Coming Back from Forty – Love

Emmeline tugged at the hem of her micro-cocktail dress. Why did she let Chloe dictate her wardrobe? She glanced around the ballroom, brimming with the stylish elite. The professional tennis world mingled with New York City’s most fabulous.

What was she doing? Chains of bubbles threaded the golden liquid in her glass.

Where was Chloe? She invited herself to the party and flitted off when they arrived. Emmeline surveyed the room. A breeze billowed the drapes framing the open doors—an escape.

Camera flashes and applause jerked Emmeline’s attention to the entrance—Peyton West. Although runner-up for the U.S. Open, for millions of women he was the grand prize, including the glittering group surrounding him.

He raked his hand through his sandy hair. His gaze strolled around the room. His sky-blue eyes landed on her.

Her heart skittered—her hand shot to her forehead. Was he looking at her? Her chest rose and stopped. Emmeline peeked through her fingers.

Holding out a glass of champagne, Chloe strolled through the others like Moses parting the Red Sea.

Peyton took the glass, sweeping his eyes over her long legs and toned body.

Chloe lifted the tip of her flute, tapping his.

Emmeline sighed, dropping her hand—game, set, match, and another win for Chloe.

Peyton arched a brow in the direction of a conservatively dressed woman—his agent.

Chloe rolled a shoulder, accentuating her décolletage. She plumped her lips and fluttered dark lashes. Few men could resist her hypnosis.

But his agent wedged her body between them, dismissing the circle of admirers. She escorted Peyton across the room to the reporters.

Within seconds, Chloe’s laughter attracted a prospect. She wouldn’t pine for Peyton.

The curtains beckoned Emmeline. She skirted the edge of the room, and as she stepped over the threshold, the cool night air tickled her. She slipped off the stiletto sandals, descending to her average height. Why couldn’t she be special—not average?

She meandered down the stone stairs—her feet sliding over the cold ridges. When would it be her turn? She stepped onto the court and picked up a stray ball. Alone again—risking nothing. She’d write her article—safe and easy. She tossed the ball between her hands.

“Didn’t expect to find you here.”

She turned, dropping the ball.

It rolled to his feet. “I’m Peyton West.” He held out his hand.

Her heart leapt into her throat. “Hi.”

“And you are?” He glanced at his outstretched hand.

She grasped it. “Emmeline Hopkins. Sorry, you startled me.” Balls ricocheted against her insides.

“Emmeline Hopkins, what brings you to the courts tonight?”

Was she still holding his hand? Yes, clinging to it like a security blanket. She slid it away.

His brow wrinkled.

She lowered her eyes. “Sorry. Yes, Chloe’s available, and she’s great.”

“I didn’t ask about Chloe.” He lifted her chin. “I asked about you.”

“Me?” She shrugged.

“Yes. Why are you out here?”

“I’m not much of a mingler.” She lifted her eyes to meet his. “Congratulations by the way—great match.”

“Do you play?”

“Not in years. I could never master the serve.” A metaphor for her life. “Don’t you want to get back inside? Please, don’t feel like you need to keep me company.”

“I’m good here—you seem interesting. Besides, I hate these things. My agent makes me do them. It’s good for my image and will generate sponsorships. I loathe small talk and escape at the first opportunity, but if you need to join your fri—”

“No, she’s fine.”

“Fantastic. So, you know what I do, but what about you?”

“I write for a fashion magazine—mostly about professional athletes—what they’re wearing, who they’re dating, how they’re training.”

“You’re a journalist?”

She nodded. If he wanted to describe it that way, she wouldn’t argue.

“But I distinctly remember seeing you across the room from the reporters.” He raised his brows.

What? How had he noticed her? Probably her awkward stance at the edge of the room. She wrapped her arms around her middle. “I . . . um  . . . was looking for a unique perspective.”

“Relax.” He rubbed her arm. “Maybe I can help. Let’s see, I wear whatever the sponsors request, I’m trying out yoga, and most importantly, I’m not dating anyone.”

Her pulse raced. “Why is that most important?”

“Do I have to spell it out?” He grinned. “I’m interested in you.”

“Me?” Clearly, he’d had one too many celebratory cocktails.

“Is that so hard to believe? You are beautiful and humble—a rare combination. He traced her face with his finger.

She swallowed. “What about Chloe?”

“Chloe seems like she needs her own spotlight. My schedule’s hectic, so I need an independent girlfriend. It would be nice to have someone to talk to at events and of course, looks fantastic.”

Was he describing her? Not possible—it defied logic. Had he said something about a girlfriend?

“What do you think? How ’bout brunch tomorrow?”

Seriously? Her?

“Emmeline,” he snapped his fingers. “This is a first. If you don’t want to go, simply say no tha—”

“Yes, sorry, yes I’d love to go to brunch.” She bit her lip.

“Great, my agent will get your info and send my driver for you.” He placed a hand on her back. “We better return to the party. I don’t want a photographer, scooping this meeting before I clear it with my publicist.”

Publicist, agent, driver—not exactly romantic, but what difference did it make? In a few hours, she, Emmeline Hopkins, would be sipping mimosas with one of the most sought after men in the world. She swallowed a laugh of glee. This was way above average.