That was all well and good for married men like Damen Leventis, Acheron considered broodingly, but why the hell had he ended up starting his weekend in the same fucking manner?
It was when the four of them got together again over dinner that Mairi noticed the frown that seemed permanently etched on Acheron’s forehead. “Is everything okay? It’s unlike you to look so troubled.”
“He’s traumatized,” Damen quipped before Acheron could answer. “He’s had his first taste of defeat in a woman’s hands, and he’s been losing sleep over it.”
Acheron scowled. “Fu—” Mairi and Damen simultaneously shot him warning glares, and he hastily amended himself, saying awkwardly instead, “Fudge off.”
Nala’s eyes went wide. “That’s Papa’s favorite expression, too.” And as if to demonstrate, she said in a voice distinctly resembling her billionaire’s father when he was in a temper, “Fudge off, Manolis. You’re just as pudding-whipped as I am.”
There were two full seconds of silence at their table, and then the adults were bursting into laughter while Nala beamed proudly at her handiwork. It always made the little girl feel good when she made other people smile and laugh.
After dinner, the couple invited Acheron for a nightcap at their place and he found himself agreeing without understanding why. He only had to check his phone’s inbox, and there’d be scores of events to choose from, all of them promising the best and most salacious kind of entertainment that money could buy.
So why was it he was here again, playing third wheel while on his fifteenth day of involuntary celibacy?
After kissing his daughter good night, Damen checked his emails on his phone as he headed down to rejoin the others, and he ended up almost bumping into his wife at the foot of the stairs. “What the—” He automatically curved an arm around a sheepish-looking Mairi to keep her from falling.
“Sorry,” she whispered. “I didn’t think it was right to intrude on Acheron.” She nodded towards the balcony, where the other billionaire stood alone, his clasped hands poised over the glass rails. “I could be wrong,” she murmured, “but I think I wouldn’t be as much help as you’d be with whatever’s bothering him.”
Damen grimaced. “Are you saying you want us to have some kind of Brokeback moment?”
Mairi sent her husband a chiding glance. “Be serious, will you? Can’t you see how troubled the man is?” She pushed him towards the balcony. “Now go and help him.” There were things that men would only feel fit to confide to other men, and it was especially true with people like Acheron Simonides, whose rough childhood had kept him from being acquainted with the nurturing touch of the fairer sex.
The sound of footsteps had Acheron turning away from Miami’s skyline, and to his surprise, he found Damen alone, holding two cans of beer. He murmured his thanks as the other man handed him one, and as he pulled the tab open, he asked, “Mairi?”
“She’ll, err, join us in a bit.”
Something about Damen’s tone had Acheron arching a brow, and when his friend shrugged in response, it might as well be an admission that his hunch was right. “Do I appear so pathetic,” he asked in a mutter of self-disgust, “that your wife thinks I’d need your manly shoulder to cry on?”
“She did express her concern in similar lines, ne.” The acknowledgment had Acheron wincing, and Damen took a sip of his beer as he let a few moments pass for the words to set in. Finally, he said, “What you’re experiencing right now – I’ve been there, you know. Hell, the whole world knows, and anyone else who doesn’t can just pick up a book to read all about it.”
Acheron didn’t answer, but since he didn’t say anything either, Damen supposed he could interpret that as his friend’s willingness to listen.
“These things…they’re usually a lot simpler than what we make them out to be. So if the girl turned you down, and you still want her…”
Acheron was irritated at the way the other man simply let the words hang. “Yes,” he practically growled. “I still want her, and I don’t even fucking understand why—” He cut himself off when Damen shook his head.
“If there’s one advice you’ll take from me,” Damen said quietly, “then let it be this. Forget the whys for now.” Because you’re not ready to face that yet. “And ask yourself this instead: what else can you give or give up to have her back in your life?”
In the suds, Pippi thought to herself as she continued with her newest and most shameful habit, which was to cyberstalk the man that had been haunting her thoughts and dreams for the past two weeks.
‘In the suds’ meant to be in trouble in Regency slang, and it was the perfect way to describe her mental state ever since she turned down Acheron Simonides’ baffling offer to be her boyfriend for two months.