The Billionaire Bachelor

By: Jessica Lemmon

And that was when any wayward attraction she might have felt toward him died a quick death. The moment he opened his mouth, her hormones pulled the emergency brake.

“Cut the horseshit, Crane,” she snapped.

The edge of Reese’s mouth moved sideways, sliding the stubble into an even more appealing pattern. But she wasn’t here to be insulted or patronized.

“I heard some news,” she said.

He didn’t bite.

“Your father purchased the Van Heusen,” she continued.

“He added it to the family portfolio, yes,” he responded coolly.

Portfolio. She felt her lip curl. To him, the VH was a number on a spreadsheet. Nothing more. Which could also mean he didn’t care enough about it to continue with these ridiculous changes.

“There’s been an error. My mother is under the impression that many of the nostalgic and antique fixtures in the building will be replaced.” She plunked down the heavy doorknob on his desk. A pool of rainwater gathered on his leather blotter.

Reese sucked in a breath through his nose and moved to his desk—a block of black wood the color of his heart—and rested one hand on the back of a shiny leather chair.

“Have a seat.” He had manly hands for a guy who spent his days in an office and spare time eating souls, and they were about as disturbingly masculine as the scruff lining his jaw.

She didn’t want to sit. She wanted to march over there and slap the pompous smirk off his face. Then she remembered her compromised top, refolded her arms over her breasts, and sat as requested.

You win this round, Crane.

Reese lowered himself into his chair and pressed a button on his phone. “Bobbie, Ms. Van Heusen will need a car in fifteen minutes.”

“Yes, sir.”

So he’d deigned to carve out fifteen minutes for Merina. Lucky her.

“I don’t want a car.”

“No? You’re planning on walking back?” Even sitting, he exuded power. Broad, strong shoulders filled out his dark jacket, and a gray tie with a silver sheen arrowed down a crisp white shirt.

“Yes.” She wondered what time of day he finally gave up and yanked the perfect knot out of that tie. When he surrendered the top button. Another flare of heat shot through her. She hated the way he affected her. She was just so damn aware of him.

It was unfair. She frowned.

“You were saying something about horseshit,” he said smoothly, and she realized she had been sitting there glaring at him in silence for a long while.

She cleared her throat and plowed through what she needed to tell him.

“You can’t redesign the Van Heusen Hotel. It’s a landmark. Did you know the hotel was the first to install elevators? The hotel’s chef created the snickerdoodle. That building is an integral thread woven into the fabric of this city.”

She pressed her lips together. Perhaps she was being a tad theatrical, but the Van Heusen did have historical importance to the city, and beyond that, a personal history to her. She’d gone to college straight from high school and graduated with her business degree, her dream to run the Van Heusen. A dream she’d realized and was currently living until this little snafu.

“Born and raised in Chicago, Ms. Van Heusen. You’re not telling me anything I don’t know,” he said, sounding bored.

“Then you know remodeling the Van Heusen makes no sense,” she continued, using her best ally: reason. “Our hotel is known for its style. Guests come there to experience a living, breathing piece of Chicago.” She stopped short of going into a monologue about how even the fires couldn’t destroy the dream but opted against it.

“My hotel, Ms. Van Heusen,” he corrected.

His. A fact she’d gleaned only a few minutes ago. A dart of pain shot through the center of her chest. She should have demanded to see the contract her parents signed before sloshing over here in a downpour and parading her nipples for Mr. Suit & Beard. She was almost as pissed at them for keeping this from her as she was for Crane thinking he could strut in and take over.

“No matter who owns the building, you have to know that robbing the Van Heusen of its style will make it just another whitewashed, dull hotel,” she said.

Her stomach churned. If she had to bear witness to them ripping up the carpeting and replacing it with white shining tile or see a Dumpster filled with antique doorknobs, she might just lose her mind. The hand-carved molding, the ceiling medallions…each piece of the VH had been preserved to keep the integrity of the past. And now Reese wanted to erase it.

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