Maid for the Billionaire
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By dying now, his father had won again. That old bastard.
Dominic Corisi slammed the door of his black Bugatti Veyron and stepped onto the sun baked Boston sidewalk without giving the million dollar vehicle a backwards glance. The joy of owning it was dead along with his desire to answer the incessant ring of the cell phone he’d ignored since yesterday. Rather than turning it off, he’d muffled the noise by burying the device deep within a coat pocket; maintaining the connection to his life like a distant beacon.
Despite the oppressive heat, he paused at the bottom stair of his old brownstone. There was nothing spectacular about it, outside of its location near the upbeat Newbury Street. If he remembered correctly, its rooms were small and the main staircase had a creak that he never did get around to fixing. It was nothing like the sprawling mansions he now owned in various countries around the world.
But it was the closest thing he had to a home.
His phone rang with a tone he couldn’t ignore. Jake. His second in command would simply call again, killing whatever chance Dominic had of finding a moment of peace inside those brick walls. “Corisi,” he barked into the phone.
“Dominic, glad I caught you,” Jake Walton said smoothly, as if he hadn't unsuccessfully rung twenty times in the last two days. That was Jake, calm and professional, even in the storm of hostile takeovers. Nothing fazed the man.
Normally, Dominic appreciated his even temper, but today it grated. Maybe the forty or so hours without sleep were beginning to catch up with him. He fought an impulse to toss his phone over the metal railing. The world wasn't the orderly, rational place Jake liked to organize it into. It was messy. It was ugly. And, most recently, it lacked justice.
“How is Boston?”
The inane question almost sent Dominic over the edge. “How do you think?”
It was probably too much to hope that Jake’s uncharacteristic silence signaled an end to a conversation Dominic wished he had avoided.
“We need to discuss the China contract. The Minister of Commerce is expecting to meet with you tomorrow to cement the details. This is your dream, Dominic. By next week, Corisi Enterprises will be a major global player. What do you want me to tell the Minister?”
“I don't know,” Dominic said wearily.
Jake made a sound somewhere between a choke and a cough, then was speechless – a revealing response for a man who handled irate international diplomats without missing a step. He was the fixer and navigated the unexpected with ease. Until now.
Poor Jake. Nothing in their shared history had prepared either of them for Dominic's sudden desire to withdraw from the world. The creators of financial empires didn't take sudden vacations and they most certainly didn't hide, especially not after having laid the groundwork for the single greatest business venture of the century. Bill Gates himself had called last week to discuss the ramifications of the negotiations.
“Jake, I need to drop off the radar for about a week. Why don't you take over the China contract?”
“O-o-o-k.” Jake said awkwardly. In another situation, Jake's loss of composure would have been amusing.
“Can you handle it or not?” Dominic challenged. He could barely think past the throbbing of his headache.
Maybe coming to Boston was a mistake. It had been here, at seventeen, that he’d walked away from his inheritance and waited tables to fund the search for his mother. Here, in this very brownstone, that he’d cultivated a hatred for a father who had denied both involvement and interest in the disappearance of his wife.
Jake’s voice slammed Dominic back into the present. “No problem. I've followed the progress you've made with the Chinese Investment Promotion Agency. They’re eager. I'll clear my schedule and cover yours. Duhamel will forward all of your calls to me until further notice.”
“Dom-” Jake hesitated. “It's normal to need time to grieve. You just lost your father.”
A harsh laugh escaped Dominic. “Trust me, I'm not grieving his loss.” He leaned a hip on the metal railing and looked up at the building he had instinctively returned to, searching for the man he’d once been and hoping to find something there that would shake off the immobilizing apathy he felt for all he had done since; high expectations for brick and antique wallpaper.
Jake said, “That's what worries me. No matter what your plans were or what he once did to you, he's gone now. You've got to let it go.”
Jake was asking the impossible. Of course the past mattered. Sometimes it was the only thing that did. “Just do your job, Jake. If you can't handle it, tell me and I'll promote Priestly to help you.”
For the second time since they had met at Harvard, Jake lost his temper. “That's bullshit, Dom. You want to send Priestly to China? Send him. You're absolutely right -- you've made me a very rich man. I don't need this. But heed my warning; you won't be a billionaire for long if we both step away from the helm. A lot is riding on this contract. The lawsuits alone will freeze your assets if you screw this up. You invested too much of your own and you're playing with the big boys, now. Governments are not very forgiving when it comes to last minute walk outs.”
The speech should have shaken Dominic, but it barely breached the numbness that had settled in since he'd received the phone call from his father's lawyer. What did all the money matter anyway? He'd wasted fifteen years amassing an empire that would allow him to throw down a forced buyout contract on his father’s enormous mahogany desk. Dominic should have taken action years ago, but no level of prior success had felt like enough. He’d choreographed the day from both sides, building his company while undermining his father’s; always working toward that one absolute win. Dominic had counted on his father’s desperation finally forcing him to confess what had actually happened to his mother.
It was that loss that he mourned today.
In its place was a carefully orchestrated set of instructions from his father’s lawyer. No, it wasn’t enough to simply disinherit his only son, Antonio Corisi had also included provisions in his will to ensure that Dominic had to attend the reading. He’d used Dominic’s one weakness, his one regret, to reaffirm his control, even from the grave.
Jake coughed, reminding Dominic that a response was required. What could he say? As usual, Jake was correct in his assessment of the situation. Dominic had used his own wealth as well as that of investors to back this venture. The risk had seemed worth it. The government contract would crack China's software market wide open for them and their global influence would double exponentially. It was a daring move that if carefully implemented could put Corisi Enterprises on a stratosphere of power few companies ever acquired; a goal that a week ago had seemed imperative.
Jake could handle the negotiations. Dominic had always been the one to charge forward, shaking the situation up and clearing the way. This time would be no different. Jake could merely take over a few documents earlier this time. Priestly was good at the local level, but he was no Jake.
“One week, Jake.” It was the closest to an apology Dominic was able to get out. He hoped it was enough.
Sounding more like an older brother, than a business associate, Jake said, “Take two weeks if you need it. Just get your head together. I can wrap up the China contract, but it'll need your final signature and your presence. I’ll do a press release today and ask the media to respect your need to mourn in private; that should give you at least a few days before they descend.”
“Call Murdock.” The man owes me a few favors.
“Do you mean the Murdock? I thought he’d retired.”
Ah, there is the real difference between us. By not fighting in the trenches of financial warfare, Jake’s business associations had remained above reproach, but he lacked the back door connections to those seemingly innocuous individuals who wielded real international influence. Dominic casually gave Jake a number that many would have paid a small fortune to dial just once. “Men like Murdock don’t retire, they delegate from warmer climates. Tell him that I don’t even want a good spin on this. It’s non-news. He’ll understand.”
Jake whistled softly in appreciation. “Is there anyone you don’t know?”
“Yes, you if you call me again today.”
Jake laughed, but they both knew it hadn’t been a joke. “Do yourself a favor, Dom...” Jake continued in an unusually authoritative tone.
What now? Dominic sighed.
“...put down the Jack Daniels for a night and pick up one of those models you like to date. You'll sleep better.”
Dominic gave a non-committal grunt and hung up. If only it were that easy.
Arms full of bed linens, Abby Dartley froze at the click of the front door opening. Darn it. She couldn't get caught here, especially in an oversized shirt and jeans instead of her sister's maid uniform. Lil needs this job. Cleaning the brownstone of a man who never actually occupied it had sounded like a relatively simple, albeit annoying, way to help her sister remain employed.
“Do not let anyone see you,” Lil had pleaded between the fits of sneezes that had accompanied her low, but persistent fever. “They’ll fire me in a second if they find out that you went in my place.”
“Can’t you just call in?” Abby remembered suggesting hopefully.
“I already used my two allowed sick days for Colby,” and then the tears had come.
A year ago, Abby would have let her sister add this lost job to the long string of employment she’d already tried and failed at and would have covered her expenses until she found a new job. They’d been through this cycle countless times, resulting only in Lil resenting Abby more with each passing year. The closeness they’d shared before the death of their parents was a distant, surreal memory.
Abby had considered asking Lil to move out, hoping that some separation would give Lil the independence she said she wanted, but that was before she’d held her new niece in her arms. It wasn’t just about Lil anymore. Colby deserved a mother with a stable career and Lil was so close to having one. She was one semester away from finishing her administrative assistant courses. Even when Colby’s father had walked out at the news of his fatherhood, Lil hadn’t crumbled. For the first time since they’d received the news of the accident that had claimed the lives of both of their parents, Lil wasn't hiding from her responsibilities.
Colby had changed that, too.
It wasn’t Lil’s fault that she’d caught the flu. Half the city seemed to be either recovering from it or succumbing to it. More importantly, it had been a long time since Lil had actually requested help, rather than merely grudgingly accepting it. Abby didn’t want to put too much significance on such a miniscule connection, but she couldn’t shake the hope that things could get better between them.
Her first impression of him as he stood in the entrance, unaware of her existence, was that he looked more tired than a man of his age should. Dark circles were evident even against his olive complexion. His expensive suit did nothing to conceal the slump of his wide shoulders. According to Lil, he'd paid to have the brownstone cleaned on a weekly basis, but hadn't actually been there in over a decade. Something had brought him back and whatever it was, it had steamrolled right over him.