Hayley spared a look at Nash and sellers, but his attention was on Andrew. He'd been introducing her to the buyers all day as Dr. Albright, and each time it made her go warm and fuzzy inside.
Andrew, a big strapping man with a mustache, smiled, pumping her hand. "How do, doc?"
She smiled back. "I do right fine, Mr. Pike."
"Call me Andy, please. Only my secretary calls me Mister." He didn't hide his appreciation and looked his fill of her. "Dang, I can't believe I'm wishing I'd get sick." His gaze slid to Nash, then back to Hayley.
"Be careful what you wish for, Andy," Nash said.
Andrew winked at Hayley, and Nash put his arm around her waist. She couldn't help sinking into him a little. It felt so good.
Nash noticed and his smile widened. "You going to clean me out again, Andy?"
"You do have some fine-looking horseflesh this year, as usual. How many cutters?"
Hayley's brows shot up.
"I 'spect I better get to looking before they're all gone. Ma'am." Andy tipped his hat to her and she nodded, watching him make his way through the crowd.
"A hundred? I didn't know you had that many to sell."
He urged her in the opposite direction, toward a booth. "They've been delivered to the stockyard all week. The ones we rounded up will go into training. The Thoroughbreds won't be auctioned till later. Ranchers from all over the country come to Aiken to buy and sell horses at this livestock fair." He stopped before a booth, plucking a cowboy hat from the racks surrounding the stand. After a quick inspection, he dropped it on her head.
"I don't need this." Nor could she afford it.
"Your nose is already getting red."
She looked in the mirror set near a stack of hats. The cowboy hat was straw with a brown band and not so big that she looked ridiculous. When she looked back at Nash, he was waving off the change from the vendor. The vendor thanked him by name and they moved away.
Hayley said, "Thank you, but I don't need your gifts."
He knew she'd balk. "I know. But if you've noticed, you're the only one here not wearing one."
She glanced around. He was right; even the children wore hats.
"Besides, you look cute in it."
She blushed and he gave her hand a quick squeeze. Then he cocked his head, listening to an announcement. "Come on. The trick riders are going to start." He pulled her along, forgetting that her legs were a lot shorter than his, and when she tugged him back, out of breath, he apologized and met her pace.
She stopped before the bleachers. "There doesn't look to be any seats left."
He didn't hear her apparently and made his way around the bleachers. They walked beyond the security guard into the grandstand building. The ushers and guards merely nodded to him and stepped back, holding the door open. Icy conditioned air instantly chilled her skin. They walked into a carpeted area, and he led her up a chrome-railed spiral staircase to what looked like a large nightclub. There was a perfect view of the arena through massive windows tinted against the glaring sun; the box seats jutted out over the grandstand, so they'd miss nothing. Waiters moved through the small clusters of people, offering canapés and champagne.
Nash introduced her to everyone as Dr. Albright, and beyond that her presence with him obviously garnered curiosity and surprise, everything else felt like a blur. She would never recall all those names, she thought.
"Welcome back, Mr. Rayburn," a man in a Western-style tuxedo said. He ushered them into a private area near the glass windows, plucking a Reserved sign off the small table, then motioning to a waiter. She couldn't help notice that the sign was embossed with Nash's name and his plantation's.
Hayley dropped into a sofa. Not wanting to look like a yokel, she tried not to stare at the huge crystal chandelier above her head, the closed-circuit TV, the carts of desserts or the elegantly dressed people, who looked as if they hadn't stepped out of this private club all day.
Sitting on the sofa beside her, Nash tossed his hat on a nearby chair. She followed suit, absorbing her surroundings as a waiter came forward, offering flutes of champagne. Nash took two, handing one to Hayley.
She sipped, watching the riders circle the arena. She was fascinated by the young girl standing on her horse's rump. Incredible balance, Hayley thought as they took a jump.
She met Nash's gaze. "This is all very lovely."
His brows drew down. "I know you, Hayley. I hear a 'but' in that comment. Give."
"It's nothing really. I just feel drastically underdressed."
"You look great." He shifted closer to her, setting the flute aside. "Don't worry. I thought you'd like a break from the sun."