The Secret is coming out in just over a month….!
To say that I am thrilled to share the second installment of Giselle and Sinclair’s love story with you would be a gross understatement. The Affair explored the fantasy of having a holiday fling with no strings attached and no consequences. Well, The Secret explores what happens when fantasy and reality collide. Sin and Elle are forced to make incredibly difficult decisions and I have to warn you, it gets pretty angsty!
I’ve shared the first chapter with you below in case you didn’t read it at the end of The Affair. Let me know your thoughts in the comments or email me your predictions!
The Secret. The Evolution Of Sin #2.
The waiting area in front of the arrival gates at JFK airport was crowded with people waiting for loved ones and before I was even fully past the sliding glass doors, a wonderful voice – rich and decadent like a spoonful of chocolate ganache – called out to me.
“Giselle, mi amore!”
Cosima Lombardi was one of the lucky ones. Easily the most beautiful person I had ever seen, she crossed the crowded space with strong strides, her waist-length onyx hair floating behind her and attracting the glances of everyone in the terminal. Oblivious to it, she enveloped me in her long, thin arms and pressed me close to her body, so that I was flush against her famous curves. This was the way a woman like Cosima Lombardi hugged, no boundaries, and no embarrassment, just passion.
She pulled back to regard me with startlingly long-lashed eyes the colour of melted butter. “I’ve missed you, mi amore.”
It was still hard to believe a woman like this could be my sister.
“I missed you too, Cosi.” I dragged in a deep breath of her spicy scent and instantly felt at ease. “But you didn’t have to pick me up, I thought you had some work thing tonight?”
As one of the hottest young models on the fashion scene since Karl Lagerfeld championed Cara Delevingne, she was constantly working.
She swished one caramel hand through the air, the gold bangles on her wrist just as musical as her mild Italian accent. “My sister comes before work, Gigi, you should know that. I haven’t seen you in seven months and two weeks.” Her frown was fierce, and it was obvious to me why photographers loved her face as devotedly as they did.
“Excuse me.” A teenage girl, no older than fifteen, approached us with barely concealed excitement, dragging her embarrassed father behind her. “Are you Cosima Lombardi?”
My sister smiled genuinely at them and extended her long fingered hand. “Hello darling.”
She winked at the awkward father and leaned over to give the strange girl a kiss on each cheek.
“Wow,” the teenager gushed, and I smiled as my sister obligingly took a picture with both father and daughter.
There was no one in the world I loved more than my sister. It felt good to watch her interact with the people who approached her for her face and fame only to become enchanted with her warmth.
I was still smiling when she returned to my side and pressed a kiss to my cheek. “I’m sorry about that. Now, tell me absolutely everything I’ve missed in the last seven and a half months.”
The shadow of Christopher crossed my thoughts but I stubbornly refused to acknowledge it. There were only two other people in the world who knew the truth about why I was moving to New York after years abroad, and I intended to keep it that way, no matter how much I loved my sister.
“Your life is much more interesting, Ms. Sports Illustrated.”
Cosima laughed at my teasing and it felt good when she took my arm in hers to march me over to the baggage claim.
Yet, I found myself casting my gaze about the airport in search of a certain man with electric blue eyes. I knew that he wasn’t on the same flight but I had done three laps of the plane just to make sure of the fact. The rest of the journey I had alternated between staring blankly at the seat in front of me and bursting into intermittent tears. The poor man beside me hardly faired better than Pierre on the flight from Paris. At least this time the Gravol tablets I had taken kept me from throwing my guts up. Still, I knew my eyes were probably still red from crying and I was pale from lack of sleep. Thankfully, Cosima was too excited to see me to notice the telling signs.
“It was very weird,” Cosima was saying. “The fact that people pay me just to pose for a camera is still strange to me. Do you know how much I got paid for that shoot?”
“Do I want to?” I winced, thinking about how much my studies at L’École des Beaux-Arts cost. Though I had been slowly climbing my way to success in the Parisian art scene, uprooting my life cross continents was bound to take its toll and I was reluctant to rely once again on my sibling’s generous financial support.
“Probably not,” she agreed cheerfully and casually reached out to smooth my wayward hair. “Let’s just say it was enough to put a down payment on a two bedroom apartment in Tribeca!”
It still surprised her, I knew, that her face could buy such an opulent lifestyle for herself and our family. I would never understand what it had been like for her, running away to Milan from our small town in Southern Italy in order to raise enough money for us to leave our impoverished life behind. Sometimes there was sadness in her eyes that I knew no one would ever reach.
“That’s amazing but you know I’m not surprised. You work so hard.”
She made an unattractive sound and easily swept my luggage from the carousal. “Modeling isn’t work. At least compared to what you do. I loved the print you sent me for my birthday, it’s in the office of my new apartment.”
We pushed out into the parking lot and I was hit with a burst of bracing air. Greedily, I gulped in deep breaths because I knew the quality of the city air would be far from this clean, far from the pastry scented, Seine flavored breeze of my beloved Paris.
“I’m thrilled that you’re home, Gigi, but I think I should warn you.” Cosima peeked at me from the corner of her eye as she handed my bags to a cab driver. He was an older, East Indian man with a particular smell and lovely brown eyes who stared at my gorgeous sister with nervous appreciation. “Elena is going to come down on you like the hammer of God for not coming home in four years.”
“I saw her two years ago,” I protested weakly but I couldn’t meet her eyes as we got into the yellow cab because I knew that was a lame excuse and so did she.
“I know you two have…” Cosima struggled for diplomatic words, but they did not come easily. “A distance between you, but you are sisters and it hurts her that you never come home.”
“I’m home now.” But I leaned my head against her thin shoulder and sighed because I knew though she was talking about Elena, she was really speaking on behave of the whole family. Four years was far too long, especially for a family as close as ours. “And I brought Elena her only vice, Bonnat chocolates. I took the train to Voiron for the weekend just to pick some up for her.”
Our eldest sister was one of those women whose work was their life, which was the main reason, I think, that she liked America so much more than our native Italy. She had enrolled in law school as soon as the twins had enough money to bring her over from the motherland and now, only four years later, she was articling for one of the top firms in the country. For her to take time out of work to make room for a man in her life was a pretty big deal.
“So I guess she and this guy are pretty serious.” I said with a massive yawn.
Cosima clucked and took my hand in her bronze one. We looked so dissimilar that no one ever believed we were related. The twins, Cosima and Sebastian, were mirror images of each other while Elena hovered somewhere in the middle with deep red brown hair and stormy gray eyes similar to my own.
Cosima snorted inelegantly. “They’ve been together for nearly the entire time you’ve been gone. Elena wants them to adopt a baby.”
“What about marriage?” I sat up, startled.
Marriage was a huge thing for our very traditional Italian mother; I couldn’t imagine her reaction to a baby born out of wedlock.
“Daniel doesn’t believe in marriage.” She shrugged but the sadness flashed in her eyes and I wondered what she knew about the mysterious Daniel. “Mama might not understand that, but she loves Daniel enough to forgive him for it. Besides, it’s already hard enough for Elena. You weren’t here but she had a melt down when they realized she couldn’t have children.”
I pursed my lips and looked out the window at the passing blur of lights in the night. Elena had always wanted to be a mother; of all of us, she was the most traditionally Italian, lusting after the family life at the cornerstone of the culture. It was ironic, I had always found, that she was the least maternal person I knew. Despite my reservations about my older sister, I felt deeply ashamed that I hadn’t been there for her.
“Ah the city.” Cosima tugged my hand. “She won’t welcome you, bambina, but I promise you, in time you’ll come to love her.”
I sighed and rested my head against the stale smelling headrest to watch the vibrant lights of New York City come at me. I had the feeling that Cosima was talking about more than the city. I hadn’t realized until now how much I had missed in the past four years, and maybe, how hard it would be for me to come home.
My anxiety fled the moment Cosima and I pulled up to Mama’s town house on the border of Soho and Little Italy. It was an old brick affair with black trim and red flowers in the window boxes. Mama had lived there since she and Elena had moved to America four years ago but I had only been inside once, when Cosima had flown me in for Mama’s restaurant opening.
As soon as Cosima opened the door, we were hit with the pungent smell of Mama’s Italian cooking and the warmth of many bodies. We shuffled through the small entrance area and into the long living room where, to my slight horror and surprise, a small gathering of people stood yelling, “Surprise!”
I laughed delightedly at Cosima as she propelled me into the many waiting arms, “I can’t believe you did this!”
My mother’s voice, the thickly accented, heavy sound of it, froze me in my tracks and without knowing why, tears came to my eyes. Hers was the only face I saw in the crowd and I realized with sadness that I had forgotten what she truly looked like. The twins had inherited her coloring, the inky waves, the golden eyes and caramelized skin, but her figure, a classic hourglass like Sofia Loren but softened with good food and kind age was like mine. A silent sob escaped me when she wound me up in her warm arms and the scent of rosemary and sunshine enveloped me.
“Giselle, my French baby,” she murmured over and over as she held me, her fingers pulling gently through my tangled hair.
“Mama,” I breathed once, before tucking my face into her hair.
We stood like that in the middle of a room full of people for a few minutes before I could compose myself. Though we had talked almost every day on the phone or by email, it felt unspeakably good to be with my mother again. As with my other siblings, she was everything to me and it astonished me – now that I was home – that I could have ever been comfortable staying away.
“Quit hogging her, Ma.” A rich voice, the male equivalent of Cosima’s, but deeper, darker, resounded throughout the room and with a shriek of joy, I threw myself from Mama’s arms into Sebastian’s.
He chuckled as he caught me, and lifted me easily into his arms. “You’ve grown, mia sorella, and your hair…” He tugged a piece. “I think this is the first time I’ve seen you red since you were twelve.”
I pulled back and smiled into his ridiculously handsome face. “God, I missed you.”
Mama tapped me on the bottom and tsk-ed at my use of God’s name but Sebastian and I only laughed as he placed me once more on the floor.
Seb had visited me last year in Paris while he shot a movie, and it still wowed me that my two younger siblings were doing so well in their respective careers. Two years ago, Sebastian had starred in a low budget indie movie about an impoverished Italian immigrant in New York during the 20s. It had won three awards at the Toronto International Film Festival and now, my baby brother, the same person who used to run naked through the grimy streets of our home in Napoli, was a burgeoning movie star.
“I missed you too, bambina.” Though I was older than the twins, they both called me baby because I was decidedly shorter than their towering heights.
“I like it better this way.” Elena stepped forward, suddenly in front of me, her hands awkwardly extended for an embrace. “Your hair, I mean.”
My oldest sister shared my coloring but little else, her auburn hair was darker than mine, a red so black it was the color of wine, cut short and chic around her angular face, showcasing a creamy expanse of freckle-free skin and sloe eyes the colour of storm clouds. Her body was lean and small boned where mine was softer, curved like the other women in our family and I knew, as her eyes fell over my breasts and tucked waist, that she felt a pang of isolation at seeing me again. Whereas I took comfort from knowing that we looked at least vaguely similar, Elena saw only the things in me that made her different. She was the spitting image of our father and we all knew that was hard on her but I always found her heartrendingly beautiful anyway, somehow sharp and romantic all at once.
And though she was also the smartest person I knew, and despite my deep respect for her, our embrace was awkward. Something between us had wilted years ago and I was still unsure how to recover it.
“You look beautiful too, Elena.”
We both took a large step back after our hug but the twins and Mama filed in around us.
Though I was tired and still mildly queasy from the long flight, it felt good to spend time with my family and the close group of friends they had made over the years. I met Sebastian’s girlfriend Kayla, who I had recognized immediately as being a model for Calvin Klein and a good friend of Cosima’s. It wasn’t serious, Seb assured me later as he refilled my wine glass, but she was a good lay.
There were also my Mama’s three best friends, all chefs like herself, and Cosima’s old roommate Erika, a Dutch model with cheekbones that could cut glass, and Elena’s assistant Beau whom I had known for years and who I was closer to than Elena herself.
“So,” Cosima began as she caught my arm and spun me through the doorway into a dark room off the main hall.
I had only visited the house once, on my only trip to America after the twins had officially moved Mama and Elena here three years ago and the layout was still unfamiliar but I thought we were in the guest bedroom.
“Tell me how things ended with the Frenchman,” she said before she flicked the light on and gracefully collapsed on the deep red covered bed, patting the space next to her so that I would sit.
I sighed and placed my head next to hers on the pillow, comforted by her spicy scent and the way she casually took my hand in hers. “I left.”
“I left before he woke up this morning. I just couldn’t say goodbye. What was I going to say? Thanks for the hot sex and amazing adventures. I love you. Catch you never?”
I held myself still in the ensuing silence and resisted the urge to turn over to look into her expressive face for her response. Cosima was careful with her words – when she wasn’t in a temper – and I knew she was meticulously shifting through them like individual grains of sand.
“I was worried you would love him. You didn’t tell me much about him, I don’t even know the mystery man’s name, but I know you.” Her thumb swept back and forth over my palm. “And intimacy for one so passionate cannot be untangled from love.”
I scoffed. “You’re the passionate one, Cosi.”
She propped herself up on one elbow in order to glare down at me. “Can there be only one passionate woman in this family?”
I pursed my lips but said nothing.
“Exactly. Now tell me why you left like this. You took away his chance.”
“His chance to what?” Break my heart in person?
“To ask you home with him.”
She said it as if it was a simple choice, as if it was only natural that he would want to take a complete stranger home with him.
“He didn’t know anything about me.” But I winced even as I said it because I knew it wasn’t true.
“You can know a person without knowing the trivialities.”
“I don’t even know where he lives, that’s a pretty big omission.”
She snorted inelegantly and I couldn’t help but smile at her. Before Sinclair, I had never loved another human being like I loved Cosima. To me, she was the essence of beauty and life, full of volatile emotions and overwhelming love.
“You would have liked him.”
Her expression softened and she smoothed a piece of hair away from my face. “I’m sure I would have.”
We both turned to look at the door as it creaked open, revealing Elena who blinked owlishly at us cuddled on the bed before muttering an unintelligible apology as she closed the door.
“Get in here, Elena,” Cosima scolded and jumped up to tug her forcibly into the room.
Our eldest sister looked uncomfortable but allowed herself to be maneuvered by Cosima so that we lay in a row with Cosima at our center, connecting us but tactfully giving us the space we needed with each other.
“We were talking about men.”
“Giselle had a little fling in Mexico.”
“Really?” Elena’s brows almost touched her hairline. “That doesn’t seem like you.”
Anger rushed through me like a brush fire before I settled it with a deep, careful, breath. “It isn’t but I’m glad I went through with it. I want to be more bold.”
“There’s a thin line between bold and reckless,” Elena said in her schoolmarm voice, the same tone I had heard countless times as a child and the same tone I still heard every time I faced a potentially thrilling situation, always cautioning me to stay safe.
“Oh come on, Lena, it’s only a harmless fling.” Cosima winked one of her golden eyes at me. “And besides, you of all people can’t blame a girl for falling for a pretty face.”
“Daniel was a model for a few years.” Cosima laughed at the expression of prudish disapproval on our sister’s face. “That’s how we met.”
I remembered Sinclair’s terse expression when he brought up his own short lived modeling career and even though I didn’t know his foster parents, a flare of hatred burned up my throat. I was grateful to Mama for not pressuring Cosima into the profession but that didn’t mean my little sister didn’t carry invisible scars on her pretty gold skin.
“Wait till you meet him, over the last few years he’s become even more stern.” Cosima made a face, comically constipated looking, before dissolving into laughter. “If Elena didn’t make him have Bran cereal every morning, I’d think he was having serious issues.”
I laughed, scooting from the bed as I did so. I indicated pouring some wine and moved towards the door when I got their nods of approval. It was a rare conversation amongst our family that didn’t include a bottle of wine.
“Very funny.” Elena smiled indulgently at our favorite sibling. “I should get out there, he’ll be here soon.”
“Where was he this time?” Cosima asked, idly running a hand through Elena’s short, elegantly curled tresses.
“Mexico,” she said as I closed the door behind me and made my winding way back into the large kitchen at the front of the house.
It was an open space punctuated with a large wooden island over which Mama’s prize copper pots and pans resided on a sort of rustic trellis. The cabinets were an unfinished birch and the gleaming countertops were cool under my questing fingers as I sought out the clay pitcher of red wine Mama kept filled at all times.
I smiled at the sounds of laughter from the main room and for the first time that night, I relaxed enough to stop worrying about Sinclair. The decision to leave him without a word would plague me for the rest of my life, I knew, but at least for this first month in a new city, surrounded by my loving family, I would have plenty of opportunities to take my mind off of it.
I was pouring out three glasses of wine when I felt the prickle of awareness race up my spine. There was the soft fall of shoes crossing the wooden floors and then the heat of another body pressed close to my back. Somehow, though I didn’t know how it could be possible, when I turned around to face the stranger it was my Frenchman.
“What are you doing here?” he snapped, his eyes blazing.
He looked at ease in the space. His crisp shirt was still pristine and tucked into his charcoal grey pants but it was open at his throat to reveal a deep slice of brown skin, the cuffs were rolled hastily over his forearms and his jacket hung across his shoulder casually as if he had just taken it off to relax. Even though I had just seen him this morning, the sight of him in my Mama’s kitchen threw into stark relief just how absurdly good looking he was.
“Well?” he growled when I didn’t immediately answer.
I couldn’t believe that he was here. My mind spun wildly, trying to confirm his presence. It seemed more probable that I was imagining him. I had the strongest urge to reach out and run my fingers through his glossy red brown hair.
“What are you doing here?” I whispered, afraid he would disappear.
Confusion crossed his face but something like horror came over his features and he croaked, “Elle… Giselle Moore.”