My Fair Billionaire (Harlequin Desire Series #2305) [NOOK Book]

Overview


Henry Higgins she's not! 

Back in school, stuck-up Ava Brenner may have been Peyton Moss's personal mean girl by day, but different kinds of sparks flew at night. Now the tables have turned, and Peyton's about to make his first billion while Ava's living a bit more humbly—to put it mildly. He needs her to teach him how to pass in high society, if they can manage to put old rivalries to bed. Soon, that's exactly where they end up! But will...

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My Fair Billionaire (Harlequin Desire Series #2305)

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Overview


Henry Higgins she's not! 

Back in school, stuck-up Ava Brenner may have been Peyton Moss's personal mean girl by day, but different kinds of sparks flew at night. Now the tables have turned, and Peyton's about to make his first billion while Ava's living a bit more humbly—to put it mildly. He needs her to teach him how to pass in high society, if they can manage to put old rivalries to bed. Soon, that's exactly where they end up! But will Peyton still want her when he learns about the scandal that sent Ava from riches to rags?


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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781460333198
  • Publisher: Harlequin
  • Publication date: 6/1/2014
  • Series: Harlequin Desire Series , #2305
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Edition description: Original
  • Pages: 192
  • Sales rank: 65,451
  • File size: 258 KB

Meet the Author


Elizabeth Bevarly is the award-winning, nationally number one bestselling author of more than seventy novels and novellas. Her books have been translated into two dozen languages and published in three dozen countries. An honors graduate of the University of Louisville, she has called home places as diverse as San Juan, Puerto Rico and Haddonfield, New Jersey, but now resides back in her native Kentucky with her husband, her son, and two neurotic cats (as if there were any other kind).


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Read an Excerpt


T. S. Eliot was right, Ava Brenner thought as she quickened her stride down Michigan Avenue and ducked beneath the awning of a storefront. April really was the cruelest month. Yesterday, the skies above Chicago had been blue and clear, and temperatures hovered in the high fifties. Today, gray clouds pelted the city with freezing rain. She tugged her scarf from the collar of her trench coat and over her head, knotting it beneath her chin. The weather would probably ruin the emerald silk, but she was on her way to meet a prospective vendor and would rather replace an injured scarf than have the perfect auburn chignon at her nape get wet and ragged.

Image was everything. Bottom line. That was a lesson life hammered home when Ava was still in high school. April wasn't the only thing that was cruel—teenage girls could be downright brutal. Especially the rich, vain, snotty ones at posh private schools who wore the latest designer fashions and belittled the need-based-scholarship students who made do with discount-store markdowns.

Ava pushed the thought away. A decade and a half lay between her and graduation. She was the owner of her own business now, a boutique called Talk of the Town that rented haute couture fashions to women who wanted only the best for those special occasions in life. Even if the shop was operating on a shoestring and wishful thinking, it was starting to show a profit. At least she looked the part of successful businesswoman. No one had to know she was her own best customer.

She whipped the scarf from her head and tucked it into the pocket of her trench coat as she entered an elegant eatery. Beneath, she wore a charcoal-gray Armani jacket and trousers, paired with a sage-colored shell she knew enhanced her green eyes. The outfit had arrived at Talk of the Town just this week, and she'd wanted to test-drive it for comfort and wearability.

As she approached the host stand, her cell phone twittered. It was the vendor she was supposed to be meeting, asking to postpone their appointment for an evening later in the week. So Ava would be on her own for dinner tonight. As usual. Still, she hadn't taken herself out in a long time, and she had been working extra hard this month. She'd earned a bit of a treat.

Basilio, the restaurant's owner, greeted her by name with a warm smile. Every time she saw him, Ava was reminded of her father. Basilio had the same dark eyes, close-cropped salt-and-pepper hair and neatly trimmed mustache. But she was reasonably certain that, unlike her father, Basilio had never done time in a federal prison.

Without even checking the seating chart, he led Ava to her favorite table by the window, where she could watch the passersby as she ate. As she lifted her menu, however, her attention was yanked away by a ruckus in the bar. When she glanced up, she saw Dennis, her favorite bartender, being berated by a customer, a tall man with broad shoulders and coal-black hair. He was evidently offended by Dennis's suggestion that he'd had too much to drink, a condition that was frankly obvious.

"I'm fine," the man insisted. Although his words weren't slurred, his voice was much louder than necessary. "And I want another Macallan. Neat."

Dennis remained calm as he replied, "I don't think—"

"That's right," the man interrupted him. "You don't think. You serve drinks. Now serve me another Macallan. Neat."

"But, Mr.—"

"Now," the man barked.

Ava's pulse leaped at the angrily uttered word. She'd worked her way through college at three jobs, one of which had been as a waitress. She'd dealt with her share of patrons who became bullies after drinking too much. Thankfully, Basilio and her waiter, Marcus, were on the spot quickly to attend to the situation.

Dennis shook his head at the others' approach, holding up a hand for them to wait. In gentling tones, he said, "Mr. Moss, maybe it would be better if you had a cup of coffee instead."

Heat splashed into Ava's belly at hearing the name. Moss. She had gone to school—long ago, in a galaxy far away—with a Moss. Peyton Moss. He had been a grade ahead of her at the tony Emerson Academy.

But this couldn't be him, she told herself. Peyton Moss had sworn to everyone at Emerson that he was leaving Chicago the moment he graduated and never coming back. And he'd kept that promise. Ava had returned to Chicago only a few months after earning her business degree and had run into a handful of her former classmates—more was the pity—none of whom had mentioned Peyton's return.

She looked at the man again. Peyton had been Emerson's star hockey player, due not just to his prowess, but also his size. His hair had been shoulder-length, inky silk, and his voice, even then, had been dark and rich. By now, it could have easily deepened to the velvety baritone of the man at the bar.

When he turned to look at Marcus, Ava bit back a gasp. Although the hair was shorter and the profile harsher, it was indeed Peyton. She'd know that face anywhere. Even after sixteen years.

Without thinking, she jumped up and hurried to place herself between Peyton and the others. With all the calm she could muster, she said, "Gentlemen. Maybe what we need here is an unbiased intermediary to sort everything out."

Peyton would laugh himself silly about that if he recognized her. Ava had been anything but unbiased toward him in high school. But he'd been plenty biased toward her, too. That was what happened when two people moved in such disparate social circles in an environment where the lines of society were stark, immutable and absolute. When upper class met lower class in a place like Emerson, the sparks that flew could immolate an entire socioeconomic stratum.

"Ms. Brenner, I don't think that's a good idea," Basilio said. "Men in his condition can be unpredictable, and he's three times your size."

"My condition is fine," Peyton snapped. "Or it would be. If this establishment honored the requests of its paying customers."

"Just let me speak to him," Ava said, dropping her voice.

Basilio shook his head. "Marcus and I can handle this."

"But I know him. He and I went to school together. He'll listen to me. We're…we were…" Somehow she pushed the word out of her mouth. "Friends."

It was another word that would have made Peyton laugh. The two of them had been many things at Emerson—unwilling study partners, aggressive sparring partners and for one strange, intoxicating night, exuberant lovers—but never, ever, friends.

"I'm sorry, Ms. Brenner," Basilio said, "but I can't let you—"

Before he could stop her, Ava spun around and made her way to the bar. "Peyton," she said when she came to a halt in front of him.

Instead of looking at Ava, he continued to study Dennis. "What?"

"This has gone far enough. You need to be reasonable."

He opened his mouth, but halted when his gaze connected with hers. She'd forgotten what beautiful eyes he had. They were the color and clarity of good cognac, fringed by sooty lashes.

"I know you," he said, suddenly more lucid. His tone was confident, but his expression held doubt. "Don't I?"

"You and I went to school together," she said, deliberately vague. "A long time ago."

He seemed surprised by the connection. "I don't remember you from Stanford."

Stanford? she echoed to herself. Last she'd heard he was headed to a university in New England with a double major in hat tricks and cross-checking and a minor in something vaguely scholastic in case he injured himself. How had he ended up on the West Coast?

"Not Stanford," she said.

"Then where?"

Reluctantly, she told him, "The Emerson Academy here in Chicago."

His surprise multiplied. "You went to Emerson?"

Well, he didn't need to sound so shocked. Did she still look that much like a street urchin?

"Yes," she said evenly. "I went to Emerson."

He narrowed his eyes as he studied her more closely. "I don't remember you from there, either."

Something sharp pricked her chest at the comment. She should be happy he didn't remember her. She wished she could forget the girl she'd been at Emerson. She wished she could forget Peyton, as well. But so often over the past sixteen years, he and the other members of his social circle had crept into her brain, conjuring memories and feelings she wished she could bury forever.

Without warning, he lifted a hand to cradle her chin and jaw. Something hot and electric shot through her at the contact, but he didn't seem to notice. He simply turned her face gently one way, then the other, looking at her from all angles. Finally, he dropped his hand back to the bar. He shook his head, opened his mouth to speak, then—

Then his expression went slack. "Oh, my God. Ava Brenner."

She expelled an irritated sigh. Damn. She didn't want anyone to remember her the way she'd been at Emerson, especially the kids like Peyton. Especially Peyton, period. In spite of that, a curl of pleasure wound through her when she realized he'd made a space for her, however small, in his memory.

Resigned, she replied, "Yes. It's me."

"Well, I'll be damned," he said, his tone belying nothing of what he might be thinking.

He collapsed onto a barstool, gazing at her with those piercing golden eyes. A rush of conflicting emotions washed over her that she hadn't felt for a very long time—pride and shame, arrogance and insecurity, blame and guilt. And in the middle of it all, an absolute uncertainty about Peyton, about herself, about the two of them together. Then as well as now.

Oh, yes. She definitely felt as if she was back in high school. And she didn't like it now any better than she had then.

When it became clear that Peyton wasn't going to cause any more trouble, Dennis snatched the empty cocktail glass from the bar and replaced it with a coffee mug. Basilio released a slow breath and threw Ava a grateful smile. Marcus went back to check on his diners. Ava told herself to return to her table, that she'd done her good deed for the day and should just leave well enough alone. But Peyton was still staring at her, and something in his expression made her pause. Something that sent another tumble of memories somersaulting through her brain. Different memories from the others that had plagued her tonight, but memories that were every bit as unpleasant and unwanted.

Because it had been Ava, not Peyton, who had led the ruling social class at the posh, private Emerson Academy. It had been Ava, not Peyton, who had been rich, vain and snotty. It had been Ava, not Peyton, who had worn the latest designer fashions and belittled the needbased-scholarship students who made do with discount-store markdowns. At least until the summer before her senior year, when her family had lost everything, and she'd suddenly found herself walking in their discount-store markdowns herself. Then she'd been the one who was penniless, unwanted and bullied.

Peyton didn't say a word as Ava studied him, pondering all the things that had changed in the decade and a half since she'd seen him. A few threads of silver had woven their way into his dark hair, and the lower half of his face was shadowed by a day's growth of beard. She couldn't remember him shaving in high school. But perhaps he had, even if that morning when she'd woken up beside him in her bedroom, he—

She tried to stop the memories before they could form, but they came anyway. How it had all played out when the two of them were forced to work together on a semester-long project for World Civ, one of the classes that combined seniors and juniors. Money really did change everything—at least at Emerson, it had. School rules had dictated that those whose families had lots of money must belittle those whose families had none, and that those who had nothing must resent those who had everything. In spite of that, there had always been…something…between Ava and Peyton. Something hot and heavy that burned up the air in any room the two of them shared. Some strange, combustible reaction due to…something. Something weird. Something volatile. Something neither of them had ever been able to identify or understand.

Or, ultimately, resist.

It had culminated one night at her house when the two of them had been working late on that class project and had ended up. Well, it hadn't exactly been making love, since whatever they'd felt for each other then had had nothing to do with love. But it hadn't been sex, either. There had been more to it than the mingling of two bodies. It had just fallen short of the mingling of two souls.

The morning after, Peyton had jumped out of bed on one side, and Ava had leaped out on the other. They had hurled both accusations and excuses, neither listening to the other. The only thing they'd agreed on was that they'd made a colossal mistake that was never to be mentioned again. Peyton had dressed and fled through her bedroom window, not wanting to be discovered, and Ava had locked it tight behind him. Monday morning, they turned in their assignment and went back to being enemies, and Ava had held her breath for the remainder of the year. Only after Peyton graduated and took off for college had she been able to breathe again.

For all of three weeks. Until her entire life came crashing down around her, pitching her to the bottom rung of the social ladder among the very people she had treated so callously before. People whom she quickly learned had deserved none of the treatment she had spent years dishing out.

She turned to Basilio. "I need a favor. Could I ask one of your waiters to run back to my shop for my car so I can drive Mr. Moss home? I'll stay here and have coffee with him until then."

Basilio looked at her as if she'd lost every marble she possessed.

"It's only a fifteen-minute walk," she told him. "Ten if whoever you send hurries."

"But, Ms. Brenner, he's not—"

"—himself," Ava quickly interjected. "Yes, I know, which is why he deserves a pass tonight."

"Are you sure that's a good idea?"

No, she wasn't. This Peyton was a stranger to her in so many ways. Not that the Peyton she used to know had exactly been an open book. He might not have thought much of her kind when they were in high school, and maybe he hadn't been much of a gentleman, but he hadn't been dangerous, either. Well, not in the usual sense of the word. Whatever had made him behave badly tonight, he'd calmed down once he recognized a familiar face.

Besides, she owed him. She owed him more than she could ever make up for. But at least, by doing this, she might make some small start.

"My keys are in my purse at my table," she told Basilio, "and my car is parked behind the shop. Just send someone down there to get it, and I'll take him home. Please," she added.

Basilio looked as if he wanted to object again, but instead said, "Fine. I'll send Marcus. I just hope you know what you're doing."

Yes, well, that, Ava thought, made two of them.
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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 9, 2014

    I think he's got it!

    Love, love, LOVE a Pygmalion/My Fair Lady story, and in Elizabeth Bevarly's talented hands, this one is full of wit and the warm poignancy of high school enemies with chemistry meeting again to set the sparks flying once more.

    Ava Brenner was the queen of the high society mean girl set at Chicago's posh Emerson Academy. Peyton Moss was there on a hockey scholarship and suffered the sharp side of her tongue more than once as part of the have's campaign to remind the have-nots of their place. In the sixteen years since, the tables have turned with a vengeance. Peyton is just shy of his first billion as he was always smart and full of ambition, but he still lacks the society gloss that could ease his way. Ava's family has fallen hard, and she is no longer the girl who mistreated him. Intent on making up for her former mistreatment she offers to be his tutor in all things high society to help him in his takeover of an old family business firmly entrenched in Southern society. The spark is still there between them, but could easily be extinguished if Peyton follows the advice of his board of directors and looks for a proper society wife with the help of a top Chicago matchmaker...because instead of haute couture, Ava now has skeletons in her closet that render her not quite the catch of the season for up-and-comer Peyton. What if she taught Peyton his lessons too well and he now looks down on her too much to let their spark take fire?

    Charming, witty, and sexy always apply to EB's characters and this one is no different. I especially loved the fact that they had always liked each other, but both had been firmly entrenched on their opposing sides of the teen societal divide. (Another Pygmalion-style story of transformation by another Kentucky author is Karen Robards' historical Loving Julia.)

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 5, 2014

    As per her usual, Elizabeth Bevarly delivers another romance nov

    As per her usual, Elizabeth Bevarly delivers another romance novel that will put a smile on your face and a twinkle in your eye. I enjoyed the take on the inverted "My Fair Lady" story and the characters are relate-able and easy to like.  You cannot go wrong picking up any of her sweet, sexy romance novels.

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