Keeley was on cloud nine even though she wasn't able to see Aaron again until New Years' Eve because finals and other holiday festivities got in the way.
She was so excited when the beautiful ice blue cocktail dress with the sweetheart neckline arrived on her doorstep with the pair of silver heels that she actually went to a discount salon to get her hair, makeup, and nails done, using up most of the money she got for Christmas in one go.
His driver picked her up and drove her to the Rainbow Room where the party was being held. Aaron met her downstairs, looking very dashing in a black tuxedo with a pocket square that matched her dress.
He held out his arm and escorted her into the lavishly decorated banquet hall filled with important businessmen and socialites. Honestly, it was overwhelming, but Keeley focused on the fact that she was holding onto the man she liked to keep from drowning.
"Look who decided to grace us with his presence," a young man Keeley didn't recognize jeered. "Who's your date?"
"None of your business," Aaron replied frostily. "I see you don't even have one."
The young man was momentarily taken aback before cracking a smile. "Alright, I suppose I deserved that. Zachary Bolton, nice to meet you." He held out a hand for Keeley to shake.
She nervously glanced at Aaron before accepting it. "Keeley Hall."
"Hall? As in the oil magnate Halls?"
"No," she said awkwardly, looking to her date for support that didn't come.
"We have other people to greet. See you," Aaron said decisively before steering them in another direction.
"Keeley, try not to talk to other people as much as possible. Keep an air of mystery about you."
She wasn't sure why he didn't want her talking to his friends but in unfamiliar territory it was better to follow the lead of someone who knew what they were doing.
The rest of the night passed much the same. People wanted to ask her questions but she smiled and nodded and let Aaron do all of the talking.
It was incredibly boring but she had to admit the food was sublime and she enjoyed the feeling of Aaron's hand on the small of her back.
"Aaron, who is this young lady? I don't believe I recognize her," an imposing older man that gave off a similar icy vibe to Aaron boomed not long before midnight.
"Keeley Hall, we were classmates," Aaron said stiffly.
"A Westwind alumna? Where is she studying now?"
"I study biochemistry and molecular biology at Boston University, sir," Keeley dared to speak up though she threatened to crumble under this man's powerful presence.
The man's gaze sharpened and grew deadly. "So you're both in Boston."
"Yes," Aaron said defiantly as his grip on Keeley's back tightened.
"I see," he replied in a displeased tone that made her knees shake. "Don't ignore the other guests, Aaron."
Keeley didn't realize how much she was suffocating until the man left and she could breathe again properly.
"Who on earth was that?"
She wasn't sure whether or not it was her imagination but she could have sworn Aaron grimaced. "My father."
Aaron almost never mentioned his family and now Keeley understood why. His father was terrifying! Growing up under that man's influence…it was no wonder he could be so cold.
She felt that her understanding of the enigma she loved increased tenfold that day. Her determination to show him more warmth increased along with it.
They continued making the rounds talking to people, a few of which she recognized from high school such as Lacy Knighton, who gave her the ugliest look while turning up the charm for Aaron. She didn't dare do anything more since Aaron was glued to his date's side.
As they went, Keeley couldn't help but notice how politely detached he was with everyone. He had always been a man of few words but even the small talk he made was extremely concise. It was a bit gratifying to see that his real conversation was reserved solely for her.
Shortly before midnight, they slipped out of the party and stared out the window at the New York skyline. Aaron seemed pensive.
"I'm sure you would have had more fun spending your New Year's Eve differently."
"Well yeah, but at least I got to spend it with you," Keeley replied a bit shyly.
The lights glittering on the horizon suggested romance. It was the perfect time to speak such thoughts.
Aaron gazed at her far more softly than usual for a moment before returning to staring out the window.
"Keeley...I want you know...having you by my side made this event much more bearable. I even looked forward to it and I usually only come to these things out of a sense of obligation. Being around you is different; I'm happier when I'm with you."
She took the initiative and reached out to clasp his hands with hers. "I'm happier with you too."
An emotion she hadn't seen before swirled in the abyss of his gaze. Hope? Aaron suddenly crushed her to his chest. With their height difference, Keeley could hear his heart beating erratically.
"What you said before about that tradition...if you're by my side, this year will be a great one. Will you stay with me?"
The countdown to midnight had already begun in the other room. 10...9...8...
"Stay with you?" It sounded like he wanted her to be his girlfriend! 4...3...2...
When midnight hit and cheers rang throughout the venue, Aaron tilted her head up and kissed her so deeply that Keeley practically melted into the floor.
He was careful not to mess up her hair since they had to rejoin the party eventually but his thumbs stroked her face sensually as they continued to kiss.
They broke apart panting slightly a few minutes later and she beamed at him with stars in her eyes. It was the first time he gave her a full-toothed smile.
"Be my girlfriend, Keeley," he practically commanded.
"Okay," she sighed dreamily, still reeling from their first kiss.