The other fathers straightened self-consciously with a mixture of envy and disbelief at the dashing appearance Luca Valencia made. He was only a few years younger than most of them were, and yet he looked completely different from the rest of them. While most of the fathers sported thinning hair and beer bellies, every inch of the Italian billionaire was of prime, physical perfection.
In the end, the only way the other fathers were able to console themselves was with a reminder that Luca Valencia’s life was far from perfect. If the Internet rumors were to be true, his wife was nothing but a social-climbing party girl who liked to play with younger boys.
The thought had the other fathers sniggering among themselves, and none of them made an effort to befriend the billionaire. Unfortunately, doing so gave them little pleasure since it didn’t appear like Luca Valencia cared or even noticed that he was being deliberately snubbed.
With the parent-teacher conference still an hour away from officially starting, cocktails and canapés were served at the school’s expansive lawns. White picnic tables had also been rented for the school’s esteemed guests, their surfaces covered by silk tablecloths overlaid with red-and-white checkered table runners.
Luca was alone at his table, surrounded by his bodyguards, when Eula came running back to him with an expectant look, arms wrapped tightly around her favorite doll. “Is Vivi coming?”
He smiled down at her while wiping the smudges of dirt on her face. “Not yet.”
“Are you really, really, really, really sure she’s coming?”
“Absolutely.” And he was, because despite appearances being on the contrary and no doubt even with his wife thinking he had left her – the Italian billionaire was banking on the fact that he and Eula meant the world to Vivian.
They were her life, just as she was theirs.
So she would come, as soon as she realized the truth.
An air of heavy perfume reached him, and Luca didn’t need to look up to know that it was his ex-wife. When he saw his daughter’s face fall, the billionaire thought, This one has also come to the end of its line. He had only humored Maria’s sudden interest in their daughter to see if something would come out of it. For Eula’s sake, he had hoped that Maria had indeed turned over a new leaf. But if all his ex-wife could do was make his little girl unhappy—-
Since courtesy demanded it of him, Luca stood up, murmuring politely, “It is good that you made it on time, Maria.”
“Naturalmente,” his wife returned throatily. She turned to their daughter, bestowing upon the little girl a loving look. “I am eager to know how my lovely Eula is doing at school.” Turning her back on the billionaire to face Eula, she asked with a smile, “Did you miss me, darling?” While her voice was affectionate, her eyes held a steely glint of warning for the little girl.
Eula’s grip on her doll tightened. “I missed you.”
Maria glanced at Luca over her shoulder, saying sadly, “I have spent too much time away from our baby.”
“You are welcome to visit her anytime.” Luca managed to keep his tone level despite seeing the distress that his daughter was working hard to hide. After helping Maria to one of the chairs, Luca said gently to Eula, “Go along and play with your friends, principesa. I will keep your mother company.”
The way Eula’s eyes brightened with relief told him he had done the right thing. “Si, Papa. Grazie.” And then she was running away without looking back at Maria.
“How time flies, no?” Maria remarked with a sigh. “I was thinking I’d like to have Eula with me back in Tuscany next Saturday,” she murmured. “When we are alone, she tells me how much she misses me and that she badly wants a mother like the other children.”
“Is that so?” As the billionaire spoke, he glanced absently behind Maria, where the school’s back entrance was located, and his eyes widened. Everyone else’s reaction was the same, and the fathers who had earlier sported disparaging thoughts about the billionaire’s wife couldn’t believe their eyes.
Walking into the lawn was Vivian, looking casually elegant in jeans and a loose peach silk blouse that fell to her knees. Her face was beautifully made up with just the right touch of makeup, dark eye shadow to make her eyes smoky and the palest hint of blush on her cheeks.
She didn’t look like a social-climbing party girl at all, the other men thought uneasily. They looked at their wives, and it was obvious the women thought the same thing, too. Then they glanced furtively at the Italian billionaire, who despite sharing a table with his equally infamous ex-wife, only had eyes for the other woman heading his way.
The way Luca Valencia was looking at his second wife, and the way she was looking at him—-