The Billionaire's Embrace Page 14

“We weren’t arguing,” Sadie said. “We were debating. There’s a difference.”

“Semantics,” Ben said. “Let’s eat while the food’s still hot.”

They didn’t have a dining room, so we ate around the coffee table, plates balanced on our knees. Ben had made naan and okra and curried vegetables and something with lentils, all perfectly spiced and delicious. This was the reason I never turned down an invitation to have dinner at Sadie’s: Ben could cook like nobody’s business.

“This is incredibly good,” Carter said, after he took a few bites. “You made this yourself? From scratch?”

Ben grinned. “It seems more impressive than it actually is. Indian is pretty easy as long as you get the spice mixture right.”

“Baby, don’t talk yourself down,” Sadie said. “You make some good food and you know it.”

“She’s right,” Carter said. “Do you have professional training?”

“What, like culinary school?” Ben laughed. “No, I’ve just had a lot of practice. Sadie burns water, so I do most of the cooking.”

“I don’t burn water,” Sadie said. “That’s impossible.”

“You burned the bottom out of a pot three days ago,” Ben said. “Making instant oatmeal.”

“That wasn’t my fault!” Sadie said. “The phone rang, and it was work, so of course I had to answer it, and then someone had forgotten to make the bed, so—”

“And next thing you know, the smoke detector’s going off,” Ben said.

I glanced at Carter, concerned. I was so accustomed to Sadie and Ben’s good-natured bickering that I found it almost comforting, but I was afraid that Carter would be annoyed, or disconcerted. But he looked back at me with his eyes crinkled at the corners, and I relaxed. For whatever reason, he was enjoying himself.

“So if you don’t cook for a living,” Carter said to Ben, “what is it that you do?”

“Well, I just started a business,” Ben said. Carter sat up straight like somebody had shocked him, and they began talking about about start-up costs and venture capital and who knew what. Sadie looked at me and rolled her eyes. She’d told me that, as proud as she was of Ben, she’d gotten sick of listening to him talk about his business plans at least six months ago.

“You know, if you’d like to send me a prospectus, I might be interested in investing,” I heard Carter say, and my stomach dropped.

I looked at Ben, whose face had suddenly gone flat, expressionless. “That’s very kind of you,” he said stiffly.

Carter didn’t seem to notice. “I’m always open to opportunities to support upcoming businesspeople,” Carter said, digging his hole even deeper. He sounded so condescending. Upcoming businesspeople, like Ben was a charity project, a lost puppy Carter needed to save.

I put one hand on Carter’s knee. “I thought we said no talking business at dinner.”

“Did we say that?” he asked, but he turned his attention back to his plate, and then asked Sadie about her job. I wasn’t sure if he realized that he’d misstepped, but he was usually pretty insightful. I hoped we wouldn’t have an awkward conversation about it later.

Crisis averted, Ben relaxed and started eating again. I chewed on my lip, worried that he was offended, but he glanced at me and winked. He wasn’t mad at me, at least.

I should have said something to Carter in advance, but it didn’t occur to me that he would offer to give Ben money. He had so much of it that he didn’t realize its power. He made more money in a single day than most people made in a decade. It wasn’t real to him; it was like Monopoly money. Giving a few million to Ben was nothing. But to Ben, it would be everything, and he was too proud to accept a handout. I knew that he wanted his business to succeed or fail on its own merits, not because I happened to be dating a billionaire.

I looked at Carter, perched on Sadie’s dumpster sofa, balancing a plastic plate on his knees. He looked expensive, and he made everything else in the apartment look cheap. He was kind, warm-hearted, and generous, and he would never understand what it meant to need money and not have enough of it.

But so what, I asked myself. So what if he lived a life of privilege? Things had been going so well; we had fun together, and he was considerate and respected my boundaries. Was his money really an insurmountable problem?

Watching him talk to Sadie, a piece of naan in his hand, I didn’t know the answer to that question.

Chapter 5

Carter was waiting for me at the club the next evening.

I wasn’t having an awesome day. I was late to work for the very first time, and it wasn’t my fault—the train had been late, and then stopped between stations for fifteen minutes with no explanation—and I was flustered and over-heated as I scuttled behind the bar and shed my coat. When Germaine called me into her office, I assumed it was because of my tardiness, and started apologizing right away.

“Slow down,” Germaine said. “You were, what—five minutes late? These things happen. I’m not going to yell at you.”

I took in a gulp of air. “Okay,” I said.

“There’s a gentleman waiting for you,” she said. “In room 4.”

My heart started beating faster. Room 4 was Carter’s room, where he always had his parties—and where we had our initial encounters. If there was someone waiting for me in room 4, and that someone had specifically asked Germaine to fetch me, it had to be Carter.

I wondered what he wanted. We had ended up having a good time at Sadie’s the night before, even after his unfortunate offer to invest in Ben’s business. We’d stayed out late, drinking wine and talking, and he had kissed me in the foyer of my building when he dropped me off, long and sweet. But I hadn’t seen him at the club since we started dating, as if, by some unspoken agreement, we had put that part of our relationship behind us.

The only way to find out what he wanted was to go and ask him. I thanked Germaine and left her office to head for room 4.

The door was open slightly, just a crack. I peeked inside.

Carter was sitting on the sofa, bent over his phone. I recognized him just from the back of his head and his jacket. I thought I would know him even in the dark, even if I forgot how to see.

It had been less than twenty-four hours since the last time I saw him, but I still felt my pulse quicken in the hollow of my throat. I wanted to go to him and press my face against his neck, right where he splashed his cologne.

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