Rise of the Billionaire
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Jeremy nodded as he mulled Dominic’s answer.
If he based his decision on which woman made him want to be a better man, Jeisa won hands down. She was patient and supportive. She didn’t judge his weaknesses, and therefore he had never hidden them from her. They shared an honesty he couldn’t imagine ever achieving with someone like Alethea.
I want Jeisa, and if I don’t do something fast, I’m going to lose her.
Dominic leaned forward onto one elbow and said, “Now get out.”
Despite the harshness of Dominic’s command, Jeremy stood and smiled. He’d gotten the answer he’d come for. “Thanks, Dom. I know what to do now.”
As he was leaving, he said over his shoulder, “See you Thursday at the Andrades’.”
He heard Dominic swearing as he closed the door and chuckled.
I’m growing on him, Jeremy thought as he sauntered down the hallway.
A million things to do that day, but first—and most important—Jeremy had a date to plan.
Where do you take someone when you can afford to take her anywhere?
A few hours later, Jeremy was sitting in his office in the Corisi building, being far from productive. He listened to voice messages from two senators, a handful of headhunters, and a reporter he had no intention of calling back. He even listened to a message from Alethea. She was heading back to Tenin to double-check something and she wanted to know if he could join her. She suggested they celebrate Thanksgiving abroad while looking into something she didn’t want to discuss on the phone.
There was a time when he would have given anything for such a message from Alethea. Today, it left him cold. All he could think about was Jeisa and how he wanted to spend the week getting to know her better.
Bold plans for a man who had no experience in such things.
Why the hell did I say I’d pick her up on Monday? I should have given myself more time to come up with something amazing. Still seated at his desk, he was staring out the window of his office when Marie knocked lightly on the door and entered. He stood to greet her.
Marie studied his face. “I’m glad to see you’re sporting fewer bruises these days.”
Jeremy smiled. Marie’s visit felt like sunshine after a storm: welcome, warm, and an uncomplicated joy. “Good to see you, Marie.” He held out a chair for her and sat across from her. “What brings you here?”
“Have you seen Jeisa since you returned?”
He felt his face redden. “Yes.”
“So, you know she’s quitting?”
“I talked her into staying for one more week. She and I will be at the Andrades’ house with you for Thanksgiving.”
“That’s wonderful! How did you convince her?”
His face warmed even more.
A huge smile lit Marie’s face. “You don’t know how happy this makes me.”
Jeremy cleared his throat and cautioned, “Marie, don’t make it more than it is. We haven’t even had our first date yet.”
“Well, what are you waiting for?”
He leaned back in his chair and covered his face with one hand. “I told her I’d pick her up on Monday morning and to have an overnight bag ready.”
“You did that?” Marie asked with happy surprise.
Jeremy grinned, unable to conceal the pride he felt in his confident order. “I did.” Then he sobered. “Now I have to figure out where to take her. Where did Dominic take Abby on their first date?”
Suddenly serious, Marie leaned over and placed a hand on Jeremy’s. “It doesn’t matter where they went. This journey is all about you and Jeisa.”
Jeremy shrugged, uncomfortable with her correction. “I don’t want to disappoint her.”
Marie lightly squeezed his hand. “When a man plans something special for a woman he cares about, there’s no room for disappointment. Choose something you know she enjoys doing.”
Feeling a weight settle on his chest, Jeremy admitted, “That’s a problem, then, because we’ve spent most of our time together talking about my goals and what I want. I don’t really know what she likes.”
Marie smiled again. “She likes you. Even I know that. A smart man like you will figure the rest out.”
Jeremy stood, sudden inspiration hitting him. “I’ve got it.” He returned to his desk and started typing on his laptop. “You’re a genius, Marie. I know how to find out what she likes.”
Marie went to stand behind him. “Jeremy.” She stretched out his name as a warning.
Jeremy was too excited by what he was uncovering to let her concern slow him down. “She doesn’t even use numbers or symbols in her passwords. That was the easiest code to break. I’ll have to talk to her about that.”
Marie put a hand on his shoulder. “This wasn’t what I meant, Jeremy.”
Jeremy pointed to his screen and said, “Marie, you said that I need to know what she likes. Well, what better way to do that than to check out her recent searches online?” He tapped the screen when a local florist came up. “She has a standing order for a weekly delivery of a bouquet of flowers native to Brazil, but she states that she wants it to be different each week.” He took a moment to digest what it meant. “So, she misses Brazil and likes surprises.” He continued to scroll through the information, his fingers furiously taking him from link to link. He paused on one page and said, “Hey, she searched for information about me while I was gone.” He smiled back at Marie, who simply shook her head at him.
His lightheartedness fell away as his searches revealed more. He covered the page with his hand when he stumbled upon a personal purchase. Heat filled his face. He said, “I love that she has one, but you shouldn’t see this, Marie.”
Marie stepped away from the computer and cautioned Jeremy, “Just because it’s easy for you to do, Jeremy, doesn’t make it right.”
Jeremy reassured her. “I won’t read more than I need. I promise. As soon as I find something that makes for a perfect date, I’ll stop.”
Marie leaned over and closed the laptop on his fingers. “Take her to California. There is a university out there that is working on a prototype for a toilet they say will improve the living conditions in third world countries. Jeisa is very interested in that research. Interested enough to consider moving out there to be part of the project.”
Jeremy eased his fingers out of his laptop. His own mother had never tried to rein him in, perhaps because she’d always felt guilty for how much she’d asked of him. Marie had no such qualms. He had a greater respect for her and her relationship with Dominic now that he’d seen this side of her.
Marie was never wrong, but Jeisa hadn’t given any indication of being interested in them.
Toilets, huh? He couldn’t suppress his smile. Is it possible that beneath her sexy façade there beats the heart of a geek?
While cautiously watching Marie out of the corner of his eye, he slowly reopened his laptop and did a quick search for the project she’d mentioned. After reading the university’s article on the subject, he said, “These prototypes are amazing! And solar powered. That is so cool. The site talks about saving the world and I can see how they could. Just amazing.”
He closed the laptop and looked across at Marie dubiously. “Can I really build a romantic trip around visiting a waste-disposal facility?”
Marie smiled, her good mood returning. “Normally, I would say no, but it’s a passion of Jeisa’s. You know how they say that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach? The way to a woman’s heart is through appreciating whatever she loves. Let me make a few phone calls. I’ll set everything up. All you have to do is get in the limo I send for you.”
Jeremy crossed the room and hugged Marie. She protested lightly and brushed him away, but she was smiling as she did so.
“I don’t know what I’d do without you, Marie.”
Her smile was kind when she said, “I get that a lot.”
Jeremy stared absently out the window long after Marie had left his office. His phone rang several times, but he didn’t answer it. His body might still have been in the office, but his heart and mind were already imagining California with Jeisa.
On Monday morning, poised on the edge of her couch, Jeisa started to text Jeremy but then deleted the partially written message. Instead, she reread the earlier text he’d sent her.
“See you at eight.”
Not, “I love you.”
Not, “I can’t stop thinking about you.”
Just, “See you at eight.”
Oh, my God, what if he didn’t really mean it about the overnight bag? Or he might have changed his mind. What if he met up with Alethea over the weekend?
I’m not sixteen. I know the rules.
Rule number one in the book of how to protect your heart: Do not go away with a man who loves another woman. It only leads to heartache.
Rule number two: Do not spend the weekend shopping and having your hair done for a date you are not going on. If you forget why, refer to rule number one.
Rule number three: Do not sit on your couch, dressed to impress, for an hour before said date with an overnight bag by the door and then overthink the situation. If you’ve decided to throw caution to the wind and do something you know is wrong, at least try to enjoy yourself.
Jeisa jumped off the couch at the first knock. She smoothed the skirt of her dress and answered the door. Her breath caught in her throat when she saw Jeremy.
Dressed in one of the designer suits she’d chosen for him, he held out a bouquet of red begonias. Jeisa took the flowers. Beautiful and odd at the same time. Only Jeremy. She said, “I should probably put these in water.”
Neither of them moved.
Jeremy said, “You look amazing.”
Jeisa smiled and said, “So do you.”
Which earned her a smile in return.
Jeremy took her by the hand and said, “Don’t worry about the flowers. Let’s just grab your bag and go.”
Before we both change our minds. He didn’t have to say it.
Jeisa looked into those deep blue eyes and made a decision.
I want Jeremy.
For tonight, if that’s all we can have.
Screw playing it safe.
With that she threw the bouquet of flowers over her shoulder and into her apartment with abandon.
Jeremy laughed in surprise and pulled her to him for a crushing kiss, one that cleared her head of any lingering second thoughts and replaced them with a hum of need. The kiss deepened as his arms enfolded her and she sank into the bliss of his embrace.
When they were both shaking with need, Jeremy broke off the kiss, rested his forehead on hers, and said, “We’d better go.”
“Where?” she whispered.
He straightened and took her hand in one of his and her bag in the other. “It’s a surprise, but I think you’re really going to love it.”
Her heart tightened in her chest. I already do. That was never the problem.
Jeremy followed Jeisa into the back of the Hummer limo that Mrs. Duhamel had arranged for the date. Soft, romantic music filled the dimly lit interior. Jeisa looked uncertain where to sit and finally chose the back corner. Jeremy chose the seat next to her, but left a space between them.