Surprise Me Maybe

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Drama at the Party

I consider myself lucky that I don’t have to deal with the aftermath of the news about Ashton and his long-lost daughter. Yet.

The company’s monthly magazine was distributed to everyone yesterday but I’d left for my last client visit before heading straight home afterward. I don’t even want to imagine how those eyes would be on me, seizing me up, and trying to decide how much of bitch I was if I were there. Anyway, I will deal with it on Monday. Not today.

Because it’s Chloe’s birthday.

We’ve agreed that Ashton takes care of the party because he doesn’t want to put more stress than I’m already dealing with at work. Besides, since this year’s party is partly to announce Chloe’s connection to the well-known Knight family to the world, it needs to be a little bit more extravagant. That’s how Ashton ended up hiring an event organizer to get all the things done. After the party organizer had a few discussions with us and took note of what Chloe likes and dislikes, the day has finally arrived.

“Oh my god!” Sophie gasps when we arrive at the venue. We need to pop up earlier to bring in Chloe’s stuff and make sure everything is in order. But instead of getting our asses out of the car, we both took our time to gape at the party’s setting.

I know Ashton chose the fancy garden restaurant in town because it also has a small children’s park next to it, but I had no idea that they were going to close the whole park for a few hours only for Chloe’s party. A huge banner stands by the entrance with my daughter’s grinning face on it. Balloons, flags, garlands and flowers in vibrant colors adorn the park with an unmistakably gigantic Shrek bounce house sitting in the corner.

“How did they convince me that it’s going to be a normal birthday party?” I murmur once I can find my voice.

“Normal rich people’s party, do you mean?” my sister retorts before unbuckling herself. “But Chloe will love it for sure. Let’s get going. We have some stuff to do before the guests arrive.”

And Sophie is right, of course. Chloe is ecstatic. She and Diana squeal when they arrive and instantly race to the green bounce castle. Sophie has to keep reminding them not to tire themselves out before the party even begins.

At ten-thirty, people start to show up. Besides my family, Ashton’s family, Chloe’s schoolmates, and people from Knight & Co, I barely know the rest. Ashton has shown me his guests list in case I objected, but why would I? They’re generally his business pals and family friends. But now I’m low-key regretting not spending time learning about them. I blame my job transfer for this.

“Char,” I hear Ashton’s deep voice call me between the crowd before his handsome face emerges between the guests’ heads. How I wish I could smooch him right here, right now. “I want you to meet the Bonerz family, Hugh and Martha.”

I grin when I see the farmer couple behind him. They’re definitely older than my parents but it seems like the farm work keeps their appearance younger than their age.

“Hello, I’m Charlotte, Chloe’s mother,” I greet. “She will be delighted to see you both today. You have no idea how she adores you, and Charlotte.”

The couple chuckle. “She’s such an adorable kid. Congratulations, Mama!” Hugh replies before quickly looking around. “And where is the birthday girl? I want to hand this–” he waves the gift box in his hand “–to your little one personally.”

“She’s in the playground with other kids. Come, let me bring you to her.”

In the next one hour, Ashton keeps on bringing new faces to introduce to me, leaving me no choice but to keep a happy smile on my face. Don’t get me wrong, I love networking and meeting new people, but this isn’t one; this is a children’s birthday party. Juggling from having conversations with Chloe’s school friends’ parents and Ashton’s people is like switching from drinking vodka and green tea. They just don’t mix.

Luckily, Danielle keeps her distance from me. I know Ashton has warned her not to put up a show, which she obliges. Emily and her family are also pretty much staying out of the radar. I know she doesn’t have the best relationship with her youngest brother and probably doesn’t even give a damn about Chloe’s birthday, but attending this party is a duty for the family member.

“So, it’s official now.” I hear Max’s voice before the man plops down next to me. I’ve been watching the kids playing while sitting in a log of wood behind the playground, having a little break from the crowd.

“Hey, you found my hiding place.” I smile at him.

“Ashton told me you’re here,” Max replies. “How do you feel?”

“Oh, I didn’t even know that he knew where I was.” I laugh. “I feel fine. I just need a breather for a few minutes before lunch starts.”

“No, I mean, how are you holding up with all this craziness?”

“Oh, you meant that.” I let out a heavy breath. “I’m not sure. It’s just… things change so fast in a very short period and I’m forced to go with the flow. I honestly haven’t had a chance to process it.” I turn my head to him. “And Max, I’m sorry for leaving the team like this. I know you’re pissed, but this is the best decision I could think of considering the situation. I wish things worked differently.”

Max smiles but it doesn’t reach his eyes. “Me, too. I have to say it sucks big time. We’re just about to get our balance back and now we’re back at how it was six months ago. Maybe worse.” He picks up a small branch from the ground and twirls it between his fingers. “But, I understand why you chose to leave. And I hope you like your new role.”

“Thank you. I did love our team in Knight & Co, and I was blessed to have you as my direct boss. I just hope Dickson Knight isn’t so much like a dick as they say.”

Max laughs. “That’s something you need to find out for yourself,” he replies.

It’s when we hear the restaurant bell jingling, a sign that lunch is about to start. I stand up and smooth up my skirt before peering at the restaurant yard.

“Where is your wife?”

“Inside, with Shanti and Donna.”

“Oh, the girls made it!” I know Gina and Sebastian can not come due to the short notice, but Shanti and Donna will not miss this opportunity for the world.

“Of course. Free food and juicy gossip.” Max reads my mind.

I chuckle. “You know your team very well, Mr. William.”

“I thought I did, Ms. Garnett, until I found out one of them has a child with my boss.”

---

The kids gather around the long table that is situated in the center of the garden. Chloe is seated on her throne at the end of the table, with her birthday-queen attributes on. A big table is placed next to the kid area, which is reserved only for the Garnetts and the Knights. Smaller tables are arranged across the garden where the rest of the guests can sit and enjoy their meal.

When Max and I reach the garden, I see most of the seats at the family table are occupied and everyone seems to be engaged in conversations. My breath hitches in my throat when my eyes catch the glimpse of the red-haired who is sitting between Dickson and Ashton. I blink again, hoping that this is just a hallucination, but she is still there, engrossed in a conversation with Dickson and Emily, ignoring the rigid Ashton.

Noticing my eyes on her, Diandra turns her head and smiles. A bright smile that can put the sun to shame. “Hi, Charlotte! Congratulations on your daughter’s birthday! She’s so cute and such a smart girl!”

Dickson did ask me if he could bring his date today, and I said yes. It never crossed my mind that it would be Diandra. Did she ask for this? Did Ashton know about this? He better not! Because he knows damn well that I’m not ready to let her meet my daughter, let alone to sit at this family table, next to the freaking father of my child.

“I’m sorry I forgot to inform you that I’m coming with Diandra. I hope you don’t mind,” says Dickson, seeming to notice my uneasiness.

“Oh, yeah," I reply quickly, realizing that I’m being borderline rude. “Of course, I don’t mind. And thank you, Diandra.” I force a smile at Ashton’s ex-girlfriend.

“Diandra is like a family to us after all,” Danielle chips in. “We’re happy to have you here with us, dear.”

After a brief welcoming speech and introduction about Chloe from Ashton, the feast officially starts. The waiters stride from one table to another table as if they’re dancing while bringing our meal. Soon, the air is full of the clanking metal forks and knives against the plates, or the clinking sound of cutlery against each other, muffled with the humming voices of people conversing during the meal. Yet, the children are the loudest among all. We have to keep reminding them to sit on their respectful chair and properly eat their food.

As much as I want to enjoy my meal, Diandra’s presence takes away my appetite. After the company gala night, I haven’t seen her and Ashton being in the same space, sitting next to each other, and this makes me nervous. I’m also not blind to the awkwardness between the two.

The small talk I had with Dickson rushes back to my head. “It’s always been Ashton for Diandra, likewise, no matter how far Ashton strays away from her, he will crawl back.” I can’t help but wonder what Ashton is thinking right now. Is sitting next to her, hearing her voice, and smelling her scents waking up some unwanted feelings inside him? Is he secretly enjoying this?

“So, your daughter is married and blessed with beautiful children. Her oldest brother also has found a gorgeous young woman for himself,” my dad chirps. “And Ashton turns out to be a young and successful man! You must have some secret tips about parenting, Mrs. Knight!”

Danielle chuckles monotonously while swatting her hands. “Don’t we all?” She takes a quick sip from her water glass. “Anyway, Diandra and Dickson aren’t together. On the contrary, she used to date my other son–” Danielle glances at Ashton “–who is now too busy to spare his time for a woman.”

“Mother,” Ashton shoots her a warning glare.

“What? I didn’t say anything wrong, did I?”

“This isn’t the place to discuss such a topic.”

“Oh,” Danielle breathes, faking a sigh. “My bad. Forgive me for worrying about my own son’s love life. Okay, let’s change the topic then.” The Cruella de Vil turns her head and fixes her green eyes on me. “So, Charlotte dear, I can’t see a special someone sitting next to you right now. Is he too busy to attend your daughter’s party?”

Noticing every eye at the table is now on me, I gulp. “I’m not dating anyone at the moment. I want to focus on Chloe and my job. Besides, I barely have time to meet up with a guy.” Well, at least the last part is not a lie.

“Remington Group is a huge company. I believe you can find yourself a respectable young man there easily. Ah, how I miss the bliss of being young and free, having plenty of fine men to choose from.” Danielle leans over slightly, her smile is eerily sweet. “One tip from me, keep your choices reasonable. Never pursue something you shouldn’t have. It’s saddening that young women nowadays love to invite themselves into trouble. It’s just a recipe for disaster,” she says, answered by my parents' murmur with approval.

That’s it. If my parents are oblivious of what is happening in front of their noses right now, I can’t blame them. But I know exactly what Ashton’s mother is trying to do. As my mom and dad start exchanging stories about their youth with Danielle, I excuse myself for a toilet break. I need to get out of here, or I would end up flipping the table.

With my heart thumping against my chest, I stomp toward the hall that leads to the restroom, ignoring the footsteps coming from behind me. Realizing that the person is eerily close now, I stop short and turn around to check. It’s when a strong hand wraps around my waist and ushers me into the janitorial room. Before my brain manages to process it, I’m pushed against the closed door, in the dark.

“It’s killing me that you’ve been within my reach all day but I can’t do this.”

Ashton’s soft lips are on mine in the next second, a bit too demanding, urging me to open up and welcome his intrusion. For a moment, I want to push him away because of what happened a few minutes ago at our table, but his intense kiss, his scents, and his arms fastening around my torso give me no choice but to submit. Without realizing it, I wrap my hands around his neck, persuading him to go deeper into my mouth. The janitorial room is now filled with our making-out sound, blanketing us from the noises of the party outside the building.

I stop Ashton’s hands when he begins to sneak under my skirt. “Nuh-uh. Naughty daddy. It’s almost Chloe’s birthday-wish time,” I mumble on his lips, panting from our kiss.

“Still enough time for a quickie,” he replies, making me giggle as I sneak my hand on the wall to find the switch button. Once the light takes over the darkness, we both squint our eyes to adjust to the brightness.

Now that I can see the face of the man I adore, I slowly caress his cheek and jaw. “I gotta be honest with you. I really hate your mom right now.”

“I know. That’s why I came here to check on you.” Ashton leans into my touch. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah. I thought I would take a little break, or I might create a drama there at the table.”

“We can take a break together.”

“And I hate to see you sitting next to her.” My confession earns a smirk of victory in the corners of his lips.

“I know.”

“Asshole.”

“Wrong name, it’s Ashton,” he replies, pulling me back to him again. “Don’t be jealous. You know what I want. You just need to trust me.”

“Trust, huh?” I pull back slightly. “Did you even know she was going to come with Dickson?”

“Nope. I don’t talk to my brother, let alone about women,” he replies. “Hey, I’ll swap with Sophie so that I can sit next to you after this. How about that?”

“Nah. The lunch is almost over anyway.” I lean in, pressing my forehead against his. “I wish we didn’t have to come back there.”

“And what? Letting me fuck your brain out here in the janitor room?”

“You wish. And we don’t have condoms.”

“We can think of something.”

“Something like what?” I glance around the cramped-up room, and my eyes find the object I’m looking for. “Hand gloves! It’s rubber after all.”

“Huh?” His eyes follow my line of sight and stop at a pile of cleaning-gloves boxes on the janitor’s rack.

“We can cut the thumb part for your pee-pee.”

“Your memory span is a bit worrisome. I need to remind you of how big I am.”

“Look! They have XXL size. It should fit!” I squeal in laughter before Ashton’s lips on mine again to silence me.

In one blink of an eye, we are all over each other again. I’m pressed to the door while Ashton pushes his tongue into my mouth, making me whimper in need. All the jealousy, tension, and worry are melted into a pool of desire. Our desires. Until the roaring laughter of the children reminds us of where we are.

“We need to get out of here,” I mumble between our kisses, slightly pushing him off me. “Also, people must be noticing our absence by now.”

With a grunt from Ashton’s throat, we finally manage to detach ourselves. I fix my clothes, switch off the light, and pull the door handle, not missing Ashton’s hand slapping my bottom teasingly.

“Wait for a few minutes before you go out,” I instruct before I slip out of the door, but I freeze at my spot when my eyes stumble upon a redhead in front of me.

Diandra’s big grey eyes gape at me, her lips trembling. “Ashton is inside with you, isn’t he?”


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