She’d been self-sufficient ever since.

 She might not have had a mother or a father but she’d had her grandfather, strict as he was, and her brother, as protective as he was. Things might be tense at the moment but Rocco would always be there for her.


 Christian hadn’t had any of that. Mikolaj had been there as best he could but with a business to run and seven kids of his own to raise it hadn’t been enough. Christian had basically been alone until he’d established the strong friendship group with her brother, Stefan and Zayed. A friendship that had been destroyed because of her.

 ‘Your mother...’

 ‘What about her?’ he asked tersely.

 ‘However crazy she makes you feel, you must love her very much.’

 He breathed deeply. ‘I respect what she did for me as a child. She could have abandoned me but she didn’t. I do my duty towards her and will never abandon her. But love? She poisoned any notion I ever had of love.’

 As Alessandra digested this, a silver fox of a man came over to join them in the alcove, a German she recalled Christian telling her was head of one of Europe’s major private banks.

 ‘Have I introduced you to my daughter?’ he asked, indicating a woman of around the same age as Alessandra who was hovering behind him.

 ‘I don’t believe so,’ Christian answered.

 Silver Fox pulled his daughter to him. ‘Kerstin, this is Christian Markos and his wife, Alessandra.’

 Kerstin’s eyes gleamed as she leaned in to kiss Christian’s cheeks, lingering to whisper something in his ear. A tall, blonde, impossibly glamorous and beautiful woman, she reminded Alessandra of old Hollywood. Her kisses to Alessandra were quick and perfunctory, the first thing that caused the word bitch to float in Alessandra’s mind.

 ‘Kerstin graduated a few years ago from your Alma Mater,’ Silver Fox said when the introductions were complete.

 ‘You studied at Columbia?’ Christian asked with interest.

 ‘I did,’ she said with a knowing smile.

 So she had brains as well as beauty?

 ‘I seem to recall your father saying something about it, but that was quite a few years ago,’ he mused. ‘Are you planning on following in his footsteps?’

 ‘Ja—when Papa retires the plan is for me to take over his role.’

 ‘That’s something I wanted to talk to you about,’ Silver Fox said, addressing Christian. ‘Kerstin and I feel she needs to expand her horizons. We would like you to taking her under your wing for a year or two so she can learn directly from you different aspects of our business.’

 Over my dead body.

 ‘That’s an interesting idea,’ Christian said, turning his attention directly to Kerstin. ‘What are you hoping to learn from me?’

 ‘Everything!’ Thus said, Kerstin proceeded to discuss in great detail what she hoped to achieve under his tutelage, most of which went straight over Alessandra’s head. This wasn’t through a lack of understanding on her part, more to do with the raging burn in her brain that glowed so brightly, nothing else could penetrate.

 If she had claws she would scratch Kerstin’s eyes out without a second thought.

 With a snap, she knew who Kerstin reminded her of and why she’d taken such an instant dislike to her.

 She reminded her of all the women she’d ever seen photographed on Christian’s arm.

 His interest in her—the way he leaned in closely to hear what she had to say, the obvious interest in his expression—was all so clear a highly polished window couldn’t have been more transparent.

 Feeling everything inside her clench, she forced her ears to tune in to the conversation.

 Now it really did fly over her head.

 When it came to financial matters, the most Alessandra ever needed to know was the amount in her personal and business bank accounts and what income and outgoings she had. When she heard the word securities banded about in all earnestness, the only thing her brain conjured up were her bodyguards.

 She wasn’t stupid; she knew that. But finance was its own separate language, one she didn’t know how to translate.

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