The Billionaire Bachelor

By: Jessica Lemmon


She heard the sadness creep into her voice when she ventured, “Surely there’s another way.”

He didn’t respond to this. Instead he pointed out, “Your parents have been in the red for nearly two years.”

She felt her eyes go wide. Two years?

“I gather this is news to you,” he added, then continued. “Your father’s hospital bills put them further in debt.”

He was referring to her dad’s heart attack last year. Merina had no idea the bills had buried them. She lived in the same house. How had they hidden this from her?

“They came to us to buy the building and we did,” Reese said. “I could have fired them, but I didn’t. I offered a generous pension plan if they stayed on through the remodel.”

A shake worked up her arms and branched over her shoulders. Pension?

“I take it you didn’t know that either.”

“They didn’t want to worry me,” she said flatly, but it didn’t take the sting from the truth. They’d kept everything from her.

Her pie-in-the-sky parents who loved that building arguably as much as they loved each other had to have gone to Big Crane as a last resort. They’d overlooked he had Satan for a son.

“They trusted your father to take care of them,” she said, her anger blooming anew. “Then you waltz in and wipe them out.”

“My father likes your parents, but this isn’t about what nice people they are,” Satan continued. “He mentioned how well they’d maintained the local landmark with what funds they had available.”

Merina’s nostrils flared as she inhaled some much-needed oxygen. Her parents had cared for and upgraded the Van Heusen as best they could, but face it, her family didn’t have the billion-dollar bankroll the Cranes had.

“Your father is a wise man,” she said, pitting the two men against each other. Sure enough, a flicker of challenge shone in Reese’s navy eyes. “I doubt his intention when he purchased the Van Heusen was to turn it into a mini-me of the Crane.”

“My father is retiring in a few months. He’s made it clear the future of the Van Heusen is in my hands.” Reese shrugged, which made him look relaxed and made her pulse skyrocket. “I fail to see the charm in the funky, run-down boutique hotel, and I assume most visitors do as well.”

Funky? Just who did this jerk-off think he was?

“Do you know how many Hollywood actors have dined in our restaurant?” she blurted. “Hemingway wrote part of his memoir sitting on the velvet chair in the lobby!”

“I thought he mostly wrote in Key West.”

“Rumors,” she hissed.

A smirk slid over his lips in a look that likely melted his fan club’s collective underpants, but it had no effect on her. Not now that she knew how far he was taking this.

“You have outdated heating and air,” he said, “elevators that are so close to violating safety codes, you may as well install ladders for the guests on the upper floors, and the wood putty isn’t fooling anyone, Merina.”

At the cool pronouncement of her name, she sat straighter. She’d been told last month that the building inspector had come by for a reassessment for property value, not that he’d be feeding information to the vulture sitting across from her now.

She’d clearly been left out of a lot of discussions.

“The elevators are original to the building.”

“It shows.” He offered a slow blink. “The Van Heusen is stodgy and outdated, and revenue is falling more each quarter. I’m doing your parents a favor by offering them a way out of what will be nothing but a future of headaches.” Reese folded his hands on the desk blotter, expertly avoiding the water gathered there. A large-faced watch peeked out from the edge of his shirt, the sleeves adorned with a pair of onyx and platinum cuff links. “The Crane branding is strong, our business plan seamless. If you love the building as much as you claim to, you’d support the efforts to increase the traffic. We’ll see profits double with an upgrade.” He shook his head. “But not with your parents there. And not with you there.”

A shiver climbed her spine, the rain and Reese’s words having sunk right into her bone marrow. Wait. Was he suggesting…

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