The Bad Boy Billionaire's Wicked Arrangement by Maya Rodale

Chapter One

New York Public Library

AS THE FUTURE Mrs. Sam Chase, I never went to glamorous and raucous New York City parties like this. It was no place for the likes of me: a girl who had planned on a life of Vera Wang Blanc Sur Blanc china patterns, baby names straight from most-popular list, and a house on leafy Brook Street in the town where Sam and I, high school sweethearts, had grown up, fallen in love and planned to live happily-freaking-after.

Plans. Ha.

These days I was just Jane, jilted Jane, on my own and out of place at this mad crush of a party, an event known as The Hush Party, hosted by the gossip website Gawker.com.

By day I worked here in the New York Public library as Library Assistant.

But tonight . . .

The reading room on the top floor had been taken over by a thousand fashionable, pretty young things. Under soaring ceilings and arched windows overlooking the breathtaking city skyline, a string quartet played Vivaldi. But everyone was dancing to thumping club music broadcast only through the wireless headphones everyone wore.

Civilization, meet debauchery.

It was like two different parties under one roof. I didn’t quite belong to either of them.

I stood above it all on the narrow balcony that lined the room. Behind me, a wall of books. Before me, a delicate iron railing that seemed insufficient restraint. I watched people dance to the club music pumping through their headphones. Heads were bopping and h*ps were shaking in time to a beat that I was deaf to. Arms were waving in time to a song I couldn’t hear. Drinks in hand, people danced wildly where students usually studied in silence at long tables.

Nearly everyone wore black domino masks. One had been handed to me when I arrived with my friend and roommate, Roxanna, but I had lost her in the crowd. I felt too foolish to wear it on my own.

Like a wallflower, I hovered, watching the party unfold around me. Present but not a part of it. My fingers twitched around the mask. If only I dared to put it on. I wore the headphones around my neck and felt the vibrations of the bass thumping against my collarbone. If only I dared . . .

I took a sip from my glass of champagne and felt a twinge of guilt. The sign said, “NO CAMERAS, FOOD OR BEVERAGES IN THE READING ROOM.” I was not in the habit of breaking the rules. Ever.

Except for tonight.

Where had being good gotten me anyway?

I took another, small defiant sip of the champagne. My gaze once again settled on a certain guy. I couldn’t figure him out no matter how often I glanced at him from my perch on the balcony. He was dressed down in a grey fitted T-shirt and dark jeans. His hair was a tousled mess, his jaw was strong and unshaven. It was nearly midnight, but he looked like he’d just rolled out of bed.

I easily imaged him as one of the pirates and rogues I read about in historical romance novels. It wasn’t just how he looked, either, but the way he moved through the crowd. Really, the man swaggered. Everyone turned to greet him. He grinned, shook hands firmly, and laughed. The girls gave him flirtatious smiles followed by longing glances as he passed them by.

Obviously, he belonged here. Obviously, he was SOMEONE.

I had no idea who. Roxanna, my roommate and writer of gossip and salacious tales for the website Jezebel.com would surely know. While she had gotten me into the party, I’d lost track of her hours ago.

I strolled along the balcony, following that guy with my eyes, and tracing my fingers along the spines of all the leather volumes of old encyclopedias and other reference books. I didn’t quite belong here but Sam had made it clear I didn’t belong with him anymore, either.

I had been expecting a proposal and I had gotten dumped instead, all because I was the kind of girl who didn’t wear the mask, the kind of girl who felt guilty about drinking champagne in the library, the kind of girl who didn’t break the rules. The kind of girl who didn’t.

I had moved to New York City to escape all that. Yet here I was, clinging to the shadows, hovering around the perimeter of the room like a prim spinster. That wasn’t who I wanted to be.

That guy happened to glance up my way. Our gazes locked from across the room. His eyes were dark and intently focused on me. It went to my head, that look, and silenced sense and reason.

I swallowed the rest of my champagne.

I put on the mask.

And then I followed that guy.

AND THEN I wished I hadn’t.

Black mask over my eyes, I slid into the crowd trying to make my way through as they pushed and pulsed against me. I lost him, but managed occasional glimpses when the crowd parted.

I saw him push through double doors leading to the rare books room, a small, cozy chamber that was usually off limits.

I followed, fighting my conscience every step of the way. What was I doing?

You don’t know him, Jane.

Dear Self: Shut up. I’m trying not to be so safe and boring.

I waited a moment and the pushed through the doors and plunged into the dimly lit room. Only one or two small bulbs hanging over the center of the room illuminated enough to show dark shadows and bookshelves. I wandered through, getting lost in the shadows and the stacks. That is, until I heard noises.

Laughter, soft erotic kind.

Gasps and groans, the sexy kind.

Oh God. I had followed him, captivated like a fool, and he was having some assignation. God, I sounded like a relic using words like assignation. Clearly I had been reading too many Regency romance novels. Jeez. Alas, I had intruded upon his illicit midnight rendezvous.

Except it wasn’t illicit because this was the twenty-first century and this was what people did and it was OK. But I was interrupting his hook-up and that was not OK.

Thank God I had put this mask on. Thank God it was dark. Thank God my clothes were dark—charcoal grey pencil skirt and thin, black cashmere sweater set—so I could better blend in to the shadows. Thank God he didn’t know me. All I had to do was just quietly slip out and forevermore remember why I was a girl who didn’t.

I turned to go, taking a few steps before walking straight into a wall of books.

“Ow. Damn.”

The couple paused in their sighs and moans. For just a moment, the sounds of a frantic kiss ceased.

There really ought to be better lighting in these facilities. For safety’s sake. Just the right amount so a girl could make a discreet exit without injuring herself. Resolved to speak to the janitorial staff about it tomorrow, I inched along, tracing my fingers along the spines of books as a guide.

More laughter.

More heavy breathing.

The sounds of a kiss turning to something else.

I turned the corner at the end of the row of tall stacks. In the faint lighting I could just make out three aisles of shelves running perpendicular down the room. They were only waist high. The party people had littered the tops with empty beer bottles and half-drunk glasses of wine and champagne. Masks were strewn about, as well as stray sets of headphones with the thumping bass pumping through faintly.

Now was not the time to tidy up, however much I was struck by the inclination. You’re too neat, Jane. You’re too “just so,” Jane.

“Shut up,” I whispered to the voice of Sam in my head. I took a deep breath. There were only two ways out of this room. I could double back and attempt to navigate the darkest, farthest aisles—hopefully not encountering That Guy and his very loud girlfriend.

Or I could go directly toward the door. On my hands and knees so that I wouldn’t be seen. I didn’t know where the couple was in this cursed room. They could be anywhere.

I did not want to be seen. I didn’t know That Guy and he definitely didn’t know me. We ought to keep it that way. I certainly didn’t want to meet him under these circumstances.

There was a shuffling noise. I held my breath, waiting. More sighs and more moans.

I dropped to my hands and knees and started crawling and I started praying that I’d get out of this room without being discovered in such a ridiculous position. Of all the things I’d been wishing for lately—Sam to want me back, a book deal, a pay raise, a new dress from J.Crew—getting out of here undiscovered was top of the list.

The sighs got louder. So did the murmurs and moans. Either this girl was a drama queen or That Guy Was. That. Good. For a moment, I paused, wondering what it would be like to completely disregard any sense of decency, respectability and get it on in a public place.

Once upon a time I’d had the chance. It had been during study hall, senior year. C’mon Jane . . . Meet me in the stacks. Sam had grinned, sliding his finger in through the belt loop on my skinny jeans, playfully trying to tug me along for an illicit rendezvous in the local public library. I had laughed nervously and pushed him away.

Tonight I wondered: What if I could ditch my unyielding sense of modesty and wrap my legs around a man as he took me up against a wall of books? What if I didn’t bite back sighs, moans and cries from the touch of a man determined to bring me to the brink of outrageous pleasure?

I didn’t do it back then. Instead I had told the love of my life, “Shhh . . . We’ll get in trouble.”

I should have said yes. Because he never asked me again.

I definitely should not have shushed then—or now. I knew the rush of that shaming, condemning hiss had escaped my lips when that girl fell quiet.

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