A Pawn in the Playboy's Game(9)

By: Cathy Williams



‘Penthouse apartment, and, no, no plants that I can think of offhand,’ Alessandro responded automatically. ‘So you play chess and talk about plants.’

‘Pretty much.’ The silence stretched between them until she began to fidget uncomfortably. ‘It’s called having hobbies. You must have some of those...’

‘I work,’ Alessandro replied shortly. ‘And...’ he suddenly smiled and just like that his face was transformed, the harsh, unyielding lines smoothed out to give a picture of mind-blowing sexiness ‘...I play. I consider both to be my hobbies...’

Colour had invaded her cheeks. Her green eyes were locked to his face. When she nervously licked her lips, she saw the way his eyes absently followed the movement and that made her go even redder. ‘Play?’ she asked feebly. Her brain seemed to have gone AWOL. He was still half smiling, his head inclined slightly to one side, and she was still beetroot red, uncomfortable in her own skin and not liking the sensation.

‘Oh, yes,’ he said smoothly. ‘I’m very good at playing.’

Laura blinked and came back down to earth. ‘Well, your father enjoys his chess and his plants and...’

‘And?’

‘This and that. He’s had to take it easy after the stroke and, of course, he’s only really now back on his feet properly after the fall, but he’ll be back in the swing of things in no time at all.’

‘What’s this and that?’ Trampolining? Abseiling? White-water rafting? He’d had no idea that his father was an active member of the local horticultural society so the this and that could literally, in his books, have applied to anything at all.

Laura shrugged evasively. ‘Usual. The point is that he can start back doing all the stuff he enjoys now. So you can go back down to London, safe in the knowledge that he’s well looked after. No need to feel duty bound to rush up here and check him over. Not to mention check over his friends and the people who work for him. No need for you to think that you have to keep an eye and give people the sack or dock their pay or whatever else you think might be necessary...’

Alessandro looked in wonderment at the pink-faced woman glaring defiantly at him. When was the last time he had encountered someone with such barefaced cheek? Actually, had he ever? Whatever angle women took with him, it never included being lippy.

‘Before we get on to the juicy bit of what I have to say...’ Alessandro relaxed back and crossed his legs, ankle resting lightly on his knee, hands linked on his lap. ‘I’m curious.’

‘What about?’ Laura didn’t care for his loose-limbed, relaxed pose because it resembled the looseness of a predator just before it homed in for a kill.

‘About what brought you back from London to this...’ he looked around him, as though in search of an inspiring adjective ‘...backwater.’

Laura bristled. He was doing it again. Turning her into a self-defensive, shrieking harridan, which was not her at all.

She breathed in deeply and tried to think Zen thoughts. ‘This isn’t a backwater.’ Her voice was quiet and even, even if her blood was boiling. ‘If you took the time to really look around you, you’d see that it’s one of the most beautiful places in the world. There’s everything you could possibly hope to want in Scotland. There are castles, lochs, rivers and lakes, mountains... It’s a wonderfully peaceful place...’

‘Interesting travelogue. I’m more of an urban guy myself but is that an invitation to show me the sights and win me over?’

‘It most certainly is not!’

Alessandro laughed, really laughed, with humour, his dark eyes lazy and amused as they rested on her flushed face.

‘Shame,’ he mused pensively. ‘A personal tour might really go the distance in winning me over to its charms. So you moved here because there are castles and lakes and it’s peaceful.’

Laura didn’t actually think that her reasons for moving back to Scotland were any of the man’s business but would he keep pressing? Secrets always engendered curiosity in other people and naturally she didn’t care one way or another whether he was curious or not but still...why make things harder for herself?

‘Partly, and also because my grandmother had a turn...’ Which was somewhat true and left out the bigger part of her reason, namely her ill-advised, foolish love affair.

‘Had a turn?’

‘Was getting dizzy spells, suffering with her balance. She lives on her own and I wanted to be here for her.’ She looked wistfully off into the distance. ‘She was there for me when my parents died. I didn’t begrudge returning to be here for her.’

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