Home > Billion Dollar Enemy

Billion Dollar Enemy
Author: L.A. Pepper


Chapter One: Mona

 

 

It was a lovely wedding. The weather was perfect. The bridal party and family were sorting themselves out while I took the moment to stand apart and get some distance. I was one of the few guests who wasn’t either family or part of the wedding party. My best friend, April, was with her mom, the bride, and my other best friend Lissie was with her dad, the groom. It was a very neat wedding for me, with my two best friends’ families getting nice and cozy and intermarrying like that. They were sisters now. It left me feeling a bit on the outside. A third wheel.

I did not feel like I belonged here. I was a light-brown skinned mixed hippie girl from a bohemian family living off the grid. How in the world did I get invited to a wedding of chichi billionaires? I felt more like one of the waitresses circulating among the party with trays of salmon tartlets with creme fraiche and tiny little skewers of andouille and peppers. Not that I would eat them, being a vegetarian.

As I watched the waitresses pass out treats, one, a slender redhead with her hair tied up in a perfect chignon and an unflappably polite expression on her face, was surrounded on either side by two of the family members. Unfortunately, it was the worst two—April’s twin cousins, the oldest of the kids and terrible womanizers. I’d been hearing stories about them almost as long as April had been my friend. They clustered too close to the poor waitress, whose bland smile never left her face. One of them just put his arm around her waist and pulled her into his side. I nearly gasped and took a sip of gin and tonic to cool my outraged throat down. I prepared to get in there and save her when she easily slipped out of their reach, and moved on to serve her tray to the next guests. I had to respect her aplomb. I surely would have bashed the whole tray over his head.

The waitress caught my eye, and I swiftly looked away, but it was too late. She was coming over.

“Hors d'oeuvres?” she offered.

“No, thanks. I’m a vegetarian.”

She turned the tray slightly and offered it again. “I have goat cheese and sundried tomato tartlets, olive tapenade crostinis, and mushrooms stuffed with zucchini and capers. The last two are vegan.”

“Oh.” I was surprised. Pleasantly so. I took one of each. “Thank you.” I couldn’t just leave it at that. “My name is Mona. What’s yours?”

She smiled. “My name is Birdie; call me whenever you need me.”

“Thanks,” I said, then took a bite of the goat cheese tartlet. “Wow, this is delicious.”

She smiled again—this time it was a real smile. “I’ll tell my mother you said so. She’s the caterer.”

“Please do.” I paused. “Listen, I wanted to apologize for those goons over there. I’m sorry you have to deal with people like that. They should have better manners than to assault the wait staff.”

She glanced over her shoulder at the twins who were now in a pack with other boys, including Jack, April’s brother, and the only person at this party who was worse than those twins.

She shrugged. “It’s nothing I can’t handle. Everyone has been very nice.” My face must have shown my doubt because she laughed lightly. “No, really, this is nothing.” Her serene mask slipped. “You should see how badly behaved people can be at some of the other parties I’ve worked. This is just a small family gathering. They’re mostly nice people.”

“If you say so.” The doubt dripped off of my words.

She laughed and reached out a hand to squeeze my arm. “Don’t worry; you’ll survive. I’ll make sure to send Maya around with the sweet tray.”

“That would help, thanks,” I said as she left to do her job, and I was left feeling slightly better about this party. It was, after all, beautiful here.

The sky was blue, and the ocean was fresh. There was a balmy September breeze. The house was . . . well it was the summer house of a family so wealthy they could probably buy and sell a small country and still have money left over. So, the house was impeccable and drool worthy. It was a great place to have a summer party. Despite all that money, the wedding was intimate, casual, emotional, and not at all showy. These people were the kind that didn’t flash their money about, and besides, the wedding was a second wedding held far too soon after the first husband had died. Oh, the scandal.

I covered my smile with a sip of my gin and tonic. I needed to be on my best behavior. April needed me here to be her emotional support friend because her mom, the most pristine and perfect specimen of a high class lady I had ever seen, was getting married again, only six months after April’s beloved father had died. Not that her father was such a prize either, from everything April had told me. He’d had a long term affair and a second family to boot—I stopped myself.

I shouldn’t be judging. It was wrong. I was being jealous, petty, and close minded.

I put my glass and the plate of appetizers down and went to stand at the edge of the deck to gaze at the ocean stretching out to the horizon.

I took a deep breath in and then let it out slowly. “Sky above, earth below, peace within,” I murmured. And then I did it again. I had just managed to calm my worst impulses that came out whenever I was on edge before I felt a cold shadow.

I opened my eyes. “Great.” It was him. Jack Hamilton, the reason why I was on edge in the first place. I was here as April’s emotional support buddy, but who was emotionally supporting me for having to deal with April’s older brother? He actually believed, actually told me that global warming was a fake crisis made up by bleeding hearts.

“Yes, I am, aren’t I?” He smirked at me. Sadly, he did look kind of great. He was tall and broad, with great shoulders and thick dark hair that would be great to run my fingers through. And he had brown eyes that looked like whiskey in the sun. His smile could make panties melt.

Not mine, though. I turned away from him and breathed in the soothing air from the ocean. “Too bad about that personality, though.”

He chuckled and stood next to me, sipping whatever it was he was drinking and looking out to sea like I was. Clearly, he was just there to bug me, like he’d been bugging me every time we met since April had brought me home for summer break freshman year of college. Ugh, he was such a pompous jerk.

I took a step away from him. He didn’t seem to notice. “So are you looking for a pod of whales you can save?” He peered out into the water. “Or maybe you just think that by standing here, meditating, and sending good thoughts into the aura of the water you will save the earth?” He rocked back onto his heels looking pleased with himself.

I had been meditating, and it pissed me off that he had noticed. “That’s not how meditation works.” Jack? That was too flattering a name and not nearly descriptive enough. I turned to him, the breeze picking up and blowing my mass of curly brown hair into my face. I swiped it back and kept it trapped in my hand as I glared at him.“That’s not how saving the earth works, either. You’re the one with the power to save us all. I’m just the one trying to get you to pay attention. I save the earth by getting billionaires,” I paused pointedly and looked at him over the rim of my glasses, “to put their money into systemic changes that will actually make a difference. You need to start caring about something other than your glorious face and life of luxury. It’s up to you, Jackass.” I punctuated the clever nickname with a poke to his chest. It was a firm chest, and my poke didn’t move him at all. He loomed over me, and I wasn’t even short.

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