The Billionaire Dating Game: A Romance Novel, страница 1
The Billionaire Dating Game
A Romance Novel
Copyright © 2016 Aubrey Dark
All rights reserved.
First Edition: January 2016
I couldn’t take it anymore. I would tell Jessica I’d tried. But I just couldn’t take it.
“Is this going to last much longer?” I whispered to Daniel.
“Shhh,” he hissed.
I had never been shushed by a date before. All of my words dried up on my tongue. I turned back in astonishment to the show in front of us.
The woman on the small coffee shop stage put her hands on her stomach and started ripping apart her flesh-colored bodysuit with her nails. The fabric tore into scraps hanging from her pelvis. She was making a gurgling sound like a drowning rabbit.
Was I being unreasonable here? I didn’t think so.
“It’s just that this isn’t really… well, romantic,” I whispered.
Daniel turned and looked down at me from under his glasses.
“It’s a metaphor for infertility,” he said, condescension oozing off of his tongue. “She is redefining womanhood.”
“And here I thought she was just recreating a scene from Alien,” I muttered, as the woman on stage grabbed at her abdomen and moaned.
“Lisa, if you don’t appreciate this—”
“I appreciate it! I appreciate it very much. I—look, I have to go to the bathroom.” I clutched my purse to my chest and stood. Daniel stood up with me.
“Uh, what are you doing?”
“Escorting you to the facilities.”
“I—uh—I don’t need an escort. Thanks, though.”
“Down in front!” someone called from a cafe table behind us. New York art people weren’t very patient.
I pushed Daniel back down into the chair.
“You have to stay,” I whispered. “So you can fill me in on what womanhood means when I get back.”
He pressed his lips together and nodded, all seriousness.
“I shall,” he said.
The woman groaned and thrust her pelvis at the audience as I scrambled to the back of the coffee shop. Thankfully, there was a line for the ladies’ restroom in the hallway. I pulled out my cell and called Jessica.
“Lisa? Tell me the date isn’t over yet.”
“I wish,” I said, leaning back against a poster for a band called GENDRRRFUCK. “Jess, this is the weirdest date I’ve ever been on.”
“Good weird or bad weird?”
“The last performer smeared peanut butter all over himself in complete silence for ten minutes, wearing only a Speedo,” I said. “How many minutes do you think you could watch someone smear their naked body with handfuls of peanut butter?”
“Depends,” Jessica said. “If it was Chris Pratt, I could probably watch him for a full day, maybe two—”
“And before that, there were two women singing what I think was the last State of the Union address, at the top of their lungs, while they wrestled each other to the floor.”
“They were wearing Obama masks. Trust me, it wasn’t sexy.”
There was a tap on my shoulder. I turned to see a woman with an offended look on her face.
“You know,” she said, “that performance was a commentary on election punditry in American society.”
“I didn’t know that,” I said, feigning surprise. “Did you know that this phone conversation is a commentary on the lack of privacy in American society?”
She frowned as I turned my back squarely to her.
“Who are you talking to?” Jessica asked.
“Look, I’m sorry,” I said. “Thank you for setting me up with Daniel. I tried. I really did.”
“You wanted someone more mature,” Jess reminded me. “Someone more intellectual. That’s what you told me.”
I sighed and peeked back around the corner. Daniel was leaning forward in his chair, stroking his chin with one hand. On stage, the woman was punching her own boobs and screaming “MAN!” with every punch.
“You’re right. I did say that. Turns out I didn’t mean it.”
“Daniel is the most intellectual person I know.”
“It’s just—I thought meeting at a coffee shop would be a nice normal date. I had no idea there was going to be—” I looked at my watch, “—two hours of performance art. We haven’t even talked to each other!”
“I’m sorry, Lisa. I really thought he could be Mr. Right.”
“I don’t think Mr. Right exists,” I said.
“Of course he does. He’s out there.”
I slumped back against the wall. The overwhelming futility of my dating life was spreading over me like a handful of peanut butter spread over the front of a too-tight Speedo.
“What if true love doesn’t exist?” I moaned.
“What if it does, and you’re just being too picky?”
“Ugh. I’m not sure which is worse.”
“Take a chance. Maybe you’re looking in the wrong places.”
“You’re the one who set me up on this date!”
“I wanted you to get out there.”
“Well, I’m out there,” I sighed. “I’m wayyyy out there.”
“Give it another ten minutes. Then I’ll call you and pretend to be your sister saying Arlen is sick, okay?”
“Sure,” I said. It wouldn’t even be that much of a lie. My niece had been getting sick a lot lately. “Thanks for trying, Jess.”
“You’ll find the one,” she insisted. “You just have to keep at it.”
As I made my way back to our table, the woman on stage was taking a bow. I sat down next to Daniel.
“What’d I miss?” I asked.
“It was utterly enlightening,” he said. “The last third of the dance was replete with feminine symbolism…”
He droned on, but my attention was already focused back on the small stage. A man wearing a black suit and a black mask was stepping up to a piano. You couldn’t see his face very well, but his eyes were a piercing light blue behind the mask. He was tall, well-built, and, apart from the mask, looked utterly normal. He stood at the piano and adjusted the microphone up to his face.
I wondered what came next. Would he pull out a milk carton and start pouring half-and-half onto the audience? Would he rip off the suit to show a superhero outfit underneath and start square dancing? Or was he going to sing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star while pretending to masturbate onto the piano keys? After what I’d seen, nothing would have surprised me.
But instead of any of that, he began to play a slow melody.
The coffee shop fell silent, and Daniel sat back in his chair to listen. It was a simple tune, nothing fancy, and as he played, the man began to speak in a low voice that was half-singing, half-talking.
Tell me what happened to you.
Tell me what happened.
The world keeps on turning
And you can’t keep up.
The melody he played shifted slightly, turning discordant. His voice was mesmerizing, a deep bass that seemed to pulse the air in the small coffee shop. He had a slight accent—I didn’t know if he was faking it or not. I could hear it in a few of the words he spoke, but I couldn’t place it exactly. Irish, maybe?
As he sang on, his voice turned harsher, angrier. His jaw clenched into a hard line that I could see from our seats.
I watch you watching me,
There’s nowhere else I’d rather be.
I can’t hide, and s
An empty heart,
Yeah, an empty bottle.
That’s all I’ll ever be.
My cell buzzed in my purse. Jessica. Right. But I realized that I didn’t want to go, not in the middle of this. I turned off the phone and looked back up at the stage. The man was looking straight at me. I blushed and stuffed my phone back into my purse.
His face softened, but he never stopped looking at me. I brushed my hair away from my face and shifted in my seat uncomfortably. Did I have mascara smudged on my face or something? Why was he looking at me so intently?
I watch you watching me,
There’s nowhere else I’d rather be.
I turned my eyes down, staring intently at his fingers as he played the piano. He had hands that spanned an octave, his strong fingers setting down the unadorned notes easily. His body was still, the only motion in his hands. The lines of his suit were stark, as though he was a store mannequin instead of a person. But his fingertips—
His fingertips caressed the keys.
When I looked back up, he was still staring straight at me. He finished the song the same way, his light blue eyes fixed on mine from behind his black mask. There was a smattering of applause, but he didn’t seem to hear it. He stepped away from the piano, finally wresting his eyes away from me, and headed back to the coffee bar. I watched him slide through the crowd and up to the barista. He pulled out a flask from his suit pocket and tipped it into his coffee.
Irish coffee. Maybe he was Irish after all.
“Well, that was interesting!” Daniel’s voice brought me back to reality. “Somewhat pedestrian compared to the other acts, but you can never tell with a show like this. I think I need a breath of air. Shall we?”
Yes, air. I could use some fresh air. I felt like the room was closing in on me. I stood up and Daniel pulled the chair out from behind me quickly, waving me toward the door. I glanced back, but the man in the suit and mask was nowhere to be found.
“So, my place is just around the corner,” Daniel said, outside the coffee shop. He put one arm around me awkwardly. On the sidewalk, a group of hipsters were smoking clove cigarettes. One of them turned to glance at us.
“Right,” I said, extricating myself from his arm. “Um, I should really get home. I have a lot of work to do for tomorrow.”
“Jessica told me you were a workaholic.” His glasses slipped down and he pushed them back up onto his nose, his eyes glinting. “She said I should make sure you have some fun tonight.”
“Did she really?” I was going to kill her.
Daniel smiled, tilting his head. He took my arms and bent to kiss me, and I ducked away. One hand stayed clamped on my arm, though.
“Sorry,” I said. “I—uh—I’m not really feeling it.”
He frowned. His fingers were clammy against my skin.
“Not feeling what?”
“You. You and me. Us. Not feeling it.”
The frown lines grew deeper.
“I took you here because I thought you would appreciate a deeper kind of art,” he said, irritation in his voice.
“The art was great,” I said. “Loved the show. I just don’t think—”
“That’s the problem with women today! They don’t think!” He scowled at me. “How can you rebuff me like this after such a wonderful and stimulating evening?”
I stared at him, agog. Was this his way of trying to get into my pants?
“Look, I don’t know what your definition of wonderful is,” I said, “but if it involves that much peanut butter on a naked man, then I think we have different concepts of wonderful.”
“You are devoid of any subtler understanding of romance.”
“Yes,” I said, tugging my arm out of his grip. “You’re exactly right. I don’t understand romance. That’s the problem.”
“Well, I’m trying to fix that!” he said, exasperated. He bent to kiss me again, and again I ducked away.
“Stop it!” I said, holding up my hands in front of me.
“I don’t understand!” he shouted.
“What don’t you understand?!” I shouted back, feeling utterly silly. All of the clove-smoking hipsters were now looking at us while pretending not to be interested.
“Jessica said you were desperate! And if you don’t think I’m up to par—”
“Wait, what? What did she say?”
He blew a breath out between his teeth.
“She said you were desperate to find a good guy. And I am a good guy. More than good! One: I’m sensitive. Two: I’m smart. Three: I have a stable job—”
He was ticking off the bullet points on his fingers.
“No. Daniel. Stop.”
“I think you’d better go home now,” I said carefully.
“And you don’t want to come with me?”
I was too speechless to even answer him. I shook my head. No. No way.
“Fine,” he said. “But I’ll remember this. I have a nearly-perfect memory, you know!”
With that, he spun on his heel and strode away. Before he had taken two steps, he turned back.
“I left my coat in there,” he said angrily. He blustered back into the coffee shop and then out again, huffing past me with his coat tails flapping behind him.
I leaned back against the window of the cafe and closed my eyes wearily, breathing in and out. At least I’d survived a date. That was a first step towards finding a guy I could stand to date. But I was never letting Jessica set me up again.
“Nickel for your thoughts.”
I opened my eyes. The man who’d sung the last song was standing next to me, leaning casually against the wall. He was still wearing his mask. I realized that his eyes were more of a blue-green than pure blue. They sparkled as he looked at me, only a couple of feet away.
“You’re overpaying,” I said, recomposing myself. “Most thoughts are only worth a penny, I’ve heard.”
“Inflation’s a bitch,” he said. There was an accent, hidden only shallowly underneath his words. “But I think you’re worth it.”
Blood rose to my face, and even though it was a cool spring evening, I felt hot. Who was this guy? He was keeping his distance between us, but that was somehow worse, as though the tension between us snapped through the air.
“I don’t know,” I said. “My thoughts are pretty dark right now.”
“I understand that. It’s desperately hard to find a good guy.”
“You heard all that?” I put my hand on my forehead and shook my head. “Oh, God.”
“Let me give you my credentials,” the man said. He was grinning behind his mask. I couldn’t stop looking into his eyes. They crinkled at the corners when he smiled. “One: I’m an insensitive boor. Two: I’m probably dumber than you. Three, I have a superficial, unsatisfying career—”
“Wow, sounds great already.”
“But I do have a near-perfect memory,” he teased. I didn’t remember him stepping closer to me, but it seemed like his body was nearer to mine somehow. I swallowed to get rid of the dryness in my mouth.
“My. You’re quite the catch. Remind me why I want a dumb, insensitive man?”
“You’ll look so much better by comparison.”
A smile crept to the edge of my lips.
“So I should date the worst man I can find?”
I burst out laughing.
“I’m sorry I sent that guy packing, then.”
“Oh, don’t worry. I’m much worse than him.”
The hipsters had all gone back inside, and we were left alone on the sidewalk. The coffee shop was in an out-of-the way neighborhood just outside of Midtown, and right now the street was quiet. For a moment, I felt like New York had emptied out, and we were the only two people left in the city.
“So what do you say?”
“How about a kiss?”
“I don’t even know what you look like,” I said, stalling. For some reason, I felt like I was playing with fire. The way his hand cradled my arm showed his strength—but he was holding back.
“Trust me, you don’t want to know.”
“Are you hideous?”
“No.” He smiled for only an instant, and then the smile disappeared into seriousness. “There’s another reason.”
“I can’t give my heart away to a guy who doesn’t show me his face,” I said, although if he had bent to kiss me right then I don’t think I could have pulled away.
“Then it’s a good thing I’m not asking for your heart. I’m only asking for a kiss.”
“Just a kiss.”
“Just a kiss,” he echoed.
“What does that mean?”
“It doesn’t have to mean anything.”
“Why do you want to kiss me?”
Why was I pushing back so hard? I didn’t know what I was scared of.
“Because of how you looked at me during my song.” His voice was soft and low, and his thumb never stopped stroking the back of my arm. I felt like I was being hypnotized.
“How did I look?”
“Like you knew what it was like to have an empty heart.”
My throat closed up. All of my air had gone from my lungs, and I couldn’t move. I didn’t want to. When this man touched me, every part of me yearned to throw myself forward into his arms. And when he spoke, I wanted to drown myself in his words.
“I’m going to kiss you now,” he said, speaking each word carefully. Again, I noticed the accent flickering in and out of his words.
I could have stopped him. I could have pulled away. I could have said no.
But I wanted him to kiss me so badly that I couldn’t breathe.
He was right. I had an empty heart, and I needed something to fill it. Even if it was only a kiss. Even if it was a stranger, someone I had never met before. Even if I didn’t know what he looked like.