The buzz of a mobile phone broke the tense silence. Daisy didn’t lift her head. But she couldn’t concentrate, couldn’t even begin to study the brochure. It was as if her whole brain had gone into a state of suspended animation, as if the world had stopped dead the instant she’d glanced up and seen Alessio in Giles’s office. No longer the long, lean youth she recalled but, if anything, even more heartbreakingly handsome...
He had level dark brows, cheekbones sharp enough to cut concrete, an aristocratic blade of a nose, lustrous tawny eyes and a head of glossy black hair, now ruthlessly suppressed into a smooth cut and infinitely shorter than she recalled. His hard-boned features were intensely male, his wide, beautifully shaped mouth pure sensual threat. He could smile and steal your heart with one scorching, teasing glance...but that had been the boy, not the man, Daisy reminded herself painfully.
She flinched as Nina Franklin gave an explosive little shriek of annoyance and thrust the mobile phone back into her capacious bag.
‘I can’t stay!’ she told Alessio furiously. ‘Joss needs me now. I could scream but how can I refuse? He’s done me too many favours. You might as well let me out here. I can walk to the studio faster than you can get me there in this traffic! Look, I’ll try to make it over to the house before you leave.’
‘Relax...it’s not important,’ Alessio murmured soothingly.
‘I could strangle Joss!’ the blonde exclaimed resentfully, and then her green eyes landed on Daisy and hardened to accusing arrows of steel. ‘If you had been on time, this wouldn’t be happening!’
‘Perhaps you would prefer to cancel and make a fresh appointment?’ Daisy suggested with an eagerness she couldn’t conceal.
‘No, I’ll keep this one,’ Alessio drawled.
Stiff as a small statue, Daisy quite deliberately averted her gaze as the limousine stopped; the other woman slid out, but not without many regretful mutterings and an attempt at a lingering and physical goodbye that had car horns screeching in protest as the lights changed. Of course they were lovers. Daisy’s fine features were clenched fiercely tight. The intimacy between them was blatant.
Viewing a house together... Were they getting married? Her stomach twisted as she pondered that idea for the first time. For some reason she suddenly felt as if somebody was jumping up and down on her lungs. The door slammed again, sealing her into unwanted isolation with Alessio, and Daisy stopped breathing altogether.
‘It’s been a day for unpleasant surprises,’ Alessio commented grimly.
Daisy finally got up the courage to look at him again, her strained violet eyes unguarded. ‘Is that why you felt that you had to take it out on me?’
‘You are not one of my happier memories. What did you expect?’ Hard eyes regarded her pale face without any perceptible emotion at all.
‘I don’t know...’ Daisy whispered unevenly. ‘I just never expected to see you again.’
‘Look on this as a once-in-a-lifetime coincidence,’ Alessio urged with chilling contempt. ‘As greedy little bitches go, you’re still top of the list in my experience! I would go some distance to avoid a repeat of this encounter.’
In the pin-dropping silence which ensued, Daisy turned bone-white. Her appalled gaze clung to his set dark features and the cold hostility stamped there. He made no attempt to hide the emotion. Shock rolled over her in a revitalised wave. He despised her; he really despised her! But why? Why should he feel like that? Hadn’t she let him go free? Hadn’t she given him back what he’d wanted and needed and what she should never have taken? Hadn’t that single, unselfish action been sufficient to defuse his resentment?
‘But it is some consolation to learn that you’re now poor enough to be forced to earn a living,’ Alessio acknowledged, his cold eyes resting on her like ice-picks in search of cruelly tender flesh.
‘I don’t understand what you’re getting at... I’ve always worked for a living. And how can you call me a greedy bitch?’ Daisy suddenly lashed back at him, shock splintering to give way to angry defensiveness.
Alessio emitted a sardonic laugh, his nostrils flaring. ‘Isn’t that what you are?’