The Bastard Billionaire

By: Jessica Lemmon

“Who is this maven?” he asked, but the lilt of his voice suggested he’d already figured out.


A quiet grunt that could have been a laugh came through the phone. “I take it you’re not much of a wilter.”

“No. I’m tenacious and stubborn.”

“An exact match for Eli.”

“Once I convince him to get more involved in Crane Hotels, I’m sure I can place one of our many qualified assistants in my stead. I do have a company to run.”

Afraid she’d overstepped boundaries with her confidence, she cleared her throat, her mother’s scolding voice in the back of her mind whispering, Be polite, Isabella. No man appreciates a woman who disrespects him.

“My foray as his assistant will be brief,” she continued. “But there’s no need for him to know I’m top brass.”

“Right. Let’s not give him a challenge he’ll embrace,” Reese muttered.

“Exactly. I’ll act as if the company sent me. Like I’m a nameless number eleven. But trust me when I say, I’ll exceed your expectations.”

“Eleven,” Reese muttered.

She could have kicked herself for reminding him how many assistants they’d run through already.

“I apologize for the lack of professionalism you’ve seen so far. I appreciate you giving Sable Concierge another chance. My company is one I want you to lean on any time you’re in need of help.”

“Your company came highly recommended, Ms. Sawyer.” Reese said, his voice taking on a gentle quality. His voice did that whenever the topic of his wife came up.

“Thank Merina for me again,” Isa told him.

“I will. Your success is imminent, I presume.”

“You can bank on it.” She said her goodbyes and hung up the phone, pulling in a steady breath. One more shot. She had one more shot to pull this off. No, Reese hadn’t said it, but he hadn’t needed to. She’d fire her if she were he. Wife-recommended or not.

Last fall, Isa randomly scored a position for one of her assistants at the Van Heusen Hotel with Merina. The other woman had suggested Isa’s company for Elijah’s transition from Marine to Crane COO. In comparison to what Merina’s brother-in-law had been through serving his country, placing a PA was supposed to be easy. Eli had been through the physical hoops to regain his mobility using a prosthetic leg, and his warehouse home was equipped to accommodate his working from there as well.

The assistant’s job was to help Eli field Crane Hotels’s conference calls, answer and forward e-mails, and tend to the light load of work Reese had handed down to Eli to oversee.

Eli had done none of it.

Isa sent in seasoned help, and a startling number of her employees left either in tears or so angry Isa nearly lost them altogether. Elijah Crane, regardless of the team’s sensitivity training and the day they’d spent with a rehabilitation expert for amputees, was not an easy guy to feel sorry for.

He was “mean,” according to one of her employees, “miserable” according to another, and poor Melanie, who unfortunately had turned in her notice after her first and only day at Eli’s, had referred to him as a “monster” on her way out the door.

Well. The scourge of Eli Crane ended here. Isa wasn’t accustomed to buckling under pressure. If Eli was determined to be miserable, he could ruin his own life, but she wouldn’t allow him to tank her company’s future. Despite the reassurance she’d given Reese, Isa had expected Melanie to last two or three days. She’d lasted one.

Chloe had been trained to run the office in case Isa was away, so Isa had no doubts she could handle Eli during the day, then tend to Sable Concierge after hours. Answering e-mails could be done at any time of night, and she could return phone calls during lunch or early in the morning.

As owner and operator, Isa was willing to do whatever it took to make her business a success in Chicago. If she had to work two jobs for the short term, so be it.

Elijah Crane hadn’t given her a choice.

* * *

Eli sat at the kitchen table and watched the hubbub in front of him, face resting in his hand, scowl on his face. His sister-in-law, Merina, was bustling around setting the table. She paused in front of him.

“You look like your brother when you do that.” Her mouth flinched into a teasing smile.

“The one you married or Tarzan?”

“I heard that.” Tag loped into the room with three to-go bags from Chow Main, the best Chinese food joint in town. Eli’s mouth watered at the sight of the generic paper-inside-a-plastic bag with the happy face on it that read HAVE A NICE DAY!

Tag’s girlfriend, Rachel, followed him in, a bottle of wine in each hand.

“Hey, Rach,” Merina greeted, setting the last place. She accepted one of the bottles and spun the label around. “Ooh, good choice.”

“It’s a customer favorite. Or was, when I bartended.” Rachel flashed Eli a quick glance, then looked away. She wasn’t sure about him yet, and for good reason. They hadn’t spent a lot of time together. He hadn’t exactly been warm and fuzzy since he’d returned home.

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