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The Billionaire’s Hotline

By:Cara Nelson



Chapter 1

Jasper





“Wait—you want me to be a pimp?” Miss Hollingford demanded.

“Certainly not. What gave you that impression?” Jasper Cates said, appalled. Everything about the hiring process had been appalling so far.

“The ad said ‘social secretary’ and I thought it sounded quaint, like you were gonna be Cary Grant or something. But from what you’re telling me, you want to hire me to get you women. That’s a pimp.”

Jasper Cates narrowly avoided rolling his eyes at her theatrics. This was why he ordinarily left the interviews to his HR department. Considering the sensitivity of this position and the fact that he would work closely with his social secretary, he had cleared a block of time in his busy schedule to review the applicants himself. Clearly, this was a mistake.

“Ms. Hollingford, obviously the Cates Corporation did not advertise for a procuress in the field of human trafficking. The job description requires a certain subtlety that I feel is not a good fit for your skill set. Thank you for your time.” He rose to shake her hand dismissively.

“Explain it to me,” she said, remaining obstinately seated. “Describe the difference between what you’re asking me to do and what a pimp does.”

“The women will not receive financial compensation. You will not be permitted to wear leather vests and copious gold jewelry to the office, as it is unprofessional.” She snorted, and Jasper thought there might be hope for her yet. He took a photo from his file.

“This is what I’m looking for.”

“Cameron Diaz? I know you have billions, but I’m thinking she’ll say no and maybe sue you for harassment.” Her eyebrows shot up. No wonder her fiancé tried to stop her from applying to this company—the CEO had a reputation for being ruthless and a little…off-center to say the least.

“Not the actress herself, obviously. She’s much too old. It is a general physical type—blond, tan, athletic with great legs and a happy temper. You or your chosen agent will distribute disposable phones to women fitting this description with the understanding that they will come to a meeting set up by text message.”

“My job is to find your fetishistic blondes and set up booty calls for you,” she deadpanned.

“The rendezvous will be at a restaurant or bar, where I will determine through interaction if she is suitable.”

“Is there a talent competition?”

“Are you being deliberately obtuse?” he said, exasperated.

“Obviously.”

“Are you capable of civility?”

“Yes. When warranted.”

“Good. Because despite your attitude, you are the only candidate for this job I’m willing to consider.”

“You don’t even like me. And I’m not overly fond of your phone scam.”

“It isn’t necessary that I like you. I’ve made a successful career out of following my gut, and my instinct is that you’re trustworthy. You’re also the only applicant who didn’t come here to audition for the lead in Cinderella. The previous three seemed to think that revealing an unprofessional amount of cleavage would get them a diamond ring and my American Express card.”

“Are you looking for a wife?”

“No. I’m looking for a lover, a long-term relationship with a beautiful, presentable, intelligent woman. My time is too valuable to spend in clubs weeding through the masses to find one or two potential mates. That’s where you come in. Go to coffee shops and gyms and pass out phones to anyone who seems likely. These are the rules: Age range twenty-one to thirty. Blonde. Athletic. No one who’s married. No one with kids. No one who seems dumb. No gold-diggers.”

“Do I administer a personality probe? Will the MMPI be sufficient?” Miss Hollingford glared slightly but she was taking notes.

“Just a DNA swab and a background check.” He smirked, and when she laughed, he knew he’d hire her. She was just the sort of no-nonsense woman he would have wished for in a sister. That made her the perfect matchmaker for his needs.

“I ain’t looking for a Cinderella story. I already got my man.” She flashed a modest engagement ring. “And persnickety rich boys aren’t my scene.” She grinned at his startled expression and felt oddly maternal toward him. He was a persnickety rich boy who needed someone to look after him.

“Shannon, my assistant, will give you some petty cash for the phones and certain incidental expenses and set you up with my calendar so you can get started. It’s within the budget to hire someone else to give out the phones, which I’ll leave to your discretion. Your other duties will include sending gifts and flowers to business associates at times. Until this project is underway, you can help Shannon out and familiarize yourself with the computer system.” He signed off on the hiring form and dispatched her to HR to complete paperwork.

* * *

Three days after hiring the social secretary to carry out his ingenious project, Jasper Cates was trying not to whip out his phone and check his e-mails while the pretty blonde was telling her life story. He hadn’t thought her stories would be this long, since she was only twenty-two but she liked to go into detail. Boring but hot, he mused, thinking what a ridiculous waste of time this was. After tonight, he’d never see her—or be subjected to her inane babble—again. Time was money, and he was spending his listening to someone called Paige—or Penny, or whatever her name was; he could swear it started with P—talk about something ostensibly amusing that happened on spring break in Florida.

Either I’m getting old or the girls are getting dumber, he thought, because before I had money, it seemed like there were wall-to-wall displays of attractive, clever women who thought they were too good for me. He watched the ice melt in his drink and nodded at appropriate intervals. The hotel bar was posh, with a sandblasted floor, pale wood walls, and pewter dishes of kalamata olives at every lavender velvet banquette. He was pleased he’d invested in it at the ground floor, but he thought the olives were a mistake—not in aesthetics, but for his date. The blonde had eaten three olives, which she ought to realize were pure sodium and would cause her to bloat, he thought with distaste.

When she finished her drink, he could have sighed with relief. Two drinks was surely enough of a polite show of interest to get her into bed. It had taken an hour, not counting the thirty minutes he’d spent being bored by the previous, less attractive blonde until this one walked into the bar. Ninety minutes of screening time that would soon be eliminated by his phone project. His type, accessible by text message, already selected, vetted and ready to meet up for a drink and a lay, no chatter. He smiled at the thought. The blonde misinterpreted this as enthusiasm for her narrative and went on with the story, which he had hoped was over.

“Do you have plans for the evening, gorgeous?” he asked. She giggled irritatingly—another tendency that he’d have to put on his criteria. No gigglers whatsoever.

Even as she followed him upstairs to the room he kept at the Blake, he wondered if she’d stop talking while he shagged her senseless. It almost wasn’t worth the effort.

* * *

“She hired the bagel guy,” Shannon reported to Jasper. His assistant always briefed him on office gossip while she made his carrot, kale, and apple protein shake. “He got fired two days ago for misdelivering orders and she has a crush on him. She gave him some phones and a list of criteria. She typed it out with bullet points; I’m pretty sure it’s idiot-proof. We should have a list of possibilities by tomorrow morning.”

“He’s not bright enough to deliver bagels, but we’re trusting him to find the love of my life?”

“Love? I thought you just wanted to get laid without the hassle of dating. We’re just trusting him to identify attractive blondes. I think even he can manage that. Besides, love never entered into this discussion,” Shannon said. Shannon had been his assistant for six years and she knew him well, sometimes too well. But she was loyal and he put up with her maternity leaves: three so far. Procreation was a hobby he couldn’t quite understand.

“Fair enough. Are all of your offspring healthy and growing and things?” he asked.

“Jasper, there’s no need to feign interest in my personal life. I like you as well as I’m going to, so spare the effort—it’s just creepy at this point. I’ve updated your schedule. Walther Basic couldn’t come in today, so you’re Skyping at 10:15 instead of the meeting.”

“Thanks,” he said, already at work on an e-mail regarding the Walther acquisition.

Jasper reached into a drawer for a flash drive and his hand brushed the splintered glass of a broken picture frame. He shook his head. Clare. Goddammit, he hated the very thought of her name. It had been four years ago, but never again. Blondes and disposable phones—that was a much better plan.





Chapter 2

Hannah



“It’s fine. I can watch them until your sister gets here. You go be with Bill,” Hannah Largent told her neighbor. “He needs you right now.”

“Are you sure? They can be quite a handful.”

The woman was visibly torn, wanting to catch the flight to LAX so she could be at her husband’s bedside. He was on a business trip, and she had gotten the call an hour ago that he was being taken into emergency angioplasty. Still, she was reluctant to leave her kids to terrorize the nice, quiet neighbor who offered to watch them. Hannah hugged her reassuringly.

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