‘Well, I prefer this one.’

She could see the assistant’s confusion as she plucked the closest dress to hand and passed it to her.

Caramel—or rather a dark shade of beige.


* * *

Bastiano was not a safe option.

Raul knew that as fact.

‘I trust you were comfortable last night?’ Sultan Alim asked when they met.

Raul had met the Sultan once before, but that had been in the Middle East and then Alim had been dressed in traditional robes. Today he wore a deep navy suit.

‘Extremely comfortable,’ Raul agreed. ‘Your staff are excellent.’

‘We have a rigorous recruiting process for all levels.’ Alim nodded. ‘Few make it through the interviews, and not many past the three-month trial. We retain only the best.’


Raul had seen that for himself.

Alim was unhurried as he took Raul behind the scenes of his iconic hotel. ‘I have had four serious expressions of interest,’ Alim went on to explain. ‘Two I know have the means—one I doubt. The other...’ He held his hand flat and waved it to indicate he was uncertain.

‘So I have one definite rival?’ Raul said, and watched as Alim gave a conceding smile.

Both knew Raul was a serious contender.

He didn’t have to try hard to guess who the other was—not that Alim let on.

Raul had done his homework, and he knew that Alim was not just an astute businessman but very discreet in all his dealings.

He would have to be.

Allegra, Raul’s long-suffering PA, had found out all she could on him.

Sultan Alim was a playboy, and his palace’s PR must be on overtime to keep his decadent ways out of the press.

Alim kissed but never told, and in return the silence of his aggrieved lovers was paid for in diamonds.

And in business he played his cards close to his chest.

The latter Raul could attest to, for Alim did not bend to any of Raul’s mercurial ways.

By the end of a very long day Raul was still no closer to finding out the real reason for the sale.

Alim had dismissed his team and was taking Raul for one final look around.

‘I haven’t seen Bastiano,’ Raul commented as the elevator arrived to take them down to the function rooms. When Alim did not respond, Raul pushed. ‘I see that his guests are already here.’

Still Alim gave nothing away. ‘I shall take you now to the ballroom.’

Raul had no choice but to accept his silence.

He knew that Alim and Bastiano were friends, and in turn Alim would know that Raul and Bastiano were business rivals and enemies.

So, instead of trying to find out more about Bastiano, Raul returned his mind to work.

‘Why?’ Raul asked Sultan Alim as they walked along the lush corridors. ‘Why are you selling?’

‘I’ve already answered that,’ Sultan Alim said. ‘I am to marry soon and I am moving my portfolio back to the Middle East.’

‘I want the real reason.’

Alim halted mid-stride and turned to face Raul as he spoke.

‘You have several hotels throughout Europe that you aren’t letting go, yet this jewel you are.’

‘You’re correct,’ Alim said. ‘Hotel Grande Lucia is a jewel.’

As Raul frowned, Alim gave a nod that told Raul he would explain some more.

‘Come and see this.’

They stepped into the grand ballroom, where a dark-haired woman, dressed in a dark suit that was rather too tight, was standing in the middle of the dance floor.

Just standing.

Her shoes must be a little tight too, for she was holding stilettos in one hand.

‘Is everything okay, Gabi?’ Alim asked her.

‘Oh!’ Clearly she hadn’t heard them come in, because she startled but then pushed out a smile. ‘Yes, everything is fine. I was just trying to work out the table plan for Saturday.’

‘We have a large wedding coming up,’ Alim explained to Raul.

‘And both sets of parents are twice divorced.’ Gabi gave a slight eye-roll and then chatted away as she bent to put on her shoes. ‘Trying to work out where everyone should be seated is proving—’

‘Gabi!’ Alim scolded, and then turned to Raul. ‘Gabi is not on my staff. They tend to be rather more discreet.’ He waved his hand, but this time it was to dismiss her. ‘Excuse us, please.’

Alim, who had until now been exceptionally pleasant with all his staff, was less than polite now. Raul watched as a very put-out Gabi flounced from the ballroom.

‘She is a wedding planner from an outside firm,’ Alim said, to explain the indiscretion. ‘My staff would never discuss clients that way in front of a visitor.’

‘Of course.’ Raul nodded as the huge entrance doors closed loudly, and he resisted raising his eyebrows as the crystals in the chandeliers responded to the pointed slam.

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