Authors: Marian Tee
Tags: #billionaire romance
Nik’s eyes narrowed at her. “Just because something’s cute doesn’t mean it’s silly,” he dismissed. “You shouldn’t listen to people who think like that. They are the ones being silly.” His accent had thickened with his last sentence, and she realized that Nik actually felt irritated on her account.
Daria opened and closed her mouth several times before she could mumble awkwardly, “T-thank you.” Compliments about her looks she was used to, but her work was a different thing entirely, and the fact that it was Nik made her treasure the words even more.
“I’d love to know more about your work.”
At the words, Daria couldn’t help stealing a look at Nik’s face, wanting to make sure he wasn’t just being polite. “You really want to?”
Nik only arched a brow in response, almost as if saying he wasn’t the type to speak something he didn’t mean.
Flushing with both embarrassment and pleasure, she said shyly, “We could talk about it over breakfast?” She held her breath as soon as she asked, a part of her still waiting for him to turn her down.
But he didn’t.
After a beat, he reached for her hand and clasped it. It was the first time he had done so, and Daria furiously blinked back tears again.
Thank You, God.
Hand in hand, they walked back inside the room. After closing the door, Nik turned to her and Daria’s mouth became dry at the look in his eyes.
It was…hot, but it was more than that, too. It almost seemed like…
feeling she still couldn’t make herself say out loud.
The next moment, she wasn’t sure who made the first move. They were suddenly in each other’s arms, his mouth covering hers.
When he ended the kiss, Nik gritted out, “I’m sorry.”
“I’m sorry, too.” Again, she had to fight back tears as she spoke. She wanted to say more, wanted to explain herself so there would no longer be any lies between them. But Nik seemed to sense it, and rather than let her speak, he chose to kiss her instead.
Don’t say a word,
his kiss said.
And because this feeling inside her was so strong and she wanted so badly for him to feel the same way, Daria didn’t.
They took a shower together, and after, Nik toweled Daria dry and dressed her. His tender ministrations left her tongue-tied, Daria never expecting someone as aloof as Nik could pamper her this way. His actions made it so much harder not to think about what
As they ate breakfast at a nearby café, he began asking her questions about her work, all of which she happily answered. Daria told him about her work process, which started with doodles that she then turned into digital works so she could share them via social media.
“And that’s how potential clients see my stuff, and I earn by commission from those orders.”
He was checking her online portfolio on his phone now, and the variety of her work in it was even more impressive. “You make wedding invitations, too?”
“Uh huh. Usually, it’s when the couple wants everything personalized and handmade. I typically partner with letterers or calligraphers because I’m not good with those.” She tapped his screen, swiping for the next photo. “This particular work’s one of my biggest breaks. It’s a collaboration with the House of Argenti.”
Recognizing the name, Nik tried to search his memory for the last piece of news he had of the famous fashion brand. “The wedding involves…a princess from Europe, right?”
His gaze gleamed with approval. “That
quite a coup.”
Daria flushed in pleasure at the genuine admiration lining Nik’s voice. “T-thanks.” She paused then blurted out, “If you marry, maybe I could do your wedding invitation.”
Shit. Awkward. Shit.
Oh my God, why had she said that anyway?
She opened her mouth to take it all back, but Nik beat her to it, his voice low and husky as he spoke. “It depends on whom I’ll marry.” All he meant was that it was his bride who should make such a choice, but when he raised his gaze to Daria, he realized she had interpreted it in a different way.
He could see it in her eyes, could see it in the way her lips parted in surprise and her entire face softened. She thought he was indirectly telling her she could do the invitations if she agreed to be his bride.
The moment he realized what she was thinking, it felt like someone was walking – no, stomping – all over his grave, and Nik’s jaw clenched.
The sensible part of him told Nik to be happy, but the stupid part of him told him to take it all back before it was too late.
This should make him happy. This was his opportunity to have his revenge. Daria was obviously convinced she had him, and now would be the best time to pull out the rug under her feet and show her that it was the other way around and she was the one he had eating out of the palm of his hand.
All of this should please him, so why the fuck did he feel like everything was just a second away from blowing up in his face?
Nik took a deep breath.
He was going to tell her she had it completely wrong
, he decided grimly. And after that, he would tell her this was the last day they would be together and that he never wanted to see her again.
He would make a clean break of it, and that would be it for them.
That was the plan.
But it didn’t happen, and Nik wasn’t able to take anything back because it was already too late.
From behind, Nik heard a familiar voice call out to him, “Nik, darling, I finally found you.”
Daria had never thought herself to be the jealous type until that moment – until that second she heard another woman calling Nik by his name in a proprietary voice. It was a sound she’d probably never forget, and jealousy had already turned her blood cold even when she hadn’t yet turned around to see who it was.
In front of her, Nik’s face was tense and guarded, his eyes inscrutable. It made Daria straighten her back, as if her body instinctively knew it was about to be hurt.
She waited – she prayed and hoped, actually – for Nik to give her some sign –
sign – that the other woman saying his name like it was hers was no one, but there was none, and that was when her heart started to stutter.
Up, down, up, down
it went, but Daria knew this time the rollercoaster her heart was on could –
– come crashing down at any moment.
The scent of perfume reached her first. Something bold, womanly, and expensive – something Daria would never have been able to wear without feeling like a fraud.
Down, down, down, down—
The woman entered her line of sight. She stopped next to Nik, elegantly poised, speaking to him in fluent Greek with a teasing grin. She was tiny, with silky straight blonde hair and rosy white skin made seemingly translucent by her loose chiffon dress.
Down, down, down, down—
Just looking at the other woman made Daria’s every insecurity rise to the fore, and she could feel herself inwardly shrinking the longer she stared at the couple in front of her.
It wasn’t that the other woman was prettier or sexier. Daria would have welcomed that kind of competition. But it wasn’t that. No, this newcomer was worse. This woman, with the way she just stood next to Nik’s chair, even flashing Daria a friendly smile – this woman threatened Daria the way no other female could.
This woman acted like she
to Nik, and Nik – the man who hated to hold hands, hated to do anything that would have made them look like a couple –
the man Daria felt something for, was letting her, was actually letting the other woman call him
without biting her head off.
The fact made Daria’s own brain cringe for her while her heart…it was past stuttering.
It was staggering now, Daria’s emotional rollercoaster desperately trying to find a way to chug along even when—
Nik stood up, and Daria almost tripped on her own feet as she struggled to do the same.
Standing together, Nik appeared more dashing while the woman appeared daintier.
But between Daria and the other woman, it was more like a troll looming over Thumbelina, and she itched to give the blonde ten-inch heels just so they could be on even footing, literally.
“Oh, dear.” A rueful note entered the woman’s voice as she looked alternately between Nik and Daria. “Did I come at a bad time?”
American just like her,
Daria thought vaguely, recognizing the accent, but a lot smarter than Daria was since the other woman was bilingual at the very least.
“No. Of course not.” Nik’s voice was stiff as he answered Miranda, his gaze still trained on Daria. She had a fixed smile on her lips. It was a beautiful and terrible sight at the same time, and his tension increased.
But for once Daria was silent.
He forced himself to look at Miranda. “If you could text me where you’re staying, I’ll be around as soon as I can.” He paused, even though he knew the next thing he would do was inevitable.
Finally, he looked at Daria. He had to. This was what it was all about – his vengeance for her deception. The time had come to claim it, regardless of how he felt about it now.
“Miranda, this is Daria Everest.” His eyes remained on Daria even as he spoke to his mistress. In front of him, Daria visibly whitened at the realization that he knew
who she was.
He forced himself to continue. “Daria, this is Miranda.”
Beside him, Miranda said in a soft, pleasant tone, “His fiancée.”
His fiancée. His fiancée. HIS FIANCÉE.
Even as Miranda kept talking, Daria could only comprehend a few words out of many, but what little she did understand made no sense.
Keep it a secret. The media can’t find out. I never thought he’d ask.
She knew she should start asking questions. Why would the media care about an ordinary Greek guy like Nik? Why should she keep it a secret? Why did Nik never tell her that he was engaged?
Those were the questions Daria had the right to ask, but she couldn’t. Her mind was still reeling, and her heart had come crashing down since those first two words from Miranda.
Nik was talking now, murmuring something under his voice. If Daria had been able to think straight, she would have done her best to listen.
But she just couldn’t. Her mind was barely functioning, and her heart…no longer felt.
Suddenly, she realized Miranda was talking to her. “It was nice meeting you, Daria.”
The other woman offered her hand to shake, and Daria took it. Miranda’s hand was dainty as the rest of her, and Daria couldn’t release it fast enough. A silly part of her believed she would end up crushing the other woman’s china-fine bones if she held on to it too long.
She watched Nik watch Miranda walk away and thought,
I was wrong.
Her heart could still feel, after all, even if it was just pain.
Nik’s head turned towards her. “Shall we sit?” His voice was flat, his handsome face giving nothing away.
Her heart hopped back into the rollercoaster, like it couldn’t help doing so, like it wanted to just keep going down.
Nik moved to pull the chair back for Daria, but she shook her head and quickly took a seat before he could do anything else. It was the first time she had rejected him in any way, and his lips tightened.
Reclaiming his seat, Nik waited for her to speak.
Talk, damn you.
But she didn’t.
He could feel guilt tightening its grip on him as the silence lengthened, and self-loathing rose inside him. This was insane. Daria was to blame for this. She had been the one to start it, with all her goddamn lies, and he had only finished it for her.