“Close to five. But who’s counting when you’re having fun?”

“I don’t think the family can take much more of this, Allison. This latest episode with your getting shot at may be the nail in the coffin for Mom and Dad.”

She closed her eyes. “You’ve told them?”

“Not yet, but someone has to because the papers may link your name to the shooting sooner or later,” he said significantly.

She opened her eyes again. “Fine, I know.” She could already picture the newspaper headlines. Years of hard work trying to stake an identity for herself apart from her well-known family would evaporate before her eyes.

“All I’m saying is you may want to start thinking about when this stint at the DA’s Office is going to end. It’s just too dangerous. Connor said the usual stint is three years or so.”

Connor had said that, had he? She’d be interested in knowing what else Connor had said. “Maybe it isn’t just a stint. Have you thought about that? Maybe I want to climb the ladder at the DA’s Office.”

Quentin didn’t say anything but a distinct sigh came over the line.

“Besides,” she persisted, “I’m not the only one taking risks, Quentin. Everyone in the office has a tough job. If it weren’t me, it’d be someone else.”

“All right, that’s all praiseworthy and good, but the fact of the matter is that it is you,” Quentin argued. “You’ve been the one getting threats. You’ve been the one getting shot at. And, you can’t tell me that your name and your family’s wealth and high profile don’t put you at special risk.”

She thought about the phone threat she’d gotten: kidnapped and held “for a pretty penny.” Quentin had inadvertently hit the mark. Aloud, she said, “I’m not going to be boxed in by a whole set of rules just because of my last name.”

Quentin started to interrupt, but she went on, “And you can tell your friend Connor not to worry. I won’t be trying to cook dinner for him again anytime soon.”

If it were possible, she was even more annoyed with Connor by the time she got off the phone.

Ratted her out to her family again, had he? He hadn’t even waited for her to tell them in her own way. Instead, he’d lost no time in spilling the entire story to Quentin as if she were still a recalcitrant teen whose family he had to enlist to keep her in line.

Had he also had the gall to suggest to Quentin that she should be looking to move on from the DA’s Office because the prosecutor’s job had become too dangerous for her? Is that how the thought had occurred to Quentin?

She wouldn’t put it past Connor.

She narrowed her eyes. If Connor thought things were icy between them now, she fumed, he’d better get ready for a deep freeze.

Eight

Connor faced the mirror and attempted once again to work his tuxedo tie into a knot.

For the past week, he and Allison had avoided each other as much as it was possible to while still living under the same roof. That had not been as hard to accomplish as it might otherwise have been, since she’d been working late all week. As a result, he’d been able to catch up on things at the office and schedule some evening meetings.Yet, the tension between them continued to mount, despite—or maybe because of—the fact he was back to sleeping in the bedroom down the hall from hers. He was still furious with her, but he was also suffering from a serious bout of sexual frustration.

They were like two tigers circling each other in the cage. And, unfortunately, their days of circling were about to come to an end.

Tonight was the Cortland Ball, and even he knew it was the biggest and oldest charity ball of the Boston social season.

Usually he avoided such events like the plague. His company was well-known enough that he didn’t have to hobnob with the rich and snooty. Business came to him.

But the Whittaker Foundation was one of the major sponsors of the Cortland Ball this year, so Allison had to attend. And if Allison had to attend, he had to attend.

Even if they were barely on speaking terms. Even if his damned bow tie was choking him, he thought irritably, running his finger around inside the collar of his shirt now that he had worked his tie into a perfect if slightly too-tight knot. He left his bedroom and headed downstairs.

The one perk to attending this shindig was that Hugh Kendall, the indicted business executive Allison was prosecuting, would be there. It would be a first-class opportunity to study one of the prime suspects in the threats against Allison.

When Connor got downstairs to the front hall, he checked his cell-phone messages again and resigned himself to waiting for Allison to come down the stairs.

Ten minutes later, a small sound alerted him to her presence moments before he glanced up. When he did, the sight of her stole his breath away.

She was wrapped in a strapless, sky-blue sheath that hugged all the right curves. The style of her hair, piled high on her head—thanks to the work of the stylist who had come to the door earlier—further accentuated her elegant décolletage.

As she came down the stairs, the deep slit in her gown parted like a curtain to reveal shapely legs and feet shod in silver, high-heeled pumps. She clutched a small silver purse in one hand and jewels glittered at her ears and wrist.

Diamonds, he noted with the modicum of his brain not given over to carnal lust. Yet her neck was bare.

If they’d been married, he thought, and preparing for tonight, he’d have given her diamonds to adorn her neck, too. He’d have trailed kisses along her neck, across her collarbone, and down to the cleavage revealed by the heart-shaped neckline of her gown. Eexactly, he realized, as her ensemble was designed to encourage him—or more precisely, any red-blooded male—to do.

She looked every inch the princess that he often taunted her as being. Except, instead of conjuring the mockery he often made a pretense of exhibiting, he felt every fiber within him tense with elemental attraction.

As she neared the last step, he mentally shook himself and held out his hand to her.

Her eyes flashed fire, but she let him assist her the rest of the way. And while the expression on her face said she was still displeased with him, her heightened color also said she was not immune to the physical attraction between them either.

He’d been pleased when she’d told him that she didn’t have an escort for tonight. If she’d had one, he had a hunch he’d have wanted to rip the guy apart.

She arched a brow. “Looked your fill?” she asked tartly, her chin coming up.

“For that I’d have to peel you out of that gown,” he parried, knowing his words would rile her.

“Then you’ll be looking for a very long time,” she said frostily, opening the door to the hall closet and retrieving a wrap. “And if your eyelids are liable to be glued open all night, I hope you’re bringing along some eye drops.”

“Why don’t you carry a bottle of the stuff for me?” he asked lazily. “Then when I’m afflicted—as I inevitably will be because I intend to watch you all evening, princess—you can come minister to me.”

She closed the closet door with a thud, wrap in hand. “The only way I’ll be ministering to you is with a swift kick in the—”

“Tut-tut,” he interrupted, now thoroughly enjoying himself. “This is a charity ball, remember? And isn’t charity supposed to begin at home?”

“Here’s a news flash for you, Rafferty, in case the message hasn’t gotten through to that iron-plated ego of yours,” she said, yanking open the front door and then stopping abruptly without going out. “I haven’t exactly been feeling charitable toward you lately.”

When they arrived at the Riverton Ballroom, where the gala was being held, Connor noted Allison lost no time in breaking away from him in order to mingle with the other guests during the predinner cocktail hour. She seemed to know most of the people there and socialized easily.And why not? he thought. She’d grown up in this world.

Seeing her in her natural milieu underscored the differences in their backgrounds. He’d been furious when she’d thrown those differences back at him in the heat of their argument, but, if ever he was tempted to agree with her that those differences doomed a relationship between them, now would be the time.

He sipped from his wineglass and watched as Allison smiled and nodded at one of the male guests. The bland-as-a-vanilla-wafer jerk was looking at her as if she were an ornament he was planning to hang on his illustrious family tree.

Sloan, his name was, if Connor remembered the face correctly. A member of the Makepeace family, listed in the Social Register and tracing its lineage back to the Mayflower—as any good Boston Brahmin family would.

Connor’s lips twisted as he watched Sloan Makepeace lean toward Allison.

Then he caught himself. He had a job tonight and it wasn’t ogling Allison. Oh, he intended to keep his eyes on her, all right, just as he’d said, but that was only to make sure she stayed safe and stayed put.

Connor took another sip of his wine and scanned the room—just in time to catch sight of Hugh Kendall making an appearance at one of the doorways to the ballroom.

The businessman looked shorter and stockier than he had in the pictures Connor had seen of him in the papers. He was definitely balding, though, around fifty, and no more than medium height.

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