Stolen the billionaire d.., p.3
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       The Billionaire Deception, p.3
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         Part #1 of Stolen series by Holly Rayner

  I walked out of Hunter Corp. with my head held high, smiling at everyone I saw and if anyone didn’t know better they would think I had just landed a job in the executive suite I came out of. Once I made it to the parking garage and got into my car I just sat there for a long time, allowing my body to tremble and shake the way it had wanted to do all day. It was taking every bit of brain power I had to keep myself steady during the interview. It actually felt good to allow them to do what they needed to do.

  When my hands were steadier I reached into my bag and took out the bottle of water I’d put in there this morning. I took a healthy drink and then I had to sit there a while longer while my irritable stomach settled. The nerves I’d been tamping down all morning finally wanted their just dues and they were turning into seeds of self-doubt that planted themselves inside my head. I was suddenly afraid that the anger I felt when Seth mentioned his father had shown through my facade. At the time, I thought that I was hiding it well, but now I had to ask myself whether or not I really had. I was not a good liar. I hadn’t practiced it much in my lifetime. What if he saw through me? What if he saw the angry look in my eyes when he mentioned his father? For starters I wouldn’t get the job. Could they damage my career beyond that if they wanted to?

  I consciously slowed down my breathing and took another sip of my water. I leaned my head back into the seat and closed my eyes, allowing myself only positive talk in my head. The interview had gone great, better than most of the ones where I’d gotten the job. I was fine, everything was going to be just fine. My nerves were coming down slowly. I concentrated on the fact that I needed to stop second-guessing myself; it wasn’t going to do anything but agitate me, right? I thought about passing James Hunter in the hall and I had to wonder if I would be able to do that every day without ever letting him see the anger and the hate that I had felt for him for so long. That anger was what motivated me most days. Taking back what was mine from James Hunter had become so important that my entire life was designed around it at this point. I’d put my life on the back burner. It was one of the things Grant used when he was in lecture mode about what I was doing. At twenty-four years old everything I did was with one end goal in sight… to get back what that man took from me when I was too young and too innocent to fight for it. I rarely dated and a relationship would just take precious time away from my plan as far as I was concerned. I would have time for all that later when I was running my own company.

  I took one last drink of water and another deep breath and I started the car. I was still practicing the self-talk as I drove home. I was intelligent and capable; I graduated from my MBA program at the top of my class. I’d excelled at practically everything I’ve ever done in my life. When I put my mind to it, I can do anything; I will excel at this as well. I talked to myself like that from the parking garage at Hunter Corp into the parking stall in front of my apartment just outside of the city.

  I walked into my apartment with a great feeling and my head once again held high. I’d taken some time off that I had coming from Lyon’s. I felt bad about job shopping, or even thinking about it when I was on the clock there so I’d cashed in on two weeks of vacation. It was only a portion of what I had coming. I didn’t take sick days, I didn’t take days off, and since I was thirteen years old, I hadn’t been on a vacation. I’d thought it was a good idea at the time, but after being home for five minutes the wheels in my head were turning again and I realized that I probably would have been much better off if I had something more productive to keep my mind on while I waited for Seth’s call. Seth Hunter, the man who sat in the chair that I should be sitting in and looked so comfortable doing it. That thought caused another surge of anger to boil its way to the surface. As I walked around the apartment fluffing pillows and straightening pictures on the walls I could actually feel my blood pressure rising at the thought.

  I was suddenly that little girl again. I could see my thirteen year old self. I was privileged, raised by two loving parents in a wealthy home in a part of upstate New York that was completely untouched by the grime, pollution and crime of the city. I was over-indulged at times, but not spoiled rotten. My parents taught me the value of hard work, honesty and integrity. I was happy… and I was naïve. I had no idea how fast a person’s life could change. In the blink of an eye that day, I had gone from someone’s much-loved child to an orphan.

  Louisa Romano was my mother’s housekeeper. She was an amazing, fun, vivacious, loud Italian lady in her fifties and I loved her. She was at our home more than my parents were sometimes because of their hectic schedules. She had morphed from a housekeeper into a cook and a babysitter and a best friend. It was poor Louisa, who was saddled with the task of telling me that there had been an accident that day,

  “Honey…” She was late and I had been worried she wasn’t coming that day.

  “Louisa!” I ran into her arms and after a few seconds I realized that she wasn’t letting me go. Louisa wasn’t a small woman and she was holding me too tight. When I wriggled free at last, I realized that her pretty red cheeks were covered with tears. “Louisa, what’s wrong? Why are you crying?”

  She took my face in her hands and said something in Italian. It was something I since learned meant, “Poor baby girl.”

  “You’re scaring me,” I told her.

  “I’m sorry, baby. It’s terrible news… Your parents, they were in an accident.”

  “Oh my God! Where are they, Louisa? Will you take me to them?”

  She collapsed in a torrent of tears then and I knew before she pulled up her tear-stained face and looked at me again that I was never going to see them again. The next few weeks were the worst of my life. First there were the funerals and the wakes. My parents knew a lot of people, so the house was never empty. Then came the trip to the lawyer’s offices. Louisa would go with me and I was so numb at the time I didn’t realize that they were searching for other relatives as far away as Ireland. They finally found some cousins of my mother’s in Belfast who said they would take me.

  “Louisa no! Please don’t let them take me!” I begged her, clutching onto her dress and refusing to be torn away.

  Louisa ran her hand soothingly along my long curls and said, “Don’t cry baby. No one is taking you.” She filed a petition for custody and because I was a teenager and Louisa had a sterling reputation in her own neighborhood, it was approved. In my thirteen year old mind, Louisa would live in the big house with me until I was old enough to make it on my own…

  Two weeks after that we were called back to see the lawyers. They were different ones this time and Louisa told me that it was about my inheritance. I sat and listened as they talked about my father’s business and how he supposedly owed so much money against it that even selling the house and all the furnishings wouldn’t save it. That was the first time I heard James Hunter’s name. His lawyer was there, and he said that James could pay the debt and in doing so, the company would revert to him. They talked in a lot of big terms that my young mind didn’t understand, but when the day was over I understood two things: I was losing the only home I had ever known, and I was losing my father’s legacy.

  “Erin!” I jumped about two feet off the ground. Turning around, I saw Grant and his latest girlfriend Bethany, a professional artist’s model, standing inside the apartment doorway looking at me like I was crazy.

  “What? Why are you yelling at me?”

  “We said hello, and we didn’t sneak in, you know how noisy the lock on this door can be. What the heck were you thinking about?” Grant loosened his tie and pulled off his sport coat.

  “I was just wondering how I did in the interview today,” I told him.

  “Oh, ruminating over things,” he said with a grin. “I should have done this… or said that…”

  I sat down in the chair while he and Bethany took the couch. Bethany was beautiful, there was no doubt, but I found her somewhat lacking in the brains department. I found that to be blaringly obvious now as she looked at
Grant and said, “You should have done what, sweetie?”

  “Oh no,” Grant said. “I was talking to Erin.”

  “Well, excuse me,” she said. “If you’d like me to leave while you tell her what you should have done or said…” I could tell that Grant was amused. The really amusing thing was that in about a week he would no longer be amused, but instead he would be annoyed. The shelf life on the long flouncy hair and the plastic boobs was about that long as far as he was concerned. He was a player, but I guess a single, gorgeous man in Manhattan at the age of twenty-five is supposed to be. It took my mind back to Seth. I wondered if he was a player.

  Grant rolled his eyes at her and turned his attention back to me. “I’m sure you aced it,” he said. “You are by far one of the smartest people I know.” Bethany looked wounded and Grant just gave her a look that said, “Really?”

  I had to stifle a smile as I said, “Thank you, Grant. It wasn’t terrible… I don’t know… I walked out of there thinking that I’d done a fantastic job. I just have the tendency to second guess myself in situations like this.”

  “Yes, you do,” he said with a smile. “Historically, if you’ll remember, it has been with no reason. You always excel. So, Bethany and I are going to grab some lunch. I don’t have to be back to work until two. Come with us.”

  “I don’t think so…”

  “Why? Because you have so many more picture frames to adjust on the walls this afternoon?”

  I laughed, he was right. I didn’t have a single other thing to do today except for obsessing and that was going to help no one. “Okay. Let me change. I’ll be right out.”

  As I was headed into the bedroom to change I heard Bethany say, “She would be a really pretty girl if she’d lose the glasses and the bun.”

  “With or without them,” Grant said. “She’s amazing.”

  The lunch with Grant and his girlfriend was nice. Bethany was not the brightest bulb on the tree, but she was sweet and funny… even when she wasn’t aware that she was making a joke. Grant and I were cut from the same kind of cloth. We were both driven to succeed and we often forgot to be anything but serious. Bethany was fun and silly and she seemed to have the ability to make light of just about any situation. I’m sure that beyond her obvious, “assets” that was what attracted Grant to her. It was a nice afternoon, but it was only one. Grant was busy the rest of the week and everyone else I knew worked hard Monday through Friday so the rest of the week was excruciating.

  By Friday night I had every closet, cupboard and drawer in the house neatly organized and without so much as a speck of dust in the corner. The laundry was done pretty much as soon as it got dirty. I watched more television than I had in an entire year and I was contemplating calling off my next week of vacation if I didn’t hear back about the job soon. As I sat there watching Dateline and wondering why people get married if they’re just going to have to worry about killing their spouse and covering it up, Grant burst through the front door.

  “I need a drink.”

  I turned to look at him. He had on a black shirt that was unbuttoned slightly at the top and a pair of light wash jeans. His hair was as messy as ever and he had a sexy five o’clock shadow thing going on. I hadn’t seen him when he got home from work; I’d gone to the grocery store for the third time that week. That was the other thing about being home all day, I was eating way too much. Since it was Friday night, I had just assumed he and Bethany were out.

  “Bad date?” I asked as he rushed by on his way to the kitchen. I could hear him opening and closing cabinets.

  “The worst.” He slammed a few more cabinets and then finally asked, “Where is the vodka?”

  “In the freezer,” I told him.

  I heard him open the freezer door and then say, “Hmm, why is it in the freezer?”

  “It keeps it fresh.”

  “Okay then. You want one?”

  “No, I didn’t have a bad date,” I called back. I heard the tinkle of ice cubes in a glass before he came back into the living room with a glass of clear liquid in his hand.

  He stopped and leaned against the doorway that led from the living room to the kitchen and said, “No, you didn’t. You obviously didn’t have any date at all. What are you doing home in your pajamas at ten p.m. on a Friday night? You know you’re only twenty-four years old, right?”

  “I’m tired of bad dates,” I told him. “And besides, this week I just don’t have the energy.” The truth about my love life was that I had trust issues when it came to men. My father died on me, James Hunter stole from me and my first serious boyfriend in college cheated on me. What was a girl to think?

  Grant came over and sat down next to me on the couch. When he saw what was on the television he laughed and said, “Dateline? Are you sure you’re only twenty-four?”

  “Shut-up,” I told him. “I just like to be well informed.”

  “Going stir crazy?”

  “Oh my God I’m almost suicidal,” I told him.

  He laughed again and said, “You know there is this brilliant new device called a cellular phone. You don’t have to sit home every day and night waiting for a call… you go out and you take the phone with you. If they call you it rings right there in your pocket or purse.”

  “You’re hilarious,” I told him. “I’m not staying at home because I’m afraid I’ll miss their call.”

  He sat back and drained his drink, “Then why are you? You’re gorgeous, you’re young, and you’re smart. You live in Manhattan…”

  “Aren’t you the guy who just busted in here complaining about the worst date ever?”

  “Yes, but I at least went on a date. As a matter of fact it was with Bethany so technically I had a week of dates since nary a day went by that I didn’t see her.” I could tell by the way he said it that he was sure it would be their last date.

  “So why was it so bad?” I asked him.

  “We were at dinner at La Boulogne…”

  “You took her to La Boulogne? I didn’t know it was so serious.”

  “Oh be quiet! I told you last week that I was trying to change my ways. I thought since she’d been good to me I at least owed her a nice dinner. Now where was I?” Grant had history also of being kind of a cheap date. He got away with it because he had such a pretty face.

  “You were at La Boulogne with Bethany…”

  “Right, so we’re there and first thing we see is my boss…”

  “Your supervisor, Mick?”

  “No, my boss. The boss! The CEO of the frickin’ company.”

  “Wow, did he recognize you?”

  “Yes he did. I see him every Monday morning in our staff meeting and I sat with him and his wife at the Christmas party. He knows me well. Anyways, he said hello and we introduced our dates and talked a bit…”

  “Wait! Your dates? Didn’t you just say he was married?”

  “Mm hmm, it gets better,” he said. “So we get to our table and I have to order her dinner…”

  “Why did you have to order it for her?”

  “Because she doesn’t read French.”

  “The menu is in French?”

  “No… I mean yeah, the French dishes are of course in French but… well, you know what I mean.”

  “Afraid so,” I said. I could see that he was getting that she wasn’t the sharpest tool. “That wasn’t even the really bad part though.”

  “What was the bad part?”

  “I’m getting to that,” he said. “We get our food and I’m making conversation and I mention that my boss has a wife. Bethany says, Oh that’s so nice that she lets him have time out with his friend.” I laughed. I should have tried to explain to her that the “friend” didn’t look like someone who kept up on business and finance. I seriously doubted that the girl knew he was married. By that time I had been explaining things to her all night, and I was worn out. Maybe I didn’t do a very good job of stressing the part about discretion. Anyways, while we were waiting for dessert, she g
ets up and goes to the bathroom… of course passing right by my boss and his “date.”

  “Oh no.”

  “Oh yes. I’m innocently testing the cheesecake when I look up to see her standing at the edge of their table. She has that silly smile she gets on her face; you know which one I mean?”

  “I do know the one,” I said.

  “Well that wasn’t the bad part. The bad part was that the “date” looked shocked she had no idea she was out with a married man. My boss had probably just picked her up at the hotel bar. The boss was obviously pissed and he was looking right at me.”

  “She said something about his wife, obviously.”

  “She told his girlfriend that she applauded her and the wife’s ability to get along and not be jealous of one another and she thought the whole world could learn a lesson from their example.”

  “Oh my god! Did she use that one when she was in the Miss Universe Pageant… like World Peace?” I was laughing, “What did they say?”

  “Nothing, to me. I have no idea what they said to her because as soon as she came back and told me what she said, I got her a cab and I left. I guess I will know on Monday if I still have a job.”

  “Wait, before you left, did you pay the bill?”

  He laughed, “Of course I did. What kind of cheap swine do you think I am?”

  I was laughing again. When he finished his story I gave him a hug and said, “Thank you.”

  “For what?”

  “Making me laugh. It was the best distraction all week.”

  “Better than naked Wednesday?” he said.

  “You were naked on Wednesday? I didn’t even notice.” He acted like his feelings were hurt and then we both laughed again. It was a fun end to a miserable week. I loved my friend, and since he was the only one left in the world who knew the real me… that made it even better.

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