The Italian's Deal for I Do(2)

By: Jennifer Hayward

He and Alessandra had flown the fifty kilometers from the House of Mondelli headquarters in Milan via helicopter as soon as they had heard the news. But his stubborn grandfather had been ignoring pains in his chest all day, and by the time they’d got here, there was little the doctors could do.

His mouth twisted. If he knew his grandfather, he’d probably decided this was the cleanest way to go. Giovanni Mondelli was not beyond manipulating the world to his advantage. What better way to go out then in a blaze of glory on the eve of Mondelli’s greatest fall line ever?

But then again, Rocco conceded, Giovanni had been ready to join his beloved wife, Rosa, in the sweet afterlife, as he called it, for almost twenty years. He had lived life to the fullest, refused to fade after her passing, but there had been a part of him that yearned for her with every waking breath.

He would have her back, he’d promised.

Alessandra let out a sob and rushed from the room. Rocco strode to the bed, his gaze settling on his grandfather’s pale face. “You’ve broken her heart.”

“Sandro did that a long time ago,” his grandfather said wearily, referring to Rocco’s father, who Alessandra had been named for. His eyes fluttered as he patted the bed beside him. “Sit.”

Rocco sat, swallowed hard. “Nonno, I need to tell you...”

His grandfather laid his wrinkled, elegant, long-fingered hand over his. “I know. Ti amo, mio figlio. You have become a great man. Everything I knew you could be.”

The lump in Rocco’s throat grew too large for him to forge past.

His grandfather fixed his dark eyes on him, staring hard in an act of will to keep them open. “Trust yourself, Rocco. Trust the man you’ve become. Understand why I’ve done the things I’ve done.”

His eyes fluttered closed. Rocco’s heart slammed against his chest. “Giovanni, it is not your time.”

His grandfather’s eyes slitted open. “Promise me you will take care of Olivia.”

“Olivia?” Rocco frowned in confusion.

His grandfather’s eyes fluttered closed. Stayed closed this time. A fist reached inside Rocco’s chest and clamped down hard on his heart. He took his grandfather’s shoulders in his hands and shook them hard. Come back. Do not leave me. But Giovanni’s eyes remained shut.

The spirit of the House of Mondelli, the flame that had burned passion into brilliant, groundbreaking collections for fifty years, into his own heart, was extinguished.

Rocco let out a primal roar and rested his forehead against his grandfather’s lined brow.

“No,” he whispered over and over again. It was too soon.

* * *

The emotion he had exhibited upon the death of his grandfather was nowhere to be seen in the week following as Rocco negotiated the mind-numbing details of organizing Giovanni’s funeral, now reaching state-like proportions, and the settlement of his estate. The Mondelli holdings were vast, with properties and business interests spanning the globe. Even with his own intimate knowledge of the company and its entities, it would take time.

Alessandra helped him plan the funeral. Everyone, it seemed, wanted to come—public and government figures, heads of state and celebrities Giovanni had dressed over his forty-five years in the business. Weeding them out was their challenge.

And, of course, the remainder of the Columbia Four were coming: the three men Rocco had met and bonded with during their first week at Columbia University. Not a mean feat given the intense, grueling schedules of Christian Markos, Stefan Bianco and Zayed Al Afzal. Athens-born Christian was a financial whiz kid and deal maker who divided his time between Greece and Hong Kong. The inscrutable Sicilian, Stefan Bianco, preferred to make his millions masterminding the world’s biggest real-estate deals on his private jet rather than in his hometown of Manhattan, but then again everyone knew Stefan had commitment issues. The final member of the group, Sheikh Zayed Al Afzal, would have the longest to travel from his home in the heart of the Arabian desert—a tiny country named Gazbiyaa.

It comforted him as he sat down with the Mondelli family’s longtime lawyer, Adamo Donati, to review Giovanni’s will, to know the men he considered more brothers than friends would be by his side. The bond he shared with those men was inviolate. Impenetrable. Built from years of knowing one another’s inner thoughts. And although his life was not the only one that was tumultuous at the moment, his friends would not miss such an important event, including Zayed, whose country was embroiled in rising tensions with a neighboring kingdom and teetering on the verge of war.