The Bad Boy Billionaire's Wicked Arrangement(4) by Maya Rodale

Duke didn’t reply—he was checking his iPhone and ordering himself a bottle of Becks and a chardonnay for me. I sat there thinking it was ridiculous we were even meeting. This could have been dealt with over email. Or the phone. Or Facebook, if I could figure out how to delicately and kindly break up with someone over that technological marvel.

But I couldn’t, and it seemed that breaking up with one’s faux fiancé ought to be done face-to-face. I hadn’t consulted Emily Post, but I was sure she would agree. And I had to ask him what the hell he meant by celebratory drinks.

Also, he asked me to meet him at Soho House, which had a fabulous rooftop bar and was members only. This was likely my one chance to go.

“So,” he said, leaning against. “How’ve you been?”

“Since last night? Worse and worse. You?”

“Better and better. Especially now that you’re here.”

“You sound like you plan to continue this engagement. You know that it was a stupid prank by my friend? I didn’t actually mean it. We are not actually engaged. We hardly even know each other.”

“We’ll get to know each other, Sweater Set,” he said in one of those low, shiver-down-the-spine kinds of voices, and I knew exactly how he’d earned his bad reputation. The murmurs. The gaze. The devastating smile. It was appalling.

I couldn’t make this stuff up.

“I was hoping we could break off this ‘engagement,’” I said. “If we changed the settings now and I posted a status update to the effect of ‘Haha, drunk friends!’ I could play this off as a prank and everything will be fine, though I already have eight missed calls from my mother. I thought maybe you could help me with the damned Facebook settings. I’ve heard you are knowledgeable about this sort of thing.”

If he was some brilliant tech guy, I figured he could help a girl update her Facebook privacy settings and undo the most disastrous status update ever.

“Why would I want to do that?”

“Because—” Then I stopped, flummoxed. “Why wouldn’t you?”

Duke leaned in real close. That grin again. The one that made me think of clichés about butterflies and racing pulses . . . and rakes and rogues and a slow, torturous seduction. In my defense, I’ll say that really, you had to see this man lean. You had to see his smile and the dimple in his left cheek and the flexing muscles of his forearms.

I hadn’t noticed these things last night in the dark. But oh, did I ever notice them now.

My mouth went dry. I took a sip of wine and thought about how I hadn’t had any physical affection since Sam and I had broken up months ago. Well, other than last night. And to think, I’d never expected to see this guy again. He was supposed to be my one time wild fling. And he was here, murmuring my name.

“Janet.”

“Jane,” I said with an exasperated sigh.

“I didn’t have to accept it,” he said. “I didn’t have to share it, either.”

“You did what?” I gasped. He ignored me.

“I didn’t have to ask you to meet me here. Do you want to know why I did?”

“Because you have a warped and twisted idea of fun?”

“True, but no. Your prank—”

“My friend’s prank.”

“—has possibly solved a major problem for me.”

“I’m so glad,” I said dryly.

“Hear me out. One drink. Out of the kindness of your heart. You seem like the kind of girl who does things out of the kindness of your heart.”

“Fine,” I sighed. Because I was. Because it was a gorgeous early summer night on the roof of Soho House and maybe I’d see a celebrity.

“Project-TK is growing fast but to get big enough to IPO we need to raise another round of funding first. If we can go public, a lot of people stand to make a shit ton of money, myself included. But investors are nervous about me and it’s negatively affecting our ability to raise funds at the valuation I want. I seem to have earned a reputation for—”

“For drinking, possible drug use, excessive partying, and orgies with models. And for generally being unreliable. A ‘brilliant disaster’ my friend said.”

“You’re informed,” he said dryly.

“My friend works for Jezebel.com.”

“That explains so much,” he said.

“So no one wants to give you money because you have demonstrated that you’re completely unreliable . . .” I prompted. If nothing else, I could glean some good gossip, break the engagement and sell the whole story to Roxanna for a month’s rent.

“This is big, like Google or Facebook. Or it could be. I’ve got two major fails behind me and I can’t let it happen a third time. Do you know why they really call me the bad boy billionaire? Because I made and lost a billion bucks. Project-TK is a chance to redeem myself. I have to raise the money and make sure the investors don’t get ideas about forcing me to step down. Isn’t there something or someone you would do anything for?”

“Maybe.” Yes, but he didn’t want me to. Damn you, Sam.

“I would do anything,” Duke said softly, and he was earnest as hell now. His eyes darkened as he looked at me. “And what says mature and responsible like marriage? Especially to a goody-two-shoes like you.”

“What makes you think I’m such a good girl?”

“To start, you were shushing people at a party.”

“That was just one little thing.”

“You’re right. What about what happened after you shushed me?”

“A one-time lapse in judgment,” I said stiffly. “I’m not that kind of girl.”

“Well, for me it was just another Tuesday.”

I gasped.

“Exactly. I need you, Janine,” he said with pleading expression. “Just for one weekend.”

The words that should have come out of my mouth: “No” or “You belong in a mental institution” or “Go to hell” or “MY NAME IS JANE GET IT RIGHT.” Instead, I opened my mouth and what came out but a question.

“One weekend?”

“A bunch of us are flying out to the valley to meet with potential investors and bankers about the deal. It had been made clear to me that if I’m not on my best behavior, I’m out. As I said, I’ve got two major busts behind me and I’ll be damned if it happens again.”

I wanted to ask what happened. But it seemed bad. Like, doesn’t talk about it bad. Like, I was better off Googling it later.

“If you’re such a brilliant, billionaire tech entrepreneur, what do you need investors for?” I asked. I wasn’t an expert in math, but something wasn’t adding up.

“I cashed out of my first startup before it went bust and I’m set for life, but I don’t have enough to take Project-TK to the next level. But I will be a billionaire if I can pull this off.” He paused for a moment. Then he added, in a low voice, “It’s not about the money. It means that much to me. I can’t be the guy that always chokes.”

His passion was clear and for a moment, it left me speechless. His eyes had darkened and he spoke intensely. I couldn’t help but wonder what it would feel like to be wanted with the intensity that Duke wanted success.

“Third time’s a charm, right?” I murmured. It was all I could think of to say.

“C’mon Janine. It’ll be an all-expenses paid weekend in San Francisco for you,” he said, a faint grin and playful touch of my hip.

“One weekend in which I pretend to be your plus one.”

“Just for a few dinners, cocktail hours, that sort of thing. I’ll be in meetings with a bunch of stuffy, boring bankers and lawyers, bored to death and playing games on my iPhone while pretending to answer emails. You can shop, schedule spa appointments, work on your novel or whatever. As long as you behave, and even more importantly, make sure I do.”

“My novel? How did you know about that?”

“I’m assuming you have aspirations to write one, given your Facebook status updates about moving to the city to write a novel. Or maybe you can spend the weekend brushing up on the security features of your phone.”

“I thought I could trust my friend. Apparently not over drinks,” I muttered.

“Drunk girls are the worst,” he said with a grin. “In the best way.”

“If I had a ring, I would hand it back after a comment like that,” I replied. “Honestly, whatever happened to acting like a gentleman?”

“This is going to work perfectly. You’re so prim and proper.”

“I haven’t agreed yet.”

Duke just smiled and my temperature started to rise. It was just a nice smile. There was temptation and promises and mischief and I caught myself holding my breath for what came next. That smile, it was a prelude and lord help me, I wanted to know what this man had in mind.

That is, until it happened.

Duke dropped to one knee. He clasped my hands in his. A hush fell over the rooftop. All the fabulous people suddenly were interested in me. Us. This farce.

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