The uncompromising italian(9)

By: Cathy Williams


‘Usually it’s pretty easy to sort something like this out,’ Lesley confessed, linking her hands on her stomach and staring off at nothing in particular. The weird, edgy tension she had felt earlier on had dissipated. Work had that effect on her. It occupied her whole mind and left no room for anything else. ‘People are predictable when it comes to leaving tracks behind them, but obviously whoever is behind this hasn’t used his own computer. He’s gone to an Internet café. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if he goes to a variety of Internet cafés, because we certainly would be able to trace the café he uses if he sticks there. And it wouldn’t be too much of a headache finding out which terminal is his and then it would be a short step to identifying the person... I keep saying he but it might very well be a she.’

‘How so? No, we’ll get to that over something to drink—and I insist you forfeit the tea in favour of something a little more exciting. My housekeeper makes a very good Pimm’s.’

‘I couldn’t,’ Lesley said awkwardly. ‘I’m not much of a drinker and I’m...err...driving anyway.’

‘Fresh lemonade, in that case.’ Alessio strolled towards her and held out his hand to tug her up from the chair to which she seemed to be glued.

For a few seconds, Lesley froze. When she grasped his hand—because frankly she couldn’t think of what else to do without appearing ridiculous and childish—she felt a spurt of red-hot electricity zap through her body until every inch of her was galvanised into shrieking, heightened awareness of the dangerously sexy man standing in front of her.

‘That would be nice,’ she said a little breathlessly. As soon as she could she retrieved her scorching hand and resisted the urge to rub it against her trousers.

Alessio didn’t miss a thing. She was a different person when she was concentrating on a computer. Looking at a screen, analysing what was in front of her, working out how to solve the problem he had presented, she oozed self-confidence. He idly wondered what her websites looked like.

But without a computer to absorb her attention she was prickly and defensive, a weird, intriguing mix of independent and vulnerable.

He smiled, turning her insides to liquid, and stood aside to allow her to pass by him out of the office.

‘So we have a he or a she who goes to a certain Internet café, or more likely a variety of Internet cafés, for the sole reason of emailing me to, well, purpose as yet slightly unclear, but if I’m any reader of human motivation I’m smelling a lead-up to asking for money for information he or she may or may not know. There seem to be a lot of imponderables in this case.’

They had arrived at the kitchen without her being aware of having padded through the house at all, and she found a glass of fresh lemonade in her hands while he helped himself to a bottle of mineral water.

He motioned to the kitchen table and they sat facing one another on opposite sides.

‘Generally,’ Lesley said, sipping the lemonade, ‘This should be a straightforward case of sourcing the computer in question, paying a visit to the Internet café—and usually these places have CCTV cameras. You would be able to find the culprit without too much bother.’

‘But if he’s clever enough to hop from café to café...’

‘Then it’ll take a bit longer but I’ll get there. Of course, if you have no skeletons in the cupboard, Mr Baldini, then you could just walk away from this situation.’

‘Is there such a thing as an adult without one or two skeletons in the cupboard?’

‘Well, then.’

‘Although,’ Alessio continued thoughtfully, ‘Skeletons imply something...wrong, in need of concealment. I can’t think of any dark secrets I have under lock or key but there are certain things I would rather not have revealed.’

‘Do you honestly care what the public thinks of you? Or maybe it’s to do with your company? Sorry, but I don’t really know how the big, bad world of business operates, but I’m just assuming that if something gets out that could affect your share prices then you mightn’t be too happy.’

‘I have a daughter.’

‘You have a daughter?’

‘Surely you got that from your search of me on the Internet?’ Alessio said drily.

‘I told you, I just skimmed through the stuff. There’s an awful lot written up about you and I honestly just wanted to cut to the chase—any articles that could have suggested that I needed to be careful about getting involved. Like I said, I’ve fine-tuned my search engine when it comes to picking out relevant stuff or else I’d be swamped underneath useless speculation.’ A daughter?