I blinked at Brett in disbelief as he continued to grin at me. “Okay, what the hell are you talking about?”
“I finally get what your father has been trying to say!” Brett exclaimed, calling the waiter over to box up our food.
“Really?” I asked skeptically. “Please enlighten me.”
“Not here. We’ve got a long night ahead of us and we need to be comfortable.”
“We have a very strict itinerary that we need to adhere to and that does not include late-night powwows!” I protested.
Brett paused to look at me. I could tell he wanted to laugh. “Powwows?”
“Shut up! You know what I mean. I’m just saying we have a busy week ahead so we need to get some rest.”
“Creativity doesn’t adhere to timelines, Lupita. We have to strike while the iron is hot! Or at least while the gears in my head are turning. Now come on!” He instructed the waiter to charge the meal to his room and grabbed the food in one hand and my wrist in the other.
“Your room or mine?” He asked as we got on to the elevator.
“To work, Lupita!” he clarified. “You’ve made it crystal clear that nothing else can happen between us.”
I ignored the bitterness in his tone and responded quietly. “I guess your room, that way we can listen out for Malachi.”
He nodded. “Good call.” The elevator doors slid open. “Go change into something comfortable. I’ll leave my door cracked so you don’t have to knock and wake Malachi.”
Brett turned and headed down the hall, leaving me in stunned silence. Normally, a man dictating instructions to me would have infuriated me. But somehow when Brett did it, it was incredibly sexy. I shook my head in a futile effort to clear my thoughts and hurried into my suite, changing into some leggings and a hoodie before pulling my hair into a messy bun.
I scurried down the hall to his suite a few minutes later and pushed the door open. Brett was standing in the living area in pajama pants that rode low on his hips and no shirt. I gasped and quickly covered my eyes.
“No need to be so dramatic,” Brett said from somewhere in the room. “It’s like you said, it’s not like we haven’t seen each other naked before.”
“Can you just put a shirt on?” I replied, trying to slow my heart rate back down.
“If you’d open your eyes, you’d see that I have one on.”
I peeked out from between my fingers and saw him staring at me with that infuriating grin.
“Are you ready to get to work?”
I let my hands fall to my side and glared at him. “I might be if you would tell me what the hell is going on in that head of yours.”
“Come here,” he instructed, sitting down on the floor.
I willingly obeyed and sat down next to him peering at all of the papers he had spread out on the floor in front of him.
“We’ve been looking at this all wrong. When your father first approached me, he told me that he liked the modern designs that my firm has done; the more minimalistic designs.
“But he rejected everything he told me he liked because it lacks what he calls ‘Italian charm’. So we switched over to more traditional Italian design. But he hates that too.”
“You’re telling me things I already know. I’ve been here this whole time, you know that right?”
“Let me finish,” he said with a laugh. “We’ve been going from one extreme to the other when I think he wants us to meet somewhere in the middle.”
I nodded in understanding. “That actually makes a lot of sense. But I’m still failing to see what that has to do with centering the redesign around me.”
“You are the single most important thing to your father. In addition to that sentimental family aspect, you are the future of the company. You ooze sophistication, class, and poise. That will attract high paying patrons from all over the world. We need to find a way to marry the sophistication of Penelope Lucia Marino with the Italian charm that is essential to the Lucia Marino brand.”
I ignored his indirect compliment as best as I could as my cheeks flamed in embarrassment. “First of all, I am not important to my father in the slightest,” I said after a moment. “But even if that were true, how could we execute that vision?”
“You don’t think you’re important--”
“Leave it alone, Brett,” I warned.
“Fine,” he replied begrudgingly. “What we’ll do is redesign this hotel from top to bottom. We’ll modernize the suites to include the sleek, clean lines associated with minimalism but play up the luxurious Italian aesthetic that is already associated with the hotel. We’ll use chandeliers, unique fixtures, and grandiose artwork. We’ll need to incorporate your image into the marketing campaign somehow,” he said thoughtfully, chewing on the tip of his pencil.
He was so deep in thought that he didn’t hear Malachi come into the room. He toddled over to me and settled into my lap with a deep yawn. I leaned back against the sofa and watched Brett scribble down ideas and sketches while he whispered to himself. He kept running his hands through his hair and his eyes were wild like a madman. It was incredibly adorable.
I was so entranced with Brett’s creative process, that I didn’t notice myself falling asleep. I was surprised to awake the next morning in a soft bed with Malachi’s foot on my face. I climbed out of bed and tiptoed into the living room, unsurprised to see Brett still on the floor working on the plans.
Brett looked up at me with tired eyes. “Is it morning already?” he asked with a yawn.
I nodded. “8:30 am.”
“Wow. I was really on a roll there. Should we head down to meet the team? I’ve got new assignments for everyone.”
“Absolutely not!” I exclaimed. “First of all, it’s Sunday and they have the day off. And secondly, you’ve been up all night. You need to get some rest.”
“Malachi will be up soon and as you pointed out, it’s Sunday. The nanny doesn’t work on Sundays.”
“So I’ll take Malachi into town while you nap. Get him dressed and go lay down.”
Brett stared at me but didn’t move.
“It wasn’t a question,” I said finally. “Go. Now.”
He got up and muttered what I assume were rude statements about me under his breath as he headed into the bedroom. He returned a few minutes later with Malachi and his backpack.
“Now, I know he can be a hand full so you just come right back if you have any problems,” Brett said, handing me the backpack. “And he’s allergic to--”
“Mushrooms and peanuts,” I finished for him. “I know. We’ll be fine, right amore mio?” I said to Malachi, taking his hand with a smile. “You just get some rest, Brett.”
Brett gave me a skeptical look but nodded. “You’re impossible to read,” he said cryptically, shaking his head. He bent down and kissed his son on the cheek. “You behave for ’Pita, okay?”
Malachi nodded and turned to me. “Eat breakfast now, ’Pita?”
“Sure!” I replied, walking toward the door with him. “I just have to change and then we’ll eat.”
Malachi and I spent the morning in the garden behind the hotel. I watched him run around the fountain and enjoyed the peaceful atmosphere as birds chirped and the light breeze swept across my face.
I was half reading a book and half watching Malachi when all of a sudden a figure stood over me, blocking the sunlight. I turned and saw Brett grinning down at me.
“Daddy!” Malachi ran up to his father and leaped into his arms.
“You look like you’re feeling better,” I commented before turning back to my book.
“I am! Thank you,” he replied and took the seat next to me, placing Malachi on his lap. “What have you two been up to?”
“Excuse me.” We all looked up and saw an elderly woman standing above us.
“Yes?” Brett asked.
“I’ve been sitting here for a while enjoying the weather and your little boy is just so precious that I had to come and meet him,” she said with a smile, waving at Malachi.
“That’s very kind of you,” Brett said, returning her smile. “Malachi can you say ‘hello’ to the nice lady?”
Malachi gave her a tentative smile and wave before reaching for me. “Want ’Pita,” he said quietly.
I set my book down and pulled him into my arms.
Brett chuckled. “I’m sorry ma’am. He’s not usually so shy around new people.”
“He’s just ready for a nap,” I mused. “We’ve had a busy morning, haven’t we cuore mio?”
Malachi nodded and lay his head on my chest with a big yawn.
The woman smiled. “You three make such a beautiful family. Have a good day.”
“Thank you but we’re not--” She walked away before I could correct her. I looked over at Brett and was surprised to see him stifling a laugh. “What’s funny?”
“Your face!” he exclaimed, unable to contain his laughter any longer.
“What’s wrong with my face?” I asked, sticking my tongue out at him.
“You act so surprised when people think Malachi is yours. I’d think you’d be used to it by now. It’s happened every day since we got here.”
“I guess that’s true,” I replied. I looked down at the little blonde child in my lap. “Oh, look who fell asleep.” I kissed the top of his head with a smile.
“Here, let me take him,” Brett said, standing up and taking Malachi once again. “We’ve imposed on your kindness far too much. Why don’t you take some time for yourself and we’ll catch up with you tomorrow?”
I was taken aback by his abrupt desire to get away from me but nodded in agreement. “That’s fine. I have some personal things to attend to anyway.” I stood up and kissed Malachi on the forehead again before heading back to the hotel.
A few hours later, I was watching youtube videos in my room when a video call from my father popped up on my laptop. I groaned and clicked accept. “Hello, father.”
“Penelope,” he replied with a curt nod. “Serena says ‘hello’ as well.”
“Tell her I said ‘hi’.”
We sat in awkward silence for a long moment. “How can I help you?” I said finally.
“I received Mr. Jacobson’s latest proposal.”
“Oh really?” I said, trying hard to mask my surprise, considering the fact that Brett had neglected to show me the complete proposal before he sent it to my father. “And what do you think?”
“I think it’s brilliant.”
“Seriously?” I asked excitedly.
Father raised an eyebrow. “You seem surprised.”
“Well of course I’m surprised! You’ve hated everything we’ve sent you!”
“I don’t hate this one,” he said with a frown. “You are to inform Mr. Jacobson that the proposal is approved. Get the project started and then I expect you both back by the end of the month.”
“But that’s barely two weeks!”
“That’s plenty of time. You’re not on vacation, Penelope. Remember that your job depends on this project. This is your chance to prove to me that you are capable of running the company. Don’t mess this up.”
“Right,” I said with a nod. “I’ll make sure everything gets done.”
“Good. We’ll talk soon. Goodbye.”
I sighed and closed my laptop laying back on the bed. “He really knows how to ruin things.”