Summer with the Millionaire

By: Jessica Gilmore

Thank goodness Gio was running late; he would have swept her into the midst of the conversation before Luca could say ‘ciao’.

‘Everyone,’ Luca said in English, ‘I would like to introduce Araminta Davenport. Although you may not know her by sight...’ He bestowed a smile on the silently fulminating Minty. That was right; mark her out as an outsider from the off. ‘You may be aware that she was left a sixth of the company by my aunt. It’s lovely to see her take an interest in the company at last. Come on, Minty, let’s find you a seat.’

Luca took care to spend some time ensuring she was comfortable, deliberately continuing to emphasise her visitor status. ‘Would you rather we held the meeting in English?’ he asked solicitously and had the pleasure of seeing her practically bare her teeth at him as she assured him that, really, her Italian was quite adequate, thank you.

One-nil to Luca.

Over the next half-hour Luca almost forgot that Minty was in the room. Almost. The occasional glance of her neatly coiffed head nodding earnestly as someone made a valid point; the sight of her typing rapid notes onto her iPad; the small wrinkle at the bridge of her nose when the conversation became more animated or technical than her rusty Italian could follow would make him falter, check his notes, regroup.

But so far she had said nothing. Not even a murmur of agreement. Luca felt the slight weight of worry lift. Maybe she was just here to observe; maybe he had seen trouble where there was none.

The niceties were soon dealt with: apologies, minutes, agendas, a few small points all despatched. It was time for the main event.

It was time to address the international expansion, the biggest change to Di Tore Dolce since they had made the decision to produce not just the traditional gelato but the full range of Italian desserts. And this expansion was all Luca’s.

He pressed a button on his laptop and pulled up the presentation, adrenaline flooding through his veins. The business was profitable, successful and flourishing under his leadership despite the difficult financial conditions. It was time to take it global. He smiled confidently at the table and opened his mouth, ready to begin. But before he could speak the first carefully prepared word, the door opened.

Gio had arrived, smiling, full of apologies, bestowing embraces all round. Minty rose to her feet, ready for his embrace as he walked in, but Luca could tell that behind her smile and hug she was shocked. Shocked at how the bear of a man had shrunk, at the lines on his face, the greyness of his hair. Shocked that the twinkle in his eyes was just a faded reflection of the real thing. Luca recognised the shock; he felt it too every time he saw his uncle.

When Rose had died, Gio’s heart had died too.

What did that feel like, to be halved like that? Luca knew what he wanted and it wasn’t such grand emotion, such all-or-nothing passion.

He wanted compatibility, comfort.

Almost against his will, his glance slid over to Minty, still enfolded in Gio’s arms. Resolutely Luca wrenched his eyes away again.

Minty was many things but she had never been comfortable.

‘Okay, everyone.’ It was time to call this meeting back to order. ‘Gio, lovely to see you.’ He tried not to allow the anxiety his uncle’s appearance caused him to show in his voice. Was he eating enough? Drinking too much?

When would he stop grieving for a woman who had been dead for six years?

‘As you know, I have been investigating expanding into some of the English-speaking territories,’ he began, projecting confidence as he spoke, looking round the table to catch and hold every single person’s eye. They were all nodding and smiling back at him. All except Minty, who was frowning down at her iPad. A surge of irritation ran through him. She had seemed so keen on the expansion back in his office.

Instantly heat flamed through his body as the memory of her impulsive embrace hit him: the lean length of her, impossibly, incredibly soft; the way she fit into him, around him.

Luca took a hurried gulp of water.

He took care to avoid looking at Minty as he carried on, spending the next twenty minutes taking the board through the figures, projections and risk analysis of the project. They seemed engaged, approving. And so they should; Luca had been working on this for months.

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