He was late.
Antonio Costa had a few bad habits, of which lateness was one, but only because he was so wrapped up in his own affairs that it took him a bit longer than the average person to make it beyond his office door. This time, however, he was simply late because the prospect of facing Bruno Ferrari’s death suddenly seemed all too real.
The two men had been best friends for decades. Bruno and he were both hardworking and ambitious, and each spurred the other to give only his best. When they met in the late 1970s, both disillusioned with their prospects in New York City, they made the decision to move to California and follow their dreams. They were successful businessmen with rich histories in food and wine, and had immediately clicked. Antonio fondly recalled referring to Bruno as “one tough sonofabitch” when he spoke to friends who cautioned him against leaping into their new business venture.
It was madness to contemplate a new project and move across the country, his friends chided, to sell an established, popular restaurant simply because he no longer wanted to deal with the pressures of the demanding industry. He’d had no life outside the walls of his restaurant, Costa’s. He’d added experience in beer manufacturing and bottling to his resume, selling his small brewery on the Lower West side for a tidy profit, but still felt unsatisfied.
Then Bruno had come into the picture and changed everything.
Their idea started out small—a luxury winery on a thousand acres in the Napa Valley. They converted the rambling ranch style house into a bed and breakfast that hosted a dozen guests in the beginning while simultaneously working on making their wine a household name. Antonio had always loved wine, but at the time, the thought of owning a winery was intimidating.
But he’d taken the plunge and climbed into the proverbial business bed with the shrewd Bruno, packing his belongings and driving from the Big Apple to Northern California. He hadn’t felt that it was too great a leap of faith, knowing Bruno’s business acumen. Bruno, he recalled, had always paid attention to the smallest of details – his eyes always bright with intrigue. He strove to make their establishment appealing in every way to even the most finicky wine aficionados.
Slowly, they had climbed into the domestic wine spotlight, their cabernets and chardonnays outselling all other brands nationwide. They had risen to fame and fortune together, seen their winery thrive, and then, unexpectedly, Bruno had died in his sleep. A heart attack.
Before Bruno’s death, he’d taken an unexpected step. His will dictated that his half of the business wasn’t to revert to Antonio upon his death, as they had discussed, but rather to his only son: one Luca Ferrari.
Antonio had never met the boy. Bruno and his wife had split up long before his death, citing irreconcilable differences, and the boy—now a man—had grown up with his mother. According to Bruno, growing up, his son had been so consumed by his schoolwork and extra-curricular activities that he used them as an excuse to erect a wall Bruno had never managed to scale. Luca had no interest in the wine business and was dead set against following in his successful father’s footsteps. Instead, he chose to make a name for himself as a venture capitalist. In essence, half the winery had gone to a stranger.
Antonio didn’t want to disrespect his partner’s memory, but he found himself exasperated at the turn of events. The empire they had worked over four decades to build was now to be split in half? He never thought he’d see the day, thought he’d be dead and buried before the winery ever split up.
As the limousine moved towards the church hosting Bruno’s service, Antonio frowned, leafing through the papers he held. He’d had Luca Ferrari thoroughly investigated. In addition to the report, the file held a number of articles on the man and the business successes for which he’d been responsible. Ferrari was on the verge of achieving superstar level. He seemed to have a good head on his shoulders. It was whether that head had any interest in wine that concerned Antonio.
The final piece of information from the investigator—a photograph of the thirty-four-year-old man. To Antonio’s surprise, Luca was far from the pencil-necked nerd he’d originally had him pegged as. Instead, he was the very image of his father in his younger years: tall, broad-shouldered and dark-eyed, something Antonio supposed all the women found attractive nowadays. His late wife, Elenora, bless her soul, had sworn that it was these exact features that had drawn her to her husband—along with his humor and kindness.
Antonio began to concoct a scheme in his clever mind.
Bruno, whatever his reasoning, had willed his half of the business to his son, possibly to mend the rift between father and son. It would be up to Antonio to bring the young man into the fold. Of course, getting Luca to sell would be his primary goal. But if that didn’t work, what better solution than to win Luca to his side by introducing him to Alessia?
The very thought of his quiet, brilliant, beautiful daughter made Antonio’s heart swell with pride. She’d taken to the wine business like a fish to water. From the moment she was able to walk, Alessia had been skipping around the grape vines and squealing as he chased her through the gardens, beloved by the staff of the property’s hotel and grounds.
Alessia and Elenora had spent many days sitting under the expansive lemon trees, laughing and talking. At other times, Alessia followed closely at her father’s heels and learned the ins and outs of the empire he and Bruno had built. Alessia was shy, but sharp as a whip when it came to the business and unafraid to take risks. Making her manager of the vineyard was one of the best decisions Antonio had ever made.
Elenora’s death had hit Alessia hard. She’d always been close to her mother, and ever since she passed away two years ago, his bright-eyed daughter hadn’t been the same. Perhaps what she needed was a man in her life. Given all the time she spent tucked away in the winery’s office, Antonio hadn’t seen her make an effort to work on her personal life.
Alessia was a hard worker, but hard work didn’t bring one everything in life! He couldn’t imagine what his life would have been like without Elenora at his side. It was his greatest wish to see Alessia happy with a man who spoiled her senseless. Although he selfishly didn’t want to lose her, he wanted grandchildren, at least three, bouncing on his knee before he went to meet his maker.
So if Bruno had wanted to play hardball, Antonio would play.
A fond smile spread across his lips as Antonio stared through the car window at the immense, ornate church where Bruno’s body currently rested. The man couldn’t be modest, even in death.
“Let’s meet this son of yours, Bruno,” he murmured, low and contemplative, “and measure his mettle, shall we?”
Mark your calendars for our Facebook release party, starting on September 5 at 4pm. RSVP by clicking here...or just show up and join the fun! There'll be giveaways during this soiree, too!
Deborah Brown is an Amazon bestselling author. She’s the author of the Paradise series. A Florida Keys mystery series, which makes the reader laugh, cry and cheer. Starfish Island is her first mystery romance.
South Florida is her home, with her ungrateful rescue cats, and where Mother Nature takes out her bad attitude in the form of hurricanes.
She’d love if you’d join her on her Facebook page – an easy way to sign up for her newsletter.