‘My immediate boss has always been your father!’
‘So you’re telling me that you have free rein to do whatever you like, build whatever bijou shelters for the homeless that you want and what…? Casually mention it to my father? Run it by him at the odd meeting when you can find the time?’
Amy felt a rush of angry blood to her head. This was beyond arrogance, but she was caught between a rock and a hard place. There was no way that she could throw him out of her office because he was, as he had made sure to point out, her boss for the time being and, more chillingly, might well be her boss for rather longer if Antonio somehow found himself having to take early retirement. Antonio was now in his seventies and the doctor had told her that the pneumonia might be far more debilitating at his age than it would have been had he been younger, especially when his angina was taken into consideration.
‘I resent your implication that this outfit lacks professionalism!’
‘Now why on earth would I be tempted to imply that?’ Rocco looked around him pointedly. At the grimy walls of the office, the tattered carpet, the cheap bookshelves groaning under the weight of law and land management books.
‘You, Mr Losi, are an extremely offensive person,’ Amy said through gritted teeth and was rewarded with a thunderous frown.
‘I will choose to ignore that observation.’
‘And, furthermore, the state of my office has nothing to do with the quality of my work! Or maybe things work differently in New York?’
Rocco could hardly believe his ears. Just who did this pip-squeak think she was? The brown almond-shaped eyes were glittering with anger and it took some effort to call upon his formidable self-control. That, in itself, was a novel experience.
‘I think we’re getting off the point here, Miss Hogan.’ His voice was cold and measured. ‘In order of priority, I want to see your credentials, look in detail at this project you are working on and have a run-down of the cost. Additionally, I want to have a report from you on my desk by tomorrow morning, covering all the money that has been spent over the past two years on non-profit-making schemes and the few you have done that have actually benefited the company.’
Amy gaped and then laughed out loud. ‘I’m afraid that just won’t be possible.’
‘Sorry. I don’t believe I just heard that.’
‘There’s no way I can do all that in time for tomorrow morning. Richard should have all that information anyway. Now, was there anything else?’ Okay, so she was reacting, allowing the man to get to her, but she couldn’t help herself. She stood up and stretched out her hand in dismissal. Rocco looked at the outstretched hand coolly and didn’t budge.
‘Sit back down, Miss Hogan. I’m not nearly through with you.’
‘I could have that information to you by the end of the week,’ she said, resuming her seat and looking with deep loathing at the man calmly sitting opposite her.
‘You say you’re twenty-six.’ Rocco crossed his legs and ignored the olive branch she had extended. His allotted time to be spent here had come and gone and he realised that he was rather enjoying this clash of intellect and personality. To his mild surprise. ‘Which means you’ve been working for Losi Construction for what…? Four years…? You must have certainly made your presence felt quite strongly in a short space of time to have warranted the heady climb you’ve enjoyed.’
‘Ten years,’ Amy admitted grudgingly.
‘Ten years? That doesn’t add up.’
‘Doesn’t add up to what?’
‘To you leaving university.’
The silence stretched interminably. ‘I didn’t go to university, Mr Losi. I joined your father’s firm straight from school.’
Rocco couldn’t have looked more stunned if she had announced that she had been raised by a pack of wolves in Africa.
‘Not everyone gets the chance to go to university!’ Amy snapped defensively. ‘It’s a privilege, not a right.’ She couldn’t withstand the direct look in those piercing blue eyes and she lowered hers so that she could stare at the tip of a letter propped up on the desk.
‘You mean your grades were insufficient to get you into sixth form?’
‘I mean, Mr Losi—’ she drew in a deep breath and shot him a quick glance from under her lashes ‘—that my mother died when I was young and I was brought up single-handedly by my father. He developed Alzheimer’s when I was fourteen, and by the time I was sixteen I had no choice but to let the social services find somewhere for him to live. I finished my exams but I couldn’t continue my studies. I got a job working with your father and was lucky enough to be able to stay with a foster family until I was old enough to move out and find somewhere to rent. I would have loved to have been able to continue on at school and to have gone to university, but I could barely manage with Dad at home. I didn’t have a choice.’ She fiddled with the pen on her desk, knowing that he was staring at her. This was his big chance now, she thought bitterly. She had no credentials, no degree in a useful subject.
‘Right. So your credentials rest entirely on experience.’
‘As a clerk. Then as your father’s assistant. We worked together to build up a scheme to help the community and eventually I was given responsibility for managing it on my own.’
‘I see.’ Rocco felt himself grapple in unfamiliar territory. ‘And where…is your father now?’
‘He died two years ago.’ It would never stop hurting to talk about it, which was why she never did. ‘It was a blessing. He was very confused towards the end. He couldn’t remember who I was, kept getting me mixed up with Mum. So. There you have it.’ He had dragged this out of her and she hated him for it. ‘Would you like me to have this all typed up and on your desk as well? My life history?’
Rocco flushed darkly. ‘There is no need for sarcasm.’
‘Oh, was I being sarcastic?’ She clung with relief to her need to attack. ‘I thought I was just obeying your instructions.’
‘My father trusted you and naturally I will give you credit for that trust.’ He shrugged and leaned forward, elbows resting on his knees. ‘However sympathetic I am towards the hardships that propelled you out of school prematurely and into the working environment, that does not mean that the sums of money being spent on charitable causes should remain unchecked. I am here to run a business and the first rule of business is that a company survives only if it makes money.’
‘I realise that,’ Amy said impatiently.
‘Do you?’ He sat back, once again comfortable with his persona. He had left England with nothing and climbed his way up solely on his own abilities. The value of making money had been embedded in him from the first moment he had begun working and living in New York.
‘Of course I do!’
‘In which case you will not mind me inspecting every penny that has been spent by your little outfit over the past two years.’
‘The information will be with you by the end of the week.’ And Lord only knew how he was going to react to the figures. He thought in black and white. No profit, no use. The concept of not making profit for the sake of returning to the community would be lost on him.
‘I don’t want it on my desk,’ Rocco said slowly.
‘I want you to bring it to me. Hand deliver the bad news, so to speak. That way we can go through it all together and you will be able to better understand why I intend to bring your cosy little office here to an end should I find myself having to linger here longer than I anticipate.’ He stood up, noticing that her face had