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Unless Matteo De Campo was mistaken, this conversation with his brother had all the hallmarks of a classic intervention.
It looked like it with Riccardo staring him down like a Spanish bullfighter with his eye on the unruly target. It sounded like it from his cautionary, bordering-on-aggressive tone. And it certainly felt like it with the De Campo CEO's displeasure licking over his skin like a flame.
If the truth be known, it had always been that way. They were like night and day, he and his brother. Where Riccardo was dark and intense and bulldozed his way through life, Matteo preferred the subtle approach. Both in business and in bed. You could catch more flies with honey. Persuade more effectively with a sophisticated argument than a head-on tackle.
Entice a woman into bed with a carefully timed observation that showed you had been listening to her over that bottle of Chianti.
He brought his gaze back to his brother's dark face. From the looks of it, Riccardo thought he was doing a bit too much of that these days.
Flicking an imaginary speck of dust off his suit, he lounged back against the floor-to-ceiling windows of his brother's Wall Street office and cocked a brow. "So what you're saying is your behavior was perfectly acceptable, but mine is not?"
"No," Riccardo emitted coolly. "What I'm saying is I don't know what in Cristo's name is wrong with you. You're treating the women of this planet like they're your own personal wrecking yard."
Matteo shrugged. "Maybe I've decided your way is the better way."
Riccardo shot him an amused look. "You forget I'm a reformed man. Happily married and loving it."
"Only because you met a goddess who's willing to put up with you," he muttered, digging his hands in his pockets and giving his head a restless shake. "Did you really ask me here to discuss my love life, Ric? Somehow I think you're much too busy for that."
"You're the vice president of sales and marketing for De Campo, Matty. Your love life is my business when it starts disrupting things around here."
"And how," Matteo drawled, "do you figure it's doing that?"
"Your antics in the tabloids are making it impossible for you or anyone else in this company to concentrate. Alex is tired of doing damage control, and frankly, I don't blame her."
Ebbene, so that stung. Matteo liked his sister-in-law. Didn't like the thought of making more work for her when she already worked far too much. But he was too irritated by his brother's rebuke not to strike back. "If I made the cover every week for the rest of the year I still wouldn't beat your record."
"Si, but I'm a better multitasker," Riccardo taunted.
Matteo stiffened, straightening away from the windows and eating up the distance between him and his brother with long furious strides. "I am making a mockery of my predecessor's numbers."
"Exactly why I want you to straighten yourself out. Think what you can do with a clear head."
Matteo could have told Riccardo he was definitely planning on doing that. That he'd sworn off women like an alcoholic swears off drink, potentially for the rest of his life given his recent spat of disastrous assignations. But he liked to yank Riccardo's chain as much as his brother liked to yank his. "What are you going to do if I don't?" he queried, leveling his gaze on his brother's angular, unforgiving face. "Punish me? Send me off to sell wine to the devout?"
Riccardo's coal-black eyes flashed. "As much as I would dearly love to have you out of the picture right now, I need you. And I think you need a challenge. Badly."
Matteo couldn't deny the truth of that statement. He'd almost doubled sales as head of De Campo's European operations. Was killing it in his new role. But his brother continued to handcuff him, as if he was afraid to unleash him.
He sank his fingers into the knot of his tie and yanked it loose. "You don't trust me."
"I wouldn't have given you the job if I didn't trust you."
"Then why the hand-holding?"
His brother's gaze darkened. "You've been knee-jerk in the extreme the last six months, Matty. You're like a cowboy with his guns drawn at all times."
"I'm hungry," Matteo growled. "Give me something to sink my teeth into and you will have my complete and utter focus."
"Exactly my thinking." Riccardo plucked a magazine from the surface of his immaculate desk and held it up. "Warren Davis just bought the Luxe Hotel chain."
Matteo nodded. The purchase by the world's third richest man, an investment genius revered around the world, had made headlines a few weeks back. The confirmation of a deal that had been in the works for months. "I looked into it a while ago," he told Riccardo. "Patreus has it locked up for another three years."
"Not any more they don't." Riccardo tossed the magazine on his desk. "Davis is reevaluating all suppliers."
He frowned. "How do you know that?"
"I played poker with a close friend of his on Monday night. De Campo is now in the running for marquee wine partner."
Matteo sucked in a breath. "That's a six- or seven-million-dollar contract, minimum."
"Ten." The hungry light he knew so well flared in his brother's eyes. Antonio De Campo, their father, had built De Campo into a global wine empire. Riccardo, with his endless thirst to make his mark, had driven it even higher with the restaurant division he was building. But for the core wine business, which was still all-important, this was huge. It would mean De Campo would be featured in every single one of Luxe's legendary restaurants worldwide. The coveted locations where politicians, princes and A-list celebs dined
Merda. This was massive. "What next then?"
"Davis has put his daughter, Quinn, in charge of restaurant operations. She will be the final decision-maker on the wine contract. The Davises are doing a chemistry test with the four short-listed companies next week in Chicago. From there they'll pick the final two to pitch for the business."
"A chemistry test? What in God's name is that?"
"Warren Davis is all about the relationship aspect of business. Common ideals, common philosophies, he says, are the keys to creating a successful partnership. It's not always about what looks best on paper for him. The four short-listed companies are all great candidates. It will be the chemistry we have with Davis and his daughter that will put us in the final two."
Helpful then, that Matteo happened to be a master at persuading a female to do his bidding. "What form will this chemistry test take?"
"A cocktail party at the Davis residence."
Matteo's lip curled. "Like sharks circling one another "
"Pretty much." Riccardo rhymed off two of the largest spirit companies in the world who had swallowed up smaller regional winemakers and a niche producer out of southern Australia.
"Silver Kangaroo? "
Riccardo nodded. "They've been winning some big awards lately."
"Yes, but odd. They are so niche." He gave his head a shake. "Any idea which way they're leaning?
"Quinn, apparently, has her eye on Silver Kangaroo. We are considered an outside shot."
Against the odds. Exhilaration tightened his body, sent his blood coursing through his veins. Just the way he liked it. When was the last time he'd felt that rush? That elemental surge of adrenaline he needed to feel alive? If Quinn Davis preferred a pure wine player they had a shot. Now all he had to do was work his magic.
"Do we have any intel on Quinn Davis?"
"Tough, smart, Harvard-educated." His brother handed him a folder. "It's all in here."
Matteo took it and lifted a shoulder. "She'll be all right, then."
Humor darkened his brother's gaze. Riccardo had gone to Harvard, Matteo to Oxford. It was a standing debate between them which was superior.
Matteo leafed through the folder. "Quinn manages some of his companies for him, doesn't she?"
"Si. Most recently Dairy Delight. Warren is hoping her experience in the food sector will help revive Luxe's restaurants. They've been on a slow decline for years."
"Dairy Delight? They sell ice cream and burgers. How's that going to help bring Michelin three-star restaurants back to life?"
Riccardo shot him a warning look. "Do not underestimate her, Matty. Apparently she's a chip off the old block."
Yes, but she was a female. He'd never met one he couldn't have. If he was on his game, she'd be in the palm of his hand before he'd finished his first cocktail. His mouth tightened. He intended to be more than on his game. All over his game was more like it. Which didn't mean he would underestimate her. Women were like sleeping bears. All soft and cuddly until you awakened their inner beast. Which was precisely why you didn't go there.
He closed the folder. "Who's going?"
He did a double take. "With you and Gabe?"
"I need to be in San Francisco for the restaurant opening and Gabe is in way over his head with the harvest right now. I can't pull him away."
A surge of anticipation fired through him. Finally he was back in the game. The deal was his to win.
Riccardo kept his gaze steady on him. "This is the most important contract we've negotiated in the history of De Campo. We win this, we enter a different stratosphere. You need to bring it home, Matty."
His brother's eyes flickered at the belligerently confident note in his voice. Mistrust. It was still there.
His shoulders shot to his ears, blood pumped so rapidly into his head he thought it would explode. "Do not say it," he bit out. "Do not say it."
"What happened with Angelique Fontaine can't happen again, Matty."
The liquid fire burning in his head became an all-consuming force that blurred his vision. He swung away and sucked in a deep breath. Then another. Fisted his hands by his sides until they numbed into a lifeless mass. "How long," he demanded hoarsely, "are you going to crucify me with that?"
"Bring me Luxe," his brother said deliberately, "and we're even."
Matteo bowed his head. Flexed his frozen appendages until the blood streamed back into his fingers. When he looked up, he sought, demanded an honest answer from his brother. "Why me? You could make time for this, Riccardo."
His brother rested that deadly sharp gaze of his on Matteo. "Because you are the only one who can win this. Quinn Davis is a man-hater. She will detest me on sight. Gabe could do it, but you are better. Not only do you have the charm but when you're on, Matty, you light up a room. You are electric."
He exhaled the breath lodged deep inside his chest. "Luxe is ours. I promise you that."
Riccardo nodded. "Absorb what Paige has put together and let me know if you have any questions."
Matteo tucked the file under his arm and headed for the door. His brain was already formulating his approach when Riccardo's low drawl reached him. "Matty?" He turned around. "I meant what I said. You are not, under any circumstances, to sleep with Quinn Davis."
All creativity fled. A muscle jumped in his jaw, his teeth clenching down so tight he thought they might shatter. "I heard you the first time. It can't happen. It won't happen. And I'm getting a little pissed you'd think I'd even go there."
Riccardo shrugged. "You're a complete wild card lately, Matty. They could announce the next shuttle expedition to the moon and I wouldn't be surprised to see your name on the list."
His insides tightened. "You know what I was going through. Why that happened with Angelique."
His brother's gaze hardened into impenetrable steel. "It was a seven-million-dollar deal, Matty."
And he had brought it down like a house of cards.
He gritted his teeth. "I will win this deal for De Campo. That's all you need to be sure about."
His brother nodded.
Matteo stalked to the door. Sure he was going to charm Quinn Davis. Riccardo wanted to win. How did he think he was going to win? But sleep with her? Did his brother really think he wanted another two years in purgatory?
Damn. He needed a cold beer.
His mood hadn't improved by the time he was home at his new Meatpacking District loft, a bottle of said cold beer in his hand on the patio. Kicking back in a lounge chair, he devoured the file Riccardo's PA had compiled. Paige had been her usual ridiculously thorough self. It contained everything he ever needed to know about the Davis family and more. And photos. It did not escape him why his brother had warned him off Quinn Davis. She wasn't just beautiful, she was knock-your-socks-off stunning.
The photo Paige had included, taken at a charity event, hit him right where it would any libidoendowed male. Petite, curvy in a lush "take me to bed" kind of way, she had silky, thick, long dark brown hair and the most haunting green eyes he'd ever seen.
Gorgeous. And, apparently, a man-hater. His mouth curved. He could work with that.
He took a swig of his beer. Paige's notes were a gold mine of cocktail party intelligence. Quinn Davis had worked at Warren Davis's investment firm since graduating from Harvard and had earned progressively more responsibility at a pace that would have made most people's heads spin. It was clear from the opinion pieces that although many would have liked to think nepotism had played a role in her success, she had done it on her own. One business columnist commented she had an "eerily sharp brain like her father." Another that she was an "instant study." But the description that captured his attention was the one that branded her a "gladiator in the boardroom."
This was getting more interesting by the minute.
He flicked to a profile piece on her personal life. Or lack thereof. She either didn't have one or she was the most ultraprivate person he'd ever encountered. Twenty-seven years old, resided in Chicago, divorced from Boston blue blood lawyer, Julian Edwards, after one year of marriage. One year? He lifted a brow. What in God's name had happened there? And a graduate-level Krav Maga? The instructors he knew had attained that level but none of his buddies had gotten past an orange belt despite years of practice.
Interesting was not the word. Fascinating was more like it. His mouth quirked. No wonder her marriage had fallen apart. Quinn Davis had probably emasculated her husband within the first three months of marriage.
He scoured the file from top to bottom, then threw it on the concrete beside him. Resting his beer on his thigh he looked up at the lone star in the Manhattan sky that never seemed to get truly black. An image of all three De Campo brothers-Riccardo, Gabriele, Matteo-walking into the boardroom of the second largest airline in Europe flashed through his head. That day in Paris had been their chance to make their mark on a company ruled for forty years by their despotic father, Antonio. It was Riccardo's first high-profile deal as CEO. They had been pumped, sky-high with adrenaline, the seven-million-dollar deal to supply the airline with its house wines firmly within their grasp.