The One That I Want. Michelle Monkou
eventuality. That’s why we never hid your adoption from you. Nothing to be ashamed or afraid of by you or by us. Besides, you’re a dashing gentleman. With a forgiving heart...right?”
Dresden’s laughter erupted into a roar that took a few seconds to die down. “You certainly know how to flatter and sway the wind to your favor.”
“That’s how I got your dad.” Charlotte retrieved his jacket, handing it to him. Then she slipped her hand through his arm. “Now, come with me.” She tightened her grip and walked him out of the kitchen and down the hallway. “You shouldn’t waste another minute trying to figure out your next step. You already know.”
“I’m feeling manhandled,” he protested.
“And you’d be absolutely right.” They made it into the foyer. Her hand still wound around his arm.
“Is that you, Dresden? I’m coming right down.” His father’s footsteps crossed the room overhead.
“No need to come down, Patrick,” his mother shouted up the stairs. “He’s heading out now.” She opened the door and, with more muscle than Dresden was prepared for, pushed him outside onto the porch.
“Really, you want me to go hobnob with the Meadowses.” All kidding aside, Dresden couldn’t believe how adamant his mother was on the issue.
“Yep, pretty much. I want you to be kind and make that old woman happy.”
“I agree with your mother. Go and show respect for your elders.” His father popped into view next to his wife.
They were the trifecta of a perfect match, with brains, beauty and marital bliss. Way beyond his talent and abilities. His parents were a unique couple who enjoyed their intense, but sometimes chaotic, lives. To Dresden, they had set the bar on life and love way too high for him to successfully follow.
“Don’t think she’d want to be called old,” Dresden muttered. Suffering under the wintry conditions, his teeth chattered, joining in with the uncontrollable shivering of his body.
“Good. Later you can share with me what other things she doesn’t like.”
“I didn’t say that I’d go.”
“They aren’t the bad guys in your story. Right now, it might feel that way. But, trust me, after a few more decades of life under your belt, you may feel differently.”
“Well, until that time comes—”
His mother interrupted with her palm raised in the universal stop sign. “We’ll see you in the spring. Skype and FaceTime will be our means for chatting. I do love you, son. But you’ve got a birthday party to run off to. Stop dawdling.”
The door closed. Lock turned.
Dresden blew on his frozen fingers, hoping she was kidding. Not until his ears started to suffer from stinging numbness did he declare defeat. Dresden flipped up the collar of his jacket to ward off the frigid temperature. He headed toward his car to retreat from the battle.
* * *
Laxmi Holder’s party days were long over. Now she was staying out of the spotlight, in case any lingering fans recognized her; that had prompted her low profile, especially on social media. Now she was the average citizen, trying to get her daily hustle on from her home base of Brooklyn instead of Los Angeles. From being a singer to managing one, she had switched viewpoints on the same playground.
Returning home meant that she could either reestablish her friendships or make new ones. Her retention rate on that front was abysmal, except for one friend—Fiona Meadows—with whom she really wanted to invest the time to rebuild their bond.
She reread the invitation that Fiona had hand-delivered to her. The Meadowses were celebrating the matriarch’s—Grace’s—birthday. It took a bit of cajoling from Fiona to get her to respond in the affirmative.
The excitement over going to the media mogul’s birthday gave way to a case of dread a few hours before she was due to leave for the party. She wasn’t a celebrity—got close, though. Then her career had suffered a fast-burn to nothing.
A wardrobe of nice clothes, a fast sports car and tiny savings were the remnants of her former life. Now she’d have to go among New York’s elite and the world’s richest and pretend that she belonged.
“Well, here goes nothing,” she remarked to her mirrored reflection before heading out.
* * *
Five hours later Dresden exited New York City’s John F. Kennedy Airport and stepped into the waiting limo. Unless he grabbed the driver by the shoulder in a fit of panic to force a detour, Dresden was bound for the iconic Winthorpe International Hotel.
The saying “sit back and enjoy the ride” didn’t really hold true. He was far from comfortable in the quiet, luxurious confines of the limo. Standing in front of a college class of forty to fifty university students talking about Canada’s natives, settlers and conquistadors didn’t faze him. But heading to a birthday party in one of the swankiest New York City hotels, with New York’s elite, for one of New York’s most influential moguls—who happened to be his grandmother—turned his gut into a queasy mess.
Dresden kept up a steady routine of rubbing his hands along his pant legs as the limo sped along to its destination. The clammy state of his palms didn’t bode well. People would shake his hand and give him the side-eye of disgust.
Horns blared. Messengers on bikes shouted warnings. Tour buses rumbled along with camera-ready riders. The New York City vibe had an effective way of delivering a potent shot of adrenaline to the system. With nervous energy already pumping through him, his pulse stayed at hyper level. He offered up a prayer of gratitude as the limo pulled up in front of the hotel. He needed his feet on firm ground.
A grinning uniformed porter briefly touched the brim of his cap before holding open the limo door. “Welcome to the Winthorpe. It’s our pleasure to be of service.”
“Thank you.” Dresden shoved his hands deep into his coat pockets, now feeling more than a bit self-conscious about its average, off-the-rack style. Even the staff outstyled him with their crisp white gloves.
“Any luggage?” The porter looked questioningly at the driver then at Dresden.
“None. I’m here for the Meadows reception.”
“Please step inside with your invitation and you’ll be escorted to the event.”
Dresden retrieved the important gold-embossed passport from his pocket and complied with the porter’s instructions.
In the lobby a dedicated attendant for the reception checked the invitation and escorted him to the ballroom’s entrance. There, a second attendant checked his invitation against a computerized list. Like a baton handed over for the next leg of the trip, a third attendant escorted him into the ballroom.
The expansive size of the room, the over one hundred decorated tables and chairs, the high ratio of staff to guests—all conspired to push his pulse into overdrive. He almost bumped into a passing waiter as he gaped at every drip and drop of glitz and glamour. Lifestyles of the rich and famous gathered under one roof.
As they were about to head down the middle of the room to what he presumed to be the head table, Dresden needed a minute to get the nerves under control. His heart raced as if amped by a massive dose of adrenaline. Although not hit by dizziness, he couldn’t ignore the out-of-body sensation that occurred with each step. He wasn’t in control. This wasn’t on his turf. The realization pressed in on his chest, impeding airflow. He tried not to pant like an out-of-shape jogger.
His escort looked back at the door, probably wishing someone more interesting and actually famous had been his assignment.
“I’m good. Gonna get a drink first.” Dresden pointed to the nearest bar. “I’ll find my way to the principal’s office.” He laughed. The attendant didn’t.