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LARA, Alessandro mused, standing under the shower in his hotel room, soaping his chest after a rigorous workout in the hotel gym.

For once he didnt feel like breaking into song. The interview hadnt been as satisfying as hed expected. Using his power to punish a woman, however much she deserved it, hardly felt like the act of an honourable man.

He raised his arms and submitted himself to the jets of water, as if the warm needles coming from all directions could somehow rinse away the jagged feeling that had lodged somewhere just below his throat.

He forced himself to admit that, even with his perfectly justifiable anger, he hadnt relished hurting her. And strangely, despite the authority of his position as compared to hers, he couldnt honestly say hed won the encounter outright.

That moment when shed admitted her failure to meet him gnawed at him. He wasnt a fanciful guy by any means, but surely thered been something in her manner then, that look in her eyes. Again, he canvassed the old possibilities hed been through a million times, of her having been delayed on that fateful long ago day. As always, the inevitable question fired back. So why hadnt she phoned him to explain? Why had she made herself unreachable?

Even six years ago she could have messaged him, if shed been too cowardly to pick up the phone and eviscerate him voice to voice.

He turned off the shower and reached for a towel for a brisk drying off. Thered been that charge in the air when hed met her today. Dio, it was so seductive, whether or not he wanted it to be. Towelling the springy black hairs on chest and long limbs with added vigour, he wondered if perhaps he should have confronted her with her treachery directly. Given her a chance to explain.

He dismissed the notion with an impatient growl. He might as well go down on his knees and show her what a fool shed made of him.

Clean, dry and refreshed, he slipped on the thick hotel bathrobe and examined himself in the mirror, testing his beard. Was there any reason to shave? If hed been seeing a woman this evening, hed certainly have done so.

Perhaps that was what was needed. He should seek some feminine company and blot Lara Meadows out of his head.

The old solution. Not that it had ever worked.

He turned impatiently away from his reflection and strode into the sitting room and across to the mini-bar. There were miniature whisky bottles bearing quite a respectable label. He poured a shot into a glass and dropped in a couple of ice-cubes.

His corner suite had the advantage of large windows facing different directions, framing some quite breathtaking views of the harbour city. He stared broodingly out at the Opera House, radiating its startling beauty across the harbour, then strolled across to another window to survey the glittering light stream in George Street.

He supposed he could go out and taste the night culture, check out the wild-life, otherwise a long evening stretched ahead, empty of interest. Ironic that the only person he knew here, apart from Tuila, whod arranged to stay with relatives, was the one least likely to want to spend time with him.

He sighed and swung away from the window. Hed chosen the Seasons because it was only a couple of blocks from the Stiletto building. Restaurants abounded in this old section of the city, so close to The Rocks and Circular Quay, but the thought of eating alone in some dim, intimate room designed for lovers didnt appeal.

He supposed he should order room service and start planning the staff allocations.

Another night, in another hotel.

Unless, of course, he phoned Lara now with some inquiry about the workings of Stiletto. He could suggest they meet, perhaps have dinner.

Per carit`a, where was his brain? He banished the idea in self-disgust. Shed know he was using a pretext, and when had Alessandro Vincenti ever needed a pretext to approach a woman?

And did he even want to risk sinking into that quicksand again?

Certainly, she was the only woman whod ever rejected him, and in a particularly vicious, careless and cold-blooded way, but the physical fire was still there, regardless of what had happened six years ago. He felt his blood quicken at the memory of that amazing collision in the office.

If hed kissed her then shed have blazed like a torch. Hed have had her panting in his arms within seconds.

It struck him that if he had been affected by the encounter with her, shed almost certainly be thinking about it too. He wondered what her current living arrangements were. There was the boyfriend shed implied she had waiting for her, although could that claim have been inspired by pride? he wondered. A woman who lived with a man didnt make assignations to meet him after work. She simply went home to him.

An intriguing thought came to him. Perhaps shed been so nervous of meeting him, shed floated that excuse in case shed needed an early getaway.

She might very well live alone.

He strolled back into the bathroom and placed his glass on the black marble vanity.

Now where was the shaving foam?

CHAPTER THREE | At The Boss`s Beck And Call | CHAPTER FIVE