The Bastard BillionaireBy: Jessica Lemmon
Huge thanks to Tracey Slemker for talking at length with me about prosthetic limbs (any mistakes are mine), and to Gwen Harmon for the introduction. Thanks to Michele Bidelspach, Michelle Cashman, and the rest of the team at Forever. To Jonathan Cannaux for being on the cover—the only way it could be better is if we could see your gorgeous eyes!
As always, thanks to Nicole Resciniti, agent extraordinaire. Friends and fellow authors, Kate Meader, Lauren Layne, and Jules Bennett for your plotting help and friendship. And to my husband, John, who encourages me to live out my dreams each and every day.
Last but not least, huge hugs to my fellow romance authors who offer support and LOLs online and in real life, and to you, dear reader, for joining me on this journey. I couldn’t do it without you.
The flames in the fireplace were nearly extinguished, the curtains drawn on the high windows of Elijah Crane’s office. Rain pattered on the glass, providing a soothing backdrop for his work. He pecked at his keyboard, his mind on the e-mail, when a mousy, quiet voice lifted in the darkness.
The desk lamp and a slice of natural light made its way past the doorless entry to his office. His newest temporary assistant stood blocking that light, her shadow a long, narrow wedge.
“Reese Crane called,” she said as she walked into his office. “Your brother.”
Like he needed that clarification?
“I know who Reese Crane is, Melanie.”
“He asked me to…” Her small voice grew smaller until it vanished altogether. Reason being, Eli had taken a deep, rumbling breath and pushed himself up from the desk.
Let it never be said intimidation wasn’t an art form.
He kept his eyes on the woman now standing at the other side of his desk. She was young, in her early twenties, and from what he’d gleaned in the last eight or so hours since she’d started this position, weak. He’d bet he could run this one off in record time. Not that he was keeping track, but maybe he should. He was getting good at it.
He blew out that same breath, keeping his lip curled, his expression hard. He let the breath end on a growl.
“What did I tell you this morning?” he asked, his voice lethal.
His latest temporary personal assistant currently putting a massive cramp in his style blinked her big, doelike eyes. “Not to interrupt you, but, Mr. Crane—”
“Not. To. Interrupt me.” He made a show of pulling his shoulders straight and hobbling around the table. Her gaze trickled down to the prosthesis at the end of his right leg as he affected a limp. One he didn’t have. One he’d trained himself not to have.
The help found him more intimidating when reminded he was an amputee. He’d used it to his advantage on more than one occasion. “Do I look like I need to be bothered with trivial questions, Melanie?”
“N-no, sir, but it’s about Crane Hotels and I was hired to—”
“You answer to me,” he told her point-blank. “I don’t care if it’s a memo from the Pope. I asked not to be interrupted. I expect not to be interrupted.”
“But the board meeting…” Melanie trailed off, her eyes blinking faster as if staving off tears.
Tough shit, sweetheart.
The sooner word reached his brothers that the ninth—or was Melanie the tenth?—PA to set foot in Eli’s warehouse left in tears, the better. He wasn’t interested in resuming a position with Crane Hotels for a myriad of personal reasons, none of which he’d shared with them. The thickheaded men in his family didn’t listen when he’d clearly and concisely said no to a pencil-pushing position at the Crane home base, so he’d resorted to showing not telling. The more assistants Reese had sent, the brasher Eli had become.
“Mr. Reese Crane said all you need to do is read this report and give your opinion. I can reiterate on the conference call for you,” she squeaked.
Eli elevated his chin and stared her down. She didn’t hold his gaze, hers jerking left then right and very purposefully avoiding dipping to his missing limb for a second time.
Sucking in a breath, he blew out one word. “Fine.”
“Fine?” Melanie’s eyebrows lifted, her expression infused with hope. She was sweet…and about to get a lesson in hard knocks. He hadn’t always been this rigid, but change was inevitable after what had happened. She was about to be on the receiving end of the not-so-nice guy he’d become.