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Hero in Disguise

Sharla Lovelace

  Hero in Disguise

  Billionaire Jake Jericho has it all, except for the one thing he wants—something real. Twice in his life he’s found that. Once as a delinquent teenager when he was sent to work on a ranch, then later in the arms of Harper Haley, the only girl he ever loved. One helped shape him. The other he had to leave behind.

  Harper learned the hard way that trusting Jake only leads to heartbreak, and twelve years later she’s structured her life with a singular focus—to keep running the coffee shop started by her late mother. But now a giant development firm run by Jake’s father wants to level the waterfront neighborhood she calls home, and her shop is on the chopping block.

  Forced to turn to Jake for help after all these years, Harper will have to risk everything to save the one dream she has left, and Jake will have to prove he can be the man he never was to save the only woman he’s ever loved.

  Beyond the Page Books

  are published by

  Beyond the Page Publishing

  This is a revised edition of a novella that first appeared as part of the Heartbreakers and Heroes boxed set in June 2016, copyright © 2016 by Sharla Lovelace.

  Material excerpted from A Charmed Little Lie copyright © 2017 by Sharla Lovelace.

  Cover design and illustration by Dar Albert, Wicked Smart Designs

  ISBN: 978-1-946069-13-9

  All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By payment of required fees, you have been granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this book. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, downloaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented without the express written permission of both the copyright holder and the publisher.

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.

  The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.


  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Author’s Note

  Excerpt from A Charmed Little Lie

  Booka by Sharla Lovelace

  About the Author

  To Troy, who inspires me when all the good words fall out of my head, and lives with way too many dinners from Sonic while I do this. Love you, baby.

  Chapter One

  Just get on the damn plane.

  Jake Jericho sat in the back of the limo, letting the dark absorb him as an Ozzy Osbourne song filled his head through his earbuds. If anything could have given him the gonads to go, it was that, but he found himself unable to get on. He stared at the idling jet steaming up the wet tarmac, safety lights blinking in the dark. The letters JE glowed from near the tail in the signature gold lettering. He wore his favorite worn-soft jeans and a faded black button-down shirt, and had chosen not to shave so he’d look a bit rougher around the edges, but the private jet stuck out like a dog’s dick. And why did he care? There was nothing embarrassing about success.

  Except that it wasn’t success. It was being born a Jericho. Normally Jake was okay with that, but today he felt like a fraud.

  The limo’s divider lowered, and Jake pulled his earbuds out.

  “Mr. Jericho? Is there a problem?” the driver asked.

  “No.” Jake busied himself with his phone like a kid caught not doing his homework. “I’m finishing a text.”

  “No problem, sir.”

  The partition moved back up, and Jake dropped his head along with his phone.

  Damn it.

  Why couldn’t he just get on the plane?

  Because he’d spent the entire day going down paths he hadn’t thought of in years.

  Suck it up, boy. Real men make the hard choices.

  Yeah. Like that one.

  A John Stone classic. He always managed to drop those little gems at the perfect time, like he’d crafted the situation in order to use them.

  John Stone. Probably the only man besides his grandfather who never took his shit. Not even the first day Jake had arrived in Montana, on a dusty bus at Saddle Creek Ranch. He hadn’t wanted to get off, pissed that his grandfather had sent him to the fucking middle of nowhere and that his father hadn’t intervened.

  Then John had strode onto that bus like God himself and asked him what his problem was.

  “I don’t belong here,” Jake had said, all the arrogance of his privileged seventeen years oozing out of his pores.

  “Really?” John pulled a piece of paper from his jeans pocket, unfolded it and squinted at whatever was on it, all the lines around his eyes deepening. “You Jake Jericho?”


  John looked up sharply. “That’ll be yes, sir, from now on. There’s your first lesson. Respect your elders.”

  It was the first time anyone besides his grandfather had backed Jake down, and it was a little unsettling. And intriguing.

  “Grand. Theft. Auto,” John read. “Plus damages.”

  “That was a trumped-up charge,” Jake said. “I didn’t steal it. It was the company limo.”

  “Your company?”

  “My dad’s,” Jake said.

  “Then you stole it,” John said, continuing. “Driving under the influence. Underage drinking. And robbing a liquor store?” He shook his head. “My God, boy, if you were anyone else, you’d be behind bars till you’re thirty. Be damn grateful you just have to sweat a little.”

  Jake scrubbed at his face. “Jesus.”

  “If you call on him, I’d better hear you praying, because we don’t take the Lord’s name in vain here.”

  “Any other rules?”

  John threw back his head and laughed. A hearty belly laugh. It was the first time a smile had cracked the rough exterior. And it was a little scary.

  “You have no idea,” he said.

  “I don’t suppose arranging some cash to come your way would turn this bus around and bring me back to the airport?” Jake asked.

  The smile left, and that was scarier.

  “Son, that’s the last time you’ll speak of money to me,” he said. “Your money is worthless here.” He took a step forward. “You think you’re a man, Jake? Because you may look like one, but a real man is made of more than years. He knows that character and integrity are never to be sacrificed. That respect has to be earned.” The last word was shoved through clenched teeth. “Are we clear?”

  That day changed Jake’s life. For a while. For a time after he returned home, even, but real life—Jericho life—made it hard to stay disciplined. He stayed away from that as much as he could, doing volunteer work at a soup kitchen in Brooklyn. Anything to stay grounded. He tried to prove to his skeptical father he’d changed. He tried to keep his grandfather proud. John and his grandfather rode the same fence in his mind. Real men, whose words had weight. But then the old man died, and his dad was more and more gone, and any moral compass Jake had gained slipped away.

hn Stone and Saddle Creek Ranch became a distant memory of another time. A time when things were simple and made freakishly perfect sense. In the absolute hidden and twisted recesses of his mind, Jake liked knowing he was so far removed from it. That way, he couldn’t disappoint John.

  Until now.

  John had had a stroke.

  Rayne McCoy, the only girl on the ranch back then, still lived there in Saddle Creek and had texted everyone she could find to let them know. He was in a coma. Prognosis uncertain.

  Jake should get on the damn plane waiting for him and see his mentor. Do the right thing. Make the hard choice. Whatever other damn rule he could pull out of the archives that made him a respectable man.

  But that was the problem.

  No amount of rule spouting made Jake that man. The one that could stand before John with a clear conscience, look him in the eye, and say he’d become who John taught him to be.

  Right now, he wasn’t too far removed from that stupid boy who didn’t want to get off the bus. The bus was just a limo now, and one he didn’t have to steal.

  Jake jabbed at a button on the door, blowing out an irritated breath as the partition lowered.

  “There’s been a change of plans.” He rubbed his eyes. “Let the pilot know we won’t be leaving tonight.”

  “No problem,” the driver said. “Is there another date you want to give him?”


  “Yes, but I don’t have it right now,” Jake said, hearing how unprofessional that sounded. The pilot would have jumped through hoops to file that last-minute flight plan, get the jet fueled and ready, cancel any personal plans—and then the rich guy in the limo changes his mind.

  If he were the pilot, he’d want to kick his ass.

  “Where to, sir?” the driver asked after a quick phone call to the pilot.

  As the word home formed on his lips, Jake shut it down. Home was a minimalistic penthouse apartment that he loved most of the time, but tonight suddenly it seemed—like more of the reason he couldn’t get on that plane.

  Jake glanced at his jeans, then to the back of his driver’s head. A man who had picked him up and carted him from place to place nearly every day for he didn’t even know how long.

  “What’s your name?” he asked.

  The driver’s eyes met his in the rearview mirror. “DeSalle, sir. Frankie DeSalle. Is there a problem?”

  “Where do you go when you want to get away, Frankie?” Jake asked. “To unwind.”

  He saw eyebrows raise. Unvoiced questions bounced all over that car. The partial face in the mirror broke into an uncertain grin.



  The smile held and the eyes got wider. “Sir?”

  “Jake,” he repeated. “Not sir. Not Mr. Jericho. That’s my father. That may sound like a bad cliché, but if you’ve ever met him you’d know what I’m talking about.”

  Frankie’s eyes had laughter in them, even if Jake couldn’t see the rest of his face. “I have met him on occasion.”

  “Then I rest my case.” Jake chuckled and looked away. “So you didn’t answer me.”

  “Sir?” Frankie grimaced and shook his head. “Sorry—habit.”

  “Where would you go right now?” Jake asked. “If you weren’t driving me around.”

  “Uh, I’d probably be at Sticks,” Frankie said.


  He looked at him funny for a second. “It’s a pool hall in Brooklyn my wife and I own,” Frankie said. “Or we did.” He looked back out the window. “Still, we’re there for a bit.”

  “Anywhere else you go?” Jake asked. “For fun?”

  Frankie laughed. “With two jobs night and day, going to bed is what I do for fun.”

  “Yeah, I suppose so.” Jake grinned, then leaned forward. “How about you take me to Sticks?”

  The expression he saw in the rearview mirror wasn’t the one he expected. He thought he’d see more amusement, but it wasn’t that. It was eyes narrowed in suspicion.

  “Why?” Frankie asked.

  “Why not? I like pool.”

  Frankie turned all the way around, and Jake realized he’d never really looked at him before. Not like a person. He was roughly the same age, and for some reason he’d always thought he was older. And he looked at Jake like he was a complete dick.

  “Sir, don’t take this the wrong way, but are you messing with me?”

  Sir again. What the hell? Jake frowned.

  “What? No.”

  “You seriously want me to take you to Sticks?” Frankie said.

  Okay, this was getting old. Maybe going home was better after all.


  “Because you’re a Jericho,” Frankie said, his tone different.

  “Damn, really?” Jake said, getting irritated.

  Frankie held up a hand. “I’m sorry.” He closed his eyes for a second. “No disrespect intended. Just—with the sale going down, we’re all a little touchy.”

  “What sale?”

  He met his gaze. “The sale,” Frankie said again. “Of the neighborhood. We Are New York?”

  That sounded familiar in a droning voice sort of way, but there was nothing to connect it to whatever the hell he was talking about. Jake shook his head.

  “Oh, man,” Frankie said, smirking. “You don’t know.”

  “Don’t know what?”

  Frankie turned back around. “Nah. I’ll show you.”

  • • •

  After crossing the bridge, and texting his assistant Marco that the trip was postponed, Jake put his phone down when the partition lowered.

  “Ever spent any time over here?” Frankie asked.

  Jake nodded. “When I was a teenager.” Old memories played like a reel in his head. “I—volunteered at a place not far from here for a while.”

  Jake’s mind rolled through the smells of grease, of the metal roof of the soup kitchen when it was hot, of food as it was cooking, of the rot of the garbage out back. And of the dark blue eyes and soft blonde hair that still showed up in his dreams when he managed to sleep.

  The place—and the girl—that he’d walked away from. Before things could get more real. He shook his head free of things he had no business revisiting. It didn’t serve a purpose.

  And this little trip to escape reality did?

  A series of turns brought them down through an older section, bricked buildings darkened in places. Vacant in places. Going out of Business signs flanked many of them, and Jake was struck with the sadness of eras gone by. It’s why he’d minored in architecture in college, even though he knew he’d never be able to use it. He loved old buildings. Old houses. Old neighborhoods. They spoke of generations past, and life that used to kick it there. He hated to see them go vacant and unused. Unloved. Because inevitably that led to someone tearing them down for modern crap or leaving holes. Old neighborhoods didn’t have to be leveled. They just needed attention.

  They passed cool old buildings with painted porcelain retro signs like the Steaming Mug, lit by an uplight. An old neon sign with two pool cues advertised Sticks, and the car slowed, passing it and turning down an alley. Once they were in a garage, Frankie shut it down and took off his tie, laying it over the console before turning around and giving Jake a once-over.

  “What?” Jake asked.

  “You’re casual, that’s good,” he said.

  Jake laughed. “You think I would have suggested this if I was in a suit?”

  “Well, there’s a little more to it,” Frankie said. “Come on.”

  He got out and opened Jake’s door before he could.

  “More to it?” Frankie was dressed in dark jeans and boots with his usual black button-down shirt, not his customary suit slacks. “Oh, well, look at you.”

  “Little secret,” Frankie said. “For the night jobs when I’m less likely to get out of the car or it’s so dark no one could tell, I dress comfortably so I can come back here and not catch shit walking t
hrough the door.”

  “Good plan. So what’s more to it?”

  They walked around to the front of the building, where a large poster was taped to the blackened window. In large Magic Marker it said, Closing Soon. 50 years was the charm.

  “Fifty years?” Jake asked.

  “Yeah, I bought it nine years ago from old man Donnelly before he died,” Frankie said. “He opened it in 1966 with one pool table. There’s a secret stairway down to the basement through a closet in the kitchen. I think it was a speakeasy during Prohibition.”

  “Damn, that’s cool,” Jake said. “So why are you closing? What big sale were you talking about?”

  Frankie looked at him again, that funny expression in his eyes like he wasn’t sure whether to believe him.

  “The Jericho Enterprises sale,” he said. “Your company bought these businesses out.”

  Jake blinked and looked him dead in the eye. We Are New York. Jesus Christ. What were the damn odds that he’d just put his own driver out of business? Hell, not him. Mr. Jericho.

  “Shit,” he muttered. “Why?”

  “To redo everything,” Frankie said. “Make it over in some other image.” He laid a hand on Jake’s shoulder. “You’re the new owner, evidently. Let me introduce you to your new pool hall, while it still is a pool hall.” Frankie’s hand turned on the knob. “But I wouldn’t mention being a Jericho,” he said, raising an eyebrow. “Just saying.”

  Chapter Two

  Harper Haley couldn’t feel her feet anymore, and her lower back screamed obscenities. The rush since she’d put up a Help Wanted sign yesterday at the Steaming Mug had been crazy. Ironic, even. As if the universe was hell-bent on breaking her.

  There was a lull in the morning’s chaos as the last person’s order was filled, all the tables were full, and Christian handed her a vanilla bran muffin and a blueberry crumble latte.

  “Oh, God,” Harper said on her first sip as she sank onto a nearby stool. “Now this is coffee.” She sniffed the muffin and curled a lip. “What is this?”