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The Earl’s Villa Rosa Bride

Written by Jessica Gilmore

Chapter Eight

Elisaveta knew that going for a walk with Theo was a bad idea. Hadn’t she told herself that she needed to remember her place? But the need in his eyes had connected with the need in her heart and she couldn’t turn him down.

They wandered through the estate in silence, turning onto the main road and walking until they found themselves at the local village pub. It was a pretty, whitewashed stone building with a huge garden and Theo guided her to a table at the back under a tree. It was still light, despite the late hour, the sky just beginning to dapple shades of pink and purple.

‘You have a lot of family.’ Elisaveta accepted her drink with a smile and carefully prepared small talk. She didn’t want to get any closer to him than she already had. Didn’t want to analyse why she sat here in a secluded corner with him, why every nerve in her body seemed attuned to his.

‘Too much.’ He glanced over at her unsmilingly. ‘How about you?’

‘Hardly any,’ she admitted. ‘My mother comes from a tiny island, no one has ever heard of, L’Isola dei Fiori. It's a trek to get there, the only way is by ferry from Italy. Mama was a maid for an Englishwoman who lived on the island. She met my dad when her employer threw an engagement party for his brother. It was love at first sight, and when he came back to England, she followed him. He died when I was small but she said he would have wanted me to be raised in England, so here I am.’

‘So you have an uncle at least?’

‘And four cousins, but we’re not close. My father was a musician and he fell out with my uncle over not wanting to be part of the family business. He died before they could really make up. I see Posy, the youngest, sometimes because she lives in London but she’s a ballerina so her hours are even crazier than mine. It was at Posy's godmother, Sofia's, house, the Villa Rosa, where my parents met. Sofia was renowned for throwing these extravagant parties full of celebrities and royalty - apparently she was the king's mistress.'

'Seriously?'

'So they say. I only met her once. Mama didn't like to go back. I think returning home reminded her of what she had lost. Sofia was old then but still very beautiful and the villa was this incredible fairy tale playground - I'd never been anywhere so whimsical. Sofia gave me a key and told me if I ever needed the villa it would welcome me. The villa belongs to Posy now. I should really give it back.’ She shrugged, smiling a little at her folly. 'I always thought of that key as a charm, as a promise that somewhere there's a home for me.' She stopped, aware she had revealed too much, that her carefully concealed loneliness was all too apparent. She couldn't be that vulnerable, especially not where Theo was concerned. Because no matter how he looked at her, no matter how safe he made her feel, he belonged to someone else.

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Jessica Gilmore

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