‘Well, well, well. This is interesting. Little Darcy Lennox, in my office, looking for work.’
Darcy curbed the flash of irritation at the not entirely inaccurate reference to her being little and fought against the onslaught on her senses from being mere feet away from Maximiliano Fonseca Roselli, separated from him only by an impressive desk. But it was hard. Because he was quite simply as devastatingly gorgeous as he’d always been. More so now, because he was a man. Not the seventeen-year-old boy she remembered. Sex appeal flowed from him like an invisible but heady scent. It made Darcy absurdly aware that underneath all the layers of civility they were just animals.
He was half-Brazilian, half-Italian. Dark blond hair was still unruly and messy—long enough to proclaim that he didn’t really give a damn about anything, much less conforming. Although clearly along the way he’d given enough of a damn to become one of Europe’s youngest ‘billionaire entrepreneurs to watch’, according to a leading financial magazine.
Darcy could imagine how any number of women would be only too happy to watch his every sexy move. She did notice one new addition to his almost perfect features, though, and blurted out before she could stop herself, ‘You have a scar.’
It snaked from his left temple to his jaw in a jagged line and had the effect of making him even more mysterious and brooding.
The man under her close scrutiny arched one dark blond brow and drawled, ‘Your powers of observation are clearly in working order.’
Darcy flushed at being so caught out. Since when had she been she gauche enough to refer to someone’s physical appearance? He had stood to greet her when she’d walked into his palatial office, situated in the centre of Rome, and she was still standing too, beginning to feel hot in her trouser suit, hot under the tawny green gaze that had captivated her the first time she’d ever seen him.
He folded his arms across his chest and her eye was drawn helplessly to where impressive muscles bunched against the fine material of his open-necked white shirt, sleeves rolled up. And even though he wore smart dark trousers he looked anything but civilised. That gaze was too knowing, too cynical, for politesse.
‘So, what’s a fellow alumna from Boissy le Château doing looking for work as a PA?’ Before she could answer he was adding, with the faintest of sneers to his tone, ‘I would have thought you’d be married into European aristocracy by now, and producing a gaggle of heirs like every other girl in that anachronistic medieval institution.’
Pinned under that golden gaze, she regretted the moment she’d ever thought it might be a good idea to apply for the job advertised on a very select applications board. And she hated to think that a part of her had been curious to see Max Fonseca Roselli Fonseca again.
She replied, ‘I was only at Boissy for another year after you left…’ She faltered then, thinking of a lurid memory of Max beating another boy outside in the snow, and the bright stain of blood against the pristine white. She pushed it down. ‘My father was badly affected by the recession so I went back to England to finish my schooling.’
She didn’t think it worth mentioning that that schooling had taken place in a comprehensive school, which she would have chosen any day over the oppressive atmosphere of Boissy.
Max made a sound of faux commiseration. ‘So Darcy didn’t get to be the belle of the ball in Paris with all the other debutantes?’
She gritted her jaw at his reference to the exclusive annual Bal des Débutantes; she was no belle of any ball. She knew Max hadn’t had a good time at Boissy, but she hadn’t been one of his antagonists. Anything but. She cringed inwardly now when she recalled another vivid memory, from not long after he’d first arrived. Darcy had come upon two guys holding Max back, with another about to punch him in the belly. Without even thinking, she’d rushed into the fray, screaming, ‘Stop!’
Heat climbed inside her at the thought that he might remember that too.
‘No,’ she responded tightly. ‘I didn’t go to the ball in Paris. I sat my A levels and then got a degree in languages and business from London University, as you’ll see from my CV.’
Which was laid out on his desk.
This had been a huge mistake.
‘Look, I saw your name come up on the applications board—that you’re looking for a PA. I probably shouldn’t have come.’ Darcy reached down to where she’d put her briefcase by her feet and picked it up.
Max was frowning at her. ‘Do you want a job or not?’
Darcy felt tetchy with herself for having been so impetuous, and irritated with Max for being so bloody gorgeous and distracting. Still. So she said, more snippily than she’d intended, ‘Of course I want a job. I need a job.’
Max’s frown deepened. ‘Did your parents lose everything?’
She bristled at the implication that she was looking for work because her family wasn’t funding her any more. ‘No, thankfully my father was able to recover.’ And then she said tartly, ‘Believe it or not, I like to make my own living.’
Max made some kind of a dismissive sound, as if he didn’t quite believe her, and Darcy bit her lip in order to stay quiet. She couldn’t exactly blame him for his assumption, but unlike the other alumnae of their school she didn’t expect everything in life to be handed to her.
Those mesmerising eyes were looking at her far too closely now and Darcy became excruciatingly conscious of her dark hair, pulled back into a ponytail, her diminutive stature and the unfashionably full figure she’d long ago given up any hope of minimising, choosing instead to work with what she had.
Max rapped out in Italian, ‘You’re fluent in Italian?’
Darcy blinked, but quickly replied in the same language. ‘Yes. My mother is from just outside Rome. I’ve been bilingual since I learnt how to talk and I’m also fluent in Spanish, German and French. And I have passable Chinese.’
He flicked a look at her CV and then looked back, switching to English again. ‘It says here that you’ve been in Brussels for the past five years—is that where you’re based?’
Darcy’s insides tightened at his direct question, as if warding off a blow. The truth was that she hadn’t really had a base since her parents had split up when she was eight and they’d sold off the family home. They’d shuttled her between schools and wherever they’d been living which had changed constantly, due to her father’s work and her mother’s subsequent relationships.
She’d learned that the only constant she could depend on was herself and her ability to forge a successful career, cocooning her from the pillar-to-post feeling she hated so much and the vagaries of volatile relationships.
She answered Max. ‘I don’t have a base at the moment, so I’m free to go where the work is.’
Once again that incisive gaze was on her. Darcy hated the insecurity that crept up on her at the thought that he might be assessing how she’d turned out, judging her against the svelte supermodel types he was always photographed with. Beside them, at five foot two, Darcy would look like a baby elephant! In weak moments over the years she’d seen Max on the covers of gossip magazines and had picked them up to read the salacious content. And it had always been salacious.
When she’d read about his three-in-a-bed romp with two Russian models she’d flung the magazine into a trash can, disgusted with herself.
He suddenly stuck out his hand. ‘I’ll give you a two-week trial, starting tomorrow. Do you have accommodation sorted?’
Darcy blanched. He was offering her the job? Her head was still filled with lurid images of pouting blonde glamazons, crawling all over Max’s louche form. Reacting reflexively, she put out her hand to meet his and suddenly was engulfed in heat as his long fingers curled around hers.
He took his hand away abruptly and glanced at a fearsome-looking watch, then back to her, a little impatiently.
Darcy woke up. ‘Um…yes, I have somewhere to stay for a few days.’ She repressed a small grimace when she thought of the very basic hostel in one of Rome’s busier tourist districts.
Max nodded. ‘Good. If I keep you on then we’ll get you something more permanent.’
They looked at each other as Darcy’s mind boggled at the thought of working with him.
Then he said pointedly, ‘I have a meeting now, I’ll see you tomorrow at nine a.m. We’ll go through everything then.’
Darcy quickly picked up her briefcase and backed away. ‘Okay, then, tomorrow.’ She walked to the door and then turned around again. ‘You’re not just doing this because we know each other…?’
Max had his hands on his hips. He was beginning to look slightly impatient. ‘No, Darcy. That’s coincidental. You’re the most qualified person I’ve seen for the job, your references are impeccable, and after dealing with a slew of PAs—gay and straight—who all seem to think that seducing the boss is an unwritten requirement of the job it’ll be a relief to deal with someone who knows the boundaries.’
Darcy didn’t like the fact that it stung her somewhere very deep and secret to think that Max would dismiss her ability to seduce him so summarily, but before she could acknowledge how inappropriate that was she muttered something incoherent and left before she could make a complete ass of herself.