Gracie took a deep breath and ran her hands along the front of her dress, smoothing the lines in the skirt. She had to make an impression tonight. Her relationship depended on it.
“You look beautiful,” Eli said beside her. She was dressed in a deep red dress, her hair collected onto the top of her head, stray ringlets coming down here and there to frame her face. She felt very much not like herself.
Still, it was nice to hear Eli compliment her. In all honesty, she was surprised he had agreed to this scheme of hers. Granted their relationship wasn’t the most pressing of Eli’s problems at the moment, but it was the one that most directly affected Gracie, and therefore, it was the one she was most concerned with resolving. Besides, having one less thing to worry about would allow Eli to focus his attention elsewhere.
While going through some recent clips of upcoming social events at the office, Gracie had found one for the Chen family’s business. They were holding a fundraiser. Based on her knowledge of the Chen family’s relationship with the Walkers, Gracie could only assume that Eli and his family had been invited to attend the event.
“Of course we have been,” Eli said. “But I wasn’t planning on actually going. It might give Mei the wrong idea.”
“I think we should go,” Gracie said. “It would help Walk on Design’s image. Plus, I think it could give Mei exactly the right idea.”
“We?” It had taken Eli a moment to grab Gracie’s intent. Once he had, he was willing to hop on board with the plan almost immediately.
“Do you really think this is going to work?” he asked as they pulled up to the front door of the event hall.
“If nothing else, it will piss her off,” Gracie said. “And honestly, at this point I would call that a win.”
As they entered the building, Gracie had to admit it was a nice place. The social reporter in her was already taking notes. Even though she wasn’t on assignment here, it was like she couldn’t turn it off. Still, under these circumstances, it might be a bit unprofessional of her to submit a report; her personal biases might get in the way of her professional judgements.
The first half hour at the party was fantastic. Gracie had never been to an event like this where she could act as just a guest. She decided she liked it. There was something nice about eating fancy hors d’oeuvre and sipping on wine that made one feel important. No wonder the wealthy went around holding their heads above everyone else.
It wasn’t long before they ran into Russ Walker who was there to represent his father’s company. Russ just shook his head at them. “You guys are so lucky our father didn’t change his mind about coming. Still, you know when he finds out about this he is going to be irate.”
“Yeah, I know,” Eli said. “We’ll just blame this one,” he added, gesturing to Gracie.
Russ looked her over. “Looking good, Miss Parker.”
Gracie smiled at him. “Why thank you, Mr. Walker.
Eli frowned. “Alright, that’s enough flirting between the two of you,” he said, moving to stand between them. Gracie and Russ simply laughed. Eli was still having a hard time figuring out just when his little brother and girlfriend had become such good friends.
It wasn’t long after their chat with Russ that they were spotted by Mei. Gracie’s back was toward her, so only Eli saw her at first.
“Incoming,” he said. He put down the drink he had been sipping on a nearby table just as Mei was approaching.
“Mr. Walker,” she addressed him, bright and confidently. “I didn’t know to expect you this evening.”
When Gracie turned around to face her, Mei’s smile fled from her face. “What is she doing here?” she asked Eli, her tone now completely deflated.
“Miss Parker is here as my date,” Eli said. He didn’t hedge or stutter or beat around it. He said it with conviction, straightforward. To emphasize the point, he slid his arm around Gracie’s waist and pulled her closer to him. His gesture did not go unnoticed.
Mei’s frown deepened. “She wasn’t invited,” she said. Even from her elegant mouth it sounded petty and childish.
“She’s here with me,” Eli said again. He leaned forward toward Mei. “You should watch your demeanor. Your clients are watching you. You wouldn’t want to give them the wrong idea about how you treat your guests.” There was a smugness in his voice that Gracie couldn’t help but find adorable when he spoke to Mei.
Mei only leaned in closer. “All of these clients know I am promised to marry Eli Walker, son of Russell Walker. Do you really think they haven’t noticed this thing hanging on your arm? Your bringing her here is embarrassing me.”
Eli shrugged. “Then you should have specified on the invitation that I was only supposed to come if I was prepared to be shown off as your future husband. I would have stayed at home.”
Mei closed her eyes. Gracie imagined she could see her counting to ten, trying to keep her anger in check. “Just leave,” she said. She reopened her eyes to glare at both of them. “If your only purpose in being here is to cause a scene and make my life difficult, then just leave. I don’t have time for this.”
Before either of them could say anything in response, Mei turned on her heel and walked away from them, vanishing into the crowd.
“I think we’ve just been kicked out,” Eli said.
“Leave it to me to crash a party this upscale,” Gracie added.
“Eh. Don’t worry about it,” Eli told her. “I can think of a few things I’d rather be doing right now anyway.” He took her hand in his and led her toward the exit.