The Billionaire's Ballet (Friends with Benefits)

By: Deanna Roy

But Quinn wasn’t part of the group.

His older brother Bennett stood alone near the door of the house, drinking something from a short glass. His face shifted my way and I jumped behind the stone wall, praying he hadn’t seen me. He was the type to investigate if he thought something was awry.

When I looked again, though, he had turned to go inside.

He paused to talk to someone just beyond the outer door, then moved aside. It was Quinn! The brothers nodded at each other, and Quinn headed out to the patio. He was holding a bottle of wine and two glasses. A white towel was draped over his arm.

No! Surely not the girl in the pool.

But he only tossed a towel to her. I let out a long breath. The blond girl was still there in her shimmery dress. She smiled shyly as he handed her a glass.

They walked toward the back gate, the one that led to the barn. I couldn’t help myself, but hurried along the wall until I reached the corner.

I peeked around. Quinn and the girl were moving toward the stables. My heart clenched.

Quinn often took girls back to the horse barn. I had heard him joke about “a roll in the hay.” This was not something I ever spied on, but tonight was different. I felt pulled by an invisible force.

The two of them were oblivious to me. I sprinted from tree to tree, keeping to the shadows. Quinn opened the door and stepped aside to let the girl enter ahead of him.

I rushed to the opposite side of the barn where the feed was loaded in. After a quick fumble with the combination lock, I ducked inside, feeling my way in the dark.

I knew it well, having come to visit my blue mare Jezebelle often these eight years since that fateful birthday. I stuck my hand in the grain bag and grasped a fistful, my alibi if I should be caught. Saying good-bye to my horse the night before I left might seem sentimental and silly, but it would make sense.

Laughter in the main corridor between the stalls made me pause. I cracked the door to the feed room and watched Quinn set the wine and glasses on a shelf. He took the girl in his arms.

The barn was clean and the floor smooth. A single lamp high on the wall was the only dim light.

They danced together a moment in the silence, the girl still awkward, but game to try. I closed my eyes as he leaned in for a kiss. I imagined it were me there instead.

When I opened them again, the girl was pulling away. “Too much wine already,” she said with a small laugh. “Nature calls.”

Quinn pointed down the corridor to the bathroom, just past a little break room where the horse trainers always had lunch.

I leaned farther to watch her go, trying to figure out if she was tipsy. But the door was cracked too much and flew open, dumping me unceremoniously out onto the floor.

Quinn whirled around. “What the hell?” Then he saw me and hurried forward. “Jules! Are you all right?”

My face burned hot as he knelt on one knee in front of me. He smelled like pine woods and dark beer. He held out a hand to help me up.

I took it and realized too late it still had bits of grain stuck to it. Even so, he smiled and brought me to my feet. When he let go, he brushed his palm against his jeans. “Saying good-bye to Jezebelle?” he asked.

I nodded, struck mute by my proximity to him while I was wearing so little.

“You okay?” Quinn asked. He punched me lightly on the arm. “Did you sneak some of the party liquor?”

I struggled to keep myself together. Despite my age, he viewed me as a kid. He had grown up, but I was still ten to him. The three years between us were huge now. And I was leaving home to become my own person. I had been foolish to think our situation could ever be any other way.

“Cat got your tongue?” he asked.

“No,” I said, shaking my head. “It’s just a big night.”

“I’ll say,” Quinn said. “You should have come to the party. Made it a going-away thing.”

I wanted to chide him for saying that now, when it was too late, but then he had never thought of things like that. He seemed oblivious to how my birthdays were always held out in the guesthouse or on the pavilion out by the tank. Never inside the walls of the estate.

He glanced behind me, and I wondered if the girl was back. But she must not have been, because he opened the door to the feed room and grasped his own handful of grain. “Let’s go tell the old girl good-bye,” he said.

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