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ALESSANDRO strode from the lift, giving way to a need to loosen his collar after feeling such unaccustomed heat. In an attempt to retrieve his habitual tranquillity, he tried to rationalise the events of the last few days by explaining them to himself in the cool, rational language only a man could understand.

So. A man meets a woman who tells him she has his child. The man wants to help the womanNo. The man is eager to know and help the woman and the child.

He offers the woman-against his better judgement after what happened the last time-but in total honesty and sincerity-his passion, his affection, but the woman has fears, despite her obvious passion for him. Irrational, certainly, but fears nonetheless-that the man will in some way harm the child.

Alessandro felt his blood pressure jump a notch.

The man sees his childAt the memory the breath caught in his throat, and he had to stand still as he did every time he thought of those heart-stopping moments. That small, exquisite girl. Her fingertips. That pure, soft skin.

He sees her, but knows very well, all the signs are there, that he, the father of the child, is excluded from that female circle. An invisible barrier has been erected around the woman and the child. And what for? Is it to do with the past? A past he is in no way responsible for?

Alessandro gritted his teeth.

Dio mio, he will smash that barrier with his bare hands if it kills him.

He walked into his office and met Tuilas assessing gaze over the tops of her glasses. He scowled. What was that narrow-eyed look about?

Did you want to run through the people weve seen so far? Tuila said.

What people?

Tuilas brows shot up. Are you kidding?

He shrugged and kicked out his chair, though he didnt sit down. Sure, sure. Whatever.

She started on the list of interviewees while he paced, hands shoved into his pockets. He would have to be firm. If Lara wouldnt lower her guard he might have to show her the steel edge of his resolve.

Strike him, he commanded, raising an imperious hand when Tuila broached the first candidate. She arched her brows, and started in on the next one. No, no, forget her, he ordered. Dizzy.

Laras behaviour was mystifying. He could see well enough why shed be upset if she was pregnant and saw that hed married someone else. But now, everything was different. Here he was, back in the country, quite prepared to

Dexter Barry? Tuila enquired.

Per carit`a. Are you mad? The man was hopeless.

How about Steve Disney? I rather liked him. He was young, bright, well qualified.

He gave Tuila a long, steel glance. With a shrug she lowered her eyes.

He dragged a hand through his hair. Tonight could have been so fine. The music, the arrangementsHed actually been looking forward to the planning.

Like-a couple of parents. Then afterwards, hed have taken her to the hotel, and shown her how fantastic, how joyful it could be.

Sacramento, if he had time, if it were up to him he would show them the world, shower them with palazzoes lined with frescoes and gold leaf, scatter rose petals at their feet.

He realised with a cold chill that time was running out. In a few days hed have settled on the managing director, and hed be boarding that plane for Bangkok without having made Lara understand the first thing about him.

She still had no idea.

Although last nightHadnt there been that moment in the light of the street lamp when her eyes had been filled with emotion? And then again afterwards, during the love?

He closed his eyes while the vision of her loveliness, nude apart from those black stockings, swam before his eyes. Dio, the love.

Or had she just given him a little taste of herself to taunt him? The turmoil in his chest deepened. If he hadnt been an optimist, hed be starting to think they were doomed to end up like the last time. Just like the last time.

He had a grim feeling that hed be forced to leave soon with everything unresolved with Lara, and without knowing Vivi.

His chest panged. His one child in the world.


He realised in a sudden galvanising panic that if he didnt take matters in hand, in no time Lara would be working for some other guy, whod inevitably fall in love with her. He could picture it now. Some big, sunburnt, cricket-crazed Australian whod be spending every minute of every working day plotting to seduce her. Next thing she knew shed be marrying the guy, while his daughter, his little girl

What about Roger Hayward? He wasnt so bad, was he? Strong, clever, proactive

He started from his meditations. Tuila, he snarled. Get a grip. He slammed his fist on the desk and Tuila jumped. None of those clowns will do. Not one of them.