The Unexpected Husband: Out Now!

Happy Release Day to The Unexpected Husband!

I'm so excited that this day has finally arrived! It took me longer than expected to finish this book, and I'm so grateful to my editor, Eliza Dee, and to my proofreader, Donna Rich, for working cheerfully with my tight schedule and helping ensure that Tristan and Paige's story is all polished and ready for today.

If you pre-ordered your copy, The Unexpected Husband should already be sitting in your devices. If not, here are the links to the stores, including Google Play:

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

I really love this story, and I'm sure you'll love it too.

Thanks again for your support. I'll be back very shortly with a fun giveaway relating to the cover for my next book! In the meantime, enjoy The Unexpected Husband!

Much love,
Miranda xo

The Unexpected Husband Book Description

Can Tristan afford to trust the woman he wants?
Tristan Grant's entertainment venues are now the most popular in the country, but his success has come at a price. Larry and Debbie Shipton, his main competitors, are resorting to sabotage to regain their number one position. But that's not the most shocking news. The woman he had a one-night stand with claims she's pregnant with his baby. The problem is, he can't afford to trust her–because her name is Paige Shipton, and she is Larry and Debbie's daughter. Too bad he didn't know that before he slept with Paige, but he's determined not to make any more mistakes when it comes to dealing with the devious Shiptons. If only he can find a way to stop being so attracted to Paige…

Can Paige save her heart from being irreparably broken?
Paige Shipton is going ahead with her pregnancy. It doesn't matter that the father is Tristan Grant–the man who accuses her of deception simply because of who her parents are. She wants the baby, and she's prepared to raise it alone. When she tells Tristan he doesn't need to be involved, his answer surprises her, and she soon finds herself falling deeply for the man determined to ruin the Shipton name. With the conflict between Tristan and her parents escalating to destructive heights, can Paige avoid getting her heart irreparably broken?

 

 

The Unexpected Husband: Chapter One

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

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

The Unexpected Husband: Chapter One

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I arrived more than four hours ago.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Are you really pregnant?”

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

“Is it really mine?”

“Yes!”

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

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

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

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

“What would you like?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

She raised her eyebrows in surprise.

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

What? Was he messing with her mind?

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

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

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

***End of Chapter One***

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

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

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

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

Till then, enjoy your day/night.

Love,
Miranda xoxo

 

The Unmasked CEO: Chapter 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: Out Now!

unknown-billionaire-release-3Finally, the time has come! Happy release day to The Unknown Billionaire! I'm so excited for you to read Jarryd and Marilyn's story. Today, if you haven't already done so, you can grab your copy from the following stores:

Amazon US | Other Amazon stores | Apple iBooks | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | All Romance Ebooks | Google Play

Will his billion-dollar fortune cause him to lose the woman he loves?
Jarryd Westbourne is shocked to have inherited a billion-dollar fortune from the mother who'd given him up for adoption. Unfortunately, business complications force him to keep it a secret from everyone for a period of time, even from Marilyn Grant, the woman he's crazy about. When his birth mother's husband suddenly challenges the will and accuses him of foul play, he ends his relationship with Marilyn to protect her from any scandal. But can he ever win Marilyn back if she discovers what he's been hiding from her?

Can her love survive a necessary deception?
Marilyn Grant was heartbroken when Jarryd Westbourne dumped her unexpectedly. But she believes that Jarryd broke up with her only because he's intimidated by her parents being billionaires while he's only of average means. She's keen to prove to Jarryd that she doesn't care one bit that his wealth is nowhere near her family's. After all, love and trust, not money, are the foundations of a lasting relationship. And Jarryd is one guy she knows she can trust…

*****

I truly hope you enjoy The Unknown Billionaire. I have definitely loved writing it.

And if you haven't entered the exclusive giveaway yet, don't forget to check it out!

Exclusive Giveaway To Celebrate The Unknown Billionaire's Release

Happy reading, and let me know what you think of The Unknown Billionaire, ‘kay?

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:

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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

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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