The uncompromising italian(2)

By: Cathy Williams

She was fully occupied amusing herself with a variety of mental pictures when the door was pulled open without warning.

For a few seconds, Lesley Fox lost the ability to speak. Her lips parted and she stared. Stared in a way she had never stared at any man in her life before.

The guy standing in front of her was, quite simply, beautiful. Taller than her by a few inches, and wearing faded jeans and a navy-blue polo shirt, he was barefoot. Raven-black hair was combed back from a sinfully sexy face. His eyes were as black as his hair and lazily returned her stare, until she felt the blood rush to her face and she returned to Planet Earth with a feeling of sickening embarrassment.

‘Who are you?’

His cool, rich, velvety voice galvanised her senses back into working order and she cleared her throat and reminded herself that she wasn’t the type of girl who had ever been daunted by a guy, however good-looking he was. She came from a family of six and she was the only girl. She had been brought up going to rugby matches, watching the football on television, climbing trees and exploring the glorious countryside of wild Ireland with brothers who hadn’t always appreciated their younger sister tagging along.

She had always been able to handle the opposite sex. She had lived her life being one of the lads, for God’s sake!

‘I’m here about your... name’s Lesley Fox.’ As an afterthought, she stuck out her hand and then dropped it when he failed to respond with a return gesture.

‘I wasn’t expecting a girl.’ Alessio looked at her narrowly. That, he thought, had to be the understatement of the year. He had been expecting a Les Fox—Les, as in a man. Les, as in a man who was a contemporary of Rob Dawson, his IT guy. Rob Dawson was in his forties and resembled a beach ball. He had been expecting a forty-something-year-old man of similar build.

Instead, he was looking at a girl with cropped dark hair, eyes the colour of milk chocolate and a lanky, boyish physique, wearing...

Alessio took in the baggy sludge-green trousers with awkward pockets and the faded tee-shirt.

He couldn’t quite recall the last time he had seen a woman dressed with such obvious, scathing disregard for fashion.

Women always tried their very hardest when around him to show their best side. Their hair was always perfect, make-up always flawless, clothes always the height of fashion and shoes always high and sexy.

His eyes drifted down to her feet. She was wearing cloth shoes.

‘I’m so sorry to have disappointed you, Mr Baldini. I take it you are Mr Baldini and not his manservant, sent to chase away callers by being rude to them?’

‘I didn’t think anyone used that term any more...’

‘What term?’

‘Manservant. When I asked Dawson to provide me with the name of someone who could help me with my current little...problem, I assumed he would have recommended someone a bit older. More experienced.’

‘I happen to be very good at what I do.’

‘As this isn’t a job interview, I can’t very well ask for references.’ He stood aside, inviting her to enter. ‘But, considering you look as though you’re barely out of school, I’ll want to know a little bit about you before I explain the situation.’

Lesley held on to her temper. She didn’t need the money. Even though the hourly rate that she had been told about was staggering, she really didn’t have to stand here and listen to this perfect stranger quiz her about her experience for a job she hadn’t applied for. But then she thought of Stan and all he had done for her and she gritted back the temptation to turn on her heel, climb back into her car and head down to London without a backward glance.

‘Come on in,’ Alessio threw over his shoulder as she remained hovering on the doorstep and, after a few seconds, Lesley took a step into the house.

She was surrounded by pale marble only broken by the richness of a Persian rug. The walls were adorned with the sort of modern masterpieces that should have looked out of place in a house of this age but somehow didn’t. The vast hall was dominated by a staircase that swept upwards before branching out in opposite directions, and doors indicated that there was a multitude of rooms winging on either side, not that she wouldn’t have guessed.

More than ever, she felt inappropriately dressed. He might be casual, but he was casual in the sort of elegant, expensive way of the very wealthy.

‘Big place for one person,’ she said, staring around her, openly impressed.

‘How do you know I haven’t got a sprawling family lurking somewhere out of sight?’

‘Because I looked you up,’ Lesley answered truthfully. Her eyes finally returned to him and once again she was struck by his dark, saturnine good looks. And once again she had to drag her eyes away reluctantly, desperate to return her gaze to him, to drink him in. ‘I don’t usually travel into unknown territory when I do my freelance jobs. Usually the computer comes to me, I don’t go to the computer.’