“But you think the two of them will try to gang up on you to get you to go into hiding?”
“Yes, but it won’t work. Like I said, I’m not going anywhere. And if anyone is hiding, it’s Aiden.”
“Yeah?” He was trying not to smile. She sounded so disgruntled now. “Who’s he hiding from?”
“He’s that scared of you, huh?”
He did laugh then. “I gather that’s a no?”
“Aiden isn’t afraid of anyone, least of all me. He isn’t really hiding from me,” she admitted. “He is driving me crazy, though. It seems that every time I turn around, there he is, and yet, he doesn’t have time to even schedule a meeting. He keeps hiring more guards too. I’m bumping into them.”
“He’s worried about you, and that’s why there are so many security guards around. Did you ever talk to him about having your car towed away?”
“Not yet, but I will.”
“What about Walker? Is he going to gang up on you too?”
“No. He’s pretty self-absorbed these days, and I’m glad of it. I can handle two, but three against one is more difficult.”
They’d taken the exit and were slowing to a stop at a red light. The country club was a little over two miles away.
“You’re tougher than you look.”
She smiled. “I hope that’s a compliment.”
“It is,” he said. “Families can be complicated. Trust me. I know.”
“From some of the stories you’ve told me, you were pretty wild.”
“I had my share of wild times.”
With women? she wanted to ask.
“How come you’re not married?”
He shrugged. “I don’t have anything against marriage. My brothers Nick and Theo love being married. I just haven’t had time for any kind of meaningful relationship.”
“Women are like potato chips.”
“I’m sorry?” He couldn’t believe he’d heard her correctly. “Women are what?”
“Like potato chips,” she repeated. “That’s what a guy in college once told me.”
She shook her head. “No, he was dating a friend of mine, and sleeping around on her.”
“Did he tell you why he thought women were like potato chips?”
“Yes. He said he couldn’t eat just one.”
He thought that was hilarious. He’d heard a lot of lame reasons men gave women when they got caught cheating, but this one had to be the worst yet.
“It’s not that funny,” she said.
“Yeah, it is.”
He turned the corner. The rain was coming down in torrents now. They followed a limo through the iron gates. There were gaslights outlining the half mile drive that curved through the palatial grounds to the clubhouse. Whoever had designed the club had wanted to impress, and he had certainly achieved that goal. The opulence of the three-story structure at the top of the rise was close to being an embarrassment of excess. Soft lights shone down on massive white pillars. The brick building reminded Alec of a southern plantation run amuck.
THE RAIN DIDN’T LET UP. ALEC HANDED HIS CAR KEYS TO THE valet and followed Regan up the stairs. He was one step behind her, and it occurred to her that he was making himself a target in order to protect her.
“Do you belong to this club?” he asked.
She shook her head. “It’s not my kind of place.”
The comment surprised him. “Not my kind of place either. It’s too …”
“Pretentious?” she whispered.
Two men in red tailcoats opened the massive double doors as they approached. As Regan and Alec were walking inside, he took her arm and said, “I don’t want you to go anywhere without me. Not even the ladie’s room.”
She turned to him. “Are you going to go in there with me?”
“No, but I’m making sure it’s empty.”
He took her coat, removed his own, and handed both to the coat check woman. His frown told Regan that he didn’t approve of what she was wearing. She almost said something and then changed her mind. She draped the silk shawl around her shoulders and knotted it, and as soon as she did that, his frown eased.
He looked so dashing all dressed up in his tux. His bow tie was crooked, though, and a lock of his hair had fallen down on his forehead. Without a thought as to what she was doing, she stepped closer, adjusted his tie, and brushed his hair back in place.
She made the mistake of looking into his eyes. They wrinkled at the corners, and she knew he wanted to laugh at her. She could have stared at him all night. Time to get hold of yourself, she thought.
She stepped back. “I didn’t mean to … you know.”
“No, I don’t know. You didn’t mean to what?”
“To touch you,” she whispered.
He grinned. “I like you touching me.”
“I still shouldn’t have …”
She was saved from having to continue the awkward conversation when she heard someone call her name. She whirled around, lost her balance, and fell back against Alec. He grabbed her around the waist and held her until she stopped wobbling. She shouldn’t have worn such impossible high heels, she told herself.
He had to think she was a complete klutz. Fortunately, she didn’t have to dwell on that depressing thought long. Cordie caught her attention. Regan smiled as her friend came rushing forward. As usual, she looked lovely. The sapphire blue dress had a long full skirt and a fitted bodice that showed off her perfect figure.
“Have you been waiting long?” Regan asked. She might as well have added, “Yo, I’m down here.” Her friend was staring at Alec and having trouble keeping her mouth closed. Regan couldn’t fault her.
“Stop staring,” she whispered.
“I’m not staring.”
She was, and she didn’t seem inclined to stop. Regan nudged her. “I asked you if you had been waiting long. For heaven’s sake, Cordie, look at me.”
“What? Oh, no, I just got here.”
Regan remembered her manners. She stepped to Alec’s side and introduced the two. Cordie smiled as she shook his hand. “You don’t look like a detective, at least not in that tuxedo.” She glanced down at his waist and asked, “Are you carrying?”
“Carrying what?” Regan asked.
“A gun,” she explained. “You know … packing.”
Alec smiled. “You watch a lot of television, don’t you?”
“Sorry to say I do,” she said. “At least I do when I’m not grading papers. I lead a very boring life.”
“No, you don’t,” Regan said. “Cordie’s a woman of many talents. Do you know, she totally rebuilt the engine in her car?”
Alec thought she was joking. Cordelia was extremely feminine—very like Regan—and it was easier for him to picture her getting her nails painted at one of those fancy salons somewhere than changing the points and plugs in a car. Then the name clicked inside his head. Cordelia Kane as in Kane Automotive. “Your family owns a couple of auto repair shops around town, don’t they?”
“More than a couple,” Regan said. “They’re nationwide.”
She suddenly remembered she hadn’t told Cordie the latest about her brother. “Aiden had my car towed away.”
“Get it back,” she said.
Regan shook her head. “He had it taken to a junkyard. I’m sure it’s been stripped by now. Oh, and he bought me a BMW. Can you believe his gall?”
Alec would have laughed, but he knew Regan was serious, and angry. So was her friend.
“I can’t believe I wasted an entire weekend putting in a brand-new radiator and shocks …”
“And a new muffler,” Regan said.
“That’s right, a new muffler. Where does he get off towing …?” Cordie suddenly stopped ranting and took a deep breath. “It’s getting crowded in here. We should probably go into the banquet.”
Alec had been blocking Regan from anyone entering through the double doors, but he, too, wanted to get her inside the dining room and hopefully settled at an out-of-the-way table.
The two security guards who had followed them from the hotel walked into the foyer. They stopped just inside the door. Both were wearing their uniforms and were already getting noticed by the other arriving guests. Alec touched Regan’s arm to get her attention, leaned down close to her ear, and said, “Stay here with your back to the wall. I’ll be right back.”
The second he was out of earshot, Cordie said, “Oh, wow.”
Regan smiled. “Excuse me?”
“You heard me. Oh, wow. You didn’t tell me he was so …”
“So … everything. There’s this raw, sexy appeal about him …”
“You haven’t noticed?”
Regan laughed. “Of course I noticed.”
Like Cordie, she was watching Alec as he walked over to the guards and spoke to them. Whatever he was saying was making the men nervous. They both began to fidget. One was comically tugging on his collar.
“Why are those men here?”
“The guards? Aiden hired them as extra security.”
“They’re not subtle, are they?”
“No, they aren’t. I hope Alec sends them home.” She turned to Cordie and said, “I would appreciate it if you didn’t tell anyone that Alec’s a detective. I don’t want to field questions, and the focus should be on the hospital fund-raiser tonight.”
“I won’t say a word.”
“Except Sophie, of course. You can tell her.”
The three of them never kept secrets from one another. “About the detective …” Cordie began.
“I’m thinking he’s interested in you.”
“Why would you think that? You’ve only spent two minutes with the man.”
“Body language,” she explained in a very matter-of-fact tone. “I know he’s interested because of the way he looks at you. You’re going to have to take my word on this, Regan. He’s attracted to you, but then, come to think of it, most men are.”
“They are not. Now, can we please change the subject.”
“Not yet. You’re gorgeous. You’ve got a face and body Sophie and I would die to have, and I swear that if you weren’t my best friend, I’d have to hate you. Your brothers, especially Aiden, have done a real number on you to keep you in line.”
“For heaven’s sake,” Regan said, exasperated. “No one’s done a number on me.”
Cordie didn’t want to argue. “Will your brothers be here tonight?”
“Maybe,” she said.
“So tell me. Is he single, married, or divorced?”
“Who?” she asked, just to provoke her friend.
“Oh, please. You know who I’m talking about. The hunky detective.”
“He’s single, but he’s leaving Chicago in another week.”
“For how long?”
“Forever,” she said.
Cordie sighed. “You know what I’m thinking?”
Regan smiled. “I never know what you’re thinking.”
“I’m thinking you should take that blanket off and go after that man.”
Regan took exception. “It isn’t a blanket. It’s a wrap.” She selfconsciously adjusted the knot she’d made to hold the shawl in place. “It wouldn’t be right for me to go after him. He’s on the job. He’s … trapped with me.”
The conversation ended when Cordie said, “Here he comes.”
Regan noticed the guards, looking quite disgruntled, were leaving. “What did you say to them?” she asked.
“In other words, you aren’t going to tell me?”
He smiled and completely ignored the question. “Shall we go inside the ballroom?”
“The doors aren’t open yet,” Cordie said. “That hallway leads to the ballroom, where we’ll be dining. They’re serving champagne and hors d’oeuvres in the reception. I’m going to go look for Sophie. Want to come with me?”
Regan didn’t answer her. She was watching a couple coming in the doorway. Her frown was immediate, and she was suddenly feeling sick to her stomach.
“What’s wrong?” As Cordie asked the question, she turned around to see who Regan was watching. “Oh, I see.”
The couple disappeared into the cloakroom. Alec caught a glimpse of them. “Who are they?”
“No one important.”
Alec looked at Cordie to get an answer. She sighed and said, “The silver-haired man used to be married to Regan’s mother, and the young woman having trouble keeping her dress on is his wife. They are, as Regan said, not important.”
Alec touched Regan’s shoulder. “I’d like to go into the ballroom. As Cordie said, it’s getting crowded out here,” he added.
Cordie took off down the hall to go to the reception, and by the time she reached the door, there were two men at her side.
Alec took Regan’s hand. “I want to see where you will be sitting. Let’s go.”
She didn’t argue. She didn’t particularly want to stand in a crowded room and sip champagne.
An employee stepped forward to block the doors and explained that they would have to wait until the room was officially opened, but the look Alec gave the man changed his mind, and he hastily stepped out of the way.
The ballroom was surprisingly large. To the left, the musicians were busy setting up their equipment on a wide square platform adjacent to the spacious dance floor. Straight ahead and to the right were round tables with white linen tablecloths. The cushioned chairs were covered with white linen slipcovers, and tied on the back of each chair was a blue satin bow with ribbon spilling to the floor. Long white tapered candles in sparkling silver candleholders were being lit by the waiters.
There were place settings for eight at each of the tables. Name cards, propped on silver cubes, sat directly behind each silverrimmed dinner plate. Regan found their table near the front by the podium. One of the waiters was fiddling with the microphone, making sure it worked, but he stopped what he was doing and smiled at her.