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THE SCANDLAOUS BILLIONAIRE
Series: The Zero Chance Billionaires’ Club, Book 1
Print Length: 230 pages
Publication Date: August 28, 2023
Publisher: Annabeth Avery
Cover Design: Blackraven’s Designs
Jackson Aldridge has been deemed the second most eligible bachelor in Seattle, Washington three years running. He’s an intelligent, handsome billionaire at the top of his game who lives by a strict set of rules. But when a high-risk investment goes South, Jackson will need to re-evaluate his lifestyle and his rules to prevent his glass house from shattering into a million pieces.
Rule No. 1: Business always before pleasure
Rule No. 2: Time is money
Rule No. 3: No long-term relationships because they’re time consuming and emotionally draining.
Rule No. 4: Never fall in love because love hurts, and
Rule No. 5: Never, ever get married because divorce is inevitable
Eve Scott owns Pick of the Litter until the bank unexpectedly sends her an eviction notice. She needs to either come up with the next balloon payment in thirty days or she’s out on the streets. In dire straits, Eve asks for help from the one person she’s avoided for years–Jackson Aldridge–a womanizing, emotionally bankrupt, commitment phobe, who just happens to be her best friend’s scandalous brother.
Jackson needs to recoup his losses before their company goes belly up. Eve needs to keep Pick of the Litter afloat or lose her life’s work. They say opposites attract, but can these two find enough common ground to prevent life as they know it from imploding before their very eyes?
Two lives in upheaval, one fake marriage, and a set of rules meant to be broken. What could go wrong?
READ CHAPTER ONE
The Valentine’s Date from Hell
The cold February wind whipped at Jackson Aldridge’s tailored suit as he stepped out of his sleek black sedan, a frown etched on his handsome face. Valentine’s Day – the one day he dreaded more than anything, and yet here he was, about to walk into Le Amour, Seattle’s trendy restaurant, to break up with his girlfriend.
“Get it together, Jackson,” he muttered under his breath, inhaling deeply as he strode toward the entrance, his polished leather shoes clicking on the pavement. He could feel the weight of his decision bearing down on him like an anchor, but he couldn’t shake the nagging fear of commitment that had haunted him for years. No, he wasn’t looking for a wife – not after witnessing the emotional carnage left behind from his parents’ disastrous marriage. Business, not love, was his top priority.
The warm atmosphere of the restaurant enveloped Jackson, as he pushed open the heavy door, but his attention remained glued to his phone screen. He searched for any missed calls or messages from his elusive financial advisor, Nixon Martin, whose silence only added to the turmoil brewing inside him. Jackson almost didn’t notice the maître d’ until he nearly collided with the man, forcing him to take a step back and finally assess his surroundings.
The restaurant was awash in varying shades of red and pink, delicate rose petals strewn across crisp white tablecloths while clusters of heart-shaped balloons floated lazily above the tables. The overpowering scent of roses intermingled with the tantalizing aroma of the restaurant’s exquisite dishes, a sensory cocktail that would have been perfect for any romantic evening – just not this one. Couples sat cozily in the dimly lit space, their murmured conversations barely audible over Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” playing softly in the background. All except Giselle, who sat by herself near the window, her dark eyes flashing with fury as she checked her watch for the umpteenth time.
“Ah, Mr. Aldridge, we’ve been expecting you,” the maître d’ said, his voice dripping with false sweetness. “Your table is this way,” pulling Jackson from his digital world.
“Thanks,” Jackson grumbled, sliding his phone into his pocket as he followed the man to Giselle’s table. He could feel the intense internal conflict tightening his chest, clenching his jaw, but he steeled himself for the conversation that lay ahead.
“Jackson, you’re late!” Giselle spat as soon as he sat down, her voice a mix of irritation and hurt. But Jackson didn’t have time for apologies – not when his business empire was on the line.
“Sorry, Giselle,” he said, forcing a smile onto his face. “You know how it is – business before pleasure.”
“Business before pleasure, right?” Giselle replied icily, her voice dripping with sarcasm. “You could have at least called to let me know you’d be late.”
“Look, I’m sorry,” Jackson insisted, signaling the waiter to come over. “Let’s just order and enjoy the evening, shall we?”
The silence between them was oppressive, a tangible fog of discomfort hanging between the hushed voices and clinking cutlery. Jackson fiddled with his silverware, his thoughts a whirlwind of what to say and how to say it.
Finally, the waiter, sensing an opportunity, glided to their table, his well-rehearsed smile firmly in place. “Good evening. May I interest you in our special wine selection tonight?”
Jackson glanced at Giselle, her expression unreadable, a veil of pretense masking the inevitable. He sighed, “A bottle of your finest Merlot for the lady, please.”
“And for the gentleman?” The waiter’s eyebrows rose slightly, as he turned his attention back to Jackson.
“Scotch,” Jackson paused, swallowing hard, his gaze meeting the waiter’s, “On the rocks. Make it a double.” His voice was more of a murmur, a plea for an anchor in the storm that was about to break.
“As you wish,” the waiter nodded, taking their orders back to the bar.
Jackson ran a hand through his hair, steeling himself. Each ticking moment heralded the confrontation to come. His eyes met Giselle’s and, in a breathless whisper, he started, “Giselle, there’s something we need to discuss…”
Before long, the waiter returned, skillfully navigating through the maze of tables with a tall bottle of Merlot and a glass of Scotch balanced on a silver tray. He placed the bottle on the table, allowing the label to face Giselle, while simultaneously sliding the glass towards Jackson.
“Shall I pour, madam?” The waiter’s question cut through the tension, his professional demeanor unwavering despite the palpable unrest.
Giselle merely nodded, her face a neutral mask.
Jackson’s eyes mirrored the dance, his thoughts swirling in chaotic patterns, as the wine swirled in the crystal glass. The rich amber liquid of his Scotch shimmered in the dim light, each ice cube a small fortress against his consuming apprehension.
Jackson took a deep breath, his heart pounding against his ribs like a frenzied drum, his hands clenching and unclenching. He lifted the glass, the cold touch of it grounding him, anchoring him amidst the emotional turmoil.
The waiter cleared his throat, turning his attention back to the couple. “Are you ready to order, or do you need a few more minutes?”
Giselle maintained her silence, her gaze drifting from the wine to Jackson. Her eyes were pools of uncertainty, their depths revealing a tumult of questions. Jackson’s heart clenched at the sight.
He squared his shoulders, forcing himself to maintain eye contact, “I believe we are ready. The lady will have the fillet mignon, medium-rare, and I’ll take the salmon.”
The waiter nodded, quickly jotting down their orders before retreating to the bustling kitchen, leaving the two in their fraught solitude.
Savoring the taste of the Scotch on his tongue, Jackson glanced at Giselle, the truth of their situation hovering on his lips. His voice dropped to a whisper, the four words he dreaded saying lingering in the air, “We need to talk…”
His words hung in the air like a declaration of war, a chilling silence settling over them in the aftermath. Jackson took another sip of his Scotch, his throat dry, his mind scrambling to form a response.
Giselle’s gaze held his, her bright eyes sparkling with anticipation. She reached for her glass, the ruby red wine reflecting in her eyes, and took a delicate sip, her lips curving in a gentle smile.
“Five months, Jackson,” she started, placing her glass back down with an air of certainty. Her fingers danced along the stem, tracing the elegant curve, her eyes never leaving his.
Jackson felt his heart drop, his hand freezing mid-motion, the glass of Scotch hanging perilously between the table and his lips.
“We’ve been dancing around each other for five months now.” Her voice was steady, filled with resolve. Her eyes narrowed slightly as she met his gaze head on, a challenge within her stare. “Don’t you think…maybe…it’s high time we change the music?”
Jackson’s heart pounded in his chest, the fear within him rearing its monstrous head. He could hear the unspoken words between her lines, feel the anticipatory energy radiating from her, mistaking his silence for agreement. His mind raced as he sought to rectify the misconceptions brewing within her, his horror amplifying with each passing second.
Giselle’s smile broadened, a warmth spreading across her face as she reached across the table, placing her hand over his.
“We need to move forward, Jackson. We can’t keep spinning in circles forever,” she whispered, her fingers lightly squeezing his, a silent plea hidden within her words.
Jackson’s mind screamed at the contrast in their perceptions, the reality of their impending breakup lost amidst her expectations of a bright future. He wished he could match her enthusiasm, match her vision of their relationship, but the truth was as bitter as the Scotch on his tongue. As he looked at Giselle, her face illuminated with hope, but he felt a heaviness pull at his heart, knowing that he was about to shatter her world.
Jackson took a slow gulp of his Scotch, the burn offering a brief reprieve from the tension at the table. “Giselle, we’ve talked about this before. I’m not looking to settle down.”
“Come on, Jackson. We’re perfect for each other,” she insisted, her voice taking on a pleading quality that made his stomach clench with guilt. “Together, we could be a powerhouse in both business and life.”
He couldn’t help but wrinkle his nose at her words, feeling a surge of irritation at her insistence on pushing for a commitment. “Giselle, are you even listening to yourself? This isn’t about us – it’s about your own ambitions.”
“Is it so wrong for me to want more for us?” she shot back, her eyes flashing with anger. “Or are you just too afraid to admit that maybe you care about something deeper than your precious rules?”
Each word clawed at Jackson’s heart, threatening to dismantle the carefully constructed barriers he had built around himself. He thought back to his parents’ bitter divorce, the pain and heartbreak it caused his entire family. He would not let history repeat itself.
“Five months,” she said again, her words punctuating the air like staccato notes on a piano, jarring against the smooth melody of A Great Big World and Christina Aguilera’s “Say Something” playing softly in the background.
“I know it’s been five months, Giselle,” he finally managed, his throat dry and his voice strained. He forced a tight smile, attempting to maintain an air of nonchalance. “You know how I feel about commitment. This…”
He was all too aware of the dangers of love, the heartache that inevitably followed in its wake. His parents’ hostile divorce had left him scarred, unwilling to risk his own happiness for the sake of fleeting passion. And his rules – those precious, unbreakable rules – were the only thing standing between him and emotional chaos.
“Love is a battlefield, Giselle,” Jackson said, his tone cold and detached as he desperately tried to hold on to the walls he had built around his heart. “And I’m not willing to fight that war.”
“Is that it, then?” she asked, her voice trembling with emotion. “You’re just going to walk away?”
“Rule number three, Giselle,” Jackson replied, his eyes locked onto hers as he recited the words he knew so well. “No long-term relationships because they’re time-consuming and emotionally draining.”
“Rules can be broken, Jackson,” she whispered, tears glistening in her eyes like uncut diamonds.
“Maybe,” he conceded, staring into the depths of his Scotch as if searching for answers. “But not mine.”
“Then you’ll lose me, Jackson,” Giselle warned, her words a sharp dagger piercing his carefully guarded heart. “And I won’t come back.”
“Rule four,” he said, choking back the bitter taste of regret. “Never fall in love because love hurts. And rule five – never, ever get married because divorce is inevitable.”
With those final words, Jackson Aldridge sealed his fate, pushing away the one woman who dared challenge his beliefs, who threatened to tear down the fortress he had built around his heart. The choice had been made; business would always come first, and love, that tender, treacherous thing, would remain forever out of reach.
Giselle stared at him, her eyes filled with a mix of disbelief and pain, as the silence descended upon them. Jackson could feel the weight of his decision heavy in the air between them. He knew he had hurt her deeply, but in his mind, it was the only way to protect himself.
“Are you breaking up with me?” Giselle whispered, her face pale and stricken.
“Look, Giselle, I’m sorry,” Jackson replied, the words tasting like bile in his throat. “But I can’t let my past dictate my future.
“Even if it means losing me?” she choked out, the tears streaming down her cheeks unchecked now.
“Even then,” he confirmed, his heart aching at the sight of her pain. “I’m sorry.”
“Fine, then,” Giselle said, her voice barely a whisper. She wiped her tears away, determination replacing the sadness in her eyes. “I hope your rules keep you warm at night, Jackson.”
With that, she rose from her seat and walked away, her heels clicking on the polished floor as she left him alone at the table. Jackson watched her go, torn between the urge to chase after her and the knowledge that he couldn’t risk letting her back in.
As the night wore on, the once-romantic atmosphere of Le Amour became increasingly oppressive, weighing down on Jackson like an unwanted burden. When the check arrived, he paid it quickly, eager to escape the suffocating confines of the restaurant and his own guilt. The pitying looks from the staff made him scowl. He had no patience for judgment or sentimentality.
Jackson stood in front of Le Amour waiting for his car, the icy wind biting through his tailored suit as he took a deep breath. It was done – the breakup, the adherence to his rules, the choice he had made to prioritize business over love. It was time to move on. Around him, the bustle of Valentine’s Day carried on–couples walking hand in hand, flowers and gifts exchanging hands. The familiar knot in his chest tightened. He was right to end things. This was for the best.
Still, he couldn’t deny the hollow ache inside. By the time Jackson reached his penthouse, exhaustion weighed down his limbs. He fixed himself a drink and stood at the floor-to-ceiling windows, gazing out at the Seattle skyline. The truth was, he already felt alone. Had felt that way for as long as he could remember. Giselle’s absence only made it official.
With a humorous laugh, he raised his glass in a mock toast. “Happy Valentine’s Day to me.”
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