Her gaze drilled into him. “You are making me your wife for the sake of your company, Rocco. How much more evidence do you need that you are married to Mondelli?”
“I do not feel,” he bit out, “that sacrificing a year of my life is too much to do for the company I’ve built into an international powerhouse. A symbol beloved and revered by all Italians.”
She nodded. “Exactly my point. It isn’t a problem because you will never allow yourself to feel. You won’t even talk to your father because you’re afraid he’ll be the kryptonite that fells you.”
His gaze narrowed. “Are we talking about something other than our deal? Because the way I remember it, you were right there with me. You agreed to marry me because you don’t believe in the concept of love.”
Her shoulders slumped. “That was before I met you, Rocco. Before I let myself get to know the part of you that you don’t bury ten miles deep.”
His chest seized. “Olivia...”
“No.” She cut him off with a wave of her hand. “You don’t get to hide on this one. You know I’m in love with you. I’ve been in love with you since that night in New York when you pulled your pumpkin carriage up to the Lincoln Center and saved my soul like the fairy-tale hero you are. Actually—” she pursed her mouth “—maybe it was before that, maybe it was that night in Navigli when you rocked up to my table, sat down and blew my mind apart with your intellect and charm.” She held his gaze, regret in her blue eyes. “But none of that really matters, does it? I’ve gone and done the unforgivable. I’ve fallen in love with a Mondelli, and that only ever ends in heartbreak for the Fitzgerald women.”
He took a step toward her. She moved back with a shake of her head. “You don’t get to solve this one with sex, Rocco. You don’t get to sweep me off my feet and use that superior skill of yours on me, because we both know you can do it. We both know you will do it if I let you.” She held her hands up. “This is me saying I’m done. Walking away from my addiction.”
“Maledizione. Olivia.” His hands dropped to his sides. “What do you want me to say? Do you want me to say I care about you, because you know I do?”
Her eyes dimmed. “If you cared about me, you would set me free. You would allow yourself to tell me how you really feel. Because only a fool would spend the rest of her life pining away for a man who’s always going to put her second to his real marriage.”
He worked his jaw. “You are asking for the impossible.”
A sad smile curved her lips. “Funny, Giovanni always told me to reach for the impossible. I’m surprised he didn’t teach you the same.”
She stood up. “I will do Paris next week and then I’m reevaluating. Everything.”
The hair on the back of his neck rose, his stomach hardening to stone. “We are marrying in front of five hundred people in three weeks, Olivia.”
She lifted her chin. “That was included in the everything.”
“Olivia.” He growled the warning at her.
She nodded. “I know. You will make me rue the day I put pen to paper.” Her bleak gaze held his. “The thing is, I’m terrified if I follow through with this. If I make myself last this year, there will be nothing left of me at the end. And then what does it really matter?”
She turned and walked away. He let her go. Because she was asking for the impossible, and he couldn’t give it to her no matter how much he wanted to. He’d been over it in his head a million times, and he’d still come up with the same answer. Taking Olivia out of the ten-million-dollar Vivo campaign would be brand suicide. It would destabilize Mondelli when it was still rocking from the loss of Giovanni.
His fingers bit into his thighs, his knuckles gleaming white. His feelings didn’t matter in this. Duty over his freedom. It was the way it had always been. He could only hope that his fiancée carried out hers. Because this wedding was a machine that couldn’t be stopped. It was a multimillion-dollar affair with implications way beyond the two of them. It would determine his future. The future of Mondelli.
OLIVIA SPENT THE DAYS leading up to Paris Fashion Week at the apartment in Milan, avoiding her fiancé, who reluctantly agreed to give her space. She kept herself busy working with Mario on her designs while mentally preparing herself for one last walk down a runway. After that she truly didn’t know what she was going to do. There was also that walk down an aisle with a man who didn’t love her looming—and her head to get in order.
The Fashion Report segment aired the night before Paris. She watched the in-depth exposé on the pressures models faced in a world that valued perfection above all else in her hotel room alone, having insisted Rocco stay home. In some ways, the airing of her most private fears, the knowledge that she wasn’t alone, helped a great deal. On another level, the fact that the whole world was now intimate with her private terror made Paris fifty times more intimidating.
She made it through the show with sheer willpower and the knowledge that if she chose to end things now she’d never have to walk a runway again. And yes, because she loved her fiancée and she didn’t want to let him down. Then she did as she’d promised and took the time she needed. Instead of following Rocco’s summons to board the Mondelli jet at Charles de Gaulle the morning after the show, she caught a flight bound for New York.
It was the last place she wanted to be. But if slaying her demons was her goal, it had to be done.
Her mother, busy packing for her wedding and a two-week vacation, took one look at her and opened a bottle of wine. “Please tell me you’re not having second thoughts,” she murmured, settling herself in the sofa across from Olivia in the Chelsea apartment she’d bought with her daughter’s money.
Olivia took a sip of her wine. “Why? Because you can’t bear for the gravy train to end?”
Her mother, whose poise was usually ironclad, flushed a deep red. “I deserve that, I know it. I let things get out of hand.” She gave her an imploring look. “I didn’t know. I swear I didn’t know how dire things were or I never would have...”
“It doesn’t matter.” Olivia cut her off with a wave of her hand. And it really didn’t anymore. “I forgive you for the money. What I can’t forgive you for is never being there for me. For pushing me when you knew I was on the edge.”
Her mother’s gaze fell away from hers, making an elaborate study of the ruby-red liquid in her glass. “It was wrong. But I thought you were like me, Livvie. I thought you thrived on the excitement.”
“I was having panic attacks at fifteen.” Olivia threw the words at her in disbelief. “How did that make you think I was coping well?”
Her mother was silent at her outburst. Then she nodded. “You’re right. I’ve been self-involved my entire life. It was the only way I knew how to be.”
“Including Giovanni,” Olivia challenged.
Her mother’s surgically enhanced mouth tightened. “Including Giovanni.”
Olivia tucked her legs underneath her and took a sip of her wine. “Tell me about what happened with him.”
Her mother shrugged a slim shoulder. “I was in love with him.”
“Mother.” Olivia pressed her hands to her temples and massaged her throbbing head. “I did not fly thousands of miles for you to feed me the same lines you always do. You tore my life apart over him. I don’t have a father because of him. Give me something.”
Her mother’s lips pressed into a straight line. “He was everything I ever wanted and everything I couldn’t have. I knew it, I told myself not to do it, and when he left I wanted to curl up in a ball and die.”
It was the most emotion she’d witnessed in her mother in a decade, and it knocked her back against the sofa for a moment. “What about his wife? Did you ever think of her? How she must have felt?”
Her mother’s long lashes settled down over her blue eyes, identical to hers. “It wasn’t that kind of love, Olivia. It was the once-in-a-lifetime kind. Giovanni and I were both starstruck. There wasn’t any rationality to it.”
Like her and Rocco.
She chewed on her lip. “I still don’t understand what you were thinking. He was a married man.” Unobtainable. “Why put yourself through that?”
Her mother shook her head. “I thought he’d choose me. I was convinced he would choose me. There was no other alternative.”
And yet he hadn’t. Giovanni had walked out of her mother’s life without a backward glance and crushed her. Her mother had married her father and broken his heart, unrequited love at its most bittersweet.
It was why she’d walked away from Rocco. The fear that what she saw in his eyes might never translate into what she felt.