Summer with the MillionaireBy: Jessica Gilmore
I’m not ready for this.
But she had no choice.
Calm, collected and professional, Minty reminded herself, taking a deep breath and straightening her shoulders before pivoting round, confident smile pinned brightly onto her face.
Only to be transported back in time to her gauche teen self. To when just the sight of him had caused the breath to whoosh out of her body like a blow to the stomach—a hard blow.
Oh, he had changed; only for the better. She’d been hoping for seedy, balding and obese. No such luck. He was still enviably trim, but muscled in the right places. His dark hair was cut shorter than she remembered, with just enough length to run her fingers through; those strangely light caramel eyes framed by long, dark lashes. Devil’s eyes, she used to taunt him.
Okay. Time to switch it on. She could do this.
‘Buongiorno, Luca. What a beautiful day. It was so gloomy when I left London this morning, but spring seems well and truly to have hit Italy.’
Luca raised an eyebrow, laughter lurking in hooded eyes. ‘I don’t know what part of that statement surprises me more,’ he said. ‘Polite chit-chat about the weather, or the realisation that you must have got up at the crack of dawn to get here. Unless you didn’t bother going to bed at all; jumped on the plane straight from one of your Mayfair nightclubs? It wouldn’t be the first time,’ he added.
Minty clenched her fists against the light wool of her skirt, resisting the temptation to smooth down the material. ‘No, it wouldn’t,’ she agreed evenly. ‘But you are behind the times, Luca darling; I haven’t partied in Mayfair for years.’ She smiled sweetly up at him. ‘All the best clubs are in the east of the city now, you know. And I’m not dressed for dancing.’
Damn, she never knew when to stop talking. Why did she have to mention her clothes rather than let them make the statement for her? The laughter in Luca’s eyes ratcheted up as he surveyed her up and down, the firm lips folding together to suppress something that looked suspiciously like a smile. ‘So I see.’
She had dressed carefully, appropriately, in a simple grey, short-sleeved dress, a wide red belt adding a splash of colour as it cinched her narrow waist. Her shoes were a sensible height, her jewellery elegant and understated. She had even pulled her long blonde hair back into a loose bun. All she needed was a pair of glasses perched on her nose and a briefcase to make the metamorphosis complete. Leaving London in the lamplit, drizzly early hours, Minty had felt smart, professional, businesslike.
Now she felt like a child playing dress-up.
‘Not that it isn’t lovely to see you,’ Luca continued, that same silkily sarcastic tone in his voice. ‘But what have we done to deserve this rare treat? It must be at least six years since you last graced us with your presence.’
Almost exactly six years. She hadn’t been back since her aunt’s funeral. Since she and Luca had almost... Minty pushed the memory firmly back into its box. It wasn’t relevant to today, not relevant to any day. She couldn’t allow the past to derail her; couldn’t afford to mess this up. ‘It is the board meeting today, isn’t it?’ She allowed a fleeting, alarmed expression to cross her face. ‘Oh, no, I didn’t get the date wrong, did I?’ Let him think she was unprepared. She’d show him.
‘You’re here for the board meeting?’ Minty couldn’t help feeling smug as incredulity replaced amusement. ‘Why?’
‘I am on the board,’ she pointed out.
‘Technically,’ he said. ‘But as you have never yet attended a meeting, or even sent your apologies, you’ll have to forgive me for being a little confused. Have you read the papers? Do you know what’s on the agenda? I don’t have time to bring you up to speed.’ His tone was condescending, a little superior. Just like when they were children, when he had used every second of his four years’ seniority to put her down, push her away.
She wasn’t a little girl now.
Minty held up her handbag. Her prized Birkin bag had always seemed ridiculously huge, dangling off one arm with only a credit card, lipstick and mobile rattling around inside the cavernous depths. Turned out it was the perfect size for her iPad, ready-loaded not just with the last year’s board-meeting papers but also Minty’s notes and ideas. Her game plan. ‘Read and digested.’