‘For your information, apart from the friend I went with I spoke to hardly anyone else that entire evening but you! And my friend didn’t know who you were. She was given the invitation by someone in her office who couldn’t go, and her only information was the address! Anyway, why would I wait three months if I wanted to see you again? If I’d wanted to stay in touch it would have been far easier to leave you my details back in Milan!’
‘So you are telling me that you purposely did not want to get in touch? How flattering!’ Luca’s mouth pursed, as though he had tasted something disagreeable. ‘And now—if I am to believe what you say is true—it is fate that has conspired to bring us together again! I suppose one could conclude from that that we must have some unfinished business after all. What do you think, Katherine?’
Suddenly feeling quite faint, Kate frowned. What did he mean, exactly? She was doubly perturbed by his words when she considered the potentially explosive secret she was keeping that he didn’t yet know about… She just about held on to her scant breakfast of dry toast when she thought about that.
‘Unfinished business or not, I’m here to work as your secretary, and genuinely that’s the only reason I’m here!’
‘Then if you are to work for me, know this! I expect you to be absolutely first-class at what you do. I will not be looking upon you with any leniency because of what happened between us before! Are you up to the task, Katherine? Because if you are not then I will ring the agency now and get them to send somebody else.’
His smile was laced with mistrust as well as a deep cynicism. It wasn’t at all like the one Kate had been acquainted with, that had lit up a room as brightly as a hundred-watt lightbulb. Her stomach churned with misery and shock.
‘You don’t need to get anyone else. I’m good at what I do and completely professional!’
‘Well, then,’ Luca continued, ‘as long as you know that I am hardly accustomed to women treating me as an opportunity for some kind of casual sexual release, and that there will be no chance of a repeat performance, our working together should perhaps not pose too many problems after all.’
‘It wasn’t like that! I never—’
‘You never what, Katherine? You never had a one-night stand before, or you never left a man’s bed the morning after without saying goodbye? How do I know what is the truth? I only have the evidence of my own regrettable experience to go on as far as you are concerned, and the fact is that you did leave the next morning with clearly no intention of ever getting in touch with me again!’
‘It wasn’t like that at all! And it was never my intention to treat you as some kind of casual sexual release, I assure you! There were reasons why I left the way I did.’
‘A plane to catch, you said?’
‘Not just that.’ Feeling as if she was on a rock face, scrabbling for purchase, Kate gave Luca a nervous smile in the hope that she might somehow get through to him. After all, hadn’t they shared something special that momentous night, when they had not been able to ignore the passion and urgency that had driven them into each other’s arms? Something that had fuelled Kate’s sense of something vital having been missing in her life as nothing else had ever done before?
But it took only an instant for her to realise that whatever faint hope she’d nurtured for Luca’s understanding was a waste of time. The look on his face already told her that sympathy from him was in frighteningly short supply.
‘Something had happened at home that I was desperately trying to deal with at the time,’ she started to explain, agitatedly linking and unlinking her hands together. ‘That’s why I’d gone to Italy…to try and sort myself out. I know you might find this hard to believe, but the way I behaved that night was so out of character that the following morning…waking up in your bed…I was— I couldn’t believe I had— I mean—’
‘It sounds like you are making excuses up as you go—and not even very good ones at that!’
Frustrated at her woeful inability to try and explain, and with her stomach cramping in distress, Kate shrugged disconsolately. ‘You’re obviously not going to forgive me, so perhaps it is best if you just ring the agency and get them to send somebody else in my place?’
‘No. I will give you one chance. What I propose to do is give you a one-day trial, and if you do not measure up to the high standards I expect then I will contact the agency for a replacement!’
‘I suppose I can’t argue with that.’
Even if she didn’t like the idea of failing Luca’s one-day trial, Kate breathed a silent prayer of thanks that he was at least going to give her a chance to prove herself, and not simply show her the door as she’d increasingly been expecting him to.