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The Truth Behind his Touch

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«The Truth Behind his Touch» - Кэтти Уильямс

Step into a world of sophistication and glamour, where sinfully seductive heroes await you in luxurious international locations.Women always jump at the click of his fingers…don’t they? Hot and flustered from the sweltering Milan heat, Caroline Rossi steps into the sleek offices of Giancarlo de Vito – only to feel plump, plain…and virtually invisible! Giancarlo’s ruthless ambition got him where he is today, but he’s never forgotten the hardships he overcame – or his thirst for a revenge only Caroline can help him exact…Used to women doing anything to please him, Giancarlo is confounded by Caroline – she just won’t play ball. To seek his vengeance Giancarlo will have to turn on the legendarily irresistible de Vito charm…
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About the Author

‘You’re attracted to me, and the faster you face that, the better off you’ll be …’

‘And how do you figure that out, Giancarlo? How?’

‘Your head’s telling you what you should want but here I am … a real man … and you just can’t help yourself. Don’t worry. Amazingly, it’s mutual …’

Caroline went white at his brutal summary of everything she didn’t want to face. Her behaviour made no sense to her. She didn’t approve of him one bit and yet she had succumbed faster than she could ever have dreamt possible.

Had he thought that he was complimenting her when he’d told her that he amazingly found her attractive? Did he seriously think that it felt good to be somebody’s novelty for five minutes before he returned to the sort of woman he usually liked? Warning bells were ringing so loudly in her head that she would have been a complete idiot not to listen to them.

‘Okay—’ Caroline’s words tumbled over one another and she kept her eyes firmly fixed on the fast approaching shoreline ‘—so I find you attractive. You’re right! Satisfied? But I’m glad you’ve dragged that out of me because it’s only lust, and lust doesn’t mean anything! Not to me, anyway. So there. Now it’s out in the open and we can both forget about it!’

About the Author

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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The Truth Behind

His Touch

Cathy Williams


CAROLINE fanned herself wearily with the guide book which she had been clutching like a talisman ever since she had disembarked from the plane at Malpensa airport in Milan, and took the time to look around her. Somewhere, nestled amongst these ancient, historic buildings and wide, elegant piazzas, lay her quarry. She knew that she should be heading directly there, bypassing all temptations of a cold drink and something sweet, sticky, chocolatey and deliciously fattening, but she was hot, she was exhausted and she was ravenous.

‘It will take you no time at all!’ Alberto had said encouragingly. ‘One short flight, Caroline. And a taxi … Maybe a little walking to find his offices, but what sights you’ll see. The Duomo. You will never have laid eyes on anything so spectacular. Palazzos. More than you can shake a stick at. And the shops. Well, it is many, many years since I have been to Milan, but I can still recall the splendour of the Vittorio Gallery.’

Caroline had looked at him with raised, sceptical eyebrows and the old man had had the grace to flush sheepishly, because this trip to Milan was hardly a sightseeing tour. In fact, she was expected back within forty-eight hours and her heart clenched anxiously at the expectations sitting heavily on her shoulders.

She was to locate Giancarlo de Vito, run him to ground and somehow return to Lake Como with him.

‘I would go myself, my dear,’ Alberto had murmured, ‘but my health does not permit it. The doctor said that I have to rest as much as possible—the strain on my heart … I am not a well man, you understand …’

Caroline wondered, not for the first time, how she had managed to let herself get talked into this mission but there seemed little point dwelling on that. She was here now, surrounded by a million people, perspiring in soaring July temperatures, and it was just too late in the day to have a sudden attack of nerves.

The truth was that the success or failure of this trip was really not her concern. She was the messenger. Alberto, yes, he would be affected, but she was really just his personal assistant who happened to be performing a slightly bizarre duty.

Someone bumped into her from behind and she hastily consulted her map and began walking towards the small street which she had highlighted in bold orange.

She had dressed inappropriately for the trip, but it had been cooler by the lake. Here, it was sweltering and her cream trousers stuck to her legs like glue. The plain yellow blouse with its three-quarter-length sleeves had looked suitably smart when she had commenced her journey but now she wished that she had worn something without sleeves, and she should have done something clever with her hair. Put it up into some kind of bun, perhaps. Yes; she had managed to twist it into a long braid of sorts but it kept unravelling and somehow getting itself plastered around her neck.

Caught up in her own physical discomfort and the awkwardness of what lay ahead, she barely noticed the old mellow beauty of the cathedral with its impressive buttresses, spires and statues as she hurried past it, dragging her suitcase which behaved like a recalcitrant child, stopping and swerving and doing its best to misbehave.

Anyone with a less cheerful and equable temperament might have been tempted to curse the elderly employer who had sent them on this impossible mission, which was frankly way beyond the scope of their duties. But Caroline, tired, hot and hungry as she was, was optimistic that she could do what was expected of her.

She had enormous faith in human nature. Alberto, on the other hand, was the world’s most confirmed pessimist.

She very nearly missed the building. Not knowing what exactly to expect, she had imagined something along the lines of an office in London. Bland, uninspiring, with perhaps too much glass and too little imagination.

Retracing her steps, she looked down at the address which she had carefully printed on an index card, and then up at the ancient exterior of stone and soft, aged pinks, no more than three storeys tall, adorned with exquisite carvings and fronted by two stone columns.

How difficult could Giancarlo be if he worked in this wonderful place? Caroline mused, heart lightening.

‘I cannot tell you anything of Giancarlo,’ Alberto had said mournfully when she had tried to press him for details of what she would be letting herself in for. ‘It is many, many years since I have seen him. I could show you some pictures, but they are so out of date. He would have changed in all these years … If I had a computer … But an old man like me … How could I ever learn now to work one of those things?’

‘I could go and get my laptop from upstairs,’ she had offered instantly, but he had waved her down.

‘No, no. I don’t care for those gadgets. Televisions and telephones are as far as I am prepared to go when it comes to technology.’

Privately, Caroline agreed with him. She used her computer to email but that was all, and it was nigh on impossible trying to access the Internet in the house anyway.

So she had few details on which to go. She suspected, however, that Giancarlo was rich, because Alberto had told her in passing that he had ‘made something of himself’. Her suspicion crystallised when she stepped into the cool, uber-modern, marbled portico of Giancarlo’s offices. If the façade of the building looked as though it had stepped out of an architectural guide to mediaeval buildings, inside the twenty-first century had made its mark.

Only the cool, pale marble underfoot and the scattering of old masterpieces on the walls hinted at the age of the building.

Of course, she wasn’t expected. Surprise, apparently, was of the utmost importance, ‘or else he will just refuse to see you, I am convinced of it! ‘.

It took her over thirty-five minutes to try to persuade the elegant receptionist positioned like a guard dog behind her wood-and-marble counter, who spoke far too quickly for Caroline to follow, that she shouldn’t be chucked out.

‘What is your business here?’

‘Ah …’

‘Are you expected?’

Not exactly …

‘Are you aware that Signore de Vito is an extremely important man?’

‘Er …’ Then she had practised her haltering Italian and explained the connection to Giancarlo, produced several documents which had been pored over in silence and the wheels of machinery had finally begun to move.

But still she would have to wait.

Three floors up, Giancarlo, in the middle of a meeting with three corporate financiers, was interrupted by his secretary, who whispered something in his ear that made him still and brought the shutters down on his dark, cold eyes.

‘Are you sure?’ he asked in a clipped voice. Elena Carli seldom made mistakes; it was why she had worked for him so successfully for the past five-and-a-half years. She did her job with breathtaking efficiency, obeyed orders without question and seldom made mistakes. When she nodded firmly, he immediately got to his feet, made his excuses—though not profusely, because these financiers needed him far more than he needed them—and then, meeting dismissed, he walked across to the window to stare down at the paved, private courtyard onto which his offices backed.

So the past he thought to have left behind was returning. Good sense counselled him to turn his back on this unexpected intrusion in his life, but he was curious and what harm would there be in indulging his curiosity? In his life of unimaginable wealth and vast power, curiosity was a rare visitor, after all.

Giancarlo de Vito had been ferociously single-minded and ruthlessly ambitious to get where he was now. He had had no choice. His mother had needed to be kept and after a series of unfortunate lovers the only person left to keep her had been him. He had finished his university career with a first and had launched himself into the world of high finance with such dazzling expertise that it hadn’t been long before doors began to open. Within three years of finishing university, he’d been able to pick and choose his employer. Within five years, he’d no longer needed an employer because he had become the powerhouse who did the employing. Now, at just over thirty, he had become a billionaire, diversifying with gratifying success, branching out and stealing the march on competitors with every successive merger and acquisition and in the process building himself a reputation that rendered him virtually untouchable.

His mother had seen only the tip of his enormous success, as she had died six years previously—perhaps, fittingly, in the passenger seat of her young lover’s fast car—a victim, as he had seen it, of a life gone wrong. As her only offspring, Giancarlo knew he should have been more heartbroken than he actually was, but his mother had been a temperamental and difficult woman, fond of spending money and easily dissatisfied. He had found her flitting from lover to lover rather distasteful, but never had he once criticized her. At the end of the day, hadn’t she been through enough?

Unaccustomed to taking these trips down memory lane, Giancarlo shook himself out of his introspection with a certain amount of impatience. Presumably the woman who had come to see him and who was currently sitting in the grand marble foyer was to blame for his lapse in self-control. With his thoughts back in order and back where they belonged, he buzzed her up.

‘You may go up now.’ The receptionist beckoned to Caroline, who could have stayed sitting in the air-conditioned foyer quite happily for another few hours. Her feet were killing her and she had finally begun cooling down after the hours spent in the suffocating heat. ‘Signora Carli will meet you up at the top of the elevator and show you to Signore De Vito’s office.

If you like, you may leave your … case here.’

Caroline thought that the last thing the receptionist seemed to want was her battered pull-along being left anywhere in the foyer. At any rate, she needed it with her.

And, now that she was finally here, she felt a little twist of nervousness at the prospect of what lay ahead. She wouldn’t want to return to the lake house empty-handed. Alberto had suffered a heart attack several weeks previously. His health was not good and, his doctor had confided in her, the less stress the better.

With a determined lift of her head, Caroline followed the personal assistant in silence, passing offices which seemed abnormally silent, staffed with lots of hard-working executives who barely looked up as they walked past.

Everyone seemed very well-groomed. The women were all thin, good-looking and severe, with their hair scraped back and their suits shrieking of money well spent.

In comparison, Caroline felt overweight, short and dishevelled. She had never been skinny, even as a child. When she sucked her breath in and looked at herself sideways through narrowed eyes, she could almost convince herself that she was curvy and voluptuous, but the illusion was always destroyed the second she took a harder look at her reflection. Nor was her hair of the manageable variety. It rarely did as it was told; it flowed in wild abandon down her back and was only ever remotely obedient when it was wet. Right now the heat had added more curl than normal and she knew that tendrils were flying wildly out of their impromptu braid. She had to keep blowing them off her face.

After trailing along behind Elena—who had introduced herself briefly and then seen fit to say absolutely nothing else on the way up—a door was opened into an office so exquisite that for a few seconds Caroline wasn’t even aware that she had been deposited like an unwanted parcel, nor did she notice the man by the window turning slowly around to look at her.

All she could see was the expanse of splendid, antique Persian rug on the marble floor; the soft, silk wallpaper on the walls; the smooth, dark patina of a bookshelf that half-filled an entire wall; the warm, old paintings on the walls—not paintings of silly lines and shapes that no one could ever decipher, but paintings of beautiful landscapes, heavy with trees and rivers.

‘Wow,’ she breathed, deeply impressed as she continued to look around her with shameless awe.

At long last her eyes rested on the man staring at her and she was overcome with a suffocating, giddy sensation as she absorbed the wild, impossible beauty of his face. Black hair, combed back and ever so slightly too long, framed a face of stunning perfection. His features were classically perfect and invested with a raw sensuality that brought a heated flush to her cheeks. His eyes were dark and unreadable. Expensive, lovingly hand-tailored charcoal-grey trousers sheathed long legs and the crisp white shirt rolled to the elbows revealed strong, bronzed forearms with a sprinkling of dark hair. In the space of a few seconds, Caroline realised that she was staring at the most spectacular-looking man she had ever clapped eyes on in her life. She also belatedly realised that she was gaping, mouth inelegantly open, and she cleared her throat in an attempt to get a hold of herself.

The silence stretched to breaking point and then at last the man spoke and introduced himself, inviting her to take a seat, which she was only too happy to do because her legs felt like jelly. His voice matched his appearance. It was deep, dark, smooth and velvety. It was also icy cold, and a trickle of doubt began creeping in, because this was not a man who looked as though he could be persuaded into doing anything he didn’t want to do.

‘So …’ Giancarlo sat down, pushing himself away from his desk so that he could cross his long legs, and stared at her. ‘What makes you think that you can just barge into my offices, Miss …?’

‘Rossi. Caroline.’

‘I was in the middle of a meeting.’

‘I’m so sorry.’ She stumbled over the apology. ‘I didn’t mean to interrupt anything. I would have been happy to wait until you were finished …’ Her naturally sunny personality rose to the surface and she offered him a small smile. ‘In fact, it was so wonderfully cool in your foyer and I was just so grateful to rest my legs. I’ve been on the go for absolutely ages and it’s as hot as a furnace out there.’ In receipt of his continuing and unwelcoming silence, her voice faded away and she licked her lips nervously.

Giancarlo was quite happy to let her stew in her own discomfiture.

‘This is a fantastic building, by the way.’

‘Let’s do away with the pleasantries, Miss Rossi. What are you doing here?’

‘Your father sent me.’

‘So I gather. Which is why you’re sitting in my office. My question is why? I haven’t had any contact with my father in over fifteen years, so I’m curious as to why he should suddenly decide to send a henchman to get in touch with me.’

Caroline felt an uncustomary warming anger flood through her as she tried to marry up this cold, dark stranger with the old man of whom she was so deeply fond, but getting angry wasn’t going to get her anywhere.

‘And who are you anyway? My father is hardly a spring chicken. Don’t tell me that he’s managed to find himself a young wife to nurse him faithfully through his old age?’ He leaned back in his chair and steepled his fingers together. ‘Nothing too beautiful, of course,’ he murmured, casting insolent, assessing eyes over her. ‘Devotion in the form of a young, beautiful, nubile wife is never a good idea for an old man, even a rich old man …’

‘How dare you?’

Giancarlo laughed coldly. ‘You show up here, unannounced, with a message from a father who was written out of my life a long time ago. Frankly, I have every right to dare.’

‘I am not married to your father!’

‘Well, now the alternative is even more distasteful, not to mention downright stupid. Why involve yourself with someone three times your age unless you’re in it for the financial gain? Don’t tell me the sex is breathtaking?’

‘I can’t believe you’re saying these things!’ She wondered how she could have been so bowled over by the way he looked when he was obviously a loathsome individual, just the sort of cold, unfeeling, sneering sort she hated. ‘I’m not involved with your father in any way other than professionally, signore!’

‘No? Then what is a young girl like you doing in a rambling old house by a lake with only an old man for company?’

Caroline glared at him. She was still smarting at the way his eyes had roamed over her and dismissed her as ‘nothing too beautiful’. She knew she wasn’t beautiful but to hear it casually emerge from the mouth of someone she didn’t know was beyond rude. Especially from the mouth of someone as physically compelling as the man sitting in front of her. Why hadn’t she done what most other people would have in similar circumstances and found herself an Internet café so that she could do some background research on the man she had been told to ferret out? At least then she might have been prepared!

She had to grit her teeth together and fight the irresistible urge to grab her suitcase and jump ship.

‘Well? I’m all ears.’

‘There’s no need to be horrible to me, signore. I’m sorry if I’ve ruined your meeting, or … or whatever you were doing, but I didn’t volunteer to come here.’

Giancarlo almost didn’t believe his ears. People never accused him of being horrible. Granted, they might sometimes think that, but it was vaguely shocking to actually hear someone come right out and say it. Especially a woman. He was accustomed to women doing everything within their power to please him. He looked narrowly at his uninvited visitor. She was certainly not the sort of rakethin beauty eulogised in the pages of magazines. She was trying hard to conceal her expression but it was transparently clear that the last place she wanted to be was in his office, being interrogated.

Too bad.

‘I take it my father manipulated you into doing what he wanted. Are you his housekeeper? Why would he employ an English housekeeper?’

‘I’m his personal assistant,’ Caroline admitted reluctantly. ‘He used to know my father once upon a time. Your father had a one-year posting in England lecturing at a university and my father was one of his students. He was my father’s mentor and they kept in touch after your father returned to Italy. My father is Italian. I think he enjoyed having someone he could speak to in Italian.

‘Anyway, I didn’t go to university, but my parents thought it would be nice for me to learn Italian, seeing that it’s my father’s native tongue, and he asked Alberto if he could help me find a posting over here for a few months. So I’m helping your father with his memoirs and also pretty much taking care of all the admin—stuff like that. Don’t you want to know … um … how he is? You haven’t seen him in such a long time.’

‘If I had wanted to see my father, don’t you think I would have contacted him before now?’

‘Yes, well, pride can sometimes get in the way of us doing what we want to do.’

‘If your aim is to play amateur psychologist, then the door is right behind you. Avail yourself of it.’

‘I’m not playing amateur psychologist,’ Caroline persisted stubbornly. ‘I just think, well, I know that it probably wasn’t ideal when your parents got divorced. Alberto doesn’t talk much about it, but I know that when your mother walked out and took you with her you were only twelve …’

‘I don’t believe I’m hearing this!’ Intensely private, Giancarlo could scarcely credit that he was listening to someone drag his past out of the closet in which it had been very firmly shut.

‘How else am I supposed to deal with this situation?’ Caroline asked, bewildered and dismayed.

‘I am not in the habit of discussing my past!’

‘Yes, well, that’s not my fault.’ She felt herself soften. ‘Don’t you think that it’s a good thing to talk about the things that bother us? Don’t you ever think about your dad?’

His internal line buzzed and he spoke in rapid Italian, telling his secretary to hold all further calls until he advised her otherwise. Suddenly, filled with a restless energy he couldn’t seem to contain, he pushed himself away from the desk and moved across to the window to look briefly outside before turning around and staring at the girl on the chair who had swivelled to face him.

She looked as though butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth—very young, very innocent and with a face as transparent as a pane of glass. Right now, he seemed to be an object of pity, and he tightened his mouth with a sense of furious outrage.

‘He’s had a heart attack,’ Caroline told him abruptly, her eyes beginning to well up because she was so very fond of him. Having him rushed into hospital, dealing with the horror of it all on her own had been almost more than she could take. ‘A very serious one. In fact, for a while it was touch and go.’ She opened her satchel, rummaged around for a tissue and found a pristine white handkerchief pressed into her hand.

‘Sorry,’ she whispered shakily. ‘But I don’t know how you can just stand there like a statue and not feel a thing.’

Big brown eyes looked accusingly at him and Giancarlo flushed, annoyed with himself because there was no reason why he should feel guilty on that score. He had no relationship with his father. Indeed, his memories of life in the big house by the lake were a nightmare of parental warfare. Alberto had married his very young and very pretty blonde wife when he had been in his late forties, nearly twenty-five years older than Adriana, and was already a cantankerous and confirmed bachelor.

It had been a marriage that had struggled on against all odds and had been, to all accounts, hellishly difficult for his demanding young wife.

His mother had not held back from telling him everything that had been so horrifically wrong with the relationship, as soon as he had been old enough to appreciate the gory detail. Alberto had been selfish, cold, mean, dismissive, contemptuous and probably, his mother had maintained viciously, would have had other women had he not lacked even basic social skills when it came to the opposite sex. He had, Adriana had wept on more than one occasion, thrown them out without a penny—so was it any wonder that she sometimes needed a little alcohol and a few substances to help her get by?

So many things for which Giancarlo had never forgiven his father.

He had stood on the sidelines and watched his delicate, spoilt mother—without any qualifications to speak of, always reliant on her beauty—demean herself by taking lover after lover, searching for the one who might want her enough to stick around. By the time she had died she had been a pathetic shadow of her former self.

‘You have no idea of what my life was like, or what my mother’s life was like,’ Giancarlo framed icily. ‘Perhaps my father has mellowed. Ill health has a habit of making servants of us all. However, I’m not interested in building bridges. Is that why he sent you here—because he’s now an old man and he wants my forgiveness before he shuffles off this mortal coil?’ He gave a bark of cynical, contemptuous laughter. ‘I don’t think so.’

She had continued playing with the handkerchief, twisting it between her fingers. Giancarlo thought that when it came to messengers, his father could not have been more calculating in his choice. The woman was a picture of teary-eyed incomprehension. Anyone would be forgiven for thinking that she worked for a saint, instead of for the man who had made his mother’s life a living hell.

His sharp eyes narrowed and focused, taking in the details of her appearance. Her clothes were a fashion disaster—trousers and a blouse in a strange, sickly shade of yellow, both of which would have been better suited to someone twice her age. Her hair seemed to be escaping from a sort of makeshift braid, and it was long—really long. Not at all like the snappy bobs he was accustomed to seeing on women. And it was curly. She was free of makeup and he was suddenly conscious of the fact that her skin was very smooth, satin smooth, and she had an amazing mouth—full, well-defined lips, slightly parted now to reveal pearly-white teeth as she continued to stare at him with disappointment and incredulity.

‘I’m sorry you’re still so bitter about the past,’ she murmured quietly. ‘But he would really like to see you. Why is it too late to mend bridges? It would mean the world to him.’

‘So have you managed to see anything of our beautiful city?’

‘What? No. No, I’ve come directly here. Look, is there anything I can do or say to convince you to … to come back with me?’

‘You have got to be kidding, haven’t you? I mean, even if I were suddenly infused with a burning desire to become a prodigal son, do you really imagine that I would be able to drop everything, pack a bag and hop on the nearest train for Lake Como? Surprise, surprise—I have an empire to run.’

‘Yes, but …’

‘I’m a very busy man, Miss Rossi, and I have already allotted you a great deal of my very valuable time. Now, you could keep trying to convince me that I’m being a monster in not clapping my hands for joy that my father has suddenly decided to get in touch with me thanks to a bout of ill health …’

‘You make it sound as though he’s had a mild attack of flu! He’s suffered a very serious heart attack.’

‘For which I am truly sorry.’ Giancarlo extended his arms wide in a gesture of such phoney sympathy that Caroline had to clench her fists to stop herself from smacking him. ‘As I would be on learning of any stranger’s brush with death. But, alas, you’re going to have to go back empty-handed.’

Defeated, Caroline stood up and reached down for her suitcase.

‘Where are you staying?’ Giancarlo asked with scrupulous politeness as he watched the slump of her shoulders. God, had the old man really thought that there would be no consequences to pay for the destructive way he had treated his wife? He was as rich as they came and yet, according to Adriana, he had employed the best lawyers in the land to ensure that she received the barest of settlements, accessed through a trustee who had made sure the basics, the absolute basics, were paid for, and a meagre allowance handed over to her, like a child being given pocket money, scarcely enough to provide any standard of living. He had often wondered, over the years, whether his mother would have been as desperate to find love if she had been left sufficient money to meet her requirements.

Caroline wearily told him, although she knew full well that he didn’t give a damn where she was staying. He just wanted her out of his office. She would be returning having failed. Of course, Alberto would be far too proud to do anything other than shrug his shoulders and say something about having tried, but she would know the truth. She would know that he would be gutted.

‘Well, you make sure you try the food market at the Rinascente. You’ll enjoy it. Tremendous views. And, of course, the shopping there is good as well.’

‘I hate shopping.’ Caroline came to a stop in front of the office door and turned around to find that he was virtually on top of her, towering a good eight or nine inches above her and even more intimidating this close up than he had been sitting safely behind his desk or lounging by the window.

The sun glinted from behind, picking out the striking angles of his face and rendering them more scarily beautiful. He had the most amazing eyelashes, long, lush and dark, the sort of eyelashes that most women could only ever have achieved with the help of tons of mascara.

She felt a sickening jolt somewhere in the region of her stomach and was suddenly and uncomfortably aware of her breasts, too big for her height, now sensitive, tingly and weighty as he stared down at her. Her hands wanted to flutter to the neckline of her blouse and draw the lapels tightly together. She flushed with embarrassment; how could she have forgotten that she was the ugly duckling?

‘And I don’t want to be having this polite conversation with you,’ she breathed in a husky, defiant undertone.

‘Come again?’

‘I’m sorry your parents got divorced, and I’m really sorry that it left such a mark on you, but I think it’s horrible that you won’t give your father another chance. How do you know exactly what happened between your parents? You were only a child. Your father’s ill and you’d rather carry on holding a grudge than try and make the most of the time you have left of him. He might die tomorrow, for all we know!’

That short speech took a lot out of her. She wasn’t usually defiant, but this man set her teeth on edge. ‘How can you say that, even if you were interested in meeting him, you couldn’t possibly get away because you’re too important?’

‘I said that I have an empire to run.’

‘It’s the same thing!’ She was shaking all over, like a leaf, but she looked up at him with unflinching determination, chin jutting out, her brown eyes, normally mild, flashing fire. ‘Okay, I’m not going to see you again …’ Caroline drew in a deep breath and impatiently swept her disobedient hair from away her face. ‘So I can be really honest with you.’

Giancarlo moved to lounge against the door, arms folded, an expression of lively curiosity on his face. Her cheeks were flushed and her eyes glittered. She was a woman in a rage and he was getting the impression that this was a woman who didn’t do rages. God, wasn’t this turning into one hell of a day?

‘I don’t suppose anyone is really ever honest with you, are they?’ She looked around the office, with its mega-expensive fittings, ancient rug, worn bookshelves, the painting on the wall—the only modern one she had glimpsed, which looked vaguely familiar. Who was really ever that honest with someone as wealthy as he appeared to be, as good-looking as he was? He had the arrogance of a man who always got exactly what he wanted.

‘It’s useful when my man who handles my stocks and shares tells me what he thinks. Although, in fairness, I usually know more than he does. I should get rid of him but—’ he shrugged with typical Italian nonchalance ‘—we go back a long way.’

He shot her a smile that was so unconsciously charming that Caroline was nearly knocked backwards by the force of it. It was like being in a dark room only to be suddenly dazzled by a ray of blistering sunshine. Which didn’t distract her from the fact that he refused to see his father, a sick and possibly dying old man. Refused to bury the hatchet, whatever the consequences. Charming smiles counted for nothing when it came to the bigger picture!

‘I’m glad you think that this is a big joke,’ she said tightly. ‘I’m glad that you can laugh about it, but you know what? I feel sorry for you! You might think that the only thing that matters is all … all this … but none of this counts when it comes to relationships and family. I think you’re … you’re arrogant and high-handed and making a huge mistake!’

Outburst over, Caroline yanked open the office door to a surprised Elena, who glanced at her with consternation before looking behind to where her boss, the man who never lost his steely grip on his emotions, was staring at the small, departing brunette with the incredulous expression of someone who has been successfully tackled when least expecting it.

‘Stop staring,’ Giancarlo said. He shook his head, dazed, and then offered his secretary a wry grin. ‘We all lose our cool sometimes.’


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