One Night With a BillionaireBy: VickiLewis Thompson
Dictating her clothing sizes, including her bra size in case a dress needed a unique undergarment, was a more intimate discussion than Melanie had expected.
Drew recorded everything in a text message and sent it off to Josette. “That way she can start shopping tonight.”
“I guess stores are open in the evenings here like they are back home, then.”
“Some are, but she goes after they close.”
“Of course she does. I should have known.” Melanie felt the giggles coming on. They were partly due to exhaustion and partly due to wine, but mostly she found herself laughing at her unbelievable situation. This sort of thing didn’t happen in real life, especially to a girl like her.
She’d grown up in a loving family, but her father’s ranch had never provided them with more than the basics. She was raised doing chores and cleaning hay out of her hair, not learning to charm people at cocktail parties. She’d attended college on a scholarship and had come out with a liberal arts degree and the realization that working on her daddy’s ranch pleased her more than any job she could imagine. She expected to marry a cowboy, and maybe they’d buy their own spread someday.
Drew Eldridge was about as far from that vision of her future as a person could get. But he was a very real part of her present as he sat beside her in the back seat of the Mercedes. He smelled good, too. Maybe it was the smell of money. That thought made her want to giggle all the more.
“What’s so funny?”
“Everything. I go from losing all my possessions to the prospect of wearing designer outfits while I do up the city in style. At least I assume they’ll be designer outfits?”
“Yes, ma’am. That’s Josette’s specialty.”
“Knowing that a personal shopper named Josette is out there choosing Parisian fashions for little ol’ me, a rootin’, tootin’ cowgirl, makes me laugh. Don’t you think it’s funny?” She turned to him, expecting a smile, a twinkle in those blue eyes as he shared the joke with her.
Instead he looked at her with such warmth that her heart started pounding. She’d assured Val that he wasn’t interested, but he sure seemed interested now. She’d been around him enough to realize he didn’t wear that expression all the time.
“I think you’ll look great in those designer clothes,” he said.
Or out of them? Maybe before she said yes or no to this new plan of his, she should clarify the details. But she couldn’t do that now with Henri all ears in the driver’s seat. She faced forward, but she could feel Drew’s gaze on her. Oh, yes, he was sexually attracted to her, and apparently he didn’t mind that she’d figured that out.
Her pulse was still out of control when they reached the townhouse. She’d been carrying on an inner debate the whole way. Neither of them had spoken again, which was fine with her, because she had to think, but she could feel the tension in the car.
Was she horrified by the thought that Drew would like to get cozy with her in addition to escorting her around town? No. He could be between girlfriends and she was handy. That wasn’t so terrible. She was between boyfriends and he was handy.
She’d never been one for brief affairs, but then she’d never been to Paris, either. Or been rescued by a billionaire who wanted to temporarily spoil her rotten. He’d said that her fresh take on the city energized him, or words to that effect. It might have energized his sex drive, too.
Ever since meeting Drew, she’d thought of him the same way she thought of the marble statues in the Louvre—beautiful to look at, but not a part of her world. Sure, she’d realized that he was sexy. Any woman would realize that. So what? His sex appeal had nothing to do with her. But perhaps it did, at least during the next four days.
Henri dropped them off and drove away to park the car. When they came to the door, Drew reached around her and opened it for her.
“You don’t need a key?” She walked into the foyer. Now that it was dusk, the crystal chandelier sparkled with light and turned the foyer into a magical space.
“Henri calls ahead and tells the housekeeper to open the door for me.” He closed it behind him. “I have a key, though, in case I happen to be coming in late. No reason to get someone out of bed.”
Bed. The word hung in the air, and she swallowed. “Could I talk to you for a minute?”
“Sure.” He took off his jacket. “Let’s go into the sittin’ room. Are you hungry? I could have the cook fix us some food.”
“Don’t be silly. We just came from eating.” She realized he must be nervous, too . . . or have his mind on something else. She unzipped her hoodie but kept it on. “I’ll be going off to bed soon.” Yikes, there was that word again. She was jumpier than some virginal bride, and yet she’d had lovers—three, to be exact. They’d all been cowboys who could ride and rope as well as she could. Drew might be a billionaire, but once his clothes were off, he’d be no different from any other man.
Or so she tried to tell herself. Yet in her heart she suspected it wasn’t true. Her other lovers had been strong and straightforward, making love like they did their cowboying. What would a billionaire like Drew be like in bed? He was used to being masterful and in control in the boardroom. Is that what he’d be like in the bedroom?
They went into the front parlor, a magnificent room with marble floors and a floor-to-ceiling fireplace with a coat of arms carved into the wall. She sat in a green silk wingback, and Drew took the sofa opposite her. He laid his jacket over the arm. Now that she was here in this formal setting and not tucked into the back seat of a car with him, she wondered if she’d imagined his sexual interest. If so, she was about to make a fool of herself.
Taking a deep breath, she gripped the upholstered arms of the chair. When she noticed that she was holding on for dear life, she relaxed her fingers. “I think we can agree that I’m not as worldly as you.”
“I’m not so sure about that.” He leaned forward and clasped his hands loosely between his knees. His blue gaze sought hers. “You knew plenty about the art in the Louvre.”
“I’m educated, especially in the arts, but that’s not the same as worldly.”
“You’re splittin’ hairs.”
“Drew, I’m talking about . . .” She glanced at the open double doors and lowered her voice. “Sex.”
He made a sound deep in his throat that could have been a groan or a laugh. He coughed into his fist and cleared his throat before looking at her. “You are?”
“Yes, and if I got the wrong impression from that moment in the car, I’ll die of embarrassment.”
“You didn’t get the wrong impression, darlin’.”
Her heartbeat thundered in her ears. She’d asked for this conversation, but she had no idea what to say next.
He focused those amazing blue eyes on her. “I think you’re wonderful, in every way. Your zest for life is like a shot in the arm. That’s why I want to give you the grand tour of Paris, because I know we’d have ourselves a terrific time. But I also find you tempting as all get-out, and I’ve struggled with that.”
“You have? For how long?”
“Pretty much since I first saw you. Your expression when you were looking at Notre Dame was . . . I don’t know if I can explain it, but I had an instant gut reaction. There was a sensual look about you that I couldn’t resist. I was determined to say hi.”
“Is that attraction . . . Is that why you invited me to stay with you?”
“No. At least I hope I’m not that much of a schemer. But from the moment those bastards grabbed your backpack and knocked you down, I’ve felt in charge of your welfare. The easiest way to make sure that you’ll be safe is to keep you here.”
“I do feel safe.”
“You are.” He paused. “And you’re safe from me, too.”
That was disappointing news. She was just getting used to the idea of having a wild and crazy affair with him. “Why?”
He laughed and shook his head. “You’re something else. Only you would ask that.” He cleared his throat again. “It’s simple. I’ve offered you a place to stay and a top-drawer introduction to Paris. I’m doing it as much for me as for you, but you’ll still feel indebted. After the few hours we’ve spent together, I’m positive about that.”
“You’re right. I do feel indebted.”
He spread his hands, palms up. “There you go. What kind of man would make a woman feel beholden to him and then hit on her? I don’t tolerate that kind of manipulation from others, and I sure as hell won’t tolerate it in myself.”
So he was claiming the moral high ground. She wasn’t sure where that left her. Probably sleeping alone for the rest of her visit. She could protest that she wouldn’t feel manipulated, but that was more forward than she was prepared to be at this point.
Plus she had her own issues. Throwing herself at a billionaire was tacky, even if the billionaire had admitted that she turned him on. She didn’t want to put herself anywhere near the gold-digger category. Her daddy had raised her to be hardworking and honest, so it just wasn’t her way.
“I’m glad we had this talk.” She stood.
“So am I.” He got up, too. “Because I have to tell you, I weakened when we were in the car. When you started getting giggly, I had a tough time not kissing you.”
Zing. That comment certainly put a match to her fuse. “But you controlled yourself.”
“Only because you wouldn’t look at me. If you’d turned your head the slightest little bit, that would have been all she wrote.”
She noticed that his drawl became more pronounced when his emotions were involved. Sometimes he didn’t sound like a guy from Dallas, but other times, like now, he could have been the boy next door. She wondered if he’d deliberately tried to iron out the Texas from his speech.
He shoved his hands in the pockets of his jeans, and now he really looked like a Texan. “Now that we’ve talked about this, we’ll both be aware of it. I swear that I can take you on all those excursions without forgettin’ myself, so don’t let that be a factor in your decision.”
She debated saying what she was thinking, and finally decided that she might regret going upstairs and leaving it unsaid. “You haven’t asked how I feel regarding this subject.”
He sucked in a breath. “No, I haven’t. That’s not good.” He hesitated. “How do you feel about this subject?”
“I’m not sure yet. Until I saw the way you looked at me in the car, I thought I was sort of like a homeless pet you’d adopted to keep me from roaming the streets alone and getting hurt.”
“Melanie, I never—”
“Don’t worry. You didn’t give me that impression. That was all in my head. I tried to figure out why you were being so nice, and then I found out that you’re into charity work, so everything made sense. You look out for those who can’t look out for themselves.”
“I do, but I don’t put you in that category. I respect your resourcefulness and your optimism.”
She smiled. “Drew, you’ve already told me that from the moment I was mugged you’ve felt in charge of my welfare. Which is it? Do you want to protect me or send me out to slay my own dragons?”
“Both!” He groaned and shoved his fingers through his hair. “Both,” he said more quietly. “I never want to undermine your confidence. But if you need me . . .”
The note of yearning in his voice touched her. Closing the gap between them, she stood on tiptoe and brushed her mouth against his.
“Thank you,” she murmured.
Then she hurried out of the room, because the wine-rich taste of his mouth lingered on her lips, and she wanted more. Much more. She just didn’t know what she’d be getting into if she took it.
Drew balled his hands into fists to keep from reaching for her. Then she ran out of the room, which was a good thing. He could control himself as long as she kept her distance, but he needed to warn her that light fairy kisses from a woman in a T-shirt and jeans could be more tempting than a blatant display of cleavage, at least for him.
He was a veteran of what he called the Titty Wars. There was a certain kind of woman, and thank God Melanie wasn’t of that tribe, who thought a man could be enslaved by generous breasts, temptingly showcased in tight shirts or plunging necklines and pressed against his arm as often as possible.
Not one of those women would have honestly told him what they thought about anything, much less how they felt about having sex with him. He couldn’t really blame them. They’d bought the cultural stereotype, which had been perpetuated mostly by men, if you got right down to it. Powerful men had often molded the behavior of women. Maybe that was another thing about Melanie that attracted him. She wouldn’t be easily molded by anyone, least of all a guy like him.
His phone chimed and he glanced at the number. Josette. He took the call.
“André, mon ami, how are you on this lovely evening?” She had the husky voice of a lifelong smoker. And no matter how many times he’d coached her, she just couldn’t—or wouldn’t—pronounce his name the American way, so she just pretended he used the French version when he was in Paris.
“Great, Josette. Were you able to find anything for my friend?”
“Many things. Many lovely things. I could bring them over now, but if you’re having a little tête-à-tête with your lady, I can wait until tomorrow.”
“She’s not really my lady, and she landed in Paris this morning. I’m sure by now she’s fast asleep, so if you’d like to come by, that would be just fine.”
“Then I’ll do it. I’m so excited with the clothes. I want to show you.”
“Good. I want to see them, too. Merci, Josette.” He disconnected and closed down his computer. Then he clicked the intercom on his desk, which was connected to the servants’ quarters downstairs. “Raoul, bring up a bottle of that Pinot Noir I had last night. Madame Theroux is due any minute and she’ll want some. And a sliced baguette and warm brie, too.”
“Right away, monsieur.”
Drew enjoyed the French way of doing business, which was often over a glass of wine. Some of his oldest friends gave him a hard time for preferring wine to whiskey or beer. He came from cowboy country, and cowboys don’t drink wine.
Josette must not have been far away when she’d called, because the doorbell rang before Raoul had brought up the wine. Drew left his office to greet Josette, a brunette in her sixties who’d probably worn five-inch heels every day of her life since she’d turned eighteen. Even if he hadn’t needed a personal shopper, he would have pretended to so that he could have regular dealings with this feisty woman.
She was loaded down with garment bags and boxes from the best shops along the Champs-élysées. “André!” She handed everything to the maid who’d opened the door and came toward him, arms outstretched. Grabbing his head, she kissed him on both cheeks.
Laughing, he returned the favor and breathed in her signature Chanel No. 5, something she’d probably also been wearing since she’d turned eighteen.
“I have so many beautiful things for your lady friend, André.” She beamed at him. “Is she from Dallas?”
“Yes, as a matter of fact, but she’s not my—”
“How nice for you.” Josette’s brown eyes twinkled. “And you’re going to show her the city, yes?”
“I hope so.” He gestured toward the sitting room.
“Why wouldn’t you?” Josette walked briskly into the room and sat on one end of the sofa. “Too busy?” She glanced at the maid who’d come in with all the packages. “Merci, Isabella.” She patted the sofa. “Ici.”
“I can make the time,” Drew said. “But she feels uncomfortable accepting such extravagance.”
Josette’s eyebrows lifted. “C’est unique.”
“Yeah. And I like that she’s hesitant about spending my money. But it’s frustrating, too, because I want her to experience the best the city has to offer.”
“And Les Folies Bergère?”
“Yes! I hadn’t thought of that, but what a brilliant idea. She should see that, too.”
Raoul showed up with a tray and set it on the low table in front of the sofa. After pouring the wine, he left.
Josette smiled as she spread a piece of bread with the melted cheese. “André, you are turning into a Frenchman.”
“I need to search my family tree.” He picked up his wineglass. “I’ll bet there’s a French branch stuck on there somewhere.”
“Mais, bien sur.” Josette savored her bread and cheese and sipped her wine. Then she set down the glass and gazed at him. “This lady, she is special, non?”
Drew nodded. “She impresses me.”
“Then I hope she likes what I found for her.” Dusting off her hands, Josette reached for a long box and opened it. “Voilà!” She shook out a black and red silk dress that shimmered in the lamplight.
Drew swallowed. If the sleeveless confection looked sexy lying there against the sofa cushions, he could imagine the dynamite effect once Melanie put it on. “Nice.”
“And because the evenings are cool, I added this.” She plunged her hand into a glossy black shopping bag and came out with an elegant cape in black satin.
“How about shoes?”
“Certainement, mon ami.” She flipped open a shoe box to reveal black satin pumps.
Following that, Josette laid out her other purchases, but Drew couldn’t stop staring at the red and black dress. He was determined to see Melanie wearing it, along with the do-me shoes and the short black cape. Her reluctance was merely a challenge, and he thrived on overcoming obstacles.
“Yes. Très bon. Thank you, Josette.”
She stood. “Treat this one well, chéri.”
“Excuse me?” Josette was always free with wardrobe advice, but she’d never said a word about his personal life.
“If she’s worried about spending your money, I like her already.”
“So do I.” He escorted Josette to the door and they exchanged good-bye kisses. After he closed the door, he stood there thinking about Melanie tucked into the Blue Room upstairs. “So do I,” he murmured.