A few more years and Emma would be out on the town giving George and Pauline heart palpitations.
Cynthia smiled and hugged her sister, letting the teen pull her away for a few minutes to talk about girly things, he supposed.
“I see you’ve charmed those panties off,” Alex said, leaning in with a sly grin.
Will shook his head with a sigh. “You’re awful. But if you don’t mind me asking, how did you know?”
Alex took a sip of his drink and eyed Will with a mix of amusement and concern. “You’re in serious trouble, man.”
He frowned and turned to his friend, grateful Cynthia was distracted by her sister for a moment. “Trouble?”
“Yep. She’s got you. I can see it when you look at her. I’d say you’re one step away from being completely lost.”
Will took a sip of his own drink, hoping the alcohol would muffle the alarm bells his friend’s words had set off. He was giving this a second chance, but he thought he was being especially cautious to not rush into something he would regret. “Don’t be ridiculous.”
Alex slapped him on the back, a wide smile lighting his face. “I didn’t say you should fight it, man. There’s nothing quite like being completely lost to a beautiful woman. You look really happy with her. I just hope you let yourself enjoy it for once.”
Before Will could answer, Alex gave him a wink, waved to Cynthia and disappeared into the crowd, back on the prowl.
* * *
After an hour or so, Cynthia finally got brave enough to leave Will’s side and explore on her own. She’d had a few drinks and hors d’oeuvres, allowed her parents to take her around and introduce her to a million people and then sat through a miserable round of speeches in her honor.
But now she was alone, standing unnoticed near the edge of the crowd and sipping a glass of wine to help her unwind. It was all very overwhelming.
A man’s hand reached for Cynthia’s elbow, tugging her gently behind a decorative fabric panel in the ballroom. Perhaps Will’s determination to resist ravishing her was wearing thin. She allowed herself to be lured away, setting down her glass, but she stopped short when she realized the man touching her was not Will.
She recognized Nigel from the photos in her office, although he didn’t look nearly as happy as he had on the beach. His large, brown eyes reflected the same anger that was etched into every inch of his unshaven jaw. He had messy, dark blond hair and an ill-fitting tuxedo that was obviously rented at the last minute. In the photos, he’d had a bit of rugged, boyish charm, but at that moment, she wasn’t entirely sure what she ever saw in him.
“Aren’t you looking fancy tonight?” he said with a mocking tone. “That necklace alone could pay for three years of rent on my studio in the Bronx.”
“Take your hand off me,” she said, her voice as cold as she could manage.
“No way in hell, sweetheart. If I do, you’ll run back to your rich fiancé.”
“I told you on the phone that I had no idea who you were and had nothing else to say to you.” She tugged, but his fingers pressed more cruelly into her upper arm. “How did you even get in here?”
“I used my last hundred dollars to rent this tux and bribe the doorman.” Nigel smiled, apparently pleased with his ingenuity.
“Why? What do you want?”
His dark eyes pinned her and made her squirm uncomfortably. “I want the woman I love back.”
“The woman you loved died in that plane crash. I may have physically lived through it, but I’m a different person now.”
“So, you think you can just cast me aside because I’m not William Reese Taylor the Third?” he said with a sarcastic sneer that curled his upper lip. “You said you loved me.”
Cynthia watched a touch of sadness creep into the man’s dark eyes. They’d had something together, something that was still important to him. And for that she had some sympathy. But Will was important to her and she wasn’t going to screw up her second chance.
“I don’t know what kind of relationship you and I had, but believe me when I say it’s over. Regardless of what I’ve said or promised you in the past, we’re done. I’m working things out with Will.”
She could feel rage coursing through his veins, the iron grip on her arm not lessening for even a moment. She was going to have a miserable bruise if he wasn’t careful.
“You’re going to regret using me, Cynthia.” At that, he let go of her and stomped to the exit.
There was something about his tone that made her glad her building had a twenty-four-hour doorman. Once the door slammed shut, Cynthia flopped back against the wall with a rush of relief. She brought her hands up to cover her face so no one could see the horrified mix of fear, sadness and gratitude that he was gone. Taking a deep breath and running her hand over her upper arm to soothe where he’d gripped her, she painted on her best smile and melted back into the crowd. She moved immediately to her abandoned drink, swallowing a large sip of it and setting down the glass before someone saw how badly her hand was shaking.