The uncompromising italian(5)

By: Cathy Williams


For once, she longed to be one of those giggly, coy girls who knew how to bat their eyelashes and attract the cute guys; she wanted to be part of the prom set instead of the clever, boyish one lurking on the sidelines; she wanted to be a member of that invisible club from which she had always been excluded because she just never seemed to have the right code words to get in.

She fought back a surge of dissatisfaction with herself and had to stifle a sense of anger that the man sitting opposite her had been the one to have generated the emotion. She had conquered whatever insecurities she had about her looks a long time ago and was perfectly content with her appearance. She might not be to everyone’s taste, and she certainly wouldn’t be to his, but her time would come and she would find someone. At the age of twenty-seven, she was hardly over the hill and, besides, her career was taking off. The last thing she needed or wanted was to be side-tracked by a guy.

She wondered how they had ended up talking about something that had nothing at all to do with the job for which she had been hired.

Was this part of his ‘getting to know her’ exercise? Was he quietly vetting her the way she had vetted him, when she had skimmed over all that information about him on the computer, making sure that there was nothing worrying about him?

‘You were telling me about the emails you received...’ She brought the conversation back to the business in hand.

Alessio sighed heavily and gave her a long, considering look from under his lashes.

‘The first few were innocuous enough—a couple of one-liners hinting that they had information I might be interested in. Nothing worrying.’

‘You get emails like that all the time?’

‘I’m a rich man. I get a lot of emails that have little or nothing to do with work.’ He smiled wryly and Lesley felt that odd tingling feeling in her body once again. ‘I have several email accounts and my secretary is excellent when it comes to weeding out the dross.’

‘But these managed to slip through?’

‘These went to my personal email address. Very few people have that.’

‘Okay.’ She frowned and stared off into the distance. ‘So you say that the first few were innocuous enough and then the tenor of the emails changed?’

‘A few days ago, the first request for money came. Don’t get me wrong, I get a lot of requests for money, but they usually take a more straightforward route. Someone wants a sponsor for something; charities asking for hand-outs; small businesses angling for investment...and then the usual assortment of nut cases who need money for dying relatives or to pay lawyers before they can claim their inheritance, which they would happily share with me.’

‘And your secretary deals with all of that?’

‘She does. It’s usually called pressing the delete button on the computer. Some get through to me but, in general, we have established charities to which we give healthy sums of money, and all requests for business investment are automatically referred to my corporate finance division.’

‘But this slipped through the net because it came to your personal address. Any idea how he or she could have accessed that information?’ She was beginning to think that this sounded a little out of her area of expertise. Hackers usually went for information or, in some cases tried to attack the accounts, but this was clearly...personal. ‘And don’t you think that this might be better referred to the police?’ she inserted, before he could answer.

Alessio laughed drily. He took a long mouthful of his drink and looked at her over the rim of the glass as he drank.

‘If you read the papers,’ he drawled, ‘you might discover that the police have been having a few off-months when it comes to safeguarding the privacy of the rich and famous. I’m a very private man. The less of my life is splashed across the news, the better.’

‘So my job is to find out who is behind these emails.’

‘Correct.’

‘At which point you’ll...?’

‘Deal with the matter myself.’

He was still smiling, with that suggestion of amusement on his lips, but she could see the steel behind the lazy, watchful dark eyes. ‘I should tell you from the offset that I cannot accept this commission if there’s any suggestion that you might turn...err...violent when it comes to sorting out whoever is behind this.’

Alessio laughed and relaxed back in his chair, stretching out his long legs to cross them at the ankle and loosely linking his fingers on his stomach. ‘You have my word that I won’t turn, as you say, violent.’

‘I hope you’re not making fun of me, Mr Baldini,’ Lesley said stiffly. ‘I’m being perfectly serious.’