Power Play (The Billionaire's Club: New Orleans) (4 page)

I’m sorry. Yours, R.

Her hands shook as she reached for another envelope. Then another. And another. Each card was an apology and always ended with,
Yours, R.

Each card was a lie. Raphael had never been hers, not in the way she’d wanted. And this
… whatever this was that he was doing, wouldn’t change things.

Oh, but how she wanted things to change. All the old yearnings and needs and, yes, heartache came rushing back, leaving her breathless.

She and Raphael had been each other’s firsts. Neither of them had wanted to start college as virgins. She wasn’t sure which of them had brought it up, but they’d both quickly agreed so they’d turned to each other, their deep friendship giving them a level of comfort that made the experience, and the repeat performances after that, fun and satisfying.

The summer Raphael’s father had died, though … that summer he’d needed her. She’d given him comfort and condolences, sex and surcease. The sex hadn’t been about mastering a new experience, but sharing an emotional connection. Sometime during that summer she’d given him her heart as well. If she were honest with herself, she’d admit he’d had it all along. She’d even believed that Raphael had loved her in return. Until the tear-filled night that he’d shed bitter tears vowing he’d never allow himself to fall in love, to be consumed like his parents had been.

She’d known then that they could never have more than what they’d shared that summer. He’d confirmed it when she’d hinted that she wouldn’t mind remaining stateside but he wouldn’t hear it. Wouldn’t ask her to stay with him. Her plans to attend culinary school in Paris continued, and he’d seen her to the airport with a kiss and a whisper of good luck. A smile and a wave had been her last sight of him.

She curled her hands over her eyes. She needed to remember that. When she’d needed him, Raphael hadn’t been there. She’d suffered through the worst time of her life alone. That was what she needed him to acknowledge and apologize for. Until then, their friendship and any other “-ship” would remain in the past.

A knock on the office door startled her out of her musings. The door opened, and Oliver
poked his head inside.

“Macy, there’s a gentleman out in the dining room, requesting to speak with you,” he said, breaking into a wide grin. “And he’s hot like damn and whoa. Is that your secret admirer?”

Her heart leapt to her throat, then plummeted. “I don’t have a secret admirer.”

“He’s not a secret anymore, since he’s sitting at the best table in the restaurant like an Adonis in a three-piece suit. He looks just like that billionaire fighter guy, Raphael Jerroult.”

Macy smothered a groan, her last hope that it was someone, anyone else, evaporating. “Only Raphael Jerroult looks like Raphael Jerroult.”

“You have been seriously holding out on me!” Oliver exclaimed. “I didn’t know you were dating Raphael Jerroult!”

“I’m not.”

“Are you serious?” Oliver looked at her as if she were certifiable. “Every woman wants to date Raphael Jerroult!”

Macy lifted her chin. “I’m not every woman.”

He leaned against the door. “Well, if you’re not interested, can I have him?”

Macy laughed. “We’re old friends, Oliver. Unless something’s changed since I last saw him—or the last gossip site update—I don’t think he’s switched teams. Sorry.”

He looked down the hallway. “You might want to hurry it up. Our servers are tripping over themselves wanting to wait on him. We might have a riot on our hands.”

Her temper flared. Less than twenty-four hours after their drive-by reunion and Raphael was already creating chaos in her life. She tamped out the spurt of anger. “I’ll be right out.”

“All right. I’ll let him know you’re on your way—and I’ll try to keep our servers from making fools of themselves.”

After taking a moment to gather herself, Macy rose to her feet. She smoothed her hands down the front of her fitted black skirt. She could handle this. She could handle him. There was no other option, not if she wanted to maintain her peace of mind.

Suitably steadied, Macy made her way to the dining room. A discreet glance at her watch told Macy that it was two thirty. Apparently, Raphael had decided to deliver his latest gift in person.

The hostess had placed Raphael at a prime table with a commanding view of the room. Several of her staffers hung around the edges of the main floor, giggling like schoolgirls waiting for their boy-band crush. Raphael laughed and chatted with her server Michelle as she filled his water glass a little too slowly. When Raphael glanced Macy’s way, did a double take, then stared, Macy barely refrained from putting extra oomph into her walk. Having this particular man stare at her with such focus stirred her.

As she approached his table, he stood, gorgeous in a navy suit, robin’s egg blue shirt and patterned tie. His face blanked as his gaze travelled from her black pumps to the black pencil skirt to the vest that was almost a corset. When he reached her face, his eyes lit with admiration, appreciation, and a hunger that pulled at Macy’s core.

She kicked the sensation away as she stuck out a hand. “Hello again.”

“Is that any way to greet an old friend?” Taking her hand, Raphael drew her closer to place gentle kisses on both her cheeks. “Thank you for coming out to meet me.”

Macy could almost feel the curiosity of her staff members hit the roof. She had no doubt that news of her greeting the Crescent City Casanova would be all over the city before nightfall. Conscious of her employees watching their every move, Macy gave him a pleasant, professional smile. “What brings you by today, Raphael?”

“I decided to have a late lunch and since I haven’t dined here before, I decided today was the day to rectify my mistake.” He held out a chair for her. “I hope that you’ll join me. Michelle was just telling me about some of the lunch specials for today, but I’d like to hear about what pleases you.”

Michelle beamed, and Macy warmed at the suggestiveness in his tone. She sank into the chair. “What do you have a taste for?” she asked, then immediately regretted it.

His slow grin brimmed with sinful intent. “Oh, I think you remember my tastes,” he said, capturing and holding her gaze. “I’ll willingly leave myself in your more-than-capable hands.”

Macy hesitated, torn between throwing him out and throwing him to the floor to have her way with him. God, she’d always been weak where Raphael was concerned, but this older, more confident version plowed through every paltry defense she had.

Keeping her gaze on his, she ordered several small plates and a couple of entrées. She added a bottle of the house wine as an afterthought, then sent Michelle on her way. All the while, Raphael stared at her as if he’d never seen anything like her.


“You’re beautiful, Macy. You always have been, but now … seeing you is like getting struck by lightning. So is kissing you.”

Flustered, Macy dropped her gaze, concentrating on shaking out her napkin and rearranging her tableware. “What do you think you’re doing?”

“I told you, I’m having lunch.” He smiled at her. “As I said, I’ve never been here before.”

“That’s not what I meant and you know it.” She shook her head, then gestured around the dining room. “The flowers and the gifts. How were you able to do all of this? You must have run your assistant ragged.”

“I wouldn’t have my assistant pick out your flowers,” he said, sounding insulted. “That’s my handwriting on each and every card.”

The warmth that stole through her at the thought that she was somehow special to him irritated her. “A little over the top, don’t you think?”

“Not at all.” His smile disappeared. “The presents are gifts and trinkets I’ve picked up over the years. I know I shouldn’t have, but I’d see something and think, ‘Macy would like that,’ or ‘That reminds me of the time Macy and I got trapped in the library during a thunderstorm.’ Despite everything, I hoped I’d get to give them to you one day. If I’d known you were in New Orleans, I would have given them to you before now.”

She didn’t know what to say. “Raffie …”

“As for the flowers …” He shrugged. “I owe you eight years of flowers. Flowers to congratulate you for finishing culinary school, for opening this restaurant, and opening the bistro. Flowers for eight years of birthdays, Valentine’s Day, and just-because day. Flowers to mark all those special occasions. To show you that I didn’t forget.”

Her resolve, already flimsy, weakened further. “You don’t owe me anything.”

That sea-blue gaze bored into her. “Yes I do. I owe you everything, beginning with an apology.”

Now? He was apologizing now? “You’re eight years too late.”

“Better late than never.”

“If I accept your apology, will you leave?”

He gave her an unrepentant grin. “I said the apology was the beginning.”

“Do you honestly think an apology is going to fix everything between us?”

“No. So let’s play a game.”

She frowned. “What sort of game?”

“Twenty questions. You ask me a question, I’ll give you an honest answer. Then you’ll answer one of mine, just as honestly.”

Macy hesitated. As much as she wanted to know, needed to know, what had happened between them, she was afraid. Afraid of Raphael’s answers and the questions he’d ask in return. Still, to have this opportunity after so many years of silence was impossible to resist. “Why didn’t you ask me to stay with you instead of putting me on that plane to Paris?”

“We were twenty-two, Macy,” he reminded her. “Fresh out of college, and me fresh off my father’s suicide. I was in danger of turning you into a crutch instead of a friend, instead of a lover. It was way more than I should have done and it wasn’t fair to take advantage of our relationship like that.”

“You didn’t take anything I wasn’t willing to give,” she told him, her voice soft.

“I know,” he replied, his voice just as soft. “That’s the main reason I let you go. I was fucked up and I knew I would be for a while. I didn’t want to end up like him. Besides, you dreamed about being a chef since middle school. Who was I to keep you from that?” He shook his head. “It was time for me to grow up. So I did. Tried to, anyway. Now it’s my turn to ask a question.”

He took a sip of water, then speared her with a glance. “What happened with you and the baron dude?”

She blew out a relieved breath. Out of all the questions he could have asked, that was one of the easier ones. “Karl and I were better as friends than lovers. We got engaged because it was what his mother wanted, and we realized we loved his mother more than we loved each other. She’s still a dear friend.”

His features relaxed. “Have dinner with me.”

“It was my turn to ask a question,” Macy pointed out.

“That wasn’t a question.” He leaned forward. “Have dinner with me. Just you and me.”


“I’m not leaving until you say yes.” He sat back in his chair, a relaxed predator. “I have my phone and my tablet, so I can conduct business between appetizers. I can be here all day.”

Her stomach tightened. “You wouldn’t.”

“I would. As a matter of fact, if business is what you’d prefer to discuss, I understand that your foundation wants donations from Hard Knocks Athletics.”

“I’ve already talked to Renata about that.”

“Forgive me for being blunt, but I handle all of the public relations activities for Hard Knocks and its parent company, DJD Holdings. Renata can talk to Sebastian, but Sebastian will turn it over to me to handle.”

Her brows knitted together. “Well, since you’re being blunt, maybe I should be, too. I don’t think someone with your reputation is a good fit for our organization.”

Hurt crossed his features, and Macy wished that she could pull the words back. Then his expression cleared. “Reputations can change.” He lowered his voice. “Maybe I’m looking to be reformed.”

Michelle took that moment to return to the table with their small plates. Macy remained silent until the server left, then filled the silence by describing each of the dishes she’d ordered, and suggesting he save room for the bourbon praline pie.

“This is good, Macy. Everything here tastes great. I knew you’d be good at this. You’re good at everything you touch.”

His tone, husky and low, pulled decadent memories from her, memories and yearning
she’d thought long buried. “What do you want, Raffie?”

“I want you. I want to drown in sunset again.”

She gasped, remembering how he’d run his hands through her unruly red waves, making a curtain around them as they kissed, as she rode him. He’d called it drowning in sunset and she’d melted at his poetic sincerity.

“Raphael …”

He reached across the table, capturing her hand in his. “I missed you, Macy. Every single day. I still do.”

She jerked her hand away. “You have a strange way of showing it. You don’t miss someone by going incommunicado only two months after you promise not to forget them.”

A muscle in his jaw twitched. “You mean when I showed up in Paris to surprise you, only to discover you’d pulled a fast one and disappeared?”

She jerked her head up. “What?”

His expression hardened, losing its boyish, seductive charm. “I tried, Macy. I tried to do the right thing, do what was expected of me, but I couldn’t. Not back then. Two months after you went to Paris, I turned the daily management of the company back over to the chief operations officer, spent a month getting everything in order, and headed to Paris to find you.”

His hand curled into a fist around his fork. “You weren’t there. I searched for you, and when I finally called your father, he told me you didn’t want to see me. I had nothing left, so I went to Thailand and spent two years disciplining myself by studying Muay Thai. Then I got on the international circuit and when I tried to track you down again, I discovered you were dating that prince dude.”

A tremble swept through his hand before he dropped the fork. He reached for his left
wrist, toying with his cuff. “I figured you’d found your happily-ever-after and I decided it was best to let you have it.”

He didn’t know.

She’d been in the process of working up a full head of steam to tell him off once and for all. It evaporated on a rush of realization. He didn’t know what had happened to her in Paris, didn’t know that she’d tried to contact him. She’d thought he’d abandoned her in her time of need when the reality was that he’d been on his way to her. He’d gone to Paris looking for her, but it had been too late.

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