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The Billionaire's Triplets

By:Mia Caldwell

CHAPTER ONE


Julio Torres sat back in the soft leather seat and stared out the window. There was little to see but clouds and the pleasant soft colors of the central Italian countryside. Down there somewhere flowed the Po River, and soon he'd be landing in Milan. He liked Italy, and often wound up visiting Milan on business of one form or another.

He knew his mind was wandering and he let it. He needed to let it rest before the meeting this afternoon.

"Your drink, sir," said a soft voice at his ear. He turned and smiled at Elaine, the flight attendant. The pretty brunette usually had a smile for him, and she was certainly pleasant to look at. She was a well-educated Frenchwoman in her twenties, and he found her slight accent sexy. "We will be in Milan within the hour."

"Thank you, Elaine."

As she moved away, he sipped the single-malt Scotch and wondered why he wasn't more pleased with himself, his life. It seemed rather petty to be sulky when you were whisked around Europe on your own jet with a handpicked crew who dedicated themselves to your comfort. Business was good, he was thirty-eight and, according to both his doctor and personal trainer, in excellent shape. In a few hours he'd be in his room at one of Milan's five-star hotels, the Baglioni, where he'd get ready for a business meeting that he had every reason to believe would result in another lucrative contract.

He watched Elaine for a moment and sighed. Her lithe body and accommodating nature were a serious temptation, and he was certain that if he suggested it, she'd be happy to come to his room that evening. Of course, if she did, he was sure it would be because of the allure of the chance at becoming the wife-of the rich and powerful Torres. She might be attracted to him, or she might simply be acting pleasant to her employer-she didn't really know him, and he knew little about her. Although they'd spent quite a few hours together, it was always in this employee/employer relationship, and he liked what that provided too much to take it further. Better to keep some ideas, some women, in the realm of fantasy.

It amused him to think how she would react if she realized that by being so good at her job, she had ruined her chance to become his lover. He wondered if knowing that would shock or please her. Of course, he might be flattering himself. For all he knew, she was deeply in love with some young man, or woman, for that matter. Nonetheless, despite the lust she aroused and knowing he'd do nothing about it, she made the endless business flight more charming.

"The latest version of the proposal just came in."

This time it was Willa, his assistant, approaching him. She was waving a sheaf of documents. He sighed. The continual small, almost insignificant changes that were made in proposals for a bid meant rereading the entire document. Often they meant nothing important or relevant, but he had to be thorough and not risk making a mistake. And interminable changes or not, Julio wanted to win this project. A consortium wanted to put up an innovative business complex here in Milan-it would be a huge undertaking, and a great thing for the city. Unfortunately, that meant all manner of petty bureaucrats would insist on putting their mark on the project whether their contributions were meaningful or not. Some would be included precisely because they were insignificant, and adding them to the mix smoothed the project's path to completion. Regardless, he had to read them all, then respond to them. His responses would then initiate yet another revision that included the changes and compromises.

That was the tedious part of his work, and he wished he could delegate it, but that wasn't possible. He'd made his billions by trusting his instincts and himself, and developing a sharp eye for contract details and their implications. This particular deal was not one to slack off on.

Overcoming his reluctance, he waved Willa into the seat beside him and watched her spread the papers over the table in front of him.

"I scanned them quickly. Whatever changes they've made are small."

"Those are the worst, the land mines," he laughed.

"What do you mean?"

"They are the ones that are dangerous because you don't notice their consequences until you step on them."

Willa nodded, and Julio reflected on his good fortune in having her as his personal assistant. She'd worked beside him without complaint for three years now, and it was a demanding job. She never mentioned her personal life, never took any time off. That seemed odd to him, for she was an attractive German woman of twenty-four, with short-cropped white-blonde hair and piercing blue eyes. He'd seen men take a second look at her, but never saw her respond. She didn't pay attention to women either, so it wasn't that she was gay. From the first day on the job she'd simply thrown herself entirely into her work. He'd been happy to shut up and let her do it, but after three years, he wondered what motivated her. She showed a great deal of personal loyalty, but if that translated into affection, she never showed it.         

     

Willa had a top degree in business administration from Germany's prestigious University of Mannheim and was fluent in English, German, and Italian-all of that made her invaluable in running a global operation. Efficient and organized, she could be stern with her subordinates when they didn't meet her exacting standards. That made Julio uncomfortable at times, but he admired her competence. As a rule, Julio found he was attracted to competent women. There was something exciting about a powerful woman.

Especially …  He let out a sigh. His mind had gone back to Lissa. It was hard to think of Lissa Edwards without a sigh. His brief time with her had been magnificent. What a woman she was. A lovely African-American from New York City, she was five foot eight, and elegant, and wore her hair in twists, which gave her a sassy spin that suited her. She was a consulting economist. He'd known of her, and finally met her at a conference in Switzerland where she was presenting a paper on some complex analysis-of-site evaluation. That was one of her specialties, and she was in demand for large-scale projects. A fan of her work, he'd introduced himself at the reception. The instant he touched her hand and looked into her eyes, he felt they'd been drawn together almost mystically. Something of that magic seemed to be reflected in her eyes, and he asked her to dinner. She accepted, and they were swept into a wild and incredibly passionate fling. They meshed together in every way possible.

Even when a business emergency called him away, forcing him to leave sooner than he'd hoped and wanted to, he couldn't bring himself to feel tragic about it. It was sad, and leaving her was painful, but they parted as lovers, with intoxicating kisses and promises to continue the relationship. For two frequent global travelers, managing to meet to make love and learn if they could mean more to each other seemed simple enough. And exciting. It would simply be a new phase of their relationship.

That was the last time he heard from her. That same day he sent her flowers from Prague, and then later, candy from Amsterdam, and an open invitation to dinner at her choice of any restaurant in the world-and heard nothing back. He heard she was on a project in New Orleans and had Willa send a basket of fruit to her hotel. Still nothing.

It hurt him more than he wanted to admit. He was supposed be such a great catch, a billionaire and considered good-looking too. But after two days and nights with him, Lissa refused all contact. He ached to know what he'd done to offend her, and what he might do to get a second chance.

Or was she just a hard-hearted bitch? That was hard to believe. He'd sensed an incredible warmth in her. He wondered if the intensity of their lovemaking had scared her, if she worried about feeling too strongly about him-essentially his one concern about her. If she was afraid of getting entangled with him and losing her independence … well, he could understand that.

What he couldn't understand was the complete and utter lack of communication. How could a reasonable woman, a brilliant woman, cut him off with no discussion, leave him without a clue to what had changed her mind? Wouldn't a person like that move heaven and earth to find a solution to whatever the problem was?

Beyond the emotional aspects, he'd been looking forward to working with her. She had a fantastic mind that, happily, harmonized with the way he approached things. Her paper made so much sense to him. And now, he wanted her input on this bid, he wanted her to disassemble the confusion of the requirements from the consortium and help him make suggestions, develop a viable, brilliant, and stunning solution.

Even if she'd suddenly had second thoughts about him, decided somehow that he was a totally reprehensible beast, he couldn't imagine her passing on the opportunity to consult on this job. Personal feelings aside-and he had no doubt she could put her personal feelings aside-that made no sense. The project would be of global interest. They'd be breaking new ground while meeting or exceeding every known environmental requirement. That was the mandate. Whoever was associated with him on this project would be able to name their price on future jobs. Even if she disliked him for some reason, even if she hated him, she knew that he was the best at what he did. She would want to work with him.

Not knowing what he might have said or done hurt more than anything he could imagine she might say to his face.

Now he turned his attention to the section of the document on the site location and shook his head. He was slogging through it. If Lissa were there, she'd read this section the way other people read paperbacks. "Still no word from Lissa Edwards's company?"

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