The Bastard Billionaire

By: Jessica Lemmon

If she had said that, the sentence would have been infused with passion hinting at the fairy tale by which they came to own the Van Heusen. When Reese said it, he made the hotel sound like it was a lame, deaf, blind dog needing to be put down.

No. She would not accept this. Not from Reese. Not from her parents. It was possible they’d forgotten how much the hotel meant to them. Not having money created desperate feelings. Her father wasn’t as spry as he once was given his heart condition. Maybe they needed her intrusion.

Reese’s phone buzzed and Bobbie stated, “Ms. Van Heusen’s town car is here, sir.”

“I don’t want it,” Merina bit out, still leaning over his desk.

He angled his eyes up to her and they stayed locked in a heated staring contest until “Very well” came from the phone’s speaker, then clicked off again.

Merina straightened. Outside, the rain started coming down in sheets. Didn’t it figure? An involuntary shiver racked her spine, and possibly her lips were turning blue from her wet hair, but she kept her knees locked and her arms folded securely over her peek-a-boo breasts.

“I have an appointment I can’t miss, but I won’t leave you in suspense.” Reese stood, deftly unbuttoned his jacket, and shrugged out of it. Those shoulders. My God. He was a mountain of a man. Tall and broad and the absolute opposite of what anyone might expect a hotel owner-slash-billionaire to look like.

“Suspense?” she repeated, her voice dipping low when he came out from behind the desk. Her eyes screwed up to meet his as he draped his suit jacket over her shoulders.

“I’m not going to put you out on your fantastic ass, Merina.” His lips tipped—lush lips. His was a mouth made for sin. But then, Satan. So it made sense.

She gripped the jacket when he let go. She should be throwing it at him, but it was warm and she was freezing. And it smelled of leather and money and power. Three things she wished didn’t make her feel safe. What was it about this man? She’d seen pictures of him before, and yes, noticed he was attractive, but in the flesh there was something about him that made her feel utterly feminine. Even at the worst possible times. Like when he was dangling her job over a lava-filled pit and daring her to grab for it.

“I appreciate your reconsidering. I belong at the Van Heusen.” Until she figured out a way to get the hotel back, at least she could be there. She would come up with a way to delay the remodel.

“No, you misunderstand me. I can’t keep you there,” he said, a frown marring his otherwise perfect brow. “But I can offer you almost any position you’d like at Crane Hotels. We have openings in Wisconsin, Virginia, and Ohio. I know it’s not Chicago, but chances are you can stay in the Midwest.”

He slid past her while she stared at the sheeting rain, her fingers going numb around the lapels of his jacket. Not only was he firing her, but he expected her to work for him? Expected her to leave Chicago? This was her city, dammit! He didn’t reserve the right to boot her out.

When she turned, Reese was pressing a button on the wall. His office doors whispered open.

A balding, smiling man appeared in the doorway and gave Reese a wave of greeting. He noticed her next and offered a nod.

Well. Merina didn’t care who he was; he was about to get an earful. She wouldn’t allow Reese Crane to dismiss her after dropping that bomb on her feet.

She stomped over to the doorway between him and his guest.

“You listen to me, you suited sewer rat.” Disregarding their current third party, she seethed up at Reese. “I’m going to find a way around your machinations and when I do, I’m going to march back in here with the contract my parents signed and shove it straight up your ass.”

Reese’s eyebrows rose, his lips with them. Instead of apologizing to his guest, he grinned over at the balding man, who to his testament was appropriately shocked, and said, “You’ll have to forgive Ms. Van Heusen. She doesn’t like when she doesn’t get her way.”

The balding man laughed, though it sounded a tad uneasy.

Reese tilted his head at Merina. “Will there be anything else?”

“Your head on a pike.” With that parting blow, she left, holding fast to the suit jacket. She wore it on the ride down the elevator, through the bland lobby, and out onto Superior Street, where she wadded it up and threw it into a mud puddle gathering near the curb.

She walked back to the Van Heusen in the rain, telling herself she’d won this round. But Merina didn’t feel victorious.

She felt lost.

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