A Pawn in the Playboy's Game - Кэтти Уильямс - ‘So…’ Alessandro drawled, handing Laura a glass. ‘Are you going to remain standing by the door like a sentry or are you going to sit down and say what you have to say?’ Читать онлайн любовный роман

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A Pawn in the Playboy's Game

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«A Pawn in the Playboy's Game» - Кэтти Уильямс

A grand master of seduction…Alessandro Falcone is notorious for winning–in every pursuit. Being forced back to Scotland on business is an inconvenience for the billionaire bachelor, but he'll get in, get what he wants and get out–until the delectable Laura Reid becomes a welcome distraction on the long, cold Highland nights…Laura may be the opposite of the glossy women Alessandro usually favors, but her voluptuous figure and fresh-faced innocence have an allure that make her even more of a challenge.And in the game of seduction–this playboy always wins!
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‘So…’ Alessandro drawled, handing Laura a glass. ‘Are you going to remain standing by the door like a sentry or are you going to sit down and say what you have to say?’

‘So…’ Alessandro drawled, handing Laura a glass. ‘Are you going to remain standing by the door like a sentry or are you going to sit down and say what you have to say?’

His fingers had brushed against hers, and every muscle and nerve in her body had reacted.

‘You never mentioned how long you intend staying in Scotland…’ She inched her way towards the table and sat down.

‘Undecided. Why? Do I make you feel uncomfortable? I wouldn’t want to put a spoke in the wheel, but…’ He shrugged, sipped his drink and looked at her over the rim of his glass. ‘Needs must.’

‘What needs?’

‘That’s a somewhat leading question, wouldn’t you say?’

If they were referring to his needs, then he might very well meet them by staying. Because suddenly he had a vivid image of her in his bed, sprawled in all her glorious, lush beauty, her delicate heart-shaped face heated with desire, her body his for the taking.

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 and her three daughters—Charlotte, Olivia and Emma—have always been and continue to be the greatest inspiration in her life.

A Pawn in the

Playboy’s Game

Cathy Williams


To my three wonderful and inspiring daughters



About the Author

Title Page












‘DON’T KNOW WHAT you’re doing here.’ Roberto Falcone glared at his son. He had shuffled to the front door and now he remained standing in front of it like a bouncer blocking entry to a club. ‘Told you not to bother coming and meant it.’

Alessandro felt that familiar tension invade his body, the way it always did on those occasions when he was in his father’s company. Usually, though, they at least managed pleasantries before he felt like spinning on his heel and walking as fast as he could in the opposite direction. This time, there was no polite surface small talk and Alessandro braced himself for an impossibly difficult weekend.

Which they would both have to endure because there was no choice.

‘Are you going to let me in or are we going to have this conversation on the doorstep? Because if we are, I’ll get my coat from the car. I’d rather not die from frostbite just yet.’

‘You won’t die from frostbite,’ Roberto Falcone scoffed. ‘It’s practically tropical here.’

Alessandro didn’t bother to argue. He’d had a lot of experience when it came to disagreeing with his father. Roberto Falcone might be eighty years old but there was nothing he gave up without a fight, and arguing about whether eight degrees Celsius counted as cold or not was just one of those things. He was a hardy soul who lived in Scotland and thought that blizzard conditions were a bracing challenge.

Real men cleared snowdrifts half-naked and barefoot! His son was a softie who lived in London and switched on the central heating the second the sun went behind a cloud.

And never the twain would meet.

Which was why duty visits were limited to three times a year and lasted as long as it took for the limited well of polite conversation to run dry.

Except this was more than a duty visit and he had known that his father wasn’t going to make things easy.

‘I’ll get my coat.’

‘Don’t bother. Now that you’ve landed here, I suppose I don’t have much choice but to let you in, but if you think that I’m going to be heading down to London with you, then you’ve got another think coming. I’m not budging.’

In the cold, gathering gloom, they stared at one another, Alessandro’s expression veiled, his father’s fiercely determined.

‘We’ll discuss this when I’m inside,’ Alessandro said. ‘Why have you answered the door? Where’s Fergus?’

‘It’s the weekend. Man deserves a break.’

‘You had a stroke six months ago and you’re still recovering from a fractured pelvis. The man’s paid enough to give up his breaks.’

Roberto scowled but Alessandro didn’t back down. Frankly, this wasn’t the time for pussyfooting round the issue. Like it or not, his father was going to return to London with him in three days’ time. The contents of the house could be packed up and shipped south once the place had been vacated.

His mind was made up and once Alessandro had made his mind up on anything, he was not open to discussion, far less persuasion. His father could no longer cope with the rolling Victorian mansion, even if he could afford an army of hired help if he chose. Neither could he cope with the acres of lawns and garden. He liked plants. Alessandro would introduce him to the marvels of Kew Gardens.

The brutal truth was that Roberto Falcone was now frail, whether he wanted to admit it or not, and he needed somewhere small, somewhere closer to Alessandro, somewhere in London.

‘I’ll get my bag,’ Alessandro said abruptly. ‘You go in and I’ll join you in the sitting room. I take it you haven’t dispatched all the help...because you felt they needed some time out from doing what they’re so handsomely paid to do?’

‘You might be lord of that manor of yours in London,’ Roberto retorted, ‘and I wouldn’t think of questioning you if you chose to give whoever works for you a weekend off, but this is my manor and I can do whatever I want.’

‘Let’s not kick off this weekend on an argument,’ Alessandro said heavily. He looked at the elderly man in front of him, still leonine in appearance with his thick head of steel-grey hair, his piercing dark eyes and his impressive height, at six foot one only a couple of inches shorter than him. The only hint of his frailty was the walking stick and, of course, a thick wad of medical notes residing in the hospital ten miles due west.

‘Freya is here. There’s food in the kitchen, which is where you will find me. Had I known you were going to descend on me, I might have asked her to prepare something a little less simple, but you’re here now and salmon and potatoes is going to have to do.’

‘You knew I was coming,’ Alessandro pointed out patiently. A sharp gust of wind, carrying the sort of bitter cold rarely experienced in London, blew his dark hair away from his face. ‘I emailed you.’

‘Must have slipped my mind.’

Clenching his jaw in pure frustration, Alessandro watched as his father shuffled away, leaving the front door wide open.

The move to London was going to be a big step, for both of them. They barely had anything to say to one another. Lord only knew how more frequent meetings were going to play out, but there was no way he could continue making laborious trips to the depths of Scotland every time his father had a mishap, and there were no siblings with whom he could share the burden.

Just him. An only child shunted off to boarding school at the age of seven, returning back to their vast, cold mansion every holiday, where nannies and cooks and cleaners had picked up the role of parent because his father had rarely been in evidence, appearing only at the end of the day when they had dined at opposite ends of the formal dining table, waited on by the very people with whom Alessandro had spent his day.

Until, of course, he had become old enough to begin spending the occasional holidays with friends. His father had not once objected. Alessandro suspected that he had probably been quietly relieved. There was only so much polite conversation to be made across the length of a twenty-seat table.

The polite conversation was still made but at least now Alessandro could take it in his stride, at least he had stopped trying to find reasons behind his father’s coldness, stopped wondering whether things might have been different had he remarried after the death of Muriel Falcone, stopped trying not to be a disappointment. That particular youthful sentiment had long disappeared.

Hitching his overnight bag over his shoulder and remotely locking his glossy black SUV, Alessandro decided that he would have to find some hobbies for his father the second he arrived in London.

Hobbies that would take him out of the luxurious three-bedroom ground-floor apartment in a small, portered Georgian block, which had been bought for him. A man with hobbies would be a happy man. Or at least a relatively invisible one. Too much visibility was not going to work for either of them.

Returning to Standeth House, for Alessandro, was like returning to a mausoleum. Same cold feel, although now that it would shortly be put on the market he found that he could better appreciate the impressive flagstoned hallway and all the period features that he would never have dreamed of having in anywhere he personally owned but which, he conceded, had a certain something.

And, with as much money as you could fling a stick at, it had been well maintained. His father had been born into wealth, had maintained and increased it in his lifetime and had not stinted when it came to spending it on his surroundings. He had always been generous financially if parsimonious when it came to everything else.

He found his father in the kitchen, where, despite what he had said, there was no housekeeper.

Alessandro frowned. ‘You said Freya would be here to take care of the food.’

Roberto looked at his son from under grey, bushy brows. ‘Left at four. Note on the cooker jogged my memory. Forgot to mention it.’ He ladled a generous portion of food onto his plate and went to the kitchen table, leaving Alessandro to help himself. ‘Sick dog. Had to take it to the vet. It happens. And before you launch into a conversation about how you’ve come here to tear me away from my house and my land, eat some food and talk about something else. Been months since you ventured up here. You must have something to talk about aside from rescuing me from my old age.’

‘Work’s fine.’ Alessandro looked at the slab of salmon on his plate with distaste. Freya was in her mid-sixties and had been his father’s cook for the past fifteen years. She was as thin as a rake, only smiled on high days and bank holidays and would never be asked to cook for the queen. Or anyone with halfway decent tastebuds. Her productions were as spartan as she was. Potatoes, some vegetables and fish, which were unadorned with anything that could fall under the heading of tasty.

‘I’ve added a niche publishing house to my portfolio, along with three small hotels on the other side of the Atlantic. It’s a little comic relief from my IT companies and telecommunications.’ He might have benefited from being the son of a wealthy man, might have been to the finest schools, been given the most pocket money, treated to the fastest car at an age when fast cars and young boys should never have had even a nodding acquaintance, but he had refused point-blank to show the slightest interest in his father’s empire. When it came to earning a living, Alessandro had always known that he would go it without any help from his austere and distant parent.

Not that Roberto had asked. Until a decade ago he had still been running his empire himself.

Neither had Alessandro accepted any start-up money. He had used his brains to super-achieve at university and he had continued using his brains to super-achieve at everything that had followed. As far as he was concerned, the less he had to do with Roberto Falcone, the better. They maintained contact, paid lip service to their relationship, and that was that. It worked.

‘And still chasing the same idiots you were chasing when I last saw you? What was the name of that one you dragged up here? Acted as though she didn’t recognise what mud was and refused to go near the garden because it had rained and her high heels couldn’t take the strain.’ Roberto guffawed.

‘Sophia,’ Alessandro said through gritted teeth. This was the first time his father had come right out and voiced his scathing disapproval of the women he had met in the past, girlfriends Alessandro had taken with him because a third party, even an intellectually challenged third party, was worth her weight in gold when it came to smoothing over pregnant pauses.

And it had to be said that the women he dated more than made up for their sometimes limited conversation with their looks. He liked them leggy, long-haired, slender and outrageously good-looking. The size of their IQs didn’t really come into it. Just as long as they pleased him, looked good, said yes when he wanted them to say yes and didn’t get attached.

‘Sophia...that’s the one. Nice-looking girl with all that bouncy hair but difficult to have a conversation with. I’m guessing that doesn’t bother you, though. Where is she now?’ He looked around him as though suddenly alert to the possibility that the six-foot-tall brunette might be hiding behind the kitchen door or underneath the counter.

‘It didn’t work out.’ The gloves were certainly off if his father was diving into his personal life. Polite was beginning to look like a cosy walk in the park in comparison. Was this how Roberto intended to retaliate to the winds of change? By getting too close to the bone for comfort?

‘Reason I brought that up...’ Roberto finished his salmon and shoved the plate to one side ‘...is if that’s the kind of people who hang around the rich in that city of yours, then it’s just another reason why I won’t be joining you. So you can start looking for tenants for that apartment you bought.’

‘There are lots of different kinds of people in London.’ And who, exactly, were his father’s friends here anyway? He’d met one or two couples, bumped into them while out to dinner locally with his father over the years, but how often did he mix with them?

Like vast swathes of his father’s life, that was just another mystery. For all Alessandro knew, his father could be cooped up in his country estate from dawn till dusk with nothing but the hired help and his plants for company.

He had long trained himself to feel no curiosity. The door had been shut on him a long time ago and it wasn’t going to reopen.

‘And some of them might have more to talk about than the weather, the tidal changes and salmon fishing. On another note, I see Freya is continuing to shine as a cordon bleu chef...’

‘Simple food for a simple man,’ Roberto returned coldly. ‘If I wanted anything fancier, I would have employed one of those TV chef types who have fish restaurants in Devon and use ingredients nobody’s ever heard of.’

For the first time in living memory, Alessandro felt his lips twitch with amusement at his father’s asperity.

But then he reminded himself that humour wasn’t behind this conversation. These were all little warning jabs before the real battle began in the morning.

He stood up, irritated that on a Friday evening there was no one around to at least clear the table. Alessandro didn’t have anyone working for him, aside from a cleaner three times a week and his driver, but if he had he would have damned well made sure that they were available to work when he needed them, instead of skipping off to give their dog cuddles and cough syrup.

‘I have some work to get through by ten tonight.’ He looked at his watch and then at his father, who had not moved a muscle to stand up.

‘No one’s keeping you.’ Roberto fluttered his hand in the general direction of the kitchen door.

‘Heading up to bed now?’

‘Maybe not. Maybe I should have a late-night walk through the grounds so that I can appreciate the open space before you start manhandling me into a flat in that city of yours.’

‘Freya in tomorrow? Or will her dog still require her urgent attention?’ Alessandro wasn’t going to be provoked into a simmering argument that he would take to bed with him. ‘Because if she plans on spending the weekend with her sick dog, I’ll head into town first thing in the morning and stockpile some food that’s easy to cook.’ He stood up and began clearing the table. ‘Just enough to last the weekend,’ he threw over his shoulder.

‘Don’t need you cooking for me. Perfectly capable of throwing something in a pan.’

‘It’s not a problem.’

‘If she doesn’t come, she might send someone in her place. Sometimes does that.’

‘How reliable is this bloody woman?’ Alessandro turned to his father’s face and scowled. ‘I had a look at the accounts the last time I was here, and she’s paid a fortune! Are you telling me that she skives off when she feels like it?’

‘I’m telling you that it’s my money and I’ll spend it any damn way I want to! If I want to pay the woman to show up every other weekend and dance on the table, that’s my shout!’

Alessandro looked at his father narrowly and eventually shrugged.

‘If she doesn’t show up,’ Roberto inserted grudgingly, ‘she’ll send someone in her place.’

‘Fine. In that case, I’ll leave all the dirty dishes so that she or her replacement has something to do when they get here. And now I’m heading off to do some work. I take it you won’t be needing your study?’

‘What would an old, feeble man with an old, feeble brain need a study for?’ He waved his hand, dismissing Alessandro without sparing him a glance. ‘It’s all yours.’

* * *

Laura Reid finally hopped on her bike and headed out of the terraced house she shared with her grandmother forty-five minutes later than planned.

Things moved at a different speed here. She had now lived here for nearly a year and a half and she was still getting used to the change of pace. She wasn’t sure whether she would ever completely get used to it.

On a bright, cold Saturday morning, her intentions might have been to start the day at the crack of dawn, get all the little chores done and dusted by nine and then cycle up to the big house, but intentions counted for nothing here.

People had dropped by. Her grandmother had taken herself off to Glasgow to visit her sister for two weeks and every well-wishing friend had popped around to make sure she was all right, as if her grandmother’s absence might herald all sorts of untold disasters. Was she making sure to eat properly? Curious, concerned eyes peered into the kitchen in the hope of spotting a pie or two. Had she remembered that the garbage people had changed their collection day because old Euan’s son had gone to hospital and his brother was covering?

Was she remembering to make sure the logs were kept dry? Edith would have a fit if she returned to find them soaked through and who knew what the weather would bring in the next ten days. And make sure to lock all the doors! Mildred had told Shona who had told Brian who had told his daughter Leigh that there had been a spate of petty thefts in the neighbouring village and you couldn’t be too careful.

The wind on her face felt great as she began cycling away from the town.

It meant freedom and peace and was always a time when she replayed her life in slow motion in her head, the way it had turned full circle so that she was right back where she had started.

The young girl who had gaily gone to London to take up a position as PA to a CEO in an upwardly mobile, just-gone-public company was no more. At least now, when she thought of that time in her life, her mouth no longer filled with bitterness and despair. Instead, she could put it all in perspective and see her experiences as a valuable learning curve.

She had worked for a busy, aggressive company, which, coming from this small town, had been a first. She had seen the bright lights and felt the buzz of big-city excitement. She had hopped on the Underground and jostled with the crowds at rush hour. She had eaten on the run and gone to wine bars with new friends.

And two years into her bright, shiny life she had met a guy, someone so wildly different from every guy she had ever met that was it any wonder she had fallen hopelessly in love with him?

The only downside was that he had been her boss. Not directly her boss, but far, far higher than her in the company food chain, recently transferred back to London from New York.

And naive as she had been, all the warning signs that would have been flagged up to any woman with just a bit more experience had passed her by.

Rich guy...top job...cute, with little dimples and floppy blond hair...thirty-four and single...

Laura had been over the moon. She hadn’t minded the weekends he’d been unable to spend with her because he’d visited his ailing father in the New Forest area...hadn’t cared that meals out had always been in small, dark places miles away from the city centre...hadn’t really twigged when he’d told her that once an arrangement was made, it was set in cement...no need for her to call him and, besides, he was just one of those guys who hated long, rambling telephone conversations on mobiles.

‘There’s never a time when it’s convenient!’ he had joked teasingly. ‘You’re either in the supermarket, about to hand over your credit card...or on the Underground, hanging on to a strap for dear life...or about to step into the shower... Leave the calling to me!’

She had for nearly a year until she had seen him out, quite by chance, with a sandy-haired woman hanging on to his arm and a little toddler sucking a lollipop, twisting round from her pushchair to look at him.

So much for love. She’d fallen for a married guy, had fallen for surface charm and a clever way with words.

She had worked out her notice and left and now she was ninety-nine per cent convinced that it had all been for the best. Secretarial work hadn’t been for her. The job had been buzzy and well paid but the teaching job she did now was much more emotionally rewarding.

Plus everyone had to have a learning curve. She would never make the mistake of even looking twice at any man who was out of her league. If it looked too good to be true, it probably was.

It was a dull, cloudy morning and she could feel icy fingers trying to wriggle through the layers of her clothes...the vest, jumper, padded sleeveless waterproof that bulked her up so that she looked like a beach ball in search of a stretch of sand.

When she glanced over her shoulder, the little town had been left behind and there was roaming, rambling countryside all around her, stretching as far as the eye could see.

She slowed down. There was no place on earth as beautiful as Scotland. No place where you could practically hear the silence and the small sounds of nature, living, breathing nature. This was where she had grown up. Not this precise spot in this exact town, but in a very similar small town not a million miles away. She had moved to live with her grandmother when her parents had died. She had been just seven at the time. She had adjusted over time to the loss of her parents and it had taken her a lot less time to adjust to life in this part of Scotland because the scenery was so familiar to her.

She crested a hill, on either side of which russets, browns and stark, naked fields, stripped bare of colour, filled her with a sense of freedom, and there, just ahead of her, she could see the entrance to the long drive that led up to Roberto’s house.

She slowed down, took her time pedalling her way up the drive. She never tired of this familiar route. In summer it was stunning, vibrant with green, the trees bending over the drive. In winter the bare trees were equally impressive, stretching up like talons reaching for the clouds.

The unexpected sight of a black SUV brought her to a halt and she slowly began walking the bike towards the front door.

Surprises were rarely of the good kind and this was a surprise because Roberto seldom had visitors. At least, not ones that weren’t of the local variety. He had friends in the village...her grandmother was very pally with him, somewhat more than pally, she suspected, and of course he went to the usual things arranged for older people because there was quite a thriving community in the village for the over-sixties, but strangers appearing out of nowhere...?

Which only left one possibility and that made her heart sink. She’d never met the son and, in fairness, Roberto didn’t dwell on him very much but the little he had said had not left a good impression either with her or with her grandmother.

She rang the doorbell and waited, heart beating fast.

* * *

Inside the house, specifically inside the office to which he had retreated after a tense breakfast with his father that had achieved less than zero, if that was possible, Alessandro heard the sharp ring of the doorbell and cursed fluently under his breath.

The vanishing hired help had remained vanished. His father, who was hell-bent on not listening to common sense, had taken himself off to his massive greenhouse, where, he said, he could have more fruitful conversation with his plants. Alessandro’s plan to buy some food and do something with it had changed. He had decided to take his father out for dinner in the town because if his father was in a restaurant, there was just so far he could go when it came to dodging the inevitable conversation.

He reached the front door and pulled it open, his mood already foul because he could see the word wasted stamped all over his weekend.

The girl standing in front of him, gripping the handlebars of a bike that looked like a relic from a different era, took him momentarily by surprise.

She was a short, round little thing with copper-coloured hair that had been dragged back into a ponytail and eyes...

The purest, greenest eyes he had ever seen.

‘About time.’

‘I beg your pardon?’ Laura had been expecting Roberto to answer the door. Instead, finding herself staring up at the most beautiful man she had ever seen in her life, her breathing had become jerky and her pulse was all over the place.

This would be the son and he was nothing like the mental picture she’d had in her head.

Her mental picture had been of a pompous, puffed-up, frankly ugly little guy who had his nose stuck in the air and never ventured out of London if he could help it. He hardly showed his face in Scotland and when he did, Roberto was always subdued afterwards, as if recovering from a virus.

Unfortunately, the man staring down at her with a glacial expression was too disturbingly good-looking for anybody’s good. He positively towered over her and every inch of his body was hard-packed muscle. The black, long-sleeved T-shirt lovingly advertised that, as did the faded, low-slung black jeans.

‘Finished staring?’ he asked coolly, and Laura went bright red. ‘Because if you are, you can come in, head directly to the kitchen and begin doing what you’re paid to do.’

‘Sorry?’ Laura blinked and stared at him in bewilderment before remembering the way he had sneered at her for staring, which made her immediately shift her gaze to the ivy clambering up the wall behind him.

Alessandro didn’t bother answering. Instead, he stepped to one side and headed to the kitchen, expecting her to follow him.

Laura stared at his departing back with mounting anger.

‘I’d like to know what’s going on,’ she demanded, having flung her bike to the ground and sprinted in his wake.

‘What’s going on...’ Alessandro turned to face her and spread his arms wide ‘...is a kitchen that needs tidying. Which is what you’re paid to do. Correct me if I’m wrong.’ He leaned against the granite counter and looked at the round little bundle poised resentfully by the door. No one liked being reprimanded, but needs must, he thought. ‘I understand that Freya couldn’t make it to work yesterday because her dog was feeling under the weather, but it beggars belief that she couldn’t be bothered to send her replacement until today and it’s even more astonishing that her replacement can’t be bothered to turn up until after ten in the morning!’

Placid by nature, Laura was discovering that it was remarkably easy to go from cool to boiling in seconds. She folded her arms and glared at him. ‘If the kitchen needed tidying, why didn’t you tidy it yourself?’

‘I’ll pretend I just didn’t hear that!’

‘I’d like to see Roberto...’

‘And why would that be?’ Alessandro drawled silkily. He folded his arms and stared at her. ‘You might be able to get past him with some fairy-tale sob story about not being able to do the job you’re paid to do because the dog’s cousin got a cold or the rain was falling in the wrong direction so you just couldn’t make it on time, but I’m made of tougher stuff. You should have been here at eight, as far as I’m concerned, and your pay will be docked accordingly!’ Not, in all events, that that was going to be much of a concern considering his father would be out of the house, if not this weekend, then certainly by the end of the month.

‘Are you threatening me?’

‘It’s not a threat. It’s a statement of fact and frankly you should consider yourself lucky that I don’t sack you on the spot.’

‘This is too much! Where is Roberto?’

‘Roberto?’ He couldn’t remember Freya addressing his father by his first name. Eyes narrowed now on her flushed face, Alessandro slowly pushed himself away from the counter and strolled towards her.

Like a predator with prey in its sight, he circled her before coming to a stop right in front of her, arms still folded, and this time his expression was thoughtful.

‘Interesting,’ he mused softly.

‘What? What’s interesting?’ Laura inched back a little because his presence was so suffocating. She worked out that it wasn’t just to do with the fact that the man was sinfully, unfairly sexy. There was also something about him, something intangible that sent shivers racing up and down her spine.

‘Interesting that the hired help is now on a first-name basis with my father, who is a very rich man indeed.’

‘I’m not following you.’

‘Young girl...reasonably attractive...elderly man...loaded... I’m doing the maths and not liking the solution to the conundrum.’

Blood leached out of her face and there was a roaring in her ears. ‘Are you accusing me of...of...of...?’

‘I know. Incomprehensible, isn’t it? My father is pushing eighty, has more money than he knows what to do with, and a whippersnapper who couldn’t be more than...what?...twenty-two addresses him by his first name and seems pretty desperate to see him because, presumably, you know he’ll rescue you from an uncomfortable situation. Smacks of unhealthy cosiness but, then, maybe I’m just being unfairly cynical.’

‘Twenty-six, actually. I’m twenty-six.’ A gold-digger? Was that what she was being accused of? A reasonably attractive gold-digger? Could there be any more insults stashed up his sleeve?

‘Twenty-two...twenty-six. Doesn’t really make much of a difference. You’re still young enough to be his granddaughter. Thank God I’ve come along and seen for myself what goes on here.’

‘And I’m not the hired help.’

‘No?’ Alessandro’s eyebrows shot up. Hired help or no hired help, the woman was still an opportunist, although he had to admit that the old man had reasonably good taste. Up close, her eyes were even more amazing, her skin satiny smooth with a sprinkling of freckles across the bridge of her nose, and her mouth...

His eyes dipped lazily to her mouth, which was full and perfectly shaped.

She might not be a model but she certainly wasn’t a woman you would throw out of your bed on a rainy night.

She was fresh-faced and that in itself was oddly appealing. No wonder she had managed to inveigle herself into his father’s good graces. God knew how much she had managed to con out of him thus far.

‘No!’ Her skin burned under his scrutiny but she maintained eye contact, even though every nerve in her body was reacting with tight hostility to his accusations.

‘So who are you?’

‘I’m Laura. I’m a friend. As you would discover if you went and got him!’

‘Oh, I’ll get him,’ Alessandro said in a voice that made her teeth snap together in impotent fury. ‘Just as soon as you and I have had a nice little chat. So why don’t you have a seat at the table, Laura, and we’ll...how do I put this?...get to know one another... No, wrong choice of words. I’ll get to know you and you’ll get to understand where I’m coming from.’

He smiled and she stared back angrily at him because chilling though the smile was it was still horribly, horribly sexy.

‘Fine,’ she snapped, because if he wanted to have a word with her, he’d find that she had a few words of her own to share. She stalked off towards the kitchen table and in one easy movement yanked off the annoying waterproof and turned to face him with a toss of her head. ‘And then I want to see your father.’


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