Society Weddings series
“The Italian’s Deal For I Do reminds me why I love romance so
much. A must-read for everyone looking to get hooked to an amazing romance.”
Harlequin Junkie reviews
“The chemistry is stunning. The moments they fall in love will leave tears in your eyes.
I could not put The Italian’s Deal For I Do down.”
“If you’re looking for a wonderfully written romance with very tasty characters,
The Italian’s Deal For I Do is for you.”
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“He will not make it through the night.
“The grizzled old priest had served almost a century of Mondellis in the lakeside village of Varenna. He rested his gnarled, weathered hand on the ornately carved knob of the inches-thick, dark-stained door of Giovanni Mon-delli’s bedroom and nodded toward the patriarch’s two grandchildren. “You must say your goodbyes. Leave nothing unsaid.”His gravelly tone was somber, weighted with the grief of an entire village.
It cut through Rocco Mondelli like a knife, severing a lifeline, rendering him incapable of speech. Italian fashion icon Giovanni Mondelli, son of the Italian people, had been the father he’d never had. He’d been Rocco’s guiding influence when he’d taken his grandfather’s place as CEO of House of Mondelli and brought it kicking and screaming into the twenty-first century. Transformed it into a revered global couture powerhouse.He could not be losing him.Rocco’s heart sputtered to a stop, then came back to life in a brutal staccato that pounded against the walls of his chest. Giovanni was everything to him. Father, mentor, friend… He wasn’t ready to let him go. Not yet.
His sister, Alessandra, grasped his arm, her knuckles white against the dark material of his suit. “I—I don’t think I can do this,” she stumbled huskily, her glossy brown hair tangled around her face, eyes wide. “It’s too sudden. I have too much to say.”
Rocco ignored the desire to throw himself on the floor and cry out that it wasn’t fair, like he had at age seven when he’d stood on the deck of a boat outside this window on Lake Como in a miniature-size suit, his big, brown eyes trained on his papa as he tossed his mother’s ashes into the brilliant blue water. Life wasn’t fair. It had nothing to do with fair. It had given him Alessandra, but it had taken away his beloved mother. Never could that be considered a fair compromise.
He turned and gripped his sister by the shoulders, breathing through the searing pain that gripped his chest. “We can and we will, because we have to, sorella.”
Tears streamed down Alessandra’s face, negotiating the crevices of her stubborn mouth. “I can’t, Rocco. I won’t.”
“You will.” He pulled her into his arms and rested his chin on her head. “Gather your thoughts. Think of what you need to say. There isn’t much time.”
Alessandra soaked his shirt with silent tears. It had always been Rocco’s job as much as it had been Giovanni’s to hold this family together following the death of his mother and his father’s subsequent descent into gambling and drink. But he did not feel up to it now. He felt as though one of the breezes wafting in from the lake might fell him with a single, innocent, misplaced nudge. But giving in to weakness, into emotion, had never been an option for him.
He set Alessandra away from him and slid an arm around her shoulders to support her slight weight. His gaze went to the short, balding doctor standing behind the priest. “Is he awake?”
The doctor nodded. “Go now.”
His strong, sometimes misguided, but always confident sister trembled underneath his fingers as he led her into Giovanni’s bedroom. If the saying was true you could smell death in the air, it was not the case here. He could feel the warmth, the vital energy Giovanni Mondelli had worn like a second skin. That he had infused into every single one of his designs. He could hear the caustic bite of his grandfather’s laughter before it turned rich and chiding and full of wisdom. Smell the spicy, sophisticated scent that clung to every piece of clothing he wore.
It was Rocco’s eyes, however, that stripped him of any shred of hope. The sight of his all-powerful grandfather lost in a sea of white sheets, his vibrant olive skin devoid of color, snared his breath in his chest. This was not Giovanni.
He swallowed past the fist in his throat. “Go,” he urged Alessandra, pushing her forward.
Alessandra climbed onto the massive bed and wrapped her slim arms around her grandfather. The sight of Giovanni’s eyes watering was too much for Rocco to bear. He turned away, walked to the window and stared out at the lake.
He and Alessandra had flown the fifty kilometers from the House of Mondelli headquarters in Milan via helicopter as soon as they had heard the news. But his stubborn grandfather had been ignoring pains in his chest all day, and by the time they’d got here, there was little the doctors could do.
His mouth twisted. If he knew his grandfather, he’d probably decided this was the cleanest way to go. Giovanni Mondelli was not beyond manipulating the world to his advantage. What better way to go out then in a blaze of glory on the eve of Mondelli’s greatest fall line ever?
But then again, Rocco conceded, Giovanni had been ready to join his beloved wife, Rosa, in the sweet afterlife, as he called it, for almost twenty years. He had lived life to the fullest, refused to fade after her passing, but there had been a part of him that yearned for her with every waking breath.
He would have her back, he’d promised.
Alessandra let out a sob and rushed from the room. Rocco strode to the bed, his gaze settling on his grandfather’s pale face. “You’ve broken her heart.”
“Sandro did that a long time ago,” his grandfather said wearily, referring to Rocco’s father, who Alessandra had been named for. His eyes fluttered as he patted the bed beside him. “Sit.”
Rocco sat, swallowed hard. “Nonno, I need to tell you.”
His grandfather laid his wrinkled, elegant, long-fingered hand over his. “I know. Ti amo, mio figlio. You have become a great man. Everything I knew you could be.”
The lump in Rocco’s throat grew too large for him to forge past.
His grandfather fixed his dark eyes on him, staring hard in an act of will to keep them open. “Trust yourself, Rocco. Trust the man you’ve become. Understand why I’ve done the things I’ve done.”
His eyes fluttered closed. Rocco’s heart slammed against his chest. “Giovanni, it is not your time.”
His grandfather’s eyes slitted open. “Promise me you will take care of Olivia.”
“Olivia?” Rocco frowned in confusion.
His grandfather’s eyes fluttered closed. Stayed closed this time. A fist reached inside Rocco’s chest and clamped down hard on his heart. He took his grandfather’s shoulders in his hands and shook them hard. Come back. Do not leave me. But Giovanni’s eyes remained shut.
The spirit of the House of Mondelli, the flame that had burned passion into brilliant, groundbreaking collections for fifty years, into his own heart, was extinguished.
Rocco let out a primal roar and rested his forehead against his grandfather’s lined brow.
“No,” he whispered over and over again. It was too soon.
* * *
The emotion he had exhibited upon the death of his grandfather was nowhere to be seen in the week following as Rocco negotiated the mind-numbing details of organizing Giovanni’s funeral, now reaching state-like proportions, and the settlement of his estate. The Mondelli holdings were vast, with properties and business interests spanning the globe. Even with his own intimate knowledge of the company and its entities, it would take time.
Alessandra helped him plan the funeral. Everyone, it seemed, wanted to come—public and government figures, heads of state and celebrities Giovanni had dressed over his forty-five years in the business. Weeding them out was their challenge.
And, of course, the remainder of the Columbia Four were coming: the three men Rocco had met and bonded with during their first week at Columbia University. Not a mean feat given the intense, grueling schedules of Christian Markos, Stefan Bianco and Zayed Al Afzal. Athens-born Christian was a financial whiz kid and deal maker who divided his time between Greece and Hong Kong. The inscrutable Sicilian, Stefan Bianco, preferred to make his millions masterminding the world’s biggest real-estate deals on his private jet rather than in his hometown of Manhattan, but then again everyone knew Stefan had commitment issues. The final member of the group, Sheikh Zayed Al Afzal, would have the longest to travel from his home in the heart of the Arabian desert—a tiny country named Gazbiyaa.
It comforted him as he sat down with the Mondelli family’s longtime lawyer, Adamo Donati, to review Giovanni’s will, to know the men he considered more brothers than friends would be by his side. The bond he shared with those men was inviolate. Impenetrable. Built from years of knowing one another’s inner thoughts. And although his life was not the only one that was tumultuous at the moment, his friends would not miss such an important event, including Zayed, whose country was embroiled in rising tensions with a neighboring kingdom and teetering on the verge of war.
Memento vivere was the Columbia Four’s code. Remember to live. Which meant living big, risking big and always having one another’s back.
“Shall we begin?”
Adamo, Giovanni’s sage sixty-five-year-old longtime friend, who was not only a brilliant lawyer but a formidable business brain, tilted his chin at him in an expectant look. Rocco nodded and focused his attention on the lawyer. “Go ahead.”
Adamo glanced down at the papers in front of him. “In terms of the properties, Giovanni has split them between you and Alessandra. I’m sure this is no surprise, as you’ve talked to him about it. Alessandra will receive the house in St. Barts and the apartment in Paris, while you will take ownership of Villa Mondelli and the house in New York.”
Rocco inclined his head. Alessandra, a world-class photographer who traveled the world doing shoots, had always joked Villa Mondelli was too big for her, that she’d rattle around its sprawling acres by herself, while it was the only place on earth Rocco felt he could truly breathe.
He cocked a brow at the lawyer. “My father?”
“The current arrangement will continue. Giovanni left a sum of money in Sandro’s name for you to administer.”
Like a child unable to manage his own pocket money. Rocco had long given up on the idea that his father could manage anything, but he wondered if somewhere inside him he was waiting for the day Sandro would apologize for gambling away their family home. For handing them over to Giovanni when he could no longer cope. That someday he might step forward and shock them all. Until then, his father had been provided with an apartment in the city, a weekly shipment of groceries and a limited amount of spending money that inevitably went to gambling rather than to his own personal grooming.
When that ran out, he would slink back asking for more, and when he was told no, he did things like showing up drunk and disheveled at Alessandra’s twenty-fifth birthday party, embarrassing them all.
Mouth set, he gestured for Adamo to continue.
The lawyer looked down at the papers. “There is another apartment in Milan. Giovanni purchased it a year ago. It is not accounted for in the will.”
“Another apartment?” Rocco frowned. His grandfather had never liked to stay in the city. He preferred to drive to the villa each day or take the company helicopter.
The lawyer’s olive skin took on a ruddy hue, his gaze glancing off Rocco as he looked up. “It’s in Giovanni’s name, but a woman has been living there. I had someone look into it. Her name is Olivia Fitzgerald.”
Rocco sucked in a breath. “Olivia Fitzgerald, the model?”
“We think so. It took some digging. She’s not using her real name.”
He stared at Adamo as if he’d just told him the Pope was turning Protestant. Olivia Fitzgerald, one of the world’s top supermodels, signed to a competitor five years ago and unattainable to the House of Mondelli, had dropped off the face of the earth a year ago. Hadn’t worked a day since, reneging on a three-million-dollar contract with a French cosmetics company. And Giovanni had been keeping her in an apartment in this city? While the tabloids scoured the earth for her.
His gaze met the lawyer’s as he came to the inevitable conclusion.
“He was involved with her.”
Adamo’s cheeks flushed even darker. “In some way, yes. The neighbors say he spent time with her in the apartment. They were seen arm in arm, going for dinner.”
Rocco pressed his hands to his temples. Giovanni, his seventy-year-old grandfather, had taken a twenty-something-year-old mistress? One of the world’s great supermodels… A party girl extraordinaire who’d apparently frittered her way out of her million-dollar bank balances as fast as she’d filled them. It seemed preposterous. Was he even living on the same planet he had been a week ago?
Promise me you will take care of Olivia.
Cristo. It was true. Blood rushed through his head, pulsing at his temples. As if he would continue to allow his grandfather’s former lover to live on Mondelli property now that Giovanni was gone. A woman who had taken up with him in a transparent attempt to avail herself of his fortune.
He leveled a look at the lawyer. “Give me what you have on her. I’ll deal with Olivia Fitzgerald.”
Adamo nodded. Ran a hand over his balding head and gave him another of those hesitant looks, so uncharacteristic of him.
Rocco arched a brow. ”Per favore, tell me there are no more mistresses.”
A faint smile crossed Adamo’s lips. “Not that I know of.”
“Then, what? Spit it out, Adamo.”
The lawyer’s smile faded. “Giovanni has left you a fifty percent stake of House of Mondelli, Rocco. The remaining ten percent controlling stake has been allocated to Renzo Rialto to manage until he sees fit to turn it over.”
Rocco blinked. Attempted to digest. Giovanni hadn’t left him a controlling stake in Mondelli? Prior to his grandfather’s death, the Mondelli family had held a 60 percent share in the company, with outside shareholders holding the remaining 40 percent, leaving the family firmly in control of the legendary fashion retailer. Giving him the power he had needed as CEO to guide Mondelli forward. Why would Giovanni have taken that power out of his hands and given it to Renzo Rialto, the chairman of the board, who had always been Rocco’s nemesis?
Adamo read his dismay. “He didn’t want you to feel overwhelmed without him. He wants you to be able to lean on the board for support. Find your feet. When the board feels you’re ready, they’ll hand over the remaining shares.”
“Find my feet?” White-hot rage sliced through him, rage that had been building since his grandfather’s death. Steel edged, it straightened every limb, singed every nerve ending, until it escaped out his fingertips as he slapped his palms down on the desk and brought himself eye to eye with the lawyer. “I have built this company into something Giovanni could never have envisioned. Taken it from prosperous to wildly successful. I don’t need to find my feet, Adamo. I need what’s rightfully mine—control of this company.”
Adamo lifted a hand in a placating gesture. “You have to consider your personal history, Rocco. You have been a renegade. You have not listened to the advice the board has tried to give you.”
“Because it was wrong. They wanted to keep Mondelli languishing in its past glory when it was clear it needed to move with the times.”
“I agree.” Adamo shrugged. “But not everyone felt that way. There is a great deal of conservatism within the board, a nostalgic desire not to strip away what made the company great. You’re going to need to use more finesse to work your way through this one.”
The blood in his head tattooed a rhythm against his skull. Finesse? The only thing that worked with the board was to whack them over the head with a big stick before they all retired in a wave of self-important glory.