Connor watched as Kendall and his date—a grand dame of the Boston social scene—moved among the guests. If the news reports were right, Kendall’s decade-long marriage had ended several years ago and he had since become a popular man-about-town, squiring socialites to high-profile events.
A sycophantic prig, he thought. Allison was right. Kendall’s social standing was clearly essential to him. If the allegations of embezzlement stuck, he would be ruined. Not only would he be heading to prison, but he’d be an outcast from the upper crust.
For all his posturing, Kendall had little more than his money to gain him entry to events such as the Cortland Ball.
Connor had done some digging and he knew Kendall neither came from an old-line family nor shared old prep-school ties with the people here tonight.
According to his investigation, Kendall had grown up in an upper-middle-class family in New Hampshire and had attended public schools before graduating from college with a business degree and moving to Boston to start his ascent in the business world.
Connor glanced over at Allison and noted she’d also marked Kendall’s arrival. He knew without asking, however, that she would avoid Kendall. It would be improper for a prosecutor to be talking to a defendant in one of her cases.
On the other hand, Connor reflected, Kendall looked at ease despite the fact that nearly everyone there tonight must know he’d had the audacity to show up even though Allison, who was prosecuting his case, would be present.
Connor narrowed his eyes. If Kendall was their man, then Allison’s harasser was a cool cucumber. Exactly the type who would be hard to catch. And exactly the type he intended to watch like a hawk.
Allison glanced around the ballroom. She’d managed to shake Connor for the time being. Unfortunately, though, her parents were bearing down on her. She braced herself as they approached. “Hello, Mom.”“Ally.” Her mother leaned in for a kiss before drawing back and looking searchingly at her face, concern etched on hers. “How are you feeling? Are you having any trouble sleeping? Because if you are—”
“Mom, I’m fine.” She’d spoken with her parents earlier in the week about the shooting incident, but she’d spared them the details, which would just have worried them needlessly.
Her parents exchanged looks. Her father was an older version of Quentin, but his dark hair was peppered with gray, giving him a distinguished look.
“You should have told us you’d received another death threat in the mail just days before the shooting,” her father said gravely.
Allison suppressed her irritation. Connor, it seemed, had been talking again. “I didn’t want to worry you and Mom unnecessarily,” she said, hoping the explanation was one they’d be satisfied with. “You were on a business trip hundreds of miles away last week. There was nothing you could do except worry even more than you’d already been doing.”
“Of course we would have worried!” her mother exclaimed.
Allison took a deep breath. “Thanks to Quentin, I have a bodyguard, remember? I’m taking precautions.”
“Connor said that you’d gone out without him when you were attacked,” her father countered.
Snitch. What else had he told her parents? All she needed in order to make her humiliation complete was for Connor to have divulged the reason she’d left the house. Aloud, she said, “Connor has been saying a lot these days.” She turned as Quentin parted from Liz, who was speaking to another woman, and strolled up to join them. “What else has Connor been saying, Quent?”
Quentin held up his hands. “Hey, he’s only trying to help.”
“I thought I was just getting a bodyguard,” she said indignantly, “but, apparently, Connor is doing double duty as a spy.”
“You should have warned me, Quent. If I’d known Connor was reporting everything to you and the rest of the family, I’d at least have given him something interesting to relay. You know, wild parties, dancing on tables, men swinging from the chandelier…male strippers…”
“Actually,” Quentin said dryly, “getting information out of Connor is like prying open a clam with your bare hands.”
“Oh, come on.” She cocked her head. “Are you going to deny he lost no time telling you about the shooting incident last week? Even before I had the chance to pick up the phone?”
Quentin frowned. “Only because I phoned him and demanded to know what the heck had happened the night before. I had gotten a call from the police to let me know that they were going to do everything possible to try to keep the tabloid journalists at bay about the shooting. One of the nice things about being a major donor to police charities is that the police brass remembers you when, say, your sister is involved in a shooting.” Quentin paused and gave her a meaningful look. “Naturally, I had to ask what shooting.”
“I was going to call you,” she said, knowing she sounded a bit defensive. The truth was she hadn’t been relishing that conversation with her brother—or any other member of her family for that matter. She knew her family well enough to know their reactions would have fallen somewhere between alarm and panic, and she hadn’t been wrong.
“After I got a call from the police,” Quentin added, “I phoned Connor.”
“Don’t you mean interrogated?” she asked, her annoyance coming through in her tone. “And why didn’t you bother to call me first?”
“Because,” Quentin said patiently, “given a choice between the two of you, I knew I’d have a better shot with hin at getting the straight story.”
She crossed her arms. “Are you saying I would have lied?”
Her brother gave her a knowing look. “Artful omission is more like it.”
Allison dropped her arms in exasperation. “Whatever.”
“And, yes, believe it or not, I did have to threaten and cajole Connor,” Quentin went on. “He initially told me to call you. I think the only reason he eventually said anything at all was that I’d already found out more or less what happened from the police.”
So maybe Connor hadn’t gone racing to her brother with the news.
“I must say, I agree with Quentin,” her mother put in. “Connor seemed very reluctant to go into much detail about the shooting when your father and I asked him about it. Frankly, I think he wanted to spare us unnecessary worry.”
“And, by the way,” her father added, “Connor is not the one who told us about the threat you’d received in the mail. That was something that the police mentioned to Quentin when they called him.”
She looked across the ballroom and her eyes met Connor’s. The look on his face said he was debating whether to walk over. She shook her head almost imperceptibly. She didn’t need his help handling her family.
She did owe him an apology though—at least for jumping to the conclusion that he’d raced to her family to blab about the shooting.
Sitting next to Connor at dinner was torture, Allison thought. Her family, fortunately, was sitting among guests at other tables. Otherwise, it would have been much harder to pretend interest in the mundane chitchat being carried on at her table.She took another bite of her dessert. Mercifully, the guest on her left had just excused himself to say hello to people he knew at another table.
She itched to hash things out with Connor. She wanted to apologize, yes. At the same time, though, she was still piqued about the high-handed way he’d acted after the attack in the parking lot. Surely he owed her an apology as well?
She stole a look at him. He was chatting with the guest on his right, the wife of a Congressman. Connor’s slightly rough-around-the-edges quality was set off tonight by his tuxedo. The juxtaposition was incredibly sexy and, she noted sourly, apparently appreciated by the Congressman’s wife as well.
The stab of jealousy brought her up short. She was spared having to analyze the emotion, however, because Connor took that moment to turn to her.
“Dance with me?” he asked. His lips were curved upward but his tone was mocking. “I think we can survive it, don’t you?” He nodded around their table at the empty seats and the couple getting up at the other end. “Besides, it will look odd if we didn’t take at least one turn around the room.”
She nodded and let him help her rise from her seat. The dance floor might finally afford her the opportunity and privacy to get her apology over with.
When they were out on the dance floor, he drew her to him for the start of a slow song. If she’d been dispassionate, she would have said his touch felt light but firm. But, since she was far from feeling detached, his touch—from their bodies brushing to his hand at her back guiding her—was causing waves of pulsating sensation to radiate outward from the points of contact.
For a while, they danced without speaking, gliding across the dance floor to a slow and sweet song until the temptation to rest her head on his shoulder became palpable.
She gave herself a mental shake. She had things to say to him and she’d better get on with it.
Before she could say anything, however, he stirred the hair at her temple with his breath and murmured, “Silence becomes you.”