Bride By Design 3: Manchala Nights

By: Alicia Roberts

I couldn't help my look of surprise - I'd known Colin was a womanizer, but I'd never thought he'd chase after a married woman. Knowing he didn't care at all about marriage, even if it was someone else's, made me think less of him.

Celine laughed at my expression. "So, I guess Colin hasn't told you everything about his past."

I replaced my look of surprise with one of disapproval and tried to shift the focus off Colin - a guy whom I clearly knew nothing about. "I can't believe you cheated on Roger."

"Oh don't be so shocked, honey." Celine raised an eyebrow and fell for my bait. "Roger might be old-money but alcohol doesn't help things in the sack. And you know how Colin is…"

I laughed drily. Considering that we'd never actually been in bed together, I had only my imagination to help me out. I really didn't want to let my imagination drift that way - not here, not now. I excused myself and went to refill my drink, where I ran into Rani.

Rani was the polar opposite of Celine. While Celine was slim, blonde and frosty, Rani was dusky, slightly chubby and bubbling with exuberance. We laughed as we both got more drinks and introduced ourselves to each other. She had a British accent, and told me she'd gone to Cambridge to get her law degree, where she'd met Rahul. A nanny was standing further away from us, holding a tiny, sleeping baby, and Rani pointed him out proudly - "I love him, but I don't love this baby weight!"

We laughed and I told her honestly that she looked great. Rahul came over to join us, and he was tall and handsome in a rugged way. He clasped Rani's waist possessively, and I envied them their happiness and comfortable joy. They were clearly in love and had what Colin and I were only pretending to have.

If Rani and I had met in different circumstance, I felt sure we'd be best friends. We both had the same tastes in music and the same sense of humor. She was charming and unpretentious, and I wished I could get to know her better, and a part of me felt that she and Rahul deserved this project more than Colin.

Rahul was clearly talented, and he was one of those rare people who knew how to use their inherited money properly. He and his wife had grand plans, and I was impressed and charmed by their easy confidence and dreams for the future.

"The meat's about done," announced Don, and we lined up to serve ourselves. Diane introduced me to Keith and John as I was heaping meat and salad onto my plate. Keith was a successful British property developer, and John, his partner, was an architect. A few moments of conversation with them revealed just how charming and talented they both were - and I wondered if they knew there was no way they'd get the project.

We all sat down around a wooden table. Colin came and sat beside me, and whispered into my ear to ask how I was going. I just nodded in response and let him kiss my cheek, trying not to feel anything when his lips brushed my skin.

I thought I was holding up my end of the bargain quite well, but I was distracted by the fact that Sir Donald, nice though he might seem, was clearly being unfair about choosing who he'd give the project to. Keith and John made an impressive duo, and I felt a bit sad that their talent wasn't enough to make Don even consider them for the project.

The freshly barbequed meat and crisp salad were delicious, and we all chatted politely throughout the meal. I noticed that Roger and Sir Donald were on easy, friendly terms, and I thought it was obvious that nobody else had a shot at getting the project.

Keith and John were chatting with Celine about fashion and design, and I caught her glancing our way once in a while. I wondered if Colin still felt anything for her, but he seemed to be ignoring her. I thought that was rather strange behavior on his part, since I'd expected him to flirt with just about any pretty woman.

Diane asked us about our wedding, and we told her a story about a tiny official ceremony, trying to stay out of the press, and hoping to have a large reception one day soon. She nodded understandingly, and told us that she and Don had been married for over twenty years, and that their two sons were entrepreneurs who travelled for work frequently.

Rani and Rahul joined in our conversation, and Rahul talked about how hard it was to be on the move so frequently. His father, the steel magnate, had been diagnosed with some heart problems, and he talked about how lucky he was to be able to live near his parents.

The conversation turned to work again, and Sir Donald asked Roger if he had an architect in mind. Roger mentioned an architect who worked with him, and Keith mentioned that John had won some awards for his designs. Colin decided to chime in by saying I was an interior designer, specializing in family-friendly designs. I was a bit flustered by the mention, since Colin hadn't told me he'd bring it up, but I tried to take it in stride.

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