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Ember Leigh Romance

The Price of Passion (Bad Boys of Wall Street #3)

The Price of Passion (Bad Boys of Wall Street #3)

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A second-chance office romance

"Wow wow wow!! This book grips the reader and keeps you hurtling along an emotional rollercoaster. Jessa has to be one of my all time favourite heroines, sassy, funny, caring but with vulnerabilities hidden deep down." - Goodreads Reviewer

I’m on top of the world while hurtling toward rock bottom. With my life unraveling around me, the only safe way forward is alone…

I’ll do whatever I can to help someone. Your charity needs a million dollars? You’ll have it tomorrow. America’s underprivileged youth in need of new school supplies? Done. After a childhood of loss and financial stress, nobody is more motivated to save the world than me, Damian Fairchild, CTO of Fairchild Enterprises.

So when my best buddy from high school wants me to hire his little sister—the very same curvaceous little sister I fought like hell not to notice as a kid—I can’t tell him no. Of course I say “She’ll start tomorrow,” like the helpful sap I am.

Now that my business is in the crosshairs of the SEC, I’ve got to watch my step, stay alert. So Jessa Walton’s incomparable hotness is a distressing distraction. Not to mention the knack she’s got for drawing me out of my shell. She doesn’t understand that the idea of us—together—has “NO!” written all over it. She wants all of me, but I don’t give that to anyone.

I can only be a jerk to her for so long, though, before Jessa’s sweet sunshine sets me ablaze. Can you blame me? I’ve been secretly in love with her since my junior year of high school, which makes it easy to break my number one rule—Trust no one and keep your heart out of it.

In the middle of so much stress and uncertainty, I should know better than to enjoy a ray of sunshine. Sunny days never last. When the heat from the investigation turns up and my empire is rattled by another big blow, I’m questioning whether Jessa is actually a thunderstorm disguised as a cloudless sky.

Giving in to that burning passion has a steep price. If I let my guard down, it might cost me everything my brothers and I have worked to build.

Billionaires. Bad boys. Bleeding hearts. These outsiders are known as the Bad Boys of Wall Street and every book in the series features glittering Manhattan skyscrapers, swoon-worthy heroes, and a guaranteed HEA.

"This book threw me in for some twists and turns. As soon as I started reading I couldn’t put it down." - Goodreads Reviewer

"I finished "The Price of Passion" a few days ago and am still struggling to put into words how much I loved this book. I did not want to put it down once I started reading; the plot twists just kept on coming, and I couldn't wait for the next big secret to be revealed." - Laurie Reads Romance

"Loved this book and highly recommend this author, so start reading her books!" - Amazon Reviewer


Chapter One Preview



“Listen, you’ll find someone else.”
My roommate—no, former roommate now—shoved sparkly dresses from her closet into the open suitcase on her bed. She offered me a consoling smile, as though moving out four days before our New-Yorker-than-hell rent was due somehow formed part of the regular landscape of life.
My stomach bottomed out for the third time that morning as I watched Nicole prepare to walk away from our two-bedroom in Brooklyn.
“I don’t have the money,” I croaked, my mouth desert dry. “I…there’s no way.”
Because there wasn’t any way. I was a fresh transplant from Kentucky, less than six months under my belt and just enough cash each month to make ends meet. I didn’t have a spare month’s rent saved up. I didn’t have anything saved up, unless my hopes and dreams could be converted to currency somehow. I pressed a hand to my forehead, wishing I hadn’t opted for the belted dress this morning. The pressure around my waist made me feel like puking.
“Jessa, trust me,” Nicole called out after me as I stumbled down the hallway in search of fresh air or a hidden stack of money. “You’ll find something! People always do in New York.”
“What the hell do you think I’m gonna find?” I shouted as I gripped the edges of the sink in our too-small bathroom. My Kentucky twang sounded louder than ever as I stared at my reflection in the mirror. “A job as a stripper? Nicole, I’m too big for stripping!”
Nicole sighed loudly. “What are you talking about? Anybody can be a stripper these days. All I’m saying is put your ear to the ground. Make a post or two on social. At this price, you’ll have a replacement for me in twelve hours.”
“A serial killer replacement, maybe,” I shot back, studying the familiar contours of my face as a way to ground myself. I’d calmed myself the same way as a teen, when my mom got too loud with her boyfriend of the week in the living room or the partying threatened to spill over and ruin my chill. I traced my hairline with my eyes, imagining a lead pencil tip following the curves. I drew my face in my mind’s eye, imagining the scratch of pencil against paper as I reconfigured my own face and body as a fashion sketch. Drawing out my fantasy—via the perfect body, the perfect clothes, the perfect runway—was one of my tried-and-true methods of calming the anxious thrum in my chest.
But I could only hold off the anxiety for so long.
Rent was due in four mother-cluckin’ days.
“You are underestimating the power of Manhattan,” Nicole said in a sing-song voice as she continued to pack up her life and leave me in the lurch.
I squeezed my eyes shut and let out a sigh. “Pretty sure I’m not,” I muttered to myself.
If anything, I underestimated the power of life to throw me curveballs right when I was on the verge of achieving anything. I wasn’t in New York just for funsies. I was here to start putting together the puzzle pieces of my future. The puzzle I’d let others convince me I couldn’t ever solve. The puzzle I’d even convinced myself I shouldn’t solve.
I was here to get my fashion design certificate and finally make a go of my deepest and longest held secret dream: become a fashion designer for plus-size women, with a special focus on dresses that looked amazing.
My phone vibrated in the secret pocket I’d sewn into the side of my dress. I fumbled to extract it from its position against my thigh. The screen read JEREMY.
“Hello?” I tried to keep my voice level. Jeremy would know something was up at the slightest waver. As a very good and perpetually concerned big brother, he was excellent at sniffing out trouble.
“Jessa?” Jeremy’s familiar baritone was calming, but the pause on the other end told me he was already on to me. “Everything okay?”
I gulped. “Sure. Why do you ask?” From down the hall, Nicole loudly zipped her suitcase. I looked back at my reflection in the mirror and imagined the pencil lines.
“You sound like something’s wrong,” he said.
“Well, this is just me!” My voice came out unnaturally bright. Slightly psychotic, even. “Just, you know, being myself.”
“Jessa, it’s time!” Nicole’s voice broke through my pitiful attempt to keep it together. I let out an exasperated sigh.
“See, I knew there was something wrong,” Jeremy said. “Did I call at a bad time? What’s going on?”
“Nothing,” I said, still committed to keeping up the ruse. I darted out of the bathroom, watching as Nicole rolled two wheeled bags to the front door of our overpriced shoebox. “Can I call you back?”
“All right, I’m leaving forever,” Nicole stated dramatically with a little eye roll. She’d always been prone to theatrics, but then again, what struggling actor wasn’t?
“Who’s leaving?” Jeremy hissed.
“I’ll call you back.” I swiped the phone off before he could pester me anymore. My family loved to swarm like vultures on my New York adventure. Waiting for the first sign of rot so they could dive in to tear apart the carcass of my dreams. Well, that might have been a bit strong for Jeremy. But my daddy, mom, and older sister were licking their chops waiting for me to fail.
Any excuse to tell me to pack it up and head home.
And on days like this, I wondered if maybe they were right.
I was just biding my time until the vulture of New York came barreling toward me.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” I asked Nicole, holding out my arms for a hug. We’d grown close in our months together—as close as random passengers on the struggle bus in New York could grow, which was something just shy of family.
“Jessa, you will be fine. I just have enough sense to hang up my theater hat. You, on the other hand—you have too many designs you should hang up. Literally. On a clothing rack in the best boutiques in Midtown. I belong in Peoria.”
“Peoria?” I spat.
“Yeah, Peoria. Illinois. I’ll pay a third of what I paid here and still be able to afford cocktails on the weekend. I’ll get a job serving tables—lord knows I’ve gotten lots of experience with that here.”
Even though I hated her for leaving me, I also understood that this was the constant churn of the Big Apple, a churn that I could soon be victim to.
“Good luck, I guess.” We hugged tightly, but briefly. When we parted, she offered me a sad smile.
“You’ll be fine,” she repeated, tucking her blonde hair behind her ear as though the motion guaranteed it. Then she rolled her things out of my life forever.
Once the door shut behind her, anxiety drilled down into my gut like an oil-seeking expedition. I pressed a hand to my forehead. This felt like a four-alarm emergency.
Jeremy called again, just as I thought maybe I’d pass out.
“Can you talk now?” he asked in lieu of a greeting.
“My roommate just moved out,” I said past dry lips.
“Ohhhh shit bricks,” Jeremy offered. “She was nice, wasn’t she?”
“Very nice,” I confirmed, “until that whole last-minute decision to move out of our apartment thing.”
“Where is she moving?”
“It’s in Illinois,” I said, as though I hadn’t just learned it thirty seconds ago.
“Well look at you, Miss Geography. What’s in that weird-soundin’ city?”
“Lower rent, I guess,” I grumbled.
“I know a place that has real low rent,” Jeremy said, extending his drawl in the way that told me a fatherly lesson was around the corner.
“Oh, Jeremy, don’t—”
“It’s called Oakville. You heard of it?”
I heaved the most annoyed little sister sigh I could muster. “I do not need your sass right now.”
“Rents are so low they’re free, little sister,” he went on, oblivious to my pleas. “You’ve got a nice twin bed with your name on it at my house. Besides, Louisville ain’t too far from Oakville. It’s an easy commute, and you can get plenty of that ‘city culture’ you like so much.”
He was referring to the bed in his spare room I’d used briefly after breaking up with my ex-boyfriend Tommy. It had seemed safe until Tommy started showing up in the bushes of Jeremy’s front landscaping nightly, tapping on my window with the rim of his Busch Light and begging me to forgive him. One of the downfalls of crashing with your brother in your hometown. Not only does everyone know your name and your history, they also know which window to peep through when harassing an ex-girlfriend.
But forgiveness was not in order after I discovered Tommy’s lies and manipulation throughout the end of our relationship.
“That twin bed isn’t a refuge anymore,” I reminded him. “Way too close to Tommy for my comfort.”
“Tommy has moved on,” Jeremy said on the heels of a sigh.
“Has he?” I doubted very much that my ex-nightmare, who spent six months lightweight stalking me after I broke things off with him, would fully move on from any woman who had spurned him. If anything, he was spinning more complex yarns about why I was the bitch, or even the butch. He’d loved to accuse me of being a lesbian when I wasn’t in the mood. Great guy, Tommy, 0/10 did not recommend.
“All I’m saying is that if things fall through in New York, you can always come home.” Jeremy had said this to me no fewer than fifty times since I’d moved to the Big Apple, which equated to roughly two times a week. I appreciated the sentiment. It was at least better than what I heard from my big sister Tara, which usually sounded like “We know you can’t hack it there, so why don’t you just give up now?”
“Thank you, Jeremy,” I muttered. “But let me at least exhaust my options before I tuck my tail between my legs, mmkay?”
“What are your other options?”
“I-I don’t know yet,” I spluttered. “But I’ll think of them. Nicole reminded me that stripping is always an option—”
“Jessa Walton.”
I didn’t dare mess with Jeremy when he used his dad voice. “I’m just saying—”
Shrieks on the other end of the phone interrupted me, which brought a smile to my face. I knew those girlish squeals.
“The girls are home?”
Jeremy sighed. “Some sort of teacher in-service day, I dunno. Had to call off work to pick them up.”
“Why didn’t Chelsea go get them? I thought she worked swing shift.” I welcomed the digression from my own problems.
“She’s been going into work early lately,” Jeremy said.
“Well, tell Izzy and Hannah I said hello and that I’m not turning to stripping, so don’t worry.”
My older brother let out a long, exasperated groan. “How much do you have left in your savings?”
I swallowed hard. There had barely been a savings to begin with. I’d arrived in New York on fumes from my minimum wage job as a welding company’s office assistant. As soon as I could escape, I did. All my accumulated funds had gone toward paying for fashion school and the triple rent—first month, last month, and a security deposit—required to get into my apartment. That was it. There was no wiggle room.
“I have…” What was the least frightening way to say absolutely nothing? “Enough to get by.”
“So you have rent covered for next month?”
That was a hard no. “Ahhhh…well…”
“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. You know what, Jessa? If you won’t come home, I’m sending help. I’m calling Damian.”
His words landed like a lead blanket. My hand shot out in front of me to put a stop to this suggestion, even though he wasn’t here to see. “Hang on.”
“You can’t do that,” I said, my lips dry for an entirely different reason now. “We don’t need to get the Fairchilds involved.”
“Why wouldn’t I? They’re the best friends I’ve got, and they’re two miles from where you’re sitting. Jessa, you know they’d help you in a heartbeat. Why can’t I call them?”
My chest began a slow throb that indicated a pending heart attack. Because the suggestion betrayed a truth so unsavory, I’d rather fling myself on a spear than face it head-on.
Not only was Damian Fairchild my older brother’s friend, he was my high school crush. The guy had stalked my fantasies and stained my attempts to date anyone else in high school, lest Damian secretly be in love with me and take my dating to mean that I didn’t truly love him, which I did.
And sure, I was a twenty-seven year old woman with enough curves to make a select group of grown men weep.
But when it came to Damian? I’d always be the goofy, overweight little sophomore he’d never more than glanced at.
“Well?” Jeremy prompted. My shocked silence must have worried him.
“Please don’t call him,” I said feebly, though I knew it would do no good. “It’s so humiliating. I’m broke and struggling. He’s rich and wildly successful. He probably doesn’t even remember me. Besides—”
“Jessa, how could he forget you? He spent the entirety of his senior year at our house. Sitting on the same couch as you.”
Everything inside me deflated. I hated how much I still enjoyed those memories of Damian and I watching The Big Bang Theory while Jeremy dicked off somewhere else. Sometimes, our elbows would brush, and I’d spend the entire weekend wondering what it might feel like to go to second base with him.
“I just don’t want to be a charity case,” I said slowly.
“You aren’t a charity case,” Jeremy said, a certain glee punctuating his words. “You’re family.”
I couldn’t deny it—he’d found his angle, the rationale that would puncture any attempt I made to deflect his help. I hated him for it as much as I loved him for it. Jeremy wouldn’t let me flounder—I had to acknowledge that. Even though everyone in my family wanted me to skulk back to Kentucky like an unsuccessful raccoon after rummaging through empty trash cans, Jeremy would make moves to help me see this New York thing through. And his reaching out to Damian was technically help, even though the mere thought of it made me want to shrivel up and die of embarrassment.
“I’m gonna call him now,” Jeremy announced. “Hang tight.”
The phone went dead. I groaned so loudly that Nicole probably heard me on her way to Peoria.
Seconds ticked by with a walloping slowness. I paced every square inch of my apartment over and over. Of course I knew what the Fairchilds were up to. Everyone in Oakville—actually, everyone in greater Louisville—knew what the Fairchilds were up to. They were practically the Kardashian family of our area, minus the butt lifting and heavy makeup. Everyone had an opinion about them, too, but one thing was certain—nobody was more successful or more interesting than the Fairchild brothers.
My lowly little broke ass did not fit in their new world. And I did not want Jeremy to shoehorn me in there.
He called me back twenty-three minutes after we hung up, not that I had been counting. I could hear the smile in his voice. “Jessa, I’ve got great news.”
I grimaced, preparing myself for whatever came next. “Yes?”
“They’ve got a job waiting for you.”
I slapped my palm against my forehead. “Do they?”
“And guess who needs a confidential secretary?”
Please let it be anyone other than Damian. “Who?”
I nodded, my gaze stuck to the curling edge of the linoleum in the kitchen. This was just my luck. Trace couldn’t need me. Not even Axel. It had to be Damian. The one guy I’d barely been able to speak in front of as a sixteen-year-old. Sure, I’d grown and matured since then. But he’d outstripped me ten to one in every department imaginable. If I’d been the meek and unnoticeable sophomore back then, now I was even tinier in Damian’s long shadow of accomplishment and world experience. From what I’d heard, the man had a private chef, and I couldn’t even afford a bagel.
“Great.” Even I could hear how devoid of enthusiasm I was.
“He said they’ve been looking for a new full-time hire. Jessa, you’re gonna get benefits and everything, I bet. He said you can go on over today. Can you get to their building by three? I told him how your roommate just up and left, so he said he could fit you in last minute. Isn’t that nice?”
My stomach cinched into knots. Full-time hire. Fuck. “So incredibly nice.”
“Jessa, this is gonna work out great. We should have called him as soon as you got into town. But no, you insisted on doing things your way. Jessa’s gotta do what Jessa’s gotta do.”
My eyes fluttered shut, something sick churning inside me. “All right, Jeremy. That’s enough. Don’t make me turn sour.”
“All I need is ‘Thank you, big brother, for being the best.’”
“Thank you, big brother, for being the most annoying. Now I gotta get ready for this interview.”
We hung up, and I drifted back toward the bathroom mirror, tracing my face in imaginary lines. My fingers itched for an actual pencil. Truth was, I had nearly fifteen new designs scrambling to get out of my head. Between my weekly fashion courses and the part-time job I’d found at a diner five blocks west, I’d had just enough time to keep up with the coursework, make my half of the rent, and sketch out new ideas for myself.
But now? I didn’t know how I’d keep up with a full-time job.
I’d come here specifically and solely for the fashion course so that I could launch my dream of becoming a fashion designer. But I couldn’t get the certificate if I couldn’t pay rent.
Frustration swallowed me whole, and I spent the rest of my afternoon mentally preparing to reacquaint myself with the Fairchilds. I’d last seen Damian in person at his graduation party, which was damn near thirteen years ago. Damian, Axel, and Trace had a joint graduation party at their mom and daddy’s farmhouse, the old one they’d moved their parents out of as soon as they made their first kajillion dollars.
I still remembered the autumn cherry tree near their driveway, the tree that masqueraded as normal—with tire swing and normal green foliage—until September rolled around when the thing turned into a fiery piece of artwork sent from Heaven. And for whatever reason, that cherry tree was one of the earliest indicators that the brothers were destined to burn brighter and more beautiful than anyone else around them.After Deb Fairchild’s extensive update one day in aisle two of the Sav-a-Lot about Damian’s hunt for the perfect marble countertops for his third home, I knew the brothers preferred the finer things now. Which meant I had to look the part, even if I couldn’t act it.
I thumbed through the dresses hanging on the rolling rack in my bedroom, sifting through the best thrifted dresses I had, as well as some of my own designs. I settled on a high-waisted black dress with a fifties vibe and set to giving my mahogany hair soft finger waves.
I gave myself a once-over in the full-length mirror hanging on the back of my door. Here we go, Jessa. Let’s find a way to make it work.
The subway ride to the financial district was about as uneventful as New York could get—that is, stuffed to the brim with fascinating characters, random shouts, an unsurprising number of stinky armpits for late October with unseasonably warm weather. Halloween was right around the corner, which meant stray zombies roamed the subway, along with the occasional sexy kitten and grim reaper. Once I’d made my way to the Fairchild building, I took a moment to compose myself in front of the tall, black building.
You went to high school with these people. They’re old friends. Nothing scary here.
No, nothing scary about being the brokest bitch in Manhattan kneeling in supplication before one of the gods of Wall Street.
Inside, the lobby gleamed with polished floors and expensive framed art. The elevator ride was hushed, reverent. On the twentieth floor, the reception area for Fairchild Enterprises bustled with activity, small groups of people gathered in intense conversations. A receptionist took my name, checked something on her computer, and then had me follow her. She deposited me in front of a closed door that read D. FAIRCHILD then strode away, mumbling something I didn’t catch over her shoulder.
I drew a fortifying breath. Damian Fairchild was an actual billionaire now, one I’d gone to school with a lifetime and a half ago. This mortifying dynamic couldn’t get worse.
I turned the knob of his office door and pushed it open, preparing the bright smile and enthusiasm I needed. The heavy door swung back to reveal a large office decorated in matte gray and black. Floor to ceiling windows overlooked the East River. Bookshelves lined the walls. A big wooden desk stood in the center of it all.
Damian Fairchild leaned back in his chair, his eyes pinched shut.
A brunette bobbed between his legs.
I gaped, my hand shooting to my mouth. I knew instantly what was happening, more from feeling it in the air than anything else. Damian’s eyes popped open, and his drugged gaze slid my way. The woman between his legs didn’t stop.
Every inch of my insides turned to cement. My eyeballs felt like they were seconds away from popping out of my skull.
Whatever mortifying dynamic I had been afraid of had just gotten infinitely worse.

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