The Billionaire's Pet

By: Ivy Layne

CHAPTER ONE





ABIGAIL





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I sat on the plush leather sofa and stared at the thick wool carpet, trying not to count the scuffs on my shoes. John would have been so disappointed. The soft leather of my beige sling-backs was marked from walking through the wet grass before sunrise. Small flecks of grass stuck to the soles. John loved for me to look nice. He always bragged that he had the prettiest wife in town. But John was gone, and I was doing the best I could. Lately, my best had not included polishing my shoes.

This morning, my best had included a pre-dawn trek through the field behind the house I'd shared with John, a half-mile hike through the woods separating the house from my cousin-in-law's small cabin, then a clandestine ride to the bus station two towns east. I hoped no one found out that Tina had helped me get to Atlanta. If I'd had another way, I'd never have put her at risk. But I'd had to reach Jacob Winters. He was the only one who could help me. I'd called his office from the bus station, arguing and pleading with the receptionist, then his assistant, to tell him I was on the line. After ten humiliating minutes, Jacob had clicked on, verified I was me, and told me he could fit me in at eleven for fifteen minutes. I'd spent the time in between lurking in a bookstore, knowing that would be the last place the people looking for me would think to search.

Jacob's office wasn't what I'd expected. I don't know where I got the image in my head, but I'd pictured it as slick and modern, filled with sleek black leather and chrome, his assistant as a svelte blonde Valkyrie. The couch was leather. I'd gotten that part right. But instead of cold black, it was a deep espresso, punctuated with dull brass tacks. The rug was a Persian design, the furniture not sharp and shiny, but antique, polished wood. And the woman at the desk, guarding the door to his office with disapproving eyes, was older than my mother, with a neat, chin-length bob of grey hair that was heartbreakingly familiar.

An ugly irony that his assistant reminded me of my mother. My mother was the reason I was here. The reason I'd made almost every one of the disastrous mistakes I'd made in the last five years. If Anne Louise Wainright had any idea I was sitting in Jacob Winters's office, prepared to make him an offer I hoped he wouldn't refuse, she'd have passed out from the shock. Ladies did not consort with men not their husband.

I'd been raised to be a lady, first, last, and always. It was why John had married me. But my mother no longer recognized me and my husband was dead. I'd made more than my share of bad decisions since my father had died and my mother had fallen ill. This would likely be one more. I was prepared to live with that. If Jacob could give me what I needed, I could find a way to live with anything.

A tone sounded at the assistant's desk. She pressed a button, then murmured something I couldn't hear. My stomach clenched. I still had time to change my mind. I could stand up, make some flimsy excuse, and be out on the city streets in no more than a few minutes. But what then? I couldn't go home.

When Big John discovered me gone this morning, he would have been furious. I didn't want to imagine what he would do to me if I came crawling back. His first proposal had been so appalling, my imagination recoiled from trying to picture what my father-in-law would consider an appropriate punishment for my defiance. If Jacob turned me away, I would lose everything. Not just my home and my mother, but my life as well.

"Mrs. Jordan?" The assistant stood in front of me, waiting with expressionless patience. The tension in my stomach congealed into a frozen ball of fear. I stood, wobbling only a little on my narrow heels. They were the sexiest pair I owned, a gift from John in the early days of our marriage. They pinched my toes and were the worst shoes to wear when I'd spent a good part of my morning walking, but paired with my cream linen shift, they made my legs look a mile long. I needed every advantage I could get.

I tugged at the hem of my dress, smoothing the fabric as I followed the assistant to Jacob's door. I caught a whiff of her hairspray tangled with a perfume that smelled of roses and baby powder. She seemed too normal to be working for a man as magnetic as Jacob.

The assistant turned the brass handle, and the door swung open on silent hinges. With a gesture, she indicated I should enter, then closed the door behind me. The click of the handle sent my heart thudding. No turning back now. All I could do was hope Jacob didn't throw me out when he heard what I had to say.

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