‘Yes, it’s at nine o’clock.’ Lily pushed herself up into a sitting position on the sofa. She was so grateful to her friend for letting her stay since Vito had thrown her out, but this sofa wasn’t exactly the most comfortable place she’d ever slept.
‘Oh dear, you look awful,’ Anna said. ‘I thought morning sickness was only supposed to last the first few months.’
‘So did I.’ Lily moved and breathed slowly in an attempt to keep her stomach calm.
‘Here,’ Anna said, placing a glass of milk on the coffee table. ‘Good luck this morning,’ she added, already halfway to the front door.
Lily picked up the milk and took a careful sip. It was cool and comforting, and within a couple of minutes she felt her stomach start to settle enough for her to manage a quick shower and get ready for work. Thank goodness for Anna, who’d remembered one of her colleagues talking about how milk had worked wonders for the nausea she’d suffered from during pregnancy.
Forty-five minutes later Lily climbed out of a black cab she could ill afford, and hesitated on the wide London pavement, staring up at the imposing steel-and-glass— building that was the home of L&G Enterprises. It was a subsidiary of the Salvatore empire, and a menacing shiver ran down her spine at the thought that Vito might be inside. But if she’d really thought, even for a moment, that there was any chance of him being anywhere near, she would never have agreed to make the presentation today.
She took a deep breath, gripped her heavy briefcase tightly, and walked into the building. A long blonde coil of her curly hair was bouncing in front of her eyes, so she tucked it back forcefully behind her ear. She’d been so late that there hadn’t been time to straighten and style her hair properly. She’d settled for pulling it back tightly into a twist at the nape of her neck, but it was already showing signs of breaking free.
It was important she did well this morning. So far she hadn’t managed to find the permanent job she desperately— needed. But, if luck was on her side today, this could be the break she needed. She’d approached her old boss at the computer-software company she’d been working for when she’d met Vito, and as a personal favour he’d been prepared to offer her a chance. If she could sell his company’s web-conferencing system to L&G Enterprises, he’d give her a commission and find her a permanent job.
‘But didn’t Suzy Smith set up the pitch?’ Lily had asked, thinking of the flamboyant brunette who’d willingly stepped into her shoes when she’d handed in her notice so that she could move to Venice to be with Vito.
‘She did,’ Mike, her old boss, had conceded. ‘But honestly, Lily, she won’t be able to cut it. L&G are a notoriously— hard sell. Trust me, Suzy will be glad to hand this one over to you—she even tried to persuade me to take it on.’
‘Why don’t you?’ Lily had smiled wryly, realising she was halfway to talking herself out of this job opportunity.
‘Because you’re better,’ Mike had said truthfully. He might be a computer genius, and was making a success of his small business, but sales spiel was not his greatest strength. ‘You know your stuff,’ he’d continued, pulling out all the necessary files and information for the presentation. ‘And you won’t let those stuck-up executives throw you off your stride.’
And now here she was, walking into a company owned by Vito Salvatore—the man who had thrown her out onto the streets of Venice like a piece of trash because she’d made the mistake of accidentally getting pregnant.
Six long weeks had passed since that awful day in March, but Lily was still in shock over the way he had treated her. Although at the time she’d hardly dared to believe her luck at being with such a wonderful man, she really had thought everything was going well with him. Until she’d discovered in the most appalling way that he wasn’t really so wonderful—otherwise how could he have tossed her aside right when she’d needed his support?
With a determined effort she pushed memories of Vito and the way he had treated her to the back of her mind. Focussing her thoughts on the task in hand, she walked briskly up to Reception, and gave her name and the name of the company she represented. That was the only way she’d got through the last six weeks—by refusing to think about the brutal way Vito had betrayed her and their unborn child She had no choice.
She had to keep it together because she needed to find a job. Then she could make a home for herself and the baby.
‘We’ve been expecting you.’ The receptionist spoke without smiling, and handed Lily a visitor’s badge. ‘Samuel will escort you up to the meeting room.’
‘Thank you.’ Lily smiled brightly and pinned the badge onto the jacket of her ivory linen-suit. Then she glanced round to see a sullen-faced young man she presumed was Samuel walking across the lobby towards her.
He gave no sign of wanting to engage in small talk, so she followed him silently to the elevator and up to the executive floor, where he showed her to the room that had been booked for her presentation.
Vito had described L&G Enterprises to her as one of his smaller business interests, but there was nothing small about the glass-walled executive meeting-room that she found herself in. This certainly wasn’t going to be a cosy pitch, she thought, looking at a vast smoked-glass— table surrounded by black-leather chairs.
She had just finished setting up when she heard a voice behind her.
‘Ms Smith, I assume?’
Lily plastered a bright smile on her face and spun round to see a short, balding man dressed in a dark suit. She recognised him from his photograph on the company website—he was the head of Corporate Communications.
‘It’s Lily Chase, actually,’ she said, holding out her hand to him. ‘I’m very pleased to meet you, Mr D’Ambrosio.’
‘Decided to send in the big guns, did they?’ D’Ambrosio asked. He let his beady eyes slide over her in assessment, and held onto her hand for far too long.
‘You could say that.’ Lily smiled. One of the most important— rules in sales was always to appear bursting with confidence, even if it sometimes went against the grain. She retrieved her hand and resisted the urge to rub it vigorously on her straight skirt. ‘L&G Enterprises is potentially a very important customer, and it was felt that I have the necessary experience to explain our product fully.’
‘Hmm.’ D’Ambrosio looked unimpressed. ‘Let’s get started,’ he said, sitting down at the immense glass table as another group of suited people came in. One of them, a woman wearing scarily high heels, was talking on her mobile phone in a loud, insistent voice. Another, a young man in his twenties, sat down, opened his laptop and started scrolling through his emails.
Lily looked at the assembled executives, wondering if she should let the woman finish her phone call before she started. They were an arrogant bunch, and she’d long since learned not to expect much common courtesy from this type of person—if she didn’t catch their attention quickly, it wouldn’t be long before they were all talking on their mobile phones or looking at their laptops.
‘What are you waiting for?’ D’Ambrosio barked. ‘We haven’t got all day.’
Lily straightened her shoulders, smiled brightly, and started her pitch.
Vito Salvatore strode through the building in a thunderous— mood. He couldn’t get his recent visit to his grandfather— out of his mind.
Giovanni Salvatore had always been such a force in his life—a formidable head of the family, an important role model and, most importantly, a dependable father figure when Vito’s parents had died in an accident.
But now he was a sick old man, clinging tenaciously to the last months of his life.
‘Make me happy before I die, Vito,’ Giovanni had said.
‘Nonno, you know I would do anything for you.’ Vito had sat beside him and had taken his grandfather’s frail hand in his own. It shocked him to feel the weakness of his grip, feel the constant tremor in his fingers.
‘Let me know my name will continue.’
Vito had squeezed his grandfather’s hand in reassurance,— but he hadn’t been able to speak. He’d known what was being asked of him—but how could he promise something that was never going to happen?
‘You’re thirty-two years old. It’s time to settle down,’ Giovanni had urged, fixing him with a surprisingly sharp stare. ‘You run through women like there’s no tomorrow, but you need to stop and think about the future. My days are numbered. Before I die I want to know my great-grandchild is on the way.’
Vito had stood up and turned to look down out of the high-arched window at the many boats on the Grand Canal below. His grandfather was a stubborn old dog. Even as his health declined he’d refused to leave the baroque palazzo in one of the busiest parts of Venice.
It had been his home for more than seventy-five years, and he’d declared the constant noise of tourist and business traffic beneath his windows didn’t bother him—what would finish him off would be putting him out to pasture in one of the family’s rural estates on the Veneto plain. And in truth Vito liked having him in the city where he could oversee the care he was receiving.