Robert and Virginia smiled their acquiescence, but Robert put his hand on Noah’s arm when he would’ve moved past. “I’ll call you tomorrow. We haven’t had a chance to talk properly for months.”

“Sure,” Noah said and moved on, having to fight the urge to brush his hand over his arm to rub off his father’s touch. Robert had stopped touching him in any way when Noah was just seven years old; these days, on the rare occasions when he did, Noah couldn’t stand it.

As for that call, he’d answer it, but only because he owed Robert one for helping out when Molly and Fox had needed urgent legal advice after a massive breach of their privacy during the tour. But any talking would be on Robert’s side—Noah’s father had no right to any part of Noah’s life.

“Hey.” Kit leaned in close, her voice, her scent, cutting through the ice as if it didn’t exist. “You okay?”

“Yeah.” He released a breath he hadn’t known he was holding until the exhale eased the pressure on his chest.

“Drink the rest of that champagne.”

He’d forgotten he was holding it. “No, you’re right. I need a clear head.” Placing the flute on the tray of a passing waiter, he grabbed a glass of ice water instead. “Come on, I’ll introduce you to Lisa.”

“I just said that to get us away.” Kit’s eyes lingered on his face. “We can sneak out now if you want.”

“We have to stay at least until the bidding starts.” Finishing off the water, he set it on another tray. “Thanks. I needed a friend back there.”

Amber eyes glowed with fierce emotion. “No thanks needed.”

The next hour wasn’t bad. He liked being able to introduce Kit to people who could help further her career, but that was as far as he needed to go—soon as someone met her, they were drawn into her orbit.

The clear sound of a bell silvered through the air not long after they’d finished a conversation with Cyril King. A minute later, Margaret went up to the podium to make her speech on behalf of the foundation. Noah listened with half an ear, the rest of his attention on Kit; he didn’t want to waste a minute of this night he’d been given as a gift.

A night where he could pretend he was good enough to stand by her side.

“If you don’t bid during the auction,” Margaret said at the end of her speech, “I’ll hunt you down and guilt you into writing a check, so you might as well get something for it.”

Everyone laughed, the mood happy thanks to the atmosphere, food, and drinks.

The auction began straight afterward, and true to his word, Noah drove up the prices with relentless determination, even acting affronted when he was outbid. He almost went too far with the vomit plate; only Kit’s elbow jab to the ribs stopped him from acquiring the monstrosity.

“I think we’ve done enough,” he whispered, leaning down to her ear.

Kit looked carefully around. “It’s shadowy with the soft lighting, and we’re at the back, while everyone’s looking forward. Let’s go take a break.”

Noah had already spotted the best door; it led deeper into the mansion, and as far as he could tell, it wasn’t locked. Almost there, he saw a waitress about to pass by with hors d’oeuvres. “Thanks,” he said and grabbed the whole tray. Winking at her when her mouth fell open, he slid out the door Kit had already opened. He saw her pick up a couple of glasses of ice water from a tray that had been by the door before she followed him out.

The corridor was only dimly lit, but he could see another hallway to the left. When they reached the spot, they found it barred by a thick red rope. “Place really is like a museum.”

He jumped over the rope, had the pleasure of watching Kit hike up her dress to expose those knockout legs as she climbed over. His body tightened at the sight, his breath caught in his chest, but he ground down the response. He would not ruin his friendship with Kit for sex. Sex meant nothing. Kit meant everything.

“Hey, look.” She pointed to a suit of armor down at the end, her voice a whisper. “I wonder if it’s one of Tierney’s exhibit rooms? Do you think he has the mummy in there?”

Grinning at one another, they walked quickly down the carpeted hallway and into a large room filled with plinths on which stood busts, vases, other objets d’art. Each piece was spotlighted from above, but that was the only light in the room. Not gloomy, more atmospheric.

“Carpet’s thick,” Kit said, keeping her voice low. “We can sit on it.”

“Wait.” Noah put down the tray, then shrugged off his tuxedo jacket and laid it on the ground. “Now you can sit, my lady.”

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