The Billionaire Bachelor

By: Jessica Lemmon

Jolie gestured to the chair by the desk. Merina refused to sit.

“Mom. What’s going on?”

On the end of a sigh that didn’t make Merina feel any better, her mother spoke.

“Several changes have been ordered for the Van Heusen in order to modernize it. Fingerprint entry is just one of them. Also, the elevators will be replaced.”

“Why?” Merina pictured the gold decorative doors with a Phoenix, the mythical bird that arose from the ashes of its predecessor, emblazoned on them. If there was a beating heart in the Van Heusen, it was that symbol. Her stomach turned.

Instead of answering, Jolie continued. “Then there’s the carpeting. The tapestry design won’t fit in with the new scheme. And probably the molding and ceiling medallions will all be replaced.” She sighed again. “It’s a new era.”

“When did you take to day-drinking?” Merina asked, only half kidding.

Her mother laughed, but it was brief and faded almost instantly. She touched Merina’s arm gently. “Sweetheart. We were going to tell you, but we wanted to make sure there really was no going back. I didn’t expect the locksmith to arrive today.” Her eyes strayed to the door.

Merina’s patience fizzled. “Tell me what?”

“Your father and I sold the Van Heusen to Alexander Crane six months ago. At the time, he had no plans on making any changes at all, but now that he’s retiring, the hotel has fallen to his oldest son. Evidently, Reese had different ideas.”

At that pronouncement, Jolie’s normally sunny attitude clouded over. Merina knew the Cranes. The Crane Hotel was the biggest corporate hotel outfit in the city, the second biggest in the nation. Alexander (better known as “Big Crane”) and his sons ran it, local celebrities of sorts. She’d also read about Big Crane’s retirement and Reese’s likely ascension to CEO.

But none of that mattered. There was only one newly learned fact bouncing around in her brain. “You sold the Van Heusen?”

She needed that chair after all. She sank into it, mind blanking of everything except for one name: Reese Crane.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Merina stood up again. She couldn’t sit. She could not remain still while this was happening. Correction: This had happened. “Why didn’t you talk to me first?”

“You know we’d never include you in our financial difficulties, Merina.” Jolie clucked her tongue.

Financial difficulties?

“Bankruptcy was not an option,” her mom said. “Plus, selling gave us the best of both worlds. No financial responsibility and we keep our jobs.”

“With Reese Crane as your boss!” Her mind spun after she said it aloud. My God. They would be answering to that arrogant, idiotic…“No.” Merina shook her head as she strode past her mother. “This is a mistake.”

And there had to be a way to undo it.

“Merina!” her mother called after her as Merina bent and collected the discarded doorknob off the ground. She strode through the lobby, dumping the remainder of her latte in the wastebasket by the front desk, and then stomped outside.

As luck would have it, the light drizzle turned into steady rain the second she marched through the crosswalk. Angry as she was, she’d bet that steam rose off her body where the raindrops pelted her.

“That stupid, smarmy jackass!” she said as she pushed through a small crowd of people hustling through the crosswalk. Because seriously, who in their right mind would reconstruct the Van Heusen? Fingerprint entry? This wasn’t a James Bond movie! She caught a few sideways glances, but it was hard to tell if they were because she was muttering to herself like a loopy homeless person or because she was carrying a disembodied doorknob around with her.

Could be both.

Her parents had sold the Van Heusen to the biggest, most ostentatious hotel chain in the world. And without telling their own daughter, who also happened to be the hotel’s manager! How close to bankruptcy had they been? Couldn’t Merina have helped? She’d never know now that they’d sneaked behind her back.

How could they do this to me?

Merina was as much a part of that hotel as they were. Her mother acted as if selling it was nothing more than an inconvenience.

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