The Billionaire's Embrace Page 8

“I hope I didn’t wake you up,” I said, mortified.

“It was adorable,” he said, which didn’t mean I hadn’t woken him up. “You sounded very happy. I wanted to wake you up and ask you what kind of muffins you were dreaming about, but I thought it would be kinder to let you sleep.”

“You should just wake me up if I do that,” I said. “I mean, not that I’m assuming we’ll do this again, or that—I mean, I obviously don’t—”

“Are you still so nervous around me?” he asked, and tugged on my hair gently, tipping my head back. “Regan. What else do I have to do to prove that I want to spend time with you? Why is it so hard for you to believe that I find you beautiful and fascinating and easy to be around?”

Because nobody had ever thought those things about me before, but of course I couldn’t say that to him. I shook my head, at a loss for words, and then the toaster popped.

I could have kissed that toaster, because Carter was immediately distracted with fishing out the bagel, putting it on a plate, getting the cream cheese out of the refrigerator, and I was off the hook. I reclaimed my coffee mug and took a searing gulp, burning the roof of my mouth. Bullet dodged.

We ate at the table—or, really, I ate, and Carter sat and watched me, and asked me what he thought he should buy his secretary for Christmas.

“What does she like?” I asked.

He looked stricken. “I don’t really know. That’s the problem. She’s a wonderful secretary, and we have an excellent working relationship, very congenial, but we don’t exactly talk to each other about our personal lives. She’s married, and she has a son in high school, and there’s a picture of a golden retriever on her desk, but beyond that I don’t have a clue.”

I chewed my bagel thoughtfully. “Hand lotion,” I said. “Or fancy soap. Something expensive. All women like hand lotion. And even if she doesn’t like it, she can just re-gift it.”

“Expensive hand lotion,” he said. “See, this is why I need you in my life. The other women I know have too much money and too little common sense. If I had asked my mother about this, she probably would have told me to buy my secretary a new Porsche.”

“Maybe she would like a Porsche,” I said.

He sighed. “She told me not to buy her anything ostentatious. That’s a direct quote.”

“Your secretary sounds like someone I would get along with,” I said.

“I’ll have to introduce you, then,” he said. “Maybe you can pass me some inside information that will help with future present-buying decisions.”

I smiled at him and ate the last bite of my bagel, and dusted the crumbs off my hands. “I should get going,” I said, already regretting the thought of leaving him. I didn’t want to go home, or go to work later. I wanted to spend all day lounging around his apartment, watching him work, and maybe luring him back to bed later.

It was a nice fantasy, but not realistic. Keeping my job was more important than indulging my infatuation with Carter.

He glanced at his watch. “Oh. Yes, I suppose I should get to the office at some point.” He leaned across the table and kissed me deeply. “I’ll have Henry take you home. When can I see you again?”

I thought about it. I was scheduled to work for the next three days, which made it impossible to do more than grab a quick lunch with Carter. And that was as unsatisfying as eating a single potato chip: as soon as I had a taste, I wanted more and more. “Maybe Thursday,” I said. “I’m not working.”

“Let’s go to the art museum,” he said. “Have you been?”

I shook my head. I didn’t know which art museum he was referring to, but it didn’t matter. In the six years I’d been in New York, I’d never been to a single museum. I was usually hustling so hard to pay my bills that I didn’t have the time, energy, or spare cash to go look at expensive paintings.

“Let’s go,” he said again. “I enjoy seeing you in daylight. It’s worth the trip. I’ll take the afternoon off. It won’t be as crowded.”

“That sounds really nice,” I said. Maybe not the art, so much, but being together with Carter in public, holding hands, maybe—that sounded nice.

“Good,” he said, and kissed me again. “You are a dreadful temptation. Go get dressed and I’ll call Henry. If you don’t get out of here soon, I won’t be able to let you leave.”

I knew he was right. And Thursday wasn’t so long to wait, really, even though it seemed like a million years.

I went back to the bedroom and dressed in the clothes I’d worn the night before. Carter escorted me to the building’s underground garage, and kissed me beside the car, both hands circling my waist.

“I’ll see you on Thursday,” he said, and opened the door.

It was too perfect to last. I knew it, but I was still going to enjoy every second.

* * *

We met at the art museum on Thursday. Carter wanted to send his driver, but I insisted on taking the subway. Being driven around in a town car was surreal, and riding the subway was my way of maintaining some sort of control over my life. Carter wanted to whisk me into his world of expensive conveniences and high-limit credit cards, but I wasn’t ready yet. I didn’t know if I ever would be. It was too much like a movie—like I was watching my own life from the outside.

I walked the few blocks from the subway station to the museum, hands shoved in the pockets of my coat. It was a bitterly cold day, clear and bright, and the wind kept blowing my hair into my face.

The museum was a huge, imposing building, and as I waited to cross the street, I scanned the steps for Carter. There weren’t many people out, as cold as it was, and I found him easily, standing on the top step in his familiar overcoat, a scarf wrapped around his neck.

I realized I was smiling, and ducked my head to hide my no doubt foolish grin. I was doing that a lot lately, smiling like an idiot every time I saw him or got a text message from him or even thought about him.

The traffic light changed, and I crossed the street and began climbing the steps. I knew the exact moment he saw me, because a smile broke across his face, and he lifted one hand in greeting.

I barely felt the steps under my feet as I climbed. It was like I was being tugged along by a rope, lifted up into the air. My body wasn’t doing any work; my knees weren’t bending. I was gliding.

Prev Next