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Rise of the Billionaire, Page 28

Ruth Cardello

Page 28


  Jake’s mother comforted him in the only way she knew how. “‘Never’ is an unquantifiable and unrealistic amount of time. ”

  Dominic turned to Jake and tried to lighten the mood with humor. “I see how you became the man you are. ”

  “Let’s remain focused on Jeremy,” Jake said, but the dry humor in his tone sounded forced.

  I refuse to accept this. There must be something I haven’t thought of—Dominic. “What would you do?” Jeremy asked the man he still admired greatly.

  Before Dominic answered, Jake said, “He’d call Marie. ”

  “I don’t call her about everything,” Dominic denied hotly.

  Romario looked at Dominic in surprise. “You take relationship advice from your assistant?”

  Dominic stood straighter and snarled, “I’m looking for a reason to hit you. Don’t give me one. ”

  Instead of backing down as many men would have, Romario straightened to his full height and looked down his nose at the younger man, who was just a hint shorter than he was. Dominic was in his prime, but Romario had aged well, and Jeremy wasn’t sure which man would come out the winner if they came to blows. In a soft but deadly tone, Romario issued an offer. “Maybe you should take your best shot and see if you live. ”

  In an attempt to diffuse the situation, Jake joked to Jeremy, “See why Dominic didn’t have to pay for boxing lessons? People volunteer to hit him. ”

  “That’s not even funny,” Dominic said dryly, and the tension of the moment fell away.

  Jake shrugged, unperturbed by his friend’s correction. “Humor is a matter of perspective. ”

  “I don’t know if I approve of you spending so much time around Dominic if this is his approach to conflict resolution. ” Judy’s comment drew a chuckle from several of the men, including some of the security team, who quite wisely became stone-faced again beneath Dominic’s glare.

  With a bit of red highlighting his cheeks, Jake said, “Mom, do you have to talk to me like I’m twelve?” His plea elicited several coughs as those around him held their laughter in.

  Jim attempted to defend his son. “He’s right, Judy. Jake is perfectly capable of choosing his own friends. If he wants to surround himself with those who are less intellectually challenging, that’s his business. ”

  Jeremy burst out laughing and didn’t stop even when Dominic’s jaw started to clench. It was simply too tempting to resist saying, “I don’t know, Dom, I think they just called you stupid. ” He gave his idol a supportive smack on the back.

  Jake’s father quickly backpedaled. “Oh, no, no. I didn’t mean that. Dominic has a different type of intelligence. ”

  “I’d stop while you’re ahead,” Romario interjected with a chuckle.

  Dominic growled, “Unless you’re also sporting an IQ of 180, they don’t think much more of you than they do of me. ”

  “I’m going to go now. Jake, tell Lil to call me. ” Alethea stood at the door and said, “Jeremy, I know I said this before, but I want you to know how sorry I am. If you need me to say something to Jeisa . . . ”

  Too little, too late. Jeremy wasn’t one to hold grudges. He knew life was too short for that, but he’d wasted too many years believing Alethea cared about him to forgive her for this. With the clarity of hindsight, he saw the reality of what they’d had. She’d used him. And I let her. I thought her love of danger was exciting and cool. Now I see that it has cost her more than it ever brought her, and I hope she sees that one day and finds happiness. I’m going to do everything I can to ensure I fix this and regain my own. “You’ve said enough. Good-bye, Alethea. ”

  Alethea left quietly.

  Breaking the quiet after her departure, Jake joked, “Seriously, should we call Marie?”

  Raising his hands in a sign to override Jake’s suggestion, Dominic said, “No, we’ve got this. I may not be a member of the Mensa club here, but I understand how the female mind works. ”

  “Oh, boy, here it comes,” Jake said with a growing smile. Jeremy loved watching the two men rib each other. They often sounded more like bickering brothers than business partners.

  “When you mess up as badly as you have, Jeremy, you’ve got to come back with something equally amazing for your apology,” Dominic explained, not bothering to acknowledge Jake’s joke.

  “The parsimony of his solution is almost elegant,” Judy said enthusiastically.

  Her husband continued her observation. “Like the Occam’s razor principal, there is value in the simplest form. ”

  Looking a bit irritated, Dominic turned to Jake and asked, “Did they just insult me again?”

  Jake’s laugh boomed. “No, that was a compliment of sorts. ”

  Jeremy chimed in with the Waltons and said, “A stochastic process really, because although the initial condition is known, there is some indeterminacy on how it will evolve. ” Jake’s parents beamed in agreement. Jeremy smiled and continued, “Although, I do have an idea. ” He looked at Jeisa’s father and announced, “I know what your daughter cares about, and if my idea works we could both be back in her good graces. ”

  “Does it involve computers?” Romario asked doubtfully.

  “Not at all. ”

  “Then tell me about this plan. ”

  Back at the Andrade home in the gallery off the foyer, laughter and family banter still rang out loudly, grating on the nerves of a shell-shocked Jeisa. Victor Andrade had graciously offered to fly her home, but she’d called a limo service instead and retreated to a corner of the mansion to wait for her ride.

  She looked around the room and fought her inclination to run from the concern she saw on the faces of her friends. It had been a long day, one that had drained her of a desire to talk to anyone. I just want to go home . . . wherever that is.

  “Are you sure you don’t want to wait for Jeremy to return?” Lil asked, wringing her hands.

  Jeisa let her tired expression be her answer. A part of her would always be grateful to the women around her. They’d stayed with her even after she’d told them that she’d rather be alone. She remembered her mother doing the same when she’d been very young, and their persistence touched her heart. It’s easy to find a friend to laugh with. It’s harder to find one to cry with. Harder still to find one who knows you need them even as you try to push them away.

  Abby motioned to the door with one hand. “We can ride back with you, if you need the company. ”

  “No, I’m okay. ” The lie caught in her throat, revealing how very far she was from that state.

  Jeremy’s mother stepped forward, looking like she wanted to throw her arms around Jeisa and hug her to her chest. Thankfully, she didn’t. Jeisa wasn’t sure how much longer she’d be able to fight back the tears as it was. Therese said, “I feel awful about how today turned out for you. I know it won’t make you feel much better, but I don’t think Jeremy knew that you were waiting for him in the kitchen. ”

  Jeisa felt sorry for the woman who was torn between her love for her son and concern for the woman he’d hurt. She would have made a wonderful mother-in-law, Jeisa thought, and then wanted to kick herself for that unnecessary reminder of what she’d lost.

  Marie took one of Jeisa’s hands in hers. “He doesn’t love her. He loves you. ”

  A tear ran down Jeisa’s cheek. Her strong façade felt so brittle that she feared one wrong word would have her bawling in the arms of one of these women. And what would that do? Just give me another reason to be embarrassed today. No, it’s better to remain angry. “Then why did he leave with her?”

  “Jeremy may have an explanation,” Abby said tentatively.

  Jeisa wiped her cheek and straightened her shoulders. “I’m sorry. I know you’re all trying to help, but I really don’t care what his reasons were. I will never forget how it felt to stand there, waiting for him to come to me, and then watch him choose her. ”

  “Yeah, that was awful,” Lil agreed wholeheartedly.
  “Lil,” Marie cautioned.

  “Sorry,” Lil said. “I’m just acknowledging that I wouldn’t want to hear his excuses, either. ”

  “You’re not helping,” Abby said softly, giving Lil a look that would have silenced many but had never succeeded in curbing her sister’s tongue.

  “No, the one who didn’t help was Alethea,” Marie said with some disgust.

  “I don’t know why Al did that. It’s not like her,” Lil protested passionately.

  Abby’s normally sweet expression twisted a bit with a long-festering anger. “Don’t. Don’t defend her. That was classic Alethea. ”

  Lil threw her hands up in frustration. “That’s not true. I can’t defend her this time, but that doesn’t mean I love her less. She has been there for me every time I needed her, and that means more to me than one mistake. She was wrong today, but she’s not a bad person. ”

  “We may have to agree to disagree on that point,” Jeisa said quietly. On more than one occasion Lil had told her that Abby needed to let go of the past and forgive Alethea. Lil could be quite persuasive, and Jeisa had sided with Lil. Until today, when Alethea had proven to be exactly what Abby had accused her of being.

  Jeremy’s mother asked, “What do you want us to tell Jeremy when he gets back?”

  Jeisa took a deep breath. He made his choice. There is nothing to say. “Tell him that I need time to heal from today. I may feel differently in a week or a month, but for now—I don’t ever want to see him again. Tell him if he really is sorry, he should give me time. I need . . . ”

  In a voice that was suddenly authoritative instead of consoling, Marie said, “You need a change of scenery. I’ll call the Watts Institute of Technology. I have connections there. They were interested in hearing from you. You should head out there and see how you’d fit into their team. ” Her smile was gentle as she teased, “And leave the ice cream in Boston. ”

  Quickly blinking away a wave of fresh tears, Jeisa threw her arms around Marie, feeling a bit ridiculous as she did. She pulled back and said, “I know that I have nothing to complain about. My life is wonderful. You all have been so kind to me. I do need to be working on something like the water project so I can remember what is really important. There are people who are living in a state of suffering every day. By comparison, my problems are ridiculous. ”

  “California sounds like a good choice for you,” Abby said, “but give yourself permission to be sad about what happened today. You’re right, we’re incredibly fortunate and we should remember that every day of our lives, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t hurt. ” Abby gave Jeisa a warm hug. “You’re not alone. Nicole and Stephan spend half their time in California. Maddy has been trying to convince Richard to open a restaurant out there. All of us are only a phone call away. ”