Home > Poker Face - An Italian Billionaire Romance(5)

Poker Face - An Italian Billionaire Romance(5)
Author: Holly Rayner

She flicked through a Monaco job listing, her heart heavy in her chest. Despite having sent in a few dozen applications in the last few days, all to hotels and restaurants in the Monte Carlo area, she hadn’t heard back from a single one. Monaco was saturated—she knew this perhaps better than anyone—and had ultimately sent many others like her away, without hope for a position. Her father’s hotel would close its doors in less than two weeks, and the world of Monaco would continue spinning without her.


Aimee checked the clock on the wall behind her; it was almost seven in the morning, which put Seattle at 10 p.m. of the previous day. It was a slow morning, and she didn’t expect any patrons to arrive for at least half an hour, so she lifted the reception phone to her ear, dialing the familiar number. She listened to the ring blare out across the ocean, across the prairie. And then, she heard the raspy voice of her mother.


“Darling,” she said, coughing slightly. “I didn’t expect you to call.”


“Hi, Mom,” Aimee whispered.


Her heart stung with pain; she’d lost her closeness with her mother since that fateful day when she’d decided to remain in Monaco. They’d had a great relationship, almost like friends—dancing on the beach, doing their makeup, swimming in the sea. Her mother had taught her to love Monaco, and then, she’d taught her that loving something wasn’t always enough.


“How are you?”


“Just fine, Aimee. The café’s doing real well. It’s a bit chilly these days, now we’re almost at the end of September. But I imagine that’s prime weather over there.”


Hearing her mother’s smile through the phone, Aimee wiped a single tear from her cheek. Her eyes danced toward the hotel entrance, imagining her mother twirling through it in her white beach dress, taking off her sunglasses to reveal her bright blue eyes.


“It’s gorgeous. I don’t have to tell you that. Don’t you miss the sun? Even a little bit?”


“You know I don’t, Aimee,” her mother said, laughing slightly. “The sun became synonymous with my anger. And that hotel—I couldn’t take the stress of it anymore. I always felt like we were moments from going under.”


Aimee swallowed, her throat tight and dry. “Mommy. That’s actually why I’m calling.”


She felt weak, dilapidated, and she yearned for the comfort of her mother’s embrace. She hadn’t wanted to see her father in the week since she’d learned of the bankruptcy. With her eyes closed, she found flashes of memories; the three of them walking the beach at dusk, orange light dancing on their faces.


“Don’t tell me the bastard has really done it?” her mother asked harshly, suddenly angry. “He’s given it all away, hasn’t he?”


“It’s not his fault—” Aimee whispered, sensing, at first, that she needed to protect the man her mother had divorced years before. “He has a problem.”


Her mother scoffed. She muttered slightly, under her breath, and then went back to mom-mode. “Don’t worry, Aimee. My darling Aimee. You don’t have to stay in Monaco forever, you know. Come to Seattle. Go to college and get an education. You’re such a smart girl, honey. Don’t throw it all away for a daydream, not like I did.”


“But you were happy, Mom,” Aimee whispered.


“But that doesn’t always last forever. And when I left, I didn’t have anything to fall back on. The world is hard enough without people like your father gambling all they have away.” Her mother paused, breathing heavily, agitated. “Aimee, I never should have left Monaco without you. I knew that bastard would ruin everything—I couldn’t care less about him, but for you to have to go through this!”


“I wanted to stay, Mom. And I still do,” Aimee retorted, anger bubbling within her. “I just have to find a way to make it work.”


“Well. While you figure out how complicated the real world is, I’ll prepare a life for you here,” her mother said firmly. “Just let me know when your flight arrives. I’ll pick you up from the airport.” She paused, her motherly words echoing over the line. “And Aimee?”


Aimee exhaled from her nose, trying to quell her anger. “What is it?”


“You won’t be disappointed about changing your life. I’m not. And I used to think Monaco was the whole world.”


Aimee hung up the phone after a brief goodbye, her fingers shaking with confusion and unrest. A small, aching part of her understood that her mother was right—that Monaco wasn’t the entire world, that the allure of billionaire lifestyles, of yachts that stretched beneath the constant summer sky, would hold no room for her, especially when she grew beyond her mid-20s and into her 30s and 40s. That would be the end of her Monaco lifespan, if she even made it that long. Her mother had made it into her late 40s, and yet, happiness had long fled from her face. Loneliness had been her bedfellow as Aimee’s father had been persuaded by the blackjack tables to ruin their marriage, their family.


Perhaps her offer was the only lifeboat Aimee would find. But that burn of desire, that feeling that she would never grow old—the electrifying hours she’d spent with Enrico the previous week—kept her tied to Monaco.


Suddenly, the reception phone began to ring. Aimee sighed, sensing her mother’s temper flaring back over the ocean. Ever the diligent receptionist, she pushed her shoulders back and lifted the phone, finding her customer service voice.


“Good morning, you’re through to the Delacroix. How may we assist you?” She glanced around the lobby, watching a single chef march from the kitchens out toward the glimmering sunshine. Otherwise, she was alone.


“Hello?” she spoke once more, sensing a bad connection. She swallowed, spinning a pen in her fingers. “Is anyone there?”


Finally, a voice came through the speaker. “Aimee Delacroix. So good to hear your voice.”


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