Excerpt: The Bad Boy Billionaire’s Girl Gone Wild
In the beginning of the second installment of the Bad Boy Billionaire series, Jane has published her novel based on her romance with Duke (The Wicked Wallflower!) and it’s causing all kinds of trouble and complications for their relationship.
New York City
Duke and I slipped into one of the intimate red leather booths in the back. The restaurant was small, dimly lit and decorated in the style of an old-school steakhouse. Duke ordered a glass of Macallan 18 and I could tell I annoyed the waiter by ordering only water.
“So are you feeling faint?” Duke asked, apropos of nothing.
“What are you talking about?” That champagne and dancing from earlier had gone to my head, but I wasn’t feeling faint.
“The Ashbrooke Effect,” he explained. When I looked at him blankly, he explained: “As in the duke of Ashbrooke. As in the hero of your novel. I’m assuming he’s based on me. Vain, I know. But tell me, Sweater Set, am I making you weak in the knees?”
“I’m sitting down,” I replied, as I started to get his references to my novel. Oh dear God, he had obviously read my novel that was based on us. Suddenly, my knees did feel weak, even though I was sitting, because I had been counting on the fact that bad boy billionaires don’t read romance novels. Of course, Duke had to be the exception to every rule.
“You look a bit flushed,” Duke continued, and I could feel the blush of mortification flaming across my cheeks.
“I’ve been drinking,” I said, and took another sip of water. Frantically, I tried to recall the things I wrote and—I closed my eyes and groaned as I remembered.
“I’ve been dancing,” I replied. But really, how was I supposed to breathe when this guy had read the novel about us—that I had poured my heart into?
“Is your heart pounding with anticipation? His voice was real low now because he had cuddled up next to me in the booth and wrapped his arm around my waist, pulling me even closer.
“Yes,” I gasped. “Yes.”
My heart was pounding, I was breathless, and a little bit dizzy.
“I’m surprised you read it,” I said, taking another sip of water.
“I had to know what everyone was talking about,” he replied. “And then I had to be able to converse intelligently about it with the author.”
“I didn’t think you’d read it,” I muttered.
“So you never thought that I would find out that you described me as ‘so handsome that he sucked all the attention in the room toward himself, as if he possessed his own personal force of gravity.’”
“No, of course not.” Otherwise I wouldn’t have published it.
“Or described yourself as a plain wallflower?”
“Nope. And this is embarrassing,” I said.
“It’s a good book, Jane,” Duke said. “No matter what happens, know that. If it didn’t—”
“If it didn’t what?” My brain snapped to focus.
“It complicates things,” Duke said reluctantly, shifting so he wasn’t holding me so close anymore.
“Because of Augustus?” I remembered the articles I read about their big—and overlooked—product launch because everyone was talking about my book and the anger of the big and overlooked investor.
“Yes,” Duke said grimly. “But not just him. “I’m a private person, Jane.”
I couldn’t help it—I burst out laughing.
“What’s so funny about that?”
“You share everything about yourself online! You’re in the papers, the blogs, on Twitter, Instagram, and all over social networks I’ve never even heard of!”
“Yeah, but notice I never tell them anything really personal or revelatory about me. It’s all about Project-TK or the industry.”
“It’s true, isn’t it? You don’t tell anyone what you’re thinking or feeling. No one really knows you, do they? Even me.” I remembered being so frustrated knowing which articles he’d read, or having seen pictures of meals he ate, but having no idea how he felt about me.
“I told you things, Jane, that I never told anyone else. And now I see them published for everyone to read and make assumptions,” Duke said.
I glanced up at him. His expression was inscrutable, but I saw the tension in his jaw. He took a sip of his whiskey.
“Ashbrooke . . . he’s just made up,” I said. It wasn’t a total lie. Ashbrooke was fictional. He was just inspired by Duke.
“And Sam or Bennett or whoever?” Duke turned to face me.
“Alright, so I used a bit from my personal life.”
“Did I ruin your date the other night?”
My heart was pounding again as I whispered, “What if I said no?”
“Everyone thinks you’re mine,” he said. “And I’m starting to believe it too.”
“You say that as if it’s a bad thing,” I said.
There was something he was keeping from me. I could tell. It was there in the way he refused to meet my gaze and instead took a long sip of his expensive whiskey. It was in the way I had a sudden tremor of fear. All teasing aside, the success of my fictional book was causing real problems with Duke and me.
“Duke . . .” I rested my hand on his arm and tried to soothe away the tension I felt there. “I just wanted to write. I had something to prove to myself and to everyone. You understand that. I know you do.”
He gruffly agreed.
“I could unpublish it, I guess.” As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I regretted them. Because I could do it didn’t mean I wanted to diminish my accomplishment in order to celebrate his.
“No, I would never ask that of you,” Duke said strongly. “It’s just that Grey is pissed that all the media attention was focused on my fiancé’s “smutty bodice ripper”—his words not mine—
instead of our new product launch.”
I looked into his eyes and there was no denying the truth.
“He’s not the only one pissed,” I said softly. “You are too.”
Duke set down the now empty glass of whiskey hard on the table making the cutlery clink and the candle flicker.
“I just worked so damned hard to build it. It was a huge risk and everyone was skeptical, but I believed and I made my team believe, too. And now . . . for what? People aren’t talking about it, which means they’re not using it, which means I’m not able to monetize it, which means my IPO is in jeopardy.”
“I’m so sorry.” I was. I positively ached with remorse. I just never thought anyone would actually read my book, let alone people in the tech industry. “If it weren’t for that blogger overhearing Roxanna talk about it, this wouldn’t be an issue. I didn’t plan this. I wouldn’t ever plan this. I am so sorry.”
“It complicates things. The reason we’re together is so that your good girl image can make me seem like an upstanding, responsible guy. And now you wrote this book that has everyone thinking we’re a sham. And then there are pictures of you dancing on a banquette.”
“What?” I gasped. He grinned wryly and handed me his iPhone. The picture was dark, but light and clear enough: I was standing on a banquette with Roxanna beside me; we were both singing along to the song, waving our arms, and sipping our glasses of champagne.
“That was from two hours ago!”
“I don’t want to do this, Jane but—” There was a tense moment of silence when the waiter arrived with another glass of Macallan, which Duke immediately sipped from.
“You’re going to pick your company over me,” I said flatly. Why, why, why did my heart ache to say the words? I knew from the start that things between us were just pretend. Except somewhere along the line, my feelings for him became all too real.
He gazed down at me, blue eyes full of sadness. That was what started to undo me—he did care. But I had fucked things up.
The champagne buzz was starting to wear off and a headache was taking its place.
“I want you both,” he said softly. “But things can’t go on like this. I can’t ask you to give up your work for mine. But I can’t slack off on Project-TK now. We’re prepping for the IPO, Jane. 20 billion dollars are on the line here. This is bigger than me and you.”
“I get it,” I murmured. And then, gazing into his eyes, I confessed: “I just don’t like it.”
This was the closest we’d come to talking about our feelings. What remained unspoken, but was finally understood, was that this was no longer just an act for either of us.
I could see it in his eyes. This guy liked me. Wanted me. Was tortured because of it. I could also see that his brilliant, billion dollar brain was coming up with an alternative course of action.
“Or . . .” he murmured, eyes lighting up. “We put the word out that we’ve broken up.”
Telling people we had broken up wasn’t the same as actually breaking up.
“Just thinking as a novelist here and not a jilted pretend girlfriend—do you think a break up right now will really quiet all the rumors that we faked a relationship so you could score a one hundred and fifty million dollar investment?”
“You wouldn’t be a jilted girlfriend. We could still see each other in secret.”
“A secret romance,” I murmured. “I’m the one who’s supposed to come up with that stuff.”
“Fodder for your next book,” he said with a grinned. “What do you say, Jane? Want to be my secret lover?”