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You could hear a pin drop in the lecture theatre. A fly on the wall might say the man teaching law could only be Italian. One thing was certain. With his striking Latin looks, impeccable tailoring and autocratic stare, Lorenzo Domenico could hold an audience spellbound. Women had stampeded the law school to secure a place in his class and on this first morning they outnumbered the men ten to one. Lorenzo Domenico might be new in town, but he was already a legend.
Lorenzo paced as he spoke, pausing occasionally to shoot an impatient glance at his adoring audience. He wanted to check if they were listening. He intended his standards to be the highest on the faculty. He'd worked hard, and now he expected that same application from his students. He tested them constantly, often in the most unexpected ways. In Lorenzo's opinion anyone who possessed a photographic memory could pass an exam, but could they fathom the intricacies of law and come to the best result for their client? He called it lateral thinking. Some of his students called it unreasonable; they were the ones who didn't make it through the course.
Along with heading up the scholarship programme he had agreed to mentor a pupil barrister at the top flight chambers in the city where he had tenancy. Multitasking was his speciality, intolerance of those who couldn't keep up his only failingthough his adoring Italian mother would have disagreed, and persuaded him he had no failings. Lorenzo smiled. Mama was always right.
Pausing mid-stride, he checked his register. There was someone missing. Instinct made him glance out of the window. He tensed. 'Will you excuse me? That wasn't a question,' he added as a groan ofdisappointment rose in the lecture theatre. He was already halfway through the door. The student who was late had just slammed her rusty old bike into his pristine Alfa Romeo.
'You cannot wipe it off,' he roared, exiting the outer doors like an avenging angel. He had arrived just in time to see the young woman's pink tongue flick out to wet her finger.
'It's a very small scratch,' she explained, her green eyes rounding with sincerity. 'Oh ' The blood drained from her face. 'Hello '
He stood motionless, taking in the facts. Whichever way he looked at it, this was bad.
Carly paled as her mind absorbed the information: Carly Tate crashes into the car of her senior tutor Lorenzo Domenico on her first morning in his class. Not only that, she'd just received a letter to say he'd been appointed her pupil master in chambers, plus he chaired the committee for the Unicorn scholarship; the scholarship she had promised her parents. How much better could it get?
No prizes for guessing his thoughts: Oh, no, not her again! Shortly followed by, Do I associate with failure? She could hardly pretend the fiasco last night had escaped his notice. And now this! To distract them both she pointed to the damage on his car. 'You can see how small it is ' But now she looked again the gouge seemed to have grown.
'Small?' he said with a curl of his lip.
No wonder she hadn't recognised him last night. Since arriving in the UK Lorenzo Domenico had barely settled long enough to register a shadow. Winning a no-hoper case in his first month in town had raised his profile to the extent that the clerks who managed his diary were looking at a twelvemonth waiting list. Lorenzo wouldn't be returning home any time soonor ever, if the rumours were to be believedso it was time to build bridges.
Fast. 'I'm really sorry about your car'
'You will be.' He cut her off crisply.
He hadn't been dubbed the scourge of the courts for nothing. What a perfect start to her scholarship hopes! Her fellow pupils had all landed some elderly old duffer who schooled them in an atmosphere of calm and dusty academe, while she had scored Torquemada, Chief Inquisitor.
She had been so sure she could deal with a man like Lorenzo Domenico when she had first read the letter, in fact she'd been rather thrilled, but there was a huge gulf between the written word and the man standing in front of her now. And ominously his socks were tartan, suggesting he was poised to dance a jig on the grave of her ambition. But she wasn't going down without a fight. 'I think you'll find that the scratch will polish out'
'Do not presume to practise your advocacy skills on me, Ms Tate.' His eyes turned cold. 'Take a look at my car.'
'I mean the damage to my car, Ms Tate. Look at that. If you examine it closely you will see that the scratch will not polish out.'
She shook her head like a wayward pony, sending shimmering auburn curls flying round her shoulders. He admired the hair, but it distracted him. She was a student and his sole purpose in life was to whip her into shape.
'I can hardly see it,' she protested.
Her determination to fight pleased him. He liked a fight. 'And a very small scratch on a hired car will affect my deposit how, Ms Tate?' He would drive her hard like all his students. Time was short, and they had to learn more than the letter of the law, they had to absorb an immeasurable lexicon of nuance and interpretation. If they weren't up to it, it was better to find out now. 'Come on, come on,' he goaded her. 'Aren't you supposed to be a lawyer?'
'I am a lawyer,' she retorted, holding his gaze.
Another rush of pleasure hit him. He didn't want his students to fail; he wanted them all to exceleven this sorry excuse of an MC. 'You may be a lawyer one day,' he said, 'but not yet. And if you're late for my class again, you never will be. You will fail the course and lose your chance to be considered for the scholarship.'
'I'm really sorry'
'Sorry doesn't cut it with me, Ms Tate.'
'Very sorry '
She raised her head to confront him in a way that almost made up for her blunders, because now he caught a glimpse of a strong inner core. She would need that when she stood up in court. Her face was easy on the eye too. Though not glamorous or attractive to him, she had a fresh-faced look he found appealing. After all the painted sophisticates he'd been introduced to on the so-called social scene she was a refreshing change.
And then there were his students. His impression of them to date was that the females were slightly less good-looking than the men, which, as a serial heterosexual, was a serious concern to him.
He'd read the report on Carly Tate, as he had read the reports on all his students. She was the brightest of the bright, but was she right for law? That was what he meant to find out. But if she was going to work with him she'd have to clean up her act. For instance, what was she wearing? A jacket with bald cuffs, which she had teamed with ripped and faded jeans, and on her feet something that looked as if she had made them herself out of a couple of hides and a yard of ribbon.
She hadn't made the slightest effort to impress, which insulted him. She looked as if she'd just climbed out of bed, which enraged him. Women should be chaste and available and waiting for him to notice them. His eyes darkened as he pictured his ideal woman waking slowly and languorously with the memories of the previous night still heavy in her eyes, and on her plump, perfectly formed lips
Why was he staring at her lips? Did she have a milk moustache?
Clearing her throat, Carly made that her excuse for swiping a hand across her mouth.
Charming! Such grace and style, these Englishwomen. 'So,' he rapped, staring at her, before turning to look at the one thing that could distract an Italian man from thoughts of family, football, fashion or fornication: his car. 'What do you intend to do about the damage and my claim for reparation?'
She recited the relevant passages of law to him flawlessly, but then, remembering the preliminary notes he'd circulated prior to the course, he realised what a good teacher he was. 'I see you've read my notes.'
'Of course I have,' she said, pinking up again.
'I'll leave you to report the damage, in that case,'he said coldly. 'Arrange for repairs and keep me informed '
He was pleased to see how well she responded to instruction. But as he turned to go he could have sworn she clicked her heels. He almost swung round to challenge her, but then contented himself with the thought that dealing with troublemakers was something he excelled at. He loved trouble; his career had been built on it.
Reaching the entrance to the building, he stopped and turned abruptly. Her cheeks flamed red as he fixed a stony stare upon her face. Pleased with the effect, he moved in for the kill. 'As you've already missed the main thrust of my lecture I'd like you to return home and dress for court.'
Her face brightened. 'Court?'
There wasn't a student barrister alive who didn't ache to ease the tedium of study with some real-life drama in the courtroom. 'Yes, court,' he said evenly. 'I left my wig and gown there. You can collect them for me.'
It amused him to see her eyes fire bullets at him while her face remained carefully blank. He revised his opinion of her againupwards. She'd make a great lawyer if she possessed the will to do so. But he hadn't finished with her yet. 'You can't go to court as my representative dressed like that.'
'Oh, don't worry about me,' she said, starting to gather her spilled belongings. 'This suit will brush down fine.' Retrieving some rag from the gutter, she shook it out.
'In case it's escaped your notice, Ms Tate, that suit is covered in mud, and you work under me now.' An unfortunate turn of phrase, perhaps, but too late to call it back. He added some iron to the mix. 'I forbid you to go to court dressed like that. What will people think?'
'That I can't afford cleaning bills ?'
There was such an expression of innocence on her face he considered his grounds for launching a rebuke uncertain. Everyone knew that pupil barristers existed largely on fresh air and the charity of their parents, plus her face was already flaming with mortification, and his intention had never been to crush her. While he contemplated this she rallied. Angling her chin, she waited, as if expecting him to pat her on the head for arriving at the right answer. He knew her type immediately. She was the child who had always known the right answer in class, and who had shot up her hand before anyone else had a chance to, oblivious to how unpopular that made her. He could only contrast that with his own childhood when he'd only had to burp for everyone to applaud him in breathless admiration. Nonetheless, he had to set her right. 'No, Ms Tate. They will not think that. They will think you so rushed this morning you didn't have a chance to look in the mirror. Do you want to leave an impression of incompetence behind you? No, I didn't think so.'
Inconvenient images invaded Carly's mind as Lorenzo delivered his ultimatum, of flinging the wretched suit at his feet and jumping on it. Did he think bespoke suits like his grew on trees? Did he think parking across the cycle path was a good idea? But these images were swiftly followed by her parents' anxious faces. She couldn't let them down, and while there was life left in her scholarship hopes she had not the slightest intention of doing so.