“No! Absolutely not!” Billie Dupree turned her back on her father and sat on the edge of his massive mahogany desk, her left foot vibrating back and forth in agitation at the mere suggestion.
“I will not forfeit all that I’ve worked for, Dad, for what purpose?” Billie jumped to her feet and spun on her high heels to face him, “To become some playboy’s trophy wife? Certainly, I’ve proven to you that my contributions to this company are worth more than that?”
Mr. Dupree cringed at his daughter’s assessment of his proposal. “I’m not asking you to marry the man, Billie just take him out. Show him around. You can do that, can’t you?”
Billie’s piercing blue eyes zeroed in on him, and he felt uncomfortable under such censure.
“That boy’s picture is constantly splattered across the tabloids, Dad. Do you know what fun they’ll have if they see us together? One picture and it will be on every social media platform that we are planning a spring wedding!”
Her father scoffed at this. “Billie, he is not a child. He’s two years older than you.”
“Quentin Harrison is nothing more than a spoiled brat, living the high life off of his father’s money! I know what you’re doing, Dad. You’re trying to get me out of the way. You’re planning a merger with Mr. Harrison, aren’t you?”
Mr. Dupree’s brows creased in annoyance. That was the problem with Billie she was always too smart for her own good. “Honey, you know what our last fiscal quarter looked like. If we don’t do something soon…”
“I have a plan for that. An idea that is revolutionary. It could change the entire industry. It could save us, Dad. Why won’t you…?”
“It’s a gamble, Billie. You want me to have my entire life’s work and your future to ride on a gamble?” Mr. Dupree slammed his fist on the desk and Billie flinched.
“No, Billie! The answer is no.”
Billie leaned in across the desk. She wasn’t about to give up that easily. Her finger raised. Her mouth opened to retort until interrupted by the disembodied voice of her father’s secretary coming across the intercom.
“Mr. Dupree your 11 o’clock is here to see you.”
Then she heard a second voice. “Tell him I refuse to be kept waiting all day.”
Billie’s eyes widened. No… she glared at her father as he pulled uncomfortably at his shirt collar. “Send them in Rosaline,” Mr. Dupree told his secretary.
Billie’s lips pressed together. Her head shook. They had set her up. She should have known her father was up to something when he asked her to “dress up” for their lunch date today. Billie always wore suits to work. It was a boys’ club around here, and so she dressed the part. No skirts, no heels, no makeup even. She couldn’t afford the distractions it caused.
Now…. as the buzzer sounded to unlock the door, her father joined her on the other side of his desk. He grabbed her by her elbow to pull her close and whispered in her ear, “Play nice, Billie. We need this.”
She wanted to snap back at him, ‘They most certainly did not!’ but bit her tongue and greeted her father’s guests with a smile plastered firmly in place. “Mr. Harrison, what a pleasure,” Billie nearly cooed, playing the part of the perfect hostess.
Mr. Harrison did not even acknowledge her, only spared her a brief glance before saying, “Dupree, this can’t be your daughter. She’s far too good looking to belong to the likes of you.”
Mr. Dupree forced a laugh. “What a wit, you have Harrison. But I must agree. Billie’s beauty doesn’t come from me, but her mother. God rest her soul.”
At the mention of her mother, Billie’s smile wavered, but it was a mere flicker. She subconsciously reached up and toyed with the locket around her neck. It’s been two years since they lost her mom to cancer, and it still hurts. Her mother would have never agreed to this meeting. Gwendolyn Dupree would have stood up to her father and told him what a horrible idea it was.
As the two men went through the motions of inane idle chatter. Billie stole a glance at Quentin Harrison, who stood by his father’s side with a bored expression upon his face. She had to admit the tales about his attractiveness were not exaggerated. He looked just as good in person as he did on last month’s cover of GQ.
His build was athletic, not even a suit could cover the obvious muscle hidden beneath. Wide shoulders, slim waist, his honey-colored hair cut into the latest style. Billie felt aggravated to admit that she appreciated his firm jaw outlined by a shadow of a beard, just a hint of one, to make him look less polished and more…
Suddenly his eyes darted over to her. Damn it! He caught her staring at him. His head cocked to one side and a slow smile pulled at his lips. His playful green eyes sparked with a challenge accepted.
Great! Billie thought, now he thinks I’m interested in him. Billie did not back down. Instead, she held his gaze. His smile turned into an amused smirk. It angered her that she will be forced to spend her valuable time 'entertaining him'.
The staring contest only ended when Mr. Dupree said, “Billie, I’ve made reservations at Balthazar’s. Why don’t you and Quentin run along and we’ll catch up with you later?”
Billie felt the rise of panic causing her heart to race. Not only was her father going to discuss plans for a merger with H-Tech, but she apparently wasn’t invited into the fold. That decision did not bode well for her future with Dupree Industries. Still, she had enough respect for her father not to argue with him.
“Shall we?” Quentin offered her his arm, a chivalrous move she’d play along with, for now. She took his arm, and he led her to the door. Billie spared only a glance back at her father. His look was both apologetic and proud. Billie sighed.
She could get through this. It’s just a few hours, but she wouldn’t play in anyone’s hands. To be seen out in public alone with a philanderer like Quentin would cause too much speculation. As they entered the elevator, Billie reached over and hit the button for the garage. She needed a plan.