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)
Uber rich people are like the deadly nightshade of gen pop—they might look all pretty and harmless, but they lure you in for a taste of their sweet lives, and then—gotcha!—poison your heart and leave you for dead.
I know this in my bones, and still, I torture myself by working for them. But only because they’re the only kind of people willing to pay what I charge to care for their pretty potted plants. That’s my job, wisteria whisperer to wealthy witches and wolves of West Vancouver.
Don’t get me wrong. I love what I do. I just wish I could do it for people who didn’t look at me like I was some kind of invasive species out to steal their precious resources. So, when I stumble across a cardboard box on the sidewalk as I’m walking to the bus stop, I hesitate to slow down, but … there’s something green peeking above the open top. I try to look casual, like, “I don’t really care what’s in your trash. I don’t need your rich people’s hand-me-downs.”
But, whoah! There are four bonsai trees cuddled up inside. I look around to make sure nobody’s watching and take one out. It looks to be at least a hundred years old, based on the circumference of its trunk. Three others are the same. Then I see the small note with 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 months past needing to be cut, the garden that edges the long walkway is overrun with weeds. If this was made-for-TV movie, I’d be the heroine who dies in the first scene.
Despite my unease, I ring the bell.
After a long minute, an elderly man answers.
“Oh, good,” he says, nodding at the box in my arms, “you found them before a dog did. 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? And 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. I don’t understand, 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. And I’ve seen my fair share of greenhouses in mansions. This 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 and, most clients could easily pay double my rate for. I steel myself for 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 her 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 front 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 insists I take with me—the bonsai trees, plus all the flowers that are likely 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 pots the bonsais are planted in. 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 one ceramic pot?
Rich people … I’ll truly will never understand them.
I pull the check from my wallet and dangle it for Georgia to see. She eyes it, then me, like it might be counterfeit. 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 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 old TV, right where they belong.
Silence is my answer and Georgia redirects the conversation. “Guess who I saw on the mid-day news.”
“Good guy or bad guy?”
“Depends …” she contorts her mouth and wrinkles her nose.
My enthusiasm about the bonsai trees and giant check in my pocket deflates. I know exactly who she’s talking about. “Did he save a bus full of puppies from driving off a cliff?”
Virginia laughs. “Close, actually. He donated his clinic’s services to help something like a hundred dogs that were in a puppy mill.”
I roll my eyes.
“He’s still not wearing a wedding ring,” my sister sing-songs.
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 veterinary school, promising we’d do the long-distance thing, that he’d stay faithful so we could build a real future together after we both finished our respective programs. But he fell for a woman who offered to bankroll his clinic.
I should’ve known better.
If Dad taught me nothing else, it’s that men will always level up, given the chance.