The Millionaire Makeover (Bachelor Auction)By: Naima Simone
If he hadn’t been sitting on the floor, his knees would’ve buckled under the shock that plowed into him with the force of a wildly swung haymaker. Jesus Christ, he silently repeated. It couldn’t be. It fucking couldn’t be. But as he scanned the letter on Duir Music’s stationery, he couldn’t deny he was reading a message from his best friend like a visit from beyond the grave.
“Niall, considering you’re reading this letter means I was right about you not being able to resist toying with this first edition of The Great Gatsby I plan on giving you for your birthday next month. Not that I ever doubted you would do the exact opposite of what I said.”
He laughed softly. Niall’s hard-headedness had been a running joke between him and his friend. “A hard head makes for a soft behind,” Michael had often remarked. To which Niall would accuse him of checking out his ass, and they would be off and running. The teasing from Michael’s letter was spot on though. He was surprise he’d lasted this long without opening it.
“Anyway, it’s three o’clock in the morning, and you’re knocked out next to me while this plane is trembling so much it feels like it’s about to drop out of the damn sky. I hate fucking flying. So with the seat belt sign lit up and the wind playing dodge ball with this steel coffin, I have the right to be a little maudlin. We just celebrated Khloe’s twenty-first birthday, and God, she was so happy. She deserves to be happy like that every moment of every day. She’s one of those honest-to-God pure spirits. Beautiful inside and out. I don’t plan on going anywhere anytime soon—well, if this plane decides to stay in the air, I don’t. But if something should happen to me, Niall, take care of her. I don’t consider you my best friend—you’re my brother. And Khloe’s, too. Mom and Dad…they love us. But they have their ideas of what our lives should be, and I don’t want her to end up trapped in someone else’s mold trying to make them happy while she’s miserable. And with her selfless heart, that could very well happen.
“Khloe needs a man who will love her with everything he is, who will devote and commit himself to her and provide the home and family she craves. A man better than us. Watch over her for me, Niall. Protect her from being hurt and used. No man will ever be good enough for her, but promise me you’ll be there to kick the ass of anyone who even faintly resembles us. She needs better. Deserves better. You’re the only one I trust with her happiness. Love you, Niall. I don’t say it enough—and you’ll probably never hear me say it aloud if I’m sober—but I do. Michael.”
Protect Khloe from being hurt and used. She deserves a man better than us. He stared at the paper until the words wavered, jumbled, and then straightened out. Pressure coalesced behind his sternum, building until his lungs, heart, and arteries were replaced by air.
Though Niall had been the one born and lived for over half his life in Dublin, sometimes it seemed as if Michael was the more Irish out of the two of them. Niall’s grandmother had often said Michael had “the Sight.” Not that Niall bought into that mystic tripe, but even he couldn’t deny his friend’s often uncanny intuition about people, business dealings, and acts under their label. And a month before his death, he’d given Niall his passwords to his various accounts as well as shown Niall where he’d stored all his important papers such as insurance and his will. At the time, Niall hadn’t thought anything about it, but… Jesus.
The paper crackled in his tight grip as the words from the letter reverberated in his head.
He’d failed the last request of his best friend.
Instead of protecting Khloe, he’d fucked her.
“Shit,” he muttered, laying the letter on the floor beside him. “Just…shit,” he growled, scrubbing his hands over his face. He’d truly screwed up. God, he had to make this right.
Pinching the bridge of his nose, he squeezed his eyes shut.
The only unselfish thing he could do was not allow her to delude herself into believing there could be more between them. She knew him—knew his reputation when it came to women. He wasn’t cut out for long-term commitments, for relationships.