The Missing Heir(6)

By: Barbara Dunlop



They turned to wind their way between tables.

“She’s not what I expected,” said Cole as they returned to the back half of the big ballroom.

“She has two arms, two legs, speaks English. What did you expect?”

“I don’t know.” Cole struggled to organize his thoughts. “Snobbish, maybe, polished and conniving.”

“She looked pretty polished to me.”

“She’s beautiful, but that’s not the same thing.”

“She’s a knockout. Do you actually think she’ll dance with you?”

“Why not?”

“Because you choked, and I’m sure she has other offers.”

“I’m staying optimistic.”

As the lights went dim and the applause came up, Cole made up his mind to approach her as soon as the dinner was over. This was by far his best chance to mingle with the Hendersons and Coast Eagle without revealing his identity, and he wanted to get it done and over with.





  Two

Amber couldn’t wait to get out of the ballroom. Her first choice on a Saturday night was to stay home with Zachary, tucked in her jammies with a cup of hot chocolate and an old movie. But she was the closest thing there was to a member of the Henderson family, and somebody had to graciously accept the pilots association’s thanks.

Unlike her sister, Coco, Amber never attended highbrow events. Consequently, everything she wore tonight was new. Her feet were killing her in the ridiculous high heels. Her push-up bra was digging into her ribs, the lace scratching her skin. And the tight dress, chosen by Destiny, who insisted it was perfect, was restricting her movements so that she couldn’t even cross her legs under the table.

The MC ended a string of thank-yous with a request for applause to compliment the catering staff. As the clapping died down, the music came up, signaling the start of the dance.

Amber breathed a sigh of relief. All that was left was to politely make her way toward the exit, find a cab and get home. She stood, tucking her tiny purse under her arm.

A fiftysomething woman she vaguely recognized grasped her hand to shake it. “Lovely speech, Ms. Welsley. Lovely speech.”

“Thank you.”

The woman’s expression turned serious. “Even in such tragic circumstances, the Henderson family is having a positive impact on the community.”

“Samuel was a very generous man,” Amber responded by rote, though she had her own private thoughts on Samuel’s character, most particularly his decision to marry her beautiful, impetuous, nineteen-year-old stepsister.

Amber had initially kept her distance from the couple, regretting many times the decision to bring Coco to the company party where the two had met. But then Coco had become pregnant, and Amber had been drawn back into the drama of Coco’s life.

“Excuse me, Ms. Welsley,” came a male voice.

The woman seemed reluctant to step back to give way.

“Good evening.” Amber smiled at the new man, taking his offered hand, mentally calculating how long it would take her to run the gauntlet to the exit. It would be an hour or more at this pace. She truly didn’t think she could stand that long in these shoes. For a nonsensical moment, she pictured herself toppling over onto the ballroom floor.

“I’m Kevin Mathews from Highbush Unlimited. I wonder if I might give you my card.”

Amber kept her smile in place. “Certainly, Mr. Mathews.”

He dug into his inside pocket for a business card. “We’re a charitable organization, focused on environmental rehabilitation, primarily in the northwest. I know a lot about Mr. Henderson and Coast Eagle, and I can’t help imagining that he would have been a supporter of the environmental rehabilitation.”

Amber doubted that Samuel had given much thought to the environment, since he flew around in a private jet, air-conditioned the heck out of his mansion and owned several gas-guzzling luxury cars.

But she took the card the man offered. “I’d be happy to pass this along to Coast Eagle’s Community Outreach Unit.”

His expression faltered. “If you have some time now, I could outline for you our—”

“There you are,” came a deeper male voice. “I believe it’s time for our dance.”

Cole Parker appeared by her side, his arm held out, a broad smile on his face.

Amber couldn’t tell if he was rescuing her or about to pitch something himself. But she quickly estimated that the dance floor was more than halfway to the exit. That was progress. She returned his smile and took his arm.

“Please excuse me,” she said to Kevin.

Kevin’s expression faltered, but he had little choice but to let her go.

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