She walked around the table to find out who else was seated there, oblivious of the appreciative looks she was getting. Alec didn’t like the way the staff was looking at her, but he knew he couldn’t do anything about it. He glared at one overzealous employee who started toward Regan and was pleased when the man did a hasty turnaround.
Regan was shaking her head. “What’s the matter?” he asked.
“We’re not sitting here.”
“Okay,” he said. “So who is?” He was standing beside her, keeping his eye on the doors.
“Aiden and his guest, Spencer and his guest, which means he’s back in town, the administrator of the hospital and his wife, and my former stepfather, Emerson, and his wife, Cindy. No, we aren’t going to sit here.”
She was trying hard not to let Alec know how furious she was. She knew Aiden was responsible for letting the sleazebag join in. She understood his motives. Emerson had already gone to several attorneys trying to find a way to break the prenup, and Aiden was simply trying to keep him pacified. In Regan’s opinion, her brother was only putting off the inevitable and being extremely disloyal to their mother’s memory in the process.
There were bright spots of color on her cheeks. She was angry, all right. “Okay,” Alec said calmly. “Where would you like to sit?”
“Anywhere but here.”
Alec picked up her name card and his. He looked around, found a table near the back he liked because it was close to the wall, and walked toward it.
He traded names with a doctor and his wife. “This okay?”
“It’s perfect.” The frown eased from her brow.
She put her evening bag down on the seat of the chair and straightened just as the doors were officially opened. Sophie and her date were the first to walk inside. She waved to Regan and hurried over. She looked amazing. Regan watched Alec to judge his reaction to her friend. He’d taken the name cards of the doctor and his wife and placed them next to Aiden and his guest, and was on his way back to their table when Sophie caught his attention.
He seemed curious but not overly so. Men had a tendency to lose their train of thought around Sophie, but Alec seemed to be in full command of his senses. Odd, Regan thought. Definitely odd.
Sophie was wearing a new black Chanel gown and had diamond clips in her hair. Regan recognized her friend’s date. He was Jeffrey Oatley. His family owned Oatley Electronics, and Regan knew that Jeff and Sophie were both members of the same country club. He was a sweet, laid-back man who always looked as though he was about to burst out of his clothes. Everything he wore was two sizes too small.
“Alec, I’d like you to meet my dear friend, Sophie Rose,” she said.
While she was introducing Jeff, she noticed Sophie was smiling at Alec. She, too, was obviously mesmerized by the man.
“Are you the bodyguard, or rather the detective, assigned to Regan? It’s okay,” she hastily added for Regan’s benefit. “Cordie explained everything to me, and I assure you that I can keep a secret.”
“Sophie’s going to be a reporter,” Regan said.
“What secret?” Jeff asked.
Alec answered. “Regan’s dating a cop. That’s the secret.”
“Me,” Alec said. “She’s dating me.” He put his arm around her waist and pulled her in to his side.
Alec didn’t let go of her. Regan wondered if he realized his arm was still around her. She liked it, though. She liked pretending that they were together too, and, Lord, how pathetic was that?
“Would you like for us to join you?” Sophie asked, and before Regan could answer, she turned to her date and said, “Will you go find our name cards, please?”
He immediately turned around to do what she asked. She grabbed his arm. “Wait a minute. Take all of these name cards and put them somewhere else. I’m sure there are empty seats, and if there aren’t, ask the waiter to set up another table. I don’t want to sit with strangers tonight. Oh, and, Jeff? Find Cordie’s name too. She’ll want to sit with us.”
Regan leaned toward Alec and said, “Sophie and I have been friends since kindergarten, so I’m used to the way she bosses everyone around.”
Sophie heard the comment and laughed. “Everyone but you and Cordie. It is true, though. I do tend to be bossy, especially with Jeff. He’s my go-with guy.”
“Go with?” Alec asked.
“We’re just friends,” she explained. “But when I want or need a date for some function, Jeff goes with me, and I do the same for him. It’s a perfect arrangement when one or both of us is between relationships. Jeff was eager to come tonight, though, because of Regan.”
“Why’s that?” Alec asked.
“He’s had a thing for her for years,” she explained. “Shouldn’t we sit down?” She motioned to a waiter, who immediately hurried over. “Would you please remove these three place settings? Thank you,” she said as he began to gather up the silverware and the wineglasses. Sophie leaned around him to see Regan. “Cordie can sit next to Alec on his right, and you can sit on his left.”
“She is bossy,” Alec said.
Regan nodded. She was smiling until Sophie said, “Cordie’s right. You really should take off the blanket. It hides your beautiful dress.”
“It isn’t a blanket. It’s a wrap.”
“No need to sound so defensive.”
“I’m not being defensive,” she argued in a voice even she knew sounded extremely defensive. “I’m simply telling you it’s a wrap.”
“Okay,” Sophie said, and it was obvious that she was now trying to placate Regan. “And I’m simply suggesting to you that it’s time to unwrap the wrap. Speaking of dresses, do you like mine?”
“Very much. Is it new?” Regan’s tone was laced with suspicion.
“What does ’sort of mean?”
“I picked it up at the Chanel boutique a couple of weeks ago, but this is the first time I’ve worn it.”
“How did you pay for it? With your salary—”
Sophie stood. “I had a relapse. Okay?”
“Oh, Sophie …”
“I’m going to help Jeff find Cordie’s name card. He’s wandering around in circles. When I get back, don’t lecture me. I already feel guilty.”
Alec stood when Sophie did, but as soon as she walked away, he sat down again and put his arm on the back of Regan’s chair. The fringe from her wrap was draped over his hand, and when she shifted positions, his fingers brushed against her skin. She didn’t move away, and neither did he.
“What kind of relapse was she talking about?” he asked.
“Sophie asked Cordie and me to help her stop taking money from her father.”
“What’s the big deal? If he wants to give her money and she needs it …”
Regan turned to look at him. “But she doesn’t really need it. And she wants to be completely independent.” She sighed. “Sophie loves her father very much, and she’s extremely loyal to him.”
“In other words, she’s a typical daughter.”
She smiled. Nothing about Sophie or her father was typical. “Yes,” she said. “Recently she decided that it was up to her to try to rehabilitate him, and if that didn’t work, then she’s determined to get him to retire.”
Alec literally jerked back. “Ah, hell. Rose isn’t her middle name, is it? Man, I didn’t put it together. I should have, but I didn’t. She’s Bobby Rose’s daughter, isn’t she?”
“Yes, she is.”
He was stunned. The FBI had been trailing Bobby Rose for years, trying to get enough evidence to indict him. Bobby was considered by many to be the ultimate con artist, but because he only fleeced those men and women he considered to be bigger crooks than he was, the public had taken a real shine to him. High-stakes gamblers who had robbed their own companies and who had cleaned out their employee’s pensions and then hung them and their families out to dry were Bobby’s meat and potatoes. Bobby Rose loved targeting the greedy bastards, and that was all the more reason the public loved him. Unfortunately, the sad truth was that Bobby was never going to run out of marks.
Not only did the public adore him, other crooks looked up to Bobby as an idol. He was everything they hoped to become. Bobby lived somewhere in Florida, and in all the articles about him, there was never any mention of a family.
“Spencer told me that a lot of people think of Bobby Rose as a modern-day Robin Hood. He only steals from the rich—”
He interrupted her. “Yeah, well, he doesn’t give the money to the poor, now does he? He keeps it.”
Her back stiffened. “He does a lot of charitable work.”
He gave her a look that suggested he thought she was nuts. “He’s a criminal, Regan, and he should be behind bars.”
“It’s obvious you’ve made up your mind about him, and nothing I say will change your opinion, will it?” She sounded disgruntled.
“He’s a criminal,” he patiently repeated.
“If you’re going to be judgmental …”
He was incredulous. “Have you forgotten what I do for a living?”
She turned away from him and stared at the crowd of people searching for their tables. “I’m through discussing Sophie’s father with you.”
“Oh, we’ve only just gotten started.” He tugged on her wrap to make her look at him and asked, “Did you tell me Sophie works for a newspaper?”
It would have been petty not to answer. “Yes, she does. At her father’s insistence she uses her mother’s maiden name as her byline, but I think everyone at the paper knows who she is. Detective Wincott found out, and I assumed he told you.”
Wincott was probably having a real good laugh about now. “No, he didn’t tell me,” he said. “It must have slipped his mind. What was it like for Sophie growing up with Bobby Rose for a father?”
“He’s a very good father,” she said. “He never missed a parent-teacher conference, and he always went to the plays and the tennis matches. He did his share of car pooling too.”
“Were there parents who wouldn’t let their kids hang around Sophie?”
“Did your family?”
“Forbid me to hang out with her? Sophie and Cordie and I had already become friends before Bobby Rose became so …”
“Famous,” she corrected. “My mother was busy socializing and traveling. My grandmother was in charge of me, and when she became ill, Aiden took over. I don’t think my grandmother knew who Sophie’s father was, but Aiden knew, and he didn’t tell her. My brother would never forbid me to be her friend. Sophie was always welcome in our home, but I wasn’t allowed to go to hers.” She smiled as she added, “I did, though, all the time.”
He was teasing when he asked, “Did you ever get down in her basement? No one knows where Bobby Rose hides all his money. Maybe it’s there.”
She put her hand down on top of his. “Alec, Sophie is my friend.”
He started to ask another question. She stopped him by squeezing his hand. “She’s my friend.”
ALEC HATED BLACK-TIE AFFAIRS, AND HE DIDN’T PARTICULARLY like the country club scene either, but he didn’t mind wearing the tuxedo tonight because of Regan. There was something about her that was so compelling, so vibrant, and yet there was a vulnerability too he found utterly charming. Sophie told them a sad story about a young man she knew, and when she was finished, Regan had tears in her eyes.
“It had a happy ending,” Sophie said.
Embarrassed by her tears, Regan dabbed at her eyes with her napkin and laughed. “I’m a crybaby.”
“That used to be her nickname,” Sophie said.
“When I found out what some of the kids were calling me, I cried,” she said. “But that was when I was in school. I got over it.”
“Regan wears her heart on her sleeve.”
Regan didn’t argue. She picked up her glass of Perrier and lime and took a sip.
Alec loved watching her expressions. She was so refreshingly different. What she was feeling was right there for anyone to see. She wasn’t a game player, and she wasn’t the least bit self-serving or self-involved. That, too, was a refreshing change from the other women he’d known.
Regan had a face that could grace the cover of a fashion magazine and an incredible body, but what he liked most about her was her loyalty to her friends. Well, maybe not most of all, he admitted. Her body was pretty damned great.
But she was still just a job. He had to remind himself of that fact every time he looked at that sweet mouth of hers.
Sophie excused herself to go search for her date. Alec sat down again, declined the wine the waiter was offering, and asked Regan, “Is that any good?” with a nod toward her nonalcoholic drink.
She handed the glass to him and watched him gulp it down. Smiling she said, “You were supposed to take a sip.”
“I never sip. If I’m gonna drink something, I don’t fool around,” he said. “And that pretty much defines my philosophy of life.”
“Don’t sip, gulp?” When he nodded, she laughed. “You belonged to a fraternity when you were in college, didn’t you?”
“Sure did,” he said. “I ate a lot of potato chips too.”
He put the empty glass down, ordered two more, one for Regan and one for himself, and then said, “Heads up.”
She was still smiling when she turned and watched her brother walk into the ballroom. He didn’t have a date, and he didn’t notice Regan, but then she was all but hidden in the back corner. She watched him walk toward the podium, where Daniel O’Donnell, the administrator of Parkdale Hospital, stood waiting for him.
Sophie also saw Aiden as she was making her way back to their table. She hurried to intercept him, said something that made him smile, then stretched up and kissed him on the cheek.
Spencer walked in a minute later with Cordie at his side. He, too, was smiling. Her brother looked relaxed, she thought. Sleep-deprived, but relaxed. Jet lag would, no doubt, catch up with him tomorrow.
“The man with Cordie …”