Authors: Susie Warren
Tags: #Romance, #Series, #Contemporary
Copyright 2014 by Susie Warren
Published by Susie Warren
Cover design by The Killion Group
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems – except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews – without permission in writing from the author at [email protected] This book is a work of fiction. The characters, events, and places portrayed in this book are products of the author’s imagination and are either fictitious or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.
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A filmmaker wanting to honor her family’s legacy approaches a reclusive billionaire for help
Isabel Neri’s innocence captures the attention of a well-known Italian marble mogul, Marc Santoro, when she approaches him against her family’s wishes. Wanting to honor her disgraced grandfather, Isabel needs Marc’s permission to produce a film about the Carrara marble industry.
Faced with honoring an old family obligation, Marc allows Isabel to travel to Italy with him but seeks to limit her exposure to his family’s tragic past. Isabel discovers the untold story and challenges Marc to reveal the truth. She is forced to expose her own secret as their desire sparks out of control.
“The basic premise – a curious filmmaker pursuing a reclusive billionaire - unfolds in a complex and surprising way. This novel is fast-paced and emotionally intense. A must read for romance enthusiasts!”
Isabel Neri slowly made her way through the throng of holiday seekers getting off the ferry at Martha’s Vineyard. The privileged atmosphere surrounding her did nothing to ease her nerves. She quietly observed the excitement and anticipation of a summer getaway of those who gathered their children, belongings, and even pets and headed to the dock. For her, this wasn’t a summer holiday but the opportunity to pitch an idea for a documentary to a reclusive billionaire. Catching sight of a driver holding up a small white sign that simply said
, Isabel willed herself to move forward.
She had grown up feeling beautiful and feminine until an accident had robbed her of her youthful optimism and carefree approach to life. These days her passionate and curious outlook on life was tempered by a seriousness that concerned those closest to her.
The nervousness building in her tightly compressed lungs, Isabel forced herself to take a slow and steady breath. She knew the trip was probably a wasted effort. Marc Santoro would most likely refuse her request. But she also knew that, given the opportunity, she would be able to document a lost way of life. She recalled stories from her grandfather about the Carrara marble trade and knew instinctively that it was a story worth telling.
She had allowed her grandfather to convince her that seeking a grant to film the history of the marble industry was the next logical step in launching her career as a filmmaker. She had put together the financing for a trip to the marble quarries and used her grandfather’s influence to be granted an interview with the reclusive marble billionaire.
Isabel knew Marc Santoro had made his fortune in minerals and scarce metals and that he had a reputation for only granting a meeting if it was of interest to him. She still had his image seared into her brain from their chance meeting at her parents’ restaurant months ago. He had the look of a CEO: tall, clothed in well-fitted business attire, everything about him polished. He had been younger than she would have predicted from his accomplishments, barely thirty years old, with a boyish charm and intensity that won over anyone that came into his vicinity. She had noticed that those around him often did a double take when first seeing him. She assumed it was his near perfect bone structure, masculine jawline, straight nose, penetrating brown eyes and sculpted mouth.
Isabel had read what little press was available on the billionaire. It was limited. Even after an accident at the quarry, he would have the gates locked and refuse to speak with the media. Marc Santoro didn’t encourage attention, but the more remote he became, the more interested the world became. His name had been recently linked with a blond model. Why did he hold himself apart from the world? What was he hiding?
The driver insisted on carrying her bag and guided her to a metallic blue, vintage Aston Martin. He held the backdoor open while she glided inside the luxurious vehicle.
“How far is the drive?” she asked the older man.
“Not far. The whole island is only twenty-five miles.”
Within minutes they escaped the traffic and were heading out of Vineyard Haven on a country road.
The memory of her previous encounter with Marc Santoro was etched into her mind. He loomed larger than life in her grandfather’s world. He had a reputation for being ruthless in business and wealthy beyond measure. With defeat weighing heavily on her grandfather, Isabel knew that Marc Santoro could offer access to his quarry allowing her to document the importance of the marble trade. The project would spark new life into her grandfather.
As she began to rehearse her carefully planned proposal in her mind, she tried hard to dispel the nervous feeling building in her stomach.
“It can’t be that bad.” The driver looked at her in the rearview mirror with compassion in his eyes.
“I beg your pardon?” Isabel forced herself to sit back and relax her shoulders. Was she that transparent? She reminded herself why this was so important. Her family’s connection to the past would be lost and her grandfather would be crushed if she didn’t convince Marc Santoro to grant her access.
“Most of his visitors look nervous. But be careful about showing too many of your cards. A poker face often works better in these situations.”
Isabel fought against a wave of anxiety as she considered Marc Santoro’s reputation as ruthless and seeking perfection. Her grandfather and his cronies wanted her to approach him even though he was known to shred his enemies without a qualm. How could she possibly succeed in getting him to grant her a favor?
Isabel smoothed down her dress. “Do you work for Mr. Santoro?”
“Not directly. My firm handles picking up guests, organizing repairs or handling the caretaking of many of the estates on the Vineyard,” the driver said in a relaxed tone.
“What makes you think I want something from him?”
The driver seemed friendly enough as he said, “He would’ve come himself if you were important to him. And you can’t work for the media because he doesn’t give interviews. So that means you probably want something from him.”
It was true and Isabel hated asking anyone for help. She knew it had to do with her independent streak; she would rather not ask and give someone the power to say no. But her grandfather had pleaded with her and she had reluctantly promised him that she would film a collection of stories about the Carrara marble quarries.
Isabel clenched her hands together. “I’ve come to pitch an idea to Mr. Santoro and I know he’s difficult to impress.”
The driver nodded. “He’s just a man. Try not to let him rattle you.”
“I’ll do my best.” Isabel reminded herself not to show any nervousness. If Marc Santoro refused her request, then it would be impossible to create her documentary, as the grant was contingent on the Santoro Quarry being the focal point. Losing this project would cause her grandfather to sink further into despair and she worried his heart couldn’t survive more disappointment or loss. Alberto needed this film to feel honored. Since her grandmother’s death, he seemed to be a shell of his former vibrant and full-of-life self.
“Mr. Santoro isn’t a patient man. Know your facts and stand up for yourself. If he senses weakness, he will toss you out.”
Her grandfather had given her the same lecture. Isabel knew very little about Marc Santoro but remembered from their brief meeting that he was intense and had a look that reminded her of perfection. He was very much sought after in the mining world, often getting the most lucrative contracts and always invited to galas and black tie events. Although it seemed he seldom attended them. The most damaging press about him appeared a few years ago: he’d fired an apprentice, a second cousin, and the man told all. He talked about insane work hours, the absolute insistence of attaining perfection in each design and the inability to ever compromise.
“So you know Mr. Santoro quite well?”
“I don’t know how well any of the locals know him. He shuts himself away from everyone. But I guess that is the appeal of the Vineyard.”
Isabel nodded in agreement as she tried to dispel the feeling of doom overtaking her. Everything she knew about the marble business was from stories told to her by her grandfather and his friends. She had never even visited the abandoned family quarry in Carrara, Italy.
Isabel smiled fleetingly when she remembered the old men rejoicing that she was willing to meet with Marc Santoro. They had no idea that they were sending a damaged person to battle. She had to remind herself that he would never see her flaws. She would keep them hidden. She knew the scars repulsed her family, but she couldn’t imagine a man interested in perfection ever seeing them. Smoothing down the silk dress over her thighs once again——a nervous habit she’d developed——she could feel the marred skin.
She had her pitch ready. She knew that after traveling from Boston, he would probably give her twenty minutes.
Feeling on edge, she willed her body to relax as she methodically went through the typical interview questions that he might ask. She knew that he would probably question the gap on her resume.
Isabel turned on her tablet and made sure her presentation could be easily accessed, before slipping it back into her bag. She needed to be on her game today as so much was riding on this interview.
Looking out the window, she saw trees with the occasional driveway marked by a small wooden sign.
“Remember, be persistent,” the driver said kindly.
Isabel smiled. She might not look like she had strong convictions, but people often underestimated her. Growing up as a Neri, she’d learned how to stand up for herself. She was resilient and wouldn’t give up without a fight.
She had dressed carefully for the trip, deciding to wear a slim, sleeveless sheath in a bold print purchased to convince the high-strung perfectionist she was serious about her work. She knew she looked every bit of her Italian heritage: she had light olive skin and her hair was the color and texture of smooth dark chocolate cut to an elegant long length.
Turning off the road, the driver pulled into a gated entrance, marked “private.” Isabel thought it was strange that they were in the woods, not at the beach, until the driver made a sweeping turn and she caught sight of the Atlantic Ocean on the horizon. Driving up to a muted gray mansion with impressive architecture and landscaping, the car slowed and came to a stop.
The driver got out and held the door for her. “Good luck.”
Apprehension skittered along Isabel’s spine like a flat rock being artfully skipped over water before plunging into the depths.
Isabel felt a moment of panic as she watched the driver make a swift exit. She carefully walked up the stone path that led to the front door, being careful not to catch her black Manolo Blahnik heels in the stones.
The front door swung open and Isabel felt the oxygen leave her body. She wasn’t prepared for seeing Marc Santoro in the flesh again. She could feel his gaze rake over her in appraisal, apparently sizing her up. He looked every inch the wealthy business owner: he was dressed in an expertly tailored gray shirt with slightly darker gray trousers that were pressed to exactness. He was even more striking than she remembered, and she reminded herself to just breathe and focus on her pitch.