The Bachelor's Promise (Bachelor Auction)

By: Naima Simone

“Can I help you?” the suit asked, suspicion coloring his tone.

“Would you, please?” She made a show of glancing around her, wincing. “I’m supposed to meet my friend here to give her a ride home from work. Sarah. She’s with the catering crew. Do you know her?” She palmed her cell and pretended to scroll through her address book for “Sarah’s” phone number. “I’m certain she told me to meet her at eight…”

“Dinner is just about over, miss,” he said. After giving her another head-to-toe scan, he glanced over her shoulder toward the crowded ballroom and then returned his attention to her. At least the distrust had disappeared, replaced by what seemed like impatience and more than a little irritation. “You can’t stand here. The auction is about to start.” He waved a hand toward the exit behind him. “The kitchen entrance is this way and down the hall. You can wait for her by that door.”

“Oh, great,” Noelle chirped, pouring feigned relief into her voice. “Thank you.”

He nodded and stood guard, watching as she backtracked out of the ballroom and strode down the corridor. The watchdog waited until she reached the swinging set of double doors, where noises of clanging pans and shouted orders emanated, before he returned to his post. And as soon as he disappeared from view, she retraced her steps. This time, however, she didn’t park it in front of the entrance like a dumbstruck ninny. Slinking to the side, she leaned against a wall next to a couple of towering plants that could’ve doubled as trees. Their shadows provided nice coverage where she could watch and hopefully not be seen.

A moment later, unbelievably cheesy music that wouldn’t have been out of place on The Young and the Restless rolled through the room. She snorted, scooting forward and peering out between the trees. With all the money floating around this room, they could’ve at least sprung for music from the twenty-first century.

“Welcome to the Rhodonite Society’s Eleventh Annual Masquerade Bachelor Auction,” a slender blonde in a gold, tight-as-a-gnat booty dress announced as she strolled to the center of the stage at the far end of the room. A bachelor auction. What the hallowed fuck?

She shook her head. This is what Aiden did? Who he’d become? Maybe he’d been so long removed from the poor South Side Chicago neighborhood they’d grown up in, that silly, self-aggrandizing events like bachelor auctions had become the norm.

“And welcome to a wonderful night filled with fun and luxurious, once-in-a-lifetime dates courtesy of ten of Boston’s most handsome, eligible bachelors. Every penny of the proceeds will benefit the Blake Literacy Foundation, which raises awareness of illiteracy as well as providing programming, tutoring, and technology to Boston’s underprivileged youth.”

Uh-huh. Every penny right after fees, expenses, and whatever else the “charity” could trump up were deducted.

Applause, chatter, and a few whistles filled the room. Because these people were so gung-ho about the idea of stamping out illiteracy.

“So, without further ado, here is your first bachelor!” Blondie eased out of the spotlight as a man in a black tuxedo and a white mask strutted out of the wings and paused center stage. With one hand in his pants pocket and a hip slightly cocked like a wannabe Abercrombie and Fitch model, he radiated arrogance. Noelle didn’t need to see his face behind the disguise concealing his features. Handsome or not, it was clear this guy thought he was the shit.

“Our first bachelor considers himself a risk-taker,” Blondie announced. “Whether it’s in the conference room, on the slopes, on the racetrack, or in love, he doesn’t play it safe. As a very successful financial manager, he loves to discover new avenues of earning money for his clients and longs for the same excitement in his love life. The woman who eventually wins his heart will have the same adventurous spirit, be spontaneous, and have a wonderful sense of humor.” And a double-D rack and be as smart as a box of rocks. Noelle snorted. “Since he’s a gambler in life, the lucky woman who wins this bachelor will spend a thrilling weekend in…Las Vegas! Three days and two nights spent in a luxury resort. Enjoy the finest restaurants, the best shows, and of course you’ll try your luck at the most famous casinos on the Strip. So who would like to win this fabulous, thrilling weekend in Sin City? Let’s start the bidding at $5,000. Excellent.” Blondie grinned. “I have $5,000. Do we have $6,000? Six. Seven?”

The bidding continued, fast and furious, until it topped out at $13,000. Jesus Christ. Who the hell dropped that much money at one time? On a date? And Noelle had never understood the big deal about Las Vegas. Wasting money on a chance and a prayer. That wasn’t risk-taking or excitement—it was stupidity. Growing up and living with an alcoholic father with a spotty employment record, as well as a shady brother who could’ve earned W-2s for using women, had schooled her early on the value of a buck. But if a person had never known the gnawing emptiness of going to bed hungry or had never lit enough candles to erect a shrine because the power bill hadn’t been paid, then plunking down more than ten grand with the wave of a paddle probably didn’t register on their What the hell? meter.

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