I watched as my younger brother Theron twirled his new bride Madelaine across the dancefloor. She laughed and swung back into the circle of his arms.
“You know, with that look on your face, one would think you want to get married next.” A deep, husky voice spoke up from next to me.
I looked over. Colton Blackwell, my best friend, was sitting there with amusement brightening his cerulean blue eyes.
I snorted. “As if any man would want to marry me.” I gestured to my lilac dress with a plunging neckline, thin straps, and flowy lower half.
Colton chewed thoughtfully on his drink straw before taking a sip of his whiskey. “Any man would be lucky to call you his.”
I arched an eyebrow at that. I noticed that Colton had taken off his gray plaid blazer and remained in his navy blue long-sleeved button-down and matching pants. His smile was warm.
I looked away from him and around the room.
“Are you checking out the scenery or has some man caught your eye?” Colton interrupted my thought with his question.
I rolled my eyes as his smile widened.
“I’m just admiring the architecture.” I waved my hand at the ballroom. “Nothing gets better than the grandeur of the Blackwell.”
The Blackwell Hotel had been established in New York City in 1867 and had remained a fixture of the Upper East Side all those years. It was polished and beautiful.
Colton made a humming noise and scanned the room.
“But if you aren’t looking for an eligible bachelor, you should be. A lot of the guys here are your type.” He reminded.
I held back a giggle. “Only you would say the words eligible bachelor.” I put quotation marks around those words with my hand motions. “Not all of us in the elite class treat dating like it’s a Jane Austen novel.”
He leaned in, his ribeye steak and mashed potatoes forgotten. There was a sparkle in his eyes that I recognize as trouble.
“I’m thinking you’re going to go for the guy over there with the green tie. He’s got an edge to him that you’d like. Or would you go for the bartender? You’ve always had a thing for a guy who can mix a strong drink.” Colton mused, stroking his hand over his five o’clock shadow.
I glanced over. There was a man with a black suit and forest green tie talking to Elena, my oldest sister, and her fiancé, Harrison Light. Tattoos wound up his neck and he rubbed a hand over dark blond hair freshly shorn down in a buzz cut. He had a handsome, clean-cut look to him.
I narrowed my eyes at Colton, but his smile just grew wider.
“Am I hitting the nail on the head or what?”
“Oh, what does it matter? Feeling jealous?” I smirked.
“Of not having the full attention of Alexandria Youngblood? Of course.” Colton paused. “The best friend trumps fresh meat, just so you know.”
“Not at a wedding. Half the point of weddings is to meet new people.” I reminded him.
“But it’s your overprotective brother’s wedding. That changes things.” Colton noted.
He took a sip of his whiskey as I shook my head.
Colton has always teased me about my love life, or lack thereof.
“So, when is it going to be your turn to walk down the aisle?” Colton swung his silver fork at me, gesturing with it.
“That’s hilarious, Colton.” I snarked.
“I’m serious. Theron was never one to settle down, and look how blissed out he is now.” Colton nodded at Theron and Madelaine walking around and greeting everyone seated at various dinner tables.
Theron’s arms were wrapped around his new wife’s waist as they greeted guests. Madelaine’s dress was a snug mermaid-style lace number that clung to her every curve. It had been tailored to fit her by one of my best friends, the wedding dress designer Charlotte Badeaux. I had called Charlotte as soon as Theron told me that Madelaine was looking for a custom-made wedding dress in the city.
“Your stance may change someday.” Colton tapped his fork on his mouth.
“Well, I need to find the right man. Fantasizing about a wedding is dumb if I can’t picture the man who’s standing across the aisle from me.” I shot back.
“You can’t find something you aren’t looking for.”
“That’s true. I just don’t know if I have the time to put in the work to find the right guy at the moment.” I was currently juggling three jobs. I worked as a bartender at Breakneck, a club in the West Village, assistant fashion director at Epitome, a local fashion magazine, and my own jewelry line on Etsy.
He leaned back in his chair, fixing his eyes on Theron and Madelaine once more. “Theron was just a scrawny, awkward kid when I first met him. Now he has a wife and a house and a life planned out. Have we gotten that old too or has time stood still for us?”
Theron and Madelaine were only twenty-three. Colton was twenty-five and I was twenty-four.
“You haven’t aged a day. You’re just as annoying as when I met you.”
He and I met on the first day of freshman year at UVA. We lived on the same floor in dorm rooms across the hall from one another. He majored in economics while I had majored in art history.
Colton laughed and shot me an exaggerated wink. “You love me now and you loved me then. But speaking of love…”
“Are you really that interested in my love life?” I scrunched my nose.
“Humor me. You must have your eyes on someone.”
I flushed, looking down at my dirty martini.
“There are a lot of hot guys at the wedding.” I admitted. “But I’d rather talk to you.”
His face lit up at that.
“Why should I waste my night on a stranger, when I can get in trouble with my best friend?”
“That’s what I like to hear.” Colton lifted his whiskey glass and clinked his against mine.
I took a sip and closed my eyes, enjoying the soft, romantic music playing from the DJ booth.
“You should just tell me who the lucky guy is.”
I opened my eyes. “And why would I do that?”
His eyes sparkled with a familiar challenge. “Because if you don’t clue me in, I can make it hard for you to take him home.”
“I’m game.” I crossed my arms, knowing that when I did so my cleavage became that much more noticeable. “Do your worst, Blackwell.”
“Good. You know how much I love running off your deadbeat flings.” Colton said.
“You don’t even know who he is.” I reminded.
“It doesn’t matter who he is. I know he’s not worthy of you.” He grinned at me.
His voice was straightforward and smooth. A hint of warmth spread through my chest from having his full attention on me. His eyes scanned the room again.
Colton sighed before leaning back in his chair. “I guess I’ll just have to stick by you until you tell me who it is.”
“All night?” I dabbed at my mouth with a cloth napkin.
He shot me a mischievous smile.
“Sure. Wherever you go, I go.”
“Even to the bathroom?” I teased, raising my eyebrows.
Colton let out a laugh.
“Of course. I’ll wait outside like an obedient puppy.” Colton tilted his head. “So, what do you say? Be my date for the night?”
“Come on, Alexia, let’s have some fun. I’ve been away for business most of the month and I’ve missed you.” He reached out and grabbed my hand, interlacing our fingers. He used my nickname from college. He hadn’t called me that in over two years.
He tugged me close to him. I could smell the delicious smell of Dolce and Gabbana’s Light Blue cologne on him.
“Alexia, play with me.” He begged, widening his eyes.
“All right, Colton. I’ll be your date.” I relented.
He gave me a wide smile and squeezed my hand. “You won’t regret this.”
Colton’s muscular arm slid over my shoulder as we both turned our chairs to survey the rest of the party.
“So, what’s our plan of attack? We’ve got more hors d’oeuvres to eat, drinks to consume, and a photo booth at the end of the hall.”
“Let’s go to the photo booth!” I pulled him by the hand up.
We began to walk over the dancefloor to the photo booth near the back.
“Are you planning on recreating those awkward homecoming photos where you licked my neck? I spent the next three photos trying to push you out of the booth.” I teased, poking him in the arm.
“No promises.” Colton charged forward, grabbing my hand and pulling me along with him.
“No licking. I mean it.” I insisted.
“I’ve kept my tongue to myself for six years, Alexandria. I’m not about to break that streak now.” He reassured me.
He grabbed an enormous pair of green sunglasses and a goofy mustache from the bin nearby before we entered the photo booth. I sat down and he slid in next to me.
“How about two goofy ones and two serious photos?” Colton suggested.
“Let’s do those serious ones first and then go full American Gothic.”
“Ah, great. We’re going to be stoic, serious, and weathered.” He snickered.
I elbowed him lightly. “You’d better not laugh.”
We took the photos, laughing and picking up new props between takes. We headed back to the table with a stack of photos. I crossed my legs and pulled down the lower half of my dress as I realized everyone else at the table had left to go dancing.
“Isn’t this better than swinging and missing with Green Tie Guy?” He nudged me with his shoulder.
“Who says I would miss?” I raised my eyebrows at him.
“Maybe the fact that he just exchanged numbers with Troy Kugelmann.”
Troy Kugelmann was in Theron and Madelaine’s graduating class from Highland Park. He was openly gay.
I smacked my palm against my forehead.
“It’s possible he’s bi.” I mused.
“Maybe, but you still ended up with the better date from the night.” Colton looped his arm around mine.
“I did,” I admitted.
He rubbed a hand down my back and tucked the photos in his wallet. Theron and Madelaine approached us.
“There y’all are!” Madelaine exclaimed.
Theron groaned. “I feel like we’ve been greeting people for decades.”
Colton and Theron hugged. I rose to greet my new sister-in-law with my martini glass gripped in my right hand.
I took a fortifying swallow before pulling her close in a tight hug.
I pulled away. “Welcome to the family.”
She beamed, her green-blue eyes glowing with happiness. “I know it’s just been y’all and Arabella for a long time, so I’m happy to add to your numbers.”
Our parents, Arabella and Marcus, had divorced when I was a freshman in college. He had left us for our mother’s sister’s best friend, a woman eighteen years younger than him. We only saw him at weddings and the occasional family function, so he wasn’t an active presence in our lives.
“We’re exclusive for a reason. We only let the best in. I’m so glad you and Theron stuck it out.”
“I notice you’ve been taking good care of Lexa, Colton.” Theron noted.
“You two have been together all evening. It’s so cute.” Madelaine said, wrapping an arm around Theron.
Colton grinned and slung an arm over my shoulder.
“She’s the best date I’ve had to a wedding in years.” Colton admitted.
The lights dimmed in the ballroom then.
“It’s time for the father daughter dance. Go and shine, babe.” Theron pressed a kiss to Madelaine’s forehead.
She giggled and walked off.
I’ve never seen him look so happy.
“Can I tell you something?” Colton interrupted my line of thought.
“When do you not?”
His smile did not fully reach his eyes. “I guess I’m a little jealous.”
“Of Theron? Sure, Madelaine’s gorgeous but…”
“No, it’s nothing like that.” He shook his head.
“Then what’s up?”
Colton sighed, his eyes sliding away from mine.
“Doesn’t it make you a little sad? Seeing them nail down the rest of their lives?”
“I’m not sure I’m at that place in my life. And I haven’t really thought about it.”
“Neither am I, but that doesn’t stop me from wanting to be there.” He admitted.
As Madelaine and her dad spun close to our table, Colton looked away.
“But don’t you have the Blackwell family plan? The perfect wife, with the perfect name and connections?” I remembered.
“That’s why I’m jealous. The kind of marriage I’m set up for is nothing like this. It’s a marriage of convenience, not love.”
Colton’s parents have always put so much pressure on him to find a girl worthy of the name Blackwell and the fortune that comes with it. He’s always talked about relationships the way one talks about business deals.
“You never seemed to care about love before, Colt.” I frowned.
“Well, I’ve never truly witnessed a loving marriage before.” He scooped up another bite of chocolate-raspberry cake with cream cheese frosting and shoveled it into his mouth.
“Me neither. My parents weren’t great.”
Before he could answer, the song came to an end and the guests applauded. The dance floor opened up. Madelaine waved at me to come and join her.
“It looks like Lainey wants us to open up the dance floor, Alexia. You ready?” He stood up, brushed off his pants, and held out a hand to me.
I took his hand and rose from my seat. “I’m going to wipe the floor with you, Blackwell.”
“Dancing is a team sport. You know that, right?”
“With you, everything is a competition.” I reminded him.
Colton took my hand and led me out to the dance floor. He guided me into the circle of his arms. I leaned my head on his shoulder as we swayed to the romantic Lauv song playing.
He leaned in close to whisper in my ear. “We’d better rock these moves. You know how much Madelaine cares about this dance looking good.”
My eyes flicked over to where Theron and Madelaine were standing, watching us. She noticed me looking over and she smiled encouragingly.
Colton slipped his hand into mine and twirled me around. I spun out and curled back into his arms on beat to the song.
I breathed out as he continued to lead us around the dance floor.
“I thought I’d totally fuck that move up.”
“You did great.” He pressed a kiss to my temple.
I fell into step with him, letting him glide us across the floor with practiced ease. We had been practicing this dance for the last few weeks.
“You’re a natural, Alexia.” Colton breathed out.
“That’s you. Look at those perfectly square shoulders.”
He laughed. “It’s more like I’ve been forced to dance at every banquet and gala hosted here since I was eight.”
“Well, thank you for tolerating my moves.”
The song swelled and he dipped me. I let my back relax as he moved me closer to the ground before tipping me back up into his arms. Colton pulled me up to fully face him, holding me close.
“I tolerate a lot of this for you, Alexandria. But this is a pleasure.”
He spun me out of his hold as a smile pulled at my mouth. The rhythm of the song transitioned into a faster beat and I remembered all the times I failed at this part during rehearsals.
“Let me lead, baby doll.” Colton spoke low into my ear.
I nodded. “I’m ready.”
He led me across the dance floor and I followed, moving gracefully in his arms. On the last swing, the music ended. I fell against his chest in order to catch my breath.
The crowd gathered at the corner of the room applauded.
“I’ll take you over the country club girls any day.” Colton murmured before releasing me.
“Suck up.” I stuck out my tongue playfully at him.
The next song began to play. He offered me his hand. I took it and we went to the lobby.
Theron came up behind us.
“Colton, I hope you’re not sneaking Alexandria out early. I still need a dance.” Theron admonished.
“I wouldn’t dream of it.” Colton held up his hands in surrender.
“You two smashed it out there. I’ve never seen you dance so well, Lexa.” Theron fist bumped me with our secret handshake.
“I think Colton gets most of the credit, but thanks.”
He smiled and shook his head.
“That dance was all you.” Colton slid his hand around my hip and tugged me next to him.
Theron’s expression became serious.
“So, did you work out the roomate situation yet?”
“That’s why you came out here?” I pursed my lips.
“I’m going to take that as a no.” Theron frowned as he crossed his arms.
“Don’t worry. I’ve got it.” I put a hand on his arm, trying to get him to relax.
“It’s been nearly a month since your roommate bailed, though. Manhattan’s expensive.” He narrowed his eyes.
“I’m working on it. I have put feelers out. It’s just hard to find the right roommate.” I lied, not wanting to tell him that I hadn’t began my search for a new roommate at all. I had been swamped with work this month. I took my hand off his arm as his eyes softened.
“I’m just worried baout you. I want to make sure that you’re going to be safe.”
“I’m all grown, Theron. You don’t have to worry about me.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll help her out.” Colton piped up.
I shot him a stink eye.
“I don’t need your help either.”
“Come on. Let me use my skills and connections. I’ll find you find a great roommate.”
Both of them looked expectantly at me.
“I’d appreciate the help, Colt. Thanks.” I gave in.
I let out long sigh. “Let’s talk about it tomorrow.”
“That’s fine. Am I still crashing with you tonight?” He fixed his blue eyes on me.
His apartment building was under construction and I had offered to let him stay the night in my extra room.
“Yeah, of course.”
He darted to the front desk to collect his suitcases.
“You know, he was friends with me. Now y’all are attached at the hip.” Theron had been close friends with him in high school and had introduced us. We hadn’t fully become friends until freshman year.
“Well, he’s mine now. Sorry not sorry.” I scrunched my nose at him.
Colton angled his head at the door, bringing with him a heather gray duffel bag and two silver suitcases.
I kissed Theron on the cheek, wishing him good luck tonight, and left to go where Colton was standing at the valet.
“Hey,” I greeted him.
He turned to me. “Hey, yourself.”
The valet pulled up with his cherry red Porsche Panamera. He slid into the car and stuck his head out of the open window.
“Come on, let’s go!”
I let out a small laugh and opened the car door before sitting down.
“So, what are your plans for tonight?” He wondered.
“A movie or two before going to sleep.” I had a few romantic comedies saved on my Netflix To Watch list.
“That sounds great. During that business trip, I didn’t have a moment to relax. I haven’t watched mindless TV for over a month now.” Colton exhaled sharply.
“Then you’ll be pleased to know at my apartment all we do is sleep, eat, and sit in front of the TV in our pajamas.”
“How amazing.” He reached across the console and linked his fingers with mine.
I squeezed him back gently. Once we arrived back at my apartment, he parked the car before opening the door for me.
I shot him a surprised look. “It looks like chivalry isn’t dead.”
“More like a team of nannies trained me to have common courtesy.” He admitted.
Once we arrived on the sixth floor of my apartment, something seemed off. I peered around and noticed the suitcases in my living room.
“What are those doing in my living room?”
I turned to Colton with wide eyes. He looked unfazed, a soft smile playing on his lips.
“Please don’t tell me you found me a roommate in the last day or so.” I pleaded with him.
“What can I say,” Colton spread his hands. “I work fast.”
“What is that supposed to mean?” I put my hands on my hips.
“You’re right. I found you a new roommate.” He angled his head at the suitcases.
“You can’t be serious. Who would want to move their stuff this late on a Saturday?” I punched his shoulder, thinking that he was joking.
“I did.” He admitted.
I furrowed my eyebrows.
“I’m going to need you to repeat what you just said.”
“It’s me, Alexia. I’m your new roommate.”
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