The Billionaire's Embrace Page 44

“Bring this girl by my restaurant, if the kaldereta works,” she said. “Or I can set you up with my niece.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” I said, amused.

With the cooking taken care of, I turned to the next item on Sadie’s list. Despite the fact that she had never actually seen my apartment, she had instructed me toss out any “ostentatious rich guy stuff.” Seeing as she hadn’t specified anything in particular, I decided to ignore that commandment. But the other part of task #2 was a list of things that I should add to my living quarters, things that Sadie evidently thought would make Regan feel that I was welcoming her into my life: books, houseplants, a particular type of tea, a silky bathrobe, a framed photograph of the San Gabriel Mountains.

On Saturday, I worked from home for a few hours in the morning, and then spent the rest of the day shopping. I tried to think of things that Regan had liked or expressed interest in, foods she had enjoyed, and added them to the list from Sadie. It took me several hours of running around lower Manhattan, and several more hours of arranging things to my liking, but by the time I went to sleep on Sunday, I was pleased with what I had accomplished.

The next step was to see if Sadie would be equally pleased.

* * *

Sadie came over on Tuesday evening, after we both finished with work. I had already started on dinner by the time she arrived, and left my pork chops searing in the pan to greet her.

“Nice place,” she said, looking around as I led her into the living room. “Not as over-the-top as I expected.”

“What did you have in mind?” I asked. “Oil paintings of myself all over the wall? Gold-plated marble statues of nude women?”

“You tell me, you’re the billionaire,” Sadie said. “I don’t know, maybe a pet tiger or something.”

“It would ruin the drapes,” I said. “Please, have a seat. I need to deal with dinner before it sets off the smoke alarm. Could I offer you a pork chop?” I left her there and went back into the kitchen, a little concerned that my food would be ruined.

Sadie said, “No, I’ll eat when I go home. But thanks.”

The pork chops, fortunately, still looked edible, albeit a bit charred on one side. I watched through the pass-through as Sadie started snooping around my living room instead of sitting down. She rifled through the stack of magazines on the table, and then went over to the bookshelf and started examining my tchotchkes.

I waited, keeping an eye on my pork chops, until she got to the end of the bookshelf and noticed the photograph I had hung on the wall.

“Huh,” Sadie said. “You really did it. I didn’t think you would.”

“You told me it was necessary,” I said, annoyed.

“Well, sure, but I didn’t think you would take me seriously.” She spent a long, considering moment gazing at the photograph: the San Gabriels in winter, covered in snow. “This is a nice picture.”

“The artist does nice work,” I said. “Would you like also to see my fully-stocked snack cupboard?”

“Lord,” Sadie said. “Yeah, okay, hit me with your best shot.”

I showed her the cabinet I had cleared out and filled with Regan’s favorite non-perishables: tea and honey, crunchy (not chewy) peanut butter granola bars, unsweetened dried mango, lightly salted cashews. Sadie looked and said nothing, but I could tell from her expression that she wasn’t displeased.

“I’m going to eat dinner now,” I said. “You can keep snooping around my apartment, or you can sit down with me and have a glass of wine.”

“I could use a glass of the most expensive red wine you have in this apartment,” she said.

“That would be a twenty dollar 2012 Cabernet,” I said, and grinned at her expression. “I’m a Scotch drinker. I don’t keep expensive wine on hand.”

“That’s a shame, but twenty bucks a bottle is still better than what I usually drink,” she said. “Bring it on.”

We sat at the table and I ate my pork chops while she sipped at her wine and complained to me about her job. She was a graphic designer, and thought that the company she worked for gave her minimal room for creative self-expression. “It’s stifling,” she said. “They want everything to look exactly the same. Why bother having multiple designers, then? It makes no damn sense.”

“Have you thought about going into business for yourself?” I asked. “You’ve got quite the portfolio, it sounds like.”

She snorted. “Yeah, freelancing is everyone’s dream, isn’t it? I’ve got bills to pay, though. I like getting regular paychecks.” She shook her head. “Maybe someday. Anyway, I told Regan that I met with you.”

I set down my fork. It hadn’t occurred to me that Sadie would tell Regan about our collusion, but in retrospect, it would have been surprising if she didn’t. “How did she respond?”

“She was pretty mad at first, but she got over it,” Sadie said. “She doesn’t like people doing things behind her back.”

“I don’t think anyone particularly enjoys it,” I said. “Is she willing to meet with me?”

“Yeah,” Sadie said. “You can get in touch with her when you’re ready. I’m officially giving you my blessing.”

“Well,” I said. “Thank you. Let’s hope it goes well.”

After I finished eating, I went into the kitchen to put my plate in the dishwasher, and Sadie got up and began wandering around the living room again. I was about to offer her another glass of wine in an effort to stop her snooping when she bent and looked at one of the photographs arranged along the sofa table. “Who’s this?”

I walked over to where she stood and glanced at the picture she was referring to: Nelson and me at the mini-golf place on Randall’s Island, him beaming widely after beating me three rounds in a row. “That’s my Little Brother,” I said.

Sadie made a face at me. “You are not related to that child.”

I grinned. “You don’t think we look alike? Little Brother as in Big Brothers Big Sisters. His name is Nelson.”

“They let you out of the office long enough to do that?” Sadie asked.

“I’m the boss,” I said. “I can play hooky whenever I want. It’s true that I don’t get to spend as much time with Nelson as I would like, but I make an effort to see him every week.”

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