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The Billionaire Beast

By:Jackie Ashenden

Chapter 1

Nero de Santis sometimes wondered what made a man a man instead of a beast. After all, men ate and slept and fought and fucked just like all animals did. For himself, he was as beastly as they came, his only humanity his interest in computers and his taste for fine art.

Not that he cared particularly about being human. It was overrated in his opinion.

Then again, today he was rather glad of his humanity, especially given what was standing on his doorstep right this very second.

Nero leaned back in his huge black-leather chair and stared at the vast array of screens in front of him. Some of them displayed feeds from the national news with stock tickers unreeling under them, while others displayed feeds from security cameras located at various strategic points in New York. At least two screens had the spreadsheets he’d been working on open, and another was dedicated to his email. A couple more were devoted to social media—Twitter for the most part, though he was fond of Instagram, as well—and at least one had a movie playing on it.

But it wasn’t any of those screens that had irrevocably grabbed his attention at this particular moment in time.

The screen he was most interested in now was the one that gave him the feed from the security camera on his front door.

And the woman standing in front of it.

She was neat as a pin in a plain charcoal skirt and crisp white shirt, her red hair pulled back in a tight bun. Very corporate looking, very secretary. Which was pretty much as expected considering she was here for a job interview.

As he watched, she smoothed her skirt and adjusted her matching charcoal jacket, glanced behind her once, then looked back at his front door.

She wasn’t beautiful. Fuck, she wasn’t even pretty, which wasn’t ideal since he liked something nice to look at. Then again, that wasn’t a deal-breaker—he’d stopped sleeping with his assistants after finding out their performances tended to drop once he’d taken them to bed. Her features were too sharp for beauty, but . . . on second look they weren’t all bad. She had a nicely full lower lip, a determined chin, and her eyes were pretty. Brown from what he could tell. Her skin was milky pale and even though her hair was red, she didn’t seem to have any freckles.

He tilted his head, examining the rest of her.

Well, she might not have been beautiful, but she definitely had the kind of body he liked on a woman. Full breasts and rounded hips, and lots of soft curves. He wasn’t a fan of muscles or skinniness, or any kind of hard edges—at least not physically. When it came to women, he liked softness, and she was definitely soft. Not unattractive in many ways.

Nero contemplated her a second longer, then hit a button, opening up another window alongside the image from the security feed, displaying her resume.

Phoebe Taylor. Twenty-eight. English. Currently residing in the East Village. Had worked as an assistant to various high-level executives in various Fortune 500 companies, and all positions accompanied by glowing references. Nice figure and she looked like she was competent. A good combination.

However, she’d left her last job two years ago, and there was nothing in the resume that indicated what she’d been doing for those two years.

He narrowed his gaze at the woman standing on his doorstep. Sometimes he didn’t let potential job applicants in. Sometimes he didn’t even open the door, depending on what he decided from the initial once-over he gave everyone who arrived at his house.

Then again, it wasn’t as if he had a lot of choice.

In the last six months alone he’d gone through at least ten assistants and it was now getting to the point where it was impossible to find anyone good who would actually work with him. Word had gotten out about how difficult he was, and even upping the basic salary to six figures hadn’t managed to tempt anyone decent to apply.

It was a problem. He preferred to hire the best, but when the best wouldn’t even apply, no matter how much money he offered, then his only alternative to the best was the not-quite-so-good.

Or Phoebe Taylor with the two-year gap in her resume.

Making a decision, Nero reached out and pushed the button on the intercom that sat on his desk. “Show her into the sitting room, James,” he ordered.

“Yes, Mr. de Santis,” James, his butler, responded in his usual lugubrious tones.

Nero switched feeds to the entrance hallway, watching as James opened the door and greeted Miss Taylor before taking her into the sitting room where Nero liked to receive all the guests that came to the house—at least those he actually let inside.

Switching feeds again, to the sitting-room cameras; Nero studied her as James showed her to one of the couches then left the room, closing the door behind him.

She clasped her hands in her lap, her attention darting over the room.

It was the most normal room in Nero’s vast house, and he’d purposefully had it decorated that way, making it as luxurious and as comfortable as possible so he could sit here in his control room and watch people’s guards go down.

Phoebe Taylor certainly seemed to like it, her posture relaxing slightly as she settled back on the comfortable white couch and looked around at the art on the walls, the fireplace with the cheerful spray of fresh flowers on the mantelpiece above it, the thick red-and-blue silk hand-knotted rug on the floor, and the shelves with the horrifically expensive little knickknacks on them.

Normally, if people thought they were alone they would get up from the couch and go and explore. Pull a book off the shelf or pick up one of the knickknacks. Sometimes they’d go toward the mirror above the fireplace and fiddle around with their appearance, or head toward the window that looked out over his Upper East Side street, not far from the Met.

Yet Phoebe Taylor did none of these things.

She remained where she was, her hands lightly clasped. Occasionally her head would turn as she looked around her, but that was the only movement she made. She sat there, very, very still.

He frowned at the screen, caught despite himself.

There was something about her, maybe that stillness or the way she had her hands clasped together, or maybe it was simply the aura of reserve and containment she projected. Whatever it was, it intrigued him.

Pressing a couple of buttons on his keyboard, he zoomed the camera in on her so he could get a better look. Her attention had dropped to her hands, and she was now staring at them as if fascinated. Now that he looked closer, he could see the faint impression of freckles across her nose, hidden by her makeup, and that her lashes were long and thick. Her pretty mouth was moving ever so slightly, as if she was saying a prayer under her breath.

Nero leaned back in his chair and glanced at her resume once again.

On paper, she looked good, and certainly his first impression of her was that she seemed acceptable at least. A bit young maybe. Certainly, he’d had better luck with older assistants who didn’t melt into a puddle of tears at the first hint of criticism or get incensed by his apparently “outrageous” needs. He’d had one woman—she’d been in her late fifties—who’d managed to stay with him a whole three months without complaint, eventually leaving because he’d asked her to order him a selection of women for the night and she’d refused, saying she hadn’t been hired to be the “madam of a brothel.”

Nero had fired her on the spot.

He wanted what he wanted when he wanted it, and if his assistants either couldn’t or wouldn’t do their jobs and assist him, then he got rid of them. No second chances.

Be interesting to see what Miss Phoebe Taylor would do with a request like that. Or, in fact, any of the other requests he made of his assistants, some of which had caused a number of them to leave within hours of being hired. Many only lasted a week; rarely did they last a month.

Hiring new people was starting to get old.

Of course, there was the option of being a nicer employer, as one of his earlier assistants had tried to tell him, but he really didn’t understand what she meant by that. He suspected it had something to do with changing his behavior. Fuck, like that was ever going to happen. He was the way he was, and he wasn’t about to change.

Getting rid of Phoebe’s resume from the screen, Nero brought up another document—the list of other candidates for the position.

It was short.

He scowled at it, irritated. His options were getting narrower and narrower and he didn’t like it one bit. Even the temping agencies wouldn’t take him on as a client these days, not since he’d blown through five temps in one month, reducing every single one to tears within hours of being hired.

Christ. People were so weak and fragile these days, it was a constant annoyance to him. Still, if the worst came to the worst and this girl ended up only lasting hours or—if he was lucky—a week, he could up the salary again. Money tended to solve most problems in his experience, and it wasn’t as if he didn’t have plenty of it. Being the illegitimate son of Cesare de Santis, the owner of DS Corp, one of America’s biggest and richest defense and protection companies, wasn’t without its perks. Even if his father was one of the biggest pricks on the planet.

Up on the screen, Phoebe Taylor raised her head from her hands and took another look around the room. A small crease had appeared between her brows.

She was probably wondering how long he was going to keep her waiting.

The answer was as long as he fucking well felt like it.