Authors: Carol Marinelli
“You'll fire me?”
She felt the knight sweep toward her. Click, click, click. He knocked away her pawn, and of course it was checkmate, but instead of saying nothing, instead of pleading her case, Lavinia refused to give him the satisfaction. Rather, she blinded him with a smile and accepted defeat with grace. “I'd love to accept the role.”
“Good. Move your things out to the main office,” Zakahr said, “then go through your diary and cancel your social life.” He was completely immutable. “For now your time is mine.”
finds writing a bio rather like writing her New Year's resolutions. Oh, she'd love to say that since she wrote the last one, she now goes the gym regularly and doesn't stop for coffee, cake and a gossip afterward; that she's incredibly organized; and that she writes for a few productive hours a day after tidying her immaculate house and taking a brisk walk with the dog.
The reality is Carol spends an inordinate amount of time daydreaming about dark, brooding men and exotic places (research), which doesn't leave too much time for the gym, housework or anything that comes in between. And her most productive writing hours happen to be in the middle of the night, which leaves her in a constant state of bewildered exhaustion.
Originally from England, Carol now lives in Melbourne, Australia. She adores going back to the U.K. for a visitâactually, she adores going anywhere for a visitâand constantly (expensively) strives to overcome her fear of flying. She has three gorgeous children who are growing up so fast (too fastâthey've just worked out that she lies about her age!) and keep her busy with a never-ending round of homework, sports and friends coming over.
A nurse and a writer, Carol writes for the Harlequin
Presents and Medical Romance lines, and is passionate about both. She loves the fast-paced, busy setting of a modern hospital, but every now and then admits it's bliss to escape to the glamorous, alluring world of her heroes and heroines in Harelquin Presents novels. A bit like her real life actually!
could have walked, but he chose not to.
The offices of the House of Kolovsky were, after all, just a short stroll from the luxury hotel that was for the next few weeks Zakahr Belenki's home.
Or, to avoid the press, he could have taken a helicopter for the short hop across the Melbourne skyline.
Except he had long dreamt of this moment.
This moment of the future was one that had sustained Zakahr through a hellish youthâand now, finally, the future was today.
His driver, on Zakahr's instruction, took the long route from the hotel, the blacked-out windows of the sleek limousine causing heads to turn as it made its way through the smart streets lined with galleries and boutiques. As instructed, the driver slowed down at the original House of Kolovsky boutique. The cerulean blue building with the Kolovsky gold logo was familiar, and its wares were desired worldwide. The window display was, as always, elegantly simpleâswathes of heavy silk, and one large opal that shimmered in the morning light. Aesthetically it was beautiful, but as always,
wherever this sight greeted him on his travels, Zakahr tasted bile.
His driver obliged. A few moments later they pulled up outside the offices of the House of Kolovsky, and the moment was Zakahr's.
Cameras were aimed for their shot, and for once he didn't mind. Impossibly wealthy, and with brooding good-looks, he had dated many of Europe's most beautiful and famous women. His heartbreak reputation had been exposed and examined often in the glossies. Though Zakahr usually abhorred the invasion of his privacy, here, on the other side of the world, and especially
morning, it did not faze him, and a wry smile was contained as he thought of the Kolovskys watching the news as they ate breakfast.
He hoped they choked.
Questions were hurled, cameras flashed, and microphones were pushed towards him.
Was the House of Kolovsky being taken over by this European magnate? Or was he here covering while Aleksi Kolovsky honeymooned?
Had he enjoyed the wedding?
Was he a relation?
Where was Nina, the matriarch?
What was his interest in Kolovsky?
That was a question with merit. After all, this fashion industry icon was but loose change to a portfolio like Belenki's.
Zakahr made no comment, and neither would he later.
The facts would soon speak for themselves.
The sun beat on the back of his head. His grey bloodshot eyes were hidden behind dark glasses, his lips were pressed together, his expression unreadable, but he was an imposing sight.
A head above everyone, he was broad-shouldered too. His skin was pale, beautifully clean-shaven, and his black hair was short and neat, but despite the immaculate suit, the glint of an expensive watch and the well-heeled shoes, there was an air of the untamed to himâa restlessness beneath the sleek exterior that had the journalists holding back just a touch, with an unusual hesitancy to push for answers. Because no one wanted to be singled out by this man. No one wanted that unleashed power aimed solely at them.
He strode through the street and then up the steps, scattering the press, pushing the golden revolving doors. Zakahr was in.
Perhaps he ought to stand and relish this moment, because finally all this was his. Except there was a hollow feeling inside Zakahr. He relished challengesâhad come ready to fightâyet when his identity had been revealed the House of Kolovsky had been handed to him on a plate, and it was now for Zakahr to decide what to do with it.
He sensed the unease of everyone around him.
It did not move him.
The greeting followed him. The lift doors were waiting open and he stepped inside. The lift glided up.
He sensed trepidation here too, as he walked out on to
the floor that contained his office. As surely as if it had been pumped through the air-conditioning he could feel itâin the thick carpets, the walls, behind every door as he walked down the corridor. And they had every right to be nervous. Zakahr Belenki had been called in, and in the business world that heralded change.
No one outside family knew who he
Zakahr headed to his office. He had been here several times now. Just never as Chief.
He opened the heavy wooden doors, ready to claim his birthright, but his moment was broken as he stepped into darkness. Zakahr frowned as he turned on the lights, and then his jaw clenched in angerâthere were no staff to greet him, the blinds were not drawn, the computers were off.
Perhaps the Kolovskys thought they were having the last laugh?
Aleksi had at the weekend married his PA, Kate, but he had assured Zakahr that the last few weeks had been spent training her replacementâexcept there was no one here.
He headed for a desk, picked up a phone, ready to ring and blast at Reception to get someone up here. But the door opened again, and Zakahr stood, silently fuming, as a stunning blonde came in, wafting fragrance, carrying a large takeaway coffee.
She walked past him to a small office off the main suite, put her drink on the desk, and gave him a quick âSorry I'm late' as she slipped off her jacket and turned the computer on. âI'm Lavinia,' she added.
âI know,' Zakahr said, because he had seen her at his
brother's wedding on Saturday, and hers was a face men noticed and remembered. She had huge blue eyes and a tumble of blonde hair, achieving a look both glamorous and prettyâthough Lavinia wasn't looking anything like as amazing as she had at the wedding. There were dark smudges under her eyes, and an air of weariness about her that rather suggested she was more ready for bed than work.
âIs this how you make a good first impression?' Zakahr asked, used to groomed, beautiful staff members who faded into the backgroundânot someone who burst into a room then pulled out a large magnifying mirror from her drawer and proceeded to put make-up on at her desk.
âGive me two minutes,' Lavinia said, unashamedly applying foundation and rather skillfully, Zakahr noticed, erasing all shadows from under her eyes, âand then I'll make a good impression!'
He couldn't believe her audacity. âWhere is the PA?'
âShe got married on Saturday,' Lavinia said.
She was working on her eyes now, her brush loaded with grey. Given Zakahr had been at the wedding, she must have thought her response humorous, because she gave a little laugh at the end of her sentence. As she layered mascara, she told him the necessary truth.
âThe stand-in that Kate trained left in tears on Friday and said she was never coming back.'
She wasn't about to sweeten things for himâthe House of Kolovsky had been in chaos since the news had got out that Zakahr Belenki was taking over, and
if this man really thought he was going to walk in and find order then he was about to find out otherwise.
Lavinia knew he was irritated at her putting on her make-up but what choice did she have? In less than an hour they would be leaving for the airport, and it was essential that she looked the part. But even if none of her previous bossesâLevander, Aleksi or Ninaâwould have had it any other way, Zakahr was beyond irritated by her actions.
âDid Kate sit at her desk to do her face?'
âKate,' Lavinia said, with just a hint of ring to her tone, âwasn't exactly hired for her looks.'
He heard the edge to her voice, and suppressed a smirk at her clear annoyance. Kate was the absolute opposite of Lavinia, and it must surely eat away at this stunning specimen that an overweight, rather plain single mum had married the prize that was Aleksi Kolovsky!
âThere's clearly more to Kate than looks,' Zakahr quipped. And, because he just couldn't resist, he added, âAfter all, she married the boss!'
He watched the blusher brush pause over her cheek for a second, then she carried on rouging her cheeks. âWhere are
staff?' Lavinia frowned, peering over his shoulder as if she expected someone to appear.
âUnfortunately for me you
âYou didn't bring anyone with you?' The surprise was evident in her voiceâshe had read up on him, of course. Zakahr Belenki had interests all over Europe. His team swept in on ailing businesses that glinted with potential gold, injecting massive doses of cash to keep them
afloat, moving in like a cuckoo, and taking prime place in the newly lucrative nest. And even though Kolovsky was far from ailing, even though Lavinia secretly knew he was here for rather more personal reasons, it was quite unthinkable that he was here alone. âYou haven't brought your team?'
Her question was a pertinent one. His own staff
been bemused that he would travel to Australia without themâto them he was assessing the viability of a company. Why wouldn't he bring his team? But Zakahr was a leader. He never displayed weakness, and Kolovsky was his only one. He was not about to explain to his staff why this trip was personal. Still, Zakahr wasn't about to discuss it with Lavinia either, so instead he told her to bring him coffee, then stalked into his office and slammed the door.
Lavinia had worked for both Levander and Aleksi Kolovsky prior to Zakahr, so a slamming door barely made her blink.
Sitting at her desk, all she wanted to do was close her eyes and sleep. It hadn't made the best impression that she was late, but had Zakahr stopped to ask he might have found out the reasonâit had truly been the weekend from hell. Propping up Nina at Aleksi's wedding had been the easy part.
On Friday her little half-sister had been moved into foster care, and though Lavinia was beyond relieved that finally action had been takenâLavinia had actually engineered itâit hadn't been as swift as she had hoped. Instead of Rachael being moved into Lavinia's care she
had been placed in a foster home, and the authorities were now assessing the situation.
The true precariousness of Rachael's future had hit hard, and Lavinia had spent three sleepless nights, worrying not just about the future but about how Rachael was coping at the foster homeâhow the little girl felt sleeping in a strange bed, in a strange home, with strange people.
Even if there was little Lavinia could actually do for Rachael at the moment, even if she could only console herself that at least the little girl was safe, the last place Lavinia wanted to be was hereâand if it had been on any other day she would have rung in sick.
Except whom could she ring?
The oh-so-efficient temporary PA Kate had trained had thrown in the towel on the eve of the wedding, Aleksi was on his honeymoon, the other Kolovsky brothers had long since washed their hands of the place, and Ninaâ
Ninaâon finding out the news as to just who Zakahr Belenki was, was now in a private psychiatric hospital.
With the authorities examining Lavinia's suitability to parent, more than ever she needed a stable job, and with that thought in mind, instead of not showing up, Lavinia had showered and pulled on the clothes she had set out the previous nightâa dark cami and a gorgeous, if rather short in the skirt, black suit. She had put on her favourite black suede high-heeled shoes, which
kicked off an outfit, and had somehow arrived a mere five minutes lateâor, as she would point out later, fifty-five minutes early. Most office jobs started at nine!
Not that Zakahr Belenki had thanked her for her effort!
Lavinia poked her tongue out at his closed door.
He was more arrogant than his brothers combinedâand that was saying something. She knew who he was! Knew, despite his name, that he was actually a Kolovskyâthat he was Nina and Ivan's secret son.
Not that he could find out that she knew.
Happy with her face, Lavinia opened up her computer, ran her eyes over the schedule for the day. Even if she and Kate, the old PA and now Aleksi's bride, had clashed at times, how she wished she were here to sort this out.
Lavinia wore the title of Assistant PA, but was aware she had been hired more as an attractive accessoryâa bright and breezy attractive accessoryâwhich was an essential role within Kolovsky. Now, though, the team Ivan had built had, since his death, been slowly dismantled, and that combined with the astonishing news that Zakahr hadn't brought his impressive team left Lavinia with a heavy weight of responsibility.
She shouldn't care, of course.
Lavinia was well aware that some of the minor directors would be only too happy to have their own PAs loaned out to Zakahrâwho in this building
want a direct route to the mysterious new boss?
She didn't want it, but she had it.
And, like it or not, till Zakahr understood its complicated workings, the smooth running of Kolovsky fell to Lavinia.
She was quite sure people would say she was being grandioseâas if the House of Kolovsky needed Lavinia to survive! Lavinia knew in her heart that it didn'tâbut some things mattered, they really mattered, and without her inner knowledge certain things that mattered simply wouldn't get done.
Lavinia rested her head on the desk and closed her eyes.
In a minute she would lift it.
In a minute she would force a dazzling smile, would inject some lightness into her face and make them both coffee. Hopefully she and Zakahr could start over again.
She just needed a minuteâ¦
This time she jumped!
As Zakahr had intended! Given that he had buzzed her, given that he had called her twice, given that she was asleep at her desk!
She jerked awake at the sound of his voice behind her, felt his brimming anger as strongly as the heavy scent of his cologne, and was tempted just to get her bag and head for home rather than follow his instruction.
âCould you and your hangover please join me in my office?'