The uncompromising italian(6)

By: Cathy Williams

‘Alessio. The name’s Alessio. And you aren’t still under the impression that I’m a member of the Mafia, are you? With a stash of guns under the bed and henchmen to do my bidding?’

Lesley flushed. Where had her easy, sassy manner gone? She was seldom lost for words but she was now, especially when those dark, dark eyes were lingering on her flushed cheeks, making her feel even more uncomfortable than she already felt. A burst of shameful heat exploded somewhere deep inside her, her body’s acknowledgment of his sexual magnetism, chemistry that was wrapping itself around her like a web, confusing her thoughts and making her pulses race.

‘Do I strike you as a violent man, Lesley?’

‘I never said that. I’m just being...cautious.’

‘Have you had awkward situations before?’ The soft pink of her cheeks when she blushed was curiously appealing, maybe because she was at such pains to project herself as a tough woman with no time for frivolity.

‘What do you mean?’

‘You intimated that you checked me out to make sure that I wasn’t dodgy...and I think I’m quoting you here. So are you cautious in situations like these... when the computer doesn’t go to you but you’re forced to go to the computer...because of bad experiences?’

‘I’m a careful person.’ Why did that make her sound like such a bore, when she wasn’t? Once again weirdly conscious of the image she must present to a guy like him, Lesley inhaled deeply and ploughed on. ‘And yes,’ she asserted matter-of-factly, ‘I have had a number of poor experiences in the past. A few months ago, I was asked to do a favour for a friend’s friend only to find that what he wanted was for me to hack into his ex-wife’s bank account and see where her money was being spent. When I refused, he turned ugly.’

‘Turned ugly?’

‘He’d had a bit too much to drink. He thought that if he pushed me around a bit I’d do what he wanted.’ And just in case her awkward responses had been letting her down, maybe giving him the mistaken impression that she was anything but one hundred per cent professional, she concluded crisply, ‘Of course, it’s annoying, but nothing I can’t handle.’

‘You can handle men who turn ugly.’ Fascinating. He was in the company of someone from another planet. She might have the creamiest complexion he had ever seen, and a heart-shaped face that insisted on looking ridiculously feminine despite the aggressive get-up, but she was certainly nothing like any woman he had ever met. ‘Tell me how you do that,’ he said with genuine curiosity.

Absently, he noticed that she had depleted the plate of pastries by half its contents. A hearty appetite; his eyes flicked to her body which, despite being well hidden beneath her anti-fashion-statement clothing, was long and slender.

On some subliminal level, Lesley was aware of the shift in his attention, away from her face and onto her body. Her instinct was to squirm. Instead, she clasped her hands tightly together on her lap and tried to force her uncooperative body into a position of relaxed ease.

‘I have a black belt in karate.’

Alessio was stunned into silence. ‘You do?’

‘I do.’ She shrugged and held his confounded gaze. ‘And it’s not that shocking,’ she continued into the lengthening silence. ‘There were loads of girls in my class when I did it. ’Course, a few of them fell by the wayside when we began moving up the levels.’

‘And you did these classes...when, exactly?’

In passing, Lesley wondered what this had to do with her qualifications for doing the job she had come to do. On the other hand, it never hurt to let someone know that you weren’t the sort of woman to be messed with.

‘I started when I was ten and the classes continued into my teens with a couple of breaks in between.’

‘So, when other girls were experimenting with make-up, you were learning the valuable art of self-defence.’

Lesley felt the sharp jab of discomfort as he yet again unwittingly hit the soft spot inside her, the place where her insecurities lay, neatly parcelled up but always ready to be unwrapped at a moment’s notice.

‘I think every woman should know how to physically defend herself.’

‘That’s an extremely laudable ambition,’ Alessio murmured. He noticed that his long, cold drink was finished. ‘Let’s go inside. I’ll show you to my office and we can continue our conversation there. It’s getting a little oppressive out here.’ He stood up, squinted towards his gardens and half-smiled when he saw her automatically reach for the plate of pastries and whatever else she could manage to take in with her.