The Billionaire's Virgin(7)

By: Jackie Ashenden

He refused to be disappointed. Absolutely fucking refused. And he absolutely fucking refused to worry about her either.

Yet as he finished up at his food station, he turned to the guy who organized all the meals and asked, “The woman in the orange hat. I didn’t see her tonight.”

The man blinked, obviously not expecting to be addressed, then he looked around the noisy dining room. “Uh . . . Mia you mean?”

So, her name was Mia. “Yeah, her.”

“No, I don’t see her. Sometimes she comes in and sometimes she doesn’t.” He shrugged. “Like they all do.”

Xavier frowned, not liking the guy’s cavalier attitude. “Where does she go to then?”

The man eyed him. “Why do you ask?” There was only the merest hint of suspicion in his tone, but Xavier caught it nonetheless.

Jesus. What did the guy think he was going to do? If Xavier wanted a woman to screw, he wasn’t exactly going to go to the local homeless shelter to find one. “I just want to make sure she’s okay,” he said, pouring on the de Santis charm. “It’s been very cold the past couple of nights and if she’s out on the streets . . .”

The man sighed. “There are beds here for people if they need them. But some of them don’t like it here. They don’t like being around other people or they don’t like the rules. A lot of different stuff. Mia is . . . independent. And stubborn. If she doesn’t want to be here, it doesn’t matter how cold it is, she won’t be.”

Xavier didn’t like that. Didn’t like that at all. “It’s snowing. If she’s out there she’ll freeze to death.”

“A lot of people freeze to death out there, Mr. de Santis,” the man said, and this time Xavier didn’t miss the thin edge of contempt in his voice. Directed at him, clearly. “But you can’t make ’em take a bed if they don’t want it.”

Bullshit. You could make someone do anything if you tried hard enough, and clearly the volunteers at the shelter weren’t trying hard enough.

Why should you care? It’s a tragedy, sure, but she’s just one woman. Besides, you’ve got Washington to get through. You can’t afford to get distracted now.

That was unfortunately true. His father wanted this contract and if he didn’t land it, he could kiss his mother’s ranch good-bye.

No way he was going to jeopardize that.

Xavier nodded to the man then he got out of there.

And tried not to think about Mia.

Night eleven and he was late, coming in from a family dinner that had been the very definition of dysfunctional. And no, he hadn’t been using the shelter as an excuse, of course not. Lorenzo had been his usual cold, uptight self, arguing with their father, while Rafael had fussed around trying to keep everyone calm.

He’d fucked off the first chance he had because he hated that crap. And quite frankly, being here, in the warm, mugginess of the shelter that smelled of stale food and sour sweat was a much more peaceful experience than sitting in his father’s overdecorated penthouse listening to his brothers argue about the company’s direction.

He grinned at the people lining up in front of him. “Who’s for chilli?”

No one replied, but he was getting used to that. In fact, it was kind of nice to talk and have no one argue with him or ask him what he meant by that, or question him about his political beliefs, and whether he thought delivering guns to the general populace was wrong.

He was still talking about nothing to no one in particular, when he looked up and found her standing in front of him, staring at his shirt again.

The weird, possessive thing inside him went very, very still. As if one wrong move would scare her away.

He should ask her whether she was okay. Whether she had somewhere warm to sleep. He should remind her that the shelter was warm and she should stay there, because it was a lot safer than the streets.

But he didn’t.

“You kept it, didn’t you?” he said.

She didn’t say anything, but again, for a brief, blinding moment, she looked up and met his gaze. There were tiny flames in her eyes—he could have sworn it—and he couldn’t seem to look away.

“I know you did,” he went on, utterly captivated. “You kept it. There was a fight the other day and an old man pulled at that hideous orange thing on your head and you were wearing my hat underneath it.”

Something flashed in her eyes, only for a second, then it was gone. Her thick black lashes came down and she turned away, not bothering this time to go to the next station for food, hurrying over to the tables to sit down to eat.

“Mia,” he said quietly, just to say it out loud. She couldn’t have heard him—it was far too noisy in the dining room—but he saw her check slightly as he said her name.