Read an Excerpt
The Stubborn Billionaire
A Muse Novel
By Lexxie Couper
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2017 Lexxie Couper
All rights reserved.
"Three and a half thousand dollars?" Sienna Roberts gripped her phone tighter and stared hard at the large white canvas before her. Calm down. Just calm down. One, two, three, four —
"Then there is the issue of the girl's broken wrist." The prissy male voice on the other end of the line shattered any chance of keeping her poise. "Zachary is responsible for that as well, and her parents are threatening legal action."
Oh, I bet they are.
She rubbed at her closed eyes with her free hand. Who wouldn't think of suing when the target was the son of Platinum Joe, a man once the country's most successful and outlandish talent agent? They probably thought they'd be tapping a gold mine.
She opened her eyes and let out a slow breath. "I know my brother isn't himself at the moment" — she struggled to keep her voice calm — "but he's not normally aggressive." She focused on the pristine canvas before her. She seriously needed to regain control of her emotions. Not an easy task. Not when the predominate thought in her head was, I'm gonna kill him. Was her petulant half brother or reprobate father the walking corpse? At this point in time, Sienna conceded that either would suffice. "Are you sure Zach was involved in the fight?"
A snooty sniff came through the connection. What did Mr. Fenchurch look like? Clearly, he was one of those men who considered being the principal of an elite private school more important and worthy than being Mother Teresa. Definitely small in stature, receding hairline, uptight bowtie, and socks held up by suspenders ... "Zachary is absolutely responsible," Mr. Fenchurch blustered. Damn, was the very notion of Zach's possible innocence tantamount to heresy? "He admitted to starting the fight. In fact, he boasted about it."
She rubbed her eyes again. Oh, Zach. What am I going to do with you? "Why didn't you call me when this happened? Surely I should have been informed straight away. Three hours after the event seems a little strange."
A long pause stretched through the connection. "Zachary informed us you weren't available. He said you were posing for a ... ahem, a Playboy photo shoot."
She almost dropped her phone. "A what?"
That's it, Zach. You're dead.
"It is of no consequence, Ms. Roberts," Fenchurch hurried on, embarrassment clear in his thin voice. "The Point School is not here to judge the family of our students. We are here to educate the children of our community's finest citizens. We are here to shape and mold our country's future leaders. I'm sure you can understand Zachary has no place in such an environment. I'm afraid I had no choice but to expel him and send him home. We will not accept antisocial behavior on our grounds, regardless of the situation."
She blew a puff of frustrated breath into her fringe. The situation. It always came back to the situation. The famous father with a major gambling addiction in jail for embezzlement, the trophy-wife stepmother dead from a heroin overdose, the estranged daughter lumped with her father's exorbitant legal bills — how that happened, she still couldn't work out. She had, after all, wiped her hands of her father over eight years ago. Plus, there was the extremely spoiled and overindulged half brother sent to live with her, intent on making life hell for everyone, and next to no money coming in because her once prosperous art career had seemingly gone the way of the dodo. That was the situation.
Add to that no social or sex life to speak of, and now a bill for 3,500 dollars to replace a musical instrument Zach didn't even play, along with the threat of more costly court bills she couldn't afford, and Sienna felt pretty damn miserable. This was just not her year.
She snorted. Hey, at least now I have a legitimate reason for sending Zach to a public school. If nothing else, no more ridiculously expensive monthly tuition fees, right?
The depressing memory of the broken violin and broken wrist came back to her, and she sighed into her fringe again. "Is there any way we can work this out?"
"Absolutely." The condescension in his voice made her teeth ache. "Pay the three and a half thousand dollars and contact your solicitor." Another one of those deliberate pauses followed, and then the man continued, his thin voice no longer prissy but snide. "May I suggest, however, you don't use the same man who represented your father?"
Hot anger yanked Sienna out of her self-pity. "Thank you for that advice, Mr. Fenchurch. And may I suggest you remember exactly where my father is at this moment. Annoying the daughter of an inmate of Long Bay Jail isn't overly smart. I've met some of his new associates, and they would delight in making your acquaintance, I'm sure. In fact, Steel-bar Tony is due for parole tomorrow. Perhaps I can give him your number?"
"Uh ... uh ..."
Not so snide or prissy now, are you, Fenchurch? "Now, if you'll excuse me," she put a wide smile in the dismissal, "Hugh Hefner himself is supervising the photo shoot. Have a good day."
She killed the call halfway through Fenchurch's flustered but, but, but.
"Damn you, Zach." She tossed her phone onto a nearby chair and stormed around the various easels and drawing boards in her small studio, clenching and unclenching her fists. "Damn you."
Stopping once more in front of the large blank canvas, she studied its untouched purity. Over the next six weeks, she'd planned to transform it into a portrait that would, hopefully, win her the Barton National Portrait Prize and elevate her once flourishing career to a wider public level. Now, however, it was likely to stay a blank square of white. The money required to enter the prestigious art contest, pay for materials and framing, plus entertain a prominent Australian figure while they sat for her had just disappeared in one phone call.
She dragged her hands through her hair and stared at the canvas. She didn't know who she was angrier with — Zach, her father, Mr. Fenchurch, or herself. What the hell was she to do now?
It didn't help that neither she nor Zach had received any normal kind of upbringing. Zach had been raised by a series of nannies hired more for their bust size than their parental skills. Their father had done him no favors by giving him whatever he wanted and never disciplining him, while his mother had spent every day in a drug-induced haze until the night she'd drowned in their guitar-shaped swimming pool. Great role model there.
She shook her head and crossed to her drawing board. At least her mother had tried to instill some morals in Sienna. However, she'd been fourteen when her parents divorced. The subsequent custody dispute for which she was the prize had ended months later when her mother died in a car accident. Joseph Roberts had turned to the first in his series of voluptuous nannies to raise his daughter and Sienna's life had become somewhat surreal.
Which left her in a disadvantaged position with Zach now. She was twenty-six years old and attempting to raise an angry, sad, and moody fifteen-year-old boy without a clue how. But as long as their dad was in jail — four years and six months, if he made parole — that's exactly what she was going to do. Somewhere in amongst the war zone, she'd try to rebuild her struggling art career.
What career? With the exception of mysterious businessman Mason Xavier, my work seems to be the artistic equivalent of Ebola.
Staring at the drawing board, she chewed on her bottom lip. How things had changed. Only six months ago, her work was beginning to gain respect, curators were approaching her about exhibiting her paintings, she was beginning to make ends meet, and then ... nothing. Buyers vanished, dried up. No one seemed interested. Apart from Xavier.
Perhaps it was time to cash in on her father's fame and notoriety? People would buy anything if it was attached to such a famous — infamous — public figure, and her dad definitely fell into that category.
Damn, that was a depressing thought. Had things sunk that —
Someone knocked on her studio door. She shot a quick glance at her watch.
Since when had Carrie ever been early? Especially for an afternoon of chocolate-biscuits therapy? She wasn't due for another half an hour.
Another more-insistent knock came. "Okay, okay." She glared at the empty canvas one more time before crossing the room, grabbing the doorknob, and pulling the door open. "Keep your pants ..."
Icy shock froze Sienna. Her words died in her throat. Her mouth turned to dust.
The tall man with impossibly broad shoulders and thick black hair on her doorstep smiled, eyes sharp. "On?"
"What are you doing here?"
James Dyson, ruthless billionaire, media mogul, Time Australia's Businessman of the Year, and the last man Sienna ever wanted to see again, slid his hands into his hip pockets. The firm muscles in his arms and shoulders flexed under his tailored designer suit, and Sienna's pulse leaped away on a little excited masochistic trip at the sight. Stupid pulse. "I'm here to see you, Ms. Roberts."
She raised her eyebrows, ignoring her gallivanting pulse. Getting excited over James Dyson was foolish. Getting excited over him again was just plain idiocy. "Is that right?" She crossed her arms over her breasts, staring him down. "If I remember correctly, only six months ago you told me never to come near or speak to a member of the Dyson family again. You seem to be breaking your own commandment."
Dark, dark brown eyes studied her, and then James shrugged. "A man can change his mind."
"The Dyson men don't change their minds." She narrowed her eyes. "You're famous for it."
An evil dimple appeared in his left cheek. "There are other ... things ... we're famous for, Sienna. Don't you want to find out what they are?"
His voice played with her senses, smooth and tantalizing like whiskey and honey. Swallowing a sudden flush of hot excitement, she met his dark stare.
The first time they'd been this close, he'd offered to buy her a drink. They'd flirted — her with an unschooled hesitancy, him with a mischievous glint in his eyes. Only when he'd found out who she was — twenty minutes into their playful and very mutual romantic advances — did their flirtation end.
The last time they'd been this close, he'd refused her entry to his brother's funeral, his eyes unreadable, his jaw clenched, his words cutting and cruel.
He was the embodiment of everything she despised — money, power, greed. Getting excited in his presence was not only insane, it was admitting to the Devil her soul was up for grabs. "What I want, Mr. Dyson, is for you to leave. I'm expecting someone."
A thick black eyebrow cocked. "Is he running late?"
"No. She isn't."
He ran his gaze over her body from head to toe in a languid inspection, taking in her old cropped tank top, paint-splattered boy-leg panties, and bare feet. Heat flushed through her cheeks at the realization she'd answered the door in her underwear, thinking the person on the other side was Carrie. It didn't help that she remembered without any problem the compliment he'd paid her about her free-spirited nature to clothing during that first meeting. "I see," he said. "Kinky."
Heavy innuendo threaded through the word. Her temper flared again. "No, you don't see. She is my best friend. Not that I have to explain my actions to you. Now, if you'll excuse me ..." She flicked a pointed look over his shoulder at the street behind him.
A lazy grin pulled at James's lips, and he stepped inside, reaching for the door and swinging it shut without removing his stare from her face.
"What are you doing?"
He closed the distance between them with a single stride, dominating the space around her. "Changing my mind."
"At this very moment, the state of my trousers."
A slow grin stretched lips that more than once had featured in her deluded, idiotic fantasies. "I'm reconsidering keeping them on. If I recall correctly, we once decided undressing each other would be a fabulous idea."
"Are you kidding?" She planted her hands on her hips. "That was before we knew who each other was. When we thought we were ..."
She trailed off, her heart racing.
Were what? Possible one-night stands? Potential lovers?
"I haven't forgotten the night I first met you, Sienna." His gaze moved to her lips. "I remember it very well."
She narrowed her eyes. She remembered it with vivid clarity as well, but she wasn't going to let the memory — and its tormenting pang for what could have been — affect her now.
Not now. Not after what he'd said to her at Clinton's funeral. "Listen, Mr. Dyson. I don't give a rat's bum if you are the richest man in Sydney. I don't like the game you're playing." Anger coursed through her. Anger and confusion and excitement all jostling to take control of her response. Yeah, she remembered this sensation. One she only experienced when she was around him, damn it. "And, after the last time we met, I sure as hell don't like you."
He studied her face with enigmatic contemplation, standing so close to her his heat caressed her bare limbs. His subtle aftershave filled every breath she pulled. Threaded into her being. Unsettled her. She remembered the way he smelled without any trouble. It still teased her in her dreams, the ones she never wanted to admit to having.
But right now, it was his eyes sending her pulse racing. They were the same color as his younger brother's, as dark as rich chocolate with the same midnight lashes framing them. Unlike Clinton's, which had been warm and full of laughter, James's were hard and unflinching. Arrogant.
Here was a man used to dominating people. Used to getting his way. If she were to look into their dark depths for too long, she feared she would crumble under the sheer strength of his will. She'd once seen laughter in those eyes, and playful but undeniable interest. And then he'd discovered who she was, and that interest had turned to something ... else.
Hot butterflies stirred in her stomach. She swallowed. There was no damn way she could deny how sexy she still found him. That fact had not changed since their first meeting, no matter how much she wished it had. But she wasn't stupid, and believing James Dyson was at her home for any other reason than to bring her misery was just plain lunacy.
Taking a step backward, she glared at him. "Any time you want to leave ..."
He grinned again, his lips parting to reveal perfect white teeth, the deep crease in his cheek returning. Why the hell did her body have to react at that grin? "I'm not going anywhere, Sienna." He dipped his head lower to hers, as if to share a secret. "I've decided it's time I reacquaint myself with my brother's muse. To see if you inspire me the way you did him." And with that, he slid his arm around her waist and pulled her against him.
He slipped his hand under her tank and smoothed it down the curve of her hip. A spark of wicked electricity passed through her, and she sucked in a sharp breath, her pulse pounding. She'd remembered this as well, what it was like to be touched by him.
In the brief moment they'd shared flirting at Clinton's exhibition opening — before Clinton arrived and introduced them to each other — they'd brushed fingers over arms, backs of hands, hips, more than once. Back then, the simple contact electrified her.
Even after their second — and last — meeting at Clinton's funeral, she'd been unable to banish the memory of those playful caresses. But this ... His hand on her bare hip ... His warm skin against hers ... It was so much more consuming. So much more intoxicating.
James moved his head closer to hers. "Clint told me your skin truly is softer than silk." The low murmur played with her sanity. "I see he didn't exaggerate."
He slid his hand farther down her hip and over the curve of her bottom to cup her right butt cheek, drawing her closer to him with a slight tug.
She didn't resist. She didn't want to. Was she really that stupid?
His corded thigh deftly parted her legs, his powerful gaze keeping her captive as he pulled their bodies closer together.
Excerpted from The Stubborn Billionaire by Lexxie Couper. Copyright © 2017 Lexxie Couper. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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