Summer with the MillionaireBy: Jessica Gilmore
‘In that case...’ Luca’s expression gave nothing away. ‘We’d better go and introduce you to the board. After all, many of them have no idea who you are. If you’re ready?’ He gestured to the door, keeping a clear distance between them.
Maybe he had been more affected by their brief contact than he had let on.
Or maybe he just didn’t want her to embarrass herself again. He really didn’t need to worry. That lesson had been well and truly learned.
‘Ready.’ She walked over to the door and picked up her bag, swinging it jauntily from her arm. This was it. ‘Just one more thing—I haven’t got anywhere to stay, and I’m a little short of cash and credit, which is less fun than I imagined. Could I stay in my old room at the farmhouse? Just for a few weeks? It’s what Rose would have wanted,’ she added, perhaps unwisely.
Luca moved so fast she barely saw him towering over her, his body between hers and the room. He put both hands on the wall either side of her, pinning her in place. ‘Don’t push me, Minty,’ he warned, his voice low and gravelly, the accent more pronounced than ever. ‘Don’t ever try to play me again. Consider this a warning.’
She was momentarily paralysed by his proximity; by the heat burning in the molten gold of his eyes; by her body’s traitorous reaction to his display of strength. But she was older, if not wiser; stronger. She summoned up all her attitude and stared brazenly back at him, a smile playing on her lips. ‘I take it that’s a no?’
He released her abruptly. ‘Your room is still as you left it. Gio insisted. You tidy up after yourself, you cook for yourself and you stay out of my way. Clear?’
‘As crystal,’ she said.
She gathered up her bag and followed him meekly out of the room, trying not to let her eyes linger on the length of his legs, the power in his stride. She had two weeks to work hard and keep her head down.
It had to be enough. She couldn’t afford to lose. Not this time.
LUCA WATCHED MINTY as she preceded him into the boardroom. He had seen her in many guises but this prim, butter-wouldn’t-melt look was a new one to him. And to her too, he thought, noticing her hands pull nervously at her skirt, rising to her head as she fiddled with the neat bun her usually flowing hair was pinned back in. Her demeanour might be cool and collected but she was nervous.
What on earth did she have to be nervous about? What was she planning?
She had her two weeks, didn’t she? What else did she need?
The large room was still empty. Adapted from an old hay loft, it had huge skylights all along the slanting roof allowing the morning light to flood in. The west wall was a lightly tinted screen of glass, shielding eyes from the bright sun whilst allowing those inside to admire the pastoral view beyond. The back wall was timber and brick and hung all over with posters from old advertising campaigns. One half of the room was taken up with a traditional oval wooden conference-table, large enough to sit twenty, the other half with comfortable chairs and sofas for more informal gatherings. Today’s meeting would begin with coffee and chat as usual, and the cups and steaming jugs were already laid out, along with plates of breakfast pastries, fresh fruit and a variety of other snacks.
One plate really stood out amongst the more traditional pastries, rolls and cheeses: a chilled platter of tiny frozen spheres in a variety of pinks, creams and reds. Luca watched in amusement as Minty picked up a particularly inviting-looking pink and cream affair and popped it into her mouth with a fervent, ‘Oh, good, food. I’m starving.’
He waited. It didn’t take long.
‘Eurgh.’ Looking about her wildly, Minty groped for a napkin and inelegantly spat out the remains of the canapé into its white folds. ‘That’s not strawberries and cream! Or if it is there is something seriously wrong with your recipes, Luca.’
‘No,’ he said, trying without much success to keep his face straight. ‘We usually have a tasting session before each meeting. This is our new line of canapés: frozen savouries. That one, I believe, was smoked salmon and cream cheese.’
‘That explains the fishy aftertaste,’ Minty said, her face still screwed up in disgust.