Miss Locatelli
135 pages

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135 pages

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Arabella knows her audacious plan to save her family’s century old jewelry business doesn’t stand a chance without Luca Enzio, she just wishes he wasn’t helping her because her grandfather asked him to but because he wants to. For his part Luca can’t remember when he was last so turned on by a woman and he doesn’t like it one little bit. Apart from being way too young, Arabella is the granddaughter of a client whose relationship with his family is complicated. The right thing to do would be to walk away but his heart has other ideas. Then her life begins to unravel in a way that affects both of them and suddenly Luca finds himself fighting for his future as well as for Arabella’s heart.



Publié par
Date de parution 11 novembre 2015
Nombre de lectures 1
EAN13 9781771455688
Langue English

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Miss Locatelli By Sheila Claydon Digital ISBNs EPUB 978-1-77145-568-8 Kindle 978-1-77145-567-1 WEB/PDF 978-1-77145-566-4 Amazon Print 978-1-77299-899-3
Copyright 2015 by Sheila Claydon Cover art by Michelle Lee All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights un der copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any mean s (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the publisher of this book Acknowledgements: My thanks to both Lesley and Darcey Fleming for rea ding and commenting on the final manuscript. Their input, as always, is invalu able. Dedication For Darcey, who helped me to save Miss Locatelli, a nd whose interest, questions and ideas keep me writing even when I would much ra ther be doing something else
Chapter One
The telephone began to ring as Arabella fitted her key in the lock. Flinging the studio door open, she made a grab for the receiver with one hand while she pulled off her crash helmet with the other. “Hello.” “Arabella, thank goodness! Please come up straight away. Something is wrong with your grandfather.” Leaving the telephone dangling, she took the stairs to the top floor two at a time. In the fifteen years Dora had been her grandfather’s p ersonal assistant Arabella had never known her to be anything other than cool, calm and collected, so she wasn’t about to waste time questioning her. When she reached the suite of offices that were the hub of the Locatelli jewelry business, Dora was waiting for her. Although she lo oked as stylish and understated as usual, her agitation showed in the way she kept twi sting a gold bangle around and around on her wrist. “He was already here when I arrived this morning,” she said without preamble. “I didn’t take much notice because he often comes in e arly when he needs to catch up on paperwork, so it wasn’t until I took in the mail th at I realized he wasn’t alone. Although there are no appointments in his diary he was in th e middle of what was obviously a business meeting with a man I’ve never seen before. I hid my surprise as I offered them coffee, sure he would explain everything later. Ins tead he snapped at me. He told me to get out of the office. He told me not to disturb him for the rest of the morning. He’s…he’s never spoken to me like that before Arabella, not i n all the time I’ve worked for him, although that’s not why I’m upset. I’m worried abou t how he looked. His face was a pasty white and his lips were tinged with blue.” Her voice quivered and Arabella saw that behind her spectacles Dora’s eyes were brimming with frightened tears. It was an open secr et that she adored Paolo Locatelli and Arabella knew he felt the same way about her. W hy they didn’t just get married and have done with it she had never been able to fathom . What she did know, however, was that her grandfather would never have spoken harshl y to Dora without severe provocation. “What do you want me to do?” she asked. “I want you to interrupt them. I want to know he’s all right. You are the only one who can do it,” she pleaded when she sensed Arabella’s hesitation. “He won’t throw you out however angry he is.” Arabella knew it was true. Her grandfather had take n on the role of father and mother when both her parents died in a freak skiing accident, and for most of her childhood he had been the center of her life. He ha d cared for her when she was sick, disciplined her when she needed it, and praised and sympathized with her in equal measure. He had also, to their mutual delight, reco gnized she had the makings of an outstanding jewelry designer and made sure she rece ived the training she needed to carry on a family tradition that could be traced ba ck to sixteenth century Florence. More
important than all those things, however, was the f act that he loved her, and it was that rock solid love that had transformed her from a hea rtbroken child to a confident and fearless young woman. It was also why she hesitated , because although she knew he would forgive her for barging into his office, he w ould be disappointed. He set great store by protocol, and because of that Arabella nev er breached his inner sanctum without telephoning first. Raised voices followed by a crash solved her dilemm a. With a swift intake of breath, she wrenched the door open, only to collide with a man exiting in the opposite direction. Rebounding off a wall of solid muscle she was saved from an ignominious tumble by a strong hand that pulled her upright and held her st eady until she had regained her breath. “My apologies,” his voice was deep and accented. “I was coming to fetch Signor Locatelli a glass of water. I’m afraid he’s not fee ling well.” With a cry of alarm Dora slipped past them. Wrenchi ng her arm free, Arabella followed her. Paolo Locatelli was leaning forward i n his chair and holding his chest. His face was dripping with sweat and his breathing was labored. A pile of heavy files had tipped from his desk to the floor. Without asking permission Dora loosened his tie and undid the top button of his shirt while Arabella ran to fill a glass from the w ater cooler. When she returned her grandfather’s hands were shaking so violently that she had to hold the glass to his lips. “Pills,” he gasped, trying to reach the jacket that was hanging on the back of his chair. Arabella pulled a bottle of pills from the pocket a nd read the label in disbelief. Since when had he suffered from heart problems? She shook out a tablet and he took it from her, raising a shaky hand to his mouth. It seemed like hours, but a glance at the handsome clock behind the desk told her only five minutes had passed before he began to rec over both his color and composure. Eventually he smiled at her and patted Dora’s hand. “Sorry to frighten you my dears. I’ll be fine now. I’ve just had a bit of a shock. You can leave me to finish my meeting with Signor Ezio.” “You must be joking.” Arabella dispensed with forma lity and addressed him by the childish Italian name she always used when they wer e alone. “You are not finishing anything Nonno. You are going home to rest and you’ re not coming back to work until you have explained to me, and to Dora, just why you happen to have a bottle of heart tablets in your pocket.” He shook his head. “It’s nothing; just a little ind isposition. Besides, Luca has to return to Florence this evening and there are thing s we must discuss before he leaves.” His visitor shook his head. “On the contrary, I agr ee with your granddaughter Signor. You must rest. The situation is bad enough without you becoming ill. I will alter my arrangements and visit you again tomorrow.” Frightened out of her wits by her grandfather’s col lapse Arabella vented her feelings on the tall dark-haired man standing beside her. “Y ou will visit him again when his doctor says you may and not before. I don’t know wh at you told him that caused him
such distress but it’s not going to happen again. I f you leave your telephone number, I’ll call you when he’s well enough to talk to you.” She thrust out her hand, waiting for his business c ard. Luca Ezio gave an inward sigh. He admired courage a nd loyalty, and in any other circumstance he would have enjoyed sparring with so meone who wasn’t afraid to punch above her weight, but today he couldn’t afford hims elf or Locatelli that luxury. Ignoring her outstretched hand, he turned back to his client. “Your granddaughter shows spirit Signor. Let us hop e we can secure a future for her when we meet tomorrow.” Her grandfather nodded and then closed his eyes. “S how Signor Ezio out please Bella, and don’t give him a hard time. He came to d o what he had to do. I will explain everything once I’ve had a short rest.” Furious at being treated like a child, Arabella sto rmed out, not caring whether her grandfather’s mysterious visitor followed her or no t. He’d found his own way up to the office so he was obviously quite capable of finding his own way down again. “Do you always walk so fast?” His voice, close behi nd her, made her jump as she ignored the elevator and pushed open the door to th e stairs. She heard the amusement in his words and it made her furious. “If you can’t keep up, take the elevator,” she snap ped, knowing she was being unforgivably rude but beyond caring. “I’m too busy to waste time on reception duties, especially now I have to worry about my grandfather thanks to you.” His reply was equally sharp. “I’m hardly responsibl e for Signor Locatelli’s health Signorina. Maybe you should look closer to home and wonder why he’s been keeping his illness a secret from you?” His words, which reflected her own thoughts, sudden ly deflated her. “You’re right,” she admitted as frightened tears begin to prick at the back of her eyelids. “He’s always been so strong and capable that…that…I don’t want to believe he’s ill.” When her tears began to fall in earnest she speeded up so he wouldn’t see how upset she was. It didn’t work. By the time they rea ched the second floor he had caught up with her and was holding out a handkerchief. Wit h a sob she grabbed it and scrubbed at her eyes because her tissues were trapp ed under the red and white motorcycle leathers she was still wearing. They did n’t speak again until they reached the reception area on the ground floor. “I’ll have your handkerchief laundered and returned ,” she said, clutching what was now a sodden ball of linen. With a lift of her chin , she dared him to comment on her distress. He gave her a level gaze from eyes as cool and grey as the rain-sodden clouds blowing past the glass door that opened onto one of the city’s most prestigious streets. “It’s not important. I have many handkerchiefs wher eas you have only one grandfather. If you will permit, I would like to en quire after Signor Locatelli’s health later today.” For a moment she thought of refusing him, of once a gain throwing back in his face the fact that he seemed to be the cause of her gran dfather’s distress, but she knew it
would be unfair. There was obviously something seri ously amiss with Nonno’s health, something he had been hiding from her. Biting back a sarcastic response she answered him with a degree of civility. “Of course. I’ll give you my card.” Then she remembered that her business cards were in the bag she had abandoned on her desk along with her crash helmet. “Wait here,” she commanded. Her assumption that he would obey such a peremptory order amused him. He gave a wry smile as he watched her hurry across the foye r to the black marble reception desk. She was obviously used to getting her own way . How old was she? He guessed little more than twenty, too young to have to face up to her grandfather’s failing health let alone the knowledge that his business was in de ep financial trouble. He hoped she had what it took to cope. Certainly she seemed cour ageous but he doubted she had ever had to fight for anything in her life. Until n ow she would have had everything handed to her on a jewel-encrusted plate. He was still brooding on the vagaries of life when Arabella returned and handed him a piece of headed notepaper with the number of her cell phone scrawled across it in black ink. As he reached for it their hands met, he rs small and cool with short, unpolished nails and a healing cut on one forefinge r, his large and warm and perfectly manicured. It was only a fleeting touch, just the w hisper of skin on skin, but it startled them both. Arabella’s bitter chocolate eyes widened and for a brief moment her breathing faltered. Luca, however, gave nothing away as he tucked the p aper into his breast pocket. Instead he nodded his thanks and then, with a small and formal bow, turned away and waited for the security guard to open the door. Onl y when he was safely outside on the pavement did he confront what had happened. Wrong place, wrong time, wrong girl, he told himsel f. Besides she’s too young for you my friend, and too innocent. Just remember you’ ll soon be 35. You’re practically in your dotage to someone like Arabella Locatelli. Determined to forget the frisson of attraction that had taken both of them by surprise, he hailed a cab to take him back to his h otel where he spent the rest of the morning immersed in the Locatelli accounts. Arabella, however, couldn’t forget, because the ver y thought that for one brief moment she had found him attractive made her angry. How could she be so shallow when she should be worrying about her grandfather? And if she had to pick someone then why choose this Luca person when he was so obv iously a harbinger of doom? But as she turned away from the door, the question woul dn’t go away. Had he found her attractive too? Then she caught sight of herself in one of the mirrors that lined the foyer. They were there to reflect the gloss of the marble walls and to send sparks of light from the huge central chandelier into every corner of the recepti on area. Now, however, they showed a dozen Arabellas, and each one was a disaster. Wakin g late, she had grabbed a quick shower but eschewed everything else that would norm ally start her day. No breakfast,
no makeup, not even a hairbrush. She groaned. She looked a mess. Her thick black curls were still braided into untidy pigtails that stuck out on either side of her head. Her eyes were red, her face was shiny, and the smattering of freckles across her nose stoo d out in stark relief against skin that was still pale with shock. Everything about her, in cluding the fact her scarlet and white motor cycle leathers molded every contour of her bo dy into something close to indecency, made her shudder. No wonder he’d been in such a hurry to get away. Just as well really, of course, because after what had h appened to her grandfather he was obviously bad news. Nevertheless, as she made her way down to her studi o in the basement, feminine pride took over. She glanced at the business card s he was still holding. Luca Ezio, Financial Consultant, was printed in embossed lette rs above an address in Florence, so he obviously had a connection with the company’s It alian branch. Well whoever he was she wasn’t going to let him get away with treating her like a child. Nor was she going to let him get away with ignoring her. She might have decided to dislike him, and she might be angry with herself for responding to his v ery obvious physical charms, but the next time they met he would learn she was a force t o be reckoned with in more ways than one. * * * By mid-afternoon Arabella had to admit defeat. Try as she might she couldn’t concentrate. Designs she was working on remained ou t of focus as she stared at them, and her fingers, when she turned to some practical work, were stiff and uncooperative. “Bad day?” said Alain. French, young, and drop dead gorgeous, he rarely made it to the basement without being mobbed by the girls who worked on reception. He gave Arabella a sympathetic smile as she lobbed yet another sheet of paper at the waste bin. She nodded. “I don’t seem to be able to concentrate on anything.” Bev, her best friend and confidante, as well as a f ellow designer, pushed back her chair and came over to where Arabella was trying, u nsuccessfully, to look busy. “Time to go home then. You spend too much time here as it is, so why don’t you give yourself a break and finish early for once. You look awful, and if you fidget and sigh once more I might just strangle you.” “Thanks for the positive support, but maybe you’re right.” “I always am,” Bev retrieved Arabella’s bag and cra sh helmet from the floor and piled them into her arms. Then she twisted her swiv el chair around so she was facing the door and gave it a little push. “Go, and don’t come back until you’re feeling better. We can cope without you for the odd day or two you know.” Arabella grabbed her leathers from the corner and b egan to climb into them. She had thrown them there in disgust after her disillus ioned view of herself earlier that morning. “Okay, Okay I’m going. I’ll be back tomorrow though so make the most of your freedom!” Bev rolled her eyes as she ushered her through the door. “Yes Boss. We’ll crack
open the champagne as soon as you’re out of sight…n ow GO!” Alain blew her a kiss but Matthew, the fourth membe r of the design team, was too involved in an intricate piece of filigree to do mo re than raise a laconic arm in farewell. As the door slammed behind her Arabella realized sh e was smiling. Well that’s a first for the day she thought. Trust Bev to make he r feel better. Alain and Matthew too, because the design team was such a tight knit group that if one of them felt bad, then the others did as well. She knew they had all been concerned about her ever since she’d returned to the studio, late, pale, and dishe veled. They hadn’t queried her explanation though. They’d just accepted it when sh e told them she had a headache, so she hadn’t had to tell them about her grandfather’s sudden illness nor his meeting with the mysterious Luca Ezio. She didn’t know why she w anted to keep both a secret, particularly from Bev who knew almost everything th ere was to know about her, but somehow it seemed important. * * * With a smile of thanks at the security guard, she l eft the building and made her way to where she had parked her motorcycle. Red and whi te like her leathers, it was flamboyant and noisy, and she loved the freedom it gave her. Pulling on her crash helmet she started it up and was soon weaving in an d out of the traffic as she made her way back to the home she shared with her grandfathe r. During the morning she had received two discreet ph one calls from Dora. The first to tell her she had persuaded Paolo Locatelli to go home and rest and that she was closing up the office and going with him, and the s econd to say she had secured an appointment with his heart specialist for later tha t day. Although she was desperately worried about her gran dfather, Arabella knew she had to stand back and let Dora make all the decisio ns about his health. After fifteen years of managing his life she was the one person i n the world who really understood him, besides which, her calm serenity was exactly w hat he needed right now. That was why she had agreed to his request that she carry on with her own working day as if nothing had happened, although she hadn’t given in until Dora promised to keep her informed. Consequently, she wasn’t surprised to fin d her waiting for her. What she didn’t expect, however, was that she would burst into tears. “Whatever’s happened?” she asked in alarm. “Is Nonn o worse?” “No, he’s going to be fine,” Dora sobbed. “But the doctor says he must stay in hospital for a day or two, for tests, and after tha t he must rest more and work less.” Shrugging off her leathers Arabella found herself h anding over the crumpled linen handkerchief Luca Ezio had given her earlier that d ay. Hurriedly she snatched it back and found a clean tissue in the pocket of her jeans . As far as she was concerned that handkerchief had seen quite enough tears to last a lifetime. If it weren’t for the fact that she needed to return it, she would dispatch it to the bottom of the garbage bin. Removing her spectacles, Dora scrubbed away her car efully applied makeup and then, with a final sob, looked across at Arabella. “Sorry,” she said. “I thought I was in
control but it’s all been such a shock and…and I ca n’t bear the thought that Pao…your grandfather, has kept his illness a secret for so l ong.” “How long?” Arabella’s voice was sharp. “What has h e told you Dora?” “Not very much,” the older woman admitted. “But his doctor did. He told me he’s been treating him for angina for at least three yea rs and he advised him to slow down months ago.” They stared at one another; neither of them quite a ble to believe that the man they both loved best in the entire world had deceived th em for so long. Eventually Arabella spoke. “Come on, a cup of tea is in order unless yo u’d like something stronger.” “Tea will be fine,” Dora followed her through to th e kitchen and sat on a stool beside the counter while Arabella busied herself with mugs and teabags. “Sorry, it’s not a very good cup of tea and I didn’ t even ask if you would prefer lemon,” she apologized when she finally pushed the milky tea and a sugar bowl across to her. “Nonno would be horrified.” They smiled at one another then, and Arabella notic ed for the first time that Dora had lovely eyes. She also looked younger and softer without her spectacles on, and with her hair ruffled by the events of such a traum atic day. Poor Dora. She wasn’t cool, calm and collected at all. It was just a sham, a pu blic face. Inside she was a mess, and all because Nonno was too self-centered to notice h ow she felt about him. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I should have come home earlier.” Dora cleaned her spectacles and put them on again. Then she patted her hair into place, turning herself back into the sensible and d ignified person she had always been. “Don’t be silly. It’s your busiest time of the year. Your grandfather really would have had a heart attack if you’d abandoned the studio so both of us could hover over him.” Arabella grinned at her. “Did you really hover?” “I did,” Dora looked pleased with herself despite e verything. “And when the doctor asked me if I could guarantee he would rest when he discharged him, I said I could.” “Good for you,” Arabella gave her an admiring look. “Now maybe Nonno will take you seriously.” Dora’s blushes were interrupted by Arabella’s cell phone. She frowned when she didn’t recognize the number. She recognized the voi ce though. “Buona sera Signorina Locatelli. How is your grandfather?” The question was straightforward but the tone in wh ich it was delivered did strange things to Arabella’s stomach. It was not the Italia n greeting that threw her; it was the dark, sultry huskiness of his voice. “Signor Ezio, how kind of you to call,” she managed to keep her own voice neutral despite a sudden curl of tension that made it hard to breath. He ignored the pleasantry. “Your grandfather. Has h e recovered?” “He’s recovering but his doctor says he must rest. I’ll call you when I think he’s well enough to speak to you.” She felt a sense of satisf action as she delivered the news. Luca Ezio could whistle for the meeting he was anti cipating tomorrow morning. He would just have to wait. “Impossible! I must see him tomorrow. We still have much to discuss.” His voice at
the other end of the phone lost its seductive warmth as he bit out his words. “I’m sorry but it’s not going to happen because he’ s in hospital and will remain there for the next couple of days,” she actually shrugged as she explained the situation. Her action must have translated itself into her tone of voice because when he answered her, his words were a command. “Signorina, it is not for you to decide. It’s for y our grandfather. As the head of Locatelli he must be given the choice. Normally I w ouldn’t intrude on a client’s sickbed, but this is something of such great importance that , weak heart or not, he must hear me out.” Something in his voice stopped the sharp response t hat was forming on Arabella’s tongue; that, and the fact that Dora was flapping h er arms at her. “Please excuse me for a moment,” she covered the re ceiver with her hand. Dora spoke quickly. “Arabella, I forgot to tell you that your grandfather says he must meet with Signor Ezio as soon as possible, but befo re he does he wants you to visit him at the clinic.” Torn between obedience to her grandfather and conce rn for his wellbeing Arabella wanted to refuse, but she knew she couldn’t. She to ok a deep breath. “My apologies Signor. It seems that although my grandfather inten ds to talk to you again as soon as possible, he wishes to see me first. I will call yo u once I have spoken to him.” “Make sure you do because you will regret it if you try any delaying tactics.” Provoked finally to the anger that had been simmeri ng throughout their telephone conversation, Arabella delivered a piece of her min d to the mouthpiece of her cell phone. Not until she had finished did she realize the line was dead. “He hung up,” she spluttered. “He actually hung up.” “Just as well if you ask me,” Dora said, gathering up their cups and rinsing them at the sink. “I don’t think your grandfather would app reciate you alienating the company auditor.” “Is that who he is?” gasped Arabella. Then she shoo k her head in disbelief. “He doesn’t look anything like an auditor.” “You know what one looks like I take it,” Dora resp onded drily. Then, before Arabella could answer, she patted her arm. “Go and change your clothes. Put a dress on. Your grandfather is expecting you and you know how he hates to see you in jeans.”
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