The Billionaire's Embrace Page 11

I promise I’ll b nice 2 him

I rolled my eyes. Once Sadie got an idea into her head, it was basically impossible to talk her out of it. I wouldn’t try; I would let Carter do it for me. If I told her that he didn’t want to, or that he was too busy, she wouldn’t be able to argue with me about it.

I knew he was probably asleep by then, but I texted him anyway. He would see it in the morning. My friend Sadie wants to have us over for dinner tomorrow night. I know you’re probably too busy so I’ll tell her no.

To my surprise, my phone buzzed with a reply a few seconds later. I would love to. What time?

My plan had backfired. She’s really nosy so maybe it’s not a good idea.

Carter replied, I would love to meet any and all of your friends. Please tell her yes and thank you. ;)

His little winking emoticon made me smile despite myself. He didn’t seem like the sort of man who used emoticons, and yet there it was.

Maybe dinner wouldn’t be that bad. I would get Ben on my side, and he would help me keep Sadie under control. Ben, Sadie’s boyfriend, was a white guy she’d met at her spinning class. They’d been together for a couple of years, and every time I saw them, they seemed even happier than the time before. I liked him. He was good for Sadie. He was steady and unassuming, and he balanced out Sadie’s wilder tendencies.

Before I met Carter, Sadie and Ben gave me hope that true love still existed in this world. And now—well. I wasn’t going to use the word “love” in conjunction with “Carter” anytime soon. But now Carter gave me hope.

The train slowed as it pulled into a station, and I glanced up to check where I was. Still a few more stops. I typed, I hope you don’t regret this! I’ll text you details tomorrow.

Great. Sleep well.

I tucked my phone back in my purse, smiling. Carter wasn’t a secret, but he felt like one—a good secret, the kind that you wanted to carry close to your heart, like it wouldn’t be as special if other people knew about it.

I let my head fall back against the window and looked up at the subway map above the seats opposite me. I knew the route by heart, but I liked maps, and it gave me something to look at while I let my mind drift.

There were a few other people in the car, enough that I didn’t have to feel nervous. They all looked like they were coming home from work, like me. One woman had fallen asleep. I wondered if I should wake her up so that she didn’t miss her stop.

I wondered if Carter had ever ridden the F train in the middle of the night. I wondered if he’d ever ridden the subway at all. It was actually quite possible that he hadn’t.

I hadn’t seen him since that afternoon at the museum. He had asked if I wanted to go for dinner after, but I’d made up some lame excuse about having to run errands and had gone home to sit on my sofa in despair. I regretted it. I was afraid, and my response to fear was to run away. My childhood taught me that bad things happened all the time, and the only way to avoid them was to hide under your bed and hope that your drunken father found another outlet for his rage. Carter wasn’t drunk, or angry, but he scared me, and so I fled. Maybe it wasn’t the healthiest coping mechanism, but it was the only one I had.

And he did scare me: his charm, the strange hold he had on me, the way I wanted to be with him all the time. I spent a few hours with him and visions of the future started dancing in my head. He was my ticket out of the life I’d been trapped in for so long, and that was what really scared me. The idea that I was relying on a man to save me. It wasn’t safe to rely on anyone but myself.

Carter was seductive. My body responded to him like it had been made for his use, and that was terrifying enough, but worse than that was the way I wanted to fling myself wholeheartedly into the world he offered to me, that life of wealth and security. It wasn’t real. It wouldn’t last. He would get tired of me, or realize, too late, that I wasn’t who he thought, and then he would leave me. And if I let myself get in too deep, I would be destroyed when he left.

I had to maintain a careful distance. I had to keep myself from falling for him, and it was so hard, like tearing my own heart out of my chest. I wanted to let go and love him. That word. If I let go for one second, if I slipped up and relaxed my iron control, I would lose myself. There would be no turning back.

The safest thing to do would be to end it. I should tell him that I couldn’t see him anymore. But I’d tried that once already, and it hadn’t worked. I’d let him charm his way back into my life. He hadn’t even had to work very hard. I’d welcomed him back with open arms. I knew I wouldn’t have the strength to refuse him again.

So I would just wait, tumbling head over heels, desperately trying to keep him at arm’s length, until he wised up and left.

Everyone left me eventually.

* * *

I woke up feeling hungover, even though I didn’t have anything to drink the night before. I still hadn’t totally adjusted to working nights, and after I got home, I’d stayed up doing some mindless internet window shopping until almost dawn. Poor life decision.

I had texted Sadie asking for more details about dinner, and when I checked my phone, I had a message waiting from her. 6:30, my place, don’t b late!!!! so excited 2 meet him!!!

I sighed and texted Germaine that I wouldn’t be working that evening. One of the nicest things about my job, aside from the ridiculous amounts of money I was making, was that Germaine didn’t care if I didn’t show up to work as long as I let her know a few hours in advance. She had actually gotten after me about working too much. That had changed a little, now that I was dating Carter, but I was still at work more nights than not. I knew the job wouldn’t last—I would mess up eventually, and get fired, or they would go out of business, or the building would burn down in a fire—and I was determined to make as much money as possible while I still had the opportunity.

My savings account had hit five figures the week before. I’d never had that much money in my life.

Carter probably spent that much on your average Tuesday afternoon.

That wasn’t fair. I hadn’t actually seen him do anything particularly extravagant. His apartment was really nice—the skylights, the big windows—but it only had one bedroom, and the furnishings were obviously well-made but not flashy. No gold-plated statues of baby angels or anything. And there was the car and driver, and the nice restaurants, and the expensive suits, but I didn’t think any of those things were out of the ordinary for a billionaire. He ran a multinational corporation; he probably had to maintain appearances to some extent. Play the part to keep his investors happy. I didn’t know for sure if investors cared about that sort of thing, but I had a feeling they did.

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