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Cinderella's Billion-Dollar Christmas

Cinderella's Billion-Dollar Christmas

by Susan Meier

Hardcover

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Overview

From her small town…

…to the dazzling lights of NYC!

In this The Missing Manhattan Heirs story, the first time Leni Long meets investment tycoon Nick Kourakis, she’s dressed as a Christmas elf. Then he gives her the staggering news she might be heir to a fortune! Adopted small-town girl Leni’s completely unprepared for a life of New York luxury, yet Nick’s determined to open her eyes to the possibilities… But will that new life also include him?

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780263081275
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 12/01/2019
Pages: 192
Product dimensions: 4.92(w) x 7.48(h) x 0.00(d)

About the Author

Susan Meier spent most of her twenties thinking she was a job-hopper – until she began to write and realised everything that had come before was only research! One of eleven children, with twenty-four nieces and nephews and three kids of her own, Susan lives in Western Pennsylvania with her wonderful husband, Mike, her children, and two over-fed, well-cuddled cats, Sophie and Fluffy. You can visit Susan’s website at www.susanmeier.com

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

Leni Long stared out the big front window of the Family Diner in Mannington, Kansas, watching snow cover the sparkly gold Christmas bells hanging from the town's eight streetlights. With the breakfast rush over and the red-and-white-themed diner empty, a hush had fallen over the tiny town.

A black SUV pulled into a parking space a few feet down from the diner. A tall man in a charcoal-gray overcoat exited. His broad shoulders hunched against the snow-laced wind, but there was a strength, a power to the movement. Maybe because of his size. He had to be over six feet and was built like someone who'd spent time in the military. Snow dotted dark hair that had been cut in a sleek, sexy way that sharpened the angles of his handsome face.

A thrill ran through her. Mannington didn't have any men that gorgeous, that male, and he was heading toward the diner.

She raced behind the counter as his long strides ate up the sidewalk between his SUV and the door. It opened. He stepped inside, turning to close it behind him before he faced her.

His gaze cruised from her candy-cane-print blouse, red apron, short green skirt and red tights to her black patent leather buckle shoes.

Damn it! The first fabulous-looking man to come to Mannington in decades and she was wearing an elf suit.

Oh, well. That was life in a small town. Waitresses dressed like elves. The cook sat outside on the back steps smoking. And her mom, the second waitress for the breakfast shift that morning, hadn't thought twice about calling to say she wouldn't be in until after ten. This was one of those mornings she needed to stay with Leni's dad, making sure he was okay because his head injury from a work accident was now causing small seizures.

Gorgeous Guy peered at the name tag on her blouse. "Leni?"

It wasn't unusual for an out-of-town customer to read her name tag and call her Leni to be friendly, but something about the way he'd said it hit her funny. As if he were disappointed.

"Yes." She smiled. "That's my name."

He ambled over to the counter. "You're the only waitress here?"

She grabbed a nearby cloth and ran it along the worn white countertop. "Yes. The other waitress is coming in later."

"How much later?"

That was a stupid question. Why would he care what time her mom came in? "She'll be here any minute now." She laughed. "But really, it's fine. I can take your order."

"Okay." He sat on one of the round red stools at the counter. "I'll have a cup of coffee."

"Sure." She turned to the pot sitting on a two-burner warmer behind her. "And you should know that it might be after ten, but the cook makes breakfast all day."

"Sorry. I had breakfast."

Drat. That was her only angle to keep him here. Now he'd drink his cup of coffee and race off —

She frowned. Unless he planned to wait for her mom?

Fears about insurance adjusters and private investigators sent by At Home Construction to spy on her dad raced through her. After two years, the company was arguing his workers' comp and questioning medical bills because they believed he could perform light-duty tasks and come back on the job.

But if this guy wanted to catch her dad working around the house to prove he was no longer disabled, he wouldn't come looking for her mother.

Would he?

No. He'd spy on her dad.

Feeling guilty for thinking the handsome stranger was a private detective, she swiped the cloth down the counter again. "Maybe you'd like a cinnamon roll?"

He laughed. "No. Thank you."

His words were kind, but precise. Leni smiled. He didn't need food and sometimes customers didn't want to talk. She would leave to him to his coffee.

She turned to walk away, but he said, "Nice town you have here."

She faced him again. "Mannington's okay." His dark brows rose. "Only okay?"

Maybe he did want to talk? And maybe a few minutes of personal time with him would stop her from being suspicious? His brown eyes lit with a hint of amusement and this close he was so gorgeous it was fun just looking at him.

No harm in enjoying that.

"No. Mannington's a great place, but I'll be moving soon. I just finished my degree and I'm probably going to have to relocate to Topeka to get a job." She shrugged. "That's the way it is sometimes. If you want to work, you go to the big city."

"I'm from New York. My family owns a money management firm. I always knew where I'd be employed. Went through a bit of a rebellious phase, but I think everybody does, and here I am."

In Mannington, Kansas?

A guy who owned a New York City money management firm was in Mannington, Kansas, where no one had any money?

Her suspicions rose again. But at least they were talking. Maybe with a little good old-fashioned waitress chitchat she could get him to tell her why he was here?

Especially if he was looking for her mom.

Nick Kourakis couldn't stop staring at the woman behind the counter. He'd been sent by the estate of Mark Hinton to find Elenore Long, probably the waitress who hadn't yet arrived, and instead he'd run into the most naturally beautiful woman he'd ever seen.

She had an exquisite face, a perfect figure that her goofy elf suit couldn't hide and big green eyes that shone with humor —

Until he'd asked when the other waitress would be coming in. Then she'd gotten quiet. But now that they were talking about her getting a job, things had perked up again. It didn't matter what he told her or what she told him. They'd never see each other again. That was the beauty of a conversation with a stranger. It was pointless. Exactly the diversion he needed while he waited for Elenore Long.

"So, you think you'll be moving to Topeka?"

She shrugged. "Probably."

He gestured at the candy-cane blouse. "Gonna take the elf suit?"

She laughed. "I doubt they let social workers wear them."

He loved her laugh. He loved her flowing hair. He loved that a little small talk had brought back her smile. "That's a tough job."

"I know."

"But it should be fairly easy to find work."

Her smile grew into a grin. "I know that, too."

"Well, there's just no fooling you, is there, Leni?"

She smiled again. Her full lips lifting and her green eyes sparkling.

He swore to God his heart turned over in his chest. He'd been single for so long that he couldn't remember the last time he'd had this kind of reaction to a woman. Not just an instant connection, but a welcome connection, as if the small talk he thought so pointless was a door to something — Looking at her beautiful face, big eyes, high cheekbones, perfect nose, and lips just made for kissing, he almost suggested she search for work in New York, but that would be as pointless as a conversation about the weather. Why would he ask a beautiful woman to make such a drastic move for him, when he knew nothing would come of it?

The diner door opened and he turned. A woman in an elf suit just like Leni's walked in.

The other waitress. Most likely Elenore Long.

His eyes narrowed as he studied her. She was fifty, at least. Her chestnut hair curled around a square face and her eyes were blue. His heiress was the first of three children fathered by Mark Hinton, who'd died two weeks ago at the age of sixty. This woman was too old to be his child, even his firstborn.

He rose from his stool. "You're the other waitress?"

The woman began unbuttoning her coat. "Yeah."

"I think he's been waiting for you, Mom."

Nick swung to face Leni again. "Mom?"

"That's my mom. Denise Long, Mr. Owner-of-a-Money-Management-Firm. If you think we got a settlement to invest after my dad's injury, you're wrong. We can barely get the insurance company to pay his medical bills."

He fell to the round red stool again. "I'm not after your dad's money." He took a quick breath and caught Leni's gaze. "Your last name is Long?"

"Yeah."

Not taking any chances, he said, "And Leni is a nickname for something?"

He waited for confirmation but deep down he already knew the answer.

"Elenore."

He ran his fingers along his brow. "Elenore Long." He shook his head. If he hadn't been so blinded by her bedroom eyes, glorious mane of hair and sexy little body, he probably would have figured that out. "You're Elenore Long?"

She nodded. "Yes."

"Is there someplace private you and I can talk?"

She pressed her hand to her chest. "I'm the person you're here to see?"

"Yes."

"Why? I could barely get student loans. I don't have anything to hand over to a money management firm."

"Seriously. We have to talk someplace private." He caught her gaze. "Now."

Leni had never seen anybody's mood shift so quickly. He went from cute and flirty to serious in under a second. But that was fine since she was totally confused by him. First, he wanted to talk to her mom. Now he wanted to talk to her? "The only people in the diner are you, me and my mom. George, the cook, is outside smoking."

She glanced around. "We can just go to one of the booths in the back."

"Okay." He pointed to the last booth in the farthest corner. "We'll sit there."

He walked behind her until they reached the table. Then he slid onto the bench across from her. "My name is Nick Kourakis. I work for a money management firm in New York City."

"So, you said. And I told you my family doesn't have any money to invest."

"I know."

His eyes darkened as he studied her. With all his attention centered on her face, she had to hold back a shudder. She had never seen a man this good-looking. But as she thought that, she noticed that his gray overcoat was stunningly made, and his white shirt and tie looked expensive. As big as he was, he wore both effortlessly, as if he was accustomed to luxury. Maybe even made for it. She suddenly realized he wasn't gorgeous so much as he was a combination of the whole package. Expensive clothes. Sparkling clean. Handsome.

And wealthy.

Probably so rich, she couldn't even fathom the amount of money he had.

"I'm not selling anything. I'm not even here on behalf of the money management firm. I was sent here to retrieve you."

"Retrieve me?" His sultry brown eyes held her captive, sending warmth swimming through her blood, confusing her, almost hypnotizing her.

"Because I have some exciting news for you."

"Oh, yeah?" She fought the strange sensations assaulting her with sarcasm. "And what would that be?"

"First, what I have to tell you has to remain confidential."

Some of her equilibrium returned. "Okay."

He leaned back on the bench. "Have you ever heard of Mark Hinton?"

More of her confidence came back. Enough to put starch in her spine. "No."

"He's a billionaire ... or was. We have reason to believe you are one of the people mentioned in his will."

"Oh ..." Her composure took a tumble. Imagining herself getting as much as ten thousand dollars and paying off some of the bills that had accumulated since her dad's injury, she told her wishful-thinking brain to stop before she got her hopes up. "That's good. Right?"

"It could potentially be wonderful."

"Dude, wonderful to me is enough money to pay my dad's medical bills."

"It's more than that."

New thoughts scrambled around in her brain. Like buying her dad the service dog he needed because of his seizures, and not worrying about the company forcing him back to work.

But as quickly as her good thoughts set up shop, some bad thoughts came tumbling in. Adopted at eight, after a year in foster care when her biological mom gave her up, she'd always believed she was not a lucky person. The way she'd struggled for eight years just to afford her basic bachelor's degree backed that up. "What's the catch?"

"Before I say another word, I need your promise that you won't talk about this with anyone until I tell you that you can."

A laugh bubbled out. "You want me to take a vow of silence?"

"You are the first of three potential heirs to Mark Hinton's estate. A huge estate.

You can tell your parents, but that's it. And they have to promise to keep this news to themselves. Frankly, it's a matter of your personal safety."

It all seemed to so preposterous that it couldn't sink in. As good as it would be to be rich, she was much too practical to believe in magic or miracles. It had to be a joke or a mistake.

When she said nothing, he sighed. "Do you have your phone?"

She pulled it out of her apron pocket.

"Search Mark Hinton."

She did as he said, though she mumbled, "Anybody can put up a fake website."

But her phone produced eight thousand results for Mark Hinton. Her gaze leaped to Nick's. "What is this?"

"Information on his life." He paused for a second before he added, "I was sent here by the law firm handling your dad's estate. The attorney in charge is stuck in court today. He's a friend of mine, and my family's firm manages your father's fortune, so I was picked to come in his place."

She barely heard anything after he said "your dad's estate." Her breath stumbled. "My dad's?"

She struggled to take it all in. Her biological mom hadn't told her anything about her father. She would always say he wasn't important, and they didn't need him. At seven, she'd known that wasn't true when her mom couldn't afford to keep her anymore.

"According to the estate lawyer, the paper trail says Mark Hinton is your father," Nick said. "But they'll be getting DNA."

She leaned back in disappointment and disbelief, her voice dull when she said, "My biological father was rich."

"One of the first multibillionaires." Nick shifted. "If you let this get out before the estate has a chance to protect you, you will be mobbed by people who want money. You'll be a target for scam artists and kidnappers. I came here not merely to tell you, but to take you to New York so the lawyer can make the process of vetting you easier for you."

Something Leni couldn't define or describe fluttered through her, tightening her chest, making her head spin. She looked at the eight thousand results to her search and saw the words billionaire,reclusive, oil and gas prodigy and missing heirs.

Her heart stopped then burst to life again with such a frantic beat she thought she'd faint. This would be more than enough money to care for her dad.

"You think this guy is my father and I'm one of these heirs?"

"The estate lawyer is fairly certain you're one of the heirs. He says the paper trail is solid. But they'll do a DNA test to confirm it."

Her voice came out as a squeak as she said, "Okay."

"For confidentiality purposes and for your safety, you have to go to New York now." He paused long enough to catch her gaze. "Will you come with me?"

Ten minutes ago, that offer probably would have scrambled her pulse. Now? The happy, flirty guy was gone. A businessman had replaced him.

She almost missed the flirty guy. But her brain had been captured by the idea that she might be wealthy enough that her parents would no longer have to worry about money.

Still, she wasn't going to New York with a man she didn't know, based solely on his word. "Give me a day?"

"The plan was to leave as soon as we told you."

She shook her head. "I want a day. Twenty-four hours to explain all this to my parents and to check you out."

"I can provide you with references —"

"No thanks. I'll find what I need on my own." She'd check every dark and moldy corner of the internet if she had to, to make sure he was for real.

There was no way she'd leave for New York with a stranger. And no way she'd get her parents' hopes up for nothing.

CHAPTER 2

Nick Kourakis left the diner, a mix of disappointment and confusion slowing his steps. He should have been focused on the fact that this unexpected trip was a chance to convince Leni Long to keep her dad's money with his money management firm. But Danny Manelli, attorney for the estate, didn't want him making a pitch to her. A clause in the will could give the estate trouble, and Nick could make it worse by talking about money before Danny could properly explain the clause to Leni.

Now that he had given her the basics that would get her to New York to start the process of vetting her, Nick wasn't supposed to talk about anything except the weather and football. Two things Danny was sure wouldn't accidentally tip them into talking about the estate.

That was good, sound logic. And normally Nick would be totally onboard with it. Instead, he was gobsmacked. Leni Long was the first woman he'd been overwhelmingly attracted to in a decade. But it was more than that. Something about her clicked with him. And that was so odd he couldn't shake the feeling.

Telling himself that was absurd, he walked down the sidewalk and jumped into the passenger seat of the SUV.

Behind the steering wheel, Jace MacDonald, owner of Around the World Security, said, "Where's the girl?"

"She wants a day to investigate us."

Jace shook his head, then shifted to face Nick, the gun beneath his black leather jacket visible when he turned. "It's going to be difficult to keep an eye on her here. Even for twenty-four hours." He motioned outside. "Not only are the houses and businesses spaced in such a way that an extra person sticks out like a sore thumb, but so do cars. You should have seen the people sniffing around the SUV while you were in the diner. A strange vehicle parked on a street where everybody knows everybody else's car? That's like a neon sign."

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "Cinderella's Billion-Dollar Christmas"
by .
Copyright © 2019 Linda Susan Meier.
Excerpted by permission of Harlequin Enterprises Limited.
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