One Man's Princess
"An addictive series, full of heart and romance and endings that give a happy sigh."Emily March
New York Times Bestselling Author
The man she couldn't forget...
Beautiful, talented lingerie designer Lina Cornaro sits on the cusp of major success. After her fiery affair with tough Formula One driver Ivo Zanardi ended in heartbreak, she's learned to keep her focus on her career. Nothing could make her return to Ivo. Nothing, except the public revelation of her darkest secret: Lina is the illegitimate daughter of Sarcaccia's King Carlo, one of the most famous men in the world.
When paparazzi trap Lina outside the most important meeting of her career, Ivo arrives to rescue her from the horde. She has no choice but to escape on his arm. But can she trust her career to the driven, charismatic man who once left her devastated? Or is he racing for a new prize—her love?
Release date: October 19, 2017
Print pages: 278
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One Man's Princess
Lina Cornaro could—and for all she knew, did—talk lingerie in her sleep. Price points and profit margins. Fabric content. Sex appeal.
She was damned good at her job. However, she needed the three women and two men seated at the glass-topped conference table fifteen floors above New York’s Sixth Avenue to believe it as powerfully as she did. It’d become the most important thing in her life.
Lina circled the table and clicked to a screen that pictured Isola’s new table display. She kept her tone engaging. “We’ve all seen exclusive boutiques where only associates handle the merchandise or visited high-end stores where shoppers feel they’re under a microscope if they dare run their fingertips over a garment or read a price tag. At Isola, we take the opposite approach. Our displays invite shoppers not only to look, but to touch.”
She plucked a pair of lace panties with high-cut leg openings from the table, then gave the rich aquamarine fabric at the waistband a light tug to show its resiliency. The Mirabeau store managers leaned forward, which brought her a swell of reassurance. From the moment she’d started speaking, Lina suspected more than one listened to the cadence of her voice rather than the content of her presentation. Examined her gestures as she moved around the room. Discreetly studied her features. Attempted to determine what she had and hadn’t inherited from her biological father, as if it were proof of…something.
Then again, maybe none of them followed the European tabloids and her concerns were unfounded.
“When a woman feels the stretch of our lace panties, she’ll realize they’re strong enough to hold up to her daily activities, yet will lie softly against her skin without rolling or pinching. A man whose thumb glides over the lace of a bra cup crafted in our Italian factory will recognize the artistry of it. He’ll know it’s worthy of the woman whose body it graces.”
That drew smiles from the group, though not as many as when Lina made a similar presentation to a London retailer in January, shortly before her life was upended…first privately, and then publicly.
“Our work is beautiful to behold, but it’s the tactile experience that proves Isola is the perfect marriage of aesthetics and engineering, and that it’s excellent quality for the price. During next week’s launch event, the sales team at each of your stores should encourage shoppers to hold our lingerie. Allow them to experience Isola’s trifecta of style, comfort, and durability. To understand that while it appears delicate, it’s exceptionally strong. They’ll pull these pieces from their lingerie drawers day after day, knowing they can wear them with confidence in any situation. It’s what differentiates Isola from the competition and will make it a rousing success at your stores.”
She clicked to the final screen, closing her presentation by emphasizing the upward sales trend at her shop in Milan and early sales figures from the London retailer before taking questions.
Ten minutes later, having left the store managers with gift bags, Lina took the elevator to the ground floor. Alone at last, she allowed her smile to slip. The Mirabeau staff had been gracious, professional, and enthusiastic. No one mentioned the fact that, following her mother’s death, Lina had been publicly outed as the illegitimate daughter of Sarcaccia’s very popular—and very married—King Carlo. None of the administrative assistants or other staff gave her awkward looks or whispered as she’d walked by their desks.
She rolled her shoulders, suddenly aware of how much stress she’d carried in anticipation of today’s meeting.
Ever since the king’s press conference six weeks ago, when the monarch broadcast their relationship to the world, Lina had kept her head down and worked, determined to stay out of the public eye and let the royal family handle questions about the king’s scandalous affair. She’d kept her business humming, using her extensive To Do lists as a shield against the grief of losing her mother to a long, painful battle with liver disease. So far, that tactic had worked, at least as far as the public’s interest in her was concerned.
The elevator slowed to a stop. Lina straightened and resumed her professional demeanor. She’d take today as a sign to get over her paranoia. New celebrity scandals occurred daily. The world would eventually forget—or it simply wouldn’t care—that while he was a teenager, a famous king had an improper relationship with his private tutor and that he’d continued that relationship through the early months of marriage to his equally famous wife, and that Lina and her siblings were the result. If she kept on her current path, Lina would be defined by her professional accomplishments and her kindness toward others, rather than by a man she’d never met. Or, worse, by the nature of her mother’s long-ago relationship with that man.
And if she truly believed that, there was a bridge not far from her current location any New Yorker would be happy to sell to her.
She nodded to the security guard manning the lobby desk, tightened the belt on her camel-colored coat, then pushed through the revolving door and stepped into the chill, uncharacteristic in its bite for mid-June. Despite the penetrating wind and gloomy skies, pedestrians clogged the sidewalk, starting the weekend early. A man wearing a sandwich board stood near the curb, pushing cards touting a comedy show into the hands of skeptical tourists. The scent of an unseen hot dog cart teased Lina’s nose. A woman walked by holding a little girl’s hand while the girl licked white frosting from the top of a cupcake. Beyond the horde, taxis and bicycle messengers hummed along Sixth Avenue.
The scene instantly put Lina at ease. Manhattan was a world away from Lina’s home in Milan, but she loved it here. The noise, the lights, even the rumble of the subway beneath her feet as she passed over the sidewalk grates. She’d lived on cheap food in a tiny, overheated Chelsea flat with ramshackle furniture while attending design school here, but they’d been the most wonderful four years of her life. She’d worked hard and dreamed big.
Her forced smile turned to a full-fledged grin. After placing a limited selection of Isola lingerie with the London retailer, she’d been presented the opportunity to gain more attention for her line by hosting a reception at London Fashion Week in February. She’d blown it by withdrawing at the last minute. Not that she’d have made a different decision, given her situation at the time, but with this second chance—a contract for a trial run selling Isola merchandise in five locations of Mirabeau, New York’s most elegant department store—she planned to grab the brass ring and hold on tight. Maybe, someday, one of those billboards in Times Square would advertise Isola. When that happened, she just might stand in the middle of Times Square and open a bottle of champagne in celebration, crowds and traffic be damned, and toast her younger self.
A couple in their twenties passed close enough for Lina to overhear their analysis of a Broadway musical, giving her another dose of nostalgia. Tempting as it was to nab a last-minute single ticket to a show, her favorite New York indulgence, tonight Lina planned a luxurious soak in the claw-footed tub of her late mother’s condo. She’d earned it after the long flight from Milan, followed by this afternoon’s department store presentation. There wouldn’t be time for relaxation next week, when she was scheduled to visit each of the five Mirabeau locations for the launch. Then, on Thursday night, she’d thank all those who worked on Isola’s New York campaign with a cocktail reception at Cooper Hewitt, home of the Smithsonian Design Museum. She’d work from the condo on Friday, then fly to Milan on Saturday…and a flat that didn’t have a tub.
Once Lina and her brothers sold their mother’s condo, that piece of heaven would be lost forever. The theater could wait.
Lina pivoted in the direction of the subway entrance, keeping close to the building to avoid the crowd, but stopped short when a burly man wielding a massive camera blocked her path.
A feminine, upper-class British voice called from her right, “Ms. Cornaro, do you remain committed to appear at Mirabeau next week when your line makes its American debut?”
She hazarded a glance in the direction of the voice. A rail-thin redhead in a stylish navy coat repeated the question, then took a stutter-step forward when people knocked into her from behind. Within seconds, Lina was surrounded by reporters, each jockeying for position with microphones and cameras and shouted questions.
“When did you learn about your mother and King Carlo?”
Cameras clicked away. The photographer who first blocked her path moved so close she could touch his lens.
“Have you met the king? Do you have a relationship?”
“Does the king approve of your career?”
“Have you met your half-siblings? What have they said about your mother?”
“It’s been reported that Princess Sophia ordered lingerie from your Milan boutique last year. Can you confirm that?”
The last was asked in Sarcaccian-accented Italian. Lina had successfully avoided the European tabloids for weeks now, even going so far as to stay in a short-term rental in April when they’d surrounded her Milan flat for several days following the royal press conference. How had the gutter scum found her in New York?
Despite the fight-or-flight instinct that made her want to take action, she locked a polite expression in place, looped her handbag more securely on her arm, and sidestepped the burly cameraman. She refused to answer their questions, but she wouldn’t duck her head and run, either. Lina’s mother taught her the skills necessary to guard one’s privacy while enjoying a robust career, even if her mother’s motives in doing so hadn’t been pure.
“Excuse me.” She narrowed her gaze at the reporters standing behind the cameraman. None of them moved. Cameras clicked with the rapidity of machine gun fire. So many questions were shouted she couldn’t pick out which speakers asked what. Not that she cared. The words falsified and deplorable cutting through the din were enough to steel her resolve.
She stood taller, straightened her shoulders. “Please allow me to pass. I have an appointment.”
“You heard her. Move.”
The gravelly voice coming from behind her held an undisguised threat. The last—the only—time she’d heard that voice speak in that tone, it’d been directed at her. The specific words being, “Get out and leave me alone. Don’t ever come back.”
Those words had broken her heart.
Before Lina could look over her shoulder, a few of the reporters shifted. A strong, protective hand went to her lower back, propelling her through the gap.
“She has a bodyguard?” someone asked.
“No, that’s Ivo Zanardi.”
“The Formula One driver. The one who wrecked during preseason testing.” The hissed identification came from the reporter with the Sarcaccian accent. “Quick, get a shot.”
Once again, the reporters surged toward her.
“How do you know Lina?”
“Are you a fan of Isola, Ivo?”
“Do you plan to race at all this season? Will you rejoin Ferrari?”
One voice rose over the others. “Ivo, are you and Lina together?”
Lina caught her toe on the sidewalk and nearly tripped. The casual use of first names was bad enough, as if these strangers knew her socially. But with such personal questions…how deep into her background had these trolls scrounged? If they knew about her relationship with Ivo, why hadn’t it already been reported?
Maybe they didn’t know and were fishing.
“Don’t answer.” The warning came close to her ear. She couldn’t see Ivo, not without wrenching her neck, but she could feel his presence. She could even smell him. The scent of his skin was burned into her memory after cozy evenings spent watching movies on the sofa in her Milan flat and long nights making love in hotel rooms as he traveled throughout Europe to race.
And oh, that voice. The gritty timbre of Ivo’s voice captivated her the moment they’d met.
“Our relationship is private. If you don’t move, I’ll call the police and have you moved.”
“It’s a public sidewalk!”
Ivo extended an arm to split the crowd, then directed her toward the curb. The light changed at the end of the block, sending a rush of cars their direction. Ivo flagged a taxi and opened the door for her. Lina slid inside and started to give the driver the address to her mother’s condo, but Ivo slid in behind her, forcing her to the far side of the seat.
He gave an address a few blocks north. “Sorry for the short drive. I’ll tip well.”
The driver shrugged, then pulled away from the curb.
“If anyone follows, I’d be obliged if you’d lose them.” To Lina, he said, “Do you really have an appointment?”
“You told the reporters—”
At the next intersection, the driver slowed for a yellow light, then dashed through at the last second and made a quick left onto the next street, throwing Lina against the seat, then toward Ivo before she could plant her palm to steady herself. Midway up the block, the driver cut through a hotel’s valet tunnel to emerge on a one-way street heading the opposite direction.
The cabbie angled his head to acknowledge Ivo’s compliment, then drove to the address Ivo provided. Lina remained silent. Not only had he overridden her planned destination, she had so many questions, she wasn’t sure which to ask first. The last time she’d seen Ivo, in February, he’d been in bandages, in pain, and—when told he faced weeks, not days, in the hospital—as angry as an injured bull staring down a matador.
Ivo paid the driver and a doorman approached to open her door and help her from the cab. Lina didn’t move. Instead, she folded her arms and stated the obvious. “This is the Park Hyatt.”
“I’m staying here.”
“I’m staying at my mother’s condo.”
Ivo twisted in the seat, giving Lina her first full view of him. He was every bit as coolly intimidating as she remembered. He wore faded black jeans, a T-shirt the color of stainless steel, and a leather jacket that molded to his wiry torso as if it were custom-made. A day’s worth of stubble dotted his dark skin, which was out of character for him. Rather than make him appear tired or disheveled, it added to his air of danger.
He slid one arm along the back of the seat and gave her a long, assessing look before his flat, jet-black brows raised a notch. “You think they haven’t found her place?”
They hadn’t this morning. Then again, they hadn’t been outside Mirabeau when she’d arrived.
“I don’t know. Even if they have, it’s a private building with a keyed entry.” Reporters couldn’t touch her once she crossed the threshold.
His eyes bored holes in her. “Come inside. Let’s talk. Then you can do as you please.”
Her jaw tightened. She could do as she pleased anyway. She nearly pointed it out, but an uncharacteristic twitch of his hand against his denim-clad leg made her pause. Ivo was a lot of things; nervous had never been one of them. She pretended not to see, gave a curt nod, then allowed the doorman to assist her from the cab and followed Ivo through the lobby to the elevator.
They’d been together a little over two years, though most of their face-to-face time came during Ivo’s short winter off-season. During the other nine-plus months each year, she’d join him on occasion at his hotel on Grand Prix weekends. In rare instances, they’d even spend a weeknight together when he could break away from the grind of the circuit and she wasn’t traveling for her own career. It was a lot of time, if one ticked off months on the calendar, and yet very little. It was the reason they’d agreed to remain casual. Uncommitted. He’d hurt her that day in the hospital, but she’d allowed it by opening her heart when that wasn’t the plan.
He’d extricated her from a group of hungry paparazzi faster than she could’ve done on her own. It was reasonable to give him the benefit of the doubt.
Though—if she were honest with herself—she said yes to satisfy her own curiosity.
She said yes because she’d never refused an invitation from Ivo Zanardi.
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