Her Billion-Dollar Bump

Cinderella’s confession:

“I’m pregnant.”

Housemaid Fliss gave up her fashion dreams to care for her late grandmother. So finding a discarded invitation to the year’s most exclusive event feels like her last chance to get her designs noticed. She just never imagined that attention would come from notorious Saint Montgomery

Knowing she doesn’t belong in the billionaire’s world, innocent Fliss can’t resist one night of Saint’s expert seduction. Except when his “thank you” diamonds land her in the headlines, she’s drawn back into his powerful presence. Because she has news of her own—and the bump to prove it!

Read all the Diamonds of the Rich and Famous books:

Book 1: Accidentally Wearing the Argentinian’s Ring by Maya Blake
Book 2: Prince’s Forgotten Diamond by Emmy Grayson
Book 3: Her Billion-Dollar Bump by Dani Collins

Her Billion-Dollar Bump

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“I only came to ask you to make a statement that it’s not yours, so the paparazzi will leave me alone.”
— Felicity, Her Billion-Dollar Bump

When my editor asked if I wanted to participate in a multi-author trilogy around a diamond shop, I said, “Yes, please!”

I love when I get to connect with author friends. Maya Blake and Emmy Grayson are both exactly as wonderful as you can imagine and we had some fun conversations around how the diamond shop would be accessed and the level of security and what sorts of shenanigans could happen there to ruin our characters’ lives.

In my case, Saint (who does not live up to his name) purchases a pair of earrings for Fliss after their very passionate night together. He met her at a gala that she attended on a stolen invitation. When the earrings are misdirected, their affair is exposed and Fliss has to hide from the paparazzi.

Given the scandal, she doesn’t want to see him again, but she has to when she realizes she’s pregnant. The twist? When she tells him, she says she only wants him to deny he’s the father so she can raise the baby alone and in peace.

Saint, who does not live up to his name, has to decide: Will he take the easy way out or do the right thing?

Her Billion-Dollar Bump

Excerpt

Prologue

As Felicity Corning picked up the wastebasket from beside the client’s writing desk, a glint of gold script on glossy ebony caught her attention.

You are invited to attend London’s premier Benefit for the Arts Gala

The gala was being held at a swanky art gallery in Chelsea two weeks from now.

This is the way, the devilish dreamer on her shoulder whispered. That voice was delusional, always telling her to keep trying…find a way.

Given how many obstacles the universe had put in her way, she was ready to throw in the towel on her fashion-design aspirations. She was only twenty-four, but after two years of knocking on fashion house doors that remained firmly closed, she was growing disheartened.

She understood that dropping out of her degree—and having books and books of sketches with only a few physical samples—meant she wasn’t seen as a viable candidate for even an unpaid intern position. The designers needed to see more commitment to her craft, but she couldn’t help feeling like she had already missed the boat.

If you could show them what you’re capable of, the voice persisted, someone might finally take you seriously.

“No,” she said aloud.

Risking her current job was not the way to go about it. Housekeeping might not be the most glamorous job in the world, but the agency catered to wealthy clients. That was why she had taken it. She often got to put away samples, shopping, and dry cleaning from top designers. Aside from the occasional post-party apocalypse, the work was basic and physical but undemanding. The pay covered her bills. More or less. London was obscenely expensive.

Felicity actually lived a penurious existence. Most artists did. She didn’t mind going without lattes or streaming services so she could spend her scant disposable income on bolts of silk and high-end notions, though. Building out her collection was her way forward. It was her passion. It was the only entertainment she needed.

However, her life had fallen into a rut. Every day was a grind that only seemed to entrench her deeper into a place she didn’t want to be. She had been thinking of going back to school to finish her degree, which she had waffled her way through the first time round. She had been persuaded by her grandmother into thinking a practical business degree was the way to go, then later switched to visual arts before knocking off to take care of Granny until she had passed away.

Going back to school would create the Catch-22 of having no time outside of her classes and day job to sew. Plus, most fashion houses were looking for a post-graduate degree. It would be years before she was remotely “qualified” in the eyes of top designers.

With a sigh of frustration, Felicity carried the wastebasket into the housekeeping closet, but she didn’t immediately empty it into the larger bin. First, she plucked out the invitation and set it on the shelf of cleaning products.

She wasn’t taking it, she told her squirming conscience. She was merely not throwing it away.

Maybe the owner of this three-bedroom townhome—a well-known supermodel—had tossed it by accident. She had recently been cast in a blockbuster movie and was out of town. That was likely why she had discarded the invitation despite the message on the back.

Delia Chevron and date, courtesy of Brightest Star Studio

The studio must have picked up the ticket price for her. How nice to be so rich and famous you could throw away a dinner worth a few hundred pounds. Such a waste. A crime, really, when good people went hungry every day.

People like you, the voice whispered.

“Shut up,” she hissed.

But when Felicity left for the day, she told herself she was only taking the card as inspiration. Someday she would be invited to an event like this—or one of her gowns would, she thought wryly.

But she knew better. She knew she would take a risk that could go horribly awry.

On the other hand, it could change her life.

As it turned out, it did both.

Chapter One

Saint Montgomery would have been ushered down the red carpet with or without a date, but he was solo tonight, so he chose the less conspicuous side entrance where he was funneled like a steer for branding past a thinner bank of photographers. He couldn’t avoid the barrage of questions on his recent breakup, however.

“Saint! Are you and Julie still speaking? What happened?”

He should have brought a date. A new face would have changed the narrative, and God knew he was tired of this one.

Historically, his romantic liaisons were casual and pleasant and ended without conflict. If asked about a particular breakup, he would claim “artistic differences” or some other facetious explanation.

His affair with Julie, however, was the gift that kept on giving. Or taking, as it turned out.

He’d caught her trying to break into his laptop. She’d claimed to be the jealous type who’d suspected him of an affair. He had assured her he was the possessive type, especially when it came to his proprietary software.

Saint wasn’t surprised she’d had a mercenary motive in sleeping with him. Most people operated in their own self-interest, including him, but this experience had shaken his already jaded view of his fellow human beings.

When he had begun seeing Julie, he had taken her at face value, believing she hadn’t needed anything from him beyond affluent companionship. She was the daughter of a famous sportscaster in the US and stood to inherit millions. She had recently broken up with a star athlete and had told Saint she wasn’t ready for anything serious again. She wanted marriage and children “someday” but not today. She had fit seamlessly into his social circle of tycoons and celebrities, flirting and charming wherever she’d gone.

She had seemed an even match for Saint, who always promised monogamy, but little else. He had dropped his guard more than he normally would, never suspecting that Julie had a gambling addiction. Or that she would attempt industrial espionage to pay down her debts.

She could have cost him billions if his bespoke security software hadn’t alerted him to her attempt to clone it. He hadn’t pressed charges. He’d gone easy on her, expelling her from his life while offering to pay for a treatment program.

She had petulantly refused, then gone on every damned talk show in the English-speaking world, literally selling a tale that he had wronged her.

This story was well past its shelf life. Saint was beyond ready to change the channel.

“You can wait for your party over there.” Ahead of him, the greeter waved a woman into purgatory on the far side of the single door and invited the group ahead of him to come forward.

A kick of desire arrested him as he ate up the vision in blue.

Who was she? She wasn’t the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen. More eye-catching in an undiscovered, wallflower way. Most women had arrived dressed to compete with plunging necklines and tiaras and capes made of ostrich feathers. This one’s makeup was muted. Her brunette hair fell in subtle waves from a side part. Rather than an ice cap’s worth of diamonds, she wore a pair of gold hoops and a thin chain with a locket. Her gown was a simple halter style that tied behind her neck before cradling her ample breasts in soft gathers above a high, wide waistband. The skirt fell in a solid curtain off her wide hips, leaving her legs and shoes hidden.

He let his gaze return to those lovely breasts sitting heavy and relaxed in the gathered cups of silk. No bra. He would swear it on his life. Her nipples were leaving a subtle impression beneath the sheen of fabric. One soft swell lifted and moved without restraint as she brushed her hair back from her cheek.

He swallowed. Saint was a healthy man with a strong sexual appetite, but he rarely felt need. Not like this. Not hunger that was immediate and intense and specific.

Her unease was palpable as she pressed a self-conscious smile onto her lips and eyed the bank of photographers. They were ignoring her in favor of new arrivals at the end of the line.

Wait. Was she looking for a path of escape? She pressed her lips together and took a step.

“Angel,” Saint said on impulse, stepping toward her. “I’m so glad you decided to come.” He crooked his arm in invitation, aware of the cameras shifting to the pair of them.

“What?” Her amber gaze flashed to Saint, hitting him like a shot of whiskey, sending even more heat pouring into his gut and out to his extremities. The delicious warmth sank to pool low and heavy behind his fly. It was exciting. Dangerous, but exciting.

Sir.” The greeter reacted to Saint trying to bypass him, then stammered, “I beg your pardon, Mr. Montgomery. Of course you may go in.”

“We’re blocking the entrance,” Saint said, steadying his new date’s faltering steps as he guided her into the noisy foyer, then found them a quiet corner in the main gallery.

She blinked, taking in the freestanding sculptures and abstract oils surrounding tables placed like stepping stones into the labyrinth of the gallery’s showrooms. The glitterati milled in pockets at the edges. Above them, origami flowers were suspended on threads, drifting and bobbing on gentle, unseen currents, like an upside-down meadow.

The woman’s enchantment was cute, her uptilted mouth in that rosy pink nearly irresistible.

“I was stood up, too,” Saint said, signaling a server to bring champagne.

“You’re joking.” Her wide-eyed gaze came down from the ceiling as she took the glass he handed her.

“Prevaricating,” he admitted. No one would ever leave him waiting. “I parted ways with my date two weeks ago.”

“I’m so sorry.” She sounded sincere, which was adorable.

“It’s for the best. And you? Who had the poor taste to leave you hanging?”

“Are we prevaricating?” Her chin dropped in a sly, self-deprecating dip. “I actually knew my…um…date wouldn’t be here. I came anyway, hoping they’d let me in, which they didn’t. So you’ve aided and abetted a party crasher.” She wrinkled her nose.

“I’ve done worse.”

She started to say something, then checked herself, biting her lips with contrition.

“What? You’ve heard that about me?” That was no surprise. He’d misspent his young adult years on wine, women and song. He was a lot more circumspect these days, but that playboy reputation remained his calling card and had its uses, so he didn’t fight it.

“Maybe.” Her lashes flickered as her gaze traveled across the unpadded shoulders of his jacket and down to the buttons that closed it.

He stole the opportunity to take another long drink of her figure-eight figure—which was a solid ten. He came back in time to see the tip of her tongue slide along the seam of her lips.

Her bottom lip was wide and full, the top one thinner with two sharp peaks in the center and an uptilt at the corners that gave an impression she had an amusing secret.

Damn, but he wanted to kiss her. Right. Now.

But when her gaze lifted to his, there was wariness behind the speculation. She quirked a quizzical brow at him.

“Are you really Saint Montgomery?”

“Yes.” He liked his name in her accent. It wasn’t one of those posh pronunciations that scolded, demanding he behave like his namesake. Her broad inflection held a rueful skepticism that seemed to know he was the furthest thing from a saint.

“So why are you talking to me?”

He liked how direct she was, too. “Is that a real question? I find you attractive.”

She choked on the sip of champagne she’d started to take. “No.” She tilted her head, eyeing him with suspicion. “At best, you’re on a rebound from your recent breakup.”

He winced, caught, but, “Both things can be true, can’t they? I do find you attractive, but it also suited me to give the paparazzi fresh meat to chew on. Now they’re out there wondering who the hell I came in with.”

Her eyes widened with alarm.

“Why does that worry you? Who did I come in with?”

“I’d rather not say.” She glanced around and shook her head with something like incredulity. “I was misrepresenting myself by turning up here and really need to quit while I’m ahead. Thank you for getting me in, but I’m leaving.”

“Why?” He put out a hand, needing to touch her again if only to graze her bare elbow. And watch her nipples peak against the thin silk of her gown. “Who was your date? Why did you come if you didn’t think they’d let you in?”

“I’m embarrassed to say. Genuinely.” Her flush of awareness turned to dark pink stains on her cheeks. Her bright-eyed amusement was very much at her own expense. “I’ll do more damage than good if I stick around, so… It was nice to meet you, but I have to go. Even though it galls me to walk away from a dinner worth a hundred pounds.”

She really was new here. “It’s twenty-five thousand.”

“What is? This statue?” She halted herself from setting her unfinished glass on the base of a nearby sculpture.

“The plate fee.”

“Is twenty-five thousand pounds?” she cried and fumbled her glass, splashing champagne against her knuckles. She added an earthy epithet that he would’ve loved to hear against his ear while they were between the sheets.

He offered his pocket square, not bothering to mention he’d underwritten a table of ten for his London team of executives and their spouses.

“I’m definitely leaving,” she blurted as she handed back his damp square of silk.

“Not before midnight, Cinderella,” he cajoled, caressing her arm again, liking how quickly goose bumps rose against his tickling touch. He nodded toward an archway into another room. “I have to make the rounds. Stay and amuse me.”

She sobered. “I don’t mind laughing at myself, but I don’t care to become entertainment for others.”

“Why would you be?” He frowned.

“We can both tell I’m out of my league here,” she said with reproach. “Why else would you want me on your arm? Social anxiety?”

“I find your sense of humor a welcome balance to people who take themselves far too seriously.”

“Gosh, fun as it sounds to meet those people, I’ll have to give it a miss.” She handed her glass to a passing server.

A lurching sensation pulled in his chest. He wanted to catch at her as though she was falling off a cliff away from him.

“Saint Montgomery. Just the man I need.” A woman’s hand arrived on his shoulder. She was the forty-something wife of a man Saint had met somewhere for some reason. Her chestnut hair was piled atop her head, her gown a racy haute-couture creation that framed cleavage where a ruby the size of a holiday turkey nested. “I’m planning an eclipse party. I need your clever brain to calculate the perfect time and place. Hello. You’re not Julie.”

His mystery woman froze like a bunny, then produced a dazzling smile that hit Saint like a ball of sunshine even though it was directed at the other woman.

“I’m not Julie, you’re right. I’m Fliss. Sadly, you’ve missed this year’s total eclipse. There will be another in about fourteen months with good views from Iceland, Portugal and Spain. The path is easy enough to find online. I would look it up for you, but I’ve been called away, so…um…good night.” She included Saint in her wave of departure.

“Don’t be silly, Fliss. I can’t leave you to find your own way home.” What a flossy, fluttery name. It suited her perfectly. “Excuse us.”

Saint flashed a dismissive smile at the other woman, who was watching them with great curiosity, and steered Fliss against the tide of people still streaming in.

“You don’t have to leave. You’ll miss a dinner worth a fraction of what you paid for it.” Fliss rolled her eyes as they emerged into the press of people still hovering and hurrying through the dusk.

A cool spring breeze slithered through the crowd, ruffling into his collar and dancing against her loose hair.

“You’re missing dinner, too. We’ll have to find somewhere else to eat.” He texted his driver.

“I was being sarcastic. I’ll—”

“Saint! Who’s your date?” A photographer waiting near the curb began flashing their bulb at them, drawing others to do the same.

Fliss sent an appalled look to Saint.

“Ignore them.” He glanced at a muscled security guard wearing an earpiece and a black T-shirt.

The bouncer immediately turned himself into a bulwark against the photographers, opening his arms wide and forcing the photographers back.

“Hey! What’s your name? How long have you been dating Saint?”

Fliss was still staring at him with horror.

“There’s my car.” His driver was coming in on the far side, against the arrival lane, but both directions were clogged with traffic.

He caught her hand and slipped between two limos dispensing passengers, then opened the rear door where his driver had paused in the middle of the street. Saint swept the hem of her gown into the car and slammed the door, then circled to the other side.

“What’s going to happen now?” Fliss asked, twisting to look through the rear window as their car crept forward.

“Now I don’t have to spend the next three hours talking about astrology. Thank you.”

She blinked once at him, then settled into her seat, nose forward. “And here I was about to ask for your sign.”

“Scorpio,” he drawled. “I only remember because someone told me once that it explains my sting.”

“I can see that.” She slid him a side-eye. “Bold to the point of fearless. Intense. Likes to be in charge. Did you know that Scorpios secretly believe in astrology?”

“Untrue.”

“Well, it wouldn’t be a secret if you admitted it, would it?” Amusement twitched the sharp corners of her mouth.

“I’m going to be sorry I ever met you, aren’t I?” He wasn’t. This was the most fun he’d had in ages.

“Don’t worry. Our acquaintance will be very brief.” She craned her neck, looking past the driver to the heavy traffic ahead. “After you get me out of here, you’ll never see me again.”

“I’ll have to make the most of my time with you, then. Won’t I, Fliss?”

Chapter Two

The intimate way he said her name raised goose bumps all over her body. In fact, he’d been doing that to her from the moment he’d called her Angel and swept her into the gallery.

Fliss knew it was deliberate on his part. She knew who Saint Montgomery was. Or, at least, she knew what the headlines said about him. He was the heir to Grayscale Technologies, one of Silicon Valley’s pillars of wealth and innovation. He held a prestigious position within the company, but whether he did actual work was anyone’s guess. He was far more well-known for his jet-setting lifestyle and rotating bevy of beautiful women.

He was a player and seemed to want to play with her.

Much to her chagrin, she was allowing it.

Fliss knew better, but every time she looked at him, her brain shorted out. How could it not? He was gorgeous! Rather than the standard tuxedo most men had donned, Saint wore a dark blue jacket with geometric patterns embroidered into it. His black silk lapels framed his black silk tie against a crisp white shirt. His perfectly tailored trousers landed precisely on his glossy black shoes, and none of it distracted from his ruggedly handsome features. In fact, it only accentuated his athletic physique and sheer charisma.

His straight, dark brows gave him a stern look that reached all the way into the pit of her belly, but the hint of curl in his dirty blond hair, and the stubble that framed his sensually full mouth, were pure hedonism.

Don’t stare, she reminded herself, but he really was as good-looking in person as he was in photos. More. He had an aura of lazy confidence that was positively magnetic.

The way his gaze slid over her like a caress was dark magic that ought to have sent her tucking and rolling from the car, not sitting here holding her breath, waiting to see what would happen next.

Just go home.

Coming to the art gallery had been a terrible idea. She had traded away shifts and distressed her credit card to make this gown in time, and it hadn’t held up against the ones by the professionals. Not at all. It was fine for a bridesmaid at a country wedding, but her belief that its simplicity was classic had actually been a fear-based decision. She saw that now.

Which, she supposed, meant the night wasn’t a total waste of time. You learn more from failure than success, Granny used to say. Fliss understood now why she and her work weren’t being taken seriously. Insecurity was holding her back from expressing herself.

Her confidence had taken a major hit when she’d arrived and seen how outgunned she was. Rather than try for the red carpet, she’d slinked into the queue for the side entrance only to be shuffled to the side because she wasn’t the invitee.

She had been ready to go home, tail between her legs, when this ridiculously famous man had swept her into the party, then into his car, and now—

“My hotel,” he told the driver as traffic began to clear.

Such a playboy.

“Presumptuous,” she cast at him before leaning forward to say to the driver, “You can drop me at the nearest tube station.”

“For dinner. You’re the one making presumptions,” Saint said indignantly, but laughter twitched his lips.

Amusement tickled inside her chest along with flutters of excitement and intrigue. Was he really this superficial and predictable? Or was there more to him? She wanted to know.

And she would rather catch a car-share from a hotel than have him drop her outside the humble row house where she rented a room with four other housemates. Also, she had skipped lunch because she’d been pressed for time and had thought she would be eating well tonight.

Was she rationalizing spending more time with him? Absolutely.

Was she also giving in to that ambitious, calculating part of herself that had gone so far as to put on her own gown and turn up with Delia Chevron’s invitation in her handbag, trying to blag her way into a world where she didn’t belong?

How had she deluded herself into believing she could be “discovered” on the red carpet? Talk about the ultimate queue jumper!

She was mortified by her own behavior and grateful she’d slipped away without anyone knowing her name. She had only provided her nickname to that woman who’d called her “not Julie.” If Granny were alive to hear about this, Felicity would feel the old woman’s yardstick, for sure. She’d have opinions about Fliss allowing a serial womanizer like Saint Montgomery to take her to dinner, too.

You’ll know the right man when you meet him, Granny’s voice had assured her countless times. Don’t waste time with boys who don’t appreciate you.

Fliss had been schooled rather harshly on how disrespectful a boy could be. Saint reminded her a lot of that first and only boyfriend, emanating the same alpha qualities of strength and wealth and handsome popularity.

Fliss knew better than to imagine he was the Mr. Right she was waiting for, but this felt like a chance at something—not fame or gain, but connection. She couldn’t pinpoint why it felt so necessary to spend a little more time with him, but when they exited the car outside his hotel, she didn’t refuse his dinner invitation and order a car to take her home.

She entered the door the uniformed doorman held for her, aware of Saint’s hand in her lower back as he came in right behind her.

The hotel was one that she had only ever heard of as being very posh. She tried not to gawk, but it was like something out of a movie with its checkered tiles and chandeliers, its arches and columns and refined opulence.

The staff treated Saint like a movie star, too. Or, she supposed, like a man who could buy out the place out if he wanted to. As they arrived at the dining room, the maître d’ escorted them to a table that bore a Reserved sign, leaving a well-dressed party of four grumbling at the reception podium.

“Do you have any allergies?” Saint asked Fliss as he seated her.

“No.”

“Have the chef prepare us a tasting menu,” he told the maître d’. “Wine to pair, and don’t let anyone bother us.”

The man nodded with deference and melted away.

“Fliss. Is that short for something?” Saint unbuttoned his jacket as he sat, leaving it hanging open while he leaned back, at ease with who he was and where they were. “Tell me about yourself.”

Ugh. “Must I?”

“You don’t want to?” His gaze delved deep into her own.

“It’s gloomy.” She dropped her own gaze, heart clenching. “My parents died when I was eight. They were all I had aside from my granny. She raised me and passed a couple of years ago. I moved to London for a fresh start.” Losing her grandmother was still a painful knife in her chest.

“I’m sorry for your loss.”

“Thanks.”

An amuse-bouche arrived to lighten the mood. It was a single bite of ceviche on a foam of fragrant dill served on a silver spoon, topped by a few grains of caviar and a sprinkle of chopped chive. They chased it with a light wine ripe with notes of pear and anise.

Fliss had never noticed such subtleties of flavor before. She thought her senses might’ve been sharpened by the company she was in. Being in the aura of this man was a thrill somewhere between lion taming and steering a high-performance car through the streets of Monaco.

“What do you do here?” he asked.

“Fashion designer.” It might not have been her job, but painters were artists even if they didn’t sell their work. “I’m still starting out. You? What brings you to London?”

“Patting the backs of our top performers at the gala this evening.”

“Shouldn’t you be there, then?”

He shrugged it off. “They’ll have more fun without the boss keeping them in check.”

“Is that what your work entails? Travel and glad-handing?”

“Much of it, yes.” His eyes narrowed with suspicion. “Why are you asking about my work?”

“Why are you interested in mine? We have to talk about something. It’s too bad I don’t have my tarot cards.” She looked to her small handbag. “I could have done a reading for you.”

“Do you really believe in the supernatural, or are you stringing me along?”

“Both.” She couldn’t help grinning. “Granny used to take me to a psychic sometimes, to see if we could talk to my parents. When I was twelve, I won my tarot cards at a fair. It came with a book of interpretations, so I spent the rest of my adolescence learning to read them. I’ve delved a little into astrology and numerology. Crystals. As far as explaining life’s mysteries, they make as much sense as anything else.”

“What about ghosts?”

“What about them? Don’t say you don’t believe in them.” She leaned forward to warn, “There’s one right behind you.”

It was their server, coming to remove their plates. Saint’s reaction to the sudden movement in his periphery was a flicker of his gaze, then a shake of his head at her. “You’re trouble.”

She bit back a chuckle, enjoying herself. This was a unique position. She had no history with him, no future—only now. It allowed her to be completely herself without fear of judgment or consequence. It was thrilling.

“I know how farfetched these things sound,” she conceded. “But belief isn’t about being rational, is it? It’s what we convince ourselves is true when we don’t have evidence to tell us otherwise. When I set out my cards, that’s all I’m looking for—evidence to support a belief I already have. Should I move to London? Oh, look. I pulled a card that means material success. That must mean I’ll achieve my goals if I move to London.”

“Sounds more like you’re tricking yourself.”

“We all trick ourselves.” Fliss waved that away. “If you prefer to believe that heaven exists, that’s the trick you’ve chosen because there’s no way to prove what really happens after death. Maybe it’s my imagination that I hear my grandmother’s voice when I set out my cards, but who cares if it is? It brings me comfort to feel like I’m talking to her. And in a way, I am keeping her spirit alive by invoking her. Does that make her a ghost whose energy is in the room?”

“You’ve almost convinced me to believe in something completely illogical.” He tilted his head as though trying to understand how she’d accomplished it. “It sounds like you were very close with her.”

“I was.” She was unable to prevent the pang of loss that thinned her voice. “But her quality of life had deteriorated so much by the time she passed, I really believe she’s in a better place. It was still hard to be left behind.” She could feel herself descending into melancholy so she added, “She loved to spin a yarn, too. You couldn’t trust a word she said. I suppose I keep her alive in that way as well.”

Saint’s face blanked. “Is everything you’ve just told me pure BS?”

“Does it matter? You wanted to be entertained, and you are. Thank you.” She smiled as the server presented a crystal shot glass filled with layers of gazpacho from dark red beet through a rich green cucumber and avocado to a bright yellow heirloom tomato topped with a morsel of lobster and a sprig of mint.

A Reuilly Sauvignon Blanc was poured into a fresh glass, even though she hadn’t finished her first glass of wine and the bottle was still mostly full.

Saint wasn’t trying to get her drunk by urging her to finish, though. He caught her concerned glance at the ice bucket and said drily, “The staff won’t let the opened bottles go to waste.”

The soup was gone in three swallows but left a minty tang on Fliss’s tongue that was amplified by a sip of the citrus and vanilla in the wine.

They talked about incidentals over a delicate bouquet of colorful baby lettuce leaves and sprigs of herbs arranged with edible flowers on a pureed dressing, then a main of braised duck with baby turnips and figs.

Saint seemed genuinely interested in her, asking about her taste in music and movies, where she had traveled—London and a school trip to Paris, years ago. He made her feel special, but Fliss knew that was an illusion. She was here. That was all.

It was still nice to be on a date. She had a strong sense of self and what she wanted to accomplish with her life, but she suffered certain feelings of inadequacy and lack of experience with romantic relationships.

She veered from thinking about that piece-of-dirt boyfriend she’d had back in sixth form, irritated that she was still letting him affect her, but he’d made sexuality such a complicated thing for her. At first, it had been fun and light, but soon he’d pressured her to have sex. She’d gone along with it out of insecurity with their relationship and normal adolescent curiosity, but it had been very un-special.

First times were often awkward, so she wouldn’t have had such hard feelings about it, but he’d begun telling people she’d given it up to him. Angry, she’d broken up with him only for him to spread nasty rumors that he’d broken things off because she was ‘the town bike’.

She’d lost friendships over it and a lot of trust in boys. For the rest of school and into uni, she had had all the typical curiosity and desires of a healthy, youthful person, but she’d also felt deeply self-conscious when she’d showed so much as a collarbone or an ankle, loath to draw sexual attention in case she’d been accused of asking for it.

Eventually, she’d begun to relax and come out of her shell again, but by then, Granny’s health had turned. Fliss had moved home, where she had fallen back into old patterns of keeping her head down. In a lot of ways, worry for Granny had tapped her out emotionally, too. There hadn’t been room for a romantic relationship, so she hadn’t pursued any.

Moving to London had been another fresh start, but between making ends meet and chasing her dreams, she didn’t have much time for a social life. Occasionally, she joined her housemates at the pub, but she’d never met a man who interested her enough to choose him over her ambitions.

Until now.

Not that Saint was likely to derail her in any way. He was the most unattainable man in dating history. It was well-documented. He was buying her dinner. That was all this was and all it would be.

She turned the tables on him, though, and learned that his parents lived in New York and that he had a penthouse there but also a home in California because he spent so much time there. He attended plays or movie premieres. He was wired for logic and technology where she gravitated to arts and the ethereal. He traveled the globe on a monthly basis.

“We genuinely have nothing in common,” Fliss noted wryly. “I have a passport I’ve used precisely once. I renewed it when I moved to London, hoping I’d need it for work.” Surely she would be recognized as a genius and sent to Fashion Week in New York? Or, at the very least, would book herself a trip to attend?

“What about dancing?” He glanced to where couples were stepping and turning in tempo to the pianist’s romantic melody.

“Are you asking if I’m any good? Not really. I’m guessing you’re an expert?”

“I am.” He rose and held out his hand in invitation.

“At least we’re both humble,” she teased, but he had every right to his arrogance. Everything about him shortened her breath in the most delicious way.

Since when did she find a man’s hand sexy? The glimpse of his inner wrist above his wide palm and long fingers seemed like the most erotic peek of skin in the world. Fliss wanted to kiss that spot where his skin was a shade less tanned than the rest.

Warming with a blush, she set her hand in his, feeling drawn upward by an unseen force. Pulled and gathered and spun onto a cloud even though her feet weren’t yet on the dance floor.

As they arrived, Saint drew her into his arms and her body became a flame, hot and bright and insubstantial.

Then she embarrassed herself by bumping straight into him. As her curves mashed up against his firm, strong body, her stomach swooped and plummeted.

“I’m sorry! See? I’m bad at this.”

“Listen to the music. Let me lead.” His voice was low and hypnotic. “Trust me.”

She didn’t trust him. Or shouldn’t. But she had quit listening to the voice of caution and now began to feel. The piano notes filled her ears, but she could swear she heard his heartbeat at a deeper level, matching hers. All of her became synchronized to him. The breadth of his shoulders blocked out the rest of the room, making him her world. The faint trace of aftershave against his throat filled her nostrils, and his hand cradling hers sent warmth penetrating into her bloodstream.

The sure way he advanced and retreated, moving her with ease as she gave herself up to his mastery reinforced her sense of belonging to him. Of becoming an extension of him.

This is the one.

The voice that spoke wasn’t angel or devil or Granny. It was her deepest voice of intuitive knowledge. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, a fine vibration within her was harmonizing with his. Fliss gave herself up to it as they moved. Neither of them was leading or following. They were in perfect alignment.

This was how it would feel to make love with him, she understood as sensuality unfurled inside her. Natural and easy. She didn’t need her precious tarot cards to tell her he’d be good at sex, either. He’d draw her effortlessly down a path of iniquity, and she would love every second of it.

“What’s funny?” Saint murmured, making her realize he was looking at her.

“This situation. It’s very surreal to me,” she admitted, trying to hide the blush that betrayed where her thoughts had strayed. “It must be very common for you, though? Picking up women?”

There was a flash behind his eyes. Insulted?

He directed his attention over her head, releasing a noise of disparagement. “Women do the picking up. I simply allow it.”

“I guess I’m a natural. I didn’t realize that’s what I was doing.” Was that what she had been doing?

Their gazes clashed again. This time the flash in his eyes was lightning that struck all the way into the pit of her belly and lower, leaving a scorch in her loins. A certain apprehension washed over her, too. It was the wild combination of exhilaration and fear when tasting nature’s raw power. Of being overwhelmed by it.

“It is me this time,” he said in that smoky voice that made her skin feel tight.

Picking her up? He was more than a natural at it. He was a world-class wizard.

“I thought this was only dinner?” She dropped her gaze to the knot in his tie, trying to hide the flare of temptation that came into her eyes.

He probably read her temptation in her tension and the telltale blush that was warming her cheeks.

“It can be, if that’s what you prefer.” Was there tension in him, too? Her ears were straining to take in every tiny signal between them. “But I like to take my fate into my own hands, rather than rely on the stars to offer me what I want.” His mouth curled at the corner. “If there’s a chance for more than dinner, I’d like to seize it.”

He’d like to seize her, too, apparently, given how his grip tightened slightly on her waist and hand.

Before Fliss realized what he was doing, he guided her away from him in a slow spin that was unexpected enough to make her dizzily catch onto him when she came back into his arms. Then he dipped her slightly over his arm, so she was off-balance, and lowered his head.

He stopped before he kissed her. His whispered “Is there?” wafted across her lips. “A chance?”

Oh, dear.

Her heart was thudding in a mix of anxiety and excitement, and her hands were holding tight to him—because she was literally off-balance. She could have shaken him off and stood on her own two feet rather than let him hold her tipped like this, but her brain had short-circuited again. All she was really aware of was his mouth, right there, filling her with such yearning she could hardly breathe.

She lifted her chin in welcome, offering her mouth to him.

The lightest of touches brushed her lips. A subtle rest of lips to lips. A greeting. Not even a dalliance. He waited for her to make the slight shift and find the angle that fit their mouths together more fully.

Then he rocked his head, a request. Invite me.

She did, sighing as his arm grew more firm around her and his tongue probed in a languorous quest. When the tip of his tongue brushed the roof of her mouth, feathery caresses seemed to scroll over her whole body from nape to tailbone, down her arms and legs and high between her thighs, into that pulsing, throbbing place that she’d been trying to ignore but felt heavy and flooded with heat. With longing.

She gasped at the startling way he brought her whole body to life, but he only deepened their kiss, as though seeking whatever she might be holding back from him. Chasing. Demanding.

Fliss had known she wasn’t his match financially or socially, but she had been pretending they were equals in a more esoteric way. Wit, perhaps. Or in their lighthearted detachment from this dinner of theirs.

This kiss, however. This kiss demonstrated just how far out of her league she really was. It was a plunge from thirty-thousand feet into thin air. It knocked the breath from her lungs, leaving her ears rushing with nothing but the scream of wind.

His lips raked across hers in an unbridled claim that shook apart all she’d ever known about kissing, which was admittedly a lot less than she’d realized. He cupped the back of her head, and the stubble on his jaw grazed her chin.

When a whimper resounded in her throat, he drew her upright, but desperation had her winding her arms around his neck. Don’t stop. She stood on tiptoe and pressed herself harder to him. She wanted to be closer. Closer still.

He growled and crushed her to his front and nipped at her bottom lip before soothing and suckling, causing more lightning to strike through her abdomen and into her sex. More trickles of need and more shivers of ecstatic pleasure traveled down her spine.

Very dimly, she was aware that they were in public, that they should stop, but she couldn’t make herself pull away. She tasted wine and traces of clove and inhaled a fading aftershave that would remain imprinted on her senses forever.

Her eyelids had fluttered closed. All that existed was this dark enveloping sense of the world having fallen away. She knew only distant sensations of satin and embroidered wool. Her fingertips found the line where his cool hair cut a precise line against the hot skin at the back of his neck. She was aware of her breasts being crushed against the plane of his chest in a way that was a relief but increased the yearning within her. His hard thighs warmed the fall of her skirt against the front of her legs, and his hand drew a slow, lazy circle in her lower back that was as promising as it was proprietary.

This was what she had been waiting for in her ambivalence toward dating. Not commitment or Mr. Right but this rush of desire that pulsed inside her like a drum beat. Like an imperative.

She had been waiting for a man to kiss her as though she was essential to him. That was how she felt when he started to draw back, then returned as though he couldn’t resist one more long, thorough, greedy taste.

He lifted his head and kept her in the shelter of his arms.

She was trembling and grateful for his support. Her knees were gelatin, the rest of her soft as melted wax. His hand was tucked beneath her hair, cupping the back of her neck, thumb moving in a restless, soothing caress against her nape. The other held her body pressed close enough to feel the rapid tattoo of his heart through the layer of his jacket and the thick shape of his erection against her stomach.

They were drawing attention. She covered her burning lips with her crooked finger.

When she stepped out of his arms, he slid his hand down her bare shoulder, leaving a wake of tingles before he buttoned his jacket to disguise the effect she’d had on him.

As they arrived back at their table, he picked up her handbag. “Do you want to stay for dessert or bring it to my room?”

“I—”

Don’t, she warned herself.

But that deep, inner, intuitive voice said, He’s the one.

Her voice was thick as honey. “I’m sure the staff won’t let it go to waste if we skip it.”

Rather than the smug smile she’d expected, his cheek ticked. He took her hand as they left the restaurant.

Her Billion-Dollar Bump

is available in the following formats:
Her Billion-Dollar Bump
Harlequin
Early from Harlequin: Jun 1, 2024
Other Retailers: Jun 25, 2024
ISBN-13: 9781335593580
Her Billion-Dollar Bump
Harlequin
Early from Harlequin: Jun 1, 2024
Other Retailers: Jun 25, 2024
ISBN-13: 9781335593580
Pages: 210

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