The Bachelor's Promise (Bachelor Auction)

By: Naima Simone

It wasn’t enough that Noelle’s brother had fucked Aiden’s fiancée behind his back.

It wasn’t enough that when he should’ve been focused on his mother during her last few months of life, Noelle had consumed his time and thoughts. It wasn’t enough that he’d trusted Noelle, and she’d given her father another way to fuck him over. Another last hurrah to take from his mother and shit on her memory.

Now she wanted to corrupt the life he’d built for himself here, far from Chicago.

No way in hell. Noelle was leaving…and taking the past with her.

Chapter Three

Don’t faint. Don’t show signs of weakness. You’ve come this far.

Noelle repeated the mantra to herself as Lucas Oliver’s wife led her from the ballroom and into the gleaming, cavernous foyer.

Lucas Oliver. God. She should’ve counted on seeing him tonight. Since she’d met Aiden all those years ago, the brooding, dark-haired, scarred youth with the beautiful turquoise eyes had been by his side. Back then, Aiden had treated her with an aloof disdain, and Lucas had been polite, if distant. And damn intimidating. It hadn’t surprised her when he and Aiden had founded their own company, Bay Bridge Industries, and had grown it into a national conglomerate. Neither did it shock her when they had become millionaires, real rags-to-riches success stories.

It did surprise her that the lovely, glowing, happy woman complimenting Noelle on her boots was married to the infamous Beast of Bay Bridge. Aiden’s mother had loved reading about her son and his best friend in the business section of the Chicago Tribune before the pair had relocated to Boston. She’d tsked at the moniker they’d crowned Lucas with…and chuckled at the one they’d bestowed upon Aiden—The Prince. If the press had demonized Lucas, they’d adored Aiden, as his many appearances in both the financial and social sections revealed.

Yet it’d never been Lucas who had caused shivers to dance over her skin in a tango of nerves, fear, and, God help her, infatuation. Though Aiden had first viewed her as a nuisance, then a burden, there’d been a time when he’d been her protector, her friend, the man she’d secretly—and then not so secretly—adored.

Even after he’d cut ties with her after his mother, Caroline’s, death.

Even after he’d broken her heart with his cold, horrible accusations.

Aiden believed Noelle had provided her father with the means to rob his mother’s house after she’d passed, taking from her one last time. He’d never forgiven Noelle. And, truthfully, she’d never forgiven herself. Common sense argued that she wasn’t responsible for her family’s actions. No, she hadn’t given her father her key to the house, and no, she’d had no idea Frank Rana had planned on going to Caroline’s house after Aiden had kicked him out and confiscated his key. But after Frank’s ranting about “getting what was owed him,” she should’ve guessed. Frank Rana hadn’t only been a drunk, but he could be spiteful and vindictive when drunk and crossed.

Back then, she hadn’t spoken a word in defense of herself or her family. Not to protest and say she’d loved Caroline like a mother—probably more so since she’d never known the woman who had birthed then abandoned her. And not to apologize for her father’s selfishness and criminal behavior. Her father had been guilty of every charge lodged against him. But she hadn’t. And after the time they’d spent together, Aiden should’ve known better.

But that’d been six years ago. Now, hovering on the cusp of a future and life she’d been afraid to hope for, to dream of, she needed Aiden.

Needed him to keep his promise. Or, rather, the promise his mother had entrusted to him.

“Instead of a restaurant, we decided to return to our house,” Sydney said. “Lucas has arranged for a light dinner to be waiting for us. I still hope you’ll join us.” She tilted her head back and smiled at Lucas as he held up the coat he’d retrieved for her.

The love and heated intimacy they shared in one look had Noelle glancing away, as if she intruded on a private moment. Still, she couldn’t resist that part of her that wanted to stare, to analyze them like a jeweler with a loupe to determine if the affection was authentic. Because from her experience, that kind of connection was as rare as a woolly mammoth. Too many times she’d witnessed women—including Aiden’s mother—letting themselves become trapped by so-called love and losing their independence and sense of self. Giving their bodies and futures to men who wouldn’t recognize commitment if it pissed on their legs.

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