I Married a Billionaire: The Prodigal Son (Contemporary Romance) (2 page)

BOOK: I Married a Billionaire: The Prodigal Son (Contemporary Romance)
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I moved my arm, and opened one eye to look at him. “
All
of the duties?”

He grinned. “Well,” he said. “Maybe not
all
.”

***

I took a deep breath, and stepped out of the town car.

John, the driver, gave us a jaunty wave. I smoothed my hair and took Daniel’s arm as we approached the huge marble staircase. They certainly spared no expense for this one.

The banquet hall was grand, and already packed to the gills with people. We made our way through the crowd, searching for the place cards with our names on them. I knew the drill by now. If you walked with purpose, you were less likely to end up with a microphone or a camera shoved in your face.

“Hey, Thorne! Thorne!” Someone was waving from across the room, and he looked about ready to elbow his way through the sea of people like a runningback. Daniel, his smile frozen, started towards him to meet halfway. I followed.

Once he was closer, I recognized the man. He was the owner of the company whose stock Daniel had been accused of trading on inside information; I had only met him once or twice, when he’d testified in the trial. I couldn’t quite recall his name. Stephen something?

“It’s good to see you,” said Daniel, shaking his hand, almost sounding like he meant it. “How’s everything been?”

“Oh, just fantastic. Great.”

Stephen’s wife was looking me up and down. “Hello, dear,” she said, doing a decent job of covering up the fact that she couldn’t remember my name either. “That’s a very - interesting dress.”

“Thanks,” I said, although I was pretty sure it wasn’t a compliment.

“The color’s certainly appropriate for the occasion, though,” she said. I glanced around the room; there actually were a fair number of other women in red.

“Right,” I said. “Because of…the…”

“Women’s heart disease awareness,” she said, her smile warming a little. “Don’t worry, I have trouble keeping track of them too.”

I let out a long breath. “Thanks. Now I know what my, uh…talking points are, I guess.” We’d been standing still too long. I could see the journalists starting to descend upon us. “Is the dress really that bad? It was all they had at the store that wasn’t…even more horrible.”

“Oh, it’s fine,” she said, in a tone that made me not quite believe her.

“Mrs. Thorne,” said a journalist, before rattling off her name and affiliation so quickly that I immediately forgot. “How are you doing tonight?”

“Great,” I said. “Just great. How are you?”

“Do you have any personal connection to the cause tonight?”

I breathed a silent prayer of thanks to Stephen’s wife, What’s-Her-Name. “Well, you know, as a woman, of course I’m deeply concerned about the fact that heart disease is often overlooked. It’s a number one killer of women, yet it’s still thought of as being a men’s disease. Most people don’t even know how to properly resuscitate a woman, or hook her up to a defibrillator. Their heart attack symptoms are different, even. It’s important that we get the word out about these issues. Women are dying every day.” I was rattling off facts that I vaguely remembered having read in some news article online, and I could see that the journalist’s eyes were starting to glaze over. “Anyway, that’s…you know, that’s just how I feel about it.” It was a pretty weak way to end it, but hopefully they’d cut that part out for their quotable quote.

“Thank you, Mrs. Thorne,” she said. “Your passion is…inspiring.”

“No problem.” I drifted over towards Daniel, who’d been drawn into the orbit of another journalist.

“…and I think every man should be concerned - I am. For my wife, for my sister, for…my daughter, someday, if…” he drifted off, glancing at me as I approached.

“You’re planning to have a family? Any time soon?” The journalist had a gleam in his eyes.

“Well, no. No,” Daniel modified, quickly. “We don’t - well, we’ve still got plenty of time. I’m young. We’re young. And the way things are now, it wouldn’t really be fair to a kid. I work long hours. Someday. Maybe. I don’t know.”

The journalist finally took pity on him, and directed the line of questioning elsewhere. I stood by, hearing the words, but lost in thought about what he’d said before. Daniel and I had talked about children. Honestly, I was a little terrified of the idea, and he seemed pretty reticent as well. He seemed convinced that his own father had never wanted them, and he couldn’t stand the idea of becoming like that. I could understand the impulse, even if I was convinced that he’d be a much better dad than his father ever was.

I’d be lying if I said the thought never crossed my mind. Sometimes I’d see a kid with bright green eyes like his, or dark hair with those loose, wavy curls. And I’d wonder. What would little Daniel look like? Or…Daniela?

I chuckled to myself as we sat down to dinner. Of course I’d never actually saddle one of our kids with their father’s name. It was just funny to imagine. I remembered Daniel’s sister, Lindsey, telling me about how he’d been hyper and uncontrollable when he was little. It was hard to picture. I wanted to see it firsthand, and there was really only one way to do that.

Of course, there was no guarantee we’d ever have a son. We might have a daughter, like he’d said. We might have a little girl with his features, and I didn’t mind admitting that she’d be quite pretty if she did. Prettier than me.

A plate appeared in front of me, but I wasn’t really interested in the idea of eating. I pushed the steak around, trying to psych myself up for actually taking a bite.

“Do you really want to have a daughter?” I said, at last, quietly. Daniel froze for a moment, then laid his fork down carefully on the edge of his plate.

“It was just something to say for the press,” he said, his voice very cool and even. “I wish I hadn’t. Now they’re going to latch onto it. There’s nothing they want more than a Thorne heir. It would give them fodder for ages.”

A Thorne heir
. Leave it to Danny to come up with the coldest possible way to describe our potential child.

“Oh, okay.” I stared at my plate, keeping my voice low. I was mindful that someone might be listening. “Just curious.”

Two

I woke up to a buzzing from my phone on the nightstand. Groping for it blindly, I tried to remember what that particular notification sound signified. Daniel had guilted me into beta-testing an operating system overhaul, and all of my settings had been scrambled.

It took a few seconds of blinking and shaking my head before I was able to understand the popup alert. It was an email, from Emily. The subject line said:

Got something to tell me?

I opened it, my sleepy brain unable to even halfway guess at the contents.

Inside, there was a link, leading to a gossip blog I was pretty sure I’d been featured on before. And underneath:

P.S. Next time, let me pick the dress.

Cringing, I clicked the link.

The site took a painfully long time to load. I had to zoom in on my mobile browser before my still-blurry eyes could process what I was seeing.

DANIEL THORNE’S BRIDE - SPORTING A BABY BUMP?

I scrolled down to the picture, hoping against hope that I was actually still asleep, and this was nothing more than a nightmare.

Out of all the times I had consciously and subconsciously posed for the camera, they’d managed to dig out a picture of me walking down the stairs as we left for the night, from the most unflattering angle possible. And the way the dress bunched around my stomach - okay, even I had to admit it looked a little suspicious.

Oh, God.

Madeline Thorne was looking radiant in her eighties throwback dress at the benefit for women’s heart disease - but did she pick it for a reason other than the color? Maybe she just needed something to fit over her growing bundle of joy. Daniel mentioned a “future daughter” in a conversation with a journalists, and sources say they overheard the couple speaking in hushed tones over dinner.

The couple leads an intensely private life, but…

I couldn’t read any more. I went back to Emily’s email and typed a one-word response:

NO!!!!!!

Against all logic, a few minutes later, I found myself staring at my reflection in the mirror, sideways. I’d never been one of those flat-stomached girls, but I didn’t exactly have a “baby bump” either. And certainly not one with an actual baby in it.

One I’d stopped frowning at my reflection, I went back to my phone and texted Daniel.

The gossip blogs think I’m pregnant.

I was already halfway through breakfast when his response came.

Ha ha.

***

“It wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, would it?”

Daniel looked up from the sheaf of papers in his hand. “Hmm?”

“I mean, if I was.” I stared at the computer screen. “Pregnant.”

Daniel frowned at the paperwork. “But you’re not,” he said.

“Of course I’m not,” I said. “And if I was far along enough to show, I’d definitely know about it.”

“I should hope so.” He flipped through a few of the papers, and set them down. “Let me ask you something.”

“Sure,” I said, sitting back.

“How’s that OS update?” He jerked his head in the direction of my phone. “I’ve got a meeting with the team tomorrow afternoon. I’d like to report back on the user experience.”

“Oh. Yeah, of course.” I cleared my throat. “Well, I don’t like that it jumbled all my settings.”

“Which ones?” He was pulling a tiny notebook out of his pocket. “Be specific.”

“Ringtones. My wallpaper. I don’t know. Everything.”

“And this happened immediately after you installed the update?”

“Yeah, I think so.”

He was scribbling. I looked back at the picture of myself that was blown up full-size on my computer screen; by this time, it had appeared on every gossip blog I knew about, and several I didn’t. I figured it was only a matter of time before it actually headlined a tabloid. This wasn’t my first rodeo. But admittedly, it was the first time I’d been accused of being pregnant.

No, “accused” wasn’t the right word. Actually, from the tone of the articles, it almost seemed like they were…happy for me. That meant that they expected their readers to be happy for me, too.

I had ventured into the comments sections of a few of the blogs, against my better judgment, but very few of the discussions actually had anything to do with me, and before long, the whole thing devolved into a pissing match between two different people who apparently had very fundamentally different beliefs about the New World Order, though to the untrained eye, they seemed exactly the same.

I considered using some of Daniel’s contacts in the media to do the classic “sorry, I’m not pregnant” disclaimer, but I figured no one would believe me anyway. All most readers needed was to see my name near the word “pregnant” and it would be lodged in their brains forever as the truth.

Anyway, I supposed it was nice to know that if I
was
pregnant, it wouldn’t be met with a tide of public disapproval.

“So.” Daniel frowned at me curiously. “Tell me about what happened to your ringtones.”

***

He brought home two more manuscripts the next week, with a sour expression on his face. I almost had to laugh, but I could tell he wasn’t amused by it.

“I don’t understand,” he said. “There
are
some capable writers out there. Somewhere. Right?”

“Of course,” I said. “But they might not be putting themselves out for hire to write a rich guy’s biography.”

“What, are you saying they think it’s beneath them?” His expression suggested he thought this was a completely ridiculous excuse.

“Well, for some people, you know, it’s an art form. They’re working on their…great American novel, or whatever. They don’t necessarily want to do something, uh, commercial.”

He was looking at me like I was from a different planet.

I raised my hands, palms outward. “Look, I’m not saying it makes good business sense, but that’s just how some people operate. They take their craft seriously.”

“And I don’t?” he shot back, opening one of the kitchen cabinets and pulling out a bag of almonds.

“I’m just saying, it’s a different perspective.” I picked up the manuscripts, skimming over them. The top one had a few grammar irregularities, which I thought was pretty sloppy for a writing sample meant to sell Daniel on their merits. But the other was even worse. It was completely spiritless and disinterested. I felt like I was reading a user’s manual.

“There aren’t going to work,” I said. “There’s got to be someone else out there.”

“I liked the first one,” he protested, snatching it away from me. “Sort of. I mean, what’s wrong with it?”

“Here,” I said, pointing to the second paragraph. “Here, he doesn’t have parallel structure. And then down here.” I placed my finger further down the page. “The second clause of the sentence doesn’t correctly refer back to the subject. I mean, everyone makes mistakes, sure. Absolutely. I won’t crucify the guy over it. But this is supposed to be the way he proves himself to you. This is his one chance to make a first impression. He should be putting more effort in, I think. But hey, that’s just my opinion.”

Daniel was looking at me closely - frowning, almost, but not with displeasure.

“You know a lot about this sort of thing,” he said, finally.

I shrugged. “I did okay in English class.”

He slid the manuscript back over in front of him, and looked at it again. “Now that you mention it, there is something…
off
about it. I never would have noticed anything specific, though.”

“Neither will most of your readers, probably.”

“Still. I don’t want to put out a shoddy product.” He looked up at me again. “Why don’t
you
do it?”

“Do what? Interview them?” I shook my head. “No way, Mr. Thorne. Hard limit.”

He laughed. “No. I mean, write it.”

“Are you insane?” I got up, going to the sink to rinse out my glass. “I haven’t written anything since my last college essay.”

“Well?” he said, swiveling around on the stool, his hands folded in his lap.

“Well?” I echoed. “Do I really have to list all the reasons why I don’t really think I can just…dive into writing a
book
?”

BOOK: I Married a Billionaire: The Prodigal Son (Contemporary Romance)
10.17Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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