Halfway through the evening, Alex arrived. Walking in just after the dinner portion ended, he immediately found Rory, who was making last-minute adjustments to a basket on display as part of the Chinese auction. When he touched her shoulder, she straightened and turned, then gave a small start when she recognized him. “My dear,” he said, kissing her hand. “You look lovely.” His eyes held hers, and he smiled broadly when he realized she was alone. “I’m so glad that you told me about this gala tonight. Forgive me for sounding crass, but I was looking for an excuse to see you again.”
“I didn’t know you were on the guest list,” she said, refraining from agreeing that he was indeed crass for crashing for such a purpose. “I didn’t either, but my secretary is brilliant and can wrangle an invitation from the most formidable of organizations.”
Rory kept her smile on her face to hide her irritation and told him how happy she was that he came. “The shelters need all the help they can get. I trust you made a respectable donation as part of that wrangling?”
“Four or five figures?” If he was going to exploit his connections, she was going to exploit his ego.
The pause between her question and his answer amused her because she knew he was trying to balance his desire to impress her and his desire to get away with donating as little as possible. “Five, of course.”
This time her smile was genuine. “Good. We’ll be able to put you on the donor honor roll.”
“You’re quite the fund-raiser, Rory,” he chuckled, remembering how Julie used to smile at him like that, as if he were the center of her world. Which, at one time, he had been. “You knew I’d choose the higher of the two.”
She looked lovely in pink, he decided. Pastels suited her, though they certainly contradicted her nature. “Remind me never to crash a charity event again. Who knows what you’ll talk me into next time?”
“Exactly,” she said. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to speak with the organizers.” Alex watched her walk away, appreciating the sway of her hips and the way the silk gown seemed to float around her. Aren’t you the romantic tonight, he silently mocked himself, deciding that another glass of punch was in order, as was polite conversation with the mayor and his date. No harm ever came of being photographed with the heavy-hitters. Working the room would also prevent him from hanging around Rory all night.
When she saw him socializing, she’d recognize what an asset he could be at events such as this. Tonight, when they did talk, it would be all about Alex and about Rory. No one else. He imagined her smiling at him again. Laughing. Their dinner at the Lyon’s Head had been a good start. Tonight would be a natural continuation. She could help him forget Julie.
She’s perfect, he thought, watching as she walked up to the city’s comptroller, smiling and shaking his hand, then laughing at something he said. She held a flute of champagne that was close to empty. Commandeering a fresh one from a server, he made his way to her. “If you would permit me,” he said, bowing just slightly as he offered the glass. Graciously, Rory accepted and made introductions. A moment later, the two men were deep in conversation regarding the city’s finances. Excusing herself, Rory escaped.
“Do you need an escort to your car?” He asked her later, as the evening ended.
“No, thank you. They had valet parking.”
The pink roses Alex sent the next day were given to her neighbor, Mrs. Dubois, who declared them lovely and asked Rory who the poor soul was. “Doesn’t he know you aren’t interested in him?”
The two were enjoying a cup of tea on Mrs. Dubois’ back porch. Leaning back in her chair, Rory contemplated the differences between tea with her mother and with her neighbor. Here, she felt no need to justify not accepting the roses, which were obviously expensive, which was indicative of wealth, which would in turn put Isadora on high alert in The Search for Rory’s Next Husband. “I’m sorry, what was that Mrs. Dubois?”
The older woman smiled, “I asked how you are doing now that you’re free. It’s been, what, about two weeks?”
Sipping her tea, Rory thought for a moment. “Almost three. Not too badly. I expect some people want to see me fall apart, but they’re going to be disappointed.”
“Yes, some minds do tend to operate that way. I don’t know why some people think that a man is a necessary requirement for a woman,” she paused for a moment and looked pointedly at Rory. “Even at the expense of her happiness or safety. When my Edward passed away, we’d been together over forty years. I was lucky, I know. He was a good man. It was a tough few months at first, but I found my way eventually, and made a nice little life for myself. A few of the older women in my family wanted me to marry again, saying that it wasn’t right for me to be alone at my age, but I didn’t see the point. I certainly didn’t need a man to provide for me. I finally told those busybodies that I wasn’t going to live my life for them.”
Mrs. Dubois chuckled, and so did Rory. The image of the five-foot-nothing, white-haired woman standing up to other tiny, elderly women painted quite a picture in her mind. “This flower-sender wouldn’t happen to be the same one you’re in the paper with, would he?”
Mrs. Dubois obliged, and the society column was before Rory in a moment. “You do look lovely, dear.”
It was that day’s Scene column featuring a photo of her talking to the comptroller. Next to her stood Alex. She remembered that a photographer had been there, but hadn’t realized that he’d caught one of her and Alex.
Alexander Webster and Rory Cullers attended The Renaissance II’s annual charity auction to benefit local battered women’s shelters.
A simple, short sentence and a well-timed photograph and now she looked like she was there with the bore. Sighing and shaking her head, she looked at her neighbor. “Unfortunately, yes,” she said, then told her how she managed to get him to donate ten thousand dollars. By the time she finished the two were laughing. “I was so annoyed by his assumption that he could just show up that I wanted to see how far his ego would take him. Poor guy, usually when someone forks over that kind of money he gets to take the woman home. All he got was a tax receipt.”
“Oh, Rory, you’re priceless,” said Mrs. Dubois, squeezing her hand. “But, dear, you can do so much better than a lawyer. When you’re ready to start dating, find yourself a nice writer, someone you have something in common with.”
Rory felt herself blush. “I’m working on it, Mrs. Dubois.”
“So there is someone. Good. If I dare say so, you need someone who can appreciate you. Can you tell me about him?”
What could she say? That Cade refused to touch her until she was ready – but that she didn’t know what ready actually meant for her? How could she explain that she loved walking in to work every morning and seeing him there, or that she wished he’d kiss her but was afraid to ask?
I don’t care.
She shook her head. “I really don’t know what to think yet. I just want to make sure I have my head on straight before I do anything.”