Undressed: 1 (The Manhattanites), page 4
“Even a judge with a half-baked brain and one good eye can see I invented the way for those fabrics to be worn on the human form. Not you.”
“Bellini cocktail?” he persuaded, hoping some alcohol would make her more agreeable. She wouldn’t be successful in a lawsuit against Girasoli. Easton didn’t have a legal leg to stand on. Lex violated the agreement first, making it null and void.
“No thank you, I don’t want a Bellini cocktail. I want my fabrics.”
He poured himself a glass, trying to salvage the situation. “Invented by Giuseppe Cipriani in the Thirties, the Bellini is a Prosecco and peach puree blend. Italy’s signature drink from Venice for all occasions, sì?” Have a drink, bella. You need one.
“Stop patronizing me. It won’t work. No, grazie. You can toast to your lawsuit if you wish.”
“Sì.” He gulped the fruit nectar and set his glass aside to speak. “I suppose we could go to court.” Massimo would rather die than live through another legal scandal. Nevertheless, he’d play her game. “I am sure the judges in Milano or New York could put something on the books in say—six months from now. When did you say your fashion show started again?”
“In eight days!” Vivid eyes wide, she slapped the table—twice. The rattling china and crystal clatter didn’t prevent her from arguing. “If you prevent me from having my seasonal launch, I’ll add another forty million in lost net sales and damages to the lawsuit. Don’t think I haven’t calculated the numbers. I’ve endured half a day stuck on two airplanes and a sardine tugboat to decide what I’d do if you didn’t give me my materials. I never in my darkest thoughts expected Girasoli, my supplier, whom I trusted, to topple me. Fashion hell has been raised Massimo—hell!”
He swallowed hard against her threat and muttered, “Meaning?” Do not react, do not react, do not react.
“If Saks carries the line, we’ll clear over one hundred million in gross.”
All this money talk coming from an alluring blonde made him dizzy. He thought about buying Easton outright, shutting her up and taking her under his wing. He’d prefer to take her under his body.
Power. Authority. Strength.
She offered an unexpected flirtatious glance—one lacking any sincerity. Trying to turn her demise around, she promised, “Lawsuit off the table for a sec. I’ll do whatever it takes to make this work—whatever you want.”
“Such as?” He speculated if she’d sleep with him. Massimo wanted her. Sitting on his chair’s edge, he waited for her response, and the lingering expectation grew excruciating. What could she give him? Tell me, bella.
“I’ll pay fifteen percent more than the original sticker price.”
Having you in my arms may be worth more than fifteen percent, bella. “If Girasoli ceases plans and reverts to supplying Easton the fabrics, how will we be sure you will pay on time?”
“I’ll sign whatever guarantee you want me to.”
“The last contract graced your signature and did not work for you.” He didn’t favor uncertainty, not in this economy.
“Please—I can’t go home without this shipment.” Her eyes filled with the realization he didn’t intend to give in. Maybe her legal bite was a bluff. “I’ll be forced to close my doors and lay off my employees.” Lex’s pleading made her proposal tempting, but he couldn’t.
“No. Taking another risk on Easton is bad business practice for Girasoli. This is nothing personal.” His company remained number one in Italy for textiles. At year’s end it would be the top manufacturer in Europe, and the year following, the world. He could not do business with some fly by the seat of your pants clothing company.
“You’ll never be able to get your label off the ground,” she snapped. “Not without knocking me off.” She raised her chin in confidence.
“Are your fashion wits telling you Girasoli is copying your designs?” Massimo had heard the term “know it all,” but he’d never met a “Lex.” In her stretchy slacks, she’d given new meaning to the term “sassy pants.”
“Easton’s designs are, how do you say—frumpy.”
Her jaw dropped. “Frumpy?”
“We intend to sex them up a bit.”
As she leaned toward him, her eyes changed from green to black. “My clothing isn’t frumpy. The Easton client is a real woman who wants to feel good in the clothes she wears. She isn’t interested in ‘sexing it up a bit.’ My buyers are—” She cut herself short too frustrated to continue. She bit down hard on her lower lip.
Itchiness scratched his throat as he witnessed Lex struggle with her emotions. “I am sorry, Lex. I am. But this is business.” Massimo wondered how long she could keep up her tough girl persona.
“Who’s designing the garments for you?”
“Jemma Fereti. You met her today at the pool.”
“There were three women at the pool. Forgive me, but I couldn’t tell them apart.” Raising her pointer finger midair, she asked, “The tallest one?”
“Sì, Jemma started with Girasoli after università. We grew up together.” He held his Bellini up to her all knowing finger to toast the notion and then took another sip.
“Uh huh, as expected, your designer is drop dead gorgeous.” Her eyes rolled.
Clara came with the entrees, grouper, still on the bone. She squeezed lemon over the scales and returned to the kitchen.
Lex moved her fish around on the plate, looking as if she’d lost her appetite.
Massimo reached across the table to stroke her hand and console her.
She didn’t pull away or stab him with her fork as he expected, resembling the moment at the pool earlier when he’d held her hand and she looked deep into his eyes. He sensed Lex overcame great obstacles in her lifetime to have made Easton a success in the high stakes fashion world.
“The textiles are vital to you?”
“My entire business relies on them.” She rested her body in the chair. She’d given up.
He stroked her fingers, admiring their softness, hoping she’d relax.
Her once strong grip felt frail and cold against his. Lex’s mind must’ve been preoccupied with many thoughts. Massimo couldn’t imagine. It was a brave test to witness her digest defeat, one he hadn’t expected. It made him uncomfortable.
Lex’s body spoke to him as her face darkened and hope vanished. Tired, she couldn’t continue, turning her torso to the side as a signal she didn’t wish for him to witness her eyes fill with tears. She kept her hand with his.
At first, he’d reached for her to console, not intending to make her cry. “Lex—”
When she glanced at him again, she’d recovered. “My company is all I have.” She squeezed his hand tight.
“Lex, I did not know. I had no idea.” Acquainted with her emotions to a high degree, Massimo felt empathy for Lex. Girasoli for many years existed as his nourishment, keeping his passions alive. Today, he needed more for his business, for his life.
“But you have zero intent on giving me my shipment.” Close to hyperventilating, her shoulders shook, as she gasped for air and mumbled, “Am I right?”
“Sì, I am afraid so. As stated earlier, this is business.” Bella, mi scusi.
Withdrawing her hand from his, she raised her right thumb to collect a fallen tear as she caught her breath. “Thank you for your time, Your Majesty.” Lex wrapped the pashmina tighter around her shoulders. “I’ll ring Goldbaum & Goldstein first thing in the morning.” She crossed her arms, likely not happy with having to go to a different manufacturer.
Massimo hadn’t heard about the Gold’s before. “Are they a new fabric supplier?” I haven’t met Signor Goldbaum or Signor Goldstein. Nice people to work with?”
“Very. Sarah Goldbaum and Hannah Goldstein have been friends with me since college.” Her eyes sparked a challenge he didn’t wish for. “At Columbia University I majored in Women’s Studies and they graduated in—International Law. They were in my sorority.”
“My lawyers! G and G represent Manhattan’s finest. They never lose a case.”
“Aaugh!” Without intention he stood, enraged. It was impossible to sit. Royal etiquette rule number one, titled Grace. His mother, Elisabetta Giada, Princess of Oro, taught him as a boy. Always walk away from nastiness—never stick around or react. Massimo threw his damask napkin over his plate. He couldn’t manage her meltdown, remain professional and be dignified at the same time. One minute she’d flirt, next second she’d cry, and then she’d threaten. He realized he may not be any better. “If you will mi scusi, dinner is over. Buona notte.”
“Good night to you too,” she echoed, dropping her head between her hands.
He marched away, unsure what else he could do for her. If he stayed, they’d rip one another to pieces. Her lawyers didn’t worry him. Girasoli contracted the best legal counsel money could buy. But would the courts see it his way or hers?
* * * * *
Lex sat at the table, stunned. What had happened? It’d taken every restraint she possessed not to reach over the table and strike the prince. She’d imagined doing it though, several times. How could anyone with such a handsome face be so coldhearted? Such a dickhead. She couldn’t turn this situation around.
The prince didn’t intend to budge. She’d underestimated him. But she couldn’t go home empty handed. She was convinced Birdie would down prescription painkillers with a liter of Tanqueray as if they were Good & Plenty’s. She’d be six feet under next to Eddie by Christmas.
A noise drew her attention.
She looked up to see a familiar face walk into the ballroom.
Roberto gave her a pitying look.
“Signorina Easton, shall I clear your plate?” he asked. “Clara mentioned you didn’t eat much. Dinner tasted unsatisfactory?”
“The food is fine,” she answered. The company is horrific.
He sighed and then asked, “May I help you with something?”
“No. Please give me a minute to collect myself.” She swallowed hard and could feel the tears she’d worked to hold back well up, streaming down her cheeks.
“Per favore don’t cry.” He reached in his pocket, pulled out a thin silk handkerchief, and sat down next to her.
Lex took the hanky. “Thank you.” She noticed the Tittoni monogram embroidered on the center. Its lettering scratched her sunburned cheeks as she patted her eyes dry.
“Prego, I don’t know your situation at all. But I learned today your father is the late Eddie Easton. If I may be as bold to ask—can’t his legacy help you with your enterprise?”
“Dad died two years ago.” She hesitated to share but at this point had nothing to lose. “He left me and Mom with nothing but gambling debts.”
“A huge Eddie fan, I saw your padre in concert, twice.” He sang, buzzing along to Eddie’s popular tunes. Lex realized it was to sweeten the sourness in the air.
She twisted her tissue in her lap. “The song you’re humming is my favorite from Dad’s fifth studio album.”
“Death’s Door?” Roberto asked.
“Knockin’ on Death’s Door. Dad’s glam metal ballad was produced as the lead soundtrack for an early Nineties slasher film. The track won a Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song.”
“I didn’t know.”
She laughed, thinking about her father’s money. His achievements and fame lived on, but his cash dried up. “The number did better than the movie. Can you imagine someone as famous as my father didn’t have a will? His scummy manager retained every song right. Such a hippie, a performer, but not a businessman.” She sipped her water to clear her throat. No sense in thinking about the past.
“Can’t you get the fabrics from somewhere else?” he asked.
“Anything else would be subpar. I’ll have to close the business.”
“Subpar may be better than nothing at all.” Roberto stood. “Now, let’s have Clara make you a fresh insalata verde and we’ll take it to your villa, where your housemaid will draw you a bath.” He held his hand out to help her up.
Lex rose and embraced him. She needed a hug, even from a complete stranger—a royal palace employee, no less. “Thank you for listening to me. This isn’t your problem. It’s not even the prince’s. It’s mine and mine alone.”
* * * * *
“Screw Girasoli!” she shouted out loud running down the beach. The sky glowed from the crescent moon. Waves crashed black shimmers on the shore. The wet sand squished under her feet as it kicked back on her sweats in small clumps. She didn’t care.
Lex took up jogging when she admitted Birdie in for rehab for the fourth time. Running eight miles a day, five days a week retained her sanity through her mom’s many attempts for sobriety. She worked off her frustration from the dinner.
Afterward, she tried to eat the salad Clara prepared, but couldn’t. Her anxiety returned, seeping through her pores in a cold sweat. At a quarter past ten, Lex dialed Vive’s direct line, calculating she was six hours behind her. She’d be deep in her day.
“Viveca Farnworth, speaking—whatcha debauchery?”
“Don’t be upset, please, Vive.” Lex defended herself, not allowing Vive to attack.
“Lex, love, I drank Veuve, ya know—champers for lunch. I’m gettin’ a mani-pedi combo by Mr. Kim Lee at my desk. I couldn’t be mad at you if you rode my boyfriend’s dick around Manhattan.” Vive giggled. She swished status quo at Debauchery Magazine.
“Vive—you don’t have a boyfriend.”
“Biiietch, please don’t ruin my midday buzz, okay,” she warned. Vive enjoyed her delusional life bubble, testifying ignorance kept her blissful. Viveland remained far, far, away from where everyone on Earth resided, called Park Avenue. “How’s Italy, honey bunny?”
“I’m on Isola di Girasoli. I met with Prince Tittoni tonight about my fabrics.”
“Mmm hmm,” Vive moaned. Her high-pitched panting increased. “Ohhhh Your Majesty. Ahhhh, princey poo.” When Vive finished her faux phone sex orgasm narrating how “juicylicious” Massimo must be on Ecstasy Island, she inquired, “Birdie mentioned Amelia Earhart is flying your Girasoli textile shipment over. She lost?”
“Hardy har har! And Jimmy Hoffa is brokering the delivery through customs.”
“You get Birdie’s jokes better than moi. Sorry to hear Girasoli and Easton aren’t strutting the catwalk together. Want Debauchery Magazine to run a slammer on princey poo ripping ’em to pieces?” Vive paused, waiting for an answer, then continued, “We could call the editorial “Prince of Poo,” an inside look at what a piece of shi—”
“No!” Lex interrupted her. A tabloid victim herself as a preteen, Lex didn’t dare provoke anyone to smear another’s reputation—even if warranted. “No thank you.” She appreciated her friend’s defenses, knowing Vive wasn’t serious about much in life. But gossip involving a royal Mediterranean prince may be her gospel.
Vive continued, “Do you remember, last year when Prada flew New York editors to Milan’s fashion week?”
“Uh huh,” Lex mumbled. She sat down on the villa’s oversized bed knowing she’d be in for another Viveca Farnworth tale.
“Prince Tittoni’s motley crew, including security guards, glamour girls hunk du jour men attended a few soirées.” Vive slurped more champagne perhaps, glug, glug. Another short pause and Vive cheered, “One second, Lex love.” Glug, glug, glug, glug.
“And?” Her cell phone bill was going to be maxed in roaming charges if she waited for Vive to down the next champagne bottle.
Vive burped. “Excusez moi.” She mumbled some gibberish to Mr. Kim Lee to buff her soles harder and cautioned, “Tittoni’s a loner—sticks to himself. Ignored everyone including the guests he arrived with, didn’t look at me once. Odd. You know what his disinterest in my beauty means—don’t cha?”
“Massimo isn’t gay, Vive. Please don’t start with your assumptions.”
“No…” Lex trolled her fruit fly mind and no straight man checked. Fudge
“We should set the prince up with Blake since he and his husband are on the outs. Is Massimo nicer than he looks? Blake’ll want ’em to bottom, if he’s a top—it won’t work.”
Lex wondered how Vive slept at night. She spoke a mile a minute. Being jacked up on carbonated sugar and a diet pill or three could cause jitteriness. “Massimo is not gay. And he’s not nice,” Lex sobbed. She thought she’d used up every tear at dinner, but a second self pitying chock constricted her throat. She let it rip.
“Sweets, what’s wrong? There, there, now. You’ll be home soon. Why are you crying?”
She explained everything from not having the fabric for the upcoming season, closing her company, and Girasoli’s new branded line launching to compete with hers.
Vive admitted, “Taddy’s gonna shit twenty four karat gold bricks on your cute face when she finds out.” Vive clacked a tsk,tsk,tsk sound, sending chills through Lex’s entire body. “She invested her life savings into Easton to get you and Birdie started.”
Lex untied her sneakers, feeling a desire to soak in the tub, facedown. Maybe she’d drown and wouldn’t have to tell Taddy after all. “I know—I’ll break the bad news to Taddy when I get home. I don’t know what else to do. The Easton brand is still worth something. Maybe Brill, Inc. can license off the name.”
“Do swimwear,” Vive suggested.
“Don’t care much for bikinis. I hate the sun.” She couldn’t imagine how, but remained confident Taddy would come up with a Plan B. She always did.
“You underestimate me and overrate Taddy. Jesus. You do realize what I do for a living?”
Get drunk and write stories about billionaires? “Sorry, Vive.” Their call, five minutes and counting, circulated to her favorite subject—Viveca Farnworth. It always did. Lex gave her props for holding out this long.