Authors: Kate Hofman
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No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form by any
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information and storage retrieval system, without permission in writing from the
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are
the product of the author's imagination, and any resemblance to any actual
persons, living or dead, events, or locales, is entirely coincidental.
Model: Julian Christian
Art by Diane Davis White
Kate Hofman ©2012
thanks to Julian Christian for his generosity in
photo for the cover of this book.
thanks to Diane Davis White, who created the cover,
ooks.com site shepherded
through the various stages.
gratitude to Michelle Kennedy who edited my novel
her usual competent and easy-going way.
Montedalcino Towers, penthouse
Alessandro di Montedalcino gazed with deep satisfaction at the small,
jewel-like painting that Jeff Harcourt had just installed on the wall opposite
his desk chair in the library. When Jeff’s partner, Tom Fredericks,
called to alert Alessandro to the arrival of an exceptional painting by the
justly famous Jim Blackhawk, Alessandro had rushed over to the St. George Art
Gallery. One look, and he had been captivated. And now it was on
his wall, and he knew he had been right.
grateful you let me know the moment this painting came into your hands,” he
said, gesturing for Tom and Jeff to precede him out of his library, and back
into the spacious living room. When they were seated, his housekeeper
came quickly to find out what drinks she should serve.
Mrs. Reid,” Alessandro said with a smile. “Mr.
Fredericks and Mr. Harcourt have the palates to appreciate it.”
Reid nodded and melted away, returning surprisingly quickly with the
“That was fast,” Alessandro noted. “Don’t tell me—you anticipated
what I’d want my guests to drink?”
housekeeper smiled and nodded. “You always have your best
Mr. Tom visits.”
the champagne had been served, and the three were sipping, Tom gazed about him
with delight. “I think it was a stroke of genius, building this business
tower where you have the two penthouse floors for your private apartments, and
the three floors below it for your offices. You must have sensed an
urgent need in Ocean Breeze for office space, because the remaining floors were
rented in no time flat.”
smiled. “Just two floors for my offices. The floor below my
penthouse is devoted to security. But you’re right, in its quiet way,
Ocean Breeze is growing. And thanks to computers, businesses can be
established anywhere, there is no difference between them being here or in New
York or in San Francisco.”
grinned. “I’m glad I’m in one field of endeavour where personal taste and
individual selection are still paramount, and always will be. I could’ve
emailed you a photo of Jim Blackhawk’s new painting, but it wouldn’t have given
you the depth of the work, the subtlety of it. So I didn’t. I just
suggested you come take a look.”
I’m very glad I did.” Alessandro got to his feet to top up the flutes of
champagne, but Jeff held up a hand. “I’ll do it.” When he sat down
again, he gazed at his friend more closely, venturing, “Is something bothering
Alessandro smiled at the younger of his two friends. “I’m sorry, I
shouldn’t burden my guests with business problems, but yes, you’re right.
I’ll find a way out though, you know me.”
said, “I’m not sure I want to be described as a guest, Alessandro. The
three of us have been friends for years. You were at our wedding in
Toronto. If you’ve got a problem, tell us about it. Who knows, we
may even have a solution for you.”
sipped more champagne, saying, “I doubt you could help this
time, Tom—Jeff. It’s my PA, Muriel Livingston.
She’s just told me she is pregnant, and her doctor wants her to resign as of
now. Apparently the first trimester can be tricky, and she isn’t doing
too well.” Alessandro shook his dark head. “Right now, I’m in the
midst of several delicate, complicated negotiations. It couldn’t have
come at a more awkward time.” He sipped some more
thought that even an anxious frown could not mar Alessandro’s male
beauty—the glossy black hair, the unusual cornflower-blue eyes with long,
black, curling lashes—the golden skin with its permanent tan—that stunning
face, which invariably made Tom think of a fallen angel. Nor could
Alessandro’s lazy sprawl take away from his spectacular athlete’s
physique. And he was an Italian Count. Small wonder that
women of all ages invariably tried to hit on him—to Alessandro’s disgust.
Tom smiled, tossing his tawny mane—which discreetly owed quite a bit to
then, Jeff said, “We just might be able to introduce you to a very bright
woman—Constance Sherwood. Used to work for Leandros Melissinos—she was
his PA, worked here and at his New York offices. She had to give it up
when she married Robert Griffiths, who was upset at having a wife with a career
of her own. As you may know, he was very well off, and wanted her to be
interested in the various charities he supported—he didn’t want her to work for
a Greek tycoon. Even her huge salary was mortifying to Bob, who was
afraid people might think he needed his wife’s earnings.”
added, “That’s right. She’s a widow now, and we had been trying to find
things to keep her busy, divert her mind from Bob’s sudden death in a traffic
accident—his own fault, the fool was drunk.” He grinned. “Suddenly,
our efforts weren’t needed any more, when Connie discovered Bob had been
systematically two-timing her.”
said in his usual laconic manner, “It sure stopped Connie’s grieving in a
hurry. And she told me she was determined never again to fall for a man’s
blandishments. Once was enough. Connie legally took her maiden name
back, and she is again Constance Sherwood. As far as she is concerned, Bob
Griffiths never happened. And no other man ever will—happen to her, I
gazed at his friends. “A woman who was once Lee Melissinos’s PA—a widow
who is determined never to allow a man near her again—sounds ideal. Is
there any way you can arrange for Ms. Sherwood to come to my office for an
soon enough for you?” said Tom.
next afternoon, Alessandro’s chief receptionist buzzed him, advising that a Ms.
Constance Sherwood was waiting to see him.
Security to bring her to my office, Diane,” he instructed.
After a few minutes, there was a polite knock, and a security officer stuck his
head around the door. “Ms. Constance Sherwood, Sir.”
you.” Alessandro got to his feet and took a few steps toward the door to
welcome Ms. Sherwood. His breath escaped in a slight hiss. For some
reason he had expected a woman close to middle age—well groomed and dressed, of
course. What he had not expected was a truly spectacular-looking woman,
late twenties by the look of her. A natural blonde, he thought—liking the
way she wore her hair in a short pony-tail. A lovely heart-shaped face
with huge, long-lashed green eyes, a straight little nose, and a mouth that
seemed to be made for kisses. His slim, black eyebrows rose a tad in
surprise at himself.
What on earth made me think about kisses?
continued his quick inventory, liking her determined little chin with the
slight cleft in it. As for her figure—stunning was the only word for what
he could see of it. Her legs were long and elegant, and her hands were
beautiful. Pleased at having managed to register all these attributes in
mere seconds, he held out his hand to her.
Montedalcino,” he said.
she smiled politely. “I’m
don’t use my title in business,” he said calmly, “but I’m glad to see that you
researched me—same as I researched you. Although you come highly
recommended by Tom Fredericks and Jeff Harcourt, and that means a lot to
me. All the same, an interview like this is an opportunity for both of us
to take a look at the other. Let’s sit down.”
his own surprise, he took her to a conversation grouping at the far end of his
office, gesturing for her to sit down wherever she wished. Constance took
one of the comfortable-looking chairs, and Alessandro sat down across from her.
file with details about her was lying on his desk, but he did not intend
looking at it again. What was important was that there should be a
between them. Without it, a successful business
relationship would be impossible.
you take coffee?” he asked.
was surprised at the informality of the interview, she did not show it.
“Thank you,” she smiled. Absently he noticed her white, even teeth.
over to a side-table holding a table lamp and a telephone, he pressed a
button. “Coffee for two, Diane.”
the coffee was brought, Alessandro poured, asking, “Cream, sugar?”
nodded. “Me too.” He handed her the coffee, saying, “Tell me
something about yourself that I couldn’t discover on the internet.” He
sensed that an explanation was in order, and went on, “You worked for Lee
Melissinos, so you must be a first-class PA, that’s a given. What I need
to find out is whether we would work well together. If we aren’t in
tune with each other, we couldn’t work as well as we’d have to, to be