The Billionaire's Embrace Page 33

“I thought you liked Malcolm now,” I said.

“I like him okay,” she said. “But he would have kept you here, and I think you needed to leave.”

I thought about that, while I sat beside my grandmother’s casket that night. I sat down and stayed there until dawn broke dim and gray through the faded curtains. I thought about Carter, and Malcolm, and my mother. I thought about how little I had thought about Carter since I arrived in California. It was like I had traveled back through time, become the person who hadn’t met him yet, who had never worked at the Silver Cross Club or spoken to a billionaire. And this person, the one I had returned to, had no place in Carter Sutton’s world.

I had known it for a long time, and I kept putting it aside, ignoring it, pushing it away. But being with Malcolm again had made me realize how much I valued having that shared background. We grew up in the same neighborhood, eating the same foods, being yelled at by our mothers in the same language, and Carter would never be able to understand what that was like. Entire eons of my life were closed to him. I had thought I didn’t care, but it turned out I did. I cared a lot.

Carter was handsome and so kind, and the sex was incredible, and if I were someone else, I would hold onto him and never let go. But as much as I enjoyed his company, we had too little in common when it came to the things that mattered. He was a rich white boy from the Upper East Side, and we would never be able to bridge that divide.

Unless I changed completely, and became the perfect society wife his mother thought he needed.

That would never happen.

He was my impossible dream. It was time to wake up.

I stood up, sensation flooding back into my numb feet, and went into the bedroom to get my phone.

I knew that what I was doing was cowardly. The grownup thing to do would be to go back to New York and break up with Carter in person. Or, even better, confront my demons, finally put the past to rest, and accept that being with Carter would mean changing.

But I couldn’t. I wasn’t ready; I didn’t think I would ever be. I was shy, scared, and insecure, but I knew myself. If I gave myself over to Carter, wholeheartedly, no holding back—who would I be then?

I dialed the phone.

Part Two:

Carter

Chapter 11

The girl leaning against me couldn’t possibly have been twenty-one. Her hair, her makeup, her sparky halter top—she looked about eighteen, an NYU sorority girl on the loose. Somehow she had gotten into the nightclub. Flashed her tits at the door, no doubt.

I hated dance clubs.

And yet there I was, fending off this underage harridan, who was saying something in a hoarse shout necessitated by the thumping music from below. Her nail salon, the Porsche her daddy bought her, who knew—I wasn’t really listening.

Instead, I was scanning the crowded balcony for Carolina. She had brought me here and then abandoned me. I would have left, but she had my wallet. She’d fished it out of my pocket as we walked through the door, and told me I couldn’t have it back until she decided it was acceptable for me to go home.

Knowing Carolina, that wouldn’t happen until the club closed.

The girl shifted closer to me on the leather couch. I tried to edge away without being obvious about it. If I snubbed her too blatantly, she’d sell some fanciful concoction to the tabloids: “FUCKED AND ABANDONED BY CARTER SUTTON! SECRET LOVE CHILD ONLY NINE MONTHS AWAY!”

I shouldn’t have let Carolina talk me into this.

You are too boring, she kept saying. Forget that woman. You are a rich man, Carter! Enjoy your wild youth! All in that over-the-top accent. She grew up in a fairly upscale town in Bergen County and barely spoke any Spanish, but she thought she would find more success if she played up her “exotic” roots. And she’d certainly made a name for herself, so it was difficult for me to criticize her decision, even though she sounded like a poor imitation of Marion Cotillard.

The girl said something about getting another drink. I gave her a tight smile, ignoring her obvious hint. I’d made many poor decisions in my life, but I wasn’t about to add purchasing alcohol for a minor to the list. She gave me an exaggerated pout staggered off toward the bar. Saved by refusing to purchase bottle service.

Alone, I relaxed back against the couch. Eighteen-year-olds weren’t to my taste, but I couldn’t deny that there were plenty of beautiful women in the club that night. I loved women. Everything about them, their soft skin, the way their hair smelled, the hollows of their lower backs. Most men did, unless they were gay; and I was sure that gay men had the same fervent aesthetic appreciation for other men that I did for women. It was part and parcel of having a Y chromosome.

I had probably drunk too much whiskey.

One of the women dancing nearby gave me a sly look, shaking her hips with her arms above her head, and I permitted myself a long, slow perusal. This was no schoolgirl: confident, sensual, hair pulled back in a sleek updo, she had the look of an executive enjoying a wild night out. Just my type. I liked women who were smarter than me and who fucked like it was going out of style.

I raised my glass to her, and she danced closer, lips curled in a smile.

I downed the rest of my drink and stood up. Carolina wanted me to make the most of the night, well—mission accepted.

She turned her back to me as I approached her, feigning disinterest in that coy way some women had. I took it as an invitation and moved directly behind her, standing with my chest pressed against her bare back, one hand settling lightly on her hip. She leaned back against me, silently welcoming my presence, and I leaned down to press my lips against her ear and murmur, “You look like you could use some company.”

She responded by curling her raised hands around the back of my neck, her spine arched, her body a perfect curve begging for my touch. I was happy to oblige. I moved my hips in time with hers, swaying to the beat of the music, and slid my hand down to the expanse of bare thigh exposed by the short hem of her dress. She was soft, warm, and yielding against me, her head tipped back, her eyes closed, and I didn’t think twice before I brushed my lips against the sweet-smelling skin of her neck and said, “Let’s take this somewhere more private, shall we?”

Twenty minutes later, I stepped out of the single-occupancy bathroom and tossed the woman’s phone number in the trash. She’d handed it to me with a wry twist to her mouth and said, “I’m sure you aren’t going to call me,” and she was right: I wasn’t. Why plow the same field twice?

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