Authors: Mallory Crowe
Tags: #Billionaires In The City - Two
He’d have to get a copy of her latest income statement as soon as possible and her assessment of her customers already lost. This really would be new territory for him. He’d dealt with press releases before, and done a few interviews, but she was in the middle of a media shitstorm. It would take a hell of a lot to restore her pristine image, but he’d dealt with companies worse off than hers who were led by idiots. She was street savvy and could think on her feet. If he could play this right, saving her company might be the easiest job on his plate.
DuFord…now that bastard was a complete different story. Simon’s jaw clenched as he pictured the cocky son of a bitch, and he picked up the pace until his feet pounded on the pavement. He’d ruined the element of surprise. The last time he’d tried to land DuFord behind bars, one of the key pieces to his plan had backed out last minute. DuFord might not suspect anything, but Simon was definitely not on his list of favorite people.
As far as DuFord was concerned, thanks to Simon’s advice, he’d wasted months trying to get a big mark that bailed. But it had been a good plan.
DuFord made a name for himself by getting massive returns for his clients, but Simon knew he played dirty. The investments he made were risky, and illegal, overseas development projects. The returns could be massive, but when the government got wind of it, DuFord was gone and there was no sign he’d ever facilitated the investment. But the poor sucker who’d assumed the broker put their money in perfectly legit funds was suddenly the center of an investigation, sometimes even ending up in jail.
Simon had tried for years to get his hands on DuFord’s money. The highest form of leverage there was. But now he had something that could be just as enticing. He had a woman to lure DuFord out with.
The pieces started to click in his mind, and Simon relaxed his pace. He was going to nail the bastard once and for all, and Grace was the key.
Grace stared at the bag and back to the driver. “He said what?”
The driver shifted his weight, obviously not enjoying the position Simon put him in. “Sorry, ma’am. Mr. West said you might want to dress up for dinner.”
She shook her head. “He’s out of his mind.” She pulled out her phone. She brought up his text instructing her to meet his car in the front of her building at six o’clock and clicked the Call Send button.
Grace half expected him to blow her off after the stunt he was pulling, but he actually answered on the second ring. “Grace. Are you on your way?”
“What the hell is going on, West?” she demanded.
He was silent for a moment. “I told the driver to tell you. There’s a dress in the back of the car. Change into it and come meet me for dinner.”
She rubbed the back of her neck, wondering how she could’ve ever been so stupid as to believe this idiot could save her company. “This is a work dinner. I’m not getting dressed up for you.”
“Did you at least take a look at the dress?”
“I already said—”
“Just look at it. Please.”
Her brows drew together at his plea. She doubted he was the type to use the word “please” a lot, and she couldn’t shake the image of him smirking as he said it. Even as she thought up a suitable insult to throw at him, she pulled the garment from the bag, and smoothed the layer of plastic protecting it. “What the hell?” she breathed.
“Look familiar?” he asked.
“How did you get this?” She pulled the dress out of the plastic protector and ran the familiar fabric between her fingers.
“Ever since you were plastered on the face of every newspaper in the country wearing it, all the major retailers have made sure to keep it in stock. You’re officially a model now.”
She felt heat creep into her cheeks at the sudden reminder of her newfound popularity. Even so, she couldn’t deny the slight boost in her ego at the thought that she’d convinced the public to buy something because she looked good in it.
“Why?” she asked, barely able to form words.
“I told you, I’m going to get you out of this mess. But we need to do it fast and right. Now change into the dress and meet me for dinner. I’ll explain everything when you get here.”
“This had better be good,” she muttered.
“Just make sure to change in the car. If anyone sees you wearing that tonight and snaps a pic, this isn’t going to work.”
Grace sighed. “I can’t change in the car. The driver’s here.”
She could already imagine him rolling his eyes at her modesty. “I’ve seen women change in public before. Just do it quickly and keep the important bits covered. It will be worth it. No one can see you wearing that dress tonight. It’s important.”
She narrowed her eyes. Sure, she wasn’t the most modest person in the world, but that didn’t mean he could dictate where and when she took her top off. “You’d better be buying me dinner.”
He scoffed. “It’s the driver who you’re flashing. Why isn’t he buying?”
In spite of herself, Grace let out a giggle. She covered her mouth and hoped he didn’t hear her laughter. “You’re a dick.”
“See you in half an hour. I promise you lots and lots of wine.” He hung up.
Grace shook her head again and set the phone down. What a strange man. “We can head to the restaurant,” she said to the driver. The windows were darkly tinted, so she’d have freedom to change rather easily.
The only one who could see her would be the driver, but she’d have to bite that bullet. She wouldn’t need to change her bra, and she could keep her pants on until the dress was covering those important parts. So it would only be her bra that was exposed for a few moments. Considering how crazy the city traffic was at rush hour, it wasn’t like he could ogle her the entire time.
But Simon had never answered her question. Obviously, if she was wearing the same dress, he was rigging something to look like she’d done it the night she’d been caught with the senator. She could do without the secrets, though. They were supposed to be partners, solving this problem together.
She’d been her own boss for years. She wasn’t used to taking orders from anyone. Even when her clients made demands, she could usually talk them out of anything unreasonable. Ordering her to change clothes in the back of a car was definitely unreasonable.
Even so, Grace was desperate. If she thought it would get it out of her hole, she’d do a hell of a lot more than flash her bra to a stranger. And Simon knew it.
A delicate position to be in, and not one she was used to. She wasn’t exactly powerless, though. He wanted Mark, and she could give him access. She just needed to figure out a way to use that to her advantage and give herself some semblance of power back.
Grace pulled her shirt over her head in a smooth move and bunched the material in front of herself to cover her bra. Then, with her shirt held over her breasts, she maneuvered her arms into the dress and pulled it on in one quick move. She shimmied it down her hips before she pulled off her boots. Undoing her pants, she slid them off and smoothed the dress on her legs.
There. Dressed in thirty seconds. Her makeup wasn’t the same as that disastrous night, and she ran her fingers through her hair, trying to give the flat, straight strands as much body as possible. The driver managed to avoid the worst of the traffic, and after lots of red lights and congestion, he pulled into an alley.
“This is where I’m meeting him?” she asked the driver.
The young man shot her an apologetic look. “Sorry, ma’am. He said to text him when I got here.”
She rolled her eyes and sat back against the seat, gathering her clothes into the bag the dress had originally been in. “Do you drive Mr. West often?” He’d taken a cab to her office earlier, so this kid probably wasn’t a permanent driver. But she had a feeling, no matter how casual Simon had made it sound, he wouldn’t have her undress in front of a complete stranger.
“A few times a week. He and the boss are buddies, so Mr. West gets a good discount.”
“Hmm…” Even with a discount, private cars were expensive. But Simon had already informed her exactly how exorbitant his fee was. Even for a small job like hers, he’d make over six figures. Well, she sure wasn’t going to feel guilty about all the wine she was going to put on his tab.
The door to the left of the car opened and Simon poked his head out. He gave a little wave to the driver and Grace gathered her belongings.
Simon opened the door. “Glad you made it.” He held a hand out to her and she stared at it for a moment. Somehow chivalry hadn’t seemed like his thing. To avoid being rude, she put her hand in his and allowed him to help her out of the car.
The warmth sunk into her as his strong fingers pulled her up. A bolt of electricity shot through her. The sudden, unexpected heat shocked her.
As she reached her full height in heels, she was only a few inches from Simon, and suddenly the heat from his fingers wasn’t the only warmth she felt. She stood so close that she could feel his body heat through her dress. Even as her mind told her it was time to back away, her eyes drifted up to meet his. As she made eye contact, she realized he stared at her just as intently. The shock broke the spell and Grace took a step back.
“Don’t worry about bringing your other clothes in,” said Simon. “Jason will take care of it.”
Grace frowned and set the bag back in the vehicle. “Take care of it how?” she asked as he turned and went back to the door he’d emerged from. He held it for her as she walked into some sort of nice kitchen area.
“I told him to package it up and send it to your apartment,” he said nonchalantly as though that was a normal task to assign a driver.
He weaved between furiously working sous chefs who were busy cutting vegetables and stirring various pots and pans. She matched his brisk pace, doing her best not to get in anyone’s way. She tried to get a peek at what was being served, but it was hard to focus on anything for too long while also following Simon and making sure she didn’t bump into anyone.
She let out a sigh of relief as Simon held the swinging door open for her, immediately comforted by the calm, quiet ambiance of the main dining room.
Simon continued to walk to one of the dimly lit corners of the room. “Right here.”
Her brows drew together as she got a good look at the booth. It wasn’t two separate sections, but a romantic, scalloped set up. The deep red cushioned seats were in the shape of a semi-circle with both plate settings very close together in the center.
She opened her mouth to ask him what exactly he was expecting, but he spoke first. “Trust me,” he said with a subtle tilt of his head.
She thought back to their first meeting. He’d flat out refused to help her, but had the audacity to ask her out. Was this his sick way of getting her on a date? Pretend he was going to help her and then try to seduce her instead?
She mentally shook her head. Of course not. No one would go through that much trouble just to sneak a date with her.
Well…maybe one of those incessant reporters, but not the eccentric, rich consultant she’d approached first.
He held his arm out for her as she slid into the scalloped booth. As she reached the center, he entered from the opposite side, sliding down until he was only a few inches away. Once they were both finally settled, Grace started to ask what exactly he thought he was doing when the all too prompt waiter appeared.
As the waiter dutifully listed off the wine specials and handed out the menus, Grace became aware of exactly how expensive this place probably was. Her eyes shot to the name branded at the top of the menu and her heart nearly stopped. Lucia’s. Good grief.
Simon confidently said his wine order and looked to Grace. “Did you have a preference?”
She took a deep gulp. “That sounds good,” she squeaked out. Although she could appreciate a good glass at the end of the day, her wine knowledge was sorely limited.
The waiter nodded. “I’ll have that right out,” he said with a smile before he whirled away and disappeared behind the swinging kitchen doors.
As soon as he was out of earshot, Grace turned to Simon. “What the hell, West?”
He leaned closer to her, and she was once again inundated with his body heat. Half of her wanted to lean back to regain her personal space, but the other half had the strangest urge to lean closer and soak it in.
“I didn’t mean to put you through all this. I had meant to call you, but it took a bit of time to set this all up.”
She compromised by not moving closer or farther. “What did you set up? What does this have to do with my problem?”
He took a sip of the water. “Well, let’s be honest. You’ve already been tried and convicted in the court of public opinion. You’re a home wrecker and man stealer.”
Grace gritted her teeth but didn’t disagree.
“But there’s one thing the public can respect after years of endless law shows. An alibi.”
“I don’t have anything. I was up in my room working for five hours straight. Me running into Robert Bar before my event that evening was one of the only times I left my room.”
He nodded. “And there’s security camera footage to show that.”
Her eyes widened. “So all we need to do is get that footage?”
“Not so fast. Your senator boyfriend thought of that first. The hotel has ‘lost’ the security tapes from that day. Now you can bet your ass that if the press had them, they would’ve called Bar out on the lie. So my guess is he got to them first.”
Her heart beat faster in her chest, and she found herself leaning in closer to Simon. The guy was insane, but he might’ve actually stumbled on some sort of proof that she was being framed. “How can we get them back?”
“There’s the kicker. If Bar has them, they’re probably destroyed. I was on the phone with the head of security for a while, trying to figure out if there were any copies or backups, but we’re shit out of luck. So now we have to play on his level.”
“What’s his level?”
“Dirty,” he said simply. She blinked a few times in confusion, so Simon continued. “If he stole your real alibi, we’re going to make a new one. So instead of doing an honest day’s work in the hotel, you were on a date instead. With me.”