Caterer Misty Carlton is in serious trouble.
Her business is on the rocks and the only man who can save her is Leone Andracchi an arrogant, infuriating and temptingly hot Sicilian tycoon. Leone knows exactly how precarious Misty’s situation is and he’s about to take advantage of it. He offers her a deal that seems deceptively easy. Misty plays obedient mistress to Leone strictly hands off, of course, and only for the sake of the public eye. In return for keeping up the charade, Misty gets a sizable chunk of cash and gets to keep her business. What Misty doesn’t know is that she’s part of a revenge scheme, aimed at discrediting her biological father. The hands-off factor is becoming a problem because every time Misty and Leone begin arguing heatedly, their bodies and lips take over. Sure, it makes for great press but how can Misty lust for someone she so thoroughly despises?
LEONE ANDRACCHI lounged back in his comfortable leather chair and surveyed the woman whom he would use as a weapon in his quest for revenge.
Across the busy room, Misty Carlton was keeping her catering staff hard at work dispensing refreshments. She wore her copper hair in a no-nonsense style. Her grey suit and sensible shoes were neither feminine nor flattering and her pale face was unadorned by make-up. Her whole appearance suggested a businesslike and serious young woman keen not to draw attention to her sex, and her cover seemed to work for Leone had yet to see a single one of his executives attempt to flirt with her.
Was every man in the room with the exception of himself blind? Did only he see the promise of those silver-grey eyes and the voluptuous fullness of that lush pink mouth? Dressed in appropriate clothing, she would be stunning, far more arresting than any conventional beauty for her colouring gave her a fey, sensual quality that was unusual. He was already picturing her slender curves embellished by silk lingerie and her long, slim, coltish legs sheathed in cobweb-fine stockings and complemented by very high heels. She was tall but he was taller still and she would not need to wear flat shoes around him. A self-mocking smile lurked in the depths of Leone’s dark-as-night eyes as he conceded that he had yet to mentally clothe her beyond the level of her undergarments. But then he was a Sicilian to the backbone and all Sicilian men knew how to truly appreciate an attractive woman.
Within a couple of weeks at most, Misty Carlton would be one of the most talked-about women in London. As his mistress, she’d find her name would hit the gossip columns and the paparazzi would go digging into her background and if their quest was inefficient, he would ensure that a tip was dropped in the right quarter. Having established her identity to his own satisfaction, he had left the revealing links in place. Indeed, everything that would happen in the near future had been decided almost six months earlier when he had first found her and worked out how best to lure her into the position of a sitting duck waiting for him to take aim and fire. Which was right where she was at this particular moment, Leone savoured.
Misty Carlton was the illegitimate daughter of the man against whom Leone had sworn vengeance in his sister’s name: Oliver Sargent. The smooth-talking politician, who had founded his reputation as a respectable family man by preaching moral standards and who lived an exceedingly nice life on his inherited wealth. Oliver Sargent, who was a hypocrite, a seducer of teenagers and ultimately little better than a murderer. Oliver Sargent, who had left Battista to die alone in the shattered remnants of her car sooner than call the emergency services and risk a scandal.
Leone’s dark, chiselled face was sombre. Though it was almost a year since his sister’s funeral, Leone’s gut still twisted with pain whenever he allowed himself to remember how Battista’s life had been wilfully, cruelly and mercilessly sacrificed. The doctors had told him that had she been discovered sooner she might have survived the crash. That summer, she had only been nineteen years old, a politics student doing research work on Sargent’s staff.
A beautiful, idealistic girl with bright brown eyes, long black curly hair and a very trusting nature. Within weeks of her beginning her volunteer placement, Leone had been heartily sick of the sound of Sargent’s name but it had not occurred to him that a bad case of hero worship might put Battista at risk. After all, Oliver Sargent was a married man and a quarter of a century older than his kid sister. He had overlooked the fact that Sargent was a handsome charmer, who could easily pass for being a great deal younger than he actually was.
Unaware of quite how intimidating his grim expression was, Leone focused in some surprise on the pastries being offered to him, for the almond biscuits and custard tarts were traditional Sicilian treats. The slender hand holding the plate was shaking almost imperceptibly but his gaze was keen. He glanced up into Misty Carlton’s drawn face, recognising the marks of strain there in the bluish shadows beneath her eyes and the tense set of her delicate jawbone. She had brown lashes as long as a child’s and she was trembling. But then she was desperate. He knew that for he had planned it that way. She was on the very brink of losing the business that she had worked so hard to build up. He held her in the palm of his hand.
‘Thank you,’ Leone murmured, dark deep drawl rather mocking for if she fondly imagined that he was likely to be impressed by so unsubtle an attempt at downright flattery, she was very much mistaken. Contracts were awarded on the basis of price, efficiency and reliability and, whether she liked it or not and through no fault of his, she had broken more than one of the basic rules of setting up a new business. ‘Nucatoli and pasta ciotti. What a pleasant surprise. You are spoiling me.’
A tiny betraying pulse was flickering like mad just below her fragile collar-bone, drawing his attention to the fine, delicate skin of her throat. ‘I like to experiment…that’s all,’ Misty said breathlessly.
She was all of a quiver and her body language screamed at him: the dilated dark pupils, the flush on her cheeks, the moist pink of her parted lips. He turned her on and, had he not known what he did know about her, he might have believed that she was too innocent to hide those sexual signals of availability. But he knew better, felt free to assume that, had the room been empty, he might have pulled her down onto his lap and explored that quivering, slender body so hot and eager for his with her willing encouragement. His own sex threatened to betray him with primitive male urgency but he thought about revenge instead and his blood cooled fast. He had no intention of bedding Oliver Sargent’s daughter. She would be his mistress in name only.
‘Don’t we all?’ Leone quipped with husky suggestiveness and bit into a tiny custard tart that melted in his mouth, while she hovered like a submissive handmaiden to one side of him. A faint sardonic smile curved his masculine lips. He liked her stance. He was an old-fashioned guy and the pastry was delicious. Maybe in her spare time she would be able to occupy herself in his kitchen. Eager to please, she certainly was. Though someone ought to have warned her that even a hint of nervous desperation was likely to alert clients to an unsound business.
‘It’s good,’ Leone told her softly.
The big silver-grey eyes lit up with a surge of relief and pride. He had an erotic image of her spread across his bed in the drowsing heat of a Sicilian afternoon, glorious red hair cascading in a tangle, lush pink mouth begging for his while she writhed and moaned with pleasure beneath his expert hands. Sadly, it was not to be, he reminded himself, exasperated by the predictable effects of his own powerful libido.
She poured his coffee with her own hands. He wondered if her rock-star lover had appreciated those little touches of essential femininity calculated to make even the wimpiest male feel as though he could go out and club a lion to death before dragging it back to the connubial cave to impress her in turn. She was no fragile little flower, though. The file on her had turned up quite a few surprises for she might be only twenty-two, but she had led a chequered life and one that might have inspired his compassion had she not, it seemed, been guilty of fleecing a little old lady out of her savings. Behind those mist-coloured eyes lurked a greedy little schemer with a heart of stone.