Public Marriage, Private Secrets - By Helen Bianchin

EPILOGUE

CHAPTER ONE

GIANNA exited her Main Beach apartment block and walked the short distance to where the Pacific ocean’s incoming tide brought rolling waves crashing gently into shore. The early morning sky was pale blue and cloudless, the spring sunshine promising warmth. Change is good, Gianna assured herself, as she stepped onto the pale golden sand. Although why she’d chosen a jog along the beach instead of her customary session in a local gym wasn’t something she was prepared to examine in any depth.

The phase of the moon? A restless night due to intrusive dreams?

Whatever… Being outside in fresh sea air held an appeal, and here she was, ready to banish any lingering demons.

Forty minutes of exercise, coffee-to-go to kick-start the day, before returning to her apartment to shower, breakfast, dress and leave for work.

Bellissima, the luxury gift boutique she owned in one of the Gold Coast’s trendiest suburbs, had gained a favourable reputation for its mix of imported and local stock. Exquisite scented candles, beautiful soaps, ornamental glassware, small sculptures whose graceful lines in crystal, ebony and silver drew attention. Embroidered napkins on fine Irish linen, silk pillow-covers, quality gift cards were just some of the wares she offered for sale.

Fate had provided the opportunity for her to purchase the boutique almost a year after being employed as manager during the owner’s absence. Now, two years on, a new shop-fit, quality stock, a twice-yearly catalogue, and turnover had increased dramatically.

Life, Gianna reflected as she broke into a jog along the tightly packed sand, was good. At the age of twenty-eight she owned a successful business, an apartment, and she had carved out a satisfactory existence.

Moved on, she assured herself as a faint sea breeze caressed her skin, from the break-up of her brief marriage to the powerful Spaniard she’d met four years ago at a party during a holiday in Mallorca.

Raúl Velez-Saldaña.

In his late thirties, tall, dark, ruggedly attractive…and dangerous to any woman’s peace of mind.

Who could resist him? What woman would want to?

One look was all it had taken for her to melt into an ignominious puddle at his feet. Well, not quite.

She’d fought him at first, then herself. Knowing even then if she succumbed she’d be lost…completely, utterly.

Gianna shivered despite the increasing warmth of the sun as she headed south along the shoreline.

What they had shared had been more than just sex. It had been intimacy at its zenith…intense, mesmeric, primitive. Six perfect months together, living in the moment, unable to bear being apart.

A time when Raúl had clocked up air miles as if they were nothing, and she’d used allocated holiday time and sick leave to meet him wherever…

Until the moment she had agreed to relocate to Madrid and move into his luxurious apartment in residential Salamanca. Dear heaven, the life she’d shared with him…

A slip, just one gap, where a differing time zone had ensured she slept during a long international flight to Sydney, to attend her brother Ben’s wedding, and she had missed taking a low-dosage contraceptive pill.

She vividly recalled the day when she had first suspected she might be pregnant. Worse, the precise time the pregnancy test had registered positive…a test she’d taken three times within forty-eight hours to ensure there was no mistake.

How she’d agonised for days before telling him. The calm manner in which he had received the news. Even more controlled had been his solution…marriage.

Her spontaneous, ‘Because…?’ hadn’t brought the avowal of love she’d longed to hear.

Somehow his, ‘No child of mine will be born out of wedlock,’ had failed to compensate.

The abortion route wasn’t an alternative she’d been able to condone or consider. Nor his insistence that marriage was the only option.

Yet what had been the alternative? A choice of returning to Australia and raising the child alone? Fighting a custody battle with Raúl…one he’d surely win? Or marriage?

At the end of the day…days, she amended, when she’d tortured herself in order to reach the right decision…it had been no contest.

Raúl’s widowed mother’s delight and genuine blessing had provided the persuasive factor. A child deserved to have a father in its life, family.

Something which struck a chord with Gianna, for her own mother had been killed in an auto accident years ago. Her father had met someone else, relocated to Paris and remarried. There was a step-family now. Gianna rarely saw them…just a series of e-mails, attachments with photographs, and the occasional phone call.

Ben, her brother, to whom she remained close, kept in weekly contact via phone and regular e-mail.

Girlfriends…the genuine