Home > Beauty and the Billionaire

Beauty and the Billionaire
Author: Claire Adams

Corsica - 1

I gritted my teeth and headed up the steep incline of the next block. If this place is any farther, I'll be able to see the Golden Gate Bridge, I thought.

North Beach hummed with diners on sidewalk patios, the buzz of neon signs, and lines of people waiting behind velvet ropes. The towering skyline of San Francisco blocked out the wide bay, but I could still feel the chill of the water. Wisps of fog clung to the taller buildings. Summer always brought cool ocean breezes and banks of fog to the city, and this June was no exception.

"Why did you make me wear these heels?" I whined to my friend.

Above me on the steep sidewalk, Ginny was almost even with my height. "Because they make your legs look great," she flung over her shoulder.

I inhaled the chill night breeze and smiled. My feet were killing me, but I felt loose and free for the first time in years. My little black dress clung to me like a secret power. I dressed up like that to feel that way.

"Love that smile." A mountainous man stepped in front of us. He was at least a foot taller than my 5'6" frame and muscled like a Mack truck. His dark eyes glittered with male appreciation as he held open a velvet rope.

"Thanks." Ginny blew him a kiss as she dragged me into the swanky nightclub.

He winked at me, and my stomach skittered with excitement. Still, I grabbed Ginny's arm and stopped her in the narrow hallway by the coat check. "What are you doing? We can't afford this place."

"Who says we have to afford anything?" Ginny fluffed her short-cropped, dark curls. "You're on fire and gentlemen still like buying hot women drinks. And, just wait until they hear you sing."

"Oh, no, wait." My fingers lost strength, and I let go of my friend's arm. "We're just here to dance and have fun. In fact, I don't know how you talked me into this in the first place. I have one hundred and one things I need to be doing. Did you see my list of applications I need to complete and send?"

"Corsica, we just graduated. You're allowed to celebrate," Ginny sighed.

I crossed my arms. "Graduating is not about celebrating, it's about next steps," I said. "A bachelor's in hospitality is not going to get me a job or a place in a MBA program."

"You can study hospitality at the bar." Ginny looped both her arms through the crook of my elbow and dragged me into the dance club. "And then you're going to sing in the karaoke lounge. I know you secretly wish you'd studied music performance. You should have. Now, enjoy yourself for once. Take a night off. Just one night."

"You want me to take the whole summer off," I grumbled.

Ginny slipped into the crowd and skipped down the stairs to the dance floor. I hesitated on the top step, and suddenly he was in front of me. Even in the dark, pulsing light of the nightclub, I could see gold flecks spark in his eyes. Shocked by the burning response I felt, I dropped my eyes to his lips. He frowned at me, and I knew what he saw.

I was just some ditzy, blonde rich girl. As if I could help the color of my hair. And, I was proud of the haute couture dress I'd found secondhand at a garage sale. I took pride in how I looked. He, on the other hand, had the careless look that normally repulsed me.

Despite the generous line of those frowning lips, his square jaw was hidden by a thick beard. The arm flexed on the banister was tattooed with an intricate web of interconnected designs covering almost every inch of skin. I even saw the point of a tattoo reaching up past the neckline of his worn T-shirt. He brushed back his dark, wavy hair and swept a gaze over me.

The heat I felt melted my insides, and my brain kicked into panic mode. How could I be so attracted to this man?

His dark-brown eyes clashed with mine again, and the flare of anger made me step back. It disappeared as he stepped forward, a rueful smile on his wide lips. "You are goddamn gorgeous," he said.

"And that's a bad thing?" I flipped my hair, then cringed inside. Misfiring nerves fried my system and I defaulted to aloof.

He chuckled and brushed back the few strands of hair that I missed. His coarse fingers skimmed my bare shoulder and a fissure of electricity lit up my whole body. "It is for me. Let me guess, I'm not your type."

"I don't have a type."

"Yeah, sure, princess. Look, your friend's snagged a couple of financial district boys. Better go have a few free drinks." He took the last two steps in one stride and stopped an inch in front of me. "Maybe I'll see you around."

"I'm from Santa Cruz." It was important to put that distance between us. I had to tip my head back to meet his eyes, but my body refused to step back from him.

"Of course you are. Dammit." He shook his head and twirled one of my golden curls around his finger. "I'm there a lot for work."

"You work?"

The words were a defense mechanism. I didn't trust myself around him. His rock hard chest was only inches from my lips. If I was snobbish and horrible, he would back off and I could get myself back under control. At least, I hoped. I had never felt this knocked out of orbit before.

"Relax, princess. I was just walking by." He stepped around me and slowly let my hair slip through his fingers. Then, he shook his head again and disappeared into the nightclub crowd.

I reached Ginny and took a long sip of the martini her new friend in the gray suit handed me. She made the introductions and I smiled at the businessmen, but my eyes kept dragging to the man I'd met as if he were a magnet. I watched him shake hands with a waiter, then slip past a velvet rope and up a curving staircase.

He was the opposite of every man I had ever found attractive. Ginny often joked that my fantasies were cut from a J. Crew catalog. I liked clean-cut, clean-shaven men whose wardrobes were exclusively business casual or tailored suits. No jeans, no worn T-shirts—no matter how the soft fabric clung to his chiseled shoulders.

Tousled hair, thick beards, and tattoos did not mesh with the vision I had of my future.

Just one night off, I thought as I glanced at him again. What if, for one night, I was someone completely different?

"Come on; I want to sing."

Ginny bounced with excitement and grabbed my hand. We waved goodbye to the businessmen as she dragged me across the corner of the crowded dance floor to the arched doorway on the other side of the club.

"Wait, who was that guy you were talking to?" Ginny stopped with one hand on the doors.

"What? Nobody."

She fixed narrowed eyes on my face. "It didn't look like nobody. He looked like a whole lot more than that."

I smoothed my long hair. "He wasn't my type."

She tipped her head and grinned. "I think looks can be deceiving. I mean, you look like a million dollars."

"Very funny," I said. "One of these days, I'll have a million dollars."

"At the expense of fun." Ginny shoved open the padded doors. "I'm just glad he inspired you to sing."

She skipped ahead before I could correct her. Through the padded doors was another set of glass doors, but the bouncer had it open as soon as he saw us.

The karaoke lounge was a world apart from the nightclub. The round tables ringed a raised, black stage backed by black, velvet curtains. A piano player lounged on his bench and waited for singers brave enough to opt away from the karaoke machine.

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