Authors: Jackie Ashenden
Tags: #Romance, #Contemporary
The Billion Dollar Bachelor
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To my kids, who became excellent hunter gatherers during the writing of this book and who made no protest when I told them to go watch TV instead of asking me questions.
Many thanks go out to these lovely people who helped make this book happen: Maisey Yates, my awesome friend and CP, Helen Breitweiser, my amazing agent, and last but definitely not least, Dr. Jax, my husband, who is always there.
“Stay in the car.”
Pandora Garret didn’t even bother protesting. There wasn’t any point. Thing One—aka Jimmy, one of her bodyguards—was already getting out of the armored limo to investigate the crowd clustered outside her Manhattan apartment, and besides, even if she had protested, he never listened to her anyway.
Normally she’d also have Thing Two—Dan, her other bodyguard—with her. But tonight her father had some big deal going down and he’d needed Dan with him. Pandora hadn’t asked what kind of big deal it was. She never did. It paid not to know these things since most of what Nick Garret did—what his whole empire was based on, in fact—was illegal.
“Fire alarm,” Pandora said to no one in particular. Pretty obvious given the wail coming from the building and the people assembling around outside.
The limo’s chauffeur let out a sigh and bent his head, his attention on something he held in his hands. A phone probably.
Pandora leaned back against the soft leather of the seats, stretching her toes inside the hideous stilettos she wore. Her feet hurt after hours of standing around at the gallery opening her father had insisted she attend with him, ostensibly to show her some “culture.”
But it hadn’t been “culture” her father had been interested in.
As soon as she’d been introduced to one of Nick’s “colleagues” and the conversation had turned to “closer ties” and a more solid “business relationship,” she’d known: her father had finally decided to marry her off and this was her introduction to her new husband-to-be.
A small dart of panic slipped through her but she swallowed it down. Just as there was no point protesting the order to stay in the car, there was no point panicking about being married off to some stranger. She couldn’t do anything about it.
Nick Garret was one of New York’s biggest crime lords, ruling his patch of the city like a medieval king, and she was his princess daughter, the one he kept locked up in a tower. And if he wanted to marry her off to anyone whom he thought might increase his power base, then he would.
Lucky fucking her.
The crowd outside the window was growing restive. More sirens had joined the cry of the fire alarm: fire engines at last.
Thing One still hadn’t returned to the car.
And Pandora slowly became aware of something.
She was alone. Oh, there was the chauffeur, but he wasn’t paying attention, busy texting his girlfriend or whoever. Thing One was somewhere in the crowd. For once in her life she wasn’t being tailed. Or watched. Or “kept safe” as her father liked to term it.
Maybe you can do something about it after all …
It would be so easy to open the door of the limo and slip out into the night. Let the crowd and the confusion of the fire alarms hide her. Get lost in the streets. Escape.
Her mouth dried. She looked down at her hands curled in her lap, her fingers clutching the stupid little purse that went with the slinky red silk dress she wore. No wonder her father had made her wear it. Sergei, his Russian “colleague” and her likely fiancé, preferred red and she’d been beautifully displayed like a jewel in a setting. But it meant she had nothing with her, only a lipstick and a wallet with the credit card her father had given her when she was eighteen. Financial independence, he’d told her with a smile.
Another of her father’s excellent pieces of bullshit. Because how could it be financial independence when he controlled the money?
Pandora gripped the purse. Over the years there had been other opportunities like this one. Rare opportunities where she could have slipped away, finally getting out from under Nick Garret’s thumb. But she’d never taken them. Mainly because she had no money and nowhere to go. She didn’t have any friends except her online buddies and they didn’t even know who she was. And she couldn’t ask them for help. Even if she escaped her father’s tower, anyone helping her would be taken down.
Yeah, she’d pretty much come to terms with the fact that she’d probably never escape her father permanently, but that was before she’d been introduced to Sergei. A man twice her age, with eyes just as cold as her father’s. Just as hard.
If you don’t leave now, that’ll be your future. You’ll go from one cage to another …
Her heart began to race. It was her birthday tomorrow. She’d be twenty-five. Nick had a party planned and had told her he had a very special announcement to make. No prizes for guessing what that was. Her engagement no doubt. And once that was in place, there would definitely be no more opportunities like this one. Not ever again.
You have to try. You have to.
Pandora didn’t think, merely reached for the door handle. The chauffeur, too busy looking at his phone, didn’t turn as the door on the street side opened. As she slid over the soft leather and got out of the car.
Her heart in her mouth, skin crawling with the expectation of a hard hand on her arm at any moment, she crossed the road.
Her feet hurt and the tight dress prevented her from walking very fast, but she didn’t stop.
And she didn’t look back.
Jax Morrow leaned his elbow on the bar and raised a finger at the bartender. The guy didn’t ask questions, just grabbed the bottle of whiskey Jax had chosen an hour or two earlier and poured. Good man, Tony. Morrow Incorporated could use a guy who knew what he was doing and didn’t ask questions. Perhaps he should hire him.
Jax scowled at his whiskey tumbler. That was the problem. He wasn’t drunk enough.
All he wanted was a couple of hours of forgetfulness. Where he didn’t have to think about the fucking article that had splashed the Morrow family’s criminal past all through the media, causing the company’s stocks to fall and investors to make noises about pulling their money.
His first true test as CEO since taking up the reins after his father got too sick to manage. A test he was failing miserably since the resulting scandal was pretty much his fault to begin with.
He’d intended to quietly get rid of Morrow’s last tie to their past, a piece of abandoned docklands real estate that had housed the Morrow family’s old headquarters. But some damn journalist had found out about it, conducting an in-depth “investigation” into the land and its “notorious” history. The fallout being the Morrow family’s name and criminal past once more in the headlines. A past his father and grandfather had spent blood, sweat, tears, and shitloads of money trying to put behind them.
Jax took a sip of his whiskey, staring moodily at nothing, the warmth of the alcohol doing its best to loosen his tight muscles.
He’d done his best to limit the damage, getting Donovan onto it as soon as possible. But his younger brother, who handled all of Morrow Incorporated’s PR, hadn’t been in the job long and had a reputation for not being able to keep it in his pants—his latest escapade, involving a socialite and a certain risqué YouTube video, hadn’t made Jax’s task any easier, either. Or increased investor confidence.
Christ, it was all going to hell in a handcart and for some reason his usual cool, logical approach wasn’t working as well as it should. Which meant he definitely needed a couple of hours off.
Time off? Jesus, you ARE drunk.
And about damn time.
At that point his phone went off.
Jax dug it out of his jacket pocket and glanced down at the screen. Donovan. What the hell was he doing ringing him again? Couldn’t a guy even get a couple of hours off?
Of course you can’t. You’re CEO. You can’t fuck off whenever you feel like it.
Growling, Jax hit the Accept button. “What now? Someone else uploaded their sex tape on YouTube?”
“You sound pissed. Is this a bad time?”
“Anytime you have something to tell me is always a bad time.”
“I can hear a jukebox playing. Please tell me you’re in a bar picking up hot chicks because if anyone could use getting laid, it’s you.”
“None of your fucking business.”
Donovan gave a theatrical sigh. “No need to get feisty. I only want what’s best for you.”
Not in the mood for his brother’s teasing, Jax said tersely, “Get to the point.”
“I have news about Sean.” Donovan hesitated. “Not good news.”
Jax gritted his teeth. As part of his damage-control plan, he’d been trying to track down his missing youngest brother, last seen riding with a motorcycle gang. Not a good look for the Morrow name at this point in time, not with their historic links to organized crime splashed all over the city’s papers. “What is it? Is he dead? In jail?”
“No. He left the gang six months ago and no one’s seen him since.”
“Shit.” This wasn’t exactly helpful. “Do we have any leads?”
“A few. They’re vague but I can follow them up.”
“Do it. I want him found and I want him home.”
“Loving the family spirit. Walmart got any of that lying around?”
Typical Donovan. He never took anything seriously.
“Just find him,” Jax snapped before cuting the call, and stuffing his phone back into his jacket.
Just like he’d brought Donovan back into the fold after his brother had gone off to start up his own PR company, Jax would get Sean back, too. Then, once they were all together again, they’d put the past back firmly where it belonged.
With his father, Patrick Morrow, in the hospital, the responsibility for both the company and the family fell to Jax. And he would do what needed to be done in order to keep control of both. He just had to keep a cool head and not let his emotions get in the way.
Sipping his whiskey, he let his gaze drift over the rest of the bar. He liked this place. It was unpretentious—which was just about impossible in his neck of the woods—and so was its clientele. He especially liked the fact that even though they must know who he was—being one of New York’s richest and most successful businessmen made anonymity next to impossible—they left him alone.
There was a stir near the doorway, a brief ripple of interest flickering through the people huddled nearby. Automatically he looked, curious to see what had caught their attention since apparently even he was old news.
It was a woman. She was tall and long-limbed, wearing an expensive red silk cocktail dress that molded to slight yet by no means uninteresting curves. Her black hair was coiled in a glossy, elegant chignon at the back of her head, exposing a long, elegant neck.
Jesus. He could imagine slipping his fingers around that neck. Taking her in a firm grip. Not enough to choke or hurt her, never that. But enough to feel the texture of her skin and her heartbeat underneath his fingers as he pushed her up against a wall. Had her hard and fast and …