Rise of the Billionaire
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Dominic stubbed out his cigar and asked impatiently, “So, are you in?”
Jeremy handed the tablet back to Jake and stalled. “It’s a tempting project, but I can’t leave WIT. I’ve made a home in California and promises to Jeisa. I want to finish my education.”
Jake didn’t appear surprised by Jeremy’s hesitation. “We can work around your classes and your location.”
“I appreciate the job offer, but . . .”
Sitting forward in his chair, Dominic said, “Don’t consider this a job, consider it a partnership. It would be an offshoot of Corisi Enterprises, but independently owned. California is the perfect place to base this entertainment-focused company. We’ll even relocate Tim. We haven’t found his niche yet. So far, he’s really good at standing at his office door and talking to people.”
With an amused look, Jake placed the blame for that where he thought it belonged. “He may still be shell-shocked from the way you hired him. Not everyone gets your humor, Dom.”
Jeremy chuckled. “It was hilarious, but, yeah, Tim was scared when four guys pulled up in a black Suburban and took him to the Corisi building. He says he likes his job, but I don’t know if he’d tell us if he didn’t.”
The widening smile on Dominic’s face revealed how amused he still was by the way he’d hired Jeremy’s friend. “Abby didn’t like it, but it was worth it.”
Jake shook his head, but it was clear that he’d given up on this particular subject. Looking back and forth between two of the most powerful men on the planet, Jeremy finally understood that they respected the parts of him that hadn’t changed at all. Their acceptance of him had nothing to do with the clothing he wore or how much he could bench-press. They valued his intelligence and his honesty. Eventually, they might even get his dry humor.
Working with them could be an unbelievable opportunity. Jeisa had found her passion at WIT. Could this be the second chance he’d asked for? And if it was, was he ready for it? The lesson he’d learned in Tenin was still fresh in his mind. It was with true humility that he admitted to himself that he still had a lot to learn. “I don’t know anything about running a company.”
Dominic shrugged and nodded toward Jake. “Never stopped me. Jake handles the legal side. This is about trailblazing and that’s a strength of mine.”
In complete agreement, Jake said, “You wouldn’t be in this alone. And it would be a legitimate income—for all of us.”
That idea seemed to please Dominic most of all. He said, “Abby will be happy. And when she is, I am.”
With a laugh, Jeremy asked Jake, “What does a happy Dominic look like?”
Jake joined him in ribbing their moody friend. “Mostly the same, but with less swearing.”
There was one final area of concern that Jeremy felt needed to be voiced, and it could easily be a deal-breaker for these men. “I’m not hurting for money, but I did just take a huge hit by donating to WIT. I won’t be able to match your investment.”
Dominic smiled and said, “Jake will lend you the money.”
Following his friend’s offer with one of his own, Jake added a bit gleefully, “And Dominic will give you his Citation X to expedite your bicoastal travel.”
Although their tone was teasing, Jeremy knew their offers were sincere. He asked, “Why would you do that?”
Suddenly serious, Jake said, “My parents weren’t kidding when they said that you are one of the greatest minds of your generation. We want you on our team.”
As Jake’s words sunk in, Jeremy knew he would never forget that day. No longer the bumbling basement genius they tolerated and mocked, he was one of them.
“Okay, I’m in.” After a moment Jeremy asked, “What’s the name of this new company?”
Once again sipping his scotch, Dominic replied, “We’re tossing around ideas. We’ve considered CWK for Corisi, Walton, and Kater Enterprises.”
An idea tickled at Jeremy and he blurted out, “We’d be like Batman, Batman, and Robin.”
Shaking his head, Dominic corrected him. “There is only one Batman.”
Jake threw both hands up in the air in mock frustration and asked, “Why am I still Robin?”
“I don’t care what we name it or what you call me, this is going to be awesome,” Jeremy said with confidence.
I can’t wait to tell Jeisa.
Maybe she’ll let me start wearing my Superman boxers again.
When the baby shower presents were opened and family and friends had once again scattered throughout the Andrade house in chatty pockets, Jeremy sought out Jeisa. He quietly walked up behind her, slid his arms around her from behind, and kissed her cheek. She leaned back into his embrace and smiled, content within his arms.
Peering up at him, she asked, “Is everything okay? How did your talk go?”
“Fine. Better than fine.” Being so close to Jeisa was sending zings of desire through him. There would be plenty of time later to tell her about how he was soon going to be able to fund any and all humanitarian projects she found interest in. For now, all he cared about was how she fit perfectly against him and how her breath quickened along with his, evidence that she was experiencing a similar reaction to their nearness.
She asked huskily, “Are you ready to go home?”
His breath tickled her ear and he whispered, “I’m already there.”
Before leaving the Andrades’ home, Lil slipped into the hallway to call her best friend. Alethea had texted her early that morning, but with everything that had gone on she hadn’t had the time to do more than respond that she’d call her later. It couldn’t have been an easy day for Al knowing that Lil was at another family function where she wasn’t welcome. Still, Alethea had sent a beautiful nanny-cam teddy bear that Abby had graciously opened and would surely send a thank-you card for.
It would take time, but the rift between Abby and Alethea could be mended. Lil was certain of it.
Her friend sounded relieved to hear from her. “Lil, I’m glad you called. I figured you might be too busy today.”
Lil smiled sadly. It broke her heart that two of the women she loved most in the world could not stand to be in the same room. “I’ll always make time for you. Abby liked your present.”
Lil didn’t like the tone in her friend’s voice. She knew it too well. “Your text was vague this morning. Is everything okay?”
“Lil, I have to tell you something but I don’t want you to get upset.”
Lil felt her blood pressure rise. “So say it fast.”
“It’s just a feeling I have.”
Lil shook her head vehemently. “No, Al. Don’t do this. You’re already on everyone’s shit list here. Jake and I are planning our wedding for early May and you promised me that you’d try to get along with Abby until then. She’s going to be my matron of honor. How are you going to be one of my bridesmaids if the two of you aren’t talking? I’m working on her. She’s softening toward you. This is not the time for one of your conspiracy theories.”
Alethea said more passionately, “They aren’t theories. They are hunches based on the data I collect from a large number of sources. And I’m always right.”
“Do you remember thinking Jake was a criminal and Abby was in danger?”
“I might have had details of the scenario wrong, but Jake was in trouble, as was Dominic. Do I get any credit for being part of the reason they still have a company?”
Lil checked around the room to make sure she was still alone. “You would, Al, if you toned it down a bit. Just lay low for a while. Let them get over what happened at Thanksgiving. Smile when you see them. You know, normal stuff.”
In a tone that revealed she disagreed, Alethea said, “So, you want me to pretend that I don’t know something even though it endangers the people I care about?”
Lil looked at the ceiling.
Shit. Shit. Shit.
Lil asked even though she didn’t want to hear the answer, “How reliable is your information this time?”
Alethea continued, “I’ve heard it from several sources. I would handle it myself if I could, but I can’t. I’m going to need your help.”
Oh, my God, I can’t believe I’m even considering this. I have Jake. I’ve made up with Abby. Everything is going so well. All I have to do is not mess it up.
Lil shook her head, waved her phone at the sky in anger and then in resignation said, “You’d better be right, Al.”
Ominously, Alethea answered, “No, I’d better be wrong . . .”