The Billionaire Op by Lori Ryan

Chapter 1





Chad Thompson woke to searing pain in his chest as he gulped air, desperate to fill his battered lungs. He squeezed his eyes shut and battled to clear the fog from his head and slow his heart rate.

This was wrong. It was all wrong. He caught hold of the sounds around him and forced himself to listen to them, knowing they would ground him: the sound of traffic on the street below his window and the hum of his air conditioner kicking on as it reached the designated temperature. Chad shook his head and forced his eyes open.

He was in his bedroom in New Haven, Connecticut, in his bed with the navy-blue sheets and mahogany headboard. Above him was the familiar crack on the ceiling that he always meant to fix but never remembered to unless he was in bed staring up at it. His flat-screen television, mounted on the wall, ran static. His laptop lay on the bed next to him where he’d abandoned it for sleep the night before.

Despite the familiar surroundings, it took Chad a minute to realize there was no medic kneeling beside him, pushing a too-long needle into his lung. There was no metallic scent of blood or charred flesh choking him and making him nauseated.

No ringing in his ears. The other three men in his detail did not lay still and silent beside him, their eyes lifeless and unseeing, their bodies forever broken and destroyed.

The dream didn’t come often anymore, but it always took him a few minutes to recover when it did. As Chad took deep, calming breaths he realized his phone was ringing. He slapped at the nightstand with one hand until he found the phone then slid his thumb across the screen to answer the call.

“Yeah?” His voice was thick with sleep.

“Chad?”

He bolted upright in his bed, the remnants of the dream no longer clutching at him. His gut twisted when Jennie’s voice came through the phone with the ring of false confidence. Something wasn’t right.

“You okay, Jennie?”

Jennie Evans didn’t normally call him outside of working hours at Sutton Capital. They had a weird relationship. Chad was Jennie’s boss. She was flippant, irreverent, and completely brash in all her dealings with him. And, he loved it.

Outside of work, things were equally unorthodox between them. They spent a lot of time together because Jennie was best friends with Kelly, the woman who married Chad’s cousin last year. Jack and Chad were more like brothers than cousins. So Chad saw Jennie almost anytime he hung out with Jack and Kelly, which was just about every weekend.

But, Chad and Jennie weren’t the type of friends that called each other or sought one another out outside of the group. It was more that they ended up at the same functions because of their mutual relationships.

So when she called on his cell phone first thing on a Sunday morning, he noticed.

It was also the use of his name that got his attention. Quickly.

Jennie didn’t use a nickname like ‘Boss Man,’ ‘Big Man,’ or ‘the Hulk’ like she usually did. No, this morning she called him Chad, rather than any number of other nicknames designed to taunt him about his large stature.

“Um. I’m a little...stuck,” Jennie said on the other end of the phone. He could hear her hesitancy through the line.

“Define ‘stuck,’ Jennie.” As he talked, he threw back the covers and swung his legs over the edge of the bed.

“I’m out at Edgerton Park and I don’t have any shoes to jog home. Can you come get me? Jack and Kelly are touring the Labor and Delivery Unit at the hospital this morning so I can’t call them and I can’t get hold of Jill, either” Jennie said.

Jill was married to Chad’s friend Andrew who also worked at Sutton Capital.

“How did you get out to Edgerton Park without shoes or a car?” Chad asked as he shoved his feet into sneakers.

As he spoke, the implications of what he’d just said sank into his brain. Jennie was alone in a park without shoes or a way to get home. Fear for her rippled up his spine, but he tamped it down and focused.

He moved a lot faster, as his mind began to play through scenarios. Was she with a guy and he ditched her? Was she out drunk last night and never made it home? Maybe she found herself in the park, with no shoes and no idea how she got there?

Just the thought of Jennie out with a guy started a slow burn in his gut, not that he had any right to be upset about that. Chad couldn’t date her since he was her boss, but if a man treated her wrong or hurt her in any way. . . he sure as hell wouldn’t tolerate that.

I’ll kill whatever asshole did this to her.