“That’s why you pay me a small fortune.”
And he was worth every penny.
While Sullivan returned to work in the outer offices, Christian went over file after file on the magazine his father had acquired behind his back. The rag was a terrible investment and yet, his father somehow managed to turn it around. The financial reports for last year and projected earnings for the next three were incredible, even byhisstandards. There was no way his father had done it by himself. He must have had some serious help. But where had that help come from?
Bianca twisted her fingers as she stared up at the lobby’s round titanium clock from a padded chair. John’s son had kept her waiting for half an hour so far. Her mouth was bone dry, but she couldn’t risk going around the corner to the water cooler. She didn’t want to miss the opportunity to face-off with the unfeeling man who had ignored his father’s pleas to come home for holidays. Christian Sabatino had rarely bothered to return his father’s calls. The outright disrespect made her sick to her stomach. What kind of man refused to talk to his own father?
She shivered. Maybe the new boss didn’t know where the thermostat was located. She couldn’t remember it ever being this cold in their London offices before. Of course, a lack of sleep and barely eating the last two days could have something to do with the chill in her bones.
Heartbroken, every time she thought of John and how she’d never see him again tears filled her eyes. One moment they were talking about ideas for future issues of their magazine, and the next he was clutching his chest. She blamed herself. There must have been signs that she’d missed, something that would have warned her to pay closer attention that afternoon. At least they’d been together so he hadn’t died alone. She had immediately called for help. According to the doctor, the timing didn’t matter. The massive heart attack would have killed him even if he’d suffered it in a hospital.
That knowledge didn’t make her feel better.
She glanced at the clock again. John’s son was deliberately keeping her waiting in some sort of perverse power play. Thanks to his father’s stories, she knew Christian’s dirty business tactics. His specialty was snapping up floundering companies, dismantling them, and selling them for parts. Although John had seemed proud of his son, he hadn’t been blind to his flaws. In fact, he hadn’t wanted her to meet Christian at all. When his son visited—which wasn’t that often—John gave her the day off. She’d questioned him on the subject once, and he’d told her he was afraid Christian would hurt her. A born womanizer, Christian Sabatino charmed them, used them, and dumped them in that order. She had no intention of being the next notch on his bedpost.
Tired of waiting, Bianca took the lift to the top of the tall building and stormed into what used to be her little corner of the world, the area just outside of John’s office. For nearly four years she had sat behind a high granite counter in the shape of an L. The space between the counter and wall was her dominion. It had everything she needed including a state of the art computer, scanner, printer, and a phone with ten separate lines. Now a stranger stood back there, a young dark-haired man wearing an expensive suit and a withering look on his baby-face.
He had invaded her world. The sight of him back there where she should have been standing made her skin crawl. For the second time in her young life she was losing everything she cared about, and there didn’t seem to be anything she could do to stop it from happening.
“You were supposed to wait for me in the lobby,” the assistant said in a flat tone.
“This might surprise you, but Idohave a life. I was asked to be here at a ridiculous hour this morning, long before normal people are awake, and here I am. Somehow I managed to get here on time. But your boss isn’t organized enough to keep the appointment thathemade. So unprofessional, it’s ridiculous. I am not sitting in the lobby twiddling my thumbs a second longer.”
She looked at John’s closed office door and spoke the next sentence to herself more than to the assistant. “Why am I talking to you?”
Before the young man could respond, Bianca marched into John’s office without bothering to knock. If Christian Sabatino wanted to forgo common courtesy and good manners, she wouldn’t bother with them either. Plus, she wanted to catch him off guard. You could learn a lot about a person that way.
The sight of a large, unfamiliar man sitting in John’s chair threw her off balance even though she had known he would be there. The office was big, but his broad shoulders made it seem small. Bent over a mess of paperwork, he didn’t even glance up at her. That gave her the opportunity to study him. He had an incredible amount of dark hair that seemed to want to curl a bit on the ends as it brushed the back of his shirt collar. It was much too long for her taste.
She wanted to see his eyes. Were they like John’s, filled with warmth and often teasing?
She crossed the room to stand directly in front of the desk. Clearing her throat, she waited for him to acknowledge her. When that didn’t work, she spoke. “My name is Bianca Dawson, and I was your father’s secretary.” Still no response. “I was told to report here at four this morning. Here I am. The least you can do is look at me.”
He moved a few papers around as if searching for something important. If he were deaf, that would explain his oblivious attitude. However, she happened to know for a fact there was nothing physically wrong with his ears. John would have mentioned it. Talking to the top of his dark head irritated her.
“Look at me!” she shouted.
The loud command turned out to be a huge mistake. Deep forest green eyes instantly clashed with hers and caused goose bumps to break out on her exposed skin. Forget movie stars, Christian Sabatino had to be the most devastatingly gorgeous man she’d ever seen. No wonder women found him impossible to resist. Hadn’t his father warned her?
Her breath caught in her throat.
She had seen photos of him over the years, usually pictures in glossy magazines with him performing crazy stunts like jumping out of a helicopter with a snowboard strapped to his feet. Sonotimpressive. Apparently, being a wealthy businessman wasn’t exciting enough for someone like Christian. When the pictures didn’t include death-defying feats, they featured one of his many conquests. His name had probably been linked to every available beautiful celebrity in the world at one time or another. It was difficult to keep up with his love life, not that she tried.
Now Bianca realized the photos only told half the story. They couldn’t capture his magnetic presence or the dangerous pull that dared a woman to draw closer to the source. Without a doubt he had to be the sexiest man on the planet, and Bianca feared she might give into the attraction if she didn’t distance herself from him at once.
The affect his raw masculinity had on her body fueled her anger. Yes, she wondered how those full lips would feel on hers and fantasized for a brief moment about his strong hands exploring her aching flesh. But the fact that women threw themselves on him as if he were a grenade and they were heroic soldiers, kept her anger burning hot. No doubt he believed he could get away with anything at this point.
Smooth and chiseled, his high cheekbones, angular features, and square jaw could have been carved from granite. The open hostility in which he assessed her in return made her tremble. He was a man that no one in their right mind would trifle with… unless they had billions of dollars, friends in positions of power, and nerves of steel. Normally, Bianca wouldn’t dare cross him, but she was too mad to think straight.
Stiffening her back, she released all the pent-up anger that had built inside her heart during her time working for John. “You are a bully, Mr. Sabatino, and I do not like bullies. Maybe you can get away with being rude and not looking people in the eye when they speak to you because they’re afraid to incur your wrath, but—”
“Not you,” he inserted into her sentence, breaking her concentration.
“No, not me,” she said with firm resolve. “For nearly four years I watched your father try to hide his pain every time you were too busy to come home for a visit or return a simple phone call. Now he’s dead, and here you are seizing the opportunity to take over his company. Vultures have more decency than you. Do you have stocks in place of a heart? Cash flowing through your veins? You should be with your mother right now, comforting her instead of trying to take over your father’s business.”
Tapping his pen on the edge of the desk, his eyes narrowed on her face. “How old are you?”