The Italian's Deal for I Do(8)

By: Jennifer Hayward


He sat, lowering his tall frame into the rather frail-looking chair. The waitress fluttered to his side the minute he crooked a finger, as if sent from above. He ordered two glasses of Chianti for them in rapid-fire Italian accompanied by one of those wide smiles, and the waitress almost fell over herself in her haste to do his bidding.

“Are you a regular here?” Olivia asked, amused, his behavior oddly relaxing, as if that type of confidence simply had to be obeyed and she might as well go with it.

“The café belongs to an old family friend of mine.” The words rolled off his tongue, smooth as silk as he leaned forward and held out his hand. “Tony.”

“Liv.” She allowed her fingers to curl around his. The fact that he had not recognized her sent a warm current of relief through her. Or perhaps that was more a by-product of the heated, somewhat electric energy he imparted through his strong grip.

“Liv.” He repeated the word as if trying it on for size and sat back, crossing his arms over his chest. “Your friends left rather suddenly. I hope I didn’t chase them away.”

A smile curved her lips. “You meant to chase them away.”

He spread his hand wide. “Caught in the act. I so appreciate that about you Americans. So direct. It’s refreshing.”

“The New York accent is that obvious?”

“Unmistakable. I lived there for four years doing my business degree at Columbia.”

The reason his English was so perfect... She gave him a long look. “If we’re being direct, I’d ask you what you’re doing here alone without a beautiful woman on your arm. Asking a complete stranger to have a drink with you.”

His gaze darkened with a hint of something she couldn’t read. He flicked a wrist toward the lights glimmering on the water. “I was looking for a little peace. Some answers to a question I had.”

That intrigued her. “Did you find them?”

His mouth quirked. “Maybe.”

She felt the inquisitive probe of his gaze right down to the lower layers of her dermis, the indolent way he looked at her suggesting he had all the time in the world to know her. “So what do you do, then, beautiful Liv, when you aren’t sitting here?”

She couldn’t help but feel like she was being led somewhere he wanted her to go, but the casually issued compliment had a much more potent effect than it should have.

“I’m a designer.” She called herself that for the first time since she’d come to Milan a year ago to pursue her dream, somehow tonight needing to assert it as fact in the wake of her mentor’s demise. “I’m working on my debut line.”

Which hopefully would still see the light of day with Giovanni gone.

He lifted a brow. “You will partner with one of the design houses here?”

“That is the plan, yes.”

“Did you study fashion in school?”

“Yes, at Pratt in New York.”

His gaze turned inquisitive. “Why not stay there and start your career where you have roots?”

Because she was running from a life she never intended to return to.

“I needed a change...a fresh start.”

“Milan is certainly the place to do that if you are a designer.” He smiled at the waitress as she arrived with their drinks, then waited until she’d left before raising his glass. “To new...friendships.”

Her pulse skittered across her skin like hot oil in a pan. She lifted her glass and pointed it at him. “And to you finding answers.”

A slow, easy smile twisted his lips. “I think maybe meeting you was exactly what I needed.”

That turned her insides completely upside down. She took a sip of her Chianti, discovered it was a significantly nicer vintage than the one she’d ordered and took some extra fortifying sips.

He crossed muscular arms over each other and sat back in the chair. “Have you had success with any of the design houses here?”

“I had made some inroads, yes, until something beyond my control happened. Now I’m not so sure it’s going to work out.”

“Why is that?”

She lifted her chin, fought the burn of emotion at the back of her eyes. “Life.”