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The grateful mother had hysterics: the very loud, attention-grabbing variety. She certainly grabbed the attention of the shoppers, tourists and locals going about their business in the busy New York thoroughfare on the sunny late afternoon. A large crowd was gathering to hear her express her tearful gratitude to the man who had saved her baby's life.
The 'baby' in question added truculently that he was not a baby, he was nearly five, before kicking the man who had snatched him from the jaws of death on the shin.
Luca's fixed smile grew strained as he hung onto the kid who, even after his brush with death, had not made the connection between danger and moving traffic. As the screaming monster tried to bite him Luca found himself wondering just what the attraction of parenthood was. From where he was standing it wasn't exactly glaringly obvious.
Luca liked children as much as the next man, and of course it went without saying that any child of his would not try to bite people, but he felt no primal urge to get out there and procreate. Not that this was an issue as yet. Despite his reputation for being a bit of a maverick, Luca actually held some pretty traditional views, and in his book marriage and children came as a joint package. Though as he had never to this point in his life met a woman he would contemplate spending the rest of his life with, it was kind of academic.
Being of mixed Italian and Irish parentage, Luca had never been left with any doubt that one of his primary duties in life was to find a nice wife and produce babies no pressure! That he had reached thirty without doing either did not go down well with his parents or, for thatmatter, his grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins.
Luca's response whenever his single status was mentioned was to point out he had an elder brother who could carry on the family name. Clearly this subject came under the heading of the duty of the first-born, and what was Romanthirty-two?
Luca himself would be more than happy to fulfil the role of doting uncle, something that would not require too many sacrifices, compromises or sleepless nights on his part. Unfortunately there were no likely candidates that he knew of on the scene to marry his brother right now.
Unless, he mused with a cynical grimace, you included the ever-present and incredibly faithful Alice, who would no doubt marry her boss like a shot if she ever got within sniffing distance of a ring.
Luca moved his head in an almost imperceptible negative gesture as an image of grey-blue eyes and pale silvery blonde curls appeared in his head.
The hardness that filtered into his eyes as he considered the question of his brother's indispensable blonde right-hand woman apparently communicated itself with the child he was restraining. Flashing the tall man a wary look, he ran back to his mother.
'I hate you!' the boy yelled from behind the protection of her skirt.
'I'm not wild about you either,' Luca responded absently. His thoughts were momentarily elsewhere.
His brother wouldn't actually consider marrying his blonde secretary, would he? He didn't love her, but as it seemed his brother had grown cynical in his old age and given up on love that might not be the obstacle it might once have been.
Just how jaundiced and disillusioned his brother had become had been revealed in a recent conversation. The occasion had been their parents' anniversary and their father had not wasted the opportunity of a captive audience to introduce his favourite theme.
Later that night they had been walking beside a lake on the extensive family estate in Ireland.
'Subtle, wasn't he?' Luca remarked ironically to his brother.
'As ever, but he might have a point, you know.' Roman, his expression unreadable, paused to skim a stone on the lake's still surface. 'It's all in the wrist,' he explained modestly.
'You don't say.' Luca punched the air in exaggerated triumph as his own stone outskipped that of his brother. The mocking enactment of the sibling rivalry that had once existed between them drew a smile from his brother. 'You're losing it, Roman,' he taunted before pressing curiously, 'Have you been holding out on me? Is there someone I don't know about?'
Luca spelt it out. 'Have you fallen in love? Will the parents disapprove of her? That would be interesting. God, she's not married, is she?' That would really put the cat amongst the pigeons, he thought.
'You think love is a good enough reason to get married?'
'I've not given it a lot of thought. I take it you don't.'
'Love is a form of temporary insanity,' his sibling informed him. 'Insanity is not a good basis for any contract I can think of, and when you get right down to it that's what marriage is a contract.'
Luca didn't consider himself a particularly romantic man but he found this assessment of the institution of marriage chilling. 'Not a meeting of souls?'
'You need a soul mate to be complete? Do me a favour!'
'I feel pretty complete,' Luca agreed. 'But, can you imagine Da without Ma or vice versa?'
'There are exceptions,' Roman conceded grudgingly. 'I tried doing the love and marriage thing.' The stone Roman flung sunk. 'In case it slipped your mind, things didn't go according to plan.'
Luca restricted his show of fraternal sympathy to a bang on the shoulder. 'You're not going to let a little thing like being dumped at the altar turn you into a lonely, bitter bachelor?'
'Oh, I'll get married, but love will not be high on my list of requirements. In fact it won't be on it at all,' Roman revealed with a cynical grimace of distaste. 'Marry now marry in five yearswhat's the difference?'
What if this hadn't been an example of his brother's warped black sense of humour? What if he was on the lookout for a mother for his children? What if he wanted Alice Trevelyan?
Now wouldn't that be a joke? Joke or not, it didn't make Luca smile. Now the crazy idea had occurred to him Luca found it was one he didn't particularly warm to. It was patently obvious to him that Alice Trevelyan was not the wife for his brother.
There was any number of sound reasons to back up his conclusionat least he was sure there would be had he chosen to work them out. Sometimes it was better to go on gut instincts and on this subject his guts were very definite.
The frown between his darkly defined brows deepened. There was propinquity to be considered, you couldn't underestimate the power of that, especially when the item you were constantly in close proximity to came attached to curves of a very superior quality.
The fact that his brother's secretary was easily the sexiest-looking woman Luca had ever come across had to be an influencing factor. She didn't flaunt it in revealing tops and short skirts, nothing clung, but somehow she managed to look more provocative in pearls and sensible shoes than another woman would have done naked.
Roman's Alice was the sort of female most men would not be satisfied to simply look at she was the sort who made a man want to touch. His sculpted mouth tightened into a grimace filled with self-mockery; he could personally testify to this. Not that he would go anywhere near a woman of his brother's even if watching her walk across a room could send his imagination into overdrive.
No way was he going to jeopardise his relationship with his brother to satisfy a fairly basic itch.
But he was assuming Roman wanted Alice. He never had figured out exactly what his brother's relationship with his secretary was. They certainly had a rapport in the office, Luca had seen it for himself, but did that rapport extend as far as the bedroom ?
He hadn't asked and he wasn't about to. If his brother chose to mix business with pleasurea recipe for disaster in his bookthat was Roman's business.
'Deserve a medal, pal ' Someone slapped him hard on the shoulder. Luca said something appropriately self-deprecatory. He didn't want a medal; he wanted out of there before someone produced a camera.
Damn the crowd was starting to attract a bigger crowd.
Attention was the last thing Luca wanted. He spent what sometimes seemed to be an inordinate amount of energy avoiding attention, although, it had to be admitted, not always successfully.
He could see the headlines now something to do with his old journalistic instincts? It was almost ten years since he had worked on the national broadsheet where he had cut his teeth straight from school, but he still possessed an insider's knowledge of how a journo's mind worked. Being able to occasionally anticipate the pack sometimes came in very handy.
Ironic, really, that if it hadn't been for his father's heart attack he might still be part of that pack. When Finn O'Hagan had been forced into early retirement it had been Roman, who had the financial expertise, who had stepped in to run the highly successful leisure and property side of the family-run outfit.
Before his heart attack Finn had been planning to offload the unprofitable Stateside publishing firm inherited from an uncle. It had only been sentiment that had made him continue to subsidise the loss-making operation this long. Luca had agreed to take a short sabbatical, step in, go through the books and generally put the place in good enough order to put on the market. He'd cleared his calendar for a couple of months.
Then something strange had happened. Luca had started enjoying himself and his enthusiasm had been contagious.
By the end of the first year they had been out of the red, had signed up a prolific new author who had not been out of the best-seller lists since his first week of publication and had attracted several established names. No longer the poor relation in the O'Hagan empire, they now had offices in Sydney, London and Dublin and Luca was still enjoying himself.
Luca gently but firmly detached the weeping woman from his shirt-front and scanned the gathering crowd as he smoothed the expensive fabric back into place. The action made him aware that he hadn't escaped unscathed from the incident. A slight frown formed on his lean, handsome face as he flexed his right shoulder experimentally and felt the burn of overstretched muscles.
Had some of the interested observers been privy to his private resolve to find time in his schedule to take more exercise, they would have been startled; Luca possessed a streamlined, long-legged muscular bodybroad of shoulder, narrow of hipthat would have earned him a fortune advertising male swimwear.
The arrival of a man Luca assumed to be the kiddy's father was the cue for lots more tears. Greeted with the garbled explanation that his son and heir had escaped death by the narrowest of margins, the poor guy went into shock.
Luca decided to take advantage of the moment to slip away.
Melting into a crowd did not come easily for Luca. Being six four in his bare feet and the owner of a body that had come in the top three of a celebratory magazine poll of 'the man you would most like to see naked,' it was fair to say he stood out in a crowd.
He knew about the article because some joker in his Dublin office had pinned said article on the bulletin board along with the readers' letters in the next issue that contended the vote must have been fixed, and indignantly suggested that Luca had been robbed of first place.
Despite his natural handicaps he did manage to make a successful escape. Once he was out of sight and earshot of the crowd his phone rang. It was his brother, his single brother. Luca smiled in grim amusement when he realised that for a couple of minutes back there he'd almost had Roman locked into a loveless marriage.
Talk about letting your imagination run away from you.
Would it have run quite so far, and so fast, if the bride he had saying I do hadn't been Alice Trevelyan? He frowned as the unwelcome thought surfaced in his mind, and pushed it away.
'Are we still on for tonight?'
Luca glanced at his watch and grimaced. 'Sure thing, only I've still got to catch up with Hennessey. I could be a few minutes late.'
'And will the lovely Ingrid be with you?'
'Funny guy,' Luca said with a grin in response to the innocent enquiry.
'Tenacious lady, isn't she, and if ever there was a born self-publicist?'
'You put her onto me, didn't you?'
'Me! I'm heartbroken my confidence is shot to hell, what man wouldn't be? Dumped for my own brother.'
'Dio mio! You're a devious snake is what you are,' Luca retorted.
'Give me a break, Luca. I had to do something, the woman kept planting stories about spring weddings. And it came to me it's well documented that Luca likes blondes, especially tall Nordic ones. So I mentioned in passing that you get invited to all the A-list parties, and I let it drop that you're much more photogenic than me and infinitely more high profile, especially in the States.'
Luca couldn't help appreciating his brother's tactics. 'You knew she was gay, of course.'
A chuckle reverberated down the line. 'Did she sound you out on donating sperm at some future date too?'
'Yes,' Luca gritted with a shudder. 'Although she made it clear that would depend on me passing stringent medical screening.'
'And I thought I was special ' His brother sighed soulfully. 'About tonight, no problem, Alice and I are running late too. See you lat by the way, I probably should warn you it's possible that Alice believes the tabloid version of you and Ingrid.'
Luca could hear the grin in his brother's voice. 'And you saw no reason to straighten her out?'
'Strangely enough that didn't occur to me. She thinks I'm being quite extraordinarily brave,' he confided.
'You're warped, you know that.'
'She thinks you're a heartless love rat,' Roman explained, not bothering to hide his amusement.
So no change there. 'Will Alice be there tonight, then?' he asked casually.
'Of course she will. Alice is almost family.'
Almost ? Luca slid the phone back into his pocket, a thoughtful expression on his face Am I being paranoid?
Don't lose sight of the fact that, even if asked, Alice might say no to Roman, Luca told himself.
Sure, that's really going to happen. We are talking the woman who without a second thought took a knife wielded by a raving lunatic to save her boss, he reminded himself.
So look at this another way. Would having Alice Trevelyan as his new sister really be so bad?
A spasm of distaste crossed his face. Yes, it definitely would! Well, if I can't find another bride for Roman, I might just have to marry the woman myself!
'Can I get you an aperitif?' the solicitous waiter asked.
Alice wasn' t normally a drinker, but she felt that under the circumstances a little Dutch courage might not be such a bad idea.