A Family for the Billionaire

By: Dani Wade

Surprise momentarily replaced his serious expression. “What do you mean by that?”

“Just that I prefer to endear myself to people,” she said, keeping her tone even and calm, not accusing. “I find they’re much more willing to work hard, which makes life easier and the results quicker, if I’m nice.”

“As opposed to employing coercion?” His smirk reminded her of exactly how they’d gotten into this situation.

“Sometimes other tactics are necessary,” she conceded, “but it definitely makes things messy and uncomfortable for everyone. Confrontation might be a necessity at times, but I don’t like it.”

They shared a look of mutual understanding. Royce agreed with a nod. “But it is interesting.”

Interesting, indeed.

* * *

Royce studied the woman in front of him, carefully avoiding looking at the raven-haired child in her lap. The sight of the little girl in his office brought too many mixed emotions.

He’d never been so far off his game that he wasn’t sure where to begin...until this moment. But he wasn’t about to let Jasmine Harden know that. She was proving her point...he wasn’t about to help her.

For a moment, he second-guessed his decision to continue with this conversation. Heck, this whole project. But it wasn’t just her connection to the Jeffersons that kept him from calling a halt right now.

Deep down, as uncomfortable as this entire incident made him, his instincts told him a woman who was this passionate about people was perfect to create the event that would connect him to others who were just as passionate.

“So, what do you have for me?” he finally asked.

The twitch of her lips suggested she knew exactly how uncomfortable he was. She shifted the baby into the crook of her arm with the ease of an earth mother, despite her power suit, and started her pitch.

“I want to do a masquerade.”

Masquerade? “Like a dance?”

A half smile formed on her elegant red lips. Why did they have to be shaped so perfectly? He’d promised himself he would keep his thoughts on business...not on the woman. And he’d succeeded until the minute he’d seen her in person again.

Then she’d had to insist on him seeing her as a person. This wasn’t helping him with his perspective at all.

“Sort of. A masquerade includes dancing. The key focus is the anonymity. Each participant wears a mask, which lends itself to a mysterious atmosphere.”

“Isn’t the point for people to know me?” He had to admit, he wasn’t an imaginative kind of guy. At least, not in this area. Give him a logistics problem with his shipping company and his brain went into overdrive. Fantasy? Not really.

“Oh, they will,” she assured him. “There will be announcements throughout the evening of the money being raised so everyone will be aware of the sponsor. But for the participants, the atmosphere is key.”

She reached into her oversize bag to pull out a tablet. Flipping the cover open, she deftly pulled up what she was looking for. “As you can see, this gives us a theme to work with—a theme our target audience will find very attractive.”

Without missing a beat, she set the device upright on his desk and flipped through pictures on the screen of lavish decorations and food and costumes. The only thing Royce saw were dollar signs.

“This looks awfully expensive.”

Jasmine raised her brows at him. “Is money a problem?”

How could she make him feel like a schoolboy with a single look? “It isn’t unlimited,” he insisted.

“I wouldn’t think so, but you said you wanted to make an impression.”

Royce studied the last photo. A woman in a fitted dress and feather mask was laughing up at a man in a black tux. The woman’s dark hair reminded him of Jasmine’s... No—she was an employee. An employee with a baby.

Totally off limits.

“Why can’t we just do a dinner?” he asked.

Of course, she had to counter with, “Why would anyone want to come?”

He studied the picture, realizing how totally out of his element he was. Maybe she’d been right to get him more involved. He had no idea how to attract people to anything other than a business deal.

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