‘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.”
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.”
“Are you absolutely mad?” Phoebe mumbled shakily.“Do you live alone or with your family?” he questioned without listening to her words. Transfixed by her own bewilderment, Phoebe heard herself muttered her answer.“Alone, but…” A winged ebony brow rose at that news, icy eyes briefly welding to her beautiful face.“You are surprising, Phoebe Stone. Where do you keep your passport at home?”“The first drawer of my desk, but why…?” Lorenzo De Angelis punched out a number on his smartphone.“I don't see any alternative to a trip to Italy,” he informed her in a sardonic aside. “I could keep you without a phone, but I am not that heartless. And I can hardly ask my household staff
Quite unaffected by Phoebe's growing antipathy, which she expressed in frigid silence, Lorenzo De Angelis marched her through the airport to a busy shopping area. Walking straight into an exclusive boutique, he headed for a rack of lightweight black skirt suits and dresses. Without asking the saleswoman for help, Lorenzo took the smallest sizes available and dumped them into Phoebe's startled arms. Then he snatched other clothes and accessories from the display shelf above and added them. Every single woman in the shop was looking at him with eyes filled with admiration, shock, desire. Totally mortified, Phoebe gave them a slight smile then she came closer to Lorenzo.“What are you doing?” she whispered in a horrified undertone.“This is called shopping. You should try it sometimes,” Loren
He scanned Phoebe’s pale face. Seeing the rage in his eyes froze the blood in her veins. She tried to talk, to say something, anything, but no word would come out.“You told me that I could trust you,” Lorenzo said slowly, but angrily. “Well… I’m glad I didn’t. The instant I allowed you out of my sight, you rushed to the phone to pass on the information you overheard. You betrayed me!” Lorenzo was enraged, she could feel that, but he condemned her using a tone she never heard from him since this whole thing started. He was genuinely disappointed in her behavior. She was trembling with apprehension, but, strangely enough, Phoebe felt also saddened by his unexpected reaction.“Mr. De Angelis…” she began, ready to show him that she wasn’t a bad person or a traitor.“I tried to give you a chance, I really did, but you have made your choice. ‘Così sia.
Phoebe punched out the number. As soon as he heard her voice, Stephen asked anxiously if something had happened at the bookshop. Reassuring him, but resentfully conscious of Lorenzo listening to every word, Phoebe explained that she would be off work for a couple of days and apologized for the lack of warning she was giving him. She said a close friend was ill. Ending the call with relief, she returned the phone to Lorenzo. He shot her a grim, measuring look.“You are good. Such a convincing liar.” She just looked at him without saying a word. Her eyes were saying to him more than enough. Lorenzo smiled and turned toward Alessandro to give him a few recommendations. Phoebe looked away, trying hard not to cry in front of this dreadful man.
His father! What could be worse? Of course, he hadn't wanted to have her there over the next couple of days. So why on earth had Lorenzo insisted that she had to accompany him? Ok, Lorenzo De Angelis lived in a gilded world of immense wealth and privilege. He was a member of incredibly high-powered circles. She wished she understood how that information could be as hugely important as he seemed to think it was. He thought she was a spy, so maybe it was a matter of exponential importance for Lorenzo. He was talking about business the night before his father’s funeral. Those extremely confidential business plans he was so fired up about, this pretending to be interested in one company while really being interested in another… all this was so important for him that he had to drag her away across t
Phoebe’s quick temper, already taxed to its limits by Antonio's offensive familiarity, simply erupted. Reacting on instinct alone, her hand flew up and she slapped Lorenzo so hard across one cheekbone her fingers stung like mad.“No man calls me a whore!” she yelled in furious condemnation. “Not even you, Lorenzo De Angelis!” As the livid marks of that slap sprang up across one slashing cheekbone, Lorenzo stared back at her with truly stunned gaze. Even though Phoebe instantly knew that she had gone too far, she was far too angry to acknowledge her mistake. But she won’t apologize.“And your snake of a cousin deserves the same!” she launched in defiant addition. “Who does that little prick think he is? Drooling over me, reaching out to grab me like I'm some piece of meat! And how dare you behave in su
The blonde Mia planted a cool kiss on his cheek and then addressed him in Italian only. She ignored Phoebe. But Phoebe was grateful to be ignored because she was embarrassed by Lorenzo's stubborn determination to keep her by his side. Still talking to Mia, whom Phoebe now assumed to be a close relative, Lorenzo walked them both into a vast reception room. Other people began to arrive. Mia took up position like a seasoned hostess. Lorenzo's grip on Phoebe's fingers had mercifully loosened, and she tried to pull away, hoping to retire to a dark corner. But not only did Lorenzo retain his hold on her. He also swept her forward and introduced her, although nobody got the chance to engage her in any actual conversation. Many curious eyes lingered on her, but Lorenzo kept both of them on the move. He exchanged a wo
She swallowed hard and felt her skin burning under his fiery gaze. Phoebe started trembling, outraged that he stood there, spying on her, and not announcing immediately his presence.“You should've told me you were here... I don’t like to be watched while dancing!”“I didn't want to interrupt you... ‘Mi hai tolto il fiato!’ (Ita for ‘You took my breath away!’)” A shimmer of gold as bright as a flame glimmered in Lorenzo's eyes. From her rosy cheeks moved on her ripe mouth. Her lips parted.“I know that this is your house, but you can’t spy on me...” she protested unevenly, her slight frame tautening in instinctive reaction to the growing tension in the atmosphere. "You should've made your presence known." Lo