He knew his firm of architects were the elite of the elite, and that the businessmen would find it difficult to find another firm that could match the sheer innovation and high level of dedication to the client that his could, but he saw too that having Katherine as his hostess for the evening had gone a long way towards helping them make up their minds about giving him a commission. Having just had a conversation with them, sealing the deal with a handshake, and now alone again with his friend Hassan, Luca saw that he too was watching the lovely brunette across the room.

The older man smiled indulgently as she threw back her head and laughed at something amusing the wife of one of Luca’s colleagues was saying to her. ‘Do you know what an asset that beautiful woman is?’ he remarked, not without a touch of envy in his voice.

People had used to say the same thing about Sophia, and Luca had felt a not insignificant burst of masculine pride that he was married to such a beauty. The thought made his stomach cartwheel. But they had not been so complimentary towards the end, he remembered soberly… Not when she had deliberately distanced herself from both Luca and company in general…

‘I confess I did not realise how much until now,’ he answered truthfully, contemplating the champagne in his glass with a distracted air. ‘Certainly making everybody feel at home seems to come very naturally to her.’

‘If I were you…’ lowering his voice conspiratorially, Hassan drew nearer to the younger man ‘…I would definitely not let this one go!’

Later that evening, when his guests had departed and Luca found himself alone with Katherine, he could not help remembering what his friend had said, and he felt a definite reluctance in him to bid her goodnight. No matter that she had not exactly been as keen to stay with him after their last meeting in Milan! He’d be a liar if he did not acknowledge to himself that that still had the power to sting. But now, as she stifled a yawn and smiled at him apologetically, Luca felt strangely predisposed to forgive her….

‘You did a magnificent job this evening,’ he heard himself say, his stomach muscles tightening as he picked up the bewitching scent of her heavenly perfume. His glance skimmed the alluring decolletage of her dress, and he did not try to stem the heated desire that swept powerfully through him at the sight of that too tempting flesh. ‘You were the perfect hostess!’

‘Thank you.’ Her dark eyes shied away from looking back at his too closely, he noticed. ‘But it wasn’t that difficult—not when you had invited such charming guests! Usually I don’t find these kind of occasions easy at all!’

‘Like at the party in Milan?’ Luca suggested softly, reaching forward to wind a loose curl of her sable hair round his finger.

Katherine let out a surprised breath, and it skimmed over his skin like the gentlest of summer breezes.

‘I confess I felt a bit like a fish out of water that night,’ she admitted, a warm blush brightening her cheeks.

‘You looked like a lost little girl who needed rescuing,’ Luca concurred. ‘But I felt equally lost that night.’

‘At your own party?’

‘Sì. Then I saw you…and strangely I felt lost no longer.’

Registering the shock in her lovely eyes, Luca suddenly woke up to what he was saying, and the sense of vulnerability his confession had provoked inside him. Dio! The champagne was dangerously loosening his tongue! Better let her leave now, before he made matters worse. He might find temporary solace in Katherine’s arms again, but tomorrow he had to continue working with her—and sleeping with her, as much as he yearned to do just that, would only complicate things. Much better that he planned a sorely needed holiday than contemplate an affair with a woman who had already demonstrated to him she wasn’t exactly trustworthy!

Releasing the delicate springy curl wound round his finger, Luca made a point of glancing down at his Rolex. ‘It is getting very late, and we both have an early start in the morning. Brian is waiting in the car to drive you home.’

Choosing not to address the confusion mirrored in her gaze, Luca walked Katherine out into the chequered-floored hallway. Handing her her midnight-blue velvet cape, he helped settle it round her shoulders, employing every bit of willpower he could summon not to settle his hands there instead, and turn her round to face him so that he might kiss her as thoroughly as he longed to…

‘Thank you again for your help this evening. I will see you at the office in the morning. Sleep well.’

‘Goodnight, then,’ she replied, her glance only briefly touching his, as though she had picked up his unspoken signal that it was better that they part and silently concurred with it.

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