The uncompromising italian(4)

By: Cathy Williams


‘Why didn’t you get one of your own employees to sort out your problem?’

‘Because it’s a sensitive issue and, the less my private life is discussed within the walls of my offices, the better. So you design websites. You freelance and you claim you can get into anything.’

‘That’s right. Despite not being a man.’

Alessio heard the defensive edge to her voice and his curiosity was piqued. His life had settled into a predictable routine when it came to members of the opposite sex. His one mistake, made when he was eighteen, had been enough for him to develop a very healthy scepticism when it came to women. The fairer sex, he had concluded, was a misconception of stunning magnitude.

‘So if you could explain the situation...’ Lesley looked at him levelly, her mind already flying ahead to the thrill of solving whatever problem lay in store for her. She barely noticed his housekeeper placing a pot of tea in front of her and a plate crammed with pastries, produced from heaven only knew where.

‘I’ve been getting anonymous emails.’ Alessio flushed as he grappled with the unaccustomed sensation of admitting to having his hands tied when it came to sorting out his own dilemma. ‘They started a few weeks ago.’

‘At regular intervals?’

‘No.’ He raked his fingers through his hair and looked at her earnest face tilted to one side... A small crease indented her forehead and he could almost hear her thinking, her mind working as methodically as one of the computers she dealt with. ‘I ignored them to start with but the last couple have been...how shall I describe them?...a little forceful.’ He reached for the pitcher of homemade lemonade to pour himself a glass. ‘If you looked me up, you probably know that I own several IT companies. Despite that, I confess that my knowledge of the ins and outs of computers is scant.’

‘Actually, I have no idea what companies you own or don’t own. I looked you up because I wanted to make sure that there was nothing dodgy about you. I’ve done this sort of thing before. I’m not looking for background detail, I’m generally looking for any articles that might point a suspicious finger.’

‘Dodgy? You thought I might be dodgy?’

He looked so genuinely shocked and insulted that she couldn’t help laughing. ‘You might have had newspaper cuttings about suspect dealings, mafia connections...you know the sort of thing. I’d have been able to find even the most obscure article within minutes if there had been anything untoward about you. You came up clean.’

Alessio nearly choked on his lemonade. ‘Mafia dealings...because I’m Italian? That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard.’

Lesley shrugged sheepishly. ‘I don’t like taking chances.’

‘I’ve never done a crooked thing in my entire life.’ He flung his arms wide in a gesture that was peculiarly foreign. ‘I even buck the trend of the super-rich and am a fully paid-up member of the honest, no-offshore-scams, tax-paying club! To suggest that I might be linked to the Mafia because I happen to be Italian...’

He sat forward and stared at her and she had to fight off the very feminine and girlish response to wonder what he thought of her, as a woman, as opposed to a talented computer whizz-kid there at his bidding. Suddenly flustered, she gulped back a mouthful of hot tea and grimaced.

Wondering what men thought of her wasn’t her style. She pretty much knew what they thought of her. She had lived her whole life knowing that she was one of the lads. Even her job helped to advance that conclusion.

No, she was too tall, too angular and too mouthy to hold any appeal when it came to the whole sexual attraction thing. Least of all when the guy in question looked like Alessio Baldini. She cringed just thinking about it.

‘No, you’ve been watching too many gangster movies. Surely you must have heard of me?’ He was always in the newspapers. Usually in connection with big business deals—occasionally in the gossip columns with a woman hanging onto his arm.

He wasn’t sure why he had inserted that irrelevant question but, now that he had, he found that he was awaiting her answer with keen curiosity.

‘Nope.’

‘No?’

‘I guess you probably think that everyone’s heard of you, but in actual fact I don’t read the newspapers.’

‘You don’t read the newspapers...not even the gossip columns?’

‘Especially not the gossip columns,’ she said scathingly. ‘Not all girls are interested in what celebs get up to.’ She tried to reconnect with the familiar feeling of satisfaction that she wasn’t one of those simpering females who became embroiled in silly gossip about the rich and famous, but for once the feeling eluded her.