Bedding the Billionaire
Page 23

 Ruth Cardello

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For the first time, Lil repeated the words in agreement, “Always better together.”
Her normally composed sister hugged her tighter and burst into tears.
Happy tears.
Cleansing tears.
“About that car,” Lil added to lighten the mood.
Abby pulled back slightly and smiled even as she wiped her wet cheeks. “Still going to enjoy your pain.”
“I love you, too, Abby.” Lil meant to say the words with some sarcasm, but they came out as a heartfelt declaration.
Abby’s smile widened and she stood, offering a hand to her sister. “I know, Lil. Now, let’s go pick out which dress you’re going to wear for the big party tomorrow night. We’ll see if we have the same definition of smoking hot.”
Later that night Lil was choosing a book to read to Colby. She picked up and dismissed each from the selection she had packed. Finally, she settled Colby onto her lap with only a bottle and said, “From now on we’re going to read alphabet books instead of this junk. None of these books prepare you for real life. It’s never as easy as having the right sized foot, men do not fall in love with you because they hear you sing one song, and if seven men ever ask you to move in with them–I want you to say no.”
Colby was more interested in her evening meal than her mother’s impromptu life lesson.
“All sound advice,” Jake said from behind her.
Lil whipped around in her seat, hearing a slight protest from Colby before she settled back with her bottle again. “What are you doing here?”
“We need to talk.”
“This is my private suite. You can’t just come in here.”
“Do you want me to go out and knock again? You didn’t answer last time.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t hear you.” Then she thought about it. “Wait, I’m not sorry. If no one answers, you don’t just walk in.”
There was a bit too much I do as I please look in his eyes for her comfort. “You had the opportunity to talk to me downstairs.”
“Another man would take the hint.”
“I’m tired of playing games, Lil. It’s time for us to be honest.”
Maybe he was right. Maybe the only way to get past this was for her to tell him everything. He wasn’t a vindictive man. Once she explained to him that Alethea and Jeremy had only been trying to find out if Abby was safe–he’d understand.
And there was a good chance that Jeremy had discovered something useful.
Abby would likely never forgive her if she went that extra step and told Jake that Dominic had invited his parents, but didn’t he deserve to know? After all, hadn’t Jake spent the last few weeks trying to save Dominic? He didn’t deserve to be broadsided like that.
Honesty, here I come.
“Yes, it is,” she said. “And I have something I need to tell you…” As he stepped away from the doorway and into the room Lil noticed that one of his eyes was blackened as if it had been punched. He crouched beside her chair and she touched a bruise on his jaw. “What happened to your face?”
“Dominic didn’t like the truth.”
Instant outrage filled Lil. “He beat you up?”
Oddly, Jake looked pleased with himself. “I’d call it more of a tie.”
“What were you fighting about?”
There was always a chance it wasn’t about her, but she was beginning to think that telling the truth might not be the best idea. So far honesty looked painful.
“A difference of opinion…” he said.
“Does it matter?”
“It might.”
Jake pushed a lock of hair behind her ear. “Dom and I have been friends since college. We built Corisi Enterprises from nothing. I have never minded that he wanted to be the face of the company. However, sometimes he forgets that I’ve invested as much into it as he has.”
“And you punched him to remind him?”
“He swung first.” Jake’s expression became more intimate. “It seems that someone told him we slept together.”
Lil blushed straight down to the roots of her hair. “Yeah, about that…”
He smiled and traced her bottom lip with a finger. “You’re not a very good secret keeper.”
Oh, you’d be surprised.
He put a hand on either side of her chair and said, “It doesn’t matter. He would have found out eventually, anyway. And it doesn’t change how I feel. I intend to marry you, Lillian Dartley.”
The room spun.
Lil looked down at her daughter and said, “Colby, men say that to get what they want.”
Jake took Lil’s chin in his hand and lifted her face so she had to meet his eyes. “Boys do that, Lil, not men.”
He took her lips gently with his in a kiss like none she’d ever experienced. It felt like–a promise.
She pulled back and stood, forcing him to step back. “Colby is tired.”
“I’ll wait.”
A wave of emotions shook her. He’d said the marriage word again, but no mention of love. Had Dominic told him to marry her? She was sure she didn’t want to know the answer to that question.
“I’m tired,” she said.
Although he seemed to have more to say, Jake nodded, kissed the top of Colby’s head softly and stepped back. Lil’s heart swelled in her chest. If it looked like love and acted like love–it could be love, couldn’t it?
“We’ll continue this conversation tomorrow.” He walked halfway to the door and turned. “What did you want to tell me, Lil? You never said.”
Absolutely nothing came to mind.
Lil shrugged awkwardly. “I don’t remember.”
And, sadly, for just the time it took for him to leave the room fear kept her mind blank.
Reality returned with the click of the door closing behind him.
Colby pinched her mother’s chin. Lil looked down and smiled at her impudence. “Really? You think you would have told him? I can’t wait until you’re in love with someone. You’ll see that it’s not that easy.”
Chapter Thirteen
The engagement party was held at one of Dominic’s immense country estates about thirty minutes from New York City. Lil and Abby had gone over the details with the staff in the morning to ensure that everything went smoothly. Security was evident in every corner of the compound.
Mrs. Duhamel had offered to watch Colby for the day so Lil could support Abby as she fluctuated from being excited about the big day to being a nervous wreck. It still amazed Lil that beneath her strong façade, Abby worried and succumbed to the occasional panic just like she did.
To alleviate their stress, Abby and Lil spent two hours having their hair and nails done by the stylists Dominic had hired for them. Eventually Lil had returned to her own suite to dress alone. Well, alone was really an exaggeration of the situation. Lil was feeling a bit crowded by the entourage whose sole job was to anticipate her every need. Abby said she wouldn’t notice the staff or the security after a while, but Lil was longing for the privacy of her penthouse. Did Jake live like this? Lil couldn’t imagine him tolerating the constant intrusion.
That evening, Lil stood at the top of the stairs in a sleeveless, floor length orange dress, wondering if she had chosen her attire wisely. Many of the women she could see were much more demurely dressed in either a sophisticated black or subdued red.
Nicole waved to Lil from across the room, looking every bit as comfortable in her floor length, off-one-shoulder, claret Erdem dress. She and Stephan move seamlessly through the crowd, stopping to engage in what appeared to be just the right amount of small talk with each group of guests before moving on to the next cluster of people.
Dominic and Abby were located at the far end of the hall, greeting people who were casually making their way to meet them. The party looked like a scene out of movie. Everyone looked so poised, so perfect.
I don’t even know how to address them.
I should have asked.
No, I should have pretended to be sick tonight, that’s what I really should have done.
How am I going to be Abby’s maid of honor if I’m not even brave enough to leave the top of the stairway?
As if on cue, Jake appeared at the bottom of the stairs in a simple, formal tuxedo. The warmth in his eyes as he looked up at her freed her feet. She forced herself to take the stairs gracefully instead of flying to his side as she wanted to.
When she reached him, he kissed her lightly on the cheek, linked her arm with his and whispered, “You look stunning tonight.”
Tucked against his side, lost in the magic of the evening, she lowered her sarcastic shield and replied, “So, do you.”
He stopped and looked down at her, smiling. “Ms. Dartley, did you just give me a compliment?”
She couldn’t help but return his smile. “I can be nice.”
He bent and growled into her ear, “But I’ve begun to consider your taunts a form of foreplay.”
She playfully swatted his arm. “You would.”
His words tickled her ear. “If we were alone I would show you exactly what you do to me, but I can wait until tonight.”
“Tonight?” Her throat dried and her heart pounded in her chest.
“Oh, yes, after Dom and Abby make their announcement, I’m going to steal you away to my private suite in the north wing.”
“And just what makes you think I’ll go with you?”
He ducked behind a potted plant with her and claimed her lips hungrily. She hesitated for just a second before meeting his lips enthusiastically. His tongue teased then entered, coaxing and exciting. His hands molded her frame to his, firmly holding her against the evidence of his need for her. “You’ll come.”
He set her back from him and adjusted her clothing.
I’m sure I will, she thought and fanned her face. Maybe more than once.
“I love that expression on your face,” he said.
She cocked her head in question.
They stepped out from behind the plant and he said, “The one that says that you have a naughty thought that you’re not going to share. I’ll spend the entire evening wondering exactly what you were thinking just then.”
“I could tell you,” she said boldly.
He pulled her into his side as they walked and growled suggestively, “Why not simply show me later?”
She would have said something witty if she had been able to think coherently. Much more of this and she was going to suggest they cut the evening short and consequences be damned. Instead she gathered her resolve and regained some clarity by focusing on the people around them. Jake escorted her through the crowd and introduced her to everyone from a Prime Minister to a Sheikh. He didn’t introduce her with a label, but his arm never left her waist and the message that she was his could not have been more obvious if he had rented a billboard.
Not that Lil minded.
His possessiveness gave her another reason to hope.
Lil was allowing herself to relax and enjoy the evening when she saw someone across the room who immediately changed her mood.