The Bad Boy Billionaire
He’s got a reputation to protect and she belongs to someone else.
What happens when this wanna-be bad boy convinces a not-so-proper etiquette instructor to sign a contract of marriage that neither wants but both need?
Blake Norris is sick of being coined the Troublemaker of Seattle, the Menace of Manhattan, and the Ladies’ Man of New Orleans. He never did half the things he was reported doing… he just paid someone else to do them for him.
While his double is off causing problems, Blake completes business deals and grows his empire, taking advantage of the edge his reputation gives him in the business world.
But now one of those escapades has turned into a lawsuit and a grab to be his wife. Escaping to Getaway Bay, Blake runs into Juniper Johnson – or JJ as she haughtily informs him from her spot on his chest where she landed on him.
JJ is stuck being prim and uptight as an etiquette instructor for the private school in Getaway Bay when she’s anything but! She has tie-dyed underwear, for crying out loud! She’s also stuck with her boss’s son attempting to court her in the creepiest of ways. The man would not take no for an answer!
Escaping a suspiciously not-so-random encounter with the brash man, JJ rushes off and straight into Blake who she claims as her fiancé when she’s caught. He takes it further and announces their marriage to the world.
Will Blake and JJ be able to escape the bonds of fake matrimony or will they lose their hearts in the process?
The woman tittered when she recognized Blake. Her eyes grew wide and her over-glossy lips parted in surprise.
It didn’t stop there. She turned, her hair so gooped up with product it moved like a helmet on her head as she swiveled back to her friends. Pointing and whispering behind her fingers while not being discreet that she was talking about Blake, the woman laughed and continued to stare at him. Her friends acted like shadows and copied her. The giggling was enough to give anyone a massive headache.
Leaning across the front desk counter of the Sweet Breeze Hotel, Blake tapped the corner of the computer screen to get the receptionist’s attention. She lifted her gaze to his from her search and peered at him questioningly.
Blake shook his head, waving his hand. “Never mind. I’m meeting Fisher upstairs. I don’t want to be late. Thanks.” He left his request for an assistant unfulfilled as he turned and escaped the group of women still not-quite whispering and moving his way. The last thing he needed was another encounter with more women he had no interest in.
A bank of elevators framed by yellow and white hibiscus plants and pink orchids beckoned. He just had to make it to an elevator. He had a lunch meeting with Fisher DuPont and Jasper Rosequist, two residents of Getaway Bay and, hopefully, new partners in a new venture Blake had sent them proposals on. He’d used the meeting as an excuse to escape the east coast – to be honest, anything would do at that point.
If he could get upstairs and to the restaurant, he wouldn’t have to worry about running from his reputation.
Long strides carried him over the plush carpet and bamboo flooring and into the elevator foyer. Stepping onto the lift, Blake took a deep breath. He stared out the open doorway. Would those women try to follow him? Would they be so bold as to demand that he be what his reputation said he was? What he’d worked to be known as?
A hand reached out and stopped the doors from closing.
Blake’s stomach clenched. He didn’t want to deal with anymore. He just wanted to escape.
Instead of one of the groupie-like women stepping onto the lift, a well-put-together brunette stepped through the door. Blake let his pent-up breath out and took a minute to study the newcomer.
Her charcoal two-piece suit dress was cut to fit and flattered her trim waist and long legs. Pinned up off her neck, her hair caught the light as she turned, revealing glinting small diamond studs in the lobes of her ears – classy, feminine and understated. Even her makeup was muted and professional. She nodded politely his direction and held her hands at her side.
Blake couldn’t help glancing her way multiple times to see if she fidgeted – a major pet peeve of his – and she didn’t. She didn’t even seem to recognize him, which meant she wasn’t a heavy gossip or rag reader. Very appealing.
Drawn to her, Blake opened his mouth to introduce himself, but the melodic chime announcing their arrival cut him off. She half-glanced over her shoulder in his direction and stepped from the elevator. Blake had no choice but to follow since it looked like they were both going to the same destination – Sweet Endeavors. The popular high-scale restaurant seemed to be a jewel in Getaway Bay and a pride and joy of its owner Fisher DuPont.
She was already gone from view by the time Blake left elevator. He looked up and down the hallway, searching for any lurkers who might try to stop him. He was sick of being accosted by women and their need to find a rich bad boy. He was tired of being stared at because he’d supposedly gotten a woman pregnant and was running from his responsibilities.
The only problem was – Blake hadn’t been on a date in five years. Wow, that was embarrassing. He never ran from responsibility, either. Ever. In fact, he’d be safe to say that he chased responsibility at every chance he got.
He stood at the hostess station until a chipper blonde woman in the mango orange and sea breeze green uniform for the Sweet Breeze employees approached him.
“I’m here to see Fisher.” Blake flashed his famous smile and she didn’t hesitate to react as he wanted. He might not be the bad boy everyone thought he was, but that didn’t mean he was above using the reputation to get what he wanted.
Wasn’t that why he’d created the reputation in the first place?
“Right this way.” She walked ahead of him, leading the way to a private table a couple steps above the normal flooring and with a clear view of the occupants of the restaurant.
Two men flanked by a view of the ocean on both sides of the table opposite the interior smiled as Blake approached. Blake shook Fisher’s hand as well as Jasper’s when the men rose to extend the standard greeting.
Fisher motioned at the seat facing the occupants of the restaurant. “With your penchant for trouble, I thought you’d like to sit here with a view of the women.” He grinned as Blake shot him a sharp look.
Raising his hands, Fisher shook his head. “I’m only kidding, Blake. I know the whole story about what’s going on. If I didn’t, we wouldn’t be doing business together. It wouldn’t even be an option. Knowing that you have a double in place to throw off your competition just adds to my respect to the things you’ve done with your company. Jasper and I are both very intrigued with the idea you have for a sports team and the funding behind it. Getaway Bay has a lot of potential and we’d love to harness that during its growing stages.”
Assuaged that they weren’t serious about his reputation, Blake sat back and glanced at the crowd which seemed impervious to their viewers. Men and women in various degrees of formal dress graced his view. A soft hum of people chatting at their tables and the sound of metal on ceramic dishes smothered anything they decided to talk about at their own table.
Scanning the restaurant, Blake did a double-take at the vision smack in the middle of his line of sight. The woman from the elevator hadn’t seen him yet, but there she was. Blake studied her for a moment and then readjusted his focus back to Jasper and Fisher. “I’m glad you think so. And yes, my reputation has finally caught up to me, or so it seems. I’m apparently rowdier than I’d anticipated.” He didn’t want to get into the details around McDougal’s employment, but he’d caution Jasper and Fisher, if they pressed him to stay away from that line of subterfuge.
“What is going on with the whole thing? Can’t you just prove it wasn’t you with DNA?” Jasper played with the condensation on his glass of ice water. He considered Blake as if he were invested in the answer.
Sighing, Blake nodded, sipping his own water before answering. “I wish it was that simple. The problem is that if I expose my double, then I expose myself. A lot of my business dealings have happened because people thought I was out partying and womanizing and they are the misogynistic type of men who think that is the way it should be done. While I don’t care anymore, I don’t want to make things difficult for the companies we work with as well. It’s come down to a simple suffer because of association type of business.”
“Are they the same ones you bought their companies from and then reformed them?” Fisher laughed when Blake nodded. He pointed toward Jasper and inclined his head. “That’s karma. Weren’t we just talking about this, Jasper?” He turned back to Blake. “But you still employ a man who is a womanizer or makes you look like one. Doesn’t that irritate you?”
The question was a fair one, especially considering they were all interviewing each other on potential partnering. Blake tilted his head to the side. “Therein lies more frustration. The terms of the contract state he can’t actually be a womanizer. He can have women on his arm, he can dine with them, and all kinds of other things – in public. But once the evening is over, he’s to put them in the limousine and send them on their way. That is a precaution set in place for this exact reason. I’ve never wanted to answer for something I didn’t do in that regards.” Blake hadn’t wanted to talk about his problems, but he’d been prepared just in case. Hence, the long confession.
A server appeared at their table to take their orders. Blake asked for the special and then as the server moved to the side to take Fisher’s order, she moved enough Blake could see the woman again. She hadn’t seen him up there, hadn’t bothered relaxing enough in her seat to slouch forward or to rest her hand or wrist on the edge of the table. She held her posture stiff and unyielding. A stoic expression on her face gave away her boredom, but she seemed to hold any distaste or other negative feeling from her features.
Blake was entranced and couldn’t help thinking she was exactly what he needed. Maybe he could redirect the attention from what his double had caused and make more of a splash with a relationship – not a one-night stand. A relationship with possibilities was more along the lines of what he was looking for.
He’d have to keep his options open.
Fisher followed Blake’s gaze and glanced at the table where the woman and two others sat. “Ah, yes, Juniper Johnson. She’s a definite find. She teaches etiquette at Getaway Bay Charter. The woman with her is the headmistress and that’s her son.” Fisher laughed. “I don’t think even your alter ego’s reputation is good enough for that one.”
“An etiquette teacher? Wow, I didn’t realize they still taught that at school.” Blake turned toward Fisher, laughing as the man explained the Charter school.
An etiquette teacher was exactly what Blake needed to clean up his reputation. All he needed now was to get an introduction.
Samuel had dropped from boring to yawn-inducing. JJ didn’t know if she could sit through another meal with his mother telling him how to order, how to dress, and Heaven forbid, how to date and treat JJ.
“Juniper, wouldn’t you agree?” Dawn, Samuel’s mother and JJ’s boss, narrowed her silvery gaze at JJ as if she could make her agree with a simple glare. She brushed her platinum blonde hair behind her shoulder and waited for JJ to agree.
“Yes, I do.” Even though JJ had no idea what the woman had said, she knew she would still agree with her boss. A job at Getaway Bay Charter was a highly sought-after position and JJ was close to getting tenure – unfortunately, she had a feeling she was going to have to marry Samuel to nail down everything in her ambitions.
Since that was most likely the case, JJ had to figure out what she wanted and if it was worth what would be required to sacrifice.
JJ shifted on the seat, careful to keep her expression controlled and her suit jacket closed. She’d forgotten to do her laundry over the weekend and her white blouse was wadded up in the bottom of her laundry basket. If her jacket opened up more than it was already, everyone would see the bikini top she’d worn instead.
Dawn tapped the water glass softly with her fork and cast a condescending glance over Samuel and JJ. “Well, I would like to announce that Juniper is our first choice for department head and if you’re willing to take some specific measures, we’d like you to move into that position within the month.”
Department head came with tenure, a raise, and her own office. JJ hadn’t agreed to marriage with Samuel and she hadn’t scored any extra credit with Dawn since the last botched up recital at the school. What could the offer mean? Nothing from Dawn came without strings. Usually the chains were made of steel and JJ was permanently caught up in whatever Dawn wanted.
Sometimes, JJ would give anything to be free from the expectations and cloying expectations of the Pruitts and the Charter.
JJ nodded and sipped her sparkling water, hoping for the conditions to be laid out plainly this time. “What does that mean exactly?”
As if JJ hadn’t spoken, Dawn stood and gave her son a meaningful glance. “I’ll be at the office. You two take the rest of the day off.” She turned, her silvery blonde hair perfectly coifed as its all-natural appearing wave didn’t move with her strides as she walked away.
No explanations. No conditions. What was Dawn going to ask for later? JJ clenched her fingers tight into her palms, her well-kept long nails biting into the soft flesh. They’d come to Sweet Endeavors to make sure JJ knew they had money, something she didn’t care about, but something they insisted on flashing around whenever they had the chance. JJ stared at Dawn’s retreating back, her jaw tense with consternation.
Movement from her left pulled her direction to find Sam lowering himself to the ground beside her on one knee.
A few people gasped and pointed from around the room. It took every ounce of self-control from JJ not to roll her eyes. There it was. The condition that Dawn wanted. They had both been working on JJ for as long as she’d worked at Charter to marry Samuel. The ridiculous thing was, Dawn didn’t like JJ. None of it made sense.
“Juniper Johnson, will you marry me?” Samuel pulled from his jacket pocket a velvet box and opened the lid to expose a pear-shaped diamond in a brassy gold setting. The same ring he’d proposed to her the last handful of times.
When was he going to get the hint that it had nothing to do with the man or where the proposal was made – it had everything to do with the man himself?
The room seemed to hold its breath, as if everyone there loved the romance of a mid-day proposal in a cliché setting with a man who was handsome but had no spine. Come on, his mom had just left the table!
JJ wouldn’t be free of him by using subtle tactics. Subtle wasn’t working. Dawn wasn’t there to ensure JJ acted politely. No, Dawn wasn’t there. Samuel would just have to deal with the rejection on his own.
Pushing away from the table, JJ shook her head. She didn’t bother answering him verbally as she stiffly walked from the table. Whispers followed her, rising in volume as she passed by each table.
The hallway leading to the elevators didn’t give her protection as she sought escape. The din rose considerably like a wave. Poor Samuel. JJ didn’t care, but she’d left him behind as she fled.
Reaching the bank of elevators, JJ pressed on the buttons, her hands shaking. She was mad. But she was also frustrated and she couldn’t believe she was there – in that situation, again and again, over and over. She couldn’t escape him. What was it going to take?
She jabbed the button again, mumbling. “Hurry, come on.” Samuel would follow her. He always followed her. She wanted him to stop and she had to get out of there.
The door opened to the elevator on the right and JJ glanced down the hallway, grateful to find it empty so far.
As if conjured by the arrival of the elevator, the man JJ had ridden with before the embarrassing meal walked onto the lift before JJ reached it. He pressed the hold button as he watched JJ, questioning her with dark eyes that seemed to reach into her soul.
Accepting an unspoken challenge and invite, JJ stepped onto the lift, facing him, but unable to meet his gaze. If he’d been in the restaurant, he’d have seen the horribly embarrassing moment she’d just had to live through. Great. Just great. Even he would think she had to behave a certain way.
It didn’t matter. He wasn’t her type. With his well-fitted suit that showcased his trim waist and wide shoulders, he was dressed for a boardroom. The dark well-trimmed stubble on his jawline enhanced the dark brooding brown of his eyes. If JJ wasn’t trying to escape one serious man, she’d be interested in the light in his gaze and the angle of his jaw. But nope. She wasn’t interested in that type of man – not right now.
Escaping one man with unrealistic expectations and jumping into the arms of another wasn’t her idea of how she wanted to find happiness.
JJ smiled politely at the handsome stranger as he arched an eyebrow her way and waited for the doors to close.
“Juniper! Wait! Hold the doors.” Samuel’s voice carried down the hallway, reaching the elevator.
JJ’s gaze flew to the man who cocked his head to the side and leaned forward, holding the door with the button. If nothing else, he was about to get a good dose of a TMI show. Why did he have to hold the door? Why was she locked in a continual replay of what she didn’t want to happen in her life?
JJ sighed. Why did she decide to get out of bed that morning?
Blake’s slow grin unfolded like a warmth spreading through him. The woman pulled flustered off like she was barely affected.
“Juniper!” A man with what had to be microbladed eyebrows stepped into the doorway of the elevator, slapping his palm against the frame. “Quit dodging this. We’re perfect together.” He pressed a hand to either side of the doors and implored Juniper to turn around. “Juniper. Please. Marry me. You don’t have any logical reason not to be with me. For the rest of our lives.”
Juniper’s eyes widened and she mouthed ‘sorry’ at Blake. He moved to incline his head when she turned, stepping closer to Blake and wrapping her finely manicured fingers around his lower bicep. His muscle jumped in awareness and he decided to ride out whatever it was she was up to.
She smiled as she leaned into Blake’s side. “I’m sorry, Samuel. I’m spending the rest of my life with my fiancé. He just proposed last night. I was trying to tell you but you wouldn’t listen.” She squeezed Blake’s arm and he quickly understood she was talking about him.
Leaning forward and offering his other hand that wasn’t wrapped up with JJ, Blake introduced himself. “Samuel, I’m Blake Norris. Nice to meet you. I’m happy to say she did accept my hand and I couldn’t be more excited.” Blake returned to standing beside Juniper and couldn’t help winking down at her, then looking back at the poor man. “You have excellent taste, though.” Did he ever. She even smelled good with a mix of honey and cinnamon which gave off an exotic aroma to her poised appearance.
Samuel leaned his head to the side. Shock slackened his heavy lips and gave him a dull expression. “I don’t believe you. I haven’t heard anything about him. You wouldn’t be able to hide a relationship like that.” His gaze flicked between Juniper and Blake.
“It’s all been a whirlwind. I’m just so happy with Blake.” Juniper simpered at his side and Blake actually believed that she was excited. She was definitely a good actress. He couldn’t wait to ask about the ruse. Maybe they could do the same for him.
The man didn’t seem convinced and Blake had a feeling they were going to be found out which would be too bad, since he was sincerely enjoying the warm, attractive woman clutching his side.
As if Samuel were no longer there, Juniper turned and faced Blake, running her hand up his arm. She didn’t hesitate as she whispered, “I’m so glad you could make it.” Lacing her fingers through the hair at his nape, and without hesitation, Juniper pulled Blake’s head down and pressed her lips against his.
While the kiss was brief, it was no less cataclysmic as Blake couldn’t believe he’d gone from single and struggling to engaged and kissing exactly his type of woman. She was perfect and she kissed better than he could have dreamed.
Who had created this woman and placed her right in his path? He wasn’t looking a gift horse in the mouth, he just wanted to know who to thank.
She pulled back and glanced at Samuel. “I’m sorry. We need to get going.” She leaned over and pushed the L for the lobby. As if snapping from a daze, Samuel stepped backwards off the lift and the doors closed, blocking the view of his astonishment as the lift lowered.
Blake understood how the man felt. It was one thing to be introduced as a fiancé which of course he was fake, but to kiss him with so much pent up passion lent more to confusing the engagement issue than anything else could have.
He leaned forward and pressed the hold button, stopping the elevator on its descent. It was suddenly just the two of them suspended in the middle of the floors.
Juniper released his arm and paced to the side of the enclosed room, shaking her head. She lifted her hand and pressed at her temple. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to do that to you.”
Studying her, Blake took a deep breath. How did he tell her that’s exactly what he needed to happen?