At the Billionaire's Beck and Call?(9)

By: Rachel Bailey

She relaxed her face and body into an empathetic smile. “Your mother did a good job.”

One corner of his mouth turned up in acknowledgment of the compliment before he took another mouthful of his drink. “My father had a second family—a mistress and two sons. I’d seen them around on occasion, but I met them for the first time at my father’s funeral and then again at the will reading.”

She paused, not quite believing what he’d just shared. “I saw something about that in the papers. I’m sorry.”

“Thank you.” He met her gaze for a moment before finishing his drink and pushing the glass to the side of the table. “His death was unexpected but our relationship wasn’t particularly friendly.”

“That doesn’t mean it’s not a shock.” Her mind flew back to when she’d heard the worst news of her life and she felt the sting of emotion in her eyes that always accompanied the memory. She paused until she had it under control before continuing. “My mother died in a plane crash when I was thirteen.”

“I can’t imagine how you got through that,” he said, voice rough. “You must have been devastated.”

She’d wanted to curl up and die. Even now, just thinking about it, her insides were like a black hole that sucked in and destroyed any sign of joy.

She closed her eyes for a long moment, willing herself back from that place of despair before opening them again and nodding. “More than devastated. My father and sister turned to each other, and I—” learned to never rely on anyone “—learned to cope with life on my own.”

She shook her head, banishing the thoughts, and changed the subject. “Do you wish you’d had siblings to grow up with?”

He opened his mouth, about to reply, then frowned and shut it again. She had the feeling he’d been about to offer her a standard reply, but for some reason had changed his mind.

When he spoke, his voice was pitched even lower than usual. “I used to, when I was a boy. But I don’t think I would have made a good brother.”

Her heart softened, honored that she’d been given this gift of truth from a man seemingly unused to bestowing it. “I think anyone would be lucky to have you.”

Ryder’s dark eyes changed, sparked, and the awareness that had been simmering between them leaped to life.

Her insides melted.

She watched Ryder swallow then reach across the table and lay his hand on hers.

Her blood pounded through her veins and she felt the world slow to a stop. Noises retreated until the only sound she was aware of was her own breath. There was no one but the two of them, connected through their hands on a polished metal table.

Eyes locked on his, she turned her wrist so their hands lay palm to palm. The burning heat from his hand suffused hers and traveled throughout her body, bringing goose bumps across her skin and desire coiling low in her belly.

His chest rose and fell in the same erratic rhythm as hers. His lips were slightly parted, ready to speak…or kiss. And with startling clarity she realized she wanted his kiss more than she’d ever wanted anything. Wanted to hear him whisper sweet words in her ear, to lose herself in his embrace.

Then he whispered, “Macy,” and the world came crashing back with reality.

Spell broken, she lowered her eyes and extricated her hand from his gentle clasp, leaving it to lie in her lap. Ryder slid his hand across the table to grasp his empty glass.

“Another margarita?” His voice was like gravel.

“You said one drink,” she said softly, still not meeting his eyes.

“I’d hoped you might want another.”

“No,” she said. “Thank you for the offer, but no. I have a lot of work to get through tomorrow.” Feeling like she needed to make the excuse stronger, she added, “Making last-minute arrangements for our trip to Sydney in a couple of weeks.” They would look at potential retail space for one of their first brand-name stores, a companion to the Melbourne shop.

“I’m looking forward to it.”

She stood, smoothing down her jacket with a trembling hand. “So, I’d better make it an early night.”

He moved to her side and settled his palm into the small of her back. “I’ll see you home.”

Macy bit down on her lip. She needed this date over before she did something truly stupid—like press herself against him and wind her arms around his neck. “That won’t be necessary.”

He guided her through the room. “It’ll be my pleasure. I’ve always seen my dates home.”

Once they stood on the pavement, she turned to face him in the dappled streetlight. “No, really, I’m fine.”

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