Pretend It's Love(9)

By: Stefanie London



“Looks like the cavalry is here,” Libby said.

Light glinted off the gold casing on the lipstick as she dragged the color across her lush, full lips, her mouth opened into a small O shape.

Lipstick was high up on his list of things he wished girls wouldn’t bother with—it got everywhere, and it tasted gross. But watching Libby apply it was the most erotic thing he’d seen in a long time. The way the color made her lips look full and moist caused all the blood in his body to rush south.

There is something seriously wrong with you. Lipsticks should not give you a hard-on.





Chapter Three

The following week Paul sat in his mother’s kitchen, bracing himself for their weekly “chat”—if you could call it that. Did guilt mongering count as conversation?

“You’re not getting any younger you know.”

“I’m twenty-seven,” Paul said, shaking his head. “You act like my whole life is over.”

“I already had your brother and you by twenty-seven. I was married five years.” His mother’s Italian accent had softened over the years, but it always came back full strength when she engaged guilt mode. “My parents brought us to Australia so we could make a better life.”

“And I’m disrespecting that because I’m not married and reproducing?” He leaned back in the rickety dining chair, wishing for the hundredth time that his mother would replace the yellow plastic set and bring her kitchen into the twenty-first century. She sat across from him, still wearing the floral apron from when she’d cooked lunch. “Des is only just getting married.”

“Your brother is responsible,” she said, reaching for the carafe of water between them and refilling their glasses. “I knew he would settle down, but he was concentrating on work. You…”

“What?”

“You have a new girl every week; it’s not right.” She shook her head, the reading glasses lodged in her curly, dark hair sliding precariously. “Don’t think I’m stupid, Paolo. I know. You can’t keep changing women like you change…shoes.”

Every Friday he had lunch with his mother before his long shift at First. And every Friday she grilled him about why he wasn’t in a relationship, why he mooched off his brother, why he wasn’t doing anything with himself.

Apparently that now also included criticizing his dating choices.

“Seriously?”

“You think life is all fun and games.”

For a moment she looked sad, the lines around her eyes deepening as she frowned. That look killed him every damn time. Guilt sliced through him, and he hated himself for not being what she wanted…not that he would ever let her know that. On the outside he looked as stubborn as ever, but her words tore at him. Shredding him up little by little.

This was a preview of things to come at Des’s wedding. Sadie. His cousin. His aunts. A reminder that he’d disappointed everyone by not being…someone else.

“She’s pregnant, you know,” his mother said, interrupting his thoughts.

“Gracie?”

“No.”

His heart stopped for a moment. “Who?”

“Sadie.” She sighed. “Zia Marcella rang today, Sadie is sixteen weeks pregnant.”

The air rushed out of his lungs as though someone had punched him in the stomach. The thought of seeing her at the wedding was bad enough, but knowing she was pregnant…

“I have to go.” He pushed up from his chair and grabbed his leather jacket from the coat stand.

“Paolo.” She stood, crossing her arms under her bosom. “I don’t say these things to upset you.”

He gritted his teeth, fighting the pounding in his head. He needed to sort out this problem soon. He was not going to face his ex and her smarmy husband alone while they basked in the glow of their perfect life.

The life he had wanted.

“I’m not upset, Ma.” He shrugged into his coat and swallowed against the lump in his chest. “I’ve got to get to work.”

“I want you to have a good life.” She looked up, her black-brown eyes shining.

“I’m perfectly happy with my life.”

At one point he was sure that was true, but now he constantly battled restlessness and dissatisfaction. Pride wouldn’t allow him to let anyone else see that, though, and he wore his reputation as armor. Better to be a womanizing playboy—as his mother had once called him—than to be a loser.

He had to come up with a solution to this wedding situation. No way was he going to be the Chapman failure again. He needed an idea, and quick.

“Is it so wrong that I want a few bambini in the house?”

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