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Enthralled by Moretti

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«Enthralled by Moretti» - Кэтти Уильямс

‘You win, Alessandro.’Defeat leaves a bitter taste in lawyer Chase Evans’s mouth. She’s worked hard to put the mistakes of her past behind her, but it’s not in billionaire CEO Alessandro Moretti’s nature to forgive…or forget. And in this latest deal he holds all the cards.Despite her lies, Alessandro wants the elusive Chase in his bed now more than ever – and he’s not above blackmail to get her there. But his punishing regime of red-hot revenge backfires as his increasing desire for Chase threatens his legendary self-control, and still Chase and her secrets seem just out of his reach…‘I can’t stop thinking about the hero, he’s enchanting! Wonderful writing.’ – Suni, 39, WirralDiscover more at www.millsandboon.co.uk/cathywilliams
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‘You win, Alessandro.’

Chase looked at him with green eyes that had once mesmerised him right out of the rigidly controlled box into which he had always been accustomed to piling his emotional entanglements with the opposite sex.

‘But maybe you could tell me whether you would have been as hard-line if I hadn’t been the person sitting here trying to talk you out of buying the shelter.’

‘Oh, the sale most certainly would have gone ahead …’ Alessandro drawled, without an ounce of sympathy. ‘But I probably wouldn’t have tacked on a ticking clock.’

Chase glared at him. ‘I never took you for a bully.’

‘I’ll admit that I have no intention of pulling out of this purchase, but you could recoup the lost thousands …’

‘Could I? How?’ She stared at him. She knew that the finances for the shelter were in serious disarray. They would need all the money they could get just to pay off the debts and wipe the slate clean.

‘We have an unfinished past …’ Alessandro murmured. ‘It’s time to finish it. I want to know who the hell you really are. Satisfy my curiosity and the full price is back on the table …’

CATHY WILLIAMS is originally from Trinidad, but has lived in England for a number of years. She currently has a house in Warwickshire, which she shares with her husband, Richard, her three daughters, Charlotte, Olivia and Emma, and their pet cat, Salem. She adores writing romantic fiction, and would love one of her girls to become a writer—although at the moment she is happy enough if they do their homework and agree not to bicker with one another!

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Did you know these are also available as eBooks? Visit www.millsandboon.co.uk

Enthralled by Moretti

Cathy Williams


To my three wonderful daughters.













CHASE EVANS PUSHED aside the folder in front of her and glanced at her watch. For the fourth time. She had now been kept waiting in this conference room for twenty-five minutes. As a lawyer, she knew what this was about. Actually, even if she hadn’t been a lawyer she would have known what this was about. It was about intimidation. Intimidation by a juggernaut of a company that was determined to get its own way.

She stood up, flexed her muscles and strolled over to the floor-to-ceiling panes of glass that overlooked the teeming streets of the city.

At this time of year, London was swarming with tourists. From way up here, they appeared to be small little stick figures, but she knew if she went down she would join foreigners from every corner of the globe. You couldn’t escape them. You couldn’t escape the noise, the crowds and the bustle although here, in the opulent surroundings of AM Holdings, you could be forgiven for thinking that you were a million miles away from all that. It was deathly quiet.

Yet another intimidation tactic, she thought cynically. She had seen a lot in the past few years since she had been a practising lawyer, but the antics of this company took some beating.

She thought back to meeting number one, when they had imagined that buying up the women’s shelter would be a walk in the park. For meeting number one, they had sent their junior lawyer, Tom Barry, who had become embroiled in a tangle of logistics with which he had patently been unable to cope.

For meeting number two, they had dispatched a couple of more experienced guys. Alex Cole and Bruce Robins had come prepared, but so had she. Out of all the pro bono cases in which she specialised, the women’s shelter was dearest to her heart. If they had come prepared to wipe it out from under her feet, then she too had upped the stakes, pulling out obscure precursors and covenants that had sent them away scratching their heads and promising that they would be back.

Chase had had no doubt that they would. The shelter, or Beth’s House, as it was nicknamed, sat on prime land in West London, land that could earn any halfway canny speculator a great deal of money should it be developed. She knew, through contacts and back doors, that it had been targeted for development by the AM group. An ambitious transformation—from a women’s shelter to an exclusive, designer shopping mall for the rich and famous.

Well, over her dead body.

Staring down as the minutes of the clock ticked past and no one appeared, she knew that there was a very real possibility that she would have to let this one go, admit defeat. Yet for so many reasons she refused to let herself think that way.

After Alex and Bruce, her next meeting—this time with her boss by her side—had been with their top guy, Leslie Swift. He had cleverly countered every single magic act they had produced from their rapidly shrinking hat. He had produced by-laws, exemptions and clauses that she knew had been designed to have them running back to the drawing board. Now, alone in this sprawling conference room, Chase knew that she was in the last-chance saloon.

Once again she glanced at her watch before moving back to her seat at the thirty-seater table. Lord only knew who they would send this time to take her on. Maybe they would realise that she was mortally wounded and see fit to delegate her right back to the junior lawyer so that he could gloat at the woman who had sent him packing.

But she had one more trick up her sleeve. She wasn’t going to give up without a fight. The memory of giving up without fighting was too embedded in her consciousness for her ever to go down that road again. She had dragged herself away from a dark place where any kind of fighting had never been a good idea and she wasn’t about to relinquish any of the grit and determination that had got her where she was now.

Banishing all thoughts of a past that would cripple her if she gave it a chance, Chase Evans returned her attention to the file in front of her and the list of names and numbers she had jotted down as her final attempt to win her case.

* * *

‘Shall I tell Ms Evans how long she might be expected to wait?’

Alessandro Moretti glanced up at his secretary, who stared back at him with gimlet-eyed steeliness. She had announced Chase Evans’s arrival half an hour ago, longer, and had already reminded him once that the woman was waiting for him in the conference room. From anyone else, a second reminder would have been unthinkable. Alicia Brown, however, had been with him for five years and it had been clear from the start that tiptoeing around him wasn’t going to be on the cards. She was old enough to be his mother and, if she had never tiptoed around any of her five strapping boys, then she certainly wasn’t going to tiptoe around anyone. Alessandro Moretti included. He had hired her on the spot.

‘You can’t keep her waiting for ever. It’s rude.’

‘But then,’ Alessandro countered drily, ‘you’ve been with me long enough to know that I’m rude.’ But he stood up and grabbed his jacket from where he had earlier flung it on the long, low, black leather sofa that occupied one side of the office.

In the concrete jungle where fortunes were made and lost on the toss of a coin, and where the clever man knew how to watch his back because the knives were never far away, Alessandro Moretti, at the tender age of thirty-four, ranked as one of the elite pack leaders.

Well, you didn’t get to that exalted position by being soft and tender-hearted. Alessandro understood that. He was feared and respected by his employees. He treated them fairly; more than fairly. Indeed they were amongst the highest paid across the board in the city. In return, the line they trod was the line he marked. If he wanted something done, he expected it to be done yesterday. He snapped his fingers and they jumped to immediate attention.

So he was frankly a little put out that his team of lawyers had, so far, singularly failed in nailing the deal with the shelter. He couldn’t imagine that it was anything but routine. He had the money to buy them out and so he would. Why then, four months down the line, was he having to step in and do their job for them?

He had elaborate plans to redevelop the extensive land the place was sitting on. His price was more than fair.

Any fool should have been able to go in, negotiate and come out with the papers signed, sealed and delivered.

Instead, in a day which was comprised of back-to-back meetings, he was having to waste time with a two-bit pro bono lawyer who had set up camp on the moral high ground somewhere and was refusing to budge. Did he really need to take valuable time out to demolish her? Because demolish her he most certainly would.

He issued a string of orders as he left his office and threw over his shoulder, as he was about to shut the door behind him, ‘And don’t forget how good I am at sacking people! So I’d better not find that you’ve forgotten any of what I’ve just told you! Because I don’t see your trusty notepad anywhere...’ He grinned and shut the door smartly behind him before his secretary could tell him what she thought of his parting shot.

He was carrying nothing, because as far as he was concerned he didn’t need to. He had been briefed on the woman’s arguments. He didn’t anticipate needing to strong-arm her at all into giving up. He had managed to unearth a couple of covenants barely visible to the naked eye that would subvert any argument she could put forward. Additionally, she had now been waiting for over forty minutes in a conference room that had been deliberately stripped bare of anything that could be seen as homely, comforting, soothing or in any way, shape or form, designed to put someone at ease.

He briefly contemplated summoning those losers who had not been able to do their job so that they could witness first hand how to do it, but decided against it.

One on one. Over and done with in fifteen minutes. Just in time for his next conference call from Hong Kong.

* * *

Having had plenty of time to mull over the intimidation tactics, Chase was standing by the window waiting for a team of lawyers. In bare feet, she was five-eleven. In heels, as she was now, she would tower over her opponents. The last one had barely reached her shoulders. Maybe, as a last resort, she could stare them down into submission.

She was gazing out of the window when she heard the door to the conference room opening behind her and she took her time turning round.

If they could keep her waiting in a room that had all the personality of a prison cell, then she could take her time jumping to attention.

But it wasn’t a team of lawyers. It wasn’t Tom Barry, Alex Cole, Bruce Robins or Leslie Swift.

She looked at the man standing by the door and she felt the colour drain from her face. She found that she couldn’t move from her position of dubious advantage standing by the window. Her legs had turned to lead. Her heart was beating so violently that she felt on the verge of a panic attack. Or, at the very least, an undignified fainting spell.

‘You!’ This wasn’t the strong, steady voice of the self-confident twenty-eight-year-old woman she had finally become.

‘Well, well, well...’ Alessandro was as shocked as she was but was much more adept at concealing his response and much faster at recovering.

And yet, as he moved slowly towards her, he was finding it almost impossible to believe his eyes.

At the speed of light, he travelled back in time, back to eight years ago, back to the leggy, gloriously beautiful girl who had occupied his every waking hour. She had changed, and yet she hadn’t. Gone was the waist-long hair, the jeans and sweater. In its place, the woman standing in front of him, looking as though she had seen a ghost—which he supposed she had—was impeccably groomed. Her shoulder-length bob was the same blend of rich caramel and chestnut, her slanting eyes were as green and feline as he remembered, her body as long and willowy.

‘Lyla Evans...’ He strolled towards her, one hand in his trouser pocket. ‘Should I have clocked the surname? Maybe I would have if it hadn’t been preceded by Chase...’ He was standing right in front of her now. She looked as though she was about to pass out. He hoped she wouldn’t expect him to catch her if she fell.

‘Alessandro... No one said... I wasn’t expecting...’

‘So I see.’ His smile was cold and devoid of humour. Of their own accord, his eyes travelled to her finger. No wedding ring. Not that that said very much, all things considered.

‘Will you be here on your own, or can I expect the rest of your team...?’ Chase tried desperately to regain some of her shattered composure but she couldn’t. She was driven to stare at the harsh, sinfully sexy contours of a face that had crept into her head far too many times to count. He was as beautiful as she remembered. More so, if that were possible. At twenty-six, he had been sexy as hell but still with the imprint of youth. Now he was a man, and there was nothing warm or open in his face. She was staring at a stranger, someone who hated her and who was making no attempt to mask his hatred.

‘Just me. Cosy, as it turns out. Don’t you think? So many years since last we saw one another, Lyla...or Chase, or whoever the hell you really are.’

‘Chase. My name is Chase. It always was.’

‘So the pseudonym was purely for my benefit. Of course, it makes sense, given the circumstances at the time...’

‘Lyla was my mother’s name. If you don’t mind, I think I’ll sit.’ She tottered over to the chair and collapsed on it. The stack of files in front of her, her briefcase, her laptop, they were all reminders of why she was in this conference room in the first place, but for the life of her she couldn’t focus on them. Her thoughts were all over the place.

‘So, shall we play a little catch-up, Lyla? Sorry...Chase? A little polite conversation about what we’ve been doing for the past eight years?’ Alessandro perched on the edge of the sprawling conference table and stared down at her: the one and only woman he had wasted time chasing, only to be left frustrated when she’d failed to fall into his bed. For that reason alone, she occupied a unique spot in his life. Add all the other reasons and she was in a league of her own.

‘I’d rather not.’

‘I bet. In your shoes, I’d plead the fifth as well.’

‘Alessandro, I know what you must think of me, but—’

‘I really don’t need to hear any sob stories, Lyla.’

‘Stop calling me that. My name is Chase.’

‘So you became a lawyer after all. I take my hat off to you—although, thinking about it, you did prove you were the sort of girl who would get what she wanted whatever the cost...’

Chase’s eyes flickered up to him. The expression on his face sent the chill of fear racing up and down her spine, yet how could she blame him? Their story had been brief and so full of things that had to be hidden that it was hardly surprising.

‘And I notice that there’s no telling wedding ring on your finger,’ he continued in the same mildly speculative voice that wouldn’t have fooled an idiot. ‘Did you dispose of the hapless husband in your ever-onwards and upwards climb?’

When he had met her—sitting there in the university canteen with a book in front of her, a little frown on her face, completely oblivious to everyone around her—she had knocked him sideways. It was more than the fact that she’d stood out, that she possessed head-turning looks; the world was full of girls who could turn heads. No, it had been her complete and utter indifference to the glances angled in her direction. He had watched as she had toyed with her sandwich before shoving it to one side and heading out. She had looked neither right nor left. The canteen could have been devoid of people.

Standing here now, looking at her, Alessandro could recreate that feeling of intense, incomprehensible attraction that had swept over him then as though it had been yesterday.

Significantly, she hadn’t been wearing a wedding ring then either.

‘I’m not here to talk about my past,’ Chase said, clearing her throat. ‘I’ve brought all the paperwork about the shelter.’

‘And I’m not ready to talk about that yet.’ He sat on one of the chairs alongside her and angled it away from the table so that he had a bird’s eye view of her as she stared down at the bundle of files and papers in front of her and pretended to concentrate. ‘So...’ he drawled. ‘You were about to tell me where the wedding ring’s gone...’

‘I don’t believe I was,’ Chase said coolly, gathering herself. Eyes the colour of bitter chocolate bored straight through her, bypassing the hard, glossy veneer she had taken so much time and trouble to build like a fortress around herself. ‘You might be curious about what I’ve been up to for the past few years, Alessandro, but I have no intention of satisfying your curiosity. I just want to do what I came here to do and leave.’

‘You came here to lose to me,’ Alessandro told her without preamble. ‘If you had any sense, you would recognise that and wave the white flag before I start lowering the price I’ve offered to pay for that place.’ He drew her attention to the clock on the wall. ‘With every passing minute, I drop my price by a grand, so make sure your argument’s a winning one, because if it’s not you’re going to find that you’re not working on behalf of your client.’

‘You can’t do that.’

‘I can do whatever I like, Lyla...Chase...or shall I call you Mrs Evans? Or perhaps Ms...?’

‘This isn’t about us, Alessandro.’ She tried to claw the conversation back to the matter at hand, back to the shelter. ‘So please don’t think that you can use empty threats to—’

‘Look around you,’ Alessandro cut in lazily. ‘And tell me what you see.’

‘Where are you going with this?’

‘Just do as I ask.’

Chase looked around nervously. She could feel the jaws of a trap yawning around her, but when she tried to figure out what sort of trap she came up empty. ‘Big, bland conference room,’ she told him in a voice that hinted that she was already bored with the subject. When she looked around her, her eyes kept wanting to return to him, to look at his face and absorb all the small changes there. Seeing him now, she was beginning to realise that she had never entirely forgotten him. She had buried him but it had obviously been in a shallow grave.

‘I like it bland. It doesn’t pay to provide distractions when you want the people seated at this table to be focused.’

‘You like it bland...’

‘Correct. You see, I am AM Holdings. I own it all. Every single deal is passed by me. What I say goes and no one contradicts me. So, when I tell you that I intend to drop my price by a grand for every minute you argue with me, I mean it and it’s within my power to do it. Of course, you’re all business and you think you can win, in which case my threat will be immaterial. But if you don’t, well, after a couple of hours of futile arguing... Do the maths.’

Chase looked at him, lost for words. In view of what had happened between them, the deceit and the half-lies that had finally been her undoing, she was staring at a man who had been gifted his revenge. She should have done her homework on the company more thoroughly, but she had been handed the case after her boss had done the preliminaries himself, only to find that he couldn’t follow through for personal reasons. She had focused all her energies on trying to locate loopholes that would prevent the sale of the shelter to anyone rather than specifically to AM Holdings. Even so, would she have recognised Alessandro had his name cropped up? They hadn’t afforded much time for surnames.

‘Sounds ungentlemanly.’ Alessandro gave an elegant shrug and a smile that was as cold as the frozen wastelands. ‘But, when it comes to business, I’ve always found that being a gentleman doesn’t usually pay dividends.’

‘Why are you doing this? How could you think of punishing those helpless women who use the shelter because we...we...?’

‘Had an ill-fated relationship? Because you lied to me? Deceived me? Does your firm of lawyers know the kind of person you really are?’

Chase didn’t say anything but she could feel her nervous system go into overdrive. She had inadvertently stepped into the lion’s den; how far did revenge go? What paths would it travel down before it was finally satisfied? Alessandro Moretti owned this place. Not only was it within his power to do exactly as he said, to reduce the amount he was willing to pay for the shelter with each passing minute, but what if he decided actively to go after her?

‘Things weren’t what they seemed back then, Alessandro.’

‘The clock’s ticking.’ He relaxed and folded his hands behind his head. Against all odds, and knowing her for what she really was, he was irritated to discover that he could still appreciate her on a purely physical level. He had never laid a finger on her but, hell, he had fantasised about it until his head had spun, had wondered what she would look like underneath the student clothes, what she would feel like. By the time he had met her, he had already bedded his fair share of women, yet she had appealed to him on a level he had barely comprehended.

He hadn’t gone to the university intending to get involved with anyone. He had gone there as a favour to his old don, to give a series of business lectures, to get students inspired enough to know that they could attempt to achieve in record time what he had succeeded in achieving. Six lectures charting business trends, showing how you could buck them and still come out a winner, and he would be gone. He hadn’t anticipated meeting Lyla—or, as she now called herself, Chase—and staying on to give a further six lectures.

For the first time in his very privileged life, he had found himself in a situation with a woman over which he’d had little control and he had been prepared to kick back and enjoy it. For someone to whom things had always come easy, he had even enjoyed the hard-to-get game she had played. Of course, he had not expected that the hard-to-get game would, in fact, lead nowhere in the end, but then how was he to know the woman he had been dealing with? She had left him with the ugly taste of disillusionment in his mouth and now here she was...

Wasn’t fate a thing of beauty?

‘You’re not interested in reliving our...exciting past. So, sell me your arguments... And, by the way, that’s one minute gone...’

Feeling that she had stepped into a nightmare, Chase opened the top file with trembling fingers. Of course she could understand that he was bitter and angry with her. And yet in her mind, when she had projected into a future that involved her accidentally running into him somewhere, his bitterness and anger had never been so deep, nor had he been vengeful. He could really hurt her, really undo all the work she had done to get where she had.

She began going over some of the old ground covered in the past three meetings she’d had with his underlings, and he inclined his head to one side with every semblance of listening, before interrupting her with a single slash of his hand.

‘You know, of course, that none of those obstructions hold water. You’re prevaricating and it won’t work.’

Chase involuntarily glanced at the clock on the wall and was incensed that the meeting—all the important things that had to be discussed, things that involved the lives of other people—had been sidelined by this unfortunate, unexpected and worrying collision with her past.

And yet she lowered her eyes and took in the taut pull of expensive trousers over his long legs, the fine, dark hair that liberally sprinkled his forearms... Not even the unspoken atmosphere of threat in his cool, dark eyes could detract from the chiselled perfection of his face. He had the burnished colour of someone of exotic blood.

When she had first laid eyes on him, she had been knocked sideways. He hadn’t beaten about the bush. He had noticed her, he said, had seen her sitting in the university canteen. She had instinctively known that he had been waiting for a predictable response. The response of a woman in the presence of a man who could have whoever he wanted, and he wanted her. She had also known that there was no way she could go there. That she should smile politely and walk away, because doing anything else would have been playing with fire. But still she had hesitated, long enough for him to recognise a mutual interest. Of course, it had always been destined to end badly, but she hadn’t been able to help herself.

She tightened her lips as she realised just how badly things could go now, all these years later.

‘Okay, so you may have all the legalities in place, but what do you think the press would make of a big, bad company rolling in and bulldozing a women’s shelter? The public has had enough of powerful people and powerful companies thinking that they can do exactly as they like.’ This had been her trump card but there was no hint of triumph in her voice as she pulled it out of the bag.

‘I have names here,’ she continued in the gathering silence, not daring to risk a glance at him. ‘Contacts with journalists and reporters who would be sympathetic to my cause...’ She shoved the paper across to him and Alessandro ignored it.

‘Are you threatening me?’ he asked in a tone of mild curiosity.

‘I wouldn’t call it threatening...’

‘No? Then what exactly would you call it?’

‘I’m exercising leverage.’ It had seemed an excellent idea at the time, but then she hadn’t banked on finding herself floundering in a situation she couldn’t have envisaged in a million years. His dark eyes focused on her face made her want to squirm and she knew that her veneer of self-confidence and complete composure was badly undermined by the slow tide of pink colour rising to her face. ‘If you buy the shelter in a cloud of bad publicity, whatever you put up there will be destined to fail. It’s quite a small community in that particular part of London. People will take sides and none of them will be on yours.’

‘I bet you thought that you’d bring that out from up your sleeve and my lawyers would scatter, because there is such a thing as bad publicity being worse than no publicity. It’s a low trick, but then I’m not surprised that you would resort to low tricks.’ He leaned forward, rested both arms on the shiny conference table and stared directly at her. ‘However, let’s just turn that threat on its head for a minute...’

‘It’s not a threat.’

‘I have offered an extremely generous price for the purchase of the shelter and the land that goes with it. More than enough for another shelter to be built somewhere else.’

‘They don’t want to build another shelter somewhere else. These women are accustomed to Beth’s House. They feel safe there.’

‘You can wax lyrical to your buddies at the press that they’re being shoved out unceremoniously from their comfort zone. My people will counter-attack with a long, detailed and extremely enticing list of what they could buy for the money they’ll be getting from me. A shelter twice the size. All mod cons. An equal amount of land, albeit further out. Hell, they could even run to a swimming pool, a games room, a nursery...the list goes on.

‘So, who do you think will end up winning the argument? And, when it comes to light that I will be using the land for a mall that will provide much-needed jobs for the locals, well, you can see where I’m going with this...’ He stood up and strolled lazily towards the very same window through which she had been peering earlier.

Chase couldn’t tear her eyes away from him. Like an addict in the sudden presence of her drug of choice, she found that she was responding in ways that were dangerously off-limits. She shouldn’t be reacting like this. She couldn’t afford to let him into her life, nor could she afford to have any deep and meaningful conversations about their brief and ruined past relationship. Heck, it had only lasted a handful of months! And had never got off the starting block anyway.

‘So.’ Alessandro turned slowly to face her. With his back to the window, the light poured in from behind, throwing his face into shadows. ‘How are you feeling about your ability to win this one now?’

‘It’s Beth’s place; she’s comfortable there. Why do you think people fight to stay in their homes when a developer comes along promising to buy them out for double what their place is worth?’ But he would be able to sell it across the board. He had the money and the people to make sure that whatever message they wanted to get across would be successful. She knew Beth. Was she fighting to preserve something for reasons that were personal?

‘I can tell from your expression that you already know that you’re staring defeat in the face. By the way, it’s been nearly forty-five minutes of unconvincing arguing from you... So how much have you lost your client already? The games room? The nursery? The giant kitchen with the cosy wooden table where all those women can hold hands and break bread?’

‘I never thought that you were as arrogant as I now see you are.’

‘But then you could say that we barely knew anything about each other. Although, in fairness, I didn’t lie about my identity...’ He was unconsciously drawn to the way the sunlight streaming through the panes of glass caught the colours of her hair. Her suit was snappy and businesslike and he could tell that it had been chosen to downplay her figure. In his mind’s eye, he saw the tight jeans, the jumpers and trainers, and that tentative smile that had won him over.

Chase stared down at the folder in front of her. There was nothing left to pull out of the hat. Even if there was, this was personal. He was determined to win the final argument, to have the last word, to make her pay.

‘So I’m guessing from your prolonged silence that you’ll be breaking the happy news to... What’s her name? Beth?’

‘You know it is.’

‘And can you work out how much I’ll be deducting from my initial offer?’

‘Tell me you don’t really mean to go through with that?’

‘Lie, in other words?’ Alessandro walked towards her and perched on the edge of the table.

‘You can’t force them to sell.’

‘Have you had a look at their books? They’re in debt. Waiting to be picked off. It may be a caring, sharing place, but what it gains in the holding hands and chanting stakes it lacks in the accountancy arena. A quiet word in the right banker’s ear and they’ll be facing foreclosure by dusk. Furthermore, if it becomes widespread knowledge that they’re in financial trouble, the vulture developers will swoop in looking for a bargain. What started out as a generous offer from me would devolve into an untidy fire sale with the property and land going for a song.’

‘Okay.’ Chase recognised the truth behind what he was saying. How could this be the same man who had once teased her, entertained her with his wit, impressed her with the breadth of his intelligence...driven her crazy with a longing that had never had a chance to be sated?


‘You win, Alessandro.’ She looked at him with green eyes that had once mesmerised him right out of the rigidly controlled box into which he had always been accustomed to piling his emotional entanglements with the opposite sex. ‘But maybe you could tell me whether you would have been as hardline if I hadn’t been the person sitting here trying to talk you out of buying the shelter.’

‘Oh, the sale most certainly would have gone ahead,’ Alessandro drawled without an ounce of sympathy. ‘But I probably wouldn’t have tacked on the ticking clock.’

He strolled round to his chair and sat back down. His mobile phone buzzed, and when his secretary told him to get a move on because she could only defer his conference call for so long he informed her briefly that she would have to cancel it altogether. ‘And make sure the same goes for my meetings after lunch,’ he murmured, not once taking his eyes off Chase’s downbent head. He signed off just as Alicia began to launch into a curious demand to know why.

‘I don’t want to keep you.’ Chase began stacking all her files together and shoving them into her capacious brief case. She paused to look at him. Last look, she thought. Then I’ll never see you again. She found that she was drinking in his image and she knew, with resignation, that what she looked at now would haunt her in the weeks to come. It was just so unfair. ‘But I would like it if you could reconsider your...your...’

‘Lower offer? And save you the humiliation of having to tell your client that you single-handedly knocked the price down?’

Chase glared at him. ‘I never took you for a bully.’

‘Life, as we both know, is full of cruel shocks. I’ll admit that I have no intention of pulling out of this purchase, but you could recoup the lost thousands.’

‘Could I? How?’ She stared at him. At this point, the images of those wonderful additions to any other house Beth might buy vanishing in a puff of smoke, because of her, were proliferating in her head, making her giddy. She knew that the finances for the shelter were in serious disarray. They would need all the money they could get just to pay off the debts and wipe the slate clean.

‘We have an unfinished past,’ Alessandro murmured. ‘It’s time to finish it. I wouldn’t have sought out this opportunity but, now it’s here, I want to know who the hell you really are. Satisfy my curiosity and the full price is back on the table...’


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