She was smart. Really smart.

At six years old, she raked in nearly a hundred dollars with her first lemonade stand, because she offered a handful of free peanuts with every cup. She sprinkled extra salt on the peanuts and charged a dollar per glass. Fifty cents for refills.

At ten years old, she gave her friends tattoos with the gel pens her mother had bought her for her birthday. Most of the girls wanted hearts and stars and the boys liked how she drew dinosaurs. She charged five dollars for every tattoo—or they traded away their lunchtime snacks. She made almost five hundred dollars before she was caught, but they couldn’t take away her profits or prove that she’d done anything wrong.

She skipped eighth grade and went straight to high school, where a lot of the upperclassmen included her in their illicit poker games. She was good at counting cards and offered anybody who knew that a portion of her winnings if they kept quiet about it. She raked in enough to buy herself a car by the time her senior year rolled around and she never had to wait any tables.

With all of her AP credits, Jasmine graduated college early—but not before she earned herself another ten grand for writing papers and tutoring her classmates. By the time she reached Grad School, she already had enough to start her own business. It was small; just a coffee cart on a busy corner, but it was hers and it sustained her through three more years of college. It bought her a Master’s.

When school was finally over, Jasmine invested in stocks as she worked on her business. Within months, she had enough for another cart. And then another. Within a year, she had twelve coffee carts situated all over the city, and money funneling into her bank account. Multiple businesses offered her top dollar for the carts, but Jasmine refused to sell until they offered her a contract that would ensure financial and job security for all of her workers, as well as a partnership for herself so that she would not be cut out of the blue.

Eventually, she got her way.

She wasn’t thirty when she made her first half billion. She made the other half before her next birthday. Suddenly, she was in the public eye; a famous CEO with brown skin and emerald eyes; tall and broad-shouldered and plain in appearance, but a fierce spark of intelligence in her eyes. She was the envy of many a man and woman. Her business prowess was unmatched.

“So, what fashion designers do you favor?”

Jasmine fought the urge to get up and walk away, her hands already clenching around her clutch as she pasted on a fake smile for her interviewer—a delightful blonde with a perky smile and even perkier breasts.

“I’m not too concerned with fashion design,” she admitted. “Most of my clothes are off the rack. I do get them professionally tailored, though. At Macy’s.” It was true. She didn’t care so much about the name on a tag; she only wanted to look appropriate for whatever event she was heading off to. She did, however, favor the color red. It made her feel powerful. Macy’s had plenty of red for her to choose from.

“They do amazing work,” the interviewer chirped, happily. “That dress looks fantastic on you!”

“Thank you.” It was curt and to the point. Jasmine didn’t much like to dwell on her clothes. She liked getting right back to business. She opened her mouth, ready to talk about the business that her company had recently acquired—one that would hopefully carry them further into the digital age—but was stopped by the manager of the PR department as he shook his head. She bit her tongue, not allowed to bring up any subjects she wasn’t directly asked about.

“So, are you dating anybody new?” the blonde asked, smiling saucily as if it were some huge scandal that the great Jasmine Ortiz might possibly have a love life.

“No,” Jasmine said, shutting down that conversation. And it was true that the person in her life was certainly not new; their relationship was already reaching the three-year mark. And if she wasn’t so worried about her entire public life becoming about it, she might even announce their engagement.

That wasn’t going to happen though.

“Pity,” the interviewer said with a pout. “Well, do you have your eye on anybody? There are plenty of eligible bachelors here on the carpet tonight.” Jasmine pretended to peruse her options, forcing a soft, sexy smile and a bite of her lip that she’s certain at least a dozen cameras caught, before turning back.

“I’m sure I’ll find someone to keep me company one of these days,” she said, playing along.

“Get it, girl,” the blonde giggled and Jasmine tried not to wince at the expression. Or roll her eyes. Or both. “Thank you so much for talking to us, Ms. Ortiz! Have a nice night!”

“You, as well,” Jasmine replied, shaking her hand before heading back down the carpet.

Her PR Manager, Alex, met her pace, nudging her with his elbow. “You did good, kid.”

“Don’t call me ‘kid’,” Jasmine said, nudging him back. “I’m two years older than you.”

“My bad,” he snorted. “Just remember not to lose your temper tonight, okay? It’s a big one.”

“When have I ever lost my temper?”

“I’m just saying. You’re getting the ‘trailblazer’ award tonight, okay? It’s a big one, especially since you’re the youngest recipient they’ve ever had. I just don’t want anything to go wrong tonight.”

Jasmine smirked, keeping her face turned forward. “You’re sweet,” she said, then turned to smile at a few photographers that called her name, while Alex stepped away. It took a full minute before she could join him again.

“Yeah, well,” he said, “I just want you to have fun tonight.”

“Are you taking me home?”

“You know I can’t do that. Yet.”

“Then my fun will be mediocre at best,” Jasmine sighed, teasingly. Alex snorted and tapped the back of his hand against hers.

“Love you, kid,” he whispered.

She smiled at him. “You too.”

“I’ll see you inside,” Alex said. Jasmine nodded and watched him walk away, her right hand reaching for her left, fingers brushing just over the place where his ring had been just that morning.

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