At Her Boss's Pleasure(9)

By: Cathy Williams

‘You’ve got it. One big, happy family—just so long as all my family members behave themselves. When one of them steps out of line, then I’m afraid I have to rule with a firm hand.’

‘It’s a very big family.’

‘Which started small. And I suppose that’s why it’s important for me to take control when a situation such as the one we have now develops. I didn’t create this baby for anyone to get it into their heads that they could climb on my bandwagon and begin looting. Here we are.’

He pushed open the door into a space that was so dark it took Kate a couple of seconds for her eyes to adjust. Dark and refreshingly cool, and quaintly higgledy-piggledy.

‘This is not the sort of place I thought you would have liked,’ she blurted out impulsively, and Alessandro smiled.

‘I’m old friends with the man who owns it, and as a matter of fact coming here is something of an antidote to my frenetic pace of life. Why don’t you take your jacket off?’

‘I’m fine.’

Alessandro raised his eyebrows with mild disbelief. ‘I expect you’d like to get down to work immediately...bypass all the pleasantries...?’

‘I have all the files in my briefcase.’

‘I hate to curb your enthusiasm, but I could do with relaxing for five minutes before I begin to hear about what George Cape’s been up to. You might think I’m hard-line, but Cape’s been with my company for a quite a number of years. It’s regrettable that he could not have just approached me had he wanted a loan.’

She was spared the temptation of telling him that perhaps he needed to work on the whole family atmosphere approach by the arrival of the owner of the restaurant, who made a great fuss of Alessandro. They lapsed into rapid Italian and she covertly watched Alessandro, relaxed, gesticulating, grinning, showing her a natural warmth that was usually concealed under the forbidding exterior.

This would be the man who charmed women, she thought. The guy who could have any woman he wanted at the snap of a finger and made full use of the talent.

And, of course, none of those women were Plain Janes or, God forbid, downright unappealing.

Drawn into their conversation towards the end, she smiled politely and offered the owner her hand in a businesslike handshake which, as they moved towards a table nestled in its own alcove towards the back of the restaurant, Alessandro told her had successfully nipped his friend’s salacious ideas in the bud.

‘I have no idea what you’re talking about.’ Once seated, she pointedly extracted the file they would need to discuss and placed it on the table next to her.

Wine was brought to them. On the house.

‘You must know the proprietor very well,’ she murmured, ‘if free wine is part of the deal when you come here.’

‘He would throw in free food as well.’ Alessandro sat back and looked at her with lazy consideration. ‘But I always insist on paying for what I eat.’

‘That’s very thoughtful of you.’

He laughed aloud and shot her an appreciative look. ‘You have a sense of humour! I never realized.’

Kate thought that that was borderline rude, but how could she object when she had been pretty outspoken in some of the things she had said to him?

‘Relax,’ he urged, gently removing the hand that she held over her wine glass and pouring her some wine. ‘We might be here to work, but you’re not in the office now.’

And that, she thought, was the problem—because when she was in the office, surrounded by computers and filing cabinets and desks, and the constant buzz of ringing phones, she could be a cool, controlled professional. Whereas here...

The place was popular. Nearly every table was occupied, and the bar area was crowded with men in suits and women in sharp summer outfits and high heels.

‘Why do you work so much overtime?’

Kate frowned and played with her wine glass before taking a sip. What sort of a question is that? she wanted to ask. He owned the company. Surely he should be congratulating her on her dedication to her job instead of asking her why she worked so hard?

‘I thought that was the way to get ahead,’ she said neutrally. ‘But I might be mistaken.’

Alessandro grinned, enjoying her understated dry sense of humour.

‘I mean,’ Kate continued, warming to her theme because somehow, somewhere in his remark, there had been just the faintest hint of criticism. ‘You did express some disappointment that the entire floor was empty when you came to drop those files off for George...’

‘Quite true.’

‘So why are you criticizing me because I happen to do a bit of overtime now and again?’