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The Secret Billionaire's Mistress

Written by Dani Collins

Chapter Three

Ten days later, Sebastien stood outside a wooden hut far above the tree line in the Himalayas, thumbing through photos of the woman who’d left him. He had sat at his desk long into the night, angled to watch her through the window as she stood on his step until Rhonda, the ever-helpful Rhonda who was staying at a nearby pub, had pulled up and taken her away.

He had waited for her return, but she hadn’t come back.

You have to ask .

His breath came out in a cloud, ears burning under the dry wind, her words still carrying the power of a kick to the stomach.

She was right. He didn’t trust her. He didn’t trust that he could ask for her and she would come, even as rich as he was, because when had he ever got anything he wanted before he was able to pay for it with cold, hard cash? How much would it cost him to get her back?

Who cares? part of him said. He wouldn’t miss it and she was worth it.

Was she? Because even though she had said she didn’t want his money, even though she had said she loved him, she had left.

He played her declaration over and over in his head. Her face and voice so sweet and stirring his entire world had felt set on a stable foundation for the first time in his life. Then she had walked away.

It still made him sick.

A fleck of movement below caught in his periphery. He pocketed his phone and squinted, making out three figures in snowshoes, all wearing ski suits and backpacks with skis or snowboards attached. The other twenty-one participants would be hours behind them, but Antonio, Stavros, and Alejandro were as competitive as he was.

It struck Sebastien that for all their muscling for dominance, those three men, each born with a silver spoon in his mouth, had never once treated him as anything but their equal. In fact, given he had a few years on all of them, they seemed to look up to him, occasionally asking his advice on business moves and deferring to his experience.

He could have had a helicopter drop him here and take him away today. The finish line was two miles below, where tour buses were waiting to transport everyone to a resort in Kashmir for his usual post-challenge festivities. Rather than wait there, he’d stayed here.

He ran his hand down his face, hitting a moment of crisis. He wasn’t a dependent person, but he had he climbed up here looking to commiserate with friends over his loss of a woman who haunted him. They wouldn’t understand, though. They were as married to their wealth as he was.

Loneliness struck. In a perverse moment of wanting to prove he needed no one, he stepped into his skis and pushed into a fishtail across the untouched slope. He took no satisfaction in making the first tracks, already regretting he hadn’t waited to greet them properly.

What the hell was wrong with him that he was so conflicted?

He was so deep inside his own mind, he didn’t immediately understand what it meant that a crack appeared between his skis. A slab skimmed away beneath him. Glittering powder rose around him like fairy dust, obscuring his vision in a cloud of white.

Then he understood.

Mother Nature was swiping her hand to erase a mistake. Him. He was being obliterated. In an avalanche.

Chaos reined in a thunder of white. His bindings gave way and one of his skis clipped the side of his face. Swim, he thought, because this mass of frozen crystals wasn’t unlike being chundered by the surf, but he couldn’t tell which way was up. He knew there were things he should do—cover his mouth, hold up a hand—but no one had told him that when you were caught in this, all you really thought was, I’m going to die.

Just as abruptly as it started, he came to a jarring stop. The world was dark, the snow setting around him like concrete. His leg screamed, but he couldn’t move. Could barely breathe. His last thought was, Monika.

* * *

“Moni, did you see what’s trending? Sit down, love.” Rhonda dragged Monika back from her futile wish that Sebastien would call, magically having decided he loved her.

“What’s up?” Monika set aside the stack of folders she’d been filing and frowned as she lowered into a chair. Rhonda’s grave expression made her stomach tighten.

“Sebastien was caught in an avalanche—”

Monika’s gasp tore her throat, leaving her feeling ripped open and raw.

Rhonda gripped her forearm. “They dug him out and he’s been flown to a nearby hospital. He’s going to live.”

Her own hand was suffocating her, but Monika was able to let out a tiny whimper.

“I know, love. I know. We’ll get you there.”

She shook her head, shattered by the news and even more devastated by what she knew to be the truth. “If he wants me to come, he’ll ask.”

But he wouldn’t.

* * *

Sebastien came to in a hospital in New Delhi, head splitting, leg in traction, arm splinted and, judging by the extreme discomfort, shoulder relocated. He could only see out of one eye, the other swollen shut.

After a dim conversation in heavily accented English, he learned he was going to live and that ‘his friend’ was coming.

Monika? The bash of electricity that coursed through him was not cushioned in the least by his painkillers. At the same time, some cynical part of him thought she was only flying in as a vulture, eager to take advantage of him when he was at his weakest.

But it wasn’t Monika. It was Antonio, which was both disappointing, yet oddly heartening. “What are you doing here?”

“The others were going to stay, but I have business in Asia so I sent them on. You scared the hell out of us. We didn’t know if we could dig you out in time.”

They’d saved him. He wasn’t surprised, exactly, but their saving his life filled him with a surprising feeling. It was bigger than gratitude. He was moved.

Which made him self-conscious. “You have places to be. Get on a plane.”

Antonio’s snort judged him a grouch of a patient. “I’ve been in touch with Monika. I offered to make arrangements for her to come. She said if you asked for her, she would.”

His heart lurched at the sound of her name, then again at the reminder.You have to ask.

“No.” Why did talking hurt so much? “That’s over.”

Antonio searched his gaze. He was a man of quiet intensity, little getting past his sharp eyes and keen intelligence. “You’re sure?”

“Your Italian is showing.”

“I’m not being a romantic.” Antonio’s mouth twitched in dismissal. “I thought you and Monika had something.” He gave Sebastien another lengthy study.

“What kind of something?” He made it sound dismissive, but it was a real question. Their relationship had been the longest of his life, one he didn’t know how to get over.

Antonio looked like he was having a tooth extracted as he confided, “I don’t know, but I thought I had something like it once, before I married.” His gaze seemed to focus on the past. “My family had other plans. You and Monika made me think you had something like that.” His gaze came back to Sebastien’s. “You’re sure you don’t want me to send for her?”

To be his nursemaid? He couldn’t bear the idea of her pitying him. “I do not.”

Antonio gave one of his countrymen’s patented shrugs and left soon after.

* * *

His friends were relentless. Alejandro caught up to Sebastien after his transfer to London, brought decent food, but noted Monika’s absence, which was a sore point.

Sebastien wanted Monika to come to him because she couldn’t stay away. Because she was worried. Had she lost interest because she knew he was broken? That wasn’t like her. Her heart was too soft at times.

No, he knew, deep down, that she was staying away because she wanted him to ask for her. He couldn’t fault her for hanging onto pride when he was clinging to his own.

Alejandro didn’t care for hospitals, but he’d come to see Sebastien despite that aversion. As they talked, Sebastien found himself more deeply invested in his friend’s family troubles than he ever had been before, wanting to personally get involved to resolve things.

After Alejandro was gone, Sebastien realized his relationships had changed. His outlook had. He wasn’t the same man beneath his skin.

He felt it even more sharply when Stavros turned up, once he’d been released to convalesce at Waldenbrook. His Greek friend was as allergic to deeper feelings as Sebastien, but grew white-lipped when he blasted Sebastien for nearly dying in the avalanche. He’d lost his father to a freak accident and didn’t care to lose anyone else.

It was an odd moment of clarity to realize his money hadn’t saved him from the avalanche. His friends had.

He would do the same for them. And the things he would do for Monika...? He would kill for her, so why had he hesitated to marry her? Because she might take his hard-earned money? If she did, it would be to give it to someone else. She was the type to offer her last pound to a stranger. That didn’t make her a bad person. It made her incredibly precious. When it came to wealth, his life was enriched by her far more than by investments and assets.

He was ashamed for not seeing her true value before now. Her sincerity, her regard, was a gift beyond anything he could ever hope to buy.

What if he’d lost it for good?

* * *

Monika had just arrived home after a demanding week when a buzz for entry interrupted her changing into pajamas and opening a bottle of wine. She frowned, wondering if Rhonda had decided to pop round with take away. “Yes?”

“It’s me.”

“Sebastien?” She pressed the button to release the door, anxious to see him after months of agonizing over his injuries.

Seconds later, two sharp raps on the door made her start. She opened it to find him looking incredible in a light pullover and jeans.

“You took the stairs,” she said dumbly, because he couldn’t have got here this fast waiting for her ancient rat-trap of an elevator.

“Only hurt a little bit. Hello, darling. You look stunning as always.” He brushed his lips across her cheekbone, the scant caress so powerful she flooded with heat.

He entered her flat and seemed to draw all the air out of it, making her feel tight and trapped as she closed the door and watched him take in that nothing had changed.

She didn’t know what to do with her arms and legs except to run nervous hands down the buttercup yellow of her pleated skirt.

“I’m glad you’re recovered. Really glad.” Her voice rasped with the anxiety she’d been bottling for months. Why did he have to look so vital and handsome and perfect? So much like he didn’t need her and hadn’t once thought about calling for her.

And why was he staring at her like that? It was a combination of the familiar, hungry look he’d always given her along with something that made her heart flip over.

She had spent two years convincing herself she was seeing something that wasn’t there, she reminded herself. She couldn’t let herself do it again. She looked to the floor and cleared her throat. “What are you doing here?”

“You set the terms, my love.”

A fluttery noise threatened to bust her eardrums. His tone sounded intimate and tender. She thought he had called her ‘my love.’

“Why didn’t you ask for me?” The question burst out of her, loaded with the agony of staying away.

“I wanted to.” Pain spasmed his expression, then he said, “Love is something I learned to live without. I thought that meant I didn’t need it. But I do.”

Cupid’s arrow stung her right in the breastbone, causing her to suck in a breath.

“I need it too.” Her shoulders came up in a helpless shrug.

“I know,” he groaned, stepping toward her. “Of course I love you, Moni. I have for ages. I just fought admitting it, even to myself.”

Tears arrived. Fat, ecstatic tears that dropped off her lashes when she clenched her eyes shut, trying to keep her emotions in check.

When she blinked her eyes open, she saw he offered a ring. A princess cut diamond that concentrated the lamplight and made the whole room feel as though it was filled with golden light.

A lump grew in her throat.

“I’ll get down on one knee if you ask me to, but I may not get back up. I wouldn’t blame you if you left me there.”

She shook her head. “I wouldn’t.”

“No, you wouldn’t. You’re far too compassionate.” He stroked the back of his knuckle along her wet jawline, then applied the lightest of pressure under her chin, urging her to lift her gaze to meet his own. “That’s why I hope you’ll forgive me for letting you walk away.”

“I love you so much.” She pressed into him.

His arms folded around her as though she was his lifeline. A sensation of homecoming burst in her. Heat and hardness, familiar strength and a new, ground shaking openness that made her weak and omnipotent at once.

He kissed her in a way he never had. There was still the stamp of ownership, the confidence and skill that made her knees weaken, the passion that shattered even as it built. But there was tenderness. Love. She tasted it like chocolate as their tongues swept and met. He hardened, she softened, and they sank to the sofa.

“You haven’t said yes,” he drew back to say.

She started to, but hesitated, fearful she might derail things. “I’ll want children. Not yet. But eventually.”

“I know.” His expression softened. “I can’t say the world needs more like me, but it could definitely use many more like you.”

“Charmer.” She drew him down to kiss her again, but couldn’t stop smiling.

He chuckled and ran his lips to her neck. They shifted and slithered, pulling at clothes to find skin, making encouraging noises, gasping as pleasure licked and burned.

She was growing frantic under the caress of his hand between her thighs when he drew away, dragging off her dress, leaving her naked and panting with need.

A pinch of anguish caught at her, knowing what he was doing. It stung. Had he been with someone else?

“Oh, I’ll be completely naked, my love. I’ve wanted that forever.” He threw off the last of his clothes, revealing he’d been keeping up with his workouts during his recovery, tan faded, but muscles flexing under his taut skin. “You, however, will wear my ring.” He found it and took her trembling hand to thread it on her finger. “I love you. Make a life with me, Moni.”

She couldn’t speak. The moment was too huge. She drew him to cover her and as he entered her in a sweet thrust, she felt it as a melding of two into one, joining them forever.

* * *

Eight months later, Sebastien lay on his back, his wife doing her best to destroy his control, but he held back, held back, certain he would die and quite happy at the way he was going.

Her crisis arrived and she cried out, back arched, so erotic, he had to lift into her and join her in abandoning control.

As she folded onto him, both of them still panting and drunk on each other, he couldn’t believe how content he was. How perfect their love was.

Except for one tiny thing. Stroking a hand into her soft hair, he asked what had been torturing him for weeks. “Will you come with me to St. Moritz?”

* * *

Monika didn’t want to be that wife, the one who resented her husband having a lark, but she couldn’t pretend to be happy he wanted to not only ski, but parachute over crevasses at the same time.

“Does it have to be snow, Sebastien?” She was terrified.

“It’s a back on the horse thing.” He made a face somewhere between apology and dismay. “I may lose my nerve, if you want the truth. I’ve booked experts to check the slopes. I’d never forgive myself if something happened.”

“I’ll come if you want me to.” She would wait at the chalet for the post-challenge festivities. “But promise you’ll be careful.”

“My life is very much worth living.” He lifted his head to kiss her nose, then sobered. “But if you really don’t want me to ski, I won’t. I need to see my friends, though. They saved my life. I owe them a drink, at least.” He tried to pass off the remark with a dry smirk, but she saw the shadow that moved behind his eyes. He was still affected by it.

“I understand.” She set her ear over his heart, introspective now.

“I keep thinking they’re where I was.”

She lifted her head to send him a curious look.

“I mean with their priorities. The things they think are important. I wish I could show them what matters without nearly killing them to get the point across.”

“If these death-defying games of yours don’t do it, I don’t know what would.”

He made a noise that suggested he would keep thinking on it.

“I’ve been thinking about something else.” He shifted them so they were nose to nose on the pillow. “You said you feel like you’re outgrowing your place with Rhonda and want to run your own foundation. What do you think of a search and rescue thing? Not just for hare brains like me, caught in the middle of nowhere, but disaster relief. Big scale. Half our money, maybe.”

“Are you serious?” She sat up, so excited by the idea she could hardly take it in. “You would honestly do that?”

“We’re never going to spend it all.”

She narrowed her eyes. “You’re not trying to spoil me, are you?”

“I would.” He curled his arm beneath his head. “But no. I keep coming back to what would have happened if I hadn’t had friends there. I wouldn’t be here.” His free hand found her waist. “I’m grateful. I want to give back.”

She was stunned, only able to lean forward and kiss him tenderly. “It’s a huge deal, Sebastien. It has to be your decision, but yes. If that’s something you want to do, I support you wholeheartedly.”

“Thought so.” In a sudden move, he tumbled her to the mattress beside him and loomed over her, expression somber as he gazed at her. “Do you understand what you’ve done, Moni? Your love, all those good things you put out to the world... You are making it a better place. You’ve changed me. If I start a foundation, I could change lives. Save lives. I wouldn’t have considered it if I didn’t have you. It’s all you. I wake up every morning wondering how you’re mine. I love you with everything in me.”

She swallowed, humbled. “I love you, too.” What else could she do but draw him to kiss her, quite sure there wasn’t a better man alive than this one who belonged to her.

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About the author

I’m the eldest of three daughters, which makes me the bossy one....

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Dani Collins

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