The Billionaire's Ballet (Friends with Benefits)By: Deanna Roy & JJ Knight & Lucy Riot
San Antonio, Texas
When they wrote that song about the stars being big and bright in Texas, they were definitely talking about a night like this.
The rough edge of limestone scraped my shins as I moved along the garden wall to get a better look at the party. Above me, the summer sky was clear and bursting with stars. The Big Dipper stood out, ready to serve up something cool and refreshing from the water below.
The night was hot enough that I longed to take a dip myself. The cascading swimming pools at the back of the Claremont estate sparkled like a reflection of the sky. Magnolias as big as dinner plates floated on the surface. And around the edges, women in shimmery dresses and men in Texas tuxedos of blue jeans and suit jackets held each other close as they danced.
I hung on to the ledge as I scanned the crowd for the face I wanted to see. It might be the last time I got to look at him before I left town tomorrow. And I wanted to take a big long drink of his presence, something to hold me over in the lonely nights in New York, where I didn’t know a soul.
The double French doors at the back of the house opened wide, like someone wanted to make an entrance. I knew who it would be. Of course.
My breath caught when I saw him. His unruly hair looked like someone had just raked their fingers through it. His jaw was scruffy and hard-edged. Even from this distance, I could see the mischief in his hazel eyes.
The party seemed to pause and take a breath with his appearance. The band finished the slow song and counted into a number with a lot more pep. The laughter seemed brighter and the noise level kicked up a notch as people greeted him.
Quinn had that effect on everything. Parties. Women. Definitely me.
I had known him all my life.
He was three years old when I was born in one of the guest cottages on this estate. My mom was the family’s full-time dance instructor.
I’d seen each expression he’d made since. I could close my eyes and picture every single one.
Quinn, eyes dancing as he sprinted ahead of me across the lawns. His laughter as we rode horses on the back trail. His happy eagerness as we jumped off a stack of bales in the barn into a pile of loose hay. When we were young, our friendship had been easy and fun.
He had even kissed me once, on my tenth birthday. His father had bought a new horse for the stable, a blue-gray mare for me to ride. She wasn’t quite broken for riding, but in my excitement, I saddled her anyway.
We didn’t make it four steps before she bucked, and I landed on my rear end in the dust.
Quinn rushed out to the ring and lifted me up. I had tears in my eyes and he’d kissed my lids, first one, then the other.
I’m pretty sure that’s the moment it happened.
I fell in love.
He’d been my obsession. The boy no one else could ever measure up to.
Not that I’d ever let anybody try.
Down at the party, Quinn draped his arms across the shoulders of the Monroe twins. My tender heart sank a bit more. He’d never put his arm around me like that. I’d never gotten to wear something slinky and grown-up around him. Despite my debilitating crush, I worked hard to stay a friend and confidant even as he went to college and slid into the role of playboy billionaire.
Now I was eighteen and he was twenty-one. And worlds apart in every way.
So it was just as well I was leaving for New York.
A voice called from down below. “Juliet?”
Shoot, my mother. I lay as flat as possible on the top of the wall. It was close to eight feet high. Maybe she wouldn’t see me up here.
Mom wandered up the path from our little guesthouse toward the main estate. She walked with the grace of a longtime dancer, each foot placed daintily in front of the other. Her flowing skirt fluttered around her knees. The lights shined on her black hair, the same inky gloss as mine.
She had raised me to be a dancer as soon as I could walk. And I had worked hard to be as good as she wanted me to be.
But I wasn’t positive I had the talent or the drive to do the one thing she always wished for herself — a spot at a prestigious ballet company.
Tomorrow morning, I would find out. She’d take me to the airport and send me to a dance school in one of the most exciting cities in the world. There I would learn what I was made of. I had never been trained by anyone but her.