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His Manhattan Midnight Cinderella

Written by Carol Marinelli

Chapter Eight

Sadly, Leander didn’t do phone sex.

If Felicia dropped her voice, he asked if she had a cold.

And if she told him that she’d just got out of bath, he said he’d wait while she put something on.

Then, he’d ask her about her day.

‘It was fine.’

‘How fine?’

‘Well, Jacinta’s being a cow. Because I’m leaving, I guess.’

‘Or because she simply is one,’ Leander said. ‘You finish tomorrow.’

‘I know.’

‘And you’ll be here next week,’ he pointed out. Leander couldn’t get any time off, but before she started her new job he was flying her to Al-Zahan on Monday.

‘I can’t wait,’ Felicia admitted, and looked out of her tiny bedroom window. ‘And it’s not just the thought of seeing you—the joy of snow wore off a long time ago.’

‘Come tomorrow,’ Leander said.

‘I wish.’

‘Do,’ Leander pushed. ‘I’ll get Sally to change your flight.’

‘It’s fine,’ Felicia said, and she cleared her throat on a voice that was suddenly husky, though not in an effort to seduce. She was visiting her mom this weekend, and Felicia still hadn’t told him about that. It would be better face-to-face, she had told herself. Not that she could bear to see his expression when she told him that her mom was behind bars for life. It really wasn’t a lie, just an evasion, and so she did her best to keep her voice light. ‘I’m sure you’ll keep until Monday.’

‘Come on,’ Leander said. ‘Let me change your flight. You could be here by Saturday and…’

‘I’ve already got plans this weekend,’ Felicia interrupted with a snap. And then came a long silence that he left entirely for her to fill. It was odd, but as she lay on her bed, she thought of what Cindy had said as Felicia had wrapped her dress on Boxing Day. Words Felicia hadn’t understood at the time, but was starting to.

Cindy had had to come to trust that her husband wanted to take care of her.

But would Leander if he knew the truth?

It was time to find out.

‘I’m visiting my mom at the weekend.’

Leander had already picked up on her tension. Since their little talk, she’d made no mention of family. ‘Nice,’ he said, willing her to invite him just a little further.

‘Not really.’ Felicia swallowed before continuing. ‘She’s in jail.’

For? He wanted to ask, but waited.

‘For life.’

It hadn’t been the question he’d wanted to ask, but it answered so many. And right now the whys and wherefores didn’t matter—Felicia did, and this silence was his to fill. ‘That must me hard.’

‘Believe me,’ Felicia said. ‘It’s a hell of a lot easier seeing her now there’s a security screen between us.’

‘Felicia…’ he started.

‘Please don’t say anything,’ Felicia cut in. ‘I’ve had a lot of people over the years take the initial news well and then decide it’s all a bit too hard…’

Grandparents.

Aunts.

Uncles.

Cousins.

The list went on and on, and she could not bear for Leander to be added to it.

‘You were the one who insisted on the truth,’ Felicia said, and made sure it was she who ended the call.

*

There was to be no leaving do.

Jacinta had not taken Felicia’s leaving well at all and barely said a word to her when she left at five, other than to remind her to ensure any outfits that had been loaned by the boutique, including the dress she wore, were returned.

‘Sure.’ Felicia said. ‘Jacinta, I’ve enjoyed my time here—’

She spoke to a closing door.

Felicia stood alone in the boutique for the very last time. Rhina was out the back, getting some stock ready, and she had a final look around.

And then she looked at her cell phone.

Leander hadn’t called since last night, and while he never called her at work, she’d rather hoped that today he might.

‘We’re closed,’ she reminded the greeter as he opened the door, and then frowned when she saw that it was Barnaby. ‘What are you doing in on a Friday…’ Felicia started to ask.

‘Surprise!’

It was Rhina with a cake, and then the door opened and it was a few more of her colleagues, who had come in just to see her off.

Felicia had never been thrown a party before.

There was laughter and a whole lot of tales to be regaled, and there were cards and presents, too.

A purse and a gorgeous black beret, which Felicia put on as she opened a smart gift bag that contained a bottle of expensive champagne.

‘You shouldn’t have,’ Felicia said.

‘We didn’t!’ they chorused as she took out the card.

It was a plain cream card, and her throat went tight when she recognized Leander’s thick black scrawl.

Six p.m. at the usual place?

If you’d care to join me…

Leander.

Her heart stilled and then pounded, and then her brain started to lurch at the impossibility, because Leander was in the Middle East.

Then the mist cleared from her eyes and she read the PS.

PS: If you’d like someone to come with you at the weekend then I’m more than happy to.

I can wait in the car if that makes things easier, for now.

‘When did this come?’ Felicia croaked.

‘He dropped it in this afternoon when you had your break,’ Barnaby said. ‘Jacinta’s going to freak. She thought he was frequenting here because of her range, when it was you all along…’

Felicia swallowed. It was after six and she was already late.

But she breathed through the slight logistics hurdle, and opened the champagne and ate chocolate cake and enjoyed these last moments with her colleagues.

Leander would wait.

She knew that in her heart.

Leander was the one love in her life that wasn’t going to disappear.

And, with the party over, she changed from the smart black dress and looked at the clothes she’d brought to change into.

They consisted of black boots, a gray and lilac tartan skirt, and a pale gray jumper, and over them she wore a heavy black coat and, of course, her lilac scarf.

It would have been nice if the beret was grey, Felicia thought as she walked through the cold, slushy streets.

Or lilac.

But what did it matter what she was wearing?

He wasn’t going to remember anyway.

Leander wanted her.

All of her.

It felt like a caress.

He knew the parts of her she had kept hidden.

Oh, not the details, but he knew enough for now.

For now!

On a cold, wet street she put down her bags and rummaged in her purse and found the card she had read so incredulously. Felicia had been too stunned to really take in the words.

I’ll wait in the car if that makes things easier for now.

It spoke of the future, she realized.

Of moving things along.

It let her glimpse a day when he would walk through those awful prison gates beside her and meet with her mom.

She almost skipped her way to the hotel, which wasn’t particularly wise in ice and snow, but the gods were treating her well today.

She arrived terribly late and left her bags and coat with the porter. The beret and scarf she kept on for now, and she wondered if she should fiddle with her hair and touch up her lipstick.

Except she didn’t want to put another minute in between seeing him, and so she headed straight through.

And there Leander was. Sitting in a dark green leather seat, scrolling through his phone. There was a bunch of burnt-orange tulips sitting on a chair beside him, a bottle of champagne chilling in a bucket and two empty glasses on the table.

Mind you, he had a gin and tonic, too.

He wore a dark gray suit that she recognized as the one Barnaby had made, for she’d chosen the buttons and cuffs. And he had a deep crimson tie and black polished shoes, one of which was tapping. She’d never seen him do that before.

Perhaps he was a touch nervous, as well, Felicia realized.

It was close to seven, after all, and the card had said six.

And she had done a runner in the past.

It dawned on her then that Leander might not want this precious love to disappear on them, too.

That he would fight for them. That he accepted the dark parts and would throw off Khalid and not get on a plane on a day when—whether she’d known it or not—she had needed him to be with her.

‘Leander.’

He looked up and for a second it was as if he was expecting someone else.

And she stood, flushed, of course, not just from his scrutiny but from coming in after the cold outside…

To warmth.

So warm, because when he saw the real Felicia for the first time he smiled. Her heart caved as Leander stood and walked around the table, ‘Hello, Felicia,’ he said, and took her in his arms. Just before he kissed her, as lovers do, he told her a truth he’d been wanting to, for so very long. ‘I’m so pleased to finally meet you…’

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About the author

I was born in England to Scottish parents, and then emigrated to Austr...

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Carol Marinelli

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