Paolo Francesco Peretti
Smiling, Paolo stood on the balcony overlooking his grand dining hall and all his guests—rich and not-so-rich alike. It warmed his heart to see all of them enjoying the food of his new chef—his latest addition to his collection of the finest money can buy items on his property. Some of his guests were envious of his wealth and his ability to collect the finest items in the world. Those were the people he liked having as guests more than the others, who merely enjoyed his things.
Paolo hardly ever ate with his guests, instead, he opted for the much more attractive duty of looking down upon the guests as they ate and spoke so highly of him and his wealth and his things. That always boosted his mood and stroked his ego, which he knew was large.
Francesco had worked hard for his entire life, rising before dawn and going to bed late every day—there were no days off, vacations, or just lazy days for Paolo’s father. He’d watched his father build an empire around the fruits of his continual labor and had also watched as his father grew old before his time and die far too young. Paolo decided, on the day of his father’s funeral, that he would do things differently. After all, the money rolled in month after month, keeping the bank account fatter than most, so why not live easy and enjoy the money?
Paolo hired many hands to work his vineyard, press the grapes, make the wine, bottle the wine, and ship the wine. All he had to do was go to a few annual public shows in which he was doing what he did best—showing off his wealth and wine-making savvy for everyone to envy. He was proud to be a Peretti and even prouder to be a very, very rich Peretti whom everyone looked up to, envied.
Standing on the indoor balcony, taking in the scene below, he could pick out bits and pieces of conversations, but not a lot. It was fine; he knew what most of them were saying, anyway. He leaned onto the railing and scanned the large group. A beautiful, young woman sat at the middle of the first long table, facing him. He didn’t know her, though she looked slightly familiar.
As he watched, he saw that she wasn’t chatting with the other guests, and, indeed, she wasn’t eating much. Did she not enjoy the food of his Master Chef from France? He’d traveled to Paris to find the best of the best and had come home with Master Chef Jean Baptiste Dubois.
She was the only person at any table who seemed to want to be somewhere else; anywhere else but there from the looks of it. She kept checking her watch and looking around as if expecting someone, or something to signal that it was okay for her to make her getaway.
“Tomas, come here.” He motioned over his shoulder to his personal butler, who was never more than a few yards away.
Tomas stepped up beside him. “Yes, sir?”
Holding out his glass of wine, Paolo tipped it in the beautiful woman’s direction. “Who is that gorgeous creature seated at my table, Tomas? I don’t remember inviting anyone so beautiful.”
“I’m sorry to say that I don’t know who she is, sir.” Tomas looked disinterested and aloof—that’s part of why Paolo hired the man, though; his ability to seem disinterested, distant, even cold at times was appealing and the exact opposite of Paolo’s nature.
“Well, Tomas. Why don’t you go find out who she is, hmm?” He waved Tomas away with the flick of his fingers.
“Of course, sir.” The manservant disappeared down the spiraling staircase.
Paolo watched as Tomas appeared at the side of the young lady, spoke to her, she responded, he nodded, and walked back to the staircase. The young woman looked up at Paolo from her seat. There was no smile on her face and she still seemed eager to be elsewhere. Paolo smiled and tipped his glass at her. She tucked a strand of that long, black, wavy hair behind her ear and gave him a very small, very quick smile and then looked away again.
Tomas appeared again at his side and Paolo stood to face his butler. “Yes? What news, Tomas?” Paolo was impatient to know the name of the beauty at his table.
“Sir, she says her name is Sofia Aurora Romano.” Tomas, his dead level stare, meeting Paolo’s own.
“Is that all she said, Tomas?” Such a beautiful name to match such a beautiful woman.
“Yes, sir. That’s all I asked of her just as you instructed me to do.”
Rolling his eyes, Paolo sighed. “You’re right, of course. Thank you, Tomas. Now go be stoic somewhere else for a while, would you?” That his manservant showed no more initiative than that annoyed Paolo a bit. Then again, he couldn’t have his servants running around doing their own thinking while they were on the clock; it would be unwise to allow that.
Finishing his large glass of wine, Paolo decided to mingle with his guests, since it seemed that many of them had finished their meals. He balanced the wine glass on the balcony railing and grinned back at Tomas as he headed for the staircase. He knew it annoyed Tomas for anything to be balanced on the skinny railings of the balconies—especially the ones indoors.
Descending the stairs quickly, Paolo laughed as he caught sight of Tomas snatching the glass from the railing before following him. Did he go out at night with friends and complain about what an asshole Paolo had been that day at work? Laughing again, Paolo thought he probably did exactly that; the man had to get it off his chest somehow to be able to remain so unmoved at work.
Romano, Romano, Romano. I know that name from somewhere, but Sofia Aurora Romano I can’t place. She is a true beauty, though. She would fit nicely in my collection of the finest things in the world.
Paolo reached the bottom of the stairs and walked to the last table to greet some of his father’s friends whom he’d invited so they could see that Francesco’s money was indeed being used wisely. The fat wealthy men and their well-heeled snooty wives were always welcome in his home so long as he could impress them with fine things.
He shook a few hands and moved on, skipping the middle table and going straight to Sofia’s table. He had to meet her, greet her; he’d already wined and dined her, so now it was time to do the face-to-face thing, which he liked to think he was good at.