Neither wanted love in their marriage. But you don’t always get what you want.

 

Sophia Stevens is tired of struggling to pay the rent and help her brother through college. After seven years on her own, she is no farther ahead than the day she walked out on her old life and started again. So when super-sexy Italian property developer Luca Castellioni proposes a marriage of convenience, she’s intrigued. Financial security and life in a beautiful Italian villa in exchange for attending a few business functions and typing some letters seems very convenient. Until she breaks the most definite term of their arrangement: she falls in love with her husband.

 

Luca Castellioni lives for his job restoring beautiful buildings to their former glory. When his business expansion plans are hampered by the need for an English-speaking secretary and a wife, he does what any efficient businessman would do—he combines his requirements and selects and English administrative assistant as his bride. But when his fascination with his wife distracts him from business, he wishes there was more marriage and not so much convenience in their agreement. Too bad his wife has reconstructed her own life, without him.

 

When their respective lives pull them in opposite directions, they must decide: will they continue to put their businesses first, or allow love to overcome the obstacles between them?

 

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Copyright © 2014 by Alexia Adams. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher.

 

Excerpt From An Inconvenient Love

 

 Chapter One

 

F2. Deal again.

The workday was endless when your biggest decision was FreeCell or solitaire. Today solitaire was the game of choice, and Sophia was already $830 down. Damn Vegas scoring. At least she didn’t have to worry about anyone knocking at her door to collect that debt.

The front doorbell buzzed, and she switched the display on her monitor from the game to webcam. Metal chair legs scraping against the wood floor indicated that the elderly porter had been awakened from his nap and was on the way to answer the summons.

Look up, look up, she mentally willed the man standing at the door, waiting to be let in. Her telepathy not working, she tried adjusting the camera angle to get a better view, but all she could see was the top of his head. Dark hair, that was all. Useless angle, useless camera.

Not that she held out much hope that he would be worth looking at. The managing partner had mentioned as he passed her desk this morning that an important Italian property developer was coming to meet with him. An image of a short, middle-aged man with a Donald Trump hairstyle came to her mind, and she suppressed a giggle.

The visitor eventually arrived at the reception area. A Georgian house didn’t lend itself to the most efficient layout for an office. Trying to at least appear busy, Sophia pretended to save a document before turning to greet the man. She looked up, way up. Okay, so not short. And his black, slightly curly hair was brushed back from his face and bore absolutely no resemblance to Donald Trump’s. In fact, her fingers itched to run through it and release the curls further. His strong jaw and Roman nose looked like an advertisement for some amazing facial makeover. Dressed in a dark gray suit, he had an air of power. Even dressed more casually she was sure he would still have an aura of command.

This was no middle-aged specimen. The man standing before her was definitely in his prime. If he were a steer, he’d have AAA stamped on his left buttock, another image that left her battling the giggles. Until his dark eyes met hers, and all the air was sucked out of her lungs. He was so gorgeous, she clamped her lips together so she didn’t accidently drool on her keyboard.

“Luca Castellioni to see Walter Bodman.” His deep voice held only a hint of an Italian accent.

“Oh, yes, Mr. Castellioni. If you’d like to take a seat, I’ll let Mr. Bodman know you’re here.”

The guest smiled, as if distracted by a pleasant memory, and sat across the room in direct sight of her desk. Her suddenly nervous fingers had to twice dial the senior partner’s secretary, and her voice came out all breathless when she announced the visitor.

“Mr. Bodman is just finishing up a conference call. He’ll be down shortly.” At least she managed to sound a little normal.

The enigmatic visitor acknowledged her statement and picked up a magazine from the table next to him. But every time she looked up, he was staring at her rather than reading. He made no effort to look away, and it was Sophia who broke the eye contact each time. She was sure he could hear her heartbeat pounding from across the room. The more she tried to ignore his presence, the more acutely she became aware of his every movement.

Walter Bodman’s gruff voice booming across the room had never been so welcome. “Luca! Sorry to have kept you waiting. How wonderful to see you again. It’s been what—three years?”

“Five,” the Italian corrected. “You are doing well. Very nice offices … ” His voice trailed away as he followed his host.

A sharp stab of pain made Sophia aware she’d been clenching her toes. She kicked off her sensible ballerina flats and dreamed for a moment of the handsome Italian massaging her feet. There was no way she was going to be able to go back to her game of solitaire now.

Her mobile phone vibrated on the desk beside her. The bank was kindly advising that her account was now down to fourteen pounds fifty pence, and still six days to payday. With the tuition due for the next term of her interior design studies, her finances wouldn’t be much better even after she was paid.

She logged on to a job finder website, but there wasn’t much call for a receptionist with minimal experience and no real desire to do the job. And none paid more than what she was making now. Her desk phone buzzed, and she shut down the webpage. Might as well do the job she had, rather than worry about the one she couldn’t get.

An hour later Sophia was transcribing a letter one of the secretaries sent down when a shadow crossed her screen and the hair on the back of her neck stood on end. A hint of sandalwood and citrus tickled her nose. Looking up, she wasn’t surprised to see the Italian businessman standing at her desk.

“I look forward to seeing you tonight, Miss Stevens.”

“I … ah … I … how do you know my name?” She latched onto the first thing that came to mind while she tried to make sense of his words.

He pointed at the small plaque on her desk with her name inscribed. “Walter has invited me to the company party. I hope we will have the opportunity to talk. Until tonight … ” Turning on his heel, he strode from the room.

Why would a gorgeous Italian millionaire want to talk to me? Her toes curled again.

 ***

 

Luca entered the marquee in St. James’s Square and searched for Walter. At least that’s what his brain told his eyes to look for. They decided to hunt down the blonde receptionist instead. She was beautiful. But he knew lots of beautiful women. Maybe it was the laughter in her green eyes or the way she’d tried not to notice him that intrigued him. Whatever it was, he couldn’t relax until he spotted her.

She stood twenty meters away, chatting with a couple of other women, a glass of champagne in her hand. Her simple black dress was elegant and alluring, hugging her curves rather than pushing them up for all to see. His pulse quickened, as it had when he had seen her in the office. Before he could approach her, Walter’s over-loud voice stopped him.

“Luca, glad you could join us. I want to introduce you to Chet Wilkins, an American business acquaintance. He’s scouting new locations for his boutique hotel chain. He’s looking for rural properties to turn into luxury spas where stressed executives can go to relax. But I’ll let him tell you all the requirements.”

Walter led him to a tall, thin man in his early sixties, standing beside a woman of similar age who was wearing too little dress and too much makeup. Luca glanced to where Sophia had been chatting, only to find she was no longer with the group of women. Forcing his mind back to business, he smiled at the American couple.

Thirty minutes later, his smile was strained and he shifted another couple centimeters away from Mrs. Leslie Wilkins. She stood so close, he was in danger of suffocating on her cloying perfume. And he was pretty damn sure it wasn’t by accident she kept brushing his thigh or backside with her hand. Her husband continued to drone on about the ideal properties he was looking for, completely ignoring his wife. Walter had excused himself ten minutes ago, so it was just the three of them, penned into a corner. A waiter passed and Leslie grabbed yet another glass of champagne.

“Luca, there you are. I wondered where you’d got to.” The sexy voice of Walter’s receptionist halted the glass halfway to the American woman’s lips. Sophia’s small hand slipped into his, and he gave it a squeeze of appreciation.

He glanced down at her upturned face and had to stop himself from bending down and kissing her slightly parted lips. Sophia did weird things to his self-control. He was probably in more danger from her than Leslie Wilkins. “My apologies, amore. Walter introduced me to Mr. and Mrs. Wilkins, and we got so engrossed in our conversation, I lost track of time. Leslie, Chet, do you know Sophia Stevens?”

Leslie Wilkins downed half the glass of champagne in one go and turned to her husband. “I’m going to get something to eat,” she said before walking away, her steps wobbly.

“Nice to see you again, Mr. Wilkins. Pardon me, I didn’t mean to interrupt your conversation,” Sophia added. “I’ll make sure Mrs. Wilkins finds the buffet okay.”

As quietly as she’d arrived, Sophia left, a light, lingering scent of fresh fruit and an odd tingle in his palm the only remnants of her appearance. Without missing a beat, Chet Wilkins continued his property wish list.

“I know of three properties that would suit your needs. When will you be in Italy?” As much as he’d love to cement a relationship with Chet, he couldn’t keep his mind off Sophia. Maybe she’d been checking him out and noticed his discomfort? His breath caught in his chest. What other hidden talents did the beguiling receptionist possess?

Chet’s voice interrupted his contemplations. “We’ll be there in about six weeks. My wife is accompanying me.”

Luca took a sip of his drink to expunge the bad taste in his mouth at the thought of more time in the company of Leslie Wilkins. “Here’s my card. Call me when you firm up your plans. I believe we can enjoy a mutually beneficial business partnership.”

Chet Wilkins pocketed his card and shook hands. “I look forward to working with you. Guess I’d better round up Leslie,” he said, then wandered toward the bar area rather than the buffet. Apparently, the man knew exactly where he’d find his wife.

Luca scanned the crowd, ignoring the open invitation on several of the women’s faces. Eventually he found Sophia, standing alone by the ice sculpture. The tiny white lights strung through the marquee danced off her golden hair, drawing him like a moth to a flame.

“Thank you,” he said, resisting the urge to take her hand again, to see if the connection he’d experienced earlier had been real.

A hesitant smile played about her lips. “I wasn’t rescuing you. I was saving Chet Wilkins. He was getting more embarrassed each time she touched you. Mr. Wilkins is a nice man; he’s been to the office several times. I didn’t like watching his wife flirt with someone in front of him.”

Damn, she hadn’t been checking him out. He had to force a smile. “Well, whatever your motive, I am grateful. Can I get you another drink?” He glanced down at her hand; the champagne was still at the same level it had been when he’d first seen her almost forty-five minutes ago.

“No, I’m good. Don’t let me detain you. I’m sure there must be other important people here you’d like to talk with.”

Was she trying to get rid of him? She’d met his gaze briefly before staring at his left shoulder. “Why do you feel you are not important?”

“I’m the receptionist.” She shrugged, her gaze only flicking to his momentarily.

“Receptionists are the first introduction to a company. They are vital in portraying the correct image. You should never think less of yourself.”

“It’s only a job.”

“Well if you could be anything you wanted, what would it be?”

“A ninja.” This time her eyes did meet his and the laughter was back in their green depths.

Whether it was the audacity of her reply or her smile he wasn’t sure, but he sucked in a deep breath. “An interesting career choice. Why would you like to be a ninja?”

“Black’s my favorite color.” Her flippant answer made him smile.

“So what is holding you back? A lack of black outfits?”

She laughed. “Ah, if only. No, the best ninja schools are in Japan, and I don’t have a passport.” She shrugged and looked once again over his shoulder.

“Am I keeping you from someone? Your husband or boyfriend?” He’d noticed in the office she didn’t wear a ring, and there had been no photos on her desk. But that didn’t mean she wasn’t involved with someone. He repressed the disappointment that swept through him.

“No, I’m here alone. I only came because Mr. Bodman insisted everyone in the company attend. But I think I’ve stayed long enough. I see Mr. Wilkins steering his wife toward the exit, so you should be safe now.”

“Safe, thanks to you. In fact your timely intervention has given me an idea. Will you meet me tomorrow? I have an opportunity I would like to discuss with you.”

“You need a part-time ninja to protect you?”

“Something like that.”

Sophia tilted her head to one side and stared at him. Finally she shrugged her delicate shoulders again. “I usually take a walk around St. James’s Park at lunchtime. I’ll be on the bridge at 12:30 if you still want to talk with me.” She spoke as though she didn’t really believe he would show up.

“Tomorrow at 12:30 then.”

Her eyes searched his face but he kept his expression carefully neutral. If she discovered his interest, she may not come. The plan that had started when she slipped her hand into his had solidified with their brief conversation. Yes, Sophia Stevens would do very nicely.

~~~~

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