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The Trophy Husband

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«The Trophy Husband» - Линн Грэхем

Not in the job description! Being PA to Alex Rossini is never going to be easy – especially given the sizzling attraction Sara Lacey feels for her enigmatic boss. But when she desperately needs his help the last thing Sara expects is to find herself installed in his penthouse! Alex Rossini’s sole focus has always been business.Until now. His sexy PA Sara Lacey has him driven to distraction! But when the paparazzi mistake Sara for Alex’s latest fling, and pregnancy rumours hit the headlines, they have little choice but to marry! And it’s not long before the lines between fact and fiction start to blur…
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The TrophyHusband Lynne Graham

LYNNE GRAHAM was born in Northern Ireland and has been a keen Mills & Boon® reader since her teens. She is very happily married, with an understanding husband who has learned to cook since she started to write! Her five children keep her on her toes. She has a very large dog, which knocks everything over, a very small terrier, which barks a lot, and two cats. When time allows, Lynne is a keen gardener.

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The Trophy


Lynne Graham

Table of Contents

About the Author

Title Page










SARA paid off the taxi in a breathless rush and raced up the stairs to the flat she shared with Antonia. Had they been burgled? Had someone in the family had an accident? Worse still, had something happened to Brian? Her imagination had gone into overdrive since she had received Antonia’s message at work.

‘Miss Dalton said you had to come home immediately, that it was very urgent,’ the girl on the switchboard had stressed anxiously. ‘I hope it isn’t bad news, Miss Lacey. She wouldn’t even wait for me to put her call through.’

Crossing the landing at speed, Sara unlocked the door of the flat. It was a disorientating experience. Loud music assaulted her ears. Phil Collins’ latest album was playing full blast. A single electric-blue court shoe lay abandoned like a question mark on the hall carpet.

‘Antonia?’ Sara called, a quick frown of bewilderment drawing her fine brows together as she glanced into the empty lounge. The bedroom door was ajar. She pressed it back.

‘Antonia?’ she said again, and only then did she see the half-naked couple passionately entangled on the rumpled bed.

‘Sara?’ her cousin squealed as she reeled up, her honeyblonde hair wildly mussed up, her pink mouth swollen, pale blue eyes wide with horror.

In the very act of embarrassed retreat, Sara froze. Her attention had lodged on the tousled male head lifting off the white pillows. Recognition hit her like a punch in the stomach. Cruel fingers clutched at her heart and her lungs, tripping her heartbeat, depriving her of the air she needed to breathe.

‘Oh, my God…’ Brian groaned, grabbing up his shirt and rolling off the bed in one appalled movement.

Antonia was frantically struggling back into her blouse. ‘Why the hell aren’t you at work?’ she screamed.

‘You phoned…left a message that I was to come home,’ Sara framed unevenly, not even recognising the distant voice that emerged from her bloodless lips as her own.

‘I phoned? Are you crazy?’ Antonia shrieked furiously. ‘Whoever phoned, you can be sure it wasn’t me!’

‘You bitch, Toni!’ Brian bit out in stricken condemnation. ‘You deliberately set me up—’

‘Don’t be stupid!’ Antonia hissed, but then without warning defiance replaced her angry discomfiture. She rested malicious blue eyes on Sara, who was already backing away on legs that were threatening to fold beneath her. ‘But I did warn you that Brian was mine for the asking…didn’t I?’

‘No…’ Brian’s voice wavered weakly as his gaze collided with Sara’s shattered green eyes—pools of stark pain in the dead white stillness of her triangular face. He made a sudden move towards her, both hands raised and extended as if to draw her back to him. ‘This has never happened before, Sara…I swear it!’

Sara turned jerkily away and fled. She nearly fell down the last flight of stairs—Brian’s frantic calls from the landing above acted on her like a trip-wire. Blocking him out, she steadied herself with one shaking hand on the dingy wall and made herself breathe in slowly and deeply before she walked back out onto the street.

Antonia and Brian. Brian and Antonia. She stared down numbly at the ring on her engagement finger. Her stomach lurched in violent protest. Six weeks off the wedding day…her cousin and her fiancé. It was as if the world had stopped turning suddenly, flinging her off into frightening free fall. She was in shock—so deep in shock that she couldn’t even think. But her memory was relentlessly throwing up scraps of dialogue from the recent past.

‘Brian chose you like he chooses his shirts…you’ve got to look good at the company dinners and wear a long time!’ Antonia had sniped.

‘Three years ago I could have lifted one little finger and Brian would have come running…He really had it bad for me.’ Antonia had savoured the words.

Sara squared her narrow shoulders, caught a glimpse of herself in a shop window and stared. She saw a small woman with black hair worn in a tidy French plait, dressed in an unexciting navy business suit and white blouse. No competition for a five-foot-ten-inch blonde who had once made it between the covers of Vogue. She felt as if she was dying inside. She didn’t know what to do, where to go.

A bus was drawing up at the stop several yards away and she started to run. Her dazed eyes skimmed over the man standing in a nearby doorway. He turned his head abruptly, making her wonder if she looked as odd as she felt. She didn’t notice that the man swiftly fell into step behind her and climbed on the same bus.

‘Do we have to have Antonia as a bridesmaid? My mother can’t stand her,’ Brian had complained peevishly.

‘She’s a real tart,’ he had muttered with distaste. ‘No decent woman would take her clothes off for money…’

Still with the same man tracking patiently in her wake, but quite unaware of his presence, Sara wandered back into the hugely impressive London headquarters of Rossini Industries. When the receptionist on the penultimate floor addressed her, Sara didn’t hear her. Blind and deaf, she was moving on automatic pilot. She entered the spacious office which she shared with Pete Hunniford. It was empty. Pete’s wife had gone into labour mid-morning, she recalled then. It was like remembering something that had happened a lifetime ago.

Her phone was buzzing like an angry wasp. She sat down and answered it.

‘Tasmin Laslo here. I want to speak to Alex,’ a taut female voice demanded.

‘Mr Rossini is in conference. I am so sorry. Would you like me to—?’

The actress said a very rude word. ‘You’re lying, aren’t you?’

Sara had been lying to Alex Rossini’s women for the entire year that she had been employed as his social secretary. Alex Rossini was very rarely available to his lovers during office hours, and when a name was removed from a certain regularly updated list he was never available again. Lying went with the territory, no matter how much Sara despised the necessity.

‘He sent me a diamond bracelet while I was filming in Hungary and I knew it was over!’ Tasmin suddenly spat tempestuously. ‘He’s found someone else, hasn’t he?’

‘You’re better off without him, Miss Laslo,’ Sara heard herself saying.

‘You’re a wonderful actress. You’re wasted on a slick, womanising swine like Alex Rossini!’

Incredulous silence hummed on the line. ‘I beg your pardon?’ Tasmin finally gasped.

Sara looked down dazedly at the receiver and thrust it back on the cradle in shock. She was trembling all over. Dear heaven, had she really said that? She rose unsteadily upright again. Her stomach cramped with sudden, unbearable nausea. She lurched into the cloakroom across the corridor and was horribly sick.

Ten minutes later, still shaking like a leaf, she returned to her office. The phone was buzzing again. She ignored it, walked over to Pete’s desk and withdrew the bottle of brandy that he kept in the bottom drawer. She poured a liberal amount into a cup and slowly drank it down, grimacing at the unfamiliar taste of alcohol. Maybe it would settle her stomach. Brian and Antonia. Their names linked in a ceaseless refrain inside her pounding head, making her want to smash her head against the wall in protest.

She felt as if she was going mad. Sensible, steady Sara, who always kept her head in a crisis. But Sara had never before faced a crisis in which her whole world had fallen apart. Shivering, she helped herself to another nip of brandy, struggling to get a grip on herself. ‘No decent woman…’ A choked and humourless laugh escaped her. She tore the ring off her finger, dropped it in a drawer and rammed the drawer shut. She made herself pick up the phone again.

Unfortunately it was her aunt on the line. Something about the wedding rehearsal. Sara froze while Antonia’s mother talked. Then she sat down, and drew in a deep, shuddering breath. ‘Aunt Janice?’ She hesitated and then forced herself on. ‘I’m sorry but the wedding’s off. Brian and I have broken up.’ Even to her own ears she sounded unreal, like someone clumsily cracking a joke in the worst possible taste.

‘Don’t be silly, Sara,’ Janice Dalton murmured sharply. ‘What on earth are you talking about?’

‘Brian and I have broken up. I’m very sorry…but we’ve decided we can’t get married after all.’

‘If you’ve had some foolish argument with Brian, I suggest you sort it out quickly,’ her aunt told her with icy restraint. ‘Brian had lunch with us yesterday and there was nothing wrong then!’

The line went dead as her aunt cut the connection. Sara trembled. Antonia’s mother…how could she have told her the truth? Janice and Hugh Dalton had given her a home when her own mother had died. How could she possibly tell them the truth? Much better simply to pretend that she and Brian had had a change of heartmuch cleaner, much less embarrassing for all concerned. The two families were neighbours and friends. A giant lump thickened her throat. Did Brian love Antonia?

‘No decent woman…’ Antonia had shed her clothes with alacrity when she had been offered the chance to feature in the famous Rossini calendar. Marco, Alex Rossini’s kid brother, had smoothly offered Sara the same opportunity, unperturbed by her incredulous embarrassment. ‘You’ve got something your long, tall cousin hasn’t got…You’re really sexy…and you have a lot of class.’

Marco had made the invitation in front of a highly amused audience at the staff party and it had become a tormenting, running joke in the months which had followed. The instant that Marco had seen Sara redden he had realised that he had found a real live target. Every time he saw Sara, he offered her an increasingly fantastic sum to bare all. No doubt he saw in her what everyone wanted to see, Sara reflected bitterly: a woman the exact, boring opposite of her exciting, beautiful cousin. Prim, quiet, predictable, ludicrously unlikely ever to set the world…or indeed any man…on fire.

Antonia had had Sara christened Prissy Prude at school, and, having created that image for her, had then delighted in shattering it by sharing the news that Sara was illegitimate, the inconvenient result of her youthful mother’s holiday fling with a Greek waiter. Some of the girls hadn’t laughed at first but they had soon fallen into line and obediently giggled and sneered. After all, Antonia had been the undeniable leader of the pack and peer pressure had been relentless. Sara had duly been persecuted, no other girl daring to stand her ground against Antonia lest she find herself enduring the same ordeal. To escape, Sara had left school at sixteen and taken a secretarial course. And that had not been her dream.

But Brian had been her dream…

Suddenly, with a violence that shook her, Sara hated everything about herself—her body, her personality, her inhibitions, her clothing. She was boring, laughably out of step with other women in her age group. Old-fashioned, sexually ignorant, eager to give up her job and become a housewife and mother at twenty-three. She should have been born a century ago, not in the nineties.

Out of the corner of her eye, she finally noticed that the door was open. Slowly she lifted her head and panic filled her, her cat-green eyes flying wide to accentuate the exotic slant of her cheekbones. Alex Rossini was standing there as silent as a sleek predator on the prowl…and both phones were ringing off the hook, unanswered. He should have been in Rome this afternoon, not here in London, she thought stupidly.

‘Coffee-break?’ Alex murmured in a curiously quiet voice instead of letting fly at her as she had expected. The phones stopped abruptly as if the switchboard had cut them off, plunging them into a sudden, thunderous silence.

In a daze, she looked back at him. Six feet three inches of lithe, rawly virile masculinity. Black hair, hard bronze profile with the deep, dark, flashing eyes of his Italian ancestry. A sexually devastating male with an overwhelmingly physical presence that few men could equal. And Sara hated being near him. She hated the way he looked at her. She hated the way he spoke to her.

If the cost of setting up the first marital home hadn’t been so extortionate, Sara would have sacrificed her excellent salary and taken a lesser position elsewhere within a week of being exposed to Alex Rossini’s sardonic asides and contemptuously amused appraisals. He made her feel so murderously uncomfortable…so self-conscious, so ridiculous. He made her feel like a curious specimen trapped behind museum glass.

‘Finish your coffee.’ A lean, long-fingered brown hand casually closed round the half-full cup of brandy sitting on the edge of her desk and extended it to her.

Didn’t he smell the alcohol, realise that it wasn’t black coffee? Evidently, obviously not. Jerkily, she reached out and accepted the cup and focused on his beautifully polished shoes, every muscle whip-taut. She tossed back the rest of the brandy in a burning surge. It brought tears to her eyes, which she blinked back furiously.

‘Where’s Pete?’

‘Still at the hospital with his wife.’ Sara struggled for some desperate semblance of normality, astonished that he wasn’t cutting her to ribbons with the satirical edge of his tongue. She forced herself upright, bracing both hands on the desk. Involuntarily her gaze collided with shimmering dark golden eyes and it was like falling on an electric fence, shock waves making every raw nerve-ending scream. Deliberately she turned her head away, closing him out again. No, she was not susceptible. She had proved that to her satisfaction over and over again.

‘Then I’m afraid you’ll have to take his place.’

‘His place?’ Nobody could possibly take Pete Hunniford’s place. Pete was Alex’s most devoted gofer. Nothing came between Pete and ambition. He had freely admitted to Sara that his first marriage had fallen apart because he was never at home. And right at this minute, if Alex employed his mobile phone, Pete would be out of the labour ward like a rocket.

‘Nothing too onerous…Relax,’ Alex breathed in that distinctively rich dark voice which rolled down her spine like golden honey, burning wherever it touched. ‘I only want you to take down a couple of letters.’

Her brow furrowed as she automatically lifted a pad and pencils. He was talking very slowly, not with his usual quick impatience. He hadn’t even asked her why she hadn’t answered the phones. He stood back for her to precede him from the room, and in her need to keep as much physical space between them as possible she jerked sideways and skidded off balance.

Strong hands whipped out and closed round her upper arms to steady her. Her head swam, her heartbeat kicking wildly against her breastbone. She quivered, fighting off sudden dizziness, and he drew her back. ‘OK?’ he murmured, still holding her on the threshold.

‘F-fine…Sorry.’ Her nostrils flared in dismay as the warm, definably male scent of him washed over her. Aromatic, intrinsically familiar…intimate. Intimate? What was the matter with her? What the heck was the matter with her? As she stiffened he released her and she walked down the corridor with careful small steps, noticing that the double doors of his office at the end looked peculiarly out of focus. Now near, now far, now skewed. All that brandy. Drunk in charge of a phone. But it felt shamelessly, unbelievably good: a short-term anaesthetic against the enormous pain waiting to jump on her—the pain she could not yet face head-on. As long as she didn’t think, she could protect herself.

‘Sit down, Sara.’ She plotted a course across the thick carpet with immense care and sank down on the nearest seat, suddenly terrified that he would notice the state she was in. Being intoxicated suddenly didn’t feel good any more. In Alex Rossini’s presence, it felt like sheer insanity. Discovery would be unbelievably demeaning.

Disorientatedly, she glanced up and found him standing over her. She flinched. Her hands trembled and she anchored them tightly round the pad. He didn’t sit down. He strolled with silent grace across to the floorlength windows. A stunningly handsome man, he had an innate elegance of movement, his superbly cut mohair and silk-blend charcoal-grey suit the perfect complementary frame to wide shoulders, lean hips and long, powerful thighs.

From beneath luxuriant black lashes he surveyed her. ‘Shall I begin?’

He didn’t normally request permission. Uncertainly she nodded. He dictated with incredibly long pauses that enabled her more or less to keep up but she still missed bits because her mind wouldn’t stay in one place. Shock was giving way to reality, denial giving way to bursts of agonised pain. For how long had Brian been deceiving her with Antonia? Her memory threw up the image of the open bottle of wine in the lounge, the half-filled wineglasses by the bed. No sudden passion there. They had carried the glasses with them into the bedroom. A carefully staged lunchtime encounter when Sara should have been at work.

‘Did you get all that?’

The page currently beneath her fingers was blank. Briefly she simply closed her eyes, willing herself to find calm and control.

‘It’s all right, Sara…the letter isn’t important.’

The softness of the assurance astonished her. Dazedly she glanced up, encountered Alex Rossini’s brilliant dark eyes and was mesmerised by the sincerity she read there. He was resting against the edge of his polished desk, far too close for comfort. He reached down and removed the pad from her nerveless fingers, setting it carelessly aside.

‘Something has upset you…’ he drawled.

Her creamy, perfect skin tightened over her fine facial bones as she focused on his silk tie. ‘No…’

‘You’re not wearing your ring.’

Sara went white. The pencil she was fiddling with snapped in two.

‘You are clearly distressed,’ Alex murmured in the same quiet, disturbingly gentle tone which she had never heard him employ before. ‘I believe you were called home unexpectedly this morning. What happened there?’

She was appalled to discover that she wanted to tell him, spill out the poison building up inside her, but instead she bit down hard on her tongue.

‘Perhaps you would prefer to go home for the rest of the day?’ Alex suggested lethally.

‘No…’ Sara muttered, horror bringing her back to life. Antonia would be waiting for her and she could not yet face that confrontation.

‘Why not?’ he prompted her.

‘I found my fiancé in bed with my cousin.’ As soon as she had said it she could not believe that she had said that out loud and to him of all people. A tide of chagrined colour crawled up her slender throat.

But Alex Rossini didn’t bat a magnificent eyelash and his response was instantaneous. ‘A merciful escape.’

‘Escape?’ Sara queried blankly.

Alex spread beautifully shaped brown hands expressively. ‘Think how much more disturbing it would have been had you discovered such a sordid liaison after the wedding.’

‘There isn’t going to be a wedding now,’ Sara said shakily, and whereas telling that same fact to her aunt had seemed like part of a living nightmare it now felt like hard, agonising reality.

‘Of course not. No woman would forgive such a betrayal, would she?’ Alex drawled softly.

The silence hummed. The tip of her tongue snaked out to moisten her dry lower lip. Forgiveness…understanding. Brian had been asking for both within seconds. He had not stood shoulder to shoulder with Antonia…

‘After all,’ Alex continued with honeyed persistence. ‘How could you ever trust him again? Or her?’

The darkness sank back down over Sara where for an instant she had seen a wild, hopeful chink of light.

‘Were you thinking of giving him another chance?’ Alex enquired in a tone of polite astonishment.

Sara flinched. ‘No,’ she muttered sickly, duly forced to see the impossibility of ever trusting again.

Yet she could not believe that she was actually having such a conversation with Alex Rossini, who was not known for his concerned and benevolent interest in his employees’ personal problems. Indeed, the Rossini credo was that the best employees left their private life outside the door of Rossini Industries and never, ever allowed that private life to interfere with their work.

‘Why are you talking to me like this?’ she whispered helplessly.

‘Do you have anyone else to confide in?’

Sara tried and failed to swallow. It was almost as if he knew, but how could he possibly know how frighteningly isolated she now was? She could not turn to Antonia’s parents and she had no other relatives, no close friends who were not also Brian’s friends or colleagues. ‘No, but—’

‘Nothing you have told me will go any further,’ Alex asserted, his night-dark eyes, sharp and shrewd as knives, trained on her, but those eyes were no longer cutting, no longer cold, no longer grimly amused.

‘You’re being so…so kind,’ Sara said in a wobbly tone as she fought to conceal her disbelief, for this was a side of his character that she had never thought to see, indeed never dreamt existed.

‘You have had a traumatic experience and, naturally, I am concerned.’

‘Thank you, but I don’t need your pity,’ Sara bit out painfully.

‘The very last thing you inspire is pity,’ Alex assured her, unleashing a wry smile of reproof on her. ‘You should be celebrating your freedom. Life is far too short for regrets. You’ve already wasted two years of it on that little salesman. The future has to offer far more entertaining possibilities—’

‘How did you know Brian was a salesman?’ Sara breathed, the words slurring slightly.

‘Isn’t he? He looks like one,’ Alex informed her smoothly.

Something not quite right tugged at her instincts and then drifted away again, for nothing in her entire world was right any more.

‘You live with your cousin, don’t you?’ Alex probed.

Again she was disconcerted by his knowledge and perhaps it showed, because he added, ‘Marco mentioned it to me.’

‘Yes.’ Sara flushed, reluctantly recalling all the unwanted, gory details which had been forced on her during Antonia’s short-lived affair with Alex’s brother. That connection had embarrassed Sara.

‘Naturally you do not want to return to your home at this moment,’ Alex murmured, and casually tossed a set of keys onto her lap. ‘You can use the company apartment until you have made other arrangements.’

Even in the state she was in Sara was staggered by such a proposition. The apartment was a penthouse on the floor above, used only by the Rossini family and, very occasionally, their personal friends. ‘I couldn’t possibly—’

‘Where else have you got to go?’

She clutched the keys, meaning to return them but thinking helplessly of the humiliation of dealing with Antonia as she felt now. Her strained eyes unguarded and vulnerable, Sara stared back at him. ‘I’m very grateful.’

‘A fresh start,’ Alex murmured intently. ‘I’m having a dinner party tonight. Why don’t you come? You shouldn’t be on your own.’

A nervous laugh lodged in her aching throat. A party? He thought that she was in the mood for a party? Was he insane or just downright incapable of comprehending the immensity of what had happened to her today?

‘I’ll be fine,’ she returned tremulously, wondering if he needed someone to supervise the caterers. Pete usually attended Alex’s dinner parties, checked the seating arrangements, oiled the conversation and ensured that everything went smoothly. Alex Rossini paid for that kind of service. Alex Rossini was so rich that he could afford to burn money for amusement.

‘I’ll call you later. I’ll send a car to pick you up at seven,’ Alex told her as if she hadn’t spoken.

Dully she fumbled for an excuse. ‘I have nothing—’

‘I’ll buy you a dress to wear. No problem, cara. Don’t even think about something so trivial.’

‘But I—’

Strong brown hands reached down and closed over hers, tugging her gently upright. He angled her towards the door as if she were a walking doll. ‘Go up to the apartment and lie down for a while; practise thinking optimistic, happy thoughts. Smile…’ he urged softly, and a blunt fingertip skimmed below the trembling curve of her full lower lip and withdrew again, the contact feather-light and strangely soothing.

Unwarily, like someone in a dream, Sara looked up at him, connected with shimmering, mesmeric gold eyes and staggered slightly. He balanced her again with ease. An ache unlike anything she had ever experienced made her shiver. ‘Mr Rossini—’

‘Alex…Cristo!’ he exploded, abruptly freeing her.

Sara almost fell over. Numbly she watched him stride over to sweep up the phone that she hadn’t even heard ringing. He swung smoothly back to her. ‘Go up to the apartment and lie down,’ he instructed her again.

Sara backed out slowly and walked back down to her office to collect her bag. Her head was aching. She put a hand up to her hair and undid the tight plait, running her fingers through the loosened tresses. The phone on her desk was ringing. For an instant she hesitated, and then she lifted it.

‘Sara?’ Pete demanded impatiently. ‘Where have you been?’

‘I was—’

‘Look, I need a favour,’ he broke in. ‘Alex told me to get Marco’s signature on some papers yesterday but I forgot. They’re in the top right-hand drawer in my desk. Take a cab over to the studio and get it seen to before Alex asks for them…OK?’

Sara took a deep breath, grimaced and then wearily sighed. ‘OK.’

‘You’re an angel. I bet your replacement won’t be half so helpful.’

The reminder that she was actually working out her notice hit Sara hard as she climbed into a taxi. She would be in the dole queue soon, she realised dully. Her successor was already picked, due to take her place in a fortnight’s time. Brian hadn’t wanted a working wife. And she had no savings. She had poured every penny of her salary into renovating and furnishing the Victorian terrace house that Brian had bought. Weekends and evenings, she had scraped walls, plastered, decorated, cut out and sewn and hung curtains. She had put her heart into transforming that house. The knowledge that now she would never live there sank in on her slowly and then blistered her soul like an acid burn.

Real anger began to rise inside her. Three years ago Sara had stood by, watching Brian pursue Antonia without success. But her cousin would take just for the sake of taking, and throughout the years that Sara had lived in the Dalton home she had been taught that lesson over and over again. Anything she had been foolish enough to value had inevitably been taken from her by her cousin…only this time it had not been a toy or a sentimental keepsake, it had been the man she loved. She clambered dizzily out of the cab with a white, frozen face.

She had never been in Marco Rossini’s high-tech photographic studio before. The reception area was incredibly busy. It made her feel claustrophobic. She forced her passage through the throng and trekked down the corridor indicated by the laconic redhead on the desk.

Marco was lying back in a chair inside the perimeter of a blinding circle of lights in an empty studio. He looked half-asleep but his mobile dark brows hit his hairline at speed when he saw Sara hovering, and he sprang upright with a mocking smile. ‘To what do I owe the honour? Don’t tell me you’ve finally decided to take me up on my offer? Miss December in red boots and a tasteful sprinkling of holly berries…what do you think?’

Sara gritted her teeth as she felt her cheeks burn. She was in no mood to take one of Marco’s baiting sessions. Evading his malicious gaze, she murmured flatly as she extended the file, ‘These documents require your signature.’

Marco suddenly laughed.

‘What’s so funny?’ Sara heard herself demand almost aggressively, the words slurring slightly.

‘Private joke.’

‘If it’s about me, it’s not private!’ Sara told him fiercely, standing her ground.

Marco surveyed her with intense amusement. ‘There’s a price.’

‘A price?’

Marco laughed again. ‘You tell me something first…haven’t you ever once got the hots in my brother’s radius?’

Sara looked back at him blankly. ‘Excuse me?’

‘Alex is a very good-looking guy, beats the women off with sticks. If he wasn’t family, I’d hate the smooth bastard! Come on, you can tell me…if it wasn’t for true love, you’d have given him a whirl, right? You know that movie where Robert Redford pays a million bucks for one night with Demi Moore—Indecent Proposal? You too could have made your fortune…’

‘I don’t understand.’ It was a lie. Sara just couldn’t believe what Marco was insinuating.

Marco dealt her an incredulous glance. ‘Are you saying you didn’t even notice? Or are you telling me that Alex didn’t once chance his arm?’

‘If you are trying to imply that your brother is attracted to me, you’re wrong—’

‘To the tune of a million bucks? He could drop a million without noticing. No, the sum I heard mentioned was two million,’ Marco imparted with undeniable relish. ‘I think Alex thought just one was bargain basement.’

Sara’s head was swimming again. It was so hot beneath the lights that she couldn’t concentrate. ‘This is a very distasteful conversation, Marco.’

‘So Alex wants to jump your bones…is that some sort of crime? Lust makes the world go round,’ he told her impatiently.

Alex Rossini wanted to go to bed with her? Her lashes fluttered in bemusement. She couldn’t believe it.

Marco shook his head slowly. ‘You really didn’t know, did you? Love is truly blind. But hey, don’t let your heart soften in his direction. Remind yourself that you don’t like him and steer clear. Marry your insurance salesman and live happily ever after,’ he advised very drily as he flipped through the file and began scrawling his signature.

Alex Rossini wanted her? Rubbish, nonsense, Marco’s deliberate mistake—doubtless another example of his nasty sense of humour. ‘You don’t like him’. Had her dislike of Alex Rossini been so obvious that even his brother was aware of it? She remembered Alex’s astonishing kindness and tolerance and a stark arrow of guilt abruptly pierced her.

No, she had never liked Alex Rossini—his arrogance, his impatience, his sardonic tongue, his rich man’s self-centred motivation which took no account of anything but his own wishes, his own needs. She had never liked the way he treated women either. As if they were things that he could buy and discard when he got bored…and he got bored so fast that your head would spin. Fast cars, fast women, fast-lane life. Nightclubs, movie premieres, gambling joints, summer in the South of France, winter in the Alps. When the beautiful face and body of his latest lover palled, she got twenty-four regulation red roses and a diamond bracelet. Imaginative in that line he wasn’t.

Why should he be? Women were easy around Alex Rossini. He didn’t need to lie and cheat and deceive. He had no need to make promises that he had no intention of keeping…

Oh, Brian, how could you do this to me?

For the first time Sara met her own anguish head-on, and she swayed slightly, her temples pounding. The heat was suffocating her. Her blouse was sticking to her skin. In a clumsy movement she tugged off her jacket and breathed in deeply. Two million pounds…She wanted to laugh like a hysteric. It was so ridiculous…

‘You know getting married costs a lot,’ Marco murmured reflectively, watching Sara with fascinated eyes as the jacket slid from her limp fingers to the floor. ‘Why don’t you reconsider my offer? Nobody need ever know. I wouldn’t be planning on publishing the shots. It could be your secret…and mine.’

As Sara attempted to focus on him, there was a sudden commotion out beyond the lights. A raw burst of Italian scorched her eardrums. A fist hit Marco on the shoulder, hard enough to knock him back, and suddenly Alex was there, ranting at his brother and with every blistering sentence punching him on the shoulder again, forcing him into retreat, like a boxer playing with a weak opponent.

White-faced, Marco leapt behind Sara. ‘Dio…switch him off before he kills somebody!’


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