The Missing Heir(7)

By: Barbara Dunlop



Cole guided her through the crowd, keeping their pace brisk enough to discourage the people who looked as though they might approach. It was hard on her feet, particularly her baby toes, but there was no option but to keep walking. Gradually, the crowd thinned near the dance floor.

“Am I out of the frying pan and into the fire?” she asked him.

“I’m not hitting you up for a donation, if that’s what you mean.”

“Good to hear.” She wasn’t sure what he wanted, but he was persistent enough that he had to be after something.

“I brought you a gift,” he told her.

“Bribery? That’s a bit blatant, don’t you think?”

“I believe in getting straight to the point.” He lifted his palm.

She glanced down, squinting. “You bought me a pair of...socks?”

“Dancing slippers. I got them from a vending machine in the lobby.” He glanced down at her black-and-gold four-inch heels. “Unless I miss my guess, those are two-hour shoes.”

She grimaced. “Is that what they call them?” It was an apt name.

She knew she should be suspicious of his motives, but she couldn’t help but feel grateful.

“Over here.” He pointed to a couple of empty chairs at the edge of the dance floor. “Have a seat.”

She eased down, deciding to accept the gift and remove the torture chambers from her feet. How much could she possibly be indebted to him for a pair of vending-machine dancing slippers?

She unbuckled the straps and slipped her feet free.

“I went with medium.” He handed her the black-satin, ballet-style slippers.

Slipping them onto her feet, she nearly groaned out loud. “They’re so soft.”

He bent to pick up her shiny heels, dangling them from his fingertips for a moment before setting them down. “These are ridiculous.”

She rose with him. “This is an important event for Coast Eagle. And Destiny says they make my calves look longer.”

“Your calves are already the perfect length.” He set the shoes on the chair.

“You’re not even looking at them.”

“I can tell by your height.” He offered his arm again. “Shall we?”

“I suppose it’s the least I can do, since you saved my feet. But you have to make me a promise.”

“Sure.”

She took his arm. “After the dance, walk me to the exit.” She glanced discreetly around. “For some reason, nobody’s bothering me when I’m with you.”

“Were they bothering you before?”

“All evening long.” She’d never experienced anything like it. “Donations, jobs and pictures. Why on earth would anybody want their picture taken with me?”

“Because you’re beautiful?” He drew her into his arms.

“Ha, ha.” Coco had been beautiful. Amber was, well, sensible. She was very sensible.

Not that sensible was a bad thing. And she truly didn’t mind her looks. Her eyes were a pleasant shade of blue. Her nose wasn’t too big. Her hair was slightly curly and had its good days and bad days. Today it had been tamed by a team of professionals, so it looked pretty good. She had to say, though, she wasn’t crazy about the sticky feeling from all the products they’d used at Chez Philippe.

“I wasn’t joking,” said Cole.

“We both know you’ve got a lot of ground to make up for from earlier,” she said, settling into the rhythm of the music.

“True,” he agreed.

“So anything you say or do is suspect.”

“You’re pretty tough to compliment, you know that?”

“There’s no need. I’m over the fact that you didn’t like Samuel.”

He paused as if weighing his next words. “You’re a very good dancer.”

She couldn’t tell if he was mocking her or not. She’d certainly never spent much time perfecting dance steps. Was he trying to kowtow, or was he simply making small talk? Or maybe he was just getting off the topic of Samuel.

“So are you,” she answered neutrally. “I can’t remember where you said you were from.”

“Alaska. Are you changing the subject?”

“From me to you? Yes. You’re about out of things to compliment. Unless you like my hair.”

“I like your hair.”

“Good. It cost a lot of money to get it this way. Now back to you.”

“Aviation 58 is in Juneau. The state capital. It’s on the panhandle.”

“You’re a pilot?”

“I am. I’m also one of the owners of the airline.”

“I’ve never heard of it.”

Coast Eagle flew to Seattle and California, but they didn’t venture into the north. “We’re regional.”

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