The uncompromising italian(3)

By: Cathy Williams

‘Always illuminating to get out of one’s comfort zone,’ Alessio drawled. He watched as she ran her fingers through her short hair, spiking it up. She had very dark eyebrows, as dark as her hair, which emphasised the peculiar shade of brown of her eyes. And she was pale, with satiny skin that should have been freckled but wasn’t. ‘Follow me. We can sit out in the garden and I’ll get Violet to bring us something to drink... Have you had lunch?’

Lesley frowned. Had she? She was careless with her eating habits, something she daily promised herself to rectify. If she ate more, she knew she’d stand a fighting chance of not looking like a gawky runner bean. ‘A sandwich before I left,’ she returned politely. ‘But a cup of tea would be wonderful.’

‘It never fails to amuse me that on a hot summer’s day you English will still opt for a cup of tea instead of something cold.’

‘I’m not English. I’m Irish.’

Alessio cocked his head to one side and looked at her, consideringly. ‘Now that you mention it, I do detect a certain twang...’

‘But I’m still partial to a cup of tea.’

He smiled and she was knocked sideways. The man oozed sex appeal. He’d had it when he’d been unsmiling, but was enough to throw her into a state of confusion and she blinked, driving away the unaccustomed sensation.

‘This isn’t my preferred place of residence,’ he took up easily as he led the way out of the magnificent hall and towards sprawling doors that led towards the back of the house. ‘I come here to give it an airing every so often but most of my time is spent either in London or abroad on business.’

‘And who looks after this place when you’re not in it?’

‘I have people who do that for me.’

‘Bit of a waste, isn’t it?’

Alessio spun round and looked at her with a mixture of irritation and amusement. ‘From whose point of view?’ he asked politely and Lesley shrugged and folded her arms.

‘There are such extreme housing problems in this country that it seems crazy for one person to have a place of this size.’

‘You mean, when I could subdivide the whole house and turn it into a million rabbit hutches to cater for down and outs?’ He laughed drily. ‘Did my guy explain to you what the situation was?’

Lesley frowned. She had thought he might have been offended by her remark, but she was here on business of sorts, and her opinions were of little consequence.

‘Your guy got in touch with Stan who’s a friend of my dad and he... Well, he just said that you had a sensitive situation that needed sorting. No details.’

‘None were given. I was just curious to find out whether idle speculation had entered the equation.’ He pushed open some doors and they emerged into a magnificent back garden.

Tall trees bordered pristine, sprawling lawns. To one side was a tennis court and beyond that she could see a swimming pool with a low, modern outbuilding which she assumed was changing rooms. The patio on which they were standing was as broad as the entire little communal garden she shared with the other residents in her block of flats and stretched the length of the house. If a hundred people were to stand side by side, they wouldn’t be jostling for space.

Low wooden chairs were arranged around a glass-topped table and as she sat down a middle-aged woman bustled into her line of vision, as though summoned by some kind of whistle audible only to her.

Tea, Alessio instructed; something cold for him, a few things to eat.

Orders given, he sat down on one of the chairs facing her and leaned forward with his elbows resting on his knees.

‘So the man my guy went to is a friend of your father’s?’

‘That’s right. Stan grew up with my dad and when I moved down to London after university... Well, he and his wife took me under their wing. Made room for me in their house until I was settled—even paid the three months’ deposit on my first rental property because they knew that it would be a struggle for my dad to afford it. So, yeah, I owe Stan a lot and it’s why I took this job, Mr Baldini.’

‘Alessio, please. And you work as...?’

‘I design websites but occasionally I work as a freelance hacker. Companies employ me to see if their firewalls are intact and secure. If something can be hacked, then I can do it.’

‘Not a job I immediately associate with a woman,’ he murmured and raised his eyebrows as she bristled. ‘That’s not meant as an insult. It’s purely a statement of fact. There are a couple of women in my IT department, but largely they’re guys.’