Beauty and the Bachelor

By: Naima Simone

She shifted her gaze to his masked face. Tyler Reinhold was a handsome man, with his elegant, patrician features. Yet in the year they’d been dating, he’d never incited this vulnerable flicker of heat that danced in her belly like a candle’s flame. His kisses and his touch were pleasant. But the knot currently twisting her gut could not be labeled…pleasant. Uncomfortable. Confusing. Hot.

But no, not pleasant.

A sliver of panic slipped under her ribs like the pointy tip of a stiletto. No. She was comfortable with their relationship. Comfortable with camaraderie rather than passion. She glanced in the mirror every morning—she was very much aware she could never be called a stunning beauty. Very much aware her family name and connections were as much a lure as her passably pretty looks. Most union  s in their circle were more merger than marriage, anyway. And she preferred the cold but companionable alliance.

Especially since she could too vividly recall her mother’s devastation after discovering affair after affair, until she’d finally evolved into a living mannequin who’d caulked off her heart against her husband’s blatant infidelities.

No passion. No expectation of a grand, fiery love.

No pain.

For an insane moment, Sydney considered hiding the bidding paddle under her chair.

“Two little-known facts about bachelor number five are he played center on his high school basketball team and was cast as Bill Sikes in the drama club’s production of Oliver!” A wave of laughter followed the revelation, and it earned a chuckle from Sydney. Hmm. She hadn’t known those surprising—and oddly charming details—about Tyler. “Eventually, he discovered he was much more coordinated and talented in the boardroom rather than on the court or stage. The woman who eventually becomes his leading lady will be intelligent, confident, and able to go toe-to-toe with him. Particularly since he considers his worst trait to be stubbornness. The lucky lady who ends up on the arm of this bachelor will hop a helicopter ride from Boston to New York, enjoying a Broadway production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera and a late dinner at a five-star restaurant on the waterfront. Opening bid at ten thousand?”

Funny how she’d learned more intimate details about him in a two-minute spiel than she had in the year they’d been dating. She loved plays, particularly musicals, and had had no idea her fiancé shared the same appreciation. There went that small pool of disturbing warmth again. Shaking it off, she lifted her paddle.

The bidding war didn’t last long. She won him at a suitable fifteen thousand with remarkable ease, almost as if the other women in the room realized who stood behind the mask as well. Silently, she huffed a sigh. Who am I kidding? They were probably very aware of Tyler’s identity and made the prudent decision not to go up against Charlene Blake’s formidable will.

Duty completed, Sydney barely paid attention to the rest of the auction. The evening flew by, and before long, the MC had called all the men back out onto the stage. They filed out in a straight line according to the order they’d appeared.

Sydney straightened in her seat, inexplicably eager to see Tyler’s face. A tiny voice whispered that this sudden, unbidden fascination with her fiancé was unwise…dangerous. Personal experience had taught her the Blake family fortune, reputation, and connections presented more of an allure than she did. “Plain” had been one boyfriend’s description of her that she’d accidently overheard—much to his chagrin and disappointment when shortly thereafter he became her ex-boyfriend. But her father’s position as CEO of the Blake Corporation? Very attractive.

Since then, she’d viewed relationships with a pragmatic eye. She entered in acknowledging they would be based on logic rather than love. A merger rather than a marriage. That’s what she and Tyler had, and she welcomed it.

Still, she leaned forward, her entire focus aimed at bachelor number five.

“Now, what you’ve all been waiting for…” A drum roll vibrated on the air. “Bachelors, please remove your masks!”

As if time slowed to half speed, he removed the disguise. Inch by inch he revealed his strong jaw and chin. The full mouth. The strong jut of his cheekbones…

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