‘Yes...’ she acknowledged unevenly, and just in case he might be thinking of that humiliating inequality she added, ‘You’re organised and practical and sensible. You don’t lose things or forget things or... or fall over or off things.’ Sucking in a shaky breath, Daisy pinned her lips shut with an effort, her eyes suddenly smarting with tears. At seventeen she had been dumb enough to think that those’ differences meant that they complemented each other.
‘Exasperatingly efficient but with not much in the way of imagination?’ Alessio queried silkily. ‘Possibly I am about to surprise you.’
‘Surprise me?’ Daisy questioned.
He swung back another door and stood back for her to precede him. Her fine brows knit as she walked through and glanced round a room obviously used as an office. She cleared her throat uncertainly. ‘Why have you brought me in here?’
His strong dark face hardened. ‘I didn’t want to have to do this, Daisy.’
Goose-flesh prickled at the sensitive nape of her neck. ‘Do what?’
‘It was not my intention to use undue pressure.’
‘Undue pressure?’ Daisy queried slightly shrilly, already calculating the distance she was from the door, her fertile imagination running riot.
‘I have employed every means of rational persuasion within my power.’
‘Tara...’ Daisy sighed limply.
Alessio lifted a thick document from the desk and held it out to her.
Daisy tensed even more. ‘What’s that?’
‘A deed of purchase for Elite Estates. I have bought the agency.’
The taut silence thrummed in her eardrums.
Her brow slowly furrowed. ‘That’s not possible. Old Mr Dickson would never sell. It was his first business, and he may not take much of a direct interest these days but—’
‘The agency is not very profitable given the current state of the property market,’ Alessio returned levelly. ‘Lewis Dickson couldn’t close with my offer fast enough.’
‘But what would you want with a London estate company?’ Daisy looked at him in perplexity. ‘You couldn’t have bought the agency!’ she argued with sudden conviction. ‘Giles would have known if there was anything like that in the wind.’
‘Carter is only an employee.’
‘But he manages Elite Estates—’
‘That does not grant him automatic access to his employer’s decisions, and discretion was part of the deal.’
Alessio had bought the agency? Daisy studied the document, intricate legal terms blurring beneath her searching gaze until she finally picked out sentences that had a frightening ring of reality. ‘I just don’t understand why...’ she muttered in a daze.
‘I could make a very tidy profit on the deal. The agency is sitting on a prime site with a great deal of expensive space wasted on that car park. It’s ripe for redevelopment.’
‘Redevelopment?’ Daisy repeated sickly. ‘Are you talking about closing the agency down?’
Glittering eyes rested intently on her. ‘That’s up to you.’
‘Me?’ Daisy gasped. ‘What’s it got to do with me?’
‘The fate of your former colleagues is in your hands,’ Alessio delivered softly. ‘If you marry me, the agency will continue to do business. If you don’t marry me, I will be consoled by a large profit but the agency will cease trading.’
A brittle laugh of disbelief was torn from Daisy. ‘You’re not serious!’
‘Never before has so much ridden on the back of one little deal,’ Alessio responded with complete cool.
‘But...but you wouldn’t do that sort of thing...make it personal like that,’ Daisy reasoned unsteadily. ‘That would be unethical.’
Alessio’s eyes met her expectant gaze in a head-on collision. ‘Blackmail is unethical.’
Daisy tried and failed to swallow at that unashamed acknowledgement. ‘You’re saying that if I don’t marry you you’ll put people out of work and it will be my fault. Why... why do you think that will influence me?’
Alessio’s gaze wandered over her, taking in her stark white face, the horror in her expressive eyes, and the hold she had on the desk to stay upright. His lush dark lashes lowered and his shapely mouth quirted. ‘I know you.’