The Bastard Billionaire

By: Jessica Lemmon


“Isabella.” He tossed the pen onto his desk. Lifted his head and met her eyes.

Her tongue stuck to the roof of her mouth, the remainder of her speech glued to it. Dark hair ruffled like he’d repeatedly pushed his fingers through it, an equally dark, thick beard lining a strong jaw, Eli Crane commanded attention. Deep blue eyes narrowed as he tracked down to her stilettos and up her professional—and, yes, a little tight at the thighs—dress she’d worn for this appointment. There was nothing overtly sexual about the dress, but no matter what she wore, her curves tested the limits of the seams. She was a woman and refused to hide her femininity—or mute it—especially for this man.

He shifted at the desk, pushing one palm into the wood, and his tattoos flexed, his muscles shifting temptingly.

Lord have mercy.

The crackle in the air this time wasn’t a buzz of warning but of something else. Something heavy and weighted.

Unwanted attraction.

The kind you feel for a man when you know that you shouldn’t. The kind packaged to be tempting, but when you get close, learn that the enticing beauty is laced with deadly poison.

The feeling was so strong, the pull so palpable, Isa struggled not to advance a step.

“No,” he said.

“No what?” She tightened her grip on her Kate Spade tote, wedging her heels to the floor.

“No to Isabella. Too ornamental.” His lip curled with what appeared to be disgust and she tamped down the temptation to be offended. This was his game. She wasn’t going to play. “Can’t you go by something else?”

“Most people call me Isa.”

He hummed. The rough and tumble sound snagged her chest and her heartbeat kicked up a few notches.

This was awful. Just awful. Attraction to the wrong man had happened to her twice in her life. Once with her second boyfriend, to whom she’d bequeathed her virginity, and once with the man her parents had picked for her, who had turned out to be king of the jackasses. Twice she’d lived to regret following her hormones. She’d make no such mistake a third time. Especially with her business on the line.

“As I was saying, Mr. Crane.”

“Elijah.”

“Elijah,” she corrected, forcing a smile.

“No…” His eyebrows lowered and he cocked his head in thought. “Go back to Mr. Crane.”

He was pushing her. She was supposed to react. Lash out. Start arguing. This was his pattern. A few more pokes and he’d expect her to turn and run out crying or shouting how she’d never return.

Too bad, buddy.

“Very well.” She straightened her shoulders and tried again. “Mr. Crane. So, your brother tells me—”

“What if I call you Izzie?”

“Pardon?”

“Nah, that’s no good. Oh.” He snapped his fingers. “Bella.”

“Absolutely not,” she clipped, letting her control waver. Her ex had called her Bella and she’d hated it.

“No, you’re right.” Eli’s mouth pulled into a frown. “That’s worse. I don’t like any of the short names for Isabella. What if I call you…” He snaked a gaze over her dress, which was professional and a respectable length. His trickling assessment made her feel as if she wore next to nothing. “Bettie Page?”

He leaned back in his chair, his shirt molding to a very fit chest. “You sure you’re from Sable Concierge? Not a call girl service?”

“Mr. Crane.” Her voice held an authority demanding respect. Enough was enough. She refused to let him bully her, whether the air snapped with wayward attraction or not. Whether he thought she was a lowly PA or not. She was not his plaything. And her choice of dress, no matter how evocative this male chauvinist found it, was nothing to be ashamed of. “I will not allow…”

He pushed to standing, up, up until he loomed, and then he took one heavy step toward her, then another. He favored the leg with the prosthesis, clad in a shoe to match his other one, the metal-colored leg peeking out from a tear in his jeans.

“I changed my mind, Bettie.” He tilted his head to one side, a rogue gleam in his eyes as he stared her down. “You can call me Eli.”

* * *

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