Dirty Billionaire (Page 16)

Do I take the safe road? Or do I take the bold one?

“Sixty! Fifty-nine! Fifty-eight!”

My belly flops as the countdown to the New Year begins.

I suck in a deep breath and let it out. And I start to run.

Heart hammering, I lift my hand to knock, but before my knuckles connect with the surface, the door swings open.

And there he is.

Tall and darkly handsome in a black suit, crisp white shirt, and thin black tie. Silver cufflinks pin his French cuffs in place, and a heavy silver watch peeks out from beneath, settling against his thick, tanned wrist. The minute hand on that watch should just be sliding past the mark of the midnight hour. I made it just in time.

I drag my gaze up the length of his tie until I reach his face. Even in my high-heeled boots, he’s still several inches taller than me.

He’s not looking at my face, though; he’s making a leisurely study of the rest of me. Even though I just did the same thing, his gaze sends prickles of heat through me as I wait for him to finish. I count to fifteen before he finally meets my eyes.

His deep brown irises give nothing away, and neither does his expressionless face. A five o’clock shadow darkens his jaw, which makes him even more dangerously gorgeous than I remember.

“On time like a good girl. You just saved yourself a punishment.”

The prickling heat spreads at the approval in his tone, although I think I hear a trace of disappointment at the lack of punishment. The memory of his palm connecting with my rear flashes through my brain, and I fight to keep my composure.

“Come in,” he says before stepping back and holding the door open wide.

Following his command, I walk inside, attempting to hide the strange combination of anticipation and misgiving racing through me.

The door shuts with a decisive thud, and the metallic click of the dead bolt seems to echo in the silence of the room. Or maybe that’s just my wildly overactive imagination, which is replaying everything that happened in this room that night. It’s like the reverse walk of shame, or returning to the scene of a crime.

Stop. Pull it together, Holly.

I walk to the window and stare down nineteen stories toward Central Park. Christmas lights and people are everywhere, celebrating the New Year. And out there in a studio on Times Square, there’s a very unhappy JC and some livid record executives.

I had to shut my phone off hours before, turning it on only to call Tana, and powering it down immediately after. I told them I’d show up if I thought I could live with the decision, but it turns out, I can’t.

And so now I’m here.

I feel him behind me, even though I didn’t hear him cross the room. I tear my gaze away from the lights and turn to face him.

Taking a steadying breath, I say the only thing I can think of. “You sure know how to get a girl’s attention.”

His full lips quirk into a half smile before smoothing back into their expressionless line. Even the serious expression fuels the heat building in my core. I don’t understand this man’s effect on me. It makes no sense.

“I knew it would work.” He holds out a hand. “I’ll take your jacket.”

His deep baritone rumbles through me, and my hands automatically reach for the buttons of my pea coat, even though I should be bristling at his certainty that I’d show. How could he know that? He doesn’t know me.

He waits in silence for me to undo the buttons and hand it over. I focus on his eyes as they flick down to take in my skinny jeans tucked into fringed brown leather boots—my favorite pair and a rare indulgence, which I wore for a boost of confidence—and sheer white top and white cami beneath it. The rhinestones hanging from my ears and circling my wrist are costume jewelry, and this man is clearly used to spending time with women wearing diamonds. I’m obviously underdressed.

Why didn’t I take something from my stage clothes to wear? A sexy dress, or a short skirt? Something that wouldn’t remind me of my humble upbringing as he surveys me. You can take the girl out of the trailer park . . .

Pushing the thought away, I straighten my shoulders and hand over my coat. He drapes it over the back of a chair with efficient movements and turns to face me once more. A briefcase sits on the desk, and I wonder if the notorious prenup is inside.

This is insane, I tell myself. But desperate times . . .

I try to lighten the mood by gesturing to myself. “I guess this isn’t exactly what you were expecting.”

“You wore a skirt last time.”

I’m not sure what to make of that. “Yeah, well, I figured if you’re serious at all about this, you should see something that approaches the real me, which is nothing fancy. The only time I generally go for anything special is when I’m onstage.”

A flash of surprise spreads across his face, but he locks it away as quickly as it came. His next question surprises the hell out of me.

“Are you a stripper?”

I can’t help but laugh. Given where I come from, that’s not really a bad guess. A little devil on my shoulder takes control of my mouth.

“Is your offer contingent on me not being a stripper?” I automatically reach up to twirl my hair in what I assume is a stripper-like mannerism.

He considers the question for a moment. “I suppose not.”

I smile, but I’m shocked by his reply. Really? Creighton Karas would marry a stripper?

“Why would you—”

My question is cut off when he says, “You didn’t answer me.”

I drop the lock of hair and lower my hands to my sides. Not fidgeting under his direct stare takes all my effort.