‘Six months?’ Amy said weakly.
‘Don’t you have other things to do? What about your company in New York? Shouldn’t you be rushing back there?’
‘Unlike this organisation, I can easily maintain links with my business concerns in America. I have people in place who are geared to assume responsibility in my absence. And there are such things as airplanes that can deliver me to America within hours if I need to be there.’
‘How very efficient.’
Rocco’s dark brows met in a frown. ‘Efficiency is the basis of a successful operation. Which brings me neatly to you.’ He relaxed back in his chair and proceeded to look at her very carefully.
‘I am extremely efficient at what I do.’
‘That’s as may be, but your level of efficiency isn’t really the crux of the matter here, is it? You’re supremely efficient at what you do. It’s simply that what you do brings no money into the company.’
‘There’s more to life than just making money.’ Two bright patches of angry colour had appeared on her cheeks and she found that she was leaning forward, her hands balled into fists. ‘I personally find it very sad when someone’s only focus in life is creating wealth. What do you do with all your money, Mr Losi? Stick it into bank accounts and then spend jolly evenings poring over your statements and patting yourself on the back at what a clever boy you’ve been?’
Rocco looked at the earnest face glaring stubbornly at him and felt it again. That sudden rush of invigoration. It was like tasting something powerfully addictive that he hadn’t tasted in a long time, not since he’d been building up his career, when the doubts had been balanced equally with the self-assurance. Success had become an assumption for him and successful men, he had discovered, invariably became surrounded by like-minded individuals, people whose sights were firmly set in the same direction. No one contradicted him because his vast power and influence rendered him virtually untouchable.
‘Oh, I can think of infinitely more interesting ways of spending an evening,’ he drawled, perversely enjoying the delicate flush that invaded her face as she cottoned on to the exact meaning of what he had said.
The sexual innuendo, leaping out of nowhere, crashed into Amy like a runaway freight train. For a few seconds her imagination took dangerous flight and painted pictures that she had to force herself to push away. He really was a stunningly attractive male, she conceded shakily. That black hair and those thick, luxuriant dark lashes that could droop to conceal his fabulous eyes, that wide, sexy mouth. She blinked and sat up a little straighter.
‘What do you intend to do, Mr Losi?’ She firmly brought the conversation back to business. ‘I have a staff of five very dedicated people, all of whom are one hundred per cent committed to what we do. Two of them are married and need the salary they earn. Well, we all do, come to that. I’m also in mid-project at the moment. It’s not just a question of me.’
‘This is hopeless. I can’t see the point of being here.’ Amy stood up but then found that she was hovering.
‘Rule one in business is to never let your emotions control your responses. Sit back down.’ Rocco stood up and began prowling through the office, hands firmly stuck in his trouser pockets, forcing Amy to twist around to follow his progress. He paused in front of the generous, old-fashioned bookshelf and perched on the protruding ledge that housed two orchids and a selection of exquisite artefacts that Antonio had collected over his years of travel. Amy swivelled her chair around so that she was facing him. The neat little navy-blue skirt she was wearing felt peculiar and she was vaguely aware that it rode up her thighs just a little too much for her liking.
‘I have studied the figures and have reached the obvious conclusion that your reckless indulging in altruistic projects will have to come to an end.’
‘There’s nothing reckless about—’
Rocco held up one imperious hand. ‘Which is not to say that I am a monster who does not appreciate the necessity to have a social conscience. However, I think you will agree that there is a far simpler way of helping.’
‘I am prepared to agree to a set sum that will be given to charities of your choice.’
Amy looked at him with her mouth half open in stunned surprise, then she drew in a deep, steadying breath and said slowly, ‘It’s so easy for you, isn’t it? Need to prove you have a social conscience? Why, then, just fling a bit of money at a charity and you can sleep peacefully at nights. After all, where’s the point in actually taking any kind of interest in the community around you? That’s just tiresome, unproductive hard work, isn’t it? No precious money to be made there, so why waste time investing human resources in it? It doesn’t occur to you that there might be some kind of emotional fulfilment to be had from physically helping other people!’
Rocco clicked his tongue with impatience and irritation and pushed himself away from the ledge, moving towards her until he was towering over her. Then he leant over with his hands on either side of her chair, caging her in.
‘If you’re looking for emotional fulfilment, Miss Hogan, then might I suggest that you are in the wrong job. The figures you have been spending lavishly over the years simply do not add up.’ He stood up abruptly but continued to look down at her, his intimidating blue eyes narrowed. ‘Now let me see exactly what you are working on at the moment. Obviously I will extend some leeway to projects that are currently in the pipeline.’ He strode swiftly back to his desk and Amy reluctantly stood up to follow in his wake, clutching her batch of papers.
She had never met a man quite like him. He was as unfeeling and unmoveable as a rock. It came as no great surprise, when she thought about it. After all, what kind of man could mercilessly cut off all ties with his one surviving parent, whatever the reasons?
She edged round the desk and extracted the complex layout for what she was working on.
‘This is one of the more run-down council estates in the city centre,’ she explained tersely, shoving up the sleeves of her cotton top and propping herself up on both hands. ‘There’s a high level of single-parent families living here and consequently a lot of disaffected teenagers with nothing to do. It’s been a hard slog but we’ve managed to obtain planning permission to build a youth centre right here…’ She pointed to a highlighted dot on the map with one finger and felt all the enthusiasm and energy flowing into her as she contemplated her newest venture.
The residents were all in favour of this project. The tired, despairing mothers saw it as a way of cutting down on the petty crime continually being committed by bored adolescents, and even the kids she had talked to were keen in their own noncommittal, semi-sneering way.
She pulled out more plans of what they had in mind to build. Dee was a qualified architect and had done detailed drawings of what they could achieve given the restrictions of space. She lost sight of the fact that Rocco was an arch enemy to every word she was saying until she had finally finished talking a long while later, at which point cold reality washed back over her and she straightened up.
‘This is nothing like flinging money at a charity and leaving them to get on with it,’ she said heatedly.
‘No. Flinging money at a charity takes an hour or so while this takes several valuable months of time and effort.’
Rocco pushed back his chair and turned to look at her, clasping his hands behind his head.
‘But I have to admit you are very…passionate about what you do…’
‘We all are.’ Had it been necessary to use that particular description for her? she wondered.
‘And when it comes to work, passion, in the right place, can be a very good thing. Where do the rest of those people working with you fit in?’
’ Those people?’