The Bastard Billionaire

By: Jessica Lemmon

Back in his office, he stomped on the smoking file folder at his feet. Once he was sure he wouldn’t burn down his house, he chucked the folder into the wastebasket at the side of his desk.

“Sorry, Reese,” he said to thin air. “You’ll have to manage without me.”

They’d managed without him for the years he was stationed overseas. His brothers could put one foot in front of the next without him. God knew being away hadn’t improved Eli’s ability to weigh in on financials.

But that’s not why they wanted him there. Reese and Tag, and their father, wanted Eli there because they believed Crane Hotels was part of Eli’s future. A legacy, like CEO was for Reese. Like Guest and Restaurant Services was for Tag.

Eli’s avoidance was in part because he had spearheaded a sizeable personal project and in larger part because wherever he went, unfortunate events unfurled. He wasn’t quite ready to topple the company his father had grown into an empire.

His cell phone buzzed with a text from an old friend he’d contacted earlier this week. He lifted the phone and walked smoothly from his desk to the kitchen, reading the text.

Yep, still in business.

He tapped in a reply. Let’s talk more next week. Give me a choice of dates.

He pocketed his phone, feeling a charge shoot down his arms. Since he’d come home, he’d been consumed with giving back. With changing the worlds of men and women who’d made sacrifices. For their country, for their families. Men and women who’d returned home with less than they had before they left and were expected to drop back into the flow of things.

Penance, some might argue, for everything in Eli’s past. He wasn’t above admitting that evening the scales for his failures was a big part of what drove his actions now.

Which meant he had no interest in stepping in as chief operations officer of the gargantuan Crane Hotels, no matter how many PAs his oldest brother sent over.

Keep ’em comin’.

Eli had become adept at running off PAs. In fact, he’d become even more creative about the ways he could get them to quit.

If poor Melanie had her way, he’d reside in a creepy mansion atop a hill. The gossip rags would murmur about the beastly Crane brother no one dared bother lest they suffer his wrath. He let out a dry laugh, amused by the bend of his thoughts.

After the year he’d had, that sounded a lot like heaven.

* * *

The phone was ringing off the hook today, which normally would be a good sign. But the caller on hold sent Isabella Sawyer’s stomach on a one-way trip to her toes.

“Isa?” her assistant called again from her desk. “Do you want me to take a message?”

“No, Chloe, I’ll take it.” She didn’t want to take it, but she’d take it. She shut her office door and in the minimizing crack watched as her friend’s face morphed into concern. Isa gave Chloe a thumbs-up she didn’t quite feel. Lifting the handset of her desk phone was like facing a firing squad.

“Bobbie, hello,” she said to Reese Crane’s secretary.

“Hold for Mr. Crane,” Bobbie clipped in her usual curt manner.

She’d had similar conversations with Reese several times already. Nine other times, to be exact. One for each of the personal assistants she’d sent over to work with his brother. Isa was pretty sure this was the “you’re fired” call she’d been expecting three assistants ago. At least she had a prepared response this time.

“Isa. Here we are again,” came Reese’s smooth voice.

She’d met him once in passing, at an event she’d attended on behalf of her personal assistant company, Sable Concierge. Reese Crane was tall, intimidating, handsome, and professional.

And married. Not that he was Isa’s type. Business guys in suits for clients, yes. Business guys in suits for dating potential, no thanks. She’d been there, done that, and picked up the dry cleaning.

“Mr. Crane, I’m sorry we aren’t speaking under better circumstances.”

“So am I. You promised me you’d found the ideal PA for Eli this time around.”

Melanie hadn’t been second string, but Isa had already gone through her top choices. Elijah Crane had chased off every last one of them. They were down to her assistant Chloe, whom Isa needed here in the office, or a new hire named Joey. No way would he last thirty seconds.

Isa refused to pull her other PAs off current assignments to cater to Elijah Crane. If she lost the Crane business, she’d need her current roster of clients or they’d all starve.

“Solve my problem.” Reese’s commanding tone brooked no argument, nor should it. Isa was at his beck and call for one simple reason: his seal of approval would help her budding business advance to the next level, or, if she continued failing to provide a suitable assistant for his brother, could tank it. She wanted to wedge a foot in the door with the elite in Chicago, and since her parents weren’t supportive of her choice in vocation, Reese Crane held the key to that door.

“I have a solution. A PA who has over three years experience at my company and a decade prior working as right-hand woman to Sawyer Financial Group. I can guarantee your brother will absolutely not scare her away.”

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