The Billionaire's Virgin(4)

By: Jackie Ashenden

Nope. She didn’t like handsome, blue-eyed, black-haired men in tuxes. They ranked highly on her list of people never to trust, along with cops, social workers, priests, and doctors. Basically anyone telling her they wanted to “help.”

She didn’t need their help. She didn’t need anyone.

Mia gulped her food then got rid of the tray, all the while trying to ignore the man’s eyes watching her. She’d been debating about whether to stay the night in the shelter since it was getting cold outside, but the man made her nervous so she didn’t.

She hurried past him without looking at him again.

He looked like a god and she didn’t trust men who looked like gods.

She didn’t trust gods either.

Especially not ones who made comments about her hat.

That night she huddled in her spot between the Dumpster and the wall of the building behind it. She’d felt very pleased with herself for finding it because there was a hot pipe that ran up the side of the building that she could lean against for warmth. But tonight the cold bit deep, snow swirling in the air, and the hot pipe didn’t feel hot enough.

Fucking winter. She hated it. When it got too cold, she was forced to go back to the shelters full of people coughing and hacking and complaining and crying. People who’d given up on life and on whom life had given up on as well.

She hated that too, the reminder of where her own life was headed if she didn’t find herself a place to live. Then again, it was all attitude, wasn’t it? Those people were a nightmare future she needed to face sometimes, to give her the strength to keep going, keep pushing. Keep surviving.

Because if there was one thing she wasn’t going to do, it was to end up on the streets for the rest of her life. She wasn’t going to end up like Old Catherine, the homeless woman who’d first helped Mia when she’d escaped from her gran and came out onto the streets. Who’d ended up dead in an alleyway with the detritus of her life scattered around her. Missed by no one, mourned by no one. Known by no one. No one except Mia.

Nope, no fucking way she was ending up like that. She was going to get herself off the streets. She was going to get herself a home.

Mia huddled against the pipe and stared up at the night sky, ignoring the sounds of a drug deal going down on the other side of the Dumpster. She couldn’t see the stars in Manhattan, but she knew they were up there. Just like she knew that somewhere there was a home waiting for her.

She only had to keep on believing she’d get there.

The next night she hovered outside the shelter, trying to see through the fogged-up windows if the man was there. It would be a pain in the ass if he was, because she hadn’t managed to find any food all day and, if she wanted to eat then she’d have to have something here. Skipping a meal would be okay—once she’d gone a whole two days without food—but she needed to eat to help her deal with the cold.

“Mia?” Tony, one of the volunteers, was on the door and he smiled at her. “Are you coming in tonight?”

Tony was one of the better volunteers. He didn’t ask questions and he didn’t try to force her into anything she didn’t want to do. He listened—well, mostly listened. When she’d started asking questions about how to find somewhere to live, he’d been helpful, explaining what things she had to get—birth certificate, social security number, bank account. Things she didn’t have, but needed to in order to get a place to live.

He’d offered her accommodation too. In one of the larger shelters where she could have her own room, but she didn’t want that. She wanted something permanent. That wouldn’t blow away, or get moved on, or washed away in the next rainstorm. She wanted something that would be forever.

She tried to peer through the doors without Tony noticing, because she didn’t want to have to explain why she didn’t want to go inside. But again, she couldn’t see anything.

“I dunno,” she muttered.

“It’s spaghetti. You like spaghetti, right?”

Actually, she liked tacos. Spaghetti reminded her of her grandmother, and she hated to be reminded of her grandmother.

Her stomach, the fucking traitor, chose that moment to growl, making Tony jerk his head toward the entrance. “Go on. You need to eat something.”

And it was true, she did. The smell of food was thick and rich, and even though there were bad memories associated with the smell, her body didn’t care. It needed fuel. So she shrugged as if it didn’t matter to her one way or the other, and stepped through the doors.

It was hot inside, the smell of food combining with the sour smell of unwashed bodies. Mia, used to it, barely noticed. She was too busy staring at the volunteers manning the counters where they dished out the food.