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Best of Bosses 2008(11)

By:Kate Hardy

He looked utterly horrified at the idea.

So was he the odd one out in his family, too? The one who didn’t want to do what all the others had done?

She smiled wryly. ‘I suppose that’s the good thing about being from a family of academics. Nobody expects you to settle down until you’re at least thirty. So I’m safe for the next four years or so.’

‘Is that what you want?’ Gio asked. ‘To settle down and have babies?’

A family to belong to. Where she’d fit smack into the middle of things. Be the hub.

She suppressed the shiver of longing. ‘Right now, I’m quite happy being single and fancy-free,’ she said lightly.

‘Hallelujah. Finally I’ve found someone female who’s on my wavelength—who actually understands where I’m coming from. You’re going to be on my side on this, right?’ Gio raised his glass to her. ‘To us. And we’re going to make a brilliant team.’

The pudding was indeed the best Fran had ever tasted. The coffee was good, too. And when they’d settled the bill and left the pizzeria, she was shocked to realise how late it was—how long she’d been chatting to Gio at the restaurant.

A man she’d only just met.

And yet, weirdly, it felt as if she’d known him for years. She couldn’t remember feeling so comfortable with someone so soon—ever.

‘I’ll see you home,’ Gio said.

She shook her head. ‘Thanks, but there’s really no need. I can look after myself.’

‘Remember, I was brought up the Italian way—it doesn’t feel right just to abandon you at the door of my aunt’s pizzeria and let you find your own way home. Let me at least walk you to the Tube station.’ Clearly he sensed that she was about to refuse, because he added, ‘Besides, we need to discuss when you’re going to start tomorrow and which branch, so we might as well—’

‘—multi-task it,’ she finished.

His eyes crinkled at the corners. ‘See. You can even read my mind.’

‘Hardly. Marco did tell me it was your favourite phrase,’ she reminded him with a smile. ‘OK. As long as it’s not taking you out of your way.’

‘I live within walking distance of the station,’ he said. ‘And it’s a warm, dry evening. The fresh air will do me good.’

By the time he’d walked her to Goodge Street station, they’d agreed to meet at the coffee shop on Charlotte Street at half past nine, and she’d checked the dress code—the baristas all wore black trousers or skirts and a white shirt, so she’d do the same. Gio insisted on waiting with her on the platform until she’d got on to the Tube, and then sketched a wave before striding off again.

When one door closes, another opens.

And how. She’d lost her dream job, stared failure in the face, then only a few hours later, she’d been offered something that might turn out to be even better. Something where she’d have free rein.

Gio was prepared to take a chance on her. So she’d take a chance on him. And she had a month to find out if she’d made the right choice.

The following morning, Gio had just finished signing for a delivery when Fran walked in.

He was used to seeing her on a Wednesday morning—but not this early, and only for the couple of minutes it took her to order her cappuccino and almond croissant. Seeing her now and knowing that she was going to be spending the day in his office, sitting at his desk, in his chair, felt…weird.

‘Good morning,’ she said.

Lord, she had the sweetest smile. A smile that did things to him. Things he hadn’t expected. He tried to ignore the flutter at the base of his spine and strove for casualness. ‘Hi.’

‘Sorry I’m a bit early.’

‘Well, you have to make a good impression on your first day,’ he teased. He introduced her swiftly to the baristas. ‘This is Fran. She’s our new office manager. And, no, before you ask, it doesn’t mean you can all go swanning off inter-railing like Kelly and let me cover your shifts.’

Sally clicked her fingers. ‘Damn. And there I was, planning to spend the summer on a beach full of gorgeous Italian men.’

Gio laughed. ‘That’s easy. Just go to one of my family’s back gardens on a Sunday afternoon.’

‘A sandpit and a horde of boys under the age of seven isn’t quite the same thing, Gio.’

‘They’re male, Italian and gorgeous, yes?’

She groaned. ‘Yes.’

‘And there’s sand.’

‘But no sea.’

‘That’s a minor detail. Plus, everyone has a freezer full of Nando’s best ice cream. What more do you need?’ he teased.