Authors: Mia Carson
THE BILLIONAIRE’S BABY
COPYRIGHT © 2016
All Rights Reserved
I inhaled the salty ocean breeze and let it out before taking a sip of the dark roast coffee. My feet ached, and my hands smelled strongly of lemon cleaner. I turned from the view of a hot-orange setting sun to my best friend, Clara.
“Tell me why I thought creative writing was such a good idea back at UC Berkeley?” My tone was half joking, half whiny.
Clara let out a laugh and ran a hand through her blonde, pixie-cut hair. “The same reason I thought trying to become an actress in L.A. was a good idea?”
We leaned back against the cafe chairs. In an attempt to revitalize ourselves with caffeine, we had come to a beach-hut coffee shop on Santa Monica beach. It had been a long day for both of us, and to sit on the café’s open patio was therapeutic. Clara’s chocolate brown eyes met mine across the table.
“But seriously, Lexi, you won’t have to clean houses forever. The key to breaking into the film industry is persistence, whether you’re trying to be an actress like me or a budding screenwriter like you. That’s what they say, anyway.” She heaved a wistful sigh, and her eyes moved to watch the crashing waves.
I followed her gaze and watched as two surfers cruised along a medium-sized wave. I wished I’d brought my surfboard to work today so I could get out on the ocean and forget my career and money issues and just ride the waves.
I’d surfed since I was thirteen, which had been easy since I’d grown up in a poorer part of Santa Monica, twenty minutes from the beach. My younger brother and dad had saved up all year and given me an old-school used board for that birthday. Dad, my brother Sean, and I had been on our own since my mom was killed in a car accident on the Pacific-Northwest Highway when I was eight. I’d been devastated, but I’d gotten used to family life with just the boys.
Since I’d officially become a teenager on that birthday long ago, I surfed as a way to feel better. Something about the cool ocean water, the adrenaline of riding a wave’s curl, and the tangy salt air cleared my head and lifted my spirits. Even the worst days would get better if I spent at least an hour catching waves.
But today, I’d left the board in my small apartment in Santa Monica, about twenty-five minutes inland from the beach. I lived three blocks from the tiny duplex where my dad and fifteen-year-old Sean lived. I’d left my board at home because I’d taken an extra cleaning job with my co-worker, Beth. We cleaned two Hollywood mansions, a six-in-the-morning-until-six-at-night job.
I thought I’d have no energy left, but I wished I could get the smell of lemon cleaner off my hands and replace it with saltwater. “I should’ve brought my board.” I voiced my thoughts to Clara.
She grinned and shook her head. “I don’t know how you find the energy after cleaning for twelve hours. I just did two casting calls and no manual labor today, and I’m wiped out.” She sipped her coffee, her expression frustrated. “Over two hundred other actors auditioned for each part, and I didn’t get either, I can tell.” Clara pouted, then brightened. “Hey, how about we surf together tomorrow? I don’t have to be at the bar until six.”
Clara bartended at a little pub at night, so her daytime hours were free for casting calls and auditions. She was petite and curvy with lots of energy and had a pretty, heart-shaped face—needless to say, Clara got good tips.
We’d both graduated from UC Berkeley three months ago. It was mid-August, and neither of us were any farther along in our desired career paths.
“Sorry,” I told Clara, “I only have one house to clean tomorrow morning, but I promised to take Sean to his summer soccer league game in the afternoon. Dad’s coming as well. I’ll probably head out tomorrow evening on my own while you’re at work.”
She shrugged and drained her mug. “Well, another time. And speaking of work, I have to get ready for my shift tonight—eight until closing.”
We stood and walked out the patio exit onto the warm sand. Clara was able to walk the four blocks to the beachfront pub, but she walked with me to my car first, which was more like the family car, as neither Sean nor my dad had one. Sean didn’t even have a license, much less money to buy a car. My dad had been in a wheelchair from MS for several years now, his legs mostly paralyzed, which meant he couldn’t drive anymore. So I was the designated family chauffeur as well the one who earned the most money at the moment. Sean was in tenth grade, getting part-time lawn care gigs in his spare time. Though Dad got a monthly disability check from the government, it was only enough to cover rent, utilities, and the necessary groceries.
Not only did I have my own bills and student loans to pay off from Berkeley, but I also earned all the extra money I could in order to give Dad and Sean funds for clothing and extra groceries, not to mention doctors’ bills for my dad. He had minimal medical coverage that didn’t meet all the costs of neurologist visits, MRIs, and the immune-suppressants he needed to survive.
My work at the cleaning service paid well because I worked in upscale L.A. mansions in Hollywood, the Santa Monica beachfront, and Malibu. The owners tipped well, but I still held onto my dream of becoming the screenwriter of a big hit movie. I’d applied to production companies, both small and large, all over the Los Angeles metropolitan area. Yet, like acting, trying to get your foot in the door for screenwriting, especially in L.A., was highly competitive.
When we reached my car, Clara asked, “So, no luck with the latest round of interviews?”
I rummaged through my tote bag for keys and replied, “Nope. Not even with the lowest of low assistant coffee-retriever positions at the small cable TV production company.” I’d applied to any and every position, however low-paying, at a movie or TV company, figuring I could work my way up.
Clara gave me a sympathetic look. “Sorry, Lexi. There’s always tomorrow for us both, I guess. You could bartend with me, you know. I don’t know how you do all that heavy-duty cleaning stuff. I hate mopping my own little kitchen.”
I opened the driver’s side door and looked at her, one eyebrow raised. “No thanks. I don’t know how you stand all those ogling, overly-flirty guys. I’ll take cleaning with Beth any day over that. It’s usually just us, and possibly a cat or dog. No womanizing men.” Then I paused and added, “Well, except for that one time last winter.”
My eyebrows furrowed at the thought, and a shiver of disgust ran through my body. I’d worked this past winter with the same cleaning company I currently did to earn some extra cash while home for the break.
“Oh, right.” Clara nodded sympathetically. “I remember that incident. Even I might have slapped that rich bastard if he was as bad as you say.”
“Oh, my God. Trust me, you would have. Ugh, no more talk of him, please. I need to relax and get ready for more cleaning tomorrow. Luckily, I’m cleaning a nice, older couple’s house in Hollywood once a week. Not some chauvinistic, dirty-mouthed, rich playboy like that guy.”
Clara barked out a short laugh. “Why don’t you tell me what you really think of him?” “Though,” she added with a mischievous glint in her eye, “he’s sinfully hot, from your description.”
A second repulsed shiver ran through me. It may also have been from the memory of how hot this man had truly been, though I’d never admit it. Despite my level of hatred for the guy, he’d been insanely gorgeous.
“Well, on that note, I’ll text you tomorrow, okay? Good luck at work, Clara.” We hugged quickly, and I got in my 1990 four-door sedan and started the engine. With a last wave goodbye to Clara as she walked back to the beach towards the bar, I headed out of the parking lot, across 3
Street promenade, and battled traffic to get home.
After a hot shower and a dinner of chic-pea salad, I brushed my long, raven-black hair and stared absently at my reflection in an old mirror on my dresser. Though my pale skin never tanned, it was a half-shade darker than its usual opalescent hue, and I had a smattering of freckles across my nose. I had always been acutely aware of how non-typical I was for a California girl. I was the opposite of tanned, blond, and blue-eyed. Though I didn’t fit into that stereotype, I was proud that my green-gold eyes were exactly like my mom’s had been, and my pale skin and high cheekbones came from my dad. I might not look like Malibu Barbie, but at least my looks showed pieces of my heritage and genes, which meant much more to me than fitting in.
As I laid in bed trying to fall asleep, my mind drifted stubbornly to the incident when I’d cleaned that gorgeous billionaire’s estate in Malibu last summer. I remembered everything vividly. The huge house up on a hill overlooked the ocean and had a stairway straight down to the beach.
I’d worked with Beth then, too. She was close to my dad’s age and played the mom-role in some ways. She’d been cleaning the house with me one Friday afternoon during my winter break in preparation for the owner’s big celebrity-filled party that night. Beth was beyond exhausted, not having the stamina of someone in their early twenties like me. I’d told her to head on out and that I’d finish the last room—the dining room.
The house’s owner, Braden, was a CEO for some business. Even though he was well-known, I’d forgotten his last name and wasn’t even sure what type of company he owned, since I couldn’t care less about the man. Whatever he did for a living, he clearly made mega-bucks.
Braden hadn’t been around for most of the cleaning, though caterers and an event manager scurried through the rooms. As I waxed the last part of the hardwood dining room floor, I felt someone watching me. His presence was so strong, I didn’t even have to look to know a man was watching me with palpable intensity.
I’d turned instinctively and straightened my white apron. As a cleaning company that served the higher, wealthier class, we were expected to wear a version of the traditional maid uniform. The outfit was composed of a knee-length, black dress with short-sleeves, a white half-apron edged with ruffles, and a frilly white collar to match.
The moment I’d made eye contact, my breath caught. His piercing, crystal-blue eyes had held mine like magnets, and I had to force myself to ignore the instant flutter that started in my stomach and worked its way to my fingertips. His eyes traveled slowly down my body, causing my skin to erupt into goose bumps.
I gave him the once-over as well. His dirty-blond hair was purposefully disheveled, his arching eyebrows a solid brown, and his face was a deep, golden tan, as if he spent a good amount of time outdoors. With high cheekbones, a strong jaw, and a devilish quirk on his full mouth, he was beyond cute. This man was breathtakingly beautiful. To go with his strikingly handsome face was a tall, broad frame. He wore flawlessly tailored dress pants and a fitted white button-down shirt with a blue tie, and I could tell he had a rock-solid body underneath.
As if in a trance, I stood frozen, mop in hand, as my eyes roamed back up and lingered on his full lower lip for a moment.