Chapter 1: Same Old Tired Lonely Place
There I was again tonight, forcing laughter, faking smiles. Same old tired, lonely place...
Jason Quartermaine sighed as he looked around the crowded ballroom. If he could be anywhere else right now, he would be.
He hated his family's annual 'look how much money I have' galas. Each year they invited the who's who of all of New York to some extravagant location under the guise of raising funds for one charity or another. Most of the people he'd known all of his life, and didn't exactly care to be around. Not all rich people were stuck-up; he knew this for a fact. He knew that he could be arrogant sometimes; what surgeon wasn't? But he never really liked to throw around his family's money—or name for that matter—for as long as he could remember. Even his cocky little brother AJ had moments of sincere humility. Still, he was able to schmooze with the best of them. Their sister Emily definitely didn't much care for the ostentatious events either, but the happy woman was even better at putting on a game face than he was.
His parents, aunt, and especially his grandfather constantly expected them all to present themselves to society as better than the best. On paper, they were pretty hard to beat: Jason, like his parents, was a doctor, a spinal surgeon, in fact; Emily was a renowned pediatrician; AJ followed after his grandfather and took over as CEO of ELQ Industries, and his son Michael was a junior executive there. They even had a superstar in the family with his cousin BrookLynn. They were an impressive bunch. It was a wonder how all of them weren't heartless snobs with the family and society they had grown up in.
From his post at the bar, he could see his aunt Tracy start to make her way to him, 'lecture' written all over her face. Jason uncouthly downed the rest of his scotch and sat the glass back down before he averted his aunt's gaze and walked away. He would have to pay for that later.
Jason ignored the voice behind him, not wanting to stop to talk to anyone. "Dude, I know you hear me," the voice called again. He stopped when he heard her.
Well I'll be damned. He turned around to face his accuser.
"Robin? What the hell are you doing here?"
"That is no way to greet your best friend. Get over here."
As she said it, she closed the distance between them, embracing him fully.
Jason lifted his friend and spun her around. He set her back down and pulled back to get a good look at her.
"You cut your hair."
"I know," she said. "So did you."
"I can't believe you're here. Why didn't you tell me you were back in town?"
"I wanted it to be a surprise. A nice surprise, I hope."
"The best surprise. How was Paris?"
"It was Paris, Jason. It was pretty awesome. I found out something pretty big, but I'll tell you about that later. I wish I had my best friend there to hang out with, but it was otherwise perfect."
"Hey, you save lives your way and I'll save them my way."
The doctors looked to see a tall, dark-haired man coming their way, panting as if he'd been on a high-speed foot chase.
"Patrick," Jason started, "I'd like you to me—"
"I came as soon as I could," Patrick breathed while bent at the waist.
"What's wrong?" Jason asked.
"I was over there dancing with this girl but I looked over here and I just had to rush over when I saw my future wife."
Patrick stood straighter and flashed Robin a killer smirk that she just knew had to be his signature.
"Wow," she said. "I can't believe you just said that."
Jason rolled his eyes. Patrick may have been a friend, but he really didn't want that womanizer hitting on Robin.
"Don't even pretend to be offended," Patrick said.
"Oh, no. I'm not offended at all. I'm quite amused, actually." Robin eyed the man curiously. "I'm Robin," she said as she extended her hand.
"Don't you mean the future Mrs. Patrick Drake?" He took her hand and pulled her closer. "Let's dance."
Before Robin could object, the suave man had dragged her to the center of the ballroom, twirling her around expertly.
Jason shook his head. Leave it to one of his best friends to take off with his only other best friend, leaving him to fend for himself in a pool of bourgeoisies. He allowed himself to wallow in pity for a moment; the lonely ones were allowed to sometimes.
He continued on his walk to the front of the building, planning to escape this hellish party. Before he could get there, his elbow was clawed by none other than his aunt.
"Where do you think you're going?" she demanded.
Jason sighed. "I was just going to step out for some air, Aunt Tracy."
"Don't try to fool me Jason. You've never been good at it. Now I know you're not exactly a fan of family gatherings, but you have to stay."
It was sad to him that she considered this a family gathering.
"Fine. I'll stay, just not the whole night."
"Another hour, at the most. I'm serious, Aunt Tracy. We all have better things we could do with our time."
Tracy knew that her nephew was just as stubborn as she was, and they wouldn't get anything done if they tried to hash out the specifics. She decided to accept his offer.
"Fine. At least look like you're enjoying yourself. You're scaring away any potential future partners." With no goodbye, she left Jason alone.
He knew that by 'partners,' she meant that strictly in the business sense. A sound and mutually beneficial relationship was what she expected of him. Love or even like weren't required in a relationship; just the right last name and career and family approval were the only standards for whomever he decided to marry, if he ever decided to get married. He wanted something more than that, though. Most people would be surprised if they knew that he was waiting for his true love. He dreamed about having an actual family one day, the one he knew he would have. It was hard for him to explain, but he felt like it was just something that he was fated for. So yes, he would wait and dodge more of the awkward stiff blind dates set up by various family members or coworkers until the right time came for him...
"Oh!" came a breathy voice as someone crashed into his side and pulled him out of his reverie. Jason quickly caught the petite woman before she could hit the ground. He held her in a prolonged dip, mesmerized by the beautiful brunette in his arms. Her dark brown eyes were wide in shock as she panted.
"I—sorry," the woman said.
"Don't be," the doctor said smoothly. Slowly, he lifted her to a standing position. "Are you okay?" he asked.
"Yes, I'm fine. My cousin and I are just clumsy on the dance floor." She threw a glance to a man with similar dark features who smiled devilishly before turning to conquer the bar.
"Would you like to dance?" Jason asked. Anyone who knew him would know that this was a big deal; he hated to dance.
"Are you sure?" the woman asked. "I'm not exactly the safest dancer."
"That's fine. Besides, something tells me you're not the safest anything, but I'm willing to take that risk."
Without another word, Jason took her hand and gently pulled her even closer. They barely moved their feet; they mainly swayed in place, but it was perfect for him.