The Billionaire's Christmas Proposal

By: Victoria James

Allison almost had a heart attack. “Excuse me? No, you’re not taking that to school. I will give you whatever cash I have in my wallet. Hand over the card.”

Dani pouted.

Allison shoved out her hand. “Now. Buy your lunches for the rest of the week and pick up something for dinner on the way home tonight. I don’t want to bug Ethan, and I won’t be home to make food.”

Danielle pulled out the Visa and slapped it in her hand. “You need to learn—”

“You need to learn when to be quiet. Go shower. Have a good day.”

Her sister stomped off, and Allison eyed the remaining clothes for the day. At least her sister had good taste. Minutes later she was slipping into the boots, and she could hear her sister singing in the shower.

She paused outside the bedroom door, patting Hook on the head and eyeing the hallway she knew led to Ethan’s office, bedroom, and gym. The look that had passed across his face replayed in her mind. He’d looked closed off, suddenly unapproachable, and that was unusual for him. He’d always been very open. It was one of the things that attracted her to him—in a non-romantic way of course. She was reading way too much into this. Obviously, the man must have realized his pristine bachelor pad was about to be invaded by two women. He clearly just wanted to make sure he still had his own space. Yeah, they knew each other, but they didn’t really know each other. She was going to have to get him some sort of thank you gift. Or help out around the house. Or something.

Half an hour later she was walking through the doors of the shelter, ready to deal with whatever came her way that afternoon. This place always felt more like a home than a homeless shelter for teens. It was open around the clock, and there were many times that Allie had stayed here overnight. As soon as teens walked in, it was the staff’s priority to make them feel safe. Everyone was given clean clothes, toiletries, and a hot meal. There was a floor for boys and one for girls, and the entire building had a capacity to house almost one hundred youths. What they did here was integral. It was a known place, in a central location. No kid wanted to be on the street, and so many of them came from abuse and violence, this becoming their first truly safe home. Daily routines, set meal times, and chores were necessary in building a sense of safety and stability—something most of them needed desperately.

“Hey, Allie!” Denise, the group home manager and her good friend, called out. “You okay?”

Allison nodded, taking off her coat and hanging it by the hooks beside the front door. She walked across the tiled floor and joined her friend. “Yeah, what a day. We’re staying at a…friend’s place.” Why did she pause at the word friend? That’s what Ethan was. It must be her sister; she was messing with her head.

“Oh my God, I was so scared when I heard about the fire. What are you going to do?” Denise was currently finger-combing her long, curly hair into her trademark ponytail atop her head. Just seeing the familiar motion made Allison feel calmer for some reason. Maybe it was a sign that not everything had gone to hell.

“We’re going to stay there until I can find us a new place.” She walked around the front desk to the small coffee station. She could use a cup. Or an entire pot.

“Should I even ask if you had renter’s insurance or anything?”

Allie winced. “I didn’t have extra money for that.” She dumped a bunch of milk into her coffee, stirring it slowly. “Bonehead move in retrospect, but between Dani and student loans, I couldn’t justify it. I was so close to balancing everything and now I have to start over.” She took a sip of coffee, hating to admit this aloud. She would never say anything in front of Dani, because she didn’t want her sister to feel like a burden, and she’d never say anything to Hannah, because she knew her friend would force pity money on her. And Ethan…admitting this in front of him would be humiliating. Again, one of the things he’d never understand. She knew he’d grown up with money, lots of it. He would never get this. He was already doing enough.

“You’ll manage. I’ll see if there’s an available apartment in my building. And whatever extras I have, I’ll send your way when you’re setting up.”

Allie smiled at Denise. She had become a good friend since Allie moved to Toronto a few years ago. This entire place ran because of Denise. She put in long hours and was the rock behind it. “Thanks, I might have to take you up on that.”

“Well, as long as you and Dani weren’t hurt that’s the main thing.”

Allie nodded and looked around, making sure no one was within earshot. They absolutely didn’t want word getting out to the youth that the shelter might be moving. This was the only place most of them could rely on, so the idea that it might be taken away from them could be devastating. “What are the odds? First the shelter, then my building? Any news about…?” Her voice trailed off purposefully, and she lifted her brows.

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