Dirty Billionaire (Page 34)

“Good. Text me if anything comes up in preflight.”


I’m feeling the warm glow of contentment that he’s making sure I’m going to get back to Nashville early when he heads back into the dining room and climbs back onto the table. But not on his side. He settles himself behind me, lifting me so I sit on his lap.

“We’re going to teach you to eat with chopsticks.”

“This is going to get messier than it already is, then.”

“So be it.” He grabs the chopsticks with his left hand and places them in my right hand, positioning my fingers awkwardly around them. “Like this.”

He guides my chopstick-holding hand to the sushi and manipulates my fingers until we’ve picked up a piece and dipped it in soy sauce. Ever so carefully, we lift it toward my mouth. Which is right about when I realize what we’re doing is almost more intimate than when he bent me over the back of the couch.

My hand shakes, and the chopsticks lose their light grip right before it reaches my lips . . . and the cold rice and fish slips right down the neck of the T-shirt I’m wearing.

“Damn it,” I say. “I knew this was going to be a disaster.”

Sushi might be delicious, but it feels kinda gross now that the rice is stuck to my boobs and the fish is somewhere farther south, near my own tuna.

Creighton chuckles before reaching his hand down the neck of the shirt and scooping up the remains. I twist and watch as he pops it into his mouth.

“Tastes even better.”

I slip my hand under the shirt and grab the errant piece of fish, holding it between a thumb and forefinger. He nips my fingers before snatching it up.

“How about we skip the chopsticks? I’m lucky if I can figure out which fork to use. Adding in completely new utensils isn’t really fair for this Kentucky girl.” I lean back against him, the novelty of this position not yet wearing off.

“Tell me about it.”

His question confuses me. “Tell you about what?”

“Being a Kentucky girl.”

I twist again to take in his expression. He looks genuinely curious, but that doesn’t really make me want to share. My upbringing was light years away from anything Creighton can imagine.

“Nothing much to tell.”

“Now, that I don’t believe.”

I think about what I can tell him.

I was born in a tiny town with one red blinking light. I’m not even sure that qualifies as a one-stoplight town. I never knew my father, probably because my mama wasn’t so sure who he was either. My earliest memory was stuffing all my toys and clothes in a garbage bag and dragging it behind me as we moved from trailer to trailer through the park as she hooked up with loser after loser. Paper-thin walls didn’t muffle the sound of her “earning” our keep.

I took refuge in music—putting my headphones on and turning up the volume to drown it all out. One of the least loser-ish of the losers gave me a hand-me-down iPod loaded with tons of country music. Living in Kentucky, that’s about all I heard anyway, but he had the classics too. Loretta Lynn, old Reba, the Man in Black—I soaked up their words and eventually started writing my own.

When I was fourteen, my mama hooked up with a man who had enough money to buy her a Cadillac Eldorado, but didn’t want to have anything to do with a kid. She clutched the keys to her new Eldo in her hand as she told me to pack my bags, because I was moving in with my gran.

Doing what I’ve done so many times before, I loaded everything I owned into a garbage bag and stuffed it in the trunk of the Eldo. My one and only ride in that car was across the river, where she dropped me off like a litter of unwanted kittens. I suppose I should be lucky she didn’t stop at the bridge and attempt to drown me. Gran lived a half mile from the happening hot spot in town: Pints and Pins, affectionately known as Brews and Balls by the locals.

But I couldn’t tell him most any of that. I decide on the streamlined version.

“I’m from a one-stoplight town. My gran raised me after my mama decided to do some exploring. It was better that way, because Mama bounced us around a lot, depending on what guy she was . . . dating at the time. I worked at a bowling alley to help make extra money.”

My gran and Brews and Balls were both my salvation in different ways. Gran because she welcomed me with open arms and gave me the unconditional love and stability I lacked for the first fourteen years of my life. Birthday cakes, Christmas presents—those things became expected instead of the hit-or-miss mess they were with my mama.

When he doesn’t speak, I continue to fill the silence. “Gran lived on Social Security, so every extra dollar helped.”

To myself I add, Because my mama sure didn’t send any home. Nope, after she packed up her Eldo and hooked it to the back of the rich man’s motorhome and rode out of town, we didn’t hear from her for years.

Shaking off the bitterness, I kept going. “Brews and Balls was the first stage I ever stood on to sing in front of people. One karaoke night, the crowd wasn’t getting into it, so Benny, the owner, decided to take matters into his own hands. He’d heard me singing to myself in the kitchen while I was frying up onion rings and hot wings and chicken fingers, and decided that I’d do just fine. He pushed me out of the kitchen and into the bar, not even giving me time to drop my apron. The song was ‘Born to Fly’ by Sara Evans. When I finished, there was dead silence . . . and then the crowd went crazy.”

I close my eyes, the memory still vivid in my head. When I stepped off the stage, Benny had tears in his eyes. “You surely were born to fly, Holly.” He was the first and only man ever to believe in me.