Raised by a mother who traded on her looks, buttoned-up accountant Kate Watson is determined to be respected for her brains and not her beauty! But working side by side with notorious billionaire boss Alessandro Preda leaves Kate rattled!
Alessandro is intrigued by virginal Kate. He's used to women flaunting their curves in front of him, not trying to hide them! He will relish the fresh challenge of unleashing the volcano of sensuality he senses within her.
Yet neither is prepared for what happens when one pleasurable night is nowhere near enough
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Friday. End of July. Six-thirty in the evening
And where, Kate thought, am I? Still in the office. She was the last man standing. Or sitting, in actual fact. At her desk, with the computer flickering in front of her and profit and loss columns demanding attention. Not immediate attentionnothing that couldn't wait until the following Monday morningbut
She sighed and sat back, stretching out the knots in her shoulders, and for a few minutes allowed herself to get lost in thought.
She was twenty-seven years old and she knew where she should be right nowand it wasn't in the office. Even if it was a very nice office, in a more-than-very-nice building, in the prestigious heart of London.
In fact she should be anywhere but here.
She should be out enjoying herself, lazing around in Hyde Park with friends, drinking wine and luxuriating in the long, hot summer. Or having a barbecue in a back garden somewhere. Or maybe just sitting inside, with some music on in the background and a significant other discussing his day and asking about hers.
She blinked and the vision of possibilities vanished. Since moving to London four years ago she could count on the fingers of one hand the number of close friends she had managed to make, and since qualifying as an accountant and joining AP Logistics a year and a half ago she had made none.
Acquaintances, yes but friends? No. She just wasn't the sort of outgoing, chirpy, confidence-sharing, giggling sort of girl who made friends easily and was always part of a group. She knew that and she rarely thought about it allexcept well it was Friday, and outside the baking sun was fading into pleasant balmy warmth, and in the rest of the world people her age were all out there enjoying themselves. In Hyde Park. Or in those back gardens where barbecues were happening.
She glanced through her office door and an array of empty desks stared back at her accusingly, mockingly, pointing out her shortcomings.
She hurriedly made a mental list of all the wonderful upsides to her life.
Great job at one of the most prestigious companies in the country. Her own office, which was a remarkable achievement considering her age. Her own small one-bedroom flat in a nice enough area in West London. How many girls her age actually owned their own place? In London? Yes, there was a mortgage, but still
She had done well.
So she might not be able to escape her past. But she could bury it so deeply that it could no longer affect her. Except.
She was here, at work, on her own, on a Friday evening, on the twenty-sixth of July So what did that say?
She hunched back over the screen and decided to give herself another half an hour before she would leave the office and head back to her empty flat.
Thankfully she became so engrossed in the numbers staring back at her that she was barely aware of the distant ping of the lift and the sound of footsteps approaching the huge open-plan room where the secretaries and trainee accountants sat, and then moving on, heading towards her office.
She was squinting at the screen and totally unaware of the tall, dark figure looming by the door until he spoke, and then she jumped and for a few unguarded seconds was not the cool, collected woman she usually was.
Alessandro Preda always seemed to have that effect on her.
There was something about the man and it was moremuch morethan the fact that he owned the company this great big company that had dozens of satellite companies under its umbrella.
There was something about him He was just so much larger than life, and not in a comforting, cuddly-bear kind of way.
'Sir Mr Preda How can I help you?' Kate leapt to her feet, smoothing down her neat grey skirt with one hand, tidying the bun at the nape of her neck with the othernot that it needed tidying.
Alessandro, who had been leaning indolently against the doorframe, sauntered into her office, which was the only area lit on this floor of his company.
'You can start by sitting back down, Kate. When I achieve royal status you can spring to your feet as I enter the room. Until then there's really no need.'
Kate plastered a polite smile on her lips and sat down. Alessandro Preda might be drop-dead gorgeousall lean and bronzed and oozing sexy dangerbut there was nothing about him she found in the least bit appealing.
Too many people were in awe of his brilliance. Too many women swooned at his feet like pathetic, helpless damsels in distress. And he was just too arrogant for his own good. He was the man who had it all, and he was very much aware of that fact.
But, since he literally owned the ground she walked on, she had no choice but to smile, smile, smile and hope he didn't see beneath the smile.
'And there's no need to call me sir every time you address me. Haven't I told you that before?'
Dark-as-night eyes swung in her direction and lazily inspected the cool, pale face that had not cracked a genuine smile in all the time she had been working at his company. At least not in his presence.
'Yes, you have er.'
'Alessandro the name is Alessandro. It's a family firmI like to keep it casual with my employees.'
He swung round to perch on the edge of her desk and Kate automatically inched back in her chair.
Hardly a family firm, she thought sarcastically. Unless your family runs into thousands and happens to be scattered to the four corners of the globe. Big family.
'What can I do for you, Alessandro?'
'Actually, I came to leave some papers for Cape. Where is he? And why are you the only one alive and kicking here? Where are the rest of the accounts team?'
'It's after six-thirty er.Alessandro. They all left a while ago.'
Alessandro consulted his watch and frowned. 'You're right. Not that it's stretching the outer limits of the imagination to think that at least a few members of my highly paid staff might be here. Working.' He looked at her, eyes narrowed. 'So what are you still doing here?'
'I had a few reports I wanted to get through before I left. It's a productive time of day when everyone else has left for the evening.'
Alessandro looked at her consideringly, head tilted to one side.
What was it about this woman? He had had some dealings with her over the past few months. She was a hard worker, diligent, had been fast-tracked by George Cape. He certainly had not been able to fault the quickness of her mind. Indeed, she seemed to have a knack for cutting through the crap and finding the source of problemswhich wasn't that easy in the fiddly arena of finance.
Everything about her was professional, but there was something missing.
The cool green eyes were guarded, the full mouth always tight and polite, the hair never out of place.
His eyes roved lower, taking in a body that was well sheathed behind a prim white long-sleeved shirt, neatly cuffed at the wrists and buttoned to the neck.
Outside, the temperatures had been soaring for the past three weeksand yet you would never guess, looking at her, that it was summer beyond the office walls. He would bet his fortune that she would be wearing tights.
He, personally, thrived on a rich diet of sexy women who flaunted their assets, so Ms Kate Watson's severe veneer never failed to arouse his curiosity.
The last time he had worked with herfor several days, on a tricky tax issue with which she had seemed more adept at dealing than her boss, George Cape, whose head had recently been in the cloudshe had tried to find out a bit more about her. Had asked her a few questions about what she did outside work her hobbies, her interests. Polite chit-chat as they had taken time out over the food that had been delivered to his office suite.
Most women responded to any interest he showed in them by opening up. They couldn't wait to tell him all about themselves. They preened and blossomed when he looked at them, when he listened to what they had to say, even though, in fairness, his attention wasn't always exclusively on what they were talking about.
Kate Watson? Not a bit of it. She had stared at him with those cool green eyes and had managed to divert the conversation without giving anything of herself away.
'You're here every evening at this hour?'
Still perched on her desk, invading her space, Alessandro picked up a glass paperweight in the shape of a goldfish and twirled it thoughtfully between his fingers.
'No, of course not.' But far too often, all things considered.
'No? Just today? Even though it's the hottest day of the year?'
'I'm not a big fan of hot weather.' She lowered her eyes, suddenly a little angry at some kind of unspoken, amused criticism behind his words. 'I find it makes me sluggish.'
'It would,' Alessandro pointed out, dumping the goldfish back on the desk where he had found it, 'if you wear long-sleeved shirts and starched skirts.'
'If you'd like to leave the papers with me, I'll make sure I give them to George when he's back.'
'Back from where?'
'He's on holiday at the moment. Canada. He's not due back for another two weeks.'
'It's not that long. Most people book two-week holidays during summer.' 'Have you?'
'Well, no but.'
'Not sure this can wait until Cape decides to grace us with his presence.'
He stood up and slapped a sheaf of papers on her desk, then placed his hands, palms down, squarely on either side of the papers and leaned into her.
'I asked Watson Russell if he knew anything about the anomalies in the supply chain to the leisure centres I'm setting up along the coastline and he told me that it's been Cape's baby from the start. True or false?'
'I believe he is in charge of those accounts.'
Kate took a deep breath and did her utmost not to be intimidated by the man crowding herbut it was next to impossible. Tall, raven-haired, muscular and leaning into her, he didn't cause anything but a rapidly beating heart, a dry mouth and perspiring palms which she surreptitiously wiped on her skirt.
'He's in charge of those accounts. Exclusively. Perhaps you could explain what it is you'd like to find out?'
Alessandro pushed himself away from the desk and prowled through the office, noting in passing how little there was of her personality in it. No cutesy photographs in frames on the desk, no pot plants, no gimmicky penholder not even a desk calendar with uplifting seascapes or works of art or adorable puppies or semi-clad firemen.
He said nothing for a few seconds, then spun to face her, hands thrust deep into his trouser pockets.
'Quite by chance a batch of files was delivered to meprobably because "Private and Confidential" was stamped so boldly on the envelope that the post boy must have automatically headed up to the directors' floor. I scanned them and there appeared to be how shall I say this?.certain discrepancies that need checking out.'
He couldn't keep his eye on every single small detail within his vast empire. He paid people very generously indeed to do that, and with the fat pay packet came a great deal of trust.
He trusted his people not to try and screw him over.
'There are a couple of small companies whose names I can't say I recognize. I may have a lot of companies, but generally speaking I do know what they're called.'
Kate paled as the significance of what he was saying began to sink in.
'You catch on quickly,' Alessandro said approvingly. 'I had actually come down here to confront Cape with these files, but in his absence it might be a better idea for you to have a look at them and collate whatever evidence is necessary.'
'Evidence? Necessary for what?' she asked faintly, and flushed when he raised his eyebrows in question, as if incredulous that the point of what he had said might have passed her by. 'George Cape is nearly at retirement age he's a family man he has a wife, kids, grandchildren.'
'Call me crazy,' Alessandro said, with such silky assurance that she wanted to throw the goldfish paperweight at his handsome head, 'but when someone I employ decides to take advantage of my generosity I tend to feel a little aggrieved. Of course I could be completely off target here. There might very well be a simple explanation for what I've seen '
'But if there isn't ?' She was unwillingly mesmerized by the graceful way he moved around her small office, his jacket bunching where his hand was shoved in his trouser pocket.
'Well, the wheels of justice have to do something to keep busy ' He shrugged. 'So, here's how this is going to play out: I am officially going to hand the files over to you and you are to examine them minutely, from cover to cover. I am assuming you know Cape's password for his computer?'
'I'm afraid I don't.'
'In which case get one of the computer whizz-kids to sort that out. You're going to go through every single document that has been exchanged on this particular project and get back to me out of work hours.'
'Out of work hours? What are you talking about?'
'I think Cape's been embezzling,' Alessandro informed her bluntly. 'We could keep going round the houses, but that's the long and short of it. I had no idea that he was in sole charge of this project. Had he not been I might have been inclined to widen the net of suspicion, but it fundamentally comes down to just one man.'
He paused to stand in front of her desk and she reluctantly looked upand up, and upinto his dark, lean face.
'From what I've seen there's not a great deal of money involved, which might be why no alarm bells went off, but not a great deal over a long period of time could potentially amount to a very great deal, and if there are dummy companies involved.'
'I hate the thought of checking into what George has been doing,' Kate said truthfully. 'He's such a lovely guy, and he's been good to me since I began working here. If it weren't for him I probably wouldn't have been promoted as quickly as I have been.'
'Blow his trumpet too vigorously and I might start thinking that you are in on whatever the hell's been going on.'
'I'm not,' she said coldly, her voice freezing over. Her green eyes held his. 'I would never cheat anyone of anything. That's not the sort of person I am.'
Alessandro's ears pricked up. He had dropped down to the third floor to deposit these papers with George Cape before heading out. He had no dateand no regret there either. His last blonde bombshell had gone the way of all good things, and he was back to the drawing board and more than happy to have a break from the fairer sex.
Kate WatsonMs Kate Watsonwas everything he avoided when it came to women. She was cold, distant, intense, unsmiling and prickly. She never let him forget that she was there to do a damn good job and nothing else.
But that single sentence That's not the sort of person I am had made him wonder.
What sort of person was she?
'You were asking me about my out-of-hours suggestion ' Alessandro moved the topic swiftly along, at the same time relegating her stray remark to a box from which it would be removed at a later date.
He had nothing to do on a Friday night. A rare situation for him. He dragged the single spare chair in the room across to her desk and sat down, angling it so that he could extend his long legs to the side, crossing them at the ankles.
Kate watched with something approaching horror. 'I was about to leave Perhaps we could continue this conversation on Monday morning? I'm usually in first thing. By seven-thirty most days.'
'Laudable. It's heart-warming to know that there's at least one person in my finance department who doesn't clock-watch.'
'I'm sure you must have plans for the evening, sir Alessandro. If I take the paperwork home I can have a look at it over the weekend and get back to you with my findings on Monday morning. How does that sound?'
'The reason I suggested that we discuss this situation out of hours is because I would rather not have it turned into a matter for speculation. Naturally you would be paid generously for your overtime.'
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Real reader. This was a simple but well written harleqiun. No major angst. JUST a good love story