The Bluewater Billionaires series continues this week with a new Romantic Comedy from author Kathryn Nolan—featuring a big, grumpy, bearded hero, a happy-go-lucky, hippie heroine, lots of snarky banter, and even some motorcycle sex—and I have a sneak peek for you…not of said motorcycle sex, sorry.
“Okay, but take a picture of me before we start,” I instructed Beck. I’d been prepared to haul bags of dog food or hose down kennels, but he’d asked me to help him with Penelope instead. She was less timid now, sitting up straight and panting a little as we settled into our usual corner. This time, Beck and I touched—shoulder to shoulder.
He took my phone. “Okay, but what’s interesting about this?”
I held out a long, skinny spoon and a jar of peanut butter. “Shows the process to potential donors,” I said. “Let’s your adoring public see that you know how to get dogs to trust you. Before this whole mess, my followers used to love to see those behind-the-scenes moments. Meetings, scientists working in labs, testing different products on consumers.”
His look was skeptical but he took my phone anyway. “How’s my face?” I teased, pursing my lips and tilting my head.
“Beautiful,” he said roughly. Click went the camera.
Did he just call me beautiful?
“Thanks,” I said. Interesting.
“You only have three left,” he said, holding up the requisite fingers. I mimed snapping a photo of him and he actually grinned.
“Okay, Grumpy Pants. Tell me what we’re actually doing with this jar of peanut butter.”
He touched the handle of the brush that lay between us. “I think she’d let us, specifically you, brush her today.”
“Yeah,” he said. “She trusts you already.”
That gave me a shimmery feeling all over my body. I could feel my phone vibrating, imitating my emotional response. But I chose to ignore it—I knew it was only hundreds of voicemails and emails flitting by, things that demanded my urgent attention or rapid-fire response. Ignoring them felt delicious, almost illicit. Since becoming a CEO, I never took vacations, even though self-care and adventure were very on-brand for me. But after a yoga class or a long hike, I was strapped back to my laptop.
These moments at Lucky Dog—these moments with Beck—felt stolen, pick-pocketed slivers of joy just for me.
“Do you really think so?” I asked, turning around to face him. He was almost too close. I could see the flecks of green in his dark blue eyes.
“You have a calming energy for her,” he said.
“Did Beck Mason say the word energy?” I teased. “You’ll start sounding like my parents soon.”
He chuckled, handed the brush to me. And held out the spoon. Over the course of ten long minutes, he and I sat in serene silence while Penelope ever-so-slowly crawled over to us.
It was a lesson in patience. It was only my body, connected to the concrete. The air on my skin, the sun warming my back. My shoulder, brushing against Beck’s burly one.
“There she goes,” he whispered, mouth at my ear. Penelope was eagerly eating peanut butter, body relaxed. “Food equals happiness for animals. Happiness equals trust. You brushing her while she’s eating should help her connect people to those feelings. Go ahead.”
I made a crooning sound. Penelope watched me, but with much less wariness than before. I pressed the brush to her fur and gently tugged through.
Penelope sat down.
“Is that okay?” I whispered, excited.
“Keep going,” he said.
I brushed her again and her tail wagged. I was aware that this interaction was probably brief—it wasn’t like Lucky Dog worked miracles. But I still kept my movements light, safe, gentle. She shivered a little. Made eye contact with me.
“She likes it,” I said, still whispering.
“She likes you,” he whispered back. “You’re doing a great job.”
My throat was as tight as could be. This connection with something more tremendous than myself, more tremendous than my situation, was what my parents had taught me to search for. It’s why we’d spent our weekends at foster care homes and local parks. It had been—was supposed to be—my driving motivation in founding Wild Heart, connecting compassion, justice and business.
And in this vital moment, it was all too clear to me how deeply I’d veered off course.
“I haven’t felt this way in a long time,” I said. I didn’t elaborate and Beck didn’t push. But he did reach out and very, very lightly touch my hand, the one holding the brush.
Then he pulled away.
Eventually Penelope retreated but Beck and I stayed still, not moving. I put the brush down, wrapping my arms around my knees. I laid my cheek there and looked openly at the man next to me.
“That picture you took,” he said, “how many people do you think will look at it?”
I thought for a moment. “I don’t know. Maybe four, five million people?”
“That doesn’t make you terrified?” he asked.
“Not anymore,” I said. “Don’t assume I was this way immediately. Being friendly is my jam. But it took time to feel comfortable about exposing myself like that. Even before Ferris Mark, the trolls came after me. That took time to get used to. Time where I had to accept that I wasn’t going to please every stranger who hated me on the internet.
Beck looked past me, where the foundation folks were slowly making their way back to the parking lot. He’d stumbled a little bit, in their presence. But no more or less than most people would have. Jem and Elián were naturally enthusiastic and I couldn’t stand watching Beck look embarrassed.
It had made me want to clock Albert in the face with my Fendi purse—and generally speaking, I abhorred violence.
“Do you believe you’re the right person to lead Wild Heart?” he asked.
I hesitated. Thought about my obnoxiously happy signature on Ferris Mark’s contract addendum. You’re fixing it though, I reminded myself.
“Yes,” I managed.
He nodded. “I’m not sure I’m the best person to lead Lucky Dog.”
“Why?” I asked. “Because Elián and Jem are more natural on a tour?”
I lifted one shoulder. “Leadership is about delegating based on your employees’ strengths. Elián and Jem are charming with donors, yes. And that’s okay. You still impressed the foundation members.”
“I didn’t,” he argued. “You did.”
“I’ve had more practice,” I said. “Your comparison doesn’t work here, boss.”
“Lucky Dog needs a leader like you. Someone who’s…charming.”
“You were very earnest and honest,” I said, trying to ignore my body’s response to him calling me charming. “Those are the two most important qualities. Everything else can be learned.”
Beck was quiet, squinting into the sun.
“There’s an article floating around the internet right now you should know about,” I said, trying to keep my tone casual. Beck seemed a little more open, a little more vulnerable, and so even though it pained me to mention it, I wanted him to hear this from me. “It’s about the time you served in juvenile detention. Some asshole entertainment reporter dug up your mugshots.”
Movement rippled through the giant man next to me. Tension, anger maybe. “Can I see?”
I took out my phone, showing him the article in question. It was a garbage piece, reporting on the Ferris Mark scandal and dragging Beck’s background and family into it. I’d been relieved to see that donations to Lucky Dog didn’t seem to be affected.
But still, the middle of the article featured that picture of me on TIME Magazine, laughing and happy. Next to it, they’d placed one of Beck’s mugshots from twenty years ago. He was thinner, angrier, practically snarling into the camera. I placed my phone into his hand.
“This blowback…” I started to say. “It…I mean, I’m really sorry, Beck. It’s an absolute disgrace. Now I feel like I should…”
“What?” He was staring at the screen, forehead creased.
“Tell you to partner with someone else. Maybe you should associate yourself with someone who isn’t going to cause such unwanted negative attention on your very deserving nonprofit.” I pulled at a fraying string on the bottom of my shirt. “I wouldn’t be offended if you wanted me to leave. And I’d still keep giving you donations, make a large gift. That wouldn’t go away.”
He placed the phone back in my hand, screen down. “I haven’t seen that picture in a very long time.” I was still, awaiting his judgment. “But it looks like we’re stuck with each other,” he said, repeating my words from the other day.
The surge of happiness that swelled up in my chest caught me completely off guard. “It might get worse,” I said, feeling the urge to protect this man.
“I’ve been through worse,” he said softly.
We shared a smile for a sweet second.
“Can I ask you a nosy question?”
“I’m guessing the Miami Devils…your parents…weren’t happy that you decided to defect from them?” I’d seen the word defect last night while doing research on the culture of outlaw motorcycle clubs. Like formally fleeing your own country, running across borders toward freedom. I’d found the word to be startling in its intensity.
“It’s rarely done. And never done if you’re blood. I was on high alert for a long time, making sure they didn’t come after me.” I remembered how he’d reacted that day at the beach, when Devils club members had been strolling past us. The way that one man had waved at Beck. Except it hadn’t been a wave but a crueler, more threatening act than that. He’d looked prepared for a fight in broad daylight.
“I think it’s interesting, courageous, actually,” I said, “that even with your family out there, even with people knowing about them, even knowing you’d have to be the public face of this nonprofit, that you still started it. That you and Elián still gave it a go. Everything I’ve experienced recently, the way people have turned on me, it’s absolutely the worst thing that’s ever happened. I’m not sure, if all of this fraud nonsense had happened first, I would have gone through and done something so public. But you did.”
“I’m not that public though,” Beck conceded, nimbly dodging my compliment as usual. “Elián is frustrated with me.”
“I think Elián sees what I see,” I said.
“A dedicated leader.”
His expression looked…grateful.
We turned—it was Elián with a concerned look on his face.
“What is it?” Beck said.
“Animal control just called. A stray pit bull on the beach at Lummus Park. If we can’t get it, it has to go to the kill shelter over on High Street. You want in?”
Elián turned behind him. “I guess Jack’s kennel? You and Jem cleaned it the other day, right?”
“We did,” I said, happy to have provided even the tiniest amount of help.
“Let’s get her,” Beck said.
“I’m coming too,” I declared, standing and brushing dirt from my pants.
“It’s pretty physically demanding,” Beck said.
“And this body can do anything,” I tossed back.
And for a delirious second, his eyes traveled the length of the body in question—mine—in such a filthy way my core flooded with heat. I liked it. A lot.
“Let’s go then,” he said. “Want to take my bike? Jem can follow in the truck if we catch her.”
“When we catch her,” I said, needing to distract myself from sexual thoughts of Beck and his bike. “And you’re sure I’ll, uh, fit on the back?”
He stood up, barely six inches from me. I had to crane my neck to maintain eye contact. “We’ll make it work.”
I was the girl who always fantasized about sex on a motorcycle—but had never actually been on one.
Riding with Beck was going to be absolutely, one-hundred-percent fine though.