All he knew was that her unexpected and sudden departure before he woke had confused and disturbed him, as well as making him question his own judgement. If she had tried to contact him to explain or apologise shortly afterwards he might—just might—have forgiven her. But in three months there had been nothing but silence where she was concerned, and now Luca was just as much in the dark about her as ever.

Katherine was the first woman in over three years, since Sophia had died, who had captured his attention, and her behaviour following their night together had been more than regrettable. There had been a sense of the most astonishing connection between them. And not just on a physical level, he recalled. Something about her had revived feelings in him that he’d thought were lying permanently dormant—either that or he had simply lost the ability to experience them because of what had happened. He had been numb to sensation for so long and then he had seen Katherine across that crowded room. The mere sight of her had astoundingly made the blood pump almost violently in his veins! How did one explain those mysterious things? Perhaps the truth was that she had caught him at a weak and emotionally vulnerable moment, and he had fantasised that the connection between them was far more meaningful than it really was?

Underlying his unhappy speculation was a longing to dig a little deeper into his own wounded psyche and discover the truth, yet the prospect honestly terrified him. Sighing, Luca rubbed an agitated hand round his clenched jaw. But then again, he concluded, his thoughts driving him near crazy, he was not unfamiliar with the rush of affection that could suffuse a man after he had made satisfying love to a woman. Perhaps at the end of the day that was all it had been with Katherine?

The doors opened behind him and Katherine stepped back into the room. Her face, though still too pale, did not look as alarming as it had when she’d run out. A genuine sense of relief swept through Luca.

‘I’m sorry,’ she apologised, rubbing her hand up and down one slender arm as though cold. ‘I suddenly didn’t feel very well. I’m better now, but I really think I need to eat something. I’ll just pop across the road to the deli and get myself a sandwich.’

‘There is no need for that! What you should do now is just sit down and rest for a while. I will arrange for some food to be brought up to my office.’

‘It’s all right. You don’t have to do that.’

The telephone receiver already in his hand, Luca threw Katherine the steely look that he often utilised at business meetings when someone was being particularly obstructive. ‘Yes, I do! It is fairly obvious that you need sustenance and rest, so you will do as I say, Miss Richardson, and not argue! Capisce?’

The selection of refreshments and drinks the catering manager personally brought up to Luca’s office was more fitting for a visiting VIP than a temporary PA Katherine reflected in surprise when they were alone again. The food had been laid out on the highly polished table that was used for meetings, and tentatively they sat down opposite each other to eat it. After taking several small, hungry bites of a particularly delicious smoked ham and Dijon mustard sandwich on rye bread, Katherine felt the queasiness in her delicate stomach thankfully abate. But then she noticed that Luca was not eating at all. He seemed to be far more occupied with watching her instead.

Dabbing her linen napkin delicately at the corner of her mouth, she frowned. ‘What’s the matter? Aren’t you hungry?’

‘I will eat in a moment.’ He shrugged.

His tie was still pulled away from his unbuttoned shirt collar, giving her an unwitting glimpse of a few fine, curling, dark hairs beneath the strong column of his tanned throat. Raised flesh stood out on Kate’s bare arms in immediate response to that almost too tantalising detail.

‘I am glad to see that your earlier distress has not adversely affected your appetite,’ he commented.

‘Luckily I’m one of those people who usually has a cast-iron stomach!’ she joked. ‘Not much adversely affects my appetite, I’m afraid!’

‘Do not apologise for enjoying your food,’ Luca replied with a genuine smile. ‘It makes a pleasant change to meet a woman who does not regard food as the enemy!’

Kate’s smile was more tentative than Luca’s, and she had good reason. Quite aware that she had narrowly managed to avert disaster and keep him in the dark about her true condition in spite of her unexpected urgent dash to the washroom, she undeniably felt temporary relief at not having to explain things more fully. And she felt guilty about that. A big part of her was clamouring to just come out with it there and then, confess the real cause of her distress. However, somehow she didn’t feel either ready or brave enough. Besides, Kate asked herself, was it wrong of her to simply want to bask in the warmth and light of his gorgeous smile for just a little while longer rather than invite his disdain?