The Wager

By: Calista Kyle


"What's going on here?" I asked, making my presence known.

I had the satisfaction of seeing a glimmer of fear cross Maxwell's features.

"Roman, this is no concern of yours. I was just having a private conversation," he said defiantly.

"I think it is my concern when you go making threats against my friend," I stated.

My voice came out harsher than I intended and I was surprised to find myself feeling protective of Lily. Something about the way her face was trembling and the way the moisture glistened in her eyes as if she were holding back tears tugged at something inside of me. I didn't examine those feelings too closely. Instead, I directed all my anger at the man causing her pain.

"Your friend?" Maxwell blurted. His color was heightened and I could see he was trying to find a way to extract himself from the situation before it got worse for him.

"Yes, she's my friend, and if I hear about you threatening her again or even looking in her direction, I will personally make sure you regret it."

He laughed nervously. "You're mistaken Roman. I wasn't threatening anyone; we were just having a friendly chat."

"Do you think I'm an idiot, Stein? I heard everything you said. Now you will apologize to the lady, and after that you'll have exactly three seconds to get out of my face before I make a spectacle out of you."

My voice brooked no opposition. I could see exactly when the indecision and defiance turn to defeat as Maxwell finally realized he had no choice in the matter.

"My apologies if you were offended by my words," he said stiffly. "I never meant any harm."

With a curt nod of the head, he turned and walked away without looking back. Once I saw him safely on the opposite side of the ballroom, I looked down at Lily who was standing still beside me. She hadn't moved or said a word during the whole ordeal.

"Are you all right?" I asked her.

She finally looked up at me and I could see the tears threatening to spill from her eyes, magnified by the lens of her glasses. It was a strangely beautiful sight, and she looked so fragile and vulnerable. It only lasted an instant. She gave her head a tiny shake and just like that, she had regained her composure.

"Yes, thank you," she said. Her voice was calm and controlled. "I don't know why I froze up like that. I guess I was just taken by surprise."

"You don't have to thank me. It was my pleasure. Maxwell Stein is a drunkard and a bully and it brought me great pleasure to put him in his place. Someone should have done it long ago," I said.

She laughed lightly, a pleasant tinkling sound. "Well, thanks all the same," she said, smiling up at me.

I grinned back at her, pleased that she was finally warming up to me, and for that I had to thank Maxwell. I decided to press my advantage and see if I could get her talking and opening up to me.

"I hope you don't mind my asking, but why was he so angry with you?" I asked.

"Because he's an arrogant jerk. He spilled his drink on me and then tried to fondle me."

My eyebrows shot up in surprise. "I had no idea he was such a creep. Now I wish I had humiliated him."

"I'm glad you didn't. He'd probably blame it on me and then try to find some way to cause a scene once you were gone. No, I'd just rather wait this night out in peace and quiet until I can finally leave."

I didn't mention the fact that she was already being gossiped about. She'd probably freak out and want to leave immediately.

"You're not having a good time?" I asked.

"Not exactly," she said. I bit back a smile as I watched her try hard not to roll her eyes at me.

"But this is the social event of the season," I teased. "People would sell their first born to be among the guest list."

"I'm not one of those people. And if this is the last black tie event I ever get asked to go to, then I'll count my blessings."

"That's too bad. I hate going to these events too, but unlike you, I can't just turn my back on it all."

"Why not? I assume you're rich and you don't seem to care what people say about you. Why not just do whatever you want and make yourself happy?"

"You surprise me," I said honestly. "There aren't many women like you who'd say that. They'd never pass up an opportunity to be seen. At least, not anyone that I know."

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