I don’t know how much longer I can stand here. My feet are killing me.
I was going to wear my old tan wedges—the ones I found on clearance last spring at TJ Maxx. But then Ian arrived home with a Cheshire-cat grin on his face and surprised me with a pair of strappy Jimmy Choos nestled in a bougie silver shoebox. His “little thank-you” for agreeing to play hostess at tonight’s last-minute cocktail party.
The shoes are gorgeous, of course. A ridiculous extravagance. And I freely I admit I felt a little flutter of Carrie Bradshaw-esque joy slipping them on.
But that was four hours ago. Now the strap has rubbed an angry blister raw on my ankle and I just want everyone to get the hell out of my house. I need to get back to work.
Guests swirl around me like an eddy and I shift from foot to foot trying to ease the pressure while I mentally count the minutes until I can rip off my Spanx and kick the damn shoes off. Our back terrace is packed—a stylish LA crowd dressed in deeply overpriced “California casual.” Ian said he’d invited a few clients and co-workers, but I smelled a rat when the caterer arrived at 4:30 with food for seventy-five and three bartenders.
Chuckling, I remind myself: Ian never does anything small.
It’s not that I mind Ian’s colleagues from the brokerage. Well. Not much, anyhow. But…some of their dates. Ugh! If I hear one more Botoxed beauty complain, “I just can’t seem to find the right Pilates trainer,” I’m going to fling myself off the terrace and pray the sand below cushions the fall. You can’t drive two blocks in LA without passing a gleaming Pilates studio, smugly promising to restore your 18-year-old ass if you’ll only fork over enough money.
Officially I’m the hostess of this impromptu soirée, but I don’t really know anyone here. I’ve met Ian’s boss once or twice in passing and exchanged hurried “hellos” with a handful of his coworkers during our fifteen-minute beeline through the holiday office party back in December.
So, while our guests swap air kisses and compare notes on kids, cars, and summer trips to Europe I can’t help but feel increasingly like the obligatory cousin invited to the popular kids’ party. I scan the crowded patio and finally spot the deep cerulean blue of Ian’s shirt over on the stairs near the house. Relieved, I take a step in his direction only to be stopped in my blistered tracks by a piercing voice, dripping with SoCal vocal fry that lengthens every vowel.
“Kaaaate, daaaarling. What aaaare these?”
I close my eyes and count to three before turning with a smile plastered on my face to find…
What’s her name?
I think she came with Ian’s boss.
It’s Barbie. Or Bethany. Something with a “B.” She’s holding a Champagne flute between two French-manicured talons, filled to the brim with a thick peach-colored drink.
“They’re Bellinis,” I answer, clasping my hands together to keep my fingers from fidgeting.
“Oh! Well they’re diviiiine.” She takes a tiny sip through plumped, sticky-looking lips.
“Yes. I—um—like them, too.”
Wincing at my shitty party chatter, my right Jimmy Choo taps out a nervous beat on the flagstone and I rack my brain, trying to remember the damn woman’s name.
Bitsy. Bunny. Crap.
She’s absolutely gorgeous, in that who’s-your-plastic-surgeon kind of way, and I feel a little drab in my plain white sundress. I’m a sparrow next to her flamingo.
“What’s iiiiin them?” She demands, gesturing with her drink, which sloshes perilously close to the rim.
My eyes dart to the bar a few feet to our right where the Bellini’s ingredients are listed in huge letters on a three-foot-tall ‘Specialty Cocktail’ sign. Maybe she’s nearsighted. Or maybe she can’t read the words through the half-inch lash extensions that lay curled on her eyelids like spiky black caterpillars.
I plunge on, still grappling to remember her friggin’ name. “They’re made with Prosecco. And peach purée.”
That’s it! She’s one in an endless line of women who have dated Mason Cooper in the six months Ian has been with Cameron & Cooper.
I struggle to think of something more to add. “They’re Italian!”
“Ooooh—Italy!” Bebe clutches my arm, her fingernails digging into my skin. “Mason prooooomised he’d take me to Rooooome this fall. I reeeeally wanna see the Mona Liiiiisa.”
My eyes go wide picturing the Mona Lisa hanging in The Louvre. In Paris. But I manage to choke out, “Won’t…that be nice.”
Desperate to escape, I smile and murmur, “Will you excuse me, Bebe? I just need to—ummm—check on something…”
I needn’t have worried. Bebe’s already flipped her long, professionally tousled hair extensions over the other shoulder and is looking around for someone more important to talk to. I turn and make a beeline for the lower deck, taking care to circle wide around the men clustered near the bar where the odd phrase rises from their confident huddle.
the highest yields I’ve seen…did you see the ass on her…off-market development…
Sex and money. LA’s official soundtrack.
Finally tucked out of view at the far end of the lower terrace, I lean back against a big wooden pillar and take my first deep breath of the evening. It must be close to eight o’clock, but the early summer sun lingers, a molten ball of orange-tinged gold dripping into the horizon.
The waves fan gently across the golden sand below while a light breeze lifts the hair from the back of my neck. The view in Malibu never gets old.
“Pretty, isn’t it?”
My head jerks sideways to find Mason Cooper standing just behind me.
Oh great. The lapel of his linen jacket brushes the bare skin on the back of my arm and a wave of cologne floods out the clean salty ocean air.
“Yes, it’s beautiful.” I push off the pillar and smooth my dress down to cover a tiny sidestep away from him. “It’s my favorite time of night.”
Mason takes a sip from the double old-fashioned in his hand. The ice cubes clink in the nearly-empty glass releasing the peaty whiff of alcohol while he turns back to the house, eyes scanning over the shocking pink of the bougainvillea-draped terrace and up toward the Spanish tiled roof that juts out over the third floor.
“Ian sure scored on this house.” The slight slur on ‘sure’ suggests this is not his first whiskey. “The view must be amazing from up there.”
“It really is. I never thought I’d live in a place like this.”
Not long after our whirlwind marriage last summer, Ian drove me to Malibu, where he slipped a silk scarf over my eyes and led me into this gorgeous, three-story beach-front house. I thought he’d rented a fancy AirBNB for the weekend so I almost fainted when he handed me the keys and said, “Welcome to our new home, luv.”
Like I said—Ian never does anything small.
“I had my eye on this place for months. I still don’t know how Ian snaked us all,” Mason adds in an odd voice.
“I’m sorry,” I reply in confusion. “‘Snaked’ you all?”
“The house. It belonged to a, uh, ‘client’ of sorts.” With a smirk he tilts the glass, draining the last of the whiskey. “We were all trying to land it. Ian must have made one hell of an offer.”
My brain is struggling to process his bizarre comments as Mason slides his hand along the small of my back, an inch shy of inappropriate.
“Can I buy you a drink?”
It’s all I can do not to slap his hand away, even as he waggles his eyebrows toward the bar and smiles at his own lame joke.
His hand drops and I manage a tight half-smile as we turn to head back towards the bar.
Ian works in a competitive industry, and sometimes it feels like his colleagues can’t stop trying to outbid each other. For clients. For cars. For women.
Mason’s words about the house linger uncomfortably, like a cool shroud of morning fog off the ocean. But when my eyes hit the bar, a familiar flash of bright blue burns the uneasy feeling away and I glide to Ian’s side, forgetting both Mason and my aching feet as my hand slips into his.
“There you are!”
I lean against him, drinking in the faint spice of his pricey French cologne.
He’s only a few inches taller than my own 5′ 5″ so we’re almost eye to eye in my Jimmy Choos. His lips press a soft kiss to my temple while a lock of thick, carefully mussed blond hair falls over one eye.
“Hello, luv.” As always, his British accent sends a tingle across my skin.
Never in a million years would I have pictured myself with someone like Ian. I was always the nerdy girl with glasses who spent too much time in the science lab…and then I grew up to become the nerdy graduate student with contacts who spends too much time in the science lab.
But, Ian. Smart, handsome Ian. He saw me through different eyes. He called me beautiful. And sexy. We met at a small fundraiser hosted by one of the University donors and he swept me off my feet with flowers and dinners and, two months later, a surprise trip to the Caribbean.
Though my mother might never forgive me for eloping, our impromptu wedding in the Caymans was like a scene from a romance novel. Ian sank to one knee in the sand and proposed under the setting sun, then led me to the magistrate waiting between the Tiki torches to marry us right then and there on the beach.
I sigh in memory and snap back to the present as Mason joins us at the bar, keeping his distance now that Ian’s there.
“How about a whiskey, Ian, to celebrate your promotion.”
“Promotion?” Ian’s voice is carefully controlled, but I recognize the gleam of victory in his eyes.
“Monday morning we’re naming you Vice President of Acquisitions.”
“That’s good news, Mason,” Ian says coolly, “And a drink sounds great.”
Mason turns to place the order and Ian’s eyes cut to mine. This is the promotion he’s been vying for! All the late nights killing himself to outperform his competitive co-workers paid off and I’m thrilled for him. But all I really care about is the feel of his hand sliding around my waist to pull my body tight against his, right where I belong.