Alessandro has just broken the news to Olivia that her business-related marriage of convenience to his younger brother won't take place. Carlo has jilted her for another woman, leaving Olivia in the lurch and destroying both families' plans for a merger. Reeling from the news, but determined to discover more, she agrees to meet Alessandro.

 

Five minutes later, wearing a slim fitting skirt and silk shirt, Olivia stepped into a pair of high heels and slicked on a bright lipstick.

Armour to face Alessandro?

The idea was laughable. He’d already seen her at her weakest. Besides, he wasn’t her enemy precisely. Only a man who made her very uncomfortable.

Her laugh was a snort of self-derision. As if anything could make her more uncomfortable than today’s news!

All her plans, her hopes, gone to glory.

Straightening her backbone, she turned the doorknob and entered the salon.

Alessandro stood by a long window. Not looking at the iconic view, but scowling down at his phone, texting.

It struck her that she’d never seen him relaxing, even at social events. He was always networking, discussing business opportunities, making every moment count.

Except the evening they’d first met. Then, for a brief time, it had felt as if all his attention was totally, irrevocably focused on her, not on business.

Hastily Olivia buried the thought. It was nonsense. Something she’d imagined. Even if it weren’t, that moment had passed long ago.

She crossed the room, trying come up with some strategy to save the day. Some coup that would divert the disaster that loomed. But her brain ran in circles.

Except for the part of her mind fixed on Alessandro. The light slanting through the windows cast shadows that emphasised his aggressively masculine yet disturbingly sensual features. He wasn’t a comfortable man to be around. She always felt on edge when he was near, as if one unwary step or word might end with…what? She’d never worked it out, just knew he made her tense.

But Alessandro was the driving force behind Sartori. His business acumen was phenomenal. If anyone could come up with a plan to lessen the fallout from this disaster, it was he.

Instead of going straight to him, Olivia headed for the tray on a nearby table. His untouched espresso was there and a milk coffee for her.

Had he noticed that, though half Italian, she’d never developed the taste for strong coffee? She frowned and picked up her cup. As if! This was the housekeeper’s doing.

When she looked back Alessandro was watching her. He’d turned towards her and with the sun behind him she couldn’t read his expression. Yet tiny pinpricks pinched her skin. She knew his scrutiny was intense.

Looking for signs she was going to turn hysterical?

She picked up the tiny espresso cup and held it out to him, grateful when he moved to take it. The silence was thick with tension.

Olivia waited but still he didn’t say anything. The nape of her neck pinched as if nipped by phantom fingers.

‘I presume you’re here because you’ve got a plan, Alessandro.’

Why else would he stay? He’d already delivered the apology on behalf of his family.

He lifted the tiny cup to his mouth and swallowed, then put it back on its saucer with a decisive click. Only then did he answer.

‘I have.’

Olivia started. She’d thrown out the words more in hope than expectation.

‘Why don’t you sit before you spill that?’ he added.

His words reminded her of earlier, when he’d come here to tell her she’d been jilted. But, she reassured herself, nothing he could say now could cap that. She’d had her earthshattering news for the day.

So she ignored the warning premonition feathering her senses and sank onto a chair. That was better. Her legs were still too shaky.

‘So.’ She looked up to where he still stood, unmoving. ‘What’s your idea?’

‘Simple. The wedding goes ahead.’

Olivia scowled. ‘Even you couldn’t force your brother back here to marry when he doesn’t want to.’ So much for believing Alessandro had a solution.

‘Ah, but it won’t be Carlo marrying you.’ He paused, as if assessing her reaction. ‘It will be me.’

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