Beauty and the Bachelor

By: Naima Simone

As the MC’s announcement gave way to excited chatter, Sydney Blake worked to maintain the gracious smile ingrained in her since she was old enough for tea parties with her dolls: a polite curve of the mouth with the corners tipped just enough to be demure but not so much to appear garish or bold.

A perfect lady’s smile. For the perfect daughter. For the perfect fiancée.

Lie. Lie. Lie.

“I am absolutely determined to go home with a bachelor this evening. Of course, some of us don’t have to worry about snagging a handsome, rich man. I heard congratulations are in order, Sydney.” A young blonde with the sharp, dangerous beauty of a bejeweled sword purred and air-kissed Sydney’s cheeks. “I was so delighted to hear about your engagement.”

“You two make such a beautiful couple,” a stunning brunette cooed. “Your wedding is bound to be the biggest social event of the year. Have you set a date yet?”

Sydney murmured a “thank you” and a “not yet” as the other woman clasped Sydney’s hand and elevated it so light from the chandelier bounced off the three-carat diamond solitaire. Wow. Really? Squelching the spurt of irritation, she pressed her tongue to the roof of her mouth, saying nothing. Still…if the other woman snatched out a jeweler’s loupe, all bets were off.

“How beautiful,” the blonde murmured, her expression warm, but the ice in her eyes matched the hardness of the gem weighing down Sydney’s finger. “You’re so fortunate.” While stated in a sugary, butter-won’t-melt-in-your-mouth voice, the barb possessed razor-sharp teeth.

“Yes, we are fortunate to add Tyler to our family,” Sydney’s father, Jason Blake, boasted with a broad grin. Hurt, embarrassment, and a weary resentment swarmed over her skin and swirled in her chest like an aggravated hive of bees. They were lucky. Not, “Yes, Tyler is indeed fortunate to have my daughter for his wife,” as other proud fathers would’ve bragged. God, after so many years, she should be accustomed to his casual dismissal of her. Yet even at twenty-five years old, she hadn’t managed to develop that Teflon skin required to deflect the offhand barbs and comments that were part and parcel of possessing a vagina in the Blake household.

But, really, what did she have to complain about? Her fiancé was the only son of real estate mogul Wes Reinhold, and heir to the Reinhold financial empire. Her father was ecstatic Sydney had finally done something to prove herself worthy of the Blake name.

“Where is the happy groom-to-be?” the blonde asked, her greedy gaze scanning the crowded ballroom.

“He’s graciously volunteered to participate in the auction tonight. Already supporting the family,” Charlene Blake, Sydney’s mother, explained. Every year, proceeds from the Rhodonite Society’s annual Masquerade Bachelor Auction benefited the Blake family’s literacy foundation. Tyler’s inclusion in the popular auction was just another tick in the Tyler’s-the-perfect-son-in-law column.

“Oh, how sweet,” the blonde purred.

Yes. Sweet. Of course, the mistress of ceremonies had already pulled Sydney aside and provided her with Tyler’s number to ensure Sydney would win his company for the evening.

According to her mother, there was altruism and then there was stupidity. And apparently, trusting her fiancé with a woman like the hungry, flinty-eyed blonde for the length of an evening weighed on the unforgivable side of foolishness.

“If you’ll excuse us, we need to go to our table,” Sydney said, glancing toward the stage and the subtle flickering of the lights. Thank God. Her nice-nasty limit was fast approaching critical mass.

Murmuring a final good night, she headed to the table reserved for her family. Skirting a cluster of people, she plucked a champagne flute off the tray of a passing waiter. Common sense advised the sparkling wine wouldn’t beat back her encroaching headache, but it would make persevering through this evening a hell of a lot easier. The constant ingratiation, the dagger-wrapped-in-silk comments, the ever careful treading of shark-infested social waters—her mother was a gold medalist swimmer. But Sydney?

Too little patience, too thin skin, and too short a bullshit meter made her dead weight in the society maven pool.

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