Chapter 6 - Seven Nights of Sin (Penthouse Affair #2)


“Wait, let me get this straight. Austin was like a spy?”

Bianca sits across from me in a small café a block away from our apartment. Her hands are tightly wrapped around her tea mug, her fingernails a deep navy blue. She leans forward like an angsty preteen, hungry to eat up some hot gossip.

“That’s really not the important part,” I say with a sigh.

I had my reservations about telling her any of this . . . but who else is there? It’s not like I can tell Michael. He would blame himself for any pain he’s caused me. He’d also freak out if he knew about my finances, but he needs to focus on school. Plus, he would think it’s somehow his fault that my life is such a colossal shit show.

No. There’s no way I can share any of this with him. It would break him.

I breathe in the steam of my herbal tea, willing it to calm my buzzing nerves.

“Hello? Are you still there?” Bianca’s gazing at me with a confused expression.

I blink. I’d completely zoned out, spiraling down into the pit of my despair. Bianca reaches over and places a hand on mine. She squeezes it tightly, as if to squeeze the thoughts right out of me.

“Sorry, B, what did you say?”

“I asked if you were okay.”

I laugh, feeling anything but okay. “Honestly? No.” I let out a long, slow exhale. “I’m freaking out.”

“Because of the job, or because of your hot boss who hates you?” she asks before taking a sip of her tea.

“Both?” I say, my voice tight with the tears I refuse to cry.

Bianca rubs her thumb across the back of my hand in a sweet gesture of comfort. I look into her eyes, searching for any bit of wisdom she may have to offer. I’ll take just about anything right now.

“No situation is completely unsalvageable. Take me back to the beginning.”

And so I do. I tell Bianca about meeting Dominic in the bar on that fateful night. About how my heart practically leaped out of my throat when he proposed the arrangement. A two-week arrangement of being his fake girlfriend. I don’t tell her how well-versed he is in this kind of thing, preferring to only date high-end escorts. Even if he’s no longer mine, I do still have some sense of wanting to protect him.

Not that Bianca would run to the media with that information. I know I can trust her—we’ve been besties since we were freshman roommates in college. But still, if that got out, it could crush him, and he’d know I was somehow involved with it getting out and that would damage our relationship beyond repair. It’s already hanging on by a thread.

I explain how nervous and insecure I was before I realized that I’m a natural actress around men with heavy wallets, men who are capable of cinching a million-dollar deal over appetizers. And then, how electric every touch and caress felt when Dominic and I became physical. And finally, the moment I realized that he was a single father of two tiny children, and a truly fantastic one at that.

At this point, Bianca interrupts me. “Wait! He’s a dad? He’s like twenty-five!”

“He’s twenty-six, actually.”

“Well, I am no less amazed right now. A single dad to twins and running a huge corporation? That’s impressive, to say the least.”

Believe me, I know.

And the craziest thing is, he makes it look so effortless. Sure, he has Francine, but still. My runaway thoughts are interrupted by another question from Bianca.

“Where’s the mama?” she asks, leaning forward on her elbows.

“Her name is Sara. She was . . .” I swallow. “An escort.”

“Excusemewhat?” she blurts out.

“She was a—”

“No, I heard you. He knocked up an escort?” Bianca leans back in her chair as if to let this new information breathe in the space between us. “Wow.”

“He has custody of the children.”

“Why, because she was too coked up to care about her kids?”

“Bianca, it wasn’t like that.”

I’m surprised by how stern my tone is, but I mean it. I don’t want Bianca to think any less of Dominic for the situation he was in. Or even Sara, for that matter. The whole situation is so fucked up, but who am I to judge?

“He really tried to take care of her. He wanted to do the right thing.”

“Okay, okay. I’m sorry. I’m in hyper-defensive mode because my friend is hurting. This is all just so crazy. And honestly, who else do I direct all this anger toward? Tell me.”

“I don’t know.” I moan, burying my face in my hands. “Me?”

“Presley, you did nothing wrong. Dominic is the dickhead here.”

“Don’t say that,” I say, my voice muffled by my palms.

“Why? Give me one good reason.”

“Because I think I have feelings for him.” I press my hands over my face, groaning.

There’s a solid ten seconds of silence. I peek through my fingers to see Bianca studying me while she absentmindedly picks off her nail polish. She’s waiting for me to say more, to divulge all my innermost thoughts.

Do I have to? I feel like all I do lately is ruin things. I used to think I had my shit together. Armed with my fancy new degree, I was on the fast track. I was going to storm the business world, take care of my brother, be everything to everyone . . . and now the only fast track that I’m on is to become the world’s hottest mess of a failure. And it’s only taken me a matter of weeks to get here. Good times.

“I just thought I had him pegged from the beginning, you know? I thought he was arrogant, unfeeling. Hot, but totally insufferable. And then he completely surprised me. He has this side of him that’s so incredibly gentle and considerate. And when I got a glimpse of that—hell, when I got a piece of it myself—it . . . it was so good.”

“The sex?” Bianca smirks, watching me.

“Obviously.” Even though we only did it once. “But it was more than that,” I say, shaking my head. “He was broken, and I got to see the parts of him that were still whole. You should have seen him cutting up grapes for his daughters.”

“Well, I gotta say that that’s not my definition of sexy, but hey, you do you.”

We both fall into a flurry of giggles. I’m so relieved to have talked to someone about all of this. I’ve had it clutched tightly to my chest for so long, thinking that no one would understand. But Bianca would never judge me for feeling what I do.

“What do you think I should do?” I ask, clasping my hands under the table like I’ve got my heart in my lap.

Bianca chews her lip thoughtfully. “Well, he didn’t fire you.”

“True.” The opposite, in fact. He demanded I get to my desk on Monday once he noticed I was missing.

“That’s a good sign.”

“Is it?” I’m not convinced. The way Dominic has been treating me feels like I’m only one minor misstep away from being blacklisted from the entire industry forever.

He wouldn’t do that to you, would he? Not knowing makes the back of my neck feel hot and cold all at once.

“You’re going to keep seeing him at work. Since he hasn’t completely removed you from his life, you’ve got this opportunity before you. Maybe you can win him over again and he’ll let you back in?”

After all of this?

Bianca sees the question in my eyes and puts up a hand as if to say, stop right there. “It’s his loss if he’s too stubborn to let you back in. Don’t sell yourself short for a man, sweetie.”

Let me back in . . . Those are apt words for what I’m looking for from Dominic now.

When I met him, he was a locked vault, and not just anyone was given the key. I was lucky enough to get a chance to connect with him on a level I never imagined possible.

Now I just want him to open the door again. Maybe then we can revisit what we had. The banter, the chemistry, the tenderness . . . before he ripped it apart and threw it in the trash.

“You’ve got this, Presley,” Bianca says with a confident smile. “You’re the strongest person I know. If anyone can figure out how to wade through this mess, it’s you.”

My lips turn up and my heart warms. If Bianca believes in me, then maybe I do have a fighting chance.