He looked at her again and frowned.
‘We will meet Salvatore and Kyla. You will propose your ideas, chat them through with the team, and I will give you the final decision.’
‘You do know that Mariella has already decided that the shoot with Kyla will be done on the loggia? That does limit our options.’
‘She has? We’ve spent over an hour discussing this and you didn’t think to say?’
‘You were a little busy biting off my head,’ she said, smiling.
This woman was beyond infuriating. No one ever spoke back to him and here she was, staring him down and firing back with the most exhilarating confidence. She was easily the most attractive woman he’d met in a very long time.
‘Are you normally this difficult?’ he asked, turning back to the path.
‘I’m normally honest, if that’s what you mean. It wasn’t my idea to play it safe.’
They emerged from the cliff path onto the driveway. Before them stood the old villa in all its majesty, its secrets about to be shared with the public for the first time ever. A Di Visconti home for centuries, but now just the backdrop for Kyla’s vanity.
He led on across the terrace, helping Coral to step carefully on the worn marble. He knew too well the feeling of the hard slap of bone on stone, the trickle of blood from split knees, the sound of Salvatore’s voice, laughing. He knew the feeling of the housekeeper’s arms around his young shoulders and the ache of wanting to be comforted. Wanting but never having. Because his own mother hadn’t been able to.
Sometimes he felt as if his heart was as cold and hard as that marble.
He pushed the heavy door open, feeling the calming press of the brass handle on his palm. The relief of air-conditioning washed over his skin, cool and fresh. A buzz of voices caught his ear and he frowned, turning to catch the source.
Behind him the squeak of Coral’s sandals told him she was right at his back.
‘Sounds like it’s all kicked off without us.’
He led on through the lounge areas that led from the pool into the main part of the villa.
Kyla had changed too much already. The oil paintings and eighteenth-century Italian furniture—heirlooms that as an eight-year-old boy he’d been taught to treat with respect—had all been replaced with squat sofas in white leather and black and white portraits of supermodels in various poses.
On through the house, he heard the buzz and thump growing louder as they passed stucco-panelled walls, repainted cream over the elegant duck-egg-blue that he and Salvatore had been warned never to touch with muddy fingers.
Since Giancarlo’s death their relationship had been more and more strained, and disputes about the will were adding to that. It had been such a blow for Salvatore to learn that Giancarlo had left Raffaele in charge of the cruise line. It had been the last thing he’d wanted too, and as the empire’s main trustee he would do his best to pass it on to Salvatore when the time was right.
‘Darlings! She’s here! We have our photographer!’
They stepped out on to the loggia and there was the team, flanked by muslin-draped walls and a haze of chatter and noise. On one side rails of clothes and racks of shoes waited to be rifled through. On the other side lights, screens and men on ladders attaching flowers to the loggia’s ancient columns.
And, in the middle of it all, Kyla.
‘Raffa! You’ve kept this angel all to yourself!’
Raffaele felt his jaw clench as Kyla walked towards him, fluttering her fake lashes and pouting. She was hot for him and made no attempt to conceal it—even in front of her fiancé.
And he, Raffaele, was going to be part of this charade.
He should be at work, focussing on Argento instead of slumming it with the B-list. Raffaele felt his patience snap. He wanted the whole thing to end. Now.
‘Keeping to what we agreed, Kyla. I see you’ve made some interior design choices already. I assume they’re temporary?’
She looked hurt, but that was an irrelevance. She was wearing a four-carat diamond and in less than a week would be joint owner of this ancient home. That would salve any wound.
He felt the light touch of a hand on his arm and a whisper in his ear.
‘I’d be happy to get involved from here. It’s all looking good so far, and I guarantee that everyone will be happy with the results.’
He looked down at Coral’s face, the un-made-up, unflinching eyes gazing up at him. Again he felt the tug of something he knew, something he trusted. He thought of her confidence during their little interview, her direct, no-nonsense attitude. He thought of the stills that had excited Mariella so much that she’d dreamed up this commission as a prize. She’d rarely seen talent like it—sympathy with the subject, intelligence with the design. Exactly what Kyla needed to bring her back down to earth.