Authors: L.N. Pearl,S.K. Lee
"Us. She can help us."
"Right. Us." I lifted my mug to my lips and felt my cheeks burning. I had to get used to the idea of being with him, as a real couple.
"Her family is into real estate in Dubai, and things are booming over there, like crazy. It's not like L.A. where everything is already established and it's impossible to get into. There's so much potential over there right now. It's literary the Beverly Hills of the Middle East, potentially of the world."
"I never thought about it from that perspective, but it makes sense now that you pointed it out. Are you thinking about…?"
He nodded. "Yes. I know this is crazy, but I really think the business would have a much better chance over there. The question really is whether you're willing to take that risk." He wrapped me up tightly as I chewed on my lip.
Surprisingly, I wasn’t concerned about taking the risk. I was concerned about what he thought. "Are you?"
"Absolutely. I'd do anything to help you succeed. Anything."
Asher left shortly after we made breakfast together. I promised to call him later, and quickly straightened up the apartment. I texted Jessie and asked her to swing by before going to work. I needed someone to help me go over the pros and cons of moving to Dubai, which suddenly felt like the sandy middle of nowhere.
Jessie knocked at the door fifteen minutes later. "Hey there. Come on in, I have news." I reached out and took her arm, pulling her into the house.
"You seem very excited. What's up?" She reached up and tugged her hair loose before working to get it back into a bun.
"Asher and I are together. He spent the night here."
She opened her eyes wide. "Oh my God, seriously? That's excellent news. I'm so happy for you." Then her expression quickly changed. “Sorry for what I said about him. You were hurt and I didn’t like him for doing that to you. I don’t know him, but if he’s turning out to be a good guy…”
"I know, don’t worry. He is a great guy, Jess. It was a huge misunderstanding. But that's not the best part." I bit my lip and widened my eyes to show the excitement that buzzed through me.
"It gets better than scoring the sexiest billionaire in the city? Do tell." She reached for a piece of chocolate on my coffee table.
"He's helping me with the Onsen."
"That’s what he promised to do at first. Nothing new." She shrugged and popped the chocolate in her mouth.
"Things have changed. A lot has happened actually. We met with an investor friend of his and the guy was awesome. But he was really straight-forward with the reality that the type of spa I want to build isn't going to thrive here... so, Asher wants me to consider opening it in Dubai. It's wide open for new businesses and is being developed as we speak."
Jessie's face fell. "What? In the middle of the desert? A zillion miles from me?"
"I know, but I want this to work so badly, Jess. This is my dream and it’s my first real opportunity." I paused and studied her. "You understand, right?"
She took a few seconds to digest that new piece of information and closed her eyes. "Of course I do. I'm just being selfish because I don’t want to lose you, but honestly, it’s amazing. I feel good about Dubai. If Asher thinks it's a hotspot, I'd have to listen to him. He's a billionaire, Lila. The man obviously knows what he's doing when it comes to business." She smiled and caressed my shoulder. "I can't believe you're together."
I took her in my arms for a warm hug. "Thank you, I am so lucky to have you."
"So tell me more."
"As you can imagine, I won’t be able to do it alone. There will be other people involved in helping me launch it. And of course, they’ll want a cut of the profits. I’m not sure I’m totally okay with not owning my business one hundred percent, but I can’t be too greedy."
"I guess you have to start somewhere. Who knows? Maybe it will work so well that you’ll be able to buy back everyone’s shares and be in total control someday. Don’t forget your friends when you’re at the top." She gave me a ridiculously overdone wink and I knew she didn’t mean it in a sarcastic way.
"I won’t. I’ll stay the same, no matter what happens." We hugged again and I felt tears welling up in my eyes.
"Go for it, Lila. I'm excited for you. It's a new adventure, and I can’t see any reason not to give it your best shot. It’s going to be a whole new life."
My phone buzzed and I looked at it. "Let me get this. It's Asher."
"Go ahead. I'm going to eat all your chocolate, so take your time." She reached for another piece while I got up and walked to the bedroom.
"Hey, baby." His voice warmed my insides immediately. "I have Kazu and Sofia able to do a conference call today at two. I know you have to work, but do you think you can come over here to see if we can push this dream a little farther?"
"Of course. It’s not a problem at all, I’m just reviewing files today. I’ll meet you there."
The call with Kazu and Sofia was much more casual and relaxed than I thought it would be. Both of them were incredibly accommodating and left me feeling important and valued. I had been particularly nervous about Sofia, but she seemed to have no hard feelings toward me at all and I almost felt bad for taking Asher away from such a great woman.
We hung up from the call and Asher turned to me with a smile on his handsome face.
"Alright. Kazu has our cultural and business edge, and will be our go-to man on design, functionality and execution. Sofia has the local connections for real estate and can pull together a list of VIP's to invite to the grand opening when the time comes. I'll back you up financially and you..." He stood and pulled me up. "You're the inspiration behind all of it. It's your baby, so whatever you want, just tell me and we'll make it happen."
I was stuck in a momentary shock, completely lost in the fact that things were moving forward and it was actually happening.
"Lila? You okay?" He touched my face as I looked up at him.
"I just can't believe it. I've been trying so hard for so long and everyone has turned me down so many times." Tears spilled over onto my cheeks. "Having you in my life was more than enough, but now this, too... I’m speechless."
He tightened his grasp on me and kissed the side of my face. "It's only going to keep getting better. Just keep taking one step forward at a time with me. Can you do that?"
I nodded. "I can. I trust you completely."
"Good. That means the world to me." He bent down farther and brushed his lips over mine.
"I don't want to use your money though. If things go badly..."
"It's fine. We pack it up and start something else. I want to support you completely." He smiled. "Just promise me that you'll work on being okay with what I want for our future."
"What do you mean?" I pulled away from him a little, as a defensive and independent spirit rushed through me.
"I want you with me, Lila. I love you. I know you're not ready for more than what we have, but know that when you are... I'm completely in." He touched my face and turned from me before growling. "I have a meeting in an hour. What are your plans?"
"Well, I was going to stay here with you, but I guess I better call Gisele. I need to let her know my plans. There's no reason to waste time chewing on this. If the three of you are willing to help me, then I'm taking full advantage of the situation."
"Good. Go see her and then come back to me." He kissed me again as I agreed to do just that.
Gisele met me for coffee, looking poised and elegant as usual. She got up as I approached and moved around the table to take me by the shoulders.
"I just need to say right up front that I honestly had no clue that you and James weren't together." Sadness tugged at the side of her eyes and I smiled, patting the hand that lay on my arm.
"It's okay. I don't talk about my personal life at work. You know that." I moved out of her hold and took my seat across from her.
"I know, but I hope I didn't cause you any harm or heartache. I think of you like the daughter I never had."
"I know you do." I let out a slow breath. "That's why it's hard to tell you that I'm putting in my notice."
"Well, I'm not accepting it unless it's because you finally got everything you needed all together to start your own business." She crossed her arms over her chest and gave me a look that told me she was determined.
"How did you know I wanted to start a spa?"
"A spa? I didn't, but I knew you were an entrepreneur just like me. It's why you do so well at anything you take on. It's the spirit of a strong, driven woman. It's me. It's you." She smiled and slipped her hands into her lap. "When? How long do I have to convince you to stay with me?"
"Now." I held up my hand as she started to protest. "It's a clean break. I have no new clients and to pick one up now might keep me much longer than I can afford to hang around. I have some investors interested in helping me and I need to get things rolling before anyone has a chance to change their mind about the project or me."
"Is Asher helping you?" A smile played at the side of her mouth.
"He is." I paused and hesitated. "We're…"
She raised her eyebrows. "Yes?"
"We’re together now. Asher and I." My palms were sweating and my heart was beating like a drum. I wasn’t supposed to date a client and I was worried that Gisele might look for trouble and use that against me.
She smiled. "I know."
Then, I remembered that Asher had called her when flying back from Dubai. "I tried to resist… but I couldn’t."
She reached over and squeezed my hand. "And I can’t blame you for that. He’s amazing and I'm proud of you. Go ahead and enjoy your new life. It’s going to be an incredible journey, you’ll see. If you need anything or a place to come back to, you can always call me."
Gisele stood and I did too, accepting her hug as the shock rolled through me. I hadn't expected for her to be so gracious or understanding. I wondered if Asher had already talked to her about letting me go...
I walked out of the coffee bar and stopped by my car, pulling out my phone and making a quick decision. I called Asher and smiled when he answered.
"Hey, baby. How did it go?"
"Good." I paused and glanced around. I felt free. "I'm doing it. I want to go over there and start this thing."
"Perfect. I was just working on your weekly allowance and—"
"My what? No, Asher, don’t do this. I’m grateful, but I can’t take your money. You can invest in the business, but I have six months of income saved up. I’ll cover my personal expenses."
"Are you sure? Anything means anything, Lila. I am yours, as is everything that comes with me."
Tears burned my eyes and I glanced up at the sky as the sun slipped behind a thick cloud. How did I get so lucky all of the sudden? Who did I have to thank for my good fortune?
"Lila? Are you okay, baby?"
"Yeah, just feeling overwhelmed."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes. I have everything I need as long as I have you."
We both were silent and I knew he wanted to hear it. He deserved to hear it.
"I love you."
Everything happened so fast, and even though I’d been the catalyst behind it, pushing with all of my might, I was still surprised. The fact that Lila had quit her job was a huge affirmation that she not only trusted me, but that she was ready to move forward into the future with me.
But most of all, she loved me, and was ready to say so.
It all sounded surreal, yet I knew I wasn’t dreaming. She had said those three magic words very clearly and they were still resonating in my head. It was the sweetest sound ever.
I had to pull a few strings to clear my schedule for the upcoming week, but one of my partners filled in for me on a few client meetings, and the rest were covered by various associates that I trusted.
Lila was a little nervous about meeting up with Kazu and Sofia in Dubai. This time, it was for real and I knew she worried, but I worked to comfort her and to push positive reinforcement on her each time she voiced a concern.
I finished shaving the morning of our trip and glanced over my shoulder as she paced in front of the bed. She had stayed over at my place the night before, but had been unable to sleep.
"What are you doing, baby?" I cleaned up my face and listened to the agitated murmurs coming from her direction. I had never seen her like this.
"I'm nervous. Scared. Excited. Horny."
I looked over my shoulder and laughed. "I love it. Sounds like one hell of a high."
"It is." She smiled and crossed her arms over her chest, hugging herself tightly as she tilted her head to one side. "I never in a million years would have expected any of this to be happening to me."
I walked over to her and lifted her chin with my index finger. "It’s happening. Your new life begins in…," I raised my hand and checked my watch. "Ouch, we’re late. We need to be at the hangar in forty minutes. I wish I could make love to you before, but we’ll…"
She bit her lip and trailed her finger on my chest. "We could always do it in the private jet. That could be fun, right?"
I let out a grunt of frustration. "I should call Kazu and tell him to fly coach then. Not sure he’s going to appreciate it, though."
"Oh, he’s coming with us?"
I nodded and kissed her softly. "Unfortunately, yes. We’ll have to wait."
"Good to see you again, Lila." Kazu extended his hand as we moved toward my private jet. "Asher. How are you?"
"Great. Very excited." I shook his hand and placed my free one on the back of Lila's shoulder. "We're looking forward to seeing what additional information Sofia might be able to provide."
"It should be interesting for sure." Lila smiled back at me as she moved onto the plane. Her skirt hugged her hips and if our new business partner hadn't been with us, I'd have definitely reached up and goosed her.
I glanced back to make sure Kazu wasn't staring at my girl, but I found him messing with his watch instead.
I'd never been jealous or paranoid before, so I shoved the inappropriate feelings back down where they belonged. I took the seat next to Lila and worked to get my jacket off before buckling up.
"You okay?" I smiled at her and took her purse from her as she handed it to me.
"Yeah, just a little intimidated. I'm likely to be the dumbest person in the room." Her cheeks colored pink.
"Never. You're the brain behind the operation. We're just feeding off of the experience we have in living this stuff. You'll soon be flying past us, I'm sure." I took her hand into mine and squeezed softly. "You look hot by the way."
"You do too. I love you." She moved up and kissed me softly, setting my blood on fire.
Kazu cleared his throat. "Hum. Alright you two. I'm a single man on the hunt for the right woman. No fair making me yearn for something I'm not going to have any time soon."
Lila flushed and straightened up immediately. "I'm sorry. I told Asher to behave, but he won’t listen." She winked at me and my desire for her increased even more.
Kazu smiled and waved his hand in the air. "I was just teasing."
A flight attendant arrived with three flutes of champagne and we all touched glasses.
We all nodded and took a sip, and then I looked at Kazu. "Have you thought about the matchmaking route?"
"I have, but I'm not sure I'm ready just yet. It seems like such a big jump. Trusting someone with your private life in order to fully assess your personality." He shook his head. "Not my style."
"When it’s done properly, by a true professional, it’s not intimidating at all. In fact, it’s a very gentle process and many people discover themselves along the way." Lila sat up and scooted up in her chair.
Kazu and I turned to her. "Really? Tell me more."
"It's a very confidential process and usually the matchmaker becomes a trusted advisor of sorts. I spent a lot of time with people like you and many of them became personal friends."
Kazu squinted at her. "Is it how you got your business idea? By being close to them?"
"Absolutely. Many of them are over worked and lack time to meet the opposite sex. It’s hard to connect with someone emotionally when you’re always stressed out. So I thought about ways to help them relax and I came up with this plan."
Kazu nodded appreciatively. "Interesting. You make me want to meet more matchmakers like you."
Lila laughed and I tried to bring the conversation back to something lighter. "You’ll have to give it a try, Kazu. I was reluctant at first too, but it’s not that scary. The process with Lila's firm was painless and actually fun. Being so busy and wrapped up in my company, I realized that I'd shut most of my friends out. Having her around was like finding color in the world again." I reached up and touched her hair, running my fingers down it.
"And you fell in love with your matchmaker." Kazu laughed. "I love it."
"It's rare. This was a... complicated situation." She looked back at me and we both chuckled.
"Fate wanted us together." I brushed my hand down her hair again before leaning back and yawning. "Oh man, I’m sleepy, I think I'm going to take a nap."
"Then trade me places. I want to chat with Kazu." Lila stood and slipped over me, making sure to rub her ass against my lap subtly before sitting down in her seat.
"I’m sure you didn’t do that on purpose, right?" I whispered against her hair for only her to hear.
She turned and discreetly licked her lips at me. "I have no idea what you’re talking about."
I bit my lip. "You’ll regret this when we land in Dubai."
"I can’t wait." She squeezed my thigh and turned her back to me, striking up a conversation with Kazu while I closed my eyes.
It was odd. I was finally at peace with myself. With my life. With the memory of Geoff.
For the first time in my life, my heart was taken. And I loved it. I loved her.