Italian Boss, Ruthless Revenge
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‘I’ve never made love before.’
Did she think he was that stupid?
China-blue eyes stared up at him. That full mouth was quivering with nerves, still waiting to be kissed, and he was tempted to silence her with just that. What the hell was she playing at? He’d seen her pills in her bathroom, for God’s sake, and she’d told him—told him—that she’d just broken up with her boyfriend of six months. And now she was telling him she was a virgin.
A very scathing remark was on the tip of his tongue—whatever game she was playing with him was about to be abruptly concluded. The muscles in his arms tensed as he went to push her off—only he didn’t.
If she wanted to play virgin, if she wanted to pretend that he was her first, then who was he to stop her? In fact, somehow it made it easier—easier to block out the whys and hows, easier to lower his mouth to hers, to play whatever game it was that she was playing and lose himself.
Pulling her back towards him, Lazzaro kissed the shell of her ear as he spoke. ‘Then we’d better take things slowly!’
Carol Marinelli recently filled in a form where she was asked for her job title and was thrilled, after all these years, to be able to put down her answer as writer. Then it asked what Carol did for relaxation, and after chewing her pen for a moment Carol put down the truth—writing. The third question asked—What are your hobbies? Well, not wanting to look obsessed or, worse still, boring, she crossed the fingers on her free hand and answered swimming and tennis. But, given that the chlorine in the pool does terrible things to her highlights, and the closest she’s got to a tennis racket in the last couple of years is watching the Australian Open, you can guess the real answer!
Carol also writes for Medical™ Romance!
ITALIAN BOSS, RUTHLESS REVENGE
A shiver of anticipation went around the lavish hotel reception—starting with a nod from the doorman to warn the concierge, who in turn signalled to the receptionists—and Caitlyn noticed everyone’s backs seemed to straighten just a touch more, hands all moving to flatten ties or hair, as a sleek limousine pulled up outside.
‘The question is—’ Glynn, the manager, blinked nervously as he flicked his fringe back off his face ‘—which one?’
The answer was, for Caitlyn, more relevant than Glen could possibly realise.
Here on work experience, shadowing the staff and completely supernumerary, it shouldn’t have mattered a jot to Caitlyn which one of the dashing Ranaldi twins was pulling up outside—after all, both were legends.
Lazzaro and Luca Ranaldi both headed up the sumptuous Ranaldi chain of luxurious international hotels—and, along with their sister, were heirs to the vast wealth their father had created and subsequently, following his death last year, left behind.
Unless, of course, that vast wealth happened to have landed in the laps of stunning identical twins.Not one but two immaculate prototypes, who regularly hit the headlines courtesy of their jet-setting, depraved existence. Since their father’s death, and their sister marrying and settling there, the stunning pair had loosely based themselves in Melbourne—two irrepressible playboys, who made no apologies and certainly offered no excuses! Only last week Luca had been in the papers for a fight at the casino, and there had been a few drink-driving scandals recently that Caitlyn could recall.
A dark-suited man stepped out of the limousine, and Caitlyn found herself holding her breath…
‘Which one is it?’ Caitlyn whispered.
‘I’m not sure yet…’ Glynn mused. ‘They’re both identical, both divine…’
Caitlyn hoped it was Lazzaro.
Not because he was considered the most powerful, the true leader of the two, but for a reason Glynn would have trouble believing.
Watching as two strappy sandals hit the ground beneath the car door, Caitlyn chewed on her lip, wondering what on earth she’d do if Roxanne came into view—wondering how the other hotel staff would react to her if they knew the strange truth…
Luca Ranaldi was dating her cousin.
‘It’s Lazzaro,’ Glynn confirmed as, without waiting for his date, the dark-suited male walked through the gold revolving doors.
‘How do you know?’ Caitlyn frowned. ‘I thought you said they were identical…’
‘Lazzaro doesn’t wait for anyone…’ Glynn hissed out of the side of his mouth before stepping forward to greet his boss. ‘Not even a beautiful woman!’
Oh, she’d seen him before—had seen him in the papers, his photo being on the cover of a business magazine she was reading for her course—but nothing, nothing had prepared Caitlyn for the impact of seeing him up close and in the flesh. Well over six feet, as he walked in it was clear to all that he owned the place—and not just literally. Confidence and arrogance just oozed from him, and as he walked over to the desk Caitlyn realised he wasn’t just stunning—he was absolutely beautiful. His jet hair was longer than it was in the photos, with a raven fringe flopping over his forehead, and as for those eyes… Caitlyn actually gave a little sigh. Thickly lashed, they were black as the night and just as dangerous. As his gaze met hers, it was bored, utterly uninterested and he soon looked away. But, for Caitlyn, it was as if his image had been branded on her brain, freeze-framed so she could examine it at her leisure—see again that straight Roman nose, see close up his smooth olive skin and that sulky, full, incredibly kissable mouth.
Realising she was staring—gaping, even—Caitlyn tore her gaze away and looked at the woman who had walked in behind him. She was now sitting on one of the plush lobby sofas as she awaited her master—and Caitlyn couldn’t help the tiny ironic smile that pursed her lips.
Though it wasn’t Roxanne, it might just as well have been.
The raven beauty who accompanied Lazzaro certainly hadn’t been striving to achieve au naturelle when she’d applied her make-up. Dark glossy hair tumbled, albeit strategically, over shoulders that were so evenly tanned it could only have come from some serious hours on a sunbed combined with a regular spray tan.
‘Welcome, sir.’ Glynn’s outstretched hand went ignored.
‘How are things?’ Lazzaro didn’t return the greeting, his eyes narrowing as they scanned the reception area. ‘Any problems?’
‘None at all,’ his manager assured him.
‘Has Luca been in?’
‘Not as yet,’ Glynn said, discreetly omitting to mention the drunken call he’d taken earlier, demanding that the best room in the hotel be somehow vacated and prepared for his arrival.
‘How’s the wedding?’
‘Excellent,’ Glynn enthused. But as Lazzaro’s burning gaze fell on him, he coloured up just a touch. ‘Well, there’s one teeny problem, but we’re taking care of it now.’
Lazzaro raised one perfectly arched black brow, and, though he didn’t say a word, the tiny gesture clearly indicated that he wanted more information.
‘The bride’s father, Mr Danton—’
‘Gus Danton is a close personal friend of mine,’ Lazzaro interrupted, and though his English was excellent, his deep, heavily accented voice held just a tinge of warning.
Caitlyn’s eyebrows shot up just a fraction—after all, if he was such a good friend, how come Lazzaro hadn’t been at the wedding? She didn’t say it, of course, but Lazzaro was either a skilled mind-reader or had felt the breeze from her eyebrows raising, because, as if answering her very thoughts he deigned to give her a brief look.
‘There are not enough Saturday nights in a year to attend every wedding to which I am invited but—given Mr Danton has chosen my hotel, and given Mr Danton is a friend—naturally I will come in for a drink. Of course, I hoped to hear there have been no problems…’
‘Quite.’ Glynn swallowed.
‘Well, he’s asked that the bar remain open for another hour. Of course we’re more than happy to oblige—it’s just that his credit card has been declined. I was actually on my way to have a discreet word with him now.’
‘Bring up his details.’ He snapped his fingers in Caitlyn’s vague direction, and even though she’d been bringing up guests’ details for most of the night, this almost mastered skill had never been tested under such stressful conditions.
‘Er, Caitlyn’s only here on work experience, sir,’ Glynn said, rushing over to the computer. One black look from Lazzaro halted him. ‘She’s studying hospitality, and—’
‘Since when has a work experience student stayed till midnight on a Saturday?’ Lazzaro cut in, staring at her name badge, lowering his eyes to her suede stilettos, and then lazily working them upwards—taking in the rather cheap navy skirt and white blouse that comprised her uniform. In absolutely no hurry, as Glynn chatted nervously on, he scrutinised her face, staring into her blue eyes and doing the strangest things to her stomach.
‘Caitlyn was very keen to witness a busy Saturday night…’
God, she wished she’d had warning—wished she’d had time to dash to the loo and redo her heavy blonde hair. She could feel her attempt at a French roll uncoiling before his eyes. And she wished the mouth he was staring at had just a little bit of lipstick on.
‘And she has been dealing with guests?’
‘Yes,’ Glynn croaked. ‘Well, she’s been closely supervised, of course.’
‘She has been bringing up details for paying guests?’
‘Er, yes…’ Glynn nodded. ‘But, as I said, only with supervision.’ Which wasn’t strictly true—Glynn had been out for more smoke breaks than Caitlyn could count. Still, she was hardly going to tell Lazzaro that.
‘If she is good enough for my guests,’ Lazzaro responded, with the martyrdom only the truly pompous could muster, ‘then she is good enough for me.’
If he called her she again, Caitlyn decided, then she’d jolly well give him a piece of her mind.
As his black eyes fell on her, Caitlyn recanted.
Well, maybe she wouldn’t actually say anything. Still, she could think it—divine he might be to look at, but he was a loathsome, arrogant, chauvinist brute. Blushing with a mixture of annoyance and embarrassment, she furiously backspaced as she spectacularly mistyped. After an exceedingly long moment, Gus Danton’s details finally flashed on to the screen.
‘His account,’ Lazzaro snapped, clearly expecting that with a few rapid clicks Caitlyn should bring up the necessary page. But his impatience only unsettled her more.
The cursor wobbled on screen as suddenly he was behind her, standing over her, his hand hovering to take the computer mouse—effectively dismissing her efforts. She should have stepped back—only he was behind her. She should have moved her hand to let him take over—only his was above hers.
Perhaps it was the prospect of physical contact with him, perhaps it was nerves, or an impossible combination of both, but at that second precisely her hope for a glowing reference from the Ranaldi Hotel for her work experience melted away as rapidly as Caitlyn clicked the mouse—not once, not twice, but as if her finger had suddenly developed a nervous twitch. She repeatedly tapped away—panic rising as she deleted Lazzaro Ranaldi’s number-one guest’s entire financial history before his very eyes. He should step in, Caitlyn thought, frantically hitting the back arrow, sweat trickling between her breasts as his hand still hovered. His breath was on the back of her burning neck as an unfamiliar system command popped on screen, to taunt her.
Put Susan to Bed.
Oh—she should have pressed cancel. As soon as she tapped okay, Caitlyn recalled the meaning of the strange prompt—that she really didn’t want the computer system to shut down on the day, that she really, really didn’t want to do the one single thing Glynn had told her she must never, ever do. But as the screen went black, Caitlyn knew that Susan wasn’t just in bed, she was snoring her head off and completely unrousable as somewhere in the system she tallied and recorded the day’s figures and guests’ comings and goings.
Caitlyn never swore—well, never in front of her boss—but her curse was out before she could stop it. Glynn’s alarmed expression told her that her frantic whisper had reached his ears.
‘Everything okay?’ Glynn checked nervously, from the other side of the desk, and Caitlyn looked up to face the lesser of two evils but Glynn’s visible terror at her horrified expression held nothing that could console her. ‘Everything is okay, isn’t it?’ he hissed.
‘There seems to be a problem with the system.’ Caitlyn attempted a calm voice, only her mouth seemed to belong to someone who had just stepped out of the dentist’s after having a root canal procedure. Her lips struggled to form the words, her finger was still tapping away, but her whole body was absolutely rigid. She was wishing that she’d gone home when she could have—when she should have.
‘What the hell do you mean?’ Glynn snapped, moving to race his way around the counter. ‘A problem with the system? What on earth have you done, Caitlyn?’
Ended her career before it had even started, probably, Caitlyn thought with dread. Lazzaro Ranaldi’s temper was legendary amongst the staff—and something she’d never wanted to witness, particularly aimed at herself. Bracing herself for his caustic tongue, for a few choice expletives to fill the lavish reception area as he told her exactly what he thought of her computer skills, of her woeful inadequacy to work for such an exclusive hotel, bravely—stupidly, perhaps—Caitlyn lifted her head and craned her neck to face him.
Her terrified expression turned to one of bemusement as she saw that the eyes that met hers weren’t hostile at all. In fact, if she wasn’t mistaken, there was just the hint of a smile playing on the edge of his mouth.
‘It’s fine, Glynn.’ With one perfectly manicured hand he halted his manager’s progress. ‘You have guests to attend to.’ Lazzaro’s eyes fell on a rather affectionate couple at the desk, who really should get a room as quickly as possible. ‘As Caitlyn said, there is a small problem with the system—nothing I can’t sort.’
Was there really a problem with the system? Caitlyn wondered hopefully as Glynn went to sort out the couple, her eyes darting back to the now flickering screen of the computer.
‘Nothing that can’t be fixed …’ He was leaning right over her now, as she stood frozen to the spot—and not just her feet. Caitlyn’s hand was still clutching the mouse like a frozen claw. Her throat tightened as his warm hand closed around hers, guiding it up to the little red arrow at the top and closing the programme—something Caitlyn was sure, positive in fact, that you shouldn’t do. Her heart was thumping in her chest as he removed his hand—she should really step aside. Only she didn’t. In fact, still she stood there, as his hands came around either side of her waist and moved to the keyboard. Her heart leapt up into her mouth as, without a single mistake, he calmly logged in and with impressive speed typed in the necessary details to retrieve Gus Dalton’s information.
‘Luckily everything is backed up.’ His voice was low in her ear, and she waited for relief to flood her—waited for grateful breath to escape her lips as the crisis was averted. Only it never came. Her body was resisting the call to relax, and her mind was telling her in no uncertain terms that now certainly wasn’t the time for complacency. Every nerve was on high alert, every cell, every shred of DNA was quivering with tension. Only it had nothing to do with her career, nothing to do with her boss catching her making a stupendous mistake, but everything to do with the man who was leaning over her, the heavy scent of him, the absolute undeniable maleness of him, was having the most dizzying effect.
‘How…?’ Caitlyn blinked. ‘Glynn said that once Susan was put to bed…’
‘All the day’s data is sent to me for checking,’ Lazzaro explained then elaborated, still tapping away. ‘Nothing that happens on this computer is deleted till I am satisfied it is okay…’
‘Thank goodness for that.’
‘So long as you’re not attempting a dash of embezzlement…?’ He’d stopped typing now, put the delicious prison of his arms down as he stepped back, and Caitlyn thankfully exhaled before she turned to face him.
‘Of course not!’ Caitlyn giggled.
‘Or having a few friends paying mate’s rates while staying in the Presidential Suite?’
‘Please!’ Caitlyn laughed.
‘Or mooning behind the desk checking e-mails and doing a spot of internet banking on my time?’
‘Er, no.’ Caitlyn wasn’t laughing now. In fact she was having trouble forcing a smile.
‘Or checking your horoscope…?’
Caitlyn didn’t even attempt a denial. Her face was burning an unattractive shade of scarlet, but if she’d had the nerve to look up she’d have seen that he was smiling.
‘Everything in order?’ Glynn was positively dripping with nerves as he came over.
‘Of course.’ Lazzaro shrugged. ‘I see that Gus paid in advance forty-eight hours before the reception…’
‘Still…’ Glynn cleared his throat. ‘I thought I ought to warn him…’
‘Lazzaro!’ Smiling, loud, and as red in the face as Caitlyn, Gus Danton crossed the foyer. ‘Come in and have a drink!’
‘I was just about to.’ Lazzaro nodded. ‘I trust everything has gone smoothly tonight?’
‘It’s been perfect!’ Gus enthused. ‘Everything’s gone off without a hitch. Actually…’ Gus turned to address Glynn. ‘Did you sort out the bar, like I asked?’
‘All done,’ Lazzaro answered for his manager. ‘You’ll be posted an itemised bill next week.’
‘Details, details…’ Gus waved them away. ‘Join us, Lazzaro.’
‘I’ll be there in just a moment.’
As Gus headed back to the ballroom, Lazzaro gave a nod to his waiting beauty. And though he didn’t whistle, though he didn’t wave a lead, as she jumped up eagerly, the only thing Caitlyn could liken her to was an over-eager dog, finding out it was about to be walked.
Every staff member stood rigid, every polished smile was perfectly in place as he stalked towards the ballroom, yet, like a leaky balloon, one could almost feel the tension seeping out as the ballroom doors were opened and Lazzaro and his date entered. But just as shoulders drooped, just as everyone prepared to exhale en masse, as if having second thoughts, he turned around—striding back to the reception desk and fixing a stunned Caitlyn with his stern glare.
‘Why did I do that?’ he demanded. ‘Come on—you are here to learn. Why, when this is a business, when I know he may not have the funds, would I choose, for now, to ignore it?’
‘Er…’ Caitlyn’s eyes darted to Glynn’s in a brief plea for help, but when none was forthcoming she forced herself to look back at Lazzaro. ‘Because he’s a friend?’ Caitlyn attempted. Seeing his frown deepen, she had another stab. ‘Because he’s a guest and, rather than embarrass him tonight…’ The frown was still deepening as she frantically racked her brain. ‘Because he’s already paid so much…’
She was clearly completely off track. Her mind raced to come up with an answer, only she had none left. Bracing herself for the cracking whip of his putdown, she gave in. And he did the strangest, most unexpected thing.
‘All good reasons. But…’ That inscrutable, scathing expression slipped like a mask and broke into another smile of which Caitlyn was the sole beneficiary, and it was like stepping out into the sun unprotected—dazzling, warming, blinding her with its intensity, knocking her completely off guard, a smile that magnified everything. ‘He has three more daughters and all of them are single—so if tonight goes well, that is three more weddings…’
He didn’t finish. Bored now, he turned again and headed back to his date, and towards the ballroom.
And this time, for Caitlyn at least, the tension had only just started—and there wasn’t a trace of breath left in her lungs to be let out.
There were several clocks in the reception area, each giving the different times around the world—ten minutes to midnight in Melbourne, ten minutes to two in the afternoon in London, and ten minutes to nine in the morning in NewYork—and Caitlyn glanced up at them, freeze-framing them in her mind. Because suddenly it was relevant; for the first time in her life Caitlyn actually understood the saying that time stood still…
Because it did.
At ten minutes to midnight Caitlyn’s eyes were dragged back to Lazzaro’s departing back, watching as he walked into the ballroom and out of her view, taking with him just a little piece of her very young, very tender heart.
‘You might as well go home,’ Glynn said a little while later. ‘There’s not much to do.’
‘There will be, though.’ Caitlyn coloured up a touch, her work ethic for once having nothing to do with her wanting to hang around. ‘Once the wedding reception finishes.’
‘It’s all under control.’
‘What are you going to do about Luca?’ Caitlyn asked. ‘All the best rooms are booked out for the wedding.’
‘He’ll be so wasted he won’t notice if I put him in the broom cupboard.’ Glynn rolled his eyes, then smiled. ‘Have you thought about what I said? About working here while you study? A lot of our chambermaids are students.’
Caitlyn nodded. ‘I’m going to put in my r?sum? on Monday.’
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