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CHAPTER 2

         ‘Girl’? Really? She was a full-grown woman and this… bully was treating her like she was a kid caught stealing cookies from the cookie jar.

“My name is Phoebe Stone and whether if you like it or not, I’m going out of here. What… what are you doing?” she gasped.

          But it was too late. De Angelis had already taken away the scarf she had tied round her head. Her red curls fell on her shoulders in tumbled disarray. He moved even closer to her. ‘Man, he is so tall…’ she thought swallowing hard and looking around for an easy way out of this situation.

          Even if his size was a threat to a petite woman like her, Phoebe decided not to show that she was afraid. So, she gazed up at him, green eyes locking into piercing icy blue.

          But something happened… Her body was refusing to listen to her brain. Her tummy clenched as if she had dropped from a height, the oddest sensation of dizziness making her head swim and her knees tremble.

          His frowning evaluation had become an outright smoldering stare of sexual assessment.

“You know something? You don't look like any cleaner I've ever met,” Lorenzo finally breathed in a roughened, accented undertone.

“This is rich…” she scoffed. “And I presume that you meet a lot of cleaners?” Phoebe heard herself ask sarcastically.

          But after she just said that she had been thrown way off balance by what she had seen in his eyes. That age-old oversexed male-to-female reaction she despised.

“Phoebe... There is a Phoebe Stone on the cleaners’ list,” Perkins cut in flatly. “But she's supposed to be working on the 9th floor. Security never cleared her for this floor. I'll have her supervisor sent up to identify her.”

          As the other man relayed that information, the Italian tycoon's hard features tautened.

“No, Perkins! Get off that phone now. The fewer people who know about this intrusion the better.”

          Releasing her wrist, he stepped back to pull out a chair from under a small table.

“Take a seat, Phoebe.”

'I don’t want to… I want to go.”

“Sit! Now!” Lorenzo emphasized as if he was dealing with a puppy in need of basic training.

          Her teeth locking together at that style of address, Phoebe did what he said, her slim back rigid but her heartbeat still racing. Everything about what was happening with Lorenzo De Angelis was so wrong. Ok, she had walked in where she shouldn't have. But she had apologized. In fact, she had all but groveled. So why the continuing fuss?

“Perhaps you'd care to explain what you're doing on this floor? Why did you enter this particular office and why you chose to stay and eavesdrop behind the door?” Lorenzo spelled out harshly.

          The silence was soul-crushing. Phoebe wondered if bursting into tears would get her off the hook. She met those cold blue eyes, and her heart skipped a startled beat. With De Angelis already behaving as if she had committed a criminal offense, honesty now seemed the wisest and safest course.

“I’m here because I’ve been having a bit of a problem with a guy who works with the high-rise window cleaners’ group,” Phoebe admitted with reluctance.

“What sort of problem?” Perkins asked.

          Lorenzo let his intense gaze roam with bold intimacy over Phoebe's petite tense figure, lingering at length on the tilted thrust of her breasts defined by the work clothes and the slender perfection of her legs.

          As mortified color ran up beneath her fair skin his wide, sensual mouth quirked.

“Come on, Perkins! Look at her, then tell me you still need an answer to that question,” he advised drily.

          Still reeling resentfully from that shameless clothes-stripping evaluation, Phoebe breathed irregularly.

“I mentioned the situation to the woman who normally works up here and asked if I could switch floors with her for a night. After a lot of persuasions, she agreed. Of course, she did warn me not to clean the office behind the wooden doors... but unfortunately, there are two identical wooden doors. So…”

“So, there you are,” Lorenzo conceded, his agreement smooth.

“I made a simple mistake, and I was about to slip out again when I heard somebody coming,” Phoebe confided tautly. “I was scared it was a security guard. He might've asked what I was doing up here, and that could have got Roxie into trouble. I’ve hidden behind the door so that I wouldn't be seen. It was a stupid thing to do, I know…”

“Security hasn't been up here since six,” Perkins added unimpressed by her story. “And when Mr. De Angelis arrived just ten minutes ago this entire floor was empty.”

“Well, I don't know who it was. He stood in the doorway for about twenty seconds and then went away again...”

          Wondering why her reasonable explanation was being challenged, Phoebe found her voice trailing away. Breathing out a slow, measured hiss, Lorenzo lounged back against the edge of a nearby desk and glanced at the anxious older man.

‘Vai a casa’, (Ita for ‘Go home’) Perkins. I will take care of this all by myself. No need for you to stay.”

“But you don’t have to do it, Lorenzo. I should stay and sort this out for you.”

“Your wife is waiting for you at home. She told me you have a special dinner to attend to,” Lorenzo reminded him drily. “If I’ll keep you here five seconds more, she’ll kill me… literally.”

          Perkins looked as if he was about to protest, and then, meeting his employer's expectant scrutiny, he nodded. Just before he took his leave, he paused to add something else.

“I’ll talk to you tomorrow morning, Lorenzo.”

“Thank you, my friend,” he answered in a tensed voice.

          He closed the door in the older man's wake and swung back to survey Phoebe.

“I'm afraid I can't trust your story, Phoebe,” he drawled in a tone of daunting finality. “You stood there and listened to a very confidential conversation.”

“Sir, I wasn't listening... I wasn't interested!” Phoebe told him frantically, intimidated much against her own will.

“I’ve got two questions for you,” Lorenzo advanced softly. “Firstly, do you want to keep your job?”

          Phoebe stiffened, even more, despising him for using such bullying tactics.

“Of course, I do, Sir.”

“Secondarily… Do you want the other lady who allowed you to come up here and work in her place to keep her job?”

          Phoebe sagged as if he had punched her and turned very pale.

“Please, Mr. De Angelis, don't involve Roxie in this,” she pleaded. “This was my mistake, not hers!”

“I disagree, Phoebe. She chose to break the rules,” Lorenzo contradicted with lethal cool. “She's as much involved in this as you are. And if you are some kind of spy, in the pay of one of my competitors, you must've made it well worth her while to agree to tonight's switch.”

‘A spy’? Goodness, gracious...” Phoebe whispered unevenly; her whole attention focused on that strong face.

“Right at this moment, I find your reference to another unseen and unidentifiable individual's presence rather too convenient,” Lorenzo admitted bluntly. “If there is an information leak, you have already supplied yourself with the excuse of a third party to take the heat.”

“What… I d-don't know what you're talking about.”

          He had her so much on edge that for the first time in her life Phoebe couldn't think straight.

“For your sake, Phoebe, I hope you don't,” Lorenzo conceded, with every appearance of grim sincerity. “But you must understand that to just let you go like nothing’s happened is too big a risk for me to take. If you shared what you heard with the wrong person, it could seriously damage my plans.”

“But I wouldn't dream of repeating what I heard!”

“So, you do remember what you overheard. And yet only a minute ago you swore that you weren't even interested enough to listen!”

          At that silken reminder, a look of dismay leaped into Phoebe's eyes. She stared back at him with a sinking heart. She did have perfect recall of what he had said but had intended to play dumb and keep that news to herself.

          However, he had tied her in verbal knots and tripped her up. He had a mind like a steel trap, she conceded furiously. Intense, suspicious, quick, and lethal in its accuracy. Lorenzo glanced at the Rolex on his wrist and then back at her.

“Allow me to show you the bigger picture here, Phoebe. As long as this deal goes down on Wednesday, you and your foolish friend will still be gainfully employed in this building. But until Wednesday comes, you're not moving out of my sight!”

“What did you just say to me?”

“You heard well. Naturally, I'll pay you for the inconvenience.”

‘Inconvenience’?”

          Phoebe interrupted in a hopelessly squeaky voice.

“I assume you have a passport?”

‘A passport’? Why are you asking me that?” she gasped.

“I have to fly to Italy tonight. Keeping you under surveillance to ensure that you make no phone calls will require you to fly to Italy with me,” Lorenzo delivered with perceptible impatience. “So, you should start to prepare for the trip.”

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