Mr. Black slurped some more whisky and then shook his glass so the ice-cubes clinked before stepping closer to me. I was in a huge ballroom but I felt like I was trapped in a closet with him.
He took another step closer and then ran his finger down the side of my face.
"Bedford. The little town with the environmental problem."
He put the emphasis on bed, his breath washing over me stinking of alcohol.
"And what do you know about it?" I asked. I wanted to step back. I wanted to slap his hand away and smack him in the face but I held still.
"The question isn’t what I know about it. It’s what Jackson Golden Boy Stone knows." He tilted his face down and looked up at me, trying to look demonic but just coming off like an asshole.
"How do you know they have an environmental problem?"
Mr. Black raised his finger to his lips like he was shushing himself and then looked away. "Shame about that fire wasn’t it?" he said before walking away.
I felt myself turn cold and had to stop myself from following him. I wanted to smash my wine glass over his head. Instead I swallowed it down and ordered another one. The bartender served me another with an apologetic look on her face.
"He grabbed the bottle from behind the bar," she said, handing me the wine.
"Don’t worry about it," I answered automatically. I sipped my wine and looked around to see where Mr. Black was but I couldn’t see him. Good riddance.
Just then, a bell rang out over the crowd. I turned along with everyone else to see Mrs. Stone halfway up the stairs ringing a bell.
"The bachelor auction is about to begin! Take your drinks and go through to the next room please!"
The crowd began moving through to an adjoining room while I looked around for Mr. Stone. Where was he?
Mrs. Stone saw me waiting at the bar. She marched over and took my hand. "Come though now Delilah," she said and pulled me away from the bar.
"So good to see Jackson with a lovely young girl," she said to me as we shuffled into the next room along with everyone else. I felt like the crowd was listening to every word she had to say.
"Thank you," I said, talking a surreptitious gulp of wine.
"So many of them were just after his money," she said as though I hadn’t spoken at all. "It’s difficult to find someone who shares similar values you know. Raised in the same kind of environment. Different worlds, you see."
Okay, I get it. Your son grew up here in a mansion and then became a billionaire. I grew up in a tiny house and became a office worker.
"Where did you grow up?" she asked.
It was the second time tonight I’d been asked that question and again, the response was surprising.
"Bedford … Bedford … I feel like I know that name," she said, frowning.
"Stone Pharma was there. It burned to the ground." Snarky snark. I felt my temperature rising and not in a good way.
"That must have been it," she said distantly. She let go of my arm and without another word moved off into the crowd.
"Don’t worry about her," Mr. Stone said in my ear, slipping his hand into mine. I turned and saw he was flushed like he’d been running.
"I met Mr. Black too. He was drunk and very interested in my home town." For some reason I felt peeved he’d left me with these people.
"I saw him also. Shortly before he started throwing up in the bushes." Mr. Stone seemed unconcerned about the state of his business partner. "The bidding is about to begin. Remember, no limit and then we can get out of here." He squeezed my hand and gave me a look that made my knees go weak.
He led me to a chair and I sat down after removing the red numbered paddle from it. All throughout the room people were sitting down as various young men in suits made their way to the front where there sat a line of chairs. Mrs. Stone had made her way to a podium and was tapping a microphone that crackled as she touched it. Mr. Stone quickly walked to the front of the room and put his hand over the microphone before speaking with his mother. She seemed to protest something but then waved her hands at him in resignation. He moved past her and sat down.
"Tonight we are raising money to help with the refurbishment of the sixth street art gallery. Each young man has put themselves up for sale. You are buying a night of dinner, dancing and whatever your heart desires," Mrs. Stone said. Members of the crowd laughed.
"A slight change in the program – the first up is Jackson Stone, my son."
Jackson stood up and gave a slight bow to the crowd. The red of his cheeks had faded and he was looking as cool and collected as ever.
"One of the two owners of Stone-Black and one of the finest bachelors this city has to offer. Coming from a line of impeccable parentage." At this she bowed also and more people laughed. "Shall we start the bidding at … say … one million?"
My eyes widened and my breath caught in my throat. A million dollars? Who had a million dollars to spend at a bachelor auction?
I turned to see a young blonde woman with cheekbones like razor blades wave her paddle in the air.
"One million! Do we have-"
"One point one million." An older woman from the back.
There was a blur of bids then and before I knew it, Jackson Stone was up to three million thanks to the blonde with the sharp cheekbones.
"Four million," said a voice from the back.
The crowd turned around to see Mr. Black standing in the doorway. His shirt was untucked and one knee of his pants looked wet. As everyone turned around he made an attempt to fix up his shirt but just showed everyone how drunk he really was.
"Um … we have four million. Are you feeling okay, Mr. Black?"
He nodded and leaned against the door frame.
"Do we have any other bids?" Mrs. Stone asked. She looked towards the blonde who shook her head.
I took a deep breath and clenched the paddle. "Four point one million," I said.
Mrs. Stone smiled and looked across at her son. He was glaring at Mr. Black as though he was ready to hit him.
"Four point one million dollars from Delilah Neri. Whom you all know from earlier with the kissing."
My ears went red as the crowd laughed but then I saw Mrs. Stone wink at me.
"Five million," Mr. Black bid again.
Jackson stepped across to his mother and whispered something in her ear. She nodded and then cleared her throat, unfortunately into the microphone.
"If we don’t have any other bids then we are finishing at four point one million for Delilah Neri," she said.