The Bastard Billionaire

By: Jessica Lemmon


“The media doesn’t give a shit about me,” Eli said, and that was the way he liked it.

“They will when we name you COO,” Reese piped up.

Eli sent him a death glare. Reese, the oldest, didn’t flinch. Even with a sleeve of tattoos and a surly attitude, Eli didn’t intimidate his oldest brother. Reese had known Eli when he’d sleepwalked to the neighbor’s house, so Reese wasn’t about to be intimated by a grumpy Marine.

“We found you a new PA,” Reese announced.

“No.”

“She starts next week,” he continued as if Eli hadn’t spoken.

“Well done, Reese.” Alex took his seat across from Eli. He folded his fingers at his chin and smiled through a snow-white goatee, looking very Dos Equis’s “Most Interesting Man in the World” in that position.

“You’re wasting your time,” Eli said to the collective masses. “I’ve told you repeatedly, I’m not interested in Chief Pencil Pusher, but if you insist, Clip…”

Tag barked another laugh, proud to hear his nickname for Reese (Clip, short for Paperclip) used by someone other than himself.

“You’re the most like me, Eli,” Alex said, starting the familiar speech.

Because Eli had heard it about a dozen times over the last nine months, his vision began blurring at the edges. Talk of legacy and history would follow.

“Reese has my business savvy,” Alex said, a proud smile stretching his goatee. “He was made for CEO.” On that Eli couldn’t disagree. Reese bled Crane Hotels’s black and white. “Tag is my free spirit, perfect for the entertainment sector of Crane. He’s always winning hearts.”

“He won mine.” Rachel slid onto Tag’s lap instead of sitting in her own chair. Eli looked past lowered eyebrows to see her nuzzle Tag, who smiled like a lovesick fool.

Must be nice.

“But you, Elijah,” his father continued. “You have my sense of duty. You have a lion’s heart. That same sense is what propelled me into the service.” Alex pushed up a sleeve, revealing a faded tattoo reading semper fidelis. Eli turned his arm to show off his matching tattoo. They did have that in common. What they didn’t have in common was that his father was a war hero who saved people, and Eli, though he’d been lauded as one, had saved no one.

“But now your duty lies elsewhere, son.”

Here it came. Don’t say it. Don’t say it.

“It’s time to be the man Crane Hotels needs you to be.”

Next to Eli, Tag snorted. Reese even cracked a smile.

Eli referred to this as Dad’s “Batman” speech. It always ended with that same ode.

“I’m busy, Dad,” Eli skirted. Because cursed would have sounded maudlin.

“We’ll see.”

He and his father met eyes for a few beats before their stare-down was interrupted.

“Okay, food!” Merina gestured to the spread. Typically, Tag ate three entrees on his own, but Merina preferred to have a bite of everything on the table. If Eli wasn’t fast, she’d dig into his without asking. “Ooh, Eli. Your shrimp pad Thai looks amazing.”

He pointed. “You have to give me an extra crab rangoon if you steal my food.”

She slid a glance at Reese. “Did he used to be nicer?”

“No,” Reese deadpanned.

Eli and Reese exchanged what could be construed as brief smiles. Reese knew better. Eli used to wield affable charm like a weapon. Before war had hardened him. Before his friends had died because he hadn’t been able to save them.

But that was in the past, and this was now. His new normal was his family’s presence every other Friday since he’d returned after leaving parts of himself in Afghanistan. Yes, his leg, but also two very good men. While he was away, a lot had happened to him, and as much had happened to his brothers. Reese was married, for the second time to the same woman; Tag was practically married; and Dad…whatever was going on there.

Eli understood how everyone assumed he’d slip into the slot bookmarked for him at Crane Hotels the moment he was well. For him, things weren’t that simple. He loved them too much to fail them.

Reese dished out some of his Mongolian beef onto Merina’s plate while she stole a sip of his wine.

Rachel slid off Tag’s lap with a smile and Tag lifted her hand and kissed her fingers.

Rhona unwrapped a pair of chopsticks and handed them to Alex, who beamed at her, the happiest he’d been since Lunette Crane’s death.

Eli reminded himself again that he didn’t want what they had. He refused to want something he couldn’t have. Life had spoken. He was listening.





Chapter 2



Instead of going downstairs to Sable Concierge’s offices via her apartment overhead, the next morning Isabella drove to Elijah Crane’s warehouse downtown. The building featured its own parking area, fenced and locked. Reese had given her the passcode—a passcode that didn’t work as he’d predicted.

“He changes it all the time,” he’d told her when she’d stopped by the Crane Hotel yesterday to pick up a key. “You can bypass it with this. He knows you’re coming.”

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