Bought by Her Italian Boss
An affair of convenience!
Gwyn Ellis is in big trouble. Scandalous photos of her have been released online, slandering her as an adulteress and threatening her hard-earned job with Donatelli International Bank. No one wants to hear how she’s been framed…no one except her boss, the darkly sexy Vittorio Donatelli!
Vittorio will do anything to protect his company from scandal—he’s kept the secret of his true parentage hidden for years. So if it means making stunning Gwyn his mistress to combat the vicious rumors, then he’ll do it…with pleasure!
"Did I say we’d sleep together? You’re projecting. No, I’m saying we must appear to."
— Vittorio, Bought By Her Italian Boss
As a reader, I love books that revisit characters from romances I’ve already read. I love knowing the couple I followed so breathlessly to their Happy Ever After is actually living happily ever after.
If you’ve read Proof Of Their Sin you may recall that Paolo had a sexy cousin, Vittorio. He’s an incorrigible bachelor and I seeded him into that story with the idea I could one day find him a wife (and revisit Paolo and Lauren.)
Little did I know what Vito was hiding under that veneer of aloofness! He’s intense and passionate and still determined never to marry, but so loyal to his family. I loved that I was able to bring out more of his relationship with Paolo and Lauren and show how envious he is of their happiness. He so deserves his own HEA!
As for Gwyn, I adore her! I wasn’t sure I could get away with having her nude photos leaked online as a story opener, but my editor went for it. Poor Gwyn is a wreck, as anyone would be! And there is sexy, powerful Vito—her boss and the man most likely to fire her for something that is not her fault at all. Her life is pretty much over.
I hope you enjoy their journey and I especially hope you enjoy seeing how Paolo and Lauren are getting along. Hint: Lauren is pregnant with their third.
Update: I’ve since written about Gwyn’s stepbrother, Travis who reunites with his (secret) ex-wife, Imogen.
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Bought by Her Italian Boss
Gwyn Ellis looked from the screen to Nadine Billaud, the public relations manager for Donatelli International, then back to the screen.
“This is you, oui?” Nadine prodded.
Gwyn couldn’t speak. Her heart had begun slamming inside her ribcage the moment she had recognized herself. Cold sweat coated her skin. Air wouldn’t squeeze past her locked throat let alone words.
That was her. Naked. Right there on that computer, the line of her bare bottom clear as the crack of dawn, neatly framed by her hot pink thong. Everyone had a backside that looked more or less like that, but she was extremely selective about showing hers to anyone. She certainly didn’t email shots like this to men she barely knew. Or post them online.
Her whole body felt like a frozen electrical current was vibrating through her, paralyzing her.
The photo changed and that bare torso with the sheet rumpled across her upper thighs was all her, too. The way her breasts lifted as she arched her back and ran fingers through her hair bordered on deliberately erotic, coupled with that blissful, upturned expression. She looked like she’d been making love all day—as if she even knew what that felt like!
Then the final one came up again. She was adjusting the band of her hot pink undies across her cocked hip, looking like she was teasingly deciding whether to keep them on or remove them, eyes still lazily drooped and soft satisfaction painted across her lips.
The lighting was golden and her skin faintly gleamed—with oil, she realized as her brain began to function past the shock. These had been taken at the spa where she’d had a massage, trying to fix the ache between her shoulder blades that had been torturing her for weeks. She was sitting up and dressing after her appointment, relaxed and comfortable in what she had perceived as complete privacy.
The massage table had been cropped from the images, leaving muted sage-green walls and indistinct, blurred flowers in the background. It could have been a hotel room, a bedroom—whatever the viewer wanted to imagine.
Her stomach roiled. She thought she might be hyperventilating because she could hear a distant hiss. She wanted to throw up, pass out, die. Please God, take me now.
“Mademoiselle?” Nadine badgered.
“Yes,” she stammered. “It’s me.” Then, as the sheer mortification of the whole thing struck, she added a strident, “Can you close that, please?”
She glanced at Signor Fabrizio, her supervisor. He sat next to her with a supercilious expression on his middle-aged face.
“Why are you showing those like that? With him in here?” Gwyn asked. “Couldn’t we have done this privately?”
“They’re available to anyone with an online connection. I’ve seen them,” Fabrizio said pithily. “I brought them to Nadine’s attention.”
He’d already taken a long look? Gross.
Tears hit her eyes like the cut of a hard, biting wind. An equally brutal blow seemed to land in her stomach, pushing nausea higher into the back of her throat.
“Surely you knew this could happen when you took those photos and sent them to Mr. Jensen?” Nadine said.
Nadine had kept her snooty nose high in the air from the moment Gwyn had followed Fabrizio into her office. Fabrizio kept giving her darkly smug looks, like he was staring right through her perfectly respectable blue pencil skirt and matching jacket.
He made her skin crawl.
And worry for her job. Her palms were sweating.
“I didn’t take those photos,” she said as strongly as her tight throat would allow. “And you think I would send something like that to a client? They’re—oh, for the love of God.” She heard the door opening behind her and shot to her feet, reaching to push the lid of Nadine’s laptop down herself, wishing the images could be quashed that easily.
Deep in the back of her psyche, she knew she was going to cry. Soon. Pressure was building behind her collarbone, compressing her lungs, pushing behind her eyes. But for the moment she was in a type of shock. Like she’d been shot and still had the strength to run before the true depth of her injuries debilitated her.
“Signor Donatelli.” Nadine rose. “Thank you for coming.”
“You notified him?” Signor Fabrizio jerked to his feet, sounding dismayed.
Whatever remained of Gwyn’s composure went into free fall. The owner of the bank was here? She tried to gather herself to face yet another denigrating expression.
“It’s protocol with something this dangerous to the bank’s reputation,” Nadine said stiffly, adding to the weight on Gwyn’s heart.
“She’s being dismissed,” Fabrizio hurried to assure Signor Donatelli. “I was about to tell her to collect her things.”
Time stopped as Gwyn processed that she was being fired. Stupid her, she had thought she was being called in to talk about a client’s possible misappropriation of funds, not to be disgraced in front of the entire world.
Literally the entire world. This was what online bullying felt like. This was persecution. A witch hunt. Stoning. She couldn’t take in how monumentally unjust this was.
The only experience she could liken it to was when her mother had been diagnosed. Words were being said. Facts stated that couldn’t be denied, but she had no real grasp of how the next minute or week or the rest of her life would play out from this moment forward.
She didn’t want to face it, but she had no choice.
And the silence around her told her they were all waiting for her to do so.
Very slowly, she turned to the man who’d just entered, but it wasn’t Paolo Donatelli, president and head of the family that owned Donatelli International. No, it was far worse.
Vittorio Donatelli. Paolo’s cousin, second in command as VP of operations. A man of, arguably, even more stunningly good looks, at least in her estimation. His features were as refined and handsome as his Italian heritage demanded. He was clean-shaven, excruciatingly well dressed in a tailored suit, and wore an air of arrogance that came as much from his lean height as his aloof expression. His ability to dominate any situation was obvious in the way they all stood in silence, waiting for him to speak.
He didn’t know her from Adam, she knew that. She’d smiled brightly at him not long after arriving here in Milan, forgetting that secret crushes didn’t know they were the object of such yearnings. He’d looked right through her and it had stung. Quite badly, illogically.
“Nadine. Oscar,” Vittorio said with a brief flick of his gaze to the other occupants of the room before coming back to give Gwyn a piercing stare from his bronze eyes.
Her heart gave a skip between pounds, reacting to him even when she was verging on hysteria. Her mouth was so dry she couldn’t make it stretch into a smile. She doubted she would ever smile again. The strange buzz inside her intensified.
“Miss Ellis,” he said with a hostile nod of acknowledgment.
He knew her name from Nadine’s report, she supposed. The furious accusation in his eyes told her he’d seen the photos. Of course he’d seen them. That’s why he had stooped from the lofty heights of the top floor to the midlevel of the Donatelli Tower.
Gwyn’s shallow breaths halted and her knees quivered. She was weirdly shocked by how defenseless the idea of his seeing her naked made her feel, but the effect this very perfect stranger had had on her from the start was unprecedented. She’d seen him stride through the offices in Charleston once and that simple glimpse of an incredibly handsome and dynamic man had made her view the postings at the head office in Milan that much more favorably than any other branch in the organization. She had wanted to advance, would have taken whatever promotions she could land, but this was her dream location.
Because it gave her the chance to see him.
Be careful what you wish for. She mashed her lips together into a hard, steady line, heart scored, then turned her face away, trying to recover.
He was, quite obviously, nothing like the man she’d constructed in her mind. Italian men were warm and gregarious and adored women, she had thought, expecting he’d flirt with her if they ever actually spoke. She had expected him to give her a chance to intrigue him, despite the fact she worked for him.
But the man she had been obsessing over had not only glimpsed her naked, he was completely unmoved by what he’d seen. He was repelled. Blamed her. Was privately calling her a whore and worse—
She stopped herself from spiraling. The pieces of her shattered world were being kicked around enough. She had to keep a grip.
But she wasn’t used to being rejected out of hand, seeing no interest whatsoever from a man. The reaction was usually the opposite. Her body had always pulled a certain amount of male attention. She didn’t encourage it and was pretty boring personalitywise. She worked in banking, for heaven’s sake. Her hair was the most common brown you could find and she wasn’t terribly pretty. Her face was only elevated from plain to pleasant by her mother’s exceptionally good skin and a cheery nature that usually kept a smile on her mouth. So she shouldn’t be that surprised when a man who could have his pick of women showed no interest in her.
It made her ache all the same.
Think, she ordered herself, but it was hard when she was stuck in this swamp of feeling so thoroughly scorned by a man who enthralled her.
“I want a lawyer,” she managed to say.
“Why would you need one?” Vittorio asked with a wrathful lift of his brows, so godlike.
“This is wrongful dismissal. You’re treating me like a criminal when those photos are illegal. They were taken at a spa without my knowledge. They’re not selfies, so how could I have sent them to Kevin Jensen? Or anyone? His wife is the one who recommended I go there for my shoulder!”
Vito flicked his gaze to the laptop, mentally reviewing images that would have been very titillating if they were a private communication between lovers. For long seconds as he’d reviewed the photos, he’d been captivated against his will, having to force himself to move past his transfixion with her sensual figure to the fact that this was a hydrogen bomb aimed directly at the bank that was his livelihood and the foundation that supported his entire extended family.
But the photos weren’t selfies. That was true. He had thought Jensen must have taken them.
Nadine seemed to think his shift of attention was a prompt for her to bring them up for another look. She started to open her laptop.
“Would you stop showing those to people, you freak?” Gwyn cried.
“Let’s keep this professional,” Nadine snapped.
“How would you react if you were me?” Gwyn shot back.
Gwyn Ellis was not what he had expected. There was an American wholesomeness to her that neutralized some of the femme fatale that had come across on-screen. He had expected, and received, an impact of female sexuality when he had entered the room. He’d felt the same thing the day she’d smiled at him in the lobby.
She’d already been under suspicion, so he’d pretended not to notice her, but nothing could downplay her allure. That body of hers didn’t stop, with her firm, well-rounded breasts that sat high beneath her neatly cut jacket and her waistline that begged for a man’s hands to clasp before sliding down to the flare of her hips and her gorgeously plump ass that he dreamed of kneading. Knees were not something he’d normally catalogue, but she had cute ones.
An image of cupping them as he held them apart drifted through his brain.
She was a very potent woman. Her shoulders were stiff, her frame tense and defensive, but her slight stature and smooth curves announced to the animal kingdom that she was undeniably a female of the species, of fertile age and irresistibly ripe.
She called to the male in him, quickening the blood of the beast that he suppressed at all costs.
Visceral reactions like lust were something he indulged in very controlled quantities. This was not the time and, judging by his reaction to her, Gwyn was not the woman. High-octane risk-taking was his cousin’s bailiwick. Vito controlled his bloodlust ruthlessly—even though there was a part of him that beat with excitement for the challenge of throwing himself into this perfect storm of chemistry to see if he could survive it.
What they could do to one another…
He turned his mind from speculating, hearing Nadine aim a very pointed barb at Gwyn. “I wouldn’t sleep with a married man. This wouldn’t happen to me.”
“Who said I slept with Kevin Jensen?” Gwyn challenged hotly. “Who? I want a name.”
So indignant. This was not the reaction of a woman who had posed for a lover, running the risk of exposure. She ought to be furious with Jensen or his wife, perhaps tossing her hair in defiance of judgment over her decision to pose naked for her paramour. Instead, she was a woman on the edge of her control, reacting to a catastrophe with barely contained hysteria.
“His wife said you slept with him. Or want to. Obviously,” Oscar Fabrizio interjected. “Since she posted these filthy photos when she discovered them on his phone. You’ve been having lunches and dinners with him.”
Vito found that attack interesting. He had brought certain suspicions about their nonprofit accounts manager to Paolo’s attention a few weeks ago. The assumption had easily been made that the New Girl was in on the arrangement, facilitating.
“Kevin wanted to do things—have our meetings, I mean,” Gwyn quickly clarified, “away from the office.” She was visibly distraught, looking to Vito in entreaty. “He’s a client. I didn’t have a choice but to go to him if that’s what he requested.”
Vito had to accept that. Excellence of customer service was a cornerstone at Donatelli International. If a client of Jensen’s caliber wanted a house call, employees were expected to make them.
“You didn’t take those photos?” he pressed her.
“So they’re not on that phone.” He nodded at where she clutched her device in a death grip.
Gwyn had forgotten she was holding it, but she always grabbed it out of habit when she left her desk and had switched it to silent as she came into this meeting. Now she stared at it, surprised to see it there. At least she could say with confidence, “No. They’re not.”
“You’ll let me confirm that?” he held out his hand.
On the surface it was a very reasonable request, but, oh, dear Lord, no. She had something on here that was beyond embarrassing. It would make this situation so much worse… So much worse.
She knew her face was falling into lines of panicked guilt, but couldn’t help it.
His nostrils flared and his jaw hardened. The death rays coming out of his eyes told her she’d be lucky to merely lose her job.
“This phone is mine,” she stammered, trying not to let him intimidate her. If she hadn’t already been violated, she might not have been so vehement, but he was going to have to knock her cold to pry this thing out of her hand if he wanted access. “I get an allowance to offset my using it for company business, but it’s mine. You don’t have any right to look at it.”
“Can it clear you of suspicion or not?” His gaze delved into her culpable one.
She couldn’t hide the turmoil and resentment coursing through her at being put on the spot. “My privacy has been invaded enough.”
She was naked. On the internet. She supposed everyone in the building was staring at her image right now. Men saying filthy, suggestive things. Women judging whether her stomach was flat enough, saying she had cellulite, calling her too bony or too tall or too something so they could feel better about their own body issues.
Gwyn wanted to hang her head and sob.
All she could think was how hard she’d worked not to be pushed around by life the way her mother had been. At every stage, she’d tried to be self-reliant, autonomous, control her future.
Breathe, she commanded herself. Don’t think about it. She would fall apart. She really would.
“I think we have our answer,” Fabrizio said pitilessly.
She was starting to hate that man. Gwyn wasn’t the type to hate. She did her best to get along with everyone. She was a happy person, always believing that life was too short for drama and conflict. Being the first to apologize made her the bigger person, she always thought, but she doubted she would ever forgive these people for how they were treating her right now.
A muted buzz sounded and Nadine looked at her own phone. “The press is gathering. We need to make a statement.”
The press? Gwyn circled around Fabrizio to the window and looked down.
Nadine’s office was midway up the tower, but the crowd at the entrance, and the cameras they held, were like ants pouring out of a disturbed hill. It was as bad as a royal birth down there.
She swallowed, stomach turning again.
Kevin Jensen was an icon, a modern day, international superhero who flew into disaster aftermath to offer “feet on the ground” assistance. Anyone with half a brain saw that he exploited heart-wrenching situations on camera to increase donations and boost his own profile, but the bottom line was he showed up to terrible tragedies and brought aid. He did real, necessary work for the devastated.
But lately Gwyn had been questioning how he spent some of those abundant donations.
Had this been his answer? A massive discrediting that would get her fired?
She hugged herself. This sort of thing didn’t happen to real people. Did it?
Her gaze searched below for an escape route. She couldn’t even leave the building to get to her rented flat here in Milan. How would she get back to America? Even if she got that far, then what? Look to her stepfather to shelter her? Who was going to hire her with this sort of notoriety? Ever?
She’d be exactly what she’d tried so hard to avoid being: a burden. A leach.
Oh, God…oh, God. The walls were beginning to creak and buckle around her composure. The pressure behind her cheekbones built along with weight on her shoulders and upper arms.
Nadine was talking as she typed, “…say that the bank was unaware of this personal relationship and the employee has been terminated—”
“Our client has stated that the photos were not invited,” Fabrizio interjected.
Gwyn spun around. “And your employee states that she’s been targeted by a peeping tom and an online porn peddler and a vengeful wife.”
Nadine paused only long enough to send her a stern look. “I strongly advise you not to speak to the press.”
“I strongly advise you that I will be speaking to a lawyer.” It was an empty threat. Her savings were very modest. Very. Much as she would love to believe her stepbrother would help her, she couldn’t count on it. He had his own corporate image to maintain.
The way Vittorio Donatelli continued to emanate hostility made her want to crawl into a hole and die.
“How long have you been with the company?” Nadine asked.
“Two years in Charleston, four months here,” Gwyn said, trying to recall how much room her credit card balance had for plane fare and setting up house back in Charleston. Not enough.
“Two years,” Nadine snorted, adding an askance, “How did you earn a promotion like this after only that short a time?” Her gaze skimmed down Gwyn’s figure, clearly implying that Gwyn had slept her way into the position. Night school and language classes and putting in overtime counted for nothing, apparently.
Fabrizio didn’t defend her, despite signing off on her transfer and giving her a glowing review after her first three months.
Vittorio’s expression was an inscrutable mask. Was he thinking the same thing?
A disbelieving sob escaped her and she hugged herself, trying to stay this side of manic.
While Vittorio brought his own phone from his pants pocket and with a sweep and tap connected to someone. “Bruno? Vito. I need you in Nadine Billaud’s office. Bring some of your men.”
“For my walk of shame?” Gwyn presumed. Here came the tears, welling up like a tsunami with a mile of volume behind it. Her voice cracked. “Don’t worry. I plan to leave quickly and quietly. I can’t wait to not work here anymore.”
“You’ll stay right here until I tell you to leave.” His tone was implacable, making her heart sink in her hollow chest while another part of her rose in defiance, wanting to fight and rail and physically tear at him to get out of here. She was the quintessential wounded animal that needed to bolt from danger to its cave.
To Nadine, he added, “Confirm the photos belong to one of our employees. For privacy and legal reasons we have no other comment. Ask the reporters to disperse and enlist the lobby guards to help. Issue a similar statement to all employees. Add a warning that they risk termination if they speak to the press or are observed viewing the photos on corporate equipment or company grounds. Oscar, I need a full report on how these photos came to your attention.”
“Signor Jensen contacted me this morning—”
“Not here.” Vittorio moved to the door as a knock sounded. “In your office. Wait here,” he said over his shoulder to Gwyn, like she was a dog to be left at home while he went to work. He urged the other two from the room and pulled the door closed behind the three of them.
“Yeah, right,” Gwyn rasped into the silence of Nadine’s empty office, hugging herself so tightly she was suffocating.
A twisting, writhing pain moved in her like a snake, coiling around her organs to squeeze her heart and lungs, tightening her stomach and closing her throat. She covered her face, trying to hide from the terrible reality that everyone—everyone in the world—was not only staring at her naked body, but believing that she had had sex with a married man.
She could live with people staring at her body. Almost. They did it anyway. But she was a good person. She didn’t lie or steal or come on to men, especially married ones! She was conservative in the way she lived her life, saving her craziest impulses for things like her career where she did wildly ambitious things like sign up for Mastering Spreadsheets tutorials in hopes of moving up the ladder.
The pressure in her cheekbones and nose and under her eyes became unbearable. She tried to press it back with the flats of her hands, but a moan of anguish was building from the middle of her chest. A sob bounced like a hard pinball, bashing against her inner walls, moving up from her breastbone into her throat.
She couldn’t break down, she reminded herself. Not here. Not yet. She had to get out of this place and the sooner the better. It was going to be awful. A nightmare, but she would do it, head high and under her own steam.
Gritting her teeth, she reached for the door and started to open it.
A burly man wearing a suit and a short, neat haircut was standing with his back to the door. Guarding her? He grabbed the doorknob, keeping her from pulling it open. His body angled enough she could see he also wore some kind of clear plastic earpiece. His glance at her was both indifferent and implacable.
“Attendere qui, per favore.” Wait here, please.
She was so shocked, she let him pull the door from her lax grip and close her into Nadine’s office again.
Actually, it slipped freely from her clammy hand. The room began to feel very claustrophobic. She moved to the window again, seeing the crowd of reporters had grown. She couldn’t tell if Nadine was addressing them. She could hardly see. Her vision was blurring. She sniffed, feeling the weight of all that had happened so deeply she had to move to the nearest chair and sink into it.
Her breath hitched and no amount of pressure from her hands would push back the burn behind her eyes.
The door opened again, startling her heart into lurching and her head into jerking up.
He was back.
Gwyn Ellis looked like hell had moved in where her soul used to be, eyes pits of despair, mouth soft and bracketed by lines of disillusion. Her brow was a crooked line of suffering, but she immediately sat taller, blinking and visibly fighting back her tears to face him without cowering.
“I want to leave,” she asserted.
The rasp in her voice scraped at his nerves while he studied her. Vixens knew how to use their sexuality on a man. If she was a victim, he would expect her to appeal to the protector in him. Either way, he wouldn’t expect her to be so confrontational.
Gwyn was a fighter. He didn’t want to find that dig-deep-and-stay-strong streak in her admirable. It softened him when he was in crisis control mode, trying to remember that she had, quite possibly, colluded to bilk the bank and a completely legitimate nonprofit organization of millions of euros in donations.
“We have more to talk about,” he told her. He had made the executive decision to question her himself, like this, privately. And he wasn’t prepared to ask himself why.
“An exit interview? I have two short words,” she said tightly.
That open hostility was noteworthy. Oscar Fabrizio had been full of placating statements until Paolo had been patched through on speakerphone. Then Oscar had seemed to realize he was under suspicion. He’d asked for a lawyer. Sweat had broken across his brow and upper lip when Vito had ordered his computer and phone to be analyzed. Both were company issued and it had been obvious Oscar was dying to contact someone—Kevin Jensen perhaps? A plainclothes investigator was on the way. A full criminal inquiry was being launched down the hall.
While here… Vito was sure she was an accomplice, except…
“You say you had no knowledge of those photos,” he challenged.
“No. I didn’t.” Her chin came up and her lashes screened her eyes, but there was no hiding the quiver of her mouth. She was deeply upset about their being made public. That was not up for dispute. “They were taken after a massage. I didn’t know there was a camera in the room.”
The images were imprinted on his brain. The photos would have made a splash without Jensen’s name attached, he thought distantly. She was built like Venus.
But he saw how they could have been taken during a private moment and manipulated to appear like shots between lovers. He had made certain presumptions on sight: that she was not only having an affair with a client, but was engaged in criminal activity with him. If Jensen was prepared to steal from charity donations, would it be such a stretch to photograph a banking underling in an attempt to cover it up?
Powerful men exploited young, vulnerable women. He knew that. It was quite literally in his DNA.
“Are you picturing me naked?” she challenged bitterly, but her chin crinkled and she fought for her composure a moment, then bravely firmed her mouth and controlled her expression, meeting his gaze with loathing shadowing the depths of her brown eyes.
Such a contrary woman with her wounded expression and quiet, forest creature coloring of dark eyes and hair, then that devastatingly powerful figure of generous curves and lissome limbs.
“Wondering if you are having an affair with Jensen,” he replied.
“I’m not!” There was a catch in her voice before her tone strengthened. “And I wasn’t trying to start one either. I barely know him.” She crossed her arms. “I actually think he’s been skimming funds from his foundation for himself.”
“He is.” He steadily returned the shocked brown stare she flashed at him. Her irises had a near-black rim around the dark chocolate brown, he noted, liking the directness it added to her subtly tough demeanor.
Her pupils expanded with surprise, further intriguing him.
“You know that for a fact?” Her brows were like distant bird wings against the sky, long and elegant with a perfect little crook above her eyes. She was truly beautiful.
He wanted her. Badly.
He ignored the need pulling at him, stating, “We also know someone in the bank is colluding with him. We’ve been conducting an extremely delicate investigation that blew up today, thanks to your photos.”
Vito was angry with himself. He was a numbers man, calculating all the odds, all the possible moves an opponent might try, but he hadn’t seen this one coming.
“I’m not colluding with anyone!” Her expression was earnest and very convincing. But he was a mistrustful man at heart, too aware of the secrets and lies he lived under himself to take for granted that other people weren’t self-protecting or withholding certain facts to better their own position.
“And yet you won’t let me look at your phone,” he said pointedly.
Her jaw set and she turned the device over in her hands. With a shaky little sigh that smacked of defeat, she tapped in her access code, surprising him with her sudden willingness.
“Look at my emails,” she urged. “You’ll see I was counseling him that certain requests could be interpreted as shady.” She offered him the phone.
Gwyn didn’t know much about climbing out of a hole, but she knew you had to bounce off rock bottom so she went there. At least this humiliation was her choice and only between the two of them, now the room was empty. At least she was getting a chance to speak her side. Maybe he’d see that she didn’t have anything to hide except a stupid attraction. Hopefully he’d read between the lines and also see that she wasn’t the least bit interested in stupid Kevin Jensen.
Still, it was hard to sit here with the anticipation of further shame washing over her. He would see that her handful of texts and emails with friends back home were innocuous and seldom. She was friendly with many, but actual friends with very few. It was a symptom of moving so much through her childhood, as her mother had tried to find better positions for herself. Gwyn kept in touch with people she liked, mostly through social media, but she didn’t bond very often. She had learned early that it hurt too much when she had to move on. The person she was closest to, her stepfather, didn’t “do” computers. They talked the old-fashioned way, over the phone or face-to-face.
If Vittorio glanced through her social media accounts, he’d see she followed liberal pundits and quirky celebrities. If he looked at her apps, he’d discover she kept her checking account in the black, played Sudoku when she was bored, read mostly romance and had finished her period three days ago.
And if he looked at her photos, he’d see that she had been taking in the sights of Milan on lunches and weekends. Sites that included his extremely handsome head shot hanging in the main foyer of the Donatelli International building.
Her cheeks stung as she waited out his discovery of the incriminating photo. She’d taken it in a fit of infatuation the other day. After passing the fountain in the lobby a million times since her arrival, she’d noticed someone taking a selfie with the burbling water in the background. It had made her realize she could pretend to take a selfie and capture the image of her obsession on the wall.
Why? Why had she followed through on such a silly impulse? It had been as mature as pinning up a poster of a movie star in her bedroom and talking to it.
Especially when he’d been so dismissive the one time she’d smiled at him, like he couldn’t imagine why she, a lowly minion, would send such a dazzling welcome his direction. He worked at such a high level in the bank, he barely showed up to the offices at all. He didn’t consort with peasants like her.
How many times had she even seen him since arriving here? Four?
She mentally snorted at herself. Like she hadn’t counted each glimpse as if they were days until Christmas. She looked for him all the time. It was a bit of a sickness, really. Why? What on earth had convinced her that she had anything in common with a man like him?
Her heightened awareness of him picked up on the subtle stillness that overcame him.
She refused to look at him, certain he was staring at his own image. He must be thinking she was a weird, stalker type now. By any small miracle, was he also noticing that she didn’t have those stupid nudes on there?
“Today is full of surprises.” Vittorio clicked off her phone and tucked it into his shirt pocket, drawing her startled glance. His hammered-gold eyes held an extra glitter of male speculation, something dark and predatory, like he’d just noticed the plump bird that had landed nearby.
Her stomach swooped.
“Did you read the emails?” she asked shakily.
“I glanced over them.”
“They appear to support your claim that you weren’t involved.”
“Appear to support,” she repeated. “Like I wrote those emails as some kind of premeditated attempt to cover my butt?” Her translucent skin was growing pink with temper. “Look, you have to know it’s tricky to tell a client an outright ‘no.’ I’ve been trying to do it nicely while Mr. Jensen and Signor Fabrizio—”
Her face blanked. She touched between her furrowed brow.
“They’ve been setting me up this whole time, haven’t they? That’s why I got this promotion. They thought I was too inexperienced to see what they were up to. As soon as I proved I wasn’t, they turned me into their fall guy. They just pushed me off the roof!”
She was very convincing, right down to the way her trembling hand moved to cover her mouth and her eyes glassed with anxious outrage.
He tried to hang on to his cynicism, but he was entertaining similar thoughts. The very idea ignited a strange fury in him. He knew better than most what happened when a corrupt man took advantage of an ingenuous woman. His father had done it to his mother and she had wound up dead.
His phone vibrated. He glanced at the text from his cousin.
Fabrizio claims it was all her. Any progress on your end?
Vito glanced at Gwyn, at the way her shaking fingers smoothed her hair behind her ear while her concubine mouth pouted with very credible fear.
He wasn’t without concern himself. Even if Paolo managed to build a case against Fabrizio, Kevin Jensen had positioned himself very well to walk away along the high ground leaving the bank wearing a cloak of muddied employees. An institution that staked its success on a reputation of trustworthiness would cease to appear so.
Vito refused to let that happen. He protected his family at all costs. They would, and had, done the same for him.
And this would cost him. Gwyn was dangerous. The fact that he was drawn to her, looking to see her as an innocent despite the very real fact she might be involved in crimes against the bank, was unnerving. Being close to her would be a serious test of his mettle.
But his glimpse into her phone had revealed a move to him that even a master chess player like Kevin Jensen wouldn’t see coming, even though it was one of the basic rules of the game: if a pawn was pushed far enough into the field of play, she could be promoted to a formidable queen.