Big Brother Billionaire (Part Three) (7 page)

BOOK: Big Brother Billionaire (Part Three)
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“Yes, I hope so,” I said, retrieving the envelope from my purse and handing it to her. “I’d like you to assume ownership of this club.”

She promptly dropped the envelope. “What?”

“The club,” I said, enunciating. “It’s yours. Well, I’ll see you through the paperwork and the overall plan and the transition, but Friday will be my last day. I won’t be coming in Saturday. That will be your first day as the owner of this place.”

“But where are you going?” she asked, her lower lip becoming larger and larger until I realized her eyes were filling up with tears.

“Don’t be sad,” I said, sharper than I meant. “I’m just retiring, that’s all. I knew I could trust you to keep this place going. It means a lot to me, the club, and it was good to me. I want it to be good for you, too, and I think you’ve learned everything you need to know.”

“You’re not old enough to retire,” Sol protested. “I have read the laws. I know you are not sixty-two.”

“Thank you for the vote of confidence,” I said, shuddering a bit. “But when you have enough money and the will to do it, you can retire whenever you want.”

“But why me?”

“Do you even have to ask?” I peered at her shimmering eyes, sighed, and handed her a tissue. Tears were just going to have to happen. “You have a great work ethic, Sol. You remember everything I teach you and show you and tell you. You understand what it is to dance on that stage, and you know what it takes to keep this place running. You’ve had hard things happen to you, just as I have. Reap some rewards for all of your hard work. Be good to this place, and it will return your love tenfold.”

She hugged me tightly—there was nothing I could do to avoid that—and carefully dabbed at her face with the tissue to avoid smudging her eye makeup.

“I don’t know how to thank you,” she said, her voice quavering.

I laughed darkly. “Don’t thank me yet,” I said. “Go over the paperwork. I can’t give you the club outright. The taxes on that would be hefty. I arranged a payment plan that will gradually transfer the complete ownership of the place to you. We’ll talk this over for the rest of the week.”

“Friday is too soon for you to go,” Sol said. “It’s already Tuesday.”

“We have plenty of time,” I promised her. “I could make my last day today and you would be just fine.”

I realized that I was going to miss this place more than I thought I would, right down to the obnoxious electronic music so many girls were requesting now. How they could make a routine out of sounds that could best be described as robot sex was beyond me. I should’ve probably admired them more for it, but I would’ve just picked a catchy tune with plenty of rhythm.

Sol more or less glommed onto me each time I showed up for work, shadowing my every move, taking copious notes on a clipboard. She wouldn’t need them. She knew everything already, anyway, but if it made her feel more secure, I wouldn’t call her out.

On Friday, leaving the club was especially poignant for me—surprisingly so. I’d forbidden Sol to tell the other girls, to make any big deal out of it whatsoever. I wanted no announcements, no hugs, and no tears.

And yet it was me, crying like a baby on the drive home after my last night at one of the most important places in my life. I’d left Sol to close, to do the books she already knew how to do, and it had been like leaving a child in the care of a stranger.

I poured myself a triple of bourbon the moment I got to my liquor cabinet in the condo. Eager to dull my pain at moving on, I drank another. And one more. It was dizzying, and more than I usually drank, but it did the trick. I went straight to bed—no box of letters, no more weeping.

I felt rudderless upon waking with the realization that I had nowhere to be. Sol was the owner of the club now. It was her responsibility to open up, get the great machine spinning and whirring, all the cogs moving together. She’d do a fine job of it, I knew.

I decided to distract myself with travel plans. Where did I want to go? What did I want to see? Part of me just wanted to buy a plane ticket to Europe and land without any firm plans. I could travel across the continent, go wherever I pleased, beholden to no one but myself. And I wouldn’t even have an itinerary in mind.

I’d stopped worrying about the club by the evening, poring over train schedules and recommendations from fellow travelers about Europe. Or maybe I should be more adventurous and try Africa. I’d always wanted to see the animals you usually saw on TV or in zoos in their natural habitats. I could tour the entire cradle of humanity, if I liked.

My phone buzzed. Then again. And again.

I frowned and reached for it, noting that my bourbon needed topping off.

Then, bile rose in my throat. All three texts had been from Sol.

“SOS,” the first one read.

“Need you at the club,” the next one read.

“No time to explain,” was the third, but I was already pulling on trousers and tossing a button-down shirt over my shoulders, jamming my arms in the holes, hoping that I’d have enough time at stoplights to finish buttoning it. I swept on tinted moisturizer, lipstick, and mascara, but that was all the time I could spend on my appearance if I was responding to an emergency at the club.

I drove as fast as I dared, aware that I had had a drink or two as my lazy day progressed. It wouldn’t do to start my new life off getting pulled over and in trouble.

What could have happened that would necessitate me getting there? I hoped that I wouldn’t roll into the parking lot to see the club on fire. But nothing else as pressing would present itself to me. Or maybe someone had been murdered inside, or something equally as gruesome. But why call me instead of the police? Maybe Sol was panicking. Maybe she wasn’t ready for this.

Maybe I wasn’t ready to step away from the club.

I let my breath out with a whoosh as I wheeled into a free parking spot at the club, happy to not see it engulfed with flames and to button the last button on my shirt. Whatever emergency it was, I could deal with it. I was Parker, after all, and this place was my baby. I’d seen it away from death’s door and raised it to be a healthy, vibrant thing. Whatever it was, I could fix it.

But I still had no way of knowing what was waiting for me beyond that door.

“Surprise!”

I’d thrown open the heavy door to the entrance, already pissed that there wasn’t a bouncer stationed there to do it for me, when I burst into a gathering of people who were apparently all there to see me.

Overwhelmed was an understatement. I had been more or less ambushed by a throng of people whose faces I eventually began to recognize.

Sol was in front, laughing and clapping her hands, then Jennet and Faith, arms hooked together and beaming. All of the dancers I’d employed were there, dressed in street clothes, and then I noticed faces from a more distant past—Babs, Mary, and Sally. How had they known to come here? I’d lost contact with them so long ago. They looked good to me—older, of course, but I was sure I looked older to them, as well.

“What in the world is this?” I demanded, halfway angry with Sol as she approached me, still laughing.

“It’s a special event,” she said. “My first as owner of this club. Tonight, we honor and celebrate you.”

“But you’re not making any money,” I protested. “What about the customers? What have you told them? What if they get out of the habit of coming here because you denied them entrance?”

“There’s plenty of time for me to worry about that, not you,” Sol scolded me. “Who’s in charge here?”

It was so strange to be here and not have full control of everything that was going on. The only thing I could think of was that the club was losing money, that no one was making money, that I wished everyone wasn’t looking at me, and that I wasn’t the center of attention. I hadn’t been the center of attention in this place for a long time.

“Now,” Sol said, clapping her hands briskly, as I’d been unable to mount any sort of defense against this event. “It’s time for drinks and memories. The guest of honor gets the finest seat in the house.”

She escorted me to a table in the VIP section, and the rest of the guests made their way to other tables dotting the floor. There was practically a full house here. Could they really all be for me?

“I was going over the records late at night all week,” Sol said, delivering a cocktail to me and patting my shoulder almost apologetically. “I felt like I was cramming for a test or something. Then, I decided that I should invite anyone you’ve ever worked with. You keep incredibly detailed records. This is your retirement party. Are you surprised?”

Surprised would not cover my feelings on what was happening. I was agape at the turnout, more and more people gradually filtering in. There was a customer who’d been a regular for years, and another former bouncer I hadn’t thought of in a long time. It was overwhelming to be practically seated on a dais in front of all of them like a queen. Sol had tried to do something nice, but I was so uncomfortable that I began casting around in my mind, trying to find the best way to duck out of here and slink back home.

“Parker.”

All sounds faded. The music, the hum of conversations around me. I turned slowly in my seat, telling myself that my mind was playing tricks on me, that there was no way this could be happening right now.

But then I saw him with my own eyes, and everything else faded into the background.

“What are you doing here?” I murmured, as he took my hand and kissed it.

“Do you think I’d miss this for anything?” Marcus said, smiling down at me. He’d never looked better, his broad shoulders perfectly fitting the tailored gray suit he wore. His salt and pepper hair was tending toward the salt side, but those dark eyes would never change, the light somehow dancing within them. They took my breath away just as they had all those years ago, standing among pamphlets fluttering down out of the sky that were supposed to tell me my future. They had, in a way. They’d told me that my future was with this man, easing down into a seat Sol pushed his way, smiling knowingly.

“Have I wasted my whole life?” I breathed, tears filling my eyes, blurring the sight of the only person I wanted to see out of all the bodies assembled in this room.

“What are you talking about?” Marcus asked, sheltering my hand in between his. “Wasted? You haven’t wasted your life.”

“But I have.” I struggled not to start sobbing. This was my fucking party, and I wasn’t going to ruin it by crying. I threw up dams in my heart, fought the telltale closing of my throat. “All these years, I’ve ignored the one good thing in my life. I’ve done all but shut you out, Marcus. I’ve wasted my life, and I’ve caused you to waste yours.”

He laughed, and I scowled. “Please tell me how you’ve made me waste my life,” he said, resting his chin on his fist, almost mockingly. Fury easily replaced despair.

“You’ve not had a single meaningful romantic relationship in your life because of me,” I said. “You’ve had to swoop in and save me from myself. I’ve practically strung you along, you waiting for me to cave in, to forget about us not being able to be together. I decided I wanted to save myself, lift myself up, and yet here you are, still here after all these years, waiting for me. Look at us, Marcus. We’re old. We wasted whole decades.”

After that tirade, all he did was turn my hand upward and plant a soft kiss on my palm.

“I don’t feel old,” he said. “And I know that things take time. Maybe we did have to live one life apart from each other. What’s important now is what you want to do, how you want to go forward. If you want to do your own thing, then tell me. I’ll respect that. I’ll stay away. But the truth of my life, Parker, is that I can never stop loving you. I would drop all of this in an instant if I thought you were ready to be with me. All you have to do is tell me, Parker. Or write me a letter. It doesn’t matter. Being with you is all I’ve ever wanted.”

He let my hand go gently—so gently—and stood up, smiling still, smiling in spite of everything, and then walked away.

Walked away, right back out of my life.

The door to the club opened and shut, and I realized I didn’t have another forty years to wait. I didn’t have another ten. I couldn’t wait any longer for him. I just didn’t want to.

Why had my mom denied the existence of my absolute love for the man who was walking away from me right now? We’d been young then. Maybe it had been easy to just label our attraction as puppy love. But I wasn’t getting any younger, and neither was Marcus. It didn’t matter anymore that our parents had made us siblings by marriage. None of that mattered anymore.

I’d finally started doing what I wanted to do just by retiring from the club. I’d paid it forward to Sol; something else I’d wanted to do.

Now, when was the time when I was going to start doing the things that mattered to me the most?

I pushed myself out of my chair, almost toppling it over in the process, and practically bolted to the exit, bypassing a fussing Sol and a number of surprised old friends. I shoved open the door and sprinted out in the parking lot despite the height of my heels and my aching knees, because this was too important.

Knowing what I wanted, and knowing I was finally ready to have it without a single regret was far too important.

A car door shut, and I wheeled around. There. The dark town car he usually hired for his trips to Miami. I’d seen it so often that I associated it as Marcus’ car. The driver was walking back around, and I was running across the parking lot, waving my hands over my head, shouting things that didn’t make sense to me, and not giving a damn about how crazy I looked. I would go crazy if I let Marcus slip away from me this last time.

BOOK: Big Brother Billionaire (Part Three)
10.9Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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