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'This is crazy! You’re my potential client!'But can Ellie ignore Niccolo’s scandalous suggestion?Strait-laced Ellie Wilson only has eyes for her job…until she meets outrageously gorgeous Niccolo Rossi and is persuaded to step out of her comfort zone! When they jet off to his deluxe Caribbean resort Ellie’s advertising pitch suddenly involves her playing girlfriend to his notorious playboy. But soon seduction may be the only item on Niccolo’s agenda…
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“This is crazy! You’re my client!”

But can Ellie ignore Niccolo’s scandalous suggestion?

Straitlaced Ellie Wilson has eyes only for her job...until she meets outrageously gorgeous Niccolo Rossi, and is persuaded to step out of her comfort zone! When they jet off to his deluxe Caribbean resort, Ellie’s advertising pitch suddenly involves her playing girlfriend to his notorious playboy. But soon seduction may be the only item on Niccolo’s agenda...

CATHY WILLIAMS can remember reading Mills & Boon books as a teenager, and now that she is writing them she remains an avid fan. For her, there is nothing like creating romantic stories and engaging plots, and each and every book is a new adventure. Cathy lives in London. Her three daughters—Charlotte, Olivia and Emma—have always been, and continue to be, the greatest inspirations in her life.

Also by Cathy Williams

Seduced into Her Boss’s Service

A Virgin for Vasquez

Snowbound with His Innocent Temptation

Bought to Wear the Billionaire’s Ring

The Secret Sanchez Heir

Cipriani’s Innocent Captive

Legacy of His Revenge

The Italian Titans miniseries

Wearing the De Angelis Ring

The Surprise De Angelis Baby

Discover more at millsandboon.co.uk

A Deal for Her Innocence

Cathy Williams


ISBN: 978-1-474-07181-9


© 2018 Cathy Williams

Published in Great Britain 2018

by Mills & Boon, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers 1 London Bridge Street, London, SE1 9GF

All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. This edition is published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, locations and incidents are purely fictional and bear no relationship to any real life individuals, living or dead, or to any actual places, business establishments, locations, events or incidents. Any resemblance is entirely coincidental.

By payment of the required fees, you are granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right and licence to download and install this e-book on your personal computer, tablet computer, smart phone or other electronic reading device only (each a “Licensed Device”) and to access, display and read the text of this e-book on-screen on your Licensed Device. Except to the extent any of these acts shall be permitted pursuant to any mandatory provision of applicable law but no further, no part of this e-book or its text or images may be reproduced, transmitted, distributed, translated, converted or adapted for use on another file format, communicated to the public, downloaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of publisher.

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To my three wonderful and inspiring daughters.


Back Cover Text

About the Author


Title Page




html#litres_trial_promo"> CHAPTER FIVE








‘MR ROSSI IS in the gym.’ The cool, blonde beauty manning the desk in the six-storeyed glass house that comprised the European headquarters of Niccolo Rossi’s sprawling empire glanced up from the computer in front of her. Her face didn’t crack a smile.

‘The gym?’ Had she got the day wrong? ‘But I have an appointment,’ Ellie said, hand tightening on the briefcase clamped to her side.

‘Lower level, and the lifts are to the left,’ the glacial beauty said, tapping one long, scarlet fingernail on the marble counter. ‘He’s expecting you. He has allotted you twenty minutes. He’s a very busy man.’

Ellie’s lips thinned. Reading between the lines, the message was loud and clear: Get a move on, because time is money for the billionaire Niccolo Rossi, and you should consider yourself lucky that he’s granted you an audience at all.

Ellie wondered if acting as a barrier between her billionaire boss and the outside world was part of the woman’s duties. Probably. Niccolo Rossi came with an extensive reputation as a ruthless playboy with a penchant for catwalk models and short-term relationships. The sort of man who had fun with women and, the second the fun was over, dropped them like a hot potato and moved on to the next one.

Only a month ago, she had been flicking through a weekly gossip rag, and there had been a telling picture of a stunning woman hiding behind a pair of over-sized sunglasses, the bold caption implying that she didn’t want the world to see her distraught, puffy eyes in the wake of a cruel break-up.

Niccolo Rossi probably needed a Rottweiler at the front desk making sure distraught, puffy-eyed exes didn’t get through to his inner sanctum.

Ellie had never met the man in the flesh but it didn’t take a genius to figure out the sort of person he was. Young, rich and powerful. Good-looking as well, if you went for the traditional Italian type. Heavy on phoney charm, light on sincerity.

The kind of guy who didn’t give a hoot about other people, which was why Ellie was now having to conduct her meeting with him in a gym, and with one eye on her watch, because time wasn’t going to be on her side.

Hardly ideal. But then conducting this meeting on her own was hardly ideal either, even though she had talked herself into handling the pitch. She had a great record for winning work, she had secured two record, large clients, which had been a real boost, and she’d wanted to prove her worth to herself and to the other two partners in the small start-up advertising agency, in which they were joint investors, by winning this solid-gold client. She had used every scrap of the small inheritance left to her by a grandparent she had never met and had borrowed to meet the remainder of her contribution. She was an equal partner with an equal voice, but she was younger and less experienced, and still felt that there was a ladder to climb before she was on a par with her two other partners.

This was to be the feather in her cap, but Stephen would still accompany her for gravitas, although his role would be to sit back and watch and field any awkward questions. His role, unfortunately, had bitten the dust when his mother had been rushed to hospital the evening before. Right now, Stephen Prost was on bedside vigil and Adam, the other partner in the agency, couldn’t possibly abandon ship to hold her hand.

‘I don’t need my hand to be held!’ Ellie had reassured him with glowing confidence.

However, that was before she had been faced with the change of venue and a stopwatch.

She thought of the painstaking work she had put in on the advertising campaign for Niccolo Rossi. She had worked even longer hours than she usually did because this job was beyond big. She had sourced every available scrap of information she could on his boutique resort in the Caribbean, which hardly needed any outside help when it came to getting noticed. She had spent endless hours, way into the night, thinking of creative ways to sell the resort to the mega-rich audience he wanted to attract.

And now she was being granted twenty minutes while the big man ran on a treadmill with one headphone in his ear, making a pretence of listening to what she had to say. She didn’t think that the other big players in advertising tendering for the job had pitched to him sitting on a yoga mat in a gym. No chance.

The heat of the gym hit her like a solid brick wall the second she pushed open the glass door. Her eyes skittered over the fearsome array of machines, the punch bags to one side, the unforgiving mirrored wall, and finally came to rest on the single sweating male in the room lifting a stack of weights that literally made her wince.

Niccolo Rossi.

He looked nothing like the grainy images she had occasionally glimpsed of him in the past. For a start, in all those grainy images he had been fully dressed.

Here, in the gym, he was in a black tee shirt and a pair of shorts, standing with his back to her, his lean, bronzed body rippling with taut muscle as he slowly hefted the bar with its impossible load, from ground to waist, and from waist to shoulder, then up. His skin gleamed with sweat.

Mesmerised, Ellie could do little more than just hover in the doorway and stare.

Still in her coat, she could feel perspiration trickling down her back.

She was dressed for a cold winter day. Barely there black tights, black skirt, neat white blouse, not quite buttoned to the neck but almost, and black pumps. She was dressed for a meeting in a boardroom with men in suits and a whiteboard safely tucked away somewhere in the background. Here, in this testosterone-charged space, she felt ridiculous in her neat work outfit, clutching her briefcase.

Consummate professional that she was, Ellie was irritated with herself for the lapse in focus. She was here to do a job. True, she would have wanted more time than the scant twenty, probably now fifteen, minutes she had been allocated, but she was smart enough to filter out all unnecessary information and still work to her brief. She had no choice.

There were hard copies of everything anyway. She never pitched for any job without meticulous preparation and she never, ever relied on her clients remembering everything she said. It always paid dividends to make sure they had all the information to hand by way of something both tangible and in email format.

Hard copy anything felt superfluous here.

Straightening, she took a deep breath and walked towards Niccolo.

Her shoes clicked briskly on the hardwood floor and, if he hadn’t been aware of her existence before, he was now, because he dropped the weights on the mat with a resounding crash that made her jump.

He turned round slowly and Ellie stopped. Her heart had vacated her chest and migrated to somewhere in her mouth, which had gone dry. The blood running through her veins had turned to molten lava. Her thoughts had suddenly become scrambled and a deep fog had settled over her brain. The man was beauty in motion, his body slick, his slightly long, dark hair damp with sweat.

Eyes as dark as night registered her as she stood in front of him, clutching her briefcase for dear life, and fit to explode from the heat in the sensible coat which she hadn’t thought to remove.

He had the lushest lashes she had ever seen on a man, long, thick and fringing eyes that were, just for a few seconds, veiled of all expression.

His features were chiselled to perfection. She knew that he was part-Italian but, unless one was standing right in front of him, it was hard to tell from a picture just how exotic that ancient thread of ancestry was. He wasn’t just your typical tall, dark and good-looking guy. He was a one-of-a-kind dangerously tall, dark and good-looking guy. He oozed the sort of blatant, uncompromising sex appeal that made women walk into lamp posts.

‘Eleanor Wilson.’ Ellie rushed into frantically confused speech, thoroughly disconcerted by the effect he was having on her and not caring for it at all. ‘Ms.’

The veiled expression cleared and his dark, dark eyes connected with hers with a hint of amusement.

‘Ms Eleanor Wilson,’ he drawled, reaching down for a towel she hadn’t noticed and wiping his face before slinging it over his shoulders. He looked at her from her head down, then back up again, then he made an elaborate show of peering around her. ‘Where are the rest of you?’

‘Just me, I’m afraid. Stephen Prost, my business partner, is dealing with a personal emergency at the moment. I hope you won’t mind me saying, but I wasn’t expecting to have to discuss my pitch in a gym. Would we be able to find a seat somewhere?’ She looked around her and failed to see anywhere that could remotely work for her to show him what she had brought with her unless she opted for doing her spiel on the treadmill.

Annoyance flared. How hard was it to stick to the rule book? He had made an appointment, and surely he could at the very least have the courtesy to honour the commitment he had made?

She pursed her lips, bristling. Rules and regulations were in place for a reason. The work place and life in general only operated smoothly if all parties concerned took time out to respect one another.

‘You should take the coat off,’ Niccolo said gently. ‘You must be very hot.’

‘I hadn’t expected to be in a gym,’ Ellie repeated with a tight smile.

‘And so now you are.’ Niccolo shrugged. ‘You have to roll with the punches. Follow me.’ He spun round and began walking towards the back of the gym.

Changing rooms. He was heading to the changing rooms. She could see a concealed door. Ellie cast a desperate glance behind her to the door through which she had come, while her legs propelled her behind him, towards a scenario that took her so far out of her comfort zone that she felt faint.

Ellie behaved by the rules and she believed in them. It was just the way she was. She liked them. She liked the sense of order they conferred. She had lived a peripatetic life with her wandering, nomadic, hippy parents. She had spent a childhood that had spanned the continents, from India as a toddler, through Australia with a brief stint in New Zealand, before returning to Europe via Ibiza, Greece and Spain. She had barely seen the inside of any schools because nothing as dull and as institutional as a school had been allowed to cloud the endlessly blue horizons of her free-spirited parents. Routine had been their enemy and she had become the unwitting victim of their scatty, idealised belief system.

For Ellie, being on the move had fostered a deeply ingrained desire for stability.

By the time her feet had hit the ground at fourteen, and her parents had ruefully accepted that their thirst to see every corner of the globe had been sufficiently quenched, Ellie had thrown herself into the joy of going nowhere with a passion that had almost been physical.

She was a stickler for detail but with a creative streak that had been passed down from her arty parents. That combination had won her her first job at a major advertising agency and, from there, she had been invited to take a chance and team up with Stephen and Adam, both ambitious CEOs at the same firm, to form their fledgling agency. It was the biggest risk she had ever taken, and she had taken it after careful consideration, because she had felt confident about their prospects at capturing a niche but significant market with a media-savvy audience. Everything she did was done with consideration, with nothing left to chance. Like the portfolio she was clutching. A portfolio that should have been displayed in the sanitised confines of a designated office space. With the whiteboard. And no treadmills or punch bags in sight.

She eyed Niccolo’s muscled torso as his T-shirt clung to it, the length of his legs, the strength of his arms, the powerful ripple of muscle and sinew, and she shivered. Here was a man who scorned rules and regulations, and now she wondered just how she was supposed to form any sort of rapport with a man who thought nothing of conducting a meeting in a gym. In the world of advertising, rapport was top dog.

Worse. He was now going to conduct his meeting in the changing rooms of a gym.

He opened the door and she shrieked to a stop, nerves all over the place, fingers grasping the briefcase until her knuckles were white.

Niccolo turned around, both hands on the ends of the towel looped over his shoulders.

Under normal circumstances, this was not the venue he would have chosen to conduct a meeting, but he had reached his office later than normal. Eight instead of his usual six.

He had also not been in the best of moods. His last lover had embarked on on a kiss-and-tell rampage in the press after he had broken off their relationship, and his mother and three sisters had seen fit to link arms in a united front, their mission being to subject him to full-frontal verbal assault on his colourful love life.

Where he had gone to see his mother for dinner at her exquisite cottage near Oxford, expecting some light chat and the usually excellent food her private chef was summoned to provide whenever there were guests, he had instead found himself in the company of not just his mother but his three sisters.

Each of whom had very strong opinions on the sort of women he dated.

He had consequently overslept, and the only thing he had wanted to do when he’d reached his office was to work off some of his stress in the company of a punch bag and a gruelling set of weights.

And, in fairness, he hadn’t expected a woman. And certainly not a woman who looked as though she sucked on lemons for fun.

Right now, she was staring at him with a mixture of disapproval and consternation.

Her coat was still on and her brown hair was neatly scraped back into a bun. A pair of heavy spectacles would have transformed her into the archetypal school mistress.

Although, he had to concede, her eyes were a rather interesting shade of hazel and her mouth, dragged into an unforgiving thin line at the moment, could be quite attractive, because her lips were full and pink.

‘You’ve stopped,’ he said politely. ‘Why have you stopped?’

‘I’m afraid I really don’t think it appropriate for me to have a business meeting with you in a changing room.’

‘Oh, dear. As you can see, I’m currently not in my suit, and after an hour and a half in this place I really need to get out of my sweaty gear.’

Two bright patches of hot colour had appeared in her cheeks. Her skin tingled as though she was standing too close to an open flame and, in response to those physical responses, she found herself clutching the briefcase ever harder.

He was lounging against the doorframe with the door only partially open behind him.

‘Perhaps I could wait for you in your office,’ Ellie suggested. She stared at his face, because it seemed the safest place to rest her eyes—the other option being his barely clothed body—but he was so stunningly beautiful that he brought her out in a cold sweat. She desperately wanted to ignore his superior height and the powerful perfection of his muscular frame but it was like trying to ignore a tsunami.

‘Perhaps you could...’ Niccolo mused, eyes firmly focused on her heart-shaped face, which was awash with uncomfortable colour. ‘But no. I’m afraid not. I haven’t got enough time to spare.’ He straightened. ‘If the account means anything to your agency, then regrettably you’re going to have to get past your discomfort with my inappropriate behaviour and follow me.’ He grinned and raised his eyebrows, waiting for her response.

‘This—this is highly unconventional,’ Ellie stuttered in a last-ditch attempt to stay on the safe side of the partially opened door.

‘Stickler for convention?’ Niccolo asked, tilting his head to one side and allowing the silence to trickle between them like an electric current.

‘Yes.’ Ellie didn’t hesitate to set him straight on that score. If there was one thing her eternally unconventional parents had taught her, it was the value of convention.

Niccolo laughed with genuine amusement. How old was she? Somewhere in her twenties, but she dressed like a woman in her fifties, and that prissy approach was more reminiscent of a granny laying down laws than a young woman working in the exciting, hot-shot world of advertising.

The other contenders he had interviewed briefly for this assignment had been trendy to the point of wearisome. Hats, beards and wire-rimmed spectacles on the men and painfully cutting-edge outfits on the women. He didn’t think any of them would have been fazed at having to conduct their interview in a gym. He suspected that the women would have actively enjoyed the experience.

This particular woman looked as though the experience was on a par with being locked in a room with a dangerous airborne virus.

In a world that was largely predictable, Niccolo found that he was beginning to enjoy himself.

‘Well, at least you’re honest,’ he observed. ‘Although, I confess I’m not at my best when I’m around people who tether themselves to rules and regulations. I like people who can think out of the box.’

‘I’m a great believer in rules and regulations.’ Ellie’s mouth tightened, nostrils flaring as she breathed in the heady musk of his masculine scent. Her eyes were drawn to the V of his black tee shirt and then lingered. The tee shirt was tight enough to accentuate the hard width of his chest and the tapering slimness of his waist. She could glimpse some dark hair just where the V of the tee shirt ended, and it was so strangely and intensely masculine a sight that her breath hitched in her throat for a few shocking seconds, then she hurriedly looked away, heart hammering like a sledge hammer inside her chest.

‘But...’ she breathed deeply, steadying the sudden race of her pulses ‘...that’s not to say that I don’t think out of the box.’ She visibly relaxed as some of her wildly scattered thoughts began to cohere into the little rehearsed speech she had mentally prepared on her way to his office. ‘I’m excellent when it comes to creating the sort of dynamic a client is looking for in their advertising campaigns. In case you’re not aware of it, we might be a small firm, and relative newcomers to the scene, but we’re incredibly dynamic and as such we know how to connect with a young market. Social media in all its various forms is the prime tool when it comes to a successful pitch, and we pride ourselves on being top of the game in that area.’

‘Thank you for the spiel,’ Niccolo said politely, pushing himself away from the door. ‘But I still need to change. You can carry on trying to win my business while I freshen up.’ He swung round and carried on talking over his shoulder while Ellie followed on wobbly legs, eyes pinned to his back as he led the way into a spacious room, tiled from floor to ceiling in white-and-grey marble with two of the walls mirrored so that unfortunately her reflection was thrown back at her from every angle.

Ellie did her best to ignore the sight of herself. She was five-foot-six but, even with her heels elevating her by a couple of inches, he still towered over her.

A fleeting glimpse of their reflections in the daunting mirrored walls as they walked through the outer room made her heart sink.

He’d said that he wasn’t at his best with people who ‘tether themselves to rules and regulations’. He’d made it sound as though anyone who wasn’t an out-and-out maverick was a crashing bore and of no interest.

What must he think of her, in that case? She’d already pinned her colours to the mast when it came to rule-breaking and, if she hadn’t, then one look at her would have convinced him that she was just the sort of dreary, conventional bore he would never be at his best with.

If he was the equivalent of a dangerous, wildly unpredictable and outrageously beautiful jungle cat, then she was the equivalent of the fearful sparrow sitting on the branch of a tree, making damned sure not to get too close.

Her clothes were neat and, she knew, uninspiring. Her figure was likewise neat and uninspiring. She possessed neither the curves of the sex bomb nor the androgynous skinny chic of the model. She was just...slender. Her breasts had never been big enough, as far as she was concerned. Her shoulder-length hair, scraped back into a utilitarian chignon at the nape of her neck, was shiny and glossy but...brown. She had her own niche market of clients who were reassured by her competence and straightforward, intelligent approach, impressed by her careful meticulousness and charmed by the flashes of wit and verve she brought to all her campaigns. Niccolo Rossi wasn’t going to be one of these reassured, impressed or charmed clients.

She was never going to win this contract. You really had to bond with the person on the opposite side of the fence when it came to winning a contract. You had to be singing from the same song sheet or else they would never trust that you would be able to perform in the manner they wanted. It was all a very subjective process.

An unpredictable jungle cat and a little brown sparrow did not make natural bed partners.

Already contemplating the prospect of failure, and trying to work out how it might impact on the fortunes of the agency, Ellie didn’t notice that they had exited the marble outer room and were now in the changing rooms, which were also tiled in marble, but unfortunately not quite so impersonal, because the bank of showers suggested, all too clearly, just how intimate the space was.

She froze.

The colour drained from her cheeks.

She was still in her coat, and practically passing out from the heat, but too embarrassed to remove it in a place like this, which was specifically designed for the removal of clothing.

Niccolo folded his arms and looked at her. Never had he seen a face so expressive of a rabbit suddenly staring into the harsh, bright glare of oncoming headlights.

He marvelled that she worked in the cut-throat world of advertising at all and, more than that, was an active partner in the small but, he knew, talented advertising agency which she represented.

‘I would not normally be conducting business here,’ he felt constrained to tell her, even though it wasn’t in his nature to explain himself to anyone. ‘Unfortunately, I got into work much later than I normally do.’ He grimaced as he thought of the four delightful harridans laying into him the evening before. ‘Not your fault, I do realise, but I decided, once I got here that I had to hit the gym. Unfortunately, it happened to coincide with your appointment, which I should, in retrospect, have cancelled.’

‘No!’ Ellie was quick to respond. ‘It’s perfectly fine. A little unusual, of course, but...’

‘But I’m a billionaire and your agency is desperate to get its hands on this assignment, so having to put up with inappropriate behaviour from the head of the company is a pill you’re willing to swallow for the greater good.’ He grinned, folded his arms and stared at her for a few moments, then he turned away and disappeared behind a wall. She could still hear him, though, just as she could hear the rush of water as the shower was turned on.

Her twenty minutes were surely up, and she had shown him nothing of what she had done. But then, he’d probably made up his mind anyway, so wasn’t particularly interested in seeing her work.

Frankly, she could leave right now, but it somehow seemed rude to slink away while his back was turned.

While he was in the shower.


Ellie suddenly found herself in the grip of a level of imagination she’d never known she possessed. She pictured him under the running water, lathering his big, powerful body with soap, face upturned. He wasn’t one of those metrosexual guys with spindly legs and hairless chests. He was aggressively, belligerently male and his dark, dangerous in-your-face sex appeal made her giddy and flustered.

‘You’ve gone silent on me,’ Niccolo drawled, emerging from the concealed cubicle, trousers on, lazily doing up the buttons on his shirt.

Ellie blinked and then reddened as she recalled the graphic images of him that had sent her blood pressure soaring.

He was decent, and for that she was immeasurably grateful. Grey trousers and a white shirt. Barefoot, though, and his hair was still damp from the shower.

‘Time’s not on your side, Ms Eleanor Wilson. In actual fact—’ he glanced at the expensive watch on his wrist ‘—your twenty minutes was up five minutes ago but, considering you didn’t cater for having to do your pitch in the company gym, I’m going to extend your time for a further half an hour. Think you’ll be able to do what you came here to do in that time? Provided you don’t spend any more of it staring at me. And, for God’s sake, take the coat off. The last thing I need is to waste my morning pandering to a damsel in distress who’s passed out because she’s overheated.’

Ellie didn’t have time to say anything in response to this because he was already walking out of the changing rooms towards yet another door which she hadn’t noticed before. It led directly out to a comfortable wooden-floored room equipped with everything anyone might want after a gruelling workout.

A refrigerated glass cooler held bottles of water and energy drinks, and fruit, energy bars and healthy protein snacks filled deep trays on a counter. No one was serving and it was obvious that the generous contents of the canteen were open to any employee choosing to use the gym.

Niccolo grabbed a bottle of mineral water and proceeded to drink it in one long swallow.

For a few seconds, Ellie was mesmerised by the brown column of his throat as he finished the water, then, galvanised into action, she whipped off the offending coat and quickly pulled out her tablet and all the documentation she had brought with her.

If all she had was half an hour, then she was determined to stuff it as full as she possibly could with the mock-ups she had brought with her.

‘There are hard copies of everything,’ she began, remaining on her feet while he sat on one chair and dragged another towards him so that he could use it as a makeshift foot-rest. He relaxed back, hands linked loosely behind his head, and watched as she fumbled with the mound of paperwork she had brought with her. Her tablet was already up and running.

She was the epitome of efficiency. The coat had been discarded to reveal an outfit as bland as he had expected. Now that she wasn’t having to try and evade the sight of him in a sweaty tee shirt and the loose jersey shorts he wore whenever he worked out in the gym, she had reverted to the brisk professional she undoubtedly was.

Niccolo harked back to the delicately blushing cheeks and the awkward discomfort and thought it was a shame that she was morphing into just the sort of career woman he was so accustomed to dealing with. He’d quite liked the delicately blushing cheeks and the awkward discomfort. Professional, efficient career women were a dime a dozen. As were practised, seductive temptresses, and he should know, because he’d dated enough of them in the past.

A woman who blushed, though, was as rare as hen’s teeth and Niccolo had enjoyed the sight.

On cue, she was delivering her talk about the hotel complex that was to be the subject of the advertising campaign. She’d done her research very thoroughly indeed, that much was obvious. She seemed to know more about his own hotel complex than he did, but then this foray into the world of leisure was a departure from his usual conquests.

His path to fame, glory and riches had started in the highly profitable maze of apps. He’d had a special talent for spotting the start-ups that were going to go stellar and he had known how and when to invest. He’d been a millionaire almost before leaving university with his first-class degree in computer engineering and maths. He’d turned that million into several more when he’d started acquiring ailing companies and spinning them into gold mines, and the millions had become billions as his reach had extended. But he’d never thought about the leisure industry until one of his sisters had mentioned something about how tough it could be finding the right life-partner.

Niccolo didn’t believe in partners, right or otherwise. He believed in the purity of work. But he’d had experience from way back when of a match-making app that had taken off and he had spotted the chance to combine known territory with the interesting and as yet unexplored avenue of high-end hotels, and thereby add to his already considerable fortune. Why not? The fantasy of love wasn’t for him, for a number of reasons, but that didn’t mean that it didn’t exist, and he was very happy to provide the wherewithal for all those hopefuls in search of their happy-ever-after dream.

Niccolo had had his future mapped out from the day his father had died. At the time, he had been only eight but, as his father had told him on his death bed, he was now the man of the house and would have to step up to the plate.

Niccolo could not remember a time when he hadn’t been aware of the importance of working to make sure his family were taken care of. By the time he hit twenty-one, fresh out of Cambridge University, the family company had been on its last legs.

The thorny business of wondering what direction to take with his life had never crossed his radar because he’d known from a kid where his destiny lay. Duty above all else. The mantra had lodged in his head in his dying father’s message. In one hand, he’d juggled with the demands of revamping his family business, while in the other he’d developed his breath-taking skills in the fast-moving world of technology, learning over time how to link the two. He’d grown up fast because he had moved straight from university life into the cut-throat world of the men in suits who ran the financial markets.

Niccolo assumed that he had known innocent young women who blushed but, if he had, then it had been a long time ago. Now, with billions at his disposal and a social circle that included some of the most powerful movers and shakers on the planet, the women he met had left their blushing days a long time ago.

He surfaced to find that he’d been staring at her from under lowered lashes. She’d reached the point of telling him the highlights of his hotel and he raised one hand to stop her in mid-flow.

‘But what about the sex angle?’

‘Sex angle?’

‘Don’t be coy, Ms Wilson. Tell me I haven’t wasted the past twenty-five minutes listening to you try and gear me up to an advertising campaign shot through a soft-focus lens?’ He stood up, and suddenly the vantage point she had had standing over him was lost. ‘Surely you must know what the purpose of my hotel complex is going to be?’

‘I thought it might work better to highlight the stupendous surroundings and the organic nature of the buildings. In this day and age, people are very much aware of the charm of a boutique resort that is in total harmony with nature.’

She scrolled to a shot of one of the two-bedroomed villas set a short distance from the beach, just part of the package that had been emailed to her the week before by the contact she had cultivated at the resort. ‘Hence the fact that all the wood used to build your hotel is locally sourced from the Caribbean.’

She flicked down to another series of artfully shot photos of the Michelin-starred cuisine that would be on offer, but she was acutely conscious of Niccolo’s fabulous dark eyes resting lazily on her, with just the faintest hint of amusement.

‘I’ve also made something of the food and the fact that much of the produce is grown on the island, with some cultivated actually in the hotel compound, and that the yoga centre is genius.’

‘Yes, I’ve seen all the arty shots, but you’re not going to win the race by showing me pictures of sunsets and palm trees. I’m not planning on enticing poets to come to my resort, to spend their time staring off into the distance admiring the scenery and then writing sonnets about it.’ He raised both eyebrows sardonically and grinned. ‘So, once again...is this all you’ve got?’


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