“You may now kiss the bride,” the officiating priest murmured to the newly wedded couple.
The hall was jam-packed when Leila arrived at the wedding. She scanned the rows of clapping guests in a bid to find her best friend, Freya.
A cheer broke out when the couple kissed and Leila blushed. It had been too long since she was kissed or even held properly by a man.
“That’s how your husband will kiss you in the future,” someone whispered in her ear.
Leila jumped. Her best friend laughed at her shock. “You are late. The best parts are over.”
Leila hid a smile. Left to her, she didn’t want to be here but her best friend was keen on setting her up with a ‘man’ like it would solve the world’s problems. Yes, she missed having a man but it wasn’t as bad as Freya made it out to be. She smoothed the front of her dress and allowed herself to be dragged away by Freya.
The soft breeze pushed her hair into her face and she tucked her black curls behind her ears. They stopped at the entrance of an open garden that had been set up for the wedding reception. Freya nudged her forward.
A live band was playing somewhere on the makeshift stage as they got comfortable behind one of the round tables. “Single Pringle,” Freya called out. “Is your Tinder account still active?”
Leila rolled her eyes before answering. “Yes.”
Singleness wasn’t the end of the world but what did she know? Freya brought out her phone and she did the same for lack of a better thing to do. The first app she opened was Tinder. Freya created the account for her and she had to be their most inactive user. Her profile was bland, the same as her display picture.
“Good. Keep it active.” Freya’s excitement didn’t spill over her. Since Freya found herself a man, she had taken it as her mission to do the same for Leila. “Some of the guests are hot.”
And Leila was totally uninterested in them. Her eyes scanned the garden as Freya continued pressing her phone, probably chatting with her husband. The place was empty except for them, the band and the caterers setting up the meals.
No, wait. There was one other person. A man.
His head was bent over his phone, his grey tux fit snugly to his body. The man must have felt her eyes on him because he lifted his head. His fingers ran through his hair like he was angry at something and Leila blushed. He was hot.
He arched a brow when she continued staring and she looked away. Her cheeks warmed, she picked her phone and pretended to type into it.
Freya stood. “I have to get something outside.” Leila could feel the stranger’s eyes on her back but she didn’t turn. Freya adjusted her hair and gown. “How do I look?” Leila gave her best friend a thumbs up. As always, Freya was stunning. “Thanks. Don’t go anywhere.”
She could try but Freya would put her through a long lecture about socialising. One of the servers dropped a bottle of wine to her table and Leila muttered her thanks.
Faint voices filtered into her ears, the band changed song as the bride and groom walked in. The man smiled at his wife and she grinned back. Leila didn’t know them. They were friends of Freya. She felt those eyes on her again and she peered from under her lashes to get a look.
Thick brows. Full lips. Chiselled jaw. Delicate nose. Short hair that was constantly falling over his forehead. She wanted to walk up to him and smoothen the hair out of his face.
The MC said something Leila didn’t hear because she was focused on this stranger but it made the guests laugh. The stranger’s lips quirked like he knew the effect he had on her. Her cheeks warmed, she returned to her Tinder app, determined not to give the hot stranger the satisfaction of meeting his gaze again.
Her brows furrowed at her screen. She had been paired with someone. A Kelvin. That was odd. This was her first match in six months.
The guy’s profile was almost the same as hers. Short and uninteresting. His display picture didn’t show his face but body and she drooled. Her fingers hit the accept button real fast and a message popped in immediately from him.
Tempted to reply immediately, she opened up a game app on her phone instead. She didn’t want to give the impression of being desperate.
Someone laughed in the crowd. The garden had filled up now and they were raising a toast to the couple. Leila reached for a glass of wine on the tray of a waiter and cheered to the air.
Where was her best friend?
Another message came in from Kelvin. She didn’t take her time to reply to this one.
Kelvin: Are you busy?
Leila: Kind of. I’m at this wedding my best friend dragged me too.
Kelvin: same. In my case, I lost a bet so I had to come. I’m bored out of my mind. Weddings are not my thing but a single man has no say in such matters. My sister is trying to hook me up.
PS: I didn’t lose the bet to my best friend. I lost it to my sister. I’m here on her behalf.
She laughed. He was rambling but she liked it.
Leila: I’m bored too. Oh, my God. You get it. I didn’t have a choice either. And now my best friend is nowhere to be found. Yay me. The perks of being single. I really wish I could leave.
Kelvin: me too. I could be your ticket to leaving boredom land. What do you say?
Rolling her lip between her teeth, she nodded like he could see her.
Leila: Count me in. I’m at Corey street. The sad lady in a black silk gown and red lipstick waiting for her prince charming to show up. Lol. You can easily hear the music playing down the road but if you don’t, hit me up for directions. Here’s my number. Call, don’t text.
Giddy with excitement, Leila left him her number. At least, Freya would get off her back for a minute. Speaking of best friends, Freya was taking too long. She sent her a text and groaned at the reply from her best friend.
Something came up. Will be back in a jiffy.
All the more reasons for her to leave with this Kelvin guy. The chair Freya once occupied squeaked, she looked up to see the hot stranger.
“Leilani.” Her mouth dropped. How did he know her name? He waved his phone and she saw his Tinder profile. Kelvin. The hot stranger was her Tinder match. “Sad lady waiting for her prince charming, remember? Well, I’m here now. Be sad no more.” Leila laughed. That line sounded so much better on text. “Red looks really great on you, Leilani. Is this seat occupied?”
He sat down before she replied and she stifled the urge to roll her eyes. Up close she could see his eyes were grey and his lips more pouty than they looked from afar. Kelvin accepted a glass of sparkling wine from the waitress who came closer to their table. He downed the content in one gulp and requested for another.
“You shouldn’t be drinking so much,” Leila said.
“I shouldn’t.” But he called a new waiter over and requested for his third glass. “But I am.”
“Tough day?” she asked.
“Yeah.” Kelvin cradled this glass, taking slow sips from it. “Where’s your best friend?”
They sat in silence for a while, she fiddled with the strap of her purse. “Do you want to leave?”
She couldn’t possibly leave with a stranger so she shook her head. Inviting him over here had sounded pleasing on the phone. He was above Leila’s league but Freya would approve of him.
“I think I’ll stay here for a while.”
Food and snacks went round the tables. Her mouth watered at the delicacy placed on her table. The band was playing a slow song to match the mood. She dug into her small chops but Kelvin’s meals remained untouched.
“Have you ever wondered why people get married?”
A lot of times. “Yes. It’s a beautiful thing.”
But she couldn’t say for sure she would experience it. Marriage and love was a fairy-tale that didn’t exist to Leila. She sipped from the glass of wine used for the toast and took a good look at Kelvin. He massaged his jaw and his head turned slightly so he could wink at her.
Heat crawled up her neck, she let her hair loose so it could cover the evidence of her embarrassment.
“What do you think about marriage?” she asked.
“It’s cool.” His fingers drummed on the table. He picked a diced apple from the fruit tray and returned it. “I don’t see myself getting married.”
She didn’t either. “Why not?”
Kelvin finally ate the apple and took another slice. She finished the rest of her small chops and he pushed his to her front. Her lips pulled into a smile of gratitude and he smiled back.
“I don’t know. Finding the right one is harder than it seems. I kind of miss the old days when parents found partners for their kids.”
“You could bring it back,” she said to cheer him up. He looked better when smiling or smirking. “You could find yourself a partner you don’t know,” she teased. “That was how it worked.”
The older methods were awful. Kids were betrothed to people they didn’t know. It was a no from her. Kelvin’s eyes crinkled.
“Do you want me to bring it back?” His tone was as light as hers, full of teasing and mischief.
“Sure. Why not?” Leila downed the rest of her drink and shuddered. Emboldened, she said, “Who doesn’t want to marry a stranger?”
He straightened up in his seat. “So if a stranger asks you to marry him, you will say yes?” Her smile fell off. He was taking the joke seriously. Kelvin’s eyes darted around the garden and he scratched the back of his neck. For the first time since his arrival, he looked nervous. “I’m about to ask you for something crazy, Miss Leilani.”
“Very crazy.” She cocked her head and sized him up from top to bottom, then gave him the go-ahead to speak. “Marry me, Leilani.”
Of all the crazy things she had heard all year, this was the craziest. And the fact she was thinking about it made her crazier than the man proposing to a total stranger.
“Marry this stranger.”
* * *
NOTE TO READERS: Thank you for paying attention to this book. IT STARTED WITH A CONTRACT is an official essay on the theme designated by novelcat.
This work provides the official copyright outline for novelcat, and is re-created by different authors including Maramartha, who participated in the essay. So the theme of the story looks very similar. This creative activity is officially led by novelcat and does not involve infringement. These works are all copyrights of novelcat so feel free to read them.
Officially authorised by Novelcat: ‘Bad CEO’ theme series novels.