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The corporate offices of Moretti Motors were lush and exquisite, combining the best of Italian architecture with the cutting edge of modern design. No expense was spared in the five-story office building in Milan or in the state-of-the-art factory next door where the fastest and priciest production car in the world would soon start rolling off the line.
The only problem was a little sticking point with the name of the car. The Moretti Motors engineering team had reenvisioned the classic and most-talked-about model they had ever madea 1969 sport roadster that had taken the sports car world by storm and made Lorenzo Moretti a billionaire. Now forty years later they were reintroducing the world to the Valleriothe car named after the second Formula 1 driver to race for Moretti Motors.
The rights to the name were in question, something that Dominic, Antonio and Marcothe current generation of Morettishadn't realized until they had sent out a press release announcing their new car and gotten a cease-and-desist order from Vallerio Inc.
Pierre-Henri Vallerio had started the company after leaving Moretti Motors. Pierre-Henri had been a genius with engine design, and Vallerio Inc. was still at the forefront of that industry today. So it seemed to Antonio that they should be excited to have their name on the tongues of car aficionados everywhere.
The only problem was, as with everything that Antonio's grandfather Lorenzo touched, he'd somehow managed to piss off the Vallerio family.
"Do you ever wonder if Nono just had no mojo when it came to women?" Antonio asked his older brother, Dominic.
Dominic was the head of Moretti Motors operations. His title was CEO but he'd always been bossy even when they had been kids.
"The thought has crossed my mind a time or two.
Regardless of what his problem was, he left us a mess to inherit, didn't he?"
"You like the challenge of unraveling his messes," Antonio said. Dom was one of those men who lived for work. Bringing Moretti Motors back to the forefront of the auto world wasn't an easy thing to do. But a challenge like this latest wrinkle with the Vallerio family wouldn't ruffle his older brother. Nor him.
"We need the Vallerio family on boardyesterday."
"I know. It would have been much easier to handle it if we had realized that the rights to the name reverted to them. I mean, who would have signed a contract that said after twenty years of no production car we lost those rights?" Antonio asked.
"Papa," Dominic said.
Their father was a wonderful man and the best father in the world, but when it came to business, Giovanni Moretti just didn't care. Which was why he and his brothers had grown up the poorer relations of the Moretti family.
"Well, I have a meeting scheduled with the attorney." Antonio closed the file folder. The family's attorney was the older daughter, Nathalie Vallerio. From her corporate photo he'd sensed a keen intelligence, as well as an innate beauty that reflected her family's French heritage.
"Good," Dom said. "With Marco falling for Virginia, I'm afraid that our luck may be changing. I don't want to let anything compromise the new production car."
Antonio didn't know if his brother's falling in love with the granddaughter of the woman who'd originally cursed the family was going to change their luck or not. Antonio had never put much stock in luck.
The curse had been put on their grandfather by his onetime lover Cassia Festa. Lorenzo had spurned her love and Cassia, being a Stregaan Italian witchhad gone home and spent days getting angrier and angrier at Lorenzo. When Lorenzo decided to marry Pierre-Henri Vallerio's sister, Cassia had come back to Milan and put a curse on Lorenzo. The words of the curse had been written in her diary, and Virginia, Cassia's granddaughter, had figured out a way to break the curse. Antonio recalled the curse. No Moretti male would ever be lucky in business and lucky in love.
Antonio's father had no head for businesshence this mess with Vallerio Inc. But Gio had fallen in love with Philomena and those two had found a deep love and happiness in their life.
He and his brothers had grown up realizing they could be either wealthy or happy in love. Being practical boys, they had taken an oath long ago not to mess things up the way their grandfather had. That meant that they would be lucky in business and not risk falling in love and losing everything they worked to build.
Antonio had found that determination and drive covered what luck didn't. That and his refusal to accept defeat. His entire life he'd never lost at anything once he put his mind to it. And he certainly wasn't about to let Nathalie Vallerio win this battle.
"No problem. The Vallerio family will sign our agreement and I'll bring you back the contract."
Dom rubbed the back of his neck. "I don't need to tell you this, but I won't feel right unless I say it."
Dom rarely worried about the effect of his words, so Antonio raised one eyebrow at him in question. Whatever was on his brother's mind must be something outside the bounds of morality or business ethics. Though at times they'd considered doing things that were in that shadowy gray area, they never had.
Antonio believed that with his determination, Marco's racing talent and Dom's drive, the Moretti brothers didn't need to do anything shady.
"Are you still worried about the corporate espionage?" he asked his brother. They had first realized there was a leak of proprietary information last year at the start of the Grand Prix season. Somehow their main rivals, ESP Motors, had announced an engine intake that was exactly the same as the one that Moretti Motors had been working on for the previous six months.
"I think we can find our leak without doing anything illegal," Antonio said.
"Tony! I'm not going to ask you to do anything illegal. I have got a lead on our corporate spy."
"Then what were you going to ask me?"
Dom leaned over his desk, both arms resting on the dark walnut finish. "Use any means necessary, Tony. If you have to seduce her, then do it. Women like romance."
"Comments like that are the reason why you are single."
Dom made a rude hand gesture, but Tony just laughed. His brother was a great businessman and a natural leader, but when it came to women, Dom didn't trust them and he treated them like disposable commodities. Tony knew that was because of Liza, the woman whom Dom had loved and lost.
There was a knock on the door and Dom bade the person to enter. It was his secretary, Angelina de Luca.
"Sorry to interrupt, Signore Moretti, but the Val-lerio family is here for Signore Antonio."
"Grazie, Angelina. Please direct them to the conference room and get them some refreshments."
Angelina nodded and left the room. Dom watched his secretary leave and Tony wondered to himself if his big brother wasn't as immune to women as he appeared to be.
"You know, with Marco's engagement to Virginia, it might not be a change in our business luck, only our love luck."
Dom shook his head. "For you maybe but not me. I think I have Nona's bad woman mojo."
Tony laughed and stood, clapping his brother on the back.
"I don't have that mojo. And Ms. Nathalie Val-lerio," Tony said, looking back down at her photo in the folder, "isn't going to know what hit her."
Nathalie Vallerio had heard all about the Moretti family. Her earliest memories were of her grandfather and father plotting to bring down Lorenzo Moretti. The man was a legendary race car driver who was one of only four drivers to win the Grand Prix championship numerous times. The only person to win more championships was another Moretti. Marco.
And now she was sitting in the lion's den. Back in the one place her grandfather had vowed that no Vallerio would ever stand again. For being her personal hell, the boardroom was quite comfortable.
There was a trophy case at the end of the room with all the Formula 1 racing trophies won by the Moretti drivers, including the ones her grandfather had earned.
On another wall hung photos of the Moretti drivers and of their production cars. They were all good-looking men who had an air about them that seemed to say life was one big adventure. Her grandfather, Pierre-Henri, had always taken great pride that the bestselling production car had borne his name. And of course when Lorenzo broke Nathalie's great-aunt's heart and caused her to die early of heartbreak, Pierre-Henri had done everything in his power to see that Lorenzo no longer had use of the Vallerio name.
Lorenzo's son Giovanni had let the rights to the name lapse in the late '80s and since then Moretti Motors had floundered. But recently under the helm of Dominic, Antonio and Marco the company had resurged and was once again on the verge of taking the car world by storm.
Something that Nathalie was here to make certain they did without involving her family or their name.
She paced around the room, well aware that Antonio was keeping her waiting. Their appointment was supposed to have begun five minutes ago.
One of her pet peeves was tardiness. Disrespect was the only reason Antonio was keeping her waiting and she would make sure he understood that she wasn't someone to toy with.
"Ciao, Signorina Vallerio. I am sorry to have kept you waiting."
She turned to see Antonio Moretti striding toward her. With dark curly hair and classic Roman features, he was quite striking. But that wasn't what held her attention. It was the intelligence and humor she saw in his obsidian eyes. This was a man who made her catch her breathand that wasn't like her.
She lifted her hand to shake his and then realized that she'd been doing business with Americans for too long. She'd forgotten that Italians always greeted with a kiss on the cheek.
Antonio took her hand and pulled her close. The woodsy scent of his aftershave was intoxicating as he dropped a brief, warm kiss on her cheek. She stood transfixed feeling as if it were her first time in a boardroom.
All because of a handsome face, she thought, disgusted with herself and so very glad that her sister Genevieve wasn't here to see this.
In Antonio's eyes she saw a hint that he knew how he'd rattled her. She forced herself to kiss his cheek and totally ignored the fact that the five o'clock shadow on his jaw made her lips tingle.
She stepped back and retrieved her hand. "I only have twenty minutes to talk to you, Signore Moretti."
"Then I had better talk fast," he said with a grin.
She fought to keep her face stoic. She could see that he was charming. He wasn't trying hard; he just seemed unflappable.
She was too. She had spent her entire life being the reliable sister. The one that her father and grandfather could count on. She wasn't going to be a disappointment to them the way her great-aunt Anna had been when she'd lost Lorenzo's attention and the family name.
"I don't really see the point to this meeting. As you know, Moretti Motors has resigned all rights to the Vallerio name when you let that contract lapse. At this time we aren't inclined to license it to you again."
"You have not even heard what we are offering."
"I don't need to. You have nothing we want," Nathalie said. But she was interested in hearing what they were offering. Even her father thought that the Morettis must realize that they couldn't come to the bargaining table without offering substantial compensation. Her father wanted a half share in Moretti Motors. To be honest, Nathalie was confident they'd never go for that and she thought this entire exercise was one big time waster.