The Billionaire Jaguar's Curvy Journalist: BBW Panther Shifter Paranormal Romance

BOOK: The Billionaire Jaguar's Curvy Journalist: BBW Panther Shifter Paranormal Romance
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Contents

 

Title

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The Billionaire Jaguar’s Curvy Journalist

 

By Zoe Chant

 

 

 

Copyright Zoe Chant 2016

 

All Rights Reserved

1

 

Abby would never get used to parties like this. Back when she was a kid, she'd see her dad putting on a tux once a year, when the local chamber of commerce had its Fall Gala. But this? This was a room full of men who put on tuxes every day, and glittering women in gowns that cost more than what her father used to make in a year.

It didn’t help that she never
felt
glamorous at these things, either. She had a pair of sturdy black dresses she used for formal events that she dressed up with some bright, colorful necklaces, but that was all they were: sturdy. They were work clothes, not the fancy toys the people with the real money wore. Everyone who looked at her knew the dresses were off the rack and the jewelry was glass. She was always an imposter at things like this.

She felt shallow wishing for something, just
one
nice necklace that would make her look—and more importantly, feel—like she belonged. But it wasn’t worth buying it on a reporter’s salary. Forget feeling like a princess; Abby needed to eat.

Speaking of eating, she wouldn’t if she didn’t get to work.
Salem Beach Now
wouldn’t pay for five hundred words about pretty outfits and feeling out of place: they wanted photos, details. What was said, what was overheard, what everybody wore.

What she really needed was a break. A story like the one that had made Dad’s career such a success, when he’d gotten to the bottom of a fraud case that had cost Salem Beach millions. The closest Abby had gotten was an interview with the sculptor who’d designed the new Veterans Memorial on the park.

She probably should’ve taken a job somewhere closer to the city, or even in New York. At least then she’d feel out of place because she was in unfamiliar surroundings.

But instead she was a townie in Salem Beach, where the millionaires and billionaires of Boston came to play. You smiled nice to the rich people and hoped they tipped well, and knew you would never, ever be one of them, no matter what you did.

The gala she was attending tonight was a fundraiser for the Salem Beach Children’s Society, which supported early childhood programs for all the families at the other end of the social spectrum. Eventually there’d be a nice speech about giving back to the community and the children being our future, and everyone would feel good about themselves at the end of the night.

Abby knew she shouldn’t feel so cynical about it, but sometimes it was hard not to. Half the people talking so passionately about ‘helping the youth of this community’ would yell at the teenage cashier at the gas station if their change was a penny short.

She snapped a few pictures. Eleanor Chu, the Children’s Society Executive Director, was chatting up a tall, slender woman in a black column of a dress. Two gray-haired men were watching from near the ice sculpture (the organization’s logo, two children holding hands, carefully rendered in three dimensions). She’d have to get their names from Eleanor later.

She stepped back for a second photo and someone jostled her arm. “Oh,” she said, turning, “I’m sorry—”

“It’s quite all right,” the man said, and Abby looked into a pair of the most intense green eyes she had ever seen. “I didn’t realize you were about to move, you seemed so—focused.”

“I—” She was sure focused
now.
The man was tall—at least six feet, maybe a little taller—broad-shouldered, with sharp, prominent cheekbones and ebony-dark hair. His skin was smooth, a pale tan. “I got so focused on the shot. I should’ve been paying more attention.”

“You’re all right?” His hand was almost at her elbow. She felt like she could sense his touch, just out of her reach.

Damn.
“I’m fine. I’m sorry—”

“No need to apologize at all,” he said, extending his hand. “Paul Larson.”

Paul Larson? No one told me he was hot.
“Abigail Bailey; Abby. I work for
Salem Beach Now…
mostly the social and business beats. Around here there’s a lot of overlap.”

Paul smiled. “I suppose that’s true. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

Oh. Right.
He still had his hand out. She took it, and his firm handshake sent shivers up and down her spine. Now that was the kind of hand you wanted to get to know better. All over.

Paul Larson, in the flesh. Abby could hardly believe it. He’d come seemingly out of nowhere two years ago to make his name in biotechnology investing. They said he had the Midas touch—anything he invested in turned to gold, and usually sooner rather than later. She hadn’t expected him to be so humble. Or handsome. Or young—he had to be right around her age, twenty-four. “Nice to meet you too,” she stammered. One advantage of her journalism background: You could strike up a conversation with almost anyone, no matter how distracted you felt. “I heard you’d bought property in Salem Beach, are you planning on spending time here?”

“I wanted a retreat,” he said. “But I confess, I’m enjoying the area a good deal. I think I’m going to end up spending more time here than I’d planned.” He looked straight into her eyes as he said it.
Shit.
She hadn’t planned on anything like this. “So…are you pursuing any hot news tonight?”

“Not really,” she said. “Tonight’s work is probably going to end up on the Style page.”

“I suppose the checks cash either way,” he said with a hint of a smile. “And there’s less potential for angry letters.”

“Oh, you’d be surprised,” she said. “You’d better not get a designer’s name wrong. And I’d probably have to turn in my press pass if I suggested anyone was wearing a knock-off.”
Except me,
she added mentally.
They like it when I know my place.

“Should I tell you what I’m wearing?” He reached back, fiddling with his collar. “You’ll have to read the tag on the shirt for me, and I’m afraid the suit’s bespoke. I’m sworn to secrecy and can’t possibly reveal the name of my tailor. Gentleman’s honor, you know.”

Paul Larson may have come from nowhere, but he sounded like he came from money. “Of course,” she said. “The tie?”

He flipped it over nonchalantly. “Ralph Lauren. A little off-the-rack for me, eh?” He shrugged. “New money, I’ll be forgiven. What are you wearing?”

“Me?” Her mind reeled for a second. “A…it’s just a dress. I think I got it at Kohl’s.”

“No, no,” he said, putting an arm around her shoulders and pulling her in, as if he was confessing a deep, dark secret. “That’s not how you play the game, my dear. ‘It’s just a little something I had in the closet,’ that works. Or ‘I went to this delightful little store, in the
suburbs,
would you believe it?’”

Abby’s heart was racing. What was he
doing?
This was almost as bad as getting caught with the maid would have been back in the day. Abby was here to take notes, not be flirted with. Men like Paul Larson didn’t flirt with reporters, especially not reporters in off-the-rack dresses. It just Was Not Done. “I…I don’t think I can pull that off. Besides, I’m here to do the seeing, not…be seen.” And she was certainly being seen now. People were glancing at them and she’d already caught one raised eyebrow. She knew what that meant.
What is she thinking?

Mostly she was thinking about how solid and strong Paul’s arm felt around her, but that was a very, very bad idea. “I do appreciate the advice, though,” she said, stepping away from him.

“Glad to help,” he said. “And…hold your head high. You’ve got just as much right to be here as any of us. After all, without you to write it down, why would any of us even suffer through parties like this?”

With those words, he disappeared back into the crowd, and Abby felt as disappointed as she was relieved. The rumors she’d heard about Paul were that he was savvy, hard-driving, private—not at all the kind of man who would pull someone into his arms at a party and whisper advice for mingling in high society. Not at all the kind of man who would pay attention to a woman like her at all.

She pulled herself back together, ignoring the stickiness that had suddenly engulfed her pantyhose, and got back to taking pictures. Lynn Lyon, the heiress to the Lyon diamond fortune, was holding court near the podium. She was the evening’s speaker and chair of the Children’s Society board. She was wearing a gold-and-white dress that looked like it had been sewn to the perfect curves of her body.

Abby wasn’t jealous, exactly. But she wished that once, just once, she could afford to look that good at one of those parties. She lifted her phone and took a few pictures of Lynn and her coterie.

Jennifer Ng from the
Globe
came by and tapped her shoulder. “Abigail Bailey,” she said. “Now how did you do that?”

“Do what?”

“I’ve been trying to get two words out of Paul Larson for weeks and he just comes by and chats you up.”

“Oh,” she said. “Well, I ran into him. Literally.”

“I should be so lucky,” Jennifer muttered. “Everyone wants to know his story, and I do mean
everyone.
You get the scoop on him, and you’ll buy your own ticket.”

“I have a job,” she said.

“At a local rag where on a good day you’re covering two beats,” she said. “I know you like Salem Beach, but there’s no future here. You’re going to be making just enough to pay your rent for the rest of your life and we both know it.”

Just because she was right didn’t mean Abby had to like it. “I didn’t get into this for the money.”

“None of us did,” Jennifer said. “But we all have to eat. And it looked like he
liked
you.”

“He couldn’t—”

Jennifer shook her head. “Look, I’m not telling you what to do, but I think you’re being an idiot if you don’t at least ask for an interview.” She smiled a wicked little smile. “Besides, aren’t you a little bit curious yourself?”

She was…a little.

“Ask for an interview,” Jennifer said. “Worst thing he can do is say no, right?”

“I guess so,” she said. “But don’t you think he’d be more likely to give an interview to someone like you?”

Jennifer sighed. “I can’t get two words out of him,” she said. “He
put his arm around you.
If you can’t get that interview, nobody can. And everybody wants to know more about him. All that money…that doesn’t come out of nowhere. He’s got some kind of history, and we all want to know what it is. I mean…he’s a billionaire! And none of us know
anything
about him. It’s crazy.”

“I get it, I get it,” Abby said.

“If you don’t at least
try,”
Jennifer said, “I am never going to forgive you. Never.”

“Fine,” she said. “But not tonight. I’ll follow up tomorrow morning, all right?”
By then, he’ll have forgotten all about me. He’s probably forgotten about me already.

“I’m holding you to that,” Jennifer said, and moved on to her next target.

She would, too.

Oh well. There were worse things than calling an office and asking for an interview. They’d say no, she’d get back to work. Easy.

2

 

Paul paced the floor of his office, the cat inside swishing his tail in irritation. What had he been thinking? He’d had the woman—not just any woman,
his mate—
so close, and he’d just
let her go.
What a fool. His mother had always said men were lucky—they knew, had the mate sense strong and irresistible.
Women? We have to guess. But you? When it happens—
she had gestured with her fingers—
it’ll hit you like a thunderbolt.

It sure as hell had.

And he’d let her just walk away.

Don’t be stupid,
he said to himself, to the cat.
She had a job to do. It’s not like Mom said it once was, when every woman in the city knew who the great cat was and wished to be his mate.
He couldn’t exactly carry Abby Bailey off on the strength of being rich. And he couldn’t hide the cat. That…he already knew how badly that could end. No children of his would suffer through that.

What if he felt this way and she’d—

No, he wouldn’t think about that. It was far too soon to worry. First, he needed her near. He needed her to trust him. Then, he could start telling her the truth. Not like what had happened with his parents—no, he’d go a little at a time. Ease her into things. Then she could get out early, if she wanted to. Before either of them was hurt too badly. Before….

He thought of Aaron. Did Aaron even remember his mother and older brother? So many times, he’d thought of reaching out. But for years, Father probably wouldn’t have let him, even if he had.

BOOK: The Billionaire Jaguar's Curvy Journalist: BBW Panther Shifter Paranormal Romance
7.15Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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