Rise of the Billionaire
Page 9

 Ruth Cardello

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Nor was this.
“But now the two of you will be working closely on this project, won’t you?” she asked.
“Yes,” he answered and hated that he felt guilty. She knew this was what he’d been working toward. None of it was a surprise. The only unexpected part was how empty his success now felt.
“I’m happy for you,” she said, her voice thick with emotion. “You did it, Jeremy. You fought for what you wanted and you got it.”
Did I?
Jeisa continued, “I guess now is as good a time as any to tell you that I won’t be going to Thanksgiving with you. In fact, I’ve already resigned my position, effective immediately.”
Whatever Jeisa had expected, it wasn’t for Jeremy to surge out of his seat and corner her against the counter. He said, “What are you talking about? You can’t quit.”
His nearness had an instant effect on her ability to concentrate. She tried to slide away, but he blocked her retreat by placing a hand on the counter beside her. She licked her suddenly dry lips. “I already did. Marie understands my reasons.”
“Well, I don’t,” he boomed with an emotion she hadn’t seen from him before, “and you work for me.”
Jeisa shook her head. “Technically I work for—or rather I did work for—Corisi Enterprises.”
He ran a frustrated hand through his hair. “You can’t quit. I need you.”
Oh, how I wish that were true.
Just as her heart started to soften a bit, opening ever so slightly to allow a ray of hope in, Jeremy said, “You said you would come with me to Thanksgiving next week. I can’t go to the Andrades’ alone.”
Of course, he needs me to choose his suits, prepare him with topics for light discussion. What next, pick up the condoms in case Alethea joins them? No way. I’m done. “I never agreed to go with you.”
His frown deepened. “Why are you doing this Jeisa? I don’t get it.”
Something in her snapped. She raised herself onto her tiptoes, yanked his head down and settled her lips on his, using a kiss to tell him what she couldn’t yet put into words.
Like a match to dry kindling, heat burst from the kiss on both sides. His hands were instantly on her waist, pulling her against his bulging erection. His mouth welcomed her as if this were their hundredth kiss instead of their first. She rubbed herself boldly against him and was rewarded by feeling him shudder with pleasure against her.
Easily, he lifted her onto the counter behind her and she leaned back, making no effort to stop one of his hands from sliding beneath the hem of her shirt and settling on her breast. Gently, almost reverently, teasing and exploring her excited tips. Standing between her open legs, he eased his other hand inside the loose material of her shorts, sliding it beneath her silk panties and claiming one side of her bottom, rubbing it deliciously and easing her forward on the counter until his hardness was straining against her moistness.
Her head fell back with the pleasure of it, and his lips began to worship her neck. His hot breath tickled her ear. He tasted her as if she were an addiction he’d long fought to deny but had finally given in to.
With one hand, he lifted her shirt; when his mouth claimed one of her breasts she was lost to the intensity of it. For just a moment, it didn’t matter that his heart belonged to another woman. Time and reason fell away, leaving only a raging need within both of them.
His phone rang in the pocket of his jacket, jarring Jeisa back to reality.
What am I doing?
She placed a hand on Jeremy’s shoulder and pushed against it. He raised his head, those blue eyes burning with the same desire she still felt pulsing within her. Still, sanity was creeping in. “Stop, Jeremy. We can’t do this.”
His hands stilled, not yet withdrawing. His ragged breathing was testament enough to how mutual the encounter had been. Yet, he stopped when she asked. Many men would have been resentful or angry. Jeremy was neither. He rested his forehead on her shoulder and took a calming breath. His hands returned to her waist, maintaining a contact but easing the intimacy of their embrace.
The ringing stopped as his phone likely went to voice mail.
A question nagged at her. She had to ask. “Who called?”
His head straightened. “Who cares?”
She didn’t want to, but she did. “I do.”
He stepped away from her and checked his phone. He didn’t have to say who had called. She knew. When he said nothing, Jeisa hopped off the counter, straightened her clothing, and said, “You should go, Jeremy.”
Before I make an even bigger fool of myself.
His face flushed and suddenly he looked a bit defensive. “I didn’t know until just now that you liked me. You never said anything.”
“Some men aren’t as oblivious as you are,” Jeisa said, knowing she was really angry at herself.
Jaw tight with anger, he said, “You should have said something.”
His words cut through her like a dull knife ripping her heart into frayed pieces. “Why? You’ve made your choice abundantly clear,” her voice broke a bit as she spoke.
Jeisa watched his face as confusion replaced his anger. He raised a hand to touch her, but she moved away from him and toward the door. He followed her. At the door he said, “I never meant to hurt you. I care about you.”
Care about—not love.
“Please go, Jeremy.” She opened the door for him.
He took a step through it, but stopped just in front of her. “I want to tell you that she means nothing to me, but I won’t lie to you.”
Marie’s theory on honesty doesn’t hold water when tested.
There is definitely a wrong time for the truth.
“Good-bye, Jeremy.”
He didn’t move. He opened and closed his mouth several times as if he’d started to say something and then decided against it. Finally he said, “Come to Thanksgiving with me.”
Jeisa shook her head. “I can’t.”
He added, “We need time to figure this out.”
“What am I supposed to do, spend a week with you and hope that at the end of it you choose me?” Give you more of a chance to break my heart if you don’t?
Jeremy leaned down and claimed her lips with his as if testing something. She swayed against him. There was no denying the instant heat that rocked them both. When he broke off the kiss, he whispered, “One week, starting Monday.”
Her stomach flipped as she asked, “Why Monday?”
He didn’t answer; instead he took a step back and said, “I’ll send a car for you. Have an overnight bag packed.”
She shook her head. “I am not going to sleep with you to help you figure this out.”
With a confident smile that was a blend of the man he’d always been and the man he was becoming, Jeremy winked at her. She caught her breath. “Who said anything about sleeping?”
Jeremy’s phone rang again, but this time when he checked it he looked relieved. “That’s the gym reminding me that I have a session with Ray this morning. I’m in a lot less pain the next day if I don’t make him wait.” With one final quick kiss, he said, “I’ll see you Monday.”
He was already inside the elevator and out of earshot by the time Jeisa mustered a response. “I didn’t say yes.”
Oh, who am I kidding?
What kind of woman agrees to give a man a week to choose between her and someone he spent the last decade lusting over?
Only a woman in love would be that stupid.
Marie, what if you’re wrong?
Jeisa closed the door of her apartment and leaned against it.
Or what if while fighting for what you want, you discover that you don’t like who you are? I’ve spent too much time avoiding confrontation and wondering why I never get what I want. I run. I hide. I make excuses for my weakness.
But I can change.
When has anything wonderful come to those unwilling to risk something for it?
The road back to respecting myself starts here. I’m going to give Jeremy that week he asked for because if I don’t I will always wonder what might have been. This isn’t something I’m giving him, it’s something I’m giving myself.
And if he breaks my heart?
I’ll survive, because that is what strong women do. They pick themselves back up and move on.
An image of Marie flitted through Jeisa’s mind like a gentle reminder of something else she needed to address.
I should call my father and tell him everything.
Jeisa picked up the phone and just as quickly replaced it. He was not going to be happy.
I’ll tell him after Thanksgiving.
Chapter Six
Later that morning, after an hour-long boxing lesson with Ray and an extended run, Jeremy headed into Corisi headquarters in Boston. His custom-fit navy-blue Caffrey suit was comfortable yet bold. He wished he could say the same for his mental state. Neither the extra miles he’d added to his morning run nor the long, hot shower he had indulged in afterward had slowed his racing thoughts. Jeisa. Alethea. And a kiss that rocked everything he thought he knew. Jeremy sought out the one man he knew could help him and breezed by the secretary who would normally have stopped him.
Dominic Corisi was on the phone when Jeremy entered his office. Jeremy walked up to his desk and plopped into one of the chairs just in front of it.
“I’ll call you back,” Dominic said into the phone and hung up. Jeremy didn’t take offense to the glare the other man gave him. That was Dominic.
Jeremy cut right to the reason he was there. “I need your help.”
One dark eyebrow rose in doubt, but Dominic remained silent.
Never having been good at niceties, Jeremy strove to find the right lead-in to the conversation he wanted to have. “We’re sort of friends, aren’t we, Dominic?”
“No, not really,” Dominic said in a somewhat dry tone.
Jeremy shrugged. “I might deserve that. I do enjoy trying to piss you off.”
Dominic expelled a harsh breath. “Is there a point to this?”
“Is it possible to be in love with someone while you lust after someone else? Or as soon as you realize that you lust after someone else, does that mean you were never in love?”
Not a muscle moved on Dominic’s face, and his silence continued to the point of awkwardness. Eventually Dominic said, “Get the fuck out of my office.”
Jeremy didn’t budge. He’d never gotten anything from backing down. “I’m serious. I respect your opinion. What do you think?”
“I think you picked the wrong person to give you the birds-and-bees speech.”
Shaking his head, Jeremy persisted. “I don’t think so. You’ve been linked to countless women in the press. I assume they were all women you wanted to be with sexually. How did you know that Abby was the right woman for you?”
Jeremy thought that Dominic was going to tell him to leave again—or perhaps even call security—but Dominic’s expression softened at the mention of his wife. “I realized that when I was with her I was a better man.” A small smile stretched his lips and he added, “For example, she’s the reason you’re still alive.”