A Diamond Deal With Her Boss

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A Diamond Deal With Her Boss


   He has an outrageous proposition...

   She’ll wear his diamond—temporarily!

   Personal assistant Abby’s newest assignment, as her sexy boss Gabriel’s fake fiancée, sends her heart rate rocketing. And that’s before Abby experiences the heady sensuality of his response! She cannot resist the temptation of a burning hot, short-term affair. But when the heat between them threatens to undo her, Abby must decide if she can share her body—and soul—with Gabriel...

   CATHY WILLIAMS can remember reading Mills & Boon books as a teenager, and now that she is writing them she remains an avid fan. For her, there is nothing like creating romantic stories and engaging plots, and each and every book is a new adventure. Cathy lives in London. Her three daughters—Charlotte, Olivia and Emma—have always been, and continue to be, the greatest inspirations in her life.

   

   Seduced into Her Boss’s Service

   A Virgin for Vasquez Snowbound with His Innocent Temptation Bought to Wear the Billionaire’s Ring The Secret Sanchez Heir Cipriani’s Innocent Captive Legacy of His Revenge A Deal for Her Innocence

   Discover more at .

   A Diamond Deal with Her Boss

   Cathy Williams


   

   ISBN: 978-1-474-07216-8

   A DIAMOND DEAL WITH HER BOSS

   © 2018 Cathy Williams

   Published in Great Britain 2018

   by Mills & Boon, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers 1 London Bridge Street, London, SE1 9GF

   All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. This edition is published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.

   This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, locations and incidents are purely fictional and bear no relationship to any real life individuals, living or dead, or to any actual places, business establishments, locations, events or incidents. Any resemblance is entirely coincidental.

   By payment of the required fees, you are granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right and licence to download and install this e-book on your personal computer, tablet computer, smart phone or other electronic reading device only (each a “Licensed Device”) and to access, display and read the text of this e-book on-screen on your Licensed Device. Except to the extent any of these acts shall be permitted pursuant to any mandatory provision of applicable law but no further, no part of this e-book or its text or images may be reproduced, transmitted, distributed, translated, converted or adapted for use on another file format, communicated to the public, downloaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of publisher.

   ® and ™ are trademarks owned and used by the trademark owner and/or its licensee. Trademarks marked with ® are registered with the United Kingdom Patent Office and/or the Office for Harmonisation in the Internal Market and in other countries.

   

   To my three wonderful and inspiring daughters.

   Contents

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

   ‘YOU’RE LATE.’ GABRIEL pushed himself away from his giant walnut and steel desk to look at the small, dark-haired woman moving briskly to pull out a chair so that she could position herself in front of him.

   She was clutching her laptop under her arm and carrying a flat white coffee in her free hand, bought on her way in from a mobile one-man-band seller of excellent coffee who had set up camp outside the towering glass building that housed Gabriel’s headquarters.

   So far, so good.

   Except it wasn’t eight-thirty, her usual time of arrival. Nor was it nine-thirty. In fact, it was after ten, which was definitely out of the ordinary. Gabriel looked at his watch significantly, catching her eye as she glanced up at him.

   ‘I know.’ Abby could barely meet his gaze as she carefully rested his coffee on his desk and sat in front of him. On the outside, she was as serene and composed as she always was. It was part and parcel of having to deal with the adrenaline-charged, volatile personality of her boss. Anything less than serene wouldn’t have made it past the six-month mark and she had been his PA now for over two years.

   On the inside, however, she was a nervous wreck because she was about to shake the foundations of Gabriel’s carefully composed life and he was not a man who took kindly to having his foundations shaken.

   ‘So?’ Gabriel vaulted to his feet, eyebrows raised, every sniffer instinct on full alert, because if there was one thing that could be said about his secretary, it was that she was the very essence of efficiency predictability. He couldn’t think of the last time she had arrived late. No, he could, and the answer was never. ‘Don’t leave me in suspense.’ He grinned and approached her in ever-decreasing circles until he was towering right beside her.

   ‘You know what a crashing bore I am,’ he murmured. ‘I loathe anything out of the ordinary.’

   Abby could recognise a back-handed piece of self-congratulation when she heard one because the one thing no one could accuse Gabriel of being was a bore. And he knew it.

   Momentarily distracted from the business at hand, she looked at him with a touch of exasperation but, as always, direct contact with Gabriel’s darker-than-night eyes left her feeling a little breathless and frazzled. Abby didn’t belong to that long, long queue of glamour women between the ages of eighteen and eighty who went weak at the knees the second Gabriel looked in their direction, but he still managed to have an effect on her which she had long since learned to ignore.

   ‘Would you mind sitting down?’ She arched her eyebrows, keeping all outward signs of her lack of composure under wraps. Her boss was eagle-eyed when it came to spotting the tiniest of reactions in other people and he was fond of pouncing. Abby wanted to say what she had to say before any pouncing had a chance to take place. ‘You’re giving me a crick in my neck.’

   ‘So?’ He perched on the edge of his desk, still too close but at least no longer towering. ‘Why the departure from your usual routine? Unexpected dental appointment? Sick cat in urgent need of a vet? Crashing hangover?’ Gabriel didn’t object to a little unpredictability and variety in his private life although, in fairness, variety was now a thing of the past given the fact that he was a man travelling at speed towards the altar.

   However, in his professional life, unpredictability was not something he encouraged and he hoped his trustworthy secretary wasn’t going to start becoming unpredictable. That would pose a number of problems, the main one being that he couldn’t envisage having such a successful working relationship with anyone else. Something about her calm complemented the aggressive energy of his personality, grounded him in ways he had become accustomed to.

   He paled because on top of the sick pet, emergency tooth filling and oversleeping her alarm came another, more likely possibility.

   ‘You’re not...are you?’

   ‘Not what?’

   ‘I don’t even know if you have a boyfriend. You’ve worked for me for over two years and I still don’t know whether you have a boyfriend or not.’

   ‘What has that got to do with anything?’ Abby flushed and bristled.

   ‘Most bosses know at least some details of their PA’s private lives! You’re so secretive, Abby. Why are you so secretive?’

   ‘Gabriel, I honestly have no idea where this is going.’

   ‘If I’d known that there was a man lurking in the background, then I might have braced myself for the inevitable.’

   Abby looked at him in open confusion. Gabriel’s brilliant mind had a disconcerting habit of whizzing around in unexpected directions until, hey presto, he got precisely where he wanted to be, leaving the rest of his competition miles behind and breathless, but even for him this line of deduction was bewildering.

   ‘Inevitable?’

   ‘Simple process of deduction: you’re never late...so I’m assuming something unexpected has reared its ugly head, or else you’re not well. Yet here you are! So...temporary bout of sickness? Maybe a trip to the doctor? I’m joining the dots here...’

   His dark eyes zeroed in on her flat stomach and Abby felt her muscles contract and tense. Then she felt something else, an awareness that made her breathe in sharply, because it crashed through the protective layers she had built around herself, layers that safeguarded her against the dynamism and virility of her impossibly sexy boss.

   ‘What dots are you joining? I’m not pregnant!’ she exclaimed impatiently. ‘And the reason I don’t talk about my private life isn’t because I’m secretive—it’s because it’s actually none of your business, Gabriel!’

   ‘That’s called secretive,’ Gabriel pointed out without batting an eye. ‘Women always like to talk about their private lives.’

   Abby gritted her teeth with a distinct lack of the cool reserve of which she was so proud.

   ‘But I can’t say that I’m not relieved.’ He was carrying on now with considerable less tension. ‘And I want to tell you right now that you should never be hesitant about telling me if and when you fall pregnant. I don’t belong to that category of male chauvinists who think that a woman with a child is a liability in the work place.’

   ‘Equality has come a long way since the Dark Ages.’ Abby had no idea how her simple speech had managed to become so derailed but then she realised that she hadn’t actually been allowed to get a word in.

   ‘You’d think so, wouldn’t you?’ Gabriel smirked. ‘Trust me when I tell you that I know otherwise.’ He paused. ‘So, you still haven’t said why you’re late.’

   ‘I...er... Gabriel, I was out last night...’ This was hardly the crisp speech she had mentally rehearsed on her way to the office, but she hadn’t foreseen a hijacking of her prepared agenda by her unpredictable boss. ‘I went to a club, in actual fact.’

   ‘A club? On a Thursday?’

   ‘Yes, Gabriel! It’s actually not that unusual. In fact, the club was packed. Because people do that—they go to clubs. Even on Thursdays!’ But Abby knew that she was red as a beetroot and getting more flustered by the second when she thought about what had taken her out of her comfort zone to the club. An Internet date. Rather, someone she had met on a dating app who had seemed very promising at the start of the evening, when they had been having a tame drink at a very civilised bar in the city. True, she had had to resist glancing at her watch every so often, and had had to keep reminding herself that after two years of celibacy it was high time she jumped back into the dating pool, but even so...

   Well, he hadn’t been an ogre. Nice looking, wire-rimmed specs and a suit and a decent job at a large accountancy firm.

   There’d been no reason for her not to go to the club with him. How was she to know that after four hours what had started out as nice enoughwould develop into interminably dull?

   Maybe that was why she had started looking around her. The music had been loud and she had had a few minutes’ reprieve while he had braved the crowds at the bar to replenish their drinks, ignoring her protests that it was time she went home.

   The outfit she had chosen to wear, something that shrieked ‘smart bar’and definitely not ‘hip club’,had been uncomfortable and itchy in the overheated, dark room, and people-watching had been a distraction to stop herself from jettisoning her date and sprinting to the nearest exit.

   She hadn’t expected to recognise anyone. She didn’t mix with people who went to clubs. In fact, her circle of friends was tiny and limited to the girls she played tennis with once a week and a handful of university friends who spent more time planning to get together than actually getting together.

   It had been hot, it had been dark but she hadn’t been able to miss Lucy, Gabriel’s fiancée. How could you miss someone with waist-long white-blonde hair, legs that went on for ever and a body that made men stop in their tracks and do a double-take?

   Lucy Jackson was a catwalk model with the sweetest of personalities and, not only had Abby been shocked to see her dancing with abandon in a club, she had been even more shocked to see her getting more than a little comfortable with a guy who was as beautiful as she was.

   Shock had given way to confusion and then anger because how on earth could she do that to Gabriel?

   She’d spent so long staring in horror that it had been little surprise that Lucy had half-turned and caught her eye. For the following hour, Abby had almost wished herself back with the interminably boring accountant, because a tearful Lucy had cornered her and dragged her off to the quietest spot in the nightclub, where the sound from the music was still so loud that Abby had been able to feel her brains rattling around in her head.

   ‘I thought I could marry Gabriel!’ Lucy had half-wept. ‘It’s not that I don’t care about him, but...he’s just not my type. Mummy and Daddy were so happy when he proposed but I just can’t...He’s so...so...serious, always working and stuff...’

   Abby had bit down the very natural retort that sprawling technology empires that raked in billions every year didn’t get that way under the guiding hand of someone who holidayed and partied all year long.

   ‘I wish you hadn’t seen...you know...’ Lucy had chewed her lip anxiously but then had brightened. ‘But Rupe really gets me. He’s a model like me and he doesn’t get all funny about having a good time. I know he’s not eligible like Gabriel, and honestly, Abby, Daddy’s going to kill me, but I just can’t go through with it. Now you know, please, please, please could you tell Gabriel? He’s going to go mad and I know I’ll just cave in because I hate making a fuss...

   Abby had been appalled.

   ‘Tell him?’ she had bellowed above the bass beat of the music. ‘Lucy, are you mad?’ But sweet-natured Lucy had proved that everyone had a mulish side. She had dug her heels in, pleaded and begged, shed some tears and Abby had cracked.

   Which didn’t make it any easier now, standing here having dragged her boss back from his wild speculations.

   She took a deep breath and said casually, ‘You’ll never guess who I bumped into at the club.’

   Gabriel looked at her narrowly. ‘I’m sensing we’re getting to the heart of the matter now,’ he said drily. ‘So, instead of going round the houses, why not just spit it out?’ He spread his arms wide in a gesture of benevolent magnanimity. ‘I think you’ll find that I’m pretty unshockable when it comes to finding out what happens in clubs. There’s a very good reason I stopped frequenting all but my private one.’

   Abby was aware that time was passing. Gabriel, workaholic that he was, didn’t seem unduly bothered but there were never sufficient hours in the day for her and she wasn’t enthusiastic about hanging around until late in the evening, having been the messenger of bad tidings. She had no idea how Gabriel was going to take what she had to tell him but she foresaw an uncomfortable day ahead for herself.

   ‘I saw Lucy there.’

   ‘Fiancée Lucy?’

   ‘The same.’ She looked at him, head cocked to one side.

   ‘If you’re expecting me to have a jealous meltdown,’ Gabriel inserted wryly, ‘Then you’ll be waiting a long time. Lucy is her own person and, if she wants to go to a nightclub, then she’s more than welcome to do that.’ He was momentarily distracted as he wondered who Abbyhad gone to the nightclub with. A band of women, all drinking cocktails and dancing around handbags? Had she gone there to pick a man up? Surely not? But why not? She was in her mid-twenties and, whilst she might dress like someone twice her age, there was something captivating about her face.

   Gabriel took a couple of minutes to dwell on what it was that seemed to hold one’s attention for a little longer than was strictly necessary. It wasn’t as though she was beautiful. Lucy was beautiful, he thought absently, with her tall, rangy body and her long blonde hair. Abby’s looks ran to unusual, intelligent,characteristics that shouldn’t set the imagination alive with curiosity but somehow did.

   She had shoulder-length dark hair which was usually tied back and grey eyes fringed with surprisingly lush lashes and well-defined brows. And her mouth was sexy. It wasn’t the first time Gabriel had clocked that about his very efficient, very controlled and deliberately in-the-background secretary, but it was the first time he wasn’t controlling his imagination—and maybe that was because he was now picturing her in a club. A hot, sweaty, noisy club surrounded by gyrating bodies in skimpy clothing.

   Involuntarily, his dark eyes roved over her body. As always, she was neatly turned out in a white blouse, a grey, knee-length skirt and flat, black, sensible pumps. Just the sort of get-up most self-respecting twenty-something women would have flung to the back of their wardrobes. In his mind’s eye, however, he was seeing a cropped top, a short skirt and high heels...in flamboyant colours.

   Aware of the direction of his gaze, Abby went bright red and adjusted her skirt primly. ‘Lucy wasn’t there on her own,’ she began.

   ‘Who were you there with?’

   ‘I beg your pardon?’

   ‘Who did you go with? You’re normally so reserved when it comes to talking about yourself that I expect you can understand my curiosity now.’

   ‘No, I can’t, Gabriel,’ Abby told him flatly. ‘And if you’d stop interrupting me and allow me to continue...’

   ‘What does my fiancée have to do with you arriving late for work this morning?’

   ‘We spent a good part of the evening talking and I ended up getting home far later than I’d anticipated, hence I overslept. That’s why I’m late. And I overslept because I was up most of the night following our conversation.’

   ‘You’re talking in riddles.’

   ‘Lucy was there with a guy, Gabriel, someone called Rupert. I hate saying this, and I know that I should never have been tasked with saying it, but I promised so here goes: Lucy is having cold feet about the marriage. She was at the club with this man and they were obviously...somewhat intimate.’

   Gabriel’s dark eyes flicked to her face and he stilled because this was hardly what he’d been expecting to hear. From anyone else, he might have wondered whether they were having him on or else overplaying something relatively innocent but, coming from his PA, those two options were ruled out immediately.

   ‘I’m sorry,’ Abby said huskily. ‘This isn’t something I want to be doing right now, but Lucy left me with little choice.’

   ‘Rupert.’

   ‘It would be far better if the two of you sat down and had a conversation about this without me in the middle being used as a go-between.’

   ‘So my fiancée is screwing someone else.’

   ‘I never said that!’

   ‘The implication is there.’ He clenched his jaw and strolled towards the vast pane of glass that occupied one side of his office and overlooked the city.

   Hand thrust into his trouser pocket, he stared out, barely registering the busy streets several storeys below.

   He should be gutted, devastated and raging with a desire to hit something or someone—Rupert at the very least, a guy he vaguely knew. Or maybe a brick wall. Something upon which he could vent his anger.

   Actually, all he felt was a certain amount of disappointment. The best laid plans, he thought.

   He felt Abby touch him gently on his shoulder and he spun round to register the concern on her smooth, oval face.

   ‘I’m very sorry,’ she said quietly. ‘I think Lucy was anxious that you would be angry with her.’

   ‘So she thought she would use you as the middle man to diffuse some of my anger?’

   ‘I guess so. She really does like you, Gabriel. She just isn’t sure that you’re the one for her, or at least that was what she told me. I wouldn’t normally have this conversation but she was desperate for me to pass on the message.’

   ‘How thoughtful of her. Since I appear to be having a break-up by proxy, what reasons did she give?’

   Abby marvelled at how well he was managing to rein in all emotion. His personality was so forceful, so unapologetically alpha male, that his composure at a time when he should have been tearing down the office was disconcerting to say the least. Not that she wasn’t relieved, because she was.

   Relieved and suddenly curious.

   Curiosity, however, wasn’t part of the package when it came to being Gabriel’s PA. Abby liked to keep her working life in one box and her private life, what little there was of it, in another.

   ‘I don’t think she liked the thought of marrying someone who spends most of his time working.’

   ‘Understandable.’

   ‘I guess in her profession, she goes out a lot, to parties and so on and so forth, and she couldn’t envisage you accompanying her to them.’

   ‘Definite point there.’

   ‘I guess she thinks she might end up with someone who isn’t fun.’

   ‘No one can deny that I enjoy work,’ Gabriel murmured, ‘Although I’m hurt that I’m seen as someone who can’t have fun.’

   ‘Gabriel, you don’t seem too...too...upset by this. She’s your fiancée! You must be breaking up inside.’

   ‘I like to imagine that I’m a resilient sort of guy, and it has to be said that it’s better that doubts cast their long shadow before the vows are taken rather than the other way around. Wouldn’t you agree?’

   ‘Yes, but...’

   ‘You want to see me weeping?’ he questioned coolly and with such self-control that Abby blushed.

   She was no romantic. She’d been through the mill and had emerged with a healthy amount of scepticism when it came to flowers, chocolates and fairy-tale endings, but she now realised that she might have downplayed her own fundamental belief that happy-ever-afters existed.

   ‘It’s none of my business how you react or don’t react.’ She shrugged, back to her normal cool. ‘I didn’t want to do this but Lucy left me very little choice. I’m sure you’ll want to get in touch with her yourself and pass the message on. I just thought that... Of course, I didn’t expect you to weep...’

   ‘My grandmother,’ he said succinctly, surprising himself, because for all his outwardly easy banter he, like the woman standing in front of him, was intensely private and was seldom lured into revealing more than he wanted to. Yet here he was...

   ‘Your grandmother?’ Abby frowned. She’d taken a surreptitious step back but she was still so close to him that she could feel his heat and the energetic, physical dynamism of his personality. He dwarfed her and very occasionally made her so intensely aware of her femininity that she had to fight to retain her self-control.

   It was happening right now as he stared down at her with unfathomable dark eyes.

   It never failed to puzzle her how someone could wear the most expensive of business suits yet manage to look nothing like a conventional businessman.

   ‘My grandmother has suffered a series of mini strokes,’ Gabriel said, as serious as she had ever seen him. ‘They have taken their toll. Despite the fact that she’s been given a clean bill of health, she has become depressed about her future, and vocal about her sadness at not seeing me settled with a nice wife who will bear me nice kids and look after me in my dotage.’

   ‘Okay...’ Abby was shocked at this admission, which took them veering wildly off the employer-employee road they were accustomed to travelling down. Perhaps this was his vulnerability being exposed, she thought, acknowledging that alongside her surprise was a certain illicit thrill that he was confiding in her. ‘What about your parents, Gabriel?’

   ‘Both dead.’ He lowered his eyes and kept to himself the recognition that, like his grandmother, his father and mother, who had enjoyed a wonderful, close marriage, likewise had been disappointed in him. First his mother, who had died leaving his father bereft, and then his father who, Gabriel often thought, had died from a broken heart, unable to cope with the fact that sudden illness had stripped him of his childhood sweetheart.

   ‘I’m so sorry.’

   ‘It was a long time ago. The fact is that I was effectively raised by my grandmother. It pains me that her one wish, to see me settled, has gone unfulfilled.’

   ‘Hence you decided to get married to Lucy.’ There was no need for her to add before it’s too late. ‘But what about love?’

   Gabriel looked at her with brooding amusement, the handsome lines of his lean face sending a rush of awareness through her body. This was the most personal conversation they had ever had and, whilst Abby told herself that she couldn’t wait to return to the business of work, she was alarmed at how much she was enjoying this rare insight into her boss’s thought processes.

   She’d met a number of his girlfriends in the past. Sexy, confident women who knew what effect they had on the opposite sex and enjoyed playing to an audience. So why Lucy out of all of them? Abby was ashamed at the pull of curiosity and she looked away.

   ‘I am no great believer in that particular emotion,’ Gabriel drawled, then he grinned and murmured in a low, silky voice, ‘But I’m beginning to think that you might be.’

   ‘Then you’d be wrong,’ Abby blurted out.

   For a few seconds time stood still as their eyes tangled and a slow drumbeat pounded inside her, drying out her mouth and scrambling her thoughts.

   ‘Poor Lucy,’ she snapped, pulling back and giving herself time to get her act together under a show of antagonism.

   ‘Because she had the misfortune to have worn my diamond on her finger?’ Gabriel was amused and vaguely aware that he was picking up vibes that were quite unlike anything he had felt before in his PA’s presence. ‘Many women would have been delighted.’

   ‘Perhaps you should have chosen one of them.’

   ‘Wouldn’t have worked.’ He grinned, inviting her to ask the inevitable, but of course she stubbornly refused to, so he added, anyway, ‘Lucy and I go back a little way and there’s one thing compelling in her favour: she comes from just the right background.’

   Abby wondered why that felt like a slap in the face. ‘I had no idea that sort of thing mattered to you, although of course it’s none of my business.’

   ‘No, it’s not,’ Gabriel purred in agreement. ‘But now that the door’s been opened, so to speak, I’d rather you’re not left with any stones unturned. Naturally, I’ll get in touch with Lucy, but she’s mistaken if she imagines I’m going to give her a hard time. She’ll get enough of that from her parents. No, I shall give her my blessing for her future life with the chinless wonder, Rupert. And, to satisfy your curiosity, I don’t care what anyone has or doesn’t have but, when it comes to the business of marriage, it makes sense to tie the knot with a woman who isn’t in it for the money.’

   Abby thought of some of the women she had met—flamboyant, seductive and definitely not out of the top drawer.

   He had said that he’d wanted to satisfy her curiosity but she discovered that, instead, he had awakened it and that dismayed her.

   ‘Now,’ he drawled, pacing the spacious office to take up residence in front of his desk, all business now in record time, ‘Down to work.’ He paused and looked at Abby as she slowly made her way to her usual position at her desk in front of him, ready for the day to begin, albeit later than was customary. ‘She should not have put you in the position she did,’ he said seriously.

   ‘She’s young.’

   ‘Which is something I failed to take into account,’ Gabriel conceded wryly. ‘That, along with the fact that she expected rather more than was on offer, even though by anyone’s standards what was on offer was a pretty good deal.’ He stared thoughtfully off into the distance. ‘Now there’s just the business of breaking it to my grandmother that the marriage of the century is off.’

   His face remained impassive but he recognised that, whilst he would fast recover from the business of his broken engagement, it would be different for his grandmother. Depression was taking its toll. She refused to leave the house and travel to London, where he could keep a watchful eye on her, but she was distancing herself from her friends, going out less and less, and it worried him.

   Gabriel’s love for his independent and strong grandmother was his one weakness. She had never understood why he couldn’t settle down.

   ‘You work too hard.’ She used to nag away at him as she bustled around, bringing him little delicacies she had cooked and treating him like the kid he no longer was. ‘You need a wife, Gabriel, children—something to come home to at the end of the day.’

   She would never understand that his father had had all that and had crumbled like a hollowed out shell the day it had been snatched away from him. She would never understand how Gabriel had watched from the sidelines and seen how love could destroy as much as it could nourish. His father had never recovered after his wife had died and that wasn’t going to be Gabriel. He was never going to position himself in the firing line, open to hurt and devastation because he’d given his body and soul to someone else.

   For him, marriage would be an arrangement, and he’d been happy to get engaged to Lucy and embark on just such an arrangement. He was thirty-four years old and the timing had been good. And, most importantly, it would have made his grandmother happy and, more than anything, Gabriel would have liked that.

   His parents had died without the grandchildren they might have expected and he was determined that his grandmother wouldn’t follow suit—he had a chance to provide great-grandchildren at least.

   But love? No. He would happily leave that to other misguided souls.

   ‘You were going to introduce her to Lucy, weren’t you?’

   ‘It’s a shame. I think they would have got along.’

   ‘What about the week we had planned there before that? Shall I cancel it?’

   ‘Why would you do that?’

   ‘Won’t you want to spend some quality time with your grandmother on your own? I know you were staying with her while I went to the hotel, but won’t work be a distraction you could do without?’

   ‘And I thought you knew me,’ Gabriel murmured.

   ‘So we go as usual?’

   ‘I will stay on after you’ve returned to London. That will please my grandmother.’

   Abby thought that it might please her but it certainly wasn’t going to make up for a broken engagement and saying goodbye to the pitter patter of little feet in due course.

   All that normal stuff that happened to normal people.

   For the first time, feelings carefully submerged burst their banks and came raging through. Memories of how her own heart had been broken, mangled and walked over, by an ex to whom she had been engaged. Memories of picking up pieces while facing the daily humiliation of carrying on in a tiny village where everyone knew everyone else and the story of her broken engagement had been headline news for months. She’d pinned a smile to her face for so long that her jaw had had a permanent ache from the strain of it. And her poor parents, so sympathetic, making sure to avoid talking about that man even though they still saw that man’s parents all the time in the village. She and Jason had been childhood sweethearts before he’d been seduced first by London, then Paris and then a sexy little blonde who’d been thrilled to nab a hot shot banker.

   She should have been turned off the whole business of love and marriage for good. Maybe the reason Jason had reared his ugly head out of the blue was because, faced with that very question, Abby had had to concede that there was still a part of her that longed for the fairy tale.

   The normal stuff that happened to normal people, even if sometimes it ended up going wrong.

   ‘Fine.’ Her voice was clipped and she smiled blandly at Gabriel in a manner that suggested that, now that the message had been delivered, it was time for normality to return.

   She’d had her heart broken but that had made her so much stronger.

   ‘My perfect, efficient PA,’ Gabriel murmured appreciatively. ‘Time for work—and there’s a lot to get through. Good to know that we’re on the same wavelength—which is why I say that work goes on as normal when we go to Seville in a few days’ time.’

   

   ‘SO...’ SETTLED IN his seat, Gabriel finally turned his attention to his companion. ‘I feel as though I haven’t spoken to you for days’

   ‘We had a long conversation yesterday about the two companies we’re going to see outside Seville,’ Abby pointed out. But he had a point. No sooner had he received the shocking news that his fiancée was no longer interested in the role than Gabriel had taken himself abroad for four days.

   ‘Inconvenient,’ he had told her in passing when she had showed up for work the day after her revelations about Lucy and Rupert. ‘But that’s what happens when you leave a boy to do a man’s job. Reynolds has screwed up with the lawyers in New York and that deal looks as though it’s going to be set back by two months if I don’t get over there and iron things out.’

   He’d emailed her the evening before, warning her of his forthcoming absence, but the office had still felt curiously empty once the door had slammed shut behind him. Needless to say, the list of things he wanted her to do was as long as her arm, but exhausted as she was at the end of each evening, she still managed to find time to speculate on his hurried departure from the office.

   On the outside, Gabriel was the essence of charm. Physically beautiful, he knew just how to charm whatever he wanted from whoever happened to be withholding it from him—and, if that ploy failed, Abby had seen first-hand how fast that easy charm could give way to steely-eyed menace that left no one in any doubt that when it came to a fight he was prepared to go for it.

   But underneath that charm, and underneath all that bluster about being fine with the break-up of his engagement, could Gabriel be hiding a vulnerable side?

   Abby found herself wasting far too much time speculating about that. It was as if boundaries had suddenly been breached and now he’d somehow managed to stick his foot in the door and wedge open a part of her she had been keen to keep firmly closed.

   Gabriel wasn’t just like any other boss. There was just too much of him for comfort.

   ‘What’s our schedule going to be?’ She pulled the conversation back into her safe comfort zone and slid calm, grey eyes over to him.

   They were on his private jet. She’d been on this jet twice and she knew that there was no relief from the intimacy of the surroundings. No hubbub of other passengers calling flight attendants for drinks, no announcements over the PA system reminding them of which countries they happened to be flying over, no distant wails of discontented toddlers. On the previous two occasions, there had at least been the distraction of several other employees who were being ferried over to work on the same deal but, even if there hadn’t been, she wouldn’t have approached the trip feeling as though she had to be careful.

   And with good reason, judging from the amused look on Gabriel’s face.

   She hurriedly averted her eyes, only to be swamped by his suffocating masculine appeal as he sprawled in the leather seat, fingers loosely linked on his lap, his dark, spiky hair combed back so that there was nothing to distract from the angular, chiselled perfection of his lean features.

   Gabriel could recognise a change of subject when he heard one and he was hearing one now. ‘Well, I have to admit that things have changed slightly, thanks to Lucy’s defection.’

   He’d spoken to Lucy, and Abby had been accurate in her retelling of his ex-fiancée’s reasons for returning the engagement ring to him.

   ‘You’re never around, Gabe,’ she had said, looking at him with such apprehension that he’d had to force himself not to click his tongue with annoyance. Since when had he turned into an intimidating monster who ate innocent young girls for breakfast?

   ‘I have a business to run,’ he had explained. ‘You’ve seen how that works. Your father is abroad a lot of the time.’

   ‘And that’s how I know that I don’t want that for myself,’ she had confided, her big, blue eyes wide. ‘Dad was always away when I was growing up and I don’t want that for my kids. I want them to have a Daddy who’s there and not always on the other side of the world. Plus, what’s the point of being married if you never get to see your husband? Gabe, we’ve been going out for seven months and I feel as though I have to book an appointment to see you.’

   Since Gabriel couldn’t argue with that, he’d maintained a tactful silence whilst she had gathered momentum and told him all the reasons why she had got cold feet, ending with a suitable apology and some hand wringing.

   Lucy had wanted more than he had it in him to give. She had made him feel a hundred years old, jaded and cynical, but that was who he was, and he was never going to change. He’d hurried into something for all the right reasons, as far as he was concerned, but he’d failed to do his homework and now he could only wish her luck, when they parted company, with Rupert the chinless wonder who had, incredibly, become a male model.

   ‘Your grandmother must have been disappointed,’ Abby said sympathetically and Gabriel tilted his head to one side and shot her a rueful smile.

   ‘I haven’t broken the news to her just yet,’ he admitted and Abby’s mouth fell open.

   ‘You haven’t told her?’

   ‘I thought it made more sense to do something like that face to face. Her health isn’t great. The less time she has to brood over the great-grandchildren that won’t be happening, the better.’

   ‘So she still thinks that you’re going over there on business and in a week’s time Lucy will be joining you, the happy, radiant bride-to-be?’

   ‘I never thought you could be so judgemental,’ Gabriel said, unperturbed. He grinned. ‘I’ll be honest.’ He leaned a little towards her and Abby automatically drew back. ‘Ava refuses to go near a computer. I think the top-of-the-range one I bought her a year ago is currently rusting from lack of use, despite the fact that I spent half a day teaching her how to use it and left written instructions on sticky notes at the side. She also can’t get her head around mobile phones and has yet to master text messaging. So, for practical reasons, face to face was always going to be the best method of delivery when it comes to the bad news.’

   ‘She’ll be shocked,’ Abby murmured, thinking about how shocked her own parents had been when she’d told them the news about her broken engagement. ‘Parents get their hopes up and then, when they’re disappointed, it’s almost worse for them than for...the child on the receiving end of the broken engagement.’ Her eyes misted over and she blinked the memory away.

   Addled, she stared down at her tablet and frantically tapped so that she could access the reports she had worked on, anything to focus Gabriel’s attention on work, because she could feel those dark eyes of his boring into her.

   ‘You’re probably right,’ Gabriel murmured. ‘Parents do get their hopes up. And grandparents as well, of course.’

   His shrewd eyes noted the way she was fiddling with the tablet. In a second she was going to shove something in front of him, a timely reminder to keep his distance. But something had changed between them and maybe, because he was a little unsettled by the business with Lucy, he couldn’t help liking the frisson he felt in Abby’s company. Maybe it was the element of distraction but she was occupying his mind in ways she hadn’t done previously.

   He was curious about her. He had to admit that it wasn’t for the first time. When she’d first started working for him, he’d been curious about her, curious about that wall of permanent reserve she had around her, as though she’d erected a fortress complete with invisible ‘no trespass’ signs. Innocuous questions were met with bland replies and non-answers but, of course, she’d settled in and he’d quickly realised that he’d found himself the most efficient PA he could ever have hoped for. Given his chequered history when it came to PAs, he’d shelved all curiosity, because a good PA was worth her weight in gold and he wasn’t about to jeopardise his good fortune by being nosy.

   But now...

   He looked at the sensible dark-grey trouser suit which screamed ‘no nonsense’.

   ‘Was that what you found?’ he asked and Abby looked at him sharply.

   ‘Sorry, but I’m not following you.’

   Gabriel murmured piously, ‘It’s just that you seemed to be speaking from experience just then. When,’ he elaborated to forestall any puzzled frowns, ‘You said that parents and grandparents were often more upset by this sort of thing than the person actually going through it. So...were you speaking from experience?’

   ‘Of course not,’ Abby blustered, for once not her usual unflappable self. ‘I just meant,’ she added with a sudden urge to give him a taste of his own medicine, ‘That your grandmother is going be so upset, when you say that she was looking forward to you settling down, and she’ll be even more upset because you really don’t seem that bothered at all.’

   Gabriel grinned with open enjoyment which, Abby thought with some frustration, completely defeated the object of the exercise.

   ‘Yet I’m sure she’ll agree that it’s better to have been ditched at the aisle than ditched post-vows.’

   ‘I’m sure Lucy would have been a devoted wife if she’d married you.’

   The smile faded from Gabriel’s lips at the sincerity in her voice. ‘Doubtless,’ he drawled, half-closing his eyes and affording Abby a bird’s eye view of his lush, dark lashes which would have been the envy of any woman. ‘But, bearing in mind the disappointment she would have found at the end of the rainbow, I very much doubt her devotion would have been long lasting.’

   ‘Why?’ Abby heard herself ask. She was inviting just the sort of out-of-bounds conversation she had sworn to avoid but she couldn’t seem to help herself.

   Gabriel opened his eyes and looked at her lazily, his head tilted to one side as though he was debating the pros and cons of providing her with an answer to her question.

   ‘Forget I asked,’ Abby said stiffly. ‘I’m not paid to ask personal questions.’

   ‘Oh, for God’s sake, Abby...’

   ‘Well, I’m not!’ Her mild grey eyes glinted.

   ‘Do you avoid asking me questions because you don’t want me to ask you any?’

   ‘I avoid asking you questions, Gabriel, because, like I said, it’s not part of my job remit.’

   ‘Yet you probably know more about me than any other woman,’ he mused. ‘Maybe you know so much that you haven’t got any questions to ask. After all, you have to admit that I’m an open book.’

   ‘You’re impossible.’ She paused. ‘And you’re not an open book.’

   ‘You’ve known every single woman I’ve ever dated since you started working for me,’ Gabriel pointed out, enjoying the titillating undercurrent to their conversation, which he suspected she wished she’d never prolonged.

   ‘I’ve hardly known them,’ Abby said drily. ‘Yes, I’ve made arrangements for the theatre, and restaurants and the opera, and, yes, a couple of them have come into the office at some point or other.’

   ‘Not at my request.’ Gabriel enjoyed a varied and plentiful love life but he’d always, with the exception of Lucy, disapproved of women dropping in to see him at the office. It was a level of familiarity on a par with doing a food shop together, cooking or watching television. Not to be encouraged.

   ‘But you’re far from being an open book,’ she finished briskly. ‘You’re happy to be very transparent when it comes to some things but extremely opaque when it comes to others.’

   Gabriel thought that she couldn’t have summed him up more accurately if she’d tried, and for a few seconds he frowned, uncomfortable at that.

   ‘Like I said,’ he drawled, ‘You know me better than anyone else.’

   ‘That’s because, through necessity, I spend an awful lot of time in your company.’

   ‘Angling for a pay rise, Abby?’

   Abby blushed. He was playing with her and she had to accept that she’d encouraged that by stepping into private territory which was normally out of bounds.

   She also had to concede that when he spoke to her like that, his sexy voice deep, rich and velvety, a pleasurable tingle unfurled inside her. Yes, it was inappropriate, but it couldn’t be helped.

   No wonder women fell for the guy like ninepins. He oozed easy charm, and when he turned it on thinking straight suddenly became very difficult.

   ‘Far from it.’ She located the reports waiting to be read and made a show of staring at them. If they hadn’t been flickering on her tablet, she would busied herself rustling paper to get her point across. ‘I’m not at all unhappy with my pay. Everyone in this business sector knows how generous you are when it comes to salaries.’

   ‘No price too steep for loyalty,’ Gabriel agreed. ‘And in the world of technology, where secrets are begging to be shared with hungry competitors, loyalty is a valuable commodity. You’re tapping your finger on your tablet. Is that your way of telling me that it’s time we started talking about work?’ He laughed softly and the hairs on the back of Abby’s neck curled. ‘Okay, off you go. I can tell you’re dying to tell me what’s in those reports of yours you’re staring so hard at.’

   Abby spun to look at him and breathed in deeply. In this mood, he unnerved her, made her forget the boundaries between them, and if she knew that she was partly to blame then that didn’t matter. What mattered was the importance of the lines she had drawn between them from the very first day she’d started working for him.

   It wasn’t just because she knew the fate of the PAs who had preceded her, all shot down in flames for overstepping the line because. She’d gathered he’d always enjoyed having a pretty face around, and naturally, in the end, all those pretty faces had not been able to resist the lure of their sexy, charming boss. He had a special way of talking to you, a way that made you feel as though you were the only human being on earth he was interested in.

   Abby had seen that in action when she’d been doing something as harmless as reporting on a conversation she might have had about some deal or other, or suggestions she might have had about some of the programmes one of his many companies was developing—because he always encouraged suggestions, which was just one of the many ways he involved his employees and made them feel invaluable.

   But now this...

   This was different and it felt dangerous because he wasn’t talking to her about work.

   Abby had no intention of dropping her guard any more than she already had and, the sooner she filled him in on that, the better.

   Because she’d always privately maintained that she was immune to his charm. She’d been jettisoned by a guy who’d been cute and charming and she knew better than to be taken in by someone like that again. Especially when she’d seen first-hand how many women were suckers for a man like Gabriel. She’d done far too much end-of-relationship flower-buying on his behalf, thank you very much!

   But he was in a strange place, even if he wouldn’t admit it, and it would seem, the devil was working on idle hands because that low-level teasing disturbed her. It was like having a feather brushed against her skin, giving her goose bumps, tickling her in places that made her blush.

   Of course, he would return to normal soon enough, but just in case he decided that breaching the boundaries could become a permanent thing she felt that it was up to her to speak her mind.

   She cleared her throat and looked him squarely in the eye.

   ‘I feel uncomfortable saying this.’ She hesitated, unsettled by his eyes which, now that she was staring into their depths, she noticed were the deepest and darkest of navy blue. ‘But since we’re going to be working with one another for the next week...’

   ‘Nothing new there, Abby.’

   ‘Yes, I know, but this is a little different. I realise I won’t be staying with you in a hotel because you’ll be at your grandmother’s place, but we won’t be in our...our...’

   ‘Usual territory?’ Gabriel inserted helpfully, intrigued by where this was leading.

   ‘So things seem to have altered a little between us and I get that. I have never been involved in your private life before, not really, but I have been recently, through no fault of my own.’ She glanced away because the intensity of his gaze was making her hot and bothered. She wished he’d say something but, perversely, he was silent, waiting for her to carry on or maybe, she thought, waiting for her to trip up with the tangled speech she’d begun without thinking through first.

   ‘And for that I apologise,’ Gabriel said seriously, eventually.

   Their eyes met and there was a moment of perfect understanding between them. Beneath that grave tone, he was amused, and she knew it. She shot him a fulminating look of frustration and his lips twitched but he looked away, the thick fringe of his lashes concealing his expression.

   ‘Apology accepted,’ Abby said. ‘But what I feel I must say is that I don’t feel comfortable...er...er...’

   Gabriel raised his eyebrows in an unspoken question and she gritted her teeth.

   ‘I don’t enjoy talking about my private life,’ she finished lamely.

   ‘I didn’t think we were, Abby.’

   ‘I have every sympathy for you, and I really feel for you having to break the news about Lucy to your grandmother, but I think we should move on and re-establish our...our...’

   ‘Why are you so scared about opening up?’ Gabriel asked softly and Abby was rattled enough to glare at him.

   ‘That’s exactly what I mean!’ she cried. She was shocked when she slammed down the leather lid of her tablet.

   Gabriel was fascinated. Somewhere, in the back of his mind, he’d registered that she was attractive enough but her whole face right now was alive with emotion. Her grey eyes had darkened, her full mouth was downturned in a pout of frustration and her cheeks were flushed.

   Just like that, he wondered what she would look like naked. Naked on a bed, flushed from making love.

   His mouth tightened and he shifted. ‘Message received loud and clear, Abby,’ he told her tightly. ‘Strangely, what you call an infringement of your privacy, most normal people call good manners and polite curiosity. But, if you’d rather we stick exclusively to work-related issues, then that’s fine with me.’

   ‘Thank you,’ she said tautly.

   ‘I’ve already read all those reports you want to get through.’

   ‘You have?’

   ‘You emailed them to me yesterday.’

   ‘And you’ve been in meetings most of the day.’

   ‘It doesn’t take me long to sift through the waffle and get to the bits that matter.’ Without further ado, he began talking work. In depth. It was exactly what she had demanded, and she had no idea why she was suddenly disappointed that she’d put an end to their little foray into a less structured relationship.

   Did she really want him asking her lots of personal questions? No! Did she want to be hostage to all sort of peculiar, inappropriate sensations because he happened to turn all that lazy male charm onto her? No! Because he was in an odd place didn’t mean that he could entertain himself at her expense because there had been a temporary fissure in their usual rigid working relationship.

   Once upon a time, when she’d been young, naïve and planning her happy-ever-after with Jason, she’d been open and trusting, but since then she’d erected more protective barriers than the Bank of England and she wasn’t going to let them be demolished by her boss.

   Abby didn’t know why she felt the need to maintain all those barriers, because Gabriel had been right when he’d said that his questions weren’t intrusive. They were just normal conversation between two people who happened to spend the majority of their waking hours together.

   It was just that there was a quality of danger that clung to him. She’d sensed it as soon as she’d started working for him—an unpredictable charisma about him that could seduce the unwary, and it went far beyond the killer looks and the sharp intellect.

   So she’d built her defence system even though she knew that he would never look at her twice anyway. She’d seen his girlfriends and they weren’t average-looking women in their twenties with brown hair and grey eyes. They were voluptuous sex sirens, with the exception of Lucy, who had been so spectacularly pretty that when they were together it was almost a crime not to take a photo.

   Abby surfaced to find him neatly concluding his monologue on the various legal loopholes they would have to look out for when they went to see his client the following day, and telling her to buckle up.

   ‘I’ll stop by my grandmother,’ he explained as the jet began its descent, and Abby gazed out of the window, then turned to look at him.

   ‘Fine.’ She nodded. ‘I have the address of the hotel. I’ll get a cab there, shall I? And when we’re not working I’m very happy to busy myself following up with the usual reports on what’s been said so that you have everything to hand fairly immediately.’

   ‘Very efficient,’ Gabriel murmured. ‘But I think it would be nice for you to meet Ava when we get there. When I disappear for hours on work-related business, she’ll at least know who I’m with.’

   ‘What else might she think you’re doing?’

   Gabriel dealt her a slashing smile. ‘Who knows? She might think that a man with a broken heart might be looking for someone to help fix it.’

   Abby reddened. Following on logically from that point, she could only conclude that, once Ava met her, her mind would be set at rest that her grandson was actually disappearing off to work because there was no way he could be doing anything else with someone like Abby.

   She was in no doubt that he would certainly be looking for some sticking plaster in the form of his usual glamorous sex bombs just as soon as they returned to London.

   ‘You must have spoken a great deal about Lucy,’ Abby said conversationally, because they were landing and the silence was begging to be filled. Gabriel shot her a sideways glance.

   ‘Virtually nothing,’ he confessed. ‘My grandmother disapproves of the women I tend to date.’

   ‘She’s met them?’

   ‘One or two. The rest she’s seen in various gossip columns. Her opinion seems to have stuck in a time warp roughly three years ago when I broke up with a glamour model who proceeded to do a kiss-and-tell story to one of the tabloids. I’m afraid she tarred and feathered the women who came after with the same brush as airheads willing to cash in on my name.’

   Abby didn’t say anything but she was on his grandmother’s side, even though there had been no kiss-and-tell stories while she’d been working for him.

   He stood up and Abby preceded him out of the plane, to be hit by a warm blast of air that momentarily took her breath away. ‘So I thought that the less said, the better.’

   He flushed darkly because the truth of the matter was he saw less of his grandmother than he should do, and spoke less to her than he ought to. It honestly hadn’t occurred to him to launch into a lengthy touchy-feely conversation about Lucy, which wasn’t his style anyway. And it was hardly as though the engagement had been a long-standing one. Four and a half weeks ago he had sat back in his chair in one of the top restaurants in central London and watched as she’d opened the box containing the diamond ring and gasped suitably.

   She had slipped the six figures’ worth of ring onto her finger, her eyes had grown teary and she had said, as it turned out with complete and utter honesty, that she’d had no idea...

   Abby gave him a jaundiced look from under her lashes, and it hit him that she had to be the only woman in the world so openly sceptical of his motivations and so open about expressing it. She might give him long lectures about guidelines being kept and barriers not being breached, but she was kidding herself if she thought that those barriers weren’t breached on a daily basis by that very way she had of looking at him, as she had just then.

   ‘Did you send her pictures?’ she asked, stepping into the long car waiting for them at the airfield. ‘She surely must have been curious about the woman who was going to be your wife?’

   ‘I’ve only been engaged for a month or so, Abby. Maybe I should have tasked you with the job of filling my grandmother in on all the details, bearing in mind I’ve been out of the country more than I care to think over the past few weeks.’

   ‘I would never have done that!’

   ‘No.’ He shrugged. ‘As it turns out, it’s just as well that there were no photos sent. My grandmother knows about the engagement but that’s about it. No details and, in fairness, her health has been poor, so she’s not been as much on the ball as she usually would be.’

   Abby looked at him narrowly and felt her pulses quicken as that illicit, forbidden thrill she’d felt earlier swooped through her in a rush. ‘Are you saying that she has no idea who Lucy is at all?’

   ‘Like I said,’ Gabriel intoned silkily, ‘I was hoping for a pleasant surprise. I was going to do the introduction with a flourish.’ He looked through the window, frowning. ‘Just as well, in a way, that she never met Lucy, didn’t even know her name and certainly didn’t ask for photos so that she could start picturing what the great-grandchildren would look like.’

   He sighed and Abby looked at him, seeing the crack in his self-assurance. He’d said practically nothing to the woman who meant so much to him, She wondered whether, subconsciously, he had been as hesitant about Lucy as Lucy had been about him, in the end. Had he ticked all the right boxes, yet known that no amount of ticking could take the place of love and what it brought to a union?

   ‘I’m sure she’ll take it on the chin.’ Abby resorted to cheerful optimism and Gabriel turned to her with a grin.

   ‘We’ll find out soon enough. I, personally, have always found that it’s easy to accept what you can’t change.’

   Their eyes tangled and she couldn’t tear her gaze away. She felt suddenly lost, drowning in the deep, dark depths, and when she did manage to look away her nerves were all over the place and she had to inhale deeply, sucking the air in like a drowning man gasping for oxygen.

   They were soon in the town and she was relieved when he began talking to her about the city. Her nerves calmed. They had left behind the cool, grey skies of London and the dense, crowded pavements. Here, the sky was milky blue and the sun was bright but with the pleasant coolness of a fine spring day. There were people everywhere as the sleek, black car navigated the picturesque roads of the town but no sense of claustrophobia. The buildings were beautiful, faded sepia and yellow, the architecture graceful. It was a town that was conducive to meandering.

   ‘Will your driver wait to take me to the hotel?’ she asked when he informed her that they would be at his grandmother’s house in under fifteen minutes.

   ‘He’ll do what I tell him to,’ Gabriel responded with the sort of casual arrogance that she found annoying and weirdly endearing in equal measure. A short while later, he announced, ‘And here we are.’

   The city had been left behind, replaced by tall trees and a cool, forested area speckled with houses, each standing in its own grounds.

   ‘The residents here enjoy their privacy,’ Gabriel said with satisfaction. ‘And they’ve been prepared to pay for it. It’s designed with interesting short cuts between the properties so that the neighbours can visit one another, and there’s a golf course surrounding the entire compound like a bracelet. All in all, this has been a great investment.’

   ‘It belongs to you?’

   ‘Are you impressed?’

   ‘I thought you concentrated on buying and selling companies and in technology and communication,’ she said frankly.

   ‘I’m a man of varied interests,’ he said smoothly, in response. ‘There’s nothing I won’t try my hand at.’ With rare introspection he wondered if that was why he had guiltily plunged into an ill-fated engagement to please his grandmother and was now facing the prospect of letting her down without warning.

   Because he would try his hand at anything in business, the riskier the venture the better, but that was where his thirst for adventure stopped. Maybe now it was time to admit to his grandmother that he was never going to give her the fairy story she’d always wanted for him.

   

   ABBY DIDN’T KNOW what to expect when the car finally pulled up in front of a low, sprawling villa with a plantation-style feel. Shallow steps led up to a wide veranda, on which was an arrangement of chairs and tables. On either side of the house, manicured lawns gave way to thick, colourful foliage and sweeping trees that cast shadows over the courtyard.

   Gabriel’s hand was poised to ring the doorbell when the door was pulled open, and he looked down at his grandmother who was in her Sunday best and had obviously been glued to the window, waiting for his arrival.

   Behind him, he knew that Abby was hovering.

   Gabriel knew that he should have tackled the business of his broken engagement earlier, flown over as soon as he’d known that there was not going to be a wedding, sat down and explained it to her. She was thinner than he remembered, and she was smiling broadly, tugging him inside, but there was a frailty about her that was a little alarming.

   How was she going to take what he had to say?

   He’d been in weekly contact with her doctor, although she was unaware of that, and he knew that stress was something she had to avoid.

   ‘And depression,’ her consultant had said to him. Gabriel had never known his grandmother to be depressed but now he wasn’t so sure.

   ‘Here at last!’ Ava was doing her best to peer round her grandson. ‘I’ve been counting down, nipote caro.’

   ‘I have been busy.’ Gabriel immediately launched into a guilty apology. ‘My feet have barely touched the ground in the past couple of months...’

   ‘Well, I’m sure that young lady of yours is going to do something about that,’ Ava chided, finally circling Gabriel and inquisitively looking at Abby, who had not followed her boss in but was sticking close to the courtyard because she didn’t foresee a protracted visit. ‘Won’t you, mio caro?’

   Abby’s mouth opened. Ava was tiny, her dark eyes bright and curious, her grey hair cut into a short, sharp bob which should have made her seem severe, but didn’t, because she had a face that was creased with laughter lines. She had greeted Gabriel in Italian but now switched to English, which was heavily accented but excellent.

   ‘Are you going to do the introductions?’ Ava half-turned to Gabriel, who towered over her. ‘I’ve never known you to be rude, Gabriel!’

   ‘Abby.’ Gabriel obliged, half-occupied with something on his phone so that he glanced up but briefly. ‘This is Ava, my indomitable grandmother, who runs rings round me every time I come here to visit.’

   ‘Which isn’t nearly often enough.’ Ava reached to take Abby’s hand, tugging her into the hallway. ‘Even as a little boy,’ she confided, leading the way into the house as Abby cast a backward glance at the sleek car which should have been driving her to her hotel. The driver was standing in the sun, leaning against the car, scrolling through his phone.

   ‘He was always in a hurry.’

   ‘Who? Sorry, what?’ The front door had closed. Abby met Gabriel’s eyes over Ava’s head and recognised instantly that there would be little assistance coming from that direction because he was still frowning at his phone—which was downright rude,all things considered.

   ‘Gabriel, dear. I expect you know my husband and I brought him up after his parents, God rest their souls, died prematurely. It was never a burden. He was a joy.’

   ‘He’s hardly a joy now,’ Abby was tempted to say with a rebellious streak of wickedness. ‘Picking up a phone call when he has so much he wants to say to you.

   Gabriel grinned and raised his eyebrows. ‘You sound like a wife,’ he drawled. ‘And a shrewish one at that.’

   Ava clapped her hands and burst out laughing, delighted at this exchange because, Abby thought, huffing at the amused glint in Gabriel’s eyes, she was unaware of the undercurrent.

   Gabriel picked up where he had left off, moving to lean into her, his mouth close to her ear, which made her shiver and go hot. ‘Maybe that’s what happens when two people spend so much time together. Think that’s it?’

   ‘I’m tired,’ Abby whispered back pointedly. ‘Isn’t it about time I get to the hotel? You can email me whatever work you want me to do tonight.’

   ‘No rush.’ Gabriel’s deep, dark eyes met hers and Abby thought with a little frisson of panic that the quicker she got to her hotel, the better. But Ava was leading the way into a sitting room and a maid had appeared from nowhere with a tray of little nibbles and an ornate silver pot of coffee.

   ‘I have a selection of teas as well.’ Ava patted a sofa and Abby somehow found herself sinking into it. ‘And cold drinks. Or would you be happy with coffee?’

   Конец ознакомительного фрагмента.


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