A Billionaire's Redemption - By Cindy Dees Page 0,2

this place and never, ever come back. But duty drove that rebellious thought back into her subconscious nearly as quickly as it had surfaced. God knew why, but her father had named her executor of his estate, which meant she was trapped in this town for months to come.

The doorbell echoed far away in her parents’ mansion. Someone else would get it—Louise, their longtime housekeeper, or maybe Larry Shore, her father’s new chief of staff and right-hand man since the old one, Frank Kellerman, wound up in jail for covering up her father’s sins.

Despite the ninety-degree weather, an impulse to cover as much skin as possible overcame her. She pulled on a pair of light wool slacks and a long-sleeved cashmere sweater. She skipped her usual French twist and merely pushed her strawberry-blond hair off her face with a simple headband. My, my. More rebellion, Miss Merris? Leaving your hair down? Scandalous. Making a wry face at her reflection in the mirror, she put on just enough makeup not to look like a corpse, herself.

A knock on her bedroom door startled her. “Miss Willa. You’ve got a visitor,” Louise announced, her voice laced with heavy disapproval.

Willa allowed herself a mental groan. Decorum dictated that she receive each and every one of the endless stream of her father’s business associates offering condolences and, of course, the avid gossip seekers disguised as neighbors and family friends. But the strain of it was getting to her. The constant visitors never gave her a moment’s escape from the oppressive grief pervading the house.

If they would all just give her a minute to breathe, to blank her mind and forget everything, maybe she could get her mental feet under her. Start tackling the mountain of decisions piling up around her. She closed her eyes for a moment to gather strength and replied, “Show our visitor into the library. I’ll be right down.”

She checked her appearance in the mirror and drew up short. She looked...haggard. Father wouldn’t approve at all. Her train of thought derailed. Her father was dead, and she was no longer obligated to look like a poster child for his endless political campaigns. A surprising and overwhelming sense of relief flooded her. She could go without makeup if she wanted. And wear sloppy T-shirts and jeans. She could say what came to mind without first checking the comment against her father’s political platform. So giddy she almost felt ill, she giggled a little hysterically.

Pull it together, girlfriend. There were still a few social boundaries she would not cross. Like not acting properly bereaved at her father’s passing.

She hurried down the grand, sweeping staircase to the marble-tiled foyer. Her parents’ house was designed for maximum “impress the guests” factor. Personally, she found it gaudy and overbearing. But then, that had been her father. She much preferred her sweet two-bedroom cottage across town by the college.

She opened the oversize walnut doors into the library and stopped cold as she spied her visitor. She would recognize those broad shoulders, that rugged profile, the casual confidence anywhere. Gabe Dawson.

It had been years since she’d seen him. A wash of memory heated her cheeks. As a teen, she’d had the mother of all crushes on this man. He had been by far the most handsome and dashing male she’d ever laid eyes on. And good golly, Miss Molly, he still was. Of course, he’d never given her the time of day. When he had bothered to speak to her at all back then, it had been to ruffle her hair like she was an amusing puppy, and call her something demeaning like “squirt.”

But that had been a long time ago. She wasn’t that innocent kid anymore. And he—he wasn’t that impetuous, up-and-coming geologist who dared to challenge the established rules for how oil was explored.

He was standing with one elbow propped on the mantel, staring down into the cold, gray ashes of the fireplace. A half-consumed glass of bourbon dangled in his other hand. In this unguarded moment, he looked sad. Worried. Lonely, even.

Her heart went out to him before her conscious mind registered the irony of this man’s presence in her father’s inner sanctum. Gabe Dawson and John Merris had been like matter and antimatter. Any time they crossed paths, they erupted in a fiery explosion that consumed everything and everyone around them.

She stepped farther into the room, clearing her throat as she did so. Gabe turned sharply to face her with the barely contained energy she