It’s still lavished with Christmas décor, all white trees and white lights giving it more of a homely warmth than my stark Christmas at home with Melany and my father.

She spots us as soon as we enter and looks me up and down with her usual pursed lips, but her eyes darken as she turns her focus onto my father. Truth is, he’s aged a lot in the years since my mother died. I mean, he was twenty years older than my mother, and he’s twenty-five years older than Melany, so it’s not that he’s old beyond his years, not really. But there was always an energy about him before. He worked hard for what he had, and although he was already semi-retired when my mother was alive he still made sure everyone knew he was the boss.

Now, the way he lets Melany push him around…my mother would hardly recognize him.

She turns to a tuxedoed staff member tending the bar beside her, one of many that line the walls, and indicates two with her fingers. He smiles, a little too familiarly if you ask me, and pours her two drinks, which she picks up before heading our way.

“Thomas.” Melany leans into my father, giving him a kiss before wiping her lipstick from his lips as she hands him one of the glasses and nods toward me. “Doralee.” She releases a disappointed sigh as she examines my face, making me want to ram my fist into her botoxed lips. “You have a pimple.”

I open my mouth to say something, but luckily for me someone calls to my father and Melany’s focus shifts, her eyes widening in delight.

“Oh, that’s Patrick Remington the actor? I simply adored him in that movie last year…oh, what was it called? You know the one I mean…” Melany runs her hand down my father’s chest. “You know him?”

He nods. “Yes, I helped him with some financing for his new production company.”

“Well, let’s go talk to him.” Melany turns to me, pointing to the floor at my feet. “Stay right here. We’ll be back, and then we need to go talk to Andre and Michael from the Hart Agency. We want to make a good impression and I do not want you talking to them without us. And water only tonight. You’re looking bloated.”

“Melany, really. That’s enough.” My father interjects, one of the rare occasions when his old self shines through.

But when Melany gives him a shrug, the curtain comes back down. “I’m just doing my job. For all of us.”

With that, she takes his hand and leads him away, leaving me standing alone but thankful to be away from her. I turn to scan the room, irritated but staying put as I’ve been told. A string quartet is playing in the center as filter-perfect faces mill about, chatting and laughing and no doubt genuinely enjoying themselves.

And then it happens.

It’s like a fist just connected to my chest. My breath stalls and my lungs burn. All the noise in the room fades and it’s like a magical spotlight illuminates just one person, standing alone but looking as confident as if he owned the place, sipping straight from a long neck bottle of beer.


Who comes to a party like this and drinks beer?

He’s wearing a perfectly fitted tuxedo, very James Bond like, with dark hair and a closely trimmed matching beard framing a face that was carved from sex and stone. My body ignites in tingles as I imagine the scruff of that beard brushing against my own face as he kisses me. His massive hands tracing a trail down my trembling spine…

And God yes, he’s enormous.

He stands inches above all the other men in the room, with shoulders so wide he could probably hold up the ceiling if it decided to cave in. In fact, he’s so big I’d think he was security if it wasn’t for the fact people are nodding his way with a kind of fawning respect.

The tightness I feel down low shocks me. I’ve not had this kind of reaction to anyone ever, and the thoughts of what his naked body looks like under that tuxedo are starting to invade my every thought, sending me into a mild panic.

He brings a hand to his chin, rubbing his beard, and he honestly looks bored. He’s not flashy, not trying to impress anyone, but still he commands authority, standing there all alone as he assesses his surroundings.

My eyes flick to a dark hall off to my left, and I head in that direction. Maybe if I can find a ladies’ room I can compose myself. But even as I drift along, trying to escape his gravity, I struggle to keep my eyes from darting back to him every few seconds.

I’m already lightheaded enough from lack of sustenance, but when his fierce green eyes turn my way and meet mine, my knees nearly buckle under me.