‘My opinion? In a nutshell? Get tough. Don’t accept excuses for poor performance. Sack the management team. They’ve had their chance and blown it. Give that opportunity to hungrier employees,’ Leandro advised without hesitation, and he brought the meeting to a close with the cool, economic efficiency that had made him a living legend in financial circles.

Closely followed by his phalanx of aides, his handsome dark head held high, Leandro strode down the corridor. He was incensed by the erotic recollections that had recently dared to cloud his concentration at inappropriate moments during his working day. But had sex ever been that good for him before? That wild? That hot? If it had been, he couldn’t recall it. Possibly he had waited too long to ease the natural needs of his body and now all the pent-up hunger of a year’s celibacy was tormenting him for release.

To that end, he finally made use of one of the many phone numbers he had had pressed on him since Aloise’s death. He dined out with a beautiful blonde divorcee who had thrown herself at him previously with an enthusiasm that any sex-starved male should have revelled in. Unhappily, Leandro discovered that his seething libido was stubbornly impervious to the blonde’s attractions. He still wanted Molly and it seemed that no other woman would do.

But why make a production out of that fact? Leandro asked himself with the equivalent of a mental shrug. He had had a lot of women in his life before he married and now that settled phase was well and truly over. Life was short. Sex was just sex and he was young and healthy. He worked hard, why shouldn’t he play hard as well? There was nothing wrong with the pursuit of pleasure. Furthermore he had the perfect excuse for seeking out Molly again: he had to check that their night together had had no lasting repercussions.

Molly vented her exasperation with a groan of frustration when she removed her pots from the electric kiln in the shed. Several pieces had stuck to the trivet because she had been too liberal with the glaze. Under pressure from her, those items cracked. More unnecessary breakages! In recent days she had made more than her fair share of costly mistakes while she’d worked.

But then her emotions were eating her up because she was still so angry with herself for sleeping with Leandro, Molly acknowledged ruefully. Meeting Leandro and falling victim to his charms had forced her to accept that she had more in common with her birth mother, Cathy, than she had ever wanted to know. Cathy had been very prone to following casual impulses with men she’d never taken the time to get to know and she had called those urges, ‘love’, and their fulfilment, ‘spontaneity’.

In comparison, Molly was less kind with her labels and over the past week and a half she had at various times called herself terminally stupid, reckless and naive. Leandro’s attitude to her the morning after had been the ultimate put-down and had set the seal on her humiliation. She had given her body to a guy who wanted a tame woman to lock in a custom-built cage for his sexual gratification. He had neither respected nor appreciated her. How much lower could she have sunk?

She was in the kitchen making coffee when the front doorbell went in two shrill bursts. With a perfunctory brush down of the clay-stained overall she wore, she went to answer it.

A shock of recognition jolted her when she saw the tall, dark, well-dressed Spaniard on the doorstep. She was stunned into silence, her tongue clinging to the roof of her dry mouth. Bathed in spring sunshine, luxuriant ebony hair ruffled by the breeze, lean, bronzed classic features set in serious lines, he was devastatingly handsome.

‘May I come in?’ Leandro studied her intently. She had turned pale, her shock at his appearance palpable. Emerald eyes bright as jewels glanced evasively off his, her wealth of black curls tumbling down past slight shoulders now rigid with tension. She was wearing a shapeless garment liberally daubed with clay.

‘Why? What do you want?’

Leandro quirked a brow at her intonation. She was a rough diamond in the manners department. ‘To see you-what else?’

Molly let him in only because she didn’t want to start an argument with him on the doorstep. He had no right to come to her home, a voice screamed inside her head. She felt cornered and her brain cells felt as though they had been frozen into inactivity. When she caught a glimpse of the vast car sitting out on the street, her jaw simply dropped. ‘Does that limousine belong to you?’

‘Sì…yes.’ Leandro settled the ice bucket he was carrying into her hands, startling her. ‘I thought we could share a drink.’

Dumbfounded by the gesture and clutching the bucket awkwardly, Molly stared fixedly down at the bottle protruding from the ice. It was very expensive bubbly, the very best: Bollinger Blanc de Noir. ‘It’s the middle of the day,’ she muttered helplessly.

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