Rise of the Billionaire
Page 29

 Ruth Cardello

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Lil held her hand up to her ear like a phone and said, “If you need to go out, get drunk and stupid to forget about all this . . .” Her offer came to a slow halt beneath the disapproving glare of the equivalent of three mothers. She dropped her hand and changed her speech on the fly. “Don’t. Because drinking is bad.”
Abby covered her face with her hand and laughed.
Marie shook her head and hugged Lil. She said, “You must have been hell on wheels in your teens.”
Abby groaned, but her next words held both humor and love. “You have no idea.”
Their banter brought a reluctant smile to Jeisa’s lips. “I am going to miss you all.”
The housekeeper entered and announced the arrival of Jeisa’s car. Therese asked, “So, you’re going to San Francisco?”
Jeisa nodded. “Yes.” She looked around at the supportive women surrounding her and vowed, “But I’ll keep in touch.”
After one final hug for each woman, Jeisa headed down the stairs and into the limo that promised to take her far away from what had been a very bad day.
Chapter Sixteen
A week later, Jeisa was back in her Boston apartment, packing her things in cardboard boxes. It had taken a few days of reassuring him, but her father had finally flown back to Brazil. He promised to call her weekly instead of daily, so they were making progress. Per her request, they hadn’t spoken of Jeremy—not once.
It was a blanket rule she’d issued to everyone. Do not mention his name or that day. Just let me heal.
The only painful reminders that remained were the messages Jeremy periodically left on her cell phone requesting that she call him. But she couldn’t. Not yet. She was still as angry with herself as she was with him. What sane woman sleeps with a man who clearly loves someone else? A desperate one.
And that’s not me.
Not anymore.
He was damn lucky to have a woman like me care about him at all. Unlike Alethea, I wanted him just the way he was.
Alethea. It was hard not to be intimidated by a woman who looked and acted like she belonged in a James Bond movie. Of course Alethea had won. She’d fought, rather viciously, for what she’d wanted.
And I didn’t fight at all.
As usual.
Well, that’s not entirely true, I fought for this. Jeisa kicked one of the already packed cardboard boxes—and immediately regretted it, as pain shot through her foot. With renewed resolve, she told herself, “This is a fresh start. No more lies. No more excuses. No more men. From now on, it’s just me and the work I can do on the water project.”
If all went well, Monday would find her in her new office on the WIT campus, helping the GWP raise funds to start on production. There was enough work to keep her busy—hopefully so busy that she could forget how sad she was.
She jumped when the phone rang. Either it was Jeremy, in which case she didn’t want to answer, or it was someone else and she didn’t have the energy for small talk. She checked her caller ID.
Alethea?
Don’t answer it.
I can’t not answer it. I want to know what she has to say.
No, I don’t.
Yes, I do.
Jeisa answered her phone in a higher pitch than she would have liked. “Hello?”
The line was quiet for a moment and then Alethea said, “Jeisa, I know I’m probably the last person you want to speak to but . . .”
But you want to gloat? You want to tell me how wonderful things are now that you have Jeremy? Or worse, pretend you care that you hurt me?
“You are,” Jeisa said coldly.
Alethea started over. “I want to apologize for what I said to you at the Andrades’.”
“Why apologize? You got what you wanted.”
Alethea was quiet for a moment. Then she said, “I’m not with Jeremy. I never have been and I never will be. I said something stupid because I was frustrated that he wanted to see you before we left and angry about what you said to me.” When Jeisa said nothing, Alethea added, “He never cared about me the way he cares about you.”
Hurt and anger surged through Jeisa. She didn’t want to hear about Jeremy at all, and certainly not from this woman in particular. “It doesn’t really matter if you’re still with him or not. He chose you that day.”
“No, he went with me because he wanted to protect you from what we had done and I told him that involving you would endanger you.”
No. No. No. Don’t waver. It’ll only hurt longer if you do. Jeisa let out a shaky breath. “Why should I believe you?”
There was a surprising humility in Alethea’s answer. “Jeremy and I were friends of a sort. Well, he was a friend to me. I wasn’t much of a friend to him. It took seeing him hurting over losing you to understand how selfish I’ve been. He is a good man and he deserves someone better than me . . . someone like you.”
Jeisa cleared her throat of the emotion clogging it. “I’ve been naive, but I’m not stupid. You don’t do anything unless there is something in it for you. I won’t let you use me to fix the situation you created when you showed up at the Andrades’. So, thank you for the apology, but you’ll have to find another way to redemption.” With quiet force, Jeisa clicked her phone off.
As tension throbbed through her body, Jeisa sat heavily on a pile of boxes behind her. What if Alethea was telling the truth?
What if they aren’t together?
What if he does love me?
Did he really leave that day because he wanted to protect me?
She ran the scenes through her head over and over again. Once she put aside the overwhelming humiliation of the day, she wasn’t sure what to think.
How would the day have ended if my father hadn’t shown up? If I hadn’t lied about where I worked? If I had stood up for what I wanted? If I hadn’t forgotten to turn on my phone after our trip? If I had called Jeremy to warn him about my father’s visit? If I had trusted him? The list of “if” questions was infinite.
The alternate scenarios were not as significant as what had actually happened. I didn’t warn him. I didn’t trust him. I didn’t believe that he loved me. Where does that leave us?
Shattered and irreparable.
Jeremy paced in what would soon no longer be his office in the New York Corisi building. He’d already cleared out his Boston office. Seventeen days, nine hours, and forty-three minutes since he had left Jeisa standing in the foyer of the Andrade home, and she still wasn’t answering his phone calls. Luckily, her father was.
“Alô?” Jeremy said in what he hoped was a Brazilian accent.
Romario answered him gruffly in English. “Yes?”
“Como vai, gatinha?” Jeremy asked cheerfully.
With an impatient growl, Romario said, “I’m not a kitten and I’m about to walk into a meeting. What do you need?”
Jeremy put Romario on speakerphone so he could search his phone for some phrases he’d been noting since he decided to learn Portuguese for Jeisa. “Shit, sorry. I must have looked at the wrong list this morning. How do you say future father-in-law in Portuguese?”
“Let’s not rush your bilingualism, or your relationship with my daughter. Is there something you need right this moment?”
Jeremy heard but was not deterred by Romario’s curt tone. “I wanted you to know that everything is in place at WIT. I’ve instructed the project leader to keep it a secret until I get there. I fly out tonight, but I’ll try to see her tomorrow.”
“You told me this yesterday,” Romario reminded him none too gently.
“Yes, but you said you would talk to Jeisa today and I wanted to ask—”
With a sigh, Romario said a bit more kindly, “No, she didn’t mention you, Jeremy.”
Jeremy sat down heavily in the chair behind his desk. “I love your daughter and I will win her back.”
“I don’t doubt how you feel, Jeremy, since you’ve proclaimed it every day since I returned to Brazil. Keep in mind, however, that if she tells me she doesn’t want to see you after tomorrow and you persist, I will have to return, hunt you down, and ensure that no one ever hears from you again.”
Jeremy paused at the threat. He wasn’t sure if Romario was serious or not, but he decided to reassure him anyway. “That won’t be necessary because this is going to work. I know I can get her to forgive me.”
“I hope so, because she cares about you. That’s the only reason I’m going along with this at all. She is where she said she wanted to be, working on what she said she wanted to do, but she still sounds sad.”
“That will change tomorrow. We’ll even name our first son after you,” Jeremy jokingly promised. When Romario made a bit of a hissing sound, Jeremy amended quickly, “Once we are married, of course.”
“Good-bye,” Romario said. However, instead of hanging up as he normally did, he added, “Be good to my daughter, Jeremy.”
The softly voiced request took Jeremy by surprise and spoke volumes of Romario’s love for his daughter. That he trusted Jeremy with her heart was a humbling honor, and one that Jeremy took seriously. “I will,” he swore. “I’ll tell you how it goes.” As he said the words, he imagined how he hoped the day would end and rushed to correct himself. “Not right away, and not everything. Just what is appropriate to tell you. Not that anything inappropriate will happen.”
With a pained groan, Romario said, “Perhaps you should let her tell me. Good luck.”
A few minutes later, Jeremy was still sitting in his chair staring at the ceiling as he replayed their conversation in his head. I called Jeisa’s father a kitten.
He covered his face with one hand.
I should probably keep my apology to Jeisa strictly in English.
Sitting forward, Jeremy took the three ring boxes out of his pocket. What had seemed like a good idea a few weeks ago now felt foolish. He didn’t need three engagement rings to win Jeisa’s heart, and he was no longer confused about which one she would want.
The six-carat diamond the jeweler had suggested now seemed gaudy compared to the other two. Jeisa dressed nicely, but she didn’t flaunt her wealth. She wouldn’t want to wear it, especially not when she worked on charity projects. The clear diamond Tim’s wife had picked out was classically beautiful, but any woman would love it and any man might have purchased it. It didn’t speak to the specific beauty of who Jeisa was. The green princess-cut diamond contained a hint of blue in it, which Jeremy had read was rare because the circumstances required to turn a blue diamond green were nearly impossible. The presence of boron with a low level of nitrogen produced a blue diamond, while radiation made a diamond become green just beyond the surface. To him, Jeisa was a blue-green diamond: beautiful on the surface, complex and precious because of her core.
He was looking at the chosen engagement ring when Dominic and Jake entered his office. Dominic sat on the chair in front of his desk and Jake took the seat across from him.
“So, this is it. Your last day here,” Dominic said in a drawn-out way that Jeremy took as evidence that he wished it weren’t.