Rise of the Billionaire
Page 4

 Ruth Cardello

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“That’s fine,” Dominic said. Then he shook his head as if finding humor in his own thoughts. “You look like you lost a fight in a back alley. I have to know—was it a bookie? Did you get caught in bed with someone’s wife?”
Jeremy met the older man’s eyes and said, “It’s none of your business.”
A slow smile spread across Dominic’s face. “I should accept that, but I am going to need a hint or this is going to bother me all day. I don’t like mysteries.”
Instead of giving Dominic what he wanted, Jeremy countered with a question of his own. “If our roles were reversed, would you tell me?”
An eyebrow rose in concession. “No.”
You have to give him credit for being honest—even brutally so. “Then about the next three weeks. You can reach me via email if anything comes up. I’m not sure my cell phone will work everywhere I’m going.”
“Where wouldn’t your cell phone work?”
He didn’t need to know, so Jeremy didn’t share his plans. “Jake has my contact information. I’d appreciate it if you use it for emergencies only.”
If Dominic wanted to ask another question, he kept his thoughts to himself.
Jeremy turned and was preparing to leave the office when Dominic’s business partner, Jake Walton, entered and saw Jeremy’s face. “What the hell happened to you?” He looked quickly at Dominic for an explanation.
The last thing Jeremy needed was for Jake to get involved. With a bit of strategy, Dominic was easy enough to maneuver around, but Jake was different. And neither of them needed to know about his foreign projects. Jeremy was quickly gaining clients who were willing to pay him any price to do what he’d always done for fun.
Dominic stood. “Hey, don’t look at me. I had nothing to do with this.”
Jake didn’t look entirely convinced. “Are you in some kind of trouble, Jeremy?”
Jeremy shook his head.
Jake persisted. “Dominic will send you into the most dangerous situations without hesitation, but you can say no.”
“Dominic had nothing to do with this,” Jeremy replied blandly.
A look of genuine concern filled Jake’s face. “Since you are technically not an employee, Dominic cannot actually fire you. You don’t have to be afraid of him.”
“I’m not afraid of him.”
Dominic walked over and slapped Jeremy on the back. Jeremy winced, still feeling a body hangover from his boxing lesson the day before. Dominic’s support held the sting of payback. He smiled at Jake and said, “Oddly, he isn’t. I must be getting soft.”
Jeremy’s comeback was interrupted by the arrival of Dominic’s assistant, Marie. She rushed into the mix, and when she saw Jeremy’s face she turned, hands on hips, and glared at both Dominic and Jake.
Jake was the first to state his innocence. “Marie, I found them like this.”
Marie turned to Dominic and raised one eyebrow in question.
Dominic suddenly looked more like a guilty boy caught with his hand in the cookie jar than the notorious billionaire he was reputed to be. “I had nothing to do . . .”
Giving in to temptation, Jeremy slumped his shoulders and said in a weak voice, “He didn’t mean for it to happen, Marie. Don’t worry, I’m okay.”
Dominic spun on his heel and reached for Jeremy, who knew him well enough to have taken a step back out of his reach. “You little shit.”
Jake’s laugh boomed.
Too wise to be used as a pawn, Marie chastised the group. “You boys are enough to give me heart palpitations. One of you needs to tell me what happened to Jeremy.”
After a brief and awkward pause, Jeremy muttered, “I’m taking boxing lessons.”
Dominic barked out a laugh, once again proving what he thought of Jeremy. “Boxing?”
Jeremy said, “I’m sure you’ve been in your share of fights, Dominic.”
Dominic nodded. “Even had my ass kicked a few times.”
Marie jumped in. “Dominic . . .”
Dominic said, “Sorry, Marie. I just can’t believe anyone would pay someone to do that.”
Jake added his two cents with humor, “That’s because with you, so many people will gladly do it for free.”
Dominic turned to his grinning partner and growled, “I let you hit me one time and now you think you’re a badass, Jake.”
Jake shrugged. “If I remember correctly, you didn’t let me do anything, and it was a whole lot more than one hit.”
Jeremy interjected, “Do you two need to be alone?”
Dominic’s eyes narrowed as he said, “Your wit must be the reason for your trainer’s enthusiasm.”
Marie addressed Jeremy, “Jeisa told me that you would be in and out of the country in November.”
Jeremy nodded.
Marie asked, “Will you spend Thanksgiving with your family?”
Jeremy shrugged. “My mother has worked almost every Thanksgiving that I can remember. She’s probably working this one.”
“Your mother still works?” Jake asked in surprise.
“She doesn’t believe that what I’m doing is a reliable source of income.”
Dominic asked, “And what exactly do you do? When you’re not working for us, that is.”
Jeremy said, “You know my skills.”
Dominic said, “A man could get killed doing that for the wrong person.”
“Or he could make a fast fortune,” Jeremy countered.
Jake said, “I have to agree with Dom on this one. I don’t think you know how quickly it can get dangerous.” His eyes narrowed slightly. “Or do you? Is this still about Lil’s friend?”
Marie cut in. “Jeremy, we’re celebrating Thanksgiving with the Andrades this year. I’m sure Jake’s parents will be there and would love to see you. If your mother can’t come, at least bring Jeisa. It’ll be her first Thanksgiving in the United States and she shouldn’t spend it alone.”
“I’ll see…” Jeremy hedged.
Marie continued, “We’d all like you to come. Wouldn’t we, Dominic?” When Dominic said nothing, Marie put a hand on one of her hips and stared pointedly at him. “Jeremy has done more for us than we will ever be able to repay.”
Dominic gritted his teeth and said, “You can come.”
Jake joked, “That’s as good as his invitations get, Jeremy.”
When Jeremy didn’t speak, Marie touched his sleeve and said, “It would mean a lot to me if you came.”
A velvet steamroller. She might look soft on the outside, but no was not a word she recognized.
Jeremy avoided the eyes of the other two men in the room and said, “I’ll see what I can do.”
With that, a carefree smile returned to Marie’s face and she linked arms with Jake. “Now, Jake, what is going on with your wedding plans with Lil? I thought you’d be married by now.”
“We want to keep it small. We thought January would be good,” Jake said as he walked out of the office with Marie.
Dominic returned to his seat behind his desk, propped up his feet and said, “Marie seems to like you.”
“Is that a problem?”
“Not unless you disappoint her.”
“Are you threatening me if I don’t come to Thanksgiving with you?”
“I don’t make threats.” I make promises, his tone implied.
Jeremy couldn’t contain his response. He grinned and said, “That is awesome! I have to say that to someone someday in exactly that tone. I love it. You sound like a modern mafia godfather.”
Dominic shook his head. “You are one crazy bastard.”
Jeremy grinned again, turned to leave, and said over his shoulder, “From you, that’s a compliment.”
He heard Dominic growl a curse at him as he left. Not too many people stood up to Dominic. He carried with him not only his reputation but that of his unscrupulous father. People feared him, and rightfully so.
Which made mocking him that much more fun.
As Jeremy walked through the hallway, he replayed the office scene in his head.
Yes, he was choosing a dangerous path. Any number of the connections he was presently cultivating could turn deadly if they went sour, but the alternative was unacceptable.
If this gets me killed, it’s better than spending another day as the man I was.
So, threaten away, Dominic, you don’t scare me.
I’ve got nothing to lose.
Dominic Corisi stripped to his boxers and joined his wife beneath the thick silk comforter of their bed. She rolled onto her back and smiled up at him, greeting him with a warm kiss that would normally have had him stripping down further. Instead, he found comfort in her kiss, then settled himself next to her, tucked her into his side, and laid a hand across the small bump of her stomach.
Abby raised one hand and laid it on his cheek. “What’s wrong?”
Dominic shook his head and forced a small smile. Everything since the moment he’d met Abby had been better than he’d ever imagined his life could be. “Nothing.”
“Then why are you scowling at me?”
A tender smile spread across his face, the kind only she inspired. She knew him so well. “You know I don’t like to bring work issues home.”
Abby ran a hand lovingly down his neck, down his arm, and settled on top of the hand on her stomach. “We’re a team, Dom. You don’t have to protect me. You’re allowed to have bad days. It’s not going to ruin the happiness we’ve found. In fact, it’ll make what we have even stronger.”
Dominic absently rubbed her stomach as he mulled her words. He was still getting used to sharing himself with someone, but Abby didn’t settle for less than everything. Still, uncomfortable as it sometimes was, she had a way of looking into the darkest corners of his heart and easing pains he’d long tried to deny.
“It’s Jeremy,” he said with a disgusted shake of his head.
Abby cocked her head to one side in question. “Jeremy Kater? Lil’s friend? The hacker? I thought you said he was doing great things for Corisi Enterprises.”
“I don’t like him.”
Propping herself up on one elbow, Abby said, “He seems like a nice enough guy. Every time I’ve met him, he’s been polite. Marie says that he has really come out of his shell since he’s been working with that image consultant she hired for him.”
Dominic growled.
Abby smiled gently and kissed her husband’s tight jaw. “Oh, I see. Marie took him on as a project, and you don’t like to share her.”
“That’s not it at all,” Dominic denied brusquely. “She doesn’t see him for what he is.” When his wife didn’t say anything, he added, “And she invited him to Thanksgiving, for God’s sake.”
“Thanksgiving, huh? Well, there will certainly be enough food at the Andrades’. So, what is he? Tell me.”
He shouldn’t have brought it up. Trying to tell Abby about someone’s faults was like trying to tell a passing rain shower not to make a rainbow at the slightest hint of sun. She saw good in everyone. Normally it was something he admired about her, but right now he simply wanted her to agree with him. “He’s a cocky ass, that’s what he is. He has no respect for authority. He won’t sign a contract because he says he doesn’t work for anyone but himself. I don’t trust him. No one knows what he’s capable of. If he wasn’t so good at what he does, I’d cut him loose, but my instincts tell me that it’s better to have him working for us rather than against us.”