Bound by the Italian's Contract

By: Janette Kenny

CHAPTER ONE

CAPRICE TREGORE WRAPPED her confidence around her like a protective cloak and strode into The Corbett, Aspen’s newest five-star hotel, which a Russian billionaire had built one year ago to cater to the rich and famous. She surveyed the interior, her senses in overdrive.

It was a breathtaking, palatial design of marble pillars, gleaming granite floors and exquisite tapestries dressing massive walls. This lavish and elite winter hotspot was exactly what she had pointedly avoided the past seven years. If she didn’t desperately need help, she wouldn’t be setting foot in this playground for the rich and famous now.

She quickly circled the three-tiered castle fountain that dominated the center of the expansive lobby and scanned the myriad seating nooks tucked here and there for the handsome Italian she’d come here to meet. With rising annoyance, she realized not one man resembled him. Was he late? Had he stood her up?

“Punctual as always, Miss Tregore?”

That deep voice rumbling behind her, flavored with a distinct Italian accent, sent an electric shiver zinging through her. That was the last reaction she wanted this playboy to incite in her and she wouldn’t tolerate another second of it!

“Punctuality is one of the cardinal business virtues,” she said stiffly as she turned to face him with a professional smile she’d perfected.

For one second it threatened to slip as she stared into his riveting blue eyes framed in a face surely reserved for an archangel. Or the devil?

God knew either could apply to Luciano Duchelini. That reminder stiffened her spine and her resolve.

“A Don Marquis quotation, but you left the rest off,” he said, not one iota of amusement ringing in that velvety voice that she’d once found incredibly attractive. “Always insist on it in your subordinates.”

“I wasn’t suggesting you were—”

“It doesn’t matter. I watched you walk in five minutes ago,” he said. “Your promptness is an asset.”

That he knew exactly when she’d walked in the door spoke volumes. So did the fact he’d remained a bit hidden, making her seem the one a bit late and harried.

Not the impression she wanted to impart.

The Luciano she’d known had always run five to ten minutes late. It was a control thing and she’d accounted for it by arriving exactly on time. But he’d been here waiting.

That was a huge surprise. And a miscalculation on her part.

Seven years ago Luciano had been the world champion on the slopes, winning more gold medals than any Alpine skier before him, besting even his acclaimed father. The only things he was ever on time for were competitions.

It had been proven no man could beat him on the slopes. Rumors had flown that his ex-wife had captured his heart and taken it with her to her grave. That he no longer cared what anyone thought of him. That he lived for the moment, in sport and pleasure.

That no woman could reach the heart of the man.

Yet once she’d foolishly fallen for the champion, beset by a strong teenage crush. He was her idol. Her coach.

Her friend. Or so she’d thought.

He’d used her friendship, her naïveté, just as he’d done with his lovers. She’d hated him then for hurting her, and hated herself now because she knew better than to trust his type.

He was a celebrated playboy. Life had been a game to him and he’d played it to the hilt. He laughed. He partied. He took nothing seriously.

Not her. She’d assumed the role of a reckless flirt one time in her life. A stupid act of retaliation that she’d regretted every day since. That one horrific incident convinced her that she wasn’t a player in that world.

“Thank you for agreeing to meet with me,” she said, refusing to let him fluster her.

He smiled, though it appeared as practiced as hers. “My pleasure.”

If only she could say the same. She had to strike a winning deal. A position she deeply resented.

She’d worked hard. Saved. Scrimped. Yet it hadn’t been enough to save her when crisis struck. Now she needed this deal or she would lose Tregore Lodge, her heritage, her home, her livelihood.

“I’ve come prepared, Mr. Duchelini,” she said, getting right to the point.

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