Mr. Million Meets His Match was my entry for a Cosmo/Wattpad short story contest. Since readers loved it and kept asking for updates, I’ve decided to team up with my publisher SOOP for making it into an ebook with a bonus chapter. It hasn’t been released yet, and once I finish writing RED 2: Mirrors, I may expand Mr. Million to a full novel. We’ll see…
Here you can enjoy a taste of Mr. Million—you’ll have fun, I promise!
1. A Mysterious Date
I PEER NERVOUSLY outside the window and follow the fall of a solitary leaf. It twirls and dances and somersaults in the cool breeze, until it lands on the hood of a black Bentley three stories below. It’s his car. It’s here for me. I’m on the verge of plunging into the unknown. Should I go ahead and do it? I shiver. It’s autumn in Paris, and as the temperature drops, a veil of mist gleams in the light. Down on the street, the shiny Bentley stretches a long shadow under the diffuse light of a lamppost.
I’m not used to having impromptu rendezvous with virtual strangers, and I barely know this man. He attracts me like a magnet but also unsettles me like no one else. He mentioned a mysterious contract, which filled my head with a parade of flouncing red flags. I’m a bit paranoid. Just a tiny itsy-bitsy. If I’m meeting the guy, I’d rather be prepared.
I’ll take the knife.
As I move away from the window, I try to make sense of what just happened today.
I was at a vintage bookstore in Le Marais earlier this afternoon. Surrounded by the soothing smell of chestnut wood and old paper, I was leafing through Les Misérables when I raised my head from the yellowed pages.
I found myself before the most mesmerizing pair of eyes. Cool blue. Like a glacier reflecting the skies. Their intensity scorched me with unexpected heat.
“I take it you enjoy the classics,” the owner of those perfect eyes said in perfect French.
“I… oui.” I muttered, unable to suppress a quiver.
“I’m looking for a good novel. Maybe you could help me choose an antique edition.” He paused. “I like leather bound.”
Such a simple, short sentence—and yet it felt as if he wasn’t talking of books at all. I nodded and caught myself gaping as he closed the distance between us.
I could tell he had a lean build under his gray coat, and at such close range he appeared even taller. It was hard to concentrate on anything besides his blue eyes and Adonis face framed by dark brown hair.
I made an effort and asked: “What are you looking for?”
One rare copy of The Brothers Karamazov later, he invited me for coffee in a small cafe around the corner. We switched to English and talked for about a half hour, until he excused himself to attend a business meeting. He wanted, however, to discuss a contract with me this evening. He didn’t provide any details, only a spellbinding smirk. As I gave him my address so his driver could pick me up, I wondered what had possessed me to agree to that.
Adrian Million is his name, which is kind of interesting—he appears to be quite wealthy, judging by his impeccable attire and platinum watch that flickers at each millimetric gesture. He’s an American entrepreneur with some French blood from a distant past, hence his French surname. Thirty-something, divorced, likes classic books and strong coffee. And his scent, masculine and fresh, reminds me of spring water streaming in the forest.
What bugs me is he seems too good to be true. Gorgeous, intelligent, successful… So what’s the catch? I sense something else behind his irreproachable façade. He intrigues me. I should have googled him, but between errands and getting ready I didn’t have time. Not that Wikipedia’s gonna tell me if he is a pervert or serial killer.
I hope Adrian Million doesn’t turn out to be a psychopath. I’m an editor specializing in crime novels and I read a lot about the subject. Psychopaths weave their web of illusion to charm you and then attack. Some even win dating contests on TV, like Rodney Alcala. Others may rule companies or have you for dinner—or both. Reality can be stranger than fiction, and fictional characters carry traits of reality in them. I think of Dexter. He only punishes the bad guys. Hannibal, on the other hand…
What if the elusive Mr. Million enjoys dead girls for dessert?
That would present a terrible conflict of interests.
So before leaving for my cryptic date, I swing by the kitchen to grab a respectable-sized stainless steel knife I’ve sharpened earlier at lunchtime. I slip it into my purse and head for the coat rack. I wrap myself in a burgundy velvet cape and let my hair hang free—a brown mane with slippery tendencies that could use some styling, but I’ve given up trying to teach new tricks to an old dog. When I check my reflection in the mirror, my dark eyes stare back at me suspiciously with a last thread of doubt. I cut it loose and depart.
I live in an old four-story building in the 9ème Arrondissement, which carries a smell of nostalgia and no elevator. The wooden stairs creak as I begin a slow descent, cautious not to trip with my stiletto boots. While gripping the banister, I reason the health hazard they pose is more than compensated by their fabulous, dramatic black gloss. This evening, however, their clic-clac sounds ominous.
Once I step onto the sidewalk, Mr. Million’s driver rushes to open the Bentley door for me. Under his cap I see a pair of Arabian eyes. Dark and tall, dressed in a black uniform, he doesn’t utter a word and limits his communication to a curt nod as I take the back seat. In a minute, the car is rolling swiftly along the streets, passing by monuments and parks and fountains, pausing at traffic lights that hover above closed stores and old-fashioned restaurants.
Then we leave the city.
At one junction we steer away from the main road, winding down a narrow path escorted by the silhouettes of pine trees against a gloomy sky. No moon or stars, just the car headlights sweeping the pavement. I’m growing really nervous and butterflies swarm in my stomach. I double-check my purse and touch the knife for reassurance.
Mon Dieu. I don’t feel reassured at all. Here I am with this sinister driver in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by darkness like in some horror film. But it’s too late to turn back. A security guard is already opening tall iron gates to the manicured landscape ahead.
At the end of a tunnel of oak trees, I see it. My destination.
It’s an 18th-century mansion featuring two stories, pale walls and flame-shaped windows panned with stained glass. It looms in the distance sprinkling stardust of glowing colors into the night. The silent driver follows the tree-lined path, skirts a circular hedge in front of the mansion and pulls up to the curb. He opens the door for me and offers another nod while gesturing toward the building. Then he drives away.
Now I’m alone with the vanishing sound of wheels and the icy hum of wind in the trees.
If I scream in this desolate place, no one will hear me.
I think seductive strangers with pieces of cloth and chloroform. I think drugs in cups of coffee. Sex slaves locked up in basements. Corpses in bathtubs, suitcases and freezers. Women in white gowns strangled in the woods. Ravens croaking nevermore, nevermore, nevermore.
Mon Dieu. I’m so doomed.
2. Ravel’s Bolero
Me and my butterflies. They’re my only company and keep proliferating by the minute.
I stand indecisive at the entrance and for the tenth time glance over my shoulder at the moving shadows behind me. My heart pounds in my ears. Swallowing hard, I raise my hand to the brass lion knocker. Before I even touch it, the door opens to reveal a warm stream of light.
First I startle. Then all the horrific images haunting me are dispelled.
“Good evening, Miss Genet.”
“Bonsoir, Mr. Million.”
His eyes linger on mine and mesmerize me again… I have a weakness for barefoot men in ripped jeans and a white shirt. Well, I actually don’t. At least, not until now. But this… but him. Mr. Million, stripped of his businesslike appearance, boasts an irresistible casualness. The jeans hang low around his narrow hips, and the shirt has only the three middle buttons done, hinting at his muscular torso.
“I thought I heard the car a while ago and began to worry about you.”
“I was admiring the garden,” I reply quickly.
His forehead creases for a moment as he glimpses at the darkness outside before closing the door.
“I’m glad you came. Welcome to my pied-à-terre in France.”
A disconcerting smirk buds on his lips as he envelops my hand in the warmth of his for one second too long. The touch is subtle yet leaves me instantly shaky.
I smile back, and my heart’s speed-dial goes up a notch. Sternly I remind myself I’m here to address work. Or whatever it is we’ll be discussing.
We cross the foyer adorned with antique furniture and Persian rugs, pass by a curved stairway and enter a study filled with the mellow notes of Ravel’s La Valse. The setting makes me feel in an old movie: French doors draped in heavy green curtains, a vast bookcase, a black-lacquered piano and a fireplace. Above the mantel, the rectangular mirror reflects twin crystal chandeliers and abstract paintings. The coffee table faces a crackling fire, surrounded by a cream leather sofa and two rococo chaise lounges. It bears an impressive bronze statuette of a faun and a bottle of wine sided by a pair of glasses, an elaborate corkscrew and two black linen napkins. The Brothers Karamazov lies on it next to a manila folder.
“I figured we would be warmer here than in the living area. I dismissed the servants to ensure our privacy,” Million clarifies. “Allow me…”
He moves behind me and rests his hands on my shoulders to take my cape. His fingers become a whisper of silk on my bare skin. Then he’s standing in front of me. His gaze covers the distance from the narrow straps of my black dress to the hemline below my knees. Following the route of his crystalline eyes, a long shiver trails my body.
I didn’t want to show up overdressed, so I went for sparse makeup and a simple, light wool pencil dress, matching it with ruby stud earrings and nothing else—a nonchalant effect that cost me one hour of indecision and a Mount Everest of discarded clothes. Now I wish I had gone for baggy pants and an oversized sweater.
I feel so exposed under his scrutiny. Servants dismissed. Oh dear. All alarms go off in my head and I clutch the handle of my purse. Mr. Million gently lifts my fingers one by one, taking it from me. I moisten my dried-out lips when he steps away to leave my belongings on the chaise lounge next to the fireplace.
“Are you thirsty, Miss Genet? Would you care for some wine?”
“Yes, please.” I fake confidence and spill out before I can deter my big mouth: “And you can call me Annabelle.”
“Annabelle.” He savors each syllable, lost in thought. “Interesting name.”
“So why exactly am I here, Mr. Million?”
“You mentioned a contract… Adrian.”
“Two, in fact.”
He leads me to the sofa and we sit side by side facing the fire.
“You said earlier you like challenges. I happen to have just acquired a publishing house in Seattle and need a competent editor to head the business. I’m prepared to compensate you generously for your expertise and the trouble of relocating to the US.”
“What makes you think I’m the right person for the job? You barely know me.”
“Oh, I do know you.” His smile comes charged with subtext. “I saw the passion for books on your face while we were at the bookstore. And I’ve researched your qualifications. A Sorbonne master degree in literature and five years of experience in a leading French publisher. Quite impressive for a twenty-six-year-old woman.”
I stare at him, disarmed by his assertiveness.
“And the second contract?” I venture without dissimulating my curiosity.
Adrian doesn’t respond immediately. He takes his time uncorking the wine. It’s a Romanée-Conti, probably worth a few thousand dollars. He pours an inch into a glass, swirls and sniffs it with a satisfied expression before sipping. He fills the other glass for me and helps himself to some more of the ruby liquid.
“To fascinating encounters in Paris,” he toasts.
“To peace on earth,” I counter vaguely to avoid getting too personal. “So you were going to explain the second contract to me?”
“Taste the wine. It’s one of the best. Did you notice there’s a feminine personality to it? I thought it would sit well with you.”
“Very nice, thanks.”
For its price tag, this wine can be anything. Feminine, masculine, hermaphrodite. It’s elegant for sure. Velvety and intricate, with a note of flowers, fruit and wood.
“The second contract?” I insist.
“We’ll get to that once you make yourself comfortable.”
He rests his glass on the table and kneels before me. His long fingers find the hemline of my wool dress and lift it. The beginning of Ravel’s Bolero floats around the room, its gradual and suspenseful cadence setting the tone to my body’s reactions. With wide eyes, I stiffen and seek my purse. Of course, it’s happily sitting out of reach on the far end of that stupid rococo chair. I grip the embroidered cushion by my side, ready to throw it for diversion if necessary.
In an endless maneuver that brings me chills, Adrian removes my long boots, first one, then the other. He proceeds to glide his hands on my legs until he reaches my knees. He lingers there in a caress for an almost imperceptible moment. In no hurry, he moves up to my thighs. Under the wool.
He keeps moving. My heart falters…
My breathing stills.
I clutch the cushion…
I’m ready to throw it.
He stops. I breathe in relief.
But not for long.
Adrian hooks his fingers in the silicone bands of my stockings and slowly rolls them to uncover my legs. His hands skim over my bristled skin as they adjust the dress hem. They trace a tingling path downward to encase my bare foot. Fingers press my toes with precision, palms stroke the rest with temptation. The fluid motions tantalize me in a way that sends shooting stars straight to… there. I’m in sheer turmoil. Mon Dieu. What’s going on?
His eyes never leave mine, holding me captive. He’s the predator. I’m the prey.
This is what’s going on.
I’m aware I probably sent him mixed signals. It’s his damn fault—I’m pretty sure I’ve read somewhere it should be illegal to be this good-looking.
“Maybe you should stop massaging my foot. It doesn’t seem quite… professional.”
“We’re no longer in professional territory, Annabelle. Are you comfortable?”
“I’m fine,” I blurt out. My body melts at his contact and I fight to resist. Leaning over, I push his hands away. Our faces are only inches apart. “Let’s cut to the chase. Why am I here? This editorial job is not for real, is it?”
“It actually is.” He doesn’t flinch. Sitting on the couch, he retrieves the manila folder from the table and passes it on to me. “The second offer is of a different nature, though. Here’s the contract for your evaluation.”
With that, he picks up The Brothers Karamazov to engage in his own reading session while I open the folder on my lap. It holds ten pages clipped together, and my eyes travel along the clauses with increasing astonishment. I was expecting anything but this. At one point, I raise my eyes to meet Adrian’s gaze on me, the book forgotten in his hands. I hold back a startle and blush, the strap of my dress slipping off my shoulder to make things worse. I straighten it at the speed of light and bury my burning face in the contract.
When I’m done with the last page, I have no idea what I’ve just read. I close the folder and return it to the table. Disparate clauses simmer in my brain: total obedience, rules for food and sleep, and something about not setting me on fire.
Adrian lays his book aside. He regards me intently. His irises darken.
“What do you think?”
I shake my head, in search of a reply. I’m at a loss.
“You must be kidding, right?” I chuckle at last, and grow ill at ease. “What’s with all the submissive stuff? That’s preposterous.”
For the first time this evening, Adrian is deadly serious. He arches one eyebrow and, despite my bravado, I’m intimidated.
“Any comments, Annabelle?”
“Look, Mr. Million—“
“Look, Adrian… I’m glad you don’t do children, animals or body waste,” it’s my feeble attempt at a joke.
His demeanor remains grave, which only serves to fuel my nervousness.
“Well,” I keep rambling, “the clause about your control over what I eat… For one thing, I like a buttery croissant first thing in the morning and there’s no way I’m giving up that.”
“So?” he asks unmoved.
His indifference stirs me, shaking off my discomfit and nervousness.
How dare he mess with them.
I’m mad at Adrian for dragging me over here to discuss such an outrageous proposition. I empty my glass in one go—flower, fruit and wood twirling in my mouth and delivering a thirteen percent alcoholic blast through my veins. I feel quite hot.
I level my eyes to his as I speak: “Welcome to the 21st century, Mr. Million. If you want control, find yourself a dog to train.” I’m beside myself and ready to leave. “And if you’re all for French, get a Poodle.”
Then I hiccup—which ruins the impact of my speech. He stares at me amused.
“What?” I snap as I start rising to my feet.
“I see the kitty has claws.”
“Oh please. Ça vas pas, eh? That’s beyond lame.”
“Is it?” He stands up too, dangerously close. “You know, I can provide you with far better things than croissants.”
We initiate a little dance to the Bolero’s crescendo.
I retreat one step.
“Like what, Mr. Million? You think money will buy you anything you want?”
He advances one step.
“I’m used to having things my way. And for the last time, call me Adrian.”
I move around the coffee table to reach my purse.
“I’m not for sale, Adrian.”
He follows me in hot pursuit.
“I’ve never implied that, Annabelle.”
I near the chaise lounge, but before I manage to snatch the purse, he corners me. I back off until the fireplace frame brings me to a stop and I’m flat against the brick surface. Adrian cages me between his arms and our lips almost touch. I shrink, feeling the blaze of the fire and the blaze of his eyes.
“Let me go.”
In response, he grabs my wrists, holding my arms above my head, pinning me to the wall with one iron hand. And with his free hand… Oh là là. What is he doing…?
Adrian’s envelops my thigh with his hand as he lifts my dress to arrive at the vertex of my legs. He unceremoniously pushes my silky panties aside and rubs his thumb on my clitoris in a circular caress. Now another finger explores the inside of me, sliding in an out, taunting sensitive spots no virtual stranger should ever taunt. Oh. Mon. Dieu. I close my eyes, unable to cope with the havoc of sensations he awakes in me. I hate myself for reacting so promptly to his offensive.
“Listen, Annabelle,” he whispers. “I usually don’t take no for an answer.”
“This is sexual harassment,” I manage to retort in a thread of voice.
“It’s not harassment if it’s consensual.”
Adrian deepens his finger, eliciting a reluctant moan from me. Dammit. I’m not giving him any credit though. I still have at least a shred of dignity to tend.
“This could hardly be called consensual.”
“I would never touch you if you didn’t want me, Annabelle. Let me show you…”
He adjusts my panties with a tug upward for a final tease. I’m left throbbing as he recoils his hand, brings one glistening finger to his mouth and sucks it thoroughly. Then he runs his tongue between my parted lips to give me a sample of the salty and sweet flavor of my own arousal.
“This tastes fairly consensual to me. Now it’s my turn to say we cut to the chase. I have wanted you since I first saw you. I know you want me too.”
“You’re mistaken. This is merely a physical reaction. I respond the same way to my minishower,” I lie.
And he reads right through me.
“Somehow I doubt your minishower makes you feel like this,” he says in a husky voice as he crushes me with his chest and a massive erection.
Adrian rocks his hips against mine and seizes my breasts. He strokes the flesh smoothly and pinches it as if to punish me. And all the while his piercing eyes tell everything he intends to do to me, until I’m breathless and my knees are weak. He releases my wrists, pulls me into his arms and seeks my mouth. I spin in a paradoxical whirlwind of denial and attraction, hopelessly drawn to this man. I want to embrace him and surrender…
Then I remember: that last shred of dignity. I don’t go fooling around just like that. Not that I’m a prude, it’s rather a question of principle. I don’t enjoy being treated like an object. A pretty face. A lush pair of tits. A gropable ass. In other words, a hole. I have brains and a heart, thank you very much. So what. This is a powerful guy with (granted) incredible sex appeal, who’s used to having whatever he desires.
Too bad for him.
I rebuff Adrian with all my might and lunge for my purse, unzipping it and grasping the knife. I point it at him.
“Stay away from me. Let me out. Immediately.”
Adrian’s reaction makes my blood boil.
At almost leisurely pace, he approaches me. His body language, however, reveals acute alertness. It’s threatening.
“You don’t want to come near me. I’m a jujitsu pro,” I bluff, and clutch the knife with both hands.
I move one step to the side, rehearsing my escape. I move another step, slowly circling, and Adrian mirrors me. We are two animals in a forest of 18th-century furniture preparing for the ultimate confrontation. I detect a smile in his eyes and find myself enthralled by those smoky irises. Their silvery hue reflects the gold of the fire and I see flares in them. It’s like a sortilege conjuring irresistible danger in turbulent waters. I gape in fascination… and snap back to my senses. I know his tactics. He’s distracting me. He wants me off guard until…
He did manage to distract me. Before I can react, he leaps forward. I jump back but Adrian is right with me and snatches the knife in the blink of an eye, sliding it into his pocket. He lurches at me and immobilizes my wrists again. This is getting old. I try to kick him in the groin to no avail. I struggle and twist and hiss like a wildcat, only to end up with raised arms pinned to the brick wall.
Gee, this is getting old.
Something new is happening.
Oh mon Dieu.
[To be continued.]