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Butt-dialing the Billionaire: Chapter 35


He comes to me and presses his forehead to mine. He’s a large beast. A wounded beast. Shitty at introspection. “I don’t know how to do better,” he says.

I groan. He’s everything I never wanted in so many ways. Why do I want to kiss him so badly?

I grab his shirt, look him in the eye. “You should’ve told me.”

“I know,” he says. “I know, but—”

“You’d better not be about to say, ‘But I’m not a good person!’”

He kisses the tip of my nose. “And you infuriate me and drive me crazy and make me want to do better.”

I suck in a breath. I want to believe him. I want to trust him.

“I should’ve told you—I know that,” he gusts out.

“Also, hello, you’re the freaking owner of this company! How could you stand by when you see how horribly it’s being run? And poor Lacey—she needs to go down to part-time. You know how serious her fatigue is. And Bert…how could you let any of this stand?”

“I know. It’s complicated,” he says.

“But you’re the owner!”

“I’m the owner, but I don’t seem to have control of the operations here. I might not even be able to fire Bert.”

“How can that be? He’s making life miserable for us and trashing our best projects.”

“Trashing the company is the task he was hired to do.”

“I don’t get it,” I say.

“I had my guy look into firing Bert after our visit to the shoe store, and it turns out that my parents had some sort of conflict with the couple who owned this place. It looks like my mom and dad bought SportyGoCo specifically to wreck it. Not just shut it down, but run it into the ground—the reputation, the people.”

This wave of gratitude fills me. He was trying to fire Bert? He was fighting for us? And then I’m overcome with anger because… “They’d buy a company just to wreck it?”

“Definitely. They worked with a company called Bloxburn to do that sort of thing—Bloxburn is their bully company. Bloxburn installed Bert. For the record, Bert has no idea who I am. He could fire me, too. The contract gives Bloxburn a lot of power.”

“But you own the place! Tell them the plan is off.”

“It won’t work. There’s a contract, and Bloxburn’s owners don’t want to end it. I’ve got lawyers on it, but my parents gave Bloxburn a lot of control.”

Rage heats my face. What kind of people buy a thing just to kill it?

“There’s nothing you can do?”

“My people are still looking into it, but it doesn’t look good. Bloxburn signed a contract that they’d destroy SportyGoCo, and as long as they’re doing it, I can’t get out of it. The only way I could break this contract is if SportyGoCo ends this accounting period profitable. But Dave says we’re so far down in the red, there’s no way.”

“Right. Thanks to the Target yoga pants debacle and all of the other projects Bert ruined,” I say. “No wonder that asshole’s making us put luxury zippers on Wonderbag. Nobody can afford it, and that’s how he wants it.”

“I even looked into personally ordering inventory, but that won’t work.”

Gratitude surges through me. “Really?”

“Of course. But my people tell me that it would be considered a form of fraud.”

I sigh. “So if we don’t get tons of orders in the next few weeks, we’re done.”

“I’m exploring more options.”

I grip the railing, feeling like my world is upside-down. “I’ve been working my ass off for a company that’s already dead and kissing an office gopher who isn’t who he says he is.” I narrow my eyes at him, half playful, half not. “You should’ve told me.”

“I’m sorry,” he says.

I frown and turn away. At least he didn’t say he’s a bad person, but it’s not enough. I want more. I like him so much, yet I know nothing about him. Am I an idiot?

I whirl around. “Tell me something real about yourself. Like really real.”

“Like what? Like the way I feel about you—”

“No.” I press my fingers to his lips. “Something real about yourself.”

“I don’t know what that would be.”

“Well, how am I supposed to know? How about this—I want you to show me your home. I want to see where you live and who you really are when you’re not at work,” I say.

“Who I am? You won’t get that from where I’m living. There’s nothing of me there, nothing to see. It’s a place I lived in years ago.”

“But you’re living there now.”

“There’s no point.”

“So you won’t show it to me?”

“There’s no point.”

“This isn’t open for debate,” I say. “We will go to your home, and you’ll show me where you live.”

Jack relents, so after work, we bundle up and head out into the chilly autumn evening: Jack in his overcoat with his blue knit hat, and me in my long, black puffer jacket. The car that picks us up after work looks like the limo Arnold drove up in, and it’s super luxurious inside.

“I’ve never ridden in one of these.”

“It’s just another car.”

“Just another car,” I snort. “This old thing?” I open the minifridge, stocked with booze, soda, and candy. “I’m guessing you don’t have to pay for these like at a hotel.”

“Go for it,” he says.

I grab a mini-Almond Joy. “So is Arnold a billionaire, too?”

“He’s my assistant,” Jack says. “Valet. Head of household.”

“Wow,” I say. “But why would he order you that fancy lunch service? And then the next day he sends you with a vending machine sandwich?”

“Well, uh, those things weren’t his fault,” Jack says. “They were requests of mine. Demands, you might say.”

“Demands? You?”

I enjoy my candy bar while Jack tells me how the Papaggio lunch happened, and how he took a picture of my sandwich and instructed Arnold to get exactly that sandwich. I’m just laughing, and then he’s laughing too. His laugh is friendly and warm and makes me happy all over. How did I never hear him laugh before? I’m trying not to stare too hard or grin too hard lest I chase that laugh back into its cave.

I also take this opportunity to tease him about not knowing his own freaking shoe size.

I’m having fun with this guy. But can I really trust him? He’s an international billionaire who will probably flit off to his yacht next week. Isn’t that what they do? I’m going to see where he lives, though. It’s a start.

I make us drive by the building where I live so I can point it out. I tell him how the building almost got knocked down, but then my friend Noelle posed as the developer’s court-ordered emotional IQ coach and made this poor guy watch hours upon hours of footage I’d filmed for this commemorative video project I’d gotten into. “It was hours of people who live there talking about the most minute nonsense,” I say. “Footage of painting parties. Tours of potted plants.”

“Potted plants? This worked?” Jack asks.

“It was hilarious,” I say. “Even more if you know the guy—Malcolm’s this total alphahole and Noelle’s the shyest person ever.” I tell him about my other friends there and some of the goofy things they’ve done.

Twenty minutes later, the car stops in front of a massive white-stone building with four stories of windows as big as doors. There’s stone scrollwork all around them.

“Home sweet home,” he says. The driver comes around and lets us out.

“You live here? It looks like the public library,” I say.

“Yes, it’s a bit much.”

“Oh, yes, how tedious. A bit much. A tedious architectural gem!” I poke him in the arm. “Which floor is yours? Let me guess—the top.”

“Well…all of them.”

“Get out!” I say. “So is it as beautiful on the inside as it is on the outside?”

“It’s ostentatious. Like Christie’s auction house exploded all over the place.” He turns around to face me. “There are better places for us to go.”

“You heard my terms.”

We get out and climb the very library-like steps. Just the entryway is as large as my studio apartment, with exquisite seating where you can hang your coat and exchange your boots for the plushest slippers ever created by humankind. We shuffle into a mind-blowingly elegant living room. He refers to it as “the parlor and dining room floor.”

“Okay, then.” I walk around, stunned. Some of the furnishings are so exquisite, it seems like they should be in a museum. The chairs probably have names like King Louis the Fifth. The art is real. The massive fireplace is carved marble.

Jack stands there watching me with his hands in his pockets.

“What does it feel like to live here?” I ask, spinning around.

“I don’t live here. This floor is just for guests. Below are staff apartments and the kitchen.”

“You know what I mean.”

Jack looks around. “Like one of those birds that makes a home in other birds’ nests.”

I slide my hand along the gold-and-green-patterned velvet of a vintage couch with gold lions-paw feet. “I may not know furniture, but I know fabric. This is silk velvet.”

“If you say so,” he says.

“I do say so, mister.” I sit down and rub my hands all over it. “This might be the most beautiful couch I’ve ever seen outside of a museum.” I lean sideways on it and let my cheek slide against the back of it so that I can feel the fabric more. I close my eyes. “Mmmm. This fabric is just…everything.”

Everything might be a stretch.”

“So blasé,” I whisper.

When I look back up, Jack is standing there, still wearing that blue hat, watching me with a hungry intensity that warms my belly and my cockles and a few other places.

I make him give me the full tour. The upper three floors seem to be where he actually lives, with bedrooms and comfier areas to sit and yet another kitchen. The top floor, which used to be the ballroom, is a large workout studio and library that opens onto a massive patio. It’s glorious.

We end up on the third floor in a more relaxed living room area, more Architectural Digest than Parisian museum. Jack still says he feels like a bird in somebody else’s nest, even up here.

He tosses his glasses and hat onto a delicious boucle chair that probably cost more than an RV, mumbles something about Arnold being out doing the marketing with the housekeeper, and fetches me a ginger ale, my favorite vending machine drink.

“Thanks,” I say.

He wanders off again.

I go around looking at stuff and shamelessly touching everything. There’s a truckload of art, including a large version of the photo that I saw on my google scroll hanging over the dining room table with its own light sources beaming onto it. Jack as a little boy with his two parents standing together in front of some kind of castle-looking mansion.

When Jack returns, I nearly fall over in shock. He’s wearing jeans and a tight, sexy black T-shirt. His hair is combed back, and his mole is gone. I’ve seen pictures of him looking like his normal self, but I was unprepared for how good he looks when he’s not trying to look like a dork. He’s so sexy, it hurts my retinas.

I grab my drink and wander over to the famous photograph. “This is you,” I say. “Are those your parents?”

“Yeah,” he says.

“And that’s another one of your homes?” I ask.

“Türenbourg.” He studies the photo with a flinty gaze. “We lived there for a good while.”

“So where do you really live? If not here or there?”

“Lots of different places.”

“Like where? What’s your home base?” I ask. Most men I date, you can’t get them to shut up about themselves, but Jack is so intensely private. Even now that he’s been busted.

He lists off a lot of places. A London apartment. A Paris residence. A small place in Baku. “I meant it when I said I didn’t have a home.”

“How can none of them be home?” I wonder.

“Home is a different concept when you’re me. It’s more about convenience and facilitation than anything about roots.”

“Did you pick any of them out yourself?”

“Some of them were picked by people who I picked.”

“Oh my god, that is such a rich guy thing to say. Also? Totally doesn’t count!”

It’s as if he doesn’t want to lay claim to anything at all. I look back up at the famous picture of him with his parents. “Your side dimple is missing,” I say.


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