Authors: Emily Jane Trent
GIANNI AND LEAH
LEAH’S SEDUCTION 5
A Rinaldi Romance
Emily Jane Trent
Leah had been writing more often in her journal. After Gianni had refused to confide in her about the locked room, she hadn’t pressed. Not yet, anyway. She couldn’t let that go, but was biding her time. In the journal she had written:
I can’t stand to see the sadness in Gianni’s eyes. I’ll find a way to make him share the burden with me
Over the months, Leah had become more involved with the operations at Barrington. Her boss made no effort to hide anything from her, although he didn’t express any gratitude for her value to the company either.
It didn’t bother her. Leah was intent on getting experience in the industry, and had bigger plans for her career than doing Vadim’s bidding. It was winter, and Leah held her head down against the wind on her way to work.
Entering, she stamped her feet and rubbed her gloved hands together. “Aah, it’s cold out there.”
Aida smiled. “Yes, this is our coldest day, I think.”
“Anything new?” Leah said.
The clerk nodded her head toward Vadim’s office. “He wants to see you.”
Leah sighed. “Okay, let me dump my stuff off, and get out of this coat. Then I’ll go see what he wants.”
They shared a knowing look, then Leah went to her office. She did a quick email check before going to see Vadim. It wasn’t unusual for him to want to see her, since they worked together on most of the marketing for the showroom.
Often it wasn’t pleasant, and Leah could not predict his mood.
Pushing his door open, she said, “You wanted to see me?”
Her boss seemed particularly satisfied with himself about something. “Yes, yes. Sit down.”
Leah sat stiffly in the chair across from him. She had grown used to his oversized office, and it no longer impressed her. “What is it?”
Vadim needed to work on his people skills, although he seemed to have no interest in doing so. Taking note of his challenging look, she wondered, and not for the first time, how buyers put up with his attitude.
Maybe he was different with them. The former Russian military officer in him overshadowed his present-day businessman demeanor, making him harsh and arrogant. Vadim spoke to her like she was insignificant. That was how he usually spoke to her.
He shoved some papers at her, and she saw photographs of large, warehouse-type buildings. Vadim leaned back in his chair with a smug expression.
Leah moved them closer. “What are these?”
“Our new showrooms.”
She took time to look at the pictures, seeing that the buildings were in need of serious renovation before any showroom could be opened there. It seemed that Vadim had taken Gianni’s bait. When he had told Byron Clifton that GR planned to buy these buildings, Vadim had unwisely scooped them.
Playing along, not wanting to give away Gianni’s ruse, she said, “Where are they?”
Leaning on the desk, Vadim said, “One is in Spain, and the other Germany. They are in smaller towns. With the fashion revival in those countries, I was quick to grab these properties. They were a steal, and I’m starting on the renovations now.”
She didn’t say so, but the only revival was going to be the one Barrington would have to attempt if Vadim continued to blindly follow Gianni’s tips, letting greed overpower his decisions. If he poured money into these buildings, Mason Barrington’s business was going to have to rally to avoid financial disaster.
“What do you need me for?”
He narrowed his eyes. “Remember the fashion show I sent you to recently?”
“The one with the high-end designers, and the expensive custom fashions?”
Vadim nodded. “Well, I sent you there for a reason. I read your memo about the show. You say only the wealthy can afford to buy. But you erred.”
“That is how it
been. But what you don’t know is the coming trend. There’s a change in buying habits forthcoming, and women will be willing to spend more in order to own top-end fashions. That’s why you are my
, and I am the
. I see things you don’t.”
It took conscious effort not to smile. Clearly, once Vadim had taken the bait served to him by Gianni, he had raced ahead. Taking no time to think, or access the veracity of what he’d been told, her boss could only think of usurping success from GR.
It didn’t take a genius to see that it would be his undoing. Leah bit back a caustic response. Instead, she ignored his derision of her. “And what would you like me to do for Barrington, based on your new information?”
“I want you to buy those high-end fashions. In fact, I want you to secure an exclusive for Barrington.”
She had to hear him say it. “You want the entire line?”
“Yes. I don’t want to make it easy for the competition.”
Even though that was exactly what he was doing. But Leah didn’t say so. “I’ll get right on it.” She stood, and Vadim said nothing more, so she left his office. She didn’t grin until she was halfway down the hall.
The foolhardy business decisions were going to be the demise of Barrington, if Vadim wasn’t careful. And obviously, it was too late for that. The thought of losing her job if the company folded didn’t seem so bad. It paled in comparison to the satisfaction Leah would have when Vadim realized, after the fact, that he had been an idiot.
One afternoon, Kyra modeled new designs at GR Showroom for some buyers. It was a small event, by invitation only. Leah attended just to watch, interested in the new fashions Gianni was showcasing. After the buyers were ushered away from the stage for refreshments, and to place their orders, Leah went to the dressing room to see her friend.
“How did I do?” Kyra said. Her hair was twisted up, and she wore a satin robe, while removing some of the heavy makeup.
“Amazing.” Leah took a chair beside her. “Those evening gowns were stunning. And they looked even better on you.”
Kyra grinned. “That’s my job. I hope Gianni makes a lot of sales.”
“No doubt he will. The buyers looked pleased, and I overheard some of their comments. It was a successful show, I’m sure.”
“I’m meeting some friends for dinner. Would you like to come with us?”
Leah shook her head. “Sounds great, but Gianni’s taking me out.”
“You guys are doing good, right? I mean, after meeting his parents and all, you must feel pretty secure in the relationship.”
Since she omitted telling her friend every detail about Gianni’s issues, Leah couldn’t expect her to know that she didn’t feel all that secure. So far, they were together. But if he didn’t share his past, things would blow up sooner or later.
But there was no way to communicate that to Kyra right then. “It was a big step meeting his parents, like I told you. But I don’t know that it changed anything. We are okay, though. How about you? Any love interests on the horizon?”
Kyra changed into her jeans and sweater while she talked. “Not yet. I’m not really looking. I’m having fun just going out with my friends for now. It will happen, if it’s supposed to.”
“That’s a good attitude.”
Her friend slipped on her leather high-heeled boots. “What else have I got? I can’t do any more of the random dating, letting men fawn all over me, and show me off. I’m just tired of it. There’s got to be more to a relationship than that.”
Knowing what a good person Kyra was, it was hard to think of her being used or mistreated. “There will be more for you. I know it. You are smart to hold out.”
Kyra ran her fingers through her long hair to fluff out the curls. “It took me a while to get smart.”
They left the dressing room and spotted Gianni crossing the showroom floor. “Great show, Kyra. I’ll have to hire you more often.” He walked over and gave her a friendly hug.
“Thank you, Gianni. I can always use the work.” She smiled at him, then turned to Leah. “Gotta run.” Glancing at both of them, she added, “Have a good dinner.”
Leah gave her a quick hug, then Kyra left. Looking up at Gianni, she said, “Where are we dining this evening?”
He put his arms around her. “What’s your pleasure?”
She leaned up on her toes to kiss him. “Mmm, when you put it that way…”
His eyes gleamed. “Food…think food.”
Leah laughed. “Okay, well, how about that Italian place we tried last week? I could do that again.”
Over dinner at the Italian restaurant, they talked about Vadim’s actions, and how fast things were moving. “He isn’t wasting any time, is he?” Gianni said.
“No, he isn’t. And I had a hard time not laughing when he asked me to purchase those fashions. I mean, what is he thinking?”
Gianni’s lips thinned into a tight smile. “He’s not. And that’s the point. At this rate, it will all be over soon.”
“What do you think will happen?”
“It’s hard to say for sure. I don’t know the complete financial picture at Barrington. Although I have some idea. I doubt Mason can withstand too much of a loss. With the industry as competitive as it has been, only a few businesses are seeing enough profit to feel secure.”
“So it could wipe him out?”
“That’s a possibility. But he might realize his error in time, or try to recover before it’s too late. We will just have to wait and see.”
“For a smart man, he is proving to be quite gullible.”
“True. Sometimes once a man sees dollar signs, he loses all good sense.”
Dinner was pleasant, and the restaurant cozy. Leah pressed her knee against Gianni’s under the table, and he fingered the inner side of her wrist. A simple meal with him was so much more. Being together hadn’t stopped being special.
After the meal and a bottle of Chianti, they slid into the limo and headed for Leah’s apartment. Usually, Gianni would drop her off, but instead he came in with her. He couldn’t resist. Once he started kissing her in the foyer, he didn’t stop.
Pushing her against the wall, Gianni began stripping off her clothes, then his. They ended up in her tiny loft bed, but he didn’t seem to mind. Lovemaking on her small mattress was fierce and needy. It was the first time Gianni had been with her in her bed.
Falling asleep in his arms later, Leah was moved by the fact that he stayed over. The small quarters didn’t dissuade him. Gianni never mentioned it. When they collapsed into each other’s arms, he covered them with the sheet, and before long, he was breathing deeply.
The next morning, she woke up to find Gianni at the bottom of the narrow wooden stairs leading to the loft. There was something about seeing him put on the same clothes he had worn the night before that was touching.
With the warmth in his eyes and his tousled hair, Gianni looked like any boyfriend getting dressed to go after a hot night at his girlfriend’s house. In many ways, he was just so normal. Even though he wasn’t like any man she had known before.
He came back up the steps to kiss her. “I have to stop by my condo to shower before I go to the showroom,” he said. “Or…maybe I’ll just crawl back in there with you.” He held her chin and kissed her lips again.
“You’ll call me later?”
Gianni smiled. “Yes, I will. I don’t know how today is going to go. I have several meetings. But hopefully it won’t run too late.” His eyes sparkled. “I miss you already.”
Leah watched him go back down, and heard when the door shut behind him. “I love you,” she said. But only she heard. She hugged her pillow to her chest, staying in bed just a few more minutes, thinking about the night they had spent together. Then she leaned over and smelled the sheets, taking in the lingering aroma of the man she was crazy about.
Later that week, Gianni stopped by the Center for Photography to take a look at a photograph he was interested in. A photograph could be a good investment, the same as any art, and he wanted to see one from the 1930s. It was a black-and-white of a woman sleeping that he was considering acquiring.
It looked like he would have to wait, as the photo was due to be auctioned. Gianni had found some good pieces to add to his collection at Christie’s auctions. He would have to decide on the price he was willing to pay, since the fervor stirred up at auctions often drove up the price.
There was a fashion event Gianni had to attend later that day. In many cases, he could send one of his staff, but the designer being featured was one he wanted to connect with. GR Showroom was known for presenting new talent, and Natalie Baker was one such designer.
Her fashions were popular in Europe, and even Brazil. But she had only recently begun to offer them in New York, which was the opposite of the approach for most young designers. Being seen in the city had helped to launch many a career, and was the reason fashions were usually shown there first.
Gianni chatted with a few people he knew, and took some notes at the show. The fashions were unique, the type that he knew women wanted—something sophisticated yet comfortable for their busy lives. He stood to stretch his legs when the lights went up.
A man was headed in his direction, one he recognized. Having only met Cody once, still he wouldn’t forget him, and he had seen him in gaggles of photographers at shows. Dressed in jeans and a sweater, he looked casual enough. With the camera draped over his shoulder, he walked over.
He held out his hand. “Hello, Gianni.”
“Cody.” Nodding, Gianni accepted the handshake.
“I got some good shots today,” Cody said. “I assume you are here to catch a glimpse of the new line?”
“Yes,” Gianni said, “always looking for new talent.”
“Do you have a moment?”
Gianni really didn’t. But since there had been some connection between Leah and Cody, he decided to find out what he wanted. “Sure.”
They moved to the table with refreshments, and selected their drinks. Then sat off to one side, where they could have some privacy.
“I’m glad I ran into you,” Cody said.
“Why is that?”
He didn’t answer, just reached for his camera. Then he searched for pictures. “There’s something I want to show you. I considered coming by the showroom, so it’s convenient that you’re here.”
When Cody held the camera so he could see, Gianni studied the photos. “Interesting,” he said.
“I thought so. But I wasn’t sure of the significance. Could be just business, but I don’t like the looks on their faces.”
“Nor do I,” Gianni said. “Vadim works for Mason, so it wouldn’t be unusual for them to be seen together. But the presence of Byron Clifton has my interest.”
“He’s a buyer for Designer’s Edge.”
“Yes, I know.”
“Vadim handles buyers. It seemed odd to see Mason there with him, though. He owns the company. Why would he meet with a buyer?” Cody paused. “If it was at the showroom, or even a fashion show, I might not have taken note.”
“But at an exclusive Manhattan restaurant?” Gianni shook his head. “That’s more than just business as usual.”
“That’s what I thought.”
“I appreciate you showing these to me, Cody.”
“I hope it’s helpful. I was a distance away from them, so I’m sure they have no idea that I snapped those shots.” He put his camera back over his shoulder. “They didn’t see me, either. I just took the pictures and left.”
“Why were you there in the first place?” Gianni didn’t want to be suspicious, but it didn’t hurt to know all the facts.
“I was supposed to meet someone, but she couldn’t make it. So I left.”
Gianni was glad to hear it was a woman. One more reason for Cody to forget about Leah. “Can you email those photos to me?”
“I can, if you tell me where.”
Gianni handed him a business card with his contact information.
Cody slipped the card into his pocket. “Do you know what it means? What this might be about?”
“I’m not sure, although I have an idea.” Gianni leaned back in the chair. “I’m not at liberty to talk about it. Not now, anyway. And it would be good if you didn’t mention this to anyone else.”
Gianni stood. “I have to be going.”
They shook hands, and Gianni went to speak to the show coordinator. It looked like he would have to meet Natalie another day. She had been backstage briefly, but had to go. He would have his office contact her and arrange a meeting. Gianni thought her fashions would look good in his showroom.
The penthouse-level lounge at the Kimberly Hotel in midtown Manhattan was sophisticated, and inviting even during the winter months. The retractable glass ceilings and walls, plus the heated floors, kept it warm. Leah took in the breathtaking view from thirty floors up, and spotted the Chrysler Building.
When Gianni had finished up with a meeting, he asked her to meet him, and had the limo bring her. She wore one of the dresses Deanna had picked out on that last shopping trip, trusting her expertise as a fashion consultant. It was red satin, low-cut in the back, and clung to the curve of her hips.
As Leah walked toward the table, she swooned at the sight of Gianni. He looked more bad boy than businessman in a tight cotton shirt under a black leather jacket. His deep brown hair had grown out a bit, and was sexily disheveled.
He stood when he saw her. “You’re stunning, baby.”
“You’re good for my ego.” Leah stepped carefully in her high heels, not wanting to go sliding onto her ass in public. She had thought the designer dress looked good on her, but hearing Gianni say it gave her a boost of confidence.
He pulled out her chair, and Leah was glad to sit, feeling more secure. A few other eyes had looked her way as she approached the table. Red was a flashy color. But she preferred to blend and not attract attention. Some habits just didn’t go away.
However, Gianni’s admiration was another thing. She blossomed under his gaze, knowing his approval meant only good things. And Leah wanted to please him, very much. When he thought well of her, she glowed, and didn’t try to hide it.
They started with a glass of Veuve Clicquot Champagne, which Leah knew was pricey. “Are we celebrating?”
“Do we have to be…if we drink good champagne?”
“I suppose we don’t.”
Gianni leaned back in his chair. “But I did have an interesting day.”
“Did something happen?”
He hesitated for a moment. “I saw Cody at the event today, and he took me aside to talk.”
Leah cringed. What could it be now? She hadn’t seen Cody in ages.
“Nothing about you,” Gianni said, and she relaxed.
“Did he have business with you?”
Gianni lifted his glass. “Not exactly. He had taken some photos of Vadim by chance, and he showed me.”
Lean furrowed her brow, knowing it had to be more than that.
“The intriguing aspect of the pictures was that Mason and Vadim were meeting with Byron Clifton.”
She raised her eyebrows. “Of Designer’s Edge? To secure a deal?”
“Probably…but nothing to do with designs.” Gianni sipped his champagne.
“Considering the looks on their faces, and the place where they met,” Gianni said, “I suspect Vadim isn’t plotting against GR by himself. It appears that Mason is aware of it, and probably even instigating it.”
Leah sipped her drink, taking in the meaning of all of that. “I’ve rarely seen Mason, and he is the only one at Barrington that has supported my work. What makes you think he would be underhanded?”
“I know the man.”
Unsure if she should press for details, Leah fingered her glass. But she had to know. “Once before when we talked about this, you didn’t seem to want to tell me about your earlier dealings with Mason. But is that what you are basing this on?”
Gianni was silent, making her doubt he would be forthcoming. Then he leaned on the table, and in a low voice, he relayed the story. “Early in my career, I thought Mason and I could work together. His family has been in fashion for a while, and he took over Barrington from his father.”
“Yes, I knew that.”
“I had just started GR Showroom, and agreed to partner with Mason for a promotional campaign. I invested a lot of money in it.” Gianni’s jaw tightened. “Let’s just say he stole the buyers, right out from under me, by offering cut-rate deals.”
Gianni’s lips thinned. “Worse than you think. I nearly lost my business before I got started. I had borrowed money to get going, and had counted on the promotion to launch my company. I nearly went under, which is exactly what Mason wanted.”
“I see why you don’t trust him.”
“I got smarter. I worked alone at first. Since then I’ve developed some strong allies, and have taken my business international.” Gianni finished his champagne. “But Mason is bitter. He has been waiting for a chance to retaliate.”
Gianni shook his head. “He doesn’t see it that way. The fact that I recovered quickly, and grew my company as I have, is a thorn in his side.”
“That explains why he is going to such lengths to undermine you.”
“Yes, it does. And I’ve suspected all along that Vadim wasn’t doing this solo. He’s more of an order taker—always has been.”
Gianni refilled their glasses. “So now you know our history. I never sought retribution from Mason. He wasn’t worth going after. But if he is stupid enough to attack me, which it looks like he is, he will regret it.”
Leah was affected by the story, because she couldn’t stand to hear of Gianni being a target. Yet she was glad he had told her. It was another example of the trust between them strengthening. He shared the painful details with her, despite how he disliked talking about such things. “I still work at Barrington because I don’t want to tip them off. That is the only reason.”
“I know that,” Gianni said. “And knowing that you are dating me, Vadim
suspect something if you suddenly left in the midst of carrying out his unsavory plan.”
“He would. And so would Mason.”
Gianni held her hand, and rubbed his thumb over her knuckles. “It won’t be much longer.”
With business out of the way, they ordered appetizers to enjoy with the rest of the champagne. Gianni’s tone changed, and he seemed able to ignore the pressures of running his company to focus on Leah. It was one of his strengths.
“I’d like you to come home with me tonight,” he said, emptying the last of the bottle into their glasses. Gianni’s blue eyes made her heart skip a beat. He reached under the table and slid his hand under the hem of her dress to touch her thigh.
Warmth flooded Leah, the pull toward him strong. God, how she wanted Gianni. How she
wanted him. “I was hoping you’d ask.”
He squeezed her thigh possessively. “I have something planned…something I think you’ll like.”
It was hard to resist the urge to reach inside Gianni’s leather jacket and claw away his shirt to get to his bare skin. The atmosphere radiated with lust, and the anticipation over what he had
made her weak.
On the way out, Leah clung to his arm, not daring to walk in the high heels in her current state. In the limo, Gianni didn’t touch her. He didn’t need to. The vibe between them was hot. And it was better that he waited, since what little restraint Leah had was already crumbling away.