Maid for the Billionaire
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"What if I say no?"
Zhang smiled, but Abby guessed that the curve of her lips conveyed a discomfort with the question, rather than amusement. Abby’s experience with various cultures was a strength in bridging the cultural differences between them. "That is your prerogative, but Dominic has tied much of his personal fortune to the success of this contract. He could lose it all in one swift slamming of a door and only you and I would know what was behind the unexpected decision of the Minister. If you’re thinking about telling him, I wouldn’t. He has no reason to believe you."
“He has no reason not to.” But even as Abby said the words, she began to doubt that they were true. Their short acquaintance was reason enough to question her involvement in his business. Hadn’t she spent the day contemplating the nature of his character?
Zhang’s black eyes glittered with an unveiled threat. “Do what you have to, but without my support you may have to call home for the funds for your return flight.”
"I don't like keeping secrets from him," Abby said lamely, wondering if she looked as nervous as she felt. This was not at all how she imagined her first foray into being spontaneous. Like a snowball rolling down a hill, her anxiety was picking up real weight. Meeting Zhang had proven to be just as bad of an idea as eavesdropping on Scott and his men through the hotel wall.
"Don't consider it a secret." Zhang added as she stood, handed the server some currency and motioned for Abby to remain seated. "Consider it your way of helping your man without him knowing; a noble practice of many women ever since we dragged them from the caves. Be ready for 10 am."
The patrons of the hotel’s tea salon watched Zhang leave as if she were an untouchable celebrity. The crowd at the door parted in deference. Like Dominic, Zhang existed in an entirely different world, one that had its own set of rules and expectations.
Abby traced the delicate design on her teacup. Scott and his men still lingered, somewhat impatiently, in strategic areas of the room. They blended with the locals about as well as she did, but fortunately for them, a table of English tourists was arguing with a server over the salon’s lack of food to accompany the tea and they were drawing the attention of almost everyone present.
Despite how out of place she felt in Dominic’s world, she was no longer a tourist. She might know as little about dealing with international mergers as those tourists knew about the Chinese culture, but it didn’t appear that staying uninvolved was going to remain an option.
Hadn’t she come to China because Dominic had needed her? All today had proven was that his need went deeper than simply emotional. She couldn’t afford to let her fear rule her anymore. Dominic would never respect a woman who ran for the airport at the first sign of trouble. No, if they were going to have any chance of making it, she would have to be strong like Zhang.
The thought inspired Abby. A woman like Zhang wouldn’t let a bodyguard intimidate her. There was probably very little that could stand between Zhang and what she wanted for long.
Across the room, Scott pointed to the watch on his wrist and motioned for her to finish her tea. Abby grimaced back at him. She had no intention of leaving the lounge until she’d decided if she would meet Zhang the next day. She poured herself a fresh cup of tea and ignored the look of irritation that Scott flashed her.
Abby waved the server over. This was going to require a fresh pot.
That evening, Dominic returned to the hotel suite, studied her face for a long moment, then glared at the quickly departing bodyguards. "You look tired," he said. She could have said the same thing about him, but her usual sarcastic retorts melted away beneath the sincere concern in his expression.
"I'm fine," she said, barely able to hold in Scott’s betrayal and the decision she’d come to in the lounge.
"They let you do too much," he said gruffly as he loosened and removed his tie. He threw it on the back of one of the dining room chairs, covering it with the jacket he shrugged off with relief.
He walked toward her, eyes never wavering from hers. She wasn’t sure if she closed the final distance between them or if he had. One moment they were looking at each other with pent up longing, the next she was crushed against his chest exchanging the welcome home kiss she’d always dreamt of. His lips asked then demanded. Hers opened and teased. He broke off the kiss and rested his forehead against hers with a ragged breath. “What did you do today?”
Abby shook her head to clear it. She couldn’t think straight when he was so close. She knew she had to tell him, but how?
“I explored the Summer Palace gardens. The South Isle is beautiful,” she said, stalling for time.
He held her back from him, forcing her to meet his eyes. "Scott should know better than to do so much on your first day."
"It was fine, Dominic," Abby said, trying to shake herself free of the cyclone of guilt that tore through her. How could she have doubted him? Of course he had to maintain a formidable image in the business world, but the man who was looking down at her with such tenderness had done nothing to make her fear him.
“I have something I need to tell you,” she started and froze. The words wouldn’t come out. What should she say first? Dom, I think the security you hired to watch me is actually watching you. Or should she lead with the business side? I realize you think negotiations are going well, Dom, and although I know relatively nothing about your business – I’m meeting with a major player tomorrow to see if I can help you.
Caving to her nerves, she hedged, "I won at poker.”
That made Dominic smile. He ran his thumb gently over her chin and said, "I never doubted you for a minute."
Abby wished with all her might that she could say the same to him. She’d let the situation and her overactive imagination bring her to the brink of panic all day. Now was the perfect time to set all those ridiculous fears aside and just say what needed to be said. “Dominic…” she started, but forgot what she was saying when he breathed in the scent of her hair as if it were something he'd waited all day to do. All coherent thought left when his hands moved across her body with all the gentleness of a concerned lover.
"It's ok if you're too tired," he whispered into her ear, "but I need to hold you."
She could always tell him tomorrow morning.
He carried her to the lounger, sat with her sideways across his lap and tucked her head beneath his chin. She wrapped her arms around his center and let the steady beat of his heart sooth her.
This was the Dominic she’d glimpsed during their first meeting. His gray eyes were darkened with the weight of his thoughts. She hugged him closer, searching for words that would relieve some of his burden rather than add to it.
“Is it going that badly?” she asked against the silk of his shirt.
Dominic returned her hug, sighing into her hair. “The negotiations? No, I’m not worried about those. When it comes to business, I’ve got the Midas touch. It’s just everywhere else that I fail.”
Abby raised her head and simply waited, glad that she had held her tongue. He was opening up to her in a way she hadn’t dared dream he would. She knew this probably wasn’t forever, but she also knew it would certainly come to an abrupt end as soon as she shared her news.
Dominic stared at the wall behind her as if meeting her eyes was too difficult of a task as he admitted, “Nicole claims she has a plan to break my father’s will, but she won’t say what it is. She says she’d rather lose it all than let me help her.”
“She sounds a lot like you.” Abby shared her realization softly, instantly finding those dark gray eyes riveted to hers. She raised a hand to smooth the tension that was evident in his jaw. “She’s proud, Dominic, and she’s hurting. What would you have done if the roles were reversed?”
A hint of a sad smile pursed his lips. “I would have thrown the offer back in my face and started my own company.”
“Like you did with your father?” she asked.
Dominic tensed beneath her. “This is not the same at all. I am nothing like my father.”
“I know that, Dominic,” she whispered even though she really didn’t know much about it at all. She wondered what his father had done to earn such complete revulsion from his only son. She felt anger rippling through his muscles and knew that she had stumbled upon an old, yet still raw, emotional scar. “Tell me,” she urged softly.
Dominic took a deep breath and pulled her close against him again. He didn’t say anything at first. There was an intimacy in their quiet, shared breathing that most would associate with the afterglow of sex when lovers let each other in. Abby had never felt such a bond before, not even during relationships that had spanned several years. It shook her to the core that she could feel so connected to a man she’d known less than a week.
When he finally spoke, his voice was oddly hollow, as if he was trying to distance himself even as he shared the story. “I didn’t know my father very well. He worked all the time. I mean, all the time. He kept us – me, Nicole, and our mother – in a mansion in the Hamptons. I say kept because that’s how it felt there. No one spoke or moved in that house without his permission. Except Thomas when he would visit. He was the only one who ever questioned my father’s decisions. I think they went to school together as children and Thomas never let my father’s success intimidate him.”
“And you admired him.” She stated the obvious, wanting him to know that she understood.
Dominic made a sound of disgust deep within his chest. “I did until he left, just like everyone else did, when my mother disappeared.”
“Disappeared?” A shiver of fear ran down Abby’s back.
“Yes, the formal investigation determined that she deserted our family. The police said there had been a note explaining that she wasn’t happy and asking for no one to look for her, but I never believed that she would have left without saying goodbye to me or Nicole. I never saw the note. I doubt there ever was one. ” Dominic rubbed his hand absently up and down Abby’s arm.
“Your father didn’t look for her?” Abby could not even imagine the pain of not knowing. It was bad enough to have lost her mother to death, but to spend a lifetime wondering if something had happened to her or if she simply had run away would surely be harder to bear.
His hand stilled. “He said she’d live a lot longer if he never found her. I believed him. He had a vicious temper. But I couldn’t accept that she didn’t want to be with us and no matter what my father said, I had to find her. Eventually my father tossed down an ultimatum, give up my search or lose my inheritance. I walked out of his house that night.”
The last of Abby’s doubts about Dominic’s character splintered and fell to the wayside. Mrs. Duhamel was so right in warning her not to judge him on his tough exterior. He’d left behind everything to search for the mother he’d loved. That kind of devotion was rare. “Where did you go?” Abby asked, driven by the need to know the rest of the story.