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Her New Year Baby Secret

By:Jessica Gilmore

Her New Year Baby Secret
Jessica Gilmore

       The Italian millionaire's secret heir!

Waitress Sophie Bradshaw is used to being ignored at glamorous parties  and, bruised by a disastrous relationship, that's fine by her. Until  Marco Santoro offers her his jacket, leading to a magical Christmas  evening together...

Exasperated by his family's matchmaking, millionaire Marco never gets  close to anyone. But one heart-stopping night with Sophie isn't enough,  and he invites her to his Venetian palazzo. Little does he know that  Sophie is bringing one tiny, life-changing surprise with her!

Dear Reader,

When I was asked to set a book in Venice I was over the moon! It's been  many years since I celebrated a birthday and a wedding anniversary  there, but I've never forgotten the unusual beauty of the city, the way  even taking a bus is transformed into something glamorous and romantic  just by being on water, or the joy of turning a corner to find a canal  blocking your way, or getting lost in the narrow alleys as we explored.

How would it feel to grow up in a place like Venice but know that to  truly be yourself you have to leave? That was my starting point for my  hero, Marco Santoro. Marco is very proud of his heritage and loves his  home fiercely, but in order to be free from the burden of family  expectation, he has built a new life in London. He hopes that by  inviting aspiring designer Sophie Bradshaw to his sister's wedding he  can keep his overbearing family off his back, but the more time he  spends with Sophie the more he wonders just what it is he's running  from. Meanwhile Sophie is enjoying her first visit to the beautiful  city-and the time she's spending with her gorgeous Italian host-but  she's still working out who she is and who she wants to be, and the last  thing she's looking for is anything serious.

Exploring Venice again through Sophie and Marco's story was so much  fun-and I definitely plan to return there soon! I hope you enjoy it as  much as I do.


Jessica x


Early December, Chelsea, London

'WAIT! STOP! OH, NO...' Sophie Bradshaw skidded to a halt and watched  the bus sail past her, the driver utterly oblivious to her outstretched  hand. 'Just great,' she muttered, pulling her cardigan more closely  around her and turning, careful not to slip on the icy pavement, to scan  the arrivals board in the bus stop, hoping against hope the next bus  wasn't too far behind.

She huffed out a sigh of disappointment. Tonight London buses were  definitely not running in pairs-she would have to wait twenty minutes  until the next one. And, to add insult to injury, the light snowflakes  that had been falling in a picturesque fashion over Chelsea's  well-heeled streets all evening had decided to pick up both speed and  strength and were now dancing dizzily through the air, blown here and  there by some decidedly icy gusts of wind. Sophie eyed a taxi longingly.  Would it hurt? Just this once? Only, last time she'd checked, she had  only forty pounds left in her bank account, there was still a week to go  until payday and, crucially, she still hadn't bought any Christmas  presents.

She'd just have to wait and hope her best friend, and fellow waitress,  Ashleigh, joined her soon so that she could forget her freezing hands  and sore feet in a good gossip about the evening's event. Sophie hadn't  received one thank you in the three hours she had toted a laden tray  around the expensively dressed party-goers, but she had experienced  several jostlings, three toe-tramplings and one pat on her bottom. It  was a good thing her hands had been occupied in balancing the tray or  the bottom patter might have found himself wearing the stuffed prawns,  which would have been momentarily satisfying but probably not the best  career move.

Sophie shivered as another icy gust blew through the bus shelter and  straight through her inadequate if seasonally appropriate sparkly  cardigan. Why hadn't she brought a coat, a proper grown-up coat with a  hood and a warm lining and a waterproof outer layer? 'Vanity, thy name  is Sophie,' she muttered. Well, she was getting her just reward now;  nothing shrieked high-end fashion like the 'frozen drowned rat' look.

Huddling down into the cardigan, she turned, hoping once more to see her  friend, but there was still no sign of Ashleigh and Sophie's phone was  out of battery-again. The snow-covered street was eerily deserted, as if  she were alone in the world. She blinked, hot unwanted tears filling  her eyes. It wasn't just that she was cold, or that she was tired. It  was that feeling of being invisible, no more human or worthy of  attention than the platters she held, less interesting than the  cocktails she had been handing out.

She swallowed, resolutely blinking back the tears. Don't be a baby, she  scolded herself. So her job was hard work? At least she had a job and  she was lucky enough to work with some lovely people. So her flat was so  small she couldn't offer Ashleigh even a temporary home? At least she  had a flat-and, even better, an almost affordable flat right here in  Chelsea. Well, 'right here' being a twenty-minute bus ride away to the  unfashionable edges of Chelsea, but it was all hers.                       


So she was a little lonely? Far, far better to be lonely alone than lonely with someone else. She knew that all too well.

She straightened her shoulders and lifted her chin as if she could  physically banish her dark thoughts, but her chest still ached with a  yearning for something more than the narrow existence she had lived  since moving to London just over a year and a half ago. The narrow  existence she'd trapped herself in long before that. What must it be  like to be a guest at one of the many glittering parties and events she  worked at? To wear colour and shine, not stay demure and unnoticed in  black and white?

With a sigh she looked around once more, hoping that the bright smile  and can-do attitude of her old friend might help her shake this sudden  and unwanted melancholy, but although the snow fell thicker and faster  than ever there was still no sign of Ashleigh. Nor was there any sign of  the bus. The board in the shelter was resolutely sticking to an arrival  in twenty minutes' time, even though at least five long minutes had  already passed...

Sophie blew on her hands and thought of the warm, inviting glow of the  hotel lobby just a few metres behind her. She was staff-and temporary  staff at that-but surely, after a night run off her feet catering to  some of the most arrogant ignoramuses she had ever had the misfortune to  waitress for, they wouldn't mind her sheltering inside for just a few  minutes? Besides, a snowstorm changed the rules, everyone knew that.  Even a posh hotel turned into Scrooge after the three ghosts had  visited, welcoming to one and all. And it would be easier to keep a  lookout for Ashleigh if she wasn't constantly blinking snow out of her  eyes...

Mind made up, Sophie stepped cautiously away from the limited shelter of  the bus stop and onto the increasingly snowy pavement, her feet sinking  with a definite crunch in the snow as she began to walk back towards  the lobby. She kept her head down against the chill, picking up speed as  she neared the door, and warmth was in sight when she collided with a  tall figure, her heel slipping as she did so. With a surprised yelp  Sophie teetered, arms windmilling as she fought to remain upright,  refusing to surrender to the inevitable crash but knowing that any  millisecond now she would fall...

Just as she started to lose the battle a strong hand grasped her elbow  and pulled her upright. Sophie looked up, startled, and found herself  staring into a pair of the darkest brown eyes she had ever seen, framed  with long thick lashes. 'Careful! It's snowing. You could hurt  someone-or yourself if you don't look where you're going.'

Italian, she thought dreamily. She had been saved by an Italian man with  beautiful eyes. Then his sharp tone permeated the fog in her brain and  she stepped back, sharply moving away from his steadying grasp.

'Snowing? So that's what this white cold stuff is. Thank you for  clearing that up.' She stopped, the anger disappearing as quickly as it  came as shock flared up on his face-followed by the ghost of a smile. It  was a very attractive ghost; he was probably rather gorgeous when he  relaxed. Not relevant, Sophie. More to the point, she had bumped into  him. 'I'm sorry, you're right, I wasn't looking where I was going. I  just wanted to get inside before I turned into the little match girl.  I've had to admit defeat on finding transport. It's looking like I'm  going to have to walk home...' She looked ruefully down at her black  heels. They were surprisingly comfortable-comfortable enough for her to  wear them to work-but patent court shoes probably weren't high on most  Arctic explorers' kit lists.

'Typical London, just a few flakes of snow and the taxis disappear.'

Sophie didn't want to contradict him and point out that there was a  little more than a drop of snow-several inches more in fact-or that she  wasn't actually looking for a taxi but for a far more prosaic bus. 'It's  always the same when it snows,' she said airily, as if she were a real  Londoner, blasé about everything, even the fairy-tale scene unfolding  before her, but instantly ruined the effect by shivering.