Rise of the Billionaire
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The corners of his eyes wrinkled with humor. “Then it sounds like I need more experience.”
With a stream of choice Portuguese phrases, Jeisa turned away from him and headed into her apartment building.
Tim beat her to the door and opened it for her, then returned to Jeremy’s side and asked, “Tough trip?”
“Best of my life,” Jeremy answered with a smile, then whistled as he reentered the limo.
The next day, Jeremy did answer Alethea’s phone call. “Jeremy, thank God. I started to worry when you weren’t picking up.”
Jeremy sat back in his office chair at the Corisi building and propped his feet on his desk. “I was busy.”
“Well, get unbusy and back to Tenin because we have a problem.”
“What is it?”
“You know how I get feelings about stuff, right? Well, my instincts tell me that something is seriously wrong here.”
Was it possible that she’d heard about Jeisa and was jealous?
The answer mattered as little to Jeremy as the project out there did.
“I’m not going anywhere. Not this week, anyway.”
“Didn’t you hear what I said?”
“I heard you. Did you hear me?”
Alethea sighed angrily. “What the hell is wrong with you, Jeremy? This is your project. Don’t you care if it falls apart?”
Not when he was fighting for something much more important. “Call me if you find something concrete. Otherwise, I’ll fly over next week and check everything out myself. Deal?”
“No, that’s not acceptable. What if—”
“Bye, Alethea. We’ll talk next week.”
“Do not hang up on me, Jeremy.”
He did. Alethea thrived on drama. In the past he would have let her drag him into whatever crazy scheme she was hatching—one to combat a crisis that, chances were, didn’t actually exist. Not this time.
He finally had something to lose.
And he was damned if he was going to.
He picked up the office phone and called the downstairs desk at Jeisa’s apartment building. “Tim, do you have a minute to talk?”
“Yes, it’s me, Tim. I need some help and you’re the only person I can think of to ask. Can I send a car to pick you up?”
“I’m working, Mr. Kater.”
“When does your shift end?”
After a short pause, Tim answered, “Two hours.”
“Great. I’ll send my driver then.”
“Mr. Kater, I have a wife and kids. I can’t do anything illegal.”
That stopped Jeremy short. “Tim, I want to go pick out a ring for Jeisa and I need a second opinion. What did you think I was asking you to do?”
Tim laughed with apparent relief. “I don’t know.”
Jeremy continued, “I just figured that you’re married so you chose correctly once. I can pay you for the time if you want.”
Tim answered in a slightly offended tone. “You don’t have to pay me.”
Jeremy dropped the arrogant tone he caught himself using more now. “Tim, I’m sorry. Let me start over. I really want to pick the right ring for Jeisa and I value your opinion. Do you mind meeting me when you get off work? I want to buy the ring today. And don’t call me, Mr. Kater. I’m Jeremy.”
“Okay, Jeremy. I’ll go, but I don’t know about rings. My wife picked her own.”
Hmm. “Do you think she’d come with us?”
Tim laughed. “Are you serious?”
“Never more so.”
Tim said slowly, “We’d have to get a babysitter.”
Money might not solve all problems, but it certainly made many easier to deal with. “I can pay for that. It’s the least I could do. Hey, and after we pick a ring I’ll lend you the limo and driver for the night. You could take your wife out for a nice dinner or something.”
“She’d love that,” Tim said, and then added with more enthusiasm, “She’d probably love everything about this.” He laughed. “I’ll call her and have her meet me here. She can have her sister watch the kids.”
Inspiration hit Jeremy. “Better than that, I’ll have a limo pick her up and bring her to get you. You can both meet me at the jeweler’s.” He smiled into the phone and added, “I’ll have my secretary book a room for you at the Ritz-Carlton in case she really loves it. Don’t worry about paying. This is on me.”
“Yes, unless you don’t want me to.”
Without hesitation Tim said, “No, I’m in. I can’t remember the last date I had with my wife. If I’m lucky I’ll have to call in sick tomorrow.”
Jeremy shook his head. Tim was honest and funny, and beginning to feel like something his years of isolation had cheated him of—a friend.
“Here’s hoping you do, Tim. See you in two hours.”
“Thanks, Jeremy. And, uh, sorry I thought you were asking me to assist in a kidnapping.”
Jeremy chuckled. I bet Dominic gets those comments all the time. This is so awesome.
He forced himself to sound serious. “No problem. See you at the jeweler’s.”
“Yes,” Tim said, “see you then.”
Jeremy was still chuckling ten minutes later when he walked into Dominic’s office to drop off a report. Dominic looked up from his desk and scowled at Jeremy. “What the hell is so funny?”
Jeremy shook his head and bit back a laugh. “You wouldn’t get it.”
Which only deepened the scowl. Jeremy burst out laughing. He knew he should stop, but he couldn’t help himself. He retreated from the room before Dominic lost his temper and jumped his desk to get him.
Someday they might be in a place where he could tell Dominic the whole story, but they weren’t there yet.
Two days later, Jeisa still hadn’t left her house. She didn’t bother to change out of the shorts and T-shirt she’d worn to bed the first night, since she didn’t have a job to report to. She threw her hair back in a ponytail, grabbed an aptly named carton of Chocolate Therapy ice cream and a cup of black coffee, and dragged a thick blanket from the closet to make a comforting nest on her couch.
Day two of the pity party.
She opened the carton and flipped on the TV.
News? No, too depressing.
Daytime talk show? Too happy.
Documentary? Too much trouble to find a good one.
She considered calling her friends in Santo Amaro, but they hadn’t understood her desire to move to the United States in the first place. Why work when you don’t have to? Why leave a life where everything is given to you? Because I’m tired of the rules. Be good. Be quiet. Be beautiful. Just don’t be yourself.
She chose a station that played soft music without words. The last thing she needed was to hear someone singing about loving and losing. She put the half-eaten ice cream on the coffee table in front of her couch and tucked herself beneath the blanket.
What am I doing?
Hating myself for caring that Jeremy hasn’t called me.
It didn’t matter that she’d rehearsed exactly what to say when he did call, or that each version included telling him it was over. Over almost as soon as it began. Memories of the two of them, enjoying each other intimately and wondrously, kept sneaking in and threatening what was otherwise an anti-Jeremy self-pep talk. Okay, I’m awful at relationships. I panic and run. Does admitting it bring me closer to recovery?
A light rap on her door echoed through her apartment. She flipped off the music channel. She threw back the blanket and thought, I’m not ready to see anyone. Usually Tim called upstairs for guests. The only one he’d ever let through unannounced was Jeremy. Used to let through, she stressed to herself. I told Tim not to admit him.
Jeisa rushed to the mirror and groaned. Oh, my God, I look awful. She wasn’t wearing any makeup, and the shadows beneath her eyes were prominent. And her hair was taking the elastic as a suggestion rather than a restraint, defiantly sticking out here and there. She looked hastily around the room. There was still a pile of tissues on the kitchen counter left from when she’d broken into tears while looking for a midnight snack. Two days of dirty dishes were stacked on the counter.
I guess I don’t have to look good when I tell him for the final time that I don’t want to see him again.
Jeisa opened the door slowly and almost slammed it again when she saw who was there.
Marie, in all her perfectly groomed glory, smiled politely at her as if she were meeting Jeisa for their weekly lunch rather than visiting her apartment for the first time. “Jeisa! I’m so glad you’re home. I tried to call you but you weren’t answering your phone, so I thought I’d drop by and check to make sure you’re okay. I hope you don’t mind.”
Which reminded Jeisa that she’d turned her phone off during the tour of the university. Shit! How could I have forgotten to turn it back on?
Because you had other things on your mind, she mocked herself.
Maybe Jeremy did call.
I don’t care, she declared to herself.
“May I come in?” Marie inquired.
Jeisa shook her head to clear it. “Of course, Marie. I’m sorry. Come in.” She stepped back to allow the older woman entry.
Marie walked past her, looked around, then turned her attention back to Jeisa, who was squirming with embarrassment. Jeisa rushed to put some dishes in the sink. “Don’t mind the mess.” She took the blanket off the couch and threw it in the bedroom, closing the door quickly behind her. “Would you like to sit?” Jeisa asked, then groaned when Marie picked the spot next to the melting carton of ice cream.
“Are you ill? I have a fabulous doctor who actually does house calls. No one does that anymore, but I’m old-fashioned like that,” Marie said with concern.
Jeisa sat across from her on a chair and hugged a pillow to her stomach. “No. No. I’m fine. Would you like something to drink?”
Marie took another quick look around the room and shook her head. “Jeisa, I came to apologize.”
Jeisa’s grip on the pillow tightened as she waited.
“I shouldn’t have encouraged Jeremy to take you to San Francisco. I shouldn’t have pushed, but from the moment I met you, I thought you’d be perfect for him. You’re sophisticated, well educated, and kind—exactly what Jeremy needed. And, to some extent, I was right. The difference between him before he met you and now is indescribable. You didn’t just give him a makeover, you gave him confidence.”
I gave him more than that, Jeisa thought wryly.
“Thank you,” Jeisa said thickly, her mouth dry from nerves.
“He’s a good man.”
“I know he is.”
“But he hasn’t had a lot of experience with dating.”
I’m intimately aware of that also, Jeisa thought, but said nothing.
“A man like that may not know how to express himself well. He may be shy about things that another man wouldn’t be.”
Any less shy and I wouldn’t have been able to walk off the plane, Jeisa thought and stifled a giggle that stemmed more from nervousness than real humor.