The Unexpected Husband: Chapter Two

How did you enjoy Chapter One of The Unexpected Husband?

Without further ado, here's Chapter Two. Happy reading!

The Unexpected Husband: Chapter Two

Tristan stared at Paige. She’d truly rattled his cage tonight. Curiously, though, his initial burst of anger at her news was gone. The exhaustion in her features was so palpable that she couldn’t possibility be faking it.

Not that he’d stopped suspecting she was in cahoots with her parents. He was merely observing that she was looking tired and down.

As for claiming he was the father of her baby, well, that was something so easily proven or refuted these days with accurate DNA testing that only a fool would try to lie about it. He’d still want that paternity test—he wouldn’t be so stupid as not to get one—but he was certain Paige was telling the truth about him having gotten her pregnant.

So he really was going to be a father. And he didn’t have a choice but to be ready. His sense of responsibility wouldn’t let him turn his back on Paige—no matter who she was—and the baby. His baby.

He was going to have a baby.

Damn it, it was as scary as hell, but he already knew he’d want to be a part of his child’s life and provide it with all he was capable of giving. He was an uncle to his older sister’s daughter as well as to his best friends’ babies. He loved those kids to bits and couldn’t imagine himself not embracing his very own flesh and blood.

He sighed, surprised at the excitement that started to grow within him.

He could well afford to have a child, and no doubt his family and friends would be happy to offer whatever help and assistance he’d need when it was his turn to look after it.

Yes, he’d be able to handle it.

But first things first. He had to straighten a few things out with Paige.

He smiled at her. “If the baby’s really mine, then I’m all in when it comes to helping you raise it. It’s not in me to turn my back on this kind of responsibility. I’m happy to work with you on this, if you’re willing to do the same. I know I can be a father to my child even though I’m in conflict with its grandparents. It will be messy but workable. The two of us just need to be in agreement. You and I don’t have to be at war with each other.”

Paige gaped at him hopefully, and the rumbling of her stomach had him springing up from his chair and calling the kitchen to check on their food.

“It should be here in five minutes,” he said.

“Thank you.”

He sat back down and regarded her. “What do you know about my dispute with your parents?”

Paige exhaled a drawn-out breath. “I didn’t know anything about it until Mum and Dad started to argue during dinner. My mum said that if they let the situation worsen, then you’d go ahead with your threat to sue them. It would then add to the cash flow woes that Shipton Enterprise was already suffering.”

Tristan sat up straighter. Shipton Enterprise was having financial troubles? Hm. That might explain Larry and Debbie’s actions of late.

“I asked them to fill me in on the issue,” Paige said, “but they refused to let me get involved in any way. So I told them the news I’d just found out myself at that point—that I’m pregnant and you’re the father. They were shocked and furious, to say the least. They convinced me it’d be a mistake to tell you about it since they were sure you’d just reject the baby.”

“You thought about not telling me?” he asked sharply.

“Yes. You were livid that morning in your hotel, when you found out I was a Shipton. So, yes, I believed my parents when they said you wouldn’t want this baby. In fact, you made me believe the same just a few moments ago.”

Tristan smiled cheerlessly. Okay, he couldn’t blame Paige for making that judgement.

“Anyway,” Paige said with a sigh, “I was all set in keeping this news from you until I overheard my dad on the phone the other day. He said it could destroy Shipton Enterprise if you won your planned court case.”

Tristan leaned back on his chair and crossed his arms against his chest. “So you’re here to ask me not to go ahead with it.”

“Not ask, beg,” Paige said quietly.

“And you’d planned to use the baby to get the outcome you want.”

Paige blushed. “Yes, in a way. Frankly, I’ve been feeling sick in the stomach all day thinking about it. If your dispute with my mum and dad escalates, I don’t want my baby to end up as a pawn, so I thought I’d try to ask you to reconsider now, for the sake of your unborn child. Would you want our baby to grow up and find out that its family members have tried to destroy each other?”

“It goes both ways, then,” he countered. “Your parents have to be as mindful of the baby when they continue to slander its father.”

Paige gazed at him questioningly. “Slander? I got the impression it’s you who refuse to negotiate.”

He cocked his head.

“Like I said,” Paige said, “my parents don’t want me getting involved, so they haven’t shared anything with me apart from the fact that there’s this big dispute going on between you and them, and that you’re close to suing them.”

“Do you really want to know?”

“Of course!”

Tristan pressed his lips together. Paige certainly seemed genuine. Maybe she really only wanted to help bring a peaceful resolution to his conflict with her folks now that she was pregnant with his baby—and nothing else.

In any case, it shouldn’t hurt to tell Paige his side of the story. At least she’d hear only the truth from him.

“I heard about your parents wanting to offload one of their clubs in Melbourne,” he said. “I wanted to bid for it before it officially went on the market, so I called them and they agreed to meet with me in your father’s office. I made an offer, which they didn’t accept, saying it wasn’t high enough. I asked if they had a problem with me buying one of their clubs because I know they were dismayed that TG has overtaken Shipton Enterprise in terms of revenue and profitability. They denied that and, to supposedly prove their goodwill, they had a contract drawn up naming me as the buyer, but showing the higher purchase price they were willing to accept. They’d even signed the document, duly witnessed by Preston Pawlish, your company’s in-house lawyer, before they handed it to me so I could think about it.”

Paige nodded, indicating her attention to and interest in his explanation.

He repressed a sigh. She really did appear guileless when she gaped at him with eyes rounded and mouth opened.

“I decided to accept your parents’ counter-offer three days later, and I called Larry to tell him my news. He said there was another interested party, and that whoever returned a signed contract first would get the club. As you probably know, my office is five blocks away from the Shipton office, so I told your dad I’d be hopping in my car to see him right there and then. He’d even said okay, that he’d see me soon. But when I got there fifteen minutes later, I was told your parents had been called to an urgent meeting. So I saw Preston instead. I whipped out my copy of the contract and signed it in front of him. He even witnessed my signature. We shook hands and Preston congratulated me. Three days after I signed, my lawyer told me I wasn’t successful with the purchase. Apparently, I was too late. The first thought that came to my mind was I must have been late by a matter of minutes—that your parents must have been in a meeting with the other buyer when I was with Preston. But my lawyer said I was late by a day. That’s simply not possible with the sequence of events. I’ve been demanding an explanation, but your parents are repeatedly stonewalling me.”

Paige stared at him, speechless.

“I still want that club, and from where I’m sitting, it should be mine. I don’t understand what your parents’ problem is—apart from they don’t want TG to get further ahead of Shipton Enterprise. But even that doesn’t make sense. Why didn’t they refuse to negotiate with me from the very beginning? And now they’re badmouthing me to people, saying I’m a liar who doesn’t want to play fair when they’re the ones who constantly refuse to explain to me what happened. So in the absence of any other explanation, I suspect they meant to harm my reputation all along, possibly because they can’t afford for my company to keep on growing at the expense of Shipton Enterprise.”

Paige shook her head in disbelief. “I’m sure that’s not the case, Tristan.”

“Well, your parents don’t seem to have any desire to clarify the situation. But that’s not what infuriates me the most. Business partners I respect have been hearing their insinuations against me. I just can’t sit here and not protect my own reputation. So if there’s anyone you should be talking to so this dispute doesn’t go to the courts, it’s your parents.”

Paige rubbed her face. “I can see why you’re so angry. Like I said, I don’t know what their side of the story is because they don’t want me sticking my nose in this. But I’ll talk to them. This is ridiculous!”

Relief—glee, even—washed over Tristan, and he inhaled sharply at the strength of it.

Paige seemed to believe him. And, curiously, it meant a hell of lot.

He gave her a smile as tension left his body.

Paige’s stomach growled again. “Shh,” she said to her belly in embarrassment.

Tristan chuckled, wanting to touch her stomach and rub it himself. Even though he’d wondered at the time if the broken condom would give him problems later, he’d chosen to believe Paige when she’d said it wouldn’t result in a pregnancy. Well, they’d been very wrong, and a little person was now growing in Paige’s tummy. His child.

He was starting not to mind. He really wanted it.

And… wow… the realisation was mind-blowing.

A knock on the door startled him, and he went to answer it.

Jade Renner-Bilton, one of his close friends, poked her pretty head inside, with the sound of a crying toddler coming out of the phone in her hand. “Oh, sorry, guys. I was looking for an empty room to talk to Julian and was hoping this was one.”

“Are the others being used?” Tristan asked.

“Yes. Some people are having impromptu business meetings, and some are enjoying much-needed privacy,” Jade said with a laugh.

Tristan snorted, wondering who among his guests were having sex right now. Sexual activities in the main areas of his clubs were expressly forbidden in order for TG to maintain its clean, fun image, and anyone engaging in them would be banned for life. But private rooms were never monitored, and he’d always given his friends leeway during private parties such as this.

“Come on in, Jade. We’re having a meeting, but our food’s coming shortly, so we don’t mind taking a break.”

“Are you sure?” Jade asked with a curious look towards Paige.

“Yes, no problem,” Paige answered.

Tristan introduced the two women to each other.

“Thanks, guys,” Jade said. “I won’t be long. It’s just a bit noisy out there and I need to see if I can settle Julian a little bit. He doesn’t want to go to sleep. He’s looking for me and Lucas.”

“No worries,” Tristan said, going back to his seat.

Jade held the phone in front of her face to talk to her seventeen-month-old son via FaceTime. “It’s time for bed, bubba. Grandma and Granddad will read you a bedtime story.”

“Mammaaaaa!” Julian whined.

“I think I got him overexcited with too much playing,” Jade’s father’s voice said with a sigh.

“No,” Jade’s mother countered. “It was the chocolate you gave him behind my back.”

“Dad!” Jade chastised.

“That was a while ago now,” Jade’s father said defensively. “And it was only a little square.”

Jade shook her head good-naturedly. “Julian, honey, sleep now. It’s way past your bedtime.”

Julian said something unintelligible.

“No, bed,” Jade said softly but firmly, seemingly understanding what her toddler had uttered.

Julian let out another garbled sentence, as if reasoning with his mother. They all laughed, which made Julian cry again.

“Can I talk to him?” Tristan asked.

“Sure.” Jade sat down on the chair next to his. “Uncle Tristan wants to talk to you, bubba.”

“Hey, buddy. Why are you crying?” Tristan asked the adorable kid.

Julian’s cries instantly ceased and a big smile appeared on his face. “Kel Tan! Ball!”

Jade laughed. “Oh, no. Now he thinks you’re gonna play with him. He absolutely loves the ball you gave him a couple of weeks ago. It’s his favourite toy at the moment.”

Tristan grinned proudly.

“Kel Tan! Ball!” Julian repeated, pointing to something out of sight.

“Oh!” Paige said, chuckling. “Kel Tan means Uncle Tristan.”

“Yes, I’m his favourite playmate. Right, Julian? How about we play sleeping bunny?”

“Play!” Julian said excitedly.

“Yeah. Sleeping bunny. It goes like this.” Tristan placed his head on Jade’s shoulder and pretended to sleep, snoring loudly.

Laughter bubbled out of Julian.

“Come on. Do it with me,” he said to the toddler, snoring again.

“Kel Tan. Want ball.”

“No. Sleep.” Tristan made louder snoring noises, squinting his eyes.

“Want ball!” Julian said, followed by an intelligent-sounding sentence that nobody could understand.

The adults chuckled again, with Paige’s soft laughter sounding particularly thrilling to Tristan’s ears. He glanced at her, and his breath hitched with the meeting of their gazes. He found that he liked her looking like this—happy, relaxed and worry-free, just like she’d been when they’d first met, before the reality of who her parents were had whacked him in the face.

A short knock broke his train of thought, and a server came in with their food.

“I better go and let you guys eat,” Jade said. “This little one doesn’t look like he’s sleeping any time soon, anyway.”

Tristan leaned back towards Jade to show himself again on the video screen. “Hey, Julian. Next time I see you, I’ll bring you another toy, okay?”

“Toy?” Julian asked happily.

“Next time. I promise. But for now you have to go to sleep. Okay?”

Julian stared at him.

“Show me how you sleep.”

Julian squeezed his eyes shut for two seconds.

“That’s right. It’s sleep time now, okay? Goodnight, buddy!” He sent a flying kiss towards the screen.

Julian promptly returned it, then shut his eyes again for a couple of seconds.

See? He’d be a great dad.

Jade stood up, chuckling. “Thank you, Uncle Tristan. I’ll leave you guys alone now. Thanks for letting me interrupt. And it was great meeting you, Paige.”

“Same here, Jade,” Paige said with a smile. “Bye.”

“Bye!” they heard Julian say as Jade walked out the room and closed the door behind her.

Tristan looked at Paige and their gazes locked. They smiled at each other and a wordless connection seemed to zip between them. They’d be great parents.

He broke the contact and turned his attention to the food. Much as he found himself softening on Paige, he still couldn’t afford to fully let his guard down.

Paige’s belief in her parents didn’t make Larry and Debbie innocent of malicious intent. What concerned him even more was the fact that Paige’s parents hadn’t wanted Paige telling him about the baby. If the roles were reversed, he’d want the bastard who’d gotten his daughter pregnant to stand up to his responsibilities.

But the Shiptons preferred to deny their grandchild a relationship with its father, over what? A contract dispute? It simply didn’t make sense. That was why he believed something more had to be at play here. And his gut told him it could be sinister.

As for Paige, well, he could feel her sincerity. But whether he was simply being swayed by his strong attraction to her, he wasn’t sure.

He shook his head mentally. Paige could be easily influenced by her parents. Her allegiance towards them could be unshakeable.

And if he wasn’t careful, he might be letting himself be lured into a trap.

***End of Chapter Two***

Not long to go before Tristan and Paige's story releases! Mark your calendars. June 13th is the date. I'll be back then to give you the links to all the stores.

In the meantime, you can pre-order The Unexpected Husband from the following sites.

Amazon.com |  Other Amazon StoresApple iBooks | Barnes and Noble | Kobo

Thank you and take care!

Love,
Miranda xo

The Unexpected Husband: Chapter One

One week to go before The Unexpected Husband releases! Really can't wait for you to read Tristan and Paige's story. I so love those two together.

Today is the time to share Chapter One with you. So here it is. Enjoy!

The Unexpected Husband: Chapter One

Tristan Grant forced himself to take in air, filling his lungs to capacity. But his breath was in a hurry to leave him, rushing out in a big audible whoosh through his mouth. He tried to shake off his shock by peeling his gaze from the woman in front of him and glancing around.

Streams of people strutted here, there and everywhere, and it occurred to him that the bustle of a busy Saturday night in Sydney’s entertainment district matched the scrambled thoughts in his head.

“You’ll probably want a paternity test,” Paige Shipton said. “Of course I’d be happy to get one done, but I can also assure you that you’re undoubtedly the father because I haven’t been with anyone else since our night together.”

He blinked, his gaze returning to the beautiful long-haired brunette with the most incredible amber eyes. She’d just dropped a bomb on him, and his mind was still struggling to grasp the situation.

Could Paige be telling the truth about being pregnant with his baby? Or was it a lie—a ploy to soften him up and get him to drop his planned court case against her parents?

Hah, it had to be the latter. He wouldn’t put it past the devious Larry and Debbie Shipton to create a ruse such as this. Paige’s parents were desperate enough to concoct anything that would restore Shipton Enterprise’s status as the number one provider of entertainment venues in Australia—a position Tristan’s TG Company now held.

Tristan had always played fair, but Paige’s parents didn’t know the meaning of the word. Now their twenty-eight-year-old daughter was here with shocking news, gazing at him with her captivating eyes.

His lips twisted mirthlessly. “Was this your plan all along? For me to get you pregnant when I was blissfully unaware that you were the daughter of the two people determined to make my life hell?”

Paige gasped indignantly, her hands going to her hips. “How dare you say that?”

“Wasn’t that why you went to my club in Brisbane three nights in succession?” he pressed, remembered anger pushing him on. “Come to think of it, it couldn’t have been a coincidence that you happened to visit when I was there.”

“I even admitted that I was there to compare your club to the Shipton one on the same street!”

“You said that flirtatiously while we were dirty-dancing, so I thought you were just another patron flirting with me. You didn’t tell me your surname was Shipton.”

“I honestly thought you knew who I was, Tristan,” Paige said, glaring at him with a hurt look. “We were both at the Safety in Nightclubs conference two days before I saw you at your club. I also gave a talk there as a last-minute stand-in for my dad, who was sick. How was I to know you’d left the event by the time I was up on stage?”

“You could’ve mentioned seeing me at Safety in Nightclubs when you introduced yourself to me, but you didn’t,” he said stubbornly.

“May I remind you that I was minding my own business when you approached me?” Paige challenged.

Tristan raked his hair, huffing. Yes, it had been him who’d introduced himself to Paige. She’d been dancing with a couple of girlfriends and she’d simply caught his eye. But he wouldn’t have noticed her if she hadn’t planted herself right in front of his table and moved so sultrily to the music. “You made eye contact with me a few times, ensuring I noticed you,” he said in an accusatory tone.

“I admitted I was attracted to you. That was why I was staring! Argh! How I wish I’d known what a heartless, suspicious person you are before I let myself get seduced by you.”

He ignored Paige’s apparent frustration. He wasn’t going to let her fool him again. “You came back for three straight nights, flirting with me each night, and never telling me you were a Shipton. Even when I invited you to my hotel room on the third night, you still didn’t tell me who you were. Isn’t it strange for the daughter of my toughest competitors to agree to sleep with me just like that?” he said sarcastically.

“Oh my God,” Paige said, putting both hands on her head. “Tristan, you kept inviting me back! I thought we were getting along really well. For the umpteenth time, I thought you knew who I was! I didn’t care that you were our competitor. I thought we were both adults who were attracted to each other and capable of separating our personal life from our professional life. I was happy not to talk about work so we could get to know each other on a personal level, and I thought it was the same for you!”

Tristan narrowed his eyes, hardening his heart that was starting to melt from Paige’s excellent acting. “If I’d known who you really were, I wouldn’t have taken you to my hotel room.”

Paige shot him dagger looks, arms crossing against her chest. “Are you also gonna blame me for one of the condoms breaking? What did you think I did? Pickpocketed your stash from you, compromised their quality so they’d be sure to break, rewrapped them so perfectly that they didn’t look tampered with, then put them back in your pocket—all without you knowing? And did I also make sure we had sex three times to increase the chances of me getting pregnant with faulty condoms?”

Tristan’s nose flared. He didn’t have a rebuttal for that. He had supplied all the condoms, one of which had failed to do its job.

Suddenly, the wind was knocked out of him again. If Paige was indeed telling the truth, then… he really was going to be a father. Sure, he’d thought about becoming one eventually, but not until sometime in the far-distant future.

He was only thirty-two, with no time for anything other than his demanding business, which was growing at a phenomenal rate. He most definitely didn’t envisage having a child with the daughter of the two people he was at war with—even though Paige was still the most attractive woman he’d ever met. Had it not been for the unalterable fact that she was Larry and Debbie Shipton’s daughter, he wouldn’t have minded continuing to go out with her.

Hell, even when he was this angry, he was still drawn to her. How fucking annoying!

But he couldn’t afford to trust her, so he better rein himself in and stop gawking at that beautiful face of hers. He looked away and cursed mentally, furious at this magnetism he couldn’t seem control.

“You said the timing was on our side, that you couldn’t possibly get pregnant at that time,” he said.

“Clearly I was wrong, and I’m sorry about that. But for the record,” Paige said icily, “I would never get knocked up for the sake of Shipton Enterprise or my parents. How dare you even suggest that?”

“But I bet they’re now happy they have something else they can use against me, huh? If you’re really pregnant, that is,” he said sarcastically.

“I am pregnant with your baby,” Paige said through gritted teeth, then she shivered visibly.

Tristan frowned. It was early spring in Australia, but tonight’s temperature was below average, and Paige was only wearing a light jacket. Shouldn’t a woman in her condition be taking precautions not to catch a cold? “Have you been out here long?” he asked.

“I arrived more than four hours ago.”

“You’ve been standing out here for four hours?”

“No. I’ve been going there to rest every once in a while.” She pointed her chin towards the fast-food burger joint across the road. “Tonight’s my chance to talk to you in person, and I didn’t want to lose the opportunity. I don’t have your direct number, and your office wouldn’t put me through to you. Even tonight, your doormen have constantly refused to even let you know I was here. Good thing that your friends Geri and Simon were helpful enough to call you for me. I was starting to think I’d have to leave without seeing you.”

Tristan sighed, hesitating, then gestured for Paige to go towards the entrance of his newest Sydney nightclub, where an invitation-only pre-opening party was happening. He was pleased security remained tight, because it had to. With A-listers and VIPs as guests, he didn’t want uninvited people crashing the event to hassle his popular friends. But some semblance of guilt was scratching at his chest at the thought that Paige had been waiting outside for hours.

Enthusiastic clapping and hooting were going on in the establishment as they walked in, with everybody facing the dance floor. Tristan spotted his cousin, Marilyn Grant, holding the mic and commanding attention. Joining her was their friend Derek McCarthy.

Tristan groaned mentally, guessing what the “show” was all about. He’d better escort Paige to one of the private rooms before Marilyn spotted him and dragged him into the spotlight with Derek.

“So congratulations to Lexie Donnelly, who bet on Simon,” Marilyn said to more applause. “You’ve won a few times already, Lex, but I’m sure your selected charity will again appreciate receiving the generous bets of the losers of our latest Captured by Love game.”

“They certainly will,” Lexie said. “Thanks to all the participants, to Simon for proposing to Geri, and to Geri for saying yes. And thank you, Marilyn, for not betting on Simon for this round, making me the sole winner. You usually put your money on him.”

“I know!” Marilyn said. “I was just so tired of losing. I can’t believe that when I stopped picking him to be the next bachelor to renounce the single life, he decided to fall in love and get engaged.”

“Who did you bet on, Marilyn?” someone in the crowd asked.

“My dear cousin Tristan,” Marilyn said with a sigh. “And since there’s only him and Derek left as bachelors in the original group, we need more contestants we can bet on for the next Captured by Love round. I know there are plenty of unattached guys in attendance tonight so, people, drag ’em up here so we can parade them!”

Laughing groans came from several male voices as a mini-commotion occurred, with guests cajoling and pushing their single friends towards the centre of the dance floor.

Tristan placed his hand on the small of Paige’s back, silently encouraging her to walk faster towards the corridor he pointed to.

“Hey, Tristan! You have to take your place here!” Marilyn called out.

Argh. Tristan glanced at Marilyn, ready to yell out an excuse. But he didn’t have to. Simon Alexander was whispering in Marilyn’s ear, and Tristan knew his friend had come to his rescue. They continued walking and, finally, he and Paige rounded the corner, where they could no longer be seen.

“Captured by love?” Paige asked, raising an eyebrow.

“With the current circumstances as they are, I bet I’m about to be captured for something else,” he said dryly.

Paige stopped to look at him. “It’s clear from your reaction tonight that you won’t want to be involved with the baby.”

He stayed silent. It wasn’t that he didn’t want the baby, it was just that he was still in shock—and strongly suspected he was being set up by the Shiptons.

Paige blinked repeatedly, seeming to ward off tears. “There’s nothing for you to worry about. I’m happy to raise it alone.”

Tristan frowned. “Let’s talk inside one of the rooms.”

So Paige was giving him an out? Was this part of the trick?

Admittedly, Paige didn’t have the countenance of a woman who was trying to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes. She looked too exhausted and dejected for that. Quite frankly, though, he didn’t trust his judgement when it came to her.

But if Paige was truly being genuine… what if he took her up on her offer? Then his world wouldn’t have to go through an unexpected upheaval from something he wasn’t at all ready for, right? Not that he’d withhold financial support if the baby really was his, but he could leave it to Paige to raise the child.

A strong emotion roared within him, in total opposition to his thoughts.

* * *

Paige followed Tristan along a wide corridor, sadness squeezing her heart. She surreptitiously placed a hand on her stomach. Don’t worry, darling. I already love you with all my heart, and I’ll look after you with everything I have.

She’d already expected Tristan to reject the baby, but being confronted with the truth had still been like a slap in the face. It stung big time.

But it was a relief, in a way. Her parents were so against her telling Tristan about the baby that she’d originally agreed with them. She’d rather raise her child alone than have the constant stress and heartache of dealing with the man who wouldn’t even have touched her with the tip of his finger, much less have had sex with her, had he known who her parents were.

Since the baby didn’t mean anything to Tristan, was there even a point to using her pregnancy to negotiate with him regarding his dispute with her parents?

She should switch to plan B. Unfortunately, that wasn’t really a plan but a plea. Would he even listen? Should she even continue with this conversation?

Well, she had to try, now that she here. The future of Shipton Enterprise depended on her appealing to Tristan’s sense of fairness—if he had any at all.

Tristan opened the door at the end of the hallway and motioned for her to go in first.

Her jaw dropped. This was the first time she’d been in one of TG’s private rooms, and it was more impressive than any of the Shipton ones. The elegantly decorated space had an eight-seater dining table on one side and a leather lounge set on the other. There was a bar area and even a recliner couch in one corner. A huge TV hung on a wall.

Paige heard the glamorous woman called Marilyn rattle off the good traits of a bachelor named Derek before Tristan closed the door behind him, shutting out the noise. Clearly, the decor in this room wasn’t the only thing that was exceptional. The soundproofing was too.

“So you think I won’t want to get involved with the baby,” Tristan said as he made a beeline for the bar fridge and took out a tall bottle of water.

She smiled mirthlessly. “It’s clear you don’t.”

“I expressed doubts about your pregnancy, Paige. But if that’s really my child, then you’re not keeping it away from me.”

Paige’s breath hitched at the certainty in Tristan’s tone. She stared at him, trying to read his real meaning. His green eyes sparkled with determination even as he raked his fingers through his light brown hair.

Gosh, why did he have to be as handsome as she remembered?

And how could she feel attracted to this man again, especially at a time like this?

She shut her eyes to steady herself. When she opened them, Tristan was pacing the room, clearly agitated.

“I know this is a shock for you, Tristan. I actually don’t mind raising the baby alone. So I mean it when I say you don’t have to worry. I’m not even going to ask you for any child support.”

Tristan whirled around to face her. “You turn up here out of the blue to tell me you’re pregnant with my child, then you want me to wash my hands of it? Why the hell did you come in the first place? Why tell me at all if you don’t want me to have anything to do with it?”

Heat rushed to her face. “You don’t want the baby, so I’m not going to force it on you. I don’t want to complicate things any further than necessary.”

Tristan narrowed his eyes. “I don’t believe you,” he said with deadly quiet.

She frowned at him. “What do you mean?”

“Are you really pregnant?”

“Yes!” She placed both hands on her tummy protectively.

“Is it really mine?”

“Yes!”

“Then what plans have your parents concocted?” Tristan asked, his countenance immovable. “They do plan to use your pregnancy against me, don’t they?”

Paige exhaled in a gush, suddenly weary. “Mind if we sit?” She walked to the nearest dining chair, just as her stomach rumbled with embarrassing loudness.

“Haven’t you eaten?” Tristan asked, his brows furrowed.

Ahh, food. Yes, that was what she needed. She’d hardly had anything all day from her stress and worry about this meeting with Tristan. “I only had snacks. I can order a meal from here, right?”

“What would you like?”

“A spaghetti bolognese?” She’d thoroughly enjoyed the same dish at the Brisbane location of TG, where they’d first met. “And a banana smoothie.”

Tristan walked to a small corner table and picked up the phone sitting there. She listened while he asked someone to bring what she’d just requested, along with some cakes and fresh fruit.

Now she was salivating! She rubbed her tummy. Mummy’s eating soon, darling.

Tristan placed their water on the table and took the seat opposite her. “Back to our topic…”

She held Tristan’s gaze. “You’ve made it clear you’d never have slept with me in the first place had you known I’m a Shipton. That’s such a blatant rejection of who I am, so I’m saying you don’t have to deal with the consequences of the condom breaking. I don’t need the aggravation.”

“My issue with you and your parents doesn’t mean I don’t want the baby,” Tristan said, his tone suddenly softer.

She raised her eyebrows in surprise.

“Look, you took me by surprise. Hell, you shocked me, so I’m sorry if I was nasty. I’m still processing this whole thing. But if that’s my baby, then I’m more than happy to give you whatever support you need. Just level with me, please?”

What? Was he messing with her mind?

“Paige,” Tristan said, voice still gentle. “Just because I’m at war with the baby’s grandparents doesn’t mean I’m going to turn my back on it. And, forgetting about how we met in Brisbane, my conflict is against your parents only. So I’m sure the two of us can work together regarding the baby.”

Paige stared at Tristan. He wanted the baby she was carrying? She blinked away tears that suddenly pooled in her eyes. Damn it, she was touched more than she cared to admit.

And with Tristan’s unexpected declaration, should she revert to plan A?

***End of Chapter One***

You can now pre-order The Unexpected Husband from the following stores:

Amazon.com |  Other Amazon StoresApple iBooks | Barnes and Noble | Kobo

Links to Google Play and other stores will be available on release day.

That's all for today. Chapter Two will follow tomorrow.

Till then, enjoy your day/night.

Love,
Miranda xoxo

 

The Unmasked CEO: Chapter Two

Hope you enjoyed Chapter One of The Unmasked CEO from yesterday. Ready for the next one? Here it is!

Chapter Two

“Hi, Simon. What are you doing here? I thought you’d started your one-month leave.”

Simon smiled at Nadia, the flight attendant at Ingrid Lawrence’s flight. Thank God Ingrid didn’t want him wearing a chauffeur’s uniform or he’d have a hard time explaining. “I just forgot something in my office. I’m not hanging around.”

“So are you going anywhere special? I was surprised to hear you’ll be away for a month. I don’t remember you taking any time off before.”

“Well, I realised that too,” he said with a chuckle. “So I decided I deserve a bit of a long break. I’ll be travelling around, visiting friends and family that I haven’t seen for ages and generally just chilling out. How was the flight?”

“Smooth and uneventful. And Rolf is just so cute,” Nadia said, seemingly swooning.

“Rolf?”

“Mrs. Lawrence’s dog. So adorable and well behaved. Makes me want to get myself a puppy.”

He laughed. “Right. Anyway, I gotta run.”

“Sure. Enjoy your break. I’ll see you when you get back.”

“Thanks.”

He hurried away and went to an empty meeting room at the top of the corridor leading to the executive lounge, where Mrs. Lawrence and Geri were enjoying some welcome-to-Sydney refreshments. He’d have to hide until Elle confirmed it was safe to come out. Good thing that Elle was not only the best account manager he’d ever had, but she was also a trustworthy relative. He was comfortable sharing his secret plans with his younger cousin.

But Elle took customer satisfaction seriously. She’d given him a hard time about his lack of experience working as a chauffeur and bodyguard. He’d had to convince her that he’d do a stellar job, having been driven around by many chauffeurs himself and knowing what was expected from the dual role.

His phone finally buzzed with a text from Elle, informing him that their clients should be ready to go in five minutes. Good. They’d have to leave before the next charter flight arrived. He didn’t want to be seen by any more of his employees.

He checked a few emails from his phone for a couple of minutes, then exited the meeting room, looking around cautiously for any sign of his staff. All he saw was a brunette with long silky hair wearing a beige knit dress and ballerina flats. She was checking out the series of photos hanging on the wall outside the executive lounge, engrossed in the pictures of different cloud formations taken from the air.

This had to be Geri Blaine. He was surprised that she looked to be in her mid-twenties. He’d pictured her as a forty-something woman from the no-nonsense, efficient way she’d sounded on the phone. He also hadn’t expected her to be this… attractive.

Simon approached her.

His footsteps made Geri turn to him with a ready, polite smile. Then her eyes—a beautiful pale blue—widened a fraction, her mouth slackening.

Aha! She was attracted to him too.

His smile widened. Geri, if this was indeed she, wore very little make-up and just a touch of lip gloss. That only highlighted the fact that she was naturally very pretty.

“Hello,” Geri said a little breathlessly, her face flushing.

He opened his mouth to respond when Elle poked her head from out of the executive room. “Simon! There you are.”

“Hi, Elle,” he said, only glancing at his cousin for a second before bringing his attention back to Geri. He was pleased to see Geri’s eyelashes batting in recognition of his name.

“How was the drive here?” Elle asked in a louder-than-usual tone.

Simon dragged his gaze back to Elle, who narrowed her eyes as she gave him an almost imperceptible shake of the head. He suppressed a sigh. Elle didn’t want him sweet-talking Geri at all.

“Geri, this is Simon James, your chauffeur for the month. Simon, this is Geri Blaine, Mrs. Lawrence’s personal assistant,” Elle said.

Simon offered his hand. “Glad to have finally met you in person, Geri. Thanks again for hiring me.”

“You’re welcome, Simon,” Geri replied, taking on a businesslike tone. “Like I said on the phone, I was impressed with your references. Some well-respected business people obviously think very highly of you.”

“Thank you,” Simon said, tempted to keep on holding Geri’s hand, but reluctantly letting it go. It was slightly clammy. That would have been from her reaction to him, right?

“Yes, Simon is very professional and reliable,” Elle interjected, giving him a telling look. “Come on in and meet Mrs. Lawrence, Simon.”

“Sure.” He motioned for Geri to go into the executive lounge first, then followed after her. He found the sprightly-looking Ingrid Lawrence sitting comfortably in one of the chairs, her dog on her lap while she watched the big TV hanging on one of the walls.

Elle made the introductions before excusing herself to print out some information that Mrs. Lawrence had requested.

“I’m glad that we have an able-bodied young man driving us around,” Ingrid said brightly, looking him up and down with interest. “Always good to have a chauffeur who can double as a very good-looking bodyguard.”

Simon chuckled. He liked his new client already. “I’m more than happy to keep the undesirables away from you as we travel around, Mrs. Lawrence.”

“Well, Rolf didn’t bark at you, so that’s a good sign. He can usually sense if someone’s not good to have around, can’t you, Rolf?” Ingrid said, scratching her dog behind his ear.

Rolf wagged his tail faster.

“I bumped into Nadia, your flight attendant,” Simon said congenially. “She said that Rolf is really cute and well behaved. I have to agree she’s right.”

“Oh, yes. I have to say, though, this pooch loves Geri more than me. Look.” Ingrid put Rolf beside her on the seat and picked up her cup of coffee.

Rolf deftly made his way to the low ottoman next to Ingrid’s seat, then jumped the short distance to the ground to run to Geri. He let out a soft whine as he looked at her, as if begging for Geri to pick him up.

“See?” Ingrid said, rolling her eyes. “It’s like he was just putting up with me.”

Geri let out a laugh. “I think he’s pleading with me to take him outside for another toilet break. I better take him out.”

Simon watched as Geri hooked a leash onto the harness Rolf was already wearing, her face lit up as she chatted to the dog as if talking to a child. And he couldn’t help but follow her with his eyes when she led Rolf to the door at the far side of the room that opened to a side yard.

“Rolf keeps Geri happy travelling with an old woman like me for weeks and weeks.”

Ingrid’s voice startled Simon, making him swivel around to face his new “boss”. Ingrid had a watchful look, her lips tugged up in a half-smile.

“I have to ask you, Simon. How will you cope with not going home for a whole month? Do you have a partner or a family that you’ll miss a lot?”

“No, ma’am. And you don’t have to worry about me not coping. One month is not that long. I’m really looking forward to driving you around. I’d enjoy playing tour guide to the both of you.”

“How did you end up being a chauffeur?”

Ah, he had a ready answer for that. “When I was about six or seven, my parents asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I told them I wanted to be a driver and drive different types of cars. Well, I’m doing that now.”

There was some truth to what he’d said. He did own several cars and enjoyed driving all of them. But when he was a kid, he’d wanted to become a pilot and fly his own planes. Being a son of self-made millionaires who believed in letting him forge his own path, he’d been able to follow his passion as well as learn business from a very young age. He’d started Alexander Jets when he was only twenty-two. Ten years later, here he was.

“It’s wonderful that you’re doing what you love,” Ingrid said. “My grandson was the one who suggested we hire the Lexus LX SUV for our road trip. What do you think of the car?”

“It’s a great car. Today’s the first time I’ve driven it, and I’m impressed.”

“Good.”

Elle came back to the room, holding a document folder. “Here you go, Mrs. Lawrence. I’ve printed everything that Geri has in the file that she’s given me online access to.”

“Thank you! Poor Geri has to cope with me changing my mind all the time about where I want to go. I find it easier to make comparisons looking at paper rather than computer screens or those tablets. But maybe we should discuss this with you, Simon, since you’re our self-appointed tour guide.”

“Sure. I’ll be more than happy to help create an itinerary,” Simon answered.

“We’re back,” Geri called out from the other door.

Simon glanced at Geri. She really was pretty. Beautiful, in fact.

“Shall we go, then?” Ingrid asked. “I’d like to get to the house Geri booked for us so I can nap for a couple of hours before I meet my grandson for dinner.”

Elle put a hand up. “I just need to speak with Simon for a quick minute, if that’s okay, Mrs. Lawrence?”

“Of course.”

Simon followed Elle to the meeting room he’d waited in before.

“Simon,” Elle said in a low voice. “Geri is not the kind of woman who’d want the mile-high experience with you.”

“Oh, really? Did she tell you that?” he asked lightly.

“Of course not. But you know what I mean.”

“I agree she’s not the mile-high-experience type. But she definitely seems like a nice girl. Remember that I’m looking for a potential long-term girlfriend now?”

Elle rolled her eyes. “As if you’re serious about that.”

“Hey, I am!”

“Sure, sure,” Elle said in a tone that said she wasn’t buying it. “But please behave yourself with Geri. I don’t want Mrs. Lawrence complaining about you, boss. And I want to have an unblemished customer satisfaction record on all my accounts so you can give me a generous bonus at the end of the year.”

“I’ve never put the company in trouble before because of my dating life, have I?” Even though he’d slept with a few of his female clients, those were all instigated by them, not him.

“No. But you’ve never spent a whole month with a pretty client while pretending you’re not you,” Elle said pointedly. “It’s different when the girls know who they’re fooling around with. But you don’t have any intention of telling Geri who you are.”

“Don’t worry. I don’t intend to hit on Geri.” Unless she hits on me first.

“Good,” Elle said. “Anyway, I have to say I can’t wait to see if you do find yourself a real, honest-to-goodness girlfriend somewhere in your travels.”

He laughed. “By the way, you haven’t spoken to Geri or Ingrid Lawrence about Simon Alexander, have you?”

Elle shook her head. “There’s usually no reason to talk to our clients about our CEO, unless they’re the women wanting to book flights with us just to spend some time with you. But, honestly, I still think this incognito thing is hare-brained.”

He ignored Elle’s disapproval. “Good. Anything else?”

“Well, I want to say have fun, but you might take me too seriously and forget your promise not to hit on Geri,” Elle quipped before exiting the meeting room.

He was still chuckling to himself when they went back to the executive lounge. He had no idea what he’d gotten himself into, but he was truly looking forward to it. If nothing else, he was going to have a change of pace and scenery for a short period. Everyone needed a break from work every once in a while, and this was like a holiday for him.

He stopped in his tracks upon seeing Geri laughing at Rolf thumping his tail excitedly at the sight of a dog food commercial on TV. Funny how he felt so drawn to her.

He shook his head at himself. Pretty ladies surrounded him all the time, so he didn’t usually have a swift and strong reaction to total strangers no matter how good-looking they were. But his reaction to Geri surprised him. He already knew he’d like to date her.

Unfortunately, he’d have to wait for her to make the first move. Working for Ingrid was her livelihood. He had to respect it if she wanted to remain purely professional.

“I’ll load your luggage in the car, then I’ll come and get you,” he announced to the women.

“Oh, I’ll go with you,” Geri said, standing up to follow him. “Rolf’s car seat is in one of the bags and I have to set it up.”

“I can do it if you like,” he said hurriedly. The SUV was in the parking area where his staff came and went. He’d minimise the risk of blowing his cover if he loaded the luggage alone.

But Geri waved a hand dismissively. “It’s no problem.”

“Geri’s very particular when it comes to Rolf,” Ingrid said. “She wants to make sure his seat is adjusted to the exact right height that will make Rolf calm and happy. Let her do it now or she’ll just fuss around your work later.”

“Okay,” he acquiesced, not really having any other option. He took the trolley sitting in a corner and pushed it out of the room. Good thing Ingrid had selected a big car. The women’s three large suitcases and six smaller bags—plus his own luggage—wouldn’t have fit in a regular sedan.

“So you’re like a mother hen when it comes to Rolf, huh?” he teased Geri as they made their way towards the parking bays.

Geri laughed with embarrassment. “I know I shouldn’t feel like that because Rolf’s not mine, but yeah, I do feel like I’m his mama even though Mrs. Lawrence is his owner.”

“He’s so well behaved.”

“Thank you. We got him from a friend of mine who’s an expert in training dogs for shows and competitions. He helped me train Rolf every single day for several weeks before we started travelling—that’s why Rolf is so easy to handle.”

“Did you have—” His question died on his lips when Tony, one of the maintenance engineers, came out of a staff room they were passing.

“Oh, hello, Simon, ma’am,” Tony greeted them with a look of surprise as he eyed the luggage.

Ah, damn. Simon bet that Tony was thinking someone was slacking on the job for Simon to be pushing the trolley for a client.

“Going to the car? Let me push that for you, Simon,” Tony offered, already positioning to take over.

“It’s okay, Tony. Thank you, but no need,” he said with a smile.

“Okay,” Tony said. “Is there anything you want done?”

“No, thank you. We’re fine.”

“Okay. Have a good day.” Tony smiled at the both of them and walked the other way.

“Wow,” Geri said in a low voice as they continued their journey. “They’re very friendly and helpful around here, aren’t they?”

“Yeah,” Simon answered, letting out a sigh of relief. Lucky his staff called him by his first name. Imagine if Tony had called him Mr. Alexander. Fortunately, they made it to their vehicle without bumping into anyone else.

“Now, Rolf’s car seat is in here,” Geri murmured, grabbing one of the bags.

Simon opened the tailgate and started to load the first of the big suitcases.

“Hey, let me help with those. They’re quite heavy,” Geri said.

“No, thanks. I got them,” he said with a grin. Aw, she was so sweet to offer. And her smile in response was as equally sweet.

His heart thudded harder. Hm.

“Simon! I’ll do that!”

Oh shit. It was Peter, one of the regular drivers who took their clients to their hotels. Tony must have said something to him.

Simon glanced at Geri, whose mouth was hanging open at the way Peter was hurrying towards them.

Damn it, he didn’t want to be busted. Especially when he was so looking forward to spending one whole month with Geri Blaine as Chauffeur Simon James.

***End of Chapter Two***

I hope you enjoyed the first two chapters of The Unmasked CEO. Looking forward to reading what happens next? The book will release on the 24th of January and can be pre-ordered from the following stores:

Amazon US | Other Amazon stores | Apple iBooks | Barnes and Noble | Kobo

Google Play and other store links will be available soon.

Have a great day!

Much love,
Miranda xoxoxo

 

 

The Unmasked CEO: Chapter One

Not long to go before the 24th of January and the release of The Unmasked CEO! I'm so excited! I hope you are too.

But first, it's time to share with you Chapter One of Simon and Geri's story. Here it is. Enjoy!

Chapter One

Simon Alexander folded his arms across his chest, annoyed at the uncomfortable feeling being stirred up by the lovefest happening before his eyes. Why did he have to feel envious of his loved-up buddies?

He hid a smirk as Marilyn Grant canoodled with Jarryd Westbourne right in the middle of Brad and Erin Mead’s living room. Well, melt was more an apt term for what Marilyn was doing in the arms of her new fiancé. Heck, the two of them were in the clouds, their faces radiating with a kind of bliss that Simon was certain he’d never ever experienced.

Today was supposed to be Erin’s birthday party and, once again, the celebrations had included an engagement. For some reason, his male friends had a habit of getting down on one knee in one of these get-togethers. It was kind of… motivating.

Simon suppressed a snort at his thought. Him proposing to a woman? What a hoot.

He had to admit, though, that for a while now, a part of him had been wanting some of the love potion these couples had obviously ingested. He was someone who always sought—and got—the best that life could offer, and he couldn’t help but want what they were having.

Problem was, he doubted his ability to stick with one woman forever. He’d sure as hell get bored eating the same food every day, no matter how delicious it was. Wouldn’t that same argument apply to tying himself to the same girl for the rest of his life?

But then again, he hadn’t really tried. It wouldn’t hurt to try, would it?

Cassie Garrett, one of three new mothers in this gang of close-knit friends, sprung to her feet, glancing at the baby monitor that was in a pouch hanging around her neck.

“I got her, honey,” Carter said to his wife.

Cassie flashed an adoring smile at her husband, who was quick to make his way to the guest room where they’d left Chelsea, their five-week-old baby daughter, to sleep.

“I better check on our princess too,” Rick Donnelly murmured, kissing his wife, Lexie, on the temple before following Carter to see to his own eight-week-old, Lara.

“Hey, bring them out here if they’re awake,” Simon called out. He wouldn’t mind carrying the too-adorable infants again. He’d been terrified the first time, seeing how small and delicate they were. But he had the hang of holding babies now.

“Are you getting clucky, Simon?” Lexie asked teasingly.

“No,” he said, sending a comical grin to Julian, Jade and Lucas Renner-Bilton’s four-month-old son.

“You wanna hold him?” asked Natasha Redford, who’d been playing with Julian and successfully getting chuckles out of him.

“Sure.” He took the baby from the very pregnant Natasha, who placed a hand on her full-term stomach, as if feeling something.

“You okay, babe?” Gavin Redford asked his wife, instantly alert.

“Yeah. He just kicked, that’s all.”

Simon couldn’t help but watch as Gavin sat Natasha on his lap, awed at the tenderness on Gavin’s face as he rubbed his wife’s belly.

And that envious feeling poked Simon again.

Honestly, he couldn’t understand himself. He sure as hell wasn’t ready for babies, much less getting hitched to anyone. Maybe he was just so taken by his friends’ lovable kids? Fortunately, he could hand them back to the parents when he’d had enough.

But, yes, he wouldn’t mind having little ones of his own in the future too.

Wooo. Big fucking admission for Simon Alexander, Mile-High Playboy. Maybe he was getting clucky, after all. He never thought that happened to men as well.

Julian started to cry in his arms.

“Hey, little guy. What do you want? You wanna fly on a jet?” Simon made a whooshing sound as he pivoted around.

Julian stopped whimpering and stared at him.

“Aha! You do want Uncle Simon to fly you on one of his airplanes, don’t you?” he said with exaggerated wonder. “Where do you want to go?”

Julian smiled widely, letting out a gurgle.

“You’re a natural with kids, Simon,” Marilyn said with a laugh. “Maybe I’ll bet on you for this round of our Captured by Love game after all. I wasn’t going to, since you made me lose a few times before, but it looks like you’re ready for a family now. You just might beat Tristan and Derek in getting engaged next.”

He shook his head, pulling a funny face for Julian’s benefit. “Like I said before, Marilyn, I’m not after a wife yet. I just don’t want to get turned down again by the nice girls I ask out.”

“I still can’t believe it,” Tristan Grant said in a goading tone. “Mr. Mile-High Playboy Simon Alexander rejected by the last three women he wanted to date. Three rejections in six months. Who would have thought that would ever happen?”

“Hey, don’t forget about the seven who asked me out during that time,” Simon said defensively.

“Yeah, the playgirls, the immature ones, the gold-diggers,” Derek McCarthy quipped, tongue firmly in cheek.

Simon sighed. Those were his words, not Derek’s. And, yes, he was getting sick of the women who sought him out because of his reputation—that of a rich, hunky playboy who liked giving sexy ladies mile-high experiences.

He’d enjoyed that image for years. How could he not, when even some beautiful celebrities and models specifically asked for the owner of Alexander Jets to accompany them to their destinations? Since his clients’ satisfaction was his number-one priority, he was more than happy to comply with their wishes. And, of course, the women were always more than satisfied with him.

But, lately, he’d been getting tired of the kind of girls who clamoured for his attention. They’d been very demanding not only of his time and presence, but also of his generosity. Especially of his generosity. They weren’t even real girlfriends and they had the audacity to threaten to drop him when he’d refused to take them on a luxury trip somewhere or declined to take them shopping.

Pfft. As if he’d cared when they’d upped and left to find someone else willing to fund the extravagant lifestyles they wanted.

Seriously, if he was to keep a girl around, then he’d want someone like his close female friends: caring, smart, independent women who loved their men for who they were, not for the dollars in their bank accounts.

But how could he meet someone like these ladies when their kind was keen to avoid a known playboy like him?

He’d been so seduced by his fast and fun life that he hadn’t been willing to give up his freedom for anyone or anything. Now, karma seemed to have bitten him on the ass and was making him pay for his own emotional immaturity by making him attract only the players and the gold-diggers. His reputation had cloaked him like a bad smell. When the three nice, relationship-material ladies he’d recently asked out had turned him down, each had said something along the lines of “I’m not that kind of girl.”

What a huge blow to the ego and a big wakeup call! Who’d want to be constantly shunned by nice girls and used by gold-digging players? So, yeah, it was time to distance himself from his playboy image. Thirty-two was old enough for that.

Julian made a gurgling sound and Simon made another funny face, bouncing the baby in his arms. To his delight, Julian laughed.

“Aww, look at that,” Rick said, walking back to the party with Carter, both of them clearly smitten by the precious bundles each was carrying in their arms.

Simon smiled. Fatherhood suited the guys. “So,” he said to no one in particular, “what do you think of my planned experiment to go incognito so I can woo a nice girl without my playboy reputation and financial status tainting how she sees me?”

“Do you already have a girl in mind?” asked Brad, who’d been a busy bee making sure that his wife didn’t lift a finger at her own birthday party.

“No. That’s why I want to stay outside of Sydney for a while, where I’m not well known. If I meet someone who has no idea who I am, I can start with a clean slate. And since I seem to be a magnet for gold-diggers these days, I don’t want to be seen as being rich at any level. So my first option is to pretend I’m just an employee pilot working for Alexander Jets. I can service the regional areas where women wouldn’t know me from Adam.”

“Pilots earn above-average salaries, and Alexander Jets is known to be the top private jet service in Australia,” Natasha pointed out. “That can still be attractive to those wanting a boyfriend only for his money.”

“Hm, true.”

“Why don’t you just pick a country town and look for a casual job there as a farmhand?” Tristan quipped. “You’re a smart guy. You can learn how to milk a cow quick smart.”

Simon snickered just as his phone buzzed with a work call. He pulled it out from his pocket and Julian started whimpering again, looking at his daddy with a sad, irresistible look.

“Had enough of Uncle Simon, bubba?” Lucas cooed at his son.

Simon gave Julian to Lucas and answered one of his account managers, who also happened to be his cousin. “Hey, Elle, what’s up?”

“Sorry to bother you when you’re at a party, Simon, but I have a problem. Remember Ingrid Lawrence?”

“Yes.”

“Geri Blaine, Mrs. Lawrence’s assistant, called to say that they need to fly from Brisbane to Sydney this Friday instead of next week. Apparently, Mrs. Lawrence’s grandson, who’s based in Boston, will be in Sydney from Friday for four days only to attend a weekend conference. They want to see each other, hence Mrs. Lawrence wanting to get to Sydney a week early. Problem is, all our planes are fully booked on Friday and Mrs. Lawrence won’t fly commercial because of her dog. She wants a private jet where her dog is allowed to roam free in the passenger cabin with her. So before I suggest one of our competitors to them, I thought I’d call you first to see if there’s something we can do.”

Simon pursed his lips. Seventy-two-year-old Ingrid Lawrence was his newest client. Having recently sold her company that made wildly popular cooking sauces and condiments to an international conglomerate for several million dollars, Mrs. Lawrence had decided to live it up. She was now enjoying the fruits of a lifetime of hard work, doing a luxury around-Australia tour that she hadn’t had the chance to indulge in during her working years.

“Who are our clients flying from Brisbane to Sydney around the time that Mrs. Lawrence wants to be rescheduled?” he asked.

“Well, Tristan Grant is one of them. I’m assuming he’s there with you, and I thought you could talk to him?”

“Ah, good! Leave it with me. Tristan has been thinking of extending his stay in Brisbane to catch up with more people.” He winked at Tristan, who raised an eyebrow at him.

“Great,” Elle said. “One other thing. They need to hire another short-term chauffeur because their current one suddenly resigned due to a family emergency. Geri’s having a hard time finding a replacement at the last minute, especially since it’s a live-in job. Apart from driving them around, Mrs. Lawrence wants an able-bodied man who can also act as a bodyguard because she feels safer staying in rented houses that way. Because of the dog, they always stay in houses rather than hotels. Anyway, I’ve asked around, but I’m not having any luck either. I thought that with your vast network, you might know someone who could refer a suitable person for the job?”

“No one immediately comes to mind. How long do they need the chauffeur for?”

“Two months, ideally. They’ll be here in New South Wales for a month, then Victoria next month. But they’ll accept someone who can only do the New South Wales leg, if that will make it easier to get a chauffeur at short notice. Geri did stress that the guy has to have at least three impeccable references, considering he’ll be staying with the two ladies for the duration.”

“Okay, I’ll ask around. I’ll call you back shortly.”

“Great. Thanks, Simon. Bye.”

“So,” Tristan drawled when Simon hung up, “I take it you want to bump me off the plane on Friday so you can fly someone else, huh?”

Only if you really intend extending your stay in Brisbane,” he answered seriously.

“Well, you just helped me make up my mind,” Tristan said cheerfully. “I’ll stay until next Monday morning.”

“Excellent. Thanks a lot, bro,” he said gratefully. “By the way, does anyone know of a company that can supply Ingrid Lawrence with a live-in chauffeur-slash-bodyguard for a whole month? Or a person who might be interested in the job? The chauffeur will be staying with Mrs. Lawrence and her personal assistant, so I need a name that you guys already trust.” He told them about Ingrid and her travel plans.

“No,” came the replies.

“I do,” Lucas said.

“Great! Who?”

Lucas grinned slyly. “You. Perfect incognito role, dude. As you said yourself, the nice ladies outside of Sydney shouldn’t recognise who you are.”

Simon chuckled, shaking his head.

“Why not? Remember our earlier bet? This chauffeuring-bodyguard gig is the perfect setup for that. You’re an excellent driver and a black belt in karate.”

“You made another bet apart from our Captured by Love game?” Carter asked.

“Yeah,” Lucas said. “As you know, Simon wants to hide his financial status so he doesn’t attract gold-diggers. But how can an uber-wealthy guy with expensive tastes who’s never even set foot in thrift stores hide his identity for any length of time?”

Simon smirked, his competitiveness kicking into gear. “I’m sure I’ll manage well enough being on a chauffeur’s salary, Lucas. How hard can it be? And you’re right. It’s the perfect setup. Since we’ll be hopping from town to town, there’ll be lots of opportunities to meet nice, decent ladies.”

“And if you do meet a nice girl that you like, how long are you gonna lie to her about who you really are?” Marilyn asked with clear disapproval. “I’m telling you that even your devilishly handsome good looks won’t keep a woman if you keep on lying to her.”

“Hey, I don’t intend to deceive anyone for the heck of it. I just don’t want someone prejudging me because of my playboy reputation or wanting me because of my money. I need to break the cycle of attracting the wrong girls and being avoided by the decent ones.”

“So you’re really turning over a new leaf?” Erin asked in a serious tone. “For real?”

He inhaled deeply. “I want to, for the right woman. And I blame you loved-up people for this affliction,” he said, pointing an accusing finger at his partnered friends.

The girls cheered and gave each other high fives.

“Well,” Jarryd said with a grin, “since I’m a happy Alexander Jets customer, put me down as a reference. I’d like to see this happen for you, Simon, and I don’t mind twisting the truth a bit for this important cause.”

The others chimed in with the same offer.

“Thanks, guys,” Simon said with a laugh.

“Just remember, we’re counting on you to come clean after your contract is finished,” Rick warned. “And no playboy shenanigans. We’re putting our professional reputation on the line by giving you semi-truthful references because we want to support you turning over a new leaf.”

“Yes, don’t worry. I understand and appreciate what you’re doing for me. And you know what? I’m really glad I decided a long time ago not to have my photo on the Alexander Jets website. As long as the girls I meet don’t have a reason to Google Simon Alexander, it shouldn’t be a problem hiding my identity for one month. Lucas is right. This job with Ingrid Lawrence is the perfect setup.”

“Good luck, Simon,” Marilyn said. “We’re really rooting for you to find your potential other half.”

“Thanks,” he said, rolling his eyes to hide his embarrassment at the fact that he was truly excited.

This business of finding a special someone couldn’t be all that difficult when his undesirable image wouldn’t be dragging him down, right?

* * *

“If our flight can’t get rescheduled, then we might have to postpone our road trip and go home in the meantime,” Ingrid Lawrence said. “I don’t really want to do that, but Justin will have more opportunities to see me in Hobart since he’ll be there for several weeks to visit his parents after his short stay in Sydney.”

Geri Blaine hid a sigh as she placed a cup of coffee in front of her employer of almost four months. They couldn’t go home yet. Touring Australia with Ingrid as her personal assistant and travel companion was the only reason she was able to stay away from Hobart.

“Someone from Alexander Jets will be calling me soon with an answer, Mrs. Lawrence,” she said as she sat next to Ingrid on the sofa. “Let’s hope they’re able to fly us to Sydney on Friday in time for your dinner with Justin.”

Rolf, the five-and-a-half-month-old Yorkshire terrier, left Ingrid’s side to settle himself on Geri’s lap. Geri petted the pooch, smiling at the feel of his newly trimmed coat.

Rolf closed his eyes, content and tired from his recent play in the park nearby.

“I swear that dog loves you more than me,” Ingrid said with a huff before taking a sip of her coffee.

“He’s just more used to me,” Geri said. What else could she say? Rolf did prefer her over Ingrid.

One of her first tasks when she’d started working for Ingrid was to get a puppy that Ingrid could take with her during her travels. Geri had instantly fallen in love with Rolf when a friend—an expert dog obedience trainer—offered one of his Yorkie pups for sale. That same friend had helped Geri completely house-train Rolf and get him ready for long trips. By the time they’d left Hobart two and a half months ago, not only had Rolf been fully housebroken, but he’d also been travel-ready.

Fortunately, apart from the occasional utterances of jealousy, Ingrid didn’t mind much that her dog preferred Geri. Ingrid was happy enough as long as Rolf slept in Ingrid’s bedroom and sat next to her during plane take-offs and landings to soothe her fear of flying.

Geri’s phone vibrated on the coffee table, the name Alexander Jets flashing on the screen. Please, she said in silent prayer before answering the call.

“Hello, Geri, it’s Elle Milton from Alexander Jets.”

“Hi, Elle. Do you have good news for me?”

“Yes, I do. We can reschedule your charter flight to Sydney this Friday with a twelve p.m. departure time from Brisbane, if that suits.”

Geri let out a relieved sigh. “Yes, that’s perfect. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome. As you know, we have a complimentary pickup from your accommodation to the airport. Would you like me to arrange that now too?”

“Yes, please. And did you manage to find a chauffeur service we can contact?”

“Yes. I have the phone number for a gentleman called Simon James. He’s a freelance chauffeur who’s worked for some of our clients before. He likes working in different places and enjoys meeting new people—that’s why he hasn’t sought permanent employment. Apparently he’s available, but only for one month.”

“Fantastic! I’ll have a chat with him and check out his references.” No way Geri would let a stranger spend the whole month with them unless she was sure he was squeaky clean and trustworthy.

She took Simon James’s contact details and finalised the arrangements for their Sydney flight before thanking Elle profusely and hanging up.

“Did she find us a chauffeur?” Ingrid asked.

“Yes. But I need to check his references first.”

“Great! I’m sure he’ll be fine since he was recommended by Alexander Jets. Let’s go ahead with our road trip, then. In a way, I’m glad I won’t be in Hobart while Justin’s there. He won’t be able to force me to see his parents if I’m not around,” Ingrid said with a harrumph.

Geri put a neutral smile on her face. For all of Ingrid’s bluster, she knew that the older lady was hurting far more than she let on. It was public knowledge that Ingrid was estranged from her own son and daughter-in-law, who’d tried to set up a rival food sauces and condiments brand using Ingrid’s recipes a few years ago. It had been a very public family spat, with Ingrid suing and winning. Now that she’d sold her company for millions, Ingrid was set on spending the money she’d worked long and hard for on herself, and not leaving any of it to her son.

Ingrid’s grandson—who was the same age as Geri at twenty-seven—was another matter, though. Ingrid had a soft spot for Justin, even though she hardly ever saw him. So Geri was extremely grateful that her employer preferred not to be in Hobart even though Justin would be spending a few weeks there. Ingrid had no idea whatsoever how much she was saving Geri from her problems by wanting to continue travelling.

Geri dialled the number Elle had given her as she sat at the dining table.

“Hello, Simon James speaking,” came a deep, sexy, masculine voice.

Gosh, Simon James sounded like Chris Hemsworth! The hunky image of her biggest celebrity crush in Thor costume instantly filled her mind.

She rolled her eyes at herself before putting on a professional tone. “Hello, Simon, my name is Geri Blaine. I work for Mrs. Ingrid Lawrence. Your number was given to me by Elle Milton from Alexander Jets, and I understand you’re open to considering a job as our chauffeur and bodyguard for one month?”

“Oh, yes. Thanks for calling, Miss Blaine. I’m definitely available.”

“Right. First, I just want to clarify a few things about the job. If you’re hired, you’re expected to stay with us in various accommodations as we travel around Sydney, the Blue Mountains, and the South Coast—which are the places Mrs. Lawrence particularly wanted to visit. You’ll be on call at all times and there will be no official days off for the whole month, but I’m sure you’ll be happy with the amount of downtime you’ll get. Mrs. Lawrence usually prefers to stay in most evenings, so during those times, you’ll be free to either join us for a meal in our accommodation or do your own thing for the rest of the night. Occasionally, she might not want to do anything for the whole day, so you might have some extra free time then.” Geri rattled off other requirements, including no drinking of alcohol unless there would be no more driving for the day, and advised Simon of the generous pay that Mrs. Lawrence was willing to offer the lucky candidate.

“That all sounds good to me,” Simon said.

“Okay, great. We’re keen to—”

“Don’t forget to tell him I don’t want him wearing those distinctive chauffeur uniforms,” Ingrid interrupted from behind her. “I hate attracting attention like that. Neat casual clothing is fine.”

Geri suppressed a sigh. She wasn’t ready to offer this man the job yet.

“Well, I’m sure you heard what Mrs. Lawrence said, Simon. As I was saying, we’re keen to hire the right person as soon as possible. But first, I need to check your references. Are you able to give me at least three phone numbers of previous clients you’ve worked with?”

“Yes. I have their details right here.”

She took them down as Simon read them out to her.

“Their companies’ customer service departments are open on weekends, so you can contact them today and you’ll be put through,” Simon said. “I took the liberty of explaining that you’re keen to find a chauffeur-bodyguard quite quickly.”

Geri was amazed. The man was well prepared. “Thank you, Simon. I’ll give you a call after we’ve made our decision. I take it you’re free to start on Friday if we do hire you?”

“Yes. Friday’s perfect. And I know Sydney, the Blue Mountains, and the South Coast very well. I can even be your very own tour guide, Miss Blaine,” Simon said lightly.

Something about the friendly and easy way Simon spoke made Geri feel relaxed about him. “Great. And please call me Geri. I’ll speak with you again soon.”

“Looking forward to it, Geri. Bye.”

Geri hung up and opened her laptop that was sitting on the dining table. She Googled Lucas Renner-Bilton of Bilton Machineries, the first name Simon had given her.

Her brows rose. Bilton Machineries was a multibillion-dollar company, and Lucas was the part-owner along with his father. If this Lucas person was to give Simon a good verbal reference, that would be impressive enough.

She Googled the next name, Rick Donnelly of RD Luxury Vehicles.

Whoa. This man owned a chain of car dealerships that sold Ferraris, Porsches, BMWs, Mercedes Benzes, and the like. Mr. Simon James was quite well connected.

She looked up the third reference, Jarryd Westbourne of Westbourne Constructions.

Her eyes bulged out. Gosh, she should have recognised the name. Jarryd had been in the news a few weeks ago for helping police catch a fraudster. She remembered how very good-looking Jarryd was, not to mention being a billionaire.

Wow. If these three people gave Simon glowing references, she most certainly would snap him up as their chauffeur. The phone numbers Simon had given her matched those appearing on each of the companies’ websites, so she knew they weren’t fake.

She called Westbourne Constructions first, introducing herself and asking for Jarryd Westbourne. She still got surprised that she was being put straight through to the boss. She’d never heard of a busy CEO taking phone calls on Saturday afternoons just to give a reference for a contract worker. Simon James must really be held in high esteem by these people.

Fifteen minutes later, Geri sat back on her chair, totally impressed. All three men had vouched for Simon’s trustworthiness and reliability, with each saying they’d use his services again and again. They’d even stated that they’d done security checks on Simon—for which Geri didn’t have the time or resources—and Simon had passed them all.

“We found our chauffeur, Mrs. Lawrence,” she called out. “I’m happy to hire Simon James.”

“Good,” Ingrid said absently. “I know I can count on you to do all the checking and worrying.”

Geri forced out a chuckle. Ingrid had no idea why she had to be extra careful about people they connected with during their trip.

She’d considered confiding in Ingrid about her predicament, but it was way too risky. Ingrid might sack her. Things had a way of being misinterpreted, and Ingrid might believe that she didn’t want to go back to Hobart because she’d stolen her younger sister’s money.

Shaking her head to push away her unwanted thoughts, she dialled Simon’s number.

“Hi, Simon, it’s Geri Blaine again.”

“Hello, Geri,” Simon said, his tone rich and delighted.

“I’ve spoken to your references and, yes, we’d like to hire you.”

“That’s great! Thank you. I’m looking forward to working with you.”

And I’m looking forward to seeing the face that goes with that voice.

Ugh, she and her weakness for deep, sexy voices! For all she knew, Simon was married with five kids.

That would be a good thing. In fact, she’d prefer it if Simon was nowhere near as good-looking as his soundalike, Chris Hemsworth. She didn’t need to be distracted by a handsome co-worker when she had her safety and future to worry about.

***End of Chapter One***

That's it for today. Chapter Two will hit your inbox tomorrow!

You can now pre-order The Unmasked CEO from the following stores:

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Google Play and other store links will be available soon.

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Much love,
Miranda xoxoxo

The Unknown Billionaire: Chapter Two + Other News

Hi! Did you get to read Chapter One of The Unknown Billionaire yesterday? Hope you enjoyed it.

You can now pre-order The Unknown Billionaire from iBooksBarnes & Noble and Kobo. The links to Amazon, Google Play and All Romance eBooks will be available soon.

Also, The Unyielding Bachelor (Captured by Love Book 2) is on sale for US$0.99 to help boost the visibility of the Captured by Love series, but only until the 1st of October! If you already have a copy of this book, thank you so much! You might want to share this news to friends who would be interested in this limited time sale. (At the time of writing, the price on Barnes & Noble hasn't reduced yet. Please check there again in a few hours as it should go on sale there too.)

As promised, here's Chapter Two of The Unknown Billionaire for your reading pleasure. Just a handful more sleeps before the book releases! Yay!

The Unknown Billionaire: Chapter Two

Marilyn’s heart skipped before banging hard in her chest. Jarryd was walking towards the patio. What had Lucas told him?

She swallowed, marshalling her courage. “Why, hello there, stranger,” she called out, keen to pretend she was in no way affected by his proximity.

Jarryd smiled back, making her heart race faster.

He stopped in front of her, his chest heaving from his deep inhalation as he eyed the vacant space in the two-seater couch. He seemed to be hesitating.

Her excitement disappeared in a flash. Damn him. Couldn’t he make it less obvious that he didn’t want to be close to her?

“You don’t have to sit next to me if you don’t want to,” she said, meaning to sound teasing but hearing the hurt in her own voice.

“Marilyn,” Jarryd said, his tone chiding.

“What?” she asked, arching an eyebrow.

“Don’t say it like you think I have something against sitting next to you.”

She gave him a saccharine-sweet smile. “Well, you do, don’t you? Don’t worry. You won’t burn yourself. There’s no spark between us, remember?” Ugh, what the hell was wrong with her?  Did she really need to pick at that wound right now?

Jarryd’s lips curved into a semblance of a smile as he proceeded to sit next to her on the love seat, his fingers grazing her knee as he settled himself.

Zap.

Startled, she glanced up at Jarryd.

His eyes were round, probably as much as hers were.

“Sorry,” Jarryd said, his voice croaking. “Must be some static.”

“Yeah, what else could it be?” she asked tightly.

Jarryd sighed. “Lucas said you’ve been wondering about my real reason for ending things between us. I thought I’d explain.”

She sat up straight and fixed her gaze up ahead. No way would she look like a yearning mess of a woman who was missing him terribly—even if she was that.

Silence.

“Look,” she said, giving Jarryd a small smile. “I don’t have a problem with you ending things between us. I’m not someone who’d force a person to be with me against their will. My problem is I can’t relax about something when I think I haven’t been given everything I need to know. And what you told me as your reason for not wanting to see me anymore just struck me as being untrue.”

Oh God. She hoped she didn’t sound like an egotist who couldn’t believe that a guy had ditched her.

Jarryd stood up and went to the nearby chair.

Her eyes smarted. Was he really that uncomfortable with her now?

But her breath caught when Jarryd dragged the chair so he was facing her fully.

“Marilyn,” Jarryd said as he sat down, holding her gaze. “Two months ago I was totally muddled. Someone close to me died nine months ago, and complications had arisen because of that. I was having a hell of a time with personal problems.”

Her brows furrowed in concern. “Died? Who?”

“A… relative. I didn’t tell you because I didn’t want to involve you in the mess. Like I said, I was totally muddled back then.”

“Are you okay now?”

“Things aren’t fully sorted, but yes, I’m okay now.”

She stared at Jarryd, her heart constricting. So he’d been grieving and he hadn’t needed her comfort? He’d had a difficult problem and he hadn’t wanted to share it with her? That said a lot.

“I didn’t mean what I said when I broke up with you,” Jarryd said.

She frowned. “Which bit? That we have no spark?”

Jarryd nodded eagerly. “Yes! I didn’t mean to say that.”

“And yet you did.”

“Like I said, I was totally muddled.”

“So what did you mean to say?”

“Well, I actually meant to say that we didn’t have enough spark. But I wouldn’t have meant that either.”

She shook her head to clear her confusion. “What?”

“We have extraordinary chemistry, Marilyn. That can’t be denied.” Jarryd looked down to the ground. “But I needed to pour a lot of time and energy into my issues, plus I didn’t want to involve you in them. So with everything I was going through, I thought it was best not to continue with our relationship.”

She took a deep breath. Okay, right. Not ready for a relationship. That she understood. How many times had she used that same excuse with some of the men she’d dated after she’d discovered she didn’t want something long-term with them?

But she had to know something else. “Did my parents have anything to do with your decision?”

Jarryd looked at her sharply. “What do you mean?”

“I have a feeling you weren’t impressed by the fact that I’m the daughter of Barry and Alice Grant of Grant Ace. I thought you might have been… well… intimidated by them being so rich.”

Jarryd’s brows furrowed. “No. I was surprised when you told me who they were, but I’m actually impressed. Not by them being rich, but with you not using your parents to get ahead in your business. I bet not many of your clients know who your parents are.”

“I see,” she murmured, her chest compressing further. There it went—the final sliver of hope she’d been hanging on to. Clearly and plainly, Jarryd just didn’t see her as someone he could share deeper and more meaningful things with.

She nodded, finally accepting it. For Jarryd, all they’d had was a strong physical attraction. They might have had extraordinary chemistry—still did, if her body’s reaction to his closeness was anything to go by—but it was still only physical.

The feelings weren’t mutual, after all.

Marilyn squared her shoulders and rose to her feet. She’d had to break a few men’s hearts in the past herself. She could understand Jarryd, even if he was hurting her.

“Thank you for explaining things to me,” she said with a smile as she smoothed her dress. “Anyway, I’m feeling a bit hungry. I’m gonna go get something. See you later.”

She hurried away from him and made a beeline for the dessert table. Something sweet should make her feel better, shouldn’t it?

She stared at the different cakes on offer, forcing herself to ignore the ache in her chest. She wasn’t going to show him how much she was hurting.

“Can’t decide?” a voice said next to her.

She smiled at Simon Alexander. “They all look so tempting.”

Simon leaned close to whisper in her ear. “I have it on good authority that Jarryd likes chocolate mud cake. I’m sure he’d be over the moon if you spoon-fed him some on that love seat.”

She frowned at him. “Have you been speaking to Lucas?”

“Hey, everybody knows that Jarryd’s got the hots for you. So he finally ’fessed up, huh? He’s done nothing but look at you all day.”

Marilyn rolled her eyes. What bad timing for people to be bringing up this Jarryd’s-got-the-hots-for-you crap. “Turns out I’m not ideal girlfriend material.”

“What?” Simon asked in shock.

She shook her head, trying to look nonchalant. But her expression must have betrayed her, because Simon was now inspecting her face.

“Hey, it’s cool,” she said. “A person can be physically attracted to someone, but not be interested enough to want a relationship with them. It happens. It’s not a crime. I’ve been guilty of the same thing in the past.”

“Was he asking you for a no-strings affair back there?” Simon gestured to the patio.

“No,” she scoffed. “Can we talk about this later? Now’s not a good time.”

“Sorry,” Simon said, putting an arm around her and giving her a sympathetic squeeze. “I didn’t mean to be nosy. Want me to be your date for the rest of the day and keep him away?”

She dipped her head onto his shoulder. Simon was her best male friend whom she’d known for over ten years. A few years back, before Simon had decided he much preferred the bachelor lifestyle, they’d tried dating for real. But when it came to trying to sleep together, they’d ended up laughing so hard at their attempt to end up in bed that they’d given up then and there. Much as they adored each other, they simply didn’t have that physical chemistry.

“I doubt you’d need to keep him away,” she said with a little sniff. “I bet he’s the one who’s going to keep on avoiding me, not the other way around.”

“Hey, it’s his loss. Anyway, let’s change the subject. Have you decided on whether to go on Biz Q&A or not?”

“Not yet,” she said, picking a strawberry and nibbling on it. Jarryd wasn’t a big fan of strawberries. So there must really be something wrong with the man to give her up, right? Hah!

“It’ll be great for your charitable works,” Simon said as he led her towards one of the several outdoor seats.

“I’ve thought about that. I’m still surprised that Patrick contacted me personally after my parents declined the offer. I don’t like being in the spotlight, as you know, but I get that it’s about helping the young entrepreneurs who go on it. And, yes, I suppose I could mention some of my charity fundraising events and lift their profiles.”

“Starting with our Captured by Love game,” Simon said with a laugh. “Imagine asking people from all over Australia—the world, even—to bet on which bachelor will be the next to get stupid and give up their freedom.”

Marilyn chuckled. “Don’t give me ideas, because I’m liking the thought of taking this game to another level. And when I do, I’m gonna campaign so hard for everyone to bet on you,” she said, wagging her finger at Simon. “There’ll be so much pressure that even you will have to seriously consider finding a nice girl to fall in love with.”

Simon snorted. “I’m not susceptible to that kind of pressure.”

She sighed. “I wish I could go back to not caring about finding someone special. I don’t know why I’m so intent on finding my soulmate all of a sudden.” Her gaze involuntarily went to the patio. Jarryd was no longer there. Against her will, she searched the yard for him and found him sitting with a bunch of others near the outdoor bar. She caught him watching her and Simon, before immediately averting his gaze.

“I’ve never known you to be such a quitter,” Simon quipped.

She frowned at him. “Excuse me?”

“You heard me,” Simon said unapologetically.

She saw her scowling image reflected in the lenses of Simon’s dark sunglasses. “And what would you have me do? Force myself on someone who doesn’t want a relationship with me?”

“But he’s still attracted to you, right? So what’s wrong with no-strings? You’ve done that a few times in the past. And it’s not like you’re in that much of a hurry to get hitched, are you?”

“I don’t know if he’s still attracted to me right now,” Marilyn said with a pout.

“That he can’t make himself stop looking at you tells me a different story.”

“Is he looking this way again?”

“Yeah,” Simon said with a chuckle. “Like he doesn’t want to but can’t help himself.”

Too bad she’d left her sunnies on the coffee table on the patio. She, too, would love to watch Jarryd without being obvious about it.

“I think he still has a huge crush on you.”

“You think?” she asked in a pathetic voice.

“Maybe Jarryd’s just the type who thinks he might be insulting you with a suggestion of booty calls. Have you considered a casual fling for the time being?”

“No. I should have spoken to you earlier, Mr. Playboy,” she said with playful sarcasm. “Only you would suggest something like that to me.”

Simon laughed. “Tell me again why I never got to show you how good I am in bed.”

It was Marilyn’s turn to laugh out loud. “Because this was what we ended up doing whenever we tried to have sex.” She pointed to herself, chortling.

“Yeah,” Simon said with a wide grin. “So what’s stopping you from telling Jarryd you’re okay with no-commitment fun? Snare him the sneaky way, I say.”

She let out a long breath. “I don’t know.”

“Think about it while I get a drink. Want me to get you one since Jarryd’s sitting right next to the fridge?”

She shook her head. “I’ll join you over there after I go to the bathroom. Might as well prove to Jarryd I’m okay with being around him.”

Simon snickered before heading off.

She chewed her lip as she walked towards the house. Would she really consider a casual relationship with Jarryd?

Well, didn’t some long-term relationships start out as sex-only affairs? She only needed to look at some of her happily-in-love friends to know that was true.

Her brain traitorously reminded her of her hot days and nights with Jarryd. Oh, she’d had the strongest orgasms of her life with him. “I don’t mind booty calls as long as they’re from Jarryd,” she mumbled to herself.

Problem was, from what Marilyn could gather from their brief chat, her being hurt further had a much higher probability of happening than Jarryd falling for her. Would she really be so stupid as to put herself in a hurtful, embarrassing situation when Jarryd had already given her everything she needed to have closure and move on?

***End of Chapter Two***

Hope you enjoyed that. As I've mentioned above, you can now pre-order The Unknown Billionaire from iBooks, Barnes & Noble and Kobo. The links to Amazon, Google Play, All Romance eBooks and Smashwords will be available soon.

And don't forget to check out the exclusive giveaway happening right now where you can win signed paperbacks of some of my books!

Talk to you again in a few days when all the book links are available.

Much love,
Miranda xoxo