Mel had been off hobnobbing somewhere else, and Kate had sensed her legs turn as weak as a newborn foal’s beneath the charismatic stranger’s sizzling observation. He had turned his back on several guests clearly eager to speak to him to cross the room and talk to her instead, introducing himself as ‘Luca,’ she recalled. Just Luca. There had been no mention of Gianluca De Rossi. And Kate had offered her name as Katherine. It was her full name, but she rarely used it, so why it had slipped out so naturally beneath his unsettling gaze was a mystery. Except that maybe a person couldn’t be expected to be totally in control of their responses when they were confronted by an aura of wealth, confidence and breathtaking good looks such as Luca was so commandingly in possession of? And maybe at that moment she had also succumbed to feeling small and insecure, and had needed the bolster of a name that sounded a bit classier than just plain Kate?

There were many reasons she’d acted so out of character that unforgettable night, and that was just the first of them… Clasping her hands in front of her now, on the polished surface of the desk, it took every bit of courage she could muster to meet the disapproving gaze Luca was still directing her way and hold it.

‘I hadn’t planned to leave the way I did. I just…I just didn’t want to wake you. It was the last night of my holiday and I had a plane to catch. I should have mentioned it before, but—’ She blushed, certain her cheeks were glowing red as ripe russet apples.

‘But we were otherwise engaged at the time?’ Luca suggested wryly, a visible muscle throbbing at the side of his fascinating cheekbone. ‘Even so…you should have woken me—not just left without so much as leaving a phone number or an address where I could contact you!’

‘I’m sorry.’ Kate meant it, and there was a helpless catch in her voice. Yet part of her was reeling at the idea that a man who moved in the privileged and exclusive circles Luca did even cared that his one-night lover had not left a number or address where he might reach her. Was she wrong to have assumed he would forget her so easily? Had she just convinced herself of that so that she could get over the pain of leaving him and never seeing him again by making the cut quick and clean? Because it had pained her to leave him…

The attraction that had flared between them had smoked white-hot the second their glances had met, and even Kate’s relative inexperience with men hadn’t fooled her into thinking that was a common, everyday thing. And underlying that blistering magnetic pull she’d miraculously sensed the kind of soul-to-soul connection she’d long dreamed of. There had definitely been something special about Luca that Kate had not been able to forget. But at the time she’d been grieving on two counts. Grieving for the loss of her mother as well as for the loss of her fiercely guarded self-esteem—brought about by the other thing that had so devastatingly occurred back home. Both those momentous events had left Kate in no fit state either to think straight or make good decisions. And now she had to contend with the unbelievable twist of fate that had brought her right back into this man’s charismatic sphere again—turning up for a temp assignment that meant she would be his personal assistant for the next couple of weeks, while his permanent PA was on holiday.

‘Well…on reflection, I think it probably best that we simply forget what has happened between us in the past and concentrate on the present. It is unfortunate that this has come about, but we will just have to live with it if we are to work together over the next two weeks.’

Luca sighed, as if weighed down with too much responsibility. Beneath the fluid expensive weave of his faultless Italian tailoring, his hard lean body emitted a palpable sense of weariness, and Kate got the definite impression that work had been driving him to the exclusion of all else lately. It made her want to alleviate the burden for him somehow.

‘Though I have to say,’ he continued, ‘it is a very strange coincidence indeed that you should turn up in my office to stand in as my secretary, is it not? Tell me the truth, Katherine. Has someone put you up to this as some kind of joke? Tell me now, before I have to take the regrettable step of calling Security and getting them to escort you out of the building!’

She gasped. ‘What are you saying? Of course it’s not a joke! The agency I work for sent me and that’s the absolute truth! I had no idea that Gianluca De Rossi was you! How could I? You never told me your full name that night, and neither did you tell me you worked in London! I naturally assumed you worked in Milan.’

‘But you could have asked anyone at the party my full name and they would have enlightened you. It was my house and my party, after all! It would have been easy if you had probed further to discover that I have an office in London as well as Milan, and that I am mainly based here.’