Authors: Alex Strong
Deciding it was just what she needed, she poured more into her glass and then slowly made her way up the stairs. She paused at her door and looked down to Damien’s room, as she had a dozen times before. She walked over to it and tried the handle. It was unlocked as usual, and she crept in without turning on the light. She took another sip as she wandered around the room, looking for clues about just who Damien Bishop was. Beyond obnoxiously rich and sexy as hell, of course.
There weren’t many clues to be had, though. Very few personal items were in sight, and she drew the line at opening any drawers. She flipped on the light in his closet and ran her fingers along the hanging clothes. Mostly suits, a lot of white dress shirts.
Finding just as little in here, she turned the closet light off and walked over to the bed. She sat down on the edge and polished off her glass. Damien was right, this was helping to relax her. She set the empty tumbler on the nightstand and noticed something propped up against the docking station. She looked closer and realized it was a business card.
As she picked it up, she wondered whose business was so important that he kept their card by his pillow. It was hard to read in the light streaming through his balcony doors, but she didn’t have to because she recognized the giant green coffee bean on it. It was the card for her coffee shop.
Karina laid back on the bed, fingering the card. Why would he keep this? Why had Damien been so desperate to bring her down here? Was he so bored with his life that he thought it great sport to find someone so far removed from his world for him to seduce on his own territory?
She was reminded of the short story from high school where the wealthy hunter lures shipwrecked sailors to his island so that he can hunt them, having grown weary of hunting less intelligent animals.
The Dangerous Game,
she remembered as she rolled over onto Damien’s pillow, smelling his aftershave on it. That’s all she was to him. Game. Perhaps he had dated Tabitha before, but he had been bored by her and had gone searching for different prey.
Karina felt a tear on her cheek and was surprised by it. What did she care? What about this whole situation surprised her? As another tear slid down onto the pillow, she realized it was because she didn’t care about winning or losing anymore. She was done with this game.
“Well this is a welcomed surprise.”
Karina opened her eyes to see Damien’s silhouette on the edge of the bed.
“What are you doing in my room?” she asked.
She bolted upright.
“I’m so sorry,” she said.
“Don’t apologize,” he said. “I couldn’t have asked for a better homecoming.”
“I couldn’t sleep last night and thought a change of scenery might help.”
“And so you settled on my bed?”
Karina blushed. How was she supposed to explain this?
“I’ll go,” she said, sliding in the direction opposite him.
“Wait,” he said, grabbing her arm. “What’s the hurry?”
“I shouldn’t be here,” she said, pulling her arm from him and scrambling out of the room.
She ducked into her dark room and closed the door behind her, locking it before sliding down to the floor.
There was a knock and she jumped.
“Karina?” Damien called from the other side.
She didn’t answer, and he tried the handle that wouldn’t turn.
“Karina, is something wrong?” he asked.
“Nothing,” she said. “I promise I didn’t snoop through anything.”
“I didn’t think you did. Will you please let me in and talk to me?”
“I’m too tired. Can we talk in the morning?”
She heard him sigh.
“Of course,” he said, and then she heard his footstep disappear down the hall.
When she was sure he was gone, she climbed into bed, reading three a.m. on the clock, and fell into yet another fitful sleep. She really missed her own bed.
When Karina came down for breakfast the next morning, the usual fare was laid out, but no one was at the table and only her place setting was left.
“Where’s Damien?” she asked Romi.
“He’s already eaten. He’s in his office now.”
Karina wondered how the man found the energy as she headed to his home office and knocked on the door.
“Come in,” he said briskly.
She opened the door and peeked in to see him staring at his laptop as he typed. His face brightened when he finally looked up.
“Can I talk to you?” she asked.
He closed his laptop and she walked over to sit on the corner of his desk.
“Is everything okay?” he asked, looking concerned.
She looked down at her hands, unable to face him.
“The deal was thirty days if you took care of my parents.”
“I’m wondering what the ramifications would be if I were unable to stay the whole thirty days?”
He lifted her chin and she looked at his face. “Why?” he asked. “Is something wrong?”
She turned her cheek and his hand fell away. “I’m just really homesick. I don’t know if I can make it the whole month.”
“Did something happen?”
. “No. I’ve just never been away from my parents this long and it’s been harder than I thought.”
“I see,” he said. But his frown told her he didn’t. He placed a hand on her thigh. “I won’t force you to stay, Karina. This was never about that.”
What was this about, she wanted to ask. But it didn’t matter now if he was letting her go.
“What about my parents?” she asked instead. “Will the bank tell them that it was an error?”
He shook his head. “I wouldn’t do that to them. Or you.”
“Thank you,” she whispered. She remembered the dress—the five-thousand-dollar dress—that he had just bought her sight unseen. “I was thinking I could head home Sunday, after the event.”
“Are you sure you want to stay until then?”
She nodded “I agreed to it. And besides,” she said with a weak smile. “You’ve bought me a beautiful dress for it. You should at least get to see me in it.”
“I can’t wait,” he said quietly, a sadness in his eyes.
She nodded again and then stood up to leave, but he grabbed her arm before she walked away.
“What if I arranged for you to go visit?” he pleaded. “Do you think you might want to stay the whole month after all?”
Karina shook her head, not daring to speak. Why was he making this so hard for her?
His grip loosened and she slipped way.
Back in her room, Karina removed the diamond necklace. It was the first time it had come off since Damien had put it on her. She laid it out on the dresser top and pushed it into a perfect circle with her forefinger. She didn’t want to accidentally take it home with her.
For the next few days, she and Damien became ships in the night. He had stopped trying and was clearly admitting defeat. And if Karina had thought she was lonely during the days he had been in China, it was worse having him here and all but ignoring her. To sit next to him at dinner and have barely a word pass between them. Every morning he would eat and be gone before she came down.
By Saturday afternoon, Karina had packed her bags and was in the bathroom pinning her thick hair up off her shoulders when there was a knock at the door. She opened it, expecting Damien, but found Romi instead.
“Wow, Miss Watson,” she said. “You look amazing.”
“Thanks,” Karina said, blushing.
“Mr. Bishop said to come downstairs as soon as you’re ready. The car is waiting out front.”
“Thanks, Romi. Tell him five more minutes.”
As Karina grabbed her clutch, she realized that the necklace was no longer on the dresser. Assuming Romi had moved it into a drawer, she made a mental note to ask about it when she got home before heading downstairs.
She felt like a fairy princess as she descended the stairs. The dress moved just as beautifully as it felt, and the hem glided down the steps behind her.
Damien must have heard her footsteps, because he stepped out into the foyer and she was caught off guard by the sight of him in a tuxedo. She was apparently having the same effect on him, because he had stopped in his tracks, and she could see words trying to form on his lips, but no sound came out.
!” he finally said as she stepped off the bottom stair. “Wow.”
“You don’t look so bad yourself,” she said with the first genuine smile in days.
“I assure you, it’s all the dress.”
“No,” he said, and she was surprised to see the familiar look in his eyes. “It’s not. And I think it’s missing something.” He held out his hand, revealing the missing necklace. “I noticed you hadn’t been wearing it and asked Romi to bring it to me if she came across it.”
“I didn’t want to forget to leave it,” she said.
“Wear it one more night.”
She turned so that he could put it back on her and again, his hands lingered longer than necessary. She felt his lips softly kiss the nape of her neck and she closed her eyes, relishing the warmth of it.
“Don’t go,” he whispered so quietly, she wasn’t even sure she’d heard him right.
She spun around, stunned.
“Not yet,” he said, searching her face.
The door opened and Tom walked in.
“Good, you’re both ready,” he said. “Shall we head out?”
Karina forced herself to look away. “Lead the way,” she said to Tom just as Damien’s hand landed on her back, escorting her out to the limousine waiting for them. As she climbed into the back where the two bodyguards were already seated, Damien scooting in next to her, Karina realized she didn’t want to go. Not really. Staying longer wouldn’t change anything, though.
“So I heard you brought Tabitha to this last year,” she said in an effort to remind herself why she was leaving tomorrow.
Tom’s head snapped in her direction so fast she was sure he would have whiplash. Damien looked at her in utter confusion.
“Who the hell told you that?” he asked.
“Tabitha herself.” She could see Tom’s eyes go even wider from the corner of her eye.
“When did you talk to Tabitha?” Damien asked.
“I ran into her at the dress shop,” she told him.
Damien laughed, surprising her. “She’s jealous.”
“Jealous of what? Jealous that you’re taking me this year instead of her?”
He laughed even harder, and she heard Tom give a snort.
“Karina, I never took Tabitha to the gala. Or anywhere for that matter.”
“But the photo,” she said, disgusted that he would so blatantly lie to her. “I saw the photo of you two. The caption even read, ‘Tabitha Rose and her date, Damien Bishop.’”
“Yes, we were both there,” he said. “And yes, that photo was snapped of us. But she was never my date. We just both happened to be there. When the editor went to publish the picture, he asked for a comment and I had Tom decline for me.”
“I did,” Tom said, nodding profusely.
“They then asked Tabitha,” Damien continued, “who was more than happy to say that I was her date. Even though she was there with someone else—her actual date.”
“How did he feel about that?” she asked.
“Who knows,” he said, waving a hand. “They were probably broken up by the time the photo was published.”
“Why would she do something like that?”
“She’s a social climber. She thought my name carried more weight than whoever it was she went with.”
Karina sunk into the leather seat, frowning. This changed everything. Or did it? God, she was so confused now.
No one mentioned Tabitha again the rest of the ride, and Tom was excellent at filling the time with small talk. She was understanding more and more why he was in Damien’s employment.
When they arrived at the museum hosting the event, everyone piled out of the limo, and Damien was quickly pulled aside for photos in front of a sign bearing the charity and sponsor names. She was surprised when he grabbed her hand, bringing her into the pictures with him.
She did her best to smile pleasantly as he wrapped an arm around her waist. And as the flashes went off, she realized this would be another one for the books. A picture of Damien and a woman who would not appear in any other photos. But as he pulled her tighter into him, causing her to plant a hand on his chest, she wondered if this one would be chaste enough to suggest there was nothing intimate between them.
He kissed the top of her head just before one last flash went off, and then they walked away from the cameras.
“Thank you,” he said, leading her into the building.