‘Miss Thornton...this is Mr Leopardi and Miss Nina Franklin.’ Giles introduced them in the oily voice he employed solely around wealthy clients.
Daisy froze. Leopardi. That name thudded into her brain like a sharp blow. Stunned, she stared at the large male presence now blocking out the sunlight. All she could focus on was a pale blue tie set against a slice of snowy white shirt bounded by the lapels of an exquisitely tailored charcoal-grey jacket. Numbly she tipped her silver-fair head back and looked up at him. Disbelief enclosed her in complete stasis. It was Alessio! The shock of recognition was so intense that she couldn’t move a muscle. She simply stood there, all colour drained from her triangular face, her polite smile sliding away into nothingness. The hand she had begun to extend dropped weakly back to her side again.
Helplessly she collided with deep-set dark eyes fixed on her with an incredulous intensity that was as great as her own. And then luxuriant black lashes swept low, swiftly screening his gaze from her. She saw the tautness of his facial muscles beneath the gold of his dark skin, grasped the fierce control he was exerting and, with a huge effort, dragged her shattered eyes from him, fighting to regain her composure.
‘Mr Leopardi...’ she muttered in a wobbly undertone, and began to raise her hand again with all the flair of a malfunctioning automaton.
Alessio ignored the gesture and spun on his heel to address Giles. ‘Is this woman the only employee you have available?’ he enquired harshly.
There was a sharp little silence.
‘Miss Thornton is one of our most experienced members of staff.’ Giles fixed an ingratiating smile to his full lips but his dismay was obvious. ‘Perhaps you think she seems a little on the young side but she’s actually a good deal older than she looks!’
Daisy flushed to the hairline. The beautiful blonde giggled. The thick silence pulsed like a wild thing in a room that now felt suffocatingly airless. She focused on Alessio’s shoes—hand-stitched Italian loafers. She remembered him barefoot and in trainers. That was the only thought in her mind but it speedily flowed on into another.
She remembered a teenage boy, not a full-grown adult male. She knew the adult only from pictures in newsprint that fractured her peace for days afterwards. But how much more disturbing it was to be faced with Alessio in the flesh...and without any warning whatsoever. Her tummy muscles were horribly cramped up. She felt sick, physically sick, and could not have opened her mouth had her life depended on it.
Giles cleared his throat uneasily. ‘I’m afraid that there isn’t anyone else available this morning. If it wasn’t for this—’ he frowned down at the clumsy plaster cast on his foot ‘—I would have been delighted to personally escort you round the Blairden property. As it is—’
‘Alessio... if we don’t get a move on, I’ll be late for my booking,’ the blonde complained petulantly, unfolding lithely from her chair to reveal a height very little short of Alessio’s six feet three.
The woman was a model—a very well-known model, Daisy recognised belatedly, her dazed eyes scanning that impossibly perfect bone structure. She had seen that same face on countless magazine covers. And what had Giles said her name was? Like a sleepwalker, she moved forward and extended her hand. ‘Miss Franklin...’
Manicured fingertips brushed hers only in passing. Bored green eyes flicked dismissively over her. The blonde slid her hand into Alessio’s in a gesture of possessive intimacy and curved right round him to whisper something in his ear, her other hand moving caressingly up over his chest to curve finally to one broad shoulder.
Daisy went rigid and stared. Then abruptly she looked away, but every nerve in her body screamed as she did so. For a split second, as her own fingers had closed tightly in on themselves, she had been tempted to thrust their bodies apart. That insane urge shook her inside out.
‘If you’ll excuse me, I’ll brief Miss Thornton.’ Giles closed a taut hand round Daisy’s elbow and practically pulled her out into the corridor.
His heavy features were flushed and angry. ‘What’s the silent act in aid of? No wonder the bloke wasn’t impressed! Don’t you know who he is?’