Date: 11th December 2022, Posted by mollie
The idea for this story was sparked when I read about a very successful Italian fashion-tycoon who said, ‘My biggest regret is that I gave my life to my job.’ It struck me as very, very sad.
I wondered why he had chosen to live his life this way. Despite all his wealth, all his mansions around the world, and all the ‘fans’ who adored him for the identity he had carefully cultivated, he loved no one and no one loved him back for who he truly was.
Although he never said it outright, he’d thrown himself into his work following the death of his life partner. His work was pure escapism—protecting him from feeling the pain of loss again.
He’d originally trained as a medic but after experiencing the horrors of war, he sought refuge in a fantasy world.
As a child, he’d loved the glitz and glamor Hollywood offered. After a brief stint in the war where he witnessed the deaths of friends, he found an escape from the harshness of reality returning to the fantasy of Hollywood
I wondered what sort of woman would be able to touch this frozen man at the deepest level. Everything in his life was controlled measured, predictably precise. I wondered what if the darkness of the past, his unhealed wounds began to impact his work, stifling his creativity and threatening to destroy everything he had fought so hard to achieve.
I wondered what if, as part of his recovery, he was forced to spend time with a woman so opposite in every way to the order he imposed in his life. And what if this woman was a children’s art therapist. A woman unimpressed by the fame and fortune he’d amassed, but who believed strongly in the power of play, fun, and spontaneity—things he considered reckless
What if this woman had the power to transform his life, and he hers—but they were both afraid. Hearts have been broken, love lost, trust betrayed. What if this woman had her own wounds? Don’t we all?
What would it take to make all the masks fall? To be vulnerable? To risk it all? What would it take, in spite of the fear, to believe you deserve, you want, you need to give love a second chance?
You’ll discover the answers in The Italian Billionaire’s Christmas Bride. I hope you love this story as much as I loved writing it. Here’s a free EXCERPT:
‘Che cavolo! No! No! No! This will not do. Only an anorexic model could wear something that resembles a straw,’ thundered Massimilliano Balforni, CEO of Emporio Balforni, Milan’s most prestigious fashion house. His coal-black brows knitted in a fierce line as he looked with disdain at the scatter of sketches the young designer splayed on Max’s 15th Century walnut desk.
His protégé began to protest but one piercing look from the maestro forced his lips shut. His body stiffened as if frozen to the floor, reminded that his employer’s wrath was more dangerous than black ice
‘Alexandria Gorbetz is a real woman, the world’s richest woman, and someone like me that demands perfection.’
Max’s mouth curved in a controlled smile. Was that fear he detected in the young man’s face as Max pierced him with his dark gaze? He had every reason to be afraid. Enemies and friends alike knew Max had destroyed promising careers for lesser transgressions. Infinitesimal precision, extraordinary control, unrivaled beauty—Max suffered nothing less.
Pressing his fingertips to the smooth, cool parchment, he paused momentarily as a childhood memory stirred in his consciousness. He sucked in a breath and swept his hands brusquely across the page. He was no longer the lonely child who furtively sketched movie stars in beautiful clothes and dreamed of a Hollywood life.
What was once an escape was now a thriving commercial enterprise with insatiable demands. Max flourished his gold fountain pen across the page, adding a sweep of curves to the hips and breasts of the bespoke wedding gown his fashion house had been commissioned to design.
Now at the helm of his multi-billion dollar empire, Max was no longer a hands-on designer, but nothing went out the door without his final veto. Some called him a control freak and this he took not as a criticism but as the highest compliment.
He waited to feel the rush of joy he used to feel when drawing as a child. He stopped to await the all-consuming love that arose from knowing that no one possessed his raw talent and genius. He paused to feel the pride that came years later from knowing he designed dresses perfectly, to satisfy only one client on her most important day. There was nothing.
It shouldn’t have surprised him. He had long ago accepted that he was unable to feel the joy that other people did. He’d turned off that part of himself years ago and had vowed never again to succumb to vulnerability. In its place, carefully groomed aloofness and instilling fear in others were traits he prized and relentlessly cultivated.
As his protégé braced for the consequences Max forced his thoughts back to the commission. While he felt nothing in his heart, what he did experience as he looked at the drawing of the wedding dress executed to his design was a coolly detached appreciation that satisfied the perfectionist in him.
The lines and structure now conformed absolutely to his definition of ideal. The controlled steel gray pallet reflected his personality and every detailed aspect had been meticulously executed as he had commanded. No randomness or chaos anywhere.
Having witnessed his parents’ brutal marriage and subsequent divorce, Max had no misguided notions of happily-ever-after, nor any desire to marry.
Perfection in relationships was simply unattainable. But the knowledge that he was at the helm of an empire that created exquisite, extraordinarily elegant gowns admired by the world’s most elite, at the same time preserving a historic tradition, filled him with a degree of pride.
But as for the rest of his life—the personal, emotional side—he felt nothing. And that suited him perfectly.
Max’s long supple fingers drummed an impatient rhythm on the armrest of his chair. ‘Allora?’ Well? People react to fear, not love, he reminded himself as he kept his voice soft, but somehow containing all the might of the towering spires of the Duomo looming beyond his window.
A slither of fear crept into the young designer’s hushed apology. ‘I should have thought more about the woman beneath the dress.’
‘Thinking is not enough,’ Max commanded, his voice a dark, stark thing in the quiet of his office. ‘You must apply.’ Taking the drawings in both hands he tore the pages down the middle. ‘Begin again, and this time bring me excellence.’
Ignoring the tiny pin like tremors piercing his chest Max pushed back from the desk and rose to his feet as the young man retrieved the torn fragments and scuttled quickly toward the door. Striding across the room Max willed his racing heart to cede to his control.
‘Calm yourself, please Maxie,’ Sophia Balforni said, sweeping into his office she cast the young man a sympathetic look as their paths crossed. ‘Have you thought about what I suggested?’ she asked, gesturing to the art therapy brochure peeking from beneath a pile of contracts.
‘I am surrounded by amateurs and now you want me to play like a child, mia sorella. I have never heard something so ridiculous.’
‘You’re my brother. The best brother in the world, but do you know what’s holding you back? You’re afraid of losing control. You’re afraid that without all of this, she said, sweeping her hand around the room, ‘you’re worthless.’
‘But all of this means nothing if you’re dead. And none of this means anything without someone to share your heart and soul. I hope one day you’re able to realize that you’re wonderful for who you are, not just for what you’ve accomplished. But most of all I hope you’re able to experience the unconditional love and support of someone who loves you for you.’
Max was neither given to excessive emotion nor impetuousness but his mood wrestled with his need for control. He threw open the shuttered windows of his office and inhaled the frigid Milano air with shallow, measured breaths.
He ran his hand over his broad chest, fingering momentarily the fine scar snaking across his heart. His mind had the endurance and stamina of one thousand oxen but two months ago his body had betrayed him.
His gaze swept down the Piazza then flew up the spires of the Duomo, dusted with snow and bejeweled in dazzling pre-Christmas lights as the cacophony of Vespas buzzed like irritated wasps through the open window.
Although he had always hated Christmas, he loved tradition and he loved the supreme elegance that the Milanese never failed to deliver, but it pained him to concede that never had his beloved city been so irritating. In fact, everything, and everyone was irritating. Even his designs bored him. He knew better than most that he must continually innovate or die. Grudgingly he accepted his sister was right. He needed to get away.
‘I admit it’s a little unconventional,’ Sophia said, taking an assortment of pills and vitamins from a gold embossed pillbox and, after pouring a glass of mineral water into a crystal tumbler, she passed the pills and water to Max.
‘Unconventional?’ Max tossed the pills into his mouth, took a gulp of water and threw back his head, grimacing as they slid down his throat. ‘What you are suggesting is childish.’ Childish, isn’t that exactly what his father had thrown in his face when, as a young boy, he’d first shown him his sketches. ‘If this got out to my competitors,’ he said, forcing his mind from a memory he vowed never to revisit, ‘can you imagine what it would do to my reputation?’
‘Not nearly as damaging as being paralyzed by a stroke and having to be spoon-fed, Sophia snapped. ‘And since when have you cared what others think? Besides, you have an island on the other side of the world.
‘One which you’ve been too busy to visit. Fiji is remote enough for you to step away from the constant flash of cameras and be virtually anonymous,’ she said, lowering her voice as Max’s new PA cat-walked into his office. ‘Call yourself Mr. Johnstone, or Mr. Smith, or whatever else you want, to protect your privacy.’
Beneath long-fringed lashes the PA gave Max a sultry look, trailing her gaze over his lean and muscled form, as she placed a collection of fashion magazines and media cuttings in a neat pile precisely as she’d been trained.
‘Thank you, that will be all,’ Sophia said, dismissing her.
‘A nudist camp would be vastly more appealing,’ Max’s gaze trailed after his PA as she left his office. While he had no time for relationships, that didn’t stop him from appreciating beauty. How much easier it would be to lie naked amongst a bevy of loveliness than expose his feelings to the spotlight.
Sophia rolled her eyes. ‘I can just imagine what that would do to your blood pressure. Art, unlike making a career of intimately studying the curves of women, my dear brother, is therapeutic.’
‘So you want me to go to kiddy school and make a fool of myself.’ Irritation coursed through his veins as he ran his fingers around the neck of his shirt and loosened the starched white collar.
‘You never had a childhood,’ Sophia said, her voice almost a whisper. ‘You grew up too fast. We both did. And now you’re a thirty-five-year-old man who may not see forty.’
‘I know you are trying to help but I told you I can handle it.’ And he would. He would never abandon his responsibility. Unlike his father who had tried to combine work with marriage and failed at both, Max had gladly sacrificed his personal life for his career.
Abandoned at birth by his biological parents, raised briefly by strangers, then dumped in a boarding school, he had turned what could have been a weakness into his biggest strength.
‘All this stress has engulfed you, Max. Only you can’t see it. And it scares me. You’ve become a shell of yourself—more than you were already. A man so cut off from his feelings that you are devoid of emotion. You’ve become a lighthouse of a man—lonely in a crowd, aloof and detached. Uncaring.’
The words bounced off Max’s chest like the final shards of Milan’s winter sun reflecting off the panoramic glass windows. It was true. He no longer cared.
‘What do you want from me, Sophia?’
She paused, concern pooling in her dark eyes. ‘I want what our mother wants. I want you to be happy.’
His lips curved into a tight mocking smile. When had his real mother ever cared about his happiness? He knew what she really wanted. After suddenly reappearing in his life, she wanted a daughter-in-law and she wanted a grandson. Max shook his head and gave a short exacerbated sigh. She wanted the impossible.
He plunged his hand through his hair, raking it back from his brow. He should have had it cut razor short last week. Instead, he’d thrown himself into the rollout of his retail network of 60 Massimilliano Balforni boutiques and jewelry stores throughout China, and the pending development of his luxury hotel in Dubai, with such single-minded, unrelenting focus there had been no time for indulgences.
‘I’ve done my research,’ he said, adding his signed consent to the final contracts, ‘and from every angle it all seems based on spurious psychology.’ His hand closed around the pen as he looked up sharply.
Sophia sucked her breath as though steeling herself to battle with his formidable will. ‘Unless you make some changes, and I mean massive changes,’ Sophia glanced momentarily in the direction of Cimitero Maggiore, Milan’s largest cemetery, then fixed Max with a penetrating gaze, ‘you’ll end up like our father. Morte.’
‘That will not happen to me,’ he said, balling his fingers into a fist. ‘I am nothing like our father.’
‘No, you’re not. You are loyal, honest and immensely generous to the people you care about—nothing like our father. But you are an unrelenting workaholic like he was. No better than an addict, because despite all your willpower, all your determination, all your talent, all your wealth you can’t stop working. My God, you even live above your office.’
‘Mia sorella, even if I wanted to go finger painting, which I do not, there is no way I can get away. People need me. I cannot just walk away without everything collapsing.’
‘Even geniuses need time out to replenish. Super-heroes too,’ she laughed. ‘You, Clark Kent, need a rest from being Superman, a week out of this world. Not eternity. I will take care of things until you’re back.’
The blood vessel in his temple pulsed, whether out of conviction or rebellion he didn’t know, but her suggestion was not without merit. His sister had proven herself capable in so many ways since her appointment to Director of Public Relations.
He leaned back in his chair, steepling his fingers against his lips as he savored a compelling idea. What if he could achieve several goals by leaving Italy? While he did not believe in fate, he did believe in destiny. Was it not destiny after all that had led him to this career, launching him from male model to CEO of a multi-billion dollar empire?
Max began to wonder if his recent conversation with some Fijian silk merchants was also pre-destined. Until that meeting he hadn’t known there was such a large population of Indians in Fiji, and he’d been intrigued by the innovative textile developments they had shared with him.
And he could maximize efficiencies by going undercover and checking out his hotel chain in the Pacific. Yes, he thought, warming to the idea, perhaps a change of scene, getting away from all things European might just revive his flagging spirits.
His creativity was blocked, young designers were licking at his heels. He needed to continually innovate, but nothing inspired him. The plan was worth considering after all. Nothing else had worked. Plus it would get Sophia off his case. And the art therapy gimmick she was so convinced he needed?
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The audio version of this book is also available from all online bookstores and also libraries
Tags: Billionaire Romance, romance, harlequin romance, love and romance, Romantic Comedy, Italian Hero, contemporary romance, clean & wholesome, Clean romance book, Excerpt, Passion Down Under, Romance books, Strong female lead, True romance, wedding