An affair? It was inconceivable.
He leveled a gaze at her. “How do you know all this?”
A nerve pulsed in her cheek. “I was going through a rough time in my modeling career. Giovanni approached me at an industry function in New York. I think he felt guilty about what happened to my mother’s career after he ended things. She fell apart after he left her. She went on to marry my father, but she never got over Giovanni and they divorced. Giovanni told me the whole story that night.”
He attempted to absorb the far-fetched tale. “So he decided to befriend you? Put you up in a luxury apartment in Milan and mentor you because he felt guilty over a relationship that ended decades ago?”
She lifted her chin. “He knew I needed a friend. Someone I could count on. He was there for me.”
“What about your own family and friends?”
“They aren’t something I can turn to.” Her gaze dropped away from his. “I left my whole life behind when I came to Milan.”
Because she’d known she had a free ride. He smothered a frustrated growl and paced to the window. “So Giovanni is just your friend, you were out tonight missing him, and that thing with me just now was what? The way you treat all men who chat you up in a café?”
“You deliberately tried to seduce me.”
He swung around. “And how seducible you were, bella. You made it easy.”
Her expression hardened. “If you choose not to believe a word I say, you can leave. I’ll be out within the week.”
“Tell me the truth about you and Giovanni and I’ll give you a month. I’m not an unreasonable man.”
Her eyes flashed. “Get out.”
He thought that might be a good idea before he lost what was left of his head. Putting his hands on Olivia Fitzgerald, coming here, had been a mistake driven by his grief and his desire to know what had been in Giovanni’s head these past months. And now it was time to rectify it by getting the hell out.
He swept his gaze over the racks of clothes. She was going to have an issue finding a place she could afford that could accommodate all of this without Giovanni bankrolling it. And even he wasn’t without a heart.
“I’ll give you a month. Then I expect the keys delivered to me.”
She followed him to the door, looking every bit the angelic blonde damsel in distress that she was not. He walked through the door and didn’t look back.
Giovanni had always been a bit of a romantic. Good thing Rocco was nothing like him.
ROCCO STOOD ON the tarmac of Milan’s Linate Airport, Christian Markos at his side. The last of the Columbia Four to depart following Giovanni’s funeral, Christian was headed to Hong Kong and a deal that couldn’t wait. As always, when Rocco parted from his closest friends, there was an empty feeling in his heart. They had become so tight during those four years at Columbia. Watched one another grow into manhood and cemented their friendships as they took on the world.
Together they were an impenetrable force, greater than the sum of their parts. It was always difficult to return to their respective corners of the world, but they did so with the knowledge they would see one another soon—their four-times-a-year meet-ups a ritual none of them missed.
Christian wrapped an arm around him. “I may have a weekend off midmonth. Why don’t we take your boat out? Catch up properly?”
Rocco smiled. “I’ll believe it when we’re drinking Peroni on the deck, fratello. Some big deal will come up and you’ll be gone again.”
Christian gave him an indignant look. “That last one was a megamerger. Out of my hands.”
“And the brunette that came along with it?”
“Opposing pain in my behind,” Christian grumbled. “Who was the blonde today by the way? Looked like a heated conversation.”
It had been. Olivia Fitzgerald showing up at his grandfather’s funeral had been an event he hadn’t anticipated. Despite his objections, she’d insisted on staying. Not something he’d been willing to risk a scene over, particularly when his father had just made his own notable appearance, reeking of alcohol.
He looked at Christian. “Olivia Fitzgerald. She was not invited. I had an issue with it.”
His friend lifted a brow. “Olivia Fitzgerald the model? I thought she was in hiding.”
“She is, here in Milan. She knew Giovanni and wanted to pay her respects.”
Christian looked curious. “What is your issue with her?”
“Everything is complicated with you.” His friend shrugged. “You should sign her. The board would be kissing your feet.”
“She doesn’t want to be in the limelight.” Why, he still didn’t know.
An amused smile twisted the Greek’s lips. “One of my senior deal makers had that photo of her nude on the beach in his office. I had to make him take it down. It’s a little distracting when you’re trying to crunch numbers.”
“No doubt.” Rocco knew exactly the shot his friend was talking about. The beach scene of Olivia kneeling in the surf, hands strategically covering herself, had graced the cover of an annual swimsuit magazine, then made the rounds as a wildly popular screensaver.
The engines of Christian’s jet started to whir. “I’m so sorry about Giovanni,” he said to Rocco. “I know how much he meant to you. And I’m sorry you had to deal with your father today. That can’t have been easy.”
“It was inevitable.” The fact that Christian and Zayed had had to remove his father from the proceedings—not so much.
He frowned. “I’m sorry you had to bear witness to that.”
“It’s not your cross to bear,” his friend said quietly. “You take the weight of the world on your shoulders sometimes, Rocco. There’s only so much of a burden a man can carry.”
Rocco nodded. Except he’d been carrying the burden of his family for so long he didn’t know how it could be any different.
“Go,” he told Christian, clapping him on the back. “My boat and a case of Peroni are waiting when you come back.”
His friend nodded and strode toward the plane. Rocco watched while he boarded the jet, the crew closed up the doors and the pilot taxied off to join the lineup of planes waiting to take off.
Even with everything he had on his plate, he couldn’t get that night with Olivia out of his head. What she’d told him about Giovanni. Whether there was the slightest bit of truth in any of it. It sat in his brain and festered. Added to his confusion over his grandfather’s decisions, the changes he’d seen in Giovanni of late. Had he been capable of cheating on his beloved Rosa? Sure, Giovanni had admired women for the pure aesthetic of them. He was a designer. But unfaithful?
He’d thought it had just been age softening his grandfather lately, the mellowing of his acerbic, grandiose personality. Had it instead been the influence of a woman? Olivia Fitzgerald?
Had he been in love with her? Did Olivia possess many of the same attributes as her mother, thus replacing the one woman he’d never been able to have? His stomach rearranged itself with a strange emotion he didn’t want to identify. After witnessing the genius Giovanni and Olivia had created together in those designs, it was clear they had a connection.
And why did he care? What was it to him if his grandfather had fallen for a woman a third of his age? If he’d allowed himself to be made a fool of? He had done his job ensuring Olivia Fitzgerald would no longer take advantage of his family.
Because you almost lost your head. Over a beautiful blonde who’d had more of a master plan in her head than he’d ever had.
An image of Olivia’s face when she’d walked into the church today flicked through his head. Fear she would be discovered even though she’d had a scarf over her head. Fear of him as she’d seen him. Stubborn defiance blazing in those amazing blue eyes as she’d stood her ground.
She’d also, he conceded, looked heartsick. Sad. And in his gut, he knew it was true emotion. He hadn’t had the heart to toss her out. She had left as quickly as she’d appeared, not staying for the reception. He knew she was still in the apartment; he’d had the building supervisor keep him advised of her presence. He suspected she was having difficulty finding another place, but it wasn’t his problem she’d lost her paycheck in Giovanni.
Christian’s jet disappeared into the clouds. Rocco turned and headed toward the terminal, but his friend’s words followed him. You should sign her. The board would be kissing your feet...
They would kiss his feet if he signed Olivia Fitzgerald. The worldwide press had been in a furor ever since her disappearance from modeling. She’d left on top, one of the most highly paid faces in the world. Everyone wanted her. Her disappearance had only added to the mystique.