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Betting on the Billionaire
By Avery Flynn, Stephan Morgan
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2014 Avery Flynn
All rights reserved.
Keisha Jacobs would give up her favorite ratchet box wrench for the ability to reach through the phone and strangle the rich asshole on the other end of the line. However, the fact that such an action happened to be physically impossible was a blessing. Few things were as sparse around Jacobs Fine Furnishings as bail money.
But the bills? She surveyed the stack of envelopes filling the leopard print inbox on the corner of her office desk. Oh, there were plenty of them.
Unclamping her jaw before she broke a molar, Keisha sucked in a fortifying breath through her teeth. There. Much better. Sort of. "I don't care how much money you offer, Mr. Campos, Jacobs Fine Furnishings is not for sale."
"Everyone has a price." He delivered the comment with the honeyed voice of someone used to getting his way. Too bad for him she'd already fallen for that ploy. Once. With another smooth-talking uber-stud. All it had gotten her was an overpriced wedding dress and nowhere to wear it. "Not me and not this company."
Keisha slid her fingers across her laptop's built-in mouse pad. The screen flickered to life. She scrolled up The Harbor City Post's website to an old photo of a clean-shaven, square-jawed hottie in a tuxedo with a model-slash-actress-slash-singer type on each arm.
Three's Company: Harbor City's bad boy billionaire, Gabe Campos, hits the town with two beauties for the annual Fashion Fights Hunger gala at the Harbor City Museum of Modern Art. Looks like he doesn't just have the Midas touch when it comes to money.
The article under the photo waxed on and on about how Campos relaxed by building furniture.
"Why don't you meet me, and we can discuss this in person?" Gabe's smooth voice slithered down her spine, tempting and oh so dangerous. "I can have my helicopter pilot fly down to Salvation, Virginia and bring you to Harbor City. We can chat about the acquisition over dinner. I'd love to finally see the face that goes with that Southern drawl."
She rolled her eyes at Gabe's image on her screen. "Do you think because I live in a small town that I'm a total noob?"
"I'm just trying to be friendly."
Keisha snorted. "No, you're trying to buy cheap."
"So you'd be willing to sell if I increased my offer?"
Man, this guy would not take no for an answer, and it was making her nuts. Six month of flirty negotiations coupled with his maddening stubbornness had her twitching in her seat. "Absolutely not."
"That's a problem." His voice turned from sticky sweet to flinty in a heartbeat.
"Not for me it's not," she retorted.
"It will be."
The dial tone buzzed in her ear before she could think of a better come back than, "Oh yeah?"
"Well, that sounded like it went well." Her best friend, Ellen, stood in the doorway still wearing her red-checked waitress uniform from The Kitchen Sink diner under an unzipped, thick winter coat. She held a white bakery box in her arms.
"Please tell me that's chocolate, because I need it." Keisha hung up the phone and let her chin drop to the desk. The giant poof of her natural ebony afro floated around her head like a force field.
"Yes." Ellen sauntered into Keisha's brightly lit office, her red uniform mixing in perfectly with the eclectic vibe and vibrant colors. "And I'm totally holding the cake hostage until you agree to weave your interior decorating magic on my place before you leave for the big city."
"Is it lava cake?" Keisha lifted her head and tried to read the small print on the side of the white box. Only the most delicious comfort food could make up for dealing with Gabe "I'm-Richer-Than-Bruce-Wayne" Campos any better. The man was a fucking silver-tonged, muscle-bound menace.
Ellen winked. "Oh yeah, baby."
Keisha sat up like someone had waved the green flag at the Talladega race track. "It's a deal."
"Wow, you didn't even put up a fight." Ellen sat down in the teal guest chair and unpacked two personal-sized cakes of chocolate goodness, plastic forks, and napkins. "You do remember what my place looks like? The fake wood paneling? The Virginia Hokies wallpaper in the bathroom? The lime green kitchen?"
"Yes, yes, and yes." Keisha sank her fork into the cake, and a river of gooey chocolate spilled out. "But I just hung up with Mr. Ego-the-Size-of-His-Bank-Account."
"Again? What is his deal? With all the money he's got, why would he be interested in a small business like Jacobs Fine Furnishings? No offense."
"None taken," Keisha said around a bite of lava cake. The moist cake on her tongue gave way to the decadent chocolate sauce hidden inside the bite, and her eyes almost rolled back in her head from the pleasure. "He gave some sort of cock and bull story about how he's a big Jacobs Fine Furnishings collector and has always wanted to be a part of the craft, so he figured buying the company was a way to do that."
The explanation had set off her bullshit meter faster than a Ferrari with nitro in the tank.
"Why not say yes to all that money?" Ellen asked.
"Because there's no way I'm going to be responsible for my dad having a second stroke. Once was enough. If the disaster of my broken engagement caused the stroke, what do you think selling Jacobs Fine Furnishings would do to his heart? We can't even get him to take a two week vacation, let alone sell the place. It took four months for him to agree to let my cousin, Tyrell, train to be his replacement. And that only happened because the doctor said he'd have another stroke within six months if he didn't get his stress level down."
Her dad had started the company in his parents' barn and had a knee-jerk aversion to anyone whose last name wasn't Jacobs running the family business. Any deal to sell was destined to fail — no matter how much money Gabe offered.
"I could never work with my mom." Ellen shook her head. "We'd kill each other within a week."
"Well, I won't be working with dad for much longer. Once I get the official job offer from Epson and Callahan Interior Design in Harbor City, I'm out of here, and this whole place becomes Tyrell's problem."
Finally. Her new life was about to start. She'd worked her ass off to pay her dues as an interior designer, and the idea of being single and free in the big city made her stomach fizzy with excitement. She loved her family, but at twenty-six, it was past time she handed over the sash for being Miss Responsible for Everyone Else.
"So when are you going to tell your dad?"
"Not until I have to. He's always had this dream of me taking over the family business. But I have other ideas."
"Gotta love it when a plan comes together." Ellen toasted her with a forkful of chocolate lava cake.
Unable to dissolve the nugget of worry that hung around her like a curse, Keisha shrugged. "Yeah, as long as it really does."
"Have faith. You may not always get what you want, but you do get what you need."
Keisha halted her fork halfway to her mouth. In their twenty-year friendship, Ellen had managed to mess up the words to almost every song they'd ever sang into their hairbrushes. "Are there any song lyrics you don't butcher?"
"Only the words to every sad sack country song out there about a man who loses a dog."
Of course. "You're a hot mess."
Ellen laughed. "Pretty much, but you love cleaning up messes, so you love hanging around me."
"No." Keisha devoured another bite. "I love you for the cake."
"Fair enough." Ellen polished off her cake and swiped a piece from Keisha's plate just as the phone rang.
Keisha stared at it, a swift uptick in her pulse making her cheeks heat up, but didn't make a move to answer. Could it be him? A mutinous part of her sure as hell hoped so.
"Don't tell me you are letting a call go to voicemail. Now that would be a first." Ellen delivered a melodramatic gasp. "The scandal."
"Oh shut up." She chewed the inside of her cheek. "It's probably Gabe Campos again, and I just can't deal with him any more today."
Would she have taken the call if she'd been alone in the office? Probably. Something about sparring with Gabe got her motor purring. It must be the novelty of telling someone no. That had to be it.
"I don't know, I've seen pictures ..." Ellen's face took on a dreamy quality, and she sighed.
"Too bad his personality isn't as hot as he is," Keisha mumbled.
Ellen wriggled her eyebrows. "If you stopped spending all your free time fixing up that old bucket of bolts of yours and actually started dating again, you'd realize you don't sleep with their personality."
"You're so bad." Keisha tossed a crumpled napkin at her best friend. "And, anyway, working on my Thunderbird is the closest I get to a moment of Zen."
"Unless that moment comes with orgasms, you're missing out."
"I don't need a man for that." Still, Keisha snuck a glance at her laptop screen and the photo of Gabe.
Tall, muscular, and classically handsome, with warm, light brown skin that stood testament to his Hispanic heritage, she couldn't deny he was hot. But it was the hint of a cocky smolder behind his black-framed glasses that had her squeezing her thighs together and twisting in her seat.
Good thing Gabe was in Harbor City. A girl could only take so much temptation.CHAPTER 2
After ten years and one billion dollars, lady luck had decided to give Gabe Campos the middle finger. And, possibly, frostbite.
He stepped onto the slushy surface of Highway Twenty-Eight outside of Salvation, Virginia, and an icy wind gust smacked him in the face. The arctic air carried fluffy snowflakes the size of quarters, turning his pristine glasses into opaque decoration. Then, after a few breaths of frosty air, icicles crystalized on his new short-trimmed beard. Of all the places for his car to finally sputter to a stop, it had to be on an abandoned stretch of highway miles away from the interstate and any sign of civilization.
All because of a weird combination of revenge, curiosity, and lust. Maybe his cousin Carlos was right — he had lost his mind.
Gabe flipped his wool coat's collar up to guard against the cold wind as best he could and wiped the fog off his glasses. He circled around to the car's front bumper. It took him a few tries to figure out the hood's clasp, but it finally gave way, and he popped open his Aston Martin Vanquish's snow-slick hood. He'd bought the sports car last week for two important reasons.
Number one, it went fast. Really. Really. Fast.
Number two, it was his favorite shade of red.
A car guy, he was not. A fact that became all too apparent as he stared at the AM11 engine, which was about as familiar and understandable to him as a ski lodge that didn't come with a live-in maid. He had grown up with money, but making a million before graduating high school tended to change a man's perspective — and his expectations.
Right about now, though, he'd happily give up the jet black Bentley parked in his garage back home in Harbor City for a second chance at the auto mechanic lessons his Uncle Julio had tried to give him as a teenager. But Gabe had assumed that with as much bank as he had, he didn't need to know how to change his oil. His uncle would get a good laugh out of this.
That was if — and it seemed like a big if — Gabe found shelter before the fast moving snow storm turned him into Frosty the Snowman. He rubbed his palms together hard enough to chafe them despite his leather driving gloves. The pain was worth it for the little bit of heat the move garnered — just like his plan.
Revenge didn't come without a little heartburn. Sure, a few people may lose their jobs, but Gabe had sworn a vow that Dell Jacobs would lose a lot more. No matter the weather, it was time to see his promise through.
He slammed the car's hood down and shoved his hands into his pockets. The interstate was closer than Salvation, but the solitary, two-pump gas station he'd passed coming off the exit ramp had already closed down for the night. The town ahead had to have something open despite the worsening weather. He hesitated and looked up at the gray sky.
Conventional wisdom said to wait out a storm in your car until help arrived, but he hadn't seen any sign of life for more than an hour. The town of Salvation lay a few miles down the road. Ten tops. After completing three Ironman competitions, he should be able to do that distance in his sleep. Even with the snow.
Gabe glanced back one last time at the car before grinning and pulling out a wool hat from his pocket. He'd never followed conventional wisdom before. Why in the hell would he start now?
It only took half an hour of slugging through snow before he'd called himself every word for idiot, moron, and douchebag he could think of in the eight languages he spoke fluently. In an effort to keep his mind off of the wind, the sleet, the misery, and the sheet of ice forming on his mustache, he started in on the languages he only knew a little.
"Idiota." That took care of Portuguese.
He trudged forward, his Italian dress shoes sliding whenever he hit an icy patch, which seemed to be every other breath.
"Mjinga." And Swahili.
A frigid blast stole the Swedish translation out of his mouth. Since he'd left his car along the side of the road and begun this half-baked trek, enough snow had fallen that his ankles were soaked. He'd kept to the center of the road, the snowdrifts making it hard to figure out where the highway ended and the shoulder began. The last thing he needed was to fall ass-first into a mound of snow because he'd misjudged. Again.
Wasn't that just typical of his life lately?
If he hadn't been so overly confident in his ability to steal Jacobs Fine Furnishings from under Dell Jacobs' nose, he wouldn't have made the drive from Harbor City to Salvation in three hours less time than his GPS had predicted. Right in time to be stranded on the side of the road in a blizzard. Because the boy genius, as the Harbor City Times had called him a few years ago, didn't take advice from anyone. Not even electronic direction givers.
Who the hell was he kidding? Sixty percent of the reason he was trudging through the icy muck was so he could finally see Keisha Jacobs in the flesh after battling her via phone for months. The low resolution photos he'd found of her online hadn't sated his curiosity. They were small and fuzzy, not to mention she was always hiding in the background. Still, he wasn't the kind of man to let a question go unanswered, even if that meant driving to small town America when he could have issued his ultimatum via certified letter.
Up ahead, a neon sign flickered, and he stumbled toward it.
The Fix 'Er Up Auto Shop sign glowed yellow one hundred yards ahead, the light acting as a beacon as the snow swirled fast and furious around him. The cold air burned the inside of his nose, but he'd stopped shivering as violently. Not a good sign.
Snow mixed with icy sleet soaked his socks. He wriggled his toes, noting he could only feel six of the ten. Refusing to give up, he dug deep for the survival instincts he normally only used in the boardroom and shuffled forward.
He was practically at the auto shop's glass double doors before he realized he'd arrived. If his blood wasn't half frozen in his veins, he would have fist pumped the air in celebration. As it was, he didn't push the door so much as collapse against it.
The door didn't budge.
God, he was an arrogant asshole. He should have stayed in the damn car and waited out the storm.
"Too little, too late numb nuts," he said, the words escaping from between his chattering teeth.
In an act of impotent frustration, he wrapped his stiff fingers around the metal bar used to open the door and banged it back and forth, hoping the lock would give.
But a light snapped on.
A person emerged from a back room and strode toward the door. Man? Woman? Alien? He couldn't tell by the outline since he, she, or it was backlit, but he didn't care as long as they opened the damn door. Relief thawed out some of the ice in his veins. The person flipped on the light in the shop's lobby.
Crowbar in hand.
She stopped three feet from the door and eyed him warily.
"Please," he shouted against the glass. "Let me in."
Ten very long seconds later, the door opened, and he stumbled inside, warmly welcomed by the auto shop's heater, if not the woman wearing grease-covered coveralls.
Keeping a tight grip on the crowbar, Keisha gave the man a once over. Wet, a wool cap pulled low, a beard covering the bottom half of his face, and covered in snow, he looked more like Jack Frost than the kind of moron who went for a walk in a blizzard. So much for spending the evening elbow deep in grease while she brought her baby, a 1955 Ford Thunderbird, back to life.
There would be hell to pay if the abominable snowman dripping all over the lobby floor turned out to be a burglar. The guy was tall, at least half a foot bigger than her five-feet six-inches — not counting her hair — broad shouldered, and shivering as much as a Southern Belle in a bikini at the North Pole.
If he was up to no good, he picked a shitty night to try to rob the auto shop. The owner, Hud, had taken the cash and receipts to the bank hours ago.
Excerpted from Betting on the Billionaire by Avery Flynn, Stephan Morgan. Copyright © 2014 Avery Flynn. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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