Authors: Jessica Clare
Titles by Jessica Clare
THE GIRL’S GUIDE TO (MAN)HUNTING
THE CARE AND FEEDING OF AN ALPHA MALE
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STRANDED WITH A BILLIONAIRE
An InterMix Book / published by arrangement with the author
InterMix eBook edition / April 2013
Copyright © 2013 by Jessica Clare.
Beauty and the Billionaire
copyright © 2013 by Jessica Clare.
Cover design by Sarah Oberrender.
Diamond ring © Masterfile.
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For my sister
Who has always supported me in my writing
and been one of my biggest fans
and who said this was her favorite book in the entire world
. . . until she read the second one.
Even though the bar was thumping with loud music and the crowd was shoulder to shoulder, no one approached Logan Hawkings. He stood alone, an island of calm in a roiling sea of bodies. It might have been the “fuck off” expression on his face, or the crisp cut of his expensive tailored clothing that told people he didn’t belong in this neighborhood. It could have been because he walked with an arrogant swagger that made men get out of the way and women nudge their girlfriends with interest.
None of that mattered. He wasn’t here to socialize.
He moved past the bar, down a narrow hall to a back room. A man—tall, head shaven—stood in front of the door there. The guard wore sunglasses despite being indoors, a suit, and an earpiece with a black cord that wound behind his ear and around the back of his neck. His posture becoming alert, the bodyguard watched Logan as he approached.
With a practiced ease, Logan swept the second and third fingers of his right hand over his shoulder and then rested them on his biceps in the exact spot where his tattoo lay under his clothing.
The man nodded and stepped aside.
Logan pushed the door open and strode down the stairs into the basement. Already there was a thick haze of cigar smoke above the large green octagon table set up in the center of the room. A buffet had been set up off to one side and was being ignored. Beer bottles and poker chips littered the table. Ah, Brotherhood night. His favorite night of the week. Logan gave the room a quick once-over. Everyone was here already; he was the last one to arrive. No surprise there.
The men seated at the table were roughly the same age. All were clean-cut, fit and wore clothes that spoke of money. They all carried themselves with the confidence that success brought, though in some, the confidence was more swagger than anything.
Beside the empty chair held for him sat Hunter Buchanan, the scarred, silent real-estate tycoon, and Logan’s most trusted friend. Next to him sat Reese Durham, a young, brash man on the cusp of hitting his billion-dollar fortune. Beside him sat Griffin Verdi, English aristocracy and the ‘professor’ of their small group. Then was Jonathan Lyons, owner of Lyon Automotives and notorious adventurer and thrill seeker. At his side was Cade Archer, the philanthropist of their group.
The five men barely glanced up from their cards as he entered.
“You’re late,” Reese Durham told him, a cigar hanging from his mouth. He examined his cards, face impassive.
Logan slipped his jacket off and tossed it into a corner, then moved to the only empty seat at the table. Cade raised a hand in greeting. Logan grasped it and then turned to clap Hunter Buchanan on the back. The man’s scars looked hideous in the dim light of the room.
“About time you got here,” Cade said in a pleasant voice. “Reese was just asking about Gloria.”
Logan frowned, shaking his head as he sat down between the two men. “Gloria who?”
Reese grinned at him across the table. “You know. Stacked Gloria with the big blond hair. I guess you’re not seeing her anymore? You brought her to the Stewart fund-raiser a few months ago.”
Had he? Logan couldn’t recall. He hadn’t had a second date with anyone since . . . well, since Danica. Hadn’t been interested enough and hadn’t made the time. “I don’t recall a Gloria.”
“So you wouldn’t care if I dated her? I met her at a party the other night and wouldn’t mind seeing her again.”
“Care?” Logan snorted. “I can’t even recall her face. She’s all yours.”
“Did you know she’s a friend of Danica’s?” Reese asked.
“Then you’re more than welcome to her,” Logan said, his voice cool. “If she’s a friend of Danica’s, she can burn in hell for all I care.”
“Thought you’d say that,” Reese said cheerfully.
“Just do me a favor and don’t bring up Danica again,” Logan said, his tone friendly but with a touch of warning.
The last thing he wanted to do was discuss a money-grubbing gold digger. She was in his past, and he had no intention of dwelling on her. His father had mocked him for falling for Danica. He’d said that Logan was being a stupid fool. Turned out the old buzzard had been right all along.
And that grated more than anything.
“So what took you so long?” Hunter pulled out a stack of chips, glancing over at Logan.
A smooth, effortless change of subject. Logan turned to Hunter and gave the scarred man a check for his share that evening. Hunter added it to the bank and shoved the pile of chips in his direction.
“I have a new driver,” Logan said. “He got lost.” His tone implied that it wouldn’t happen again.
Reese snorted and shook his head. “Excuses, excuses.” He gestured at the pile of chips in the center of the table. “Everyone in?”
The six men consulted cards as they were dealt. As cards were laid face up, Cade immediately tossed a bid into the pile. Four of the men folded. “The paladin there’s got three of a kind showing,” Jonathan said with a disgusted glance at Cade. “You know he can’t lie to save his ass.”
Reese sighed and put his cards down as well, the last in besides Cade. “Hell, you’re right. I fold, too.”
Cade grinned and raked the money toward him. “I might have been bluffing.”
“You weren’t,” Jonathan said, and took another swig of his beer, then leaned back to the catering table and snagged one for Logan. “You don’t know how.”
“All right,” Logan said, taking the bottle and twisting off the cap. He took a quick drink. “Now that we’re all here . . . This month’s meeting of the brotherhood is called to order.”
The men raised their drinks, clinking bottles together. “
Fratres in prosperitatem
,” they all said in unison, as they did every month. It was the motto of their clandestine society—“Brothers in Success.”
“First order of business is the round table,” Logan said. “We’ll start with Jonathan.”
“Lyons Automobiles continues to sell strongly in all quarters. We’re looking at adding a line of high-end convertibles that will have an electric engine but with enough horsepower to compete at Daytona.” He grinned. “I’m thinking about driving one myself. I’ll spare you the technical details.”
“Please do,” said Griffin in his cultured, bored voice.
Jonathan was undeterred. He picked up his cards, beginning to deal the next hand. “Prototype won’t be ready until next quarter at the earliest, but when we roll them out for mass production, you’ll each get one, compliments of the brotherhood.”
He discussed his car business a bit longer as the hand went on and then turned to Griffin. “You’re up.”
Griffin shrugged, examining his hand. “It’s money. It accumulates on its own.”
“Says a man that grew up with wealth,” Reese pointed out. “Not all of us were so lucky.”
“It’s not my fault I was born rich. Besides, I invested in Cade’s medical research facility,” Griffin pointed out, waving an idle hand. “I’m doing something with my money, at least.”
“Reese?” Logan asked.
“My newest acquisition, the Vegas Flush, seems poised to take the Stanley Cup this year. You’re all welcome to tickets, of course. Just contact my secretary. I’m also looking at acquiring a football team.” He grinned. “Maybe soccer. It’s a sport that can grow here in the States. Might be a solid investment worth looking at if I can get a superstar player to get people into the stands. Still debating.”
They discussed sports teams for a bit and then went on to Cade Archer, who talked about medical breakthroughs at his research facility and some upcoming charity events. Cade was their white knight. He made money, but he insisted on it having some sort of higher purpose or focus on the good of mankind.
The rest of them? They just liked to make money.
Reese, Logan, and Griffin all took their turns, sharing any news of the week, and then the conversation moved on. Hunter was last, and he kept things brief, as he always did. The real estate tycoon man was never one for talking much. He just sat back and enjoyed the company of his brothers most meetings. Tonight, though, he had something to share, and his dark gaze moved to Logan as he spoke. “Got wind of an investment property if you’re interested. There’s a large resort on an island in the Bahamas that’s in need of a cash influx. Exuma District. I have a friend that’s willing to sell to an interested investor, and I think it could be a solid deal.”
Logan nodded, only half paying attention to his cards. It did sound like something up his alley. Hawkings Conglomerate was all about buying failing businesses on the cheap, turning them into profitable organizations, and then reaping the benefits from that. “Prime location?”
“So I’ve been told. Worth taking a look. There’s a French billionaire interested, but I thought I’d bring it to the brotherhood first.”
Logan grunted, considering. For Hunter to have brought it up, it must have been an excellent deal. Normally Hunter was silent. He contributed funds if one of the others needed cash flow to ensure that his business did well, but other than that he kept to himself. Logan admired that. The man was an island. Logan suspected that he didn’t have many—if any—friends outside of the brotherhood.
“I’m busy right now, but I’ll see if I can work it into my schedule,” Logan said with a nod.
“Maybe you should check it out and take a vacation at the same time,” Reese told him. “Get away from the office for a few days. Forget your troubles.”
Logan scowled at Reese, throwing his ante for that hand onto the table. “My troubles are long gone.” After all, he’d shaken off Danica before they’d ever made it to the altar—a bullet dodged. And his bastard of a father had passed away at about the same time. That was two millstones no longer around his neck.
Reese looked amused at Logan’s response, as if he didn’t believe him. “Oh, really? Because that’s not what—”
“Stay out of it,” Logan said in a warning tone.
Reese simply grinned and shrugged, turned his attention back to his cards. “Suit yourself.”
Logan did keep thinking about Reese’s words, though, and was distracted enough that he stayed in despite having a garbage hand. He ended up losing two grand to Jonathan without even realizing it.
Reese thought he should take a “vacation.”
He wanted to laugh at the thought. Successful men didn’t get vacations. They just got more opportunities. Still, it sounded like an interesting investment, and he liked to keep Hawkings Conglomerate diverse. An island resort was definitely diverse.
He noticed Hunter watching him out of the corner of his eye. Had the real estate mogul decided that he’d toss the gem Logan’s way because he thought Logan could do an admirable job of flipping it? Or did he, too, think Logan needed a distraction?
That thought made his mood sour. First Reese was needling him, and now Hunter was in on it? He wouldn’t have thought that of Hunter. He was the quietest of their small, successful group, but sometimes he saw straight into the heart of the matter.
His father would have sneered at the thought of a vacation. To stay strong and on top of business, you kept a close eye on things and one hand on the rudder at all times. Vacation made you weak. Soft. And Hawkings men weren’t soft. They had poor taste in women, though. His father had married his mother, and that had been a mistake for all parties. And Logan had almost been fooled enough by Danica’s sweet face to go to the altar with her.
Logan stared at his cards, frowning, and tried to conjure up the face of someone named Gloria. Nothing. His memory was full of business meetings and contracts. No women.
Maybe a vacation/business trip was just what he needed at the moment.
“I’ll take a look at it,” he told Hunter.
“Hate to say it, girl,” Sharon told Brontë and flopped down on her queen-sized bed. “But this is the shittiest resort I’ve ever stayed in.”
“It was free,” Brontë replied, trying to keep the irritation out of her voice. “You can’t really complain about free. Epicurus said, ‘Not what we have, but what we enjoy, constitutes our abundance.’”
“Uh-huh,” Sharon said in a tone of voice that told Brontë that she wasn’t listening. Instead, she’d picked up the remote and, pointing it at the TV, began to hammer on the buttons. “They water down the drinks at the pool. Did you notice that?”
For the ninth time in two days, Brontë regretted bringing Sharon. When she’d won the trip through her local radio station, 99.9 Pop Fever, she’d been just thrilled to go. Her friends in Kansas City hadn’t been able to come, though—none of them could get off work. Her old roomies from college had “real” jobs with responsibility, and they couldn’t get away from work for a last-minute getaway vacation, no matter how free it was.
Seeing as how Brontë was a waitress at a diner, she had no problem getting the time off. She’d simply asked for someone else to cover her shifts. Sharon had overheard Brontë’s conversation, though, and just happened to have a passport and enough vacation time to be able to make the trip. She’d broken up with her boyfriend, and she could really use a few days away, and wouldn’t Brontë want company on the trip?
Sharon wasn’t Brontë’s favorite coworker, but they got along well enough. And Sharon had given her sad eyes and mentioned the trip so often that Brontë had felt guilty about letting a second ticket go to waste. So she’d relented and brought Sharon along.
After a rocky flight, during which Sharon had whined the whole time, a horrible ferry ride out to the island (Sharon had whined all the way through that, too), and now sharing the world’s smallest hotel room? Brontë was starting to think that next time she’d just go alone. Forty-eight hours with Sharon was about forty-seven too many.
Even though Brontë was determined to enjoy the vacation, Sharon was making it difficult. She was a slob. Her clothing and shoes were strewn all over the small room. She hogged the bathroom and used all the hot water and took all the towels. She’d stayed out all night the previous night partying
Brontë. And she’d nearly cleaned out the minibar already, despite the fact that Brontë had pointed out that it would be charged to Brontë’s credit card since the room was in her name.