He pushed his way through the terminal doors, strode through the tiny building and exited into the car park. There was only one problem with Christian’s rather brilliant plan. Olivia didn’t want to be found. Had wanted to escape her former life. And if it wasn’t because she’d been bankrupt, as he’d suggested, then why? Why abandon a three-million-dollar contract when she could have just worked her way out of it, then gone into the career she’d desired?
She’d looked so miserable, so dejected, as she’d left the church today. She had no hope of launching that line without Giovanni. Her dream was done. Unless she found herself another benefactor.
He paused, his hand on the handle of the Aventador’s door. Suddenly the path forward became clear. He had what Olivia needed as head of one of the most powerful design houses in the world. Olivia had what he needed if he could persuade her to come back to modeling for a year as the exclusive face of Mondelli. Her star power would turn Mondelli into a superstar brand, the couture house of the moment, the board would fall to its knees at such an acquisition and he would have control of his company again.
Adrenaline fueled his movements as he stepped into his car and brought it purring to life. Making Olivia an offer she couldn’t refuse was an undeniably alluring play. But there was something else his mind was manufacturing that would be the icing on the cake. The pièce de résistance. Olivia Fitzgerald as the face of Mondelli and the brand-new fiancée of the CEO of House of Mondelli. A perfect union from all angles. And the perfect way to convince the board he had House of Mondelli as his top priority.
All his problems solved in one tidy little package.
A smile curved his mouth. Renzo Rialto would wet himself. How much more could he want? Now all he had to do was persuade Olivia Fitzgerald his plan was in both their interests.
* * *
Olivia was packing a box of design materials when the knocking sounded hard and insistent on her front door. Thinking it might be Violetta coming to help, and frowning at her exuberance, she got to her feet, dusted off her hands and went to answer it. Any distraction to take her mind off her rather desperate situation was welcome at this point.
When she saw who was standing in the hallway, she amended that thought. Any distraction other than a fully resplendent Rocco Mondelli clad in the dark suit he’d worn to the funeral that morning. Despite her vow to hate him, her heart pitter-pattered in her chest as she took him in leaning against the doorjamb, impatience written across his olive-skinned face.
“You said I had a month.”
“You do.” He walked past her into the apartment. “You’ll find I’m a man of my word, Olivia. Have you had any luck yet finding another apartment?”
A man of his word? He’d deliberately seduced and misled her in this very apartment. She gave him a cool look and shut the door. “As a matter of fact, no, but I thought I’d better start getting packed up before you send in the goons.”
“I won’t have to.” He waved a hand toward the kitchen. “This time I would like an espresso.”
She stared at him in amazement. “You were ready to toss me out of that funeral this morning and now I’m supposed to make you coffee?”
He returned her stare, nonplussed. “I have an offer I think you’d like to hear.”
Not in this decade.
His mouth curved. “Get me that coffee, Olivia.”
Deciding she wasn’t really in a position to argue because he could toss her out on her butt at this very moment, she walked past him to the kitchen, emptied the grinds from the espresso machine and did his bidding. He stood there, hands in his pockets, watching her.
“You were genuinely sad this morning.”
She pressed the start button, turned and leaned back against the counter. “I loved Giovanni. Of course I was.”
“So now it’s love,” he jibed. “Giovanni was madly in love with a woman and I hadn’t a clue. How remarkable.”
“You can walk right back out that door if this is the way this is going to go.”
“Nessuno, Liv, it isn’t.” He crossed his arms over his chest and leaned back against the countertop. “I’m going to make you an offer that makes a whole lot of sense, you’re going to take it and we’re going to make the most of this difficult situation.”
“There’s nothing you could say that would convince me to have anything to do with you after what you did to me.”
“I think you’re wrong.” He waved his hand toward the living room and the packed boxes littering every open space. “You are never going to be able to afford an apartment in Milan that will allow you to do your design work on a barista’s salary. You’ve made it clear returning to your former life is not an option and you cannot rely on family and friends for help. So all you have left,” he concluded, touching his chest, “is me.”
“I don’t want anything from you,” she said pointedly, shoulders rising to her ears. “I will figure out a way.”
His gaze darkened to a forbidding ebony. “What if I said I would honor the commitment Giovanni made to you? But I would take it even further. I would move the development of your line in-house at Mondelli, offer you all the design and marketing support we have and bring it to market for the fall of next year.”
Her mouth dropped open. He would take the development of her line in-house? Why, when he clearly thought so little of her?
“Because you have something I want, Olivia.” He answered her unspoken question with a twist of his lips. “I need a face to carry the House of Mondelli through the next year. Bridget Thomas’s contract is up and I don’t care to renew it. I would offer you a five-million-dollar contract for the year. You coming back to modeling would generate a great deal of excitement for the brand, make people stand up and pay attention again.”
Her heart dropped. “I’m not modeling anymore. That part of my life is over.”
He nodded. “I understand you want to design, that that’s where your heart is. But surely one year, twelve months of your life, to secure your dream isn’t such a hardship.”
“No.” The word flew out of her mouth, harsh, vehement. “I will never model again.”
He pinned his gaze on her. “Why? What happened to make you give it all up?”
Her last appearance on a runway. Her best friend overdosing after walking that same runway months before... The memory of it slammed through her head, dark and terrifying. She reached back and gripped the counter, her fingertips pressing into the cold granite. She had completely lost it that night, her pressure-packed life finally eating her alive. And she was never going back.
She lifted her gaze to his. “It doesn’t matter why. I left and I’m not going back.”
“When the alternative is letting your dream die?” He stared at her, an incredulous look on his face. “If you debut a line with House of Mondelli you will instantly become a star of the design world. You won’t have to build a reputation, you will have one immediately. And from there, all you need to do is choose your path. You would never have to set foot on a runway again after the twelve months.”
She sank her palms into her temples and turned away. It was tempting, so tempting, to say yes. What he was saying was true. She’d thanked her lucky stars when Giovanni had taken her under his wing, because with his help she could succeed in a cutthroat industry that was almost impossible to break into. She could change her life and finally be happy. But return to modeling to make it happen? Acid inched its way up her throat. Not doable.
It would be the end of her this time.
She turned back to him, her features schooled into an expressionless mask. “I’m sorry. It’s just not possible.”
The incredulity on his face deepened. “I would wipe out the three-million-dollar debt you owe Le Ciel for the contract you broke.”
She pulled in a deep breath. Lord, he was hitting all her weak spots. She would love to erase that blight on her track record. It would put her at peace with the world. But she couldn’t do it. “No.”
He lifted his shoulders, his gaze cool and calculating. “Then you’d better keep packing.”
Desperation surged through her. “You saw the designs. They’re amazing. Let me show them to you properly and you’ll see how perfect they are for Mondelli’s fall line. Let me bring them to market with you as Giovanni intended. The cachet of having my name attached to them, Giovanni’s name, will give you that buzz you are looking for. It doesn’t have to be me modeling.”
He shook his head. “You have no cachet as a designer. I want you as the face of Mondelli. That is the only deal on the table.”
“Then, no.” She would rather beg on the street than go back to modeling.
“I would take some time to think about it,” he advised, pushing away from the counter. “I won’t ask again. And while you’re at it, you might want to consider the other half of my offer.”