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The Billionaire Beast

By:Jackie Ashenden

than a week.

“So,” he said without any niceties at all. “You want to be my assistant?” His voice was deep, harsh, with a gravelly quality to it that for some reason felt like a velvet cloth rubbed roughly against her skin.

She stiffened, not liking the sensation. In fact, she didn’t much like the punch-to-the-gut response to him, full stop. She rarely let people get under her skin, but she had a feeling that if she wasn’t careful, he could. It would pay to proceed with caution from here on out.

Controlling her instinctive irritation at his rudeness, Phoebe met his gaze calmly. “Yes, that’s the general idea.”

“Why?”

The abruptness of the question caught her off guard. “Why do I want to be your assistant, you mean?”

He folded his arms, the fabric of his jacket pulling tight across his massive shoulders, and stared at her with the same kind of unblinking intensity as a great cat would stare a deer it would quite like to eat. “That’s what I asked. Don’t make me repeat myself.”

She blinked at the roughness of his tone. Okay, so she was starting to get more of an idea of why this man was considered so difficult. He was rude. Then again, she’d dealt with rudeness before, quite frequently. In fact, she’d gotten quite a name for herself as being an assistant who could handle difficult people, so she was pretty sure she could handle Nero de Santis, despite whatever rumors there were about him.

“Well,” she began carefully, “I’d like this job because it sounds like an exciting opportunity to—”

“Bullshit.”

“Excuse me?”

“I said bullshit.” His arms dropped and suddenly he was walking away from her, going over to the window and glancing out, then coming back over to where she sat and circling her.

He moved with a kind of restless, kinetic energy crackling around him that made her feel unsettled. That made her want to keep her eyes on him in case he did something. Though what, she had no idea.

“Don’t give me that shit about opportunities and exciting challenges.” He circled her chair, and she had to resist the urge to turn her head to follow him, her whole body tensing for reasons she couldn’t name. “You must have heard the rumors, how I went through ten assistants in one month and how I reduced every single one of them to tears.” He came around the front of her chair once more and paused, looming over her like a mountain. “Or about how I like my assistants to be near me 24/7 and that I call them to fulfill my needs at any time of the day or night. How I expect instant obedience and do not tolerate protests or arguments.”

Phoebe took a silent, deep, calming breath. Actually, she hadn’t heard some of those rumors, not that it would matter of course. Fundamentally, she didn’t care how difficult this man was or how difficult the job, she needed the money it was going to pay her to care for Charles and she’d put up with anything for that alone.

And hell. It was better than stripping.

She gave the man looming over her a pleasant, professional smile. She’d found that the best way to deal with difficult people was to be as calm and as pleasant and as accommodating as possible. At all times. “I have heard some rumors, yes,” she said, keeping her voice utterly neutral. “They don’t concern me.”

His eyes narrowed. “Why not?”

“Because rumors are invariably just that. Merely rumors.”

There was a silence where he looked at her for one long, uncomfortable moment. Then he leaned down very suddenly so they were nose to nose, his face mere inches from hers.

The unexpectedness of the movement made shock unroll down her spine, and she had to work hard not to flinch away from him.

His eyes were so dark, sharp and glittering like the edge of an obsidian blade, the pressure of his gaze like a hammer blow.

“They’re not rumors,” he said, that harsh voice of his becoming softer, more deadly. “They’re all true.”

Chapter 2

Nero watched with interest as the color leached out of Phoebe Taylor’s milky skin. The pupils of her pretty brown eyes had dilated, the darkness swallowing the glints of pure gold that he’d seen flash in the depths as he’d circled around her. Glints of temper or fear, he wasn’t sure. But he’d like to find out. In fact, there were a whole lot of things he’d like to find out about her. Now, preferably.

He didn’t question why he wanted to know, because he didn’t question himself much generally. It was only that there was something about her that he found . . . intriguing. He liked surprising people, or rather, he liked shocking them, and yet apart from that initial widening of her eyes as he’d walked through the door into his office, Phoebe Taylor hadn’t shown any signs of shock or even surprise. She’d merely sat there with her hands clasped in her lap, those sharp features of hers betraying nothing but calm. And she’d looked at him like . . . Fuck, he didn’t know. Only that he hadn’t seen a woman give him that kind of look before. Normally they either stared at him like he was something good to eat or they ran the hell away.

Not prim Miss Taylor, though. Apart from that initial shock, her gaze had been detached almost. As if he was a problem she had to solve.

He decided he didn’t like it. Not one bit.

“The rumors are true,” she echoed in that prissy little British accent, one red-gold eyebrow lifting as if he’d said something completely ridiculous and she was humoring him. “Are they indeed?”

Which would have been infuriating if she hadn’t been pale, revealing the delicate dusting of freckles across her nose. Getting up in her face had scared her, no doubt about it.

He didn’t move, staring into her eyes, watching for more telltale signs that his nearness bothered her. Yet apart from a certain rigidity in her posture, she gave no sign that it did.

“Yes,” he said flatly. “They are. Now answer my fucking question. Why do you want the job?”

A normal person would have been moving restlessly in their seat, disturbed b

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