Rise of the Billionaire
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Her father didn’t sound happy, but he didn’t interrupt her as she’d worried he would. He must have heard something in her voice when she mentioned Jeremy, because he said, “Just tell me that this Jeremy is nothing like the whimpering American I just met.”
Jeisa remembered how Jeremy had stood up to the professional boxer during what he still called his first lesson. Jeremy didn’t whimper. “No, I think you’d actually like him.”
“I’ll tell you what I think after I meet him.”
“Meet him?” Jeisa asked, her voice going up an octave in distress.
“I want to see this life you’ve made for yourself and I’m going to. Is there anything else you want to tell me about this Jeremy?”
“No,” Jeisa hedged, as she often had in the past. She instantly regretted doing so, but old habits were hard to break. With her father, the less she said the better.
“Then first we are going to sit down and talk about the importance of honesty in a family. After that, you are going to introduce me to this man you say you work for.”
He doesn’t believe me, and really I can’t blame him. “Dad, this isn’t a good time for that. Tomorrow is an American holiday, Thanksgiving. We were going down to New York to celebrate it with some coworkers and friends, but I’ll tell him I can’t go.”
“No, don’t. I’ll go with you. Sounds like the perfect way for me to get to know the people in this new life you say you have made for yourself.”
That’s what Thanksgiving was becoming—a perfect disaster.
Jeremy absently checked the pocket of his black tuxedo for the ring boxes as the limo navigated the busy streets of Boston. Rings. Check. He’d purchased his own private helicopter, which was now fueled and waiting for them at the Corisi building, a much closer option than the airport. Transportation. Check.
Normally he wouldn’t have made his mother, Therese, travel alone, but he had special plans for this short trip—plans he’d confessed to his mother when she’d sounded hurt that he wanted to travel alone with Jeisa. “Mom, we need privacy because I’m going to ask her to marry me.”
After praising the powers above, she’d exclaimed, “You plan to propose on a helicopter? Jeremy, a girl hopefully only gets one proposal. That doesn’t sound very romantic. How are you going to get down on one knee if you’re strapped in with headphones?”
He explained his choice. “Don’t worry, this is a luxury copter. It’s as nice and soundproof on the inside as any vehicle. It’ll be filled with roses. I even ordered champagne so we can celebrate. Trust me, it’ll be perfect.”
His mother let out a joyful laugh. “I’m going to have grandchildren!”
“Easy, Mom. She has to say yes first.”
“What sane woman would say no to you, Jeremy?”
More than you’d think, he thought, but only one mattered.
His mother gushed, “I should come over and take a picture of you and Jeisa that morning. You never went to a prom. I don’t have any pictures like that.”
As quickly as she had started laughing, she started crying. “You gave up so much for me and your dad. I want you to be happy.”
The weight of her sorrow tore at him, as it always had. He reassured her just as he’d done a thousand times before when they’d talked themselves into an uncomfortable place. “I am happy, Mom. And you are going to make the world’s best grandmother.”
Sniffing, Therese said, “No matter what Jeisa says, I want you to know how proud I am of you. You are an amazing man and I hope she sees that.”
It had been a relief to end that phone call, even though her words had warmed his heart. “Bye, Mom. I’ll see you at the Andrades’. Try not to cry all over Jeisa when we make our announcement.”
“I can’t promise anything,” his mother had said, laughing.
Stepping out of the limo in front of Jeisa’s building, Jeremy looked up to the floor her apartment was on. He took a deep, fortifying breath and stepped toward the entrance. Tim opened it for him.
“Good morning, Mr. Kater,” Tim said in a rush.
“Jeremy,” he corrected him.
Tim nodded and followed him inside. “Jeremy, before you go upstairs there is something I have to tell you.”
Jeremy stopped just inside the foyer. “Did she instruct you to call the police or something if I showed up?”
Shaking his head, Tim said, “Worse. Her father is upstairs.”
That wiped the smile off Jeremy’s face. “Her father?” Why would Jeisa call her father? Because she meant it when she said she didn’t want to see me again?
No, she’s upset with me, but she loves me. Why wouldn’t she tell me her father was here?
Maybe she would have if I had called her.
Damn, I knew I shouldn’t have left our last words hang between us until now. I wanted to play it cool like Dominic would have, but I should have put my pride aside and called her.
Jeremy sought some answers from Tim. “What is he like?”
Tim whistled. “Huge. Dressed like he lives in suits. And not happy.”
“You should buzz her apartment this time.”
Jeisa answered her intercom.
Tim said, “Mr. Kater is here to see you.”
“Send him up,” she said breathlessly.
“Yes, ma’am,” Tim said and clicked the intercom off. “Good luck.”
Jeremy straightened his shoulders and braced himself. “How bad could he be?”
Tim gave him a pat on the shoulder and said, “Dads are tricky, Jeremy. They are programmed to not like the man their daughter chooses. It’ll be like walking through a minefield with two people watching to see if you can navigate it. They know where the explosives are, but they won’t tell you. When dealing with potential in-laws, all you can do is step lightly and pray. Trust me, the less you say the better.”
Jeremy nodded. “Thanks, Tim. I’ll keep that in mind. She did say I could go up, though, so I’m feeling optimistic about this. She might have had time to rethink her last words to me. Hell, maybe her father is here because he wants to meet the man who has made his daughter so happy.”
“I love your sense of humor, Jeremy.”
Jeremy headed for the stairs grumbling to himself. I wasn’t joking.
When Jeisa saw Jeremy’s formal attire she was glad she’d chosen a floor-length gown and encouraged her father to wear a tuxedo. The Andrades were casual in their manner with each other, but they loved to dress to impress and Thanksgiving would likely be no different. Although their event began in the afternoon, they would dress for the late hours the party would stretch into. Jeremy waited at the door to be invited in, and Jeisa was thankful for his uncommon discomfort.
This may work. All I have to do to avert this crisis is to convince two men that today is not a good idea.
“Mr. Kater, thank you for offering me a ride down to New York, but as you can see my father is here for a visit.” When Jeremy looked confused by her formal greeting, Jeisa instantly felt sorry for keeping him in the dark about her father’s visit. I should have called him last night and told him that my father is here. But I didn’t know what to say. Why do I always believe that if I pretend something is not happening, it will go away?
Jeremy met her eyes for a minute and seemed to come to a decision. He looked past her. “Mr. Borreto, it’s a pleasure to finally meet you.” He held out his hand to her father. Her father shook his hand with what looked like a punishing grip that Jeremy smiled through.
“So, you’re the man my daughter currently works for.”
When Jeremy glanced at her over his shoulder, Jeisa pleaded with him silently to go along with it. Turning back to her father, he said, “Technically she works with me.” Jeisa held her breath. “Corisi Enterprises hired her, but she’s been helping me with a recent project.”
“I see,” her father said coldly. “And this project involves taking her to New York today?”
“Today isn’t about work. It’s Thanksgiving, a day when most Americans gather with family and friends.”
“Will your family be there?”
“My mother will be. My father is no longer with us.”
Jeisa’s father ceased his interrogation long enough to say, “I’m sorry to hear that.”
Jeisa went to stand beside Jeremy. “My father’s visit was a little unexpected.” Or I would have told you, her tone implied. “I don’t expect you to have room for him in your car.”
Jeremy shrugged. “I came over in a limo and the helicopter seats six.”
Hopefully not the limo. Jeisa remembered their last ride too vividly. She didn’t think she could sit across from her father and not die of mortification if it was.
“Sounds like you live an expensive lifestyle,” Romario said, his tone insinuating that it was one he didn’t approve of.
Jeremy met the man’s eyes. “Both are practical choices. One lets me get work done while I sit in traffic and the other will allow us to fly over the holiday highway congestion. We can be down in New York in a little over an hour.”
Does Jeremy not see how badly this could go? “I don’t think we should . . .”
Speaking over her as he often did, Romario said, “I hope my presence isn’t an inconvenience.”
Jeisa wanted to kick Jeremy when he replied, “Absolutely not, sir. I’m happy to meet you.”
When Jeisa’s father said nothing in response, Jeisa tried to bring the exchange to a conclusion. “Dad, now that you’ve met Mr. Kater, don’t you think it’s a better idea if we call off the trip? The Andrade family kindly invited me to join them for the day, but I didn’t ask if I could bring a guest.”
Romario directed his question at Jeremy. “What do you think, Mr. Kater? Will it be a problem?”
Back me up here, Jeremy. All you have to say is yes.
After a bit of a pause, Jeremy said, “The Andrade gathering is a huge event. I’m sure they would love to meet you. They adore Jeisa.”
“It’s settled then,” her father said with finality.
Jeisa silently led the way out the door and into the hallway. The elevator ride was equally quiet and awkward. In the foyer, Jeremy shot Tim a thumbs-up as they passed. Jeisa heard her father make a guttural sound behind her and realized that she wasn’t the only one who’d witnessed what Jeremy had done.
As Jeisa slid into the limo, she met Jeremy’s eyes. He winked at her and smiled. For a fleeting moment she forgot to worry about what her father was thinking or how the day would unfold. Time was suspended, and all that mattered was Jeremy and the intimacy of their connection.
Jeremy asked her father, “Are you here on business or on vacation?”
“Neither,” her father said curtly.
Jeremy studied her father like he was a puzzle to be solved. Jeisa wanted to warn him to leave it alone, but there was no way of doing that. And then a sudden thought came to her. She slid a hand into her purse and found her phone.