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The first guests to arrive were Lady Twila and her man, Sir Henry. Being descendants of Italian royalty, the woman always looked like a supermodel, although she never wore a speck of makeup. In fact, every time Lexi saw her, she appeared younger and more stunning. She probably spent a fortune on skin care.

Today, Lady Twila arrived wearing a gown spun from silver thread. It gathered at her slender waist by a braided belt, also spun from silver, the kind you find in a mine not in a fabric store. Lexi had to ask.

"Buonasera, Signora Twila," she said as she performed a curtsy. "Your dress is bellissima. And that belt is to die for. Did your designer friend, Kenard, make it?"

Lady Twila smiled sweetly as she lifted the hem of her gown, sweeping it back and forth. "Don't you love how the delicate strands catch the light? Kenard is superb at creating pieces that reflect the owner. This belt took him fifteen years to finish."

"Wow. That's a committed craftsman."

"And he's a sweetheart, besides. You look like a vision of heavenly beauty this evening, Signorina Lexi."

Lexi smiled politely while glancing self-consciously at her choice of clothing for the evening; a simple, red pencil skirt and white V-neck sweater. She had unclipped her hair, letting it drape in wayward waves over her shoulders, and finished the ensemble with a strand of glass beads made by one of her talented school friends. She did class it up with a pair of black suede Prada heels with gold-studded ankle straps – her current darlings. Maybe she didn't look royal, but she had made an effort.

An hour later, the living room was filled with mingling guests. Most of them Lexi knew as friends of the family, although they had become more like family than friends over her lifetime. Burt had staked-out the champagne fountain, no surprise there, while Emily and Nora chatted next to the stuffed mushroom caps. Octavius and his sister, Diana, were already disagreeing about something which required a lot of hand gesturing, and finally, Uncle Z, who wasn't really her uncle but had earned the title when he became her godfather. He'd insisted on greeting everyone at the door like he owned the place. That was Uncle Z for you.

There were also many faces Lexi did not recognize, acquaintances of her parents, and each of the newcomers had brought their sons with them, all close to Lexi's age. She had been introduced to Rod from Boston, James from Portland, and a boy hailing from Pennsylvania who was so full of himself she didn't bother committing his name to memory.

Last weekend her party was girls-only, even after Lexi pleaded for leeway. Now, there were boys coming out of the woodwork. While some might have labeled Lexi naïve, she wasn't blind. There was a plot afoot, and she planned to get to the bottom of it.

With single-minded intent, Lexi located her dad next to the wet bar talking to one of the newcomers, and she politely got his attention with a smile and eyebrow lift. He nodded, and while he finished up his conversation, she helped herself to a water bottle from the cooler, breaking the seal on the cap and twisting it impatiently. When the newcomer left, her dad slouched his arm over her shoulder.

"What's on your mind, birthday girl?"

Lexi took a drink of water, fortifying herself before proceeding. The trick with her dad was not to make accusations sound accusatory. "I just noticed there are a lot of boys my age here," she said, casually. "Boys I have never seen before in my life. Is it just coincidence that the friends you've invited happen to have sons who didn't have anything better to do than help some girl they don't know celebrate her birthday?"

Lexi shrugged as she downed another gulp of water. She had started to ramble, which was not completely out of character for her, but usually her ramblings were grounded in something she was familiar with. Boys and their weird ways were a foreign topic to her, and one she typically avoided around her parents.

Her dad shifted his weight uncomfortably, like he had been caught switching the expensive Colombian coffee for a cheaper brand, and Lexi knew she was right about the plot. "Your Uncle Z made the suggestion, so your mother and I thought... since you're an adult now... it was reasonable to assume you were ready to, well... toss in your line and see what you reel in? James was valedictorian of his school. Did he mention that?"

Lexi frowned. Her dad tended to use silly sports metaphors whenever he was forced to discuss personal matters. "Dad, that is about the lamest confession I have ever heard. Did you think I wouldn't notice? Now, I feel like I'm on parade or something." 

"Don't be silly, Lexi. You could run circles around these boys . Think of it as a trial run, for when you get out in the real world."

While her dad tried to climb out of the hole he had dug, Lexi glanced around the room, checking out the boys she'd been introduced to. A couple of them were cute, in a hair gel, country club kind of way, and one was too shy to come across as anything but an awkward geek. Currently, he was sitting in the corner with his nose in a book. Actually, he sort of reminded Lexi of herself. Ugh.

Should she be angry with her parents for trying to play matchmaker, or go ahead and see if one of the boys measured up to the sex appeal of her favorite fictional hunk? How embarrassing would it be to spend an entire weekend with a house full of guys and return to school without a sizzling story?

As Lexi studied her choices, the front door opened and another stranger walked in. A tall, dark handsome stranger, to be perfectly specific. Lexi had never laid eyes on this man before. She would have remembered him for sure. At first glance, he looked like one of her dad's business partners, but she had never done a double take on any of those cronies. 

This man's charcoal suit hugged him in all the right places, and the unbuttoned jacket offered a lovely view of his form-fitting shirt, which he had also failed to button properly. She had to blink twice to be sure she hadn't just imagined the smolder.

Then there was his face... Oh my. He matched every description she had read of a hottie with a body; chestnut hair, glowing olive skin, the bone structure of royalty, and eyes the color of... What was that color? Gold? She had never seen gold eyes before. Maybe they were hazel or amber. Did people have amber eyes?

Lexi gripped her water bottle until the cap threatened to pop off, and she was tempted to press the cool plastic against her forehead as her face flushed with heat. She watched without flinching as the mystery man turned to her Uncle Z and offered a respectful bow, while Uncle Z did not look pleased at all, based on the scowl he failed to hide behind his bushy beard. Who was this man? Was he crashing her party?

A moment later, Lexi forgot all about her Uncle Z's irritation when the stranger's fiery amber eyes caught her staring and a smile grew on his lips.

She had not imagined the smolder.

PLAYLIST SONG: I Feel You by Depeche Mode

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