LORENZO ZANELLI, owner of the centuries-old Zanelli Merchant Bank, originally bankers to Italian principalities and now a global concern, exited the elevator at his office suite on the top floor of the magnificent old building in the heart of Verona, a frown marring his broad brow.
His business lunch with Manuel Cervantes, the head of an Argentinean conglomerate whose family had been valued clients for years, had gone well, but Lorenzo was not a happy man … His secretary had called to warn him he was going to be late for his next appointment as his lunch had severely overrun—despite the fact that they had completed their business quite quickly.
As soon as work was out of the way Manuel had turned to a more personal topic: the necessity of giving up his career as a mountaineer and keen photographer to take over the running of the company after the death of his father five years ago and his subsequent marriage and two children. Then finally he had shown Lorenzo some shots he had belatedly got around to printing from his last trip to the Alps.
They were pictures taken at the main base camp on Manuel’s final expedition to Mont Blanc, and included by sheer chance a few shots of Lorenzo’s brother, Antonio, and Damien Steadman his friend, wearing bright red jackets and even brighter grins, just arriving as Manuel’s team were about to start their ascent.
The next morning Manuel’s team had been on the last stage of the climb to the summit when he had received news that his father had suffered a heart attack. He’d been airlifted off the mountain by helicopter, and his last shot was a view of the mountain as he was flown down to base camp for the dash back to Argentina to be at his father’s bedside. He had heard much later of Antonio’s tragic death, and had thought Lorenzo would like to have what were probably the last pictures of his brother. Lorenzo was grateful, but it brought back memories he had spent years trying to forget.
Lorenzo had been looking through the photos as he’d walked back to his offices, taking in the implications of the detail in the landscape shot Manuel had pointed out to him, when he’d literally bumped into an old friend, Olivia Paglia, which had delayed him even further.
His frown deepened as he saw the fair head of a woman seated in the reception area, obviously waiting for him. He had almost forgotten about Miss Steadman, and now was not the best time to deal with her …
‘Lucy Steadman?’ he queried, casting a dark glance her way. He remembered seeing her years ago when, on a business trip to London, he had called briefly at Antonio’s apartment to check in on his little brother. She had been a plump, plain-faced little schoolgirl in a baggy sweater, with long fair pigtails, who had been visiting her brother and was leaving as Lorenzo arrived. Her brother Damien had met Antonio at university in London, and they’d become firm friends and flatmates. A friendship that had ended tragically, and one he certainly did not need reminding of for a second time today.
‘Sorry for the delay, but it was unavoidable.’ She rose to her feet and he noted she had scarcely changed at all. Small—she barely reached his shoulder—with her hair scraped back in a knot on top of her head, her face free of make-up. The baggy sweater had been replaced with an equally voluminous black suit, with a long skirt that did her no favours at all. Slender ankles, he noted, and tiny feet, but the flat shoes she wore had definitely seen better days. She obviously cared little for her appearance—not a trait he admired in a woman.
Lucy Steadman looked up and up at the man standing in front of her. Antonio had told her once his brother was a lot older than him, and a staid, boring banker who did not know how to enjoy life, amongst other similarly harsh comments, and now she could see what he had meant …
Tall—well over six feet—he was dressed conservatively in a dark suit, a white shirt and plain dark tie. And expensively, she guessed. His broad shoulders were outlined superbly by the well-cut jacket, and she hastily lifted her gaze from where it had drifted down to his hips and thighs to fix on his face. The man was hard and unsmiling, but Antonio had missed one attribute that was immediately obvious to Lucy, even with her limited experience of men.
Lorenzo Zanelli was a truly arresting male, with a subtle aura of animal magnetism about him that any women past puberty could not fail to recognise. Given the severity of his clothes, surprisingly his thick black hair was longer than the current fashion and brushed the white collar of his shirt. The planes of his face were firmly etched, his heavy lidded eyes were brown, almost black, and deep-set beneath thick arched brows his nose large and definitely Roman and his mouth wide and tightly controlled.