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.

Adamo eyed him. “There is also your personal life. You are not what the board considers a stable, secure guiding figure for Mondelli.”

Rocco reared his head back. “Do not go there, Adamo.”

“It was a...delicate situation.”

“The one where the board castrated me for an affair I didn’t even know I was having?”

“She was a judge’s wife. There was a child.”

“Not mine.” He practically yelled the words at Adamo. “The DNA is in.”

“Not before the entire affair caused Mondelli some considerable political difficulties.” Adamo pinned him with a stern look of his own. “You weren’t careful enough about which playgrounds you chose to dip into, Rocco. You play too fast and easy sometimes, and the board doesn’t like it. They particularly worry now that Giovanni isn’t here to guide you.”

So his grandfather had thought it a good idea to handcuff him to the chairman of the board? To assign him a babysitter? He eyed the lawyer, his temper dangerously close to exploding. “I am CEO of the House of Mondelli. I do not need guiding. I need for a woman to tell me when she’s still married. And if you think I’m going to sit around while the board rubber stamps my every decision, you and they are out of your minds.”

Adamo gave a fatalistic lift of his shoulder. “The will is airtight. You have a fifty-percent share. The only person who can give you control is Renzo Rialto.”

Renzo Rialto. A difficult, self-important boar of a man who had been a lifelong friend of Giovanni’s, but never a huge fan of him personally, even though he couldn’t fault what he’d done with the bottom line.

He would relish pushing Rocco’s buttons.

He scraped his chair back, stood and paced to the window. Burying his hands in his pockets, he looked down at Via della Spiga, the most famous street in Milan where the House of Mondelli couture collection flew out the door of the Mondelli boutique at five hundred euros apiece. This was the epicenter of power. The playground he had commanded so magnificently since his father had defected from life and his path had been chosen.

He would not be denied his destiny.

And yet, he thought, staring sightlessly down at the stream of chicly dressed shoppers with colorful bags in their hands, his grandfather was making him pay for the aggressive business manner that had made Mondelli a household name. For an error in judgment, a carelessness with women that had never once interfered with his ability to do his job.

Understand why I’ve done the things I’ve done... Giovanni’s dying words echoed into his head. Was this what he’d been talking about? And how did it fit with everything else he’d said? You have become a great man... Trust the man you’ve become.

Jennifer Hayward Books | Billionaire Romance Books |