Authors: Dani Collins
AN AFFAIR OF CONVENIENCE!
Gwyn Ellis is in big trouble. Scandalous photos of her have been released online, slandering her as an adulteress and threatening her hard-earned job with Donatelli International Bank. No one wants to hear how she’s been framed...no one except her boss, the darkly sexy Vittorio Donatelli!
Vittorio will do anything to protect his company from scandal—he’s kept the secret of his true parentage hidden for years. So if it means making stunning Gwyn his mistress to combat the vicious rumors, then he’ll do it...with pleasure!
“You’re embarrassed by how strong the attraction is,” Vittorio deduced after watching her a moment. He sounded amused.
Gwyn’s stomach cramped with self-consciousness. Could her face get any hotter?
“This releasing of compromising photos is very shrewd,” he said in an abrupt shift. His tone suggested it was an item in political news, not a gross defilement of her personal self. His finger rested across his lips in contemplation.
“Jensen has very cleverly made himself appear a victim,” he said. “Whatever story he comes up with, it will point all the scandal back to you and the bank.”
“I’m aware that my life is over, thanks,” she bit out.
“Nothing is over,” he said with a cold-blooded smile. “Jensen landed a punch, but I will hit back. Hard. You must want to set things straight? If so, you’ll help me make it clear you had zero romantic interest in Jensen.”
she choked, wondering what was in his drink that he thought he could accomplish that.
“By going public with our
knew in high school that she wanted to write romance for a living. Twenty-five years later, after marrying her high school sweetheart, having two kids with him, working at several generic office jobs and submitting countless manuscripts, she got “The Call.” Her first Modern Romance novel won the Reviewers’ Choice Award for Best First in Series from
RT Book Reviews.
She now works in her own office, writing romance.
Books by Dani Collins
The Wrong Heirs
The Marriage He Must Keep
The Consequence He Must Claim
Seven Sexy Sins
The Sheikh’s Sinful Seduction
The 21st Century Gentleman’s Club
The Ultimate Seduction
One Night With Consequences
Proof of their Sin
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Bought by Her Italian Boss
For my editor, Kathryn, because she “loved, loved, loved” it.
from the screen to Nadine Billaud, the public relations manager for Donatelli International, then back to the screen.
“This is you,
?” Nadine prodded.
Gwyn couldn’t speak. Her heart had begun slamming inside her rib cage the moment she had recognized herself. Cold sweat coated her skin. Air wouldn’t squeeze past her locked throat, let alone words.
Right there on that computer, the line of her bare bottom clear as the crack of dawn, neatly framed by her hot pink thong. Everyone had a backside that looked more or less like that, but she was extremely selective about showing hers to
. She certainly didn’t email shots like this to men she barely knew. Or post them online.
Her whole body felt like a frozen electrical current was vibrating through her, paralyzing her.
The photo changed and that bare torso with the sheet rumpled across her upper thighs was all her, too. The way her breasts lifted as she arched her back and ran fingers through her hair bordered on deliberately erotic, coupled with that blissful, upturned expression. She looked like she’d been making love all day—as if she even knew what that felt like!
Then the final one came up again. She was adjusting the band of her hot pink undies across her cocked hip, looking like she was teasingly deciding whether to keep them on or remove them, eyes still lazily drooped and soft satisfaction painted across her lips.
The lighting was golden and her skin faintly gleamed—with oil, she realized as her brain began to function past the shock. These had been taken at the spa where she’d had a massage, trying to fix the ache between her shoulder blades that had been torturing her for weeks. She was sitting up and dressing after her appointment, relaxed and comfortable in what she had perceived as complete privacy.
The massage table had been cropped from the images, leaving muted sage-green walls and indistinct, blurred flowers in the background. It could have been a hotel room, a bedroom—whatever the viewer wanted to imagine.
Her stomach roiled. She thought she might be hyperventilating because she could hear a distant hiss. She wanted to throw up, pass out,
Please God, take me now.
“Yes,” she stammered. “It’s me.” Then, as the sheer mortification of the whole thing struck, she added a strident,
“Can you close that, please?”
She glanced at Signor Fabrizio, her supervisor. He sat next to her with a supercilious expression on his middle-aged face.
“Why are you showing those like that? With him in here?” Gwyn asked. “Couldn’t we have done this privately?”
“They’re available to anyone with an online connection. I’ve seen them,” Fabrizio said pithily. “I brought them to Nadine’s attention.”
He’d already taken a long look?
Tears hit her eyes like the cut of a hard, biting wind. An equally brutal blow seemed to land in her stomach, pushing nausea higher into the back of her throat.
“Surely you knew this could happen when you took those photos and sent them to Mr. Jensen?” Nadine said.
Nadine had kept her snooty nose high in the air from the moment Gwyn had followed Fabrizio into her office. Fabrizio kept giving her darkly smug looks, like he was staring right through her perfectly respectable blue pencil skirt and matching jacket.
He made her skin crawl.
And worry for her job. Her palms were sweating.
“I didn’t take those photos,” she said as strongly as her tight throat would allow. “And you think I would send something like that to a client? They’re—oh, for the love of God.” She heard the door opening behind her and shot to her feet, reaching to push the lid of Nadine’s laptop down herself, wishing the images could be quashed that easily.
Deep in the back of her psyche, she knew she was going to cry. Soon. Pressure was building behind her collarbone, compressing her lungs, pushing behind her eyes. But for the moment she was in a type of shock. Like she’d been shot and still had the strength to run before the true depth of her injuries debilitated her.
“Signor Donatelli.” Nadine rose. “Thank you for coming.”
“You notified him?” Signor Fabrizio jerked to his feet, sounding dismayed.
Whatever remained of Gwyn’s composure went into free fall. The
of the bank was here? She tried to gather herself to face yet another denigrating expression.
“It’s protocol with something this dangerous to the bank’s reputation,” Nadine said stiffly, adding to the weight on Gwyn’s heart.
“She’s being dismissed,” Fabrizio hurried to assure Signor Donatelli. “I was about to tell her to collect her things.”
Time stopped as Gwyn processed that she was being fired. Stupid her, she had thought she was being called in to talk about a client’s possible misappropriation of funds, not to be disgraced in front of the entire world.
Literally the entire world. This was what online bullying felt like. This was persecution. A witch hunt. Stoning. She couldn’t take in how monumentally unjust this was.
The only experience she could liken it to was when her mother had been diagnosed. Words were being said, facts stated that couldn’t be denied, but she had no real grasp of how the next minute or week or the rest of her life would play out from this moment forward.
She didn’t want to face it, but she had no choice.
And the silence around her told her they were all waiting for her to do so.
Very slowly, she turned to the man who’d just entered, but it wasn’t Paolo Donatelli, president and head of the family that owned Donatelli International. No, it was far worse.
Vittorio Donatelli. Paolo’s cousin, second-in-command as VP of operations. A man of, arguably, even more stunningly good looks, at least in her estimation. His features were as refined and handsome as his Italian heritage demanded. He was clean-shaven, excruciatingly well dressed in a tailored suit and wore an air of arrogance that came as much from his lean height as his aloof expression. His ability to dominate any situation was obvious in the way they all stood in silence, waiting for him to speak.
He didn’t know her from Adam, she knew that. She’d smiled brightly at him not long after arriving here in Milan, forgetting that secret crushes didn’t know they were the object of such yearnings. He’d looked right through her and it had stung. Quite badly, illogically.
“Nadine. Oscar,” Vittorio said with a brief flick of his gaze to the other occupants of the room before coming back to give Gwyn a piercing stare from his bronze eyes.
Her heart gave a skip between pounds, reacting to him even when she was verging on hysteria. Her mouth was so dry she couldn’t make it stretch into a smile. She doubted she would ever smile again. The strange buzz inside her intensified.
“Miss Ellis,” he said with a hostile nod of acknowledgment.
He knew her name from Nadine’s report, she supposed. The furious accusation in his eyes told her he’d seen the photos. Of course he’d seen them. That’s why he had stooped from the lofty heights of the top floor to the midlevel of the Donatelli Tower.
Gwyn’s shallow breaths halted and her knees quivered. She was weirdly shocked by how defenseless the idea of his seeing her naked made her feel, but the effect this very perfect stranger had had on her from the start was unprecedented. She’d seen him stride through the offices in Charleston once and that simple glimpse of an incredibly handsome and dynamic man had made her view the postings at the head office in Milan that much more favorably than any other branch in the organization. She had wanted to advance, would have taken whatever promotions she could land, but this was her dream location.
Because it gave her the chance to see him.
Be careful what you wish for.
She mashed her lips together into a hard, steady line, heart scored, then turned her face away, trying to recover.
He was, quite obviously, nothing like the man she’d constructed in her mind. Italian men were warm and gregarious and adored women, she had thought, expecting he’d flirt with her if they ever actually spoke. She had expected him to give her a chance to intrigue him, despite the fact that she worked for him.
But the man she had been obsessing over had not only glimpsed her naked, he was completely unmoved by what he’d seen. He was repelled. Blamed her. Was privately calling her a whore and worse—
She stopped herself from spiraling. The pieces of her shattered world were being kicked around enough. She had to keep a grip.
But she wasn’t used to being rejected out of hand, seeing no interest whatsoever from a man. The reaction was usually the opposite. Her body had always pulled a certain amount of male attention. She didn’t encourage it and was pretty boring personality-wise. She worked in
, for heaven’s sake. Her hair was the most common brown you could find and she wasn’t terribly pretty. Her face was only elevated from plain to pleasant by her mother’s exceptionally good skin and a cheery nature that usually kept a smile on her mouth. So she shouldn’t be that surprised when a man who could have his pick of women showed no interest in her.
It made her ache all the same.
, she ordered herself, but it was hard when she was stuck in this swamp of feeling so thoroughly scorned by a man who enthralled her.
“I want a lawyer,” she managed to say.
“Why would you need one?” Vittorio asked with a wrathful lift of his brows, so godlike.
“This is wrongful dismissal. You’re treating me like a criminal when those photos are illegal. They were taken at a spa without my knowledge. They’re not selfies, so how could I have sent them to Kevin Jensen? Or anyone? His wife is the one who recommended I go there for my shoulder!”
Vito flicked his gaze to the laptop, mentally reviewing images that would have been very titillating if they were a private communication between lovers. For long seconds as he’d reviewed the photos, he’d been captivated against his will, having to force himself to move past his transfixion with her sensual figure to the fact that this was a hydrogen bomb aimed directly at the bank that was his livelihood and the foundation that supported his entire extended family.
But the photos weren’t selfies. That was true. He had thought Jensen must have taken them.
Nadine seemed to think his shift of attention was a prompt for her to bring them up for another look. She started to open her laptop.
“Would you stop showing those to people, you freak?” Gwyn cried.
“Let’s keep this professional,” Nadine snapped.
“How would you react if you were me?” Gwyn shot back.
Gwyn Ellis was not what he had expected. There was an American wholesomeness to her that neutralized some of the femme fatale that had come across on-screen. He had expected, and received, an impact of female sexuality when he had entered the room. He’d felt the same thing the day she’d smiled at him in the lobby.
She’d already been under suspicion, so he’d pretended not to notice her, but nothing could downplay her allure. That body of hers didn’t stop, with her firm, well-rounded breasts that sat high beneath her neatly cut jacket and her waistline that begged for a man’s hands to clasp before sliding down to the flare of her hips and her gorgeously plump ass that he dreamed of kneading. Knees were not something he’d normally catalogue, but she had cute ones.
An image of cupping them as he held them apart drifted through his brain.
She was a very potent woman. Her shoulders were stiff, her frame tense and defensive, but her slight stature and smooth curves announced to the animal kingdom that she was undeniably a female of the species, of fertile age and irresistibly ripe.
She called to the male in him, quickening the blood of the beast that he suppressed at all costs.
Visceral reactions like lust were something he indulged in very controlled quantities. This was not the time and, judging by his reaction to her, Gwyn was not the woman. High-octane risk-taking was his cousin’s bailiwick. Vito controlled his bloodlust ruthlessly—even though there was a part of him that beat with excitement for the challenge of throwing himself into this perfect storm of chemistry to see if he could survive it.
What they could do to one another...
He turned his mind from speculating, hearing Nadine aim a very pointed barb at Gwyn. “I wouldn’t sleep with a married man. This wouldn’t happen to me.”
“Who said I slept with Kevin Jensen?” Gwyn challenged hotly. “
I want a name.”
So indignant. This was not the reaction of a woman who had posed for a lover, running the risk of exposure. She ought to be furious with Jensen or his wife, perhaps tossing her hair in defiance of judgment over her decision to pose naked for her paramour. Instead, she was a woman on the edge of her control, reacting to a catastrophe with barely contained hysteria.
“His wife said you slept with him. Or want to. Obviously,” Oscar Fabrizio interjected, “since she posted these filthy photos when she discovered them on his phone. You’ve been having lunches and dinners with him.”
Vito found that attack interesting. He had brought certain suspicions about their nonprofit accounts manager to Paolo’s attention a few weeks ago. The assumption had easily been made that the New Girl was in on the arrangement, facilitating.
“Kevin wanted to do things—have our meetings, I mean,” Gwyn quickly clarified, “away from the office.” She was visibly distraught, looking to Vito in entreaty. “He’s a client. I didn’t have a choice but to go to him if that’s what he requested.”
Vito had to accept that. Excellence of customer service was a cornerstone at Donatelli International. If a client of Jensen’s caliber wanted a house call, employees were expected to make them.
“You didn’t take those photos?” he pressed her.
“So they’re not on that phone?” He nodded at where she clutched her device in a death grip.