Carol paused beside the car, pulling her cell phone from her pants pocket.
“Excuse me for just a moment…I, ah, need to make sure my big brother knows I got off to the airport okay.”
Alessandro nodded calmly and stepped back, presumably to give her privacy. Carol hastily called Brendan. After four rings, Brendan’s deep, sleep riddled voice washed over the line.
“Carol, this better be good little girl!”
“Um, yeah B, I—ah I just thought I should let you know I got picked up by Mr. Alessandro Feliano from the law office’s branch office in Dallas.”
Brendan’s voice came back hesitantly.
“Ah…Carol? This is news because?”
Carol could see him in her mind’s eye, rolling his hand in that annoying ‘get to the point’ motion he had perfected. She lowered her voice and took another step away from Alessandro.
“Um, B, I know I was supposed to meet with him this morning…but something strange is going on. He and the driver were just talking in Italian, and they both seem to agree that I belong to Mr. Feliano!”
Silence greeted her declaration. Then Alessandro and Brendan began speaking at the same time.
“Ah, piccolina, forgive our rudeness. Marcello overstepped by commenting about you, and I only sought to reprimand him for this. We have made you uncomfortable, si? Would it help you to see our employee identification cards from Signore Jacobsen’s firm?”
Carol gulped and whipped her head around. She could hear Brendan demanding she answer him, but all her attention was riveted on the stunning man leaning insouciantly against the side of the limousine. Alessandro had one arm outstretched, holding what was clearly his id card balanced on his big palm. She put her cell back up to her ear and spoke without ever removing her eyes from Alessandro’s face.
“It was a misunderstanding B…I’ll call you when I get to Italy, okay? Bye.”
Brendan was still sputtering when she flipped her phone shut. Carol eyed Alessandro, noting the way he appeared so relaxed…and yet not. He reminded her of a big cat lazily sunning itself on a branch while it waited patiently for its prey to come within striking distance. He let the card slide down his hand until it rested on his fingertips. Pinning it in place with his thumb he gestured coaxingly with the small square of plastic. Carol’s breath grew shallow.
“Come, piccolina. Look at the card. If you would like, I will give you Signore Jacobsen’s direct line. He won’t be in the office yet, but you can reach him in his car. It pleases me that you are cautious, piccolina. Anyone could say they were from the firm. You are wise.”
Blood pounding in her ears, Carol stepped forward to pluck the id card from Alessandro’s hand. He captured her wrist, holding it with lazy strength. Before she could do more that drop her mouth open in preparation to scream, Alessandro had pulled a small silver case from inside his suit jacket. He extracted a business card from it and put in Carol’s hand with his id.
“There you go piccolina. Signore Jacobsen’s private line is on the bottom right of that card.”
He released her, and Carol stepped back on trembling legs. She dialed the number on the card, taking her eyes from Alessandro only to check that she entered the correct digits. The chauffer came down the stairs with her bags and started to walk toward where she stood. Alessandro barked out an order.
“Stop—Arrestare! Marcello, you have frightened la signorina with your talk. Stay where you are until la bella piccolina is assured we are not trying to kidnap her!”
The chauffer froze in his tracks, and a wash of red colored his bronze skin. He cautiously set Carol’s bags on the ground. Once his hands were free, he fumbled a pack of cigarettes out of a pocket, absently patting himself and looking to Carol as he spoke.
“Mi scusi signorina, va bene se fumo?”
Carol shook her head. Alessandro snorted. Turning her head to look over at him, Carol found him with his head buried in his enormous hands.
“Bene, molto bene! Stupido! Speak English to her!! Uomo idiota! You talk about her like cattle, and then ask permission to smoke?”
Alessandro dropped his head back into his hands with a loud huffing sound. Carol couldn’t repress a tense giggle at his theatrics. Alessandro looked up, a crooked smile stealing across his face. Carol felt the tension melting away from her shoulders under the influence of that crooked grin. The hand holding the phone to her ear started to descend.
“Ah-ah-ah, piccolina! You still need to check with Signore Jacobsen, and call your brother back! You mustn’t become careless with your safety just as you are leaving for a strange country!!”
His crooked smiled tipped just a bit farther to one side, and he arched a well delineated brow at her. Carol’s heart pumped harder, her breath stuttered, and a zing of electricity seemed to jump right from his wild forest eyes to race across every inch of her skin. She pressed her thighs together to suppress the sudden aching emptiness she felt between them. A slow blooming warmth slid sinuously along her veins and her panties grew damp.
The phone stopped ringing. Mr. Jacobsen’s familiar voice came over the line.
“Hello? Miles Jacobsen here.”
Carol startled at the sound of his voice, nearly dropping her phone. She gripped it tightly, raising it completely to her ear.
“Mr. Jacobsen? This is Carol Caruso—”
The senior lawyer cut across her apologetically.
“Miss Caruso I’m coming up on my destination and I’m afraid I won’t be able to talk once I get there until after my meeting is over. The client is very particular about security. Is there something I can do for you before Alessandro and you catch your flight to Italy?”
“I—oh! You sent him to take me all the way to Italy?”
Mr. Jacobsen’s voice came back sounding completely perplexed.
“Of course Miss Caruso. Your case is quite complex and we would be doing you an injustice if we sent you over to Italy without adequate representation. Did I not make it clear that Mr. Feliano would be accompanying you?”
Carol shook her head, and then realized there was no way the lawyer could know what she was doing.
“I…no Mr. Jacobsen, I’m afraid I didn’t understand.”
Jacobsen spoke rapidly.
“I’m afraid I’ve arrived Miss Caruso. Is there anything else I can help you with? You really are in very good hands with Alessandro. He’s one of my best young lawyers, and the only one I have who is licensed to practice in both Italy and the United States.”
Carol’s eyes shot to Alessandro. He was looking down, appearing fascinated by the state of his cuticles. Reminded of how acute his hearing had proved during her conversation with Brendan, she narrowed her eyes at him speculatively.
“No, no Mr. Jacobsen, that’s all I needed to clarify. I will…put myself firmly in Mr. Feliano’s capable hands on your recommendation.”
Watching as closely as she was Carol couldn’t miss the flaring of Alessandro’s nostrils, nor the way he shifted slightly as though seeking to ease a sudden constriction in his pants. Carol smiled, a sensation of power sweeping through her. She bit down on her bottom lip. It looked like the trip to Italy just got a lot more interesting.