Maid for the Billionaire
Page 9

 Ruth Cardello

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“Why are you smiling?” he demanded between kisses.
Abby rested her head on his shoulder, trying to regain some self-control. “I’m wondering how you are going to like where we are going.”
He slid a thumb beneath the lace edge of her bra. “Oh, I like it.”
“That’s not what I meant,” Abby said and playfully pushed his hand away. “Stop. I can’t think when you do that.” The markers on the side of the road warned that they were not far from their destination. An hour ago, she’d been confident in her choice. Now she could barely think from wanting him and the whole idea seemed silly.
Dominic’s chest rumbled with a pleased chuckle, his hands beginning to wander again. “And that’s a problem?”
“No. Yes.” Abby shook her head and caught his hands in hers. “I didn’t pick the kind of place you’re imagining.”
He pulled her close again, his breath hot on her neck as he said, “I don’t care where we spend today, but I’ll choose tonight.”
The dividing window lowered and the driver’s amused voice halted further exploration. "We're here, sir. Southwick's Zoo."
Dominic surveyed the parking lot, like a man discovering he'd stepped in animal waste. My God! There was even a school bus parked amid the ocean of mini vans. When he'd decided to go along with Abby's game, he'd envisioned a more intimate destination. What the hell were they doing at a zoo?
Abby took him by the hand as if she could read his thoughts. “Would you just trust me?” she said.
He shook his head. Every man had his limits and he could think of a hundred places more appropriate for what he had in mind. “I'm not in the mood for crowds and small children.” Her choice of entertainment highlighted the differences between them and he wondered again if they both wouldn't be better off if he ended the day now.
She tugged on his hand until he looked down at her. The stubborn expression was back on her face. “I won and this is where I choose to go. So, suck it up,” she said in direct challenge.
He straightened, an involuntary response to her tone, eyebrows shooting up toward his hairline and almost laughed but caught himself at the last second. She didn't always appreciate his humor.
“Yes, ma'am,” he joked and tucked her against his side, under his arm. Whenever he thought he had her figured out, she surprised him. It was becoming impossible to imagine himself with the perfectly groomed, nauseatingly dull, arm candy he usually went for. If just a sliver of her audacious nature spilled into her lovemaking, he wasn't sure he'd be able to let her leave in the morning.
“Come on.” She pulled him into forward motion toward the entrance, not quite shaking him free of the images he'd just conjured of exactly how he was going to enjoy her that evening.
After graciously allowing him to pay for their admission, she escorted him with a purposeful stride past small furred creatures he didn't have time to catch the name of. They breezed by a tortoise, some large caged birds, and, thankfully, the petting zoo. Her pace began to slow as they passed the African Plains area.
They came to a stop before a double-gated enclosure labeled, “Deer Forest.” She pulled out several coins and a small plastic bag from her purse and began filling the bag with corn kernels from a dispenser.
“For the right price, I bet they'd let us feed the lions,” he suggested, seeing nothing tempting about her choice.
“I'm sure they would,” she said, pushing the first of the two gates open and passing through the second without waiting to see if he followed her; which, of course, he did.
About ten feet inside the enclosure, she stopped walking and waited for him to join her. Her eyes held a bit of a dreamy expression as she pointed to the area around her. “This is one of my favorite places to come when I need to think.”
Thinking was the last thing he wanted to do, but something about her love of these woods drew him in. They walked in union deeper into the park at a slow, comfortable pace.
She sat down on a wooden bench, slightly off the main path. He sat beside her, completely at a loss for why she had brought him there. Their earlier passion was put on pause. She didn't say anything at first, so nor did he. For a man who continually, almost compulsively, charged ahead, he was amazed by the comfort he found in their shared silence and inactivity.
Despite the fact that they were both fully dressed and separated by a few inches, he had never felt closer to a woman. That this feeling of intimacy could come before sex scared him. She was supposed to be a distraction; enjoyable but brief. She wasn’t supposed to make him wonder how he was going return to his normal life without her and if returning there was what he really wanted to do at all.
In the shade of trees, he studied her content profile. Her makeup had begun to smudge. The hard work of her stylist was losing ground to her hair’s natural curl. She sensed his scrutiny and peered back at him from beneath her naturally long eyelashes. He’d never seen anyone more beautiful, but wasn’t the type of man to spout flowery words. He settled for laying his hand lightly over hers on the bench.
Their peace was broken by a wave of visitors who passed through the forest at a breakneck speed, obviously thinking like he had that this was the least impressive part of the zoo. After the intrusion, Dominic was uncomfortable just sitting there and mooning over Abby like a boy stricken with his first crush.
He said, “I don't see any deer. What are we doing here?”
"Waiting," she said. “The deer will come.”
“Shouldn't you call them or something?” Dominic asked.
Her warm brown eyes crinkled with amusement as she smiled up at him. “They won't come if I call. That's what is amazing about this place. You can't force a deer to come to you. You can chase it, corner it, make all the threats you'd like, but a deer won't come until it wants to.”
And then it dawned on him. “If this is your attempt at an analogy between my sister and these timid creatures, you obviously missed her claws.”
Abby opened the bag of kernels and threw some on the ground around them. “I'm a good judge of people. Your sister was scared.”
He scoffed at that. “Pissed is more like it. Don't think you know her from one brief meeting. She's not a little deer who is going to come running just because I toss some corn down.”
“Why did you come back to Boston?”
Her question threw him. He'd come back because Thomas had implied that his sister's welfare depended on his presence at the reading. He'd thought that perhaps this time she'd see reason and finally take his offer of money; therefore escaping whatever web of control his father had spun.
Abby continued her cross examination. “You said you don't care about the money, so you came back for your sister.”
This woman saw too much.
“A lot of good that did,” he ground out. “Do these deer throw the corn right back in your face as my darling sister tosses any of my offers of assistance?”
Abby didn’t seem put off by his anger. “Maybe you've never made her the right offer.”
Ha, if only that were true. “I’ve repeatedly offered to help her financially. You heard her. She doesn't want anything from me.”
“All I heard her say is that she didn't want your money.”
“And that I'm a lousy brother.” Dominic added with self-disgust.
“No, that may be what you heard, but that's not what she was saying.” Abby’s confidence was grating.
“And after meeting her once, you know her so well?”
“After a lifetime of being her brother, do you know her at all?” she challenged. “I’m not saying I have all the answers, but my sister and I had a similarly strained relationship for years.”
Dominic remembered what he’d read in Abby’s profile. She’d practically raised her sister. Their situations were nothing alike. “You and your sister still live together. You seem to be close. It’s not the same at all. I’ve haven’t had a real conversation with my sister in years.”
Abby turned her hand under his to give him a supportive squeeze. “Neither had I, until last night. Sure, we lived together, but that just made it worse. I got to see up close and everyday how distant we had become.”
“And all of that changed last night?” He raised a doubting eyebrow.
Abby’s expression grew wistful. “We reconnected. I’m not saying it’s perfect, but it’s better now – so much better. You and your sister could find that, too. Nicole just needs time and maybe a softening in your approach.”
A small doe came out of the tree line, leading a tentative group of about six other deer. They watched Abby and Dominic carefully as they nibbled on the furthest and safest kernels.
One large buck stepped out of the group and approached the seated pair. Abby reached into her bag and filled her palm with his reward. The others became bolder and soon the small bench was surrounded by hungry deer.
Abby poured some of the kernels into Dominic's hand. He reached forward and was surprised by how softly the fragile animals took the treat. He was further surprised by the feeling of triumph he felt that they trusted him enough to bring their young ones closer to the bench.
Abby looked on with a real expression of pleasure.
He announced, “This changes nothing. You heard my sister. She doesn’t want anything from me.”
Abby simply gave him more corn and said, “Who are you trying to convince, me or you?”
The ring of Dominic's cell phone scattered a few of the deer. It rang again, but he didn't reach for it.
Abby turned to him as the rings grew louder, “Aren't you going to answer it?”
I should. Jake wouldn't call him again so soon if it weren't an emergency. Dominic dug the phone of his front pocket and flipped it open. “Corisi,” he said with all the impatience he felt.
“We've got a problem,” Jake announced. “You need to get back to New York ASAP.”
“That is a problem,” Dominic answered, “because I have no intention of returning till next week.”
Jake was not deterred by his refusal. “I just got off the phone with a contact we have within the Chinese Promotion Investment Agency. He says you've offended the Minister of Commerce. By missing his meeting, the Minister has lost face and is doubting your guanxi.”
“My what?”
“Your personal relationship with him. Your mutual trust. Whatever. I can't fix this without you. You're going to have to drop whatever you're doing and fly to Beijing to meet with him in person this week or the whole project is going to be tabled.”
Beijing was the last place Dominic wanted to be. He wasn’t ready to step back into his old life yet. He wanted a few more days of simply being with Abby. No pressure. No expectations. With her, he was rediscovering who he was beneath all of his anger and ambition and he liked the man he saw reflected in her eyes.
“This contract will benefit them as much as it will us. What are they stalling for?” Dominic’s voice revealed his growing frustration.
“We didn't take into account the level of importance the Chinese place on personal relationships. They aren't going to move forward until you go out there and talk to them. Our contact says, unlike the impatient Americans -- they have all the time in the world. We can't afford to have this project put on hold. Our investors are already getting nervous.”