The Italian Billionaire's New Year Bride Jan 2018


Phoebe must be dreaming. She’s bowled over by gorgeous Italian billionaire Matteo Bianchi’s offer of redecorating a spectacular house in the Hamptons and a mansion in Rome…and Phoebe can’t refuse! It’s just what she needs to take her mind off losing her fiancé. But when they’re snowed in together on New Year’s Eve, their attraction explodes like the fireworks outside. And as Phoebe works her magic across the two properties, Matteo wonders… Could he finally open his heart and make her his bride?

CHAPTER ONE

The shrill ring of the phone invaded her dream just as she was about to save the world with Hugh Jackman. Phoebe stuck her hand out from under the snuggly white duvet and blindly felt around the bedside table as her brain tried to orientate her to time and day. She’d just been about to remove Hugh’s shirt…all in the name of saving the world, of course.

After a few fumbles, she finally found the phone and pulled it under the duvet next to her ear. “Phoebe Gates.” She winced. The phone was cold, much like the air outside her duvet. New York had spent the last few days covered in a snowstorm and her boiler was behaving like a temperamental teenager.

“Ms. Gates, how would you like to earn a quarter of a million dollars?”

The voice was smooth. Italian. Rich and deep with a timbre she didn’t recognize. It was like being smothered in melted chocolate.

“Wh…what?” She snuggled further down under the duvet. Maybe she was still sleeping. Maybe this was all just part of the dream.

“I said how would you like to earn a quarter of a million dollars?”

Phoebe frowned and rolled onto her back. “That would be wonderful.”

“Are you free?”

“Excuse me?”

“Are you free for the next month?”

Her brain started to shift gear. “Hey, wait a minute. You’re one of those creepy callers, aren’t you? Well, you picked the wrong girl. There’s no way—”

“Ms. Gates,” the voice interrupted her with a hint of impatience but Phoebe had finally started to wake up.

“Well, if you’re not a creepy caller you’re one of those scam artists. Don’t tell me—you just need the details of my checking account and you’ll get the money right to me.”

She pushed herself up in the bed, wincing at the bright white light everywhere. Snow just seemed to reflect snow. “Do you know what day it is?” She turned to her clock, “And what time it is?” She ran her fingers through her thick tangled curls. Thank goodness there was no mirror around. She was definitely the “before” of some kind of wonder conditioner commercial. “It’s Boxing Day. It’s eight a.m. Haven’t you heard of the word Christmas?”

There was a loud impatient sigh at the other end of the phone. “Ms. Gates, are you available in the next few weeks or not?”

She was definitely waking up now. Arrogant. He’d invaded the best dream in the world, ruined her lazy morning and he thought he could be snarky?

“That depends entirely who I’m talking to and what you’re talking about. You haven’t seemed to introduce yourself. In my world, we call those bad manners.”

Silence at the end of the phone. Good. Maybe Hugh Jackman was still waiting for her.

“Apologies, Ms. Gates. You’re right. My grandmother is currently spinning in her grave and slapping the back of my head.”

This time there was almost an edge of humor in his voice.

“Matteo Bianchi. I have a house—two houses in fact—that I need some work done on. I need them dressed and ready to sell in a few weeks.”

Work. This really was work. But she couldn’t help herself. “And you had to phone me at eight a.m. on Boxing Day morning?”

“Christmas Day is over. I don’t like to waste time. Are you available, or not?”

He was getting snarky again. Phoebe shifted position in her bed and looked out at the falling snow. She’d planned on going to the sales. But braving the snow, as well as the chaos of the crowded shops, was slipping further down her list of priorities.

“Where are the houses?” she asked.

“The first is in the Hamptons,” he said quickly. “Southampton, to be exact.”

She felt her heart rate quicken. The Hamptons. Million-dollar houses with million-dollar budgets. The two things she’d always dreamed of. Particularly as her mother’s medical costs mounted.

She tried to stop her voice squeaking. “And the second?” How much had he offered to pay?

“Rome.” Her heart plummeted. Rome. An airplane ride away. Probably more than one airplane. Her skin prickled instantly and it wasn’t the cold.

“Oh.” It was the best response she could do.

“I’d need you to start straight away. I’ll make sure you have a company credit card to pay for any work or items that you need.”

She hadn’t found her voice yet. Her heart was clamouring against her chest wall. Rome. How could she go to Rome?

“Ms. Gates? Are you still there?”

“Yes. The Hamptons is fine. I can look at the house whenever suits. As for the house in Rome—that might be more of an issue.”

“Why do you need to see the house?” It didn’t matter she hadn’t met Mr. Bianchi yet, she could almost picture him frowning.

“I always look over any house before I agree to dress it for sale.” He didn’t mention the Rome comment.

There was another sigh.

Her curiosity was sparked. She’d never heard of Matteo Bianchi and, with an accent like that, if she’d met him before, she could guarantee she’d remember.

“Fine. I’ll pick you up in an hour.”

“What?” She sat bolt upright in the bed.

“You want to see the house? I’ll pick you up in an hour and you can see the house.”

She was stunned. One minute she was in the middle of a blissful dream—next she was working on Boxing Day.

Something pricked in her brain. “Mr. Bianchi, where did you hear about me?”

“I saw the apartment you dressed near Central Park.” He paused for a second as her brain caught up. “I liked it.”

She couldn’t help but smile. “In Madison Court?” She’d loved that job. The apartment belonged to an old sea captain. Other interior designers had suggested ripping the apartment bare, painting all the walls white and tiling all the floors. She’d been the only designer to suggest embracing the whole essence of Captain Monaghan’s life. She’d scaled back some of the clutter and enhanced the whole seafaring lifestyle by focusing on a few key pieces. A ship’s wheel. A handcrafted lighthouse. A small-scale model of one of the ships he’d captained. The apartment had sold for well over the asking price—with a key request to keep the design aspects.

A warm feeling spread through her belly. The fact that Matteo had seen her work and liked it made her smile. Madison Court had been her biggest job yet. She hadn’t told anyone she’d met the old sea captain when he was getting chemotherapy in the same hospital as her mother. It was funny where some of the turning points in your life could be.

She rested back against the pillows.

“Yes,” came the rich smooth voice. “Madison Court was…unusual. So, are you available for the next few weeks?”

A quarter of a million dollars. That was what he’d offered her.

She and her mom had some savings. But not enough to cover what the medical insurance didn’t. This could be the answer to their prayers. This could stop the shadows that were currently residing under her mother’s eyes.

The words came out before she could think about it any longer. “I’ll see you in an hour.”

“Looking forward to it, Ms. Gates.”

She glanced at the clock again. Something still didn’t sit quite right with her. The apartment at Central Park was gorgeous. But in New York there were dozens of interior designers—competition was tough. She’d never been near a house in the Hamptons before. If that was where Matteo Bianchi owned property he must have a whole range of other contacts.

She smiled. “Mr. Bianchi?”

“Yes, Ms. Gates?”

“How many other interior designers did you call this morning before me?”

There was the briefest hesitation. “Seven.”

She let out a laugh. “See you in an hour,” she said as she replaced the phone.

*

Matteo glanced at his watch for the fifth time as he tried not to curse under his breath. It seemed that limousines and New York snowstorms didn’t work in partnership together. The car had edged along an inch at a time. Finally, they pulled up outside an apartment. Two seconds later a round figure emerged from the building. She was covered in so many layers he couldn’t even see her face. The driver opened the door and Phoebe Gates practically rolled into the car alongside him.

She pushed back her numerous hoods, fixing him with the darkest brown eyes he’d ever seen. She was younger than he’d expected—prettier than he’d expected too, with smooth coffee-colored skin and curls poking out around her face.

She gave him a wide smile as she started unzipping all her jackets. “I think I might have overdone it. I took one look at the snow and put on just about everything I owned.”

“I can see that.” He couldn’t help but smile as she started to emerge from underneath all the layers.

He shook his head as she stripped off a raincoat, a black parka, a zip-up hoody and pushed her mass of curls back from her face. She gave her head a shake. “Wow. It’s hot in here.”

He kept watching as she folded her arms across her chest and hitched one knee a little on the seat so she turned to face him. “So, I was number eight, huh?”

He shrugged. “Apparently I picked the wrong time of year to look for an interior designer.”

He liked the fact she wasn’t afraid to say what she thought. A straight talker. She laughed. “No, I just think you picked the wrong day.”

She stared at the snow-covered streets. “So what’s the big rush anyhow?”

He settled back into the plush leather seats. “The time is just right.”

She wrinkled her nose. It looked as if she might be about to say something when she gave a yell. “Stop the car!”

The driver screeched to a halt, throwing them both forward. “What is it? Did we hit someone?”

She shook her head and shot him a huge grin as she opened the car door. “No. It’s my favorite coffee cart. What can I get you?”

Matteo tried not to say the expletives that were circling around his head. “You what? You stopped us like that for coffee?”

She stared at him for a second with those big brown eyes, narrowing them for a millisecond as if she were surprised at his reaction. She touched the driver on the shoulder. “You’re a macchiato, aren’t you?”

The driver blinked in surprise and nodded. She glanced over at the cart. “And a chocolate donut?” He nodded again. She got out of the car and gave her order to the vendor then ducked her head back in and turned to Matteo. She put one finger next to her mouth. “Hmm.”

“What?” He was getting annoyed now. New York was starting to get busy with shoppers. It would take around ninety minutes to reach the house and he wanted to get moving as soon as possible.

She gave a half-smile. “I’m trying to work out whether you’re a double espresso or an Americano kind of guy.”

She ducked back out and spoke quietly to the vendor, who laughed and filled her order. Two minutes later she was in the car and settled back in her seat, handing him a hot paper cup and something in a bag.

She shrugged as he continued to frown. “I get cranky if I don’t have coffee in the morning.” She shook her head. “And believe me, you won’t like me when I’m cranky.”

A caramel aroma was drifting over toward him and he watched as she pulled out a raspberry-covered donut, taking a large bite. “Best donuts in New York. Nowhere else comes close.”

She nudged him. “Go on. Try yours.”

Phoebe Gates was nothing like he’d expected. The last time he’d dealt with an interior designer she’d been all business suits, stiletto heels and clipboards. Her assistant had hung on her every word, constantly taking notes. She’d been abrupt, professional and aloof.

He stared down at the Americano in his hand. Just the way he liked it. And in the paper bag? A regular sugar donut. He hated icing and sprinkles nearly as much as he hated filled donuts.

He frowned. “How did you know?” he asked.

She swallowed her donut and took a sip of her coffee. “How did I know what?”

He held up his Americano and paper bag. “This. How did you know this?”

He was suspicious. People didn’t generally surprise him. It wasn’t as if she could have done an Internet search to find out what kind of coffee and donut he preferred.

She shrugged again and smiled. “I just know these things.” She grinned and tapped her nose. “Interior design. It’s all based on observation skills.”

Matteo narrowed his gaze. Maybe he’d made a mistake this morning, but by the time he’d reached call number eight he was reaching the desperate stage. In amongst the family feuds of Christmas, the one thing that his overextended Italian family had agreed on was that it was time to get rid of some of the family property. Matteo had agreed to take charge and he intended to get this over with as quickly as possible. He’d thought with the price tag he was offering any interior designer would snap his hand off for the job. Turned out he was wrong. Four of the designers he’d called were on holiday with only an answer-phone message saying calls wouldn’t be returned until the new year. Two had answered but refused due to family commitments. One was currently working in Washington. By the time he’d reached Phoebe he just wanted someone to say yes. But then she’d surprised him.

Matteo was used to doing business. He paid a price and a job got done. End of story. So he’d been a little surprised that Phoebe had insisted on seeing the property instead of just agreeing to the job straight away. This was time he really didn’t have to spare.

And it wasn’t that she seemed unprofessional—that was too harsh. It was just, she seemed so…relaxed.

He’d be paying her a quarter of a million dollars. Was it wrong to expect a little more deference? His insides cringed at the thought. Was he being archaic—or sexist even? In this day and age, neither would be acceptable and both could earn him a slap around the back of the head from his very feisty sister.

She nudged him. “Eat up, or I’ll start to think my instincts are off. Now, we’ve got a bit of time. Give me some history about the house.”

Matteo finally took a sip of the coffee. Surprisingly good for a street vendor. He opened his mouth to speak just as his phone rang. He glanced at the caller. Vittore. His brother. Doubtless this would be another fight.

The interruption clarified things in his mind. He turned to Phoebe. “I’m not going to give you any background information on the house.” He tried not to look amused. “Let’s just see what your instincts tell you.” He settled back against the seat as he pressed the phone to his ear.

“Vittore?”

*

She’d spent the last hour staring out the window at the passing view, desperately wanting to talk. But Mr. Bianchi appeared to conduct most of his business on his phone. Something she’d find depressing on a good day.

Right now, she could be in the middle of Macy’s searching for the best bargains.

Maybe the purple coat her mother had admired would be half-price. She could have bought that as a “getting better” present. She’d like to get her mom something to put a smile back on her face. It certainly would be better than spending an hour in forced silence.

The city view had changed rapidly to an even more snow-covered landscape. There was a reason the Hamptons was famous. The popular seaside resort was a historical summer colony on the south fork of Long Island. It featured some of the most luxurious and expensive real estate in all of New York and was regularly featured on TV shows and films.

Phoebe had visited here as a child and a teenager. She’d even spent a semester at the university campus out here and seen exactly how the other half could live. It was almost as if the whole atmosphere changed the further away from the city you got.

She loved New York. She loved the hustle and bustle, she loved the people and she definitely loved living in the city that never slept. But she’d also always loved the Hamptons. Sure, she might not have a billion-dollar bank account. But there was something about this place that made her heartbeat quicken as they passed through one village and hamlet after another. The space. The air. The views. And the houses.

The houses here were to die for.

Her stomach gave a little flip-flop as the road stretched ahead of them and they passed one palatial mansion after another. Each one was individual, styled a little differently from its neighbor. Some had been up for more than a hundred years. A few had appeared in the late eighties with a completely modern design that already looked dated.

Mansion spotting was a popular pastime in the Hamptons. A few house builders had obviously decided not to take part in the game and set their homes far back from the road. Phoebe wrinkled her nose. Those people had no sense of fun. What was the point in house spotting if you couldn’t even see it?

The car slowed a little and her eyes widened. She was familiar with the surroundings. Anyone who watched TV would be familiar with the surroundings. One of the streets around here was nicknamed Billionaires’ Row. Some of the most expensive homes in the US were here.

Phoebe leaned back in the seat and tried to catch her breath. Any minute now they would turn another corner in another direction. She shot a sideways glance at Matteo. He’d told her his home was in Southampton. But she hadn’t really thought he’d meant this street. Did people actually live here?

The car moved toward the oceanfront, glided through a set of wrought-iron gates, then snaked its way down a long driveway. Sitting in prime position on the oceanfront was one of the biggest houses Phoebe had ever seen.

She couldn’t breathe. She actually couldn’t breathe. By some miracle Matteo had managed to finish a call and put his phone away.

Please don’t let him expect me to be able to talk right now.

He seemed unfazed. He glanced upwards—a look of indifference.

To a house like this? Really?

She tried to swallow as there was a little glint of yellow from the top of the house. A curve, covered in snow. Was that an atrium?

The question started to form on her lips then she glimpsed a flash of something else from Matteo. Distaste. Or dislike. She wasn’t quite sure which. Really? To a place like this?

Play it cool. The words kept repeating over and over in her head. She hadn’t been joking when she’d said she liked to see a property before deciding if she would take on a job. But she also liked a chance to meet the client. Interior designers sometimes worked alone. Getting a feel for a job and a client had given her a “Get out of Jail Free” card on a few occasions. Safety always came first and on the odd occasion something just didn’t feel right. It had been okay when Jason had been around. He’d always had her back. Clients had taken one look at the strapping ex-Navy pilot and any erroneous thoughts had vanished from their minds. At least that was the way it had always seemed.

But three years ago life had changed in the blink of an eye. Or, more accurately, the stall of two plane engines—something that apparently never happened.

Except to her fiancé. And life would never be the same again.

She’d had to get used to working with no back-up plan and part of today had been making sure she felt safe to work for Matteo Bianchi. She shot him a sideways glance. For the most part he seemed like a workaholic typical New York billionaire businessman. An exceptionally handsome Italian workaholic businessman.

And that was interesting. Handsome wasn’t something she’d noticed in the last three years. Matteo Bianchi had all the traditional attributes of every Italian movie star she’d ever seen on screen. Thick dark hair, deep green eyes, sallow smooth skin and straight white teeth. The only thing that marred his good looks was that permanent frown on his forehead.

She got the distinct impression that he really didn’t have time for her. In fact, she got the distinct impression that Matteo Bianchi didn’t have time for much of anything.

The car pulled up outside the huge cream-colored mansion and Matteo opened the door straight away. Phoebe fumbled around, trying to select one of her many jackets, finally settling on a red one. She stepped out of the car and looked up at the outside of the house.

The grounds were pristine. She could imagine how manicured the lawns were in summer, even though they were covered in snow right now. The façade was elegant, if a little faded. The double front door was arched and the front of the house lined with mahogany windows covered by internal shutters. Why was a place as beautiful as this all closed up?

If she closed her eyes for a second she could imagine how beautiful this house could be at Christmas. Lights. Trees. Decorations. Instead, it was all closed up like an unwanted present.

Phoebe tilted her head to the side. “Do you only use the house in the summer?”

Matteo shook his head. “We’ve never really used this house.”

“What?” Phoebe spun around and looked at him. “What do you mean, you’ve never used this house?”

Matteo shook his head and stuck his hands in his pockets. “It’s been in the family for a while. But…we’ve never really stayed here.” There was something odd about the way he said that.

Phoebe couldn’t help but shake her head. She couldn’t get past the fact that this beautiful house was sitting empty—and had done for years.

“Who takes care of it?”

Matteo gave the briefest shake of his head. “I have a caretaker. They come in a few times a year to clean up and maintain the place. Over the years, the electrics, heating and plumbing have all been kept up to date but…” he paused for a second “…I imagine there will be lots of areas in the house that need updating.”

Phoebe wrinkled her nose for a second as she stared up at the three-story building with its shuttered windows. “It looks around a hundred years old. Please tell me it’s been updated since then.”

Matteo gave a nod. “Of course it has. Just not recently.”

He pulled a large key from his pocket, along with his phone. As they approached the thick double entrance door he lifted his phone to a panel at the door side. There was a short beep before he turned the key. “Alarm,” he said simply before pushing the door open.

Phoebe smiled as she watched him pull the key from the lock. “You put in a digital alarm but didn’t put in digital locks?”

He shrugged. There was something so juvenile about it. Like a naughty teenager. “Who says I didn’t? I might just be trying to fool you.”

It was the first time she’d seen a spark of something. A glimpse of something other than the very busy businessman. A hint of what might lie beneath the surface.

Matteo stood back and she stepped inside the wide entranceway and sucked in a breath.

The air was still all around her. Silent.

But there was something else. Something almost magical.

She held out her hands and spun around. Light flooded in from the open door, allowing her to see the huge curved staircase with intricate iron railing that spiraled up through three floors of the house. Every step she took on the tiled floor echoed upwards to the yellowed glass dome at the top of the house. By the time she stopped spinning and brought her gaze back down to the current floor she finally got a feel for the place. The entranceway was huge.

Matteo was looking at her curiously. There was something odd. He looked uncomfortable. She gave a little stagger and laughed as she put out her hand, grasping onto his sleeve to try and stop her head spinning. Now she could see all the rooms off the entranceway. Most of them had glass-paneled doors, hinting at what lay beyond. Her heart gave a little flutter.

She’d dreamed of getting the chance to do a house in the Hamptons. It had always been an ambition that she’d hoped to achieve. She just thought it was still at least a few years away. Her fingers were itching to touch this house. To run through every room. To suck in the atmosphere. Trying to appear cool, calm and collected was rapidly slipping from her grasp. Even though Matteo Bianchi was staring her down with that disapproving glare.

She looked to the side again. The room directly to her right was practically calling out to her. “May I?” She gestured with her head.

Matteo stopped glaring and glanced toward the room. A furrow lined his brow. “Actually, I want you to let me know what your instincts tell you.”

It was the way he said it. The tone. And the way the glare in his eyes had been replaced by a kind of mischievous twinkle. He was testing her. Or teasing her.

She tilted her chin upwards. Matteo Bianchi had no idea who he was dealing with. She met his green gaze straight on. “You know you’re being unfair—but that’s fine.” She held up her hands. “I’ve already told you I think the house is around a hundred years old.” She wrinkled her nose. “About twenty thousand square meters? Maybe around eight or nine bedrooms? Probably four or five bathrooms or half-baths. I expect two or three formal rooms. I expect a dining room, a large kitchen, laundry, study and a basement and wine cellar.” She put her hand on her chest. “And I’m hoping there are exceptional views over Mecox Bay from the rear of the property. Am I getting close? Can I actually get in to see the main sitting room?”

Matteo gave a nod toward the door. Phoebe didn’t wait another second; she was through that door in a flash.

It was like a moment out of time. She blinked as a memory of a movie she’d watched flooded through her senses. The hero and heroine had flitted back and forth between modern day and fifty years before. Phoebe felt as if she were currently standing by their side.

She couldn’t help but touch. Tiny slivers of bright light tried to edge their way around the shutters. Phoebe didn’t wait, she walked over to the nearest set and gave them a tug.

Nothing happened.

She tried again. This time there was a creak. A squeak. She slid her hand up the side, checking for any extra latches or bolts. Once she was sure there were none, she pulled with all her might.

Two seconds later she was flat on her back on the carpet as the winter’s day light filled the room. She laughed as Matteo moved above her, holding his hand out toward her. “Are you okay?”

She kept laughing and stayed on the floor, shaking her head. “I’m still dreaming, aren’t I? Because this dream just seems to get kookier by the minute.”

He frowned, staring at his outstretched hand, as if he were trying to figure out what was wrong with it. “I have no idea what you mean.”

“Oh, come on.” She leaned up on her hand, still staying on the carpet as her gaze swept across the room. “You phoned me this morning and offered me a quarter of a million dollars for a few weeks’ work, dressing a home in the Hamptons. Every designer’s dream. Then you bring me here. The house to end all houses.” She was shaking her head again now. “Then, we come in, and it’s a time warp. A perfect time warp.” She held up her hand as her eyes tried not to goggle in amazement at the contents of the room.

“I still don’t know what you mean.”

She pushed herself up onto her bottom. “This place. This furniture.”

Matteo shook his head. “I know. I know. Everything will need replacing it’s all so out of date. Don’t worry. I’ll give you a credit card with no limit. You can buy whatever you need to dress the house.” He waved his hand. “As long as you keep receipts, of course.”

“Are you crazy?” She couldn’t believe what he was saying. She reached out and touched the chair next to her. “This stuff is pristine. Perfect. People would pay an absolute fortune for things like this. And I won’t need to. Because it’s all here. Matteo, don’t you realize how fantastic this place already is?”

He was looking at her as if she were out of her mind.

She grabbed his hand and pulled herself up as she paced quickly around the room. “This—this is why I think I’m still dreaming. See this? This nineteen-fifties chair? I paid over a thousand dollars for one of these last time I dressed a home. You’ve got six.” She touched the L-shaped sofa in the corner. “I might get this reupholstered but the style and shape is just fabulous.”

Her heart skittered across her chest as she took in all the fixtures and fittings. The lamps, the shades, the telephone, the vases. She shook her head again as she murmured, “It’s like interior design heaven. That’s why this must be a dream. Things like this don’t happen to me.”

She spun around and gasped. Matteo had walked right up behind her. He was closer than expected and was watching her with the most curious expression on his face. Her dream from earlier had been filled by Hugh Jackman. If she were still dreaming, wouldn’t Hugh be the man that had brought her to this house instead of Matteo Bianchi?

“Pinch me,” she said firmly.

“What?”

“Pinch me. I have to know this isn’t a dream.”

He was right in front of her. Staring her down with those green eyes. Part of him looked amused, part of him looked annoyed. Or maybe she was just misreading him. The hint of aftershave was distracting her. It was subtle. She’d never smelt it before. Amber, musk and oak moss. People didn’t realize that interior designers knew that scent was everything. Half of all homes sold on scent alone.

“Go on,” she urged. “Just do it.”

He pulled an exasperated face then lifted his hand to her arm.

“Yeowwww!” She jumped backwards, rubbing her wrist. “Okay, then. Turns out I’m definitely awake.” She shot him a suspicious glance. “You’ve got sisters, haven’t you? Or a sister.”

“How on earth do you know that?”

“Believe me.” She kept rubbing her smarting wrist. “A girl can tell.”

He stared at her curiously for a second. “And for the record, I have one sister. One is enough.”

She took a deep breath. This was it. This was where she found out if this really was the dream job. “Tell me, is every room as good as this one?”

Matteo raised his eyebrows. “You mean, is every room in the same kind of time warp as this one? Oh, I can guarantee that, Phoebe.” He was looking at her as if he couldn’t quite understand why she thought this was a good thing. But Phoebe was off. Tearing through the next few rooms of the house to check them out. A dining room. A huge kitchen. A laundry room. Another sitting room. A study. Two bathrooms—they might need a little work. And a phenomenal room at the back of the house with windows and glass doors that looked out over Mecox Bay.

Matteo stayed behind her, following her from room to room. “Phoebe…Ms. Gates. Does this mean you’ll take the job?”

She could hardly speak. Room after room, there were so many thoughts clambering in her brain about how gorgeous she could make this place that she could hardly form words. Her dream job. The job that could change her whole career. A chance to pay off her mother’s medical bills. A chance to move forward. A chance to pull herself out of the fog that had hung around her for the last few years.

“Phoebe.” His voice grew sharp and he gave her arm a pull, tugging her around to face him. Her hands rested on his upper arms. She couldn’t help herself. She almost wanted to give him a kiss on the cheek. She let out a laugh.

“Do I want the job? Hell, yes. Now I’ve seen it, this place is mine. Matteo, I’m going to do such a good job, you’re never going to want to let me go.”

It was the briefest of seconds. A wash of sadness seemed to sweep his face. A whole host of something she really didn’t understand. But as soon as it had appeared, the shutters came down in his eyes again. Matteo Bianchi had the perfect mask. The perfect face for business.

The edges of his lips curved upwards. For the first time since she’d met him, the tension in his shoulders actually looked as if it disappeared a little. “Phoebe, quarter of a million dollars for four weeks’ work, and I will let you go.”


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