Picture of Innocence(8)

By: Jacqueline Baird


Lorenzo never lost control and was shocked by what he had done—even more shocked by the sudden tightening in his groin. He looked down at the poorly dressed girl gazing at him and noticed the telltale darkening of the pupils in her big green eyes, the flush in her cheeks, the pulse that beat frantically in her throat. He realised she was his for the taking. He also realised he had definitely been too long without a woman to actually consider seducing this one.

‘No, there is nothing you can do to make me change my mind. You are not my type,’ he said, more harshly than was warranted.

Lucy blinked, snapping out of the sexual fog that held her immobile, and really looked at him. She saw the hard, cynical smile and realised he had actually thought she was offering him her body. Having kissed her, he wasn’t impressed, and humiliation laced with a rising anger flooded through her.

‘To be brutally frank, Miss Steadman, neither I nor the bank have any wish to continue doing business with a Steadman. You have wasted your time coming to Verona and I suggest you take the next flight out. Is that clear enough for you?’

Lucy saw the determination in his cold black eyes and knew he meant every word. She had the fleeting notion this was personal, and yet he didn’t know her. But then again she’d disliked him without knowing him. Antonio had told her his brother was known as a brilliant financier and ruthless at negotiating with a hint of pride in his tone.

He’d been absolutely right, but she doubted he would have been proud of his brother had he lived to see this day. Antonio had been a gentle soul, whereas the man before her did not have one.

‘Perfectly,’ she said flatly.

Lucy was an artist, but she was also a realist. Her mother had died when she was twelve, and her father had never recovered from the loss of the love of his life. And then her brother last November. Lucy had learnt the hard way there was no point fighting against fate.

She stepped back, straightened her shoulders and, willing her legs to support her, walked past Lorenzo to the door and opened it. She turned and let her gaze sweep over him from head to toe. Big, dark and as immovable as a rock, she thought, and had to accept that short of a miracle she had little to no chance of saving Steadman Industrial Plastics.

‘I can’t say it was a pleasure meeting you, but just so you know I am in town for another day. You never know—you might change your mind.’ She said it simply to goad the man—he was such a superior devil he needed someone to deflate his ego.

‘Not this particular part of town. Security will have strict instructions not to allow you access. I want nothing to do with your business or you. Plump, brainless, badly dressed and mousy women have no appeal to me.’

‘You really are the arrogant, opinionated, ruthless bastard Antonio said you were.’ She shook her head in disgust, and left.





CHAPTER TWO


SHOCKED rigid, Lorenzo stood for a moment, her words ringing in his ears. Her last comment had hit a nerve. Was that what Antonio had really thought of him? Not that it mattered now his brother was dead, but it was the way he had died that still rankled, and the photographs given to him today had not helped.

At the inquest Damien Steadman had been called to give evidence, along with the rescue service personnel who had found Antonio’s body too late to save him. Damien had been the lead climber, and had reached the top of a forty-foot cliff-face when Antonio had lost his footing and been left suspended in mid-air. Damien had tried to pull him up, but had finally cut the rope binding them together, letting Antonio fall.

A few years earlier, after a television documentary about a similar incident where both men had ultimately survived, the mountaineering community had concluded cutting the rope was the correct action to take, as it enabled the lead climber to try and seek help for his companion. The same conclusion had been reached at Antonio’s inquest. Damien Steadman had been exonerated of any fault—which had enraged Lorenzo. His mother, devastated by grief, had been too ill to attend, but he had sat through the entire proceedings and not been impressed by Damien’s vague account. When Damien had had the nerve to approach him after the inquest, to offer his sympathy on the death of his brother, Lorenzo had lost it. He had told the young man as far as he was concerned he was as guilty as hell, he hoped he rotted in hell, and a lot more besides before walking away.

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