‘Sorry I’m a little late.’ He turned as she spoke, his gaze sliding down the classic little black dress she’d chosen to wear. It was dressed up enough to go out to dinner in, but not so daring that it would give him any wrong ideas. If there was one man she needed to make herself clear to, it was Liev Dragunov.
She slipped onto the tall stool at the bar where he sat and made the mistake of looking directly into his eyes. These grey eyes held hints of blue, like the ocean as the spring sunshine finally danced on its surface after winter. They also appeared to be assessing her with calculated coolness.
‘Isn’t that a trait all women have?’ The deep tones of his voice were courteous yet patronising, instantly putting her on the defensive.
‘No. As it happens, it is not. I was detained with family matters. For which I apologise.’
‘I took the liberty of ordering champagne.’ He signalled to the bartender and a bottle of champagne was opened and poured into tall flutes before she could state her objection.
‘You seem to be living under a lot of misconceptions as far as women are concerned, Mr Dragunov.’
He lifted his flute, his eyes challenging her to refuse his toast, but something sparked to life within her. Something that enjoyed the thought of the challenge Liev Dragunov represented. She chinked her flute against his, not able to suppress the smile which threatened.
‘And one in particular.’ He took a sip of the bubbly liquid.
Bianca blushed as she realised her scrutiny had been noticed. She could feel the conversation sliding off course before it had even begun. He was talking to her as if they were on a date, and despite the lightness of her mood, that was something which needed changing. ‘Maybe you can explain about your company and why you are so insistent mine should represent it, that you contrive to be here in Geneva, donating to my sister’s charitable cause.’
He lifted his brows and a hint of amusement lingered at the corners of the firm line of his lips. ‘So we do have something to celebrate. We are at last discussing business.’
That was exactly how it would stay. Without even knowing how, he had managed to distract her and that was something she couldn’t allow. Not now. She had to be focused. All her attention had to be channelled into getting the bracelet for Grandfather and Dario’s new product launch next month. Handsome Russians didn’t feature in her game plan at all.
‘Discussing business does not mean it’s a foregone conclusion that my company will represent yours, Mr Dragunov.’ He might be charm itself, but she still hadn’t decided why she didn’t trust him. Her gut instinct warned her away from him, that he was hiding something either about himself or his company.
‘I believe you have represented ICE.’ His gunmetal-grey eyes darkened as his expression turned serious.
‘Yes, that is correct.’ She wasn’t about to divulge that she still represented the company, that at this very moment she was in the middle of planning a launch for their latest product, or that ICE was headed by her brother Dario. ‘And do you see your company as competition for ICE?’
‘Would it be a problem if it was?’ He leant back in his seat and regarded her with what she could only describe as suspicion.
‘It would certainly be a conflict of interests, Mr Dragunov. You must know, as you seemed to have researched my company very meticulously, that by representing ICE, I represent my brother Dario?’
* * *
Liev didn’t outwardly flinch when she mentioned Dario Di Sione, owner of ICE and his first target for revenge, as he worked his way to the top. To do so would be to show his hand, and like any good gambler, he played his cards close to his chest.
‘My company manufactures hardware and software that would complement ICE. We would not be in direct competition.’ She looked directly at him and for a moment he thought he sensed her hesitation.
‘Mr Dragunov,’ she began, her voice firm, her chin held high, ‘I represent ICE. The leader in the market. I cannot see any reason why I should jeopardise such a contract to represent your company—direct competitors or not.’
He clenched his jaw at her slight of his company, her rejection of him as a businessman. He may not be the market leader—yet—but the businessman he now was certainly wasn’t accustomed to being spoken down to. He wouldn’t even have tolerated it when he began rebuilding his father’s business from the scraps that ICE’s cruel takeover had left behind and he certainly wouldn’t stand for it now.