The workday was endless when your biggest decision was FreeCell or solitaire. Today solitaire was the game of choice, and Sophia was already $830 down. Damn Vegas scoring. At least she didn’t have to worry about anyone knocking at her door to collect that debt.
The front doorbell buzzed, and she switched the display on her monitor from the game to webcam. Metal chair legs scraping against the wood floor indicated that the elderly porter had been awakened from his nap and was on the way to answer the summons.
Look up, look up, she mentally willed the man standing at the door, waiting to be let in. Her telepathy not working, she tried adjusting the camera angle to get a better view, but all she could see was the top of his head. Dark hair, that was all. Useless angle, useless camera.
Not that she held out much hope that he would be worth looking at. The managing partner had mentioned as he passed her desk this morning that an important Italian property developer was coming to meet with him. An image of a short, middle-aged man with a Donald Trump hairstyle came to her mind, and she suppressed a giggle.
The visitor eventually arrived at the reception area. A Georgian house didn’t lend itself to the most efficient layout for an office. Trying to at least appear busy, Sophia pretended to save a document before turning to greet the man. She looked up, way up. Okay, so not short. And his black, slightly curly hair was brushed back from his face and bore absolutely no resemblance to Donald Trump’s. In fact, her fingers itched to run through it and release the curls further. His strong jaw and Roman nose looked like an advertisement for some amazing facial makeover. Dressed in a dark gray suit, he had an air of power. Even dressed more casually she was sure he would still have an aura of command.
This was no middle-aged specimen. The man standing before her was definitely in his prime. If he were a steer, he’d have AAA stamped on his left buttock, another image that left her battling the giggles. Until his dark eyes met hers, and all the air was sucked out of her lungs. He was so gorgeous, she clamped her lips together so she didn’t accidently drool on her keyboard.
“Luca Castellioni to see Walter Bodman.” His deep voice held only a hint of an Italian accent.
“Oh, yes, Mr. Castellioni. If you’d like to take a seat, I’ll let Mr. Bodman know you’re here.”
The guest smiled, as if distracted by a pleasant memory, and sat across the room in direct sight of her desk. Her suddenly nervous fingers had to twice dial the senior partner’s secretary, and her voice came out all breathless when she announced the visitor.
“Mr. Bodman is just finishing up a conference call. He’ll be down shortly.” At least she managed to sound a little normal.
The enigmatic visitor acknowledged her statement and picked up a magazine from the table next to him. But every time she looked up, he was staring at her rather than reading. He made no effort to look away, and it was Sophia who broke the eye contact each time. She was sure he could hear her heartbeat pounding from across the room. The more she tried to ignore his presence, the more acutely she became aware of his every movement.
Walter Bodman’s gruff voice booming across the room had never been so welcome. “Luca! Sorry to have kept you waiting. How wonderful to see you again. It’s been what—three years?”
“Five,” the Italian corrected. “You are doing well. Very nice offices … ” His voice trailed away as he followed his host.
A sharp stab of pain made Sophia aware she’d been clenching her toes. She kicked off her sensible ballerina flats and dreamed for a moment of the handsome Italian massaging her feet. There was no way she was going to be able to go back to her game of solitaire now.
Her mobile phone vibrated on the desk beside her. The bank was kindly advising that her account was now down to fourteen pounds fifty pence, and still six days to payday. With the tuition due for the next term of her interior design studies, her finances wouldn’t be much better even after she was paid.
She logged on to a job finder website, but there wasn’t much call for a receptionist with minimal experience and no real desire to do the job. And none paid more than what she was making now. Her desk phone buzzed, and she shut down the webpage. Might as well do the job she had, rather than worry about the one she couldn’t get.
An hour later Sophia was transcribing a letter one of the secretaries sent down when a shadow crossed her screen and the hair on the back of her neck stood on end. A hint of sandalwood and citrus tickled her nose. Looking up, she wasn’t surprised to see the Italian businessman standing at her desk.
“I look forward to seeing you tonight, Miss Stevens.”
“I … ah … I … how do you know my name?” She latched onto the first thing that came to mind while she tried to make sense of his words.
He pointed at the small plaque on her desk with her name inscribed. “Walter has invited me to the company party. I hope we will have the opportunity to talk. Until tonight … ” Turning on his heel, he strode from the room.
Why would a gorgeous Italian millionaire want to talk to me? Her toes curled again.
Luca entered the marquee in St. James’s Square and searched for Walter. At least that’s what his brain told his eyes to look for. They decided to hunt down the blonde receptionist instead. She was beautiful. But he knew lots of beautiful women. Maybe it was the laughter in her green eyes or the way she’d tried not to notice him that intrigued him. Whatever it was, he couldn’t relax until he spotted her.
She stood twenty meters away, chatting with a couple of other women, a glass of champagne in her hand. Her simple black dress was elegant and alluring, hugging her curves rather than pushing them up for all to see. His pulse quickened, as it had when he had seen her in the office. Before he could approach her, Walter’s over-loud voice stopped him.
“Luca, glad you could join us. I want to introduce you to Chet Wilkins, an American business acquaintance. He’s scouting new locations for his boutique hotel chain. He’s looking for rural properties to turn into luxury spas where stressed executives can go to relax. But I’ll let him tell you all the requirements.”
Walter led him to a tall, thin man in his early sixties, standing beside a woman of similar age who was wearing too little dress and too much makeup. Luca glanced to where Sophia had been chatting, only to find she was no longer with the group of women. Forcing his mind back to business, he smiled at the American couple.