A Pawn in the Playboy's Game(8)

By: Cathy Williams

‘How do you know my father?’ Alessandro asked abruptly, cutting short any attempts to try to derail the conversation. So she wasn’t the hired help and he should have recognised that from the get-go. Hired help didn’t look like her and they certainly didn’t have that stubborn tilt to their heads. His eyes roved over a body that, now that it was divested of the bulky parka, was rounded in all the right places. Small, voluptuous and...especially when you combined it with her fresh-faced, make-up-free look...downright sexy.

He sat down at the opposite end of the table. The kitchen was one of the few really informal places in the splendid mansion and Alessandro had never ceased to be amazed that his father had given the go-ahead for it to be furnished with weathered pine, a softly upholstered sofa to the side, an oven that was well-worn and distressed cupboards. Not at all a reflection of the stern, tight-lipped man he was.

‘I’m not here for an inquisition. I don’t have to answer your questions. Where is he? I came to ask whether there was anything he needed from the shops. I didn’t expect to find you here.’

Alessandro found pretty much everything she said highly offensive, from the tone of her voice to her refusal to answer his questions to the implication that he was somehow vaguely responsible for his father’s non-appearance. Did she think that he had stashed Roberto away in a cupboard somewhere? To be retrieved a little later when it suited him?

‘And furthermore,’ Laura added for good measure, ‘I resent your insinuation that because I’m young I’m only friends with your father because he’s rich. You have no right to accuse me of something like that. You don’t even know who I am!’ She leaned forward, her cheeks flushed, more angry than she had ever been in her life. Angrier, it felt, than when she had discovered that the so-called love of her life was a married man with a toddler. Every single thing about the arrogant man staring at her with forbidding iciness got under her skin and made her see red.

‘Frankly, I don’t really care whether you resent my insinuations or not,’ Alessandro said coolly. ‘I intend to protect my father’s interests and if that means seeing off a friend, then so be it. Answer my questions and we can move forward. Sit there foaming at the mouth...and back on your bike you go.’

‘I am not foaming at the mouth!’

‘How long have you known my father?’

Frustrated, Laura yanked her hair out of its constricting ponytail and ran her fingers through its thick length, and for a few seconds the air was sucked out of his lungs. It was a rich mane of colour and very long, longer than fashionably chic, cascading over her shoulders. He tore his eyes away and frowned, unsettled.

‘Off and on for years.’ Laura reluctantly gave him the information he wanted because she had a feeling that he wouldn’t stop until she had told him what he wanted to know. Frankly, he probably wouldn’t let her out of the kitchen until she told him what he wanted to know. He would probably strap her to the chair, shine a torch on her face and keep asking his wretched questions until she answered him.

And maybe he had a point. Roberto was very, very wealthy and could potentially be a target for gold-diggers. And she was, after all, seriously young to be his friend, even if she was only passably attractive. It was one thing to have no illusions about the way you looked. It was another thing to have someone point out your physical shortcomings without even bothering to be nice about it.

She knew that she wasn’t blessed with knock-’em-dead looks. She had lived in London long enough to realise that the tall and skinny ruled the roost when it came to what was deemed sexy and attractive.

But had there been any need for him to point it out? The throwaway insult hovered at the back of her mind like a thorn. Odious man.

‘Years...’ Alessandro said, frowning. She wasn’t lying. Her face couldn’t have been more transparent, and yet how was it that he hadn’t even known of her existence?

‘Before I went to London,’ Laura confirmed. ‘He belonged to the same gardening group as me and...as me. He loves horticulture, you know. And playing chess. Ever since I returned from London I’ve been playing chess with him once a week. He’s a brilliant chess player.’

‘You’re telling me that the only interest you have in my father is as fellow chess player and gardener.’

‘It’s not solely about the gardening.’ Laura bristled. ‘It’s the thrill of spotting rare plants, trying to produce interesting hybrids...’ She noted the blank expression on his face. ‘I don’t suppose you have any plants where you live,’ she tacked on. ‘Roberto says that you live in a flat.’

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