Beauty and the Bachelor

By: Naima Simone



“Of course with all of us being masked, you had to realize there was the chance this could happen?” Lucas paused, allowing a beat to pass between them, waiting to see if Jason would admit to knowing Tyler had been assigned a certain number. Or so they’d believed.

Jason didn’t confess, but his angry silence spoke volumes. Shouted it. “Yes, we were aware—”

“Good,” Lucas stated flatly. “Because when I agreed to participate in the auction, I made a commitment. One I intend to honor. And I’m sure the person who, in good faith, bid on Tyler expects him to do the same.” Lucas turned to Sydney. “Ms. Blake, I’d like to discuss the arrangement with you about our evening.” He held out his arm, and after a brief hesitation, she slid hers through his. “If you’ll excuse us.”

Not permitting Jason or Tyler an opportunity to object, he escorted her across the room. As they passed a waiter bearing a tray of champagne glasses, he collected two and pressed one into Sydney’s free hand.

“I think you’re going to need it by the time you return to your family,” he said dryly, drawing a chair free of an empty table. Sydney didn’t reply as she lowered to the seat, but she did sip from the flute. And the rim of the glass couldn’t conceal the small smile curling her lips. Why the sight of that faint curve on her mouth warmed him, he couldn’t explain. Maybe it was realizing her parents hadn’t crushed the humor and life out of her yet. Lucas sat across from her.

“I’m sorry you had to walk into that, Mr. Oliver,” she murmured. “My father means well, he just—”

“Doesn’t want his daughter spending an evening with a stranger. More so when that daughter is engaged. He loves you. I understand.” Not that he believed that bullshit for a second. Lucas grasped the reasons behind Jason’s very vocal and enthusiastic support of his daughter’s marriage to Tyler—or rather Tyler’s family—even if Sydney didn’t. Money, power, solidifying financial empires. Sydney’s feelings or happiness probably hadn’t been topping the list when her father considered the match. But familial love tended to blind a person to their loved one’s true natures. “And it’s Lucas.”

Something dark flickered in her stare before her lashes lowered, preventing him from deciphering the flash of emotion. “Yes.”

Nothing more. Just that simple, yet stark, yes. Again, the same surge of protectiveness reared its confusing head, the one that had driven him from the stage to join her in the stand against her family. He snuffed out the weak emotion before it had time to take root.

“What do you want, Sydney?” He dropped his voice, leaned forward. She blinked, almost as if surprised. As if not many people asked her that question. “I understand why your father objects, and honestly, I don’t give a damn. But if you’d prefer not to go with me tomorrow night, then I’ll accept your decision. From you. For you.”

Not that he would accept a no. He’d come this far, was this close to seeing his plans coming to fruition, and he wouldn’t allow her reluctance to stand in his way. But he sensed pressuring her wouldn’t help him obtain his goal. Not after witnessing the interaction between her and her family. No, he had to take a soft approach with her, gain even a small amount of her trust. Rescuing her from the overbearing presence of her parents and Tyler had been the first step. Letting her think she had an option was another.

“I—” Her gaze shifted to somewhere over his shoulder, a tiny frown creasing her forehead.

“Look at me,” he quietly ordered. With a soft gasp and almost imperceptible jerk of her head, she returned her regard to him. “It’s your choice. Your desire. No one else’s. I want to spend the evening with you, enjoying a Broadway play and getting to know you over dinner. I’d like you to want it, too. Yes or no, Sydney.”

She stared at him, and for a moment, he wondered if he’d pushed too hard. Sydney was an unnerving dichotomy of vulnerability and strength, of sensuality and reserve. Even as she steadily met his eyes with barely there hints of uncertainty flashing in hers, he had no clue what she would decide.

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