Home > The Billionaire’s Fake Christmas Engagement

The Billionaire’s Fake Christmas Engagement
Author: Leslie North

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Las Vegas stretched out beneath the Top of the World restaurant, all glittering lights and flashing signs under a night sky tinged orange on the horizon by the glow rising from the city. Gabe Elkin sat back in his seat and took in the Christmastime glow of the city below. It was a great view. But it was nothing compared to his view of the woman who sat across from him—Anna Waters, the conference liaison who’d spent the last several weeks at his side.

The job they’d just completed had been a massive one for his company, and the adrenaline rush of the conference still lingered in Gabe’s veins. Tech leaders had gathered from across the country, and even the world, for the expo hosted at the Palazzo. Gabe’s own company had demoed a new app to rave reviews.

“We couldn’t have done it without you,” he told Anna. “Have I mentioned this was our most successful launch?”

She looked across at him and winked, the glow from the casinos nearby reflected on her face. “You might have mentioned it a couple of times. But I’m still impressed, don’t worry.”

“You should be impressed,” he teased. “You’re the one who’s seen this up close and personal, and now you’ll see how far we can take it.”

“Ooh,” she said. “Is it going to have an international presence, then? Are you going to be world-famous?”

They both laughed. Of course the app would have an international presence—in fact, Anna had been instrumental in planning for its introduction to colleagues from other countries. Honestly, she’d been a godsend, and that wasn’t something Gabe thought about many people. He had been his own godsend when he moved away from his family’s luxury ski resort in Colorado. He’d built his company and his own life, here in Las Vegas, much to the chagrin of those who thought he should have settled in the Silicon Valley. But now that the year’s final expo was over, a hollow feeling nagged him underneath all the adrenaline.

Which was why he’d wanted to take Anna out for one last dinner. They’d eaten together plenty of times in his office and at the conference hotel, tucked away by the pool or in the lobby. They’d spent so many late nights on the phone, planning the launch down to the last detail. And now he didn’t really have a reason to keep talking to her. She was, after all, a conference liaison, not his personal assistant.

And if she had been his personal assistant, he would have no business wondering where the night might lead.

The laughter settled. Gabe wrapped his hand around his wine glass. Anna’s dark chocolate eyes still lingered. Eyes that were a perfect complement to her hair, which reminded him of smooth toffee. He loved the dimple she sported on one cheek, one that far too many times he thought of kissing. And then there were those curves. He wasn’t supposed to be thinking about those, either.

Gabe cleared his throat. “I wanted to thank you for everything you did.”

“You’re welcome.” Her smile got wider. “I take pleasure in a job well done.”

“It was a job very well done. I wish I could steal you away for my own company.”

She waved this off with a grin that tugged at something deep within his chest. “You promised—no work talk at the celebration dinner.”

“I would never promise that, and you know it.”

Anna laughed again, sending a bolt of joy straight into the middle of Gabe’s chest. Making her laugh—he was going to miss that most of all. It was a low, sweet sound, and he’d heard it plenty over the past few weeks, both over the phone and in person.

“Okay, fine.” She smoothed her napkin over her lap. “Can’t get anything by you.”

From the way she was looking at him now, all big eyes and pink cheeks, she didn’t want to get by him. Gabe wouldn’t mind taking her back to his penthouse apartment. He wouldn’t mind it at all. The air heated between them. Dinner was only half-done, but at the end of it, he had the feeling he wouldn’t be going home alone. Anna leaned forward, one hand beneath her chin, and watched him.

Yes.

Gabe’s phone buzzed in his pocket. Irritation quickly replaced the heady feeling of anticipation that had spilled over him like fine wine. Whoever it was could wait. He dipped a hand into his pocket and silenced the call.

But Anna had heard it, or she’d seen the movement, and her wide smile had turned to a concentrated look. “Someone from the hotel?”

“It can wait, whatever it is.” His phone rang again, and worry crept in at the edges. “All right—maybe it can’t. I’m so sorry. Let me take this.”

“Of course, but I’m not going to let my dinner get cold.” Anna shooed him away and picked up her fork. She’d ordered steak, medium-well, and butterflied to perfection. He’d ordered the same, and the green beans had come dripping in butter, reminding him of long-ago family dinners at the Elk Lodge.

Nothing, however, reminded him of his home so much as the sight of his brother’s name on his phone screen. Gabe headed for the restaurant’s lobby, bypassing a couple wrapped up in each other on the bench. He found the first available quiet spot near the restrooms.

“I’m at dinner, Jonas. Can I call you back?” Typically, his brother would say yes and that he was only calling to strategize.

“No, I’m afraid not.” His brother’s tone shook Gabe out of his rushing thoughts. “I need you to come home.”

“What? Now?” A hundred possibilities tumbled into his mind. An accident with one of his brothers. A fire at the lodge. Or worse, something about his grandmother. “Is everything all right?”

Jonas sighed, and Gabe felt that sigh in every bone in his body. “It’s okay for now.” He recognized his brother’s careful tone. It was the one Jonas used when hedging—when he didn’t want to tell the whole story or wanted to hold something back. “You know about Grandmother’s lung cancer.” Of course he knew. Jonas himself had called him late one night to drop the bomb, following it up by telling him everything was under control.

“Yes, yes.” Gabe hated how impatient he sounded, but his heart beat fast and hard. If Jonas had something to tell him, then he should say it now. Right now. “Did something happen?”

In the beat before Jonas’s answer, dread fanned out in the pit of Gabe’s gut and clenched hard.

“I don’t want to make it seem worse than it is,” Jonas told him. “But it’s not good. The cancer has progressed, even more since Thanksgiving. She might not make it through to Valentine’s Day, and she—” There was a pause, and Gabe held his breath. If Jonas was struggling through this, then it was bad. “Look. She’s asking for you to come home and spend the time before Christmas with the family. She wants all of us to be together.”

“I’ll be there.” It surprised him how easily the words slipped from his mouth. Gabe had avoided going home for long stretches since he moved out to Vegas. It would be too easy for the Elk Lodge to reel him back in, and he didn’t want that. He had his own life now, and a place like home—with all the gravity of its family relationship and traditions—would threaten to suck him back in. “Of course I’ll be there. I’ll get a flight in the morning.”

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