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Emma had been honesthad even admitted during her telephone interview that she was attending night school on a Wednesday night and studying art and that in a couple of years she was hoping to pursue it full-time.
Everything had gone really well, until the second Evelyn had walked out to greet Emmaand Emma truly didn't understand why.
She'd prepared so carefully for the interview. Reading everything she could get her hands on about D'Amato Financiersabout their spectacular rise, even in gloomy times. Luca D'Amato had a no-nonsense attitudethere was no secret formula to his success, she had read in a rare interview he had givenjust sound decisions and fiscal transparency and the refusal to be swayed by hype. Yes, she'd read up on him and then gone through her favourite glossy magazines and followed every last piece of advice in preparation for this afternoon.
Emma had scoured the second-hand shops and found a stunningif just a touch tight for her well-rounded figurepale lilac linen designer suit, had had her thick brown ringlets blowdried straight and smoothed up into a smart French roll, and, horribly broke, she had, on the afternoon of her interview, as one magazine had cheekily advised, gone to the make-up counter at a department store and pretended that she was a bride-to-be and trying out looks for her wedding day.
Her brothers had always teased her about her obsession with magazines and her father had moaned about how many she had bought, but they had been her lifeline. Growing up without a mother, living in a rough-and-tumble house that the little girls she'd invited to come over and play had never returned to, Emma had lived her childhood and teenage years reading the glossies for advice, about friends and bullying and boys. It was the magazines that had taught her about deodorant and kisses and bras. The magazines she had turned to when at twelve she had been teased for having hairy legs. And though her devotion to them had waned somewhat, at the ripe age of twenty-four it had been the magazines she had immediately turned to for make-up and grooming tips to land her dream job.
She looked fantastic, just the image she had been hoping to achievesmart, sassy, groomedexactly the right look for a modern working girl in the city.
Evelyn clearly didn't agree.
Her interviewer was dressed in a stern grey suit, with black flat shoes. Her fine blonde hair was cut into a neat, practical bob and she wore just a reluctant sliver of coral lipstick. The antithesis, in fact, of the look Emma had been trying to achieve!
'And Mr D'Amato would also prefer someone who speaks Japanese ' Evelyn continued.
'It didn't say that in the advertisement,' Emma pointed
out. 'And you didn't mention it when we spoke on the telephone.'
'LucaI mean Mr D'Amatodoes not like to put too many specifications in the advertisements for one reason, and I rather agree ' she gave a small sniff ' that when the right person appears, we know.'
Well, there wasn't much Emma could say to that clearly at first glance it had been decided that she wasn't the right person for the job.
Now, even though it had been an impossible dream, now that she had glimpsed it, Emma wanted it.
The salary was to die forher family home, despite months on the market, hadn't sold and the nursing-home fees were piling up. Evelyn had explained during their initial telephone interview that Luca's staff burnt out quickly. He was a demanding boss, expecting complete devotion, and that this job and the travel would literally overtake her life, but that suited Emma just fine.
One year working hard and she could meet the nursing-home fees. Surely in that time the house would sell and pay off the backlog of debt? One year, burning herself out, and she would finally be freefree to pursue her dreams, free to live the life that had so far been denied her.
And now that glimmer of hope was rapidly being taken away. 'Now, if you'll excuse me ' Evelyn gave a thin attempt at a smile ' I have an important phone call to make.'
Well, at least Evelyn hadn't kept her guessing, at least she wouldn't be checking her phone every five minutes, or dashing to get the mail.
It couldn't have been made any clearershe wasn't wanted.
'Well, thank you for seeing me ' She should just stand and go, shake Evelyn's hand and leave, except, inexplicably, she was dragging it out and for some stupid, stupid reason tears were threatening as yet another door closed on her push for a better future. 'Thank you for your time.'
It was her horoscope's fault, Emma told herself as Evelyn scribbled a note on her carefully prepared CV.
It had told her to go for it, reminded her that you have to be in it to win it. Told her that Jupiter and Mars had moved into her tenth house, which assured success in her career
Stupid horoscopes, Emma thought as she went to retrieve her handbag. She didn't believe them anyway.
And then in he walked.
And the room went black.
Well, it didn't go black, but it might as well have, because he was all she could see.
Dressed in a tuxedo at four p.m., he strode over. Evelyn stood up, knotting his bow-tie as she gave him, in a couple of minutes, what seemed like a month's worth of messages, and all in a language that was foreign to Emma.
'Mr Hirosiko wants an "in person" next week.'
'No,' came his bored response.
'Kasumi was insistent.'
'He can have a face-to-face.
And your sister rang, upset she wants you there for the entire weekend.'
'Tell her that given that I'm paying for the entire weekend ' he had a thick, deep, Italian accent and Emma felt her toes curl ' I can choose my schedule.' His eyes drifted around the room as Evelyn dealt with his cufflinks and then he gave Emma a bored glance that changed midway and utter disinterest shifted slightly.
He deigned to give her a second look, and it was one she recognised well. It was the same look her father and brothers had used on unsuspecting womenat the petrol station, the supermarket, school concerts, the pub, oh, anywhere
It was a look that to Emma screamed danger.
Six feet two with eyes of navy blue, Luca D'Amato might just as well have had the word danger stamped on his smooth forehead. Jet-black hair was slicked back, but a thick, raven lock escaped as Evelyn declared him officially knotted, and with one manicured hand he raked it back through his hair and it fell into effortless shape. Oh, she'd seen photos of him, had known that he was good-looking, but a grainy newspaper photo didn't do him justice, could never capture the essence of him, just the shocking presence of him. A scar ran the length of his left cheekbone, but that one imperfection merely enhanced his general faultlessness.
'We haven't been introduced.' Full, sensual lips curved into a smile as he turned come-to-bed eyes on her, his deep, accented voice for her ears now. 'This is ?'
Emma was struggling to find her voice, but Evelyn did it for her. 'Emma Stephenson.' Evelyn looked as if she were sucking lemons, and it dawned on Emma then that the real reason she hadn't got the job was perhaps that Evelyn had been hoping for someone plainer, dowdier, older, bigger in fact, someone who would withstand Luca's charm. Well, she needn't have worried. Emma could handle Luca's sort with her hands tied behind her backshe'd grown up surrounded by them! 'We were just concluding the interview.'
'For the assistant PA job?' Luca checked, holding his hand out, and, because it was the polite thing to do, Emma shook it, feeling his warm fingers close around hers. Then she looked up as he voiced what she was thinking. 'But I've got a cold heart!' He winked at her.
'I'm sure you do!' Emma retorted. He was shameless, utterly shameless, and Evelyn was welcome to him. 'Well, again,' Emma said, coolly walking to the door, absolutely refusing to be rattled, 'thank you for your time.'
She walked out into the foyer, took the lift and only as she went to sign out did she realise that she'd forgotten her bag. That, despite appearances, despite appearing utterly and completely unruffled by his stunning presence, one glimpse of Luca D'Amato and her stomach was in knots. He was devastatingly handsome, with eyes that stripped, undressed and bedded you in a matter of seconds, and she had deliberately not returned the favour.
Emma headed back up in the elevator, moving to step out, only he was stepping in
'I wasn't expecting to see you again.' He didn't move to let her pass him, his broad frame barring the exit, just slightly, and there was this offer of conversation that Emma didn't want to take up. 'I hear the interview didn't go too well.'
How loaded with meaning was that single word, and
Emma swallowed hard before speaking. 'I forgot my bag, I'm just going to get it,' she offered by way of explanation and as the lift door started to close she pressed the button to open it. There was this pang, this twinge, this snapping almost, this ending that she didn't want to happen, because he really was divine, and she wished for just a fleeting second that she had the looks, the confidence, the experience to allow him to pursue her.
But she didn't.
'Going down?' She pressed the 'hold' button for him, and he stood back as she stepped out and she caught the heavy scent of him, just the brush of his expensive suit as she passed by.
'No, up.' He grinned. 'To the roof.'
'Things that bad, then?' Emma called over her shoulder, safer now that the doors were closing, but he halted them with his hands.
'Do you want to join me?'
'I'm sure another job will come along,' she replied, watching a slow smile spread on his face as he got her dry humour. 'Things really are never that bad.'
'I'm actually going to Paris.'
'Helipad's on the roof.'
'They usually are.'
'Formal dinner, very boring, but maybe after What are your plans?'
'TV dinner, a rerun of my favourite murder mystery.' Emma gave a sweet smile. 'So there's really no contest!'
He really was smiling now, thinking he'd got his easy way, holding the lift and waiting for her to step inside. So, so arrogant, so, so assuming, he really thought he could just snap his manicured fingers and summon herhe only seemed to get the message when she opened the doors to his office suite, his rich, assured voice just a touch perplexed.
'If you're worried that you've nothing to wear '
'I'm not worried at all!' Emma laughed, and she could be as rude as she liked, could tell him exactly where to go with his smutty offer because, after all, he wasn't going to be her boss. 'As I said, there's really no contest!"
As the lift doors closed on him and she walked over to Evelyn's office, she was too irked to think before she knocked. Her hand rose, the door flung open and Emma stood there stunned as she took in the sight of Evelyn. The assured, pompous woman, who had dashed her hopes just a few moments before, was sobbing her heart out, first jumping up and shooing her out, appalled at being caught, then too upset to care.
'Negative!' she wept as Emma just stood there. 'I was so, so sure that I was.'
'I'm so sorry!' Well, what else could she say? 'I'm very sorry.'
And what could she do other than lead the sodden bundle to the nearest chair and peel off tissues as Evelyn gulped out her sorry tale?
Married five years.
Trying for a baby for four and a half of those.
IVF and injections and nasal sprays and tests and scans and egg retrieval.
And now she had to ring Paul and tell him, Evelyn had sobbed, had to ring her lovely, lovely husband, who wanted a baby as much as she did, and say that they'd failed to conceive through IVF for a second time.
Emma really didn't have to worry about saying the right thing, she couldn't get a word in. Instead, she just sat there and listened and poured water and offered tissues, and finally, when Evelyn had cried a river, she seemed to remember where she was and who she was talking to.
'You've been so niceI mean, after I was so cool with you.'
'It's not a problem. If I'm not the right person '
'No, you see ' Evelyn was wringing the tissue in her hands ' it has nothing to do with your experience or that you don't speak Japanese '
'I know that now.'
'No, I mean'
'I get it, okay? I admit, I assumed you must like him yourself, but '
Emma giggled as Evelyn gave a watery smile and rolled her eyes. 'Not at allI'm just sick of training new assistants, only to have them leave once he's bedded them. He's incorrigible, you know.'
'I know!' Emma groaned. 'He just asked me if I wanted to join him for dinner in Paris.' Emma smiled. 'Maybe you should look for a male PA.'
'They'd fall in love with him too,' Evelyn sighed, then she blinked. 'You said no to Paris?'
'You don't find him attractive?' she gasped.
'He's divine,' Emma corrected her. 'He's side split-tingly beautiful and any woman who says otherwise is a liar.'
'So why did you say no?' Evelyn wanted to know.
'Because I know him,' Emma explained. 'Not Luca personally, but I grew up amongst his typeI've read their rule book from cover to cover. I grew up in an all-male householdan exceptionally good-looking all-male household at that. '
'What about your mother?'
'She died when I was four.' Emma said, and there was nothing in her voice that requested sympathyshe merely stated the facts. 'My brothers are all considerably older than me ' She gave a thin smile at the memory of her childhood. 'And my father, well, a good-looking widower attracts a lot of admirersall wanting to change him, all assuming he's just waiting for the next Mrs. Stephenson to come alongand he played them all well.'
'Luca's a nice man,' Evelyn said, just a touch pink at her own indiscretion in discussing her boss so personally. 'Beneath it all, when he's not being horrible, he's a really nice man. Take this assistant PA role that's currently being advertisedthat's so I can cut back on my travel and late work nights he's great really.'
'So long as you don't love him,' Emma said. 'So long as you have absolutely no intention or hope that one day you might change him '
'You really do get it.' Evelyn blinked in wonder.