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Richard and Stephanie met while studying at Oxford University. Stephanie graduated with a degree in fashion design and Richard with a degree in business studies.
After five years of courtship, they married in the small village of Somerset. After a few months of renting, they bought a lovely country house set amongst beautiful aged oak trees. The land was rolling and the acreage was big enough to run two horses on. Stephanie was a keen rider during her teens. Her parents had a horse on their small farmlet.
When Stephanie had time, she loved to potter in the garden. Roses were abundant as were vegetables and fruit trees.
During the week, Richard and Stephanie would commute to London. They had set up a fashion studio called Bella. Stephanie employed three other designers, one of whom she met at university. Richard was the business adviser for the company and did the selling.
The clothing line was starting to make its mark in the fashion centres around the United Kingdom.
One evening, after a dinner meeting with prospective buyers Richard mentioned to his wife that he thought it was time to break into the European market.
“Let’s do a business trip to France and Italy Steph. I think its time we looked further afield and your new summer collection would be a perfect opportunity for us to try and get our brand into a new market”, he said.
“Really?” said Stephanie, “do you think we are ready? It has always been my dream but I do not want us to rush this…”
“We are ready,” replied Richard firmly.
A month later Stephanie and Richard packed up a selection from the summer collection and headed first to France and then on to Italy. They decided not to hit up the major cities; instead they focused on smaller cities and towns.
The trip went well and they managed to secure seven different stores for their summer collection, three in France and four in Italy.
While in Lake Como showing the collection to a prospective buyer, they decided to stay on for a few days. Lake Como was enchanting, the beautiful mountains and glistening lake seemed to beckon them.
Stephanie fell in love with Bellagio. It was just over an hour away from Como, on the far side of the lake. It had lovely little shops and boutiques, along with quaint and grand hotels. Stephanie had found her perfect little corner of paradise.
“When we make our first million we will buy a villa here Steph. We can spend our summers here,” said Richard with a huge smile on his face.
“Really?” replied Stephanie, hardly able to contain her excitement.
“Definitely. We both work hard, we deserve this” responded Richard.
The next few days in Bellagio were idyllic. Stephanie and Richard met a charming couple named Giorgio and Larissa in the bar of the hotel they were staying in. Giorgio and Larissa happened to own two fashion houses, one in Lake Como and one in Milan.
After a few days getting to know the couple, Richard invited them to look over Stephanie’s designs.
“These are bellissimo Stephanie,” said Larissa, “your use of colour is perfect for the young and not so young Italian women. I will place an order straight away and I assure you your designs are going to be a huge success in Italy”.
Richard and Stephanie could not believe their luck, this was more than they could have dreamt of.
On their return to London, the studio became a hive of activity. Stephanie had to employ two more designers to cope with the workload.
Things were looking up and life was good.
Two months later Stephanie discovered that she was pregnant. The pregnancy was unplanned. Stephanie and Richard had talked of having a family but not right now while the business was just starting to take off.
Richard did not take the news well and appeared to blame Stephanie.
“It’s not just my fault Richard. We both have to take responsibility for this, and NO I am not having an abortion if that’s what you are thinking…,” said Stephanie in an upset tone. She was quite taken aback at his attitude.
The subject of the impending baby was rarely discussed as both of them immersed themselves in getting the summer collection ready to send to Europe.
“I will go with the first consignment and make sure our clients are happy,” said Richard, “you had better stay here…especially given your condition”.
Stephanie just nodded. She did not want gossip in the studio and the last thing she wanted was for any of her staff to know that it was an unplanned pregnancy.
The trip to Europe was successful. Richard met up with Giorgio and Larissa who were excited with the collection and invited him to stay with them for a few days.
“We are looking forward to seeing more of Stephanie’s new designs for the winter season”, said Larissa.
“Certainly, I will tell her upon my return,” Richard replied, not sure whether he should mention the pregnancy or not.
“How is Stephanie anyway,” said Giorgio, “it’s a shame she could not come on this trip with you”.
Richard felt he could not keep Stephanie’s pregnancy quiet anymore.
“Oh, did I not tell you? Steph is pregnant; she is due in seven weeks. We are having a boy”.
“My goodness! That is exciting for you both. I must go and buy the baby a gift for you to take home”.
“That is very kind Larissa. Steph will be thrilled,” responded Richard as he kissed Larissa on the hand.
“Not at all. Maybe Stephanie will design children’s clothing one day,” she added.
Richard just smiled.
Upon his return to London Richard seemed to be in a better frame of mind about the impending birth. He even bought the baby a teddy bear.
Stephanie felt relieved that maybe things would get back to normal after baby arrived.
On a chilly autumn morning little Sebastian James Wiltshire was born. He weighed just over nine pounds and was bonny little boy. He had dark brown eyes just like his mother. Richard appeared overjoyed with the birth of his little son.
Sebastian was a happy, settled child. Richard and Stephanie brought in a Nanny so that Stephanie could continue working. For the first few months, she worked from home but by summer, she was back in full swing in the studio in London.
Orders were flying in from all over Europe. Stephanie worked hard to keep up with the changing trends and the demands for her new designs were ever increasing.
When Sebastian was a year old, Richard and Stephanie went back to France and Italy. Fashion shows had been arranged at various cities. Stephanie was particularly looking forward to going back to Lake Como. They had arranged to meet with Giorgio and Larissa while they were there.
On their first day in Como Stephanie remarked, “It’s so lovely to be back here Richard. I love this place”.
“I know you do my dear. We will spend a few days staying in Bellagio while we are here. It will be good for all of us”.
Larissa and Giorgio were very taken with the little boy. They even bought a little outfit for him to wear.
One day while they were in Bellagio Richard and Giorgio went off on a boat trip and the ladies and little Sebastian spent the day together. Stephanie and Larissa had lunch and took a stroll along the waters edge. Sebastian slept in his pushchair quietly while the women enjoyed their time together.
“Why don’t you think of buying a Villa here?” said Larissa, glancing at her friend.
“Richard and I would love to…one day, not right now. All our money is going into the business”, replied Stephanie.
“I think we should talk about this with the men this evening Stephanie. Giorgio has connections, I am sure he could help you to purchase a Villa at a price you could afford”.
Stephanie felt a bit taken aback and quickly occupied herself with other thoughts.
That evening the two couples had dinner in the hotel where Richard and Stephanie were staying. Sebastian was tucked up in bed and was being watched by a hotel Nanny.
“We have something to discuss with you ladies,” said Giorgio first looking over at Richard.
“And that is…?” replied Larissa.
“Well, Richard and I have been talking and we think now is the time for him and Stephanie to buy a property here”
Stephanie felt uncomfortable discussing this with their friends.
“But…but…” stumbled Stephanie. Larissa put her finger to her lips and gestured to Stephanie to stop.
“We have been discussing the pros and con’s all afternoon,” said Richard, “the pros outweigh the cons. It would be a perfect hub for us in Europe. We are expanding monthly; we need a home over here”.
“But what about our home in the UK?” replied Stephanie.
“Well, I suggest we sell it and buy a flat in London, near the business,” Richard responded.
“Gosh…you have been thinking today, and have it all worked out don’t you? I need time to digest all this”.
“Of course you do,” said Larissa reassuringly.
On the flight home, Richard looked at his wife and said, “this is the right thing for us Steph, I am sure you know that”.
Stephanie just gave him a smile and half nod. Leaving her lovely home that she had put so much work into seemed heartbreaking. The garden was so picturesque and it was her outlet from her otherwise busy life.
Richard seemed determined about the move but somehow Stephanie managed to convince him to wait another year. She wanted to be sure the European market was sound and that financially it was going to work. She would need to have a manager run the London studio and would still need to make monthly visits to ensure production was running smoothly.
Saying goodbye to the country home was hard. Stephanie had so many fond memories; family Christmases and launch parties for her new designs. It was also Sebastian’s first home.
When Stephanie and Richard eventually arrived in Como, they stayed with Giorgio and Larissa for a month while they looked for a property. The couple had a lovely big villa. Beautiful frescos adorned the walls in many rooms and chandeliers sparkled in the evening sunlight that came through the large windows.
Giorgio and Larissa had two grown up children, both in their early twenties. They both worked in Milan at the same publishing company. From time to time, they would come home for a few days. Larissa was always happy to see her children. The big house seemed empty without them. When they were home, the house was always filled with their friends and laughter and noise abounded.
Having Richard, Stephanie and Sebastian stay was a treat and the house felt alive again.
After three weeks, Richard found a villa that he felt would suit the family. It was near Lenno, which was on the opposite side of the lake from Bellagio. The villa was on three levels and had five large bedrooms.
Richard excitedly told his wife about the villa and was anxious to take her along to view it.
Stephanie immediately fell in live with the home. It was stunning; the grounds were manicured, the scent from the flowers was heavenly and there was a boat ramp at the bottom of the garden.
“This is stunning Richard, just stunning…but we can’t possibly afford it, there’s no way we have this kind of money”.
“Trust me, we can,” said Richard, “I have discussed this with Giorgio and he can arrange the finances for us”.
“Well I can’t see how. This terrifies me Richard, we cannot jeopardise our business.”
“I know, I know and we won’t,” replied Richard angrily, ‘I have even got the price down”.
“Well I want to talk to Giorgio myself about this before we commit”, replied Stephanie.
‘Fine, do that.” said Richard as he walked off.
That night over dinner, Stephanie brought the subject of the Villa up with Giorgio.
“It is affordable for you Stephanie, I assure you,” said Giorgio convincingly.
“Well I am all ears,” she replied as she sipped on her wine.
Giorgio spent the next two hours convincing Stephanie everything would be fine and he would arrange the finance with a broker friend of his.
Eventually Stephanie agreed to the purchase. She was cautious, excited and nervous all at the same time. This was something she did not want to regret down the track.
Two weeks later the family moved into their beautiful Lenno home. A big moving in party was planned. Buyers for the UK and Europe were among those invited. It certainly was a grand affair. Many of the guests were wearing Stephanie’s designs. Some were one-offs that had been especially designed for certain clients.
The party was a colourful affair. Stephanie’s profile was increasing and she was in demand. The women present wanted to place orders for dresses and the men were lining up to dance with her.
Stephanie had an unassuming elegance about her. She has a perfect size ten figure and always looked stunning in black with her long dark hair flowing over her shoulders. She wore beautiful Italian shoes and accessories and certainly knew how to handle herself in any formal situation.
Richard on the other hand, tended to drink and talk too much at parties and was always trying too hard to impress, particularly the women.
Stephanie chose to ignore his behaviour as it was easier than creating a scene.
Richard was secretly jealous of his wife, but tried not to show it. He lavished her with good jewellery, which she insisted she did not need. It felt like a ‘show’ to her.
Apart from her successful business, Sebastian was her life. Richard and Stephanie had begun to drift apart, although from outwards appearances most people could not tell there was anything wrong between them.
Larissa was a good friend and she was one of the few who could see the cracks forming and would often ask Stephanie if everything was alright. Stephanie always insisted that everything was just fine.
Over the years, the business blossomed. On the surface, Stephanie could not have asked for more. Sebastian was doing well at school. He would often bring friends home for the weekend. Stephanie loved to hear the sound of happy youngsters running around the big house. Richard and Stephanie had decided that one child was going to be all the family they would have. Running the business took so much of their time; it would be unfair to have more children.
The years went by and the business went from strength to strength. Sebastian was now at University in Milan so they did not see so much of him. He had made friends and needed to spend time in the big city as well. He would come home for the occasional weekend, sometimes bringing friends and sometimes on his own. Semester breaks were special for Stephanie, she would clear her calendar so she could spare as much time as possible with her son. Richard always seemed to be busy, jetting from one city to another.
Larissa would often keep Stephanie company while Richard was away sorting out catwalk shows in London, Paris or Milan. Although, Larissa’s health was now starting to deteriorate. She was now in her sixties and Stephanie could see her friend starting to slow down. Larissa’s sons would often come to visit their mother, as they too were worried about her failing health.
Some months after Stephanie first noticed a change in her, Larissa was flown to a clinic in Switzerland were she passed away with cancer.
Stephanie was heartbroken; she felt she no longer wanted to stay in Lenno. Her friend was now gone, her son was at university and her husband was rarely home.
Feeling very alone Stephanie decided she would go to France and look at purchasing a small house for herself. It would be somewhere she could escape to. She had decided not to tell Richard until she had made the purchase.
Stephanie packed her bags and headed for France. She told Richard she was going away for a few days rest. He was busy with an ad campaign so he was none concerned.
While visiting the town of Tours, Stephanie found her dream home. A small-detached little cottage complete with shutters, slate floors and a lovely big fireplace in the lounge. Stephanie was so excited she had found a place for her to disappear to when everyday life got too much.
Richard did not protest when he heard about the cottage in France. His wife had plenty of her own money to do what she wanted with. He still enjoyed the social side of the business and had no intention of ‘slowing down’.
The couple spent some time together in the Villa in Lenno over the next years but Stephanie would increasingly spend more of her time in Tours. She was now designing clothes for the more mature woman, which kept her busy. She had a natural flair for style and her fashions were always in demand.
Sebastian had now graduated with a law degree and moved back to London to set up a practice with a friend. He was happy and had met the love of his life, Olivia.
While on one of her visits to Tours, Stephanie met Jean Pierre. He was about ten years older and had a small antique shop in town where Stephanie would pop in from time to time to buy bits and pieces for her cottage. Gradually they formed a friendship. On one of her visits, Jean Pierre invited Stephanie out for a meal.
“I know this perfect little place that has the most beautiful French cuisine, would you like to come along with me Stephanie?” he inquired as she browsed the shop.
Stephanie was quite taken aback at first; she had told him she was married to Richard.
“Surely we can be friends; a dinner together is perfectly innocent. You are always here alone, and I am sure your husband will not object to you having some company”.
Stephanie smiled and agreed. She was quite sure Richard went out on many so-called ‘business dinners’ while he was away and Stephanie was not naïve enough to think that he never had an affair.
Over the next few years, Stephanie made many trips to Tours, increasingly more to see Jean Pierre than to visit her cottage. He made her laugh; he made her feel young again. He was even interested in her designs, something Richard had even stopped looking at a long time ago.
After Stephanie had been going to Tours for three years she decided to talk to Richard about a divorce. At first, he was not happy about the idea but reluctantly agreed. He could see Stephanie was determined. She said they would remain business partners and friends, so he eventually consented to the divorce.
On her next trip to Tours Stephanie told Jean Pierre that she and Richard were divorcing. Stephanie could not help but see the happiness in his eyes.
“If you are sure this is what you want then I will support you,” said Jean Pierre clasping her hands in his.
“It is. Our marriage has been over for many years,” replied Stephanie.
Once the divorce was final, Jean Pierre asked Stephanie to marry him.
“Age does not matter. I love you and I want to care for you for the rest of our lives,”
Even at her age, Stephanie could still manage to blush like a schoolgirl.
The couple were married in a small church in Tours. Stephanie invited a few of her closest friends, including Giorgio. Sebastian and Olivia were there as well to celebrate the event. Sebastian had accepted his parent’s marriage was over some time ago and wanted them both to be happy.
Richard sent his best wishes to Stephanie. He was still happy with his fast-paced life style and his occasional fling. He spent the rest of his life in a small apartment in Milan after the Villa was sold.
Stephanie continued designing clothes, though she was happiest at home in her little cottage with Jean Pierre. He would love to tinker with his broken antiques while his wife worked on her new designs for the next season.
Life was simple, uncomplicated and good.
By Kay Rayner