Excerpt: The Bad Boy Billionaire: What a Girl Wants
Bar Veloce, New York City
“This,” I said angrily, waving my iPhone. I wanted to slam this down on the table, like I had done with the paper invitation to my high school reunion earlier this summer. But I wasn’t about to risk breaking my iPhone over the Paperless Post invitation intruding upon my inbox.
I settled for firmly setting my phone on the bar. It just wasn’t the same.
Roxanna reached for it, her red manicure a sharp contrast against the black screen.
“No way!” I snatched it back. “I’m not falling for that again.”
Roxanna just grinned. “You’re welcome for setting you up with the love of your life.”
“Thank you,” I murmured, pursing my lips and fighting a smile. It was the polite thing to say and I was always polite. I suppose I did owe her a thank you for her prank Facebook post announcing an engagement between me and Duke Austen, infamously known as the bad boy billionaire. At the point of said announcement, he and I had met (and kissed) just once. That didn’t stop us from a sham engagement, which led to a secret romance. Now we were really, truly in love.
“What is it this time?” Roxanna asked, flipping her red hair over her shoulder. She was perched on a bar stool and sipping bourbon on the rocks. I took the seat next to her and sipped from the chardonnay she’d gone ahead and ordered for me.
“This is the invitation to the party celebrating the IPO of Duke’s startup.”
“How fabulous. Where is it?”
“That’s not the point. It doesn’t even matter, because it’s at the same time on the same night as my high school reunion.”
Roxanna raised one eyebrow. It was one of the traits of hers that I was jealous of, in addition to her carefree attitude, her amazing alcohol tolerance which allowed her to drink copious amounts of whiskey without getting ridiculously drunk and ability to talk herself into restaurant tables without a reservation.
“Are you actually torn between which event to attend?” Roxanna asked incredulously. “The hottest party in the city, celebrating the hottest business launch possibly of all time, with free booze and fascinating people. Oh, and your hot boyfriend. Or a party in an old gymnasium with the same old bores you’ve known for half your life. They’ll probably just want to talk about their kids.”
“It’ll be on the terrace at the Milford country club,” I replied, but unenthusiastically.
“Oh,” Roxanna sighed. “The country club. Someone get the velvet rope to keep out the riff raff.”
I sighed. “I know Duke’s party will be more fabulous. But why do I have this angst about missing my stupid high school reunion? I could just go home and hit the pizza parlor on a Friday night and it’d be the same conversations with the same people.”
“Might I point out that you don’t ever go back to the pizza parlor on a Friday night? But I get it, Jane. This night is like some sort of finish line you have to cross.”
“Exactly,” I said. “That, and we had a deal. I would pretend to be his good girl fiancé and keep him out of trouble. In return, he’d be my hot and successful boyfriend on a night I’ll sorely need a confidence boost. But we can’t be in both places at the same time. And I held up my end of the bargain.”
“You could go alone,” Roxanna said, demonstrating that she was ballsier than me. “Since you do, in fact, have a hot successful boyfriend not to mention your numerous bestselling books. You shouldn’t need the confidence boost, Jane. You’re fabulous already.”
“Thanks,” I said with a smile. “I know this is all silly.”
“Have you talked to Duke about it?”
“Of course not,” I replied. “That’s the mature, logical thing to do.”
“Are you not a mature, logical person?” Roxanna queried. I took a long sip of wine before answering.
“I am the kind of person so desperate for a date to my high school reunion that I faked a relationship.”
“Point taken.” Roxanna said before taking a sip of her bourbon.
My phone, still on the bar between us, buzzed and lit up with an incoming text message. I picked up the phone quickly in case it was something sexy from Duke. He was known to send Snapchats of himself without his shirt on or other flirtatious and naughty texts.
“Is that your bad boy billionaire lover?”
I frowned. “No, it’s Sam. He’s been texting me a lot lately. This one says, ‘How do you feel about second chances?’”
“Weird. Has he forgotten that you two broke up?”
“I have no idea what’s going on with Sam lately,” I said with a sigh. “He was up for these two jobs and I’m not sure if he’s gotten them. I have no idea what’s up with him and Kate.”
“Grrrr.” I growled just thinking about Kate Abbot who teased me all through high school and then the minute Sam and I broke up, she swooped in and claimed him. Not that I was too bothered about it these days. My break up with Sam had nearly destroyed me, but already I could see that it was the best thing that could have happened.
“Are you going to answer him?” Roxanna asked.
“Maybe later.” I got rid of the text and looked back at my email. The invitation was still there, awaiting an RSVP. “I have to talk to Duke about this party. But he’s got a big trip to San Francisco coming up. Might not be a good time.”
He tended to be really, really devoted to his business. It could be hard to tear him away from work but once I did, that same intense focus was aimed at me. My toes curled in my black patent wedge heels just thinking about it.
“And he’s not whisking you away with him?” Roxanna asked.
“No, you don’t get the apartment to yourself,” I answered with a laugh. “He’s just going for a day or two and I have to work.”
Roxanna’s iPhone buzzed with an incoming text. Like me, she snatched it up right away.
“Is that from your mysterious millionaire lover?”
“Yes,” she said breathlessly. I tried to raise one eyebrow in an “I’m intrigued” sort of way, but I think I only managed a weird face. Either way, Roxanna was too busy smiling as she texted him back.
“Do tell,” I said, sipping my drink.
“Oh no. I won’t have my romantic entanglements serve as fodder for your next book.”
“Please?” I gave her my most sorrowful expression. “I have no idea what to write and I have a deadline looming.”
My first two historical romance novels had been easy to write, since my real life provided all the inspiration I needed. The heroines of those two novels—loosely based upon myself—had a friend, Prudence, who needed a story too. Also in my inbox: emails from readers asking when Prue’s story would be available. I didn’t have an answer for them. What I had was a bad case of writers block and no cure.
“Your own romance isn’t inspiring you?”
“Nope. My love life is wonderful, which doesn’t exactly make for a very exciting romance novel. There’s no conflamma,” I said, using our made up word for the awful mixture of conflict and drama. It was essential to any great story—the happy ending wouldn’t be as sweet without it.
“Don’t get all sappy romantic on me.” Roxanna punctuated that with a big sip of her whiskey. “You have to promise not to turn into one of those awful, smug couples.”
I laughed. “Well—I suppose there is some conflict. The dueling parties where he has to decide what matters more—his big night or mine.”
“OR YOU have to decide what matters more,” Roxanna pointed out. “Or which party is simply more fun.”
My phone buzzed with another text. I hoped this one was from Duke. We planned to meet up this evening but hadn’t confirmed when or where. I picked up my phone and frowned.
“Another text from Sam?” Roxanna asked after seeing my frown.
“Yeah.” This one was weird and I didn’t want to think about it so I put my phone in my bag.
“Still haven’t found your ring?” Roxanna asked, gesturing to my hands where I was absentmindedly trying to twist my cubic zirconia “engagement” ring around my finger. Except it wasn’t there.
“No,” I sighed. “I could have sworn I left it in my jewelry box. You know me—I always put things away. But it wasn’t there and I can’t imagine where I might have lost it.”
“Good thing it wasn’t real,” Roxanna remarked, with a grimace.
“Yeah. It still had sentimental value though.”
Roxanna’s mystery love texted again. She smiled as she tapped a response with her red manicured fingernails.
“I have to go. It’s for work,” she said. But neither of us could keep a straight face because it may have been her boss texting her, but it was definitely not about work. We both burst out laughing.
Roxanna and I parted ways outside the bar. She went off to meet her mystery lover and Duke texted, inviting me to join him and some of his team for drinks at a bar on the Lower East Side.
Since it was a gorgeous end-of-summer evening, I decided to walk.
I slipped on my headphones, turned on Empire State of Mind and started heading over to the bar where we agreed to meet. There was nothing like walking through New York City—letting your route be determined by red and green lights, dodging pedestrians on the sidewalk, flowing around cars stopped in the streets, moving in time to the city’s unique rhythm—all while listening to a great song and getting lost in my thoughts. Tonight, I was thinking just how far I had come.
A few months ago I had arrived here a total mess. My boyfriend of twelve years, Sam, had dumped me when I was expecting him to propose. Oh, and I had gotten fired that day, too. I had to move out of the house we shared. Rather than stay at home with my folks and tired of too many awkward conversations with meddling neighbors at the grocery store, I declared I was moving to New York to write a novel.
Madness, that. I just wanted everyone—especially myself—to think I was running to something instead of just fleeing the wreckage of my life.
Then I met Roxanna, whose practical joke on Facebook got me involved with Duke, and my relationship with him provided the inspiration I needed to write not one but two historical romance novels I published to great success.
With Sam I had my life all planned out. And to think…I would have missed living and loving in New York City if everything had gone according to plan.
I pulled open the door to the bar on Elizabeth Street and spotted Duke right away. There was just something about him—confidence, determination, drive—that declared him Someone Important even though he tended to wear free T-shirts from other startups, perfectly broken in Levi’s with sneakers.
He glanced up and caught my eye. God, that smile. So roguish. So mischievous. It was a smile that made a girl believe in once upon a time and heroes that swept a girl off her feet. It did things to me every time. He stood and strolled through the bar towards me. The crowds just melted out of his way.
If I had gotten the life I had always planned of, I would have missed this. Duke pulling me into an embrace. His mouth crashing down on mine for the kind of deep, passionate kiss that left no doubt as to how he felt about me or what we would be doing tonight.
Later I would think about this kiss and remember it as the one sparkling moment where everything was just right and my biggest problem was which party to attend. It was the moment before my past reared its ugly head, making happily-ever-after seem unlikely. It was the moment before the storm hit, leaving unfathomable destruction in its wake. It was the moment before I got an idea for a new story—but at a price I didn’t want to pay.