EMMA had been honest—had even admitted during her telephone interview that she was attending night school on a Wednesday night and studying art and that in a couple of years she was hoping to pursue it full-time.
Everything had gone really well, until the second Evelyn had walked out to greet Emma—and Emma truly didn’t understand why.
She’d prepared so carefully for the interview. Reading everything she could get her hands on about D’Amato Financiers—about their spectacular rise, even in gloomy times. Luca D’Amato had a no-nonsense attitude—there was no secret formula to his success, she had read in a rare interview he had given—just sound decisions and fiscal transparency and the refusal to be swayed by hype. Yes, she’d read up on him and then gone through her favourite glossy magazines and followed every last piece of advice in preparation for this afternoon.
Emma had scoured the second-hand shops and found a stunning—if just a touch tight for her well-rounded figure—pale lilac linen designer suit, had had her thick brown ringlets blowdried straight and smoothed up into a smart French roll, and, horribly broke, she had, on the afternoon of her interview, as one magazine had cheek-ily advised, gone to the make-up counter at a department store and pretended that she was a bride-to-be and trying out looks for her wedding day.
Her brothers had always teased her about her obsession with magazines and her father had moaned about how many she had bought, but they had been her life-line. Growing up without a mother, living in a rough-and-tumble house that the little girls she’d invited to come over and play had never returned to, Emma had lived her childhood and teenage years reading the glossies for advice, about friends and bullying and boys. It was the magazines that had taught her about deodorant and kisses and bras. The magazines she had turned to when at twelve she had been teased for having hairy legs. And though her devotion to them had waned somewhat, at the ripe age of twenty-four it had been the magazines she had immediately turned to for make-up and grooming tips to land her dream job.
She looked fantastic, just the image she had been hoping to achieve—smart, sassy, groomed—exactly the right look for a modern working girl in the city.
Evelyn clearly didn’t agree.
Her interviewer was dressed in a stern grey suit, with black flat shoes. Her fine blonde hair was cut into a neat, practical bob and she wore just a reluctant sliver of coral lipstick. The antithesis, in fact, of the look Emma had been trying to achieve!
‘And Mr D’Amato would also prefer someone who speaks Japanese…’ Evelyn continued.
‘It didn’t say that in the advertisement,’ Emma pointed out. ‘And you didn’t mention it when we spoke on the telephone.’
‘Luca—I mean Mr D’Amato—does not like to put too many specifications in the advertisements for one reason, and I rather agree…’ she gave a small sniff ‘…that when the right person appears, we know.’
Well, there wasn’t much Emma could say to that— clearly at first glance it had been decided that she wasn’t the right person for the job.
Now, even though it had been an impossible dream, now that she had glimpsed it, Emma wanted it.
The salary was to die for—her family home, despite months on the market, hadn’t sold and the nursing-home fees were piling up. Evelyn had explained during their initial telephone interview that Luca’s staff burnt out quickly. He was a demanding boss, expecting complete devotion, and that this job and the travel would literally overtake her life, but that suited Emma just fine.
One year working hard and she could meet the nursing-home fees. Surely in that time the house would sell and pay off the backlog of debt? One year, burning herself out, and she would finally be free—free to pursue her dreams, free to live the life that had so far been denied her.
And now that glimmer of hope was rapidly being taken away. ‘Now, if you’ll excuse me…’ Evelyn gave a thin attempt at a smile ‘…I have an important phone call to make.’
Well, at least Evelyn hadn’t kept her guessing, at least she wouldn’t be checking her phone every five minutes, or dashing to get the mail.
It couldn’t have been made any clearer—she wasn’t wanted.
‘Well, thank you for seeing me…’ She should just stand and go, shake Evelyn’s hand and leave, except, inexplicably, she was dragging it out and for some stupid, stupid reason tears were threatening as yet another door closed on her push for a better future. ‘Thank you for your time.’
It was her horoscope’s fault, Emma told herself as Evelyn scribbled a note on her carefully prepared CV.
It had told her to go for it, reminded her that you have to be in it to win it. Told her that Jupiter and Mars had moved into her tenth house, which assured success in her career…
Stupid horoscopes, Emma thought as she went to retrieve her handbag. She didn’t believe them anyway.
And then in he walked.
And the room went black.
Well, it didn’t go black, but it might as well have, because he was all she could see.
Dressed in a tuxedo at four p.m., he strode over. Evelyn stood up, knotting his bow-tie as she gave him, in a couple of minutes, what seemed like a month’s worth of messages, and all in a language that was foreign to Emma.
‘Mr Hirosiko wants an “in person” next week.’
‘No,’ came his bored response.
‘Kasumi was insistent.’
‘He can have a face-to-face.
‘And your sister rang, upset…she wants you there for the entire weekend.’
‘Tell her that given that I’m paying for the entire weekend…’ he had a thick, deep, Italian accent and Emma felt her toes curl ‘…I can choose my schedule.’ His eyes drifted around the room as Evelyn dealt with his cufflinks and then he gave Emma a bored glance that changed midway and utter disinterest shifted slightly.
He deigned to give her a second look, and it was one she recognised well. It was the same look her father and brothers had used on unsuspecting women—at the petrol station, the supermarket, school concerts, the pub, oh, anywhere…
It was a look that to Emma screamed danger.
Six feet two with eyes of navy blue, Luca D’Amato might just as well have had the word danger stamped on his smooth forehead. Jet-black hair was slicked back, but a thick, raven lock escaped as Evelyn declared him officially knotted, and with one manicured hand he raked it back through his hair and it fell into effortless shape. Oh, she’d seen photos of him, had known that he was good-looking, but a grainy newspaper photo didn’t do him justice, could never capture the essence of him, just the shocking presence of him. A scar ran the length of his left cheekbone, but that one imperfection merely enhanced his general faultlessness.
‘We haven’t been introduced.’ Full, sensual lips curved into a smile as he turned come-to-bed eyes on her, his deep, accented voice for her ears now. ‘This is…?’
Emma was struggling to find her voice, but Evelyn did it for her. ‘Emma Stephenson.’ Evelyn looked as if she were sucking lemons, and it dawned on Emma then that the real reason she hadn’t got the job was perhaps that Evelyn had been hoping for someone plainer, dowdier, older, bigger…in fact, someone who would withstand Luca’s charm. Well, she needn’t have worried. Emma could handle Luca’s sort with her hands tied behind her back—she’d grown up surrounded by them! ‘We were just concluding the interview.’
‘For the assistant PA job?’ Luca checked, holding his hand out, and, because it was the polite thing to do, Emma shook it, feeling his warm fingers close around hers. Then she looked up as he voiced what she was thinking. ‘But I’ve got a cold heart!’ He winked at her.
‘I’m sure you do!’ Emma retorted. He was shameless, utterly shameless, and Evelyn was welcome to him. ‘Well, again,’ Emma said, coolly walking to the door, absolutely refusing to be rattled, ‘thank you for your time.’
She walked out into the foyer, took the lift and only as she went to sign out did she realise that she’d forgotten her bag. That, despite appearances, despite appearing utterly and completely unruffled by his stunning presence, one glimpse of Luca D’Amato and her stomach was in knots. He was devastatingly handsome, with eyes that stripped, undressed and bedded you in a matter of seconds, and she had deliberately not returned the favour.
Emma headed back up in the elevator, moving to step out, only he was stepping in…
‘I wasn’t expecting to see you again.’ He didn’t move to let her pass him, his broad frame barring the exit, just slightly, and there was this offer of conversation that Emma didn’t want to take up. ‘I hear the interview didn’t go too well.’
How loaded with meaning was that single word, and Emma swallowed hard before speaking. ‘I forgot my bag, I’m just going to get it,’ she offered by way of explanation and as the lift door started to close she pressed the button to open it. There was this pang, this twinge, this snapping almost, this ending that she didn’t want to happen, because he really was divine, and she wished for just a fleeting second that she had the looks, the confidence, the experience to allow him to pursue her.