Publisher: Cardinal Press, LLC
Formats: eBook, print
There are some lines friends should never cross...right?
The Deal Breaker
There are some lines friends should never cross…right?
Status quo might as well be Dashiell Cabot’s middle name. He has a job he loves, a billion dollars in the bank, and a best friend named Iris who keeps his personal life running smoothly. Why would he ever want to change any of that? But when Iris Jacobs tells him she’s quitting and returning to culinary school, Dash’s beloved status quo is thrown into chaos. Even worse? The thought of her departure is forcing him to realize his feelings for her might extend beyond the friend zone.
Iris wants more out of life than taking care of Dash. She always has. And even though she could never repay him for everything he’s done for her, she can no longer afford to protect his precious status quo at the expense of her own dreams. She has no choice but to leave…unless he can give her a compelling—and possibly romantic—reason to stay.
They’ve always been just friends. That was their deal. But when all is said and done, something will be broken—either their deal…or their hearts.
Read an Excerpt
As the clock struck midnight, poker night at Dash Cabot’s house ended. Relief surged through him, but his tense shoulders didn’t loosen. The scent of alcohol, the remnants inside glasses, hung in the air. Nothing beat an evening with his seven closest friends—and tonight was no exception—but he was ready to say goodbye to his family by choice and send them home.
Someone said good night—Brett Matthews, who owned an investment firm in downtown Portland. So far, he was the only one with a baby, but Dash had a feeling more of their group would be on the track to parenthood soon.
Kieran O’Neal and Mason Reese followed Brett to the front door.
Three down, four to go.
Dash wouldn’t kick out the remaining ones. He’d needed this impromptu poker night as much as the others, who worked hard at their companies and firms. Well, except for Henry Davenport, who’d inherited his money.
Blaise Mortenson said something and then laughed before elbowing Wes Lockhart.
Wes groaned. “Uncle jokes are worse than dad ones.”
“Just wait until you marry Paige and become an official uncle.” Blaise elbowed him. “You’ll beg for my punchlines.”
“That will never happen.” Wes grabbed his jacket. “I can come up with jokes on my own.”
Across the room, Adam Zeile laughed before waving goodbye. “Cambria is waiting up for me. I need to get home.”
Dash wasn’t sure if he’d thought the words or said them aloud. No one glanced his way with a frown, so that was good. Sometimes he said the wrong things or people took his words the wrong way. Around the guys, Dash could be himself, but after a long week of attending meetings and dinners, dealing with issues on a new project, and being forced to act “professional,” he’d had enough socializing.
His shirt collar irritated him. He’d rolled up his sleeves before letting them down more times than he could count, and his muscles twitched. He wanted to put on sweats, a hoodie, and escape into a video game.
Instead, he put away the cards and chips. Sure, he could have left them for the morning, but he needed to do something or he’d be tempted to say “get out.”
Not unusual for him.
He wasn’t rude on purpose, but his brain functioned ten steps ahead of everyone else and, even then, what he wanted to say didn’t always come out the way he intended. He was trying to do better. In some cases, he’d succeeded, like when someone needed him. Dash had risen to the occasion when Wes was an idiot with his now-fiancée, Paige, and after Blaise told them about his parents being drug addicts.
The front door closed.
One more gone.
Henry Davenport topped off his glass.
Dash sighed. He would have expected Henry—who’d never worked a day in his life yet had the highest net worth in the group—to have left already. The guy usually had a date lined up after their poker night ended.
Dash pressed his lips together. No reason to eye his gaming system yet. Only three remained. Their discussion over the latest change to the country’s interest rate wouldn’t last long.
In a few minutes, he would be alone. Then, he could stay up all night and play video games to make up for the time he’d lost to…adulting.
Most people had no idea what being a billionaire meant. Sure, some like Henry did nothing but spend or give away their money. He could do that because others like Brett and Blaise grew his investments. The others, including Dash, ran or were on the board of the companies they founded. He could work twenty-four hours a day and still have more to do. Which was why his Friday night gaming time was sacred even when he had a date with his girlfriend, Raina, or his friends got together.
Blaise pocketed his winnings. He hadn’t counted the money, but Dash bet the guy knew the exact amount.
“I can’t wait to do this again.” Blaise’s smirk grew. “It’s like getting candy on Halloween, but no trick-or-treating required.”
“Luck,” Henry countered. “And you didn’t win that much.”
“Skill.” Blaise flashed a lopsided grin. “And yes, I did.”
Dash never took a side, but Blaise usually won because of his fine-tuned poker skills. The money, however, went to a school program that sent food home each weekend with kids who qualified for free lunch. Dash knew this because his assistant, Blaise’s sister-in-law, Fallon, had mentioned it at work. But it made sense since Blaise had once been a kid who went hungry more often than not.
Blaise shrugged on his coat. “Thanks for hosting, Wonderkid.”
Dash fought a grimace. He hated the nickname. That wasn’t the only one his friends had for him, either. Mr. Status Quo was another. But being teased was the drawback of being the youngest and smartest of the eight. Despite that, he wouldn’t trade the guys for anything.
“No problem.” I should lighten up. Finding time to get together wasn’t as easy now that five were married and one was engaged. “We need to do this more often.”
“We do.” Blaise removed his gloves from his pocket. Rain fell most days, typical for January, but a cold front had brought freezing temperatures and predictions of snow. “Talk to you on the group chat. Ready, Wes?”
Wes nodded and then waved goodbye. The two headed toward the front door. That left…
Henry placed his glass on the counter and headed toward the back door.
Muscles bunching, Dash blocked Henry’s path. “You’re going the wrong way.”
“I’m not leaving.” A smug smile spread across Henry’s face. “Iris is expecting me.”
At midnight? No way.
Dash balled his hands. He wasn’t one for violence. Ever since his parents’ bitter divorce, he’d done what he could to avoid confrontation, honing his skills as a referee and a peacemaker to handle his parents. Sometimes those worked well with his friends. But he was ready to punch Henry in the face or the gut or anywhere else required. The billionaire trust fund baby—if a man in his early thirties could be called a baby—had no reason to be alone with Iris in the guest cottage at this hour.
Or any other time.
Henry Davenport wasn’t good enough for Iris Jacobs.
Sweet, caring, hardworking Iris.
Dash had met her when they were thirteen, and they became best friends. They were now twenty-eight. Not much had changed since they were teenagers except she’d worked for him as his housekeeper and cook for the past six years.
Iris was the one person he could count on no matter what. Dash couldn’t say that about his parents. He wouldn’t allow Henry to mess with her. Break her heart. Steal her away.
His friends joked about hiring Iris, but Dash knew she’d never leave him. They’d been through so much together and relied on each other.
That had been their deal.
But seeing her kiss Henry on New Year’s Eve, two weeks ago, had shocked Dash in a way he still didn’t understand.
Iris, however, hadn’t said a word about the kiss, so he assumed whatever had happened between her and Henry was nothing more than getting caught up in celebrating. Dash had been so relieved, like the-sun-appearing-after-months-of-rain relieved. But now…
He squared his shoulders. “Iris is asleep.”
“You don’t know that.”
Dash didn’t because he couldn’t see the cottage from here, but he would do what he could to protect her. “Earlier, she mentioned being tired.”
“Iris gives a hundred and ten percent.” Henry’s gaze softened. “She did a wonderful job with the food and drinks, as usual.”
“She’s never let me down.”
Iris was the most important person in his life. He had to keep her heart safe from Henry, who could be the poster boy for Peter Pan Syndrome. The guy never took life seriously. He might be a well-known and respected philanthropist and one of Dash’s closest friends, but Henry didn’t believe in commitment. He preferred having fun to being serious.
“Me, either.” Henry grinned.
The smug tone sent Dash’s blood pressure spiraling. Henry could be immature. Maybe simple and direct was the best strategy. “Leave Iris alone. If you break her heart, I’ll be the one picking up the pieces. I’m all she has.”
As Henry tilted his chin, disbelief shone in his gaze. “You’re all she has?”
Dash straightened. “Yes.”
“Then why did you forget about her over the holidays? Leave her in this big house without a present to open on Christmas morning?”
Each word deflated him because what Henry said was true. Dash had been so busy working and then visiting Raina’s family on the East Coast, he hadn’t considered how Iris would spend the holidays with him away. He’d forgotten her and their Christmas Day tradition. He hadn’t even bought her a gift. When he’d arrived home, he’d found a present from her under the tree.
“It slipped my mind,” Dash admitted.
Henry rolled his eyes. “It? You mean Iris.”
“I apologized.” The words shot out. Dash had promised to make it up to her on her birthday. He’d also written her a six-figure bonus check. Normally, Iris would have laughed and ripped it up. Not this time. She’d said thank you and deposited the check the next day. “She forgave me.”
“Of course she did, because that’s what Iris does. It’s her nature. Something that has nothing to do with you.” Henry didn’t sound impressed. “You might reconsider telling people you’re all she has when it was everyone else who made sure Iris wasn’t alone for Christmas when you dropped the ball.”
Dash’s face burned. “It won’t happen again.”
“No, it won’t.”
Henry’s strong words hit like a sucker punch. Dash forced himself to breathe. “What do you mean?”
Dash stepped forward, using his height advantage. He might be the youngest, but he was also the tallest. “What are your intentions with Iris, dude?”
Henry laughed. “Intentions and dude do not belong in the same sentence.”
“I’m not kidding.” This was out of Dash’s comfort zone, but he couldn’t back down. “You’re going to hurt Iris. There are other women you can date. Leave her alone.”
“Oh, Dashiell.” Henry tsked after saying Dash’s full name. “You’re jealous and allowing the green-eyed monster to get the best of you.”
Dash’s jaw dropped. “I’m not. I have a girlfriend.”
Henry sighed. “You’re still dating Raina?”
What? He couldn’t let Henry diss his girlfriend. “Raina is nice. She’s pretty, smart, and a world-class gamer.”
“Yes, but she isn’t the one for you.”
Dash stiffened. “She’s perfect for me. Hadley—”
“Hadley is an excellent matchmaker, but not all the couples she introduces get married.”
“I didn’t mention marriage.” Dash should have realized Henry was trying to get a rise out of him. The guy was never serious. “I’m only dating Raina.”
“And missing out on what’s right underneath your nose,” Henry muttered.
“Never mind. Since you are ‘dating’”—Henry made quote marks with his fingers around the last word—“why do you care so much about what Iris does?”
Henry hadn’t spoken the words, but he might as well have.
Heat rushed up Dash’s neck. “She has no family. Her mom’s dead. Her father deserted her to marry a woman half his age. We look out for each other.”
“She runs your household and your life.”
“Yes, and she does an excellent job at both. I pay her well.” Iris also lived rent-free in the two-bedroom guest house in his backyard—one of her benefits. “But she’s…fragile.”
Henry laughed. “Iris is one of the strongest women I’ve ever met.”
“She doesn’t go out much.” Dash wasn’t sure why not, but he hadn’t wanted to pry into her dating habits. They’d never discussed that part of her life. “The way you go through women—”
“I’m only trying to help her.”
“By kissing her?”
“Still hung up on that New Year’s Eve kiss?” Henry sounded amused.
Kisses, but who had been counting? Still, Dash didn’t—couldn’t—say anything.
“I don’t blame you.” Henry appeared more smug than usual. “Iris kisses better than she cooks.”
Dash swallowed around the grapefruit-sized lump in his throat. He’d never kissed Iris. Once, they’d come close in high school. Thankfully, he’d come to his senses before ruining their friendship.
He hadn’t thought about kissing her since then. But seeing her with…
Henry laughed. “Your eyes are turning green, Wonderkid.”
Dash crossed his arms over his chest. “Are you seeing other women besides Iris?”
“Are you proposing to Raina?”
The non sequitur made him do a double take. “What?”
“Are you planning to ask your girlfriend to marry you?” Henry clarified.
Dash let the question sink in. That left him with one of his own. “Why would I do that?”
“You’ve been dating Raina for months.” Henry didn’t mask his disapproval. He stepped closer until he was almost in Dash’s face. “You spent Christmas with her family back east. She keeps dropping hints.”
Dash rolled his eyes. The guy had it all wrong if he thought the last of the Silicon Forest Billionaires would get down on bended knee with a million-dollar engagement ring in hand. He took a step back. “Now that it’s down to me and Wes, she’s been obsessed about the bet. We haven’t discussed marriage.”
And wouldn’t if Dash had his way.
Not appearing convinced, Henry rubbed his neck. “I should have joined the bet. There’s no way I would have lost.”
I won’t, either.
More than five years ago, the six of them known as the Billionaires of Silicon Forest made a bet—the last single man standing won. Adam, Blaise, Kieran, Mason, Wes, and Dash each put ten million dollars into a fund that Blaise used to beta test a new investment algorithm. Since then, the money had grown to over six hundred million. Only two remained single—Dash and Wes, who got engaged on Christmas Day, but a wedding date hadn’t been set.
“We asked you,” Dash reminded. “Your answer was an emphatic no.”
“I must have had a reason, but that’s not what we’re discussing. The bet is about you tech guys getting married, so are you proposing?”
“No,” Dash admitted. “Marriage isn’t part of my near-term plans.”
His parents’ divorce had not only thrown his stable world into upheaval, but fifteen years later, his mom and dad still used Dash as a pawn. They’d been so in love, but that had disintegrated into a battle no one could win. To this day, he continued to be a casualty of their war, and he never wanted to be like them.
That meant staying single.
Not that being unmarried was a hardship. He had Iris, who was better than a wife. She cooked, cleaned, shopped, did his laundry, laid out his clothes each night, and whatever else he might need without him having to make compromises or mess up his schedule. No woman, including Raina, could ever take care of him and his house as well as Iris did.
Which was why entering the bet had been a no-brainer when Mason proposed the wager. Dash had been twenty-three and the newest billionaire of the bunch.
Henry stared, waiting for an answer.
Dash shifted his weight between his feet. “Not this year or next.”
Lines creased Henry’s forehead. The guy appeared almost concerned, which was weird. Superficial seemed more his style. “Does Raina know that?”
“I mentioned it to her when we first went out.” Dash hated feeling as if he were on the defensive. He’d spent too many years in that position. Even now, his parents cross-examined him about each other whenever they spoke. “She was okay with it.”
“Of course she was fine with it then.” Henry spoke fast. “You need to remind her in case she’s changed her mind or fallen in love with you.”
Love? Dash gulped. “She’s never said—”
“Doesn’t mean she can’t feel that way.” Henry shook his head. “For being so smart, Dashiell, sometimes you can’t see what’s right in front of your face.”
“I see Raina.”
Henry stared at Dash with an odd expression before blowing out a breath.
Nothing new. People often treated him like an anomaly. Or a weirdo. He was used to it.
“Are we finished?” Henry asked. “Iris is waiting for me.”
“Fine.” Dash moved aside but then followed Henry outside, not bothering with a jacket. His breath hung on the air. Goose bumps covered his skin.
Henry glared over his shoulder. “She’s waiting for me.”
We’ll see about that. “I never told her good night.”
And if Dash’s presence kept Henry from kissing Iris again, all the better.