Tempting the Billionaire

By: Jessica Lemmon

Chapter 1

Oscillating red, green, and blue lights sliced through the smoke-filled club. Men and women cluttered the floor, their arms pumping in time with the throbbing speakers as an unseen fog machine muddied the air.

Shane August resisted the urge to press his fingertips into his eyelids and stave off the headache that’d begun forming there an hour ago.

Tonight marked the end of a grueling six-day workweek, one he would have preferred to end in his home gym, or in the company of a glass of red wine. He frowned at the bottle of light beer in his hand. Six dollars. That was fifty cents an ounce.

The sound of laughter pulled his attention from the overpriced brew, and he found a pair of girls sidling by his table. They offered twin grins and waved in tandem, hips swaying as they strode by.

“Damn,” Aiden muttered over his shoulder. “I should have worn a suit.”

Shane angled a glance at his cousin’s T-shirt and jeans. “Do you even own a suit?”

“Shut up.”

Shane suppressed a budding smile and tipped his beer bottle to his lips. It was Aiden who dragged him here tonight. Shane could give him a hard time, but Aiden was here to forget about his ex-wife, and she’d given him a hard enough time for both of them.

“This is where you’re making your foray into the dating world?” Shane asked, glancing around the room at the bevy of flesh peeking out from the bottom of skintight skirts and shorts.

“Seemed like a good place to pick up chicks,” Aiden answered with a roll of one shoulder.

Shane tamped down another smile. Aiden was recently divorced, though “finally” might be a better term. Two years of wedded bliss had been anything but, thanks to Harmony’s wandering eye. Shane couldn’t blame Aiden for exercising a bit of freedom. God knows, if Shane were in his shoes, he’d have bailed a long time ago. This time when Harmony left, she’d followed her sucker punch with a TKO: the man she left Aiden for was his now former best friend. At first Aiden had been withdrawn, then angry. Tonight he appeared to be masking his emotions beneath a cloak of overconfidence.

“Right,” Shane muttered. “Chicks.”

“Well, excuse me, Mr. Moneybags.” Aiden leaned one arm on the high-top table and faced him. “Women may throw themselves at you like live grenades, but the rest of us commoners have to come out to the trenches and hunt.”

Shane gave him a dubious look, in part for the sloppily mixed metaphor, but mostly because dodging incoming women didn’t exactly describe his lackluster love life. If he’d learned anything from his last girlfriend, it was how to spot a girl who wanted to take a dip in his cash pool.

He’d only had himself to blame, he supposed. He was accustomed to solving problems with money. Problem-free living just happened to be at the top of his priority list. Unfortunately, relationships didn’t file away neatly into manila folders, weren’t able to be delegated in afternoon conference meetings. Relationships were complicated, messy. Time consuming.

No, thanks.

“I can pick up a girl in a club,” Shane found himself arguing. It’d been a while, but he never was one to shy away from a challenge. Self-made men didn’t shrink in the face of adversity.

Aiden laughed and clapped him on the shoulder. “Don’t embarrass yourself.”

Shane straightened and pushed the beer bottle aside. “Wanna bet?”

“With you?” Aiden lifted a thick blond eyebrow. “Forget it! You wipe your as**s with fifties.”

“Hundreds,” Shane corrected, earning a hearty chuckle.

“Then again,” Aiden said after finishing off his bottle, “I wouldn’t mind seeing you in action, learn what not to do now that I’m single again. Find a cute girl and I’ll be your wingman.” Before Shane could respond, Aiden elbowed him. “Except for her.”

Shane followed his cousin’s pointing finger to the bar, where a woman dabbed at her eyes with a napkin. She looked so delicate sitting there, folded over in her chair, an array of brown curls concealing part of her face.

“Crying chicks either have too much baggage, or they’re wasted.”

Says Aiden Downey, dating guru.

“Drunk can be good,” he continued, “but by the time you get close enough to find out, it’s too late.”

Shane frowned. He didn’t like being told what to do. Or what not to. He wasn’t sure if that’s what made him decide to approach her, or if he’d decided the second Aiden pointed her out. He felt his lips pull into a deeper frown. He shouldn’t be considering it at all.

A cocktail waitress stopped at their table. Shane waved off the offer of another, his eyes rooted on the crying girl at the bar. She looked as out of place in this crowd as he felt. Dressed unassumingly in jeans and a black top, her brown hair a curly crown that stopped at her jawline. In the flashy crowd, she could have been dismissed as plain…but she wasn’t plain. She was pretty.

He watched as she brushed a lock from her damp face as her shoulders rose and fell. The pile of crumpled napkins next to her paired with the far-off look in her eyes suggested she was barely keeping it together. Grief radiated off of her in waves Shane swore he could feel from where he sat. Witnessing her pain made his gut clench. Probably because somewhere deep inside, he could relate.

Aiden said something about a girl on the dance floor, and Shane flicked him an irritated glance before his eyes tracked back to the girl at the bar. She sipped her drink and offered the bartender a tight nod of thanks as he placed a stack of fresh napkins in front of her.

Shane felt an inexplicable, almost gravitational pull toward her, his feet urging him forward even as his brain raised one argument after the next. Part of him wanted to help, though if she wanted to have a heart-to-heart, she’d be better off talking to Aiden. But if she needed advice or a solution to a tangible problem, well, that he could handle.

He glanced around the room at the predatory males lurking in every corner and wondered again why she was here. If he did approach her, an idea becoming more compelling by the moment, she’d likely shoot him down before he said a single word. So why was he mentally mapping a path to her chair? He pressed his lips together in thought. Because there was a good chance he could erase the despair from her face. A prospect he found more appealing than anything else.

“Okay, her friend is hot, I’ll give you that,” Aiden piped up.

Shane blinked before snapping his eyes to the brunette’s left. Her “hot friend,” as Aiden so eloquently put it, showcased her assets in a scandalously short skirt and backless silver top. He’d admit she was hard to miss. Yet Shane hadn’t noticed her until Aiden pointed her out. His eyes trailed back to the brunette.

“Okay,” Aiden said on a sigh of resignation. “Because I so desperately want to see this, I’m going to take a bullet for you. I’ll distract the crier. You hit on the blonde.” That said, he stood up and headed toward the bar…to flirt with the wrong girl.

The platitude of only having one chance to make a first impression flitted through Shane’s head. He called Aiden’s name, but his shout was lost under the music blasting at near ear-bleeding decibels. Aiden may be younger and less experienced, but he also had an undeniable charm girls didn’t often turn down. If the brunette spotted his cousin first, she wouldn’t so much as look at Shane. He abandoned his beer, doing a neat jog across the room and reaching Aiden just as he was moving in to tap the brunette’s shoulder.

“My cousin thought he recognized you,” Shane blurted to the blonde, grabbing Aiden by the arm and spinning him in her direction.

The blonde surveyed Aiden with lazy disinterest. “I don’t think so.”

Aiden lifted his eyebrows to ask, What the hell are you doing?

Rather than explain, Shane clapped both palms on Aiden’s shoulders and shoved him closer to the blonde. “His sister’s in the art business.” It was a terrible segue if the expression on Aiden’s face was anything to go by, but it was the first thing that popped into Shane’s head.

The music changed abruptly, slowing into a rhythmic, techno-pop remix that had dancers slowing down and pairing up. Aiden slipped into an easy, confident smile. “Wanna dance?” he asked the blonde.

The moment the question was out of his mouth, the scratches and hissing of snare drums shifted into the melodic chimes of the tired and all-too-familiar line dance the Electric Slide.

Aiden winced.

Shane coughed to cover a laugh. “He’s a great dancer,” he said to the blonde.

Aiden shot his elbow into Shane’s ribs but recovered his smile a second later. Turning to the blonde, he said, “He’s right, I am,” then offered his hand.

The blonde glanced at his palm, then leaned past Shane to talk to her friend. “You gonna be okay here?” she called over the music.

The brunette flicked a look from her friend to Shane. The moment he locked on to her bright blue eyes, his heart galloped to life, picking up speed as if running for an invisible finish line. Her eyes left his as she addressed her friend. “Fine.”

It wasn’t the most wholehearted endorsement, but at least she’d agreed to stay.

Aiden and the blonde made their way to the dance floor, and Shane gave his collar a sharp tug and straightened his suit jacket before turning toward the brunette. She examined him, almost warily, her lids heavy over earnest blue eyes. He’d seen that kind of soul-rending sadness before, a long time ago. Staring back at him from his bathroom mirror.

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