"Good evening and welcome to Savannah." Guests turned at the sound of her voice. "I'm Madison Holt, Mr. Donahue's hostess for this event. Do come in."
Closing the door, Alex turned. His jaw went slack. "We invite you to come and enjoy the patio. David, our bartender, is there and the buffet is ready whenever you'd like. He can prepare anything you desire, but I would suggest 'Southern Pleasures.' It's a wonderful drink made with fresh Georgia peaches," she was saying, elegantly pointing the way and offering individual greetings as people went by. She was performing her role well.
But it was the woman who had his attention, that and every hormone he possessed.
Oh, she'd dressed the part all right. Elegant, a vibrant splash against the pale decor. Her hair, piled loosely on her crown and spilling down her back in fat curls, enhanced her delicate features, her slender throat. But nothing took attention from the body in that dress and high-heeled sandals. Royal-blue and off the shoulder, it was entirely of lace and hugged her figure. The plunging neckline showed off the swells of her breasts, and the midthigh length displayed the curves of those magnificent legs like nobody's business. He swallowed and had the strangest urge to throw his jacket over her.
"Lovely, isn't she?"
He dragged his gaze from Madison to Elizabeth. "She's the help, Liz."
"Remember that," she said, moving past him into the living room. Alex scowled at Liz's back and followed.
His gaze slid over his living room, the profusion of fresh flowers and magnolia blossoms scenting the air and filling the corners. The servants moved around the guests slowly, all dressed in dark-green slacks, beige shirts and dark-green brocade vests to match the decor she'd chosen. The buffet tables were gathered up at the corners with blossoms and garlands, and the café tables each bore a centerpiece of edible, sugared fruit surrounded by waxy magnolia leaves. A candle rested in each center, giving the room a soft glow. Yet, the first thing he noticed was his guests were smiling and talking to each other. A rare occurrence, for these parties had a tendency to be rather stiff and brief.
Madison approached him with a tray. "A brandy, Mr. Donahue. Or would you prefer something else?" Like a kick in the teeth, she thought. She'd burned half the night over his comments, ignoring his page, then blamed the incident on the man's notorious reputation of avoiding relationships like the plague and wanting to be aware of his territory.
"Thank you, Miss Holt." That smile didn't reach her eyes, he noticed.
"Miss Murray?" She offered Elizabeth a flute of champagne, her favorite she'd learned from Katherine. Though she accepted, her smile bordered on grizzly, threatening, and Madison decided now was a good time to escape. She immediately turned away to attend to another guest, then stepped out onto the patio.
Alex watched her briefly, then spoke to his guests, Liz at his side.
"Well, I'm impressed, Alex," she admitted after an hour.
He was, too. The entire house and garden had a Southern verandah feel, and it obviously pleased his guests. His usually bland patio was filled with potted flowers and palms, the bar situated under the grape arbor, lit with tiny white lights. Tall torches illuminated the area, adding to the candle glow from nearly a dozen small tables. There was a cluster of wicker furniture that did not belong to him off to the side, where Anna Marsh and Steven Reynolds, a pair who rarely spoke, chatted amiably. With Madison. Her expression was open and animated as she collected up discarded glasses and introduced one guest to another. Laughter filled the garden. A first in a while, he knew, sipping his drink. He made the rounds, crossing Madison's path often, yet she always moved discreetly away when he approached.
When Madison had to address him, it was with a blandness that stung as if she'd slapped him. Yet Elizabeth monopolized his time. As he stepped into the dining room, he hoped the meal might get her to at least join the others. With a quick scan, he found Madison off to the side, explaining the delicacies to over a dozen guests as she handed them each a plate.
"There's shrimp – fried, boiled and stuffed with blue crab. She-crab soup, fried okra, Southern corn bread, spiced hush puppies, Low-country boil, stuffed flounder, roasted fresh ham…" As she went on, she told a little tale about the area, flavoring the menu with a bit of history, and his friends, his guests, ate it up as fast as they did the food.
Excusing himself from Liz's side, he moved to Madison's and leaned to say, "Magnificent job, Miss Holt."
Madison tipped her head to look up at him. "Thank you. We aim to please. Aren't you glad you trusted me now?"
"Yes, very much." He turned toward her a fraction, his gaze lingering over her attire. "You look spectacular."