Get your head out of the gutter, Stewart.
I made myself a cup of coffee, grabbed a piece of dry toast, and sat down at the kitchen table overlooking the busy street below. But it wasn’t old ladies and moms holding onto their kids that I saw.
My mind could only focus on one thing: smoldering eyes and a hard body leaning over me. I sighed and let my imagination roam freely where it wanted to go.
Late afternoon, Sylvie was still not back, probably busy hooking up with last night’s conquest. In case she worried or needed me, I left a note on the kitchen table with my new number and the promise to call her as soon as I arrived in Italy. Half an hour later a cab pulled up in front of the building, and I drove to the airport with the setting sun behind me.
Once at JFK and waiting in the boarding area, I switched on my smartphone. The plan was to transfer my old cell’s contact list, excluding Sean’s number, to my company phone. Instead, I was instantly awarded with a long list of redirected calls and text messages. I knew nothing about my new boss, so I figured flicking through his messages would help me paint a picture before I met him in less than nine hours. I took a sip of my water and almost choked on it. He sounded businesslike and curt. While I understood that smileys and kisses were to be avoided in business correspondence, Mr. Mayfield also seemed to harbor a great aversion to saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. I frowned as I made a mental list of his favorite words: great, okay, fine, yes, no way, done. His longest sentence was: If you need to talk, my assistant will be happy to assist you.
I sighed and rubbed my still throbbing forehead. James hadn’t been the greatest boss in the world, but he didn’t seem allergic to talking. I certainly liked engaging in dialogue every now and then, so my new job might turn a bit challenging, and not in a good way.
I was about to switch off the smartphone when an IM from Sylvie came through. Glancing at the clock to make sure I wasn’t late, I opened the conversation and quickly skimmed through to the bottom. There was a brief mention of a letter and some guy with a strange and (according to Sylvie) extremely sexy accent calling to talk to me. I was listed in the public phone directory and was used to the usual financial and insurance companies soliciting me, so the information didn’t bother me. Maybe the fact that I had other things on my mind further contributed to my lack of interest. Switching off the smartphone, I headed for the gate to board the plane, wondering for the umpteenth time why a headhunter would headhunt me to work for someone like Mayfield. Judging from his brisk tone and my fondness of human conversation, we sure weren’t a match made in business heaven.
The plane landed at Malpensa airport nine painful hours later, which was the longest period I had ever spent on a plane. I knew I didn’t look my best. My head reeled, my eyes burned from a lack of sleep, and my thighs ached for a jog, but at that moment, I couldn’t be more excited. Milan’s ancient buildings and twinkling city lights were waiting just outside the sliding doors. I was ready to explore each and every part of this wonderful city on my days off, of which I hoped I would have plenty.
Smiling, I gathered my unruly hair in a high ponytail and pinched my cheeks to look more presentable, then picked up my luggage from the carousel and made my way through customs. The arrivals area was filled with waiting families and taxi drivers. I spied a cardboard plaque the size of a notebook with my name written on it and walked over, expecting my new boss to be waiting for me. The middle-aged guy greeted me in broken English, and I knew it couldn’t possibly be Mayfield.
“Seniorita Stewart, I’m your driver. May I take your luggage?” He didn’t wait for my answer. He grabbed my suitcase and heaved it up in a fluent motion, then carried it to the parked SUV, dodging the dissipating crowds and taxi drivers vying for tourists’s attention. I hurried after him, concentrating hard to keep up with his chitter-chatter as he went on to tell me about the weather, the country, sightseeing opportunities, and who knows what else.
Night had descended, but the airport was brightly illuminated, allowing a breathtaking sneak peak at the mountain scenery I had seen outlined through the plane’s window. I smiled and nodded politely as he opened the door for me, and I jumped onto the back seat of the car. He paused in his conversation for all of five seconds, or as long as it took him to pull out of the parking lot. As we headed up the highway he resumed his chat.
“You had a nice trip but very long?” I nodded, and he laughed. “But now it’s over and you’ll have a beautiful vacation.” I didn’t want to point out that I wasn’t on vacation, so I just nodded again. The driver continued his half-English, half-Italian monologue through the drive to Bellagio. By the time he pulled over thirty minutes later, my head was reeling, and not from the fresh air and stunning backdrop I had glimpsed outside the window. I jumped out on shaky feet, my hand clutching the car’s door for support, as I gawked at the hotel in front of me.
The architecture was definitely neo-classical, reminding me of Ancient Greek and Rome with its little columns, capitals, and beautiful sculptural bas-reliefs that my fingers itched to touch. It was big but not oversized, about five stories high with a beautiful illuminated fountain spewing up water onto two embracing angels from which a thick, red carpet was stretched out to the heavy glass door. As I entered my home for the next two weeks, my breath caught in my throat.
The reception hall, though not big, was absolutely stunning. Glass candelabra dangled from the high ceiling, illuminating the polished ivory marble floor below and accentuating the flower reliefs adorning the ivory-colored walls. But what impressed me most were the two Corinthian columns behind the reception desk.
Silvio passed my luggage to a uniformed bellboy and instructed him to bring it straight up to my room, while I waited at the reception desk to check in.
The receptionist smiled. She was a woman in her thirties with glowing olive skin and glossy hair to die for.
“Welcome, Miss Stewart,” she said in heavily accented English. “You’ve been booked on the upper floor. This is your key.” She held up a white piece of plastic the size of a credit card. “The restaurant’s open from seven to midnight. Room service is available around the clock. If you have any questions, I’ll be happy to answer them. Let me show you the way.”
I shook my head and returned her generous smile. “That won’t be necessary. I think I’ll be fine.” Architecture had always been my thing, only I never had the chance or money to visit a place this grand. I didn’t want to have to make small talk when I’d rather gawk at every single detail without anyone watching over my shoulder.
“But I insist. The elevators are over here.” She pointed behind her at the narrow corridor leading past the columns and around a corner. I followed her upstairs while listening to her recommending Italy’s must-see sights and excursions. And then she let me into my room and closed the door as she left, wishing me a pleasant stay.
I tossed the swipe card on the nearby coffee table realizing I hadn’t thought of tipping her, the bellboy, or the driver. “Oh, crap,” I muttered. Was it too late to run downstairs and do it now? Should I wait until the morning? I had never stayed in anything remotely expensive, so my knowledge of proper tipping etiquette was rather limited.
“Are you okay?” The male voice coming from my right startled me. I shrieked and jumped a step back, dropping my handbag in the process. My head turned in the intruder’s direction, and my mouth opened to let out an earsplitting sound, but what came out resembled more a surprised grumble that slowly turned into a sensation of anger pounding against my skull.
“Are you following me?” I was so angry I almost choked on my words.
“I could ask you the same question, since I was here first.” Mystery Guy cocked a brow and moved closer until he stood mere inches from my face. From this distance, or lack thereof, I could take in each and every detail of his face. His luscious lips were slightly curved in the most arrogant smile I had ever seen. Almost hidden by his day-old stubble were two tiny indentations in his cheeks, which I knew could turn into full-blown dimples. Dimples were my weakness. My fingers itched to reach up and touch them, touch his skin, feel his stubble to see whether it was as deliciously scratchy as it looked. His beautiful green eyes shimmered. His lips parted slightly, and I knew he could either sense my naughty thoughts or had some of his own. Maybe he remembered something I didn’t about our night together. My cheeks were on fire.
Swallowing hard, I looked down his delicious body and instantly regretted it. His shirt stretched over broad shoulders, leaving no doubt that the guy worked out. A lot. A dark patch of curly hair peeked from beneath his undone top button. It was the same color as his happy trail I had glimpsed when he didn’t bother to cover up in my bed.
In my bed.
God, I liked the sound of that. My cheeks flushed again as I cringed inwardly at my thoughts. What was wrong with me? The guy had trouble written all over him, and yet I behaved like a pubescent teen in heat, unable to control my own hormones. I had to find my wits, or what was left of them, before the guy’s ego grew bigger than the Eiffel Tower.
“What are you doing here?” I asked bending down to pick up my handbag from the floor. His gaze followed my ass and stayed glued to it a bit too long. I hurried to straighten up but not fast enough. A low, appreciative growl escaped his throat.
“Looking at my favorite spot. Need help with that?” He pointed in the direction of my heavy suitcase, but his gaze remained glued to my ass. My clothes seemed to evaporate into thin air. I fought the urge to shrug into my coat and keep it on for the rest of our unsolicited conversation.
“I’ll be just fine, thanks.” Irritated, I turned to face him, which in turn forced his gaze away from my ass and back to my face. A glint of disappointment appeared in his expression, as though, unlike my ass, my face wasn’t quite worth his time. I crossed my arms over my chest and regarded him coolly. “What was your excuse again for breaking into my room?”
“I’m staying here.”
I smirked. “Unless Mayfield invited you over for the ride, and he’s a stingy SOB, I don’t think that’s the case.”
He laughed. His voice sounded like satin silk caressing my skin, velvety soft yet luxurious. I shuddered lightly.
He’s bad news, Stewart, I reminded myself.
“I’ll try not to be offended this time, but for future reference, my employees don’t usually talk to me like that.” His lips remained curled into that gorgeous, lopsided smile, which made it hard to focus on anything else. It took me a few seconds to realize the meaning of his words. We were in a different country at the same time. I was supposed to meet my new boss, whom I had just called a stingy SOB, and Mystery Guy felt offended.
“You’re Mayfield, aren’t you?” My voice came low and hoarse. He nodded slowly, staring at me. “But you said your name was Jett Townsend.”
He nodded again. “Townsend was my mother’s name. I like to use it when I meet potential employees. It makes the whole recruitment process easier and, let’s say, refreshing.”