Downtown Shanghai’s traffic and the general humdrum of several thousand people working just on this street made it almost impossible to hear my phone ringing. I caught the sound at the last second and answered with a grin when I saw who the caller was.
“Our mother thinks you’re dead,” my brother declared, his English more accented than usual because of his attempt to be dramatic. “If you are, we need to talk about my share of the billion-euro inheritance I have heard nothing about.”
“Several billion actually,” I replied without skipping a beat. Glancing up at the impressive glass-fronted office tower beside me, I confirmed that it was my destination and veered off the sidewalk to go inside.
Automatic sliding doors granted me entry to one of the most sought after office spaces in the city. The ice-cold blast of air conditioning in the lobby made me exhale a relieved sigh. It was hot and humid as fuck out there.
No longer at risk of boiling in my finely tailored suit, I turned my attention back to Aldo. “If I am dead, the reason you haven’t heard anything about your inheritance is because you’re not inheriting. I’ve left everything to Mama and a couple of charities of my choice.”
He scoffed. “I’m your twin. I deserve to inherit something for putting up with you for the last thirty-four years. That’s not to mention the eight long months I had to share a womb with you. If you don’t want to think about it as an inheritance, think about it as compensation for my pain and suffering.”
“Your pain and suffering, huh?” I rolled my eyes and jabbed a finger at the button to call the elevator.
The lobby was surprisingly quiet for a building of this size, but on the other hand, there were at least twenty elevator shafts. No one had to wait long to be taken where they had to go.
I liked the efficiency of it all. If the deal I was here for went through, I might just consider keeping these offices despite the exorbitant cost of them.
Aldo’s dulcet laughter sounded in my ears, drawing me out of the thoughts about the details of a deal that wasn’t done yet. “Yes, my pain and suffering for being the brawn to your brains. Also, for covering for you with Mama every time you pull one of these disappearing acts.”
“Going on a business trip is not a disappearing act.” Bright blue numbers lit up the panels above the elevators and I moved toward the one that seemed to be descending the fastest. “Plus, I have my own brawn. I don’t need yours.”
“You’ve always needed mine, brother. Without my muscles, your brain wouldn’t have gotten you anywhere.”
“That makes no sense.” I shook my head before tipping it back to watch the numbers counting down. “We’re identical, which means my muscles are just as good as yours.”
“My time at the gym pays off much better.” He laughed again.
Laughter was Aldo’s thing. He did it easily and often. Always had.
It was one of the things that helped even our mother tell us apart. Physically, we were identical in every way, but once we opened our mouths, it was glaringly obvious which one of us was which.
If he was laughter, I was… well… not.
“Anyway,” he said. “For real now. Where are you? Mama’s feeling like you’ve been gone forever and you know how dramatic she is. She’s acting like you really have died. You should consider sending her a proof of life video.”
“Yes, I know how dramatic she is. At least we know where you got it from.” I raked a hand through my hair and breathed through the flare of exasperation in my gut. “I’ll call her later. For the record, though, I’ve only been gone a week. There are mothers who don’t see their kids for a year and don’t jump to those kinds of extreme conclusions.”
“Ah, but those mothers aren’t Italian and waiting for their little bambino to come see them.”
The steel doors in front of me slid open, but I wasn’t worried about losing cell reception. Technology worked everywhere in this city. The workaholic in me fucking loved it.
“You realize that if I’m her little bambino, then so are you, right?” I stepped onto the thick carpet covering the floor of the car and pressed the button for the very top floor of the sixty-story building.
Aldo clucked his tongue at me. “I have no problem being Mama’s little bambino. It’s you who thinks he’s above it now that you’ve made your several billion.”
He emphasized the last two words to let me know he was mocking my remark from earlier. I lifted my eyes to the mirrored ceiling and wondered how much I would miss my twin if I killed him.
“I’m just busy. I’m not above anything. We’ve been through this.”
“Then why didn’t you tell us you were leaving?” he asked, his tone still cheerful and light despite the bite in mine. “Better yet, why don’t you share your work calendar with her? That way, she’ll always know where you are.”
I brought one hand up to cover my face and shook my head at the same time. “That’s a terrible idea. She’d have caught a flight to China by now.”
“You’re in China?” I could practically hear him gaping. “What the fuck are you doing over there?”
“Expanding hopefully. With any luck, Ricci Logistics will own the Red Shipping Line by this afternoon.”
He whistled between his teeth. “Unless I’m very much mistaken, acquiring them would make yours one of the largest transport companies in the world.”
“Look who doesn’t give himself enough credit,” I joked, deciding that I might just let him live after all. “It turns out you do have brains. You’re not just all brawn.”
“Just so you know, I’m flipping you off right now.”
“Go for it. I can take it.” I shook my arm out and checked the watch on my wrist. “I’m going to have to go soon. Was there a reason for your call or did you just miss me?”
“Just checking in so I can assure Mama that you are, in fact, alive. When are you coming home?”
“I’m flying out tonight. I’ll be back in Florence by tomorrow. As much as I want this company, I’m not putting up with the runaround they’ve been giving my lawyer all week. If we don’t close the deal today, I’m out.”
I sighed as the doors slid open soundlessly, then paused just after climbing out of the elevator.
The corridor in front of me was long and pristine, with polished white tiles on the floors. One wall was painted white while the other was windows from floor to ceiling.
On the wall, there were framed pictures of the shipping magnates who had run this company before the man who owned it today. There wasn’t a speck of dust on any of them.
A single metal desk with clean lines awaited me in the reception area. Behind it sat a well-dressed Chinese woman who rose gracefully when she saw me stepping off the elevator.
This wasn’t the time or place to keep fucking around with my brother. I appreciated him checking in and knew he would calm our mother down now that he’d spoken to me, but it was time for me to get back to business.
Whether or not my mother saw me as her little bambino, there was no space for that guy here. It was time to become the feared and revered Marco Ricci, the man who had single-handedly built one of the world’s largest and most successful logistics companies.
It wasn’t immodesty making me think of myself as being “feared and revered.” That was literally the headline of an article that had appeared in one of our local Italian papers this morning. My assistant had forwarded it to me for comment. I hadn’t gotten around to reading it yet, but I figured my brother would get a kick out of it.
“I have to go,” I said into the phone, lowering the volume of my voice so it wouldn’t echo in the quiet office. “I’m emailing you something. Read it and weep. Talk to you later.”
I forwarded the article to him and pocketed my phone, taking in a deep breath before I approached the receptionist. “I’m Marco Ricci. They’re expecting me.”
Sharp, intelligent eyes quickly surveyed me before she inclined her head and gave me a polite smile. “Of course, Mr. Ricci. Go right ahead. They’re in the conference room at the end of the hall.”
“Thank you.” I didn’t return her smile as I followed her down the corridor.
The receptionist escorted me all the way to the room where the meeting was taking place, even though she’d already told me where it was. She gave one soft knock, then swung it open and motioned for me to go inside.
As I walked in, she closed the door behind me and the men around the table stood up. At the head of the large mahogany conference table stood my longtime friend and lawyer, Gianluca Rossi.
He didn’t look happy, but neither did anyone else. Their expressions were grim, their mouths turned down at the corners, and their movements rigid.
“Good morning, gentlemen,” I said as I moved farther into the room. I pressed my hands together and dipped into a shallow bow to give them the traditional greeting. “I take it things aren’t progressing as we’d all hoped they would.”
“Marco,” Gianluca said curtly, his dark eyes narrowing as they met mine. “May I have a quick word?”
“Sure.” I flashed the others in the room an apologetic smile. “Please give us just one minute. We’ll be back.”
Gianluca closed the distance between us in two long strides and opened the door again after we stepped outside. Once we were alone, he arched an eyebrow at me. “What are you doing here?”
“Seeing if I can help you close the deal.” I crossed my arms and met his glare with one of my own. “We need to get this done today and your last update didn’t sound promising.”
“It’s not good practice for you to be in the room for these negotiations. The update wasn’t promising because the situation isn’t. It seems there were a lot of the terms of the agreement that got lost in translation on both ends. The outcome might not be favorable. You don’t need to be in there for that.”
“I don’t care if it’s good practice or not. I’m here now. I might as well take a swing at it. Don’t you think?”
“No, I don’t think.” His arm shot out to block me when I reached for the door. “Seriously, Marco. You said you had other business to attend to. Your time is better spent on that.”
“I’ve attended to all my other business. I’ve closed four other deals since we’ve been here, and now I’m going to see if I can close this last one. This is the one we came here for. Get out of my way, Gianluca. I’m doing this.”
He exhaled heavily but dropped his arm and twisted the doorknob to open it again.
“Gentlemen,” I said as I walked back inside, motioning for them to take their seats as I took the one at the head of the table Gianluca had previously occupied.
He came to stand behind me, his feet planted about a foot apart and his arms folded. The scowl that settled on his features didn’t intimidate me, but several of the others shrank back a little.
One man who didn’t flinch at Gianluca’s display of whatever the fuck he was playing at was Edward Lee. He was around my age and had been the first person I’d proposed this deal to a couple of months ago.
I focused on him, knowing he was the one in charge of calling most of the shots. “It’s starting to look like this might not be the deal for me. I’ve given you my terms, and if they’re not what you want, I’m going to have to walk away.”
“Surely, we can discuss this,” Edward said as he pushed a lock of inky black hair back. “You and I agreed on the control my family would continue to exercise. Your man is going back on that.”
“He’s not going back on anything.” I lifted my chin as I sat back, my eyes never leaving Edward’s. “We agreed on management, not control. I was very clear about that. This isn’t a hostile takeover. We want to continue working with your family and we value your input and experience. That being said, I’m not going to invest a sum this large in a company I don’t have control of.”
“If you want our input and experience, you’ll have to give us the proper incentives. I’m just not seeing those at the moment.”
“The proper incentives?” A humorless burst of laughter shot out of me. “If you don’t take this deal, you risk losing the company your family has spent generations building. There’s your incentive.”
“There are other companies who have made us offers.”
“If any of them were even close to my offer, you wouldn’t have spent the last week personally hammering out the details of an agreement you and I have already made with my lawyer.” I flicked a hand at the others around the table but kept my unwavering gaze on Edward. “I don’t even know who these people are, but I know you wouldn’t be five to one around a table with my guy if you had better offers to consider.”
Doubt flickered in his eyes. Eventually, his shoulders slumped and he held up his hands. “Fine. You’re a very persuasive man. Do you know that?”
“I’ve been told.” I rose to my feet and brought a hand to the button on my jacket. “Do we have a deal or not, Edward? I have a plane to catch and no more time to waste.”
He sighed but nodded and grinned as he offered me his hand. “You just acquired yourself a shipping line, my friend.”
“Glad to hear it.” My own lips spread into a grin as I shook his hand. “You will have to come to my home in Italy sometime. I’ll take you out for a proper celebration.”
“I’ve been wanting to take a trip there,” he said, tilting his head as he released my hand. “I hear it’s lovely this time of year.” Anticipation suddenly glittered in the black orbs of his eyes, replacing the doubt that had been there just a minute ago. “You don’t happen to have any space for us in that plane you have to catch, do you?”
Gianluca made a sound of displeasure behind me, but I ignored him. “It just so happens that I do. We have a whole jet with only myself and Gianluca onboard. I’ll have my assistant send you the details.”
“We’ll see you there.”
Gianluca and I left after Edward introduced me to his team and we said our goodbyes.
As soon as we walked out into the bright sunlight outside, he slapped a large hand down on my shoulder and threw his head back as he laughed. “I shouldn’t have doubted for a second that having you in there was a good idea. You were great. Even if I’m not thrilled about having to spend more time with them than I already have, I’m glad things turned out well in the end.”
“So am I.” I shoved his hand off my shoulder and smirked at him as I slid my sunglasses on. “We’re going to make another billion this year with this. Easy. Never doubt me again, Gianluca. You should know so much better than that by now.”