As she entered the building, warmth seeped into her bones, chasing away the chill from the night. Veronica entered the hall, dressed in her best gown. It was blood red and strapless, and the bodice was covered in gold and silver jewels. It had a cinched waist to show off her curves, and the train hung loose and low to the floor. It flowed as she moved, giving her a fluid and graceful step. The deep red accentuated the dark shade of her hair and her dark eyes.
She checked her jacket with the attendant and took her ticket, tucking it onto her little black clutch. When she entered the ballroom, her eyes were aglow with the splendor of the room. It was filled with the most elegant décor, shimmering linen, fine china, and crystal chandeliers that hung from the high ceiling. Thick velvet drapes were pulled back from the windows, providing a full view of the luminous moon. There were candles along the buffet, and colorful flowers throughout the room.
Veronica strode over to the table full of delectable-looking sweets and pastries—she had always been a sweet tooth. Her eye caught a plump strawberry that was serving as a garnish for a tray of chocolate mousse cakes. She plucked it from the tray, it’s bright red color, matching the polish on her nails and dress, and placed it in her mouth. She bit into the sweet fruit, letting the tangy juices settle over her tongue. A waiter passed, carrying a tray of champagne. She took a glass, sipping the fizzy concoction and letting it slide down her throat.
Her eyes scanned the room. Before she could find an empty seat, the hairs on the back of her neck stood up. She turned to see Arion, standing very close to her. Dressed in a very expensive tux, he stood at 6′ 2”, with black hair, and dark chocolate-colored eyes, making his alabaster skin seem uncannily white. He was holding two glasses of champagne. He smiled, extending one of them, “Can I offer you a drink?” His smooth voice sent chills down her spine.
“I have my own thank you,” she replied, crossing her arms.
“Don’t be like that,” he sidled closer, lowering his voice. “We could have a lot of fun together.”
“What do you want?”
He shrugged, “The pleasure of your company.”
She scoffed, disbelieving, “Is that all?” She took a sip of her drink, trying to hide her disgust.
“That depends.” He set the other glass down on the buffet behind them, trailing his knuckle down her arm. “What are you offering?”
“Absolutely nothing,” she hissed, moving away from him.
He laughed quietly. “As always, I hope you reconsider. And I hope you save me the last dance?” With that, Arion tipped his glass, gulping down the rest of the contents. He gave a half bow, before he sauntered off into the crowd. Veronica let out the breath she didn’t realize she had been holding. She rolled her shoulders to try to ease her tension, but her hands were shaking too much. He’s dangerous, her mind whispered. But she couldn’t ignore the fluttering of her heart.
“Veronica!” she heard her name called from somewhere to her right. She looked and found her two friends, Anne and Jackson sitting at a table in the far corner of the room. She walked over with her mostly-full champagne glass, and took a seat next to Anne.
“What did Arion say to you?” her bright, blue eyes were full of concern.
Veronica brushed it off, placing a hand on her friend’s shoulder. “Nothing of importance.”
She was in a daze for the rest of the ball. Towards the end, a very slow and romantic song sounded over the speakers. The kind where you dance very close to your partner, and your bodies share their heat, while you stare into each other’s eyes. Jackson took Anne’s hand, causing her to blush, and led her to the dance floor. They cast apologetic glances back at her, but she smiled and waved them off. They were suckers for romance. Veronica always scoffed at it. To her, no one was worth the effort. Except maybe Jackson, but he was already taken. He and Anne had been together for three years now, and Veronica respected him. He loved her best friend. But she held no hope that she would find another Jackson any time soon.
Suddenly, she felt a hand cover hers and she looked up to see Arion above her. “I chose this song for us.”
“Us?” Veronica was befuddled, and she’d had a little too much champagne this evening. Her head was swimming.
He smiled down at her, gently lifting her from the chair. “Please, do me the honor of dancing with me.” His eyes were seductive, and his hand was warm on her back and in her hand. Before she knew it, they were on the dance floor, Anne and Jackson were staring at her with shocked expressions.
Arion twirled her, and pulled her back so fast that she lost her balance and fell against his hard chest. His arms tightened around her, holding her close. She could smell his cologne. Spicy cinnamon, she liked it. She kept her head at his shoulder, too nervous to meet his eyes. He didn’t let her hide for long. He placed a finger beneath her chin, lifting her head. “Not going to faint on me now, are you?” he teased.
Her temper flared, and she pulled back as far as his grip would allow. “Not a chance in hell.”
“Good,” his eyes twinkled. “So, I won’t have to take advantage of you.”
Shocked, she tried to pull away completely, but he didn’t let her move an inch. She remained pressed against his body, only able to lean her head back to glare at him. He seemed unperturbed. “Besides, I want to enjoy this.” He rested his cheek against hers.
“Enjoy it while you can, it won’t happen again.” She said, sourly.
His eyes flashed, then he leaned close so that she had to dip her head back too keep her gaze locked with his. “I have you now. What makes you think I’ll let you go?” He smirked, and she knew she should be terrified to be in the arms of a monster. But she felt a rush of excitement and her body reacted against her will, betraying her emotions. A blush rose to her cheeks, and her pupils dilated at his proximity. But the biggest tell was her accelerated heartbeat, and the way her body curved itself into his form. She knew she had to find a way out of his grasp, no matter how much she didn’t want to. Arion smiled, broadly. He knew she was consumed by his touch, as much as he was by hers.
Suddenly, he dipped her in the center of the dancefloor. She was breathless, and could only stare at him. He cradled her head in his hand and leaned down to touch his soft lips to hers. It only lasted a few seconds, but to Veronica it felt like hours. She let herself drown in the soft pressure of his mouth moving against hers. When it was over, she stayed immobile in his arms. He pulled back, and pinned her with a dark stare. “That’s my girl.” He whispered.
The song ended, and he lifted her to her feet. He released her, all but for one hand on her waist. He lightly kissed her forehead, “I’ll call on you, soon.” And then he was gone. He stuck one fist into the pocket of his trousers, and made his way through the crowd. Veronica blinked, and then Anne and Jackson were at her side.
“What were you doing dancing with Arion?” Anne couldn’t keep the distressed tone out of her voice.
“I—I don’t know.” Veronica stuttered.
“Do you have any idea what the townspeople are going to say about you, after that?” Jackson was equally as worried. Both of them stood with Veronica on the dance floor, while people started making their way out. Many casts disapproving looks her way, some shaking their heads.
Arion was one of the most abhorred men in the town, his presence was only accepted because of his tremendous wealth. But the gossip and scandal that surrounded him, made it very risky for anyone to get close to him—especially a woman.
“Veronica,” Anne put a shoulder around her best friend, and led her toward the coat racks. They handed over their tickets and retrieved their jackets. Once outside, the icy wind cleared some of Veronica’s daze. She took a deep breath, letting the icy wind into her chest cavity, feeling it chill her from the inside out. When she released the breath, she felt a little more clear-headed. Until she looked up. Arion was getting into his car, and he stole a glance back at her. He lifted his hand in farewell, and before he shut his door, he winked. Veronica went still.
Jackson stood behind her, “What does that guy want?”
“I have no idea.” Around her, the world went silent. She couldn’t hear anything over the sound of her rapidly beating heart. She knew Arion would come to call on her soon. And when he did, she didn’t know what he would do. But what was worse, she wasn’t sure what she would do, either.