One Night With a BillionaireBy: VickiLewis Thompson
Drew usually had an exceptional ability to focus. That ability had been recognized early by his tutors and had played a huge part in his financial success. But knowing that Melanie would be coming downstairs shortly so they could spend the afternoon together had blown his fabled concentration all to hell.
He could explain his fascination with her, but that didn’t mean he could eliminate it. She was so unusual to him because she clearly had no interest in cashing in on his wealth. She didn’t view him as a human ATM ready to spew cash and grant her every wish.
Instead she had the habit, both endearing and maddening, of wanting to balance the scales. He didn’t want to balance them. She was adorable, and he longed to shower her with anything she desired. Ironically, she didn’t desire a single thing from him.
If she’d had the resources, she would have left by now. Once her new credit card arrived, she would be able to leave. He didn’t want that, either.
It was a frustrating scenario. Any hotel in her price range would be inferior to having her stay here for the rest of her visit to Paris. She’d have to sacrifice location to get a reasonable rate, which would make it impossible for her to see the sights she’d come to Paris to enjoy. If she insisted on moving into a hotel, he’d want to check it out and see if it was decent. She might not let him. He was used to being in the power position, and with her he wasn’t.
But his lack of control over her living quarters wasn’t the only thing that had him pacing the floor of his office. As he’d told her, he admired her gumption. And that admiration was firing up his already hot physical reaction to her.
But he didn’t know what to do about that, either. God knows he didn’t want her to think that because he’d offered her a place to stay he expected sex in return. Some men in his position might work that angle and feel justified in doing it, but he recoiled at the idea.
So what was he supposed to do about his attraction to her? Any move on his part might be misinterpreted. He didn’t think she’d humor him out of gratitude, but the possibility was there and it made him wince.
This was why his friends had always told him to stick with women who had money, either because they’d made it or inherited it. That would even the playing field, they’d said. But he’d reached a financial pinnacle that few women had gained, and many of those who had were old enough to be his mother or his grandmother.
And frankly, the women he’d dated who were “acceptable” lacked the very quality he cherished in Melanie—a sense of wonder. When you had the resources to see and do whatever you wanted, keeping that sense of awe was a challenge many people failed to meet. Personally, he worked at it, which was one of the reasons he’d bought a place in Paris.
The city had a host of awe-inspiring aspects, beginning with Notre Dame. The Louvre gave him regular doses of awe. A sculpture by Michelangelo could do it in a few seconds. Then there was the view from the top of the Eiffel Tower, and a lazy boat ride down the Seine at night. The wonders of this city didn’t work for everyone, but they worked for him.
In Melanie he saw a woman who might understand his yearning to be awed, someone who wouldn’t think his love of Paris was corny or clichéd. But he didn’t know how to get close to her without scaring her away. For the first time in a long while, he feared that he might be rejected.
So he did the caretaking things that wouldn’t be suspect. First he contacted the museum. Although he already had a ticket, no more were left for that day, but a sizable pledge from him produced one for Melanie.
Next he ordered some sandwiches to take with them, because whether she’d admit it or not, she had to be hungry. His cook tucked a couple of bottles of Perrier in the wicker hamper. Drew had considered wine and decided against it. Wine might put her to sleep, and she planned to stay awake until bedtime.
The wicker basket was delivered to his office, and when Melanie came downstairs wearing a fresh pair of jeans, a yellow T-shirt, and a navy hoodie, he stared at her as if she’d arrived in satin and pearls. He took off his glasses, which he only used for reading, so he could get a better look.
She’d pulled her hair back into a ponytail and put on makeup, but her freckles still showed. He was used to porcelain-skinned women, and he was entranced by those freckles. He wanted to count them and then kiss each one.
God, she was so refreshingly real. He could look at her for hours. But if he didn’t come up with something to say pretty soon, she’d conclude he was dim-witted. “I called ahead to the museum and reserved a ticket for you. Didn’t want to take a chance they’d be out when we got there.”
“Thanks. Good thinking. Would you mind if we stopped by Western union first?”
“We can do that.” He understood her preoccupation with getting cash. In her shoes, he would have felt the same way.
“No rush, though. Keep working if you need to. I can wait.”
“No need. I’m done.” He used the chore of shutting down his computer to get his bearings. More than anything he desperately wanted to kiss her, and he had no idea how she’d react to that. Before he kissed a woman, he liked to have some guesstimate of how that would be received. With Melanie he hadn’t a clue.
“Is that a picnic basket for us?”
“Yep. We’ll eat it in the car. You said you weren’t hungry, but you will be.”
“I’m hungry now. But why will we eat it in the car instead of on a bench somewhere? Aren’t we going to walk to the Louvre?” She looked as if she’d be fine with that.
“We could, but then you might not have as much energy for the museum. You’ll want to see as much as you can before you get tuckered out. It’s a big place.”
“Good point. And we can eat on the way. It’s hard to eat and walk, at least for me.”
“For me, too.” He smiled at her because she made him want to. That was worth a lot all by itself.
Henri picked them up and took them to Western union , where cash was indeed waiting for Melanie. Her elation touched him. Being penniless had obviously been eating at her more than he’d realized.
The trip to the Louvre was an adventure during which Melanie tried to eat and keep track of everything they passed at the same time. He repeated We’ll come back more times than he could count, but Melanie was an in-the-moment kind of girl who wanted to absorb everything that was in her field of vision.
Drew couldn’t help thinking of all he’d have missed if she hadn’t been mugged. If the thieves hadn’t come along, he would have exchanged a few words with her in front of Notre Dame. He might have given her his card. But she wouldn’t have contacted him. She would have been off to see the city without him because she wouldn’t have wanted to impose. Those bastards, scum that they were, had done him a favor.
Henri dropped them off, and Drew glanced at his watch. Melanie was a trouper, but he’d be surprised if she made it much longer than three hours, all things considered. Whatever time they spent here would be special for him, though, because he’d be seeing the wonders within these walls with someone who had never been here. Her enthusiasm would carry them along on a wave of discovery . . . and awe.
She didn’t start to droop until well past the four-hour mark. He was impressed. Despite all the walking they’d done, she remained cheerful, even as she reluctantly admitted being tired. As they left the museum, she raved about what she’d seen.
He drank in her excitement and wondered how in hell he was going to show her Paris the way he longed to, by pulling out all the stops. He wanted to arrange a special tour of the Louvre so she could stand in front of the Mona Lisa all by herself instead of having to peer over the heads of other visitors. He wanted to stage a private tour of the Eiffel Tower followed by an after-hours dinner in their restaurant. He wanted to take her on a moonlit boat ride along the Seine in a luxury yacht, and walk with her through the soaring arches of Notre Dame before the cathedral opened to the public.
He’d drop a bundle doing that, but he didn’t care. Showing his favorite places to someone who would see them the same way he did would be worth it. Maybe he could make her understand that and she’d stop using her mental calculator every blessed second. It was worth a try.
As they walked away from the Louvre, he suggested they stop at a sidewalk café for some wine and cheese before calling Henri to pick them up. As he’d expected, she was enchanted by the idea of doing something so Parisian. So far, so good.
He chose a place right out of a postcard, with round metal tables and the distinctive tan wicker chairs that were so common in the cafés around town. There was a slight nip in the air, but her hoodie should keep her warm enough for them to stay outside. That was, after all, the way to best enjoy the experience.
After they were seated he picked up the wine menu. Because it was hard to get bad wine in Paris, he suggested a medium-priced bottle, and she seemed relieved.
They talked some more about the Louvre and the thrill of gazing at original sculptures and paintings by world-famous artists. He asked how she spent her time back in Dallas and found out she worked on her daddy’s ranch. She was a cowgirl. That made him smile, because a job like that fit her so perfectly. He’d never met a real cowgirl before, and he certainly never thought he’d fall for one, but now he realized that it explained a lot about what he liked about Melanie.
The wine arrived with a plate of assorted cheeses, and once the waiter had filled their glasses, he raised his in her direction. “To your first trip to Paris.”
“I’ll drink to that. And to you, for turning a bad beginning into something amazing.” Smiling, she touched her glass to his. Then she leaned back in her chair and took a sip. “Wow, this is fabulous!”
“You better believe it. You’re drinking French wine in Paris. It always tastes better here.”
“I pictured doing this, having some wine and cheese at a sidewalk café while I watched the people go by.”
“And here you are.” Her pleasure was contagious. He’d sat in similar cafés many times, but he couldn’t remember ever feeling this much gratitude for the experience.
“Yes, thanks to you. No telling what my situation would be right now if you hadn’t shown up.”
“But I did.” He’d always believed in making his own luck, but coming upon her this morning right when she needed him almost felt preordained. He took a swallow of wine and put down his glass. “Going to the Louvre with you today reminded me of the first time I went.”
“So tell me, does it ever get old?”
“No, but . . . today had a special shine because you were so excited, like a puppy at the beach.”
She laughed at that. “I suppose I was.”
“And that’s a good thing.” He leaned forward, needing to make her understand. “I’ve always loved the place, but I loved it even more today. You gave the experience added value.”
Her cheeks turned rosy. “I’m glad. Now I feel better about imposing on you.”
“You’re not imposing.” This could be an uphill slog. “Have you ever seen a movie, and then somebody comes along who’s dying to see that same movie, so you see it again with them and it seems twice as good the second time around?”
“Sure! Their reaction makes it even better.”
He sank back in his chair. “That’s what I’m tryin’ to tell you.”
“That you liked the Louvre even more this afternoon? Yeah, I got that.”
“But it would also be that way for all the special places in Paris.”
“If you’re asking to tag along while I play tourist for the next five days—well, four, really, then I’d be happy to have you do that, Drew. You’re good company.”
“Thank you, ma’am.” He drank his wine while he considered that alternative. He tried to imagine standing in line for hours in front of the Eiffel Tower. He’d be with her, enjoying the sunny disposition that seemed to be hardwired into her psyche. It wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.
On the other hand, he’d earned the right to bypass long lines, and he was spoiled in that regard. Besides, she’d waste precious time doing that. If she agreed to his idea, she’d see more of Paris.
But after he’d proposed his plan, she would no longer be comfortable making him stand in line with her at any attraction. Tagging along while she played tourist would be permanently off the table once she understood how he preferred to see the sights. He ran the risk of widening the gulf between them.
Aw, hell. He’d made it to where he was by taking risks, so why stop now? “Melanie, I don’t want to just tag along.” He set down his empty wine glass and looked at her. “I want to drive the bus.”
She gazed at him. “This is a metaphorical bus, right?”
“Exactly. Showing you Paris would be a real kick in the head, but I want to do it my way.”
“And what would that be?”
At least she’d asked the question instead of giving him a flat no. He outlined some of his plans and watched her eyes. He saw eagerness and yearning there, but in the end, resignation eclipsed everything else.
“All that sounds lovely, and I won’t pretend that I wouldn’t enjoy being treated like a princess. Any woman would. I also understand why you wouldn’t want to see Paris on a budget. You’re beyond that. But I can’t have you spending that kind of money to entertain me, and even if I could deal with that issue, I don’t have the wardrobe for most of what you have in mind.”
“The wardrobe problem can be fixed, Cinderella.” He’d hoped that she’d laugh at that.
She did. “What, you have a fairy godmother living in your townhouse, Prince Charming?”
“No, I have one personal shopper. Give her your sizes, style preferences, and color choices, and she can fetch whatever you need right over to the townhouse. She does it for me all the time.”
“I guarantee I can’t afford the clothes, let alone the personal shopper.”
“I know that. Because I’m asking a favor of you, I would cover the cost.”
She blinked. “You’re asking a favor of me? How do you figure that?”
“Let’s go back to the movie analogy. Say this friend who was hankering to see the movie didn’t have the money to go. Would you want to treat her?”
“What if she was too proud to let you buy the ticket?”
She gazed at him over the rim of her wineglass. “Nicely done. But your example involves me laying out what’s basically lunch money. Whereas you—”
“Would be laying out lunch money.”
She regarded him silently for several seconds. “I can’t even get my mind around that.”
“Then don’t try. Let me show you Paris. Do me that favor.”
“I need time to consider this. My brain isn’t functioning very well right now. Lack of sleep is catching up with me.”
“I’ll bet.” He signaled for the waiter and pulled out his phone. “I’ll have Henri come get us.” He quickly texted their location to his chauffeur.
“And please don’t think I’m not grateful for your fabulous offer. But if I accept it, I’ll be spoiled. Every visit to Paris, maybe every trip I take from now on, will seem lame in comparison.”
“Maybe.” If she agreed to his plan, he ran the risk of creating an experience for himself that also might never be equaled. And he was willing to take that risk.
“But if I don’t do it, I’ll always wonder what it would have been like.”
He smiled. Her natural curiosity meant that his chances had just improved. “Tell you what. On the way home, give me some basic info for Josette so she can pick out a few things and bring them over in the morning. If your answer is no, then she can return it all and nobody loses money.”
“Won’t she charge you for the service?”
“I have her on retainer.”
“Oh.” She shook her head. “We live in completely different worlds.”
He tossed some money on the table. “Not at the moment.”