The sound of her heels on the wood floor brought his head up, and he stopped when the door swung open.
She took his breath away.
The dress fit her like a glove, the chiffon enveloping her in a haze of pale green. And the heeled shoes showed every muscle of her legs in clear definition.
"It's a little short," she said, and he dragged his gaze from her legs.
"Thank you." She stepped closer. "Thank you for the outfit."
He eyed her for a second. "You aren't going to yell at me for buying it, are you?"
She shook her head and he sighed, relieved. "You didn't have to bully me, you know."
He groaned. "Ah, honey, I know, but when you keep talking about leaving me, I get so fired up."
"Then let's not talk about it."
His lips thinned and he forced a smile. "Agreed. Let's go."
Outside the sedan was running, and as they walked toward it, she laughed.
Her rubber chicken was firmly ensconced in the grill-work.
Her gaze flew to his. She was deeply touched. "You're not going to be embarrassed?"
"No, ma'am, and Lurlene is in the garage whenever you want her," he said as he held the door for her.
She slipped into the seat and didn't respond until he was in the car. "Good Lord, Nash, what will you do? They'll all think you've developed a sense of humor."
"I have one."
"Yeah, right. Now."
Chuckling, he put the car in gear.
Half an hour later, they pulled up in front of the country club. A valet opened her door, and she glanced at Nash as he handed the man a tip and came to her. He looked good enough to eat, she thought. He was dressed in a black tuxedo, the cut of the jacket boxy and shorter than the normal, and showing off pleated slacks. His white shirt had a band color and he didn't wear a tie, but with his satin vest, low slung and fitted, and that black cowboy hat, he looked more like a gentleman gunslinger than the owner of the oldest plantation in the area. They walked through the doors and handed the hat to a checker.
Music filled the air, and they moved through the wide-open doors into the ballroom.
Heads turned, and Nash smiled privately and proudly to himself. She stopped men in her tracks and she didn't even notice, he thought. She was too busy looking at all the activity. He introduced her around a little, then brought them to their table.
Hayley had never seen anything so beautiful and tried not to gawk. Chandeliers glittered overhead, and the walls and doorways were draped in foamy white tulle and berry-colored flowers. The tables were covered in berry-colored cloths, stark white flowers accenting the vibrant hue. Waiters moved through the clusters, and people danced and dined. China clinked and corks popped. The entire ballroom sparkled like a diamond, and Hayley felt like a princess on Nash's arm.
He smiled down at her.
"Just a little ol' country dance, huh?" she said.
"It gets more elaborate every year. The first time I attended I was a teenager and there was sawdust on the floor."
He didn't give her time to sit, taking her handbag and leaving it at their table before he pulled her onto the dance floor.
"I've wanted to hold you all day."
"Funny. You wanted to brain me yesterday."
"I've seen the error of my ways. Forgive me?"
She cocked her head. "I seem to be doing that a lot lately."
He smiled. He was hoping for years of her forgiveness, since he knew he'd screw up again soon enough.
They danced slowly, Nash pulling her closer with each step. He could feel her shape in the thin dress, her soft form burning through his clothes. His body reacted and his slacks offered little barrier. She felt it, a tiny moan escaping her, but she didn't step back.
"Oh, my, Nashville." She felt empowered by the feel of his groin swelling against her.
He bent to whisper in her ear. "Was there any doubt I wanted you, sprite?" His voice had a husky seductive pitch. "In my life and in my bed."
* * *
Hot sensation rippled through her and she gripped him a little more tightly.
"Nash, stop teasing me," she moaned.
He swung her effortlessly around the dance floor, and close to her ear he whispered, "I mean business, darlin'. And if we weren't in public I'd have you out of that sweet little dress and being shameless with me."
"Please don't talk like that. I can't … it's just that…"
Nash gazed down into her soulful brown eyes and saw her reservations there as much as he heard them in her voice. "You've got to trust somebody sometime, honey. Just be with me, Hayley. Like there is no tomorrow. No," he said when she tried to speak. "I know there is, but let the worries go. Now is all that counts."