‘WELL, well, well… Look who it is!’

As the honeyed sea of that mesmerising voice reached her, washing around her ankles, threatening to pull her under, Kate Richardson stared in mute shock at the man facing her across the room. Her memory of his electric blue eyes having the power to dazzle like the most flawless glinting gemstones had not failed her, but she did not recall them having the ability to almost slice her in two even as he smiled. Uncurling her fingers from their death lock on the door handle, she knew her surprised expression must easily mirror his. But as she had barely any sensation of her facial muscles functioning at all Kate couldn’t have sworn to it.

‘Luca…’ All she could do right then was stare in wonder, because her mental faculties seemed frighteningly slow in catching up with her speech.

‘At least you remember my name.’

Did he really think she would ever forget it? ‘The agency sent me.’ Kate could barely find the words to explain her presence. ‘You—you need a secretary for the next few days…apparently.’ Her shoulders lifted in a nervous shrug.

His jaw hardened. No spare flesh spoilt its perfect symmetry—it was just jutting, formidable bone. ‘Dio! I know perfectly well what I need! Come in and close the door!’

Kate obeyed, unable to disregard his harsh-voiced command even if she’d wanted to. Inhabiting the same electrically charged space as this man was like being swept along by a powerful current she couldn’t fight, and for a moment the sensation of vulnerability this instigated was too real to combat. She’d had no idea he worked in London…none. But then what she did know about the provoking specimen of masculinity glaring at her from across the room she could probably commit to just a single sentence. In the breathtaking few hours they had spent together in Milan three months ago, they hadn’t exactly immersed themselves in personal biographies. They had been held in thrall by other, far more distracting discoveries about each other instead.

‘Sit down.’

His authoritative command ricocheted through the tensely strung atmosphere like a velvet gunshot. Swallowing hard, Kate pulled out the chair on the opposite side of the huge modern desk and sat. She was glad to. Her legs were suddenly about as substantial as flimsy threads of cotton.

The huge plate-glass window behind her interrogator reflected a stunning vista that included Big Ben and the London Eye, but the imposing landmarks didn’t distract her. How could they when they were in unfair competition with the artfully sculpted male visage before her? Kate’s heart soared and her insides fluttered as she recalled that she knew intimately that his incredible body was equally as artfully designed. And there had been an altogether shocking and unexpected price to pay for that intimate knowledge, she reflected soberly, and her stomach executed an unsettling cartwheel at the fact.

‘Why did you leave without saying goodbye in Milan? Do you usually treat your lovers so casually? Leaving them in the morning without so much as the good manners to at least wait until they are awake? Do you get some kind of strange satisfaction out of such behaviour?’

Dumbstruck, Kate stared, feeling her cheeks burn in indignation and shock. ‘I beg your pardon?’

‘Last time we met your hearing was not impaired in any way, as far as I can recall.’ His disdain was clearly intended to sting.

‘I’m just a little taken aback that you would believe I do that sort of thing regularly. Let me assure you that I don’t!’

‘The fact of the matter is that you did it to me, Katherine… For some reason I expected better from you…but you disappointed me.’

Powerful regret washed over Kate. If she could have had that time back again would she act differently? Maybe. Hindsight was a wonderful thing.

Studying the handsome, disapproving face before her, Kate knew a sudden great desire to have him smile at her. So consuming was it that she could almost have wept in frustration, knowing that her wish was in vain. An icy chill shuddered through her. Thinking back to the party at some big-wig architect’s mansion that her friend Melissa had dragged her to, courtesy of the swish property developer she worked for, Kate had considered it a mistake right from the off. It had been the last evening of her holiday, and all she had really wanted to do was spend time in quiet reflection on how she was going to rebuild her life when she got back to the UK.

How did a person learn to trust again when they had been betrayed as brutally as Kate had?

Her plans had been hijacked by her friend’s insistence that she needed to ‘get out and have some fun,’ and instead of the quiet evening she’d had in mind she had had to endure the uncomfortable proximity of a bunch of strangers in a glamorous setting that had no power to lift her out of the despondency she’d been in. That was until the man now in front of her had appeared, cast his eyes round the room as though already bored with the faces that glanced back at him, and then shockingly rested his far too disturbing gaze on her.