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Best Friends With the Billionaire

By:Coleen Kwan

Chapter One

The bright yellow-and-red neon sign of the Golden Palace restaurant glowed like a welcoming beacon in the early evening dusk. At the entrance, Cassie Cooper paused to take a deep breath before pushing her way inside. The delicious scent of Chinese food wafted over her, along with the swirling hubbub of talk and laughter. When she reached the bank of fish tanks, she hesitated, scanning the half-filled dining room.

There he is.

Her heart thumped a deep bass note in her chest, and she involuntarily squeezed the strap of her purse. Oh God, why did Kirk still have such an effect on her? He sat near the window, arms folded on the table. Light from the paper lanterns gleamed on his thick dark hair and his impossibly handsome face. He’d taken off his suit jacket and tie, and the sleeves of his pale blue shirt were rolled up at the wrists, revealing muscled, tanned forearms. He was gazing out the window, his expression pensive, hooded eyes giving nothing away.

What was that look about? Was he thinking “Hey, I sure hope my best friend Cassie shows up soon because I can’t wait to see her”? Yeah, right. She could dream.

He turned his head toward her, and their eyes met across the crowded room. His face brightened, and a tight sensation bloomed in her chest as she smiled back at him. She strode forward, right into the path of a waiter bearing a dish of noodles. “Aiya!” the waiter hissed before scurrying past.

Kirk stood, grinning wide. “You would’ve looked funny with chow mein on you.”

Her breathing was all over the place. “I didn’t see him.”

Because all her attention was focused on him. Kirk Rochester. Her best friend since college. He’d been the hottest guy on campus, while she’d been the blue-haired, six-foot misfit. Now, he was still the hottest guy in San Francisco, and she was still six feet tall, though the blue hair had long since disappeared. As for the misfit part, well, that had abated during her years abroad, but after just four days in her mother and sister’s company the feeling was back with a vengeance.

Kirk wrapped his arms around her and gave her a hug. A loose, friendly, how-ya-doing hug. It lasted only two seconds, but that was enough for her to feel his hard body, his broad chest and strong arms. Enough for her to breathe in the heady scent of him, warm and spicy and so sexy. He had three inches on her, and about fifty pounds, and a masculinity that was quite overwhelming.

Get over it, she told herself. Sure, she’d harbored a crush on him—as had twenty thousand other women on campus—but she knew her place in his life. Their friendship had begun in a student share house, forged while cooking spaghetti Bolognese, discussing modern American history, and watching baseball games on TV. She’d been friends with all their housemates. Kirk just happened to be the one she’d spent the most time with. He’d helped her with her essays, cheered her on at her hockey games, consoled her when things went wrong. He’d done so many things for her, but he’d never made a pass at her.

“It’s great to see you,” Kirk said as they sat at opposite sides of the table. “It’s been too long.”

She lifted an eyebrow at him. “Too long? We saw each other two nights ago.” She’d met all her old college friends for drinks two days ago, soon after she’d landed in San Francisco, and Kirk had been there, too.

“That was just an icebreaker.” He shrugged. “And there were too many people there. We didn’t really get a chance to talk.”

Cassie had made sure of that. She didn’t mind admitting to herself she was nervous about seeing Kirk again after what had happened the last time she’d been in San Francisco. Meeting him in a crowd had been a good way for her to get over the initial awkwardness. She’d stuck herself in the center of the group, and it hadn’t been hard to stay there because everyone wanted to know what she’d been up to, how she liked living in Sydney, and whether she was ever moving back to San Francisco.

She adjusted the spoon and chopsticks lying on the table cloth, avoiding Kirk’s eyes. He didn’t suspect her of deliberately avoiding him, she was sure. Still, she needed time to practice looking at him without drooling. He was too devastatingly attractive for her own good. That hadn’t changed in the two years since she’d last seen him. In fact, he was even more attractive now.

And free, too.

She squashed that thought and snatched up the menu. “Let’s order, huh? I’m famished.”

“Me, too. That’s why I already ordered for us.”

“You did? Did you ask for pot stickers?”

“Of course. And beef ribs, hot and spicy tofu, kung po chicken, and salt-and-pepper shrimp.”

Cassie’s heart hitched before it began to melt. “Oh, you remembered…”

“All your favorite Chinese dishes? Yeah, how could I ever forget?”

She blinked, ambushed by memories. At least twice a month she and Kirk and whoever else was at home at the time would trek to Chinatown and gorge themselves on hot, delicious food. They’d always chosen down-to-earth, inexpensive restaurants where the locals ate, like here at the Golden Palace. Everyone in their share house was on a tight student budget, except for Kirk.

The Rochesters were seriously, insanely wealthy. Jubilee Holdings, their family-run company, was worth billions; the family had endowed millions to the university; and Kirk had a trust fund that ensured he’d never have to lift a finger his entire life if he didn’t want to. But in college he’d seemed almost embarrassed by his wealth and connections. He didn’t belong to any fraternities, drove a nice but nondescript Honda, shopped at The Gap, and did his share of the chores in their student house.

“What’s up?” Kirk asked, interrupting her memories. “Did I order too much?”

“Too much food is never enough.” And when she was with Kirk, food always tasted better.

“Glad to see your appetite hasn’t changed.”

“I’m a big girl,” she quipped. It was true. Her excessive height hadn’t come with a gazelle-like frame. Instead, she was solidly built. Like a Mack truck, people used to say. People like her mother. Adolescence had been a nightmare for Cassie—too tall, too clumsy, too pimply, too surly.

“Besides,” she added, “I’m starving because my mom’s put me on a diet. I’ve been existing on lettuce and prune juice for the past three days.”

“A diet?” Kirk’s gaze roved over her, and she couldn’t help feeling a little self-conscious. “You don’t need to diet.”

Cassie felt a flush rise in her cheeks. This must be the first time Kirk had ever made a direct comment about her appearance, and she didn’t know what to make of it. Did he mean he thought she had a good body? Or that no amount of dieting could help her?

“Um, well, apparently I do,” she said. “We went for a fitting the other day, and my dress is a bit tight under the arms. I don’t think it’s an issue, but my mom insists I lose five pounds before the wedding.” She rolled her eyes.

Her sister Lillian was getting married in two weeks’ time, which was why Cassie returned to San Francisco. She had never been close to her younger sister, possibly because Lillian was everything Cassie wasn’t. Lillian was petite, beautiful, and popular. She could also be shallow, vain, and materialistic, in Cassie’s opinion. But what she thought never mattered in their family because Lillian was their mother’s favorite, a fact which Audrey Cooper never bothered to hide from anyone.

Cassie had long ago resigned herself to being the black sheep of their little family. Six years ago she’d moved to Australia, and it had been the best decision she’d made. She’d manage to build a good life away from her mom and sister—and away from Kirk, too—and she’d thought she was immune to Audrey and Lillian. But after four days in their company, she could feel herself reverting back to the rebellious ways that caused so much friction between them.

As if on cue, her cell phone beeped with an incoming text. She read it and blew out a sigh that lifted the bangs of her shoulder-length hair away from her eyes.

“Unbelievable.” She groaned. “My mom is reminding me that I’m only allowed five hundred calories for dinner.”

“What does five hundred calories get you?”

“About one frigging shrimp cracker.”

Her mouth watered as a waiter began loading their table with hot, fragrant dishes.

“Mm.” Cassie breathed in the aroma. “You know what? Screw five hundred calories. There’s no way I’m going to pass up a spread like this.” She held up her phone to take a photo of the succulent food in front of her then tapped out a reply to her mom. “I sent her a picture of what I’m going to eat.” With a mischievous grin, she turned off her phone and slipped it back in her purse.

Kirk laughed as he handed her the pot stickers. “I thought you were over the up-yours-Mom phase.”

She loaded up her plate and then sank her teeth into a pot sticker. “Me, too,” she said after a few blissful moments of chewing. “But maybe I’ll never be over it.”

The up-yours-Mom phase had begun when she’d gone to college. High school had been a disaster, and she didn’t want a repeat when she went to Berkley. Dispirited by her failed attempts to live up to her mom’s expectations, she’d decided it was time to rebel. She’d put in a nose stud, cropped her hair, and dyed it electric blue. Instead of being embarrassed by her build, she’d embraced her athleticism and joined the college’s field hockey and basketball teams. She’d thrown away all the trendy clothes her mom had bought her and gone around in baggy jeans, rude T-shirts, and Doc Martens. Her mom had been suitably horrified.