Authors: Cathy Williams
‘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
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!’
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!
Recent titles by the same author:
THE SECRET SINCLAIR
HER IMPOSSIBLE BOSS
IN WANT OF A WIFE?
THE SECRETARY’S SCANDALOUS SECRET
Did you know these are also available as eBooks?
The Truth Behind
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
, 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.
. 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,
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?’
‘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
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 …?’
‘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.