Rise of the Billionaire
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Marie turned and smiled. “Yes, those boys. I don’t know what I’d do without them.”
From what little Jeisa knew of them, she felt confident when she said, “I’m sure they feel the same way about you.”
“It is such a relief to see them settling down with good women.” Marie met Jeisa’s eyes with meaning. “Men get lost if left out there on their own. Women ground them.”
The world according to Mrs. Duhamel.
“It’s beautiful how you’ve all gotten so close. Do you have children of your own?” Jeisa asked. She knew the basics of the older woman’s life, but as open as they had been, the topic of Marie’s past had yet to come up.
Marie’s eyes suddenly lost a bit of their twinkle. “I had a son once. He passed away in his crib before he turned one. The doctors never found the cause. He was simply with us one day and gone the next. My husband was a strong man, but he never recovered from that. A piece of him died along with our son and it never did come back.”
No words of comfort seemed adequate, so Jeisa merely nodded.
Marie sniffed, then seemed to shake off the memories. “Kevin would be Dominic’s age now had he lived. You never replace those you’ve loved and lost, but if you’re lucky and you keep your heart open, sometimes you get a second chance at a family.”
“What a beautiful way to look at life.”
“There are many things we cannot change, Jeisa, but we can choose how they affect us and our decisions. Life is too precious and short. Fill it with all the love you can and savor every damn moment of it.” She tamed the one errant lock in her otherwise perfectly groomed blonde layered bob. “Well, enough of that. I’m sure you didn’t come here to listen to me prattle on about the past. Let’s go sit down so we can talk.”
As if on cue, a muscular middle-aged woman, her brown hair pulled back in a severe bun that accentuated her square jaw, came out of the kitchen in a blue housekeeper’s uniform. She asked if they would like to be served tea in a deep voice that had Jeisa checking to see if she had an Adam’s apple.
“We would love some, Alice,” Marie said warmly. When the housekeeper left the room, Marie whispered, “Don’t let the outfit fool you—she carries a gun in that apron and I’m pretty sure she’s some sort of martial arts expert.” Her voice grew even softer. “Her tea is horrendous, but I wouldn’t mention it.”
Jeisa’s eyebrows shot up and her eyes flew to the kitchen door.
Marie chuckled and waved away Jeisa’s concern as she led her to two walnut cushioned Bernhardt tub chairs settled near an unlit fireplace in her sitting room. “Dominic worries about me. I’ve assured him that I’m not going anywhere, but he feels safer with someone guarding me.” A twinkle returned to her eye. “If he would hire a beefcake bodyguard for me I wouldn’t care about the poor cooking. I suppose I should be grateful. I stay trim with Miss Brown because I never want seconds.”
Beefcake? Jeisa did a double take at her friend’s description of her preferred bodyguard type. Marie acted so matronly that it was easy to forget she was only in her early sixties. Looking past the overly modest neckline of her blouse and the straight lines of her long skirt, Jeisa realized that Marie was actually quite fit for her age. Unlike the Brazilian women Jeisa was accustomed to, Marie had chosen to conceal rather than accentuate her natural beauty. “That’s awful,” Jeisa said, referencing both Miss Brown’s cooking and a growing suspicion that the woman who guided so many people may be in need of a bit of help herself. If only I weren’t here to say good-bye.
Reading Jeisa’s comment as referring only to the topic at hand, Marie chuckled and whispered, “Would you like to try her biscuits so you can see what I mean?”
Jeisa shook her head with a smile. “My father taught me to never tease an armed housekeeper.”
Marie nodded. “Wise man, your father. Is he still in Brazil? He must miss you very much.”
“I guess. We talk every day.” Whether I want to or not.
“What does he think of you working with Jeremy?”
“You still haven’t told him?”
“To tell him about Jeremy, I’d have to tell him about Reese, and that story would have him on the first plane here to get me.”
“So, he thinks you’re still an au pair?” Jeisa nodded. “Oh, hon, when he finds out that you’ve been lying to him it’ll only be worse.”
“I’m going to tell him. I just haven’t come across the right time to do it.”
“There is no wrong time for the truth.”
“You don’t understand. This was my chance to show him that he’s wrong about me—that I do know what I’m doing. Telling him that I came here for a job that never existed will just prove everything he thinks about me is right.”
“How old are you, Jeisa?”
“Jeisa, parents love their children. They may not love them the way the child wishes she was loved. They may have faults. They may disappoint their children again and again. But I have never met a parent who did not love his child. You are not the first person to feel misunderstood, or to fear that your father won’t be proud of the real you. But he’ll never have the chance to prove how much he loves you if you’re not honest with him.”
She made it sound so easy.
Marie lightened the mood again with a smile. “And there’s another topic I’m sure you didn’t come here to discuss. What did you want to speak to me about, Jeisa?”
Jeisa gratefully accepted a cup of tea from the housekeeper, even though she normally preferred coffee. The saucer and cup would occupy her hands and give her something to look at while she broke the news to the older woman. “Mrs. Duhamel,” Jeisa began.
“Since when don’t you call me Marie? Mrs. Duhamel makes me sound so stuffy,” she added with a warm smile.
“Marie,” Jeisa started again, “it’s about my current position.”
Marie put her own cup to the side and folded her hands on her lap, her body language the polar opposite of what Jeisa knew about her. She might wait patiently for an explanation, but that didn’t mean she would accept it. However, this time it was important that she did.
I hate to disappoint her.
But I’m not. This is for the best, and she’ll see that.
Jeisa mentally reviewed what she’d planned to say one final time before speaking.
“Has something happened?” Marie asked, leaning forward with concern.
That’s half the problem.
“No,” Jeisa said hastily. “It’s just time for me to move on to another client.”
Marie’s eyes widened. “Do you already have one lined up?”
“No,” Jeisa admitted.
“Are you finding it difficult to live on your present pay?”
“The salary has been more than generous,” Jeisa rushed to explain.
“So, it’s that you don’t enjoy the work?”
“No, these past few months have been amazing.” Jeisa sighed. None of this was coming out as eloquently as she’d planned. “Jeremy doesn’t need me anymore.”
“Oh,” Marie sat back and folded her hands on her lap once more. “I see.”
“You hired me to help him with his image. No one would think that he’s anything but a wealthy businessman. He can mingle at events without a problem. He is networking now with very powerful people, and his success will continue.”
“Did Jeremy suggest that you were no longer necessary?” Marie asked.
“No, we haven’t talked about any of this. I wanted to speak to you first. This was an incredible opportunity for me and I don’t want you to think for a moment that I don’t appreciate it. I do.”
“So, you’d like to leave the position, even though you don’t have another one lined up?” Marie asked. She spoke softly, yet Jeisa still felt like she was at an inquisition.
“Yes?” Jeisa responded lamely, wanting to kick herself. No wavering. I came here to tell her that I’m quitting. There is no clause in my contract about giving notice. Jeremy doesn’t need me anymore. It’s that simple. Why am I having trouble saying that I’m done and I don’t want to work with Jeremy anymore?
Because it’s nearly impossible to look into those kind, wise eyes and lie—even if it’s a lie that I’ve half-convinced myself is true.
“Did Jeremy make an unwelcome pass at you?” Marie asked.
Jeisa laughed a bit in a self-depreciative way. I wish. “Jeremy’s not like that. He’s a gentleman.”
Marie tapped her index fingers together as she mulled Jeisa’s response. “Did he invite you to Thanksgiving with us?”
“Good,” Marie said.
“But I’m not going,” Jeisa added in a rush. “Please understand that normally I would love to join you. You, Abby, Lil, the Andrades . . . everyone has been so kind to me. I would love to say yes, but I don’t belong there.”
Marie merely met her eyes and waited.
Waited for the truth.
When Jeisa could hold it back no longer, she blurted, “Jeremy is meeting up with Alethea on this business trip. He’s going to show her the new him and I can’t imagine that she’ll turn him down. He’s brilliant, handsome, funny, loyal to a fault . . .” Jeisa stopped when she realized how much of her own feelings she was revealing in her description.
“Sounds like a man any woman could fall in love with,” Marie added.
“No woman with any sense,” Jeisa grumbled to herself. “He has his heart set on Alethea.”
Marie asked, “Tell me, do you think she’s a good choice for Jeremy?”
If you can’t say something nice, it’s best to say something vague. Jeisa hedged, “It’s not my place to say.”
Marie stood and said, “Well, then let it be mine.” She crossed to stand over Jeisa. “Alethea is a self-centered, self-absorbed, adrenaline-seeking junky who prioritizes her addiction to excitement over the safety of the friends she claims to care for.”
Well, Marie, how do you really feel about Alethea? Jeisa choked back a surprised laugh. “I haven’t met her,” Jeisa said.
Marie turned away and settled herself back in her chair. “I have,” she said with a tone of contempt. “She has been using Jeremy since they were in their teens. She came from money but had been thrown out of every private school of any standing. So she attended public school and did her best to make a mockery of her time there as well. When Jeremy needed her most, she did nothing for him. She’d be the first one to tell you he’s an easy mark to manipulate. Do you really want him to end up with someone like her?”
“It’s his choice to make, not mine.”
“Are you certain about that? I’ve seen you and Jeremy together. He obviously cares for you. With a little encouragement, he might just forget about his ridiculous childhood obsession.”