Be kind to Olivia, who needs to be loved unconditionally after what she has been through. I know you have this in you, too, which is why I entrusted her to you.
Finally, walk lightly, Rocco, and remember the power of your actions. You carry a heavier stick than even you know.
Something frayed and weakened inside of Rocco tore open. He sat there for a long moment, heat burning the backs of his eyes. The questions he’d been asking for weeks had found answers, the niggling uncertainties that had made it even more difficult to sleep at night eased. He couldn’t say he approved of all of his grandfather’s decisions; Giovanni had been right on that. But his thoughts on where he was at the moment, his feelings for Olivia, rang uncannily true.
The fact that he had found his capacity to feel with Olivia was a potential his grandfather had foreseen. The fact that he had messed it up so badly was his to own and his alone.
He sat staring at the letter. Every bone in his body told him to go find Olivia and fix them. He had been fixing things his entire life. But she had said she needed time, and he risked losing her forever if he went after her. So all he could hope was that she showed up for this bloody circus of a wedding of theirs so he could say the words he needed to say.
If he’d thought he’d felt helpless before, that had nothing on this.
THE WEDDING DAY of Rocco Mondelli and Olivia Fitzgerald dawned crisp and clear on the shores of Lake Como in the shadow of the Alps. Referred to by the ancient poet Virgil as “our greatest lake,” Lake Como was Europe’s deepest at over thirteen hundred feet in depth, its deep blue waters stretching for a majestic thirty miles in length.
A perfect setting for the wedding that was capturing headlines around the world, Rocco thought, standing on the front steps of Villa Mondelli, the historic former Cistercian nunnery dedicated to the Holy Virgin. Except with four hours to go before the nuptials began, the palatial villa and grounds a hive of frenzied activity, one key component was missing. His bride.
He took in the two priceless carved statues of the Holy Virgin flanking the pillars of the front stairs and wondered if she was the problem. Maybe the wedding was on the rocks because no Mondelli had ever dared get married here given the villa’s sacrosanct past. Maybe the nuns were protesting...
He rubbed a hand over his jaw and swept aside the dark humor. Because really nothing was humorous about being stood up at the altar. About suffering the ultimate public humiliation in front of five hundred guests from every corner of the world.
Stefan Bianco, Christian Markos and Zayed Al Afzal, resplendent in designer tuxedos and mauve bow ties to match the maid of honor’s dress, stood beside him, all with identical expressions on their faces. Christian would call it the “what the hell do we do now?” look. Stefan, however, would have added a slightly more vicious edge to it, he knew. “I said she was trouble,” he’d muttered last night when they’d arrived at the villa to find Olivia Fitzgerald was nowhere to be found twenty-four hours before the wedding. Zayed, the future king, had looked shocked. Which had now faded into his “ready for anything” expression, fitting for a man whose nation might soon be at war.
Three warriors who had conquered global markets and more than their fair share of hearts—and there was nothing they could do to make this right.
Christian frowned. “What next?”
Rocco shrugged, far more casually than the turmoil racking him inside. “If she loves me, she’ll come.”
“A good point,” Zayed agreed.
“Goddamn her,” Stefan exploded, turning on the future king. “This is not okay, fratelli. I want to find her and strangle her with my bare hands.”
“That would not help the situation,” Zayed countered. “Clear thinking is what is called for.”
“And what,” Stefan bit out, “would your clear-thinking head suggest? Five hundred people are on their way here right now. The Pope, a personal friend of the Mondelli family, is coming. And we are minus a bride.”
“I’m going to drive into Milan and check the apartment.” Rocco voiced the only solution he had left. “She loves the gardens there. It’s a possibility.”
“It’s also a possibility she might use her phone,” Stefan exploded, throwing his hands in the air.
Rocco gave him a look. He knew Olivia was on Italian soil. Her flight had landed early this morning in Milan. What she was doing now was another question. He intended to find out.
“Stay here with Zayed and keep things running,” he instructed his hotheaded friend. “Make sure what needs to happen happens. You,” he said, tossing his car keys at Christian, “drive.”
He didn’t trust himself to. Not now. When he’d decided to give Olivia her time to think, he hadn’t meant this. He had things to say to her, important things to say to her, before they walked down that aisle. If they walked down that aisle. And he needed to be articulate about it.
He and Christian walked through the preceremony madness to the far driveway. The lead singer of Olivia’s favorite rock group ambled across the lawn, a cigarette hanging out of his mouth. Chairs were arranged in endless rows of white against the sweep of green facing the lake. The ceremony would take place on its shore.
He steadfastly ignored it all, sliding into the passenger seat of the Aventador beside Christian. Just over an hour later they walked into the Milanese apartment. The housekeeper gave him a scandalized look and asked what he was doing there, then relayed the information that no, Olivia was not there. She hadn’t seen her in a week.
Rocco mopped his brow. They were on their way out when his cell phone rang. He fished it out of his pocket, heart pounding, only to see it was Stefan.
“I thought you might like to know your fiancée is in the building. Well, actually,” he drawled, “not anymore. Alessandra and the wedding planner have whisked her off to wherever she’s supposed to be. That is, if you still want to marry her, because I can pass on a message. I would be thrilled to.”
Rocco’s pounding heart stopped in his chest. When it started again, he pressed the phone tighter to his ear. “Do not say one word to her. We’re on our way.”
As if anything else could go wrong, the main highway to Como was blocked by an accident on their return. They took the alternate, smaller highway, and this time Rocco commanded the wheel of the Aventador, pushed the pedal to the floor and prayed for time.
* * *
“They’re on their way back.”
Olivia peeled her gaze from the clear blue waters of Lake Como and nodded at Alessandra. After she’d spent the night with her mother in New York, they had driven to Brooklyn to banish Olivia’s final demon. She hadn’t been able to make herself visit Petra’s grave because to do so would be admitting she was gone. But she’d realized now, it was preventing her from moving on. And if she was to face this day with what was truly in her heart, she’d had to let her go.