days off and gone out to visit a friend of yours, in Bedfordshire I believe.’ Caitlin stopped browsing and turned to face Carole a faint furrow appearing between her brows.
‘Oh, I didn’t know she planned to go see Penny.’ As an afterthought she added, ‘Caitlin, please.’
‘I think it was quite sudden.’ Carole supplied hesitating how much she should discuss with Caitlin. Carole had become much attached to her boss and had been worried about her health of late. She also knew that Caitlin was an old and trusted friend of Rebecca’s. She didn’t want to overstep the mark of employee however and decided not to speak of her concern unless Caitlin asked for information. She switched her mind into professional sales mode and asked Caitlin instead if she was looking for something for a particular occasion and offered to help her to select some possibilities to try.
Caitlin accepted her help, explaining the first date scenario to which Carole responded with spot-on understanding,
‘Something suggestive but pretty maybe even a little bit prim; fire under the ice.’ She summarised, smiling.
‘That’s it exactly’ responded Caitlin with a wicked laugh. ‘I can see why Rebecca rates you so highly.’
‘Thanks, that means a lot’ returned Carole smiling widely, ‘I love working here, and I really like Rebecca.’ She hesitated, and then added in a rush, ‘I mean I like her as a friend as well as respecting her as my boss.’
‘That’s great’ replied Caitlin, ‘I know she likes you too, and trusts you completely.’ The two women smiled at each other warmly. Carole busied herself around the rails selecting dresses here and there that she knew would suit Caitlin and the occasion. Armed with half a dozen choices Carole shepherded Caitlin to the changing room. They had soon whittled the choice down to two dresses both short.
‘Either of these feels just right.’ Caitlin said, giving a twirl to look at the back of the eau de nil shift dress which skimmed her figure and finished just above the knee showing off her shapely legs, the high heeled Manolo stilettos adding a sleek simple sophistication to the outfit along with a simple clutch to finish. ‘You are clever Carole.’
‘Try the Halston again, I thought that that looked great on you’ Carole persuaded handing the sapphire blue long sleeve jersey bias cut dress to Caitlin, ‘this one looks so demure but it clings subtly to every curve; you’d knock his eyes out!’
‘I think you’re right, thanks’ laughed Caitlin, ‘I’m really into Halston and I was thrilled when Becca told me she was going to stock his label.’ After some deliberation Caitlin chose both dresses and the shoes and bag, as Carole knew she would, and the sale was completed with mutual pleasure.
When Caitlin got home at five she reckoned she had plenty of time to complete her toilette so put in a call to Penny. Some things were more important than a first date. Her conversation with Penny was stilted so Caitlin knew that Rebecca was in the room and Penny didn’t want to discuss her problems. Caitlin decided that the best approach was complete openness and told Penny the course of her afternoon’s shopping trip and then asked,
‘Can I speak to Becca please Pen? I’m worried about her as you know and I can tell you don’t want to break her confidence.’
‘Yes of course.’ Penny said, with relief, as she did feel torn between loyalty to Rebecca’s confidence and to Caitlin’s concern and prior involvement; much better that they should speak directly than for her to be a go-between.
‘Becca are you OK darling’ asked Caitlin as soon as Rebecca came to the phone, ‘It’s just that I went into Palmerstone this afternoon and Carole said you’d left London unexpectedly to go to Pen’s and I wondered if…’ she tailed off in dismay as Rebecca broke down in sobs at the other end of the line. Between sobs, Caitlin understood that things were worse than she could have imagined. Not only had Rebecca not seen Dylan since before Christmas but also she was almost certainly pregnant with his child. Penny came back on line and finished the telling of the sorry story while Caitlin blinked back her tears as she listened.
‘Pen, can I come down, tomorrow maybe? Just to see Becca and you guys of course. I feel so bad about all this. It was me that pushed her towards Dylan and well you know I love Becca and I can’t bear for her to be so distressed….’ Penny did know and she understood how Caitlin was feeling; in some ways not too dissimilar from her husband’s disquiet in the matter.
‘You know you’re always welcome Caiti, whenever and wherever.’
‘Thank you Penny, I knew it. I’ll come down tomorrow, be with you around lunchtime?’
‘Great, we’ll all look forward to it, won’t we Becca?’ Caitlin heard a more robust
‘Yes, we will, a lot.’ from Rebecca in the background.
Caitlin had a wonderful evening out with Mario despite worries about her friend. Knowing that she would see Rebecca the next day and that she was safely with Penny and Charles enabled her to push thoughts of Rebecca’s plight to the back of her mind for now. Mario’s driver picked her up promptly at eight as arranged. The sleek black Mercedes cruised through the streets of London reaching her destination in a matter of minutes. Mario had chosen San Lorenzo in Beauchamp Place. Caitlin had dined there a few times with her parents it had been a big favourite of theirs. The owners Mara and Lorenzo Berni had become good friends.
When Caitlin entered the restaurant, which had a lovely Italian family feel to it, Mara who seemed to be expecting her greeted her warmly. Seconds later Mario hustled in apologising for his lateness and kissing first Caitlin and then Mara on both cheeks in greeting. It turned out that the couple had known Mario since he was a child through friendships with his father and grandparents.
Seated at the best table the two chatted easily together. They each drank a glass of Prosecco while they perused the menu in a leisurely way; both knowing that they would order the simple pasta dishes that Italian families love the best. Caitlin chose Pumpkin Ravioli, Mario Spaghetti Vongole, and an Italian Barroso wine to drink. A pitcher of water and side salads were also requested.
Mario, thought Caitlin, was like a different person from the hyper active business Mario she had met in Venice; though when they had lunched there she had seen glimpses of the expansive relaxed Mario when he had talked about his family. Caitlin chatted happily about her father and his sanguine marriage to Ariel and their obvious adoration of each other and the baby ‘Princeling’ as she had dubbed her half brother Sebastian. Mario smiled and told Caitlin that he had seen her father Frank only a couple of days before on Wall Street.
‘He looks very happy as you say mia bella.’ Caitlin blushed slightly at the familiarity spoken with a caress in his voice, as Mario continued, ‘You like your new little bother, no?’
‘Yes of course! He was really adorable when I saw him but he was new-born then, not very interesting. I must go out to see him again soon’ she added, ‘and Papa and Ariel of course. I only call him the Princeling because they are so besotted with him. I’m very happy for them. I love my father dearly and Ariel makes him happy so I like her too’ Caitlin smiled genuinely.
‘That’s good’ remarked Mario, ‘families are very important and children are at the centre of the family don’t you think?’ He pursued.
‘Yes, I agree that family is very important. I hadn’t thought of it quite like that but children do become the most important focus of married couples…’ Caitlin acquiesced floundering for a moment as this was serious stuff for a first date, ‘my friend Penny and her husband have two small children and their lives revolve around the babies.’ She added.
‘Penny, is she your best friend?’ Mario asked. Caitlin proceeded to tell him about the four girls and their long friendships feeling on safer ground than talking about babies and families. Mario listened and smiled as she enthused about her wonderful friends.
He then turned the conversation to the Venice Palazzo that he had just bought from Caitlin and asked her if she would like to hear about his plans for it. Caitlin was very interested but felt strange hearing about the development potential of his purchase. She found it illuminating to hear him talk with real enthusiasm for the design and layout of the place and thought to herself that he should have trained to be an architect or a designer. His vision was inspiring and he had excellent taste.
Mario talked about paint colours and fabrics, furniture and drapes with as much finesse as her interior designer had, or like Rebecca talked when she was enthusing about clothes. As Caitlin was interested and informed on the subject herself she was soon drawn into the plans and contributing suggestions herself as well as sanctioning his ideas with smiles and nods in all the right places. The time passed convivially as they finished their very good dinner and ordered espressos and gelato to finish.
‘The gelato they serve here is supplied by my father and my uncle so you must try it mia caro’ he urged, as she was about to demur.
‘Well in that case how could I possibly refuse?’ She smiled. The ice cream was delicious so Caitlin was glad that she been swayed and that she could also say in complete honesty, ‘I now understand how your father and uncle made a fortune out of something that sounds rather ordinary.’
‘Yes, indeed’ he agreed, ‘one thinks of commodities like oil and gas or gold not ice cream in terms of making money. But everyone has to eat and Americans love anything sweet.’
The meal finished Caitlin’s butterflies returned. Would they go back to hers or to his hotel? Would they just kiss or would she let him make love to her. She knew she wanted him; her body was pulsating with desire. Should she play the prude, not on the first date scenario? In the end the choice was not hers to make. Mario escorted her to the street outside San Lorenzo and kissed her on both cheeks and smiling meaningfully into her eyes declared that he had enjoyed her company very much and would very much like to see her again soon.
‘Thank you Mario, for a lovely evening and I too would like that.’ Caitlin responded.
‘Tomorrow?’ Mario asked.
‘No, I can’t, I’m sorry I would have liked…’ Caitlin explained quickly the trip to see Penny and that Rebecca would be there too.
‘Oh yes,’ remarked Mario wryly, ‘the all important friends’ but he smiled as he said this and added, ‘enjoy!’ Then back to businesslike Mario, ‘my driver will be here in a moment to take you home; I have a visit to make nearby. I will call you in a couple of days? Ciao Bella!’ Mario added and kissed her warmly again on the cheek as the black Mercedes slid to a halt beside them.
Caitlin had least expected this scenario at the end of the enjoyable evening that they had spent together. She wondered if Mario had decided that she wasn’t his type after all. Then she thought that couldn’t be right he wouldn’t have asked to see her again the next day. After turning everything over in her mind once again she decided that he must be serious about her. Maybe he thought that she was a virgin and her being Frank’s daughter didn’t want to make the wrong impression. She settled herself down to sleep with a smile of anticipated pleasure on her face.
The next morning Caitlin woke to hear the phone ringing and sat up in bed to answer, her voice bleary from sleep.
‘Caitlin, good morning!’ It was Mario, ‘I’m sorry to wake you mio caro. I wanted to ask what time you leave for your friend Penny’s home and to suggest you may like to have the use of my driver. Sergio is very good and he will get you there safely. I would feel happier that you were with him.’ Caitlin grinned in sleepy delight at Mario’s caring gesture.
‘Thank you Mario, that is very kind of you.’ She could easily use her usual driver but it seemed churlish to refuse the kind offer and also she felt to accept would be to cement the nascent relationship further. She really liked him.
An hour later in the midst of her preparations for the visit to Ampthill the doorbell rang and she ran downstairs to receive two huge bunches of pink roses. She loved that he had known she would be a pink girl, not red, and when she read the messages tears pricked her eyes with gratitude. One bunch was addressed to her ‘Caitlin mia caro, I miss you already, Mario’ and the second to Penny. ‘To Penny whom I hope to meet soon, enjoy your visitor. Mario Ferraro.’ It was really sweet of him and so thoughtful. She finished her packing in plenty of time. Mario’s driver Sergio arrived promptly and the journey out to Bedfordshire uneventful.