Saved by the CEO

By: Barbara Wallace

CHAPTER ONE

“I THINK I’M in love.”

Louisa Harrison bit off a piece of cornetto, moaning as the sweet cake-like pastry melted like butter on her tongue. Crumbs dotted her chin. She caught them with her finger, not wanting to waste a drop. “Seriously, Dani, how do you not weigh a thousand pounds living with this man?” If she were married to a chef as wonderful as Rafe Mancini, she’d be the size of her palazzo, the grounds and the vineyards combined.

Her best friend laughed. “Trust me, it’s not easy. Fortunately, running around the restaurant all day keeps me in shape. Especially now. Ever since the royal wedding, we’ve been slammed with requests for reservations. Everyone wants to eat at the restaurant that fed Prince Antonio and his bride.”

“As well they should.” Danielle’s husband, Rafe, entered the restaurant dining room brandishing a coffeepot. “You make it sound as though Mancini’s is some ordinary royal wedding caterer.”

“I’m not sure there is such a thing as an ordinary royal wedding caterer,” Dani replied, kissing him on the cheek, “but you’re right, Mancini’s is anything but ordinary. Once people taste Rafe’s food, they are desperate to come back.”

“Only they can’t for at least eight weeks. My beautiful bride is right—we are booked solid through the harvest festival.”

“That’s fantastic,” Louisa replied helping herself to a cup of coffee. Rafe Mancini not only created wonderful food, he made the best American coffee in Tuscany. That was Dani’s doing. She’d insisted Rafe add a few New World touches to his traditionally Italian menu to placate US tourists. One of many small changes she’d implemented over the past few months. It hadn’t taken long for her friend to establish herself as an equal partner both in the relationship and the business. But then, Louisa had heard there were men in this world who actually liked when their wives had minds of their own. Not to mention lives.

She just hadn’t married one.

“Mancini’s isn’t the only place that’s doing well,” Dani continued. “Business has been up all around the village. Donatella told me sales at the boutique are up over 40 percent from last year.”

Louisa wasn’t surprised. Over the past nine months, Monte Calanetti had gone from sleepy Tuscan village to must-see tourist destination. Not only had they been selected to host Halencia’s royal wedding—considered the wedding of the year in most circles—but art experts had recently discovered an unknown fresco masterpiece hidden in the local chapel. Now it felt as if every person in Italy, tourist or resident, made a point of driving through the town. That they arrived to discover a picture-perfect village and an Italian Good Food rated restaurant owned by one of Europe’s premier chefs only enhanced the town’s allure.

“Quite a change from when you and I arrived here, huh?” she noted. It’d been an early spring day when the two of them had met on the bus from Florence. Two expatriates, each on her own quest to the Tuscan Valley. For Dani, the tiny village represented a last adventure before deciding on her future. Louisa, on the other hand, had taken one look at the terracotta roofs rising from the valley and decided luck had granted her the perfect place to escape her past. A place where she could heal.

“I knew as soon as I stepped off the bus that Monte Calanetti was special,” Dani said. “There’s something magical about this town. You can feel it.”

More like her friend felt the attraction between her and the man she eventually married; there’d been sparks from the second Dani and Rafe had laid eyes on each other. Louisa kept the thought to herself. “The royal wedding planner certainly thought so,” she said instead.

“Unfortunately, we can’t ride the wedding momentum forever. Once harvest season ends, people will be more interested in the ski resorts.” Rafe said.

“People will still seek out Mancini’s,” Louisa said.

“Some, yes, but certainly not the numbers we’ve been enjoying. And they certainly won’t spend time visiting other businesses.”

True. So much of Monte Calanetti’s appeal revolved around being able to stroll its cobblestone streets during the warm weather. It would be hard to make a wish in the plaza fountain if the water was frozen. There was a part of Louisa that wouldn’t mind the crowds thinning. She missed the early days when she could walk the streets without worrying that some American tourist would recognize her. Another part, however—the practical part—knew the village needed more than a seasonal income. Prior to the wedding, several of the smaller businesses had been on shaky ground.

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