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Best of Bosses 2008

By:Kate Hardy

SHE looked as if the world had ended, hunched over an empty coffee cup, staring out of the plate-glass window but not seeing anything.

Gio couldn’t leave her sitting there in such obvious misery. So even though he should’ve locked up ten minutes ago, he did exactly what his father would’ve done. He made a cappuccino and slid it on to the table in front of her. ‘Here,’ he said softly.

She looked up, her eyes widening in surprise. ‘I…’ She’d obviously been about to protest that she hadn’t ordered the coffee. But then she smiled ruefully and cupped both hands round the mug, clearly taking comfort from its warmth. ‘Thanks.’

‘No problem.’ He handed her a chocolate dipper. ‘You look as if you need this.’

‘I do,’ she admitted. ‘Thanks. I appreciate this.’ She rummaged in her handbag for her purse. ‘How much do I owe you?’

He waved a dismissive hand. ‘Nothing.’

She frowned. ‘Won’t you get into trouble with your boss?’

‘Doubt it.’ He smiled. ‘Anyway, you’re a regular, so call it a refill.’

Those beautiful blue eyes—the same blue as the sky on a summer evening, he saw, now that he was this close to her—narrowed slightly. ‘Regular?’

He shrugged. ‘On Wednesday mornings, you order a cappuccino and an almond croissant to go at ten past nine.’

The suspicion on her face morphed into nervousness. ‘How do you know that?’

Oh, lord. Obviously she thought he was some kind of weirdo—that he’d been watching her or stalking her. He shouldn’t have mentioned the time. ‘Work here long enough and you get to know the customers,’ he said lightly, hoping it reassured her. ‘I’m out of croissants or I would’ve brought you one—hence the chocolate.’ He spread his hands. ‘Because that’s what women need when things get tough, right? Or so my sisters always tell me.’

‘Right. And thank you.’ She looked very close to tears.

‘Want to talk about it?’

She looked around, as if suddenly realising she was the only customer. ‘Oh, lord. Sorry. I’m holding you up.’

‘Not at all. Though would you mind if I put up the closed sign and put the bolt on the door, so I don’t get a sudden rush and end up staying open a lot later than usual?’

Fran thought about it. He’d actually asked her first, to make sure she didn’t feel threatened. And a man who’d brought her a coffee and a chocolate dipper couldn’t be all bad, could he? OK, so he knew her Wednesday-morning order—but, as he’d said, you got to know your regulars in business. Just as she did: she recognised voices on the phone and knew even before they asked which ones would be asking for a last-minute panic job and which ones would be booking slots for weeks ahead.

‘Sure,’ she said.

He bolted the door, turned the sign over to read ‘Closed’ from the outside, turned off one of the banks of lights, and came to sit opposite her. ‘Gio Mazetti,’ he said, holding out his hand.

She took it, and was surprised at the sudden tingle in her fingertips when her skin touched his. ‘Fran Marsden. And thank you for the coffee, Joe.’

‘Gio,’ he corrected with a smile.

Now she was listening properly, she heard it. The soft G, the I and O sliding together almost after a pause.

‘Short for Giovanni,’ he added helpfully.

And then the penny dropped. Of course he wouldn’t get into trouble for making her a coffee for no charge. Because the café was called Giovanni’s. ‘You own the place.’

He lifted one shoulder. ‘It’s a family concern—but, yeah, I’m in charge.’

‘I, um…’ She shifted in her seat, embarrassed at her naïvety. ‘Sorry.’

He laughed. ‘Don’t apologise. I’m glad I come across as one of the baristas—there’s nothing worse than having the boss supposedly doing a shift and just throwing his weight around instead of doing something useful.’

He had a nice laugh. Good teeth, even and white—no fillings, either, she noticed. A guy who took care of small details. But he also didn’t look like the type who went in for cosmetic dentistry. She’d put money on him not going to the gym, either—she had a feeling that Gio Mazetti was in perfect shape from hard work, not from pumping iron. He was good looking, but far from being vain about it.

‘So. Want to tell me about it?’ When she said nothing, he added softly, ‘My nonna—my Italian grandmother—always says that a problem shared is a problem halved.’