AT FIVE forty-five, Kate knocked on Luca’s office door—the still ominously open office door—and braced herself to ask him if she had passed his one-day trial.

As far as the work went, she honestly thought things had gone without a hitch—but there was simply no guessing what Luca’s decision would be. No doubt he was still getting over the shock of seeing her again, having her turn up to work for him—as Kate was him. After his thoughtful act of providing her with some much needed sustenance after her emergency dash to the bathroom he had more or less withdrawn into his office, only speaking to her when he had to. And that had consisted of little more than a couple of distracted grazies when she took him a cup of coffee.

‘Come in!’ he called out.

Taken aback to find him putting his arms into the sleeves of the elegant suit jacket he had hung on the back of his chair, clearly making ready to leave, Kate felt her heartbeat race a little in alarm.

‘Are you leaving now?’ she asked.

‘Do you not think I have worked long enough today?’ he retorted, with the wryest of reluctant smiles.

Warm colour poured into Kate’s cheeks. ‘I didn’t mean that you shouldn’t be leaving,’ she said awkwardly. ‘I only wanted to ask if I had passed your trial.’

‘My what?’ Luca’s expression reflected definite puzzlement.

‘You said you were giving me a one day-trial… presumably to see if I came up to scratch for the job?’

‘Oh, that.’ He shrugged dismissively, as if he had forgotten all about it. Then he levelled his gaze at Kate more seriously. ‘Of course you must stay! It is not ideal, of course, but it is too late now for someone else to come in and learn the ropes. Besides…I need you to act as my hostess tonight, at the party I am throwing at my house.’

His calm assertion—as though he had already assumed that Kate would agree—slightly miffed her. As awkward as it might prove, she wanted to keep this job—of course she did. But she had been secretly looking forward to a long hot bath to help her wind down after the shocks and surprises of the day. Not to mention time to work out just when and how she was going to find the courage to tell Luca the astonishing secret she’d been nursing…

‘You didn’t say anything about that before!’

‘I have had a lot of things on my mind today, Katherine. Not least of all you!’

He’d been thinking about her? Adjusting the strap of her leather bag on her shoulder, Kate wondered just what shape his reflections had taken. If they were anything like the conflicting thoughts and longings she had endured about him, then no wonder he had been preoccupied!

‘Will you do it?’ Luca asked now, with a frown creasing his faintly lined, tanned forehead.

And if she refused, risk losing both this job and the chance to tell him her news? Kate didn’t reflect for long on her answer. ‘Yes, I’ll do it. But don’t you have anyone else who could help out?’

‘Janine would normally have stepped in, but as you know she is away on holiday and I am paying you to act as my personal assistant in her place—am I not?’

Detecting irritation in his voice, Kate did not want to antagonise Luca any further. But, although she was silently grateful that his need to have his personal assistant act as hostess suggested there wasn’t currently a woman in his life, she was also curious as to why he remained single. The thought raised a ridiculously foolish hope inside her—one that she quickly and painfully suppressed.

‘I’ll have to go home first, to freshen up and change. What time will you need me there?’

‘My chauffeur Brian will drive you home, wait for you, and then bring you back to the house. I will ride with you part-way and he can drop me off first. Come…let us go. Time is getting on.’

Regarding her expectantly, Luca put his hand behind Kate’s back as he reached her, and disconcertingly—as if to remind her she really was playing with fire—a small electrical current fizzed through her at his touch.

Throwing the party at his house for Hassan, his associates, and a few business colleagues of his own along with their wives was not the strain that Luca had first envisaged. With a relentless work schedule that often included taking plans home to study and perfect he had been needing a holiday for quite some time now, but was deliberately resisting the fact. Now, as his interested blue eyes followed Katherine as she moved round his elegant drawing room, talking to his guests, he saw how easy his new personal assistant was making it for him this evening.

In a black cocktail dress, with her dark hair tumbling over her pale shoulders, adorned with only a simple diamante clip, she looked utterly ravishing. Good enough to eat, in fact! And Hassan’s business associates had gravitated to her side time and time again after Luca had made the introductions, seeming reluctant to let her converse with anyone else, he noticed.