One Night With a BillionaireBy: VickiLewis Thompson
After Drew left, Melanie eased off the bed and prowled around the room. What a room it was, too. She fingered the thick fabric draping the bed. Marie Antoinette would have been thrilled with something like this.
The floor was hardwood, and the blue-patterned carpets looked like vintage Aubusson. Once again, if she hadn’t known Astrid, such things would have been lost on her. She should take a picture of this room to show her friends.
Then she remembered. She couldn’t take a picture of anything because she didn’t have a phone. She also hadn’t called Astrid to get the lowdown on Drew. Besides that, she should notify someone back home that she was not at the hotel she’d booked. If she called Astrid, that would accomplish everything at once. Astrid could attest to Drew’s character and also spread the word that Melanie’s plans had changed.
Much as she longed to climb under the covers in that beautiful canopy bed, she couldn’t do it until she’d borrowed Drew’s phone and made that call. She smiled as she imagined Astrid’s reaction to the news that she was in a historic townhouse within walking distance of Notre Dame, and the house belonged to none other than Drew Eldridge, who’d rescued her from a runaway horse.
But no matter how lovely the accommodations were, Melanie didn’t intend to sponge off Drew for the next five days. Once she had a credit card, she’d move out of Drew’s townhouse and then treat him to a nice meal as a gesture of gratitude.
Then she remembered her clothing situation. Drew’s idea of a nice meal would undoubtedly involve dressing up, and she hadn’t planned for that. She’d expected to explore Paris on her own, and elegant restaurants hadn’t figured into her wardrobe choices.
Well, she’d figure out something else, then. But first she had to head back downstairs and borrow Drew’s phone. He’d gone to the trouble of taking off one of her shoes, but she put it back on again and retied the laces of the other one.
Before leaving, she used her bathroom, which sparkled with gold-plated faucets, an enormous tub, and a sleek shower with a spotless glass door. The white towels looked like pure luxury. The designer had made room for both a toilet and a bidet.
Melanie had never seen a bidet, but she’d read about them. She knew the word was pronounced buh-day, and just saying it made her feel European and sort of sexy. After all, a bidet was designed for a quick wash of one’s private parts, so it would come in very handy if one were having lots of sex. Not that she would be.
Nope. This girl had no use for a bidet. But she could sure use a shower. After she’d made her call she’d come back up here, take a hot shower, and crawl into that big canopy bed. All the guidebooks suggested staying up until nighttime to readjust your body clock, but she wasn’t doing that. She’d had a rough morning.
The hallway was empty and silent. Maybe later she’d inspect the paintings hanging on the walls, but she was on a mission, so she started downstairs. The runner cushioning her steps glowed with red and gold threads, and the dark wood of the banister gleamed.
She slid her hand along it as she descended, and she wondered if kids had ever polished it with the seat of their pants. The house seemed too formal for children to play in, but if it had been here for centuries, they must have at some time.
Three flights down she finally heard noise, but most of it was coming up from a simple stairway that led to a basement level. She’d seen enough foreign movies to know that the servants probably stayed on the bottom floor, and they were the ones she could hear talking and laughing.
She paused in the foyer. Above her head a crystal chandelier glittered. To her left, double doors opened to what she would call a living room, but it might be known by a different name over here. She registered the contents as expensive, with vivid upholstery, polished wood, more art on the walls—no doubt originals—and a marble fireplace. But the room was empty, and Drew had said he’d be in his office, so she needed to find that.
The door to the next room down the hallway was open, and when she glanced in, she found Drew. He sat facing her, but all his attention was on the computer screen sitting on the dark wood desk. He’d taken off his jacket, and the top two buttons of his snowy long-sleeved shirt were undone, revealing the strong column of his throat. His dark hair was rumpled, as if he’d run his fingers through it several times.
His expression was intense as his fingers flew over the keys, and he wore a pair of dark-rimmed reading glasses. Seeing that small vulnerability, a lack of perfect eyesight, touched her heart. He was concentrating so hard that she hated to interrupt him.
But if she didn’t, no telling how long he’d continue to work. He looked completely engrossed. As she stood in the doorway, she spoke his name softly, not wanting to startle him.
His head came up immediately and he blinked. “Oh, Melanie. Sorry, I didn’t hear you.”
“I was being quiet.”
“Is something wrong?”
“Not at all. The room’s beautiful and the bathroom’s to die for. But I’d like to call home before I take a shower and conk out. Someone needs to know I’m not staying at the place I gave them the number for.” She decided not to mention that she planned to call Astrid, in case he thought she was checking up on him, which she was. “Could I please borrow your phone again?”
“You bet. Come on in.” Standing, he picked the phone up from where it lay next to his computer, but it chimed before he could hand it to her. “Hang on.” He checked the readout. “That can wait. That old boy can leave a message.”
“But I don’t want to interfere with your—”
“You’re not.” He smiled and gave her the phone. “Sometimes it’s better to leave ’em hangin’ for a while.”
The warmth of his smile took her breath away. It also took care of any weariness she’d been feeling. Earlier he’d mentioned plans to go to the Louvre, but he’d interrupted that when he’d come to her rescue. She wanted to go now, with him. He probably knew the place inside and out.
Then again, he might not be free to traipse off with her. Come to think of it, she’d bought a ticket in advance for the Louvre, and it was gone, along with everything else in her backpack. She didn’t have money for a new ticket, even if she could get one.
But she was in Paris. Who took a nap when they could be exploring a city they’d wanted to visit forever? And how fabulous if they could have a guide who looked like Drew Eldridge?
He gazed at her. “You must really be looking forward to calling home.”
“Your eyes got all sparkly just now.”
“I wasn’t thinking about that.”
She couldn’t very well admit that he’d been responsible for a good part of that sparkle. “It just hit me. I’m in Paris. To heck with sleep. If my money’s arrived at Western union , I’d love to go to the Louvre, although I’m not sure if I could get a ticket this late in the day. Even if the money’s not there yet, I could walk along the Seine, and through the Tuileries Garden, and . . .” Then she remembered that she’d interrupted his work. “But I don’t expect you to go. You helped me this morning instead, so you probably have work to do this afternoon. I’ll be fine on my own.”
“I’m sure you would be fine and dandy.”
And that statement was the biggest gift he could have given her. A lesser man would have reminded her that on her own she’d managed to get mugged. But the thing was, and this almost made her laugh, she had nothing left to lose. She wouldn’t be a target because she wouldn’t be carrying anything of value, except maybe a little bit of money if Western union came through.
He continued to study her. “Are you sure you wouldn’t rather take a nice long nap?”
“I thought I would, but now I’m excited again. Sleeping in the car was probably like a power nap. Now I want to get out there and make the most of my time here. Besides, all the guidebooks tell you to stay up until bedtime to get over jet lag.”
He nodded. “That’s a fact. It helps if you can, but not everybody’s built that way. How about lettin’ me come along? I didn’t get my art fix today.”
“You can spare the time?”
“I won’t promise not to take any phone calls, but if you can put up with that, I can spare the time.”
“Then I’d love to have you come.” She was secretly relieved that he’d invited himself along. Although she’d sounded brave and self-sufficient, her recent experience had made her a little nervous about setting off on her own. “But please know that I intend to pay my own way. If the money hasn’t arrived, I’ll gratefully accept a temporary loan, and I’ll be reimbursing you the minute I get some money.”
He started to say something, but stopped and cleared his throat. “All right.”
She’d bet anything he’d wanted to tell her to forget paying him back. But he’d recognized that she had her pride and needed to stand on her own feet, financially. Swallowing his argument was the second biggest gift he could give her.
“Take the phone up to your room so y’all can have a private conversation. You can bring it back down after you’ve showered and changed.”
She hesitated, torn between making off with his phone when he probably needed to have it, and thinking of the info she could share with Astrid if he was out of earshot. “All right. I won’t be long.” Turning, she hurried down the hall.
“Take the elevator,” he called after her.
“I like the stairs,” she hollered back. Then she wondered if hollering was appropriate in a house with museum-quality furnishings and live-in servants. Oh, well. She was a gym-shoe-wearing Texas girl, not a sophisticated French woman. So far, Drew hadn’t seemed to mind.
The minute she got to her bedroom, she closed the door. Then she dialed Astrid’s number and walked over to the window that looked out on a quaint residential street lined with buildings much like this one. Window boxes filled with flowers brightened the view, and a man wearing a beret rode past on a bicycle. Yes, she had to get out there. Paris was waiting.
Astrid answered on the third ring, but she sounded suspicious. That’s when Melanie remembered that the readout would seem really strange to Astrid, like a voice from the past, maybe, because this was Drew’s phone, not hers.
“Astrid, it’s me! I’m in Paris but I lost my phone, so I’m borrowing Drew Eldridge’s.”
Astrid was silent for a beat. “Are we talking about Drew Eldridge, of the Dallas Eldridge family?”
“I hope so, because that’s what he told me. He said you two were at camp together and he stopped your runaway horse. Did he?”
“Oh my God. Yes, he did, but how in hell did you hook up with him in Paris, of all places?”
“It’s a long story, but I’m fine. Everything’s fine.”
“Why wouldn’t it be?” Panic edged Astrid’s voice. “Why are you reassuring me? Did something happen?”
“I was mugged.”
“Oh my God! Oh, Melanie, no.”
“But Drew came to my rescue.” Melanie explained what had happened. “So I’m staying in his townhouse, at least until I get my new credit card, but if you have any reservations about me doing that, then—”
“Absolutely not. He’s terrific. At least he was when I knew him, and from what I hear from my parents, he continues to do good deeds. He’s big into charity events.”
“I’m not surprised, after the way he’s insisted on helping me out.” She didn’t like to think of herself as a charity, though, so she’d have to move on when she had the means to do so.
“He’s a good guy. I hate that this happened, but it sounds like you came out in pretty good shape.”
“I did. His townhouse is amazing. I wish I had my phone so I could send you pictures.”
“What about him? He was pretty cute as a teenager, but I haven’t seen him since then. Is he handsome? So-so? The Hunchback of Notre Dame?”
Melanie laughed. “He’s gorgeous. Tall, dark hair, and the bluest eyes. When he’s on his computer, he wears these dark-framed glasses that make him look all serious and scholarly.”
“Well, now. Sounds as if you have a crush going on.”
“Nah. It’s like drooling over movie stars. We’re from different worlds.”
“I’m not so sure about that. You and I are friends, and I’m from that world.”
“That’s different. We were sorority pledges together. We went through Hell Week. I’ve seen you at your worst.”
Astrid laughed. “That’s the truth.”
“Drew’s just being nice. He saw a fellow Texan in need.”
“Maybe, but you still don’t know that he’s not interested in you. Why are you writing him off as a lost cause?”
“Astrid, you haven’t seen him, or this place. My daddy is a cowboy, and my mama is a cowgirl, and my two brothers are both cowboys. We all know I’ll end up with a cowboy eventually. You might end up with a billionaire because you move in those circles, but I’ll be perfectly happy with some broad-shouldered rancher.”
“You haven’t been happy with one so far.”
“Jeff’s a bad example.”
“Before Jeff was Pete, and before that was Jeremy. I know you think a cowboy’s in your future, but I question that.”
“I just haven’t found the right one.”
“If you say so, toots. Like you said, you’re there and I’m not. But it sounds like a great setup for a romantic interlude.”
“Uh, no. But you’re welcome to your fantasies.” Melanie glanced at an ornate clock on the bedside table. “I need to get going. He’s offered to take me to see the sights this afternoon.”
“Uh-huh. Like I said, don’t discount the possibility that he likes you.”
“Okay, I won’t.” The thought that Drew might think of her as something more than a goodwill project sent squiggles of excitement through her stomach.
“I will. I’m in Paris!” She disconnected, set the phone on the nightstand, and started stripping down for her shower. But as she stepped into the elegant bathroom, reality intruded.
She might have stumbled into this fantasy world where Drew lived, but it was only a tiny blip in her life. When it came to men, Astrid might feel comfortable with guys like Drew. But Melanie had more in common with a cowboy of modest means, someone like her father.
Drew was kind, as evidenced by his interest in charitable causes. He might even want to think of her as a charitable cause, but she wouldn’t allow him to. Maybe she couldn’t pay him for the water and electricity she used while she was here, because she had no way of tracking what she owed. But whenever a receipt was involved, she would grab it and keep a running total. He’d never miss the amount if she didn’t reimburse him, but she’d never taken advantage of a generous person, and she didn’t intend to start now.