Rise of the Billionaire
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She typed, “He doesn’t know we’ve dated.”
Jeremy’s phone beeped in his pocket. He said, “Excuse me,” to her father and checked his phone.
“Something important?” her father asked.
“Hard to say,” Jeremy replied as he texted back.
Jeisa’s phone chirped to announce she had a new text. Her father glared at her. She smiled through her embarrassment. I didn’t think that one through very well. Shit. She wanted to check her message, but didn’t dare yet.
“So, what do you do for Corisi Enterprises?” her father asked.
“I’m sort of a technology consultant.”
“That’s not usually quite as lucrative as you seem to have found it.”
“Dad,” Jeisa cut in, “Mr. Kater works for several big companies.”
“Amazing when you consider that he didn’t go to college,” her father spurred.
Jeisa turned on her father and demanded, “Did you already have him investigated?”
“I had to find out the truth somehow,” her father said angrily. “You certainly weren’t going to tell me.”
“Why should I tell you anything? It’s not like you’re going to listen to me.” She put her arms over her chest.
Jeremy intervened, “I’m sure your father just did it because he cares about you.”
Romario grated, “This is none of your business.”
Further discussion was delayed when the limousine pulled up in front of the Corisi main building. Jeremy stepped out of the limo first.
Alone for a moment with Jeisa, her father referred to the famous building. “Am I supposed to be impressed?” he asked sarcastically.
Jeisa exited the limo without answering him. She checked her phone. Jeremy had replied to her. “He will soon.”
What does that mean? Hopefully the last exchange between her and her father had shown him why that wasn’t a good idea.
They took the elevator to the top of the building without a word. When the doors opened at the roof, Jeisa stumbled in surprise. Jeremy took her elbow to steady her. She looked at him and then back at the scene before them.
White and red rose petals were scattered on a white carpet that led to a helicopter. A man in a tuxedo stood beside the helicopter with a tray that held two flutes of champagne. With leaden feet, Jeisa walked with Jeremy up to the aircraft and gasped when she saw that he had filled the interior with hundreds of white roses. She didn’t know whether to laugh with joy or cry out in horror. She could only imagine what her father was thinking.
Jeremy referenced the tray of champagne and asked her father, “Would you . . .”
Jeisa’s father emitted something akin to a growl, and Jeremy waved the tray away. “On the way back perhaps.”
Jeisa almost giggled. Her father was quietly turning a deep shade of purple, but Jeremy was pretending not to notice.
Jeremy stepped inside the helicopter and moved flowers off an additional seat on the opposite side. Jeisa took one seat and her father took the seat next to her. Not giving away his thoughts, Jeremy took the seat across the small aisle from them.
Once they were airborne, Romario asked, “Do you give all of your coworkers this level of treatment?”
Jeremy looked her father in the eye. “Only the ones I love.”
Jeisa’s heart started to beat double time in her chest. He does love me. How could I have been so stupid? I almost threw all of this away because I was scared.
“Some things matter more than how you think you feel,” her father said, killing her enjoyment of the moment.
Leave it to my father to even find fault in a declaration of love. Jeisa asked, “What’s more important than love?”
Romario held Jeremy’s eyes and said, “Integrity. Loyalty. Living a life you can be proud of.”
“What are you saying, Dad?”
“We’ll talk about it later.”
Jeremy said, “I have nothing to hide from Jeisa. Mr. Borreto, you can say it now.”
Romario leaned forward aggressively. “I don’t like you, Jeremy. I don’t like how you make your money, and I don’t want you around my daughter after today.”
Jeisa turned in her seat, her heart racing. “Dad . . .”
Jeremy also leaned forward and said, with some sarcasm, “I’m sorry you feel that way, sir. It’s going to make holidays awkward.”
“You little . . .” Her father started to rise from his seat.
Jeisa lost control and yelled, “Stop it. Both of you. Just stop it. Jeremy, I want to go home.”
She’d expected him to signal the pilot, but instead he sat back, looking more determined than before. “No. I have something I want to show your father.”
What? His affiliation with the Corisis? The Andrades? More of his not-so-subtle wit? Just like her father, he’d dismissed what she wanted because it didn’t fit with his plan for the day. She’d always considered Jeremy the polar opposite of her father, but right now they looked like kindred souls.
“I hate both of you,” she announced childishly and turned to look out the window.
“Jeisa—” Jeremy started to say something but changed his mind.
As usual, her father said nothing in response to her anger.
The rest of the flight was spent in a silent standoff that lasted until the helicopter landed on the Andrade’s long driveway. Jeisa stepped out, followed by her father and then Jeremy.
Jeremy’s mother rushed out to meet them with a camera.
Jeremy waved for her to put it away. “Not now, Mom.”
His mother searched her son’s face. “But I thought you said . . .”
He shook head dismissively. “I’ll explain later.”
Jeisa was too upset with both Jeremy and her father to care what Jeremy’s mother was hoping to catch a picture of. She held it together long enough to say, “It’s nice to see you, Mrs. Kater.”
Therese Kater studied Jeisa’s face with growing concern. “Is everything all right? Did something happen?”
Jeisa glared over her shoulder at her father and then shook her head. She tried to maintain her composure, but as tears threatened to spill, she blurted out, “I’m sorry, I can’t . . .” She turned on her heel and rushed away before she made an even bigger fool of herself.
Mr. Borreto followed his daughter, leaving Jeremy in the uncomfortable situation of explaining the exchange to his mother. Therese broke the heavy silence first. She joked, “I take it you didn’t propose.”
Humor was what they both used when they were uncomfortable, and her use of it shifted his attention to her worried face. “It’s fine, Mom. Her father doesn’t like me, that’s all.”
Therese adjusted her son’s tie. “He doesn’t know you. When he does, he’ll love you.”
Jeremy laughed with some self-deprecation. “You always say that.”
With a final tug on his tie, his mother asserted, “And I’m always right. I know you want to be like these people, Jeremy, but you already have something that money can’t buy. You have a good heart. Jeisa is a lucky woman to have won it. Don’t let anyone in there convince you otherwise.” When he didn’t say anything, Therese added, “Besides, I bought a new dress for today, so we can’t leave now.”
For the first time, Jeremy noted that his mother had put more effort than normal into her appearance. Not that she wasn’t normally well dressed, it was simply that he was used to seeing her in her nursing uniform or in the casual clothing she wore around the house. As far as he could remember, this was the first time she’d ever worn a dress. On closer inspection, he guessed that she’d had her hair done for the day as well. He looked at the mansion behind her and back into his mother’s uncertain eyes and felt suddenly guilt that he hadn’t considered how intimidating the event might be for her. “They’re just people, Mom. No different than you or me.”
She clasped her hands nervously in front of her. “Marie introduced me to Katrine and Elise. They seem nice.”
Jeremy put an arm around his mother’s waist and guided her toward the house. “They are nice. And they’re going to love you—even more once they know you better.”
With a smile, his mother swatted at him. “You couldn’t pick a less famous group to hang out with?” When Jeremy shrugged, Therese said slowly, “That helicopter of yours looks very expensive.”
Placing a hand on her son’s cheek, Therese implored, “Tell me that you’re not involved in anything dangerous.”
From his earliest childhood, Jeremy could remember his mother stressing the importance of honesty. She’d never hidden a harsh truth from him, even when it may have been kinder if she had. “You know I hate to lie, Mom.”
His mother’s face crumpled a bit. “I don’t know what I’d do if anything ever happened to you.”
For the first time since he’d set himself on this course, he felt a real sense of shame. He’d never once considered how his business dealings would affect his mother. She’d already suffered one large loss. After Tenin, I’m done. I already knew I’d have to be because of Jeisa, but now I know that I have more to lose than I thought.
He reassured his mother the best he could. “Nothing is going to happen to me. I know what I’m doing. Now cheer up, Mom. It’s Thanksgiving, and if anyone knows how to put on a feast, it’s the Andrades.”
Jeremy and his mother entered the large mansion and were instantly greeted by its owner, Alessandro Andrade, while his staff took their coats. Alessandro’s wife, Elise, swept in to talk to Therese, which Jeremy had to admit was more than a small relief. Whatever Elise said to Therese elicited a shy laugh from that carried across the room and made Jeremy feel better about having brought her.
Out of earshot from the others, Alessandro clapped a hand on Jeremy’s back. “We have been waiting for you. Is it true that we have another reason to celebrate today?”
How could he know?
Jeremy shook his head, and Alessandro’s smile fell away. Jeremy sought and found Jeisa looking at him from one of the adjoining rooms. As soon as their eyes met, she looked away.
Alessandro followed the direction of his gaze and referenced the man at Jeisa’s side. “Is that her . . . ?”
“Father?” Jeremy finished for him. “Yes, it is.”
Alessandro gave Jeremy’s shoulder a sympathetic squeeze. “Ah, how fate taunts the lovers. Did you know he was coming?”
Jeremy pocketed his hands and with some sarcasm said, “We wouldn’t have flown down in a helicopter full of roses if I had.”
After a hearty laugh, Alessandro asked, “So you didn’t propose?”
“Then there’s still hope.”
Jeremy looked back at Jeisa, who was introducing her father to Jake and Lil. He said, “I don’t know. She said she hates me.”
Alessandro moved his hands up and down like a balance scale. “Love and hate are close friends and are easily confused. Give me a woman who hates me over one who is indifferent to me any day. The sex is always better.”