Unconventional the manha.., p.2

Unconventional (The Manhattanites #4), page 2


Unconventional (The Manhattanites #4)

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  Money for us wasn’t a problem. When it came to living the luxury lifestyle—private jets, fast cars, fierce clothes, gourmet food—we had it all. Working for Girasoli Garment Company and the House of Tittoni had afforded us that much.

  “I love you both and would like nothing more than to share the rest of my life with you. We have a buono thing going.”

  “What better reason than for us to marry?” Determined, he got to his feet and then helped me up.

  Putting my arms around them, the three of us brought our foreheads together as one. This felt good, us embracing and talking about our future.

  Her long eyelashes fluttered. Avoiding eye contact, her attention cast on our feet.

  Our toes were covered in sand crystals. We’d been at the beach all day drinking Bellinis, making love.

  “Why do you two wanna screw this up with marriage?” Almost contemptuously, the “m” word came out of her mouth as she clenched her jaw.

  Oh, boy…

  Irritated, I shifted my weight from one foot to another as my mind spun with bewilderment. I knew she’d be resistant for how this would play out, but Rocco and I had the answers. All she had to do was try.

  Just say yes.

  In the past, Jemma had filled our ears with stories of how her parents had fought till her mother had dropped dead from a heart attack. Mr. and Mrs. Fereti’s marriage wasn’t anything to emulate. It’d caused Jemma to avoid confrontation and commitment over the years at all cost. As a result, she rarely got deep with us, instead focusing on her fashion designer career, hot sex, and her Manhattanite friends.

  “You’re cancer-free now. It’s time for us to get on with our lives,” I reminded, hoping she’d celebrate life and not fear it. For the past year, time had stood still for all three of us.

  We’d been with Jemma through every phase of her breast cancer, from her first diagnosis to her mastectomy, radiation, and reconstructive surgery. Each step of the way we’d been at her side, taking care of her. How could she not see “forever” with us? Surely, we saw our future with her.

  Baffled and starting to get nauseous over the fact she even questioned our proposal, a bitter taste came up in the back of my throat.

  We weren’t losing her. Were we?

  “I’m living my life with you two. That’s enough for me. We don’t need marriage to make our relationship any more official, Luigi. Weddings ruin everything.” Her mind seemed to whirl. She rubbed her temples for a minute before saying, “And we don’t need to have babies either, Rocco.”

  I glanced over at him, his almond-shaped eyes glistening. He was the emotional one, so I comforted. “Don’t…cry.” Wiping my cheek with my thumb I then kissed him.

  His body trembled, leaning into me. All muscle, Rocco appeared strong and firm on the outside, like pasta cooked al dente, but on the inside, he was sensorial. Unlike any man I’d ever met. Don’t get me wrong. He’s not weak, just hypersensitive.

  “What’s gotten into you two?” The tone in her voice set alarm bells ringing as she became increasingly uneasy.

  Surprised by her reply, I didn’t have an answer.

  She continued. “I knew this vacation would bring us closer together, but we’re here to relax and unwind. Not get stressed out about our future. A piece of paper saying we love one another means nothing about how we’re to spend the rest of our lives.”

  “How can you say that?” he asked.

  “What matters is how we treat each other while in this relationship.” With a toss of her head, she tried to laugh the whole topic off, that famous supermodel smile on her face.

  Regardless, I could see right through her. It was as if someone else stood before us.

  Jemma was terrified of commitment.

  I’d seen her behave as such before. Not often.

  It was the same face she had the day she’d confessed to being in love with Rocco. Regardless, I accepted him. I’d not only grown to love him, but in time became madly in love with him, too. There would never be another man for me other than Rocco. I wasn’t gay when I’d met him.

  Merda, at times I don’t think I’m even a bisexual, because I don’t look at other guys. Rocco is the only man who turns me on. However, I guess that’s why one calls me “bi” although I’m not fond of that term. I hate any sexual orientation labels, such as homo, hetero, bi, etc.

  I’m a man who loves a woman.

  I’m a man who also loves another man.

  That’s all that matters to me!

  It was also the same face she had when the doctor had told her she had cancer.

  We’d detected it early. Rocco had found the lump just under the lower part of her breast as we’d been giving her a massage that night. He was the one who’d demanded she go see a doctor. I didn’t know where we’d be without him.

  She’d beaten cancer. Her will to live, and the early diagnosis, had given her a good chance for survival. Jemma Fereti is the strongest woman I know. An original. There’s no one like her.

  Words… I didn’t have any. I struggled for what to say next. Uncertainty aroused deep inside me, which was a first. Usually I was in control, knew what I want, and got it, too. But right then? Nothing appeared to be working in my favor.

  “Dolce, Luigi and I are serious.” Rocco’s voice rose. Arching his back, he continued, “He’s going to ask you one more time. Give us your answer, per favore.”

  A sense of hope made me focus as I repeated, “Will you marry us?”

  In silence, we waited.

  Over the cliff, the wind blew in from the ocean upon us. Jemma’s black hair had been growing back since her therapy, and it covered her eyes. Rocco bit his nails faster the longer he couldn’t see her face.

  Her chin turned up a bit, causing the sun to cast a halo over her. Since the day we’d met, she’d been our angel, our white light for happiness.

  Today, will all that change?

  Every fiber of my body tensed, and I hated the feeling. Usually I was a confident man.

  “No…I can’t…I won’t. There’s no need or room for marriage in our lives.” She placed the palm of her delicate hand on Rocco’s broad chest. “If you want children so badly, you have my permission to have another woman carry your baby. Regardless, I don’t think I have much left in me to give to a child, not after what I’ve been through. Being a mom takes a lot of energy. You’ll need to raise that child on your own or with Luigi.”

  His tan skin illuminated with tears, flooding his face. He pushed his wavy, black hair behind his ears.

  My heart broke. I hated to see him suffer.

  “And Luigi, if you want to wed, take Rocco’s hand in marriage. The two of you can sign the papers. Nevertheless, my darling, it’s not going to change anything between us. I love what we have, but if matrimony is what you want—some lifetime guarantee—I won’t stand in your way of happiness.”

  Taking in what she’d said, I dipped my chin in acknowledgment but gave no reply.

  “I’m sorry, amore,” she mouthed in my direction.

  Breathe. Just breathe.

  I couldn’t.

  Her refusal was as if I was hearing the doctor say she’d had breast cancer all over again.

  Out of the corner of my eyes, I only saw black. A sense of grave hopelessness washed over my optimistic spirit. I didn’t think it was possible to feel a chill in the warm sun, on that beautiful island, and surrounded by evergreen. Nevertheless, I did. As if we were in the Arctic, snow falling upon us.

  “Our happiness is with you, Jemma.” In a numb voice, I reminded her how important she was to us, and then kissed her on the lips.

  When her mouth broke from mine, she whispered in my ear, “Can we go on…with what we have?”

  I pulled back and asked, “What do you mean?”

  “The three of us, loving each other. Even if that means you won’t be calling me your wife or the mother of your children?”

  Alarmingly, my pulse skittered. Clenching my jaw, I realized we were making
compromises about our relationship. My eyes snapped shut, trying to block out the truth that I wanted marriage, to see Rocco be a padre. Lying through my teeth, I answered, “Sì, I’m sure.”

  I don’t have the heart to call it quits. Not now. Probably not tomorrow, either.

  “Grazie, I love you.” Her slender hand slinked behind the back of my neck as relief graced her lips in the expression of a smile.

  Chest rising, inhaling through my mouth, I attempted to return the gesture but couldn’t.

  Sad. Pissed off. This wasn’t how love was supposed to go. Was it? However, I couldn’t see my life without her.

  Together, we faced Rocco.

  His nose shiny, red.

  “Bello, can’t we just keep things the way they are?” she asked.

  “Give me some time to process this—” He turned into himself. “I don’t know what I want. But I do know I don’t want to be without you two.”

  A yearning of wanting it to work, more than ever, rocketed through me. Rocco was so vulnerable. He needed us, and we needed him. Didn’t Jemma see how we couldn’t live without her?

  As we watched Jemma head back to our private oasis on the beach, I slipped the diamond into my front pocket. The ring would never adorn dolce’s finger.

  The pain in my heart, as if I’d just been stabbed, made it hard to even look at Rocco. I should’ve stood my ground. But who gives their girlfriend an ultimatum when proposing marriage? I didn’t expect it to turn out like this. Such a disaster.

  The hand he’d been nervously biting started to bleed. I reached for it, giving him a squeeze.

  “One day this isn’t going to be enough for me. I want more for my life. I deserve it, too,” he said and hugged me.

  “I know you do, bello,” I muttered. “I do, too.”

  We’d just said our piece to move on in our own life directions. Maybe not that day. Maybe not the next. However, someday, the notion of not getting married and having children with Jemma might destroy Rocco and me if we stayed in the relationship for too long.

  Damn Vive Farnworth! My career is O-V-E-R


  Present Day

  The Girasoli Garment Company Corporate Office, Milan, Italy


  On a scale from one to ten. One being…craporama. Ten being…the effin’ fudgesicle worst day of my cat-litter stinking life. That day, the day after my couture fashion collection had hit the European runways, I, Jemma Fereti, former runway supermodel turned fashion designer, was having an eleven.

  Yup. That’s way worse than smelling cat pee. Trust me.

  Damn that Vive Farnworth at Debauchery magazine and her nasty ass editorial.

  With my cell in my hand, I glared at the article on the screen so hard I thought my corneas would surely catch on fire. Or worse, my eyeballs might just pop out of their socket and soar across the room as two Ping-Pong balls, bouncing off Lex, Taddy, and Blake, who stood before me.

  Vive’s headline read, “Jemma Couture’s NEW Fashion Collection is Shit.”

  That was exactly what it said. Shit. Clear as the Tuscan sun and to the point. I plus fashion equals…poop.

  My fashion collection that season which I’d so fondly titled Death Star Galactica was a failure.

  This was bad. So very bad.

  Almost as horrific as the time I’d learned my career as Europe’s highest paid runway model was over. Dead in the water. Overnight, I’d become…unbookable. Why? Cause I’d turned thirty-frickin’-five. The fashion industry was ruthless. Hence why that afternoon I was freaking the fudge out.

  Almost as bad as the time my madre had passed away and I’d told my padre at the funeral that I was in a poly relationship with two of the most wonderful men on the planet.

  I’d thought he’d be happy for me. Didn’t he want to see my needs were being taken care of? That I was A-Okay.

  Umm. No!

  Giving an ultimatum, he’d argued, “I didn’t spend over a million dollars, put you in Milano’s best schools, and raise you to be a signora to have you turn into the laughingstock of Italy. You’re not a whore. Either they go or I do.”

  Cool as gelato, I’d kept calm, but had eventually lost my patience and declared, “Padre, I didn’t survive a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery in my thirties to have you tell me how to live my friggin’ life. Arrivederci.”

  The Big C and little ta-ta was what I had. But the Big C and little ta-ta isn’t who I am. No fucking way, my darlings. I refuse to let it define me. I’m a fighter. I’m a survivor.

  Regardless, my heart broke that day my padre had protested my relationship. He’d never understand, so we hadn’t talked since. Did I miss him? Sì. But I had to live my life by my rules, not his. Maybe I was selfish. After my diagnosis and treatment, I realized life goes by in a blink, and it’s too short to not do as you please. And I am doing exactly that.

  Which leads me to the third worst moment of my so-called fabulous life. I already told ‘ya what it was…

  That day was almost as scary as the time the doctor had said, “Jemma, you have breast cancer.” Mentally, I’d never recovered from the mastectomy. Physically, Milan’s top plastic surgeon had reconstructed my breasts after I’d kicked the Big C in the ass. To be honest, they looked better than they did before the diagnosis. Implants. Never thought I’d have two artificial silicone pillows put in me, but damn, they look fucking fabulous.

  I have been cancer-free for the two years. Knock on wood. My breasts seem and sometimes feel real, but having mine removed wasn’t just a shock to my system. Cancer had destroyed my sense of self. My boyfriends don’t see the fear I have: that it’ll come back, that one day I could get sick again. I wouldn’t survive the next time around, I already knew it. More about that later. Much later. I need to keep my mind on work.

  One would think after having their father disown them, experiencing the career highs and lows I have, and battling breast cancer I wouldn’t get that stressed out—not anymore. After all, this is Death Star Galactica. Only fashion, not world peace. Regardless, I was indeed stressed.

  Sì, it was the fourth worst day of my life. For sure.

  I stood in front of my colleague’s desk, Lex Easton. The day before, she’d flown in from Manhattan to help me with the fashion show.

  “This is…horrible.” Slouched over the keyboard, she glared at the local newspaper and shrieked for the umpteenth time, “Horrible!”

  Oh, all right. I should be honest and state it wasn’t only Debauchery magazine which had slammed my latest work. No, my darlings! How about the Milano News, New York Times, London Herald, and Paris Tribune to boot. Pretty much every blog, newspaper, magazine, and TV station from New York to Timbuktu had ripped my latest creations to pieces. I’m ruined. Ruined, I tell you.

  “Say something!” I shouted around the room at everyone, resting my eyes upon Taddy Brill.

  Strikingly gorgeous. Think Rita Hayworth. Unusually tall. The woman radiates beauty even during moments of high client drama, such as this one. Figures. That’s why she works in public relations.

  Taddy owns the PR firm the Girasoli Garment Company retains to promote our brands, Easton Essentials and Jemma Couture. In hopes of saving me from the catastrophe, she’d jetted in from New York after the Milan show tanked with her business partner, Blake Morgan. Miracles do happen, so per favore, God, I for sure need one.

  “Give me a minute. I’m...thinking.”

  She wouldn’t even make eye contact with me.

  You know it’s bad when your own publicist can’t even stand the sight of you. I’d love to curl up into a ball right now, stuff my face with a fist full of Mint Milano cookies, and die. Just die, I tell you.

  She hid behind her thick, wavy, gorgeous red hair, and picked at her long acrylic nails. I wanted to shake her like a piggybank but instead of coins falling out, I’d be loaded with ideas on how to fix my fashion line.

  “Tsk. Tsk.” Blake, Taddy’s cohort, stood next to her. He kept making th
is annoying noise, shaming me with his beautiful lips as if I were a poodle who’d just taken a whiz on the carpeting. I was tempted to smack his cute face.

  I couldn’t take it anymore. The silence was choking me, so I had to ask.

  “Are you going to fire me?”

  Air caught in my throat the second that question left my mouth. In fear my legs would buckle, I leaned against the edge of Lex’s desk and crossed my arms. I was either going to black out or vomit. Hopefully not pass out in my own vile. God, that would suck.

  Girl, brace yourself.

  While I waited for Lex’s reply, the room started to spin and my peripheral vision blurred. I could already hear her saying, “Fuck yes, you stupid cow.”

  The woman has a major potty mouth, FYI.

  Without notice, Lex inhaled so loudly, I thought her nostrils might snort up the ivory damask wallpaper decorating the office. Then she said, “If you weren’t my hubbies life-long friend, a woman I respected, and cared for as family…then yes, Jemma, I’d have no choice but to terminate your role as the lead designer on Jemma Couture.”

  “On the very label I created?”

  She nodded. “If Perry Ellis can fire Marc Jacobs for his grunge collection, we can definitely terminate you over Death Star Galactica.”

  “Jil Sander has left her own line three times already,” Blake added.

  “That’s by her own accord,” I clarified, wondering if she’d been pushed out of her own company. Sure, I’d heard of it happening in our industry. But to me? I mean really!

  This was complete and utter malarkey. I called bullshit.

  Jemma Couture had been a huge hit when it launched a few years back. It had all started on a scandal: a see-through, nude dress bedazzled in thousands of Swarovski crystals which Lex had worn the night she got caught screwing Prince Massimo by paparazzi. That dress and those images had launched her as a fashion icon and me as the designer who’d created it.

  Gowns start at around ten thousand dollars. We’ve dressed the First Lady of the United States as well as Meryl, Julia, and many other starlets for the Academy Awards. Using only the best Italian fabrics was our trademark. That and sexy, revealing silhouettes. We were hot.

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