Stolen the billionaire d.., p.26
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       The Billionaire Deception, p.26
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         Part #1 of Stolen series by Holly Rayner
The night after the ball ended, I didn’t sleep a wink. It was after midnight before the guests began leaving and I was exhausted. I told my father he could go on back to the city and I would just stay at the Hampton house for the night. It was my favorite house of them all, because it had been my mother’s favorite. I rarely stayed there any more however because my father was there a lot and I avoided him as often as I could for obvious reasons. After everyone had finally gone I lay down and tried to close my eyes. When I did, all I could see was Erin’s face. It was a beautiful face and I loved looking at it, but tonight she had looked so hurt and so betrayed. I had completely failed her. I stood there like a coward and let my father say ugly things to her and about her and I did nothing. She had every right to be angry with me. She had every right to never want to see me again. She had seen my true colors. She’d seen how spineless I was when it came to my father.

  I had been terrified of him my entire life. When my mother was alive, she was a buffer between us. She was our go-between and I rarely had to deal with him. The problem with that was once she’d passed away I had no idea how to talk to him or how to stand up to him. He doled out the orders and I did what he said to do. I wasn’t physically afraid of him… he’d never hurt me in that way. I wasn’t even afraid when he made threats to take away my inheritance. I had a good education. I knew how competent I was, I could make a good living with or without him. I wasn’t going to pretend I didn’t like the wealth and all that came with it… but I didn’t depend on it. In spite of all of that, and in spite of the fact that he never told me I’d done anything good or right, I still had this twisted sense of wanting to please him. Maybe I needed therapy.

  I tossed and turned until the sun came up and finally admitting that sleep had eluded me, I got up and dressed for a jog. It was a cool morning and I took off down the path behind the house that led towards the bay. The garden my mother had planted and tended so lovingly was in bloom and the air was perfumed with fresh aromas. I hit the stone path and my feet began to pound out a rhythm. With each stride my thoughts became clearer and I realized that this was exactly what I needed. I also realized that I needed to stop letting my father set up camp in my head. I was twenty-six years old. I couldn’t remain under his thumb forever. I thought about Erin. I wanted her in my life, not just today or tomorrow… I realized that I wanted her in my life forever. She was the path to my future but she was also a strong, confident, independent woman and if I didn’t take control of my own life out of my father’s hands, I was going to lose her. I looked around at the acres of land and the houses and the cars and the boats as I ran and I realized that I would rather lose all of this and my position at Hunter Corp. than her. Now all I had to do was convince her of that.

  By the time I got back up to the house I was determined to do whatever I had to in order to convince Erin she was more important to me than anything else. I showered and dressed and headed to her apartment unannounced. That in and of itself might annoy her, but I was afraid if I called ahead, she would tell me not to come.

  It was just after nine when I knocked on her door. I knocked a few times before the door was finally pulled open by a man wearing nothing but a long pair of basketball shorts. His face was unshaven and his hair uncombed and the first thought I had when I saw him was that I was already too late, she was already moving on.

  “Can I help you?”

  He was squinting at me, like it hurt to open his eyes. My best guess was he had a hangover. I hope she didn’t leave the party and go to a bar and end up with this loser because of me. “I’m looking for Erin.”

  He ran his hand through his hair and squinted at me again. Then he scratched his chin and said, “Seth, I presume?”

  The fact that he knew my name was encouraging. I didn’t think she’d be discussing me with a man she’d only just met.

  “Yes. Is Erin here?”

  “No. But she’ll be right back. Come on in. I’m Grant.”

  “Oh! The roommate.”

  He smiled, “Yeah, the roommate. Have a seat,” he said, after I followed him into a neat little living room. I sat down on the sofa and he said, “You want some coffee?”

  “Um… I really need to talk to Erin…”

  “Yes you do,” he said. I suddenly realized by the way he was looking at me that she must have told him what happened at the party.

  “Sure, I’ll take some coffee,” I said. “Black, please.”

  He disappeared into the kitchen. While he was gone I looked around the little room. The photos on the walls were all of Erin and Grant. They were in various places and they were dressed in everything from formal attire to beachwear. This Grant was a good-looking guy. I suddenly wondered why they weren’t more than just roommates.

  “Here you go.” He came back into the room and handed me a steaming mug.

  “Thank you,” I said. He sat his cup down on the table.

  “Sure, I’ll be right back.” He was only gone about a minute. He came back with a t-shirt on and it looked like he might have splashed some water on his face.

  “So where is Erin?” I asked him.

  “She went for a run in the park. She’s usually gone an hour or two. I think she left around eight.”

  “Oh, I could come back,” I said.

  “Listen.” Grant sat his coffee down again. “You might sit there when I tell you this and think “who the hell is this guy and why does he think this is his business?” I don’t doubt that this is going to piss you off, but just so we’re clear; I don’t care. First, I’m going to tell you who I am. I’m her best friend. I love her more than anyone else in my life. I want only the best for her, and I will do anything to help her accomplish her goals. With that being said, Erin cares a great deal for you. She spent an entire week getting ready for that party last night. I don’t know what your father’s problem is and I don’t care but dude, it is not cool for you to stand there and let her be insulted by anyone. I don’t care if it’s the Queen of freaking England. She deserves so much more respect than that.”

  He was right. It did piss me off. I was bothered by two things: One was that Erin discussed me with this guy and two that he was a hundred percent right. She deserved better. It’s what I had come here to talk to her about, but hearing this guy say it re-iterated what a cowardly ass I had been. “I know she does,” I said at last. “That’s why I’m here. I hope that she’ll forgive me.”

  “I can’t speak for her, but I don’t doubt that she will. Just remember though, she’s an independent, smart, strong, beautiful woman. The only reason she is with you is because she chooses to be. She doesn’t need or want your money or your family name. If you don’t treat her right, she will eventually stop forgiving you and you will lose the absolute most amazing gift that you ever had in your life.”

  I started to say something else, but the front door of the apartment opened. We both turned and watched Erin come in. She had her pretty hair tied back low on her neck and she was wearing a tank top and shorts. Her long, smooth legs and chest were glistening with the sweat from her morning run. She looked surprised to see me and then I saw her exchange a look with Grant. He looked amused and she looked annoyed.

  “Hi Seth. What’s going on?”


  “Seth and I were just having coffee… getting to know each other. If you two are finished with me though, I think I’ll hop in the shower.” Erin cocked an eyebrow at him and he grinned at her again. He jumped up and held his hand out towards me. I shook it and before he dropped my hand he looked me in the eye with no smirk or traces of amusement and said, “I hope you won’t forget what we talked about.”

  I just gave him a nod. Erin watched him leave and she came over and took the seat opposite me where he had been sitting. “What was that about?” she asked. “Was Grant playing nice?”

  “He was doing what I should have done last night… standing up for you.” I saw a subtle shift in her eyes. I’m not sure what it meant exactly, but I went on,
My father is not a nice person… obviously. He’s normally not quite so blatant with his insults with someone he doesn’t know, so that confused me but his rudeness didn’t surprise me. I have a very complicated relationship with him. No one intimidates me except him. I can run a multi-national company and talk to anyone in any position anywhere in the world without a quiver of anxiety but that man walks in a room and I’m instantly a sniveling twelve year old boy all over again.”

  Erin was just looking at me, listening quietly. Her face was impassive. I had no idea if she was going to be willing to forgive me, or if she was going to kick me out. Either way, I went on.

  “All of that is not meant to be an excuse for my own behavior. It’s just my way of hopefully giving you enough of the facts so that you might understand. When he insulted you last night I should have done something. I should have said something. I wanted to. I was furious at him. But the coward in me let you handle it yourself. I told myself you were doing a great job and didn’t need me. You were doing a great job. You always handle yourself with class and it’s obvious that no one walks all over you. But that in no way excuses me for not stepping in and saying something myself. I’m sorry Erin. I’m so sorry. I don’t know if you can find it in your heart to forgive me, but if you can, I promise you that it will never happen again.”

  “So, your father treats everyone that way, it wasn’t just me?”

  “He treats almost everyone poorly. My mother buffered him a lot when she was here. Once she passed away, his horrible, awful, rude side seemed to completely take over. I can’t apologize enough for him, but I know that doesn’t mean anything. But, if you give me a chance I will show you how much respect I have for you and that I am nothing like my father.”

  Erin was quiet. She seemed to be thinking it all over. I was a nervous wreck. I guess it was how I knew that she was truly special. No woman had ever made me worry over whether she wanted to be with me or not. In the past, my arrogance had convinced me that if she didn’t, it was her loss.

  After what seemed to me like an eternity she said, “I have a lot of respect for myself and for the things I’ve accomplished in my life at such a young age. I won’t let anyone take that away from me. You seem to have a lot of respect for yourself as well. The way you carry yourself and the way you conduct business… it’s all part of what attracted me to you. I was more shocked than anything last night, because I didn’t even recognize the man you were in front of him. I can forgive you for that because I wasn’t there when you were growing up and I don’t know what experiences you’ve had with him. But Seth, if it happens again… if you let anyone disparage me or you that way again without standing up to them, I’m afraid I won’t be able to continue forgiving you.”

  I felt a wave of relief the size of a tsunami wash over me. That’s all I needed, another chance. I wasn’t going to screw up again… at least I won’t make the same mistake.

  “Thank you,” I said.

  She smiled and then said, “Now, tell me what my hung over miscreant of a roommate said. I might have some apologizing to do myself.”

  I laughed, and then suddenly not knowing what came over me I blurted out, “I love you.”

  She looked shocked and I was afraid I had screwed up again, already. Then she got up and moved over next to me on the couch and she said, “I love you too.” As we kissed, I knew in my heart that life was never going to be the same. I wouldn’t find out for a few weeks just how different it would be.

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