“You’re not having a panic attack. You’re simply realizing that you’re a terribly stupid man with little willpower for saying no to certain people in your life.” I stare at myself in the mirror of the almost-palatial bathroom of Lexington-Hall Manor.
Seriously, I’ve never been in a bathroom that has paintings hanging on the walls, where the mirrors have gilded frames and the hand towels are on a heated holder.
Anyway, back to the freakout.
I haven’t had a date since…fuck, I can’t even remember.
There was that big divorce case that kept me busy for the best part of six months. I was trying to make senior partner at my law firm, and then there was the accident and planning the move…
Thoughts of my daughter on the hospital bed, with bruises all over her tiny body, and her leg in a cast fill my head. I shake it off, forcing myself to put that particular painful memory aside. She’s fully recovered now, aside from the PT, to regain strength and full mobility as she’s growing.
I let out a calming breath. My eyes trace the outline of the old-fashioned mirror down to the copper faucets.
“It’s not a date. It’s just a bachelor auction to raise money for a good cause. No big deal. You smile, someone makes a donation, you spend some time together. That’s it.” I mutter to myself. “Just get over yourself and go out there.”
“What’s worrying you about the auction?”
I look up and through the mirror, my gaze locks into the bluest eyes I’ve ever seen. How was I so lost in my pity party that I didn’t notice I’m no longer alone?
A wave of awareness comes over me as I see those eyes, bright and laser-focused on me, aren't even by far the most attractive feature on the man’s face. He has a straight nose, full lips, a short beard, and straight long blond hair that frames his features perfectly.
He smiles and I swear, if I wasn’t so worried about being auctioned to a stranger, my dick would definitely take notice of the beautiful stranger. As it is, if the guy keeps looking at me like that, it won’t take too long. Because yes, that’s how long it’s been since anyone captured my attention…or anything else.
“What?” I say, hoping my awkwardness doesn’t show.
“Why are you worried? It’s just some fun,” he replies noncommittally, walking to the sink next to mine.
Closer up, the guy is even more stunning.
“Are you also being auctioned?” I ask.
“Fuck no.” He snorts and turns the faucet on to wash his hands. I notice what looks like paint stains on his long fingers. “I’m here to watch the show and have a good time.”
I don’t know why, but his reply annoys me. Maybe because I wish I was in his place, just here to enjoy the show. I ignore him and walk to the door.
“Are you afraid someone will pay to spend time with you, or that no one will pay to spend time with you?”
His question stops me and I let go of the bathroom door handle and turn around.
“What do you mean?”
“I can imagine that having no one bid is what would worry me. Does it worry you?”
“It does now, jackass.” I open the door with more force than necessary and walk out.
My phone picks the right time to ring because it gives me an excuse to go outside and take the call. The chilly evening air better calm me down before I decide it’s a good idea to go back in the bathroom and give the gorgeous, blond Jesus look-a-like a piece of my mind.
“Hey Stella, what’s up? Is everything okay with Megan?” I keep my voice steady even as my pulse increases. She knows I’ve taken the three-hour round trip from Boston to attend this event, so if she’s calling, it must be important.
“Harrison, stop panicking. I can hear your worry from here. Megan’s fine. She has a school friend over and all I can hear from her bedroom is giggles and terrible singing.”
I smile. “Are they watching Frozen again?”
“You bet. Moments like these, I wish you had full custody of her.” I know she doesn’t mean it. Megan is our little miracle. I know we’d gladly listen to every bad rendering of Let it go rather than not having her at all.
“So what’s up then?” I ask.
“Got a letter from that school in Stillwater. The one we really liked.”
“We got in,” she squeals on the other side of the line and I almost have to pull the phone away from my ear.
“Yeah. The principal said she can start after Christmas or in the spring. He said there shouldn’t be much of a difference in curriculum between the schools and her teacher has just moved from Boston too, so he’ll know what she needs to catch up on.”
I take a deep breath.
“So this is really happening, isn’t it?”
There’s a moment of silence.
“Are you sure you want to do this, Harrison? We don’t have to do it. I just think…”
“I know Stella. I’m all in. The move could be great for us all. A fresh start in a safer place. Less crazy traffic and a small community we can get involved in. It’ll be great. Let’s face it, if Tate survived, so will we.” I laughed.
My best friend hadn’t thought twice about moving to the small Connecticut town of Chester Falls so he could be with the love of his life months ago. I’m still in awe of how easily he made it look. Or maybe that’s what love does for you.
“You’re saying the right words, but you’re forgetting I know you, Harrison. Really know you,” she says.
I know I shouldn’t bullshit her. She’s always had the ability to read me like a book. But it’s hard admitting I’m struggling with the idea of moving away from the city and everything I’ve known all my life.
I’ll follow her and Megan anywhere in the world, no questions asked. But there’s a small part of me that wonders if I’ll ever be truly happy in a small town.
City life is what I’ve known all my life. Not that I’m a control freak, but I like knowing I can as easily get to the hospital as I can find a diner open twenty-four hours just around the corner. There’s always something to do in the city.
Okay, so maybe now that Tate is no longer nearby my daily runs are a little more predictable, and I can’t remember the last time I went out in search of food in the middle of the night after working on a case and losing track of time.
I hate going out on my own. Sitting in a diner with no one to talk to is the ultimate reminder that without my best friend around, and when I don’t have Megan, my life is pretty boring. But at least I know what to expect.
Still, I’ll follow my daughter wherever she is, and if Stella wants to move to a small town in the heart of Connecticut, so be it. Maybe if I keep repeating it to myself, I’ll come round to the idea.
“You’re only reading my nerves about this ridiculous bachelor auction. I’m going to kill Tate for putting my name forward,” I say.
She laughs. “I think this will be good for you. You could do with a hookup.”
“What? It’s true. How long has it been?”
“I’m not discussing my sex life with you.”
“Have a good time, Harrison. That’s all I’m saying. I’m going to check the property listings in Stillwater.” She hangs up, and I’m left with no excuse to avoid going back inside.
The small stage in the large hall is close enough to the tables that I feel like people can read my thoughts.
A bead of sweat runs down my forehead. I wish I could be anywhere but here. Even listening to Megan singing at the top of her lungs is a preferable form of torture.
The emcee makes the introductions to the captive audience, and before I can run, he calls my name.
"Welcome to the stage, Harrison Duford. Harrison is an attorney who specializes in family law. He's a single dad who enjoys running and talking until the late hours. Harrison is happy to receive bids from the ladies or the gentlemen of the audience, so let's begin."
The lights make it a challenge to see past the first few tables, which I’m not sure is a blessing or a curse.
Every time the old lady with the long, bright red nails lifts her paddle, I swear my balls retreat further into my body. The woman is a level of scary I’m not sure I can handle.
“Come on you lovely people, who’s going to give Mrs. Rosenbaum a run for her money?” Tom, the emcee says, giving me a quick glance followed by a wink.
He also lives in Chester Falls and apart from owning a fashion store and designing his own clothes, he also dabbles in anything that requires a creative brain. He was Tate’s wedding planner, and it seems tonight he’s in charge of separating as many people from their money as possible.
The only reason I agreed to this bachelor auction is to help raise money for the animal shelter in Chester Falls. Not that I volunteered per se, more that Tate volunteered me.
All because, like Stella, he thinks he knows what I need.
“Two thousand,” someone shouts from the back of the room.
Tom cranes his neck to see who placed the bid.
“Two thousand to the…oh dear god.” He fans himself. “It’s a good thing I’m already engaged and extreeemely happily in love–”
“Two and a half!” a woman shouts, raising her paddle. Tom glances at me and shrugs.
“At least she doesn’t look like a two-hundred-year-old dominatrix on steroids,” I say under my breath, low enough that only Tom can hear.
I wave at the lady and take a bow.
“Leave it with me, hunky bun,” Tom mutters before raising the microphone up to his mouth again. “Three thousand, anyone? If you scan the qr code on your dinner menu, you’ll see a gallery with the pets you’ll be helping directly with your donation.”
The bids keep coming in until someone shouts “Five thousand dollars!”
Tom pulls me closer, and it’s when I realize that without the lights on my face, I can see exactly who’s been fighting the two women.
Anger bubbles inside me.
“Not him,” I say to Tom under my breath.
Tom turns to me, keeping the microphone away. He opens his mouth as if he’s going to say something but doesn’t.
A slow smile spreads across his mouth as he raises the mic again.