The personal assistant: When Sara caught her fiance being unfaithful with her cousin, she felt doubly betrayed. Her boss: Almost miraculously, Alex Rossini was on hand to help Sara pick up the pieces. However, having worked for Alex for some time now, she knew he never did anything without expecting something in return. So why was she surprised when he revealed that he was prepared to pay the cost of having her – be it money or marriage? Business or pleasure? Sara wanted Alex so badly, she would have given herself to him with no strings attached. But in order to win Alex, she would have to play his game and choose her price….
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SARA paid off the taxi in a breathless rush and raced up the stairs to the flat she shared with Antonia. Had they been burgled? Had someone in the family had an accident? Worse still, had something happened to Brian? Her imagination had gone into overdrive since she had received Antonia’s message at work.
‘Miss Dalton said you had to come home immediately, that it was very urgent,’ the girl on the switchboard had stressed anxiously. ‘I hope it isn’t bad news, Miss Lacey. She wouldn’t even wait for me to put her call through.’
Crossing the landing at speed, Sara unlocked the door of the flat. It was a disorientating experience. Loud music assaulted her ears. Phil Collins’ latest album was playing full blast. A single electric-blue court shoe lay abandoned like a question mark on the hall carpet.
‘Antonia?’ Sara called, a quick frown of bewilderment drawing her fine brows together as she glanced into the empty lounge. The bedroom door was ajar. She pressed it back.
‘Antonia?’ she said again, and only then did she see the half-naked couple passionately entangled on the rumpled bed.
‘Sara?’ her cousin squealed as she reeled up, her honeyblonde hair wildly mussed up, her pink mouth swollen, pale blue eyes wide with horror.
In the very act of embarrassed retreat, Sara froze. Her attention had lodged on the tousled male head lifting off the white pillows. Recognition hit her like a punch in the stomach. Cruel fingers clutched at her heart and her lungs, tripping her heartbeat, depriving her of the air she needed to breathe.
‘Oh, my God…’ Brian groaned, grabbing up his shirt and rolling off the bed in one appalled movement.
Antonia was frantically struggling back into her blouse. ‘Why the hell aren’t you at work?’ she screamed.
‘You phoned…left a message that I was to come home,’ Sara framed unevenly, not even recognising the distant voice that emerged from her bloodless lips as her own.
‘I phoned? Are you crazy?’ Antonia shrieked furiously. ‘Whoever phoned, you can be sure it wasn’t me!’
‘You bitch, Toni!’ Brian bit out in stricken condemnation. ‘You deliberately set me up—’
‘Don’t be stupid!’ Antonia hissed, but then without warning defiance replaced her angry discomfiture. She rested malicious blue eyes on Sara, who was already backing away on legs that were threatening to fold beneath her. ‘But I did warn you that Brian was mine for the asking…didn’t I?’
‘No…’ Brian’s voice wavered weakly as his gaze collided with Sara’s shattered green eyes—pools of stark pain in the dead white stillness of her triangular face. He made a sudden move towards her, both hands raised and extended as if to draw her back to him. ‘This has never happened before, Sara…I swear it!’
Sara turned jerkily away and fled. She nearly fell down the last flight of stairs—Brian’s frantic calls from the landing above acted on her like a trip-wire. Blocking him out, she steadied herself with one shaking hand on the dingy wall and made herself breathe in slowly and deeply before she walked back out onto the street.
Antonia and Brian. Brian and Antonia. She stared down numbly at the ring on her engagement finger. Her stomach lurched in violent protest. Six weeks off the wedding day…her cousin and her fiancé. It was as if the world had stopped turning suddenly, flinging her off into frightening free fall. She was in shock—so deep in shock that she couldn’t even think. But her memory was relentlessly throwing up scraps of dialogue from the recent past.
‘Brian chose you like he chooses his shirts…you’ve got to look good at the company dinners and wear a long time!’ Antonia had sniped.
‘Three years ago I could have lifted one little finger and Brian would have come running…He really had it bad for me.’ Antonia had savoured the words.
Sara squared her narrow shoulders, caught a glimpse of herself in a shop window and stared. She saw a small woman with black hair worn in a tidy French plait, dressed in an unexciting navy business suit and white blouse. No competition for a five-foot-ten-inch blonde who had once made it between the covers of Vogue. She felt as if she was dying inside. She didn’t know what to do, where to go.
A bus was drawing up at the stop several yards away and she started to run. Her dazed eyes skimmed over the man standing in a nearby doorway. He turned his head abruptly, making her wonder if she looked as odd as she felt. She didn’t notice that the man swiftly fell into step behind her and climbed on the same bus.
‘Do we have to have Antonia as a bridesmaid? My mother can’t stand her,’ Brian had complained peevishly.
‘She’s a real tart,’ he had muttered with distaste. ‘No decent woman would take her clothes off for money…
Still with the same man tracking patiently in her wake, but quite unaware of his presence, Sara wandered back into the hugely impressive London headquarters of Rossini Industries. When the receptionist on the penultimate floor addressed her, Sara didn’t hear her. Blind and deaf, she was moving on automatic pilot. She entered the spacious office which she shared with Pete Hunniford. It was empty. Pete’s wife had gone into labour mid-morning, she recalled then. It was like remembering something that had happened a lifetime ago.