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The Billionaire Bargain: Series Collection by Lila Monroe (1)

Chapter One

Is death by lobster tank too merciful?

It’s a serious question. See, my so-called “best friend” Kate has decided that just because she’s happily paired up with the boy of her dreams, it’s her mission to spread the sweet sweet joy of monogamous bliss to all and sundry, but especially to certain people who “are married to their job,” and “going to give themselves an ulcer,” and “it’s just one blind date, Lacey, jeez, you need to loosen up.”

My blind date was so loosened up I was afraid he was going to slide off his chair into a puddle under the table.

“And that’s why I, like, definitely think we should take a like, more s—shur—shurious—serious look at the whole, you know, aliens seeding the Earth with life thing,” he slurred, narrowly missing stabbing the waitress with his fork as he gestured grandly. His other hand came within inches of sending his wine glass flying onto the wall of the cheap Chinese restaurant he had insisted we go to because their crab rangoon was “fucking awesome” (it was not awesome. It was a significant distance from awesome. If it had to walk to awesome, it would crumple down from heat exhaustion and be picked at by vultures who would eventually turn up their beaks at it because in case I have not made this terribly clear, this was not great crab rangoon. It tasted like someone had stuffed a fish into a sock and left it out in the rain).

“It’s like…obvious. I mean—where do people fucking shink—think the pyramids came from? The pyramids, man.” He shook his head in a way that he probably thought made him look wise and thoughtful, but actually made it look like he was about to topple into his plate of crab rangoon. “The Illuminati, they don’t want you to, like, know. The truth!”

I stared at the lobster tank in front of me, the crustaceans clicking their claws as if pleading for mercy.

Me too, lobsters. Me too.

“Well, that is certainly an opinion,” I replied. This was about a hundred times more diplomatic than I felt like being, but dammit, this was my first date in over a year, and Kate wouldn’t throw me under the bus this bad, right? This was probably all just a hilarious act this guy put on to weed out the girls who were only into his unkempt surfer good looks? There were probably some secret good qualities of his that I could uncover with time, right? At least the time to finish this very expensive and rapidly-becoming-indispensible drink?

“Certainly an opinion—thassa—thassa helluva—did you like, even listen?”

Okay, either this guy was hiding his good qualities with all the skill and dedication of a highly trained CIA operative, or he was just a douche-bag.

“Look, I’m sorry, we’re probably not going to agree on the aliens thing. Can we talk about something else? What about—”

“Well, you don’ have to be so stuck-up about it. All up on your high horse, with that sorority—no, superi—superiorally—ority complex.”

Douche-bag alert! Douche-bag alert! Ding ding ding we have a winner! Please come to the stage to collect your free microwave oven and your ticket to The Hell Out of Here As Soon As Humanly Possible!

I opened my mouth to say something I probably would’ve regretted later in the date post-mortem with Kate when suddenly, my phone started to vibrate.

Bzzzzzz! I bit my tongue and dove into my purse, pulling up my text messages. It was from work, and contained only three characters: 911.

Saved by the bell. Er, buzz. Whatever, close enough!

I stood.

“Sorry,” I said with all the sincerity I could muster, which was not exactly the most sincerity in the world. I was definitely not going to be taking home the Oscar for Best Actress. “I have to go. Work emergency.” I was already pushing in my chair.

“You’re shitting me,” He whined: “It’s a Friday.”

“It’s an emergency,” I said.

“Why you gotta be susha—such a bitch,” he whined into his empty glass. “You don’t have to make up an excuse, God, why are all women such fucking—”

Dodging through the smoky air past waiters and busboys carrying enough deep-fried meat to clog the arteries of a medium-sized country, I made my escape.

“It was just a pity date anyway!” he yelled after me. “Like I’d want to date a fat bitch like you!”

“Oh no,” I muttered under my breath. “However will I deal with the loss of such a Prince Charming?”

But my eyes still stung with barely suppressed tears as I stepped out into the cool night and raised my hand to hail a cab. I knew I shouldn’t care what some asshole with a distorted view of female beauty and an overdeveloped sense of entitlement thought, but it got so hard sometimes, you know? San Francisco maybe wasn’t as shallow as L.A., but still, there were times when the population of California seemed to be about thirty million blonde, size zero, surfer babes with long legs and zero cellulite, and then…me.

Lacey Newman. Always-tangled brown hair harboring enough static electricity for a storm cloud, skin that went scarlet as a lobster instead of tanning bronze, and curves that, while technically all in the right places, also proved that you could have too much of a good thing.

My phone buzzed again, another 911 text. I tried to console myself with the thought that even if my blind date tonight hadn’t been Major Sloshed from the Planet Disaster, the work emergency would have called it to a halt anyway. With work the way it was, my love life wasn’t going anywhere in a million years.

Yeah. Real comforting.

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