The Billionaire's Secret Wife

By: Nadia Lee

“Your ‘minor errors’ are going to cost the company at least five million dollars. You’re not worth anywhere near that much money.”

“I’ve managed hundreds of projects!”

“With an acceptable level of competence, for which you were compensated accordingly. But frankly, you aren’t as good as you think you are. If you don’t walk out of here in the next three minutes, I’ll have you thrown out. The choice is up to you.”

With that he dismissed the manager from his thoughts as he focused on the papers in front of him. The Ethel Sterling Children’s Hospital had been Barron’s pet project, something he wanted to build in his late wife’s name. It should’ve been completed two years earlier, but somehow it was still on-going. Barron hadn’t really given it the attention it required, what with the return of his granddaughter Kerri from self-imposed exile and her wedding, plus Barron’s own newly minted romance. And Justin had had other things demanding his attention since he’d taken over as well.

Justin glanced at the desktop clock. The round face was set in an elegant miniature silver statue featuring two swans with necks entwined. Their diamond eyes sparkled. Vanessa’s eyes had sparkled the same way when she’d given it to him as a birthday present six years ago. They’d been in Paris on a secret vacation. He’d even booked separate hotel rooms to maintain the ridiculous façade she’d wanted.

He kept thinking he should throw it out, especially after their nasty fight in November, but somehow in the ensuing three months he hadn’t been able to do so. He told himself the clock was useful, and it was true that it was the only timepiece in his office.

Almost six o’clock. He should have his assistant order him something quick to eat. It was going to be a long night.

His personal mobile rang, and he scowled at it. Fewer than twenty people had the number, and the last thing he needed was another problem. A frown creased his brow when Iain Pryce flashed on the screen. He was one of Justin’s closest friends and Vanessa’s older brother.

What could he want?

“Hi, Ia—”

“Thank god. Are you in Chicago?”

“Yeah. What’s up?”

“It’s Vanessa.”

Justin’s mood instantly darkened, then turned to something that felt suspiciously like worry. He cursed himself and kept his voice even. “What about her?”

“She’s on a flight to O’Hare.”

Justin pressed a finger against the spot between his eyebrows as his idiot heart thumped. She couldn’t possibly be coming to visit him. “On business?”

“No. Can you get her off the plane and keep her there until I can go get her?”

“Isn’t she flying private? Just have the pilot turn back to L.A.” Unlike three of her brothers, she didn’t have her own jet. She was probably on one of her brothers’ toys.

“She’s on United.” Iain rattled off the flight number and arrival info.

I should just say no. He wasn’t Vanessa’s keeper, and he really needed to forget her and move on. On the other hand, what was making her to come to Chicago? The moronic part of him spun a ridiculous fantasy: maybe she was coming to apologize and change her ways. Toxic hope. He didn’t buy it.

“Justin, can I count on you?” Iain was saying. “I’ll be there soon.”

“Don’t bother. It’s late, and I’m sure you have better things to do,” Justin said. “I’ll send her back to L.A. as soon as possible. If not, I’ll call. Is that cool?”

“Thanks. I owe you one.”

Justin hung up and leaned back in his seat. Yeah. You and everyone else.

* * *

Vanessa rubbed her temples as twin hammers pounded inside her head. Maybe she shouldn’t have had so much to drink on the flight, but this was a special situation. The cabin started to hum with activities as soon as the plane reached the gate.

The purser’s calm voice came through the PA system, saying the usual about thanking the passengers blah blah blah. Then there was something different. “Please resume your seats for a few moments until we’re cleared to deplane.”

There was a general murmuring, but the passengers slowly sat back down. Vanessa frowned, taking her seat again with her purse clutched in her lap. She wanted to get off as soon as possible and then…what? She closed her eyes. Coming to Chicago was a mistake. She and Justin didn’t have the kind of relationship where she could just show up unannounced for support. She’d systematically discouraged him from starting the type of deep conversation that she wanted right now. Her fingers tightened around her purse.

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