Rise of the Billionaire, Page 24Ruth Cardello
Not sure what to do with his idol’s confession, Jeremy asked, “Why are you telling me this, Dom?”
“I can’t undo what I’ve done, but you don’t have to repeat my mistakes. Helping a dictator suppress his people will change you, but not in the way you seek. You are brilliant, Jeremy. Don’t sell your soul to make your fortune. ”
Jeremy put his hands in the pockets of his trousers and rocked back on his heels. It’s too late. “I can’t back out of the deal now. ”
“If you don’t, Jeremy, it will destroy everything you love. ”
The sadness in Dominic’s eyes was testament to the truth in his words. It was also a sign that Jeremy was no longer an outsider. What do you say when your idol bares his scars as a warning to you? Nothing.
One of the house staff interrupted and said, “Excuse me, Mr. Kater?”
“Yes,” Jeremy said.
“There is someone in the foyer who would like to speak with you. ”
Jeremy followed the uniformed man toward the main entrance. Richard met him halfway across the room and said, “Jeremy, can you come to the kitchen for a minute?”
Jeremy spoke while he kept walking. “I can’t right now, Richard. ” He didn’t wait to hear the Frenchman’s answer. Whatever he needed, it could wait. Right now he had a pretty good idea who was waiting to speak with him, and the faster he addressed her concern and got her to leave the better.
Alethea was pacing the enormous marble foyer impatiently. The click of her black suede Rupert Sanderson pumps echoed through the empty space. She needed Jeremy to come with her so she’d worn a revealing cherry-red Versace gown to further entice him. She rushed forward when she saw Jeremy and said, “They wouldn’t let me in. Can you believe that? The one time I decide to announce myself and I’m not welcome. ”
“What are you doing here, Alethea?” He didn’t sound happy to see her, nor did he exhibit any signs of being impressed by her attire. His lack of attention irritated her, but it also wasn’t worth wasting time on, considering the direness of the situation she and Jeremy had gotten themselves into.
“I’ve been calling you, but you’re not answering my calls or texts. I tried to reach you through the office and the receptionist said you were away. Did you get any of my messages?”
“I told you I’d call you back next week. ” The same confidence that had impressed her the first time was now nothing more than an annoying speed bump.
Sorry to disturb your party with reality. “This can’t wait until next week. ”
“It will have to. For once, you’ll have to be patient. ”
Had she not heard his cold, dismissive tone with her own ears she wouldn’t have believed him capable of it. Any other time, she would have gladly taken up the challenge, but her reason for crashing the Andrade celebration was serious. “This isn’t about me. It’s about our project in Tenin. We have people planted in the compound. Remember the ones you set up the communication network for?”
“Of course I remember. ”
“Well, someone has blocked me out of it. I can’t contact our people. ”
Finally she had Jeremy’s attention, even if he was giving it to her reluctantly. “I can look into it as early as tomorrow morning. ”
“We don’t have the luxury of time, Jeremy. I have it from a good source that the next strike against Alvo is going to be a military one that wipes him out—and it’s going to happen tomorrow. We have to get our people out of there and pull out of the deal. This is bigger than what I thought it was. We’re in the middle of a war over there. We’ve got to warn Alvo, but first we’ve got to get our people out. Do you have your laptop with you? Can you work your magic from here?”
Jeremy rubbed his forehead in frustration. “I didn’t bring it. ”
Alethea’s jaw dropped. “You never go anywhere without it. ”
Jeremy said, “Today was different. ” He looked up at the ceiling as if he could see through it to what was upstairs. “The Andrades won’t have a computer here with the ability to do what I need. If we’re locked out, I might need to piggyback on a government server. I’m going to need either my stuff or . . . I could use what’s at the New York Corisi building. I have access. ”
“Then let’s do it. ”
“I have to tell Jeisa that I’m leaving. ”
“Your image consultant? Does she have you on a short leash?”
At least one part of Jeremy hadn’t changed. He didn’t hedge the truth. He said, “I love her, Alethea. Today I was going to propose to her. ”
Shit, we don’t have time for this. In an instant she had an angle she could use. “Isn’t she the daughter of a diplomat?”
Jeremy said, “Yes. ”
Alethea drove her point home. “Does she know that you’re making your money by propping up a dictator?” When his face reddened, she said, “I’d say as little to her as possible about this while we try to get ourselves the hell out of this situation. You think her father is going to let his daughter marry you if Tenin becomes a massacre that has your name linked to it? It’ll be all over the news—an American hacker involved in a foreign civil war. The press will crucify you and anyone associated with you. ”
As convincing as Alethea was, Jeremy knew what he had to do. He’d think of something, hopefully before he saw Jeisa, which would smooth the situation over. “I can’t leave without saying something to her. ”
“Fine. Two minutes. Tell her whatever you need to, but don’t tell her enough to jeopardize our people. This is bad, Jeremy. This is really bad. Do you have a car here?”
“I have a helicopter. ” Full of fucking roses, he thought with disgust.
“Great. We’ll take that. Tell your girlfriend we’ll be back before the party is over. ”
Jeremy nodded and walked away, his pace increasing as he searched the solarium for Jeisa. When he saw Lil, he asked her, “Have you seen Jeisa?”
Looking a bit confused, Lil glanced at the woman beside her as she answered, “Maddy and I left her in the kitchen about fifteen minutes ago. ”
Maddy scanned the room and asked, “Didn’t Richard ask you to go to the kitchen?”
Frustration mounting, Jeremy grated, “I think so. I don’t know. I couldn’t go. Alethea is here and she needs me to do something. But I can’t leave until I see Jeisa. ”
Lil’s eyes widened. “Alethea is here?”
“Who’s here?” Abby asked as she joined the group.
Lil groaned. “Alethea. ”
“Lil, tell me you didn’t invite her . . . ”
Jeremy cut in, “I’m going to the kitchen. Maybe Jeisa’s still there. ”
With a wild wave of one hand, Maddy asked, “To tell her that you’re leaving with Alethea? I don’t think that’s a good idea. She probably isn’t there anymore. Right, Lil? Why don’t you check the kitchen and I’ll take Jeremy on the patio to see if she’s out there. ”
“I’m on it,” Lil said.
As Jeremy followed Maddy onto the patio, his mind was racing. He wanted to tell Jeisa everything. Hell, normally he would have taken her with him and even asked her for her opinion on how to resolve the situation. But Alethea was right. If there was a massacre in Tenin tomorrow, there would be an investigation, and his affiliation with Alvo would be in all the papers. For the first time since he’d charged forward into this endeavor, he had to face the fact that he may have gotten himself into a much more dangerous situation than he could handle.
A month ago, when he’d felt like he had nothing to lose, he was numb to the sting of fear. But now that he’d begun to imagine a life with Jeisa, one that included not only his family but hers . . . he could see the far-reaching consequences this could have. He might become a liability to Romario’s political career, and the fallout of that would be he would lose Jeisa—even if she found a way to forgive him.
Unless I fix this.
Ten minutes dragged into fifteen. Some of
the glow of anticipation faded from Jeisa’s cheeks. How long do you wait for the man you love to come to you? How long do you stand there, torn between being the happiest you’ve ever been and giving in to the growing fear that you’re making a fool of yourself?
He’s not coming.
He changed his mind and can’t face me to tell me.
No, if he doesn’t love me, why would he tell my father that he does?
Just two more minutes.
Give him two more minutes.
But still, he didn’t come.
How much of my life am I going to spend waiting for happiness to come to me? What had Marie said—you discover who you really are when you’re willing to fight for what you want? I am going to go out there to find Jeremy and tell him that I am sorry.
I’m not going to hide anymore.
Jeisa took a deep breath and stepped out of the kitchen and into the hallway. Her step faltered when out of the corner of her eye she saw something that sent a cold chill down her back.
Although she’d never met her, there was no mistaking the impatient redhead pacing in the foyer of the Andrade home. Her desire to find Jeremy was forgotten as her feet carried her toward one of her greatest fears.
Alethea stopped and shook her head as Jeisa approached, looking at her as if she were an inconvenience.
Unable to help herself, Jeisa asked, “What are you doing here?”
“You must be Jeremy’s little image consultant,” Alethea said sarcastically.
The disappointment of waiting for a man who never came swirled and meshed with suspicion. “And you must be the woman who only comes to see him when she needs something. ”
Alethea rolled her eyes. “Don’t go getting your panties in a wad. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t important. I’ll have Jeremy back in a couple of hours. ”
Oh, no, you don’t. You don’t get to come here and ruin everything. He loves me, and all of the arrogance in the world isn’t going to change that. Jeisa said the words she desperately wanted to believe. “He’s not going to leave with you. ”
Alethea sighed impatiently. “I’ll let him explain it to you. ”
Jeisa stepped closer, real panic making her heart race. “Why did you come here? Can’t you let him be happy? Or are you afraid you’ll lose your meal ticket? Everyone knows you built an entire career on his hacking skills, but he doesn’t want you. He wants me. So whatever you ask him to do, he’s not going to choose you. ”
Red spread over Alethea’s face, and her claws came out as she snapped back, “The only reason you’ve had him at all is because I didn’t want him until now. But I might just take him from you to prove that I can. ”
“That’s enough,” Abby’s authoritative voice rang out across the foyer. The click of her heels echoed in the heavy silence that had enveloped the room. “Alethea, you need to leave. ”
When Alethea realized her comment had been witnessed by a growing crowd, she deflated a bit. “I don’t know why I said that. ”