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Cinderella and the Billionaire

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Happy hour drink in hand, Nicole eased herself down into the rickety chair and stretched her legs out. She’d arrived in Dubrovnik less than an hour before after a long bus journey, and despite the shower and fresh clothes, the effects of travelling lingered. With just one night in the hostel before starting her last job of the summer, she was attempting to make the most of it with drinks on the roof terrace. Once there, however, she found she wasn’t really in the mood to socialize and she chose a spot near the terrace wall so she could look down to the narrow, cobbled alley below and to the city beyond.

The last six weeks had already begun to fade into a blur of yachts and crews and ports. Glamorous vacations for those on board, but for Nicole, it was purely work.

Three summers spent crewing on yachts had built her experience and her reputation so that she hadn’t been short of an offer. She worked hard at whatever she was asked to do, and kept to herself.

Her summer so far had been split between a family sailing in the Mediterranean, and a young couple island hopping in Greece. The family, with a dad that spent most days holed up in an office, presumably conducting the business that enabled them to have such luxurious vacations, also had two children that Nicole found herself in charge of more often than not. The young couple, famous for something that Nicole still wasn’t quite sure of, were more interested in partying and picking up probably also famous guests, at every port. That was another reason why Nicole was a valued member of a crew: her discretion. She could be counted on not to gossip about whatever happened on these trips. Not being particularly interested in pop culture, she quite often only had a faint idea of who these people were anyway.

She hoped that her upcoming post, two weeks on the Dalmatian coast, would be a pleasant, straightforward end to her summer before she returned home for her final year of college.

Nicole took a sip of her unnaturally brightly colored frozen drink and winced at the sweetness. With some effort, she pushed herself up to standing, intending to switch her cocktail for a beer. As she moved, she caught her foot on the chair leg and stumbled, instinctively throwing out her hands to catch herself on the wall. It was only when she heard a surprised squeal from the alley below that she realised what she’d done. She glanced first at the now-empty cup in her hand, then down to the young woman, white dress painted vivid red from Nicole’s spilled drink, glaring back up at her.

“Oh my God, I’m so sorry! It was an accident,” Nicole called down, horrified.

“What the hell?” the other woman demanded, tossing her long, wavy hair back as she angrily gestured to the stain spreading down her floaty dress.

Nicole repeated, “I’m so sorry. Wait there,” then ran back inside and downstairs as fast as her flip flops would allow. By the time she emerged into the lane, the woman had gone, leaving behind a puddle of red liquid and Nicole’s embarrassment. She hurried to the end of the street and into one of the city’s bustling squares, but there was no sign of her.

In an effort to shake the guilty feeling, Nicole decided to join the crowds strolling the streets of the medieval city. She’d visited before, not often enough to really know the city, so she let herself get lost, climbing up stairs and wandering down alleyways as the feeling took her. As darkness fell, the night air still warm on her skin, she took a seat outside a busy bar and ordered a beer, content to soak up the atmosphere.

By the time she headed back to the hostel, she felt calm and peaceful, the incident with the spilled drink almost forgotten, but a vague image of long hair and a white dress lingering in her mind.

8:00 am the next morning saw Nicole waiting outside her hostel, as she’d been instructed to do. She had protested that she was capable of finding her own way, but her contact was equally as insistent that she’d be collected. She hadn’t been waiting long when a tall man, with tanned skin and short dark hair, approached and asked, “Nicole?”

“That’s me.” She held out her hand and he took it in a firm handshake, introducing himself.
“I’m Marin. Are you ready to go?”

Nicole shouldered her large rucksack and replied, “Yep. Where are we going?”

“Further down the coast to Cavtat. We’re sailing,” Marin told her as they walked towards the marina.

“Are we moored there?”

“For the next week, then we’ll be sailing up the coast.”

They continued to chat as they set off in the small charter boat, and Nicole soon found out that Marin was from the area and, according to him at least, was the best person with whom to sail the coast.

Once they’d negotiated the busy marina and were out in open water, Marin asked, “You sail?”

“Sure, I’ve spent a lot of time on the water.”

Wordlessly, he stepped aside and gestured for Nicole to take his place, and she happily moved in front of the controls. She guided them confidently round the coast, following the shoreline as Marin instructed, and she revelled in the feeling of the refreshing sea breeze on her skin and in her hair.

An hour after leaving Dubrovnik, the terracotta roofs of Cavtat came into view between the trees, and with a few pointers from Marin, Nicole steered them safely into dock in the small marina, their little boat dwarfed by the row of massive yachts berthed alongside.

Once they’d safely moored, Nicole grabbed her things and followed Marin past the other craft, each one bigger than the last, until he stopped in front of the largest, certainly the biggest Nicole had ever worked on.

“Seriously?” She turned to Marin with an incredulous laugh, and was met with a grin.

“Impressive, huh? Come on, I’ll give you the tour and you can meet the rest of the crew.”

“Where do you even charter a yacht like this?” Nicole wondered, as they stepped onto the passerelle to board.

“Oh, it’s not a charter, she owns it.”

“She does? Who is she?”

“Waverly Earp. In fact, here she comes.” Marin dropped his voice to a whisper as a woman emerged on deck.

Even Nicole had heard of Waverly Earp. A young billionaire, self-made apparently, Nicole remembered, but she couldn’t recall where her wealth came from. Inheritance, probably, Nicole thought, sceptical of the self-made claim.

She rearranged her features into a smile as the woman, Waverly, approached, and Marin called out to her, “Waverly! Come meet your new crew member.”

First-name terms, Nicole noted. Not everyone was so friendly with their staff. Waverly, eyes hidden behind fashionably large sunglasses, greeted Nicole with an outstretched hand and a huge grin, showing perfect white teeth.

“Hi! Welcome aboard. I’m Waverly.”

“I’m Nicole. Nicole Haught. Thanks for having me.”

Nicole could have kicked herself. Thanks for having me? Like she was a kid invited to a sleepover.

Luckily, Waverly continued, “And what are you going to be doing for us, Nicole?”

“Anything you need me to, really,” Nicole shrugged, hoping to come off as casual. She saw Waverly’s eyebrows rise above her sunglasses.

“Anything, huh? I’ll remember that,” she replied with a small smirk.

Nicole willed herself not to blush. This woman, with her perfect smile, and her golden suntan, and her toned, slender legs that Nicole absolutely had not looked at. She was beautiful, and, Nicole realised at that moment, horribly familiar. Her long hair was neatly braided and her expression much less hostile, but there was no doubt she was the woman she’d spilled a drink on the previous evening. Nicole felt her smile slide but luckily Waverly, who had shown no hint of recognition, had turned away.

“I’ll be on the top deck doing yoga,” she called back, adding, “Nice to meet you, Nicole.”

Nicole was in a bit of a daze as Marin showed her to her cabin and introduced her to the rest of the crew. It was quite a small crew for the size of the yacht, so she knew she’d be kept busy.

Waverly had guests flying in later that day, and throughout the week, so Nicole was immediately put to work making sure the guest cabins were ready. As she worked, she let her mind drift to thoughts of Waverly. Should she own up to the drink spilling and apologize? Would Waverly even care? She probably wouldn’t even get the chance to speak to her about it anyway.

She had almost convinced herself that there was no need to embarrass herself further by trying to confess to Waverly when she found the dress, tossed carelessly across a bed in a cabin. As she examined the stain, dried dark red against the brilliant white, an idea came to her, and she hurried to the kitchen. It was as well stocked as she’d expected, and she quickly found the ingredients she needed. She mixed them in a bowl and dabbed a little directly on the stain, then left it to work as she filled the sink and added the rest of the solution.

She left the dress soaking while she finished her morning tasks, and when she returned to it, she was pleased to see the stain had disappeared.

“Never fails,” she grinned to herself, mentally patting herself on the back.

Waverly arrived back from the airport with three friends in tow later in the afternoon, but Nicole was too busy to catch more than a few glimpses of them before they went ashore to spend the evening sampling what was on offer in the waterfront bars and restaurants. Nicole was invited to join some of the crew members as they did the same, but after her long day she was content to retire to her cabin early with a book for company.

In the morning, Nicole, through years of habit, was up early to carry out her routine tasks, and she was sitting on the lower deck going over the schedule Marin had given her when she heard footsteps behind her.

She turned to see Waverly approaching, dress in hand and a questioning look on her face.

“Oh, hey, good morning,” Nicole said, feeling suddenly nervous.

“Did you do this?” asked Waverly without preamble, as she held up the dress.

“I thought I could try something to get the stain out. I hope that’s okay.”

“You didn’t have to. I thought it was ruined, I was going to throw it away.” Waverly was examining the dress again as if she couldn’t believe it was the same one.

“I know, but why throw it away when there’s nothing wrong with it? That’s wasteful,” Nicole tried to keep the hint of reproach from her voice but from the way Waverly looked up at her sharply, she had failed. As someone who was careful with money, through habit and often necessity, Nicole couldn’t understand throwing away something valuable without a second thought. It served to highlight just how different their worlds were.

“How did you get the stain out?” Waverly asked.

“Uh, I made a stain remover that I use at home, it works on everything.”

“You made it? Well, thank you. It was very sweet of you to go to so much effort,” Waverly told her sincerely.

Nicole felt herself blush as she replied, “It’s fine, it was no trouble really.”

“Hmm, maybe you’re right. You were the one that dropped the drink on me after all.”

Nicole’s eyes widened in surprise and she opened and closed her mouth a few times before she finally managed to choke out, “You knew?”

“As soon as I met you yesterday. I’d recognise that red hair anywhere,” Waverly chuckled.

Nicole immediately raised her hand to touch her ponytail self-consciously. “Were you going to say anything?”

“Probably not. Unless you did it again.”

“I tried to find you to apologise but you’d gone by the time I got downstairs. I’m so sorry, it really was an accident,” Nicole apologised, watching Waverly for her reaction.

The other woman gave her an appraising look, then nodded. “Okay. Apology accepted, and you’ve made up for it with this,” she acknowledged as she held up the dress.

“Good. Anything else you need, you know where I am.”

“How about some yoga? Wanna join me?”

“Um, I can’t, I’ve got things to do,” Nicole told her, indicating the schedule.

“How about tomorrow? I’ll tell Marin I need you for half an hour,” Waverly offered.

Nicole wondered why Waverly was so keen to have her join her yoga session.

“I don’t really do yoga...”

“All the more reason to do it with me then. I bet you could use the relaxation. 9am tomorrow, top deck.” Waverly’s tone allowed no disagreement, and Nicole stared after her as she walked away.

She had no idea what to think of Waverly Earp.