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The Billionaire Beast

By:Jackie Ashenden

y the fact that he was so close and possibly by his crude language, but not Phoebe. She sat very still, self-contained, and utterly self-possessed, matching him stare for stare.

“I want the job because it pays well,” she replied, her tone as flat as his. “And because it’s better than stripping.”

Honest. Good. That was a start. He liked honesty.

“How do you know stripping isn’t something I might want you to do?” Her skin was incredibly fine-grained and smooth. Soft, too, he’d bet anything.

“I would assume you have other people who could do that better than I could.” Her voice was calm, but pink tinged her cheekbones.

Nero reached out and trailed a finger across the pretty color, and sure enough, her skin was as soft as he’d imagined.

She became even more motionless but didn’t pull away. “Is this still an interview for your personal assistant?” she asked levelly. “Or are you interviewing for another position?”

He very much wanted to cup her cheek in his hand, feel her skin against his palm, and since he was a man who never denied himself anything he wanted, he did just that, sliding his fingers along the line of her jaw, letting his palm press against her cheek.

Fuck, so soft. Like a rose petal.

Her pupils dilated more, whether in shock or something else, he couldn’t tell, but that was the only response she gave.

She smelled good. Not of those intense, deeply sexual perfumes that the women who usually came to his house wore, but of something else. It was a simple, sweet smell that reminded him of his garden. Was it . . . jasmine maybe?

“What other position would there be?” He let his thumb trace the line of her cheekbone. “My personal assistant is there to provide me with everything I need. Everything I want.”

“I see.” Her voice remained infuriatingly calm. “If providing you with what you want includes touching, then I’m happy to find someone else who can let you do that.”

He gave her another stroke. “What if what I want to touch is you?”

“That might be a problem. I have a fiancé.”

Nero frowned in genuine puzzlement. “How is that a problem?”

Some expression he couldn’t interpret rippled over her face, which annoyed him. Though he had no problem with reading people’s most basic feelings, such as fear or anger or desire, he had difficulties with reading complicated or subtle emotions. Normally this didn’t bother him since he interacted with very few people and those he did interact with, he didn’t much care about. But for some reason, right now, the fact that he couldn’t read Phoebe was profoundly irritating.

“It won’t be a problem,” he said, before she could respond. “Because whether you have a fiancé or not makes no difference to the requirements of this job.” He let his hand fall from her cheek and straightened. “Which are as follows. This is a live-in position. My assistant needs to be available twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. They are required to fulfill any requests I care to name, without argument and without protest.”

Phoebe didn’t move, the expression on her face exactly the same as when he’d had his hand on her cheek. She seemed utterly unfazed by anything he’d said. “I see. So, to be clear, I have to live here and be on duty twenty-four hours a day?”

He scowled at her. “Didn’t you hear me when I said I don’t like to repeat myself?”

“I just wanted to be sure I heard you correctly,” she said in the same level tone. “Your requirements are not . . . usual.”

“I don’t give a shit whether they’re usual or not. Those are the requirements, and they’re not up for discussion.” Abruptly restless, he turned away from her, moving over to the window that gave a view out to the walled area that was his private garden, pausing there to check the weather. It was brilliantly sunny, which added to his general irritation.

Summer in New York always made him even more restless than he was normally.

“When you say you require every request to be fulfilled, do you mean . . . anything?”

He stared at the greenery below him, noticing that one of the rose bushes looked like some insects were getting to it. Shit. He was going to have to get James to speak to the gardener again. “Of course, I mean anything,” he said brusquely. “I get what I need when I need it. End of story.”

“What if I can’t provide that?

“Then you’re fired.”

There was a pause.

Sensing some kind of emotion coming from her, Nero swung around. “What?” he asked.

Her gaze was calm. “I didn’t say a word.”

“No, but you have opinions, don’t you?” He moved away from the window. “One thing you need to be clear on, Miss Taylor, is that I do not pay for anyone else’s opinions. I’m not interested. The only opinions that matter are mine. Is that understood?”

Her expression didn’t give so much as a flicker. “Yes, that’s understood.”

He moved behind her, but she didn’t turn, her gaze directed instead to the stag’s head above his desk. “All you have to do is whatever I need, whenever I need it. That’s all. And in return, I’ll pay you six figures.” He paused, looking down at the top of her red-gold head. Not a curl, not a single wisp of hair escaped the bun at the nape of her neck. It was coiled neat and tight with small, practical brown hairpins. “Six figures every three months.”

Her head turned quickly to the side, and he couldn’t help baring his teeth in a feral smile. Money, it always came down to that. Offer people enough and they’d do anything for you. Anything at all.

Even things they wouldn’t normally do.

“That wasn’t in the advert.” A certain sharpness had entered her tone.

“No, because I’ve just decided to up the salary right now.”

“Why?” Again, her voice was sharp, and this time there was an edge of demand to it that should have made him angry and yet didn’t.

No, it excited him.

“You don’t get to ask the questions, Miss Taylor.” He reached out to take one of the hairpins, slowly sliding it out of the tightly coiled mass of