Picture of Innocence(7)

By: Jacqueline Baird

Throw her out, more like, Lucy thought, and panicked. ‘Is that it?’ She leapt to her feet and grasped his arm as he turned towards the door. ‘No discussion? At the very least give me more time to try and raise the money. I’ll do anything I can to save the factory.’

Lorenzo looked down into her eyes. They were an amazing green, he realised, big and pleading. He lost his train of thought for a moment.

He could do without Lucy Steadman and her persistence. He had known of her initial call to the bank, and that she had been sent the bank’s standard response. When he’d received her personal letter informing him she was visiting Verona he had told his secretary to arrange a meeting for two reasons. Firstly out of respect for his mother’s feelings, because she was the one who had given Antonio the money to buy his share in Steadman’s in the first place, without Lorenzo or the bank’s knowledge, and it seemed she had a sentimental attachment to the investment.

It had only been after Antonio’s death and the inquest, when Lorenzo had got around to dealing with his brother’s personal estate, that he’d actually discovered his brother was a partner in Steadman’s. He had queried his mother about the investment because the transaction had not been made through the Zanelli Bank but the Bank of Rome, and had suggested she sell. Her reply had astounded him.

Her own mother’s advice when she’d married had been to always keep a separate account that one’s husband knew nothing about, as it gave a wife a sense of independence. Obviously her account could not be at the Zanelli Bank, hence it was at the Bank of Rome. As for selling, she hadn’t been sure—because it still gave her great comfort to know that Antonio had not been the lightweight people had thought, but had made plans for the future and intended being a successful businessman in his own right.

Lorenzo didn’t agree. On finishing university Antonio and Damien had taken a gap year together, to travel around the world. That had spread into a second year, until their last mountaineering escapade that had seen Antonio dead at twenty-three. He doubted if either of them would have settled down to run a plastics factory … But he hadn’t argued with his mother, and she had agreed to his suggestion that he buy the investment from her and bring it under the control of the Zanelli Bank.

The other reason he had agreed to meet Lucy Steadman was in memory of his brother. Because if he was honest he felt guilty. He had been so involved with work and his own business affairs that he had not paid as much attention to Antonio as he should have done. He had loved his brother from the moment he was born, but Antonio had been only eight when Lorenzo had left home for university, and holidays aside he had never returned, going straight to America after graduating. When he did return on the death of his father, to take over the bank, Antonio had been a happy-go-lucky teenager with his own group of friends. At eighteen he’d gone to live in London, so they’d never spent much time together as adults. But he remembered Antonio had mentioned Lucy a few times and had thought her a delightful child. So, although he despised her brother, he had agreed to see her. But after what he had learned over lunch today any fleeting compassion for a member of the Steadman family was non-existent.

Suddenly the frustration that had simmered inside him since speaking with Manuel exploded inside him, and the woman hanging on to his arm was the last straw. Abruptly he hauled her against him, covered her softly pleading lips, and kissed her with all the angry frustrated feelings riding him.

Lucy did not know what had hit her. Suddenly she was held against a hard body, and his mouth slammed down on hers. For a moment she froze in shock. Then she became aware of the movement of his firm lips, the subtle male scent of him, and excitement sizzled though her heating her blood and melting her bones. She had been kissed before, but never like this. He fascinated, thrilled and overwhelmed her every sense. When he abruptly thrust her away she was stunned by the immediacy of her response, and stood in a daze simply staring at him.

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