Naked Portraits In Your Museum
DAY TWO: CHAPTER FIVE
Three months ago…
“My ex-girlfriend said that I shouldn’t talk to strangers disguised as angels. She was never one.” A stranger hotter than blue blazes sat beside her on one of the bar stools. “But you are.”
Hope couldn’t help but laugh. “Do you always flirt at engagement parties?”
“Is there a rule not to?”
She just shook her head and took a large gulp of her drink. “Were you even invited here?”
He feigned hurt and pointed to himself. “Who wouldn’t want this sexy man at a fiesta?”
“Groom or bride?”
“Bride’s best friend.” He held a hand out. “Man of honor.”
She laughed at that, but shook his hand. “I’d say you’re the maid of honor, like Patrick Dempsey in the movie.”
“You’re insulting me, sweetheart.” He ordered a drink, enigmatic blue eyes never leaving hers. “So, what’s your story?”
“Why should I tell you?” Her deep brown eyes were innocent yet challenging. “You’ll forget our conversation, anyway.”
“You think I’m a Casanova who goes around talking to anyone?” He raised his eyebrows in surprise. “You’re right. Going to parties and flirting with strangers is all I do.”
“Sorry, I can’t judge you when I don’t even know you.”
He downed his drink before leaning close. Hope sucked in a sharp breath when their thighs brushed slightly. “Liam Turner, broadcast journalist at NBC, single ever since my ex dumped me for farting at her parents’ house and I haven’t had sex in eight months ’cause I got VD.”
Hope stared at him for what felt like eternity before she smirked. “The last part is not true, is it?”
His laugh was soft, deep and rich at the same time. “C’mon, beat my story and the next round of drinks is on me.”
“I’m Hope Martin, art museum director in Asheville; married and divorced twice, and I had quintuplets last year. Also, I killed an old pervert with a snowball.” She tried to keep a straight face but failed miserably.
Liam laughed again as he called for a round of tequila shots. “I like sense of humor in a woman.”
She could practically feel his breath fanning her cheeks. Up close, she could notice his chiseled features and the angelic smile that made her heart pound like Thor’s hammer. “By the way, I’m the best friend and best woman of the groom.”
He smirked. “You mean best man. So, do you have any naked portraits in your museum? I’d like to visit sometime.”
Hope opened her eyes to notice sunlight peeking in through the window. Her heart was still beating fast from the memory she just reminisced. With a lazy smile sprawled across her face, she got out of bed and walked towards the balcony. The French doors opened and she was welcomed with the soothing sound of the waves. It was a perfect day – the sky and the ocean appeared as one infinite blue galaxy, no horizon.
Hope turned to the side when she heard a door opening from the room adjacent to hers. Kaleb stepped out and stretched his arms overhead with a loud yawn before grinning at her. “Morning, Hope. I see you’re an early riser, too.”
“Hey, Kaleb with a K. What are your plans for today?”
His brows furrowed. “Well, Tyler’s turning 29 today, so – “
She rushed inside to check her phone. October 4th. Shit.
“I forgot.” She leaned against the railing and glanced at Kaleb. “Oh god, I’m a terrible friend.”
“Hey, it’s okay. It’s still morning.” He smiled in an attempt to cheer her up. “You can make something for him and just wish him a happy birthday. It’s better than buying some gift.”
“You’re right. Thanks, man.” Just as she was about to go inside, she heard a female voice. “Where’s my shirt? Your room is a mess!”
“Who is that?” Hope pointed a finger at Kaleb’s room with a pointed look. “Kale, did you have sex?”
“What?” Kaleb made a ridiculous face. “No! Hop – “
She didn’t listen to his excuse because she was already running towards his room. Her jaw dropped when she saw who the woman was. “Casey? You slept with Casey?”
“It’s not what you’re thinking, Hope – “
Vincent, who was walking past Kaleb’s room to wake up Hope heard her voice and stopped at the doorway. “Who slept with Casey? Oh!”
Hope knew what he was thinking and hastily shook her head. “No, you dirty minded nitwit! We didn’t have a three-way.”
“It’s okay to have newness in life, Hobbit.” He joked and lifted his hand to ruffle her hair, but Hope grabbed his wrist and twisted his arm. “Keep your witticisms to yourself, Kermit.”
“Alright, let me go.” Vincent grunted in pain as she released her grip and he turned around. “Who slept with Casey?”
She crossed her arms across her chest and looked at Kaleb like a mother would when she finds out for the first time that her son had sex. “Your cousin did.”
“I didn’t!” Kaleb yelled with his hands up in annoyance. “If you just listen to me – “
Casey quickly put on her shirt and placed fifty bucks on the bedside stand. “Thanks for last night.” She muttered before scuffing out of the room without so much as a glance. Vincent and Hope watched her from behind with their mouths wide open like a shark. “She paid you for sex? Dude, that’s very low of you to ask her that.”
“Who paid for sex?” Paris asked.
Jesse walked in behind her, rubbing his eyes. “Am I sleepwalking or did Casey Parker just walk out of Kaleb’s room?”
“No one paid for sex because no one had sex in this room last night.”
The four of them turned to look at Kaleb. “Then what was she doing in your room without a shirt on?”
“Why did she pay you fifty dollars and say ‘thanks for last night’?”
“She what?” Jesse exclaimed whose brain didn’t seem to wake up yet.
“I’m a professional cuddler!” Kaleb snapped. “She was miserably drunk, so I comforted her. She took her shirt off because she wanted to go skinny dipping last night, but then passed out. I told her specifically that there was no need to pay, but I don’t know, maybe she was feeling guilty or something.”
“Or maybe she was disappointed that you didn’t have sex with her.”
Kaleb stared at Jesse as if he had grown a sixth finger. “No, that’s ridiculous! Neither of us had that intention.”
“So, you’re saying that my friend’s not attractive?” Paris asked, clearly offended. Vincent and Hope said, “Uh – oh.”
Kaleb frowned. “I never said that. She’s…nice.”
She raised an eyebrow, but ignored the word ‘nice’. “So, why didn’t you do it last night?”
“A, she was drunk and I would never take advantage of a woman like that. And B, I just met her yesterday for the first time.”
“If she’s in her right mind and asks for sex, will you do it?”
“No, of course not.” He was starting to get angry from all the questions over something he didn’t do. “Why would I?”
“Why won’t you?”
“Is she that ugly?”
“No, it’s this thing about me.”
“What thing?” Jesse asked, a little too loudly.
“It won’t be fair to her.”
“For the love of buffalo wings, just spit it out!”
Tyler, who was passing by the room, stopped dead in his tracks and snapped his head towards Kaleb. “You’re what?”
“You’re gay?” Jesse asked at the same time. “No wonder you didn’t go for it.”
Vincent gaped at him in disbelief. “How come you didn’t tell me? You’re my cuz!”
“Is ‘cuz’ short for cousin?” Jesse asked, but everyone decided to ignore the half asleep guy.
“I’m sorry for not telling you.” Kaleb told Vincent, his voice laced with sincerity. “No one in the family knows.”
Paris gave him a sad smile. “I’m sorry for pushing you, Kaleb. But we are here for you.”
Hope patted his arm and Vincent slapped his back while Paris pulled him into a tight hug. Tyler and Jesse watched Kaleb awkwardly look at everyone.
“So, you had a thing for me?” Tyler attempted to lighten the mood and make him feel a little bit comfortable. “I knew you were checking me out every time we met at your college parties.”
“In your dreams, Meller.” Kaleb snorted, but there was a tiny smile on his face. “Happy birthday, by the way.”
“Are you gay, too?” Jesse joked before his eyes widened. “It’s your birthday?”
“Happy birthday, Tyler!” Paris hugged him. It appears that she might be a hugger. Hope glanced at Vincent before saying, “You forgot, too, didn’t you?”
He nodded and looked at her with a guilty look. “We are the worst friends on the planet.” They approached Tyler, who grinned and pulled them close. He already seemed to know from the looks on their faces. “Hey, it’s okay if you forgot. I’m just glad we’re together on my b – day after so many years. I’m feeling seventeen.”
Vincent snorted. “Your seventeenth birthday was the worst in the history of teenage birthdays. Everything was the opposite of what you wanted.”
Hope nodded her head in agreement. “You wanted a car; instead you got a bike of pink, orange and yellow.”
“You wanted a beach themed party so that Ingrid Wagner will dress up in the Hawaiian style, but your parents turned it into a circus soiree.”
“Beer replaced with ’Georgia on My Mind’.”
Vincent made a disgusting face at the memory of the taste of the mocktail. “I didn’t eat anything for the next two days because of that agave syrup. And who the hell serves chipwich cakes at a high school party?”
“Oh, and that Satan – awful birthday cake.” Hope scrunched up her nose in disgust. “Lemon and Funfetti for Scotch and Cigar.”
“Happy birthday, man!” Jesse seemed to finally wake up and came towards Tyler with a grin. “Oops, sorry. Gay guy.”
“Where’s my birthday kiss, lover boy?” Before Jesse could understand what he meant, Tyler had grabbed his face and pretended to kiss him.
“Ew, get off of me, sleazeball!” He screamed like a red fox as he pushed Tyler’s face away. “Your morning breath smells like Parmesan cheese.”
“That’s a good thing, right?” It was evident from his huge grin that Tyler was enjoying this. “Parmesan cheese tastes good, if you get past the smell. C’mon, babe, kiss the birthday boy!”
“You are a dirty old perv.” Jesse ran across the room and hid behind Kaleb. “And just because I like ballet and got dibs on Roberto Bolle, don’t think I’m poof.”
“Roberto? Just the way his body twists give me shudders.” Tyler visibly shuddered as if to prove his point. Jesse glared at him as the others in the room burst out laughing.
Paris said, “I sense a bromance between these two.”
“Morning, everyone.” Selena chirped as she set breakfast on the table. “I heard bickering upstairs.”
“I’ll update you.” Paris said excitedly as she told her everything that happened in Kaleb’s room an hour ago.
“So, did you specialize in grooming people like me into real men?” Tyler joked as he sat in the chair beside Ellie’s. “I can say that you’re a nut to your face now.”
She laughed. “Glad I could help with your power of speech.”
“So, did you cook all of this?”
She rolled her eyes. “Kinda. Selena did most of it.”
“Can you teach me how to make French toast?”
“Are you asking me to hang out with you?”
“Depends on how palatable you make food.”
“I own the best restaurant in Nevada.”
He gave her an alluring smile. “Then I’m counting on hanging out with you in the kitchen.”
“Why not today?” Ellie suggested. “It’s your birthday. Might as well learn something new.”
“So, did you have fun last night, Hope?” Selena gracefully brought a bite – sized amount of casserole to her mouth, although she had a knowing look. “You came downstairs quite late.”
“She was with me. We were…catching up.” Liam winked at Hope. “However, we were quite disappointed when we heard that missed Casey’s red wine incident.”
“Oh, so what I did last night has a name now?” From the tone of her voice, anyone could tell she was frustrated. Barely visible half-moons traced the outside of her hooded eyes.
Jesse slipped up with a spontaneous laugh. “Like I would ever spike your drink.”
She narrowed her eyes at him. “I knew it was you.”
“Right, you’re a detective and all.” Jesse said in a dismissive voice. “I felt that you need to loosen up a little and if you’re still angry, look at my left eye.” He pointed at his face where the cork had hit his face when she popped open the wine bottle.
“I have fun.” Her tone sounded offensive. “I just don’t have fun all the time, like you.”
“Yeah, she does have fun.” Paris and Ellie said to support her, but they knew better than that. Casey Parker doesn’t know the basic definition of fun. In her dictionary, fun means drowning herself in work.
“Anyway,” Jesse tried to change the subject. “Did you know that your nephew’s gay?”
Vincent and Hope looked at each other with wide eyes. Kaleb stiffened in his chair, his face practically draining all color. It was too late; Diana Engelward heard Jesse. “My nephew’s gay?”
Paris clamped a hand over his mouth and smiled innocently. “He didn’t mean that Kaleb’s gay. What he intended to say was that your nephew’s peppy, you know, one who has high – spirited energy, like when you say a couple dancing a gay jig.”
“Nice save.” Tyler whispered, exhaling a breath.
“I don’t follow.” Diana furrowed her brows.
“Don’t mind the children, Diana.” Raven Silverstein said. “Nell, when are we going to the city?”
The wedding coordinator pulled out her tab in which she had everything organized. “You will leave in an hour for the wedding gifts and finalize a few things so we can start with the pre – wedding events.”
“Events?” Xander asked. “I thought it was just ‘will you marry me?’, ‘death of a bachelor’ and fast forward, ‘you may kiss the bride’.”
“Yes!” Nell’s face lit up with a bright smile. A little too bright. “The bride’s shower is in a few days and there’s a three – day cruise planned for the bachelor and the bachelorette parties, followed by the welcome party for all the wedding guests. Then comes the rehearsal ceremony and the dinner before the big day. In between, we have the final dress fitting, writing wedding vows, packing for the honeymoon, so many things to do.”
“Wow.” Most of them at the table were astonished.
Nell smiled at the bride and groom. “The wedding is solely about the two of you being united into one. More memories are made when friends and family are around.”
As everyone chattered about which flowers they chose and which band is playing during the ceremony, a man who looked like he came out from a Vogue magazine stepped into the dining room.
A/N: Oops! Are Vincent and Selena already regretting planning a big wedding? Also, a man who looks like he came out of a Vogue magazine, huh? Drop your thoughts on the beginning of day two.
LOL, Katherine :)