Glancing around the restaurant, she noted that all the female members of Leandro’s staff were slimmer and more sophisticated than her. Self-doubt gripped her. When she had first met Leandro, at the cocktail bar and restaurant where she worked, one of the other waitresses had told her that he had a reputation as a playboy who liked to date beautiful models and socialites. Marnie knew, realistically, that she was only averagely attractive, and she had never understood why Leandro had chosen her for his lover when he could have had any woman he wanted.

A flurry of activity on the other side of the restaurant caught her attention, and her heart leapt when the door opened and Leandro Vialli strode in.

Nothing about his lean, lithe, jaw-droppingly handsome appearance indicated that he had stepped off a long-haul flight less than an hour ago. He would have flown from New York on his private jet, before travelling to the restaurant in his chauffeur-driven Bentley, and he looked like a model from a glossy magazine.

The cut of his jacket revealed the width of his broad shoulders and his tapered trousers moulded his muscular thighs and emphasised his long legs. His golden tanned complexion and the thick mahogany hair swept back from his brow indicated his Mediterranean heritage, although he spoke with a faint American drawl.

The tabloids called him an Italian playboy, while the broadsheets reported on his meteoric career success. Leandro owned several West End theatres and was responsible for restoring some of the most historically important venues in London. And Vialli Entertainment was only an offshoot of his property development giant Vialli Holdings in New York—one of the top businesses in the US with a portfolio worth billions.

His hard-boned features revealed nothing of his thoughts, but the cynical curve of his lips spoke of a man who was confident in his abilities and dismissive of fools. He exuded an air of power and charisma that sent a thrill of excitement through Marnie.

She had missed him desperately while he had been away, and she wanted to run towards him and throw herself into his arms. But she restrained the impulse, aware that Leandro disliked public displays of emotion. The thought came into her mind that even when they were alone he kept his emotions under tight control, and only when they made love did his reserved air sometimes crack.

She slid off the bar stool and ran a hand through her long blonde hair. Her mouth curved into a smile—which faltered as Leandro’s steel-grey gaze raked the room and an expression of surprise followed by one of irritation flickered on his face when he saw her. In that moment the uncertainty that had plagued Marnie lately settled like wet concrete in the pit of her stomach.

Five days ago it had been the first anniversary of when they had become lovers, but Leandro hadn’t phoned from New York to wish her happy anniversary. When he had called a day later she had felt reluctant to remind him of the significant date, although she’d harboured a secret hope that he was planning to celebrate their anniversary when he came home. But Leandro did not look in a celebratory mood as he strode towards her.

He was probably tired after his journey. She ignored the thought that he had amazing energy and an insatiable libido and could make love to her several times a night. She would not let her insecurities—which she suspected stemmed from having been abandoned by her father when she was a child—spoil what she had with Leandro, Marnie told herself firmly.

Her heart skipped a beat when he halted in front of her. The familiar spicy scent of his aftershave teased her senses and her insides melted. Despite the fact that she was wearing four-inch heels she had to tilt her head to meet his distinctly cool gaze.

‘Cara, I wasn’t expecting to see you here.’

‘But you invited me...didn’t you?’ Her voice faltered as her heart plummeted. ‘Your PA phoned me yesterday and said you had asked her to let me know about the party.’

Leandro frowned. ‘My actual instruction to Julie was to inform you that the date of the staff party had been brought forward from next week to this evening because the restaurant had made a mistake with the booking. I was involved in important negotiations in New York and couldn’t phone you myself, but I wanted to warn you that I wouldn’t be home until late tonight.’