Echo:A Dark Billionaire Romance(3)

By: A Zavarelli

None of Brayden’s friends had money. But this guy did. It was clear he didn’t belong in a Podunk township south of Chicago. And yet he was perfectly at ease, touching my things and taking no notice of me as I lingered just a few feet away. He adjusted the last remaining pieces of the game and set it on the table. But before he pulled away, he performed an odd ritual of aligning it to the blunt edges.

And then his eyes shot up to mine.

I drew in a sharp breath. Because now that I could see them, they were seriously blue and seriously intense. And he was looking at me like I was a shiny new toy.

Nobody had ever looked at me that way. I swallowed the gallon of sand lodged in my throat as I gestured to the cube.

“How did you do that?”

A slow smile crept across his face as he rose up to his full height, cocking his head to the side.

“It’s Brighton, right?”

“Um, yeah.” I gave an awkward shrug.

“I know your brother,” he said. “And it’s all just a matter of knowing how to play the game, Brighton.”

His eyes raked over me, and nerves I never knew existed flared to life. I had to tell myself to remember to breathe when he took a step closer. Something predatory lingered in that gaze. Something that told me I should leave, right now.

“Do you know how?” he asked.

“I don’t…” I stuttered over the words, trying to find something intelligible to say. My default setting was awkward and shy, and my experience with men was limited. But the way this one looked at me made me feel like a woman. Like a woman whose world he wanted to set on fire.

“I could teach you,” he offered. “In fact, I think it would be quite entertaining.”

The ominous undertones in those words made me shiver, but I didn’t retreat. I couldn’t explain it. I’d never done anything dangerous in my life. This man screamed danger, and yet he had some kind of gravitational pull that drew me closer. I’d never felt anything like it before.

It was electric.

And it was also wrong on so many levels. I was sixteen, and he was clearly… not. This was a man. A man with a jaw that hadn’t seen a razor in at least a few days. Real stubble adorned those hard lines, not the peach fuzz I was used to seeing. And yet he didn’t seem to factor that in as he took another step closer.

His mouth was inches from mine now, his breath so close it skated across my skin. I got this crazy notion he was going to kiss me. My stomach dipped, and disappointment washed over me when he reached past me instead.

He plucked one of the lilac blooms that had grown over the porch railing, cradling it in his palm. Petals fell from the bloom and drifted to the ground, only to be carried away a moment later by the breeze. An odd coldness came over his features as he crushed the bloom in his hand and discarded it over the railing.

He dragged his eyes back to me. “It’s funny, isn’t it?”

“What is?”

“How you and I can almost relate at this moment. I didn’t expect that.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

His fingers came up to linger near my face, but he stopped himself before he could touch me.

“Brayden,” he said. “You can feel him slipping away.”

My knees buckled as the floodgates of pain and guilt opened up inside of my chest. I tried to grab onto the railing, but the stranger wouldn’t let me. He pulled me into his arms, stroking my hair as he pressed my face against his chest.

It was an intimate act, and I didn’t know him, but at the moment it felt right. It felt like exactly what I needed. I shuddered and squeezed my burning eyes shut, trying to stay strong. I promised Brayden I wouldn’t cry today, and I’d broken that promise several times already.

The stranger tipped my chin in his hand, forcing my gaze to his. And when those gunmetal blue eyes connected to mine, my resolve washed away. Tears flooded my cheeks as pain threatened to swallow me whole.

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