Riley stood on the rooftop of the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, the music from the event brewing inside strumming lightly in his ears and the sound of traffic and people laughing floating up from the busy streets below. The warm spring breeze brought the slightest scent of cherry blossoms, which were in bloom on this late March evening.
Riley shifted as he leaned against the railing. His tall athletic frame was shown off in his well-tailored suit of sky blue pinstripes against coal black with a matching tie, complemented by shined and buffed sharp-toed designer shoes. His dark chocolate brown hair was perfectly styled in a quiff, and his beard was well trimmed. He looked like a statue perched to watch the city below, a fitting scene for the billionaire real estate man who owned large swaths of Washington DC.
His hazel eyes watched the lights from the Lincoln Memorial, Capitol Hill, and the Washington Monument, all familiar sites to the man who had grown up in this town. He saw the high rise apartment buildings he owned and the parked cranes at those he was reconstructing. He smiled to himself as he stared out over the cityscape, knowing he owned so much of it and was gaining more each day.
The event going on in the convention center down below represented a culmination of events. He could finally start helping the people of this city who needed it most, those citizens who had been lost and forgotten like used rags and rotten garbage and left on the streets to beg for money and rummage through bins to feed themselves, with no access to healthcare or the rights of everyone else. Riley understood their pain, their misery, for he had been there before.
His thoughts were interrupted as the rooftop door behind him creaked open. He turned around and saw his friend Max walking towards him. He was also dressed to the nines. With his curly locks brushed back and a big grin showing above his thick, black beard, he approached Riley and grabbed him in a brotherly bear hug.
“Riley! It’s here, man. You finally made it.” Max stepped back and gave Riley a firm handshake, while his best friend nodded.
“I did. I can’t believe it’s finally time that we can begin this project; it seems like so long ago this was all just a distant dream…” Riley paused as he looked back out to the city, the place where all his dreams and years of hard work had paid off.
Max turned around and grabbed two glasses of champagne off the table beside them. He handed one to Riley and took one for himself, then held it up for a toast.
“A private toast, to helping the helpless and making the dreams of DC come true.”
Riley clinked the fine, crystal glass to Max’s, a soft smile spreading over his lips.
Both men took a swig of the bubby drink. The breeze picked up and Riley could feel the warmth of a spring thunderstorm lurking off in the distance; the rain would be pouring when the event below let out.
“So, now that one more thing is checked off the list, what’s next?” Max asked as he stepped up next to Riley and leaned against the railing, the two men looking out at the expanse of concrete and asphalt below.
Riley thought and took another sip of his champagne, the bubbles of sweetness tingling his tongue.
“Well, the Chinatown project has been looming over me for a while now, probably get that started in the next month or so.”
Max shook his head and chuckled. “You know you’re allowed to have a social life, right? Come on, you need a vacation or something fun to celebrate this.”
Riley smiled as his eyes looked down at the half-empty glass and he lifted it for another swig.
“Nah, not really my style, man. Don’t get me wrong, I love to travel and get out of DC occasionally, but this place, it’s my home. It took everything from my family, but it also gave me everything I have now. I have to give back until I can’t anymore.”
Max sighed. “Well, you should at least consider dating again. You deserve a little fun and excitement.”
He gave his old friend a nudge with his elbow, but Riley shook his head and rolled his eyes as he gave a heavy sigh.
“After Melissa? I don’t know if I can EVER get back on that horse.” Riley chuckled and finished off the last sip of the cool, golden drink.
Max nodded, wide eyed, as he recalled the horrifying events he had witnessed in the presence of Melissa.
Riley turned toward Max and looked at his best friend. He envied the relationship Max had with his girlfriend, Willow. The two were passionate about the same things; they were always on the same team. Riley had never had anything remotely like that, just a string of women who were selfish and only out for his money, Melissa being the worst of them all.
“I don’t know, man, I’m pretty sure I’m supposed to be a forever bachelor.” Riley shrugged. The thought didn’t bother him as much as it once had.
“No way. You’ve got a heart of gold. There is a woman out there for you, I know that much. Hell, maybe she’s at the party tonight?” Max took another drink of his champagne as he quirked an eyebrow at Riley.
He smirked in return. “Who knows, Max. Maybe.”
Rachel looked at her reflection in the mirror; her final stroke from the massacre brush completed her dazzling look for the evening. Her lush red lipstick matched her silky dress which clung to every hourglass curve of her body. Her long legs extended from beneath the fabric, black heels accenting her full and beautiful figure. Her black hair was pulled back with big, loose curls tumbling down her back. Her big brown eyes were bright beneath silver shadowed eyelids, her chocolate skin a beautiful contrast to the colors that she had chosen.
She gave a big smile to the mirror. “This is it Rachel, time to make your mark in DC.”
Rachel had just moved to the capital, a career move she hoped would pay off in the long run. Her accounting firm had offered her a two-year stay in DC to learn tax law, and while the hours were long and it was a lot to learn, the benefits to having the education within the company was incredibly valuable. After that, she could practically pick a city and move there to work, but for now she was going to call DC home.
She had grown up in a suburb of Pittsburgh. Her father had been an accountant as well, and her mother was a librarian. Her two older brothers, one an artist and the other a lawyer, moved to the West Coast. She had always considered her life pretty simple. She had grown up playing sports in the community, competing on academic teams, and helping take care of the neighbors’ pets until she could finally rescue her own dog. She had worked hard through school and was often considered a bit of a nerd. Her love of books and numbers helped her excel in her classes, and she was able to get a full scholarship to Carnegie Mellon University for Accounting. After years of working in Pittsburgh, she was excited to start her new adventure here in DC.
Sarah and Rachel had grown up together in Pittsburgh. They had gone to different elementary and high schools but both of them played on the same softball community team for six years. Their parents had become friends, and the two had grown up spending long weekends at each other’s homes. They had gone to one another’s homecoming dances and sporting events, and they’d sneaked out to drink and party before they left for college. Both ended up going to Carnegie where they grew even closer, as they both chose accounting for a career. They studied, worked, and navigated college as young women who were eager to explore their opportunities.
When they graduated, Sarah had taken a chance to move to San Francisco for a few years while Rachel had remained in Pittsburgh, but they still kept in touch. When Sarah moved to DC last year, Rachel saw it as a nice way to bridge to a new place. Sarah was the outgoing, wild party girl, while Rachel was quieter and more reserved; they complimented each other perfectly. Sarah would get Rachel out, and Rachel would show Sarah how to appreciate the small things in life.
A knock on her door interrupted her thoughts and a bark from her small dog, Frankie, startled her, but she turned and headed out of the bathroom and into her living room.
“Coming!” She gave a shout as she hurried to the door, passing boxes and containers still waiting to be unpacked from her move just last weekend. She grabbed the handle and opened it to be greeted by the sight of her friend and coworker, Sarah.
Sarah was dressed in a short black dress, her blonde hair down and straight. Her bright, green eyes went wide in awe as she looked at Rachel.
“Oh my gosh, girl! You are drop dead gorgeous! Those accountants aren’t going to be able to keep their hands off you!” Sarah stepped in as she gave Rachel a hug.
Rachel laughed, “Oh stop! Like I’d want anyone from our office hitting on me. Please!”
Sarah nodded and sighed, “They are some of the most boring men I’ve ever had to chat with.”
As Sarah entered her living room, the King Charles Cavalier that was sprawled out on the couch gave a small, friendly bark and wagged his tail at the new guest. Sarah brought her hands up to her face in uncontained excitement as she squealed at the site of the fluffy, little dog that stared at her with big, warm eyes.
“Frankie! Oh, you handsome little man! How I’ve missed you!” Sarah reached down and snuggled her face into the smooshed face of the red and white silky canine. His tail wagged even more in happiness, and he gave a small whine of affection.
Rachel shook her head, “Such a player, Frankie! What about our talk earlier, about you being my main man?”
Frankie only wagged his tail and looked back and forth with a small smile at the two women.
Sarah turned to her, “At least he seems to be settling in well?”
“He is. I think he misses the big dog park in Pittsburgh, but we’ve been going for lots of walks around the block, and he seems to be taking it all in stride.”
“Good, good. Well, you ready to rock this shit tonight?” Sarah asked as she put her hands on her hips and gave Rachel her famous up-to-no good grin.
“Ready as I’ll ever be.” With that, Rachel walked over to Frankie.
Rachel grabbed her black clutch and turned the lights off, “The taxi waiting?”
“Yep, we’re all set for a night at an open bar with lots of hot, rich dudes hanging out.”
“Sounds like fun.” Rachel smiled.
“You be good, handsome, and you keep an eye on the place, ok? But run from any robbers, ok? Love you!” She gave the dog a scratch behind the ears, and he watched with sad eyes as she headed for the door, opened it, and blew him a kiss as they walked out.
As they headed down the hall toward the elevator, Sarah checked her phone to see the time and if their other coworkers had arrived.
“So how are you settling into DC?” Sarah asked as the stepped into the big, bright white elevator with a mirror that reflected their colors and dresses overhead.
Rachel let out a big sigh. “It’s good… a change from Pittsburg, but I like it. I’ve been so focused on moving and work, I haven’t even had a chance to unpack or explore the city. We’ve got to get around to that this weekend.”
Sarah nodded. “I can totally take you around town. You gotta try the Ramen at Daikaya! It’s to die for.”
Rachel smiled. “Awesome, I love finding the best food spots in town. I’m not much of a cook.”
The elevator doors opened and the women stepped out into the lobby. They passed the front desk clerk who waved them a goodbye and went through the glass doors to where a dark blue taxi waited, the white lettering showing its DC logo on the side. They hopped in the back, and the car began to move along the busy street.
Sarah turned to Rachel with a mischievous grin. “So, besides having way too many drinks tonight, think you’re going to start getting to know the men of this city? Maybe find yourself a booty call?”
Rachel laughed and shook her head at her friend. “Always with your mind in the gutter! Who knows, I haven’t even thought about it. Why do you ask?”
“Well, for one, it’s a big event in general, so lots of attendees to pick from. And, it’s going to be crowded with some of DC’s most successful business people, and I have seen some damn fine faces at these things in the past… Along with a lot of old guys. But hey, if that’s your thing.” Sarah held up her hands, and Rachel shoved her playfully.
“Girl! No! I’ll see. If someone catches my eye, maybe.”
“Maybe? Well, Riley Harris is putting the whole thing on, so you’ll at least get a glimpse at the hottest, richest bachelor in DC,” Sarah told her as she checked her makeup in her handheld mirror.
Rachel cocked an eyebrow in confusion. “Who’s Riley Harris?”
Rachel swore the taxi driver let out a noise of surprise as Sarah looked at her in shock.
“You’ve never heard of Riley Harris, real estate billionaire who owns like, half of DC? Hottest man to walk the streets, possibly ever?”
Rachel crossed her arms and shook her head, waiting for an answer. Sarah put her mirror away and held up her hands excitedly.
“Ok, oh my gosh, I just haven’t had the chance to ever tell anyone about him. So, Riley grew up in the poor part of Southeast Washington in the nineties, during the most violent time in the city, with the drug wars and all, and he came from this super poor family. I think his dad died when he was a kid and his mother was a drug addict, so they lived on the streets. Well, when he was eighteen, this real estate guy saw all this potential in him, so he scooped him up, taught him all these things, and really took him under his wing.”
Sarah paused as a horn honked loudly beside them, raising her hand to give the dude the middle finger.
“Anway, so Riley just exploded into this successful real estate agent, starting small, but then acquiring just so much money and so many places. Now, he’s the richest man in DC. He owns half this town. He’s putting on this event tonight, the Home the Homeless as a tribute to his days on the street. Such an amazing story.” Sarah’s eyes went off in the distance as she thought of the handsome man behind the tale.
Rachel nodded. “Sounds pretty amazing. So he’s the one putting on this entire thing?”
“Yep, and rebuilding the Southeast Apartments into community homes for the homeless population. He’s really trying to change this city. But yeah, who knows, maybe you’ll run into him tonight?” Sarah cocked a brow at her friend.
Rachel smiled. “Hey, who knows, maybe.”
Rachel stepped onto the velvety red carpet that had been laid out at the convention center entrance. Riley Harris had gone all out to make sure this event was exquisite in every manner. Rachel looked around to the photographers and journalists who were all working busily at the entrance, talking to people and taking their photos.
Sarah nudged her, and she tore her eyes from the surreal scene. Her friend had a huge grin as she held her arm open to invite Rachel for a photo. Rachel nodded and accepted, stepping up next to her friend. The two smiled and struck a pose, eyes shining in the snapping of camera lights. The journalists took their names and what company they were from, and they were quickly ushered on.
When they walked through the giant glass doors, the front was set up with staff ready to scan the invitations. Rachel reached into her purse, pulled hers out of the gold envelope, and held it up. The receptionist scanned it, asked for her hand, and wrapped a thin gold chain with a small coin engraved with the event initials around her wrist. She watched it shine in the bright lights, amazed that someone would put that much care into the small details of such an event.
Sarah hooked her arm, and they headed toward the elevator. No other events were going on today, as Harris Real Estate had bought out the entire, giant building encompassing 198,000 square feet. Tonight was all about helping the helpless. Sarah and Rachel stepped in the elevator with another group of people, all dressed in formal attire, and Rachel realized she had never been to a venue of this size in her life. She felt her heartbeat quicken. It was exciting that in her first week here she was already experiencing such new and different things.
The elevator dinged as it reached the third floor. The doors opened to the ballroom, the group stepped out, and Sarah and Rachel followed, exchanging excited smiles. Quickly scanning the room, Rachel felt her mouth fall open at the sight. It was truly astounding. Slowly, they began to make their way across the vast room filled with hundreds of people, stopping as they saw the entire Washington Redskins team posing for photos. The gorgeous football players definitely filled out their suits, and Sarah gave Rachel an obvious wink.
“I think I found your next date.”
Rachel giggled. “Damn, a girl can dream.”
Rachel looked at her table number and was shocked with how close it was to the stage. Then again, her accounting firm had been a huge donor. As she approached the front of the enormous ballroom, she realized how much detail went into each element of this event. The vision was more than most could afford with tablecloths of dark blue and gold silk, centerpieces of lilacs, lavender, French bells, and fresh roses, and a stage that was fit for a Broadway show.
The stage was lit with blue and white lights. The theme and decor of the event was “Dreams Come True”, and the stage revealed an outlandish, nighttime setting. A beautiful, bright white origami moon hung near the top of stage right. The backdrop was a deep navy blue, and gems had been meticulously placed against the vast swath of fabric. They glimmered like sparkling stars under the lights. The stage itself was a glossy black, and the edges were actually trimmed with a shallow glass trough, where water was flowing like a live stream around the entire set.
Rachel approached the stage and looked into the running water, astounded that someone had thought of such an exotic stage set. She peered into the moving water, gasped, and looked up. Sarah was grabbing two drinks from a waiter, and she hurriedly waved the blonde over and pointed to the moving rush of water.
“There are real fish in there!” Rachel whispered excitedly.
The two women peered in at the orange and white coy fish lazily flowing through the water.
Rachel looked to Sarah. “I’ve never been to anything like this in my life!”
Sarah nodded. “Me either! This is mind boggling.”
She handed Rachel a drink, and the two raised their glasses to cheer the evening.
“Now, if you don’t mind, I’m going to go see if Mark from auditing has showed up yet. I wanna see him dressed up in a suit.” Sarah fanned herself and smirked at Rachel at the thought of her fit, handsome coworker.
Rachel let her eyes continue to absorb the glitz and glamour of the event. She looked up and noticed the podium sat in the middle of the giant, nightscape stage. It looked like the prop had been made especially for this event. It was molded into an ocean wave; the foam crested at the top and would encompass the speaker in what looked like an enchanted chariot of the sea. It was even filled with water, dyed cerulean blue with glittering sparkles, which churned on the other side of the glass.
“Wow.” Rachel shook her head with a smile as she looked up at it.
The room had filled up with people who were sitting and chatting, and as Rachel looked through the crowd, she noticed a tall, broad man in a perfectly tailored suit standing at the end of the stage where the stairs began. He was staring at her with a small smirk on his face. His hazel eyes pierced hers, and Rachel felt her heart beat quicker in excitement and anticipation. She gave a mischievous smile back, as standing a bit taller, she could feel his hungry gaze on her. That tall frame, his broad chest and big arms... damn was he handsome.
She couldn’t help but feel this warmth of familiarity about him, like she had seen him before, but she knew that there was no way she’d forget that face. His dark brown hair was perfectly styled with a pompadour, and she didn’t think she had ever seen a beard trimmed and shaped so perfectly, the thickness and deep chocolate color enriching the sharp cheeks and defined brow. His stature, the curves of his smile, those broad shoulders… she traced his body with her eyes as she tried to recall where she may have seen him, but nothing registered.
Rachel felt herself suck in a breath as he began to walk toward her, long athletic legs eating up the ground in confident strides. As he approached, Rachel realized he towered over her petite frame, his sculpted shoulders and arms shown off in the clearly custom suit. He smiled down at her, perfect in every way, and Rachel felt herself swoon at this god who had just appeared among the commoners.
He reached out a large hand and those bright eyes met hers. “Hi there, I’m Riley.”