My Russian Billionaire
Chapter 1 – Old flames & Unfinished business
"Hello, my name is Rose. I'll be serving you today. Can I start you out with something to drink?" I repeated the words I'd already said about fifty times since the beginning of my shift.
Fighting the urge to roll my eyes, I kept the fake smile plastered on my face, and readied my pen and notepad.
The two customers lowered their menus, revealing their faces. I sighed in exasperation.
"I told you guys not to come here! I'm working!"
Christian cackled evilly, while Adrian rubbed his palms together and fought to keep a serious expression etched on his handsome face.
"Now, miss…that is no way to speak to loyal customers of Montana's Classic Chubby Burgers." Adrian said.
Christian shook his head. "I agree. I think we deserve an apology."
"I think I need to shove this pen up your ass—"
"Manager?" Adrian shouted. "Your waitress is making threats—"
"Fine, fine. I'm sorry. Just be quiet." I waved my hands. "I'm already in enough trouble with my boss. I do one more thing to piss Stan off, and I'm fired. Now…what would you like to order?"
"I'm sorry. I didn't catch that." Christian's pale ear perked up, he cupped a hand over it. "Can you repeat yourself miss…?"
I glared. "You know my name."
"Stan?" Christian shouted, capturing the attention of nearby customers.
"Rose," I cut him off. "My name is Rose. What can I get for you boys tonight? Something to drink? A beer? Name it. It's on the house."
Damn, it's painful to suck up your pride, lose all dignity, and play kiss-ass with your best friend's snarky boyfriend and your alcoholic ex.
Mom told me life was hard. But she never told me it would be this big of a bitch.
"Now, that's more like it." Adrian flipped through the pages of the menu.
Christian nodded and did the same. "I agree."
I gritted my teeth to keep the curse from escaping.
"I'll take a Shirley temple, with four ice cubes, and three cherries." Adrian said. "And make sure it has exactly that. Or else I will send it back, along with many complaints to the boss on how Classic Chubby burger's waitresses do not know how to follow directions."
He smiled dryly and slapped the menu down on the table. "Oh, and add a Mega cheeseburger, along with an order of curly fries while you're at it."
"You are so dead." I muttered, scribbling down his absurd demands on paper.
"What was that?"
"Nothing." I smiled, turning to Christian. "And what can I get for you, sir?"
"I'll have what he's having." I sighed in relief, drawing a number two on the notepad—the symbol for Chef's to double the order.
"Except…" he handed me the menu. I tucked it in my arm. "Replace the Shirley temple with a coke, no ice. And on that cheeseburger, take out the onions and switch them for extra pickles. I also want you to change the American cheese to Swiss—make sure it has absolutely no holes in it. Got all that, Rachel?"
"My name is Rose," I growled. "And yes, I've got all that."
With one last hard glance at their laughing faces, I stomped off and gave the chef their orders.
When their meals were ready, I snatched up the hot plates and headed towards the table. I was tempted to spit in their food, but decided against it at last moment. Those two idiots weren't worth losing my job over.
"Enjoy your meal." I threw the plates and drinks on the table, and went to my next customer.
"I can't believe you're actually making me do this," I slipped into the tight red dress and killer black pumps.
"You're going to love it, trust me." My best friend, Lissa, leaned over the counter busy with perfecting her makeup. "Besides, it's for my brother's birthday. We'll just be there for a few hours, and then we're out."
I groaned in defeat. My voice suddenly became extremely whiney. "But I don't want to go! Do you think I want to spend my Saturday night in some fancy hotel filled with a bunch of rich snobs?"
"Hey! I'm one of those rich snobs. And so is my family." Lissa defended.
"I know. But you're a cool rich snob. So are Eric, Rhea, and Andre. That's the only reason I'm going to Andre's party."
Her reflection in the mirror wiggled its blonde eyebrows. "I know Andre wants you to be there...badly. He's very, ahem, fond of you."
I rolled my eyes. "It was one time, Liss! I swear. One time."
She grinned and winked. "That's not what he says. He's been obsessed with you ever since that …" She quoted the air. "one night."
"That's it. I'm done. I'm going clubbing instead."
I started taking off my heels, but Lissa stopped me by grabbing my leg. "I'm sorry! I'm sorry! I promise I won't pester you about it anymore tonight."
I cast her a wary glance. "That's not good enough, missy."
"What if I told you that we only have to spend an hour at this party?"
"An hour?" I gaped.
She nodded. "We say hello to everyone, wish my brother happy birthday, and then we're out."
"Can we go clubbing afterwards?" I asked.
She pursed her lips, obviously displeased, and spoke through gritted teeth. "Yes, we will."
"Sounds great!" I clapped excitedly. "Oh…and one more thing. I didn't have the time nor money to buy your brother a present. Although, I'd be more than happy to jump out of a giant cake for him and scream: HAPPY BIRTHDAY!."
Lissa laughed and smacked my arm. "Don't worry about it. Just give him a hug and you'll make his whole night. Are you ready?"
"Yeah, just let me say goodbye to Uncle Victor."
Lissa's angelic face became solemn and sad. "Okay."
I glanced in the mirror once last time. My chestnut hair was curled and pinned into an elegant up do, with a few strands down to frame my face. My lips shined, my eyes were big and brown. Rubies made my ears, neck, and hair sparkle.
My blood-red dress was like a second skin, clinging to all of my curves and insinuating my breast with its sweetheart cut. At five inches, the pumps made me just over six-feet tall. My tan legs looked a mile long.
I smiled and sighed approvingly. I looked good.
I walked into the living room and my good mood instantly vanished. I had the urge to bust out in tears.
Uncle Victor was on my beat-up old couch, reading the newspaper and sipping on his favorite black tea.
I fought the painful lump in my throat. He was getting so skinny. Too skinny. He looked like a walking skeleton. At fifty-two, Victor looked like he was in his late eighties or early nineties.
The Sandovsky's Syndrome, a chronic disease, had really been taking a toll on him lately. His most recent surgery was last Tuesday. It was meant to help slow down the process of the disease, but the procedure hadn't been successful and the only thing it had done was put my Uncle in more pain than he already was.
"Hi, honey." He turned his head and smiled at me. From the tight pinch on his face, I could tell it took a lot of effort and was painful. "How are you tonight? You look beautiful."
Looking at his heartbreakingly warm face, it made everything okay. It made my dead end job worth it. It made paying his endless hospital bills less painful. It made living at this dingy one bedroom apartment in this crappy neighborhood worth it.
Being twenty-three years old, I was supposed to be in college right now, partying with my friends, enjoying my freedom, possibly looking for a man who was marriage material. But instead, my life revolved around taking care of my sick uncle and living from paycheck to paycheck. Taking care of Uncle Victor would have been easier if I had someone's help. Anyone's help. But I had no one. Absolutely no one. I was alone.
I didn't regret anything I did for a single moment. That would be selfish if I did. It could be worse. And that's what I told myself every morning before I went to work.
"Thank you, Uncle Victor. I'm doing okay, how is your stomach feeling?"
He patted the bandages. "Better. I'm hanging in there."
Victor's pain pills were lined neatly on the coffee table. He popped a few into his mouth and washed them down with his tea.
"I'll make you some more tea before I go."
I went into my small kitchen and flicked on the faucet. I waited a few moments for the water to turn from murky brown to clear, and then filled up the teapot. When it whistled, I filled up a cup, plopped a tea bag into it, and stirred some honey in.
"Thank you, dear." I handed it to him. With slow and shaky movements, he brought it to his lips and took a sip. "Ah, wonderful. Just the way I like it."
I rubbed his scratchy cheek. "Will you be okay here tonight alone?"
"I'll be fine, dear. Go have fun. You worry too much about me."
I smiled and leaned down to kiss his forehead. "I love you, Uncle Victor."
"As I love you, Rosemarie."
"Shit, this is the place?" Lissa pulled her white Mercedes convertible into Valet. The handsome man smiled at us and took the keys.
"Yep." Lissa linked her arm through mine as we entered the building and walked across the ivory marble floor. "Nice, isn't it? Andre's got great taste."
The hotel was breathtaking. Simply breathtaking. Everything was gold. Gold staircases, gold drapes, massive gold chandeliers with thousands of gleaming crystals. There was a grand piano with a man in a suit playing some tune. The couches and chairs were white and made out of leather. Or at least what looked like leather, I couldn't see from where I was standing.
I suddenly felt very self conscious in my dress. I yanked it down a bit. "Yeah, it's great."
"Don't worry about it. You look great, Rose." Lissa stopped and asked a staff worker where the ball room was. She pointed us in the general direction.
"You're only saying that because you're wearing Vera Wang," I whispered, glancing down at her fabulously tailored emerald-green gown. "My dress is from Forever21. And it was on sale!"
"Stop complaining and just enjoy yourself." Lissa said behind gritted teeth. "Oh, look at that water fountain! It's my favorite part of this hotel."
I glanced over to where she pointed and gasped. It was an oval shaped pool with intricate designs at the bottom. There was a giant red light in the middle where the water shot out from. I stood there for a moment, just watching as the light and water turned from red, to blue, to gold, to green…
Beside me, Lissa rummaged her clutch and pulled out two pennies. She handed one to me. "Make a wish."
I snorted. "Make a wish?"
"Yep. Close your eyes, think about what you want, and then throw the penny." Lissa closed her eyes and clutched the penny to her chest. A moment later, she opened them, smiled, and threw the coin into the fountain.
"What'd you wish for?"
"I'm not going to tell you because if I do, it won't come true."
"This is real life, Lissa. Wishes and miracles and dreams just don't come true."
I chucked the penny into the fountain, it landed with the thousand other coins. I didn't wish for anything.
"Anything can happen if you just believe in it."
We laughed in unison. "How long have you been waiting to use that line?"
She shrugged. "Saw it in a cartoon once. I've been waiting for the right opportunity to say it."
"Is this it?" I asked, once we reached two giant, oak wood doors that touched the ceiling. A bald man who was built like a bull stood in front of them with his arms crossed, most likely a security guard or a bouncer. Either way, he looked ready to beat the shit out of anybody who tried to cross, so it was a little intimidating.
"If that is any indication," Lissa paused and pointed at a sign on the wall. In fancy cursive letters, it wrote:
Private party, 7:00 - 11:30 PM.
"Then I'd say yes, this is the ballroom." she finished her sentence.
"Look I've got plenty of my own sarcasm to go around, I don't need yours."
Lissa rolled her jade-green eyes and muttered something under her breathe. She linked her arm through mine and smiled charmingly at the guard.
"We're here for the party," she said.
He pulled out a clipboard. "Name."
"Vasilisa Dragomir and Rosemarie Hathaway." Lissa's voice was sweeter than sugar.
"Right this way, ladies." He opened the door, let us in. "You two enjoy yourselves." And then he closed the door shut.
I gaped at the ballroom.
"Well, don't stand there looking stupid. Come on." Lissa yanked on my arm.
"It's beautiful," I breathed.
"I know, right?" She grabbed to champagne glasses from a passing caterer, took a sip of one and handed me the other.
If I thought the hotel entrance was amazing, I was wrong. This ballroom was unlike anything I'd ever seen before.
Four humongous crystal chandeliers dominated the ceiling, giving the whole room a romantic and intimate glow. The walls were painted a brilliant ivory color with complicated gold designs on them. The tables had white silk on them and two red roses covered in what looked to be gold glitter. Beautiful men and women were scattered across the marble floor, mingling with one another. To top it all off, there was an open bar and endless supplies of food.
Yeah, Andre definitely had great taste. And he went over the top for his birthday party, but I never expected anything less.
I downed my champagne. It was time to loosen up a bit.
"Are you ready to say hi to everyone?" Lissa asked.
"Sure. Let's get this over with so we can go clubbing."
We were all done exchanging greetings with almost everyone - Lissa's parents, cousins, aunts, uncles, and friends. All that was left to do was wish Andre happy birthday and then we were out of this hell hole.
With confident smiles on our faces, Lissa and I walked over to Andre. He was standing by all of his friends wearing a blinding white suit that screamed money. With his sunshine hair and green eyes, I had to admit that he was very good looking. But he was also a player, and that's why I didn't let our relationship go any further than a sexual one. If I did, I knew I would only end up getting my heart broken.
About halfway to Andre, I stopped dead in my tracks and gaped.
It couldn't be him.
"Why is he here?" I growled.
"Oh, he recently bought this hotel. I thought you knew."
"He's also become great friends with Andre."
"Wonderful," I muttered. "Just wonderful."
Standing just fifty feet away from me, was the man who had broken my heart six years ago. Dimitri Belikov. Looking at him now, in his impeccable black suit and silk red tie, I knew without a doubt that he still owned my heart and soul. He always would. He had been my first love, the man I'd given my virginity to. I dated him in high school, when I was a senior and he was fresh out of college. We'd dated for two years, had been madly in love with one another, until Dimitri went on a internship for some business thing in Russia.
The distance hadn't been the only thing standing in our way. Our seven year age difference - me seventeen at the time, him twenty-four - had been a huge issue. Dimitri had only been in Russia for several months when I broke things off, and not in a good way. I'd done it over a text message. After that, I changed my number and cut off all ties to him. The whole reason I dumped him was because I was afraid he was going to dump me first. I couldn't stand the thought of him rejecting me, of him not wanting me anymore. So I did it first, before he could do it to me.
I regretted that decision I made nearly six years ago everyday. The what if's and would-have-been's killed me. What if I stayed with him? What would things be like for us now? Would he have proposed? Would we have children by now? Would I be as rich as he was? What would it be like to have a billionaire husband? What if I didn't have to work at such a crappy, minimum-wage job?
I hadn't talked to Dimitri ever since that day six years ago.
The last words he'd ever spoken to me were: I love you.
And the last words I'd texted to him were: It's over.
I had to imagine he wasn't going to be very happy when he saw me again.
Lissa stopped and and became concerned. "Are you okay?"
I plastered the most fake smile on my face and nodded. "Yeah. Let's do this."
When we were almost to Andre and his group of friends, Dimitri's head snapped up, almost like he sensed that I was there. There was no way I could deny the connection between us that crackled heavily through the air. Dimitri's wonderful dark eyes focused on me, and if I hadn't been paying close attention, I wouldn't have noticed the spark of surprise that flashed across his face. I guess he hadn't been expecting to see his long lost love tonight. That made two of us.
God, he was still so handsome. Age had done him well. Silky, shoulder-length brown hair. Dark, bottomless eyes. Knife-edged cheekbones. Narrow nose. Strong jawline. And perfect sensuous, plump lips.
I had the urge to rip off his clothes and take him right here on the ballroom floor. To hell with whoever watched.
The Russian God had his guarded mask on as he stared down at me from his staggering six-foot-seven height. His gaze practically burned holes into my face. Though he didn't show it, I knew he was furious behind that calm facade. I just read him that well...even after all these years.
I took a deep breath and somehow managed to tear my eyes away from his hypnotizing ones.
"Happy birthday, Andre!" I threw myself into his awaiting arms.
From the corner of my eye, I saw Dimitri stiffen and clench his jaw.
Andre laughed and held me tighter, completely oblivious to the tension going on around him. He kissed my cheek and whispered, "You look beautiful, Rose."
"As do you, my friend." I pulled back and ran my hand along his shoulder. "I'm liking the suit."
"I'm glad you do," he smiled. "I picked it out just for you."
I wasn't sure if I imagined it or not, but I swear I heard Dimitri's light growl.
Lissa gave Andre a hug. "Happy birthday, big bro."
I tuned out the rest of their conversation as Dimitri and I had an intense stare down.
"Hey, Comrade...long time no see."
He arched a dark brow. "It has been very long, Roza. Very, very long. Too long."
My heart skipped a beat at hearing my old nickname.
To distract myself and try to pass the uncomfortable feeling of his angry gaze, I grabbed a glass of champagne and downed half of it.
"I can see that you're doing just...fine." I said, glancing around the ballroom. "I heard you bought this hotel. It's very beautiful."
"Well, you know me, Rose. I've always had a taste for all things beautiful and divine." His eyes traveled up and down my body slowly, giving no effort to hide the fact that he was checking me out.
My body flushed with heat and want and...need.
Damn him. Damn him and the affect he had on my body even after all these years.
"So how was Russia and that internship?" I asked. Lissa and Andre were busy chatting it up.
A nearby caterer came by with a plate of chocolate covered strawberries. I grabbed a handful.
"It was good. It would have been better had my girlfriend not broken up with me and actually had the courage to call instead of sending a text message."He paused and sighed. "However, it has made me the man I am today and I do not regret leaving America."
A piece of strawberry went down my trachea. I coughed and swallowed the rest of my drink to wash it down. I was breathless when I spoke again. "I'm sorry to hear about that. That ex girlfriend of yours sounds like a real bitch."
I set my empty glass on a nearby table. "Hey, Liss?"
She turned around, smiling. "Yeah?"
"I'll meet you out by the water fountain, okay?"
I didn't wait for her to respond. I took off.
I'd been staring at the water spray and the colors change for about five minutes when I felt his presence behind me. I closed my eyes as the first tear fell. "What do you want?"
"To talk." His accented voice was deep and tastefully thick.
I turned around to face Dimitri. "There's nothing to talk about."
"That's where you're wrong, Roza." His tone was like a knife that cut deep into my skin. "There's so much to talk about."
"Okay, well...where do you want to start?" I laughed bitterly.
"Why'd you leave?"
"Because I wanted to get away from you. That didn't exactly workout, though. Obviously. You're standing right here in front of me."
"No, I didn't mean that. I mean, why did you leave me? Why did you break up with me?"
I shook my head and turned to face the fountain again. "I'm so not getting into that right now. Too much shit has happened to me today already."
"Okay. Are you sleeping with Andre?"
I laughed again. "That's none of your business."
I heard him growl. "Why not?"
"Because it's personal," I said. "And you are no longer a part of my life. I owe you no explanations."
"I heard about your uncle. I'm sorry about that." I was surprised at how sincere he sounded.
"Yeah, well," I took a cigarette out of my clutch and lit it. "Everyone has problems."
"You smoke now?"
I shrugged and took a long drag. "When I'm stressed, yeah."
A passing staff worker stopped and stared at me. "Hey! There's no smoking in here-"
Dimitri raised a hand. "Leave us now. She may do as she pleases."
"I-I-I...my apologies, Mr. Belikov."
Dimitri ignored him. "Where are you living now?"
"Like I said before, it's none of your damn business."
He threw his hands up in exasperation. "I can see many things haven't changed. You are still the most frustrating and stubborn woman I have ever met."
I shrugged again and shoved the lighter back into my clutch. My name tag from Classic Chubby Burgers seemed to jump right out of it and onto the ground. Dimitri leaned down and picked it up before I had a chance to protest. "This is where you're working?"
I grimaced. "No?"
He gave me a stern look.
"Maybe...okay, yes. Yes, I work there."
"I am astonished." He shook his head and laughed humorlessly as he stared at the name tag. "A woman like you shouldn't be working at a dump like that-"
I snatched it out of his hand. "Look, save your pity for someone else. I happen to love my job."
Dimitri cocked his eyebrow, obviously not believing me. "Are you sure about that? I don't think you do. I think you can do better than that. Much, much better."
"It pays the bills," I said. "Not all of us have millions of dollars shooting straight out of our asses. Some of us actually have to work hard to make a dime."
"You think I have not worked hard for the money I have earned? For the reputation and empire I have built for myself?" His tone was challenging. "I did it all alone. Everything...alone."
"Sucks for you." I flicked the cigarette into the water. Dimitri's eyes followed the movement, but he didn't say anything about it. "But at least you're a billionaire now, right? Got everything you wanted in life."
"Not everything." Dimitri pointedly looked at me. I sucked in a ragged breath.
"I gotta go." I said, hastily. He grabbed my arm, keeping me from going anywhere.
My skin warmed and tingled where he touched me. I wanted to melt on the stop.
Gritting my teeth, I eyed where our bodies connected. "Get your fucking hands off me."
"Not until you answer one question."
I growled. "What is it?"
"Do you still love me?"
My heart dropped. My chest constricted painfully tight. I met his dark eyes.
"Yes, Dimitri." I said, truthfully.
He closed his eyes, like he was in pain, and swallowed hard. "Yes what?"
"Yes, Dimitri. Yes, I still love you."
He released my hand, as if I'd shocked him. "That was all I needed to hear."
I suddenly felt rejected, my blood boiled with anger. "Well, you got what you want. Now leave me alone."
I stomped towards the door.
"You haven't seen the last of me, Roza. Believe me."
When I turned around, he was gone.