Italy's Most Scandalous Virgin - Carol Marinelli
‘LET’S NOT GO THERE.’
‘No, no,’ Dante Romano responded to his brother with a black smile. ‘Let’s.’
The board had convened for a meeting at the headquarters of Romano Holdings in EUR District, Rome, and though it was a frosty January day the subject matter was hot. Yet again the latest salacious articles regarding their majority shareholder’s rather wild private life took precedence.
Dante Romano, the subject of said articles, sat at the head of the table, both unapologetic and confrontational as his brother, Stefano, did his best to steer the meeting away from an unpalatable topic. Except Dante was more than willing to face it and turned to his uncle. ‘Perhaps you would care to clarify that, Luigi?’ Dante’s rich, deep voice could cut ice, as could his dark eyes. He looked across to his uncle, a substantial shareholder, and dared him to go on.
‘I am saying that we are a long-standing family business.’
‘We all know that.’ Dante shrugged.
‘And as a family business, we have a certain reputation to uphold.’
Dante drummed his fingers on the highly polished table, refusing to make this easy on his uncle. ‘And?’
‘Headlines like the ones over the weekend don’t help to portray us as a reputable, wholesome family—’
‘Enough!’ Dante’s patience had run out. ‘We’re hardly in some shed, bottling wine and oil to sell at the market. We’re a billion-dollar company. Who the hell cares who I’m sleeping with?’
He looked around the table that consisted mainly of extended family, all wealthy and powerful thanks to the Romano name. Few would meet his eyes, though his younger brother, Stefano, did. Ariana, who was Stefano’s twin, was forgiven for looking down at her nails, clearly uncomfortable with the subject matter.
But Luigi pushed on. ‘With your father so ill, with so many changes still to come, we need to show stability, we need to get back to the values your grandfather built this company on...’
Famiglia, famiglia, famiglia. Dante had heard it a thousand times before and was more than sick of hearing it.
Dante loved his family, yes.
But to him love was a burden.
After this meeting, Dante told himself, he would go down to Giardino delle Cascate, kick a stone and scream—because the fact was, the Romanos were not the perfect family.
Dante had always loathed that his mother portrayed them as such when he had, after all, witnessed many rows. There were so many secrets at this table: Luigi himself had nearly destroyed the company with his penchant for casinos, which Dante had uncovered some years ago. That was the first time he had saved the company. In fact, Dante’s eternally suspicious nature came from the belief that he felt lied to.
‘Hold on, Luigi.’ Dante would not back down. ‘My grandfather was running a tiny family business from a shed, but then my father came along and set the Romano world on fire with his vision—’
‘And also his family values!’ Luigi was pretty formidable too, but he was no match for Dante.
‘Until he had an affair with his PA,’ Dante said.
‘Really,’ Stefano interjected again. ‘Let’s not go there.’
But there was to be no holding back Dante. ‘Why not? My father was all about family values until he left his wife of thirty-three years and married someone younger than his own daughter.’ He pointed to Ariana, who sat there with her lips pursed as Dante blew the lid off the uncomfortable truth. ‘So don’t you dare lecture me about family values. Not one of you.’ He looked around the table but, still, very few dared meet his eyes. ‘I don’t have to discuss this with you. I give enough of myself to the company without having to explain my personal life. I am single and, despite the board’s desire to have me settle down, I shall remain single and sleep with whomever I choose.’
And all too often he did.
Women adored him.
It wasn’t just his undeniably handsome looks, with thick raven hair and black, bedroom eyes. Neither was it all about his stunning body, which he happily shared in his endless appetite for sex. Possibly his obscene wealth played its enviable part, along with his stamina in the bedroom.
There was more to it, though.
His arrogance, his insolence, his completely untamable ways would be offputting for some, just not when combined with Dante’s charisma and his sudden smile.
For—and this was the kicker—he could be so charming.
Even when he was being a bastard.
‘Come on, bella,’ he would say as he ended the affair—they were all called bella, or beautiful—it was easier than remembering names.