February 1, 2017
The Last Di Sione Claims His Prize
"I want that painting. It is my last Lost Mistress. My Lost Love."
Alessandro Di Sione is renowned for being cold and unsentimental, but even he can't deny his grandfather's dream of retrieving a painting steeped in royal scandal. Yet the key to its return is the outspoken Princess Gabriella.
While traveling together to Isola D'Oro to locate the mysterious painting, Gabby is drawn to the man tortured by guilt from his past. Her innocence makes her untouchable, as Alex is convinced his Di Sione blood is tainted. But could their passion be his salvation?
It was rumored that Alessandro Di Sione had once fired an employee for bringing his coffee back two minutes later than commanded and five degrees cooler than ordered. It was rumored that he had once released a long-term mistress with a wave of his hand and an order to collect a parting gift from his assistant in the following weeks.
There were also rumors that he breathed fire, slept in a dungeon and derived sustenance from the souls of the damned.
So, when his shiny new temporary assistant scurried into the room with red cheeks and an apologetic expression on the heels of his grandfather—who appeared neither red-cheeked nor sorry for anything—it was no surprise that she looked as though she was headed for the gallows.
Of course, no one denied Giovanni Di Sione entry to any place he wished to inhabit. No personal assistant, no matter how formidable, would have been able to keep his grandfather out. Age and severely reduced health notwithstanding.
But as his typical assistant was on maternity leave and her replacement had only been here for a couple of weeks, she didn’t know that. She was, of course, afraid that Giovanni was an intruder and that she would be punished for the breach of security.
He saw no point in disabusing her of that notion. It was entirely possible she would spend the rest of the day deconstructing the meaning to his every glance in her direction. Likely, in the retelling she would talk about the blackness of his eyes being a reflection of his soul, or some other such nonsense. And so, his reputation would darken even more, without him lifting a finger.
“I’m very sorry, Mr. Di Sione,” she said, clearly out of breath, one palm pressed tightly over her rather unimpressive breasts.
He made a low, disapproving sound and raised one dark brow.
She was trembling now. Like a very small dog. “Should I go back to work, sir?” she asked, nervous eyes darting toward the door.
He waved his hand and she scurried back out much the same as she had scurried in.
“I see you’re up and moving around,” Alex said, not descending into sentimentality because his relationship with Giovanni didn’t allow for that. With each returned Lost Mistress, Giovanni’s health had recovered bit by bit.
“It’s been a while since my last treatment, so I’m feeling better.”
“Good to hear it.”
“The treatment of your assistant was not overly kind, Alessandro,” his grandfather said, taking the seat in front of Alex’s desk somewhat shakily.
“You say that as though you believe I have a concern about being perceived as kind. We both know I do not.”
“Yes, but I also know you’re not as terrible as you pretend to be.” Giovanni leaned back in his chair, both hands planted on his knees. He was getting on in years and after seventeen years in remission his leukemia had returned. At ninety-eight, Giovanni likely didn’t have many years left on the earth regardless of his health, but this had certainly added a bit of urgency to the timeline.
The goal being to recover each and every one of Giovanni’s Lost Mistresses. Stories of these treasures were woven into Alex’s consciousness. His grandfather had been spinning tales about them from the time Alessandro was a boy. And now, he had tasked each of his grandchildren with finding one of those lost treasures.
Except for Alex.
He had been expecting this. Waiting for quite some time to hear about what part he might play in this quest.
“Perhaps not,” Alex said, leaning back in his chair, unconsciously mimicking his grandfather’s position.
“At least you do not dare to behave terribly in my presence.”
“What can I say, Nonno? You are perhaps the only man on earth more formidable than I.”
Giovanni waved his hand as if dismissing Alex’s words. “Flattery is not the way with me, Alessandro, as you well know.”
He did know. His grandfather was a man of business. A man who had built a life out of nothing upon his arrival to America, he was a man who understood commerce. He had instilled that in Alex. It was how they connected. Where their minds met.
“Don’t tell me you’re feeling bored so you wanted to get your hands back into the shipping business?”
“Not at all. But I do have a job for you.”
Alex nodded slowly. “Is it my time to take a mistress?”
“I have saved the last one for you, Alessandro. The painting.”
“Painting?” Alex lifted a paperweight from his desk and moved it, tapping the glass with his index finger. “Don’t tell me you were a great collector of clowns on velvet or some such.”
Giovanni chuckled. “No. Nothing of the kind. I’m looking for .”
Alex frowned. “My art history is a little bit faint at my advanced age, but the name does sound familiar.”
“It should. What do you know about the disgraced royal family of Isolo D’Oro?”
“Had I known there would be a test, I would have studied before your arrival.”
“You were given a very expensive education at a very high-end boarding school. I would hate to think my money was wasted.”
Alex shifted, his hands still curled around the paperweight. “A school filled with teenage boys halfway across the world from their parents and very near a school filled entirely with teenage girls in the same situation. What is it you think we were studying?”
“This subject would have been to your particular field of study. is a very scandalous piece of royal history. Though it was only a rumor. No one has ever seen it.”
“Except for you, I take it.”
“I am one of the few who can confirm its existence.”
“You are ever a man of unfathomable depths.”
Giovanni chuckled, inclining his head. “I am, it’s true. But then, that should be a perk of living a life as long as mine. You ought to have depths and secret scandalous paintings in your past, don’t you think?”
“I wouldn’t know. My life primarily consists of long hours in the office.”
“A waste of youth and virility in my opinion.”
It was Alex’s turn to laugh. “Right. Because you did not spend your thirties deeply entrenched in building your fortune.”
“It is a privilege of the elderly to see things in hindsight no one can see in the present and attempt to educate the young with that hindsight.”
“I imagine it’s the privilege of the young to ignore that advice?”
“Perhaps. But in this, you will listen to me. I want that painting. It is my last Lost Mistress. lost love.”
Alex looked at the old man, the only father figure he’d ever truly possessed. Giovanni had been the one to instill in Alex a true sense of work ethic. Of pride. Giovanni had raised him and his siblings differently than their parents had. After their deaths he had taken them in, had given them so much more than a life of instability and neglect. He had taught them to take pride in their family name, to take nothing for granted.
His son might have been a useless, debauched partyer, but Giovanni had more than made up for mistakes he made with him when he had assumed the job of raising his grandchildren.
“And you intend to send me after it?”
“Yes. I do. You spend too much time at work. Think of it as a boy’s adventure. A quest to retrieve a lost treasure.”
Alex picked up the paperweight. It hovered an inch or so off the desk before he set it back down with an indelicate click. “I should think of it as what it is. A business transaction. You have been very good to me. Without your influence in my life I would likely be completely derelict. Or worse, some sort of social climber working his way through champagne and sunless tanner in South Beach.”
“Dear God, what a nightmarish prospect.”
“Especially as, by extension, I would be doing it with your money.”
“Your point is made. I am a steadying and magnificent influence.” The ghost of a smile that played across his grandfather’s ancient features pleased him. “I need you to retrieve the painting for me. It took all of my strength to put my socks on and come down here today. I can hardly track across the Mediterranean to Aceena to retrieve the painting myself.”
“Aceena?” Alex asked, thinking of what little he knew about the small island, with its white sand beaches and jewel-bright water, famous the world over.
“Yes, boy. Seriously, I want a refund from that boarding school.”
“I know where and what Aceena is, Nonno. But as far as I’m aware their primary attraction is alcohol and their chief import is university students on spring break.”
“Yes. A hazardous side effect of beachfront property, I suppose. But also, it is where the D’Oro family has spent their banishment.”
“On spring break?”
“In an estate, I’m told. Though I fear Queen Lucia’s children have been on perpetual spring break ever since carving a swath of scandal through Europe. The Queen lives there with her granddaughter. She was the rumored subject of the painting―” his grandfather paused “―and the last person to have it. So I’ve heard.”
Alex wasn’t a fool, and he didn’t appreciate that the old man was playing him for one. Giovanni wouldn’t send him off to Aceena because of half-heard rumors. And he would know full well who the subject of that painting was, had it been in his possession.
Leave it to Giovanni to have a portrait of a disgraced queen in his collection of lost treasures.
“You seem to know a great deal about the royal family,” Alex said.
“I have some ties to Isolo D’Oro. I…visited for a time. There are…fond memories for me there and I carry the history with me.”
“You don’t have to be fascinated, Alessandro, you have to do my bidding.”
Of course, if Giovanni asked, Alex had to comply. He him. Giovanni had raised Alex after the death of his parents. Had given him a job, instilled in him the work ethic that had made him so successful.
Without Giovanni, Alex was nothing.
And if his grandfather’s dream was to see his Lost Mistresses reunited, then Alex would be damned if he was the weak link in the chain.
Enough suffering in his family was tied to his pigheadedness. He would not add this to the list.
“As you wish,” Alex said.
“You’re turning this into a clichéd movie, Alessandro.”
“A quest for a hidden painting secreted away on an island by disgraced royals? I think we were already there.”