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Lexi tried not to roll her eyes while she waited for the boy... What was his name... Rod? ...to stop talking about himself.

"Last year I was named captain of my rowing team after proving my worth at regionals," he said proudly. "And my swimming has improved since joining the University Club. I was even challenged to swim the English Channel based on my meet times."

"Impressive," Lexi offered. "So, you're originally from Boston?"

"Yes. We live in a twenty-room townhouse in South End. My father just had a custom-made hot tub installed on the patio. Where's your Boston home located?"

"Eagle Hill."

Rod's face pinched, making him look like a pug. "Too bad. I hear the air traffic noise has driven down real estate prices."

Really? This arrogant ass was going to judge her based on that? He had not asked a single question about her. Not 'Where do you go to school?' or 'What sports are you interested in?' It didn't matter that she enjoyed horseback riding and lacrosse, or she admired the works of Hemingway despite his lack of dialogue tags. This boy was rich trash, and as far as Lexi was concerned, he could fly back to his twenty-room townhouse and soak his head in his custom-made hot tub.

Lexi glanced over her shoulder to locate the mystery man her Uncle Z was determined to keep her away from. He had left Burt at the champagne fountain and was talking to Octavius and Diana. Lexi had already guessed his age to be mid-to-late twenties, or maybe thirty, but only because he carried himself so well.

What did he do for a living? He reminded her of a wealthy philanthropist, someone who sat on the board of directors, but also relaxed on a yacht and drank highballs after five. Did he have a home nearby? Maybe he was renting the estate past the gorge. Did he have a girlfriend who sailed with him? Of course, he did. He was a magnificent piece of art.

"Well, it's been nice talking to you...Rod." Lexi made polite eye contact with the gel head as she started to back away. "I have a few more people to chat with. You know, the duties of a birthday girl."

"Of course. Happy birthday, by the way."

Lexi let Rod talk to her back as she made a beeline for the restroom, which she needed after that second glass of white wine. She was no stranger to the effects of alcohol, having been raised in a house where drinks flowed freely from an unlocked liquor cabinet.

Everything seemed to be in order when Lexi inspected her face in the mirror. She just needed a quick reapply of lip balm. More than any other beauty regimen, Lexi never neglected her lips. When she left the bathroom, she stopped to rake her fingers through her hair, which was something she'd already done. That's because she was stalling. Maybe she was dreading another conversation with a gel head, or was she afraid of running into Mr. Tall, Dark, and Delicious?

"There's no need to fuss with yourself, Lexi. You look lovely just the way you are."

The voice was smooth as vanilla fudge, and Lexi's heart thudded in her ears as she faced the stranger in the charcoal suit. His handsome features had her stunned, and she didn't stun easily, so she straightened her skirt, giving her hands something to do while he blinded her with those damned beautiful eyes.

"I don't believe we've met," she said, failing to keep the tremor out of her voice. "I'm Lexi Maxwell." Why was she introducing herself? He already knew who she was.

"Luke Carrington. It's a pleasure to finally meet you."

He smiled, and the hall glowed brighter. This man was radiant, and the chills that traveled up her spine made her legs unsteady. Lexi couldn't remember the last time she had problems with her balance,. Certainly not after all the hours of lacrosse training.

"You appear to be enjoying your birthday," he said, filling the air with the music of his vocal chords. "I have not seen that enchanting smile leave your face."

He had noticed her smile? What else had he noticed? A wealthy philanthropist probably had a good eye for reading people. At least his eyes were on her face. Rod kept ogling her cleavage as he talked about himself. The ass.

"My actual birthday isn't until Sunday, so, I can't register to vote until then. But I'm looking forward to the other perks." Lexi laughed nervously. Why did she say that? Now, he was going to ask...

"What perks would those be?"

Right away, Lexi noticed a twinkle in his eyes, like he was coming up with some perks of his own. Or maybe she was just being dazzled. "Oh, the usual stuff. I can purchase lottery tickets. Or buy a car without my parents' approval."

"Do you need a car?"

"No."

Luke nodded as if he expected her answer. "So, what do you want for your birthday, Lexi?"

With some effort, Lexi redirected her gaze away from his mouth to focus on his question. Why was she so nervous? She could debate her way through any topic. Oh, right, she was talking to a man with golden eyes and a smile that made her weak in the knees. And what was that intoxicating cologne he wore? It smelled like musky earth. Yummy.

"Freedom, mostly."

Luke rewarded her with another dashing smile, and Lexi's next breath caught in her throat. The floor had also begun to act strangely, like it had indulged in too much wine, and Lexi threw out her arm to lean against the wall. Luke noticed her dilemma, and his forehead creased with concern.

"Are you unwell? Do you need to sit down?"

Before Lexi could answer, Luke slipped his hand under her arm, gently placing his fingers on her elbow and guiding her toward the living room. She couldn't decide whether his guidance was helping or pushing her over the precipice. His touch had every hair on her body flexed, making her feel like a lightning rod.

As they left the hallway, Lexi quickly scanned the party for her Uncle Z. Maybe he wouldn't see Luke holding her arm and Luke wouldn't have to stop doing it. This was the closest she had come to feeling like a heroine in one of her romance novels, and it wasn't half bad.

The sound of breaking glass had everyone turning toward the source, but Lexi ignored it. With any luck, it was one of the wait staff and not an overprotective, bushy-bearded man determined to ruin her fun.



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