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Most Eligible Billionaire: Chapter 14


Henry


HERE’S the thing about business—you always make your moves from a place of control.

I never ask a question without knowing the answer first. I never show people what I want unless I’m assured of getting it.

And I never, ever operate from need.

Needing something is the surest way not to get something. I learned that lesson young.

Which is why it was a good thing those elevator doors opened.

I was enjoying her embarrassment too much. She really was smelling me. Her neck was so pink when I called her on it, her frown so pouty, it was all I could do not to press her to the wall and take that pretty little mouth like a rabid animal.

I cut out another trunk, focusing on getting my shit back together.

Part of Vicky’s genius is that she doesn’t add up as a scam artist. She’s fun, interesting, easy to be with, pretty. Gorgeous, really, much as she tries to hide it. She’s creative. Tenacious.

A weaker man might fall for her, might not care she puts all that goodness to use as a grifter.

She stares down at her tiny tree, inspecting her handiwork. She sets it down and uses the tweezers to make a quick adjustment while the glue is still drying. The tip of her tongue edges out the side of her mouth as she concentrates, peeking just up over the very corner of her upper lip.

If I was a different man—a more gullible man—I might be turned on by that. I might be imagining the taste of that tongue, maybe even the soft rasp of it against my cock.

I get up and go to the window, to the familiar old view, force my mind far away, back to the long afternoons after school in this room with Brett and Renaldo. Dad would be on his jet somewhere and we’d have escaped from this or that bored French au pair and found Renaldo, gotten him to bring us up here. He was running a lot of the operations by then, but he was never too busy to teach us model making. Or he’d take us out to the sites and we’d watch the subs work, tag along while he lorded over the superintendents on building sites across the five boroughs.

Renaldo’s eighty-five now. He can’t move around or remember much, but coming to work means everything to him—more than all the golden parachutes Locke Worldwide can give him, so we have him on models. The trees we’re making took him days. It would crush him to see them down. He’s frail like that.

I miss those days of getting lost in making the structural bridges and the tiny models. It calms me. I might be a happier person if I could just design, but the company needs me.

I slide the new trunk over for Vicky and her tiny gluing technique. “That’s a good one,” she says brightly.

I give her a look, like I don’t need her compliments on my model-making technique.

She looks back down, chastened.

I watch the rise of her chest, the shift of light on the dark fabric covering her breasts that I’ve spent a lot of time trying not to wonder about.

She forms a kind of kiss as she blows on the drying glue. Does she know she’s doing that?

Of course she does. She’s a grifter. I need to always remember that.

Again the pink tongue tip!

A lot of women lick their lips at me—the long gaze, the lick of the lips, they have their place. But the most lewd lip lick has nothing on the appearance of Vicky’s pink tongue tip during intense concentration. Her and her witchy little smile and mad tree skills and pink tongue tip.

Hot damn.

She holds it up for me to see, twirling it, inspecting it. “What do you think?”

I’m not looking at the tree.

“Why did you leave Vermont?” I ask.

“What?”

“Two young girls. Their parents die. Why leave?” It seemed suspicious to me when I read it in the report. “Why not stay?”

She looks away. “Prescott’s in the middle of nowhere. Very rural.”

“If I wanted to know that, I would’ve looked on Google.”

She casts her gaze down; thick lashes sweep over high cheekbones. I sense she’s hiding something, and I’m glad. I want her to lie, and for it to be obvious. Something to counteract how nice it is to spend time with her. How much I admire her quiet focus. Her sense of humor.

“Surely you knew people there. You came to a strange city.”

“I didn’t…like it there.” She glues a tiny curl to a new tree.

“Why?”

She says nothing for a long time. Eventually she speaks. “This thing happened when I was in high school, and people hated me. Really hated me. Not normal hate but a certain incident got me a high level of hate all through that area. I didn’t do anything wrong, but…” She trails off. “It doesn’t matter. It was one of those things.”

Her story has the ring of truth, and I want to hear the whole thing, but I know instinctively that pressing for more will back her off. Is this where her tenaciousness came from? Is it why she chose to scam people out of their money? As a form of payback? There are times when she seems to have a grudge.

“It must have been…hard.”

“Alone and hated is a different country,” she says softly.

I watch, mesmerized, as she starts another round of gluing, positioning the branches at the angle of the good trees.

She’s silent for a while. Then, “Being hated, it’s like a burn. It keeps hurting long after. And little things that don’t hurt other people sting like hell. Sometimes even sunshine hurts. I don’t know why I’m telling you.”

I know why. Because being in this workshop together feels out of time. A break in the storm.

I shouldn’t be empathizing with her, shouldn’t be feeling this strange connection to her—subterranean. Like an underground stream, rushing between us.

She shoves the finished tree into a piece of foamcore and sets it next to the rest of the newly minted trees.

“Should we redo this light pole?”

“Probably,” I say.

She picks up the most torn, most damp one, strategizing.

I grab a flat of balsawood. “The long sticks are the hardest to cut. There’s a trick to it.” I grab a ruler and make two slim cuts, then work the piece off with my thumb.

Her bright eyes meet mine as I hand it over. It’s here I notice that her eyes aren’t just brown; they’re brown with bits of green in the cracks, like tiny shards of beer glass from different colors of bottles.

“What?” she asks.

I tear my gaze away from hers, struggling to tamp down the thundering of my heart. Grifter, I remind myself. Grifter grifter grifter.

The reminder steels me. We set up the rest of it.

“This looks good.” I kneel and inspect it from the ground the way I know Renaldo will.

She sets her hands on her hips. “You can’t even tell.”

I check it from another angle. “You can’t.”

“Are you going to tell me why it’s so important to have it right?” She’s been burning with curiosity about that.

“Nope,” I say simply.

“What? You’re just not going to tell me?”

“Hmm…” I press my lips together. “Nope.”

Her lips part. “Just nope?”

I shrug.

“Oh screw off. You think you’re so funny.” She folds her arms. “Henry. All eyes upon Henry, prince of all he sees. He’s New York’s most eligible bastard! He knows all your names and oh my god, he’s soooo funny.”

“What did you just call me?” I ask, biting back a smile.

“You heard me.”

I tweak a tree, trying not to enjoy our wrong friction and how much she doesn’t give a shit.

When I look back up, her focus is on the model. Not on me—on the model. “You said it would look different if you got your way. If it wasn’t so far into the pipeline. How would it be different?”

The question surprises me. She’s serious. She really wants to know. “Have you ever noticed how a lot of new buildings create a dead zone around them? Hunks of metal and stone that stop everything?”

“Well, that’s the point, right?”

“It shouldn’t be,” I say, bending a tree. “I want buildings that aren’t a one-sided conversation. Buildings should never feel like walls. They should feel soft instead of hard.”

I look up, expecting her eyes to be glazed over, but instead, they sparkle with curiosity. This little scammer in her librarian getup turns out to be the one woman interested in my shit. “I don’t get it. How can you make a building like that?”

Of course, she’s a maker just like I am. Making her ridiculous dog collars between grifts.

But suddenly I’m telling her. And suddenly she’s asking for pictures.

I have my phone out. I show her my favorite building, the Pimlicon in Melbourne. “Look at how porous it is. It doesn’t block anything, it doesn’t impose its will.” I show her the curved greenery transitions. “See how it invites and engages?”

She takes the phone, studies the Pimlicon. “Like a dance.”

I go next to her. My skin hums with electricity. “Exactly. Something like this would create a sense of place that draws people. The Ten is good for what it is. Locke is going to deliver better than anyone else, but if I had total control I’d do something vastly superior. Look at the way these structural elements invite…” I pause, because the way she’s staring at my face is unnerving.

She looks back down. “Why design it in the inferior way?”

“It’s a Kaleb project, and he’s protecting our profit. He has a minimum profit-per-square-foot dollar figure that…keeps things boring.”

I feel her gaze trail across my chest, my hands, like a hot caress. Damn if it doesn’t get me hard.

“And you want to make something cool,” she says. “Screw the profit.”

“Nah. I’m not running a charity. We can make more money my way.”

Her gaze burns into mine. “Your vastly superior way.”

Teasing words tinged with affection. Suddenly I’m seeing her for the first time—this beautiful, impossible woman who makes a dog throne to mess with me.

She’s supposed to hate me, but she wants me.

And hell if I don’t want her.

“Vastly superior.” My voice sounds husky. “Were I to have total control.” Gently, I close my fingers over hers and unwrap them from the phone. She seems mesmerized by my movements. Her breath hitches.

I slip it into my front pocket and slide my finger along her jawline. I can practically see the shivers sparking along her skin.

I press my knuckle under her chin, tip her face up to mine. Her gaze is incandescent, her breath shallow, like a caught animal.

The kiss lingers in the air between us.

I lower my face and take her lips in mine. I devour her sweet, hot mouth. I don’t know anything anymore. Warning bells are clanging and I couldn’t give a shit.

“Henry,” she breathes into the kiss. “Oh my god,” she breathes. She makes it all one husky, hot-as-hell word. Omigod. The word heats my lips. She hates that she wants me. I hate that I want her.

I pull back and cup her cheeks, ribbon smooth. “You want to walk away?” I kiss her vulnerable neck, keeping her bared to me.

She gasps as I kiss her again. I nip the edge of her mouth where her tongue sometimes appears.

My IQ has taken a high-speed elevator to the lower level parking garage where cavemen chisel away at their square wheels.

“You want to walk away?” I repeat. “You do it now.” I kiss the little bump on her jawline just below her ear. I press my lips to the pulse below her jawline.

I taste the flutter of her heartbeat, taste the power of me reflected in her body.

She curls her hands around my waist.

Dimly I remember this whole thing was supposed to be about ensuring her compliance. Her good behavior.

I don’t give a crap about her compliance. I don’t want her good behavior. I want her bad behavior. I want her.

I grab her ponytail, holding tight. I can almost pretend to myself that this is me making her comply. I’ll tilt and adjust her head whatever way I want.

I kiss her top lip and then her bottom lip. I take her mouth full-on, every kiss newer and wilder than the last. “Vicky,” I whisper against her soft lips.

She pulls away, eyes all fire and challenge. “You see me walking away?”

In a flash I have her pressed to the brick wall between arched windows, hands sliding over her hips.

Her fingers are like claws, working my shirt out of the back of my pants.

My tongue presses at the seam of her lips. She lets me in with a soft moan.

Finally I get hold of her tongue, that little pink tongue tip. I give it a soft suck.

She groans lightly, pelvis pressing into mine as though her tongue and her pussy need to stay on the same vertical plane. The more I suck, the more she grinds into me.

She’s lewd and delicious, and she makes a soft little sound.

I break the kiss and start undoing her buttons, pearly little buttons, one, two, three, enjoying her gaze on my hands, the shudder of her breath.

“So superior,” she breathes.

Her eyes glitter. “When given complete control.”

Our pull toward each other is wrong and strong.

I slow. I don’t know when I started thinking our. Or us. We’re not an our or an us.

The only us for me is Locke Worldwide.

I grew up with the Locke Worldwide logo toy cranes the way other kids grow up with Barbie or Superman. From the cradle I was told stories of the fair play and partnership that the firm was founded on.

And she’s the biggest threat to the company. A scammer.

I pause. Shake myself out of my lust-filled haze. This is good. I’m supposed to be seducing her. Wrapping her around my little finger. It just can’t be the other way around.

And it won’t be.

Stay in control. Never operate out of a place of need.

I kiss her again.

I give her a smile.


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