Bedding the Billionaire
Page 20

 Ruth Cardello

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Dom turned away and began pacing again. “That’s different. People expect that from me. I trusted you.”
Jake shrugged and threw angry suggestions at his friend. “Maybe it’s time you stop trusting me. Maybe I can’t be responsible for saving your ass anymore. What if I am just as screwed up as you are?”
Anger left Dominic in a whoosh and a ridiculous smile spread across his face. “You love her,” he said with a smirk.
Jake took a step back and denied it. “No, I don’t.”
Dominic advanced, his smile only growing wider as he counted off his observations on his fingers. “She’s crying. You’re miserable. Maddy is right; this is working.” Dominic folded his arms across his chest benevolently. “I forgive you because I know what it’s like to want a woman so badly that you are willing to risk everything.” His expression turned serious and he said, “You know you have to marry her, though.”
Forget about a shotgun wedding, Dominic would probably use an armed military drone. Jake smiled at the thought. That slip earned an angry glare from Dom and a threat.
Dominic said, “Don’t make me tell Marie.”
Classic Dom–go straight for the big guns. It was a pleasure to take that option away from him.“She already knows.”
Dominic straightened with rage. “You told her? What the hell were you thinking? I’m going to hope that it was because you realized the gravity of what you’ve done and wanted her advice on how to do the right thing.” He looked like he wanted to wrap his hands around Jake’s neck, but controlled himself, satisfying himself with a warning. “In case I’m not being clear enough–plan a wedding or plan a funeral. Your choice.”
Abby stuck her head through the door and called to Dominic. “Dom, the Andrades just pulled in. Are you ready?”
With one final glare, Dominic announced, “Yes, I think Jake and I understand each other now.”
Perfectly, Jake thought.
And, for once, he agreed with Dominic. He shouldn’t have slept with his best friend’s future sister-in-law, but now that he had–marrying her was the only course that made sense. Lil would agree with him, once he explained it to her. For the sake of her child, she needed permanency and security. He could offer her that. He would offer that–as soon as he could get her to talk to him again.
As Lil sat at the outrageously long dining room table, she smoothed the material of the conservative green dress she’d chosen. The crisp lines and modest neckline boosted her confidence. Tonight was not about her and Jake, nor was it about the emotional baggage Lil had packed for the trip – it was about her sister and celebrating her finding love. Green was a peaceful color, one that could blend in and stay out of trouble.
Dominic and Abby were seated at one end of the table, happily absorbed in a private conversation. Dominic’s sister, Nicole and her fiancé, Stephan, were seated next to Abby. Lil spared a moment to envy how Nicole always looked like she belonged on the cover of Vogue.
Lil was surprised to see that Stephan had brought his parents, his aunt and uncle, and if Lil was correct–even one of his cousins and her French husband. Abby had said that she and Dominic had been spending time with the Andrades lately, but Lil hadn’t realized that they had gotten this close.
Dominic’s personal assistant, Mrs. Duhamel, smiled at Lil from directly across the table. Lil tried to return the smile, gave up and looked down at her plate instead. One of the most powerful women in China, billionairess Zhang Yajun, sat at Lil’s left. Normally, Lil would have bombarded her with questions about what her life was like, but tonight Lil was determined to hold her tongue and quietly blend into this collection of some of the world’s richest people.
If you don’t say anything, you can’t say anything wrong.
Jake took the seat to her right and touched her arm to gain her attention. He kept his voice at an intimate volume. “Lil, we need to talk.”
“No, we don’t,” she hissed back in somewhat of a whisper.
Dominic stood and the table fell silent. “Thank you all for coming tonight.” He took a moment to smile at each person at the table then he reached down, took Abby by the hand, and encouraged her to stand beside him. With one arm around her waist, he said, “If anyone had told me a couple months ago that you would all be gathered to celebrate the formal announcement of our engagement, I would have thought they were crazy. But here we are and I am honored to call you friends.”
Approval was expressed in a variety of voices and languages.
Abby clasped her hands in front of her, the only indication that she wasn’t entirely comfortable speaking before the group. “Helping Nicole go through her father’s things, inspired me to take a second look at old photo albums and what little still remains of my own parents things. I found a poem that my mother wrote when we were children. It seemed appropriate to read in honor of how our family has extended in the most wonderful ways.”
She took out a folded and faded piece of paper and started to read:
Real love is not like a pizza
With two slices for some
One for others
And nothing left for the unlucky
Real love is like a fountain
Joyously spilling over
Where there is always more than enough
For those who need it
And it is just as generous
To those who return to it
As to those who never left
Lil’s eyes welled at the wisdom of the mother she still missed, even as rogue thoughts plagued her. How did real love feel toward a little accidental water contamination? That was the question she needed answered.
Dominic hugged Abby to his side and the table was oddly quiet for a moment. Nicole turned and said something softly to her fiancé. Stephan smiled down at her and nodded.
Nicole addressed her brother. “Dom, invite her for tomorrow. I’ll be fine.”
There was a wave of happy gasps from those around her.
Dominic asked, “Are you sure, Nicole?”
His sister considered it for a moment then nodded with a teary smile. “I want the fountain.” Stephan hugged her and whispered something into her ear that made her blush.
Abby leaned down and hugged her future sister-in-law, and then said, “I promise to keep this short so we can eat, but when we make the formal announcement of our engagement tomorrow the house will be full. I wanted to ask something in the privacy of the ones we’re closest to.” She looked around the table and said, “Nicole, Maddy, Zhang, – I’d like for you to be my bridesmaids. You don’t have to answer now, I just wanted to tell you that nothing would mean more to me than having you up there when I marry Dominic. It’s happening in three weeks, so you’d be committing to a bit of a whirlwind wedding, but Dominic assures me it can be done.”
Nicole and Maddy left their seats to hug Abby.
Lil noticed that Zhang’s expression remained carefully polite. She neither accepted nor declined the request.
Abby walked over to where Lil was sitting and asked, “Lil, will you be my maid of honor?”
The room spun behind her and Lil suddenly felt sick. She didn’t know anything about high-class weddings and assuming that type of responsibility sounded like a recipe for disaster. Lil shook her head with uncertainty. “I don’t know.”
Abby’s hurt expression tore at Lil, especially when her sister pleaded, “You’re my sister, Lil. I love you. Say you’ll stand beside me that day.”
I’ve done more than enough damage already. The closer Lil got to her sister and her future brother in law, the more that went wrong. Abby would be better off choosing any of the other women at the table. Panic temporarily overwhelmed her. Lil stood, her chair toppling behind her, and said, “I can’t.”
Giving in to a true moment of cowardice, Lil ran from the stunned expressions on the faces of everyone at the table.
Dominic leaned forward, one hand clenching on the table and the other pointing across the table at Jake. “This is your fault. Fix it,” he ordered.
Jake folded his arms across his chest. “Your family. You fix it.”
Dominic left his spot at the head of the table and strode toward Jake. “It’s going to be your family, too, if you know what is good for you.”
Surging from his seat, Jake met his friend half way. “Or what? What are you going to do, Dominic? Hit me? Try it.”
Abby sprinted toward them, but Mrs. Duhamel stopped her with a hand on one of her arms before she reached them. “They need to settle this themselves, Abby,” she said.
Dominic swung at Jake’s jaw, but Jake avoided the hit and landed one of his own in Dominic’s abdomen. The sound of the breath leaving Dominic was a hiss in an otherwise silent room.
Jake addressed the doubled over Dominic. “I’m tired of pandering to your colossal ego. I don’t work for you and we both know that.”
Dominic growled and flew at Jake, landing a hit that sent Jake back a few feet. “And I’m tired of you talking to me like I wouldn’t have a company without you.”
Rubbing his quickly swelling jaw, Jake shoved Dominic backwards, toppling the serving table beneath his weight. “You wouldn’t.”
The fists flew faster, leaving no time for words. It only slowed only when both men’s faces were swollen and they were holding their sides.
Dominic wiped blood from the corner of his mouth, and actually laughed. “I had no idea you had it in you.”
Jake bent over, hands on his thighs, his breathing a bit labored from pain. “It felt surprisingly good.”
Mrs. Duhamel made a tsk sound with her mouth and said, “Are you boys through, now?”
Dominic looked at the older woman with a bit of chagrin. “You know he had that coming, Marie.”
Marie nodded. “I know.” To Jake, she said, “You did.”
Jake conceded with one nod. “So did he.”
Marie smiled. “No one is questioning that, Jake. But now you two need to make up so our poor Abby can enjoy her engagement party.”
As usual, she was right.
Jake held out a hand. “Truce?”
Dominic shook it but added, “You’re still marrying Lil.”
Abby stepped forward at that. “What did you say, Dom?”
Dominic said, “He heard me.”
Abby clarified her question. “I heard you, too, but why would you say that?”
Dominic returned to his place at the head of the table and said unhappily, “Our plan to get the two of them together worked a bit too well.”
Abby looked quickly at the door her sister had departed through and exclaimed, “That’s why she’s so confused this weekend.”
Nicole added, “Poor thing.”
Dominic placed his napkin decisively on his lap as if doing so would bring an end to the conversation. “Don’t worry, Jake is going to rectify the situation.”
Abby stood behind Dominic’s chair and put a hand on one of his shoulders. “Don’t make things worse, Dom.”
He scowled up at her.
She touched his cheek lightly and his expression softened. She said, “You can’t force Jake. No one wants to marry a man who doesn’t want to marry her.”