Bedding the Billionaire
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Lil said, “I wish life had a do-over button, Abby. I feel like I have so much to apologize to you for.”
Abby took her sister’s hand in one of hers. “I understand that feeling all too well.”
Lil squeezed her hand. “I blamed you for so many things that were not your fault, Abby.”
Abby put a supportive arm around her. “Oh, don’t worry, some of it was my fault, I’m sure. I wanted to be there for you, Lil, so much so that sometimes I didn’t listen to what you were telling me you needed.”
Lil said, “I’m sorry that I embarrassed you in front of the Andrade family.”
Abby gave her a small smile. “Trust me, your walk out was not the most embarrassing part of the meal.”
Lil shook her head in confusion. “Really? What happened after I left?”
Abby suggested, “Let’s talk about that later. First, I want to apologize for putting you in an awkward position by asking you to be my maid of honor with an audience.”
Lil could not have felt worse than she did. She met her sister’s eyes and hoped the extent of her remorse showed in her expression. “Well, I’m sure you thought, rightfully so, that my answer would be a yes.”
Abby touched her sister’s cheek softly as a mother would touch a child they weren’t sure how to console. “Either way, it was wrong, and I respect your decision. I don’t understand it, but I know that you didn’t say it to hurt me.”
“I’m scared,” Lil blurted.
“Of what, Lil?” Abby asked in surprise.
It was time for honesty, at least, for as much as she could share without endangering her friends. “What if I do something that takes all of this away from you? You’re finally happy. I love seeing you with Dominic, but I feel like the closer I come to you and your wedding – the more potential there is that I could mess something up.”
Abby hugged Lil closer and said, “If my relationship with Dominic is so fragile that it can’t survive a Lil Dartley escapade, then it wasn’t going to last anyway.”
Lil pulled back and searched her sister’s face. “How can you be like that? How can you look the worst case in the eye without being afraid?”
Abby smiled sadly and confessed, “Who said I’m not afraid? I’m flipping terrified half the time and I have been since Mom and Dad died.”
“Really?” That didn’t sound like Abby.
“Lil, I was eighteen when they passed away. I had no idea how to pay bills, keep a house, mother someone.”
The enormity of the responsibility that had fallen onto Abby’s shoulders at an age when she should have been thinking only of herself filled Lil with sudden shame. What could she say to someone who had given up so much and been shown so little respect in return? How do you begin to make up for that? “But you did it.”
“Yes, and I still go to sleep each night wondering if I’ve done any of it well.”
“You have, Abby. You have nothing to regret.”
“Lil, fear is a nasty little condition that touches everyone’s life at one time or another. Dominic may look all tough on the outside, but he gets scared just like you and I do. He has a box of his father’s papers, one that was sent back to him from the auction Nicole had, and he won’t open it. There could be bonds, deeds, or a personal letter from his father, but he says he doesn’t want to know what’s in it. He says he’s spent too many unhappy years to risk losing what he has now over something in that box of papers. Imagine worrying that whatever is in there could ruin his new relationship with his sister and possibly even what we have. Fear is a disease that no one is immune to.”
Lil had no idea what to say. She sat quietly absorbing her sister’s words.
Abby said, “Jake is no better. I used to think he had it all together, but I’ve watched him try to handle this China situation and he is coming undone over it.”
“The China situation?”
Abby hesitated then said, “I probably shouldn’t even talk to you about it, but the server Dominic was supposed to put online next month has been hacked and corrupted. We could lose everything if the deal goes south. That’s one reason we want to have the wedding early – we don’t know what life will be like a month from now.”
Oh, my God! That brought a whole new meaning to for richer or poorer.
“Abby, I had no idea!”
“No one does. Well, we’re hoping no one does. I’m only telling you this because it might explain why Jake may not be showing you his best right now. He’s under an extreme amount of pressure to help Dominic find a solution and so far nothing has worked.”
So, that explained why he was flying all over the country and paying hush money.
Could Jeremy have found something that could help them?
Abby said, “This weekend doubles as an engagement party and a cover for Dominic to fly in some big named programmers without sending up any red flags. Jake is going to need a friend, Lil, especially at the party tomorrow.”
Ok, now you’ve lost me.
“I don’t understand.”
Abby said, “Dominic is counting on enlisting the help of two of the biggest icons in computer programming history.”
Abby said with emphasis, “Jake’s parents.”
“And that’s a bad thing?” Even as she voiced the question, Lil thought back to when she’d asked Jake about his parents and how he’d become defensive.
“Dominic told me that Jake has never even admitted that they are his parents. He refuses to talk about them at all.”
I believe that.
“Then how did Dominic get them to come?” When it came to her future brother-in-law the possibilities were endless.
“He told them that Jake wanted them here.”
“Oh, that’s not good.” Jake was not going to be happy with that lie.
“Dom is convinced it will work out.” Abby didn’t look as certain. She gripped Lil’s hand as something occurred to her. “You can’t tell Jake, Lil.”
“I shouldn’t have said anything.”
Lil gave her sister’s hand a supportive squeeze. “I won’t say a word.”
And she meant it.
Unfortunately, I’m becoming quite good at lying by omission.
Time to change the subject. “Abby, I’ll be your maid of honor.”
With a happy gasp, Abby hugged her long and tight. “I am so happy, Lil.”
Lil hugged her back and wished she could say the same. “I do have a request, though.”
“Oh, oh,” Abby said with an indulgent smile.
“Choose dresses for the wedding party that are smoking hot. I mean eat-your-heart-out-and- wish-you-could-have-a-piece-of-this, but sophisticated,” Lil said.
Abby laughed. “I’ll tell Marie. She is fantastic with stuff like that.”
“You get along with her really well, don’t you?” Lil asked.
Abby said, “I know Dominic has a mother, but Marie is the one he turns to when he needs a mom.”
Lil coughed, “Dominic needs a mom?”
Abby smiled. “Everyone needs someone in their life who loves them unconditionally and will still remind them to watch their manners.”
Lil shook her head in wonder. “Somehow I can’t picture anyone telling Dominic to do that.”
Abby threw a hand up for emphasis and laughed. “Oh, it’s hilarious to see. She puts Jake in his place now and then, too.”
Now that I would like to see.
“Isn’t she just Dominic’s assistant?” Lil asked.
“That’s what she’ll try to tell you, but she’s so much more. She came into their lives about seven years ago. Dominic had just taken over the Andrade’s family company and was in a huge fight with his sister. Jake disagreed with how Dom was handling the situation to the point where he had threatened to pull out of the company. From what I understand, Marie witnessed one of those escalating arguments and told them that she was mortified by their behavior. Dominic does the funniest impression of Marie–you’ll have to ask to hear it one day. Stop bickering this instant. You sound like two young schoolgirls. Jake, can’t you see that Dominic is hurt over what is happening with his sister? Support him a little. And, Dominic, you apologize right now for threatening to kill Jake. And watch your language. In my day, men didn’t use profanity in front of women so I’d appreciate it if you both refrained from being quite so graphic in the future. Dom told me that when they both stopped laughing they actually did as she suggested. He and Jake were friends since college, but Marie made them a family.”
“What about Dominic’s mother? Rosella?” It had to be hard for her to watch another woman assume her role in her child’s life. Lil couldn’t imagine how she would feel if something like that ever happened with her and Colby. Just the idea of it was heartbreaking.
Abby said, “Dominic has seen her several times. He loves her, but it’s still strained. Maybe it always will be. She hurt her children by leaving them. Hurt like that doesn’t just go away.”
“Was that who Nicole was referring to when she said that someone could come tomorrow?” Ah, it made sense now.
“Yes, and that was a huge step for her. Outside of one quick meeting, Nicole has refused to see her.”
“I can’t really blame her. She thought her mother was dead.” Lil found it difficult to find any sympathy for a woman who had deserted her children and faked her own death to protect herself.
Abby said, “We’re only on this planet for so long, Lil. Life is too short and too precious to nurture old injuries. Sometimes it’s better to just let it go so you can heal.”
Oh, really? This claim needed to be tested.
“That means you’ve completely forgiven me for totaling your first car?”
A slight red filled Abby’s cheeks. “The one I had finally paid off and could have driven for free for years if you hadn’t taken it for a joyride before you had your driver’s license?”
Perhaps that had been the wrong injury to resurrect. “When you say it like that, it does sound awful.”
Abby patted one of Lil’s shoulders in mock support. “I’ve forgiven you, but that doesn’t mean I won’t enjoy watching Colby put you through your paces.”
“That hurts,” Lil laughed.
“The truth often does,” Abby joked back.
Lil sobered and asked, “We’re okay, right, Abby?”
Abby hugged her sister one last time and used a line that she’d started saying when she’d taken over the household and had continued to sprinkle into many of their disagreements over the years. “Always better together.”
Tears welled and spilled down Lil’s cheeks. Oh, how she’d mocked Abby over the years for voicing that mantra whenever things had gotten dicey between them. Today, she finally heard something in those words that she’d thought Abby had never said. It made her feel both ashamed of how she’d taken her sister for granted and grateful that somehow Abby had loved her through it all.