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His Billion-Dollar Secret:: A Taboo Forbidden Love Romance by Kelli Walker (1)

Callie

“We interrupt your regularly scheduled binge on 80s music to bring you an important update.”

“It’s not important, per se. But, the gossip is juicy,” the radio personality said.

“Turns out, yet another photograph of Matthew Jennings has surfaced. And this time, it’s a pretty salacious one.”

“That’s right. The millionaire heir to his father’s technological empire whose relationship we were all rooting for has yet another pin in its ultimate demise. If you are just tuning in and have been living under a rock for the past two months, here’s the gist of the story. Matthew Jennings and Callie Roper have been engaged for--.”

I turned the radio off and brushed away my tears. Of course, there was another picture. Of course, there was another broadcast. That meant my name would be passed around in the media for another week before Matthew made some sort of half-assed public statement to try and save his reputation. Not that he had one. The only reputation he garnered was from his grandfather. Born into a technological empire his grandfather grew from the ground up, both his father and him had mounds of wealth passed down to them. But, at least Matthew’s father did something with it. He started charities and traveled around the world raising awareness for things like childhood hunger and overrun orphanages in Africa.

What did Matthew do?

He jetted around the world and laid in hotel rooms all day. That was what he did. And apparently, he didn’t always lounge around in those hotels room with his fiance. Me.

Well, me… his ex-fiance.

I was tired of the media broadcasts. Tired of my satellite radio being interrupted to bring me some bullshit news on myself. I was a grown woman getting her Master’s in Psychology at Stanford University and I couldn't even see the red flags as to the conniving little cheat Matthew had been. Six years. We’d been together for six years. I met him my junior year of college during my undergrad, and we spent every waking minute together after the first time we met. Dinner dates. Overnight dates. Weekend trips. The works. He showered me with love and affection and attention and gifts. He romanced me and jetted me across the world and promised me forever and a day with him.

The day he got down on one knee was the happiest day of my life.

And the day I woke up and saw him lip-locked with another woman was the worst.

Two months. The media had been riding us for two months on this. Granted, our relationship was very public. Constant cameras and media attention wherever we went. But it never occurred to me that we would crash and burn in the limelight. That we would rise and fall in the flash of their camera’s eyes. I went into my first year of my Master’s engaged, and was coming out of it single.

My heart ached.

I wiped at more tears as I drove along the coastal highway. I wanted to take the scenic route home. From Stanford to Los Angeles. A five and a half hour drive if I didn’t want the scenery. But with the scenery? Almost seven hours. I didn’t care, though. I’d packed up all my things from the dorm room I kept on campus all to myself and I decided to come home. My father had been trying to get in contact with me anyway. From the time the first news cycle dropped up until now, he had incessantly called me. I felt terrible for not picking up his phone calls. But, between digging for the truth, running from the cameras, fighting with Matthew, and studying for finals, I was too overwhelmed to talk with him.

Because I knew if I started crying on the phone to him, I would never stop.

I wanted to use some of my summer break to get away from all of the crap Matthew had kicked up with his cheating. I also wanted to be somewhere safe and comforting when the stone dropped that I had broken off our engagement. But as I cruised along the coastline with the salted wind whipping through my hair, I began to worry. The media was what it was. They’d stop at nothing to get my side of it. And Matthew would only fuel that fire for so long. What if they came after me? What if they found where I lived or something? Just stood on the curb waiting for me to come out onto my lawn to go to the grocery store? Or go shopping? Or study with the sun on my face?

I didn’t know what to think.

I wiped away more tears as everything crashed down onto me. Six years. I spent six years with a cheater. Six years with a man I planned a future with, and in the blink of an eye it was gone. All because he couldn't keep his hands to himself. All because he was pissed off that I couldn't take every single weekend off from my Master’s degree program to fly to Italy or Ireland or Tahiti. I couldn’t even listen to my damn radio anymore without hearing about some more drama from him!

I didn’t even want to know what was running on the television right now.

I felt my phone vibrating and I turned it off. I knew news stories would flood in, and I knew whose name I would see. I knew what pictures I would see. I knew what stories I would see. I couldn't stomach anymore of it. I wanted to go home, curl up into my father’s arms, and seek the comfort he had always been able to provide for me.

I hated the fact that I had been dodging his calls. And my uncle’s. The two of them practically tag-teamed me over the last week, bombarding me with text messages and voicemails. I couldn't blame them, though. They cared about me. Ever since my mom died, the two of them had become my guardians. My father and my uncle.

Well, stepfather and step-uncle.

I never knew my real father. He left my mother when she found out she was pregnant with me. She met the man I call ‘father’ now and the two of them married, bringing along with it the semblance of family I knew she wanted for me. For her. For all of us. It had been us against the world. My mother, my stepfather, his twin brother, and myself. The four of us, rising to the top and succeeding in whatever we did.

And then, I lost her as well when I was fourteen years old. A fourteen-year old girl in the throes of puberty and just starting her period. It was the emptiest feeling I had ever known. Listening as her heart monitor droned out and filled the room was a sound I knew I would never forget. It still woke me up some nights from a dead sleep.

Now, I’d lost my fiance. The man I dated throughout my entire undergraduate career. The man I was going to marry after I graduated next year with my Master’s degree in Clinical Psychology. The man I had dreamt of making a future with, all gone in the blink of an eye. In the swipe of his lips against another woman’s fucking mouth.

Now, I had nothing.

And the emptiness I felt rivaled the day I lost my mother.

I wound my way along the coastline, taking in the empty expanse of the highway. Blank, like the slate of my future. Blank, like my heart. I had a stepfather whose phone calls I couldn't bear to take, a step-uncle’s text messages I couldn't bear to read, and a broken heart I had no idea how to even begin piecing back together. As a psychology major, I should have understood this concept. I should have understood and been able to employ the psychology of resilience. I understood these emotional concepts and the chemical mechanisms behind them. I had taken dozens of classes on it.

And it did nothing to help.

I reached for the radio and turned it back on. I’d been driving in silence for nearly an hour. Surely they were done talking about it.

But boy, how wrong I was.

“Rumor has it that Matthew Jennings is still seeing this woman.”

“Rumor also has it that the engagement between Jennings and Roper is off.”

“Well, I would certainly hope so! You know what I want to know though, Penny? I want to know where Callie Roper is in all this. Where did she disappear to?”

“Probably plotting his death, to be honest. I know I would be, Jack!”

“You think she’s the one who broke off the engagement? Or him?”

I slammed my hand against the dashboard of my car, turning off the radio. I let out a roar of frustration as I shook myself against the wheel of my car. I swerved into the other lane. I allowed the hot tears I’d held back for weeks pour down my cheeks. I punched the gas down to the floorboard of my SUV as I soared down the highway, inching closer to my childhood home.

What did they mean, who broke off the engagement?

I did! I threw that stupid ring in his face. I was the one who called him out on his disgusting ways and told him I never wanted to see him again. I was the one that ended it. Me. I threw that diamond in his face and never looked back. It served him right, too. Me yelling at him. He was disgusting. The lowest of the low. He didn’t deserve a woman like me, and I sure as hell deserved a man better than him.

But my phone ringing through the speakers of my car pierced through my raging thoughts.

I looked down at my dashto see who was calling and thought I was going to puke with anger. Matthew. What the hell did that little snake want? I shook my head before I reached over, pressing the button that shot him straight to my cell’s voicemail. I wasn’t talking with him. I told him everything he needed to know. I told him I was done, that he was pathetic, and that it was over. Finished. Done. And that I didn’t want him back.

That was the only communication required between the two of us.

I couldn’t wait to get home. The scenic drive somehow felt too long now. I pulled off the coastal highway and found myself back onto the main road, cruising down the middle of the cities I passed through. One city. Two city. Red city. Blue city. All of them, whizzing by in the blink of an eye. I needed to get home. I wanted to get up to my bedroom. That place had been my solace for so many years. It kept me comforted after my mother died. It kept me safe during the confusing teenage times I didn’t want to talk about with my stepfather. It cradled my fears throughout my entire undergraduate degree and it saw me off to Stanford.

Now, my bedroom would cradle my hurt as I attempted to use my summer break to piece my heart back together.

I wish you were here, Mom. I really wish you were here.