The Billionaire’s Bid
Once the dust settled, James helped Aubrey unbuckle and they said goodbye to the pilot. “Follow me,” James said, taking her hand and pulling her behind him, running for cover to a brightly painted house sitting near a dock. “He won’t take off until we’re inside.”
They burst inside Marshside Mama’s Restaurant just as they heard the pilot start up the rotors again.
“Lily? Cole? Sally Ann? Anybody here?” James called out.
“I don’t think it’s open,” Aubrey said, her eyes sparkling at him.
He hoped she was having fun and not making fun of him as usual.
“I can understand how you might think I’m an idiot, but I do know some things like the owners of this restaurant,” James said, the smell of Cajun spices was seeping into his nose and he was craving her Low Country meals. “It is between meals, although she’ll open up for dinner in under an hour.”
“Hi hon,” said Sally Ann, busting through the swinging door from the kitchen and making her way across the kitchen to wrap James in a bear hug. “Gotcha all set up here. And who is this young lady?”
“Sally Ann, please meet Aubrey Templeton,” he said.
“Well, aren’t you gorgeous,” Sally Ann said taking both of Aubrey’s hands in hers. “I’ve made you all some of my famous gumbo and a side of shrimp and cocktail sauce. Oh, and fresh cornbread. How’s that sound, hon?”
“It sounds amazing,” Aubrey said, and James loved how her face lit up as she talked to Sally Ann.
“This one is a keeper, young lady. He may not have thought much of himself for awhile there, but he’s back and we couldn’t be happier, uh huh,” Sally Ann said. “Be right back.”
Aubrey smiled. “I love this place. I want to eat here every night,” she said, looking around at the wooden picnic tables painted in bright pastels, the white paper tablecloths, the red carnations stuck into simple glass vases.
“Wait until you taste her cooking,” James said, as Sally Ann returned with their to- go order. “Go on, grab a couple of waters, otherwise you should have everything your need.”
James gave Sally Ann a kiss on the cheek, grabbed two cold waters from the ice chest by the door, as Aubrey waved goodbye and they walked outside into the bright afternoon sunshine.
“We’re walking the whole tract?” Aubrey asked as they walked into the parking lot. “I think we should find a spot to eat first.”
“Patience is a virtue,” James said, holding the bag of warm food, his own stomach growling. He realized he hadn’t eaten since their shared breakfast. And since then, he’d been to Atlanta and back. “Don’t worry, we aren’t walking, but I do have a spot picked out for our early dinner. And we’re riding those,” James said, pointing to two horses, Sunshine and Moonshine, tethered to a tree just beyond the gravel parking lot. “Ok?”
“I love horses, but I’ve never ridden one,” Aubrey said, as she squeezed his arm and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek “Thank you for all these surprises.”
Aubrey was patting Sunshine’s nose, the brown horse had a white diamond marking, while James fastened their picnic to the black horse called Moonshine’s saddle. “These were the horses I grew up riding as a kid. Gentle, friendly. Did you ever ride on the island?”
“Afraid not,” Aubrey said, “but I’ve always wanted to ride a horse. My parents both had asthma, so we weren’t horse or dog people, unfortunately. But I’m not allergic!”
“I hope not,” James said, thinking that could seal his fate, and hers. “A lot of firsts for you today, and with luck, an asthma attack won’t be one of them,” James said, a his dimple visible as a smile lit his face. “Put your foot in the stirrup and I’ll help you up.”
He watched as Aubrey took a deep breath and walked to Sunshine’s side. The horse whipped his tail, and Aubrey jumped back, crashing into James. He steadied her finding his heart rate and breathing spiked as he felt her warm, curves under his hands and pressed against his body. Whenever their bodies touched, the electricity was crazy.
“You’re fine. Sunshine’s just welcoming you onboard,” James said, “Grab the saddle here,” he said, placing her hand on the horn, fighting to keep his voice calm, business like. This is business, he reminded himself as he helped lift her up into the saddle. She was stunning, sitting on horseback, the sun streaming over her shoulder, like a painting, like a dream. “Great. You’re set.”
“This is amazing, and sort of scary. I had no idea how high off the ground you are when you’re on top of a horse,” she said. “I know that’s ridiculous.”
“Not at all,” James said, climbing onto Moonshine’s saddle. “We’ll take it slow, follow this trail. You’ll follow me, OK?”
“OK, cowboy,” she said and winked at James. She was killing him, looking gorgeous, riding a horse, and enjoying the land. She was his dream. Business partners, he reminded himself, but even that was far from certain. He had a hard time keeping the worry from clouding his mind and ruining this moment, but he forced himself to focus on this wonderful moment, something else he’d learned in recovery.
They reached the clearing James had mapped out about an hour later. It was part of her property, near the boundary of his clear-cut plan. The old growth hardwoods were magnificent, huge trunks with canopies reaching the sky. James dismounted and secured Aubrey’s reigns, helping her to the ground, his hands around her waist. He tethered the horses in the shade and pulled out their picnic feast. He felt Aubrey behind him.
“Here, let me help,” she said, touching his shoulder, sending heat through his body.
James handed her the basket from Sally Ann as he untied the red blanket from Moonshine’s saddle, unfurling it under the shade of the trees. It was a beautiful afternoon, the shadows danced from the leaves above them and the grasses in the clearing swayed in the warm afternoon ocean breeze.
As James spread out the blanket, she said, “I can’t believe this is my land. It doesn’t seem right, really, for me to own all of this.” She pulled out the meals from the basket and handed one of the brown packages to him. The smells were making his stomach dance as he popped the to go package open and began to eat. He wasn’t going to comment on land ownership, his family’s tract was even larger.
“It’s all about what you do with the land,” he said, taking a big drink of water. “That’s what matters in the end. Were you a good steward, did you leave the place better, or at least lightly touched? That’s what my bid offers. We can work together. I would love to teach you all about this magical place, have you learn all about conservation and preservation.”
She looked at him, and he noticed her eyes had lost their sparkle, her jaw was tense. She said, “That’s all this is about, right? The land lease, the bid.”
He looked into her big brown eyes. He knew he owed her the truth, no matter what it cost him. “That’s what it was about, all it was about when I arrived here yesterday,” James said. “As you know, I didn’t remember our history. All I knew was that this island is part of my heritage, and I needed to save it from Dirk and the clear-cut plan.”
“Dirk said you need the deal to keep control of your family’s business,” she said quietly, dipping a shrimp into Sally Ann’s famous cocktail sauce.
“True. As you know, with my dad’s illness, he appointed me acting CEO. There are a few folks who don’t believe I’m capable of holding the title permanently,” he said. “But I am. Aubrey you should know I’m sober and I have been, for almost a year. The man you met a year ago, is changed. I’ve matured. I have discipline. I don’t mix business and pleasure. If anything, I’m too much business.”
He saw her swallow, and when she spoke, her voice was soft. “Your essence hasn’t changed,” she said. “You were so kind, our night together. The sex was fabulous. But it was more than that. I guess that’s why I thought finding you again would help me heal, move on. I think a little part of me actually fell in love with you that night. I know that sounds crazy. And don’t worry, I’m over it. I was just lonely.” She’d dropped her head and was staring at her hands folded in her lap. One of the horses neighed.
They sat in silence, James wanted to tell her the incredible attraction he felt, but felt that wasn’t fair as he couldn’t have both. “I’m lonely, too,” he said to himself, pulling a blade of grass out of the ground.
Kaira’s Favorite Quotes from The Billionaire’s Bid
- “Do you know who I am?” she said, teasing, of course. But still.
“Aubrey don’t be silly. I’m a new man. A man who could never forget you,” he said.
- He hoped he could be the man she deserved. He had changed. He’d been given a second chance. And now, because of her, he felt the start of something big, the roots of a lifelong love.
- “I’m lonely, too,” he said to himself, pulling a blade of grass out of the ground.
- So, even if James’ bid wasn’t going to be taken seriously by her and Dirk, she was on this remote Sea Island for a few more nights, with a huge ocean view, king-sized bedroom suite all to herself just a few floors above where they were right now. She remembered what James could do in that type of situation.
- As their eyes locked – his blue and mysterious, hers large and dark brown – she knew he must be remembering their night together in Atlanta a year ago. It had been the best night of lovemaking she’d ever experienced, a one-night stand she couldn’t get out of her mind.
The Billionaire’s Bid in Five Words
Roots – this book is about family legacy, land and precious resources, environmental stewardship, the beautiful sea islands
Second chances – James and Aubrey have met before, but James doesn’t remember her. It takes awhile to earn her respect and for James to remember their special connection.
Memories. Aubrey’s memories of her parents are tied to her land. James doesn’t remember their first meeting.
Perfect fit – Aubrey and James, from the moment they reunite, are drawn to each other because they each complete something that is missing in the other. James is missing a person to trust and share his life with, Aubrey is missing her family and her roots.
Legacy – James stands up to the board of Putnam Industries and retains his title of CEO of the company while Aubrey stands up to Dirk and retains ownership of her land and figures out a way to create a win/win with an eco resort.