Bedding the Billionaire
Page 5

 Ruth Cardello

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Sometimes requesting assistance from those in charge simply moved the abuse to somewhere more private. Some things were better addressed head on and handled yourself. That philosophy had gotten her suspended from school more than once and cost her several jobs.
It had also been why she’d been dubbed the “geek squad’s mascot” in the public high school she’d attended. She never understood why academic excellence had equated to social suicide in the very place where education should have been valued the most. Young men and women who would likely one day run their own companies had hidden in bathrooms instead of risking public degradation at the hands of those who worshipped good looks and huge biceps.
That’s how it had been until Lil’s freshman year when she’d had gone nose to nose with a beefed up hockey player over something he’d said about the Math Team winning a regional competition. Lil might not have intervened had the offender not accentuated his comment with a wet napkin assault to the other boy’s head as he passed his table.
When Lil suggested that he stop, he’d asked her why she cared and if she were sleeping with one of those man-girls.
And she’d slapped him clean across the face.
He’d leaned down and growled, “You’re lucky you’re a girl.”
She’d growled right back, “So are you.”
If only her moment of valor hadn’t been witnessed by two supervising teachers who’d cared only that she’d “laid her hands” on another student. The full story had also failed to impress either the Principal or Abby.
It had, however, inspired “the geek squad.”
If Lil could survive an altercation with the ruling Neanderthal, they could at least claim one table as their own in the cafeteria and hold that ground. And they had.
Abby remembered those years as Lil’s most difficult times.
Lil considered them a victorious battleground on which many lifelong friendships had been forged. With age, she’d learned to use her wit rather than her hands, but she’d never quite mastered keeping her opinion to herself, an affliction that she now saw came at a cost. She hadn’t been accepted to any of the art schools she’d applied to. Apparently, her noble intentions didn’t excuse repeated suspensions. She could have gone to a community college, but she’d been too proud.
Pride also came with a cost. It had left her in a frustrating limbo–neither working toward her dreams nor choosing new ones. A situation she’d accepted when it had been only her, but Colby deserved better. Luckily the administrative school she was now close to graduating from had decided to give her a chance to prove that she had changed.
“I have no intention of offending your friend.” Jake’s words jolted Lil back to the present. In truth, Jake had neither said nor done anything that suggested that he would.
Old protective habits die hard.
“Good, because he’s extremely intelligent and will make a fantastic lawyer when he finally gets a chance. His mom thinks this will help him.”
“He lives with his–”
Lil bristled and spat, “See, he doesn’t need that. Not everyone was born into money like you were. He had to work to pay his way through college. He has helped his mother pay the mortgage since his father passed away a few years ago. He’s been offered jobs that he hasn’t accepted because he doesn’t think she’ll be able to keep this house up on her own. He has nothing to be ashamed of.”
Jake inclined his head in concession to her point.
The door swung open and Mrs. Lawson came out onto the porch. She removed the apron from around her waist and laid it across the railing of the porch before reaching out to hug Lil. “Lil!” She swept Colby out of Lil’s arms even as she asked, “May I?”
Lil smiled. “That’s why I took her out of her seat. I knew you’d want to hold her.” Thankfully, some things hadn’t changed. Mrs. Lawson still dressed like a TV sitcom mother from the fifties. Her gray hair was perfectly styled in a loose bun and her makeup had been carefully applied even though she likely had nowhere to go that day.
She held Colby up to her face, made her laugh by making a few silly noises and announced, “She’s beautiful, Lil. I can’t believe how big she has gotten.” Then, not relinquishing the baby yet, she turned to Jake and offered her hand in greeting. Jake shook her hand and she said, “Hello, handsome, my name is Ester.” Then she smiled at Lil. “So, this is the reason you won’t marry my son? Can’t say I blame you.”
“Mrs. Lawson!”
“What?” She winked at Jake and said. “I’m sixty-seven, not dead.”
Jake charmed her with a smile he’d never shown Lil. “I would have guessed forty.”
“If I were forty, Lil would be a fool to introduce us. Men like you don’t come around every day.”
Lil groaned.
The last thing Jake’s ego needed was encouragement.
Mrs. Lawson said, “Oh, I’m just teasing. You should see your face, Lil. When did you get so serious? Come on in! Aaron is printing the document for you upstairs in his room. Go on up, I’ll show Colby our fish tank.”
Lil led the way, each step bringing back another memory from practically growing up in this house. Mrs. Lawson credited Lil with helping Aaron through high school, but the truth was that the same could be said in reverse. This home had been her safe haven when fights had escalated between Abby and her.
It wasn’t that Abby had ever done anything unforgivably wrong. Worse, it was how she’d always done everything perfectly right that had set sister against sister. No one could live up to her expectations. At least, Lil couldn’t. And when Lil had grown tired of trying to be right, she’d found temporary enjoyment in being blatantly wrong. Most of it had been for show, never more than an attitude or a friendship Abby didn’t approve of
Until Asshole.
He’d been a mistake Abby had warned her about from the first time she’d met him, but Lil hadn’t listened. She’d thought she was in love, but she saw now how little she’d really known about that condition.
Dirk had been all sex and no substance. He’d wanted her and to get her he’d been willing to say the four letter word that she’d longed to hear. He’d said it often and lavishly. He’d said it as much as it took to keep her coming back to him.
He just hadn’t said it the night she’d told him that she was pregnant.
No, that night he hadn’t said much of anything. Which was why pride and anger had spurred her to offer him an out; one that he’d taken and never looked back.
Jake was probably doing her a huge favor by not being attracted to her. The last thing she needed was a man right now. She needed to finish school, get a job, and focus on being a good mom.
Jake wasn’t a villain. In fact, when she’d needed him to get her to Abby’s side, he had helped her without question. Really, the only thing she held against him was that he inspired her to want to rip off her clothes and pounce on a man who could not have been clearer in his rejection of her.
He’d even asked her to reveal less cleavage.
Who does that?
Not a man who is lusting after you, that’s who.
Lil knocked on Aaron’s bedroom door.
I’m not pompous, Jake thought as he waited outside a bedroom door boasting a sign that read, “The force is strong with this one.”
A young man, slightly taller than Lil and dressed in gray sweat pants and a college t-shirt opened the door. His dirty blond hair stuck out wildly in a few places implying that Lil’s visit didn’t warrant a trip to the mirror.
Jake looked down at his black, conservative Testoni dress shoes and felt a bit overdressed. However, he’d intended to spend the day intimidating a local station manager, not rubbing elbows with someone so fresh from college he probably still hadn’t unpacked his diploma.
I only feel about a million years old.
The young man greeted Lil with a smile which fell from his face when he looked past her and saw Jake. “You–you brought Mr. Walton, Lil?”
“You can call me Jake,” he said and held out his hand in greeting.
See, not pompous.
Aaron shook his hand profusely, then stepped back and looked like he was questioning the wisdom of inviting them into his room. “It is a real honor to meet you, Mr. Walton. I did a research paper on negotiating techniques that also address consumer perceived ethicality issues. Your success in Moldova was my inspiration.” He breathed into a cupped hand as if smelling his breath and made a face. “I don’t normally spend my day in my pajamas, but I was…I was…”
Evidently, lying did not come naturally to this kid. He remembered a time when he’d been the same way. “Lil said you wrote a gag order for the news station.”
“I did,” Aaron said and awkwardly waved them into his room. “I just printed it out.” He stepped over several pieces of laundry on his way to the printer. “Don’t mind the mess. I would have cleaned up if I had known you were coming. I thought it was just Lil.”
“Perfectly understandable,” Jake said and glanced back at Lil.
She was watching the exchange closely.
He wanted to say, “See, you worried about nothing.”
The stiff set of her shoulders and that beautifully jutted chin told him that she was prepared to intervene if he stepped out of line with her precious little friend. Since their relationship was clearly not based on anything sexual, he was at a loss for how to categorize it. She’d said he was like family to her. In his experience, friendships between men and women were a cover for something less pure. What did she get out of this association? He had a feeling that the answer to that would go a long way toward deepening his understanding of what Lil wanted. And discovering what she wanted only mattered as far as it would help him convince her to accept Dominic’s protection. The sooner he did that, the sooner he could return to New York and find out who Dominic thought had the answers they needed.
Jake turned in time to receive a paper from the shaky hands of Lil’s “lawyer.” His quick skim of the document slowed as he perceived quality. The kid was good. It was well-crafted and as professional as he would have expected from his seasoned lawyers. He nodded, “This is impressive. Good work.”
Aaron’s face transformed with an ear to ear grin. “Thank you. I based it on the Sterling vs. Laudin Communications case.”
Lil looked across the room and pinned Jake with those amber eyes of hers. “Good enough that you would write him a letter of reference?”
Aaron’s face reddened. “Lil, Mr. Walton doesn’t have to do that. He doesn’t know me.”
It was clear that Lil wanted Aaron to succeed. Why, he couldn’t say yet, but it would cost him nothing to toss the boy an opportunity. “I’m always looking for entry level people and we have a branch in Boston. If you send me your resume, I’ll give it to my legal department. Then it’s up to you to impress them.”
“Oh, my God!” He turned to Lil and his grin grew even wider, if that were possible. “Oh, my God!” A spontaneous hug threatened to erupt from him.