Matched to a Billionaire(9)

By: Kat Cantrell

* * *

Dannie kept her mouth shut for the rest of the ride to her new life.

Where she would not share a bedroom with her husband.

She was alternately very glad for the space and very confused. The flash of awareness between them must be one-sided. Or she’d imagined it. Leo could not have been more clear about his lack of interest in her.

Maybe he’d seen right through Elise’s makeover.

And now her fantasy about the way he’d kiss if he really meant it had shattered. Such a shame. Her husband was attractive in that unattainable way of movie stars, but in her imagination, he kissed like a pirate on shore leave, and no one could take that away.

She stole a peek at this hard-to-read man she’d married for life.

Her lungs froze. What if Leo decided he didn’t like her after all? Just because he claimed to have a strong sense of commitment didn’t mean he’d tolerate screwups. And screwups were her specialty.

Her mother was counting on her. She was counting on herself, too. If Leo divorced her, she’d have nothing. One of his first acts upon learning she’d accepted his proposal was to hire a full-time caregiver for her mother who specialized in pulmonary rehabilitation. The nurse was slated to start today.

Without Leo, her mother would surely die a very slow and painful death. And Dannie would be forced to watch helplessly.

Her nails bit into her palm and she nearly yelped. Long nails. Yet another thing she had to get used to, along with all the other things Elise had done to make her over into Leo’s perfect wife. Organization and conversation skills came naturally, but the polish—that had taken a while to achieve.

She had to remember her job here was to become the behind-the-scenes support for a successful man. Not to be swept away in a haze of passion for her new husband.

“We’re here,” Leo said in his smooth voice.

Dannie glanced out the window and tried not to gape. Leo’s house practically needed its own zip code.

They’d discussed her comfort level with managing a large house. During the conversation, she’d pictured a two-story, four-bedroom house with a big backyard, located in a quiet suburban neighborhood. That would have been her idea of large after the small two-bedroom apartment she’d shared with her mother.

She’d known the house was in Preston Hollow, one of the most elite neighborhoods of Dallas. But this she could never have anticipated.

Wrought-iron gates caught between two large brick-and-stone posts swung open as if by magic and the driver turned the car onto the cobblestone drive leading up to the house. Colossal trees lined the drive, partially blocking the sun and lending a hushed, otherworldly feel to the grounds. And grounds was the only fitting term. Neatly manicured grass stretched away on both sides of the car all the way to the high stone wall surrounding Leo’s house.

Her house. Their house.

The car halted in a semicircular crushed-stone driveway, and the hulking residence immediately cast it in shadow. The manor sprawled across the property, pointy rooflines dominating the brick-and-stone structure. Four—no, five—chimneys stabbed toward the sky.

She should have asked for a picture before agreeing to handle a property this size. What was she doing here?

“What do you think?” Leo asked, but it was hardly a question she could answer honestly.

“It’s very...” Gothic. “Nice.”

She bit the inside of her lip. All of Elise’s hard work would go up in smoke if Dannie couldn’t keep her smart-aleck gene under control. The thought of Elise calmed her. They’d done exhaustive work together to prep Dannie for this, with endless days of learning to set a table, to make proper tea. Practicing how to sit, how to walk, how to introduce people. In between, Elise had transformed Dannie’s appearance into something worthy of a magazine cover.

This was it—the test of whether the makeover would stick or Dannie would fail.

With a deep breath, Dannie smiled. “It’s beautiful, Leo. I’m very eager to learn my way around.”

“Let me show you.” He placed a hand at the small of her back as she exited the car and kept it there, guiding and supporting, as they ascended the stone steps to the front door. “Please think of this as your home. Anything you want to change is open for discussion.”

Anything. Except the arranged-marriage part.

It was ridiculous to even think that. But her wedding day felt so anticlimactic. And disappointing. She shouldn’t be wishing Leo would sweep her up in his arms and carry her over the threshold, Rhett-style. Or wishing they had a timeless romance.

The palm at her back signaled security. Not passion. A partnership based on mutual affection was enough. Dannie was Leo’s wife, not the love of his life, and she didn’t have the luxury of entertaining daydreams of eventually being both.

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