‘You were saying something about being inspired by Greek mythology?’
She snapped out of her reverie. He was beginning to sound impatient, but before she could answer she heard music. The silly ringtone she’d set for her mother’s calls. The only ones she answered, regardless of where she was or who she was with.
‘Excuse me,’ she said, reaching for her bag. ‘My phone’s ringing.’
‘You can call them back. This won’t take long.’
Her fingers closed around her phone. Maybe now wasn’t the best time to argue. Surely her mum would know she was busy and would call back…
‘Sure,’ she said.
She smiled sweetly and turned to see him pointing at a perfect lounge with an ornate love seat. Her shoes squeaked on the marble floor as she walked and she was intensely aware of how casual she looked in her favourite fifties sundress. She’d hoped vintage would cut it among the fashionistas, but around all this money she simply felt shabby.
Not everyone is born with a silver spoon in their mouth, she thought defensively.
Gathering her skirt, she sat, intensely aware of him watching. His eyes flicked over her, but still his face remained impassive.
‘I’ll be honest. Your concept does not sound innovative or new.’
He pinned her with his intense blue gaze. She forced herself to look right at him.
‘The Greek goddess thing has been done to death. Kyla is an Australian marrying into Italian nobility. I thought with your youth you might bring a fresh approach.’
‘I’m sure I can do fresh. I’ve got loads more ideas—’
‘Your portfolio contained high fashion—art. Very beautiful. Intelligent. But this feature needs to be something much more glamorous. Heavenly readers deserve a twenty-first-century fairytale.’
‘Absolutely. A prince marrying his Cinderella.’
He sighed impatiently.
She swallowed. Come on, Coral! This was going badly wrong. She’d put in so much work. There was no way she was going to let it fall apart now. She had to pull it back.
‘If you could tell me more about what you have in mind I’m sure I can deliver.’
Her phone started to ring again. She glanced at her bag. Her mother would be getting in a panic. They hadn’t seen or spoken to each other for two days now. And she was hundreds of miles away on an island, on the cusp of what might be the most important move in her career.
Or the worst.
‘Sorry, I thought I’d put it on silent. Would you mind if I took the call?’
‘Don’t you think you’re a little busy right now?’
She squirmed on the seat and tried to put it out of her mind.
‘Signor Rossini, I will deliver exactly what you want. When I set my mind to something I don’t give up until I succeed—’
He cut her off. ‘The photographers I work with are legendary.’
He wasn’t even giving her a chance. It was as if he had made his mind up already—and that was just plain unfair.
‘Everyone’s got to start somewhere! I only found out what the commission was two hours ago, if you’ll recall?’
‘Maybe so, but I would have thought that on the flight over you would have worked up your ideas.’
‘This is not how I would expect to carry out a commission. There should be consultation and discussion, and various themes explored with the client. Not two hours’ notice and then an interview that feels more like an interrogation.’
‘This feels like an interrogation?’
She swallowed, regretting her brave words. But she couldn’t take them back.
‘If you feel that this is an interrogation, you’d better get a new career. This is business—and it’s personal. As owner of Heavenly, I am simply making sure that a complete novice gives me the quality of work and the discretion I require. I have never met you. I have no guarantees about you. No recommendations other than Mariella’s and the words that come out of your mouth. So far they’re not up to my standards. You understand my concern?’
His tone was so quiet, so controlled.
The phone. Again.
‘If you’d rather chat on the phone, be my guest.’
He was mocking her now. She dipped her hand into her bag, faced him grimly and grabbed her phone.
‘I’m taking this,’ she said, then turned her head slightly. ‘Mum, I’m fine. Yes, everything is fine. I can’t talk now because I’m being interviewed. Hydros—the island is Hydros. There’s no need to panic. You’ll only get yourself upset. I’ll call you right back. I won’t be long. I promise.’
He watched, one eyebrow raised, as she switched the phone off and then put it back in her bag. Her face was flushed, but the burn she felt on her cheeks was nothing to what she felt in her chest.