The Billionaire's Embrace Page 34

I went to the balcony railing and leaned against it, gazing down at the dance floor below. It was all familiar to me: the music, the scantily clad women, the overpriced drinks. I’d spend most of my 20s at clubs exactly like this one, living out a tired cliché of Rich Boy Rebels Against Parental Mores. Years ago, now. I’d stopped when I started business school, having decided that I would make something of myself; and now it all seemed like a sad charade, people seeking a meaningful connection in the last place they would find one. I had grown up, perhaps, or just become boring.

None of which explained why I had let Carolina drag me here.

Stupidity? Temporary insanity? Heartbreak?

I needed another drink.

I fought my way to the bar and was making good progress through some very nice Scotch when Carolina found me again. Some lanky model type had made his way into her orbit, his stubble and elaborately coiffed hair designed to make him appear just masculine enough to avoid androgyny. I sighed and set down my glass, preparing myself for what would inevitably come next.

Carolina sat down beside me on the sofa I had managed to procure, and said, “Carter, my darling, this is Jaen. We’ve just found each other. He told me about the best club, the absolute best, we must go. All of the best people are there. We will have so much fun. Say that you’ll come with us.”

And there it was: we would spend the rest of the night gallivanting around the city, going from club to club to maximize Carolina’s chances of being photographed somewhere with cachet. My role, of course, was to provide entry to any doors that were reluctant to open. “No,” I said firmly.

She gave me a look of such extravagant, wide-eyed incredulity that I couldn’t help but laugh. “But Carter! Jaen knows people. You wouldn’t want anyone to think that you are old and boring, no? You must get out of your house every once in and while!”

Jaen opened his mouth to say something, but Carolina help up one hand, and he subsided. Smart boy.

“I’m out of the house right now,” I said, amused.

Carolina leaned closer and spoke into my ear, her lips almost brushing against me. “Perhaps I forgot to mention that you owe me.”

Of course she wouldn’t have forgotten about that. I was terrible at poker, and yet I never learned to avoid placing bets. “Fine. One club.”

“Yes, of course,” Carolina said, sitting back and beaming. “Just one! Absolutely.”

As a promise, it rang falser than most. “Just let me finish my drink,” I said. I would need the fortification.

Well, and maybe Carolina was right. I should make the most of my wild youth.

* * *

I woke with a start when my phone buzzed on the nightstand.

Christ. What time was it?

My tongue stuck to the roof of my dry mouth. I rolled over and squinted at the clock, but the blurry numbers wouldn’t resolve into anything I could read. It was light in the bedroom, full daylight. I should have been at work hours ago.

What day was it?

I was fairly certain it was Friday.

I grabbed my phone and looked at the screen. My secretary had texted me. I had a meeting that started in an hour; was I planning to make an appearance at work?

Fuck. It was a conference call about an upcoming merger—not something I could reschedule. I rolled out of bed and staggered toward the bathroom. My head felt like it was being squeezed like a rotten melon.

I wasn’t entirely sure what had happened last night.

Shower, suit, painkillers, quick shave, and I was out of the apartment in half an hour flat. I needed coffee, some fried eggs, and a nap. Two of the three, Nancy would have waiting for me at the office. The nap would have to wait until after my meeting. I knew some executives who kept cots in their offices, but I would have to settle for the floor under my desk. At least the carpet was thick.

I stared out the window as Henry drove south along the Hudson, my aching head resting against the glass.

Maybe I needed to take some time off.

With a few exceptions—food poisoning, cousin’s wedding on the West Coast—I had worked every single day since my father died. Even on the days I didn’t make it to the office, I still spent a few hours on my laptop. As much as I enjoyed the endless variety of problems that was presented to me on a daily basis, sometimes I had the urge to do nothing but sit on my couch and watch football. Impossible, of course; football didn’t have irate board members who would call me to yell about share prices.

It wasn’t that I had set out to be a workaholic. Necessity drove me to it. When my father died, I was fresh out of business school, and was forced to learn how to run the business practically overnight. My father’s death was unexpected—he was only in his early 60s, and in apparently good health—and I had been completely unprepared for the intricacies of running a multinational corporation. I spent the first six months getting by on five hours of sleep a night, going home only to shower and change clothes. By the end of it, I was running on fumes, but the company survived. And by then, working seven days a week had simply become a habit.

A vacation would likely do me some good. Bora Bora, the Comoros. Possibly Mustique. I could escape from the dreary New York winter, find some sun-dappled maiden eager for a fling.

I sighed. There was no time. I had three mergers to oversee in the next six weeks.

An image from the night before surfaced in my brain: a woman with her skirt hiked up around her waist, moaning my name...

I rubbed my eyes. That had been at the third club, after Carolina had jettisoned Jaen and ensnared a larger, more muscular victim.

No more clubs, no matter how much Carolina pouted. I wasn’t twenty-three anymore; my liver couldn’t handle the alcohol, and my cock couldn’t handle the multiple women. If I wanted to have a breakdown, it would have to take a more discreet form. Something in private, with no risk of the tabloids finding out.

The Silver Cross, maybe.

I couldn’t risk it. I hadn’t been there in two months, not since Regan broke up with me over the phone just before Christmas.

Christ. Regan.

I wasn’t prepared to think about her.

Fortunately, Henry pulled up outside of the office before I had a chance to delve too deeply into that particular well of misery. He slid open the partition and said, “See you tonight, sir?”

“Most likely,” I said. “I’ll give you a call.” He nodded at me, and I opened the door and went out into the world.

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