A Deal Sealed by Passion

By: Louise Fuller

CHAPTER ONE

IN THE DARKENED bedroom of his penthouse hotel suite Massimo Sforza gazed in silence at the illuminated numerals of his watch. It was almost time. He held his breath, waiting, and then there was a quiet but audible beep. He breathed out slowly. Midnight.

His lean, dark features tightening, he shifted his gaze and stared down dispassionately at the naked women sprawled over both him and one another in the emperor-sized bed. They were beautiful and wanton and idly he tried to remember their names. Not that it mattered. He would never see either of them again. Women had a tendency to confuse intimacy with commitment but he liked variety and anyway the ‘c’ word was simply not part of his vocabulary.

The brunette shifted in her sleep, her arms flopping onto his chest. Feeling a spasm of irritation, he reached down and lifted the tangle of limbs away from his torso and onto the rumpled sheets before rolling over and out of the bed.

His breathing quiet and measured, he stood up and began to pick his way between the shoes and stockings strewn across the soft pale grey carpet. In front of the huge panoramic window that covered the length of the apartment he noticed a half-empty bottle of champagne and, leaning over, he picked it up.

‘Happy Birthday, Massimo,’ he murmured and, lifting it to his lips, he tipped it up. He made a moue of disgust. Flat and sour—like his mood. Grimacing, he looked down at the street below. He hated birthdays. Particularly his own. All that faux sentiment and ersatz celebration.

A signature on a contract. Now, that was a reason to celebrate. He smiled grimly. Take the latest addition to his ever-expanding property portfolio: a six-storey nineteen-thirties building in the exclusive Parioli district of Rome. He’d had his pick of five properties, two in the most sought-after road in the area: the Via dei Monti. His eyes gleamed. He could have bought them all—he still might. But the one he’d finally chosen hadn’t even been for sale.

Which was why he’d had to have it.

He gave a small tight smile. The owners had refused to sell. But their refusal had simply fuelled his determination to win. And he always won in the end. His smile widened. Which reminded him: those glitches in the Sardinian project should finally have been ironed out. He frowned. And about time too. Patience might be a virtue but he’d waited long enough.

Behind him, one of the women moaned softly, and he felt a frisson of lust shudder over his skin. Besides, right now, he was more interested in vice than virtue.

Savouring his body’s growing arousal, he glanced at the sky. It was nearly dawn. The project meeting was scheduled for that morning. He hadn’t been planning to attend—but what better birthday present could there be than hearing first-hand that the last remaining obstacle had been removed? And that work on his largest and most prestigious resort ever could finally begin.

His eyes narrowed as the blonde lifted her head, her lips curving into a suggestive pout. Coolly, he smiled back at her. Perhaps there was one thing...

He watched the brunette uncurl and stretch lazily and began to walk back to the bed.

* * *

Exactly fifty-one minutes later he strode into Sforza headquarters in Rome, wearing an immaculate navy suit and a deep blue shirt, his five o’clock shadow neatly trimmed.

‘Mr Sforza!’ Carmelina, the junior receptionist, gave a squeak of surprise.

‘Carmelina!’ he replied, smiling calmly.

‘I—I wasn’t expecting you in today, sir—’ she stammered. ‘I must have made a mistake. I thought it was—’

‘My birthday?’ Massimo laughed. ‘It is. You didn’t make a mistake, and I’m not planning on hanging around. I just thought I’d pop into the boardroom on my way to lunch at La Pergola. Don’t worry! I’m a big boy now. I can wait until tomorrow for my present from the staff.’

He watched Carmelina blush. She was sweet, and clearly had the mother of all crushes on him, but he never mixed business with pleasure. Nor would he—unless there was a sudden global shortage in the number of beautiful, sexually imaginative women eager to share his bed.

He paused briefly in front of the door to the boardroom and then pushed it open. There was a sudden flurry of people pushing back chairs and standing up as he walked purposefully into the room.

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