Zoey peered through a grimy pane of the tall leaded glass windows lining one entire wall of the gloomy study, frowning at the mess the avalanche had made of the road that curved down around the imposing snow-covered mountain. So much for that escape route.
She turned back to the remaining pile of papers — opened letters and formal invitations, investment solicitations, high-end catalogs — that covered a good portion of the massive mahogany desk in the center of the room and sniffed in disgust. She’d never known any one person could receive such an inordinate amount of mail. Addressed variously to Mr. Anton Ferraro, III; Lord Anton Ferraro; The Honorable Anton G. Ferraro, Esquire; and in one case, amusingly, Tony Ferrari. She’d opened that one first, naturally, but it didn’t contain any new information. Just an offer to list his home for sale in the currently thriving real estate market.
Good luck with that, she thought. She couldn’t imagine there’d be much of a market for this ancient darkly sprawling pile of a mansion, even in the most robust economic conditions.
She’d ostensibly been hired to handle Ferraro’s correspondence and had been doing so now for almost a week, relegated to this mausoleum of a room to work alone. When she wasn’t taking meals alone in one of the formal dining rooms, or sleeping alone on the third floor in one of the fussily old-fashioned bedrooms.
Mr. Ferraro, she’d been informed by the butler, had been called away on urgent business. Just as well, given her cover wouldn’t hold up under close scrutiny.
She left the interior design catalogs prominently displayed in the center of the desk. God knows, the place could use an overhaul. Then she neatly straightened the rest of the pile, picked it up carefully, and walked over to open the door that led to a surprisingly modern and well-lit file storage area. She tossed the entire armful on top of the latest precarious stack and pretended not to hear the avalanche of paper hit the floor as she firmly closed the door behind her.
Filing had never been her strong suit.
She dusted her hands together and looked around at the late afternoon shadows cloaking the study. Her work here was done and it was time to go. Past time, if she were honest. She’d accomplished her mission two days ago. The longer she stayed, the better chances were she’d get caught.
That would be beyond inconvenient.
But she’d inexplicably hoped to get a glimpse of the elusive and reclusive Anton Ferraro before she left. Almost as much as she dreaded the prospect.
She pulled the chain to turn off the quaint green-shaded banker’s lamp on the desk, grabbed her coat from where she’d draped it over a wingback chair, and walked toward the imposing double doors that opened into the equally imposing front hall. Her steps were brisk, determined, now that she’d decided it was time to leave.
The doors opened before she was even halfway across the room. They no longer looked quite so imposing, not in comparison to the man who stood grasping one doorknob with each hand, his long arms and massive frame nearly spanning the entire opening.
Oh, hell. She’d known it was a risk to linger. If she wasn’t mistaken, Mr. Anton Ferraro had returned from conducting whatever business had kept him away all week.
They stood there a moment, each silently taking the other’s measure. A test of wills to determine who would make the first move.
“Ms. Prescott,” came the opening salvo.
His voice was deep and quietly commanding. Compelling. She’d only been given a vague description of him and now she knew why. He was tall and dark and not exactly handsome. But somehow still wildly attractive. And imposing, standing there with his black wool greatcoat unbuttoned over dark charcoal slacks and a black cashmere sweater. He’d just come in from outdoors, judging by the sprinkling of snowflakes in his hair and over his broad shoulders. They should have softened the look, had it not been apparent they weren’t going to melt any time soon.
Zoey suppressed a shiver and gave him her brightest, most innocuous smile. “You must be Anton. Please, call me Zoey.”
He didn’t return the smile. His dark gaze skimmed over the dimly lit room, pausing briefly on the tidy desk before returning his full attention to her. “Ms. Prescott. You appear to be going out.”
“Why, yes, Anton. I thought I’d take a stroll around the grounds. Get some fresh air.”
He raised one dark eyebrow before nodding slightly and turning in the doorway, one arm extended in invitation for her to precede him into the front hall. Zoey was certain the man had intentionally left barely enough space for her to slip past without brushing against him. She managed it with as much grace as she could muster and was reaching out to grab her hat and gloves from the hall table in passing when his voice came from close behind her.
Damn. She’d almost been clear. Dread pooled in her stomach, but she stopped and gave him a politely inquisitive look. Not an easy feat when confronted at close range with all that masculine intensity.
“Dinner is at eight.”
With any luck, she’d be long gone by then. “I had a late lunch and doubt I’ll be hungry–”
“Eight o’clock, Ms. Prescott. Don’t test my patience.”
She dipped, ever so slightly, into a sketchy and entirely disrespectful version of a curtsey. “I wouldn’t dream of it, sir.” She turned away from his glower to see the unfailingly staunch butler standing at attention, ready to open the enormous metal-banded front door for her.
“Thank you, Benton,” she said, smiling up into his expressionless face as she shoved the hat on her head. She stepped outside as the last few flakes of the storm swirled on a brisk gust of wind, waiting for the door to thud closed behind her before she swore softly and fluently under her breath.
Anton Ferraro was not the elderly, absent-minded eccentric she’d been led to believe he was.
She needed a new plan, and fast.