Authors: Emily Hemmer
© 2013 by Emily Hemmer
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For Taylor, my one
Table of Contents
No Cheez-Whiz? What kind of party is
this? Quail eggs. Mango chutney. Goat cheese.
I spent two hours in the car and forty minutes squeezing
myself into this dress. Are a few little smokies and some crescent rolls really
too much to ask for?
Beyond serving utensils, I pick food from
various trays with my fingers, and pop asparagus tips into my mouth like a
handful of M&M's.
My ankles wobble dangerously atop
four-inch stilettos. I swear, my feet are as swollen as a rodeo bull’s balls.
Paige has a devious mind. I’m starting to think kidnapping via high heels was
all part of my baby sister’s plan to keep me prisoner at her party. But hunger
is a powerful motivator so here I am, risking life and limb for mini crab
Thank the Lord I’m alone out here. No one’s
around to stand witness to my shameless binging. This is what you get when you
invite a country girl to a big city shindig. Public displays of redneckedness.
Taking a handful of cubed cheese for the
road, I head back to the safety of the garden wall. It’s the only way I can
stand upright in these shoes for any length of time. An errant rock in my path buckles
my ankle and I topple over like a Jenga tower.
“Oh!” I slide between leafy branches and
land hip first on the hard ground. Fancy cheese sprinkles around me and as I
roll over onto my back, a piece of it forms around my elbow. My head thumps
against the soft dirt and I count my lucky stars it’s so hot out tonight. Ten
degrees cooler and there may’ve been a whole mess of people here to witness my
complete lack of womanly grace.
“Are you alright?” A deep, concerned
voice speaks at me from the other side of the hedge.
“C’mon, let’s get you out of there.”
A caramel-colored hand, big and strong
looking, reaches through the foliage and pulls me up. His size is the first
thing I notice. I’m five-six without the heels and this man towers over me.
He’s six-three at least.
“Thank you, I can’t believe I did that.” I
raise my eyes to his face. “I’m not used to… to…”
Sweet Jesus, did I break my neck when I
fell over? His eyes are dark, nearly black in color, and his skin looks like
smooth light toffee. My throat’s constricted on its own accord, preventing any
form of hospitable communication. He’s gorgeous, like a Spanish angel sent from
Heaven to guide me to the Promised Land.
“Anything broken?” One of those big hands
wipes the leaves and dirt from my side and I grab it out of reflex. I have
seven male cousins whose preferred method of torture is the side tickle. I’m
not taking any chances.
“Are you sure you’re all right?” He’s
perplexed, by my muteness or because I’m holding his hand against my waist, I
“I’m, uh, I’m just fine, thank you,” I
say, smiling. “Fit as a fiddle.” I release his hand at my hip and it falls
away, skimming my side and leaving a tingle in its wake.
Oh no, no, no, no… Two deep dimples act
like bookends around an amused, white smile. Dimples are my undoing, my cowboy
kryptonite. They’ve gotten me out of two pair of panties and a college
“Glad to hear it. I just came out to get
some fresh air and saw you go down. It looked like you were stuck in there,” he
“Stuck? Oh, no I wasn’t stuck. I was just
praying for a speedy death before anyone saw me tail end to the sky.”
“Then I guess I should apologize for
ruining your plans.”
“Not at all. I’ve got big plans to fall
into the birthday cake later on, so I’m all set.”
There’re those dimples again, like a pair
of secrets, waiting for me to find them out. “I’m Charlie. Charlotte, really,
but everybody calls me Charlie.”
His eyes move over my face and linger a
split second on my lips. “Alex Ramirez.” He offers me his hand. “Pleasure to
The connection between us is instantaneous,
like somebody turned on a light and blew up a transformer. I sway when he
releases me, and he catches me around the waist before I can fall over again.
“You seem to be having some trouble
staying on your feet. Don’t tell me you’ve been into the punch already?”
The sensation of his hand on my body
mixed with the oppressive Texas heat makes standing damn near impossible. “It’s
the shoes, they’re not mine. I borrowed them from my sister. They’re hell-bent
on introducing me to the pavement.”
“Then I’d better get you to a chair. We
wouldn’t want you breaking a leg.”
“What are you? A doctor?” I allow him to
lead me slowly toward a small bistro table near the garden path.
He grabs my left hand as his right
applies a delicious pressure against my back. “Just the friendly neighborhood
lawyer, I’m afraid.”
“Oh, I get it now. You’re here to make
sure I don’t sue anybody.”
“You’ve uncovered my motives.” He winks.
“Helping you out of those bushes was a ploy to deter any potential litigation.
I take my job very seriously, especially when the alleged victim has beautiful
It’s a good thing it’s a hundred degrees
out here, or he’d be able to see the blush creeping up my neck. “Well don’t
worry, counselor. The only thing that got injured tonight was my pride.”
Alex helps me into a chair before moving
around to take a seat. He leans forward, his forearms flat against the tabletop
and his dark eyes sparkling with mischief. “Lucky for you, I was the only one
out here to witness your fall from grace and I found the whole thing
I fan myself with a cocktail napkin,
pretending it’s the heat that’s got me flustered.
Alex’s hair is black and shiny; just long
enough that one stubborn piece hangs loose over his forehead, grazing the top
of one perfect black eyebrow. He’s broad-shouldered, and undoubtedly in great
shape. If I hadn’t just gorged myself on
hors d'oeuvres, I’d consider sampling that strong jaw of his.
“So.” He leans closer. “Are you a party
crasher, or do you know the birthday girl?”
I cross my legs beneath the table and
lean forward myself. I paid good money for this push-up bra, best to not let it
go to waste. “I’m Paige’s sister.”
“You’re Paige’s sister?”
I nod. “Why do you sound so shocked?”
“I guess I figured the laws of nature
wouldn’t allow that much beauty in one family.”
Oh, he’s good. “I’ll take that as a
“As well you should. I guess I should’ve
known. The blond hair, so light it’s almost white, that must be your family’s
“I guess it’s a little different.” My
fingers slide against the long, straight hair that’s been pulled back into an
elegant chignon, courtesy of Paige’s hair stylist. When she insisted on
trussing me up for her twenty-third birthday party, I tried to object. But
nobody says no to Paige. Nobody.
“It’s the eyes, too. They’re the same
shape, only yours are more of a sea-blue.”
I drop my gaze and concentrate on a piece
of dirt still clinging to my dress. Paige’s eyes, crystal blue like colored
diamonds, have always been a source of envy to me. “She’s got me there. People
are always going on about her eyes.”
“I like yours better.” Alex cocks his
head to the side, recapturing my attention.
Sea-blue meet deep brown. His eyes remind
me of melted chocolate and suddenly, I’m hungry again. “That’s awful nice of
Grinning, he leans back in his seat. “So,
before I interrupted your death by landscaping plan, what you were doing out
here all alone? There’s a party going on inside, you know.”
“I wasn’t hiding, exactly. I was trying
to avoid embarrassing myself in front of Paige’s sorority sisters.”
“I see. So you didn’t follow in your
sister’s Delta Gamma footsteps? What? You have something against community
service and wet t-shirt contests?”
I’m not prone to a lack of self
confidence but I admit, I’m embarrassed to reveal to the man before me I’m a
country-western cliché; trailer park trash who couldn’t hack it in the big
city. “No, it’s my footsteps
didn’t follow in. Paige is my younger sister.”
“Is that so? I just figured with Paige
being so, uh…”
“Bossy, demanding, determined to rule all
“Yes. I figured with her being…that way,
she must be the older sister.”
“Nope, I’m older by four years. I’ve
resigned myself to being the eccentric aunt to all her bratty blue-eyed
“Eccentric aunt, huh? What does that
“Oh, you know. I’ll wear lots of tunics
and turquoise. Maybe dance naked at Burning Man every year; invest in cats.”
“You a big cat lover?” he asks, his
dimples winking at me.
“I’ve only got Fluffy, Muffy, and
Snowball now, but I’m well on my way to a pack.”
Alex laughs but is distracted when the
door to the hotel restaurant opens and a waiter appears, heading toward us. “Is
there anything I can get for you?” he asks, sweat beading along his hairline.
“I’ll take a scotch, McLaren’s if you’ve
got it,” Alex replies.
“And for the lady?”
I open my mouth to order a mojito, but
hesitate. I’m a notorious lightweight when liquor’s involved and given the
current state of dimples present, I’m not sure alcohol’s a wise decision tonight.
“I’ll have a sweet tea, please.”
Alex lifts his eyebrow. “Sweet tea? I
thought this was a party?” His slow grin reveals bad decisions one and two.
fall for the dimples, Charlie.
“Sweet tea, please.”
The waiter smiles and scurries back
through the hotel door, probably desperate for the air conditioning.
Nerves prickle the back of my neck, and I
look at the hotel’s garden. It’s lushly green and dimly lit by strings of
twinkle lights. The buffet table is wilting fast, thanks to the lingering heat.
Warm weather’s never bothered me. Working out in the oil field, the sun beating
down on your back day after day, you get used to it. Still, I’m sweatin’ like a
whore in church out here. Though, I have a feeling it’s more to do with the man
across from me than the heat index.
“So,” I begin, desperate to break the
silence, “are you a friend of my sisters?”
“I’m a friend of Ken’s.”
Kenneth Chamberlain the Third is my
sister’s boyfriend. He’s got blonde-hair, deep pockets, and a wicked sense of
humor. I’d disapprove of Paige falling for such a playboy if he wasn’t so
spectacularly in love with her. “Oh? Have you two been friends a while?”
“Since we were kids.”
Well Charlie, party’s over. Ken’s family
is so rich they may well use hundred dollar bills to wipe their butts. If he
and Alex have been friends since they were kids that must mean… “So you’re rich
too, huh?” The words escape my mouth, and try as I might, I can’t roll the
Alex’s eyes crinkle in amusement. He
fights to hold back laughter. “I can’t believe you just said that!” His smile
is startled and wild.
Sheepish, I look around for our waiter.
“Now do you see why I ordered the sweet tea? I apologize. I’ve gone and lost my
manners. I only meant to ask if-”
“If I was a spoiled socialite, like so
many of the other guests here tonight?”
I purse my lips together and fold my arms
over my chest, embarrassed by my semi-accusation.
“It’s okay, Charlie. The answer is yes
and no. My family’s got money, but I prefer to make my living myself.” Alex
leans forward and lowers his head to meet my eyes. He smiles reassuringly. “Do
you like me less now?”
The corners of my mouth lift and I drop
my forearm to the table, just a few inches from his hand. “Maybe a little.”
Being around rich people has always made me jumpy. Paige and I grew up at the
Pueblo Princess Trailer Park on the outskirts of Harlow County, about as far
from the bright lights and fancy ways of Dallas as you can get.
The hotel door opens and the breeze of
air conditioning follows the waiter outside. Our drinks sit neatly on his tray.
He places the sweet tea in front of me and I wrap my hand around the sweaty
glass, pulling a long sip from the straw. Out of the corner of my eye, I watch
Alex bring the scotch to his lips. The ice cubes tinkle against each other. I
can’t imagine what’s kept him out here so long -- unless he’s hiding from
someone... I open my mouth to ask but a group of rowdy partygoers traipse out
into the garden, cigarettes and profanity lighting their way.
“Alex! Hey, buddy,” one calls, his smile
lopsided and clumsy from drink. The man walks casually toward us, a hand in one
pocket of his white linen pants, the other pulling the cigarette from his
mouth. A haze of smoke stings my nose. “And who have we got here?” Alex’s jaw
twitches. “Spence, this is Charlie. Charlie, this is Spencer Ross.”