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Blaze Alexander clenched his jaw in annoyance. He hated moments like these. Resentfully, he stood alongside his family as they posed for pictures at the site of the future Robert DePaul Center. Despite his personal feelings, Blaze pasted on a smile. He despised being accommodating to the press. As various cameras flashed, he silently counted down to when this would end. The family had been talking with reporters for nearly an hour.
Blaze released a soft sigh as he shifted his weight from one foot to the other. He tried to disguise his irritation in front of the representatives from the various media outlets. The corner of his mouth twisted with exasperation.
"I'm glad that's over," he whispered to Ari as the members of the media packed up and prepared to leave.
Ari was his oldest brother and the general manager of the Alexander-DePaul Hotel Group. "I don't like posing for pictures and I can't stand having my personal life played out for public entertainment. I don't know why Dad insists on having the whole family present for these events."
Ari laughed. "It doesn't matter. If he wants us there—we do as he asks. Dad never missed any of our football or basketball games. He was there for all our school programs."
Blaze reluctantly nodded in agreement. "He and Mom both put all of us before anything having to do with business."
"That's why we can't let them down," Ari stated.
"You're right. Our parents have always been there for us, especially for me," Blaze conceded. "I was the one who gave them the most grief." He winced at the memory of his teenage years.
"Well, at least we don't have to worry about you showing up on some reality TV show."
Blaze shook his head. "Never in a million years. Kel-len might be another story, however. He loves attention."
"What are you two boys whispering about over here?" Sage asked as she joined them.
"Nothing important," Blaze answered, meeting his sister's gaze with a smile. Sage and Ari were near-perfect children growing up. His other siblings, Drayden, Zaire and Kellen had been mischievous in their youth, but never did any real harm. Despite his boyhood antics and troublemaking, Blaze was very close to his family.
"So what are we celebrating tonight?" Ari inquired. "This is why you and Ryan are hosting a dinner, right? We have something to celebrate?"
"We just wanted to have a nice dinner with the family," Sage responded. "That's all."
She glanced over her shoulder, then back at Ari. "I'll see you all tonight. Ryan and I need to get going. We have a lot to do before this evening."
When Sage strolled away, Ari glanced at Blaze and asked, "Do you believe her?"
"She's probably pregnant," Blaze stated matter-of-factly. "She and Ryan have been married for a couple of months now, so I wouldn't be surprised. I think they were planning to start a family right away. Look at her. She's practically floating on air."
Ari nodded in agreement.
Blaze checked his watch before walking to where his parents stood. "Hey, I have to get to a meeting, but I'll see you later tonight."
He wrapped his arms around his mother. "I love you."
"I love you, too," Barbara responded. "Thank you for coming. I know how much you hate all the attention, but it's for a good cause."
He smiled. "You know I'd do anything for you."
"I'll see you later on tonight, dear."
Blaze turned to his dad. "I need to get going, but I'll see you in the office."
"I'm not sure I'm coming in today." Malcolm awarded him a warm smile. "Your mother gently reminded me that we were supposed to spend the day together. She's planned a picnic on the beach."
Blaze noted the way his father's eyes lit up at the mention of his mother. His parents were still very much in love.
They were joined by Barbara.
Malcolm immediately took her hand in his. "I need to talk to one more person before we leave, honey. I'm all yours after that."
Blaze smiled at the look of love Barbara flashed at his father.
She kissed Malcolm on the cheek, and then announced, "I'm going to walk down to the car with Blaze."
Blaze said goodbye to his five siblings before escorting his mother down the grassy knoll toward the waiting cars.
There were still a few reporters hanging around. Probably hoping to overhear a juicy tidbit to splash all over the tabloids, Blaze thought angrily.
He had nothing against reporters except that they did not always seem to know where to draw the line when it came to reporting the news. Blaze valued his privacy, which was why he opted against living in one of the DePaul penthouse residences located in the Alexander-DePaul Hotel & Spa Resort.
At thirty-three years old, Blaze preferred not to live in what he considered the family compound. He loved his family dearly, but he did not want to have to listen to his mother's frequent suggestions that he should find a wife and settle down. He did not like disappointing her, but his mother just would not accept that Blaze had no interest in getting married. In fact, there was only one woman he could remember who held his attention. Her name was Livi and they had met a couple of years ago in Las Vegas.
The feelings she'd evoked in him during the time they'd spent together in Vegas returned from time to time. His heart ached as he hungered for Livi's presence in his life. He felt a certain warmth as the prolonged anticipation of seeing her again was almost unbearable. Blaze wanted to find Livi, but he just did not have enough concrete information about her—including her last name—to locate her.
Two years ago, Blaze had gone to Las Vegas with some of his fraternity brothers and, as fate would have it, he and Livi were staying in the same hotel. From the moment they saw each other, their mutual attraction was electric. The more he'd learned about her, the more the attraction deepened and eventually became something more.
During the brief time they'd spent together, she had mentioned that she lived in Los Angeles, but that was about it. He'd decided that her actions meant that she most likely did not want to be found.
He made a mental note to interview private detectives in the coming weeks. Blaze desperately wanted to find Livi. They had spent three fun-filled days together. Blaze hoped that their time together had meant something to her, as well.
Blaze wasn't sure when it happened, but Livi had left an imprint on his heart. It was as if she had unlocked his heart and soul, leaving his emotions as raw and erratic as a summer storm. His entire being seemed to be filled with wanting. Blaze desperately needed to see her again. If only to discover that Livi felt what they'd shared in Vegas was memorable, if fleeting.
During this time Blaze's father was notified that he was the sole heir of the late Robert DePaul's multimillion-dollar estate. When Blaze returned home from Vegas, he found out about the inheritance.
Blaze was thrilled for his parents, although he noted the mixed emotions evident on his father's face, and Malcolm's heartache at finding out that his parents had lied to him about something as important as his roots. Malcolm had grown up believing that Theodore Alexander was his father, but his mother had taken the truth to her grave.
After his wild teenage years, Blaze had vowed to be a man his father could be proud of. It was Blaze who'd stolen the car and took his friends joyriding late at night, although he did not have a driver's license. It was Blaze who'd tried to use a fake ID to buy booze. It was Blaze who'd got caught in one of the hotel rooms seducing his high school girlfriend. It was Blaze who'd chosen the wrong type of friends and ended up in jail over a home invasion and burglary—a crime he did not commit, but was arrested for along with the teens who had the stolen items in their possession.
He was what his mother called a wild child. His siblings called him the black sheep of the family, but when he glimpsed the angst on his father's face, that forever changed Blaze for the better. It was a look of hurt and disappointment.
When Malcolm found out about Robert DePaul, Blaze witnessed another strong emotion in his father—regret. Regret that he would never get to know his biological father. Seeing Malcolm in that state forced Blaze to acknowledge just how lucky he was to have parents who loved him unconditionally, despite his teenage antics, and who would always put their family first.
Livi Carlyle stared at the picture located near the center of the front page of the newspaper she was reading while she waited for her friend Sybil to arrive. Sybil worked close by and they met for lunch at least once a week.
She read the article before her eyes strayed back to the picture of the Alexander family and one person in particular.
Livi stared at him with longing as she fantasized about being crushed in his embrace. "Helloooo "
The sound of Sybil's voice drew Livi out of her daydreaming. Her face flushed as she murmured, "When did you get here?"
"Just now," Sybil responded. "I could tell that you were a million miles away from the look on your face. What were you thinking about?"
Livi quickly put away her newspaper. "Nothing."
"What have you been up to?" Sybil asked.
"Just steady working," Livi responded with a smile. "We're getting ready for the Fourth of July sale, and preparing for the fall season."
"Girl, I am loving that dress," Sybil murmured. "And those shoes."
"Thank you." Livi had on a floral-printed, V-neck dress in fuchsia, navy and green. The pewter metallic belt accentuated her tiny waist and matching sandals adorned her feet. "I found this dress when I was in New York buying for the fall season. I fell in love with it."
"I need to go on one of these buying trips of yours."
Sybil pointed toward the newspaper sticking out of Livi's tote. "I've been reading about the new homeless shelter. I have to say that I really admire Malcolm Alexander. Building that facility is a wonderful thing to do." She took a sip of her ice water.
Livi nodded in agreement. "They're a family with strong character. In my opinion, Robert DePaul knew exactly what he was doing when he left everything to Mr. Alexander."
Sybil smiled. "So, have you and that handsome son of his run into each other yet?"
She shook her head. "I haven't seen him. He works out of the corporate offices on Wilshire Boulevard. From what I've heard, Blaze hardly comes to the hotel, and when he does, I never know about it. I hear he travels a lot."
"You have his company email address," Sybil stated.
"Why don't you send him a note? I'm sure he still remembers Vegas." She gave Livi a knowing look. "You two were inseparable."
Picking up her menu, Livi muttered, "That was a long time ago."
"It wasn't that long," Sybil countered. "To be honest, I don't know why you haven't said anything already. He's part of the reason you moved back to Los Angeles, so what are you waiting for?"
Livi stared at her menu as if she hadn't heard Sybil's question.
"Call the man. You keep this up and, the next thing you know, Blaze will be getting married to someone else. It will be too late then."
Sybil's words struck a chord with Livi. "I'm not calling him. What would I say?" Livi asked. "Hey, I'm the girl you partied with in Vegas. I know we haven't seen each other in two years, but I was wondering if we can get together."
Sybil chuckled. "Hey, it might work."
"I don't think so," Livi murmured. "I'll just wait until we run into each other."
"You two make such a cute couple. Who knows, maybe this is fate, and you two will end up married and living happily ever after."
Livi did not respond. Instead, she turned her attention back to the menu in her hand.
Livi felt a thread of guilt snake down her spine. She was keeping a secret from Sybil. Sybil and Amy were Livi's closest friends and the three of them shared much of their private lives. But Livi feared their judgment, so she kept mum.
After lunch, she headed back to the boutique situated on the first floor of the Alexander-DePaul Hotel & Spa Resort. Livi had completely revamped Parisian Maison into one of the premiere boutiques in the hotel industry by adding a few couture collections. The boutique used to carry mostly souvenir items designed to appeal to hotel guests who were pressed for time. Livi changed all that by adding highend clothing and fashion accessories.
Livi had a quick meeting with her staff before retreating into her office. She sat down at her desk and opened her email.
Her heart raced at the prospect of seeing Blaze again. Maybe Sybil was right. She could write Blaze an email, but Livi could not summon up enough courage to actually send it. Initially, she was terribly angry and hurt when she thought of Blaze, but over time her anger had dissipated. She wondered how he would feel about hearing from her after all this time. Would he be angry?
Blaze was the last to arrive at the hotel for Sage and Ryan's family dinner. He had hoped to work out in his personal gym before heading to his sister's place, but got home later than he planned. Kellen and Zaire were leaving tomorrow, heading back to school in Atlanta. Blaze was not going to miss spending this evening with them.
"It's about time you got here," Sage said as she embraced him. "We've been holding dinner for you."
"I'm sorry," he responded. "You all could've started without me."
"You're here now," she stated, leading him into the dining room. "I'm surprised that you're the last one to arrive. You are always so prompt.
"Blaze is here," Sage announced. "Everyone, take your seats at the table."
He sat down next to Kellen, the youngest of the Alexander siblings. "What time are you and Zaire leaving tomorrow?"
"Around eight, I think."
"I'll be in Atlanta the first week of next month," Blaze said. "We'll all get together and do something while I'm there." Whenever he had to travel to Georgia, Blaze made sure he spent time with his younger siblings, who were in grad school.
Kellen nodded. "Cool."
Blaze glanced around the room. "Where's the little man?" he asked, referring to Joshua, Ari and Natasha's son.
"He's with my sister," Natasha responded. "She's in town for a couple of days, so they're doing dinner and a movie."
"I can't help but notice how Sage is glowing," Zaire said. "If marriage does that to you—I can't wait. You look really happy, sis."
Sage and Ryan responded in unison, "Thank you."
They looked at each other and laughed.
Blaze eyed Sage. "I don't know. I think she looks the same."
"This coming from the man who said he would never get married," Ari noted.
Blaze wiped his mouth with his napkin before saying, "Not everyone is cut out for marriage."
Ryan took a sip of water, and then said, "I wrote an article a couple of years ago on the benefits of marriage. Did you know that being married can help you beat cancer?"
"Really?" Malcolm asked.
"I did some research and found that men who have never been married had a higher mortality rate than married men," Ryan told them. "I also found that men in excellent health were about eighty-nine percent more likely to die if they were single compared to married men."
"I read that married men live an average of ten years longer than single men," Zaire contributed.
Blaze looked at Ryan. "So you're trying to tell me that I'll die sooner than you, Dad and Ari because I don't have a wife."
"Blaze, if I were you, I'd be looking for my better half," Zaire said with a chuckle.
Sage cleared her throat loudly when everyone was almost done eating. "I know that everyone is wondering why Ryan and I wanted to have this dinner," she began. "Well, we do have some news we'd like to share." Reaching over, Sage took Ryan's hand in hers. "We're pregnant."
Everyone around the table uttered well wishes and congratulations.
"Looks like my little niece or nephew will have a playmate," Ari blurted out. "Natasha and I are also having a baby."
"What?" Zaire uttered in surprise. "Two babies." Blaze was thrilled at the idea of becoming an uncle again. He adored Joshua.
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