His Lost Love

Manhattan Billionaires, Book 1

I can buy and sell half the country… but I can't afford to lose her a second time.

I made my name fixing hearts.
Most people know me as a world-class cardiac surgeon.
Even more know the device I invented that made billions while saving lives.
I’ve achieved success beyond my wildest dreams—and I’ve always dreamed big.
Funny how the one heart I can’t put back together is my own.

That’s why I’ve returned to New York.
More accurately—she’s why.
In the fashion world, Mia has arrived. But to me, she’ll always be the one who got away.

Back in college, she claimed she loved me.
Then she ripped my heart to shreds.
Now I can have anything I want. Any toy. Any woman.
And what I want is her—out of my system. This time, I plan to be the one leaving.
They say revenge is best served cold, but once Mia is back in my bed?

It may be too hot to walk away from…

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“Liam.” Michael Jamison, one of my closest buddies since we met at freshman orientation at NYU fourteen years ago, blocks the door, preventing me from entering his new apartment in downtown Manhattan. His scowl suggests that I’ve come strapped with explosives and begun waving the detonation button in his face. “What the hell are you doing here?”

I shrug and try to look harmless as I pass him the nice bottle of wine I brought as a gift.

“Unless I’m mistaken, you’re throwing your little housewarming tonight.” 

I gesture over his shoulder, where a sizable crowd has assembled and appears to be happily enjoying cocktails and jazzy music against the panoramic backdrop of the Hudson River with the Jersey skyline in the distance. He and another college friend of ours, Jake Quinn, recently went public with the medical device company I started a few years back. I should mention that I got a degree in chemical and biomedical engineering before I went to Harvard Med and became a cardiac surgeon. Hey. I’m brilliant, ambitious and talented. Don’t expect me to apologize for it. Anyway, I won’t bore you with the details, but I invented a couple of devices that make cardiac procedures a hell of a lot easier. Michael and Jake were my early investors. I combined money I inherited on my father’s death together with their money. Which means that we’ve all experienced a significant uptick in our bottom line this year, although I still practice because that’s my first love. Now we all try to out-apartment and out-car each other. And I plan to start dabbling more in the real estate market when a good opportunity presents itself. 

“I thought I’d check the place out,” I continue. “You know I’m interested in real estate.”

“Cut the bullshit,” he says, his scowl deepening as he snatches the bottle. “You’re here because you want to see my sister.”

I arrange my expression into something that hopefully suggests that the idea never crossed my mind.

“I just want to catch the view you’ve been bragging about.” I crane my neck, trying to see past his big head, but there’s no sign of her. Mia, his twin, was also in our class at NYU, by the way. “Looks nice. Your apartment could almost be a boat that sits directly on the water. Not as nice as my view, though. You letting me in?”

“No. I’ve been walking a tightrope ever since the two of you imploded back when we graduated. You think it’s easy for me to be Switzerland all the time when the two of you have avoided each other for years? Now she’s going to think that I set this whole thing up so you could ambush her.”

“Yeah, well, now I’m back in town.” I moved back last year during my mother’s final illness. Now that I’ve settled her estate, it’s time for me to settle things with Mia. “It’s past time for Mia and me to stop avoiding each other. We’re fully grown adults now. Not hotheaded kids. The city should be big enough for both of us.”

“Couldn’t agree more. Why don’t you text her and see if she wants to grab coffee or drinks like a normal person?”

“Because I’m here now.” The part I don’t mention? That I’ve worked up the courage to show up tonight and doubt I’ll be able to produce any new courage if I leave without seeing her and then need to text her. I decide to drop the act. “Is she here?”

“She’s here,” he says grimly.

I feel a tremendous surge of adrenaline. And something that feels strangely like triumph.

“What’s it going to be?” I ask.

“Fine.” He jerks the door all the way open and lets me pass. “Just make sure she knows that this was your idea. I didn’t want you here, and you know it.”

“That’s not strictly true,” I say, now scanning the room for any sign of her. “You said you were having your housewarming tonight. You also said that Mia would be here. I took that as a warm invitation to enjoy your hospitality.”

“Huh. Funny. Because I’m positive I stated it as a dire warning for you to stay away.”

“Semantics,” I say, then catch sight of Jake, who materializes out of the crowd with a scotch and soda for my benefit. I receive it with a grateful one-handed hug and a pointed look in Michael’s direction. “Finally. A true friend.”

“Fuck you,” Michael says mildly.

“Saw you coming,” Jake tells me as I take an appreciative sip to shore up my nerves. “What’d I miss?”

“Liam’s here to see Mia,” Michael supplies with his usual stir-the-pot enthusiasm and wicked glee at someone else’s discomfort.

“Fuck you,” I tell him, then spy her across the room and experience a sudden catastrophic system failure that freezes me to the spot. Seriously. It’s a wonder I don’t choke on my tongue.

These two, naturally, notice immediately.

“You planning to grow a pair and talk to her?” Jake asks me, not bothering to hide his sudden obnoxious smirk. “Or are you going to stand here picking your nose all night?”

“I’m betting on the latter,” Michael says. “Knowing Liam like I do. Based on long and painful history. Speaking of history, what was that Julius Caesar quote? We talked about it in ancient history freshman year.”

“What, I came, I saw, I conquered?” Jake says.

“That’s the one.” Michael claps me on the back with his free hand and gives my shoulders a squeeze that makes me want to see how many of his gleaming teeth I can knock out with a single punch. “I’m thinking Liam’s quote would be I came, I saw, I froze.”

“Either that or I came, I saw, I shat the bed.”

With that, my two so-called best friends launch into a round of raucous laughter at my expense. Not that I don’t deserve it at this point in the evening, when my ongoing paralysis acts as an embarrassment to me and probably my entire family for two or three generations back. Still, I wonder what it is about these two idiots that has made me keep them around this whole time. Probably the threat of blackmail for all the dumb shit they witnessed me do.

I unstick myself with tremendous effort and peel my eyes away from her long enough to glare at these two. Mia Jamison and I are ancient history. This doesn’t have to be a whole big thing. There’s no reason why the two of us can’t exchange a quick greeting and break the ice after all this time. Clarification: no reason except that a) she’s so engrossed in a conversation with some woman that she doesn’t know I’m here yet; and b) I’m still trying to grow that pair of balls I’ll need to make the long walk across the room to say hello to her.

“Maybe if I had better wingmen, I’d be over there by now,” I say bitterly, gesturing to a passing server for a refill on my scotch and soda. “How about you help a guy out rather than kicking him when he’s down?”

“Look,” Michael says, his amusement vanishing. He slings that arm around my shoulder again, reeling me in for a few urgent words of advice. “You’re building this up in your mind. She’s still just Mia. The same girl you met on our study abroad in Rome.”

That’s exactly what I’m afraid of.

Luckily, the server returns with my drink just then. I snatch it off his tray, and down the entire thing in a couple of rough gulps.

“Go.” Michael relieves me of my empty glass and jerks his head in her direction. “Say hi. Get it over with. It’s getting harder the longer you stand here. You’re thirty-four fucking years old. You know how to talk to a woman.”

That’s true. But there are standard human women. And then there’s Mia Jamison.

Separate categories.

“You’re right,” I say grimly, more because I’m sick of myself than from any sudden infusion of courage. “I need you two to keep eyes on the situation for me. Be on standby. Keep the car running. Maybe get a fire extinguisher. Just in case.”

We all laugh.

“Get outta here,” Jake says. “Report back.”

“You got it.”

“And if you hurt my sister again? I’ll kill you,” Michael adds with a hard glint of bloody murder in his eyes.

I take off without disputing his assertion about who did the hurting in my relationship with Mia. My feet get heavier as I work my way through the crowd, which is elegant and nicely liquored by now. By the time I get within ten feet of her, they weigh a ton apiece. My steps slow. My heart races. And all I can do is stare, because there she is after all this time and I can’t fucking believe it.

Mia Nova Jamison.

My first love. The woman whose image, smile and laugh burrowed their way into my brain one Roman summer when I was twenty and have remained there ever since. Resisting all my best efforts to eradicate them. 

Like malaria or the kudzu that suffocates trees in the South.

I’m not happy about my excitement here, mind you. Why? Because I hate Mia Jamison for the way she left my life and for the condition she left me in when she did it. I should mention that up front. And I’m not talking about your garden-variety hate, as in I hate sushi. Let’s get pizza instead. I’m talking about the kind of hate that gets stronger over time, rotting you from the inside out. Sometimes it simmers. Sometimes it boils. Either way, the hate has no problem whatsoever existing alongside my ongoing fascination with this one woman. 

Even so, my lingering hard feelings don’t stop me from staring at her. And I doubt they’ll ever stop me from wanting her.

You can’t blame me for that. She’s got a Liv Tyler vibe that’s enough to make people lightheaded when they see her. But her hair is blacker, her skin paler and her eyes bluer. Her dimpled smile is all her own, as radiant as a Tahitian sunrise. She’s always been lean and athletic. That hasn’t changed if the way her strappy and slinky black dress pours over her thighs is any indication. With a dress like that, you start to wonder about the panty situation. If any. She wears a pair of killer heels that really work for her, but not as well as they work for me and my impressionable dick.

She laughs at something the woman says. The husky sound combines with the flash of her white teeth and the confident way she flips her hair over her bare shoulder to form something glorious. I can’t lie about it. She’s on top of the world tonight, clearly. I allow myself to be mesmerized and wallow in that smile for several suspended seconds. 

I’m allowed. I haven’t seen it for twelve years.

But then, without warning, she turns her head in my direction as though she’s heard my heart thundering over all the ambient noise. No surprise there. The two of us were always great at creating our own energy field. Our gazes connect across the ten feet that separate us. I feel that connection as a zap of electricity shoots straight up my spine. She stiffens, her eyes widening. Her smile fades, leaving something stricken behind as color floods her face. She recovers quickly, peeling her attention away from me and recapturing most of her social graces for the benefit of her friend, but she’s not that good an actress. 

Except for the part when she acted like she gave a rat’s ass about me back when we were in college. 

That was good.

This? The unmistakable flare of panic in her big baby blues? The glitch in her composure as she smooths her hair with a hand that now looks a little shaky? She’s rattled and she can’t hide it. I consider that a win. God knows she’s done nothing but rattle me since the day I laid eyes on her.

In a stroke of good luck, I complete my approach just as the woman excuses herself from Mia, leaving Mia to hesitate before squaring her shoulders and turning to face me. Maybe she was tempted to take off with the woman, but the Mia I thought I knew would never do that. She’s many things—merciless witch comes to mind—but a coward isn’t one of them.

Sure enough, she hitches up her chin, eyes glittering.

“Liam Wilder. I wasn’t expecting to see you here.”

I shrug and slide my hands in my pockets, buying myself time to get my shit together. It’s not easy to think straight while being in her presence and hearing the throaty sound of her voice again.

“I’m full of surprises.”

“That you are. I didn’t know that Michael had invited you.”

“He didn’t, but I’m sure that was an oversight.” I ease closer, arrested by the subtle defiance in her expression and by her scent, some carnal blend of flowers that defies description and is exactly the way I remember it. “You probably didn’t know I was back in town.”

“Odd, huh? You’d think a news flash like that would make the front page of the Times.”

I laugh. I can’t help it. One of the most intriguing things about Mia has always been the way she sharpens her tongue and wields it like a samurai sword, slicing and dicing people like a professional.

“Actually, Michael did mention you were back in the city.” She hesitates. “And that your mother had died. Sorry to hear that. I’m sure it wasn’t easy.”

“Thanks,” I say, which is all I can manage when I think about my mother’s decline and death. She wasn’t a gem in the mother department, but she was the only parent I had left, given my father’s sudden cardiac arrest death right before I started college. Not to mention the fact that Mia seems concerned for me, and a tender emotion from Mia is, sadly, like a hit of heroin to a recovering addict.

I am evidently the addict in question. No recovery here, boy.

“Did dying make her any nicer?”

“Nope,” I say with a startled laugh. “It’ll take more than a visit from the Grim Reaper to soften my mother up.”

She starts to smile with me, then catches herself and stops.

“You look great, by the way,” I blurt.

One of those delicate brows goes up.

“I pay a personal trainer, a hairstylist and an aesthetician to keep me spackled together these days. Glad to know I’m not wasting my money. And you’re not trying to flirt with me, are you?”

“Would it work?”

“Absolutely. Just like me going outside right now and trying to swim across the river to Jersey would work.”

I laugh again, somehow resisting the growing urge to swallow her whole. She’s that delicious.

“You looked great before all that, as I recall. Matter of fact, back in the day, I’d be looking forward to the end of the night and figuring out what you’ve got on under that dress.” I pause to give her a once-over that lingers on her small breasts, curious to see if the attention is enough to make her nipples bead the way they used to. Ah. There it is. So that hasn’t changed. Thrilling. “And you’d be looking forward to letting me.”

Those luscious lips curl into a crooked smile without a trace of humor in it.

“Twenty-year-olds aren’t known for their smarts. Back in the day, I survived on frozen pizza, donuts, diet soda and five hours of sleep most nights.”

“Don’t expect me to apologize for the sleep deprivation,” I say, sweet memories making my voice husky. “We had better things to do in bed, as I vividly recall.”

The bright patches of color in her cheeks intensify.

“Maybe, but I’m trying to stay away from stupid now that I’m older. If there’s nothing else? I want to mingle with the people I actually want to see. Have a great night.”

She turns to go, but I’m not done here. Not by a long shot. Not when being in Mia’s presence again makes me feel this buzzed and alive. I don’t know what I’ve been doing with my life this whole time, but it wasn’t this. And this is something I need a lot more of.

“I understand you’re designing for one of the big houses these days,” I say quickly, before she can take off. I try to recall which one it was, but my overstimulated brain can’t call up the information at the moment. Ralph Lauren, maybe. “I’m impressed.”

She makes a derisive sound. “Sure you are.”

“I’m dead serious,” I say, feeling a surge of the hate again, along with the sour taste of bile in the back of my mouth. “I know exactly how much your career in fashion means to you. Although I could have sworn you said you wanted to design wedding dresses. Or am I remembering that wrong?”

I realize my arrow hit home by the way she stiffens.

“Oh, so that’s why you’re here.” She says it with the grim triumph of Sherlock Holmes when he slides that last clue into place and discovers who the murderer is. “Career advice.”

Wrong. I want to remind her that I still exist. That while she may be living her Oprah-sanctioned best life, some of us aren’t so lucky. That she still has her nasty claw marks all over my life.

“Well, that’s why you ran off to Milan after graduation, right? To learn to make wedding dresses? So you could start your own atelier one day?”

“There was no running away involved,” she says, the thinning of her lips belying her sweet tone and evident determination not to let me ruffle her feathers. “I got an apprenticeship in Milan and moved there.”

“What about your dream of making wedding dresses?”

“Not all dreams go the distance,” she says, her expression stony now. “But since you’re so curious, you should know that I periodically make custom dresses for people through word of mouth. Matter of fact, I have a wedding this weekend.”

I know that already, but now is not the time to mention it. Not when she’s raised such an interesting topic.

“Any other dreams in particular?”

“Not at all,” she says smoothly.

“Glad to hear it, Starlight,” I say, adding a nice layer of mockery to my voice because I know it will infuriate her. And because I want to punish her for acting like the two of us didn’t have joint dreams that died an ugly death. “I’m glad you have everything you ever wanted. And that there are no lingering hard feelings. No need for things to be awkward between old friends.”

“We’re not old friends.” She can barely get the last two words out. For one thrilling second, I wonder if she actually wants to take a swing at me. I find my ongoing ability to push her buttons fascinating, I must say. “And don’t call me Starlight.”

“Why not? Nova is still your middle name, right? It means star, doesn’t it?” I keep my voice silky. “Starlight is a perfectly good nickname even if you’re not my star anymore. Why change things up at this late date? You’re free to call me by my nickname if you want.”

Asshole? You don’t mind me using that to your face?”

“No,” I say with a startled laugh. “Brad Pitt.”

“I’ll pass on that. If there’s nothing else…?”

She takes another step away, eager to leave me.

I hastily catch her warm arm and press my thumb to the thumping pulse in her wrist, twice as eager to keep her here. The reaction is instantaneous. Her eyes widen. Heat flares between us, exactly the way you get a whoosh of a flame when you light a gas grill.

“Are you here with someone?” I ask.

I hate myself for the sudden urgency in my voice, which reveals my eternal weakness for her. But not as much as I hate her for bringing it out in me when I’ve done my best—for years I’ve done my best—to hide it if I can’t overcome it.

“My personal life hasn’t been any of your business for years, Liam,” she says. “As you know.”

She manages a lot of vehemence, but I’m fixated on the flickering heat between us. And the way she doesn’t pull away. My gaze drops to her dewy lips. My mouth actually waters, which is what happens when you’re dying for a taste of something. 

I have a tough time hoisting my attention back to her glittering eyes, but I manage eventually.

“I’m not so sure about that. Have a drink with me. Let’s see where the night takes us.”

That does it.

“There’s no us,” she says, finally pulling free and using that same hand to give my cheek a sharp and condescending pat. “I know there’s no other woman in the world like me, but I’m sure there are several here who’d be happy to hook up with you tonight if you twinkle those hazel eyes at them.”

“What if I twinkle them at you? Will that work?”

Crooked smile from Mia. She takes a step back toward me. Eases closer. Tips her chin up as though she wants to kiss me. I ease closer and dip my head, planning to let her.

“Poor Liam. You need to understand that I would go back to my studio, find a needle and thread and sew my pussy shut before I ever gave you the pleasure again.”

I bark out a laugh, riveted by this woman who surely knows that nothing makes my blood race like a challenge.

“We’ll see about that. Starlight.”

She looks murderous as she pivots and stalks off in those killer heels, giving me the distinct pleasure of watching her hips and ass work in perfect synchronicity as she goes…


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