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Most Eligible Billionaire: Chapter 8


Henry


I PUSH INTO CHANTISSERIE. “TWO. BOOTH.” I set a hundred-dollar bill on the host stand.

Brett gives me a look. You could be nice—that’s what the look says. But between his fake nice request and my very straightforward hundred-dollar bill, I know which one this guy would choose. Every time.

People are not that complicated.

The host peers over his glasses at us, then down at his book. “This way.” He leads us to a booth by the window.

Brett orders two scotches on the rocks even though it’s early afternoon.

“It’s mood alteration o’clock somewhere,” I say.

“The second one’s for you.” He pulls out his iPad and slides it over to me. “The good news is that they found the loophole you thought they would.”

I nod. I felt sure our lawyers could find a way to twist the “qualified to serve as permitted by state law” clause to eject her on grounds of incompetency. “And something like this would fall under private mediation, right?”

“That’s what they say.”

Our drinks come. “Shouldn’t be hard to prove, considering half a dozen people have witnessed her channeling the thoughts of a dog. Where’s the bad news?”

He reaches over and swipes the screen. “They have to file, then get on the schedule. It’s going to be slow.”

“So we grease some wheels.”

“We can’t pay to speed it up. It has to go by the book. We gotta do this Boy Scout or it might get challenged.”

“How long?”

“Weeks. I don’t know,” he says. “They don’t know.”

I swirl the ice in my drink. This is bad. She refused the money, which means she thinks she can get more. The best way to do that is to make things bad enough that we pay. It’s a hostage situation.

He looks at me, waiting to see what I say. They always expect me to have the answers, the battle plans. Usually I do. But working under the direction of an unpredictable scam artist who pretends to know a dog’s thoughts?

“So we manage her.”

A perverse thrill shudders through me as the idea takes hold. I take a swig of my drink. Set it down. Close my eyes. Breathe. I focus on the calm of it spreading through me.

When I open my eyes, Brett’s watching me. Waiting.

“Never imagined I’d feel nostalgic for Kaleb’s minimum profit-per-square-foot ball and chain around my ankle,” I say.

He snorts. “What the hell! Right?”

Kaleb never understood the new economy. He never got the memo that you sometimes make a bigger profit by taking a loss up front. That once in a while it’s worth it to make cool shit. You can’t put a price on being known as a builder that makes cool shit.

No, it’s all about profit margins to Kaleb. The man is so 1980s it sprains my brain.

“Manage her. Keep her busy. Keep her from screwing things up. Keep her…favorably disposed.”

“Should be easy for you. She’s not with anyone,” Brett says.

I nod. According to our PI, she’s led a quiet existence. No boyfriend.

Brett grins. “So you can play good cop and I’ll play bad cop. I’ll gather evidence and work the lawyers and keep the PI digging, and you just keep her on her back.”

I look down at my fingers around the glass, remembering the way she stared at them.

“You’re into it, right? One of New York’s ten most eligible bachelors? You could do a very good good cop. You could keep her sated until we yank the firm.”

I snort. One of New York’s ten most eligible bachelors was a title given to me out of spite by a journalist ex. Trust me, nobody who gets a title like that is ever happy about it.

“Get her into the Henry fan club,” Brett continues. “Take her out. Charm her. Romantic picnics in the park. Billionaire helicopter rides.”

I try to imagine doing the whole picnic-blanket-and-chilled-champagne-in-the-park thing with her in a way that wouldn’t be fake or cheesy, but I can’t. All I can see is her adjusting her glasses, brown eyes peering at me hard, like, really? “No, that approach—it’s not right for her.”

“What, are you suddenly a grifter expert?”

“It’s too generic for her. The picnic thing and all that, it says, Look at me, I’m romancing you.”

“Kind of the point.”

“Vicky won’t go for it,” I say with a certainty that surprises even me. “This isn’t a woman who wants a heart-shaped box of chocolates. She’s—”

What I almost say is that she’s too good for that.

God, she’s a grifter looking for a payday. I push the scotch away. “I’ll handle her, don’t worry. She can’t give messed-up orders if she’s got a cock in her mouth.”

“There’s the good cop spirit,” Brett says. “Now, what about the press? What if they find out that Smuckers is heading up the board? That little bit of news could screw up a lot of projects. The stadium? They want an excuse to say no.”

“I won’t let anything nix the stadium deal.”

“Well, they’re looking for an excuse to say no.”

I swirl the ice in my glass, trying to think how to keep a lid on something like a toy dog controlling a billion-dollar corporation, trying not to think about Mom, because that leads nowhere good.

And then I get it. “We go public with the dog thing. Full disclosure.”

He narrows his eyes. “Not entirely tracking here.”

“What Mom did is so hosed up, who would believe it? So we make it look like a charity stunt. Oh, no! Bernadette willed her empire to the dogs. Look! The damn dog is in control and giving money to dog charities. Oh, no! Wink-wink-nudge-nudge.”

A smile spreads across Brett’s face. “Like it’s just a PR stunt.”

“Exactly. What mother would leave a company to the dog and not her CEO son?” I manage to say this without emotion. “We write an over-the-top press release. We give a big cardboard check to some dog pound. And guess who gets to be in charge of choosing the charity?”


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