Rise of the Billionaire Page 1

Chapter One

Second thoughts don’t belong in a boxing ring.

Jeremy Kater held his ground even as his head snapped back beneath the gloved fist of the man he’d hired to teach him the basics of boxing. What had seemed like an essential component of his transformation was proving to be more painful than he’d anticipated.

He had just raised his gloves to try and block the next hit to his face when his opponent took advantage of the movement and punished his unprotected abdomen with enthusiasm. Ray Denton was a legend in the world of boxing. Not only had he reigned as the world champion heavyweight boxer for several years during his youth, but after his retirement he had gone on to train more than one fighter who had won the same title.

You’d think that a man like that would be happy to give beginner lessons for a generous fee. However, convincing Ray to work with an amateur had been no easy feat. But Jeremy wasn’t a quitter. He’d countered every refusal with an offer of more compensation until he’d reached a number that Ray hadn’t been able to dismiss.

Years of playing Mighty Punch-Out on his vintage game console hadn’t prepared him for the reality of a trained professional. Nor had his one actual fistfight during his senior year of high school given him any skill when it came to breaching the defenses of the man who was currently dancing around him, easily blocking his punches, and landing almost every one of his physical rebuttals.

Another swing, another miss, another failed attempt to block what felt like a sledgehammer to his skull. Jeremy shook his head to clear it. The room spun and tilted. He took a step back to steady himself.

I probably should have waited until after the first lesson to pay him, Jeremy thought. At least he would have had incentive to make sure I survived it.

He’d expected his first lesson to include agility work, maybe some shadowboxing. He’d read how boxers used uppercut bags and speed bags to work on resistance. He’d even looked forward to an introductory light sparring match.

This was something entirely different.

The next well-placed hit sent Jeremy to his knees. He sat back on his heels, braced himself, and gasped for air. Ray’s face twisted with satisfaction, and Jeremy saw the ugly truth in his eyes.

He wants me to fail.

He thinks I don’t belong here.

He’s wrong.

Regaining his footing, Jeremy adjusted his headgear, clamped his teeth down on his mouth bit, raised his hands, and swung, a bit wildly, at his opponent. But Ray was too fast for him. Two quick jabs and a cross sent Jeremy stumbling backward against the rope of the ring. Whatever Herculean strength he’d hoped would surface in response to this beating was sadly absent. Even the sting of the blows lessened as they became more severe and his body weakened. His new challenge was no longer his opponent but a growing numbness.

Before he could pull himself off the ropes, a blur of feminine fury flew past him and took a protective stance in front of him.

Jeisa. Barely as tall as the boxer’s shoulders and chicly dressed in a sleeveless black jumper, oversized sunglasses, and high heels, his image consultant looked ridiculously out of place in the ring. She flipped her thick, dark mane of hair over one shoulder and waved a hand aggressively at Ray, who seemed momentarily surprised into inaction. Her normally light Brazilian accent thickened as she said, “Stop! He’s had enough.”

Jeremy pushed himself off the ropes. Although he appreciated her concern, he didn’t want her in the ring. This was between Ray and him. Jeisa may have been able to advise him in many other areas of his ongoing transformation, but not in this one.

He didn’t expect her to understand why he needed to be here.

He didn’t expect anyone to.

Ray looked Jeisa over, whistled in appreciation, and said, “You’re one lucky bastard.”

Jeisa stepped closer to the boxer and snarled, “And you are a poor example of a trainer.”

As Ray’s jaw tightened at her evaluation, Jeremy quickly intervened. He put a gloved hand on one of Jeisa’s shoulders and turned her around gently. “I told you not to come, Jeisa. This doesn’t involve you.”

Jeisa spun fully on Jeremy. She gripped his arm and said urgently, “If you want self-defense classes, I can sign you up for karate or something less violent.”

In a mocking tone, Ray said, “You should listen to your girlfriend.”

“She’s not my girlfriend.” This is for Alethea.

The trainer’s eyebrows lifted as he assessed Jeisa for a second time. He winked at her and drawled, “Then maybe she’ll be mine.”

Something in the man’s tone made Jeremy straighten to his full height. A rush of adrenaline seared through him. He met and held Ray’s eyes. Without glancing down at Jeisa, Jeremy ordered, “Jeisa, get out of the ring.”

“But . . .” she said.

“Get out.”

With obvious reluctance, Jeisa slid between the ropes back to the area around the ring. “Fine,” she said, “kill yourself if you want to. You’re right—I shouldn’t have come. I’m leaving.” But she didn’t. He knew she wouldn’t.

A dark emotion he didn’t take the time to identify surged within him, and he went at Ray with renewed force. Ray saw him coming, but he underestimated the momentum his nearly beaten opponent had mustered. Jeremy landed one punishing hit to the boxer’s face.

The two men circled each other. Jeremy met the boxer’s aggression with his own. Ray might knock him out, but he would not force him to back down. Ray threw a punch at Jeremy’s abdomen. Jeremy surprised him by blocking him and then retaliating. His punch connected and set the boxer back a step.

Then everything changed.

Ray’s face went red with fury. Trainer turned fighter, and Jeremy prepared himself for what he knew was going to be a very painful rebuttal. Heaving for air, Jeremy planted his feet with determination. There’d been times in the past when he’d allowed the opinions of others to hold him back.

This was not one of those times.

Jeisa Borreto gripped the back of a wooden chair in the dingy South Boston gym to stop herself from hopping back into the ring. The man who called himself a trainer was clearly on a sadistic ego trip, and Jeremy seemed not only to recognize that fact but also to accept it.

Still, the smell of sweat and the sound of fierce exhalations were both incredibly intimidating and disturbingly exciting at the same time. Her own adrenaline was coursing through her, making it impossible for her to look away even when she knew the fight was only going to become more painful to watch.

She jumped when Jeremy’s punch connected and Ray’s head snapped back. Normally she didn’t condone violence, and she was definitely not a fan of this sport in particular, and yet her heart was racing and she felt as if Jeremy’s triumph was her own. Was this the high the Romans had sought when they pitted man against beast? Although Jeremy’s chance for survival seemed as slim as that of a gladiator, he blocked Ray’s next hit and landed another of his own.

Jeisa surprised herself by cheered him on out loud. What would my father say if he could see me now? A ghost of a smile flitted across her lips at the thought. He’d think I’ve finally lost my mind. He was already reeling from what he considered her mid-twenties rebellion. She really couldn’t blame him. She’d gone to the private schools he’d sent her to without issue. She’d even graduated with a degree in International Relations from the University of São Paulo. She’d been raised to follow the rules, maintain a blemish-free public persona, and blend into the background like a beautiful painting—cherished, but silent.

Was it wrong to want more than the comfortable life he’d given her? If her father had had his way, she’d be married to some wealthy Brazilian businessman, spending the rest of her life being pampered and protected.



I don’t want my only decisions to revolve around who will sit together at the dinner parties I host for some highly successful and equally boring husband.

Life has to be about more than that.

She’d decided to get a job and show her father that she was perfectly capable of supporting herself, but finding employment after the influential Romario Borreto made it known that he didn’t want his daughter working wasn’t easy. Out of desperation, she’d looked beyond the borders of Brazil and outside of her educational background. No one was willing to take a chance on a foreign unknown—until she found an au pair position through an international classified ad. Not her ideal job, but a way to pay the bills until she found something better.

With her bags packed and with an equal share of enthusiasm and naïveté, she’d flown to Boston, imagining the hardest part of her new life would be acclimating to the cold New England weather. She’d made many American friends at school but had lost touch with most of them when they’d moved back to the States. Still, she’d dreamed of living in America since she was little—Boston in particular. It was as romantic and exotic to her as Paris.

No one would know her. For the first time in her life she could be simply Jeisa. She didn’t worry about being alone since she’d be living with an American family.

An ideal way to get to know the culture while hunting for a better job.

Except for one minor detail.

Reese David, the man who’d hired her as a nanny for his family, hadn’t mentioned that he wasn’t married. And, oh yes, he didn’t have any children.

Stranded in Boston and unwilling to call home for help, Jeisa had done what many young people do when they apply for their first job. She’d lied.

Lied well, apparently, because she’d landed an entry-level secretarial job at Corisi Enterprises. But even with miles between them, her father left her little room to breathe. He called once a day. So, unwilling to tell him about the nonexistence of her first job, she’d lied once a day—the stories growing like weeds between her and her father until she could no longer see a way around them.

Too late to confess.

I should have spilled the truth before I named the imaginary children.

Definitely before I gave them hobbies and personalities.

If lies were pennies, she’d surely earned her way to hell a few times over already.

I’m no better than Reese. Well, I’m not a sexual predator trying to take advantage of women I lure away from their families with false promises—so perhaps I’m a bit better.

Still, I’m a liar, and there is always a price to pay for being dishonest.

Jeisa winced as Jeremy’s brief success enraged the old fighter. Guilt weighed heavily upon her. It’s my fault he’s here. A professional wouldn’t have allowed him to come. But I’m not a professional—I lied about that, too. If only life were like an Etch A Sketch that could be shaken and erased when you drew yourself into a real mess.

I don’t want to lie anymore. I don’t want to pretend to be someone I’m not. I thought I was better than this, stronger than this.

Did I ever tell you about how my first client died? Yes, he had this ridiculous idea that learning how to box would toughen him up, so he hired a trainer and got himself killed during his first lesson.