The Billionaire Boyfriend Proposal

By: Kendra Little

CHAPTER 1





Never trust a Kavanagh. That's been my mantra for eight years and it has stood me in good stead. My next door neighbors have proven time and again that they'll steamroll everything and everyone in their path to get what they want, including me and my house. But I wasn't going to give up lightly. I would fight with everything I had. And what I had was a dozen students from my art school and some equally irate neighbors who didn't want their exclusive street overrun by developers. We made up a contingent of one hundred, and we were loud. So loud that we attracted the Roxburg media and the police who had me, the unofficial leader, in their sights.

Never trust a Kavanagh. So when Blake Kavanagh turned up in the middle of the protest, my gut instinct was to ask why. What did he want? What was the second eldest of the five too-gorgeous-for-their-own-good Kavanagh brothers doing back in Serendipity Bend, Roxburg, after breaking my heart eight years ago?

All this time I'd held myself together and forged ahead, never looking back. I'd tried hard not to think about him and what might have been. I'd relapsed upon Gran's death, but I'd managed to claw my way out of the melancholy and return to the comfortable pattern I'd established for my life.

Until Blake's powerful arms dragged me out of danger, and his fury almost got him arrested.

Shock rippled through my body. It turned my legs weak and made my nerves jangle. He was here, now, when I needed him most! I'd thought about this day for so long, what I'd say, do, wear. None of that mattered. All sensible thoughts got shoved aside at the sight of his handsome face, strong bones and bright blue eyes filled with a ferocity I'd never seen before.

I grasped all of that in a fraction of a second. I wanted to gaze at him for longer, digest every small change, but there was no time. Blake wound up his fist to punch the policeman about to arrest me.

"Blake, don't!" I shouted. "If you get arrested because of me…" My voice got lost in the cacophony surrounding us and Blake wasn't listening anyway. He had murder in his eyes and it was directed at the cop.

"Don't touch her," he snarled. "Or I'll break your neck."

I had to get him out of there before he did serious damage. I shoved him in the chest, but it was like a fly tapping against a brick wall. He was bigger than I remembered, his shoulders like solid rocks, straining the seams of his black T-shirt. Another time I would have admired them, but not now with the swell of the crowd surging around us and the police threatening to arrest me and my students.

"Cassie!" he shouted down at me. "Get out of here. It's too dangerous. Go!"

"Not without you. I can't have your arrest on my conscience too."

He blanched and took a step back as if my hands on his chest were actually forcing him. Next thing I knew, we were tumbling backward through the crowd. I wasn't sure who was propelling who, but we ended up among the row of camellias at the side of my front porch, safe. Alone.

My heart beat so fast I thought it would burst out of my chest. It wasn't entirely from the danger I'd found myself in. It beat like that because Blake had returned.

He was back, eight years after leaving me with my aging Gran, my asshole of a brother, and my demons.

I got my first chance to look at him properly since the day we'd argued on the very same porch we now stood near. I still only came up to his chest, but the chest was bigger, broader, his shoulders too. His forearms bulged out of the T-shirt and I found myself staring at them. It was easier than staring at his face with its harder lines, severe mouth, and granite jaw. His hair was cropped close to his scalp and those alert blue eyes harbored more shadows than the last time I'd seen him, something I'd not thought possible. It was an uncompromising face and body, so new yet so familiar.

He stared at me for as long as I stared at him, taking in every inch of me. I wondered if I'd changed in eight years as much as he had. I doubted it. My hair was still a tangle of red curls and the freckles that were the bane of my teenage years still splattered across my nose, but I'd made my peace with them.

I met his gaze with my own, refusing to back down. I wasn't the naive girl he'd last seen crying on the front porch. I was stronger, and I was going to let him know it. "You're back," I said simply.

He nodded. "You okay?"

"Of course." I glanced over my shoulder. My students had taken up a chant and held fast against the bulldozers. The police hadn't arrested anyone else, but the protest wasn't looking like ending any time soon. Good. Maybe Blake's older brother, Reece, would get the message. If not, at least I'd delayed him.

"We tried to stop him," he said with a shake of his head.

"We?"

"Ash, Mom, Dad, all of us."

"All of you?"

"He won't listen to us. He's determined to wipe this place off the map." Those blue eyes softened as they scanned my face. "He's only trying to destroy his memories of—"

"Don't. Don't mention her or make him out to be some kind of lost soul, affected by her death. She was my sister."

Blake's lips flattened and he looked heavenward, as if he were appealing to Wendy’s spirit. She'd killed herself twelve years ago over Blake's brother, Reece, who'd cheated on her. I blamed Reece, but it seemed I was the only one. None of the Kavanaghs did. Not even Blake was on my side. Our difference of opinion had festered for four years, infecting our relationship and destroying all the good in it until all that was left was a rotten carcass. Our romance had finally ended on a summer evening on my front porch and I'd never seen him again.

Until now. Where had he been for eight years? I'd never asked the Kavanaghs, preferring to avoid them altogether, and they'd never offered up the information. Wherever he'd been, it had changed him. The once happy guy looked like he hadn't smiled in years.

"Why are you back now?" I snapped more harshly than I'd meant to. I was tired, my home in danger of being torn down right in front of me, and now this. My stress levels didn't need him to turn up now.

"Ash called me. He thought if anyone could talk him out of making this monumental mistake, it would be me."

"Guess he was wrong."

His gaze shifted to the crowd behind me. A cry went up, followed by an answering roar from the protestors. The rumble of the bulldozer's engine underpinned all other sounds.

"Cassie!" someone cried.

I turned to go, but Blake caught my arm. His grip was hard but not bruising. "I won't give up, Cass. I'm here to stay, for as long as it takes."

Was he talking about stopping Reece? Or about something else? He looked at me with such intensity that I was sure he could see through to my soul. For one heart-stopping moment, I thought he would kiss me. He could have easily pulled me against his body and I wouldn't have been able to resist.

Part of me wanted him to do it. A traitorous part, but it was small and I was able to drown it out. I stomped on his toe. He sucked air between his teeth and let me go.

I ran off, back into the crowd where one my students embraced me.

I didn't see Blake again for the rest of the day. To my utter surprise and relief, Reece arrived and called off the bulldozer. He sent the police, media and demolition crew on their way, and the next thing I knew he was kissing Cleo Denny, the older sister of one of my students, like he couldn't get enough of her. Like she'd saved him.

I couldn't tear my gaze away from them as they leaned up against his car, encased in each other’s arms. They called me over and Reece told me he would leave my house alone. He was even going to do it up for me to live in and keep the rent the same.

Well huh. Big, bad Reece Kavanagh had a real human heart beating inside his chest after all. It had just taken Cleo to get it ticking again. God help us all if she ever left him.

***

I didn't see Blake again for the rest of the day, or the next, which suited me fine. I had enough on my plate fending off the media and seeing the garden set to rights again. One entire bed of annuals had been trampled and the bottom porch step was in danger of coming off if anyone heavier than me stepped on it.

Luckily I was pretty handy with a hammer. I had to be. My brother, Lyle, had been useless so it was no loss when he up and left after inheriting the house. It hadn't been Gran's idea to leave the house to her only surviving male relative. She'd tried several times to get my late grandfather's will overturned, but to no avail. Lyle had got it all after Gran died, although he had promised her that I could stay. Unfortunately his debts had mounted so high that he could no longer climb over them and he broke that promise. He'd sold the house to Reece Kavanagh, leaving me beholden to a member of the family that didn't like me or I them. According to Harry and Ellen Kavanagh, I was the woman who'd screwed up Reece by blaming him for my sister's death, and driven away Blake because he'd stood up for his brother.

"Cassie!" called out a familiar voice from the drive.

I set down the hammer and waved at Becky Denny, Cleo's sister and one of my art students. One of my favorites, as it happened. Not only did she have spirit and determination, she was just a gorgeous person inside and out.

"What are you doing here?" I asked.

"Cleo's having lunch with the Kavanaghs so I thought I'd get a ride and visit you."

"You weren't invited?"

She tucked her hair behind her ear, but the blonde strands were too short to stay and worked their way free. "I was, but I'd rather see you."

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