Unexpected: A Billionaire Secret Baby Romance, page 1
Copyright 2017 Aria Ford - All rights reserved.
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
MY HOT STEPBROTHER
TOUCH ME BOSS
PREVIEW OF: TOUCH ME DOCTOR
A Secret Baby Romance
By Aria Ford
I’ll never make it there in time, and then Dominic will dock me a full hour’s pay for being ten minutes late. I can’t believe my stupid alarm didn’t go off.
Oh. Maybe I should try charging my phone so the alarm will work and stuff. Shit. My fault.
I scramble into my uniform and pull my blond hair into a high ponytail. I love my long hair, but customers don’t exactly want long hair in their food. I always feel like wearing it in a bun would mean I’m either a ballerina (I’m not) or that I’m old (I’m twenty-two). So ponytail it is. I nearly crash into my roommate, Amy, as I rush down the stairs from our apartment. Amy works nights at a nursing home, so she’s just now coming home. We mostly pass each other in the hall like this.
“Please tell me you’re running late because you hooked up.”
“Forgot to plug in my phone.”
“Come on, Caleigh. Give me some hope—pretend you went out and picked up a hot guy.”
“I stayed up bingeing season one of This Is Us .”
“Oh my God, you’re killing me. I never meet any guys under the age of eighty because of where I work, but you’re with the public all day. Pick up a guy once in a while. Let me live vicariously through you.”
“Trust me, the guys I meet at the restaurant—they try to grab my ass and then don’t leave a tip,” I told her. “I gotta run. Sweet dreams!”
I ran to the bus stop and barely made it. I was at work only three minutes late. I tied my apron on and went to unload the dishwasher and polish the water glasses. When Dominic came in, he was talking on the phone and barely noticed me. The kitchen was crowded, which gave me some cover. I let myself relax a little and kept busy.
“Hey, North,” my boss said, “go change the specials. We’re doing Bucatini all’Amatriciana.”
I dried my hands and got the glass chalk out of a drawer. I love doing the lettering on the specials board. I chose orange for the letters because it’s a fiery sauce, and a little red for a drop shadow on the curls. I used to get this excited about sketching skirts in my intro fashion class, but that was before everything went to hell and the highlight of my week became writing the name of a pasta special on a notice board by a door.
I would have graduated a month from now, would have had my degree if everything hadn’t gone wrong. I was three semesters in when a drunk driver crossed the center line and took out my parents and my little brother on a Sunday night. They’d taken Josh to see a monster truck show because he had turned twelve the week before. They were just driving home, not hurting anybody, and some jackass who’d downed too much cheap booze totaled their Jeep and my life right along with it. I try not to think about school too much, the classes I had to drop, and the credit card debt they had, which I hadn’t known about—the debt that had eaten up their life insurance payoff and then some.
Just for the fun of it, I put an extra swirl at the end of the A on Amatriciana, giving some flair to a task that was the closest I came to a creative outlet these days. I reluctantly capped the orange and started the delicate business of adding a highlight here, a drop shadow there, a small flourish beneath the price. I stepped back, pleased with my work.
I couldn’t help but smile. I was in a good mood when the first customers came in, and I made sure their bread basket was full of hot deliciousness while they looked over the menu. We’re not really supposed to give them bread until they order food, but I always think greeting them with goblets of ice water and a basket of warm bread is a better way of welcoming them, so I do it whenever I can.
“Miss?” the woman said.
“Yes? I’m Caleigh. What can I help you with?” I said.
“I’m allergic to dairy. Is there any way I could get a chicken parmigiana without cheese?”
“Absolutely. I’ll see to it. No problem,” I said, taking her husband’s order and heading to the kitchen.
“North, you’re supposed to enter the orders in the computer,” Dominic droned.
“Yes, but this one’s got a special dietary need. I just need to talk to Marco.”
“Fine,” he said.
“Marco, is there parmesan in the breading for the chicken?”
“This lady at table three is allergic to dairy. I need chicken with just breadcrumbs. Seasoned is okay, but not cheese.”
“There’s not that much parmesan in it. I’ve already got them made up,” he said in a low voice.
“Please? Otherwise I have to go tell her we don’t have a dairy free chicken…”
“Fine,” he said, a little grouchy, but I see him take down plain breadcrumbs and dump some parsley in a bowl.
I wait for the sous chef to give me the garden salad for her and the Caesar salad for him. I tell them it would be a few extra minutes on dinner because of a special dairy-free breading for her chicken, so if they needed more bread to give me a wave.
“Thank you so much,” the wife said, and I give her a smile.
“It’s no trouble. I just want you to have a good experience and not have to worry about any hidden dairy in your meal. That would be so stressful,” I said.
“Caleigh, I’m quite glad you’re our server today. Thank you for taking the time,” she said.
I was happy to bring their dinners, happier still that they both ate every bite. It feels good to know that woman had a delicious lunch without having to worry she’d end up in the ER from accidentally eating dairy. As I bring their receipt, she presses something, a tip and a business card, into my hand.
“My name is Marilyn Wells. I own Epicurian Advantage Catering. I’d like to offer you a part-time job as an event server. An attentive waiter with an eye for detail like yours, committed to customer service, can make excellent wages. Give me a call.”
“I—thank you. I’m not sure that I—thank you,” I stammer.
Did I want to take on a second job? I’d heard of this woman’s catering company—they were top flight. It would be a good opportunity, but I was already working about fifty hours a week. The thought of taking on more made me feel tired. But the phrase ‘excellent wages’ turned my head. I was a good waitress. I cared about my customers, and I could start saving some money if I took on extra work. Maybe even save enough for tuition, for a few classes at a time until I could finish my degree and say goodbye to waiting tables.
I tuck her card into my apron with the ten-dollar bill. I know I have to put it in the tip jar, and we’ll split them at th
After my shift, I go home and shower and flop onto the couch. I look at Marilyn’s business card and then at the remote control that was basically my plans for the weekend. If I pick up, say, two parties a week, I could make my bills easier to deal with. I could put back a few hundred dollars a month and be that much closer to a life I actually like and want.
I pick up my phone and dial the number, hearing her voice when she answers surprisingly. She gave me her actual personal number?
“Hi. This is Caleigh North. I was your waitress today at Benito’s. I called to tell you I’d love to come work for you. My schedule now has me working weekdays from ten-thirty to eight, and Friday from two till close.”
“Excellent. That puts you free for Saturday evenings and Sunday luncheons. Would you be able to work this Saturday night?”
“Yes. I’d love that.”
“Be at the Rose Tattoo no later than seven p.m. and wear black pants and a black blouse, hair pulled back, no bright lipstick, small earrings if any, no other jewelry apart from a wedding band if you have one.”
“I don’t. Thank you. I’ll take note of that. I appreciate the opportunity,” I tell her.
I’m so excited I can hardly sleep. I look up all the reviews of her catering service and the sample menus and the price per head on even their cheapest events is stunningly high. I wonder what I’ll be earning, if there will be tips. A peek into the message boards for banquet servers leads me to believe I’d be able to make a hundred dollars a weekend if I could do two events. If I took one weekend off a month, I could use the first hundred to pay bills without scrimping and save the rest of the money, maybe for college courses.
I worked the rest of the week just living for Saturday so I could see if working for a fancy caterer for a private event in one of the hottest clubs in the city would be the great opportunity I hoped for.
I’m glaring at the traffic jam. I do not have time for this. I look at the time on my phone and see the screen light up with caller ID. It’s Simpson again. I bet he’s trying to back out of our meeting.
No way in hell am I going to let him get away with it.
I ignore the call, ask my driver how long this is going to take. Delays make me crazy.
I can turn Pirate’s Fancy—Simpson’s stupid theme club with the prime location—into the latest jewel in the Rose crown. Every one of my string of nightclubs from coast to coast has been a takeover like this. I’ve never had to bother with a new build. I have an instinct for locations and trends, sharpened by a lot of experience now. I know what I’ll do. This one will be called Thorns. It’s going to be black and red, of course, to fit the brand, but I’m thinking a coil of barbed wire above the bar, black roses on the flocked wallpaper behind the DJ setup. Baroque, not goth, more edgy and punk than vampire chic.
I tap notes into my phone. He calls again.
“Doyle here,” I bark into the phone.
“Griffin, It’s Randy Simpson. How are you today?”
“I’m stuck in fucking traffic. You didn’t just call to chat. What is it?”
“I can’t make it on Saturday. My brother and I co-own the club, obviously, and we don’t make decisions without the other partner, so neither of us will be there. I’ve had something come up.”
“Are you unwell? If you’re ill, we’ll reschedule,” I said, waiting. I knew he wasn’t ill.
“No, it’s not that. I’ve just—”
“You gave your word. We’re having a face-to-face to discuss the terms of a buyout.”
“I know, and we’ll sit down and do that soon,” he whines.
“No, we’ll sit down and do that Saturday. I’ve cleared my calendar for the entire night. I’ve closed the club for the evening—that’s thousands of dollars of revenue, by the way. I hired Epicurean Advantage to do the meal.”
“We just planned this a week ago. How could you get them? They’re impossible to book.”
“Not if you’re me, they’re not.” I said smugly, “I assure you it will be an evening well worth your time.”
“I don’t think Saturday is going to be possible…” he said.
“Saturday is settled. We’re meeting. You will attend as promised.” I said and hung up the phone.
By the time traffic was moving, I’d replied to all my emails and instructed my secretary to push my appointments back another hour.
My sister Gina, who just turned sixteen, calls. She’s safely at a nice New England boarding school known for high SAT scores and tight security.
“What’s up?” I said.
“It’s Cameron—” She breaks off, sobbing.
I try not to roll my eyes. Cameron is her boyfriend, and the best I can tell, he’s a douche. Her school has social events with a boys’ school nearby and she met this boy who apparently looks like some singer she likes called Niles or Giles or something else British. At least once a week, something dramatic happens with Cameron—usually he doesn’t answer her Snapchat or didn’t notice her new highlights—and I get a phone call. She’s a roiling vortex of high-strung emotions around the clock. I love my baby sister but I find her exhausting. She doesn’t do calm and rational.
“Can I kick his ass this time? Please?” I say, knowing it will make her laugh. She giggles, and I feel better at the sound of it. If this were serious, if he gave her genital warts or got her pregnant or something, she wouldn’t have laughed at my lame joke, so I’m reassured.
“No. He’s just being a boy, I guess. But it just breaks my heart that he doesn’t love me as much as I love him. I sent him three texts this morning before school—three! ” she says, and the crying starts again, “He never answered me.”
“Did you ask a question? I don’t answer texts unless there’s a direct question.”
“Griff! He’s not like the CEO of all the bars in the world like you are. He’s in school. He has free time!”
“They’re nightclubs, not bars,” I correct her, “and I’m sure your communications teacher has explained to you that women place too much emphasis on rapport exchanges rather than the report interactions favored by men.”
She snorts. I have a feeling she didn’t like my lofty explanation, although I thought it was pretty good.
“First of all, my communications teacher would never say that women put too much emphasis on anything. Especially since most of the oral tradition of ancient cultures was preserved by women because the men only grunted about fire, hunting, and sex. Which isn’t much different than today if you replace fire with ‘cars’ and hunting with ‘sports’.”
“Very funny,” I said. “People have different communication styles. Maybe Cameron doesn’t text a lot.”
“Right. Let me screenshot these and—”
“No!” I say. “Do not screenshot anything. The last time you did that my phone blew up with thirty-five images of your messages and snaps, and I’d prefer to think you spell better than that, considering what I’m paying for your education.”
“You’re not paying for it. Mom is, or she was. So my inheritance—”
“Is in trust for you until you’re twenty-five. Until then, I’m paying. That way, I know you’ll finish college.”
“Come on, Griff. It’s not like I couldn’t get a job. I speak four languages!”
“But can you spell properly in any of those?” I demand, shaking my head. At least she’s off the topic of Cameron breaking her heart for the moment.
My phone beeps, and it’s the office, “I’m getting a call. I have to go. Message me later and let me know you’re okay. Go to class.”
“Fine. But you won’t answer if I text you.”
“If you ask me a question, I might,” I say.
My secretary has called to tell me t
I need to burn off some stress at the gym. I tell Ronald, my driver, to take me to the gym. I stalked in and asked for Enid, my trainer.
“She’s getting ready for a client. She’s booked today.”
“Tell her that Griffin Doyle is here and needs a session,” I said.
The receptionist calls Enid, and in five minutes I’m in the locker room, changing.
“Sorry to keep you waiting, Mr. Doyle,” she says when I come out, “I had to get another trainer to take my nine thirty.”
“No problem,” I said.
I have to admit, I kind of get off on the fact that I can get whatever I want and people apologize for making me wait, like they’re the ones who are being assholes and not me. I own that. I don’t do it all the time, but I do enjoy pulling rank, getting special treatment. Like a last-minute booking with Epicurean Advantage or an extra session with my trainer…hmm…maybe I do it all the time after all.
My mother must be spinning in her grave. She never raised me to be like this. To want the power more than the money, to want the money for its own sake and not the good that can be done with it. I banish the thought and get back to my circuit training. After half an hour, my head is clear, and I feel better. I pay Enid double for the half session because she worked me in, and because I know I was a bastard about it. I hit the showers and make my way to the office.
As soon as I step off the elevator I see him. I shake my head, hands fisted in my pockets. He shouldn’t have done this.
“I’m sorry, sir. I told him to leave. Should I call security?” my secretary says. I shake my head again.
“Goulding,” I say, “I said I’d make an appointment when I was ready.”
“It’s been over a year, Mr. Doyle. That money—”