As I sipped my cocktail, I didn’t try to go back to Xander. It seemed as though, in a few short seconds, everything had changed. Suddenly, I was here as a ghost, to watch the proceedings and not interfere in the slightest. I stayed like that, hanging on the edge of the group, sipping my drink until it was done and then seeking out another.
I tried not looking at Xander, at not allowing every time he laughed or smiled with her jab at me, at hoping he’d come over, remember me. I grabbed another drink and turned around several moments later. When I glanced over their way again and saw neither was anywhere to be seen.
This can’t be happening. He can’t have left with her, could he? a small voice in me said.
From out of nowhere, Aunt Edna appeared like a hawk settling on its prey. “Are you alright dear? You look horribly peaked.”
I resisted the urge to tell her that, now that she mentioned it, I felt like a skeleton with half its bones rearranged. Instead I said, “I’m fine, thank you,” and downed my drink in one mighty go, walking out of the box.
Where the fuck was my husband?
“You and Alliana seem to be getting on nicely,” Papa said pointedly.
“Yes,” I said. “Is that what this is about?”
He’d asked to speak to me in an enclave in the lobby in private.
“Can’t a man just want to talk to his son?”
I eyed him. “Why is she here, Papa?”
He transferred his weight from one foot to the other. “It was very sudden, you know. This whole surprise marriage of yours. You gave us no warning. None whatsoever.”
My glare didn’t budge off him. “Why is she here?” I asked again, flatly.
Papa’s cheeks flushed. “You can hardly blame us, can you? You and Alliana were such good friends when you were younger, and she recently broke up with her boyfriend, so the timing…”
“Was wrong,” I said, irritation spiraling through me. “I have a wife now.”
“Yes, about that,” Papa began as if this was all some slight misunderstanding. “You know, we all love Naomi. But Alliana’s father owns Mercury Enterprises and she comes from a good family.”
“What does that have to do with my wife and me?” I asked.
My gaze on him was guarded now. Did Papa somehow know the truth about Naomi’s and my sham marriage – was that why he thought it was ok to do this, to foist Alliana on me as if I were a free man?
My mouth twisted. Well, if he thought it was going to work, then he was wrong. Dead wrong.
“You know what? Never mind. It has nothing to do with me or Naomi. I have to go now, Papa.” I started back to the box.
He caught me by the coat sleeve. “But Xander…”
I broke myself free. “Some of us take our wedding vows more seriously than others,” I snapped.
That got him quiet. Although, as I strode back into the box, I reflected that it wasn’t entirely true. I’d gotten married for the sole purpose of misleading my family, and now…
Now what? I didn’t have time to answer that question, to think about what Naomi and I were becoming. Nor did I want to.
It had been at least ten minutes since they had left the box. I had also noticed that besides Xander and Alliana, Zander’s father was also missing. What did that mean? Were Xander and Alliana now happily reunited and his father was helping convince him to end our marriage? Did I really care?
Shit, of course I did. I was in big trouble here and I had no idea how to get out of it.
Part of me wanted to just storm out, tell Xander to go fuck himself, and file the annulment papers on my own. Another part of me wanted to vomit at the mere thought. What had I gone and gotten myself into?
A moment later, Alliana returned to the box alone, and I felt immediate and annoying relief. I studied her from under my lashes for a moment. She really was remarkably beautiful.
I sighed, swirling my ice cubes around my drink. While I’d never thought of myself as unattractive, there was attractive and then there was the kind of attractive that put you on the front of a Victoria’s Secret Magazine. She had that, I didn’t.
And the way she was talking to everyone… Maybe it was my own fault for skulking here in the corner, searching for my third cocktail, but the way Alliana was chatting easily to just about every member of Xander’s family, it seemed like she fit in with them much more than I did.
A minute or so later, Xander was back, storming in with his father following him, both of them looking pissed. I started toward him, but Alliana was closer and reached him first. As soon as whatever magic started spurting out of her mouth, she lifted her hand and placed it firmly on his chest. What. The. Hell.