The Billionaire's Ballet (Friends with Benefits)

By: Deanna Roy

We walked along the stalls until we came to the one at the end. Quinn opened the top half of the door. Jezebelle shuffled forward, her ears pricked.

“Hello, girl,” Quinn said. “Up for a midnight snack? Last one from your lady.”

He lifted my hand and my heart stuttered. His mischievous eyes met mine for a moment, and everything I’d ever loved about him blasted at me with the power of a freight train.

I imagined him pressing a kiss to my palm, and my breath froze in my chest.

But he only poured half the grain into my hand. Then he held his out to the horse. “Here you go, old girl,” he said. “I’ll come and let you know how Jules is doing.” He glanced back at me with another twinkle of his eyes. “As long as she stays in touch.”

“Of course I will,” I said, trying to force the tremble out of my voice. I held out my hand. Jezebelle’s warm mouth nuzzled into my palm. My chest tightened. I was leaving her too. Everybody and everything I loved. I could barely stand it.

Footsteps came down the corridor. We turned to the blond girl, who looked startled to see me. Her eyes glanced at my outfit and then rested questioningly on Quinn.

“Daughter of one of the staff,” he said. “Has lived here since she was born, right, Jules?”

I nodded.

The girl seemed mollified. “You had some wine for me?” she asked.

Quinn backed away from the stall, brushing his hands together. “That I do.” He gave me a little pat on the head, like I was four. “Good luck tomorrow, Jules. You’ll do great in the Big Apple.”

They headed off down the hall, pausing only to pick up the wine and glasses from the shelf. I turned back to Jezebelle, flooded with despair. It wasn’t right. I’d known Quinn forever. How could I leave him?

Fat tears rolled down my cheeks. Jezebelle moved close and I leaned into her, resting my forehead on her nose. Long moments passed as I sobbed into her soft coat.

“He’s never going to know, is he?” I asked her. “I’m going to leave and he’ll never know how I feel.”

Jezebelle whinnied quietly.

“I can’t even tell him now, because of that girl,” I said. “But I can say it to you, Jezebelle.”

I stood up straight, my hand still on her nose. “Quinn Daniel Claremont, I am madly in love with you. I have been all my life. And I always will be!”

A sound in the stable made me jump away from my horse. God! Were they back? And laughing at me for my pronouncement? My face flamed. I couldn’t bear it.

I turned, chin high, ready to stay strong and bold. At least now Quinn would know.

But the figure standing by the feed room door wasn’t Quinn.

It was Bennett, his older brother.

“Sorry to startle you,” he said smoothly.

My cheeks burned again. I barely knew Bennett, but Quinn had always told me how uptight he was. Couldn’t have a bit of fun if you paid him to do it.

“I was just saying good-bye to my horse,” I said.

Bennett nodded. “She’s a lovely mare.” He stepped toward the stall.

His nearness made my skin prickle. Bennett was formidable, tall and imposing. He didn’t wear jeans, not ever, and loomed over me in his khakis and sport coat.

He smelled expensive, like aftershave and fresh linen. His eyes flitted over my outfit, and I had to resist the urge to cover myself.

His hand slid down Jezebelle’s nose. For some reason, the sight of his long fingers trailing along her muzzle made me shiver. A tingling sensation ran through my body.

“We’ll take good care of her for you,” he said.

He knew I was leaving? I couldn’t imagine he had time to pay any mind to the actions of the dance teacher’s illegitimate daughter. I felt my station acutely. I had nothing, and he had everything. My own mother’s livelihood depended on him now that his retched old father was gone. Bennett ran the family business and kept the estate.

“Thank you,” I finally managed to say. “She’s a good horse.”

“I hear you have your mother’s talent,” he said. “I’m sure you will do well.”

I took a few steps back. “Thank you again,” I said. Maybe he hadn’t heard anything I had said about Quinn. I was eager to get away.

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