Excerpt: The Italian's Virgin Acquisition

Excerpt: The Italian's Virgin Acquisition

Chapter One:

Sebastiano grimly checked his Rolex as he strode into SJC Towers, his London office building, completely oblivious to the wintery rain landing like icy pellets on his face. He had been waiting for over two years for this day, and finally his crusty old grandfather was going to give up on his stubbornness and hand over the reins of the family dynasty. And not before time!

Bert, his weekend security chief gave him a nod as he approached the desk, not at all perplexed to see his boss coming into work on a Sunday morning.

‘Catch the game yesterday, boss,’ Bert asked with a flashing grin.

‘Don’t gloat,’ Sebastiano advised. ‘You’ll ruin my tentatively optimistic mood.’

Tentatively optimistic, being optimistic in itself.

Already this morning his current – and now ex – mistress had tried to dampen his enthusiasm by waiting outside his Park Lane home for when he’d returned from his six mile run. Evidently she’d seen Internet photos of him arriving and leaving one of the most lavish, and dullest, cocktail party known to man the night before, and wanted to know why he hadn’t invited her to attend with him.

‘Because it hadn’t occurred to him’, in hindsight, hadn’t been his best answer. Things had rapidly deteriorated after that, ending when she issued him with an ultimatum: either move their relationship forward, or end it. Not that he could blame her for being upset. He’d pursued her a month ago with the ruthless determination that had seen him climb to the top of the Forbes 500 list by the age of twenty-five and he’d yet to even sleep with her.

Which wasn’t like him. He normally had a very healthy libido but he’d been off stride lately. Probably this damned situation with his grandfather. Not to mention the twenty-hour days he had been putting in at the office to finalize a deal that would see him enter, and dominate, the construction market on a global scale.

Of course he’d apologized to the world-renowned ballerina but she hadn’t been impressed, casting him a beguiling little smile before blowing him a kiss over one elegant shoulder as she’d gracefully exited his life. Thinking about it now, he might suggest she give break up lessons to some of his past involvements. She’d make a small fortune in teaching basic relationship exiting etiquette to others, particularly to the Spanish model who had thrown her hair brush at him when he’d suggested they part ways some months back.

‘Better luck next time, eh?’ Bert chortled, pretending to look contrite. Sebastiano grunted. He knew Bert was talking about yesterday’s football match in which his team had been slaughtered, but he could equally apply the sentiment to his stalled sex life.

Stepping into the lift he stabbed the button for his floor and hoped that his adroit EA had found time to collate the reports he wanted to present to his grandfather as part of his winning pitch. Ordinarily he’d never ask Paula to come in on a Sunday, but his grandfather had landed this visit on him at the last minute and he didn’t want to leave anything to chance.

Not that his business acumen was the reason behind his grandfather’s reticence to hand him control of the company. No, what he wanted was to see Sebastiano settled with a lovely donna who would one day become the mother of his bambini. His grandfather wanted Sebastiano to have something other than work to sustain him. Something called work-life balance. A modern day catch cry if ever Sebastiano had heard one, and one he suspected his grandfather had acquired from his cherished wife. Whatever nonna wanted, nonna got.

‘How can I expect you to take on another demanding role when you already have so little time to relax?’ His grandfather had said over the phone a month ago. ‘Your grandmother and I just want to see you happy, Bastian. You know how we worry. I can’t die if I don’t know you will be taken care of.’

‘You know I can take care of myself,Sebastiano had growled. And you’re not dying. At least not right now.’

But his grandparents were old world Italian. If there wasn’t a good woman cooking in his kitchen and warming his bed at night they considered him living a lonely, substandard existence. And apparently having a housekeeper providing those hot meals, and as many women as a man could want offering to warm his bed, wasn’t what they were talking about.

More’s the pity.

Because for Sebastiano being busy was his work-life balance. He thrived on it. There wasn’t a day went by he didn’t wake up wanting to conquer some new business opportunity, or some new corporate challenge. Love? Marriage? The first was greedy and selfish and the second required a level of intimacy he didn’t think he could give. Being a little removed had served him well over the years and he couldn’t see a reason to change that. And if some nights he had a lonely, late night aperitif by himself, overlooking the glittering lights of whichever city he happened to be in at the time… well, so be it.

Right now he was in the prime of his life and as he had just bought Britain’s largest steel and concrete supply company there was no better time to take over as head of Castiglione Europa. The two businesses dovetailed so beautifully together Sebastiano had already asked his marketing and sales team to work up a plan to move into the hotel refurbishment industry across Eastern Europe.

He just had to convince his hardheaded nonno to retire and see out his twilight years with the wife he adored in the family’s Amalfi Coast villa.

Deep in thought, he flicked on the lights to the executive floor and heard a text come through. Switching on the coffee machine he opened a text from Paula and pulled up short.

He read it twice. Apparently she was in the emergency room with her husband who had a suspected broken ankle. The file he required was still on her Mac. A few other instructions followed and Sebastiano scowled. With his grandfather due any minute he didn’t need this kind of delay.

Texting back that he hoped her husband was okay he fired up her laptop and carried it into his office. Glancing at the screen he couldn’t find any file named

(company name).

Great. What else could go wrong this morning?


Poppy checked the Mickey Mouse watch on her wrist and groaned. She had to get out of here. Simon would be waiting and he always became agitated when she was late. On top of that Maryann, her beautiful neighbor who had been more of a mother to her than any of the others she had ever known had just been diagnosed with MS. It was a cruel blow for a woman who was beautiful both inside and out.

Trying not to dwell on that she focused on finishing up a legal brief she wanted to present to her boss tomorrow morning. She only had one week left of her internship at SJC International and she wanted to make sure she sparkled. Who knew, once her law degree was finished she might even be offered a job here. If she impressed the powers that be enough. The ultimate power being her boss’s boss, Sebastiano Castiglione. She hadn’t had anything to do with him directly, but she had seen him stalking through the halls, his long stride designating a man who was always on a mission, his wide shoulders denoting that likely he would succeed at that mission.

Catching herself daydreaming about his bad boy good looks, and reminding herself that he had a bad boy mentality to match, she stacked the files she had been using back in the cabinet and switched off the computer. Not being a morning person, she would have liked to have worked from home this morning, but the laptop she used for University was a thousand years old and wouldn’t run the program she needed to use. On top of which she probably wouldn’t have been allowed to download company files on her private device anyway, even if she was doing company business.

Stretching the kinks out of her neck she grabbed the legal book she had borrowed from Paula, buzzed security downstairs to ask for access to the big boss’s hallowed grounds, and headed for the lift. It would be so much easier to return the book on her way out than run into the chance that she would forget tomorrow and look sloppy. One of the cardinal ways to standout as an intern was to be as efficient as possible and Poppy took her job seriously.

After being raised in the foster care system, and having to take care of a much younger brother with down syndrome, she knew the only way out of her current poverty driven existence was to focus on bettering herself. She’d been given a second chance when Maryann had found them both huddled up to a heater at Paddington Station and she’d used every second of that chance to make sure that they both had a future to look forward to.

When Bert gave her security access to the executive floor she punched the code into the elevator and waited for the lift to open out onto the stylish elegance that denoted that one had arrived in the world. Crossing the softly carpeted floor into Mr Castiglione’s outer office Poppy paused to take in the sweeping views of London she so rarely got to see. Despite the pale grey sky the city looked picture perfect with its seamless blend of new and old world architecture. It was as if nothing could touch a person from way up here, but Poppy knew that once you got to ground level things could not only touch you, they could destroy you if you’d let them.

Caught up as she was by dark memories she jumped when a deep male voice cursed loudly, shattering the silence.

Heart thumping, Poppy turned to find who it was, but no one was about. Then another curse colored the air and she realized it was coming from inside her boss’s office.

Stepping forward on light feet she paused at the open doorway to his internal space and sucked in a sharp breath as she saw Sebastiano Castiglione standing, legs braced wide, in front of the plate glass windows of his office. She’d recognize him anywhere of course. Powerful. Untamed. Stunningly good looking. He raked a hand through his hair, mussing it into untidy black waves. He was tall for an Italian, and muscular, as if he worked out everyday and then some. Since he was reputed to work about twenty hours a day she didn’t know where he found the time but she was glad he did. He was eye-candy extraordinaire. Or sex on a stick, as Maryann was want to say.

As if he sensed her silent perusal his eyes shot up from studying the phone in his hand, his brilliant green eyes piercing her straight to her core. For a moment Poppy forgot to breathe. Then he spoke, his aggravated gaze sweeping over her and lighting tiny spot fires of sensation in its wake.

‘Who the hell are you?’

‘I’m an intern.’ Poppy cleared the frog from her throat. ‘Poppy. Poppy Connolly. I work for you.’

His frown deepened as he looked her up and down again. ‘Since when has jeans and a sweater been appropriate office attire?’

Poppy flushed at the dressing down. ‘It’s a Sunday,’ she explained. ‘And I wasn’t expecting anyone else to be in.’ Which wasn’t really much of an explanation when he stood before her in a snowy white dress shirt, red tie, and dark trousers that did little to hide his powerful thighs.

‘Yes, it is a Sunday. So why are you here?’

‘I have a week left and I wanted to finish up a presentation for Mr Adams. He said it would be fine if I came in.’

One dark eyebrow rose on his forehead. ‘Taking dedication a bit far, isn’t it?’

‘Not if you want to get ahead,’ she said simply. ‘And I’d love to work here when I graduate. Being flexible and committed are just two of the things interns can do to stand out. ’

‘What are the others?’

‘Be punctual, treat the position like a job, and dress for success.’

His gaze fell to her skinny jeans and Poppy tried not to cringe. When she had first started here five weeks ago she had imagined one day meeting this man who was reported to be some sort of corporate genius, but in her imaginings it hadn’t quite gone like this.

‘Broke that one, I see,’ he said sardonically.

Poppy felt heat creep into her cheeks and realized that her heart was beating at double its normal rate. Probably finding your boss attractive wasn’t on that list either, and she tried to crank up the wheels of her sluggish brain to think of a way to salvage the rapidly deteriorating situation.

When the phone rang on his desk it broke the taught silence between them and also threw Poppy a welcome lifeline.

‘Let me get that,’ she said in her most business like manner.

Before he could respond she had made it to his desk and snatched up the phone. She smiled widely at the man as she said, ‘Mr Castiglione’s office.’

Her smiled dimmed as she strained to listen to the teary sound of a woman on the other end of the phone. She had a heavily accented voice and coupled, with her distress Poppy could just make out ‘sorry to interrupt’ and ‘is Sebastiano in?’

‘Yes, he’s here,’ Poppy said, all to aware that the man they were discussing had not taken his eyes off of her. ‘Yes, of course. Just a moment.’ Not knowing which button on the handset was the mute button she held out the phone. ‘It’s for you,’ she half whispered.

Once more his eyebrow climbed his forehead. ‘What a surprise.’

Feeling like she had mucked up again she stepped back from his radiating warmth as he moved closer and took the phone.

‘Yes,’ he barked into it.

Seeing his scowl instantly deepen Poppy decided to take the initiative and make him a coffee. She knew he had a coffee machine in his outer office and that he took it black. She also knew that the woman on the other end of the phone was most likely another girlfriend he had probably ditched. His short-term conquests were the stuff of legend around the office. As was the expensive break-up-and-move-on jewelry he supposedly got his EA to buy for them at the end.

Eager to get home and check on Simon, and give Maryann a hug and a cup of tea, she mentally hurried the coffee machine along, surprised to find her boss still on the phone when she set the cup down beside him. He passed a weary hand through his hair and she was inordinately pleased with herself for thinking of the coffee when he suddenly reached out and manacled her wrist with his large hand, preventing her from leaving.

Poppy instantly stilled, staring down at darkly tanned fingers that were now idly stroking the soft skin on the inside of her wrist. Her breath hitched as darts of wicked pleasure shot up her arm, and as soon as she looked into his eyes she knew he had registered the betraying reaction.

Lust turned her knees to water. Lust and anger because not only was this man her current boss, but he was listening to a woman sobbing on the end of the phone while caressing her!


Anger winning out Poppy jerked her hand back, knocking over the coffee mug she had only moments ago carefully placed in front of him. The contents of the mug went flying through the air, dark liquid splattering all over the front of her boss’s pristine white shirt.

Sebastiano let out an explosive round of Italian curse words that made Poppy blush even though she didn’t understand a single one of them.

She stared open mouthed as he hung up his call, holding his sopping shirt away from his chest.

‘What the hell was that?’ he ground out, fury splitting the air between them.

‘I… you…’ Glancing around wildly Poppy grabbed a wad of tissues from his sideboard and started dabbing at his chest. When he held his hand up for her to stop she noticed that drops had splashed down onto his crotch and dabbed at the offending liquid only to have that hand manacle her wrist again. This time without the light stroking.

‘There’s a shirt hanging in my closet. Get it.’

Glancing up into irritated green eyes ringed with dark, sooty lashes, Poppy felt a fresh wave of heat fill her cheeks. The air seemed to thicken and crackle between them. ‘Yes, sorry. I…’

‘Shirt. Now.’

Aggravated with herself she reached into his closet and ripped the clear plastic from a fresh shirt, not at all ready to turn around and find her boss shirtless and toweling his ripped, tanned abdomen with another wad of tissues.

Good God, the man had sheets of muscles layered on top of more muscles, and all of that bronzed, fit perfection was covered in a pelt of healthy dark hair that arrowed down-

‘I… you…’ she pointed in the vicinity of his torso. ‘You have a red mark on your chest. Do you want me to get some salve for it?’

‘No I do not want you to do anything else,’ he bit out.

‘Okay.’ Poppy thrust the shirt at him turning her burning face away, hoping he couldn’t hear her thundering heartbeat. ‘I’m sorry,’ she stammered, her throat tight with embarrassment. ‘I don’t know what happened. I’m not usually so clumsy, really I’m not, but when you… I just… I’m really sorry.’

‘I’m sure you are,’ he bit out tersely.

Hearing the rustle of fabric Poppy turned back to find him shoving the ends of his shirt into his trousers and swallowed hard. She really wished she didn’t know what lay beneath that shirt because she couldn’t get the image of his toned body out of her head. She watched, mute, as he straightened his cuffs and wound his red tie around his neck.

‘At least the coffee missed your tie,’ she offered.

His cutting glance told her more than words what he thought of her comment. ‘Is that supposed to make up for you dousing me with hot coffee?’

‘I didn’t douse you,’ she said with a touch of asperity. ‘You were rubbing my wrist while breaking up with your girlfriend.’

‘And that made you spill coffee all over me?’

‘I didn’t do it deliberately,’ she said, secretly thinking that actually he really deserved it. ‘Maybe you should be thankful it wasn’t hot.’

His implacable gaze held hers. ‘It was hot.’

Poppy bit her lip and watched with interest as he tussled with his tie. Cursing he yanked it open and started over. Her lips twitched. There was something completely disarming about a man of his size and capability wrangling with an innocent strip of fabric. ‘Do you want me to help you with that?’

Once more he flicked her with his green gaze. ‘You want to help?’

She held her hands up in front of her. ‘Look, no coffee.’

Not even the trace of smile crossed his sinful lips and she thought it such a shame that a man who was so good looking should have no sense of humor.

‘My grandfather is arriving any minute and I need to have everything in order.’

‘The one who wants you to get married?’

‘Yes.’ His gaze turned flinty. ‘I see the office grapevine is alive and well.’

Poppy shrugged. ‘It’s called operation marriage on our floor.’

‘Operation what?’

Poppy’s lips curved into a small grin. ‘I can tell by that reaction you can’t imagine anything worse.’

‘You’d be right about that.’ He shook his head. ‘Why have I not heard this?’

‘Well because the gossip is about you – obviously. But don’t worry. Nobody thinks you’ll do it.’

‘Good to know my staff know me well at least.’

‘I think it’s kind of sweet actually. Your grandfather wanting you to settle down.’

‘I’m glad you think so – Cristo!’

He yanked the tie open and Poppy stepped forward. ‘I do know how to tie a necktie,’ she murmured.

‘Fine.’ His hands dropped to his sides and the two ends of the tie dangled down his lean body like twin arrows signaling paradise. ‘Do it.’

As she closed the distance between them the air seemed to crackle with tension and Poppy reminded herself of the time she had once before succumbed to a man who had appeared a self-confident as this man and how that had ended for her and Simon.

Fortified by that particularly humiliating memory she gripped the tie and reached up, doing her best to ignore the dark stubble that lined his hard jaw. He was tall, well over six feet, and she had to rise up onto her toes to position the knot in the center of his throat. This close, she could feel his heat, and smell his potently male scent. It made her want to lean in and nuzzle against him to breath it in deeper.

Not that she would. She wasn’t a fool.

She noticed his tanned throat worked as her fingers grazed his skin and she steadfastly refused to look up. ‘What kind of knot do you want?’ she asked, her voice husky and unlike the way it usually sounded.

‘What kind of knots can you do?’ His seemed deeper, rougher.

‘All of them.’

‘All of them?’

Braving a glance upwards she found that his eyes were heavy lidded as they met hers.

‘Just how many are there?’

‘Eighteen that I know of.’

‘Eighteen.’ His eyes glittered down into hers. ‘Can you name them?’

‘Yes. Do you want me to?’

‘No.’ He gave a short laugh. ‘You’ve obviously done this before. Lucky guy.’

‘Mannequin.’ She adjusted the length of the tie and created a loop. ‘I dressed in-store mannequin’s part time during high school.’

His lips twisted into a small smirk. ‘Lucky in-store mannequin.’

Poppy’s hand flattened against his chest as the tie slipped. She could feel his heart beating heavy and strong beneath his breastbone and was that a shudder that just went through his big body?

All of a sudden she felt surrounded by his warmth, his deliciously male smell, and she had to swallow hard before speaking. ‘So which one do you want?’ she asked thickly.

‘Just do a Windsor knot.’ The words seemed to rumble out of his chest.

‘That’s the one most men prefer,’ she said.

‘Are you calling me common, Miss Connolly?’

‘No.’ Poppy glanced up, tugging a length of tie through another loop. ‘It’s just that it’s the largest and most men who wear neckties like to have a large knot.’

‘That’s because it keeps all the other predators at bay.’ His voice was deep, his chest rising and falling evenly beneath her suddenly clumsy fingers.

Deciding not to take this conversation any further for fear that he might actually be flirting with her and it was the last thing she wanted, she concentrated on finishing the knot.

‘A word of advice, Miss Connolly,’ he began, waiting for her to look up before continuing. ‘If you do happen to get a job here, don’t ever put a call through to me again without first finding out who it is.’

Remembering how upset the woman on the end of the phone had been, Poppy pursed her lips. ‘Not even if the person is crying?’

Especially if the person is crying.’

Despite herself Poppy felt a grin tug at her lips. Was he really that heartless or was he, in fact, flirting with her? Her eyes drifted to his mouth. If rumor was to be believed he knew how to make a woman go wild in bed and she wondered if his mouth would be hard or soft if she reached up and kissed him.

Her face heated as she tried to reorder her thoughts along more sane lines. ‘Why were you holding my wrist before anyway?’ Stroking it so tenderly she could still feel the impression of his fingers against her skin.

‘I don’t really know.’ His eyes held hers and although he hadn’t moved she would swear they were closer. So close-

Scusa, Sebastiano, sono in anticipo?’ A deep, croaky voice intruded on the moment, startling Poppy out of her trance.