“Yes, that’s right.”
“I see the family resemblance,” he said. “But I also recognized him from a newspaper photo Henry showed me. You and your brothers were at a dedication. Henry told me he was going to have the photo framed because it was rare for all of you to be together.”
She nodded. “That’s true. It seems the only time we get together is when there’s a funeral or a crisis.”
He leaned his elbows on the table and thought about what she’d just said.
Regan looked back at Spencer and said, “I should go say hello to my brother.”
“Two brothers are here,” he said.
She smiled. “Yes, but I’m only going to be nice to one of them.”
He smiled. “Spoken like a true sister.”
The knot in her wrap came undone, and when she pushed her chair back to stand, it fell to the floor.
He bolted to his feet. The dress showed off her attributes a little too well for his liking. No, that wasn’t exactly true. He liked looking at her. He just didn’t want anyone else to.
He was about to tell her to put the blanket back on when she turned to him. They stood just inches apart, her face upturned to his. If he moved so much as a couple of inches, his mouth would be on top of hers. He stopped himself in time. It wasn’t his place to tell her what she could or couldn’t wear, no matter how much it bothered him. If he tried that on one of his sisters, she’d laugh right in his face. Then she’d give him hell.
Regan wasn’t his sister, though. She’s a job, nothing more. Those words became a chant inside his head, and yet he was having trouble accepting it.
“Alec? You were saying?”
“Stay in the room,” he said gruffly. “I’ll be watching, but stay in the room.”
“Yes, of course.”
Cordie was bringing Spencer to Regan. She met them halfway across the ballroom, hugged her brother, and welcomed him home.
Alec watched the reunion as he pulled out his cell phone. He dialed Wincott’s cell number. The detective answered on the second ring.
Alec didn’t waste time on pleasantries. “Check out the brothers.”
“The ball that boring, huh?”
“I mean it. Check them out.”
“We already have,” he said. “And you’re not supposed to have any involvement in the investigation.”
It was almost impossible for Alec to back off. He didn’t want to jeopardize Wincott’s future with the department, and he knew that if Lewis found out he was doing anything more than guarding Regan, he would make Wincott’s life miserable.
“So what are you thinking?” Wincott asked.
“Maybe this guy is after the whole family, or maybe he’s using Regan to get all the brothers back in Chicago. I know you’ve checked them out, but go deeper. There might be something there.”
“Okay,” he said. “We’ll dig deeper.”
“Look, I know you’re overworked and understaffed. I’ll call Gil and ask him to check out a couple of things.”
“So you’re not involved, but you are?”
“I really want to follow up on a hunch.”
“That’s fine with me … if Gil doesn’t mind.”
“Did anything come up on Regan?”
“Since you asked this morning? No. The people she turned down for grants were the only ones who had a grudge. Although, there were a couple of nutcases—you know, people who wanted money for weird inventions—but they checked out okay. Weird, but okay,” he said. “I already told you we’re looking at Peter Morris,” he added. “Her friends checked out too. I guess by now you’ve figured out who Sophie Rose’s father is.”
“Thanks for telling me.”
Wincott laughed. “I almost fell off the chair when I found out. It doesn’t appear to make any difference to Regan or her brothers. They don’t blame the daughter for the sins of her father.”
“That’s the way it should be.”
“We’ve ruled Bobby Rose out. I’m getting another call.”
Alec flipped the phone closed and put it back in his pocket. He stood with his back to the wall, his arms folded across his chest, watching the crowd.
Aiden had joined his brother and sister. Cordie seemed to be the only one interested in what he had to say. No, interested wasn’t the right description, Alec thought. She looked enthralled. Regan, on the other hand, looked furious. Aiden was still talking when she shook her head, turned, and walked back to their table. Several men tried to engage her in conversation, but other than smiling at each one, she paid them no attention and continued on.
Alec pulled the chair out for her, but she didn’t sit. She stood next to him and stared at the entrance.
Cordie had followed Regan, and she smiled when Alec pulled her chair out for her. “Who are you looking for?” she asked Regan as she placed the napkin on her lap. She turned around to see who Regan was watching, and then said, “Oh, I see.”
“See what?” Alec asked.
“Mr. and Mrs. Sleazebag just walked in,” Cordie said.
Alec didn’t comment, but he did track the couple as they made their way around the tables to get to their seats. Emerson’s face was red, no doubt from alcohol, Alec thought. His wife was adjusting her bodice and fluffing her long platinum hair. An interesting couple, he decided, and he wondered what Wincott had found out about them.
Sophie and Jeff returned to the table, and Sophie craned her neck so she, too, could watch the couple. When they had taken their seats, she turned to Regan and said, “The whole family’s here. Isn’t that lovely?”
“Walker isn’t here,” Cordie pointed out.
“I was being sarcastic,” Sophie said. She told Regan and Alec to sit down, for heaven’s sake, and then added, “Aiden had no right to invite Emerson. He knows how Regan feels about him. I think it was terribly disloyal of him, and I told him so.”
Cordie immediately rushed to Aiden’s defense. “You can’t know if he invited him or not.”
“Of course I can know,” Sophie countered. “Aiden told me he invited him,” she rushed to add when Cordie looked as if she was going to argue.
“What did he say when you called him disloyal?” Cordie asked.
“He said it was cheaper than a lawsuit and for me to behave myself tonight,” Sophie said. “He still treats me like I’m a ten-year-old.”
Waiters appeared with the first course. The conversation turned to lighter topics during dinner, and Regan was thankful for that. Jeff told several humorous stories about a tennis competition he’d entered, and Regan tried to look interested. She wasn’t hungry. Seeing Emerson had destroyed her appetite, but no one seemed to notice she was moving the food around her plate.
After dinner, but before the dancing began, Daniel O’Donnell stepped up to the podium and tapped on the microphone to get everyone’s attention.
“Please tell me there aren’t going to be a dozen or so boring speakers,” Cordie said.
“Just one boring speaker,” Regan replied.
“For a thousand dollars a plate, we shouldn’t have to listen to anyone,” Sophie said.
“Hush,” Cordie whispered. “People can hear you.”
A moment later, after the administrator had thanked everyone for attending, he introduced Regan. Cordie and Sophie both laughed.
“Keep it short and sweet,” Sophie said.
“As opposed to long and boring?” Regan teased.
Deciding to wing it, she left the note cards in her purse. Alec stood when she did, but he didn’t follow her. He watched the crowd and the doors. He did notice that every eye was on Regan as she made her way to the podium.
It took her all of thirty seconds to hook her audience and less than that to mesmerize them.
The hospital was located in the heart of the inner city, and Regan stressed the importance of keeping it open. There was a desperate need for money and for additional beds, which meant a drive to expand.
“And that’s why you’re here,” she said.
They were smiling as she reeled them in. Alec was amazed. She talked about money, and she got them to listen. She had her audience in the palm of her hand, and by the time she finished, Alec wanted to empty his savings account to help out. She was that good.
There was such passion in her voice and a determination to get the job done. It was a side of her Alec hadn’t seen until tonight, and he was all the more impressed. The woman just kept getting better and better.
She received a standing ovation and was immediately surrounded by guests. Alec didn’t like the crowd pressing in on her. He went to her, put his arm around her, and pulled her back so that her shoulders were pressed against his chest.
Alec spotted Emerson, drink in hand, tottering toward her with a scowl on his face. “Come on. Let’s dance,” he said.
“The music hasn’t started yet.”
He was treating her like a football he had tucked under his arm as he zigzagged his way to the dance floor. Fortunately, the music did start just as he pulled her into his arms.
“Alec?” she began.
He’d been looking over the crowd but glanced down and smiled. “You saw him coming?”
The top of her head bumped his chin when she nodded. Her fingers were tickling the back of his neck. He was trying hard not to show any reaction, but he couldn’t help thinking how soft and right she felt in his arms. When she looked directly into his eyes, he began to imagine all sorts of things.
Man, did he need to get laid. Yeah, that was why she was having such a powerful effect on him. Lust. That’s what it was. Plain old lust. And he needed to clear his head and stop thinking about how good she would feel in his arms in his bed with her legs …
“We won’t have to stay much longer.”
One of the waiters caught his attention. He was standing by the door holding an oval tray. He was staring at Regan. While Alec watched, another waiter tapped the man on his shoulder and got him moving again.
“I’m not in a hurry to leave.”
“Who are you watching?” she asked.
The waiter carried the empty tray out of the room. “No one in particular.”
“You’re not bored to death?”
He smiled. “I’m still breathing, aren’t I?”
The song ended. Men were moving in on Regan, but Alec managed to run interference and get her back to the table without stopping.
“You’re being rude dragging me along. I’m supposed to be nice to these people so they’ll give me some of their hard-earned money for the hospital expansion.”
“Most of the people here didn’t earn their money. They inherited it.”
“Yes, but I still have to—”
He cut her off. “You can be nice sitting here,” he said. He pulled out her chair and added, “You don’t want Cordie to sit all by herself, do you?”
The chair hit the back of her knees. She didn’t have a choice. She was sitting whether she wanted to or not.
“You have noticed Cordie isn’t at the table. She’s dancing.”
“Yes, but she’s coming back. You look cold,” he remarked. He sat down next to her. “Why don’t you put your blanket back on.”
One eyelid dropped. “It isn’t a blanket.”
He draped the wrap around her shoulders, and his finger trailed down the side of her neck She sat beside him for several minutes watching the couples on the dance floor, but every once in a while, she’d glance over at him. Had she imagined the touch, the shiver he’d evoked? Was she that starved for affection that a simple brush of his hand against her skin sent her into a spin?
Don’t think about it, she told herself. Think about something else. Her friends. Yes, she’d think about them. Were they having a good time? Sophie looked as if she was. She and Jeff were having an animated conversation as they waltzed past, and Cordie, she noticed, was dancing with Aiden.
“What do you think of my friends?”
Alec was watching Cordie when he answered. “I like them.”
She smiled as though he’d just complimented her. “When we were little, Cordie and I were certain that Sophie would be married before she turned twenty, but now we’re not so sure she’ll ever settle down. She’s having too much fun. Cordie, on the other hand, is a true romantic. She says she’s waiting for her one true love.”
Alec nodded toward the dance floor. “Maybe she’s already found him.”
She leaned in to Alec’s side while she looked over the crowd.
When she found Cordie, she burst into laughter. “She’s dancing with Aiden, for heaven’s sake.”
“Yes, she is.”
“Are you suggesting that Cordie and Aiden …?” She laughed again. The possibility was ludicrous to her.
Alec wanted to tell her to watch her friend’s face. The way that Cordie was looking at Aiden more than suggested that she at least had the hots for the guy. Alec didn’t think Aiden had a clue, though, how Cordie felt.
“I could be wrong,” he said, deciding to be diplomatic.
“You are wrong. Aiden thinks of Cordie as my friend. Nothing more. He watched her grow up because she was always at our house. And she thinks of him as my brother—”
“Yeah, I’ve got it. And nothing more, right?”
They continued to watch the dancing couples.
“Daniel’s looking worried,” Regan said.
She could tell he still didn’t know whom she was talking about. “The hospital administrator. He’s waiting for me to circulate and beg for money. Would you like to come with me?”
“No, I can watch you beg from here. Just stay in the room where I can see you.”
He almost added, “And wear the tarp or whatever the thing is called,” but stopped himself. He stood with his back to the wall and watched her walk away. She turned once and smiled at him. There was the dimple he’d been pretending not to notice since that first smile. He loved women with dimples, no matter where those dimples were.
His cell phone vibrated. He didn’t look at the caller ID before answering.