Happy Mother's Day! - By Sharon Kendrick


SHE didn’t want to be here.

Despite the icy blast of the air-conditioning, Aisling could feel a trickle of sweat sliding down between her breasts. But that was the effect he had on her. The effect he had on all women. Some people called it charm, others manipulation. Whatever it was—it was as potent as hell.


The richly accented purr of Gianluca Palladio’s voice washed into her thoughts like liquid silk, and Aisling composed herself as she turned away from the vast window and its spectacular view of the Roman skyline to the infinitely more distracting sight of the dark-haired man sitting at the desk. The man they called Il Tigre—because he was fierce and powerful, and because he hunted alone …

Today his legendary talons were sheathed and Gianluca Palladio looked very much the urban tiger, in a charcoal suit whose dark colour emphasised the impressive breadth of shoulders and the hard, lean body beneath. His shirt was blue—as blue as the bright sky outside the window—and his tie was of gold, as if someone had fashioned it from molten metal and then tied it around his neck where it looked almost dull when compared to the rich olive glow of his skin.

It didn’t matter how many times her work brought her into contact with him, it never seemed to destroy the sheer exhilarating pleasure which sizzled through Aisling’s body whenever she saw him. But it was a dangerous attraction and Aisling had learnt to suppress it. To present to him the impartial face her job demanded. Doing just that, she curved her lips into a cool smile.

‘Yes, Gianluca?’

‘You were lost in thought,’ he observed softly, his black eyes luminous.

‘I was just … admiring the view.’

Gianluca been enjoying his own private view—because Aisling Armstrong’s back was far more inviting than her rather intimidating front would suggest. When she leaned forward to peer out at the spectacular panorama like that, then the swell of her bottom brushed against the very uninteresting skirt she was wearing and hinted at the ripeness of the carefully concealed body beneath.

For once she looked almost feminine and soft—an image which was banished when she turned around and presented him with that rather stern and forbidding expression of hers. But then, he wasn’t employing her for her decorative qualities, was he?

‘It is a wonderful vista, sì?’ questioned Gianluca softly. ‘The best in the world.’ His smile was that of a man who was used to only the very best things—who had spent his whole life getting them. Yet Gianluca understood the strange twist in human nature—of not valuing things when they came too easily.

His black eyes flickered to the elaborate white marble construction which rose up behind her, with its row upon row of white marble columns and abundance of statues, and he raised his dark brows in elegant query. ‘Perhaps you are taking particular pleasure in looking at the monument of Vittorio Emanuele?’ he observed. ‘The building which we Romans love to hate and which we call the “Wedding Cake”.’

Did his black eyes tease her and his luscious lips caress those last words as if he were eating a morsel of cake himself? Or was it simply that Aisling was a tad sensitive about the subject of marriage, after a summer which had seen her attending three of her friends’ weddings. And left her feeling very slightly shell-shocked—as if she’d missed a bus she hadn’t even been aware of waiting for.

She looked directly into his eyes, wondering how they managed to be almost soft and yet glitteringly bright at the same time, and then could have kicked herself. Stop it, she thought—with something approaching despair. Stop fantasising about him. Of course his eyes are gorgeous. So is his face. And his body. That rare and interesting smile. Everything about him—even that careless arrogance which he wears like a mantle. And he’s a billionaire playboy who’s way out of your league in every way that counts—so get real, Aisling.

‘I thought that most Romans compared it to a set of false teeth?’ she questioned coolly.

Gianluca laughed as he sat back, gesturing to the chair in front of him. He admired her work and—a little reluctantly—he admired her way with words, too.

He had not expected he would employ a woman for such a prestigious role as head-hunter within the hotel arm of his vast organisation, but she had undoubtedly been the best candidate. Yet Aisling Armstrong was the antithesis of everything he sought in a woman.

With her buttoned-up lips and ice-blue