The One That I Want. Michelle Monkou
“That’s better than saying ‘not in this lifetime.’”
Dresden didn’t respond. While she operated as being cool and confident, he could barely keep up with his unaffected demeanor under her pointed questions.
“You gotta give a woman a teensy bit of hope or they won’t stick around to talk to you when there’s a kick-butt party going on over her shoulder.” A smidgen of a smile curled her lips.
Dresden got the message, but this wasn’t the place to pick up anyone, even if she was rocking her tiny red minidress. And even if it fit like a tight glove around her curves at the top and at the bottom—He took another sip.
Reality check to self: hooking up at Grace Meadows’s party couldn’t happen. Shouldn’t happen.
“Let me guess.” She leaned toward him. He tried not to be caught in her weblike aura, but he leaned toward her. Couldn’t help it. That damned perfume rendered him weak. “You look out at these strangers in this backdrop with doubt, maybe condemnation. I can see it on your face. You’re dismissive of them for whatever reasons. That’s sad. Because you’re looking at me with a lot of suspicion mixed with wariness, as if I were about to suggest a one-night stand.”
Dresden choked on his drink. Her boldness, her accuracy about his attraction to her, rattled his nerves. He shook his head. He’d never own up to lusting after her.
“And on that note, it’s been an interesting few minutes with you, Dresden. See you around...if it’s meant to be.” Laxmi offered her hand once more.
This time he was prepared for the intense pleasure of holding it.
Or so he’d thought. He hadn’t expected the slight squeeze of her hand before she released his with the bonus of a slow wink.
Like a magician, she flipped a business card out of her pocketbook and extended it to him from between her fingers.
“Aren’t you afraid that I might use your card as a bookmark?” His voice croaked. Must not give in.
“Nah.” Once he took the card, she continued. “I’ll stay confident that you’ll call.”
Every part of him cheered in agreement. However, to pretend otherwise, to maintain his plan to be unavailable, thanks to her base in New York and his in Toronto, he simply slipped the card into his inside jacket pocket and picked up his drink. “Have a good night.”
She was gone before he’d finished talking. Her exit had as much flair as her style. The formfitting dress left admirers—and him—gawking as she cut a path with a supermodel strut to the front of the room.
Meeting her was worth the entire night’s experience. She had the unique appeal to wake him up and make him interested in something other than his current issues. Though she’d left, his system still savored the aftereffect of her energy.
Once Laxmi disappeared from his view, Dresden sighed. The fun part of the night was over. Time to grit his teeth, suck it up and formally be part of Grace Meadows’s birthday bash.
The music faded into the rumbling din of the guests. The clink of glass and buzz of conversation accompanied Dresden’s solitary walk to the head table.
Lights suddenly dimmed over the room, wrapping everyone in soft white lights that glittered off the chandeliers. The waitstaff efficiently slipped to the perimeter of the room with dirty dishes in tow. Stage lights now brightened a wide path for the mistress of ceremonies, who’d stepped forward to take charge. Her booming voice commandeered everyone’s attention as she announced that the planned program for the birthday celebration would begin.
An eager attendant, scrubbed and polished, quickly inserted himself into Dresden’s space, blocking his progress to the Meadowses. “Are you part of the VIPs?” He pointed to his wrist and tapped his finger on the spot.
Dresden stared at him, clueless as to the meaning of the signal.
“VIPs have a purple bracelet. Do you have your invitation?”
Dresden nodded and showed it.
The eager and now annoyed attendant cleared his throat as he closely read the paper. “Okay. Here’s your bracelet.”
Dresden took the simple band and slipped it on. He squashed the stubborn urge to refuse this anointed VIP status and risk the attendant’s disdain. His DNA connection to the Meadowses changed nothing. With his personal life and career pursuit solidly middle of the road, he had no experience with the airs and graces that surrounded this family.
While the emcee continued on with her introductions, he turned himself over to his escort and followed along to the head table.
“Mrs. Meadows, your guest Dresden Haynes is here.” The man actually bowed. Not to a full ninety-degree angle, but enough to give deference and to earn a regal nod.
Dresden’s back stiffened. She couldn’t expect him to do the same? But he wasn’t sure as Grace Meadows slid her keen gaze onto him. The entire table’s attention followed suit, including Miss Sexy Red Dress.
Laxmi offered him an imperceptible nod. Casually posed. Neutral smile. Guess she wasn’t disclosing that they’d met.
In return, he responded with a quick, dismissive nod before he turned his attention back to Grace.
“How good of you to join us,” Grace said with clear imperious elocution. “I’m so thrilled that you came to my party. Now, take your seat. We are about to begin.”
The woman didn’t look anywhere close to eighty years old. A vibrancy burst from her like an extra ring added to her aura. Even without all the family members and the birthday decorations that framed her, she would still stand out in a crowd.
She shooed him away with a flick of her hand. “You are seated next to Fiona. Go on, take a seat.”
His sister was already at his side with arms outstretched. Before he could take it all in, before he could take a step back, she pulled him into a fiercely tight hug. “I can’t believe you’re here. I’m so glad.” Her hug grew tighter as she repeated herself.
“Good to see you, too,” Dresden offered after his release from her arms. The tension interwoven through his neck muscles slackened and disappeared under her reassuring smile. During their many conversations, he’d accepted that Fiona shouldn’t shoulder any blame for his lost-and-found story line. Nor should she be burdened with his pendulum swings over accepting the role and responsibilities as a Meadow or retreating to his obscurity from the family.
“Let’s get the introductions over with because I’m sure your brain is on overload right now,” Fiona said after he took his seat.
Her prophetic statement held true after he was reintroduced to Fiona’s boyfriend, Leo; their cousins Dana and Belinda and their significant others, Kent and Jesse; and more extended family. In that last cluster of family members, he had to acknowledge Verona—Fiona’s mother—the same woman who’d given him away and held on to her secret until a few months ago, when Grace and Fiona had found out about his existence.
He twisted the lock tighter on his emotions to halt any visible signs of how he felt. The order he craved in his life couldn’t afford pendulum swings into drama. Neither did he want to dwell in hurt, anger or even empathy for Verona.
Feelings for this woman whom he couldn’t think of as his mother didn’t linger in one place. At times, he wondered about her life and the difficulty of giving him up. During those moments, he could stir up a measure of compassion without feeling any sense of obligation to talk to her. Other times, when he celebrated with his parents over the smallest joy, he could erase Verona from his conscious thoughts.
Overall, the many names he’d just learned, along with each person’s identifying details, merged