Bedding the Billionaire
Page 11

 Ruth Cardello

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Lil tucked her feet beneath her on her own chair, feeling the pinch of her pencil skirt and deliberately ignoring the discomfort. “Did you try ringing up from the front desk?”
“What fun would that have been?” Alethea made a face at Colby, laughing along with the child. “Do you know you have your own personal security detail in the back alley?”
“Apparently not very good security, if you got past them.”
“I haven’t met a security system yet that could keep me out.” Although Alethea was answering Lil’s questions, she was doing so in an exaggerated tone that sent Colby back into giggles.
“Have you forgotten…” Lil said.
“That was high school, Lil. I hadn’t realized my potential.” At Lil’s sour expression, she said, “Don’t make me apologize for it again. Geez, you get your friend arrested one time and they hold it against you forever.”
Laughing would only encourage her. Lil adjusted her position in her chair as one of her legs went numb. “I really wish you had gotten into the FBI. You need to be monitored.”
“They didn’t think they could reform me, but don’t worry, I’m making much more money freelancing my skills. So, what happened to you? Were you snatched from your house in the middle of the day and didn’t think it’s worth calling me about?”
Lil smoothed the hem of her skirt down to buy some time. “I wasn’t snatched,” she hedged.
“Seriously, are you under some sort of home arrest?”
Although she was tempted to say yes, she grudgingly admitted,“No, Dominic is worried that Colby and I might be in danger since my interview stirred up so much interest with the press.” Lil shuddered.
Her friend didn’t look surprised.“He’s right. Your face is everywhere right now. And your sister really could not have picked a more high profile boyfriend.”
“But I’m not…”
“It doesn’t matter if you have money. It would be the potential of what you’d be worth to Dominic.”
Lil imagined what he must have thought of her to send Jake to fix her. “This week, I’m sure that’s not very much.”
Alethea rolled her eyes. “I would have brought wine if I had known this was going to be a pity party. You know I hate it when you martyr out on me.”
Lil glared at her as you can only openly do at someone you’ve been best friends with for more than a decade.
Alethea was not concerned. “Glare all you want, but I’m likely to be the only one who won’t clock you in the head if you try to say how horrible it is to be forced into a life of luxury and leisure. How will you survive with around the clock maid service and an uptown address? No, no, I want to pay my own college loans off. You can’t make me take your money, Dominic.” Alethea mimicked Lil’s voice in the most unflattering way.
“Shut up. It’s not like that.” Lil smacked her hand down on the arm of her chair.
Alethea just met her eyes without a word.
Lil said, “Okay, I can see how this would look wonderful to some people, but I don’t want to owe anyone anything anymore. I’m so tired of being the one who doesn’t know, who can’t know, who everyone thinks can’t survive on their own. I’ve made mistakes. And I’m still making mistakes.” The memory of how easily she had fallen into Jake’s arms made her almost as uncomfortable as the realization that she longed for something more serious with him. She continued on, her pitch rising with each word. “Huge stupid mistakes. I admit it. But this doesn’t have to be me. I can change.”
At the show of emotion, Alethea sat forward, “What did you do?”
“Nothing,” Lil said and blinked back tears of frustration. Unsure if she could admit the fullness of her folly to even her closest friend.
“You might as well tell me now,” Alethea said, grinning. “You know I’ve studied Bauer interrogation techniques. I’m not afraid to use them on you.”
“Sometimes you scare me a little, Al.”
Her friend only laughed. “Spill it.”
Lil let her head drop back to the cushion behind her head. “I slept with Jake.”
One of Alethea’s hands shot skyward. “Hallelujah!”
Lil peeked out from beneath her mostly closed eyelids. “How can you say that?”
“Let’s see. My best friend gets dumped over a year ago by an asshole. She swears off men and goes from being someone who enjoys a good adventure now and then to a complete and miserable stick in the mud. The universe sends her not only one of the hottest men on the planet, but also one of the richest and she takes advantage of the opportunity. Yeah, I can see how bad I’m supposed to feel for you.” Alethea’s sarcasm was replaced by amusement. “At least tell me he was awful in bed.”
Lil blushed at the memory. “We didn’t make it to the bed.”
Alethea nodded and joked, “Okay, now I might hate you a little bit.” Her tone turned serious again. “Lil, you really need to lighten up and enjoy the ride.”
“Oh, I did,” Lil drawled and the two shared a laugh.
“Now, there is the Lil I know.”
Lil raised her head and both her eyebrows at that. “Are you calling me a slut?”
Her friend’s response was thick with sarcasm. “Yeah, because sleeping with two guys by the age of twenty five is everyone’s definition of a whore.” Her tone grew more serious. “Besides, who would care if you were one? Slut, whore…those are just words men use to judge what they cannot control. And, more specifically, they were the words your ex used when you proved to him that you could survive when he left you. Don’t let him have any place in your head.”
Lil left her seat to join Alethea on hers and simply hugged her. She really should have called her last night instead of spending hours chasing her own thoughts around. Al always knew just what to say. What’s better than a friend who knows all the ugly corners of your soul and loves you anyway?
Alethea hugged her back and then said, “So, details, details.”
Lil shrugged. “It was good, but it doesn’t really matter. It won’t happen again. I’m not his type.”
“Apparently.”
“No, seriously, we agreed that it was a mistake.”
Alethea shook her head in mock sadness. “You mean you said it first.”
Lil held her fear in. He would have said it if I’d waited. Sometimes the anticipation was worse than the actual desertion.
“Well, what did he say?” her friend prompted.
“He agreed that it was a mistake.”
“And then?”
“And then he left.”
One line appeared on Alethea’s forehead, a sign that she found something puzzling. “And you haven’t seen him since?”
Lil looked away. “He came back, made sure I had groceries and watched Colby so I could study for my exam.”
Alethea barked out a laugh. “Wow, he sounds like such a jerk. You are so right to feel bad about the whole experience.”
Lil didn’t expect her friend to understand. Alethea was used to getting any man she wanted. “He only came back because Dominic had asked him to make sure I had settled in.”
“Yeah, probably. Not because he’s hot for you and wanted to see you again.”
“It’s not like that, Alethea.”
Alethea turned Colby around on her lap and started bouncing her again. “Lil, I get why you are like you are. Your parents left you, Asshole left you, now you feel like your sister left you. You don’t want to care because you’re afraid this guy will leave you, too. I get it. But while you wallow in all that fear, you’re missing out on some life changing opportunities.”
“I have to be more careful. I have Colby to think of…”
“I respect that, but don’t you think that you’ve whipped yourself enough for one mistake?”
Lil was instantly furious. “She is not a mistake.”
Alethea smiled and handed Colby back to Lil. “Exactly. Remember that.” She stood and tucked her blouse pristinely back into her slacks. “Well, I’m off to test the security system for a new optical fiber laser company. I got the contract through that guy you referred to me. Thanks.”
Lil stood. “Alethea? Wait. Abby is having a huge party this weekend in New York and she wants me to go.”
“Why does this sound like a question? You know you should.”
It wasn’t easy to admit the truth, but Lil was nervous about the party. First, she didn’t think she could face Jake alone again. Second, what did she know about high class events? Abby may have transitioned to the world of the wealthy with seemingly little issue, but Lil didn’t know where to begin to prepare it. “Will you come with me? I can’t go there alone.”
Her friend looked dubious and said, “You know Abby isn’t wild about me.
Lil reached for Alethea’s hand and gave it a reassuring squeeze. “I’ll talk to her. I’m sure she’ll add you to the list if I ask.”
Alethea returned the squeeze absently, her growing excitement with some idea quickly overshadowed her concern. “Big party at Dominic Corisi’s place?”
“No at his…”
A huge smile spread across Alethea’s face. “Sounds like something that would have the very best security.”
Oh, I shouldn’t have said anything. “No, Al. Can’t you just be there for me like a normal friend? Just this once?”
“I’ll be there,” Alethea promised in a tone that did not make Lil feel any better.
“I mean it.” Lil looked her friend right in the eye, hoping her friend would heed her advice this one time. “Don’t try to circumvent his security. He takes his privacy really seriously. You could get hurt.”
Alethea straightened proudly, tossing her head in a way that reminded Lil of a wild horse. “Or I could get in and imagine the contracts I would pull in after that.”
Lil groaned. “I’m imagining many possible outcomes and none of them good.”
“I’ll keep you on speed dial, okay?” Alethea mimed dialing her number. “First sign of trouble I’ll pretend I’m lost and I’ll call you. Does that make you feel better?”
“Not really.” Lil sighed. “You’re crazy, you know that?”
“Lucky for me, that was a mutual prerequisite to this friendship.”
“Think you’re so funny, huh?” Lil pulled her friend close for a one-arm-hug.
Alethea returned the hug and gave Colby a quick kiss on the cheek. “See you in New York, Lil.”
Conceding to the fact that nothing was likely to stop her friend at this point, Lil said, “It’s at Dominic’s…”
Alethea interrupted Lil before she let herself out of the penthouse. “Don’t tell me. You know it’s more fun for me to figure it out myself. Oh, and call your damn sister.”
A few minutes past eight that night, there was another knock at the door. Lil looked down at her black cotton t-shirt and matching sweat shorts. She wasn’t dressed for company, she was dressed for settling down with the bowl of popcorn she’d just made and watching the sappy movie she’d planned to escape into.