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:

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

Google Play and other store links will be available soon.

Don't forget to check out The Unmasked CEO Release Giveaway exclusive to my newsletter subscribers! Check it out here.

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

The Unknown Billionaire: Chapter One

September 30 is almost here! I can't wait for the official release day of The Unknown Billionaire. It's a book that took me longer than usual to write, but I absolutely love it. Early ARC reviews on Goodreads show that the ARC reviewers are loving Jarryd and Marilyn's story too.

Well, the 30th is still a few days away, but today there are a couple of things I want to share with you: Chapter One of The Unknown Billionaire and the link to the exclusive giveaway open to my newsletter subscribers only. Let's start with Chapter One first. Here it is!

TheUnknownBillionaire-600x900The Unknown Billionaire: Chapter One

“I’m betting on Jarryd.”

Marilyn Grant frowned at the glowing Jade Renner-Bilton before nodding and calling up the Notes app on her phone. She opened the document where she recorded her friends’ bets for their Captured by Love game and tapped J-A-R-R-Y-D next to Jade’s name.

“Are you annoyed at me?” Jade asked in surprise.

She showed some teeth as she forced a smile. “No.”

Jade stared at her, confused. “You don’t want me to bet on Jarryd?”

“You can bet on anyone you want,” she said with a despondent sigh, letting her mask slip.

“What’s wrong?” Jade took her arm and led her to a wicker love seat on the patio by the back entrance of Rick and Lexie Donnelly’s house, where their gang of close friends and select relatives were celebrating an engagement and four pregnancies, including Jade’s.

Marilyn plonked herself next to Jade on the sofa. Good thing they were now out of earshot of their other buddies, most of whom were congregated in the expansive garden decked out with ample outdoor seating. Others were having a dip in the inviting swimming pool, enjoying the perfect Sydney weather on the second day of the Australian summer.

“I just don’t want to imagine him winning our Captured by Love game, that’s all,” she answered Jade truthfully.

“Why not?”

She let out a big exhale. “I didn’t want to tell anyone this because I don’t want to make a big deal of it, but Jarryd and I dated for three weeks. Then two months ago, he dumped me.”

Jade’s mouth dropped open.

“Apparently, we don’t have enough chemistry.”

“That’s what he told you?” Jade asked incredulously.

Marilyn nodded, glancing in Jarryd Westbourne’s direction. Her heart galloped at the sight of him lounging casually as he chatted with the other guys, his dark brown eyes slightly squinting from the brightness of the afternoon sun. She’d been tempted to comment that his newly trimmed black hair suited him when they’d greeted each other earlier. But all they’d exchanged was a brief “hey, good to see you”—their first verbal conversation since Jarryd had told her two months ago that, while he found her attractive, he didn’t think there was a spark between them.

Liar.

If there had been any more of a spark between them, they’d have spontaneously combusted.

Whatever his real reason, it sure as hell wasn’t the flimsy excuse he’d given her. They’d smouldered together, damn it!

Marilyn shook her head vigorously to clear the hurtful thoughts from her head. Argh, she hated that her feelings for the man hadn’t abated. Worse, seeing him today wearing a plain blue shirt that clung to his well-sculpted torso reminded her just how hot of a hunk he really was. And she so needed closure!

“Hey,” Jade said softly, placing a hand on her arm.

“Do you know if Lucas has ever mentioned my parents to Jarryd, since your husband is his bestie among us?”

“I don’t think so. Why?”

“Well, Jarryd has known from the beginning I’m well-off—having a big house and driving a luxury car—but I’m sure he thought that was due to me running a successful business brokerage firm. Two days after we had a conversation about my parents, he ditched me. So I don’t think he’d known before that I’m the daughter of the Grants of Grant Ace Holdings. I mean, my name doesn’t normally appear alongside Mum and Dad’s in the media since my business is independent from Grant Ace, and Jarryd probably didn’t have a reason to make the connection before.”

“Oh, honey. I know you don’t like parading the fact that you are Barry and Alice Grant’s daughter, but what makes you think that that’s Jarryd’s reason for breaking up with you?”

“I spent days and nights wondering what went wrong or what I might have done to turn him off,” she said glumly. “We were having such a great time getting to know each other, and it wasn’t until I mentioned my parents—specifically that they own several shopping centres around the world—that he suddenly started acting distant. Then he ditched me soon after.”

“Surely he doesn’t have anything against your family’s shopping centres?” Jade asked with a frown.

“I think he might have been intimidated.”

“Intimidated? But why? It couldn’t be because your parents are super rich. We have millionaires and billionaires within our circle and he seems comfortable with all of us. In any case, no one here makes a big deal about anyone’s financial standing.”

“Maybe for him, being friends with someone from a billionaire family and going out with that person are two different things,” Marilyn said with hurt in her voice. “He’s not the first guy I’ve dated who couldn’t seem to handle that I’m the only child of one of the wealthiest couples in Australia. Once they knew, either they took advantage of the fact they were dating a Grant, or they started acting funny around me. It’s like they suddenly believed being with me would be hard work, or that I’d be too high-maintenance, or that they have to give me extravagant things to please me. That really hurt! I’ve shown time and again I’m completely happy with the simple things, like walks in the park or eating takeaway as opposed to being wined and dined in five-star restaurants. I’m just another girl wanting to find her special someone.”

Jade patted her knee sympathetically.

“You know what?” Marilyn said with a huff, letting herself rant away since only Jade could hear. “If Jarryd believes that we’re not compatible simply because he’s not at the same level of financial means as my family, then he can take a hike. I have not given him any reason to believe I care about how much he earns or what his net worth is. Does he think I’m a snooty bitch?”

Jade squeezed her hand. “No one who knows you will ever think that. And I’m sure Jarryd knows you well enough.”

“So what’s his problem, then? It’s definitely got nothing to do with lack of chemistry, because we had that in spades. Spades! And if he really knows me well enough, then he should also know that I don’t give a stuff that he doesn’t have millions of dollars to his name. All I want is his love.” Her face burned at her last statement.

“You love him?”

She shrugged, glancing at Jarryd again. “I was getting there.”

“Oh, Marilyn. Well, maybe it is a money thing,” Jade said tentatively. “You know how some men feel like they always have to be the breadwinner?”

“Yeah,” she said sadly. “Thing is, I don’t care about that. I know how hard he works in his business. So what if his income is still small at this time? His business is growing. He has to tighten his belt until his hard work bears fruit.”

Jade sighed. “Please don’t tell anyone what I’m about to tell you, because Lucas told me that Jarryd doesn’t want anyone else to know.”

“Okay.”

“When Jarryd started hiring trucks and equipment from Bilton Machineries, he wasn’t satisfied with the answers to the technical queries given by the BDM assigned to him. Lucas stepped in to iron things out and, since my husband is a mechanic at heart, he actually enjoyed answering Jarryd’s long list of questions. That was how they became friends.”

Marilyn nodded. That part she was aware of. The two men had gotten along like a house on fire. Lucas had even referred Jarryd to Natasha Garrett, another close friend of theirs, which had resulted in Garrett Electricals working on one of Jarryd’s projects. In fact, it was because of Jarryd’s friendship with Lucas and Natasha that Jarryd had become a regular attendee to their group’s get-togethers in the last five months. Now, Jarryd was considered part of their gang. And Marilyn had no choice but to continue to socialise with him, especially since their brief affair was unknown to most of their friends.

“When they became close,” Jade said, “Lucas told Jarryd that if he wanted to buy some of the machineries—which would be better for Jarryd’s construction company in the long run—Lucas would be willing to give him extended payment terms with an interest rate lower than what’s available elsewhere. Bilton Machineries offers that only to a select few. But Jarryd said he couldn’t afford to buy. Apparently, one of his major clients went bankrupt and couldn’t pay progress payments amounting to several hundred thousands. What was worse was he’d focused on that big project and held back on other ones, so he was really cash-strapped. I don’t know where he’s at right now, but I doubt he could have turned his fortunes around in a matter of months when construction projects take a long time to complete. So maybe he’s a bit embarrassed about the state of his finance after knowing your parents are billionaires? Maybe it’s a pride thing for him?”

Marilyn shook her head, wondering why Jarryd hadn’t told her all of those things. She would have suggested cheaper dates when they were still going out, especially when Jarryd had insisted on paying most of the time.

Pfft. As if you’re special enough to him that he’d reveal his deepest secrets and fears to you.

She sniffed.

Pity the feelings weren’t mutual.

And that statement just felt like a bucketful of hogwash.

Argh!

“Jade, slap me.”

“What?”

“Slap me.”

“Why?”

“Because I’m being stupid,” she said with a whine. “I want to believe that Jarryd still wants me but that something else that’s totally fixable is holding him back. But whether his problem is chemistry or money or whatever else, the fact remains that he doesn’t want to be with me. So give me a hard slap and tell me to wake up. Please.

Jade patted her cheek instead. “For the record, I think that Jarryd still likes you a lot, judging from the glances he’s been throwing at you all day. I vote for fixing what’s holding him back.”

Marilyn groaned. “You are so bad for my sanity. I bet it’s the pregnancy hormones that’re making you think like this.”

“Probably,” Jade said with a chuckle, rubbing her slightly swollen belly. “But I’m starting to change my mind about what a nice guy he is. If he thinks you’re shallow and snobbish, then he’s a poor judge of character.”

She smiled at her friend’s show of loyalty. “I’m just unlucky in love.”

“Hey, don’t say that! It’ll happen for you soon enough.”

She made a sad face. She was starting to worry that the one didn’t exist for her. At twenty-eight, she’d been on plenty of dates, some of them with the most eligible bachelors in Australia. But the three times she’d thought the guy could be the one, she’d been left disappointed and heartbroken.

Why did love keep on eluding her?

“You know,” Jade said, “I do find it weird that after being infatuated with you like a lovesick puppy, Jarryd would suddenly change his mind after three short weeks, especially since you said you were getting along just fine. So how about I get Lucas to do some interrogating? Seeing that Lucas is his bestie in our group, he just might tell him something.”

Marilyn nodded, liking that idea. She was tired of being in limbo, shackled there by her feelings for Jarryd and the belief that his reason for breaking up with her was nothing but a smokescreen to hide something he wanted to keep hidden. With only three weeks left before Christmas, she at least wanted to have some sort of clarity so she wouldn’t spend the coming holidays thinking of nothing but him.

“Can you ask Lucas now?” she pleaded with Jade.

*****

Jarryd Westbourne scanned Rick and Lexie’s large yard, seeing the happy faces of friends as well as those of a handful of people he’d just met today. But where was Marilyn? He leaned back on his seat, glancing around.

Ah, there she was on the patio, frowning at her phone. She was probably attending to something important to be sitting there by herself. Anyway, it was good she wasn’t near him. The farther she was, the easier for him not to stare.

He forced himself to avert his gaze, shaking his head for wanting to keep on gawking. But could he really blame himself? He hadn’t seen her in two months and she looked absolutely beautiful today, with her layered shoulder-length blond hair dancing in the gentle breeze. And, heck, she was downright sexy in that green sundress that almost matched the colour of her eyes, her lithe figure showing every time a gust of wind wrapped the soft material of her outfit around her.

Maybe if he hadn’t been missing her so badly, he wouldn’t be—

Oh, for fuck’s sake, why couldn’t he stop himself from pining for her? He was thirty-one, not fifteen!

“Hey, dude.”

He looked behind him with a start.

“Hey,” he said to Lucas, who had a funny smirk on his face.

“Talk to you for a sec?”

“Sure.”

“So what’s this I’ve been hearing about you and Marilyn?” Lucas said in a low voice as they walked towards the perimeter of the garden.

Jarryd glanced at his buddy sharply. “What have you been hearing?”

“That you slept with her, then dumped her.”

Heat rose to his face, his jaw slackening.

“So what happened?” Lucas asked. “You couldn’t wait to go out with her before. Even today, you can’t take your eyes off her.”

He ran his fingers through his hair, glancing back to ensure no one was following them. “Dumped is a harsh word. It was more like I thought it wasn’t going to work out.”

“And why wasn’t it going to work out?”

“Because…” Damn. What excuse could he give? “It hit me that we were going way too fast towards a serious relationship and that scared me,” he said with enough gravity to sound convincing.

“Really? I thought you were already falling fast for her even before she agreed to go out with you.”

Jarryd flushed, but kept an impassive face. “Obviously not. Anyway, who told you?”

“My wife. She’s been talking to Marilyn. Apparently, Marilyn doesn’t buy your reason for breaking up with her.”

He pressed his lips into a thin line, not at all surprised by that.

He’d actually meant to say there was not enough spark between them, but for some reason he’d ended up saying they had none—probably from his agitation at having to end things with her. The hurt and bewilderment on Marilyn’s face had stopped him from correcting himself, lest he make things worse by inadvertently giving away too much. In any case, all he’d succeeded in doing was sounding like a heartless liar.

“What exactly did you tell her?” Lucas prodded.

Jarryd’s phone rang, saving him from answering Lucas. “Sorry, it’s my lawyer. I have to get this.”

“Sure. We’ll continue this later.” Lucas clapped his shoulder before walking away.

“Hello, Carl,” he greeted after Lucas was out of hearing distance.

“Hello, Jarryd. Is this a good time to talk?” asked Carl Peters.

“Yes, I’m just at a party.”

“Oh. Is Marilyn Grant there?”

“Yes.”

“I’m surprised you risked being in the same place as her.”

He sighed. He knew he shouldn’t have come today. But these people were his friends, even though they had no knowledge of the drama happening in his life. Besides, he’d missed them, especially Marilyn.

“Anyway, I have some good news for you,” Carl said. “Probably great timing since you’re there with Marilyn.”

Jarryd straightened. “Uh-huh.”

“Bray Hayden, my PI, managed to find out that Barry and Alice Grant have never met with Patrick O’Neill about appearing on Biz Q&A. There was no need for a meeting because both of them declined the written invitation to appear on the show.”

His heart raced in excitement. “And Bray is certain that the Grants and Patrick are not connected in any other way?”

“Yes. Apparently, Patrick is keen to have high-profile billionaires like Alice and Barry to be guest mentors on his show. But the Grants are not friends with Patrick. It appears they haven’t even met in person.”

Sheer relief washed over Jarryd. Thank God for that. “Do you know when Patrick plans to formally challenge the will’s validity?” he asked.

“He’s still holding off on it. But that doesn’t mean he won’t ever do it. What did he call you two months ago when he stormed into your office?”

“A scheming thief and evil manipulator,” Jarryd said dryly. “I still find it strange that he waited seven months before claiming I manipulated Margaret into writing a new will for my benefit.”

“Well, his lawyer said he’d been too shocked and grief-stricken to do anything those first seven months since Margaret’s death. Apparently, Patrick was supposed to be in California with Margaret when Margaret slipped and hit her head on those blasted marble stairs. He’d felt guilty about not being with her.”

Sadness hit Jarryd at the memory of his birth mother, whom he’d met for the first time less than two years ago. When he’d received a call from her out of the blue, asking if he’d want to connect, he’d been shocked. Apparently, Margaret had wanted to find him for a long time, but had been waiting for him to instigate the connection—until she hadn’t wanted to wait any longer.

He hadn’t hesitated agreeing to meet her. He’d already toyed with the idea of searching for his birth mother, with the encouragement of his wonderful adoptive parents. But the last thing he’d expected was to come face-to-face with the Margaret O’Neill, widow of Harold Greeves—the business genius who’d steered Greeves Minerals Corp into becoming one of the world’s biggest miners of diamonds and other gemstones.

Five years ago, Margaret’s grieving face had been all over the news when her billionaire husband and their son—their only child together—had died from injuries sustained in a car accident in Germany.

The spotlight had been on Margaret again three years ago, when she’d married Patrick O’Neill, the charismatic and popular head panellist of the respected TV show Biz Q&A. The man who, two months ago, had vowed to make Jarryd’s life hell for Jarryd’s supposed manipulation of Margaret.

“Don’t worry, Jarryd,” Carl was saying, dragging his attention back to their conversation. “If Patrick makes any legal or public accusation that you coerced Margaret into giving you the bulk of her estate, we’ll pull out all the stops to prove that he only wants to ruin your character so he can end up with Margaret’s money. Besides, he might have the adulation of his fans and the support of some very influential people, but you have the money to fight him on this. You’re the billionaire, Jarryd. You.”

“Well, I don’t plan to live like one until all the question marks on my character are gone. And I can only hope that Patrick will give due respect to his departed wife by not publicising any of this.”

“I hope so too,” Carl said. “But personally, I don’t think we have to worry about Patrick bringing this out in the public arena until he’s sure he can win. And right now, he knows he can’t. He has no proof. But he’d want to protect his image to the fullest, so he wouldn’t want people to know that his wife decided to leave most of her wealth to a son that she’d never told him about.”

Jarryd ran a hand over his face. Even he had been stunned to learn of his inheritance. Margaret had never told him about it.

What made it worse was that, apart from his parents, he hadn’t told anyone about meeting his birth mother either. Margaret had requested that they keep their reunion a secret for a short period so they could get to know each other without the unwanted attention that might arise from Margaret’s public profile as CEO of Greeves Minerals. Then Margaret had asked him to continue keeping their relationship a secret when Greeves Minerals started negotiations to buy Well of Brilliance, a diamond retail company and custom jewellery maker that Margaret had been especially keen on acquiring. She’d been concerned that juicy news about her personal life might result in negative publicity that could affect their success.

Now that Margaret was gone, he was still duty-bound to hide his relationship with her. Olivia Greeves, Margaret’s sister-in-law who was now Greeves Minerals’ CEO, was trying to get the negotiations back on track to acquire Well of Brilliance. Olivia, too, had asked Jarryd to stay quiet until the Well of Brilliance deal was finalised. The talks had been going on and off for far too long, and Olivia didn’t want anything that might stall it again. Of course he’d agreed. He now owned fifty percent of Greeves Minerals and wanted what was best for the company.

He shook his head to clear it. “Anyway, Carl, is there anything else you wanted to talk to me about?”

“That’s it for now. Have you spoken to Marilyn today?”

Carl’s sudden change of topic made Jarryd’s breath hitch. “I’m just about to. Apparently, she wants to know exactly why I broke up with her. You have no idea how relieved I am to know that her parents aren’t connected with Patrick.”

“But hasn’t Olivia asked you to stay quiet about your relationship with Margaret?”

“Yes, for now. I don’t have to mention Margaret to anyone. I’ve managed to keep it to myself for all these months.”

“Well, good luck with Marilyn today.”

“Thanks,” he said before they said their goodbyes.

Jarryd took a minute to compose himself after hanging up.

If only he hadn’t been so muddled two months ago.

But he’d been taken aback by Patrick O’Neill suddenly accusing him of something so unthinkable as coercing his birth mother into writing a new will so he’d get the bulk of Margaret’s billion-dollar estate. Patrick was an influential, well-known and well-respected man. Jarryd knew that plenty of people would believe Patrick’s words without a question, while there Jarryd was, a nobody who’d suddenly become a billionaire after the death of Margaret O’Neill—who’d never told anyone she had a living son she’d given up for adoption, much less that she’d found him.

He still couldn’t believe the timing. He’d been succeeding at warding off his disquiet at Patrick’s accusations by being in Marilyn’s arms, when Marilyn had informed him that her parents were Barry and Alice Grant of Grant Ace.

He snickered dryly, remembering how he couldn’t wait to ask Carl to find out if the Grants were acquainted with Patrick, and how he’d just stared into space for minutes when Carl’s PI had informed him that Barry and Alice were being asked by Patrick to appear on several episodes of Biz Q&A.

He’d still made the right decision breaking up with Marilyn then, right?

Knowing what he knew then, yes. He’d assumed that the Grants and Patrick were well acquainted and he’d wanted to protect Marilyn and her parents from any negative publicity that could fall on them because of his conflict with Patrick.

But now he would have done things differently. He would have fully prepared himself for a let-her-down-gently breakup instead of refusing to think about it and only blurting out the words when he was already in front of her.

Now the coast was somewhat clear again, and he couldn’t wait to smooth things out with her. But how would he start wooing her again after he’d used the wrong fucking words?

No spark between them.

Seriously, he was an idiot.

***End of Chapter One***

Hope you enjoyed that. Tomorrow, I'll share with you Chapter Two.

But before I go, remember that I mentioned I'll be running a giveaway exclusive to my newsletter subscribers? It's my way of showing how much I appreciate you being on my mailing list. Well, it's now started! Here's the link to giveaway page:

Exclusive Newsletter Giveaway

All you need to do is answer up to three very easy questions, with each answer giving you one entry point. You can even browse my website to help you answer two of the questions, specifically this webpage: Books by Miranda

First Prize: One winner will win signed copies of books 1 to 6 of the Captured by Love series (The Unwilling Executive, The Unyielding Bachelor, The Undercover Playboy, The Unintended Fiancé, The Unforgettable Ex, The Unknown Billionaire)

Second Prize: Two winners will win a signed copy of The Unknown Billionaire

I can't wait to see your answers, and I can't wait to send out the prizes to the winners!

Here again is the link to the giveaway: Exclusive Newsletter Giveaway

Good luck! And don't forget to check your inbox for Chapter Two of The Unknown Billionaire tomorrow!

Till then, take care.

Love,
Miranda xoxo

 

The Unforgettable Ex: Chapter Two

Hope you enjoyed Chapter One of The Unforgettable Ex. Today is Chapter Two day! Without further ado, here it is.

The Unforgettable Ex: Chapter Two:TheUnforgettableEx-200x300

“Natasha, I have Leo on the phone for you.”

“Could you take a message, please?” Natasha asked their receptionist as she continued to frown at her computer screen.

“Okay. He did say to let you know that he’s left several messages in your voicemail, and that he’s on his way here now.”

She sighed, checking her watch. “I guess I should talk to him. Put him through.”

“Sure. Here he is.”

“Hi, Leo,” she greeted.

“Hey, gorgeous. I’m five minutes away from your office.”

“Um, okay,” she said, resigning herself to working on the weekend to finish a task that had to be ready by Monday. Having already cancelled two dates with Leo in the past week, she didn’t want to do it again to him today.

“Sounds like you’re not quite ready to go?”

“I’m not done with what I’m doing, but I can finish it over the weekend.”

“Work on the weekend! Why don’t I wait for you at reception until you finish what you have to do?”

“Oh, I don’t really want you to do that. I could take a while.”

“Well, how about you see where you’re at by the time I get there, then we’ll play it by ear? I really don’t mind waiting.”

“Okay,” she said gratefully.

“Good. See you soon.”

She smiled wryly as she hung up. Leo was so sweet and caring, and she was annoyed at herself for her inability to feel something deeper for the man. She did like him a lot as a person, but she just didn’t feel enough sexual attraction to even want to sleep with him. Sure, sex wasn’t everything in a relationship, but when she constantly found herself thinking up new excuses so they wouldn’t end up in bed, wasn’t it time to cut him loose and set him free?

It was so frustrating. Since she and Gavin had split up, she’d only slept with one guy. The sex had been so lacklustre, even though the guy had done everything he could to excite her. She’d had the same lack of interest with all the guys she’d dated since then that she simply couldn’t be bothered taking it further. So what was the point in getting naked with Leo when she couldn’t get wet enough for him no matter how much they both tried?

But she really wanted to fall for Leo. On paper, he was everything she wanted in a man. Except that her heart and body simply refused to cooperate. She wasn’t blaming him, because it was her fault for comparing him—and her previous dates—to Gavin, who could get her hot and moist with just a look, even when she was covered from head to toe.

So what else could she do to move on once and for all from the man who didn’t want her? “Argh!”

“Tash? You okay?”

“Carter!” She got up from her chair to greet her brother with a kiss.

“Mum and Dad working you too hard, Miss Operations Manager?”

She let out a laugh. “To the contrary, Mum wants me to make sure I don’t miss my date with Leo tonight. How are you?”

“Busy. Mum’s been complaining that she hasn’t seen me and Cassie in a month. Cassie’s on her way here too,” Carter said, settling on one of her visitor’s chairs.

“Hey, don’t forget that there’s a job you have to complete by the end of next week.”

“Uh, do you think you can allocate another electrician to finish that? I don’t need to go undercover in that place anymore. The case has been solved.”

She looked at her brother sternly, shaking her head at him. “Mum and Dad are very lax in letting you use our company as your cover for police work. And it’s not fair when you leave actual electrical projects unfinished. You have to go back there and complete the job in your own time, Carter. All our staff are busy and there’s no one we can allocate to it at the last minute.”

“You know it’s not often I leave a project unfinished. But okay, I’ll work on it a few nights next week to finish it off.”

“Thank you. And while we’re on the topic, have you thought about giving up your police job and stop pretending you’re just an electrician working for this company? You own a quarter of the shares, so shouldn’t you put on that fourth director’s cap already?”

“The time will come, sis,” Carter said half-dismissively. “Anyway, apart from me not doing my job to your satisfaction, what’s your other problem?”

“Other problem?” she asked with a frown.

“You looked frustrated when I got here.”

“Oh, I wanted to finish this proposal for a big project before Leo arrives, but it looks like I won’t be able to,” she said convincingly, gesturing to her computer.

“You do work—” Carter paused, fishing out his vibrating phone from his pocket. “Hey, Dave,” he said.

As Carter spoke quietly to his partner detective, Natasha went back to her task, an ear tuned in to her brother’s conversation. As usual, Carter spoke cryptically and didn’t give her any clues as to what he and David might be working on.

“Heard from Gavin?” Carter murmured on the phone. “He hasn’t returned my calls either. Hope he hasn’t done anything without telling us.”

Her fingers froze over the keyboard, her gaze flying to Carter’s face. Was Gavin working with the cops on a case? The last time he’d been involved with some police work, someone had shot him and he’d almost died.

“I’ll try him again later,” Carter said with a sigh, then said goodbye to David.

“Is Gavin okay?” she blurted out.

“I’m sure he is. He’s probably somewhere without phone coverage.”

“Are you guys working on something dangerous?”

“No more dangerous than usual.”

“He’s my friend too, you know,” she said with a huff.

“And?”

She glared at Carter. “I’m not asking for details of your cases, just some assurance that he’s not in any serious bind.”

“Gavin knows what he’s doing,” Carter answered, his brows furrowing.

“You’re worried.”

“No more than usual.”

“Do you know how annoying you are when you answer like that?”

Carter stared at her for a long moment. “He’ll be fine, Tash. Don’t worry,” he said softly.

She rolled her eyes.

“You’re on edge,” Carter countered.

“I’m fine. Just thinking I’ll call it a day now and finish this over the weekend. Leo will be—”

“Hey, guys!”

Speak of the devil.

“Hey, Leo. How’s it going?” Carter said, shaking hands with the man.

“Great, especially since I’m celebrating my three-month anniversary with this beautiful sister of yours,” Leo said, going to Natasha and giving her a kiss on the cheek.

Natasha quickly erased the dismay that appeared on her face. Three-month anniversary? Geez, that hadn’t even occurred to her.

“Where are you taking her?” Carter asked.

“It’s a surprise,” Leo answered casually, although his suppressed excitement was evident.

“Well, I better go to the ladies’ and touch up my makeup,” Natasha said, grabbing her bag and walking out of her office.

Gosh, she so needed to get her thoughts in order. She and Leo were obviously not on the same page in this relationship. He wanted to celebrate a third-month anniversary when she couldn’t even make up her mind if they were truly together. And she hated making people feel bad, especially those who didn’t deserve it—like Leo.

“What are you gonna do?” she muttered to herself.

No inspired thoughts came.

Sighing, she pulled out her phone and dialled Marilyn’s number. As an unattached woman, Marilyn might have some pearls of wisdom to impart to her in regards to her conundrum.

“Hey, Tash,” Marilyn answered.

“Hi, I need your advice.”

“Sure. What’s wrong?”

Natasha paused as she observed a staff member enter the ladies’ restroom.

“Hang on a minute,” she whispered to Marilyn, spying the corridor leading to a locked archives room and heading there. A few months ago, she’d seen Carter come out of this room. Apparently, Carter had needed somewhere private to discuss a super sensitive police matter with David, and the archives room had been perfect for it. Well, she was going to do a Carter and use it now.

She let herself in and closed the door before responding to Marilyn. “Leo’s taking me out for a special three-month anniversary dinner.”

“Ooh, could he be our next Captured by Love winner?” Marilyn teased.

“How could he be when I still want to keep this relationship platonic?”

“Really? You haven’t slept with him yet?”

“No. It’s not that I’m against it. I just don’t feel sexually attracted to him and I’m feeling guilty that I’m leading him on. But at the same time, I’m thinking that I haven’t given myself enough time yet. I’m so torn!”

“Is he putting pressure on you to have sex with him?”

“No. He’s being very patient. Although I know he’ll try to seduce me again tonight and I’ll disappoint him again.”

“Well, I’ve never had your problem because I don’t see the point of going out with men I’m not sexually attracted to. That’s why I’ve been dateless for a while now,” Marilyn said with a sigh. “But you must like him enough to go out with him for three months, right?”

“Ye-ah.”

“You don’t sound so sure.”

“Well, he’s a nice guy and he’s good-looking. And I really want to be attracted to him.”

“You want to be, but you just said you’re actually not. Why are you trying to force yourself?”

She was silent for a long moment. Leo, like the previous guys she’d dated, was a means to keep her feelings for Gavin at bay. Clearly that strategy hadn’t been working.

“You know,” she answered, “I’ve fooled myself into thinking that if I tried hard enough, I would eventually fall for him. But it’s just not happening. And then again, there’s Leo being persistent and patient, and here I am wanting to give up on him. I kinda feel guilty about that.”

“If you’ve given it your best shot, I don’t think Leo could accuse you of not giving him a chance. Love, or even just plain sexual chemistry, can’t be forced.”

“I guess,” she said with a sigh. “You know, maybe it is time I tell him it’s over. He’s already too emotionally invested in me and I don’t want him to fall further when I know I won’t get to where he is.”

“Yes. I’m with you on that. So why you were trying so hard to fall for him?”

“It’s a long story that I’ll have to tell you in person.”

“Aw, I’m gonna have to wait?”

She chuckled. “How about we have dinner soon? I have to go and prepare myself for this break-up. I have a feeling Leo won’t give in without a fight. He’s so determined to make us work.”

“Good luck, and let me know how it goes.”

“I will. Bye.” She hung up and looked for something to sit on. She should at least be ready with a couple of break-up lines before she faced Leo again, especially since the man had planned something special for tonight. Gosh, she didn’t want to be cruel, but surely it would be more cruel to continue leading him on.

She found a step stool behind a row of filing shelves and sat on it, mulling on a few let-him-down-gently words.

The door clicked open, making her sit up straight.

“Hell, Gav, I’ve been worried about you. Where have you been?” Carter said, his voice booming in the enclosed space.

She remained where she was, ducking to make sure Carter couldn’t see her. Since he was talking to Gavin, she sure wanted to eavesdrop.

“Next time, could you let me know what you’re up to? I know how desperate you are to get Biggs, but you need someone to watch your back if you’re going to attempt something like that again.”

She scowled. What the hell had Gavin been up to? She was going to wring his neck if he got himself shot again by some criminal he shouldn’t be following. He wasn’t with the police anymore. He should be leaving things like that to the authorities. At least Carter had a team of cops to back him up during dangerous situations.

“Make sure you let me know next time,” Carter was saying. “Anyway, do you want to have dinner with me, Cassie and my parents tonight? … Oh, of course. I can’t believe I forgot about that. Keep me updated, okay? … Ah, no, she has a date with Leo.”

Natasha cringed at Carter’s disclosure. But so what? Gavin wouldn’t care, anyway.

She sniffed silently.

“Hey, cheer up. I honestly don’t think their relationship will last,” Carter said.

Her brows rose and she cocked her head to listen more intently to her brother’s side of the conversation.

“I think Leo’s more into her than she’s into him,” Carter continued. “I could read it in her face that she wasn’t keen on celebrating their third-month anniversary tonight… Yeah, third-month anniversary… I don’t know. Leo said it was a surprise… I’m serious, Gav. I don’t think she’s all that keen on Leo… I just don’t want you to get depressed when there’s a possibility that things could be resolved soon… Okay. Talk to you tomorrow.”

Natasha’s heart galloped in her chest as Carter left the room, her mouth hanging open. Did that conversation mean what she thought it did?

No. How could it, when Gavin had a new girlfriend that he was close to introducing to everyone?

Argh, she was more confused than ever.

***END OF CHAPTER TWO***

Hope the first two chapters of The Unforgettable Ex have whetted your appetite for more of Gavin and Natasha 🙂 . The book's official release date is February 26th and I'll send you the store links on that day.

Thank you once again for your continued support. I keep writing not just because I love it, but because I have wonderful readers waiting for my stories. It's an honour and a thrill for my books to be read by you guys. I love you to bits.

Always,
Miranda xxx

TheUnwillingExecutive-200x300P.S. By the way, The Unwilling Executive is free for a limited time! If you already have your copy, please share this news with friends who might enjoy this book. Thanks so much!