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Breathless In Love (The Maverick Billionaires #1)(9)

By:Bella Andre & Jennifer Skully

“Tell me about you, Will.”

A muscle jumped in his jaw right before he gave her a crooked smile. “My life is already out there on the Internet.”

But all the Internet said was that he was a self-made man from Chicago who’d dated several gorgeous models and actresses. She also knew that he was part of a consortium called The Maverick Group, whose members were all self-made men like him.

Everything else about Will Franconi—the man, not the billionaire—was a mystery. One that she couldn’t help but want to solve.

And yet, at the same time, she knew she shouldn’t let herself get invested in him. They weren’t going to fall madly in love, get married, and live happily ever after—it was just a drive and dinner, after all. Not the first night of the rest of their lives together.

As if by design, before she could ask anything more, he pulled into a parking lot and said, “We’re here.”

She was pleased to see that the restaurant looked homey, a place she’d be comfortable in, rather than a flashy see-and-be-seen kind of place. The small yard of the yellow Victorian house with a wraparound porch and dormer windows was filled with flowering bushes and a carved wood sign that read Ristorante Cannelli.

Will got out, but Harper didn’t wait for him to come around and open her door. Not that she minded men holding doors for her, but it seemed odd to sit there waiting for it. Seeing that she’d taken care of herself, he retrieved something from the backseat, then offered her his arm like a gentleman as they crossed the gravel lot.

Had he learned his manners from his mother? Or maybe he’d modeled them after his father? Yet again, she found herself wanting to know the answers despite herself.

“Mama Cannelli makes a duck ravioli to die for.” He kissed his fingers in a very Italian gesture.

A young hostess greeted them as they entered. She was obviously of Italian descent, with long dark hair, dark eyes, and a full hourglass figure. “Mr. Franconi, Mama will be so happy to see you. We’ve held your special table.”

“Thank you, Katerina.” Harper shouldn’t have cared that he didn’t react to the other woman’s beauty. But she couldn’t help but be pleased that he only seemed to have eyes for her tonight. “Please tell Mama Cannelli I have a surprise for her.” Will held up the tin he’d taken from the backseat.

The house hadn’t been gutted to make a large dining room. Instead, tables with red-checked cloths had been set up in each of the rooms, the formal dining room to the left and the front parlor to the right. A big picture mirror over the fireplace reflected the patrons. Candles in glass jars and small pots of flowers gave the room a homey touch. Harper wasn’t overdressed nor was Will underdressed.

It wasn’t what she’d expected at all. No show, no flash. No private jets or hot air balloons.

And she loved it.

She also loved the tang of tomato sauce, garlic, and spices that trailed behind them as Katerina led the way upstairs and along the landing. Will’s special table was by the window overlooking a back garden awash in azaleas and hydrangeas.

Katerina laid down the menus as Will pulled out Harper’s chair. “Your usual drink, Mr. Franconi?”


“And for the lady?”

“A Riesling would be lovely if you have it.”

The girl left, and Will set the tin on the table as he sat. Harper could see only the back label, the print too small to read.

“This place looks fabulous.” Harper expected that they’d be fawned over, the center of attention. But Will was treated just like any other diner in the room.

“Great food. Good price.” Will unrolled his utensils from the napkin. “I’m a big believer in value.”

“Is that what you do? In your business, I mean. Give people value?”

“I give them what they want. I pay attention to current fads, but I’ve always had an eye for the good stuff. Something exclusive and expensive. The value is in how badly people want something unique. And that’s all in the perception.”

Glad that he didn’t seem to mind talking about his business, at the very least, she asked, “Like what?”

“Some people will pay anything to be able to say something is one of a kind, so that they’ve got bragging rights. They don’t want to walk into a store and buy it or get it on the Internet. It’s designer couture. Like an award-winning Japanese single malt whiskey of which only fifty bottles were produced. Or a Turkish rug that took two years to weave. My customer is happy to pay for that one-of-a-kind perceived value, and then I pass it on to the artisan and make my profit at the same time.” He spread his hands. “Everyone’s happy.”

It couldn’t be standard business practice to share the wealth with the people who did the actual labor, but she already knew from her time in his garage with Jeremy that Will wasn’t typical. Not when most rich men would have tossed Jeremy’s letter in the trash—or treated him like there was something wrong with him.

Still, she didn’t entirely understand. “What kind of people would pay so much?”

“The kind of people who have more money than they can possibly spend.”

He’d compared luxury goods to designer couture, the fifty-thousand-dollar designer dresses celebrities wore to the Oscars. But the exorbitant amounts were beyond her.

Just like he was beyond her.

Harper had a perfectly good sense of self-worth, and yet she wasn’t going to lie to herself and say that everything about Will’s world didn’t make her head spin. She couldn’t imagine living a life like his.

“Do you regularly travel to Japan and Turkey?” She’d never been outside the U.S. She’d had dreams, of course, but after her parents died, it wasn’t a luxury she could afford. Not yet, anyway, though she was saving up. One day she and Jeremy would see all the places she’d read about curled up on the couch at night.

“It’s one of the perks of what I do.” Smile crinkles appeared at the corners of his eyes.

“And do you have any brothers or sisters?”

“No.” The crinkles disappeared. His face shut down. The muscle in his jaw jumped again. “Not by blood, anyway.”

Clearly, he was far more comfortable talking about his business than he was about anything personal. And she hated that she’d said something that had clearly prodded old wounds, especially when she knew how difficult it was to have to tell people the hard stuff over and over again.

Fortunately, just then a woman burst through the doorway, chattering in Italian to the wait staff. She swished through the tables, a tray balanced on her hand with Harper’s wine and a frosty mug of beer for Will.

“Mr. Franconi.” She set down both drinks with a flourish.

“Mama Cannelli.” Will rose to hug her.

She was the stereotypical Italian mother from the movies, with a round face, round body, and dark hair sprinkled with strands of silver. Her dress was something out of the 1950s, protected with a black apron.

“This is my friend Harper.”

Mama Cannelli beamed. “Very nice, very pretty,” she said in melodious, Italian-laced English. “I hope you don’t eat like a bird.”

“I very much enjoy eating good food,” Harper said with a smile. “Will recommended the ravioli.”

The woman’s entire face smiled—her forehead, her laugh lines, her mouth, even her dimpled chin. “Oh, he loves that duck.”

“I certainly do. And I brought you a present, Mama.” Will held out the tin.

“You don’t need to bring me presents whenever you dine with us. All you have to do is enjoy our food.” But she took the round tin in her hand, dipping into her apron pocket for a pair of reading glasses. “Mio Dio. I cannot accept. This is far too much.”

He touched her hand. “It’s a gift. I have an entire shipment. One small tin is nothing.”

“It’s a pound.” Her voice rose. “A fortune.”

“Why don’t you make us a special hors d’oeuvre with it? Make some for yourself, too, and then save the rest for your very special customers.”

What was in the tin? Harper still couldn’t read the label.

“Please?” Will said.

“You’re a terrible one.” Mama Cannelli turned to Harper, her eyes sparkling. “You watch out for this one. He’s a charmer. He gets his way with everyone.” She turned back to Will and gave him a kiss on the cheek, one that clearly pleased him to no end. “Grazie, Mr. Franconi. It demands a simple preparation so as not to overwhelm the flavor. I will return shortly with the delicious treat.”

“I’m dying to know,” Harper asked after Mama had left them. “What was that?”

“It’s a surprise for you, too.”

She shot him a mock glare at keeping the mystery spinning out—something he was very good at—as the waiter arrived, introducing himself as Antonio. The Cannellis were friendly with Will, and he was very polite and considerate. No cocky finger-snapping. Maybe she’d seen too much TV, where rich people treated the help like second-class citizens who were not even worth a thank-you.

But Will wasn’t like that. At least, as far as she could tell. Because as they talked over their wine and beer—a little more about his cars, about the amazing weather they’d been having, about some of her best and worst clients over the years—he managed not to say much about himself at all.