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The Billionaire Bachelor
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Manwhore. That’s what the board of directors–and the tabloids–thinks of billionaire bachelor Reese Crane. Ordinarily he couldn’t care less, but his playboy past is preventing the board from naming him CEO of Crane Hotels. Nothing–and no one–will keep him from his life’s legacy. They want a settled man to lead the company? Then that’s exactly what he’ll give them.
Merina Van Heusen will do anything to get her parents’ funky boutique hotel back–even marry cold-as-ice-but-sexy-as-hell Reese Crane. It’s a simple business contract–six months of marriage, absolute secrecy, and the Van Heusen is all hers again. But when sparks fly between them, their passion quickly moves from the boardroom to the bedroom. And soon Merina is living her worst nightmare: falling in love with her husband.
Ah, the billionaire! It’s like returning to my roots. Whether you’ve been with me since the beginning or are just now discovering me: thanks a billion.
Thank you to Michele Bidelspach for your editorial prowess, Nicole Resciniti for your agent superpowers, and to everyone at Forever Romance who had a part in editing, designing, and producing this book.
As always, thank you to my friends and family and my dear husband, who have to deal with me during deadline time. I’m so lucky you all love me enough to put up with me!
The Van Heusen Hotel was the love of Merina Van Heusen’s life. The historical building dominated the corner of Rush and East Chicago Avenue, regal and beautiful, a living work of art.
Her parents’ hotel had once been the Bell Terrace, home away from home to celebrities such as Audrey Hepburn, Sammy Davis Jr., and more recently, Lady Gaga and the late Robin Williams. The original structure perished in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, only to be resurrected bigger, better, and more beautiful.
There was a life lesson in there.
Latte in hand, Merina breathed in the air in the lobby, a mix of vanilla and cinnamon. Faint but reminiscent of the famed dessert invented in the hotel’s kitchen: the snickerdoodle. On her way past Arnold, who stood checking a guest into the hotel, she snagged one of the fresh-baked cookies off a plate and winked at him.
The dark-skinned older man slid her a smile and winked back. Having practically grown up here, the VH was a second home to her. Arnold had started out as a bellman and had worked here for as long she could remember. He was as good as family.
She dumped her purse in her office and finished her cookie, holding on to the latte while she meandered down the hallways, checking to make sure there were no trays outside the doors that needed collecting. At the end of the corridor on the first floor, she saw a man outside one of the rooms, drill whirring away.
“Excuse me,” she called. Then had to call again to be heard over the sound. When she came into view, he paused the drilling and looked up at her.
He wore a tool belt and navy uniform, and the antique doorknob was sitting on the floor at his feet along with a small pile of sawdust.
“What are you doing?” she asked, bending to pick up the heavy brass. Her parents had done away with “real keys” the moment they took over, installing the popular keycard entry hotels now used, but the antique doorknobs remained.
“Installing the fingerprint entry.” From his pocket, the uniformed man pulled out a small silver pad with a black opening, then went back to drilling.
“No, no, no.” She placed the doorknob back on the ground and dusted her hand on her skirt. “We’re not doing any fingerprint entry.” She offered a patient smile. “You need to double-check your work order.”
He gave her a confused look. “Ma’am?” He was looking at Merina, but his voice was raised.
Merina’s mother, Jolie, appeared from behind the hotel room door, her eyebrows raising into hair that used to be the same honeyed shade of blond as Merina’s but now was more blond to hide the gray.
“Oh, Merina!” Her mother smiled, but her expression looked a little pained.
“Can you give me a minute with my daughter, Gary?” Like she was Gary’s mother, Jolie fished a five-dollar bill from her pocket and pressed it into his palm. “Go to the restaurant and have Sharon make you a caramel macchiato. You won’t be sorry.”
Gary frowned but took the cash. Merina shook her head as he walked away.
“Sweetheart.” Jolie offered another smile. A tight-lipped one meaning there was bad news. Like when Merina’s cat, Sherwood, had been hit by a car and Jolie had to break it to her. “Come in. Sit.” She popped open the door and Merina entered the guest room.
White duvets and molded woodwork, modern flat-screen televisions and artwork. Red, gold, and deep orange accents added to the richness of the palette and were meant to show that a fire may have taken down the original building but couldn’t keep it down.
Jolie gestured to the chair by the desk. Merina refused to sit.
“Mom. What’s going on?”
On the end of a sigh that didn’t make Merina feel any better, her mother spoke.
“Several changes have been ordered for the Van Heusen in order to modernize it. Fingerprint entry is just one of them. Also, the elevators will be replaced.”
“Why?” Merina pictured the gold decorative doors with a Phoenix, the mythical bird that arose from the ashes of its predecessor, emblazoned on them. If there was a beating heart in the Van Heusen, it was that symbol. Her stomach turned.
Instead of answering, Jolie continued. “Then there’s the carpeting. The tapestry design won’t fit in with the new scheme. And probably the molding and ceiling medallions will all be replaced.” She sighed again. “It’s a new era.”
“When did you take to day-drinking?” Merina asked, only half kidding.
Her mother laughed, but it was brief and faded almost instantly. She touched Merina’s arm gently. “Sweetheart. We were going to tell you, but we wanted to make sure there really was no going back. I didn’t expect the locksmith to arrive today.” Her eyes strayed to the door.
Merina’s patience fizzled. “Tell me what?”
“Your father and I sold the Van Heusen to Alexander Crane six months ago. At the time, he had no plans on making any changes at all, but now that he’s retiring, the hotel has fallen to his oldest son. Evidently, Reese had different ideas.”
At that pronouncement, Jolie’s normally sunny attitude clouded over. Merina knew the Cranes. The Crane Hotel was the biggest corporate hotel outfit in the city, the second biggest in the nation. Alexander (better known as “Big Crane”) and his sons ran it, local celebrities of sorts. She’d also read about Big Crane’s retirement and Reese’s likely ascension to CEO.
But none of that mattered. There was only one newly learned fact bouncing around in her brain. “You sold the Van Heusen?”
She needed that chair after all. She sank into it, mind blanking of everything except for one name: Reese Crane.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” Merina stood up again. She couldn’t sit. She could not remain still while this was happening. Correction: This had happened. “Why didn’t you talk to me first?”
“You know we’d never include you in our financial difficulties, Merina.” Jolie clucked her tongue.
“Bankruptcy was not an option,” her mom said. “Plus, selling gave us the best of both worlds. No financial responsibility and we keep our jobs.”
“With Reese Crane as your boss!” Her mind spun after she said it aloud. My God. They would be answering to that arrogant, idiotic…“No.” Merina shook her head as she strode past her mother. “This is a mistake.”
And there had to be a way to undo it.
“Merina!” her mother called after her as Merina bent and collected the discarded doorknob off the ground. She strode through the lobby, dumping the remainder of her latte in the wastebasket by the front desk, and then stomped outside.
As luck would have it, the light drizzle turned into steady rain the second she marched through the crosswalk. Angry as she was, she’d bet that steam rose off her body where the raindrops pelted her.
“That stupid, smarmy jackass!” she said as she pushed through a small crowd of people hustling through the crosswalk. Because seriously, who in their right mind would reconstruct the Van Heusen? Fingerprint entry? This wasn’t a James Bond movie! She caught a few sideways glances, but it was hard to tell if they were because she was muttering to herself like a loopy homeless person or because she was carrying a disembodied doorknob around with her.
Could be both.
Her parents had sold the Van Heusen to the biggest, most ostentatious hotel chain in the world. And without telling their own daughter, who also happened to be the hotel’s manager! How close to bankruptcy had they been? Couldn’t Merina have helped? She’d never know now that they’d sneaked behind her back.
How could they do this to me?
Merina was as much a part of that hotel as they were. Her mother acted as if selling it was nothing more than an inconvenience.
Focus. You’re pissed at Crane.
Right. Big Crane may have done her parents a favor buying it, but now that he was about to “peace out,” it sounded like Reese had decided to flex his corporate muscle.
“Shit!” She didn’t just do that. She did not just drown her Louboutin pumps in a deep puddle by the curb. She didn’t splurge on much, but her shoes were an indulgence. She shook the rainwater from one pump as best she could and sloshed up Rush Street to Superior, her sights set squarely on the Crane Hotel.
Seventy floors of mirrored glass and as invasive as a visit to the ob-gyn. Given the choice between this monstrosity and the Van Heusen, with its warm cookies and cozy design, she couldn’t believe anyone would set foot in the clinical, whitewashed Crane Hotels let alone sleep there.
At the top of that ivory tower, Reese Crane perched like an evil overlord. The oldest Crane son wasn’t royalty, but according to the social media and newspaper attention he sure as hell thought he was.
Halfway down Superior, she folded her arms over her shirt, shuddering against the intensifying wind. She really should have grabbed her coat on her way out, but there hadn’t been a lot of decision-making going into her process. She’d made it this far, fists balled and steam billowing out of her ears, her ire having kept her warm for the relatively short walk. She should have known better. In Chicago, spring didn’t show up until summer.
Finally, she stood face-to-face with the gargantuan, seventy-floor home base. The Crane was not only the premier hotel for the visiting wealthy (and possibly uncultured, given that they stayed here), but it was also where Reese slept, in his very own suite on the top floor, instead of his sprawling Lake Shore Drive mansion. She wouldn’t be surprised if he slept right at his desk, snuggling his cell phone in one hand and a wad of money in the other.
Inside, she sucked in a generous breath and shook off her chill. At least there was no wind, and despite the chilling whitewash of furniture, rugs, and modern lighting, it was warm. But only in temperature. The Crane represented everything she hated about modern hotels. And she should know, because she’d worked diligently alongside her parents to keep the integrity of their boutique hotel since she started running it. Her hotel was a place of rich history, beauty, and passion. This place was a tower of glass, made so that the lower echelon of the city could see in but never touch.
Perfect for the likes of Reese Crane.
She walked through the lobby, filled to overflowing with businesspeople of every color, shape, and size. Flashes of suits—black, gray, white—passed in a monochrome blur, as if the Crane Hotel had a dress code and each and every guest here had received the memo. Merina, in her plum silk shirt and dark gray pencil skirt and nude heels, didn’t stand out…except for the fact that she resembled a drowned rat.
A few surly glances and cocked brows were her reward for rushing out into the storm. Well. Whatever.
She spotted the elevator leading to Crane’s office, catching the door as an older woman was reaching for the button. The woman with coiffed gray hair widened her eyes in alarm, a tiny dog held snuggly in her arms. Merina skated a hand down her skirt and over her hair, wiping the hollows below her eyes to ensure she didn’t go to Reese’s office with panda eyes.
“Good morning,” she greeted.
The older woman frowned. Here was the other problem with the Crane. Its guests were as snooty as the building.
Attitude reflects leadership.
The doors opened only once, to deliver the woman and her dog to the forty-second floor, and then Merina rode the car to the top floor without interruption. She used the time to straighten herself in the blurry, reflective gold doors. No keys or security codes were needed to reach the top of the building. Reese Crane was probably far too smug to believe anyone would dare come up here without an appointment. She’d heard his secretary was more like a bulldog that guarded his office.
The elevator doors slid aside to reveal a woman wearing all black, her grim expression better suited for a funeral home than a hotel.
“May I help you?” the woman asked, her words measured, curt, and not the least bit friendly.
“You can’t,” Merina said, pleased the rain hadn’t completely drowned out her rage. “I need to speak with Mr. Crane.”
“Do you have an appoin—”
“No.” She supposed she could have made an appointment, could have called ahead, but no sense in robbing Reese Crane of the full effect of her face-to-face fury.
The phone rang and the woman slid her acerbic glare away from Merina. She waited as the other woman answered a call, spoke as slowly as humanly possible, and then returned the receiver to the cradle. The woman folded her hands, waiting.
Even with her nostrils flared, Merina forced a smile. There was only one way past this gatekeeper. She called up an ounce of poise—an ounce being the most she could access at the moment. “Merina Van Heusen to see Reese Crane.”
“Ms. Van Heusen,” the woman said, her tone flat, her eyes going to the doorknob in Merina’s hand. “You’re here regarding the changes to the hotel, I presume.”
“You got it,” Merina said, barely harnessing her anger. How come everyone was so damn calm about dismantling a town landmark?
“Have a seat.” Crane’s bulldog gestured one manicured hand at a group of cushy white chairs, her mouth frowning in disgust as she took in Merina’s dishevelment. “Perhaps I could fetch you a towel first.”
“I won’t be sitting.” She wasn’t about to be put in her place by Reese’s underling. Then her prayers were answered as the set of gleaming wooden doors behind the secretary’s desk parted like the Red Sea.
Merina barreled forward as the woman at the desk barked, “Excuse me!”
Merina ignored her. She wouldn’t be delayed another second…or so she thought. She stopped short when a woman in a very tight red dress, the neckline plunging into plentiful cleavage, her heels even higher and potentially more expensive than Merina’s Louboutins, swept out of the office and gave her a slow, mascaraed blink back. Then she sashayed around Merina, past the bulldog, and left behind a plume of perfume.
Reese’s latest date? An escort? If Merina believed the local tabloids, one and the same. Paying for dates certainly wasn’t above his pay grade.
Before the doors closed, she slipped into Reese’s office.
“Ms. Van Heusen!” came a bark behind her, but Reese, who stood facing the windows and looking out upon downtown, said three words that instantly silenced his secretary.
“She’s fine, Bobbie.”
Merina smirked back at the sour-faced, coal-eyed woman as Reese’s office doors whooshed shut.
“Merina, I presume.” Reese still hadn’t turned. His posture was straight, jacket and slacks impeccably tailored to his muscular, perfectly proportioned body. Shark or not, the man could wear a suit. She’d seen the photos of him in the Trib as well as Luxury Stays, the hotel industry’s leading trade magazine, and like every other woman in Chicago, she hadn’t missed the gossip about him online. Like his more professional photos, his hands were sunk into his pant pockets, and his wavy, dark hair was styled and perfect.
Clearly the woman who had just left was here on other business…or past business. If something more clandestine was going on, Reese would appear more mussed. Then again, he probably didn’t muss his hair during sex. From what she gleaned about him via the media, Reese probably didn’t allow his hair to muss.
The snarky thought paired with a vision of him out of that suit, stalking naked and primed, golden muscles shifting with each long-legged step. Sharp, navy eyes focused only on her…
He turned to face her and she snapped out of her imaginings and blinked at the stubble covering a perfectly angled jaw. What was it about that hint of dishevelment on his otherwise perfect visage that made her breath catch?
Thick dark brows jumped slightly as his eyes zoomed in on her chest.
She sneered before venturing a glance down at her sodden silk shirt. Where she saw the perfect outline of both nipples. A tinge of heat lit her cheeks, and she crossed her arms haughtily, glaring at him as best she could while battling embarrassment.
“Seems this April morning is colder than you anticipated,” he drawled.
And that was when any wayward attraction she might have felt toward him died a quick death. The moment he opened his mouth, her hormones pulled the emergency brake.
“Cut the horseshit, Crane,” she snapped.
The edge of Reese’s mouth moved sideways, sliding the stubble into an even more appealing pattern. But she wasn’t here to be insulted or patronized.
“I heard some news,” she said.
He didn’t bite.
“Your father purchased the Van Heusen,” she continued.
“He added it to the family portfolio, yes,” he responded coolly.
Portfolio. She felt her lip curl. To him, the VH was a number on a spreadsheet. Nothing more. Which could also mean he didn’t care enough about it to continue with these ridiculous changes.
“There’s been an error. My mother is under the impression that many of the nostalgic and antique fixtures in the building will be replaced.” She plunked down the heavy doorknob on his desk. A pool of rainwater gathered on his leather blotter.
Reese sucked in a breath through his nose and moved to his desk—a block of black wood the color of his heart—and rested one hand on the back of a shiny leather chair.
“Have a seat.” He had manly hands for a guy who spent his days in an office and spare time eating souls, and they were about as disturbingly masculine as the scruff lining his jaw.
She didn’t want to sit. She wanted to march over there and slap the pompous smirk off his face. Then she remembered her compromised top, refolded her arms over her breasts, and sat as requested.
You win this round, Crane.
Reese lowered himself into his chair and pressed a button on his phone. “Bobbie, Ms. Van Heusen will need a car in fifteen minutes.”
So he’d deigned to carve out fifteen minutes for Merina. Lucky her.
“I don’t want a car.”
“No? You’re planning on walking back?” Even sitting, he exuded power. Broad, strong shoulders filled out his dark jacket, and a gray tie with a silver sheen arrowed down a crisp white shirt.
“Yes.” She wondered what time of day he finally gave up and yanked the perfect knot out of that tie. When he surrendered the top button. Another flare of heat shot through her. She hated the way he affected her. She was just so damn aware of him.
It was unfair. She frowned.
“You were saying something about horseshit,” he said smoothly, and she realized she had been sitting there glaring at him in silence for a long while.
She cleared her throat and plowed through what she needed to tell him.
“You can’t redesign the Van Heusen Hotel. It’s a landmark. Did you know the hotel was the first to install elevators? The hotel’s chef created the snickerdoodle. That building is an integral thread woven into the fabric of this city.”
She pressed her lips together. Perhaps she was being a tad theatrical, but the Van Heusen did have historical importance to the city, and beyond that, a personal history to her. She’d gone to college straight from high school and graduated with her business degree, her dream to run the Van Heusen. A dream she’d realized and was currently living until this little snafu.
“Born and raised in Chicago, Ms. Van Heusen. You’re not telling me anything I don’t know,” he said, sounding bored.
“Then you know remodeling the Van Heusen makes no sense,” she continued, using her best ally: reason. “Our hotel is known for its style. Guests come there to experience a living, breathing piece of Chicago.” She stopped short of going into a monologue about how even the fires couldn’t destroy the dream but opted against it.
“My hotel, Ms. Van Heusen,” he corrected.
His. A fact she’d gleaned only a few minutes ago. A dart of pain shot through the center of her chest. She should have demanded to see the contract her parents signed before sloshing over here in a downpour and parading her nipples for Mr. Suit & Beard. She was almost as pissed at them for keeping this from her as she was for Crane thinking he could strut in and take over.
“No matter who owns the building, you have to know that robbing the Van Heusen of its style will make it just another whitewashed, dull hotel,” she said.
Her stomach churned. If she had to bear witness to them ripping up the carpeting and replacing it with white shining tile or see a Dumpster filled with antique doorknobs, she might just lose her mind. The hand-carved molding, the ceiling medallions…each piece of the VH had been preserved to keep the integrity of the past. And now Reese wanted to erase it.
She heard the sadness creep into her voice when she ventured, “Surely there’s another way.”
He didn’t respond to this. Instead he pointed out, “Your parents have been in the red for nearly two years.”
She felt her eyes go wide. Two years?
“I gather this is news to you,” he added, then continued. “Your father’s hospital bills put them further in debt.”
He was referring to her dad’s heart attack last year. Merina had no idea the bills had buried them. She lived in the same house. How had they hidden this from her?
“They came to us to buy the building and we did,” Reese said. “I could have fired them, but I didn’t. I offered a generous pension plan if they stayed on through the remodel.”
A shake worked up her arms and branched over her shoulders. Pension?
“I take it you didn’t know that either.”
“They didn’t want to worry me,” she said flatly, but it didn’t take the sting from the truth. They’d kept everything from her.
Her pie-in-the-sky parents who loved that building arguably as much as they loved each other had to have gone to Big Crane as a last resort. They’d overlooked he had Satan for a son.
“They trusted your father to take care of them,” she said, her anger blooming anew. “Then you waltz in and wipe them out.”
“My father likes your parents, but this isn’t about what nice people they are,” Satan continued. “He mentioned how well they’d maintained the local landmark with what funds they had available.”
Merina’s nostrils flared as she inhaled some much-needed oxygen. Her parents had cared for and upgraded the Van Heusen as best they could, but face it, her family didn’t have the billion-dollar bankroll the Cranes had.
“Your father is a wise man,” she said, pitting the two men against each other. Sure enough, a flicker of challenge shone in Reese’s navy eyes. “I doubt his intention when he purchased the Van Heusen was to turn it into a mini-me of the Crane.”
“My father is retiring in a few months. He’s made it clear the future of the Van Heusen is in my hands.” Reese shrugged, which made him look relaxed and made her pulse skyrocket. “I fail to see the charm in the funky, run-down boutique hotel, and I assume most visitors do as well.”
Funky? Just who did this jerk-off think he was?
“Do you know how many Hollywood actors have dined in our restaurant?” she blurted. “Hemingway wrote part of his memoir sitting on the velvet chair in the lobby!”
“I thought he mostly wrote in Key West.”
“Rumors,” she hissed.
A smirk slid over his lips in a look that likely melted his fan club’s collective underpants, but it had no effect on her. Not now that she knew how far he was taking this.
- "5 stars! Another amazing start to what I am sure will be another AMAZING series by Jessica Lemmon and I cannot wait until the next book."—Harlequin Junkie "Top Pick" on The Billionaire Bachelor
- "Lemmon hits the right emotional buttons with this lavish, indulgence-fueled romance."—Publishers Weekly on The Billionaire Bachelor
- "Wonderfully entertaining storytelling filled with sharp, sassy banter. A cast of appealing secondary characters, a solid, contemporary plot with Reese and Merina's strong sexual tension and fiery chemistry will have readers hooked."—RT Book Reviews on The Billionaire Bachelor
"4 stars! In Lemmon's latest her signature style of storytelling laced with emotion and grit will engage readers with each turn of the page...With distinctive, colorful characters and genuine, real-life situations, Lemmon creates an authentic romance."
—RT Book Reviews on Return of the Bad Boy
- "Shopping for a hot holiday read? Look no further than A Bad Boy for Christmas. Actually, it's a terrific read for any time of the year. With charismatic characters, stirring situations and enough sexy to fill an entire town's worth of stockings, this latest in Lemmon's Second Chance series is 400-plus pages of Christmas magic."—USA Today on A Bad Boy for Christmas
- "4 stars! Lemmon's contemporary style of storytelling and down-to-earth characters shine through. Lemmon will draw readers into this story because she writes characters whom readers can connect with. Connor and Faith are strong and complement each other, and their chemistry is explosive. Lemmon is an expert at the modern-day romance."—RT Book Reviews on A Bad Boy for Christmas
- "Lemmon's sexy and well-constructed third Second Chance romance (after Rescuing the Bad Boy), set in the small town of Evergreen Cove, Ohio, uses a nice reversal: the man wants marriage and the woman is commitment-shy...Likable and realistic characters with believable emotions, and the right balance of fantasy fulfillment, make for some good holiday heat."—Publishers Weekly Starred Review on A Bad Boy for Christmas
- "Everything I love in a romance."—Lori Foster on Bringing Home the Bad Boy
- "Love, friends, family, sweet & steamy romance, and so much more, Jessica Lemmon is an auto-buy for me! Her Bad Boys are just sooo good!"—Erin Nicholas, New York Times & USA Today bestselling author
- "Charming, sexy, and brimming with wit!" (on Tempting the Billionaire)—Heidi Betts
- On Sale
- Jun 28, 2016
- Page Count
- 384 pages