Rise of the Billionaire
Page 16

 Ruth Cardello

  • Background:
  • Text Font:
  • Text Size:
  • Line Height:
  • Line Break Height:
  • Frame:

He rubbed his chin in her hair and breathed in the scent of her shampoo, marveling that he’d never smelled anything so wonderful. I should leave the word “idiot” off.
His phone vibrating in his breast pocket was an unwelcome interruption. He shifted Jeisa slightly to one side and checked the caller ID.
Alethea.
He turned off his phone and slid it back into his pocket. Jeisa tensed in his arms.
“You could have answered it,” she said slowly, straightening away from him.
“It wasn’t important,” he said, watching Jeisa’s expression tighten with emotion.
“Was it Alethea?”
He didn’t bother to deny it. “Yes.”
“Is there a reason you feel that you can’t talk to her in front of me?” Jeisa turned on the couch and hugged her legs to her chest.
Only about a million. “I thought now was a bad time.”
“I know you still work with her. I’m not a fool. I know that means you have to talk to her. Ignoring her phone call doesn’t make her go away.”
Jeremy reached for Jeisa’s hand but she scooted back, away from him. “I can call her back if you want.”
Jeisa stood and turned her back to him. “No, I don’t want you to call her back.”
Jeremy went to stand behind her. “Then I’m confused.”
She spun around, hands on her hips, and said, “And how do you think I feel?” She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “I can’t do this. I thought I could do this, but I can’t. I’m losing my mind.”
He reached out for her but she stepped back. “Jeisa . . .”
“No, don’t touch me. When you touch me I forget how much the rest of this hurts.”
He pocketed his hands and rolled back on his heels. The last thing he wanted to do was hurt her. He’d thought they were having the kind of first date people shared a secret smile about together on their fiftieth anniversary. Had he misread the situation that badly? “I don’t understand.”
She covered her eyes with one hand, hugging herself with her other arm. “I can’t have sex with you anymore. Not like this.”
What did she mean like this? “I thought you said it was wonderful.”
She lowered her hand, her eyes now shiny with tears. “It was wonderful. Too wonderful. I came here because I love you. Today was amazing—all of it. You showed me how good it could be between us. I can’t help falling deeper in love with you, and it terrifies me.”
“Because you think I don’t love you?” he asked with relief. That was easy enough to rectify. “Jeisa, I do.”
He wasn’t prepared for her angry denial of his admission. “Don’t. Don’t say it now. Not when I just told you that I’m not having sex with you anymore if you don’t. How am I going to believe you? I’ll always wonder if you only said it because I forced you to.”
“But I do love you.”
“See, I don’t believe you. You’re only saying it because I cornered you into it.”
Man, women are a puzzle. Jeremy sought clarification before deciding how to proceed. “So, let me get this straight. You slept with me because you love me. It was so good that it made you love me more, but you don’t want to sleep with me again. Ever?”
Jeisa’s face flushed with anger. “I didn’t say ever. Don’t twist this all up.”
I’m trying to untwist it, he thought. “Okay, so the problem is that you don’t think I love you.”
“No, the problem is that I let myself get tangled up in a situation that was wrong for me from the start. I shouldn’t have taken that job at Corisi Enterprises. I should have never lied about my typing skills. I should have called my father and told him the truth. Then I wouldn’t have met Mrs. Duhamel and started working with you.” She waved an angry hand in his direction. “I came here because I wanted to be a strong, independent woman. And look at me. I’m lying like a teenager and practically begging some man to love me while I try to quit yet another job that I’m not qualified for anyway.”
Jeremy grasped onto the only part of her tirade that made sense to him. “What are you lying about?”
“You. Me. Everything. My father thinks I’m an au pair.”
Amusement made the sides of Jeremy’s mouth twitch as he suppressed a smile. “You told him you’re babysitting me?”
“No,” she sighed angrily. “It’s a long story and one that I don’t want to get into right now.”
“Are you sure it wouldn’t help if I told you again that I love you?” He instantly regretted defaulting to humor in the midst of a confrontation. She glared at him and began cursing in Portuguese.
She took a deep breath and calmed herself. “Fine. Joke about it. I should be grateful to you for making the decision easier.”
Jeremy ran a hand through his hair. “What decision? Jeisa, I didn’t mean . . .”
With her lips pressed in an angry line, she announced, “I won’t be going to Thanksgiving with you. I don’t need to wait until then to know that we can’t work this out.”
Jeremy paced in front of her, hating how his inexperience with women was likely the reason the situation was going from bad to finished. WWDD: What would Dominic do? Asking himself that question had successfully guided him through the rest of his transformation. Perhaps he’d been wrong not to apply it to his relationship with Jeisa.
Women don’t respect weak men.
Be bold.
“You will come to Thanksgiving with me.” He felt a rush of pride when his tone held just a hint of a warning.
Jeisa cocked her head in surprise. “Are you threatening me?”
“I don’t make threats,” he mimicked what he’d once heard Dominic say.
She tossed her hair over one shoulder and advanced on him. Still angry, but undeniably also excited by what he’d said. “After today, I’m not going anywhere with you.”
Dominic really knows what he’s doing. I can’t believe this shit works.
“We’ll see about that,” Jeremy said vaguely, trying his best to look intimidating.
Jeisa turned with a huff and moved to the other side of the cabin. She sat in a chair, clicked on the television and turned her back to him.
Jeremy almost laughed.
She was adorable over there, making a production of giving him the silent treatment.
He knew enough not to say that to her. He relaxed into the couch and propped his feet up on the table in front of him. This particular puzzle was going to require some strategizing.
How do you get a woman who already loves you to start talking to you again long enough to convince her that you’re meant to spend the rest of your lives together?
How do you get her to believe that you love her?
You propose!
Now that he had the solution, he was less worried about her present mood. Jeremy folded his arms over his chest and smiled.
And I know just when to do it!
The only thing worse than ignoring a man for a six-hour flight and half of a limo ride home was periodically checking to see if your silence was bothering him and being slapped with the harsh reality that it was not. Even now, Jeremy looked perfectly content to read his emails on his tablet and make phone calls as if he were alone.
Proving rather clearly that my instincts are correct and he doesn’t have feelings for me. He is probably counting the minutes until he boots me out of this limo and drives off—probably never to see me again.
Which is fine.
At least then I have my answer and I can go back to focusing on the real reason I came to the United States in the first place. For me.
I don’t need a man to make me happy or successful. I may not be a good office clerk, but I’ll find my way.
Her dream job at WIT was now interwoven with too many memories of Jeremy. But it’s not the only university working on a humanitarian grant. I’m good with politicians and mingling with corporate giants. I could be a professional fund-raiser anywhere.
There are a lot of things I can do.
I haven’t given myself enough time to find where I belong.
She studied Jeremy’s profile as he read over another document on his tablet.
Just where I don’t.
The limo pulled up at the front of her apartment building and the driver opened the door for her. She hesitated. This may be the last thing I ever say to Jeremy. I don’t want it to end on this sour note.
He put down his tablet. “I’ll pick you up around ten on Thursday morning. The Andrades have requested everyone be there by two.”
Jeisa’s eyes flew to his, trying to read him but finding nothing there but cold determination. “I told you that I’m not going.”
“And I told you that you are.”
“It’s not like you can threaten to fire me. I already quit. I’m not working under contract, so legally you can’t force me to go.”
“Be ready at ten.”
“Or what?” Jeisa asked, confused with how she could be both angry and excited by his refusal to accept her answer.
He leaned over, slid a hand beneath her hair, and pulled her face to his. He tasted her hungrily, pulling her out of her seat, and Jeisa lost the battle against her own restraint. She was kneeling between his legs, drowning in the heat of his kiss, trying to remember all the reasons she didn’t belong there. He kissed her jaw and whispered into her ear, “Or I will close that door and make love to you right here until you say yes.”
Jeisa could barely hear him over her own ragged breathing. He means it.
And I want it.
She shook herself mentally.
Saying yes would only prolong the pain of uncertainty.
Saying no would gain her an immediate pleasure that wouldn’t prove anything more than what she already knew—she was hopelessly, helplessly in love with him.
She sat back on her heels and implored, “Just let me go, Jeremy.”
His jaw tightened and his eyes darkened with emotion. “No. You promised me you would go with me and you will, even if I have to track you down and drag you there.” He ran a thumb over her lips. “Although we may both enjoy that option, too.”
Jeisa stood on shaky legs and stepped out of the limo, temporarily too stunned to reply.
“See you Thursday,” Jeremy said and joined her on the curb, taking her overnight bag away from the driver and handing it to her doorman himself.
Jeisa grabbed her bag from the doorman. “I no longer work for Mr. Kater, Tim. I’d appreciate it if you don’t let him in anymore.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Tim said.
In a steel tone, Jeremy said, “No one will stop me from taking you with me on Thursday.”
“There is nothing attractive about a domineering man,” Jeisa snapped.
He leaned down and whispered in her ear, “Then why do you look like you’d love to invite me upstairs?”
Her head jerked back in denial. “I do not.”
He traced her jaw with his thumb, moving on to part her eager lips. Her breath came in short, excited breaths against his hand. “Yes, you do.”
She slapped his hand away. “A man with more experience would understand the difference between anger and desire.”