Undercover Billionaire Boss: A BWWM Contemporary Romance, page 6
Raina haltingly told her about her escapade with Pervy Roger.
“Look hon, I know he’s a gross jerk, but he’s no reason to get yourself all worked up. He’ll move on to someone else at the next hotel he visits.” Kelly said and stroked her arm.
Raina nodded, knowing it was true, even if it didn’t make things better … but then, feeling overwhelmed, began sobbing and was unable to stop. It all came spilling out of her and in a jumble she proceeded to confide in Kelly the trouble she was having with money, with scheduling conflicts, and with getting a man to take the girls to school during the father’s day event.
“That is tricky.” Kelly said thoughtfully. “What about my brother Michael? Should I ask him?” Raina smiled gratefully but shook her head.
“Maybe. It’s not until next week and if I haven’t found someone or figured out some solution by then, I’ll let you know. They just want someone—anyone—so they don’t have to stick out. I even called my great-uncle that I haven’t seen since I was eight to see if he could do it, but he’s in a nursing home.”
“OK. Well, I’m sure my brother would be more than happy to go. He has a soft spot for you and the kids, you know.” Kelly said.
Raina did know. Michael was very sweet, but was a junior in college and she definitely wasn’t a cradle robber. “I’m very grateful, Kell.” Raina sniffed.
“That’s what friends are for.” she said.
Raina returned to her office shortly after, with Kelly in tow to make sure that Roger had left.
“Thanks, he’s gone.” Raina said with relief. Still, she couldn’t help but think there would be repercussions for having rejected Rog. She shivered nervously.
The rest of the day passed in a whirl of activity and at five o’clock, she picked up her bag and left for home. In the lobby, Raina felt someone tap on her shoulder. She smiled brightly when she saw Christopher.
“Going home?” he said conversationally. Raina nodded.
“Yeah me too. I feel beat, long day. But don’t think I’m complaining, boss.” he said.
Raina laughed and then her expression grew solemn.
“I know what you mean. I had a longish day myself.”
“Want to talk about it? I have wide shoulders and big ears.” Christopher said and tugged at his ears.
He looked foolish and he made Raina laugh. She shook her head. Her baggage was too much to place on another person. As it was, she felt guilty about putting Kelly in the position of sorting out her problems. The kids were her responsibility and it was up to her to figure out what to do about the father thing.
They walked out together chatting about inconsequential things. He was easy to talk to, Raina noticed. She needed to be careful not to let her guard down and say too much in front of him.
He walked her to her car, parked in the front parking lot.
“Do you want a ride?” she offered, remembering that he walked home most days. He contemplated her for a moment and then nodded. Raina felt uncomfortable with her skirt riding up to her thighs when she sat in the driver’s seat. Christopher glanced down, his eyes trailing over her legs, and then jerked his head up and kept his eyes on the windshield. The car jerked and sputtered a little before starting and Raina groaned out loud.
“I had to take it in for repairs; I hope it doesn’t break down again.”
“I know a little about cars. If you like, I can take a look at it for you.” Christopher offered.
“No thanks, you have enough on your plate with your job.” Raina said.
“It’s not a problem Raina. And it’s probably something small.”
Raina nodded. “OK, that would be great. I would be happy to pay for your services.”
Christopher looked at her with the beginnings of a smile.
“Is it very difficult for you to accept gifts from friends?”
“Are we friends?” Raina countered.
“Acquaintances then? You are giving me a ride, after all. Can’t I do something in exchange?”
“Alright, you can take a look at it and I won’t pay you for it.” Raina said, a small smile spreading over her face against her will.
They sat grinning at each other until Raina shook herself and put the car into gear.
“Where do I drop you off?” she said.
“Umm … at the corner of Broadway and Twentieth Street.” he said.
Raina frowned. “Broadway and Twentieth? You can’t live there, there’s nothing in that part of town but a bunch of pawn shops, parking garages, and …” Her voice trailed off as it dawned on her.
That was the address of the local homeless shelter.
She knew because she had spent several Thanksgivings many years ago volunteering at the soup kitchen there. She and her family had made it a tradition to help others before they would go and enjoy their own Thanksgiving meal.
Her heart broke into a million pieces for Christopher. She realized he must be in a much worse financial situation than he had let on.
Here was a person with more problems than herself. At least she had a roof over her head and food on the table. She imagined going to a shelter for the homeless after work and felt depressed. She cast a sidelong glance at Christopher and another wave of pity washed over her. He deserved a leg up—if only she could help him.
Just then, she remembered the old futon in her unused basement. It wasn’t the greatest space—it was packed with boxes and a bit damp and smelly, but surely, that would be better than a shelter for the homeless. At least until he got back on his feet.
“Christopher—,” she began softly, unsure how to broach the subject. She knew he might be sensitive to her offer. Raina sensed he was a proud man and he might be offended by a hand out. “I hate the idea of you staying at the homeless shelter.”
“Wha—?” Christopher started, but Raina continued.
“Look, I know you’re down on your luck, and I’d like to help. I wouldn’t be where I am today if people hadn’t helped me, and I’d like to pay it forward. I have a basement and a futon—it’s not pretty by any means, but it’s functional. You can have the basement until you get back on your feet.”
Christopher did not respond. He turned to her and she saw his brows furrow in what seemed to be confusion.
She laughed a bit when she saw his look, “I know, a basement in South Florida—people always ask about that. But it’s really more of a half-ground level, sort of storage area. Still,” she warned, “It’s not fancy or anything—but, I’d be happy for you to stay there.”
He was quiet a long time. She thought she may have injured his pride until he finally spoke.
“That’s very generous of you—but I couldn’t. I would never want to impose.” he said. His voice seemed a bit strangled. Again her heart twisted in her chest.
“Is it very difficult for you to accept help from a friend?” she said. She saw the look he gave her. “Fine, acquaintance?”
The tension broke as they both laughed.
“Thank you very much Raina. I really do appreciate it, but—" he said. His eyes met hers and she could tell he was going to refuse her again.
“No ‘buts’,” she said firmly. Her mind was made up. “Consider it an order from your boss.”
“Raina—,” Christopher started, but he stopped at the look she gave him. He pursed his lips. She could tell he still wasn’t happy about it, but he said, “Okay. Boss. I’ll follow orders. But, only for a short time. And I’ll pay you rent.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” she brushed aside his offer and turned her blinker on, pulling to the side of the road near a run-down diner about half a block from the shelter.
When she stopped the car, she wrote down her address for him and gave him the piece of paper. They arranged that Christopher would get his things and go to Raina’s that evening.
“I’ll see you tonight. Dinner is at 6:30. Don’t be late!” she warned him playfully.
She watched him disappear in the throng of people and her heart went out to him. With the way he spoke and carried himself, Raina was sure that he had been a huge success once.
She wondered what had happened to change his life so dramatically. She shivered in the warm sun at the thought that bad luck could happen to anyone. She crossed her fingers and said a quick prayer for herself and the kids. If something like that ever happened to them, Raina knew it would kill her. She knew she was only one bad month away from ending up on the street herself.
She could never let her sister and brother-in-law down and worse, the children’s welfare would be in jeopardy. She wondered again how other parents handled the pressure of knowing that if things went wrong, their families would be facing certain disaster.
Carrying a black rucksack on his back, Christian slid out of his Bugatti, two blocks away from Raina’s house. He couldn’t risk being seen. He waved to his driver and proceeded to walk down the street. It was a quiet neighborhood, Christian thought, admiring the tiny neat lawns in front of each house and the well-maintained house fronts.
He thought back to what might have prompted Raina to invite him to live in her basement. It wasn’t until she’d dropped him off that he realized the address he’d randomly given her was near the homeless shelter and her mistaken thought process clicked with him.
She is such a kind woman, he thought to himself, not for the first time. Raina really had been insistent on helping him, and there wasn’t a good way to dissuade her without drawing more attention to his lies. Again he felt a twinge of guilt for even lying to her in the first place.
Still, he was happy at the unexpected chance to spend more time getting to know her. Perhaps this would also give him the opportunity to pick her brain about the goings on at the hotel. His nerves felt taut with anxiety though. He would have to be very careful in the next couple of weeks so as not to blow his cover.
He stopped when he reached her house, a semi-detached two story home that bore the house number in a bright uplifting yellow color. He could see that it had once been well-cared for, but now there was paint peeling and bricks were crumbling. He noted the crooked steps and the front porch that was sagging. There was no visible door below the stairs to the front door that led to a basement. He straightened himself, adjusted his cap and climbed up the steps.
It was as though Raina was waiting by the door for his knock because; she opened it as soon as his hand rapped on the door. He looked at her well-fitting cream slacks and a sleeveless matching pink blouse. She had shed her work persona and she looked easy and relaxed at home.
“Hi Christopher, welcome.” she said and threw the door open.
“Thank you.” Christian said, his doubts resurfacing. A little voice inside his head asked him what on earth he thought he was doing.
It was such a bold move on both their sides. One part of him was excited to be at her house, and the other wanted to shake her and demand to know what she was thinking by inviting a stranger into her home. It was such a risky gesture on her part, but a kind one and, his heart melted just by looking at her. He was not used to women like her—women who gave without expecting anything in return.
“Aunty, Crystal’s pushing me!” A little voice yelled from inside the house.
“Crystal, stop it.” Riana said in a measured voice over her shoulder before turning back to Christian. “Welcome to the madness that is my house. You may just change your mind about staying after you’ve met my nieces and nephew!” She laughed slightly and he heard the fondness for the children in her voice. He smiled slightly at her, more curious than ever about her life.
He followed her into a small hallway that was pristine neat and into a living room. He stood at the entrance and looked at the space appreciatively. It wasn’t a large room by any means, but it was furnished tastefully with green and white striped sofas, a thick white carpet and a glass coffee table at the center.
A medium sized TV was mounted on a wall, along with several portraits, one of Raina smiling into the camera and another of three children and two adults whom he did not recognize. There were also other pictures dotting the room—other relatives he surmised.
“Come into the kitchen, I’ll make you a cup of coffee.” she said. “Say hello to my friend, kids, his name is Christopher and he’ll be staying in the basement with us for a little while.”
Two pretty girls, their hair tied up in matching puffs, looked up from the dining table where books were spread out and said hello, and a little boy crawled from underneath the table. Their eyes were curious and wary at the same time.
“This is Jeremiah, and these two are Crystal and Chantal.” she said.
Christian was intrigued as to the presence of the children in Raina’s house. They did not seem as though they were visiting, since their books were laid out on the table and various toys littered the floor.
“Hi, Jeremiah.” Christian said and waved. He broke into a grin when the boy gave him a wide smile.
“Hard at work?” Christian remarked to the girls. They giggled back at him.
“Get on with your math homework while I show Christopher to the basement.” Raina said.
“Aunty, I need some help with the equations.” Crystal called out.
“If you listened more to your teacher when she’s teaching, you wouldn’t have a problem with homework.” Raina admonished.
“Do you mind? I was pretty good at math.” Christian offered.
“Please, go ahead.” Raina said. She smiled and watched as he went over to the dining room table as she puttered in the kitchen. She had a brief flash of sadness at this scene of domesticity—one that almost made her household seem like a “normal” family.
He hung his rucksack on the back of the chair and slid in next to Crystal. He looked through her textbook and then at her work book and proceeded to show her how the sums were done. Crystal was a bright girl, Christian noticed, except that her attention span was short.
“When I was your age, we had this teacher …”
Christian racked his brain for a story to entertain Crystal so that he could give her a break before the next sum. It seemed to work, for she laughed uproariously at his stories. Her sister, Chantal, was more quiet and hung back. She smiled in amusement at his stories but soon returned to her work, her small brow creased in concentration.
“Do you want to play soccer?” Jeremiah said, laying his hand on Christian’s leg.
“Sure I’d love to. After I’m done helping Crystal? Do you have a ball?’
“Yes, I’ll go get it.”
Christian finished with Crystal’s homework and stood up shortly after Jeremiah returned with the ball. The boy led him towards the kitchen which Christian noticed was just as well decorated and as neat as the living room. He was admiring Raina more and more. She was nowhere to be found, but he spied a door off the kitchen that was open just before he reached the backyard.
He took a peek and saw stairs going down to the basement. A rattling noise below told him that Raina was down there.
Christian followed Jeremiah out the back door though and into the fenced backyard. He and Jeremiah stood at opposite ends of the lawn and kicked the ball to each other. To make the game more interesting, Christian placed two stones on each end to act as the goal posts.
“Ready, champ?” Christian said and made a show of measuring the goal posts and then softly kicking the ball.
Jeremiah lunged after it and caught it in his arms, letting out a celebratory shout that could be heard by neighbors several doors down. Christian grinned, enjoying watching Jeremiah celebrate his catch. The next kick was Jeremiah’s. His face tight with concentration, he kicked the ball, aiming perfectly between the goalposts.
Christian exaggerated his movements pretending to try and catch the ball. He missed and
“Still want to stay?” she said with a smile. “They haven’t scared you off?”
“Not yet.” He grinned back at her. “But Jeremiah has shaken my old bones and given them a good stretch, isn’t that right pal?”
“Old?” Raina raised an eyebrow and the corner of her lip turned up in amusement. Christian winked at her.
“Yes, Aunty, I’ve scored seven goals! Isn’t that great?”
“It’s fantastic; you’re a great soccer player.” Raina said and flashed Christian a grateful look. “Now come on in, I’ll show Christopher the basement and then come up in a while to wash you up.”
Raina turned to her houseguest as she led him inside. “Thank you so much for that, Jeremiah really enjoyed himself. It’s been a while since he had male company.” she said in a wistful tone as Jeremiah ran off to tell his sisters about his victory.
Christian followed her down the basement steps and into a wide-open space with an old futon in the middle and a battered chest of drawers against one wall. Boxes were stacked up against the back and it smelled a bit musty, but it was well lit with two small, high windows that faced the front of the house.
“It’s nice.” Christian commented. He looked down at her and gave her a grateful smile.
“You’re a good liar,” Raina said with a sidelong grin, clearly ribbing him. A twinge of guilt surged through him again—if only she knew how good a liar he really was.
“Well, it’s certainly kind of you to offer it to me, and it seems very comfortable.”
“I thought it would be better than where you’ve been.” Raina responded. Visions of his luxury penthouse flashed before his eyes—and yet, she was right about one thing. He actually did find spending time in Raina’s boisterous, crowded, tidy little house more comfortable than in the cavernous and empty opulence of the high rise condo.
“You’re welcome to have your meals with us,” Raina continued. “I cook a ton of food, a habit I acquired from my mother.”
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