Butt-dialing the Billionaire: Chapter 24


Jada

I stop at a bodega on my way home from work to get the stuff for my signature sharing dish, layered buffalo chicken dip. I’m still vibrating from the kiss—so much so that I nearly forget the chili sauce and have to double back.

He’s everything I can’t stand in a guy—arrogant, lazy, entitled. And yes, there’s more to him. But there’s more to everybody, isn’t there?

Something happened with that woman who came to visit him with that red envelope. Maybe she’s a relative, or family friend or something, and she had devastating news for him. And somehow he knew, because the way the color drained from his face when she appeared—it was dramatic. Whatever it was, a normal person doesn’t react to something like that by blackmailing a person into sexual favors.

I’m not a good person, Jada.

At least he’s honest. But if you’re honest about being an awful person, does that really count in your favor?

And yes, it was the hottest kiss I’ve ever experienced, but it’s probably just because it was so wrong. Because he’s so wrong.

No way did anybody tell him. He must’ve figured it out.

I’m walking down Ninth Avenue craving more, more, more of him, which makes me want to scream, because how messed up is that?

I remind myself that a lot of bad things feel good in the moment. Eating a dozen chocolate truffles in one sitting, for example. Hypothermia, at its end stages, reportedly feels good. Riding on a broken roller coaster—that’s probably quite the fun experience before that bolt holding the track together comes loose.

I worked my ass off to build a nice life and to create a family here in the city that I can count on and vice versa. And romantically, I’m attracted to men who value hard work and behave like noble, upstanding citizens. That is what’s truly sexy to me.

Two hours later, I’m knocking on Kelsey’s door on the fifth floor. I’ve long since traded my drab work clothes for midnight-blue sequined Uggs that go perfectly with faded jeans and a T-shirt featuring my favorite Candy Crush candy, the Coconut Wheel, also in sequins. And in my hot little hands, adorned with many rings and bracelets, is the dip.

Kelsey flings open the door. “Galpal!” Her eyes fall to the dip. “That’s what I’m talking about.”

I stroll in and set it on the counter next to the homemade jalapeño wontons and the hummus plate. “Mia and Francine, in the house.”

Kelsey grins. We can identify each other’s presence at a place with a glance at the hors d’oeuvres spread. She pours me a glass of something bubbly and pink. I couldn’t be more grateful for a girl’s night.

Mia’s stretched out on the floor in the living room. “If Rhona gets a rose tonight, I’m gonna dive right out that window—I swear to you. Headfirst, I don’t care. It’ll show humanity is so close to self-destruction if she gets a rose.”

“So close,” Francine says.

“She won’t get a rose,” I assure her.

Mia sighs. She hates Rhona.

“How’s life in the castle in the sky?” I ask Francine, who recently moved into her man’s place, a veritable castle in the sky complete with the ballet studio of every dancer’s dreams.

“Well, it’s no 341,” she says diplomatically.

“Sooooo…better water pressure and a bedroom bigger than a breadbox?” I tease. “You can dish about the luxury. It’s called vicarious enjoyment, and I, for one, am all in.”

“I will not hold back on the dishing—promise!” Francine says.

“Jada, the twirlers costumes came in this week, and the kids are freaking!” Kelsey says.

“Oh my god, Jada, they love them!” Francine says.

Phones come out and the four of us moon over photos of Francine and Kelsey’s dance troupe in the outfits that I designed. I used SportyGoCo clout to get them an amazing deal from a garment constructor. They’re little explosions of shiny pink silk and muslin and sequins with deeply glittering black tulle skirts.

“Lucky for us, we found a designer with a nine-year-old’s taste in clothes.” Kelsey’s gaze falls to my sparkly boots.

“That’s right,” I say. “Nine-year-old girls have style, that’s all I can say. No boring shit. Office attire would be so much cooler if nine-year-old girls had a say.”

“Can you not wear your normal clothes, like even on casual Fridays?” Mia asks.

“Hell no. I mean I could, it wouldn’t be technically against the rules, but I need people to take me seriously.”

“Screw ‘em,” Mia says.

“You’re in a Broadway show, you’re supposed to be a little wild, but I need to be taken seriously. Dudes can get away with that stuff, but…” I shake my head. “That new guy I told you about, he’s always wearing these bright vintage party boy shirts with pastel shapes and squiggles all over them. He’s technically support, so he doesn’t have to wear business shit, but seriously. Men can get away with that, though.”

“Is that the lazy one?” Kelsey asks, setting down a bowl of rice crackers.

“Lazy? Oh, Jack’s not just lazy, he’s insolent. He loves to be a problem. If there’s some wrong way to go, he finds it. It’s like a mania of his to be the worst possible employee and worst possible person,” I say as the memory of the kiss takes over my body like a demon possession.

I stare down at my phone, not ready to tell them about the blackmail kiss. I’m still processing it, turning it around in my mind, my body. It was such an intense kiss. It was so wrong and so good. A little bit of a role-play with an edgy reality component.

“You hate dudes who don’t pull their weight,” Kelsey says. “Like your freeloading brothers.”

They all know about my brothers, sitting there playing their video games while I worked my ass off and worst of all, put my dreams aside. Until I realized how completely they were taking advantage of me.

“Well, he is a high achiever in the area of having a lot of confidence for a guy with blond-tipped hair and skinny glasses,” I say. “Like this lazy and entitled yet strangely magnetic villain.”

“Oooh,” Lizzie says, walking in with a box of cookies, followed by her sister-in-law, Willow. “A lazy and entitled yet strangely magnetic villain. Are you sure he isn’t so wrong he’s right?”

“I’m beyond sure,” I say. “And he wants to beat up Bert. Since when does violence solve anything?”

“I’ve wanted to beat up Bert plenty of times, and I’ve never even met him,” Mia says.

“But you wouldn’t actually do it,” I say.

“I’d think you want to see Bert get his,” Kelsey says. “He’s making your life miserable. Firing your favorite people.”

“More dialogue is always superior to violence,” I say. “We’re humans, not honey badgers.”

“I need to see a picture of this guy,” Mia says, grabbing a cookie. “Is he on Facebook or anything?”

“Yeah, what’s his last name?” Willow asks as the phones come out.

“Smith,” I say. “Jack Smith. Supposedly he worked upstate, but we’re starting to have our doubts. It’s possible his experience is fake.”

Kelsey raises her brows. “The villain being villainous. I like it.”

I grumble.

“What?” Kelsey protests. “Wasn’t it just the other day you were complaining that the guys you’ve been dating only want to listen to boring success podcasts?”

“There are a lot of Jack Smiths,” Francine says. “Even Jack Smith New York, you get a lot of them. Any other data?”

“He’s maybe thirty-five. He has this kind of…fierce, classic bone structure. Intense brown eyes. A mole right here.” I touch my cheek. “His hair would be this rich dark brown if he didn’t have the bleached tips. Sometimes he wears glasses, but he doesn’t seem to need them. He’s clearly American, like he doesn’t have any accent…actually, he has a flawless accent, come to think of it—one of those general accents they teach you in acting school. His parents took him from the States when he was a boy and moved them to some sort of rural European village. My assistant Renata quizzed him all about it and she’s convinced they live in like…rubble or something.”

“Maybe his parents were hippies that wanted to go back to the land or something,” Mia suggests.

“But in Europe?” Kelsey says. “There are plenty of places in the US to go back to the land.”

“I doubt he’s even on Facebook,” I say. “I mean, he doesn’t know basic office technology. Dave in accounting swears he’d never used a vending machine in his life, like he was super bewildered that food came out of it. And he doesn’t know how to act. He nearly got fired the first day from this weird interaction…”

“Do you think he’s…challenged in some way?” Francine asks softly.

I shake my head. “He’s challenged at giving a shit, combined with zero skills,” I say. “And it’s like he has no exposure to contemporary style at all. He could be hot, but he’s styled himself so weirdly. And he has this rich friend Arnold who calls him sir and plays tricks on him. But I think he lets Jack live with him, so Jack just takes it. The whole thing is bizarre!”

“Could he be one of those wild boys they find in the wilderness?” Francine asks.

“Huh,” I say, considering the savage way he kissed me. But then, his driving skills.

“Get Antonio,” Mia says. “Maybe he’ll know about these sorts of rustic villages. I sort of don’t think Europe has those anymore, though.”

“Antonio won’t know,” Kelsey says. “Antonio knows about the sorts of people who party on the French Riviera. He knows about the hoi polloi of the fashion runways of Milan. Not impoverished back-to-the-earther wild boys who are alarmed by vending machines.”

“He’s not a wild boy,” I say.

Francine sighs. “I really want him to be a wild boy.”

Mia puts down her phone. “You need to take a picture of him, Jada. Get one at the office when he’s not looking. I seriously need a visual.”

Francine claps. “Stealth picture! Antonio’s having us over for Willow’s birthday next week, and you are bringing stealth pictures.”

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