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The Billionaire’s Shrubbery

 

Release date: July 10, 2023 (officially … but likely in June)
Series: Power Bros. Inc. (working title)
Genre: Romantic comedy, contemporary
Tropes: Billionaire, hero over 40, rivals to lovers, workplace

 

About the story

Virginia Beach, at your service. Rich clients pay me a pretty peony to keep their houseplants as healthy as their bank accounts. Most treat me well. But Will Power? That man is as charming as an infestation of mealybugs. Guess what Mr. Grumpy Billionaire—I am no shrinking violet and I will not wither under your dazzling, sexy-as-an-orchid-in-bloom, scowl.

When Will Power brings his day-long, Come Into Power seminar to my city, I spring on the opportunity to absorb his billionaire tips to grow my shaky business.

I feel like I’ve won the lottery when he picks me from the crowd to do on-stage coaching. Until he humiliates me. In front of a thousand people.

So when a coveted ticket for his elite Power Broker Program accidentally drops into my lap, do I return it? Darn right, I do! Right into the hand of Mr. Liu, my brand new executive coach.

I know that once the mistake is noticed, I’ll be tossed out like an invasive weed. But until then—I will act like my green business belongs in the room beside the next Forbes 500 entrepreneurs.

When Mr. All Powerful learns the truth, instead of tearing me limb from limb, he makes me an offer I can’t refuse: I can stay in the program if I work my charms on all the plants at Will Power & Bros., his family’s empire.

The one thorn? He insists I deliver my plant pep talks while he watches.

He’s arrogant. He’s entitled. He’s as gorgeous as a fiddle-leaf fig tree in bloom—and just as difficult to keep happy.

Still, it’s going to take every ounce of my willpower to keep from falling roots over sunflower for this grumpy billionaire.

****
If quirky, witty banter between a heroine who’s superpower is talking to plants and a hero who’s approach to conversation is barking motivational quotes sounds like your kind of bouquet, you’ll love meeting Virginia Beach and Will Power in this spicy, rivals to lovers, workplace, billionaire romance.

Read an excerpt

Chapter 1 (draft)

VIRGINIA

A cardboard box on the sidewalk catches my eye. It’s an unsightly wart on an otherwise beautiful landscape’s face. I stop to look and almost faint.

Inside the box are four plants—bonsai trees that look to be at least a hundred years old, based on the circumference of their trunks—and a small note in wobbly handwriting: Free if you promise not to kill them.

I look up at the house beyond the hedge. It doesn’t make sense to put plants like these out on the sidewalk, susceptible to kidnap by any old conifer-killing klutz. I lift the box and carry it up the winding path to the front door. The grass is weeks past needing to be cut, the garden edging the long walkway filled with weeds.

Despite the unease stemming from the lack of care for these plants, I ring the bell.

After a long minute, an elderly man answers.

“Oh, good,” he says, smiling at the box in my arms, “you’ve found the trees before a dog did its business on them. I put them out a few minutes ago.”

I don’t know what I expected him to say, but it wasn’t that. “Umm, did you know these trees are precious? They’re quite tricky to care for. You want to make sure the right person takes them home.”

“Do you know how to care for them, young lady?”

“I do,” I say, “and it’s clear you do too. Why are you getting rid of them?”

He looks me right in the eye and scowls with the expertise of a man who’s been practicing the look for seventy years. “They were my wife’s trees. Her pride and joy. She gave those goddamned shrubs more attention than she gave me. I don’t know how to care for those tiny trees because she wouldn’t let me touch them. Told me I’d kill them. So, I thought, better to rehome the bloody things than have her tut-tutting me from the great beyond.”

The tone in his voice suggests congratulations on his wife’s death are in order, but the pain in his eyes says otherwise. “I’m so sorry for your loss.”

“Well, my loss is your gain. Mabel, my wife, said they were worth hundreds of dollars each. The pots alone are antiques. We bought them in Japan in the 1970s.”

“Not that I wouldn’t love to care for these, but why not sell them?”

“Bah. Money. Do I look like I need more? I’ll be gone long before I can gamble myself into bankruptcy.” He gives me a serious look.

I return a questioning one.

“That was a joke.” He sighs. “Nobody understands my jokes anymore. At least Mabel did. One thing I miss about her—she knew when to laugh.” He taps the edge of the box. “So you like plants and you know how to care for them?”

“I do. I have a graduate degree in botany. Now I run my own plant-care business. I was just heading home from a client up the street.”

He waves his hand. “Put that on the floor. Come in. I’d like to show you my greenhouse. My wife’s greenhouse. Haven’t got a goddamn clue what I’m doing. I just put water on everything and hope that Mabel and I have separate rooms once I shed this mortal coil, or I’ll be spending an eternity hearing about how I killed her babies. God help me.”

“My name is Virginia.” I extend a hand.

He tips his chin. “Henry. Henry Bernard.”

Mr. Bernard leads me through several rooms to the back of his mansion and into the most gorgeous greenhouse I’ve ever seen. The structure was obviously built with love. But the contents? It looks more like a plant palliative care unit with a side of morgue than a greenhouse.

While Mr. Bernard sits in a cushioned, wingback chair reading a book, I spend ninety minutes looking over hundreds of plants, checking soil moisture, making mental notes of which ones might be saved. Most of the pots contain rare varieties of flowers and small shrubs. If Mrs. Bernard was the green thumb her husband claims, my guess is she must’ve passed away several months ago since many of these plants are too far gone. They’ve definitely missed their spring pruning and fertilizing.

“Good news or bad news first?” I ask, pointing to what I assume is the late Mrs. Bernard’s chair beside him.

“Sit,” he says. “Just tell me, do I need to commit murder to secure my place in an easier hell than the one I’m expecting?”

“Well, like people, all plants have a life span. We can’t expect them to live forever—except maybe a well-cared-for bonsai tree. But what you have here?” I wave generally around the room. “There are some unfortunate losses, but a lot of these plants can be saved.”

“And you can do that? Get me back in Mabel’s good graces? We had fifty-five good years together. I’d hate to ruin things now.”

“I can certainly do my best. And I’d hope she’d recognize that if you hired me to do this, you’re doing your best, too, and she’ll forgive a few oopsies.”

Mr. Bernard grunts. “Would you do that for me?”

I nod. And my stomach twists. After three years, I still hate this part of self-employment—asking for money to do something I’d gladly do for free. I steel myself for the next question, the “How much?” and then the puff of air that expresses my rate is too high.

But Mr. Bernard doesn’t puff when I tell him my rate is fifty dollars an hour. He doesn’t wince when I say I need to spend at least twenty hours, preferably within the next few days, to do my best for his plants. And then two hours a week to make sure what we save flourishes.

“Too goddamn much death in my life this past year. That’s a small price to pay to keep what Mabel loved alive.”

“With all due respect to your wife, Mr. Bernard, I’d love to have you work alongside me so you can experience the joy Mrs. Bernard got from caring for these plants. And you might think I’m crazy, but the plants will appreciate it too.”

He scoffs. “You sound just like her. She talked to them like they understood what she was saying. She hated when I cursed in from of them.”

“They do understand. They absorb the energy.”

Mr. Bernard holds eye contact with me for several long seconds, and I wonder if he’s worried his grief has been hurting the plants. I risk it and guess that he’s spent hours each day out here in his well-loved chair. “More would’ve died if you hadn’t sat with them. We’ll make Mrs. Bernard proud, I promise.”

“I’m paying you forty hours up-front since I don’t want to be in your debt if I die between visits. You keep track of your time, and tell me when I owe you more.” He pushes himself to standing. “I’ll get my checkbook.”

I grab an Uber home since I can’t carry the four boxes of plants Mr. Bernard insisted I take with me—the bonsai trees, plus all the flowers that are, in his mind, too dead to save. He doesn’t want to have to look at them anymore. He told me if I can save the plants, I can keep them. And if I can’t, I should sell the pots and pocket the money.

A few blocks from home, I text my sister, Georgia, and ask her to come out to carry in a few of my prizes.

She meets me at the curb. “Really, Virginia?”

“Just help me get them inside. I don’t want to leave them on the sidewalk for someone to steal.”

“Who would steal boxes of dead plants? And these are going in your room.”

“Chill out. I’m not holding on to many of them. Not for long.”

On the ride home, I looked up the four pots in one of the boxes. I snapped pictures, and Google Images found their sisters. Mr. Bernard hadn’t exaggerated. Each is valued at over a thousand dollars. They’re pretty, but really, half a month’s rent for a ceramic pot?

Rich people … I’ll never understand them. But I do appreciate the ones who hire me.

I pull the check from my wallet and dangle it for Georgia to see. She eyes it, then me, like I’ve stolen it. She attempts to steal the flimsy paper from my grip, but I snap it away.

“The rent you owe me?”

“The dead plants will pay you back. I’m using this to attend the Come Into Power seminar next month. Deadline to apply is Friday, and this is exactly what it costs. It’s too perfect. Obviously meant to be.”

“Virginia,” she warns, picking up one box and then another, finding her balance. “Another get-rich-quick scheme?”

“Ha. No.” It’s not. “I’m not an idiot.”

Georgia lifts a teasing eyebrow. I’d smack her, but my arms are now full as well. “This is an investment—in me, in my future.”

“Yes, because you’re an entrepreneur.” Georgia almost chokes while exaggerating the French pronunciation.

“One day, you’ll see.”

“I’ll see when you’ve paid me all the back rent.” Georgia pushes open the building’s main door with her butt, and I follow her inside, Mr. Bernard’s check burning a hole in my pocket.

The plants from the four boxes cover our kitchen table and the counter beside the fridge. Aside from the bonsai trees, all the other plants really are too far gone to save. It breaks my heart, but I empty their soil into the compost bin in the backyard. Our ground-floor suite is too small for two people, but the giant yard more than makes up for it. And the landlord lets us pay part of our rent in-kind—which means I make sure the gardens are well cared for in exchange for a hundred-dollar discount on my share.

With the pots soaking in the bathtub, I make dinner while my sister hand-stitches the final touches on a 1950s dress pattern in our living room-slash-studio. Unsolvable Crimes: Solved plays in the background. We’ve seen every episode at least twice and have turned the show into a predinner drinking game we call “Truth or Lie.”

To earn a sip of wine, we have to declare whether the criminal is telling the truth or lying, before the narrator voiceover explains how the investigator was able to tell. I am the reigning champion, able to read body language and tone of voice from the first time we watch an episode. Aside from being a plant whisperer, that’s my superpower.

“Instead of wasting two thousand dollars on a weekend listening to a billionaire give you business tips you can learn for free on the internet, I think you should invest in your education—get a certificate in criminology. You could make so much more money than you’ll ever make watering plants.”

Georgia has said this more than once, and I’ve considered it more than once. And yet I always come to the same conclusion: one path is filled with lightness and life and oxygen and hope, the other paved with horror and sadness and the broken lives of victims and their families. Not enough money in all the world for me to take that route, so for now, I leave unsolvable crimes trapped in the frame of our shared TV, right where they belong.

But if I say this out loud, my well-meaning sister inevitably starts in about my dating life, that if I don’t want to work in law enforcement or even private investigation, I should find a hot cop or PI to twist my sheets with. I went on one date with a cop—one—and he spent way too much time reciting traffic laws and the hundred different ways you can pull someone over for a minor infraction in the hopes they have a big, juicy outstanding warrant for some big, juicy, terrible crime.

A little too cynical, even for me.

Lawyers seemed like the next logical species of date-able creatures, and yet, every lawyer I’ve ever known ends up checking his reflection in the butter knife or any shiny surface we pass. The alleged love of my life—Frank—who I fell for sophomore year of university, graduated two years ahead of me. He went on to law school, promising we’d do the long-distance thing, that he’d stay faithful and devoted so we could build a real future together after we both finished our respective programs.

I should’ve known better.

Men will always level up, given the chance.

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