The chandeliers overhead cast a soft, golden glow, reflecting off the polished marble floors of the grand ballroom. The air was charged with excitement, a palpable energy that only New Year’s Eve in Manhattan could bring. The masquerade ball was in full swing.
The who’s who of the state were all mingling in this one place. Champagne flowed freely. Appetizers of caviar and oysters were passed around on elegant silver trays by the waitstaff, dressed in crisp tuxedos and black bowties.
Amidst all the glamour and glitz, there stood a woman, wearing a black lace mask and a red satin dress that clung to her curves in all the right places. She held a glass of champagne in one hand and looked around the room, scanning the people for someone.
As I watched her move through the crowd with the grace of a panther, I couldn’t help but feel a pang of desire. Her red dress left little to the imagination, and I found myself struggling to keep my eyes off her. I had seen her before, in the company of some of the wealthiest men in the city, but tonight, she seemed to be searching for someone.
It wasn’t me. We had already been there and done that. She caught me looking at her and offered a small smile. I nodded and let my gaze move on to scan the crowd.
I found myself amid a sea of elegant masks and swirling gowns. It was a black-tie affair, and the opulence of the setting matched the grandeur of the occasion.
Randall, my older brother by two years, stood by my side. His eyes scanned the room with a mix of amusement and curiosity, taking in the elaborate costumes and the dance of laughter and clinking glasses. We exchanged a knowing glance, acknowledging the spectacle that was unfolding before us.
We were both searching for the woman we would take upstairs for the night. Our mother insisted we come to these events. As part of the affluent family, famous in our own right, we had to. We had to put on our penguin suits and rub elbows with the elite. Every year, this party was on the list of must-attend functions.
“Quite the affair, isn’t it?” Randall remarked, adjusting the lapel of his tuxedo. His mask, an intricate silver filigree creation, concealed most of his face, leaving only a glimpse of his amused smile.
I nodded. My own mask, a simple yet enigmatic half-face design, gave me a sense of anonymity in the midst of the elaborate disguises. “They seem to get more extravagant every year.”
As if on cue, Tage, my youngest brother out of the six of us, appeared at our side. His mask, a sleek and minimalist design, added an air of sophistication to his already polished appearance. “Nico, Randall, you both clean up well,” he said with a grin, giving us a mockingly appraising look.
“Likewise, Tage,” I replied, clinking my champagne flute against his.
“Is it too early to get a real drink?” Randall asked.
“I was just thinking the same thing,” I replied. “We did the bubbly. Now it’s time for something harder.”
“That sounds good to me,” Tage said.
Our mother, Anne Manhattan, glided over, her gown trailing behind her like a cascade of midnight blue silk. “My handsome sons,” she exclaimed, embracing each of us in turn. “I must say, this year’s party seems to be better than the last. I trust the three of you are behaving yourselves?”
“Of course.” I flashed a mischievous grin. “We’re always on our best behavior.”
She rolled her eyes. “Just please, do not embarrass me or the family. Keep it to champagne. I don’t want to hear about scandals tomorrow morning. If any of you get caught with your pants down, and I mean that literally, there will be hell to pay. Be discreet.” She looked directly at me.
“Mom, it was one time.”
“One time too many,” she muttered. “Instead of looking for a woman to warm your bed for a night, why don’t you look for a wife? Your brothers are all so much happier now that they’ve found wives. Three down, three to go.”
“No matchmaking, Mom,” Randall joked. “I’m still in my prime.”
“You’re not getting any younger,” she lectured.
Gerrit, my cousin, joined us, his mask a striking red and gold that accentuated his mischievous grin. “Happy New Year, everyone!” he declared, raising his glass high.
“You’re awfully chipper,” I said.
His face lit up. “Have you seen my beautiful wife? I have everything to be chipper about.”
I groaned. “You’re so cheesy.”
“See, boys, you can be as happy as your cousins,” Mom said with a satisfied smile. “Oh, I see Case and Emma, I must go say hello. Behave yourselves and I better not see any of you sneaking out before midnight.”
She drifted away, making the rounds with practiced ease. She’d been born into one of the wealthiest families in Manhattan. She was schmoozing since she could talk. She was the only girl in her family and was used to being the star of the show. Even in her fifties, she was still a beautiful woman. I often wondered why she never remarried. She could have her pick of any man.
I had a feeling it was because she didn’t trust the male species. My father screwed her over in the worst way possible. It was a cruel twist of fate that she had six boys. Her brothers had boys. She was the lone female in our massive clan.
“I’m getting a drink,” I said and made my way to the open bar.
As the night went on, I moved through the crowd, exchanging pleasantries with other masked revelers. I greeted most of my cousins and uncles. The whole time, I was searching for something. Not something, someone. These parties were notorious for hookups. It was New Year’s Eve. I wasn’t the only one on the prowl.
The goal was finding the right one. A woman that was single and unattached. One of my cousins learned the hard way about hooking up with the wrong woman. Her husband found them the following morning. Ugly didn’t come close to describing what happened.
The music swelled, and the dance floor came alive with twirling couples. It was getting close to midnight. I needed to find someone to kiss—hopefully more.
“Remember when we used to sneak into the living room and watch Mom and Dad dance on New Year’s Eve?” Randall’s eyes were distant with nostalgia.
“You mean before he walked out and never looked back?” I asked dryly.
“Do you ever wonder what happened? Like one day he was there and the next he was just gone.”
“He was a prick. A selfish prick. Mom deserved better. I’m glad he never looked back. Fuck him.”
“See anything good?” he asked.
“Not yet, you?”
“I’ve got my eyes on a hot blonde,” he said. “In fact, I think it’s time I make my move. If I don’t see you again, good luck.”
“Good luck to you,” I replied.
As the clock ticked closer to midnight, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of anticipation. I was happy to put the year behind me. Not that it had been bad, but I was just hoping for more this year. What that looked like, I didn’t know, but something more. Something exciting.
The masquerade ball pulsed with energy as it got closer to midnight. Amidst the swirl of masked faces, my attention was captivated by a woman with bright blue eyes that seemed to pierce through the elaborate mystery of her mask. Her blonde hair cascaded in loose waves down her back. It was so blonde her hair was almost white.
A sense of déjà vu tugged at the edges of my consciousness, as if I had encountered those eyes before, but logic dismissed the notion. She was a stranger. She reminded me of someone I knew a very long time ago. Way back in high school. But she had moved away ages ago. And she had coppery red hair. I remembered it well.
Dismissing the girl from the past, I felt compelled by a magnetic pull.
I approached her, my heart quickening, and I extended a hand. “Care to dance?” I asked.
“I would.” Her eyes sparkled with intrigue and she accepted, her fingers delicately slipping into mine. The elegance of her movements and the warmth of her hand in mine were making me think this was the woman I wanted to take upstairs to my suite for the night.
“So, what brings you to this extravagant affair?” I inquired, trying to sound casual even as my heart raced. The sexual chemistry sizzling between us was off the charts. This was the one.
She chuckled, a melodic sound that seemed to echo in the cavern of my thoughts. “A bit of mystery, a touch of magic. The allure of a new beginning, perhaps.”
I nodded, savoring the cryptic nature of her words. The dance continued, and with each step, the connection between us deepened. The masquerade lent an air of secrecy, fostering an intimacy that you couldn’t get in a normal situation. We could be anyone tonight.
And there was an excitement about being someone other than a member of the Manhattan clan. No expectations. No risk of someone coming after me simply because of who I was.
As the final notes of the song faded away, I found myself reluctant to let go. “Would you care for some fresh air?” I suggested, gesturing toward the terrace overlooking the city.
“It’s cold outside.”
“I’ll keep you warm,” I generously offered.
She smiled again. “I might just take you up on that.”
“I hope you will.”
The cool night air greeted us as we stepped onto the terrace, the city lights twinkling below like a sea of stars. Leaning against the wrought-iron railing, she looked out at the urban expanse with a thoughtful expression. I couldn’t resist stealing glances at her profile, the flicker of city lights reflecting in her eyes.
That wasn’t all I was checking out. Her curves were accentuated by the form-fitting dress she wore, leaving little to the imagination. My gaze lingered on her ample breasts and the way they strained against the fabric. The desire to touch them, to feel them in my hands, was almost overwhelming.
She turned to me, a coy smile on her lips. “What are you staring at?”
“Just enjoying the view,” I replied smoothly, trying to mask my lustful thoughts.
“Is that so?” she said, stepping closer until her body was almost touching mine. “I think you were staring at something in particular.”
“You know,” I said as I stepped a little closer. “I can’t shake the feeling that we’ve met before. Maybe in another lifetime.”
A wistful smile played on her lips. “It does feel strangely familiar, doesn’t it? I’m sure it’s the masks. It messes with the mind. I’m guessing you don’t remember the eyes of every woman you’ve spoken with.”
“But I do,” I said.
The silence between us held a resonance, as if unspoken words lingered in the air. The connection was palpable, a thread that wove through the fabric of the night. I was laying the groundwork for the rest of the evening.
She stepped back just when I thought we were going to kiss. “We should go back in. It’s almost midnight. I’ve been waiting for this moment all night.”
“You know, the fun doesn’t have to stop at midnight,” I said suggestively.
She looked over her shoulder, flashing a sultry smile. “Who said anything about it ending?”
I chuckled and grabbed her hand, leading her back to the dance floor. She wasn’t going to get away from me.
We danced with our bodies pressed together. It was a preview of what was to come. A chance to give each other a little tease about what could be.
An announcer’s voice came over the loudspeaker. “Everyone, it’s one minute until midnight.”
I looked at the woman and realized I still didn’t know her name. “Will you ring in the new year with me?”
She looked me up and down. “I suppose I could kiss you.”
I grinned, knowing I wasn’t exactly hard to look at, even with a mask on. The countdown started, and everyone found their someone. At midnight, we all kissed.
And it wasn’t just a peck on the cheek. It was a real kiss.
Everyone cheered as fireworks exploded overhead. It was exactly how I wanted to start the year.