‘I’m sorry,’ she said, ‘but it’s my mother. I had to tell her where I was. She gets worried about me and she can be quite ill with nerves. I know this was all supposed to be kept hush-hush, with your non-disclosure forms, but I’ve never gone to the end of the road without letting her know before. Maybe that’s not how your “legends” would behave, but that’s how we are.’
He looked utterly impassive and she felt the tension inside her bubble higher.
‘You know, you’re not the only one who cares about their family,’ she said, filling the hideously blooming silence as he continued to watch her. ‘My family is every bit as important to me as yours is to you. So my clothes are from a charity shop and not couture? So what? That woman on the phone is my mother. And, since this interview doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, I’ll head back to England to see her right now.’
She stood up.
‘Sit down,’ he said.
Despite the glare she fixed him with her legs buckled and she sank back down, bracing herself for his verdict. Her eyes flicked away, over his shoulder, to the other end of the cove, where the majestic old Villa Di Visconti sat against a hillside of olive groves.
The team would be getting it ready for the shoot. She desperately wanted to stay with them and complete her first big job, but she wouldn’t be bullied into ignoring her mother when she needed her. Not by anyone.
‘First of all, I make the decisions about who comes and goes from this island. The only way on and off is by my boat or my plane. So forget any plans you have for dramatic exits. Unless you’d like to take your chances swimming to the mainland?’
Coral’s mouth tightened. No way was he going to threaten her.
‘Secondly, respect is non-negotiable if we are to have any kind of relationship. You will never speak to me like that again.’
‘Relationship?’ she spluttered.
‘Relationship,’ he repeated, his tone now rich and velvety. ‘As in client and creative.’
‘I don’t get it…’
He sighed, almost imperceptibly, and sat down opposite her.
‘Let’s just say you’ve passed the first test.’
‘I have?’ Coral’s bag slid from her lap and her shoulders slumped. She felt her mouth hang open. ‘How come? What did I say? The seventies thing?’
Suddenly his face relaxed, and for a second a tiny smile curved the corner of his mouth.
‘Definitely not the seventies thing. No. Your loyalty. Family values. Very strong. And for me that is a pretty good indication of a person. I know you can take pictures, so we can work with the rest.’ He waved his hand dismissively.
‘I don’t understand,’ she whispered, staring. ‘You’re hiring me but you don’t like my ideas?’
‘Let’s just say that I’m confident you won’t let me down. What you feel for your mother mirrors what I feel for la famiglia Di Visconti. As long as you are sensitive to that, I think we will be able to work together.’
‘I don’t know what to say. This is all very—’
‘Say nothing. Just convince me now that you can work the magic you say you’re capable of.’
‘OK,’ she said, sinking back into the seat a little. ‘It shouldn’t be difficult. All the ingredients are there already. They’re a lovely couple.’
He regarded her silently. ‘There are some quite important differences. The Di Viscontis do not court the media. But Kyla is…shrewd. She wants to create an empire—for the world to witness every moment of her life. It is my job to control what the world sees.’
He sat forward, leaned his elbows on his hands and stared with such intensity that she had to fight the urge to slide back in the seat.
‘Giancarlo spent the last twenty years of his life making sure that his family were undisturbed by the world. He adopted me when I was eight, so I think I’m in a good place to judge. There’s no way I’m going to let the family’s privacy unravel because of someone’s vanity.’
Coral sat up and blinked. His emotion was completely under control, but she could feel the passion and the warning in the words that he spoke.
She nodded. ‘I didn’t realise. I thought you were his son…’ Her voice trailed off. ‘Not that it’s any of my business.’
‘Correct. It’s not your business, but it is public knowledge. I was at school with Salvatore, in Switzerland. We were waiting for our parents to collect us for the Christmas vacation but mine never came. I was eight. They were late because my mother had to fulfil other commitments—an interview. She was an actress and had a new film to promote. And then bad weather came down. She and my father were killed in an avalanche on the way.’