Monroe was usually the type of person to enjoy parties, but this one had her on the edge of her seat, ready to run at a moment's notice in case something went wrong.
The gathering itself was fairly small. Her father had rented out a room at the country club where he spent most of his weekends with his golfing buddies. The only people in attendance were close friends and family, and the hall was decorated minimally — thankfully. If her sister had had her way, Flora would have blown the whole thing way out of proportion. Monroe had been against that idea because the last thing she wanted was to make a huge deal of things, even if it was kind of a big deal.
After all, getting engaged was no small thing. Especially when it was taking place as an arrangement by her parents, after years of bad luck in the romance department.
Monroe had never officially met Graham Wilder, nor had she seen any pictures of him thanks to the stricter rules in their area. His arrival would mark their first official face-to-face encounter and, naturally, she was nervous. At the end of the day, she still had the final say over whether or not she wanted to go through with this, but she also knew that after going through the trouble to set this whole thing up, her rejecting the very idea after meeting her intended would only amount to further disappointment. With her father, that wasn't something she thought was possible, but she also wouldn't be surprised.
Flora's sudden appearance beside her caused Monroe to nearly spill the concoction of bourbon and ice in her glass. It was probably her third drink of the night, and her potential groom hadn't even arrived yet. Reaching down, she smoothed out the black dress she had on, brushing away the small droplets that did land on the thin fabric. As usual, she was clad in black. The dress she had on reached her knees and hugged her figure while the long, sheer sleeves were puffier and tightened at her wrists.
"So what if I am? If I recall, you were in the same position eight years ago," Monroe replied with a shrug, taking another sip of her drink and resting an elbow on the bar counter she'd been glued to from the moment she arrived.
"Oh I definitely was," Flora said with a nod. "It wasn't perfect at first but I think it worked out well." Monroe followed her sister's gaze toward the center of the room where her husband, Clive, held their four-year-old daughter, Lyla, in his arms and entertained her with a flower he'd plucked from somewhere.
"Yeah, well, not everyone can be so lucky," Monroe murmured, beginning to chew on her lower lip. "We don't even know what the other looks like."
Flora grinned. "So that's what you're worried about? That he won't meet the great Monroe Chen's standards?" She gave her shoulder a gentle nudge. "I didn't think you were that harsh of a critic."
Monroe rolled her eyes and looked over at Flora with a small smile. "You know that attraction plays a role in it all. So does chemistry and... a whole bunch of other things. How is anyone supposed to figure all that out with one meeting?"
Flora paused for a moment before speaking up again. "I think at some point you'll just know," she told her. "And it's not like you're getting married tomorrow. If at any point you don't feel like you want to go ahead with it, you can just say so."
Monroe scoffed and finished the remainder of her drink. "Easier said than done."
"Okay, I'm ending the pity party," Flora insisted, grabbing the empty glass out of Monroe's hand and setting it down on the counter. "You have nothing to worry about right now, okay? You're strong, you're ready for this, and you look gorgeous in that dress." Looking out at the room, Flora beckoned for her daughter to come over whilst continuing to speak to Monroe. "Can't you just enjoy the party?"
At this point, Lyla had skipped over to them, still holding a bright yellow flower in her hand that matched the frock she had on, as well as her sunny disposition. "Come dance with me, Auntie Mo," she insisted, holding her free hand out to her.
Monroe couldn't try to say no, even if she wanted to. So, with a smile, she bent down and picked Lyla up, balancing her on her hip and plucking the flower from her hand before tucking it into her hair. "Alright, c'mon." As she walked toward the center of the room, knowing Graham Wilder would soon arrive, Monroe still felt nervous, but she tried to remain as optimistic as she usually was. This was just an entirely new experience. That didn't mean it had to end badly.
Grady tapping his fingers against the leather steering wheel of his Audi. He had just driven eighteen hours from his own district to the Chen's. Eighteen hours going over in his head how the hell he was going to approach the Commander and his now un-arranged marriage daughter. Due to too many instances of his own screw ups, Grady was now in the position of the 'driver' for the Wilder family. His own father, Gregory, had had enough of his antics and pushed him from middle child and second to the thrown to family driver. The worst down grade ever.
The tip of the lit cigarette threatened to fall as the dark haired male continued to press his slightly chapped lips against it. He was seriously stressed out over this whole situation. Graham, his older brother, was supposed to be marrying the daughter of Commander Chen. Monroe? Yeah, that was her name. That was the only detail that anyone had gotten about this whole arrangement besides where they were supposed to show up.
His fingers tapped now at the end of the cigarette, the ashes falling out of the cracked window of the car as he stared at the gate in front of him. Just get out of the fucking car. Grady groaned as the inner thoughts started shouting in his brain, his fingers flicking the bud out of the window now altogether. The male retreated the keys from the ignition, his hand now pulling the car door open just enough to get his body out. Ping.
' How's it going?
Don't be a little b**ch. '
Grady stared down at the words written out on his cell phone, quickly shutting the screen off as he shook his head. Graham was such an asshole. He was the reason for all this nonsense. The idiot decided he was going to get involved with one of the girls back home which was a severe no-no but somehow he got away with it. Hence why Grady was now standing in front of the building in which he was supposed to break off the Wilder's engagement to. "Fucking perfect."
"Mr.Wilder? It is so nice to meet you, please come in."
The tan male frowned as he was pulled forward by what he would have assumed to be a servant. "Yes but I'm not--" His words were cut short as he was pulled in through the large door, hurried past a group of people and just about thrown into the ballroom. Grady cleared his throat as the hushed silence came across the room, his hands now tugging at the end of his blazer to try and straighten it out from the long ride.
"Mr. Graham Wilder has arrived for his fiancé, Ms. Monroe Chen."
His gaze moved from the tips of the announcers finger tips over to where people had moved out of the way until Monroe was shown. Grady felt the breath hitch in his throat as his eyes fell upon her. Any thought of what he had come here to do was right out the window as his tongue clicked the roof of his mouth as he tried to get some sort of moisture back. The clearing of someone's throat pulled Grady from his gaze, his dark eyes moving to a man who was now approaching him. The male straightened his shoulders, instantly extending his hand out to the older man whom he assumed was Commander Chen. "A pleasure, sir...", his voice trailed as did his gaze towards Monroe once more before snapping back, "...I'm Graham Wilder." Yeah, he was fucked. Royally.
Dancing was a good way to distract Monroe from the true purpose of the evening, but that quickly became harder to do when she heard whispers of Graham Wilder's arrival. It began when she saw her father and mother discussing something and glancing over at her, at which point Monroe had slowed her movements as she twirled around, hand in hand with her neice, Lyla.
She kept her gaze on them till the entire room went silent, save for the music that played in the background — but even that had lowered in volume, and Monroe knew he had finally arrived. The nervousness that had briefly faded now seemed to rush back sevenfold. It wasn't a feeling she was very used to so it made her feel uncomfortable. It was Flora's sudden presence by her side that helped ease any and all of her worries, even if just a little bit.
Monroe's father was the first to approach Graham as he entered the hall. All eyes were on him — including Monroe's. She was surprised, even though she wasn't entirely sure what she'd been expecting in the first place. As if reading her mind, Flora leaned in to voice her thoughts. "He's hot."
Monroe attempted to elbow her sister. "Shut up."
Flora simply moved out of the way, only to return a second later to add on with, "You should go up there."
As she began to chew on her lower lip, Monroe knew that she did need to go up there for formal introductions. This entire party was for them after all, and as nervous as she was, she was also excited to meet the guy. Despite knowing there was a lot that could go wrong, a part of her still held on to the hope that this could be exactly what she needed for things in her life to go right.
So, she took a step forward, intending to join her father and mother as they welcomed Graham into the hall. Before she could get too far, she felt a tugging on her hand and she looked down to see Lyla looking up at her. She beckoned for her to lean in and so Monroe did just that, crouching down till she met Lyla's height, and waiting as her neice tucked the yellow flower she'd been clutching all evening behind Monroe's ear. "For good luck," she said with a grin.
Returning the smile, Monroe nodded her thanks and gave a lock of her hair an affectionate tug before ushering her toward her mother and rising to a standing position again so she could continue the walk toward where her parents stood with her supposed fiancé.
"Graham, this is my daughter, Venus," she heard her father say as she came to stand behind him.
"Monroe's fine," she corrected him before deciding to bite her tongue. It was all well and good if she spoke her mind around her father at home, but not in public. Not when other people could hear, even if it was something as simple as correcting him about what to call her. Her father was the only one who called her Venus though. Even her mother had relented and begun calling her Monroe, which was how she'd always preferred it.
Because they had several eyes on them, Monroe noticed the warning look her father shot her — something that most might not even notice, but it was an expression she knew all too well. In any case, she ignored it as he continued to make Graham feel welcome.
"It's wonderful to finally meet you and put a face to the name," he said to the man, gesturing toward the center of the hall. "Would you like a drink?"
Monroe's mother reached a hand out and placed it on her husband's arm. "The young man's come a long way," she reminded him with a soft tone and a kind smile. "I'm sure he's eager to get to know his intended. Why don't we give them a bit of time to talk first?" She looked to Monroe, as if judging whether this idea would be well received or not. She didn't really wait for any kind of reaction before she continued though, instead looking at Graham. "Perhaps the two of you might like to go for a walk in the gardens outside?" She suggested. "We'll all be here so you can join us when you're done."
A cigarette and a glass of whiskey sounded so good right about now. Grady's heart pounded against his ribcage, his dark gaze focused on the woman his brother was supposed to have married. How could Graham have been so god damn stupid? Come to think of it, no one really could have predicted it because he didn't even know what Monroe had looked like prior to this moment. Still, his brother fucked up.
Grady was positive that her father had introduced himself but honestly, all he could hear was gibberish. Especially when Monroe had tugged at her bottom lip ever so slightly--what the fuck is happening. The adrenaline that had been pumping was quickly replaced by the feeling of nausea. Seriously, he messed up.
He watched as Monroe moved towards him, stopping only as a young girl had approached her. A smile pulled at Grady's lips as he watched the young girl move the small yellow flower into the crevice behind Monroe's ear. It was touching and anyone with a heart would have melted at the small gesture. Grady straightened his posture as the woman had yet again started her strides towards him. His eyes moved from the older gentleman to Monroe as she was introduced. Venus? "A great planet." He paled as the words left his mouth, his left hand now tapping against the side of his leg. What the hell was wrong with him?
There were more people than he had thought to be involved in the 'small gathering'. Too many more people who could easily pick out his bullshit. Grady cleared his throat, noticing the tension between both Monroe and her father at the change of her name. "It's nice to meet you, I'm Grad--" The dark haired male stuttered for a moment before shaking his head, extending his hand towards Monroe. "I won't keep her out there long." His lips pulled up in a warm smile that he managed to send Monroe's mother's way. His own mother had always said if you get in good with the mother then you were all set. Hopefully it would be proven true.
Grady relaxed slightly at the sound of the chatter in the room coming back, his head finally clearing at the initial shock of what was going on. How was he going to pull off being Graham? First off, Graham was a whole inch taller than him. To be realistic, Grady had looked like he was adopted because he was the only one in the family that didn't get the blue eyes and not so tan skin. Graham and Grady couldn't have been more opposite and the situation he had gotten himself in couldn't have been more fucked.