It made no sense.
Anger mingled with grief so heavy, so all encompassing, he leaned forward and rested his palms on the sill. Did this have to do with his father’s legacy? Had Sandro made his grandfather gun-shy of handing over full responsibility of the company he’d built despite Rocco’s track record? Did he imagine he, as Sandro’s flesh and blood, was capable of the same self-combustion?
He turned and looked at the lawyer. “I am not my father.”
“No, you aren’t,” Adamo agreed calmly. “But you do like to enjoy yourself with that pack of yours.”
Rocco scowled. “The reports of our partying are highly overblown.”
“The women part is not. You forget I’ve known you since you were in pannolino, Rocco.”
He crooked a brow at him. “What would you have me do? Marry one of them?”
Adamo held his gaze. “It would be the smartest thing you could do. Show you have changed. Show you are serious about putting Mondelli first. Marry one of those connected Italian woman you love to date and become a stable family man. You might even find you like it.”
Rocco stared at him. He was serious. Dio. Not ever happening. He’d seen what losing his mother had done to his father, what losing Rosa had done to Giovanni. He didn’t need that kind of grief in his life. He had enough responsibility keeping this company, this family, afloat.
“I would not hold my breath waiting for the silk-covered invitation,” he advised drily. “Do you have any more bombshells for me, or can I pay Renzo Rialto a visit?”
“A few more items of note.”
They went through the immediate to-dos. Rocco picked up his messages after that, went to his car and headed to Rialto’s offices. The retired former CEO of a legendary Italian brand was a thorn in his side, but manage him he would.
He swung the yellow limited edition Aventador, his favorite material possession, onto a main artery, attempting to corral his black temper along the way. He would deal with Rialto, then he would take care of the other complication in his life. Olivia Fitzgerald was about to find her very fine rear end out on the streets of Milan. Just as soon as he found out what kind of game she was playing.
ROCCO HAD EXPECTED Olivia Fitzgerald to be beautiful. She had, after all, a face that had launched a dozen brands to stardom. A toned, curvaceous body that regularly graced the cover of America’s most popular annual swimsuit magazine. Not to mention a tumbling swath of silky golden hair that was reputed to be insured for millions.
But what threw him, as he sat watching her share drinks with her girlfriends at a trattoria in Navigli in the southwest of Milan as dusk closed in over the city, was his reaction to her.
He was seated at a tiny round table close enough that he could hear the husky rasp of her voice as she ordered a glass of Chianti, the textured nuance of it sliding across his skin like a particularly potent aphrodisiac. Close enough that he could see her catlike, truly amazing eyes were of the deepest blue—the color of the glacially sculpted lakes of the Italian Alps that met his eyes when he opened his curtains in the morning.
Close enough to observe the self-conscious look she threw back at his stare.
And wasn’t that amazing? Surely a woman of such world-renowned beauty knew the reaction she elicited in men? Surely she’d been well aware of it when she’d ensnared Giovanni and had him purchase a three-million-euro luxury apartment for her in the hopes of continuing within the style to which she’d become accustomed?
Surely she knew the combined effect of it all was somewhat like a sucker punch to the solar plexus of just about every man on this planet, which he, to his chagrin, was also not immune to.
His mouth twisted into that familiar scowl of late. Olivia Fitzgerald—the Helen of Troy of her time.
Her girlfriends, two beautiful dark-haired Italian girls, giggled and glanced his way. He pulled his gaze back to the menu, sighed and ordered a glass of wine from the cameriera. The private investigator who’d helped Adamo uncover who was living in the apartment in Corso Venezia had been a gold mine of information on Olivia Campbell, as she’d been calling herself. She didn’t socialize much, spent most of her days holed up in her luxury abode, but she did have a faithful yoga date with her girlfriends on Thursday nights, followed by drinks at this popular spot on the canals in Navigli.
It had been a stroke of luck that the café that sat on the water of the picturesque canals was owned by an old family friend of the Mondellis... No problem obtaining a prime location to study the flaxen-haired sycophant.
He had thought of waiting until she was at the apartment to confront her, but in his current black mood, he wanted the woman who’d taken his grandfather for a ride out on the street. Yesterday.
He sat back and crossed one long leg over the other. Watched as the three women engaged in animated conversation. She hadn’t, he observed grimly, been struck down with grief at the loss of her lover. Was she even now out hunting her next conquest before her life of luxury was unceremoniously cut off? Was that what the self-conscious looks were about?
A wave of hostility spread through him, firing his blood. He forced out a smile as the cameriera set his drink down in front of him, wrapped his fingers around the glass and took a long swallow. Maybe this hadn’t been such a good idea, hunting Olivia Fitzgerald down when his emotions were so high. His meeting with Renzo Rialto had not gone well. The arrogant bastard was convinced Rocco was a loose cannon without a guiding force now that Giovanni was gone, and had suggested exactly what Adamo had anticipated. “Settle down, Rocco,” he’d encouraged. “Show me you are ready to take on the full responsibility of Mondelli and I will give it to you.”
He growled and slapped the glass back down on the table. It was going to take more than an overblown bag of wind to make him say, “I do.” Hadn’t the Columbia Four vowed “single forever?” Weren’t women the source of every great man’s downfall? Wasn’t it far more rewarding to have your fill of a female when you craved it, then leave her behind when you were done?
He thought so.
In a salute to the missing three, he lifted his glass and downed a healthy gulp of the dark, plum-infused wine. His gaze moved over Olivia Fitzgerald, registering the rosy glow of attraction in her perfect, lightly tanned skin as she stole another look at him.
A plan started to form in his head. He liked it. He liked it a lot. It was perfect for his reckless, messy mood.
* * *
He was watching her. Flirting with her.
Olivia tried to smother the butterflies negotiating wide, swooping paths through her stomach, but it was impossible to remain unaffected by the Italian’s stare. It was like being singed by a human torch. Hot. Focused. On her. And why? He was undoubtedly the most attractive man she’d ever seen in her life, and given she’d traveled the world working with beautiful men of all backgrounds, that was saying something. She, on the other hand, was dressed in jeans, a scrappy T-shirt with a zip-up sweatshirt over it, had no makeup on and had thrown her sweat-dampened hair into a ponytail after her yoga class—virtually unrecognizable as the top model she’d once been.
She averted her gaze from his rather petulant pout, sure women threw themselves at his feet at the slightest hint of it. For the whole package, really. But the impression he made lingered. He seemed familiar, somehow, the broad sweep of his high cheekbones framing lush, beautifully shaped lips, a square jaw and an intense dark gaze.
She frowned. Was he a model she’d worked with? Had he recognized her? But even as she thought it, she knew she would have remembered him. How would you ever forget that specimen of manliness? Impossible. His utter virility and overt confidence were of the jaw-dropping variety.
Violetta yawned, threw her hair over her shoulder and drained her wineglass. “I need to go home and study. And since he,” she lamented, giving the gorgeous stranger a long look, “is eating you up, I might as well go home and pout.”
“That’s because Olivia is stunning.” Sophia sighed. “She is blonde and exotic.”
“I wish I had your olive skin,” Olivia pointed out.
“We trade,” Sophia said teasingly, reaching for her bags. “I bet the minute we leave, he’s over here, Liv. And about time, too. You haven’t even looked at a man since we met.”
Because she’d been treasuring her stress-free escape from reality... Because she was only just now feeling like herself again...forging a new identity. Because getting close to a man had meant he might recognize her, and she didn’t want to be Olivia Fitzgerald right now.
Also, because none of them had made her pulse flutter like it was at this moment.
Violetta got to her feet and threw some euros on the table. Sophia followed suit.
“You can’t leave me here,” Olivia protested.
“We live on the opposite side of town,” Violetta countered cheerfully. “And honestly, Liv, if we don’t go soon, he’s going to glare the table down.”