‘So indulge my curiosity and tell me about him. After all, you know all about my personal status.’
‘There’s no one.’ Poor Jack. She was pretty sure he wouldn’t like being labelled as no one, not least because she had known him since her early teens, but she didn’t want to start walking down the road of little lies. Although, did it matter any more? Once she left this place she would never see Angelo Falcone again. She certainly wouldn’t be getting the plum job for which she had come so prepared. The wad of recipes she had painstakingly selected to bring with her were still sitting in her capacious bag, making a mockery of her high hopes.
‘Ah, Francesca.’ He raised his glass to his mouth and sipped carefully. ‘You may have lied to me about your name—’
‘I didn’t lie to you! Millband is my mother’s name and Ellie was always my first name. I didn’t conjure the name Francesca Hayley out of thin air!’ One little truth.
‘But you’re lying now. Who is he? Do you think I care?’
Of course he didn’t care! Nor did she. On that very last evening he had told her that they were ships that crossed in the night. Now they were ships sailing different oceans. They no longer had any impact on one another.
‘His name is Jack,’ she offered with a little shrug. ‘He works with me. We set up the catering business together, if you must know.’ She stared down into the unappealing glass of water and then reluctantly took a small sip. It had been cold forty minutes ago. Now it was metallic and tepid.
‘Jack. And how did you meet him? An ex-model also seeking to expand his horizons?’
For the first time since she had sat down, Francesca smiled with genuine amusement. Jack might have once upon a time been the sought-after boy in town, in the way that bad boys often were to teenage girls, but an ex-model? She thought of his shaved head and the embarrassing tattoos on his back and grinned. She couldn’t help it. Then she laughed. That warm, rich, full-bodied laugh that was so infectious.
‘I think he would be insulted if you called him that! Well, that would be after I’d picked him up from the ground in shock at the description!’
It was that laugh that did it. Took him back through the years, took him back to that place where he had been captive to her irreverent ebullience. She had certainly never tiptoed around him. More ran circles around him.
‘No ex-model?’ Angelo smiled at her with cold indifference. ‘What, then? A businessman? Someone in a two-piece suit and a bowler hat?’
‘Your Italian ancestry’s showing, Angelo. Men these days don’t wear bowler hats.’ And people shouldn’t find their past creeping up on them stealthily like a thief in the night. ‘I really think it’s time I left,’ she said quietly. ‘I’m sorry. This has been a shock…’
‘But what about your menus?’ Angelo asked. ‘I wouldn’t want you to return to your little house without at least giving you the benefit of telling me what you had in mind for my wedding banquet…’
‘Stop it!’ Two bright patches of colour had appeared on her cheeks. ‘I always knew you were hard nosed, Angelo. I never realised you were just downright cruel!’
‘Cruel? How am I being cruel? Explain to me. I meet you here after three years and am polite enough to ask you what you have been up to in that time. I offer to see your menus, which I assume you have brought with you. Hardly the definition of cruelty.’
‘You know what I mean.’
‘I have no idea what you are talking about. Time has a habit of dimming our memory of past acquaintances and their expectations.’
There wasn’t a flicker of warmth on his face. He had found himself in her company before he had had time to retreat unnoticed and had managed to dredge up some semblance of politeness because the situation demanded it. A show of interest in her menu cards was just extending the politeness to embarrassing levels as far as she was concerned. The anger and dislike was there, she could feel it simmering behind the mask, but it was anger that had been roused by seeing her out of the blue. She doubted that he had given her much of a passing thought over the years or, if he had, only insofar as she had damaged his ego. Now, to him, she truly was an ex-acquaintance with whom he had shared a few months of his life, off and on.