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The Billionaire Next Door
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It’s Tag Crane’s job to be the life of the party. Traveling from one exotic locale to another is just part of running the luxurious Crane Hotel empire. But even paradise isn’t perfect. Devising a new business strategy is keeping Tag up at night-and so is the Great Dane barking at all hours in the apartment below his. To muzzle the problem, Tag charges downstairs . . . right into the most beautiful, blond distraction he’s ever seen.
Dog-sitting by day, bartending by night. It’s not exactly the life Rachel Foster dreamed of. But when Tag Crane rushes in, all mountain-man shoulders and obscenely sexy smile, needing her help for the Crane Hotels, it’s a fantasy come true. What’s the harm in a fun no-strings fling? Only a fool would give her heart to a billionaire player like Tag-until suddenly the one man who can’t be caught is the one flirting with forever . . .
Thank you to Michele Bidelspach for all you do to make my books a success, including this yummy cover. When I requested a long-haired billionaire with facial hair who didn’t wear a suit, you didn’t balk. Publicity mavens Jodi Rosoff and Michelle Cashman, for making publicity look easy when I know you work your tail feathers off. And Jessie Pierce, for your quiet efficiency.
Thanks as always to my agent, Nicole, for your help and praise. I wouldn’t be here without you. Thanks also to my husband, John, who unnecessarily steps out of the spotlight to ensure I have plenty for myself. You’re a big part of the reason I shine.
A special shout-out to Tracy Slemker, who talked with me at length about prosthetic limbs. Any mistakes are my own. Lastly, thank you to Brock O’Hurn for sharing your photos (which inspired Tag Crane’s physical features) and for your encouragement to chase life’s dreams. I wish you continued success with yours.
Eyes closed, Rachel Foster drew in a steeling breath, shut out the din of voices at the surrounding tables in the bar, and said aloud for the first time ever, “Mom, Dad, I resigned from my position at the design firm after Shaun took credit for my work. I moved out of our shared apartment and took a job as a bartender instead.”
Other than background chatter, silence greeted her. She held her breath for a few seconds before opening her eyes. The fifty-something guy across from her blinked, fries gone cold on his plate.
“Should I have started with my ex taking credit for my work, then moved to the resignation? Or is it best to open with the bartender bit?” she asked him.
“I think they’ll love you no matter what.” The man on the guest side of the bar, who’d agreed to play the role of “Mom and Dad,” smiled.
Oliver Something. He had kind green eyes, a plain face, and thick hair dyed a shade too dark for his age and skin tone. He was a regular at the bar where she worked, enjoying the same exact meal (turkey club, no mayo) each and every week. He always ate, but never drank alcohol, only soda. And he had a big, beautiful Great Dane, a dog she would soon be in charge of while living in his gorgeous apartment.
She really needed to learn Oliver’s last name.
“You say that because you’ve never met them.” She grabbed the soda gun from behind the bar and refilled his Diet Coke. “Maybe I shouldn’t tell them at all.”
“Rachel.” He brushed his hands on a paper napkin. “I’m old enough to be your father.”
“Uncle,” she corrected, being generous.
“Older uncle. Either way, I have longer perspective than you do given that I’m closer to the grave, and I’m advising you to tell your folks what’s going on.”
He was right, of course. She hadn’t told them anything, and the least they deserved was the truth.
After her and Shaun’s relationship had imploded, she’d grieved alone and put on a happy voice for her mother’s phone calls. Inside, she’d been aching. Two years was a long time to be with someone. She had begun to accept his faults—like the fact he was grouchy in the evenings and could be abrasive and critical—but when he’d betrayed her and took the promotion she’d earned, she pushed the eject button without a second thought.
“I’ll tell them.” Eventually. She wasn’t ready to call her family in Ohio and drop on their lap that their successful, city-dwelling daughter was not watching the gold nameplate go up on her corner office door. Instead, she was stacking dirty dishes in a bus tub and cleaning sticky, disgusting residue out of the rubber mat over which she poured libations for eight hours a night, five to six days a week.
Still better than being stabbed in the back by the man who was supposed to love and protect her.
She took Oliver’s plate as he reached for his wallet. He extracted a credit card, which he used to pay for everything to earn miles for his many business trips, and set a gold key next to it.
“Front desk knows to expect you tomorrow. Adonis has been asking about you since you stopped by last week,” he said of the Great Dane with whom he shared a life.
She pocketed the key with a smile and settled the bill, swiping the card on the machine a few feet down the bar.
“The front desk was incredibly thorough and scares me a little.” Last week when she was there, they required two forms of ID and took a photo of her to put in their database. “I’m surprised they didn’t ask for fingerprints.” She tore off the receipts and handed them over with a pen. “Adonis is gorgeous, but let’s both admit he only loves me because of the liver treats I fed him.”
Oliver laughed as he signed the receipt. “His loyalty is easily bought. Like his owner’s.”
“Truer words.” She accepted the pen and the receipt, glancing at the tip line to see that Oliver had once again tipped the amount of his meal, which she used to yell at him for but now accepted that he wasn’t going to listen to her no matter what.
“Thank you for doing this, Rachel,” he said. “I didn’t expect to be in Japan for an entire month.”
“You’re welcome.” She’d confided in Oliver one late night how her roommate situation wasn’t working, and she needed to find a new place to live, never imagining he’d offer to solve her problem. As it turned out, he was due to go away on business and his dog sitter had double-booked herself. He’d asked Rachel if she’d take the gig, sharing that he couldn’t stomach the idea of Adonis in a kennel. When he told her his address, Rachel had nearly drooled on the bar top between them.
Crane Tower. Oh la la.
Not only would she live in his glorious fifteen-hundred-square-foot apartment, but he was also paying her. Generously. She could add the money to her savings and put a deposit down on her own place. It was either that or move back home, but she wasn’t willing to concede the battle yet. Chicago may be kicking her around, but she was tougher than she looked.
Once she found a better gig than bartending, a professional and brag-worthy profession devoid of rat-bastard, promotion-stealing boyfriends, she’d be good to go. Not because bragging about her job was important for her, but it was for her parents. They were the ones who were so proud of their daughter, the “city girl.”
Oliver bid her adieu and left as Rachel’s roommate-slash-coworker, Breanna, stepped through the door he held open for her.
At the bar, Bree slid her coat from her arms and stashed it beneath the register. “Soooo. How’s Daddy Warbucks?”
“Bree.” Rachel laughed as she washed a beer glass in the double sink. That roommate situation that wasn’t working? It had nothing to do with Bree or her significant other, Dean. Rachel adored Bree, and vice versa. They’d become close in the two months since Rachel moved in with her, when both Bree and Rachel swore they’d be roommates for years. Then Dean proposed, Bree said yes, and he moved in and well…Rachel was now a third wheel.
She didn’t want to be in the way of what her friends had, which was special. She could tell because she knew what a relationship looked like when it wasn’t right. It was strain and silence and frustration and animosity brewing under a surface that no one disturbed.
“I’m going to miss you when you go live in luxury for a month.” Bree pouted, pushing her full lips out. Her chin-length brown hair was smooth tonight, her eyes sparkling thanks to glittery eye shadow.
“No, you won’t. You and Dean will probably run around naked the moment I leave.”
Rachel was happy for her friend. She’d met Bree at Dusty’s, a bar that was a downscale Andromeda. Bree had been working through the last week of a two-week notice.
They’d bonded almost instantly, which Rachel did with almost no one. By the time she’d made the decision to leave her marketing job, Rachel called Bree to ask if the Andromeda Club was hiring.
It’d occurred to her that when she’d moved to Chicago alone, she intended to be an island. She’d never expected to have a roommate—certainly not one she was dating—and since the whole Shaun debacle, she’d become anxious to reclaim her island status. She’d hate to think she’d lost the ability to be independent after coming to depend on a man who wasn’t dependable in the end.
Her recent breakup with her boyfriend of two years, being homeless, and losing the job for which she’d attained her degree was a series of minor setbacks.
Living with a dog was the bridging step from roommate to once again living on her own, and she would take it. Somewhere in her lived a fearless woman who was ready to take on a new adventure.
Rachel was determined to find her.
* * *
Tag’s oldest brother and CEO for Crane Hotels, Reese Crane, had no love for the board of directors around the conference table. As of last year, when they’d razzed Tag about lagging profits at the hotel and pool bars nationwide, he had recently put them on his shit list as well.
Today, they’d changed their tune.
“Given that the losses fall within an acceptable range, we are downgrading the bar issues at Guest and Restaurant Services from a code red to a code yellow.” Frank smiled at his own joke, but the only thought in Tag’s brain was that the older man’s teeth matched his code. “Thank you for your careful preparation, Tag. Now if you’ll excuse us, Bob, Lilith, and I have a meeting to attend downtown. This marks the end of our agenda. Unless either of you have anything to add?”
Tag had plenty to add, but when he opened his mouth, Reese spoke for him.
“Nothing on our end.”
Tag felt a muscle in his cheek twitch. Reese cast him a sideways glance as the board shuffled into the hall. The door shut behind them and he faced his brother.
“The term ‘acceptable losses’ isn’t bad news.” Reese arched an eyebrow.
“Loss should never be ‘acceptable,’” Tag growled. “The board harps on falling profits in the hotel bars last year, but as of thirty seconds ago they no longer care?”
Tag dropped his unused number 2 pencil to push a hand through his hair, then remembered it was pulled back. Long, nearly to his elbows, he preferred wearing his hair down, but for board meetings he wrangled it into a low-hanging ponytail/man bun hybrid. He’d also wedged his wide shoulders into an uncomfortable button-down and wrapped his bulky thighs in restrictive trousers. He felt…not like himself. Agitated about being here, about this whole downgrading thing.
Ever the underestimated brother, he shouldn’t be surprised that they’d shrugged him off. Even if Guest and Restaurant Services wasn’t his baby—and it was—he’d consider cooperating worth it if the board left him the hell alone and went back to whatever it was they did when they weren’t giving the Crane brothers grief.
“I prefer to handle this, not ignore it,” Tag said.
“They know you’re capable. They’re not worried. Take that as a compliment.” Reese shrugged easily, taking it in stride. A far cry from where he was a year ago, when he nearly went apoplectic on Frank.
The board had tried to keep Reese from becoming CEO, citing disapproval over Reese’s playboy lifestyle. The good news was Reese had ended up with a wife—now ex-wife, soon to be his wife again (long story)—but at the moment, Tag was having a hard time finding his own silver lining.
He didn’t consider futility a compliment.
He lifted the report in front of him—the one he’d received months ago. Filled with spreadsheets, numbers, and projected targets, it was seriously structured. And seriously pissing him off.
“Why the fuck did they give me this if they weren’t going to follow through?” The cover read “Fiscal Projections for Food and Alcohol.” The word fiscal was enough to give him hives, but he’d pored over those sheets, those numbers, until his eyes felt like they were going to bleed.
Tag preferred to do things his way, and his way consisted of two main elements: his gut and people. He could rely on himself for decisions and his interactions with the staff to ensure his decisions were carried out. Spreadsheets and charts didn’t translate into good business in most cases. He could relate better to an employee over a beer than he could by sending a memo.
“I came in prepared to discuss numbers, and Frank brushed me off,” he continued, still grinding his teeth over the wasted time.
“Need I remind you how undesirable it is for them to watch your every move? Care to have the paparazzi chasing you around? Parts of you highlighted on social media with a hashtag?” Reese’s wry humor was showcased with a slow blink.
But even the mention of the Twitter debacle and Reese’s nefarious #ReesesRocket hashtag didn’t cheer Tag up.
“Yeah, well, I don’t care what they say. I’m going to make the profits sing.” Tag stood from the desk. “Acceptable loss doesn’t factor in to my plans for Crane Hotels.”
Reese’s lips curved into an almost proud expression reminiscent of their father. Tag pulled in a breath and stood straighter.
Over the years since Reese had been clamoring for CEO, Tag was content to run GRS. He’d risen in the ranks by paying attention and talking to everyone who worked for him. He’d learned how to invest his inheritance, part of which he’d retained since he hadn’t blown it on a college degree.
Tag was self-made, self-confident, and self-aware. He worked for Crane not because he needed to, but because it was his purpose. He had a part to play in preserving their family’s legacy and in no way took the task lightly.
“I’m doing things my way,” Tag stated. “This”—he held up the report, then dropped it into the wastebasket by the door—“is bullshit.”
Reese followed him to the door and flipped off the light. They walked silently through the hall and out into the reception area where Reese’s secretary, Bobbie, was typing, her fingers flying over the keyboard.
“Look forward to hearing more.” Reese slapped Tag’s shoulder. “Don’t let ’em get to you.”
That gave Tag pause. Reese was almost laid-back since he’d been married to Merina, which wasn’t easy to get used to.
Reese vanished into his office, where he could be found most of the time. The Cranes—their father, Alex; Reese; Tag; and Eli, who was currently overseas serving in the Marines—were in this battle together. Tag liked everything about that. The way he could count on his family to be on his side and the way he’d rise to any challenge they set forth. The Cranes would never bail on each other.
He waved to Bobbie, who acknowledged him with a brief nod; then he collected his coat and scarf from the coat rack next to the elevator.
He rode down to the lobby and strolled through a sea of white leather and past shining windows. Gorgeous as the Chicago home base for Crane Hotels was, Tag preferred his home office, where he could focus on something other than the purring of the receptionist’s phone and the pompous chatter of the suits occasionally prowling the floors. When he wasn’t there, he was visiting one of the hotels to oversee a grand opening or cut the ribbon on a new restaurant.
The Windy City was living up to her name today, the cold slapping him in the face as he strode out onto the sidewalk. He pulled up his collar and plunged his hands into his black coat’s pockets, welcoming the chilly bite of February.
Crane Tower stood exactly three blocks west of the Crane and was Tag’s proudest accomplishment. His brother may own a mansion, but Tag had purchased an entire damn building. He’d bought it from his father quietly so as not to draw too much attention to the sale a year ago. His penthouse was at the top floor, forty-nine, and overlooked a sea of buildings. He liked the vantage point. He loved being on top. Ask any of his past girlfriends.
Well, dates. Girlfriends was a strong word.
Crane Tower’s doorman, a middle-aged guy whose name Tag did not remember, pulled open the door as Tag was angling to walk inside. The respite from wind was brief though, blowing his hair over his face and temporarily blotting out the vision of a woman exiting the luxury apartment building.
He swept his hair behind his ear and stopped dead in his tracks.
She was blond.
Petite, which put her at least a foot shorter than his almost six-and-a-half feet tall, and wearing high-heeled, knee-high boots that met the edge of a long dark coat, belted at the waist. The wind chose that moment to bless him, parting her coat and revealing gray leggings beneath a super short black skirt. She closed the coat over her like Marilyn Monroe trying to push down her dress and then she caught him looking.
And looked back.
Shiny lips. Thick, black lashes. Cute nose.
A pair of black leather gloves rose to tug a few stray hairs from her sticky lip gloss, and Tag felt a definite stir of interest in his pressed-for-work pants.
Then she was gone, hoofing it to a car waiting at the curb. He watched the maroon sedan pull away, a woman in the driver’s seat, and blinked as the taillights dwindled in the distance. Then he turned for the door again.
“Mr. Crane,” the doorman greeted.
“Hey…uh. Man.” He should know this guy’s name. “Who was that?”
A brief look of panic colored the other man’s features like he might be fired for not knowing. “I don’t know, sir. Would you like me to find out?”
Tag looked in the direction where the car had vanished, thinking for a second.
“No,” he decided. He liked not knowing. Liked the idea of running into the blonde by chance. Maybe in the gym or the lobby.
Or the elevator.
Yeah, he’d rather stumble across her. Preferably into her.
“Thanks.” He nodded to the doorman and strode in, stepping onto the elevator a few minutes later. On the ride up, he realized he was leaning in the corner, smiling like a dope, the bar upgrade issue and the frustration of the board the furthest thing from his mind.
A sharp bark startled Tag, and his arm jerked, dragging the tip of the Sharpie across the Post-it and onto the photograph he had been trying not to ruin. He scowled at the jagged red line, then lifted his face and scowled at his blurry reflection in the window, beyond which was a lit Chicago skyline and pale half-moon.
For most of the evening he’d mentally blocked out the barks that had punctuated the air approximately every ten seconds before narrowing to every two or three seconds. Now they were almost constant.
Woof! Woof! Woo-oof!
He could not freaking work in these conditions.
Judging by the direction of the sound, and the deep, barrel-chested baritone, he guessed the barker none other than Adonis, Oliver Chambers’s giant white-with-black-splotches Great Dane. Adonis was generally a quiet dog. Tag only knew him because he often ran into the pair (Adonis and Oliver on their way to a morning stroll, Tag on his way out) when he rode the elevator down with them.
Tag had been patient—Adonis was a dog, and dogs barked—but the dog had never barked this much, and never this late at night. He’d been determined to ignore it, but he needed every ounce of concentration he could muster.
He was reviewing the setup for the main candidate for a recent bar redesign: the pool bar at the Crane Makai in Hawaii. He’d been there several times, having overseen the grand opening of the hotel and the restaurant run by an acclaimed chef Tag had handpicked. Tag had taken the blow personally when he reviewed the spreadsheets and determined that the Makai boasted the lowest bar sales profits.
He didn’t get it. The bar was in Hawaii. People went there to drink. And the weather was damn near perfect. What the hell? After ruling out theft and pricing, and a staff he had complete confidence in, he’d determined the shortcoming was the design. They’d built onto the Makai over the last decade, and as a result, a secondary pool was an afterthought. What it did have was an ocean view and plenty of seating choices, including cabanas. Theoretically, they should be drowning in profits. Even during the slow season—
“All right, that’s it.” Tag shoved the stack of photos aside and moved through his penthouse, out the door, and punched a button in the elevator. He had nothing against dogs, and he liked this one in particular, but either something was wrong or Oliver had gotten lax with keeping the pooch in line. With so much at stake, there was no way Tag could concentrate with constant—
The moment the elevator doors opened, Adonis’s barks echoed through the entryway.
The top three floors of Crane Tower were reserved for private apartments. Tag’s took up the entire top floor, while the two floors below his were split into two apartments per floor. These were the luxury suites, but given that the other apartment on Oliver’s floor was empty, Tag was the only neighbor who was hearing Adonis’s yapping.
At the door, Tag knocked. Barking followed scratching, and he winced as he thought of the dog’s nails marring the wood. Bending at the waist, he spoke through the door. “Adonis.”
Silence, then one more bark.
“Adonis, hey, boy.”
The barking stopped.
“Are you a good dog?” A small whine was followed by a more desperate bark.
“There you go. Calm down, okay?” He kept his voice pitched to soothing, feeling like an idiot cooing to a dog through a door, but hey, whatever it took. “I have shit to do,” he crooned, “and you’re making me insane.”
Sniffing at the door preceded silence. Tag stood and waited. No barking. No whining.
Satisfied, he smiled to himself. He had just turned to the elevator when the scratching came again—more desperately this time—followed by a cacophony of pathetic yelps.
Tag ran a hand over his face and climbed back into the elevator.
He wasn’t the kind of guy who freaked out over anything. Easygoing, easy to get along with, he was going to let this go for now and talk to Oliver—wherever the hell he was—in the morning. No doubt Tag would run into him in the elevator.
Back in his apartment, he opted to drown out the dog’s barks with music, cranking Adele to ear-bleeding decibels. For a guy who viewed his dating life through a lens of common sense, Tag would admit he admired the kind of love she sang about. The kind of love his parents had. The kind of love his oldest brother had found in the most unlikely of places. As much as he admired it, however, he was too practical to be stupid.
He was randomly hit with a memory of the woman outside the building this afternoon. That body. That hair. Women were fun. He adored them…for a while. Letting them down easy was the key to everyone having a good time and keeping the heartache at a minimum.
Sex was fun. Hanging out was fun. When it encroached on relationship territory, there were few couples who could keep the fun alive. Tag preferred to binge on the highs and bail before the lows happened.
It was as good as his personal motto.
He sat down at his desk only to stand up right away. He couldn’t look at pictures of bars without wanting to pour a drink. In the fridge, he found a bottle of beer, cracked it open, and enjoyed the first ice-cold swallow.
Outside, wind blew the flags below; the sky was a cavernous gray-black. He shuddered. He’d chosen this apartment with this view because cities made him feel claustrophobic. But neither did he want to live on acres of land like his brother, because something about a house was too settled for Tag’s taste.
He loved to travel, which was another reason in the con column for settling down. His work took him to other states, where he’d stay away a week or a month, depending on what mood struck him.
Women tended to get pissy when their men didn’t come home for long stretches.
Freedom. Flexibility. That’s what his lifestyle had afforded him.
- "Jessica Lemmon writes a delicious, contemporary romance with lots of HOT sex...I am hooked!"—FreshFiction.com
- "4 stars! Easygoing, confident Tag Crane will warm readers' hearts from the start with his bold sexiness--as will the chemistry that sizzles between Tag and Rachel...Fans of Lemmon will not be disappointed."—RT Book Reviews
- "Everything I love in a romance."—Lori Foster on Bringing Home the Bad Boy
- "Charming, sexy, and brimming with wit!" (on Tempting the Billionaire)—Heidi Betts
- "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
- "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
- On Sale
- Oct 25, 2016
- Page Count
- 384 pages