Rise of the Billionaire
Page 14

 Ruth Cardello

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“Because you want to be better than anyone else?”
He laid his hand over hers on his face. “When it comes to you, yes.”
The way he was looking at her had her almost believing he could be in—
No, don’t do that to yourself.
Reading more into what he’s saying or trying to rush him will only lead to heartache. Give him his week and just try to enjoy this while it lasts.
In case it doesn’t.
He was still watching her.
Still waiting.
Post-sex commentary wasn’t comfortable for her. She looked at his chest as she spoke. “It’s never been like this for me before. I’ve had good sex, but until you, I never had great sex.”
He lifted her chin and smiled into her eyes. “I was afraid I might have gotten a little carried away, but after the first time I wanted to make sure.”
God bless his dedication to mastery.
He rolled onto his back, pulling her with him so she was half-draped across his chest as it rumbled with humor beneath her. He stared up at the ceiling while absently running a finger down her bare back. “Jeisa, we need to talk . . .”
The pilot’s voice came over the intercom. “We have about twenty minutes before we begin our descent. You will want to secure yourself for landing at that time.”
Jeremy nodded and kissed Jeisa’s forehead, easing away from her and throwing the comforter back. Jeisa felt the physical separation like a loss. She sat up without thinking of covering herself.
She had to ask. “Jeremy, what were you going to say?”
He was already pulling his trousers up over his boxers. After he picked his shirt off the floor, he leaned down and gave her lips a quick kiss. “It can wait. Right now I am going to take the world’s fastest shower in the other room. I’d invite you to join me, but then we’d never make it to our appointment on time, and I can’t wait to see what you think.”
What I think?
We both know what I think.
You’re the wild card here.
He gathered his socks and shoes and bolted from the room. The plane banked, and Jeisa caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror across the room and shot out of bed.
Thankfully the plane had two showers. It was one thing to engage in a marathon of steamy sex and quite another thing to go out into public looking like you did.
Beneath the hot spray of water, Jeisa closed her eyes—at peace with the universe and completely sated. The plane dipped beneath her feet, shocking her into action.
Okay, okay.
She rushed through the rest of her shower and threw on a form-fitting orange dress in record time. The lightest touches of makeup, a quick brush of her hair, and she made it to the seat beside Jeremy with very little time to spare. He handed her a seat belt and then secured himself.
Landing was a reminder that not everything lasts forever. Not their flight. Maybe not their time together.
“You look . . .” Jeremy’s voice trailed away as the words eluded him.
“I hope the word you’re searching for is ‘beautiful,’ ” Jeisa joked, but the heat in his eyes replaced her humor with an emotion so poignant that Jeisa suddenly felt uncertain. “Where are we going?”
With some relief, Jeremy regained his composure. “I told you, it’s a surprise. You’ll have to wait and see.”
Jeisa looked out the window as the jet touched down with a few light bumps and decided that surprises were overrated. One moment she had felt a joy unlike any she’d imagined possible, then her mood had flipped and she wanted to run back to Boston. Try as she might, she didn’t feel there was much chance that she was going to enjoy this surprise, considering that her nerves were already beginning to fray.
When the plane came to a stop, Jeremy linked his fingers through Jeisa’s, and she turned back to meet his eyes. With his free hand, he undid his buckle and then hers, and pulled her out of her chair into his arms. “Trust me,” he said, misunderstanding her mood as anxiety related to their outing.
“I do,” she whispered and meant it, meeting his kiss halfway.
I just don’t know how I’ll survive if you tell me this isn’t what you want.
Chapter Eight
Stepping out of the limo and into the faculty parking lot of the Watts Institute of Technology, Jeisa was overcome with emotion. Not only was it one of the country’s most prestigious schools, but it was also the home of the Global Water Project—the same grant-funded initiative she’d told Marie it was her dream to work for. She was familiar with the building they were about to enter because it was featured in almost every documentary she’d watched on the project. Of all the places Jeremy could have taken her on their first date, bringing her to the doorstep of her life’s ambition felt a bit surreal and took their excursion to a whole new level. She clung to his hand, too overwhelmed to speak.
Looking a bit uncomfortable, Jeremy confessed, “I guess I can tell you now. Marie told me you were interested in a certain project to help third world countries. We looked into who was working on it and Marie took care of the rest. I thought you would want to see a demonstration and meet the team.”
“You set up a tour of the Global Water Project?” Hers was a rhetorical, wonder-filled request for confirmation rather than an actual question.
He raised her hand to his lips and kissed her fingers before answering with humor. “Unless you’re harboring another waste-disposal fascination that you didn’t tell Marie about?”
Her eyes filled with instant tears, probably smearing some of her newly applied mascara. Jeisa wiped it away even as she looked up at Jeremy in awe. She was so happy she started to cry again. “I can’t believe you did this.”
He went pale and asked, “You’re saying that because you’re glad we’re here, right?”
She threw her arms around him and buried her wet face in his neck as she hugged him. “I love it! I absolutely love it!”
After only the slightest of hesitations, he wrapped his arms around her waist and held her shaking body to him. He murmured into her hair, “I just wanted to make sure.”
She tilted her head back and pulled his down so she could express in a kiss exactly how much the surprise had pleased her. With a teasing flick of the tongue, she deepened the kiss and reveled in how his tongue met hers with a hunger their earlier time together should have alleviated but hadn’t. Had they been somewhere private, she would have ripped his clothing from him and thanked him in a way he would not soon forget.
A young man’s voice spoke beside them, softly at first and then with increasing volume until neither she nor Jeremy could ignore the interruption. Jeremy broke off the kiss, but instead of instantly addressing the other man, he looked down into Jeisa’s eyes, and the fire she saw burning there tempted her to say they should forget about the tour and spend the rest of the day on the plane.
The man cleared his throat loudly and, in a tone that revealed his immense discomfort with the scene he’d just witnessed, said, “Excuse me, Mr. Kater?”
With a shake of his head, Jeremy turned and put out a hand to greet the man, even as he pulled Jeisa close to his side. Jeisa couldn’t help herself—she wrapped both arms around Jeremy’s waist and hugged him tight, then wiped a stray tear from one of her cheeks.
Jeremy laughed at the man’s expression. “She really likes toilets.”
The man had brown hair, was of average build, and looked to be in his mid-twenties. His honey-colored round-rimmed glasses made him appear a bit bug-eyed, and his plaid shirt and argyle sweater gave him a geeky look. He smiled at Jeremy’s comment. “No one here would consider that odd. It’s one of our obsessions. My name is Henry. I’m one of the post-grad students working on the project and Dr. Wheaton asked me to be your tour guide today.”
Jeisa pried herself from Jeremy’s clutch and also shook the man’s hand. “Thank you for letting us visit your facility. My name is Jeisa. You have no idea how much this means to me.”
Henry shook her hand and grew more flustered the longer she looked at him. He quickly broke off contact with her and returned his attention to Jeremy. “We were told that one of you might be interested in joining us on the post-production side.”
Jeremy nodded toward Jeisa. “That would be Jeisa.”
Jeisa breathed out a dreamy sigh. “I’d love to help in any way I could.”
Jeremy looked down at her and asked, “You believe in the project that much?”
What she might have protected from another man, she didn’t feel she needed to hide from Jeremy. He’d said that he wanted to know her and he was honest to a fault. She nodded slowly. “Yes, I do.”
He took her hand in his and gave it a supportive squeeze. “Then so do I. Let’s go see what makes these toilets so amazing.”
During the tour that followed, Jeisa was sure that Jeremy would lose interest, but he didn’t. And she herself was absolutely engrossed. Periodically she would realize that she was asking question after question without really giving Henry time to answer. She pondered the team’s decision to keep the prototype simple and inexpensive instead of using more cutting-edge technology. Yes, the units needed to be easy to maintain and had to be cost-effective, but some of the more expensive materials might survive extreme outdoor conditions longer. She inquired if their decisions had been influenced by budgetary concerns, and of course they partially had been.
I could change that. The thought echoed through her.
Too soon, Henry concluded the tour in the department’s office area. Jeremy assessed the variety of computers being used—everything from desktops to razor-thin tablets were scattered on the five desks that shared one large room. Without asking, Jeremy took a seat at one of the desks and turned the computer on. “Do you ever worry that someone may tamper with your records or steal your ideas?”
Henry rushed over to where Jeremy was seated. His voice went up a few octaves. “Most of what we do here is pretty transparent, since we hope the technology we’re designing is going to be utilized by many countries in the future. But we do have some sensitive information on our server that we safeguard.”
“What do you use? A closed network?” Jeremy typed something in even as Henry protested.
Suddenly sweaty, Henry said, “I don’t really know. Our IT guy sets it up for us.”
Jeremy kept typing. “Do you want to test how secure it is?”
Henry paled a bit and croaked, “No. I’m not authorized to okay that.”
Jeremy continued, regardless of Henry’s lack of permission. “Get your IT guy on the phone. I’ll ask him.”
Jeisa put her hand on Jeremy’s arm in caution. “Jeremy, what are you doing?”
Jeremy paused for a second. “This project is important to you. That makes it important to me. Do you know how much data the Waltons had stolen from them because they didn’t properly protect it? One day you’re designing a humanitarian Global Water Project, the next you see your invention powering drone missiles. Is that what you want?”
“No,” Jeisa admitted reluctantly.