The Billionaire's Pretend Girlf by Leslie North

1





“No, no, no. I’m coming up with you.”

Daniel smirked as his best friend Grayson defiantly closed the door of his car, and then tapped on the driver’s side window. Daniel’s driver rolled down the window, and Grayson told him to ‘wait right here’.

“I said I’ll hurry,” Daniel protested. But there was no point. Grayson was already leading the way to the entrance of his skyscraper residential building. “It’s our monthly dinner—I don’t want us to be late.”

“But you’re always late,” Grayson said as Daniel hurried to fall into step with him. The two headed for the private penthouse elevator tucked into the far corner of the lobby, Daniel’s rolling luggage making soft clicks across the immaculate white tiles. Daniel rolled his eyes as the elevator doors shut.

“I’m not always late,” Daniel said, but he had no other argument to follow.

“You are,” Grayson insisted, “because you always find ‘one last thing to do’ before you leave, which means you always hit dinner right as we’re ordering dessert.”

Daniel tried to hide the exasperated sigh, but it was no use. He gripped the handle of his rolling carry-on. He and Grayson had managed to fly into the San Francisco airport at the same time this evening from their very different business meetings, which meant their other best friend—Blake—was waiting impatiently for them at Starbrite Diner, their time-honored college watering hole on the campus of Stanford University.

“I made it on time to dinner earlier this year,” Daniel muttered, checking his reflection in the mirror-lined private penthouse elevator. He raked his hand through his dark blond hair, which stood up at awkward angles, somewhere between intentionally messy and too distracted to remember a haircut. As an international investment banker, his job kept him running enough to forget plenty of things, even though he had enough money to buy a thousand haircuts.

But as his father always said, time equals money. And Daniel didn’t have a second extra of that lying around. He monetized his life down to the millisecond, because that’s what he’d always known. It’s what he’d grown up with, and he didn’t know how to live any other way.

It wasn’t exactly a barrel of laughs. Stress was one thing, but the constant creeping fear of having everything collapse around him with nothing but an ulcer to show for it? Not fun. Lucrative, yes—but he didn’t really have any free time to spend all the money he made. Fortunately, he didn’t have the spare time to worry much about it, either. Daniel had convinced himself that this was just part and parcel of being months away from hitting thirty. This is life, he told himself damn near every morning when he woke up and looked at himself in the mirror. It’s like this for everyone. You’ll enjoy it someday.

“Dude. Are you even listening?” Grayson’s voice broke through his stewing misery, and Daniel jerked his head to look at his friend, blinking.

“Sorry. Was just thinking about this account I almost closed.”

“See? This is why I needed to come up with you. I know the second you get inside your place, you’re going to open your laptop.”

“I’ll be quick,” Daniel assured him as the elevator doors opened, revealing the grand foyer of his penthouse. He strode purposefully over the distressed gray flooring of the entrance hall. He’d personally picked out all the details of the design here, so he could always count on at least a momentary sense of relief when he came home to his haven. But even here, in his sanctuary, more work awaited. It always did.

His footsteps echoed through the spacious entry hall as he headed through the living room and toward the master suite. Grayson flopped onto the enormous black sectional in the two-story great room, which faced a black brick-lined fireplace. Grayson’s sigh of relaxation followed Daniel as he dumped his suitcase and briefcase onto the puffy gray comforter of his bed.

“Why don’t we just have Blake come meet us here?” Grayson asked, his voice faint across the distance. “Now that I’m sitting on your incredible couch, I’m not sure I can get up.”

Daniel laughed to himself, quietly unzipping his briefcase. If he moved quickly—and stealthily—Grayson wouldn’t have to even know he’d stopped to check his emails.

“Stay there. Take a load off. I need to find different shoes.” It was a white lie, he supposed. He’d change shoes for the hell of it, but he didn’t need to. What he needed to do was make sure the Korean banker he’d just wined and dined over the weekend was still a shoo-in for the business deal Daniel’s father had been pushing him toward for the past three months. If Daniel didn’t snag this, he’d never hear the end of it. From his father, and from himself.