“What do you mean?”
“You only want me there to appease your parents.”
I pulled away from him. “That’s not true!”
“Then why the reluctance?”
“Because you’ll hate it. They’ll suck up to you because you’re rich. I don’t want you to think badly of them.”
He rolled his eyes at me. “Is that all? I’m used to that. Don’t worry, I’ll be there.”
I stammered thanks as he grabbed my waist and I hotly remembered the time alone with him in Cinque Terre. He kissed me and warmth spread to my toes; his tongue flicked inside my mouth and I felt my muscles unknotting.
His hands wandered down my jeans and I kissed him more urgently as desire shot upwards the more he touched me. He slipped under my jeans and played with my panties, squeezing my bare flesh. I heard myself moan and I knew he was remembering that night, too.
We sprang apart as his mother called for him outside the door. He grimaced and tried to shift his pants so that his erection wasn’t so obvious.
“Your father is here.”
“Okay, I’ll be down there soon.”
We heard her walk away.
“He has the worst timing.” Will slid his arm around my waist and planted a kiss on my neck. “I’ve got to talk to him and you have got to come with me.”
“What?” I yelped. “No way.” For some reason I found the idea of meeting his father, much, much worse.
“He knows you’re here. C’mon.”
He slapped my ass and grinned as I scowled at him. The door flew open and he tugged me forward, even though I wanted to dig in my heels.
A lightning bolt seared up my spine as I heard him downstairs, talking in a low voice. William laughed at me as I stopped on the staircase.
“Keep going, doll. Or I’ll keep squeezing your ass.”
A ruthless pinch made me start forward. I ignored William’s deep laughs as I descended the staircase. We passed the marble foyer and entered a living room, which contained a white grand piano and a gold painting ceiling; we crossed over and entered the next room, which was a richly dark-brown study. I stopped at the threshold, but William continued inside.
Domenico Pardini, CEO of Pardini Worldwide, sat behind a mahogany desk with a phone to his ear. William stopped in front of the desk and crossed his arms, waiting patiently for his father to get off the phone.
He was a thin reed of a man, with a wiry mustache and angry, dark eyes. He still wore a business suit and looked utterly terrifying, because his face was devoid of any joy. He stood up from the desk, revealing a lean, skinny waist.
Will’s father hung up the phone and glared at his son.
“You are not supposed to be here, William.”
I knew what he meant. We came back early from the campaign because William felt that he had to return to Chicago immediately. I was hoping to slink out of the room, unnoticed.
“Thanks, Dad. Hello to you, too.”
“Who is that?”
At that unfortunate moment, Mr. Pardini chose to acknowledge my presence. I stepped into the room awkwardly, my legs trembling.
William looked surprised to see me standing all the way in the back. He waved me over impatiently. “This is Natalie. She’s the graphic designer for the campaign.”
Oh, Jesus. Will, I’m going to kill you.
Mr. Pardini was clearly looking for something polite to say. “I see. And—er—you decided to bring her here because?”
“I’m also dating her.”
I wanted to die. Please someone just shoot me. Mr. Pardini opened his mouth angrily, but William interrupted.
“Dad, I’m here because I found out that you’re in a lawsuit with Luke. Why didn’t you tell me?”
Mr. Pardini stepped around the desk. For a moment, I thought that he was going to hit his son. “It was none of your concern. I wanted you to focus on the campaign, which, apparently you’ve decided to just drop.”
“Is it true? Are you trying to stiff him out of his shares?”
Mr. Pardini’s hot glare flashed in my direction and I took a step backwards. It was clear that he didn’t want me there. He grabbed the half-empty glass of amber liquid on his desk and took a small sip.
“Yes, it’s true. Giacomo and I were planning to do this with all of you. It’s time to break up the empire.”
A heavy silence followed his words, with only the sounds of Domenico calmly sipping his drink and my pounding heart filling my head.
“What? What are you talking about?”
“Lots of family members want out. They want their money, now. Breaking up the empire was something Giacomo and I had been talking about for years. It’s time and both of us realized that our sons were incapable of managing an empire.”
“You’re going to butcher the empire our family has spent generations building?”
“I have no choice. Did you really think Luke was the only lawsuit I’m dealing with?” Will gaped at him as he walked across and studied a painting. “Most of the family’s money is in corporations owned by trusts. Slowly, I’m going to sell all the companies we own and liquidate Pardini holdings.”
“Dad, you can’t—”
“I am the sole trustee for the family. I can do whatever I wish. I am selling Luke’s shares and I am giving him an appropriate amount for the deals he has made for the company. I will do the same with everyone else.”
Will gave a frustrated sigh. “Just give him the money, Dad. He’s already been screwed over by his father.”
Mr. Pardini wheeled on his son. “You think that just because you’re a Pardini, you’re entitled to be wealthy? The trusts were meant to meet your reasonable needs, that’s it. They were designed to enhance the family’s position through donations and investments. They were not meant to make individual billionaires!”
His voice rang in the small room, echoing in my ears painfully.
“I am old and tired, son. And I’m being hounded by my nephew, cousins, and every member of the family with a trust. They want out and I am tired of dealing with this. If your grandfather knew what had happened to this family, he would be spinning in his grave.”
He almost seemed to limp back to his chair behind the desk. He looked tired and emotionally sick.
“I’m sorry that you had to witness this,” he said, addressing me suddenly.
I forgot my own presence. “Oh, uh—it’s fine.”