The Bastard Billionaire

By: Jessica Lemmon


He lifted a hand and gave a brief wave. Rhona filed into the fray, cooing over the wine as Merina apologized about not knowing she was coming and pulled an extra set of dishes from the cabinet. A low sigh worked its way through Eli’s chest.

Happy. Every last goddamn one of them. Surrounded by this much love caused a heavy streak of loneliness to course through him. Damned if he could understand why. He’d been a miserable bastard lately.

“Beer, bro?” Tag asked, collapsing next to him into a chair. His brother’s hair was down in golden-brown waves, his beard full like Eli’s but neatly trimmed, not like Eli’s. He’d let the facial hair and the hair on his head grow and he resembled a homeless dog some days. Meanwhile, Mr. Pantene Hair next to him…

Eli swiped the bottle. “What, no frosted glass? Shouldn’t we have coasters?”

He gestured to the set table, in the center of which rested a bowl filled with oranges his last assistant had brought over. She’d probably been instructed by Reese to monitor his vitamin C intake. That was another thing—since he’d been back, he’d been tended to, coddled, and overly cared for. He’d busted his ass getting himself up and moving so he was dependent on no one. As a completely independent and capable man, he resented the fussing.

“It’s been half a year, E,” Tag said, leaning back in the chair and sucking down some of his own beer. “You’re going to have to get used to us being in your face. We missed you.”

That last bit paired with an elbow jab and Eli grunted. He knew they’d missed him. Hell, he’d missed them. His brothers and father had found happiness, which Eli admittedly found soul-sucking, but it didn’t mean Eli wasn’t happy for them. He just wished they would go be adorably coupled off somewhere far, far away from his sanctuary.

“I can go out into public, you know,” he grumbled, setting the beer bottle next to his plate—on the table, no coaster, thank you very much. “You guys don’t have to come in here and serve me.”

He was skilled at his new role of miserable bastard, and since everyone expected it now, he was determined to excel.

“Oh but we do, Lord Crane.” Merina smiled demurely as she leaned over and handed him a glass. “We know you don’t want to be seen out and about yet. Trust me, I spent enough time with the media breathing down my neck. I don’t blame you.”

Wasn’t that the truth? Other than a brief article in the Trib that had mentioned him as a war hero and a quote he’d said over the phone taken completely out of context, Eli had successfully avoided the limelight. Reese and Merina had not, but that’d been the plan. And it had worked out well for both of them, despite their initial dislike for one another.

Eli liked Merina. She was tough. She was bold and clearly had enough forearm strength to pull the stick out of Reese’s ass. At least partway. Eli had never seen his oldest brother this…at peace. And now that Reese was living a utopic existence with his biggest dreams coming true, he wanted Eli on board to tiptoe in the tulips alongside him.

No, Reese wasn’t through pressuring Eli into coming back on at Crane Hotels full-time, but he had lightened up some. As evidenced by him strolling back into the dining room area sans tie and jacket. Unlike Tag, Reese was always suited. Tag was the opposite, typically in cargo pants and a skintight Henley to show off biceps he was always pumping into ridiculous sizes.

Eli was as comfortable in a suit as out of one. He could don fatigues, jeans and a tee, or a three-piece Armani and feel like himself. The clothes, in his case, did not make the man. Even his body didn’t make the man, though he worked his ass off to maintain his. He couldn’t do all the things he used to be able to do, but the better shape he was in, the better he felt about the leg.

“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.

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