Lorenzo Ricci pocketed his phone and lengthened his stride, pretending he hadn’t witnessed the appearance of his portly, balding, middle-aged lawyer in the hallway behind him. Fifty minutes back on US soil, the last thing he needed was to discuss the fine print of the complex acquisition deal he had been negotiating, a subject bound to make his head ache even more than it already was.
Tomorrow, after a shot of his favourite whiskey, a steam shower and a face plant into the Egyptian cotton sheets his housekeeper had procured for his very comfortable king-sized bed, would be soon enough to endure that brain throbbing task.
Dio. He pulled to a halt, turned and faced the man doing his best to catch up to him on short, stubby legs, his outward appearance the very antithesis of the pit bull he was in the boardroom.
“I’ve been traveling for sixteen hours, Cristopher, I’m tired, I’m in a vile mood and I need sleep. Trust me when I say tomorrow is better.”
“It can’t wait.” The edge to his lawyer’s voice commanded Lorenzo’s full attention. Not once in five years completing difficult and sometimes downright antagonistic deals together had his legal counsel ever looked this rattled. “I need five minutes of your time.”
Expelling a long sigh, his stomach souring at the thought of attempting to interpret the finer points of legalize when what his brain officially needed was sleep, Lorenzo waved a hand toward his office. “Bene. Five minutes.”
Cristopher followed him into the sleek, black and chrome offices of the Ricci International executive team. Gillian, Lorenzo’s ultra-efficient PA, gave him an apologetic I tried look. He waved her off. “Go home. We can go through everything in the morning.”
She murmured her thanks, got to her feet and started gathering her things. Cristopher followed him into his office, hovering in front of his desk while he dropped his briefcase beside it and shrugged off his jacket. The apprehension skittering up his spine deepened. His lawyer didn’t hover. Ever.
He walked to the bank of floor-to-ceiling windows framing a magnificent view of a dusky, indigo-lit Manhattan—one of the perks of being CEO of his family’s international Italian conglomerate, a shipping dynasty he had evolved into a diverse empire that included hotel chains, cruise lines and real estate arms. He loved the view, but tonight, it barely penetrated the fatigue clouding his brain.
Turning, he leaned back against the sill and crossed his arms over his chest. “All right,” he said, “give it to me.”
His lawyer blinked behind gold-rimmed spectacles, flicked his tongue over his lips and cleared his throat. “We have a…situation. A mistake that’s been made we need to rectify.”
He frowned. “On the deal?”
“No. It’s a personal matter.”
Lorenzo narrowed his gaze. “I didn’t invite you in here to play twenty questions, Cris. Spit it out.”
His lawyer swallowed. “The legal firm that handled your divorce made an error with the filing of the papers. An omission actually…”
“What kind of an omission?”
“They forgot to file them.”
A buzzing sound filled his ears. “I divorced my wife two years ago.”
“Yes well you see…” Another long swallow. “You didn’t actually. Not in the technical tense because the papers were never filed with the state.”
The buzzing sound in his head intensified. “What are you saying?” He asked the question slowly, deliberately, as if his brain was having trouble keeping up. “Just so we’re clear?”
“You’re still married to Angelina.” Cristopher blurted the words out, a hand coming up to resettle his glasses higher on his nose. “The lawyer who handled your divorce had an insane case load that month. He thought he’d asked his clerk to file the papers, was sure he had, until we went back to look at the specifics after the conversation you and I had recently.”
When it had become clear Angie was never going to touch a penny of the alimony he gave her each month.
“My wife announced her engagement this week. To another man.”
The lawyer pressed a hand to his temple. “Yes… I saw the piece in the paper. That’s why I’ve been trying to track you down. It’s a rather complicated situation.”
“Complicated?” Lorenzo slung the word across the room with the force of a bullet. “How much do we pay that firm an hour? Hundreds? Thousands? To not make mistakes like this. Ever.”
“It’s not acceptable,” Cristopher agreed quietly, “but it is the reality.”
His lawyer squared his shoulders; looked ready to be verbally flogged to within an inch of his life, but Lorenzo had lost the power of speech. That his short-lived marriage to his wife, a disaster by its ignominious end, had, in fact, never been legally terminated was too much to take when heaped upon the other news his father had delivered today.
He counted to ten in his head, harnessing the red-hot fury that engulfed him. This he did not need as he attempted to close the biggest deal of his life.
“How do we fix this?” he asked icily.
Cristopher spread his hands wide. “There are no magical solutions. The best we can do is hope to expedite the process. But it could take months. It will still mean— I mean you’ll still have to— ”
“—tell my wife she can’t marry her boyfriend so she doesn’t commit bigamy?”
His lawyer rubbed a palm across his forehead. “Yes.”
And wouldn’t that be fun, given Angelina was set to celebrate that engagement in front of half of New York tomorrow night?
He turned to face the jaw dropping view, blood pounding against his temple in a dull roar. He was shocked at how much the idea of Angie marrying another man repulsed him even though he had once convinced himself if he never saw his wife again it would be too soon. Perhaps because her vibrant, sensual, Lauren Bacall-style beauty haunted him every time he thought about taking another woman to bed… Because every time he tried to convince himself he was ambivalent to her, he failed miserably.
The conversation he’d had with his father before leaving Milan filtered through his head like some sort of cruel joke, had it not been of an entirely serious nature. The Chairman of Ricci International had fixed his impenetrable, icy-blue stare on him and dropped a bombshell. “Your brother Franco is unable to produce an heir, which means it’s up to you, Lorenzo, to produce one and produce it soon.”
His dismay for his younger brother, his bewilderment Franco hadn’t told him this the night before over dinner, had evaporated under the impact of his father’s directive. Him marry again? Never happening. Except, he conceded with bitter irony, he was apparently still married. To the woman who had walked out on him stating he had no capacity to love. The woman who had stolen the last piece of humanity he’d possessed.
He turned around. “Do you have any more bombshells to add to the pile or is that it?”
“That’s it. The deal is fine for the moment. We’re still negotiating the smaller points and you need to clear those last couple of tricky items with Bavaro, but other than that we’re on track.”
“Bene.” He waved a hand toward the door. “Go. I’ll take care of Angie.”
His lawyer nodded. “Do you want me to file the papers? Get the process started?”
Cristopher gave him a stupefied look. “Sorry?”
“I said leave it.”
His lawyer left. A wise decision. He walked to the bar and poured himself a whiskey. Padding back to the windows, he lifted the glass to his mouth and took a sip. Began to feel vaguely human as the spirit warmed his insides and smoothed out the raw edges, raw edges that had been festering ever since one of the clippings in his daily press briefing had buzzed about his former wife, current wife’s, betrothal plans to a prominent Manhattan lawyer.
He had pushed the news of Angie’s engagement aside. Refused to acknowledge how it sank its claws into his skin, dug into his insides—inspired dark, inexplicable thoughts he couldn’t have identified if he’d tried. Angie had ended a marriage that had descended to the very deepest depths of acrimony, a marriage many would have left for dead. So why did it still sting so much?
Why was he still so angry, still so damn angry it was like a disease inside of him, eating away at his soul? He itched he was so angry.
Why hadn’t he asked Cris to file those papers? Ended something that should have been ended two years ago?
He stared out the window for a long time, sipping the whiskey, watching night fall over a light-strewn Manhattan. Considered his duty to the Ricci line. The 15-billion dollar acquisition deal in front of him that would make Ricci the top luxury hotel chain in the world if he landed it—a deal that required every bit of his concentration.
The solution to his predicament, when it came, was shockingly, simplistically clear.
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