Read A Millionaire for Cinderella Online

Authors: Barbara Wallace

A Millionaire for Cinderella (6 page)

BOOK: A Millionaire for Cinderella
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“People dressed up and showing off,” she repeated to herself. Was it really all a game, like Stuart said? If so, he had to be one of the winners. It was so obvious when you compared him to everyone else in the room.

“Isn’t this a pleasant surprise.”

Dr. Tischel came strolling out of the ballroom, with a smile as broad as the rest of him. “Twice in one day. Fortune must be smiling on me.”

“Hello, Dr. Tischel.”

“Karl, please.” Spreading his arms, he drew her into an unexpected hug. Pulling her close, he held on so tightly Patience had to angle her spine to prevent his hips from pressing against hers. Antiseptic and cologne assaulted her nostrils, making her grimace.

After a beat longer than necessary, she managed to extricate herself. “Is Mrs. Tischel here, too?”

“Last I heard she was in Salem with all the other witches.” He laughed at his joke.

Patience took a step backward. His eyes had that glassy sheen she knew too well. She looked to the check-in table, hoping the volunteer might help, but the woman had conveniently disappeared. And she could forget Stuart. He was probably so busy talking to the lovely Natalie he didn’t realize she was missing. Looked like she would have to deal with the situation the same way she’d solved problems her whole life. On her own.

She took another step backward. Distance was always the first solution. “Ana was looking better when I left her this afternoon.” A safe topic always helped, too.

“Ana? Oh, Ana.” He waved a sloppy hand through the air. “She’s a tough old bird. Are you here alone?”

Thank goodness, a way out of this conversation without causing a scene. “No, I’m here with Ana’s nephew, Stuart. In fact, he’s probably—”

“The one whose girlfriend dumped him?”

“I wouldn’t know anything about that,” she replied. Other than thinking that if true, the woman was a fool. “I should be getting back—”

The doctor grabbed her upper arm, preventing her from passing. “Let me buy you a drink.”

His hot, stale breath made her want to gag. “No.” Shoving the man with enough force that he tottered sideways, she broke free and hurried back into the ballroom.

A half dozen pairs of eyes turned in her direction. Of course. Pay attention now, after she no longer needed anyone’s assistance. Wasn’t that always the way? For crying out loud, but she was tired of being stared at. She looked down at her dress. Her scarf had been pushed aside during her scuffle with Dr. Tischel, revealing her ample cleavage for all the world to see. No wonder the good doctor had hit on her. She looked like a two-bit hooker.

“There you are.”

The crowd parted and there was Stuart threading his way through the guests, his eyes glittering with a different kind of brightness. One that suggested he was actually glad to see her. “I was wondering where you went. Is everything all right?”

He was looking her up and down, taking in the disheveled scarf and goodness knows what else. “What happened?”

“Nothing.” Patience didn’t want to talk about it. Her arm hurt from where Dr. Tischel had grabbed her, and she was starting to get a headache. “I’m not feeling well is all.”

He arched a brow. Why, she didn’t know. She was telling the truth. She didn’t feel well. “I’m—”

As if on cue, Dr. Tischel lurched by them, his shoulder striking her shoulder blade and pitching her forward. Stuart caught her by the arms before she crashed into him.

“We meet again,” the doctor said. A lewd smile unfurled across his face as his eyes locked onto her exposed neckline.

In a flash, Stuart was between them, blocking the doctor’s line of sight. “Maybe you should get some coffee,” he said, his tone making it clear he didn’t expect an argument. When the doctor had left, Stuart turned back to face Patience. “Are you all right?”

Everyone was looking at them. Patience could feel the stares on her skin, worse than before. A tiny sob escaped before she could stop it. “No,” she said.

“Come on.” A warm arm wrapped itself around her shoulder and guided her toward the door. “Let’s get some air.”

Stuart led her to an unused conference room down the hall. There weren’t any chairs, but it was private. “Was he the reason you wanted to leave?”

“I ran into him outside and he got a little grabby.”

“Jeez. What is it with old guys and young girls? Did he hurt you?”

“No. I’m fine.” Wrapping her arms around her body, she stared out the window at the traffic on Newbury Street. She hated that she let Dr. Tischel’s leering get to her. The old guy was no worse than any of the others. “I thought these people would be different.”

“Different how?”

“Better, I suppose. Stupid, I know.” She should have known better.

Stuart joined her at the window. His nearness made her feel warm and safe, and, while she knew she shouldn’t, Patience let the sensation surround her. “Sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever be more than a hot body to people.”

“Hey—you are more.” Gripping her shoulders, he forced her to turn around and look at him. “Way more.”

If he knew how dangerously good his words made her feel... “Not to guys like Dr. Tischel,” she said. As far as she knew, there were way more of his kind than anyone else.

“Dr. Tischel is a drunken moron,” Stuart replied “In fact, first thing tomorrow, I’m going to talk to Ana about switching physicians. A guy who drinks like that? I don’t want him anywhere near her.”

“Can we not tell her about the grabbing part? I don’t want to upset her.”

“I suppose that means punching him out on the dance floor is out of the question too?”

He was being purposely outrageous, and it worked. Patience smiled. “Yes, it is.”

“Too bad. It’d be fun to watch the old guy fall. Nice to see you smiling again though. There’s nothing worse than seeing a pretty woman looking sad. I can say you’re pretty, right?”

Color flooded her cheeks. He could say anything he wanted. The man had her completely under his spell at the moment. “Thank you,” she said.

“For what?”

“Being so nice. You didn’t have to be.” It was true. He could have let her go home in a taxi cab and wiped his hands of her. Instead, here he was making her feel...special.

“What can I say? Didn’t you watch me at the silent auction table? I’m a sucker for sad brown eyes.”

Patience tried to blush again, but fingers caught her chin, forcing her to hold his gaze. “I can’t help myself.”

“Sorry.” She couldn’t think of another response, her brain having short-circuited as soon as he touched her. The connection reached far deeper than her skin. Stuart didn’t know it, but he was the first person besides Piper to ever talk to her this way, as if she was a person, whole and worthwhile. Cracks formed in the wall she’d so carefully built to keep the world from closing in.

“Don’t be.” His touch shifted, fingers tracing their way along her jaw and across her cheek. Patience knew exactly what he was tracing. Like so much about her, the jagged line could be covered but never completely erased. She’d cut herself falling off a table. A painful reminder of what happened when a person got too close.

Stuart was breaking that rule right now. Scary as the thought was, she longed to sink into his touch.

“You still want to go back to the brownstone?” he asked.

“No,”

“Good.” One word, but it—and the smile that came along—made her feel more wanted than all the words in the dictionary could.

The cracks grew wider.

He held out his hand. “Let’s go get Ana her award.”

Stuart still wanted to punch Karl Tischel in the nose. What was it with rich old men and young women—did they think that every woman belonged to them?

Or just the women Stuart was with?

Thinking of how many times he’d caught Tischel leering at Patience, his fingers curled into a fist. Three strikes and you’re out, Doc.

When had the fight become so personal? Was it when she’d answered her bedroom door looking like an eleven-point-five on a ten-point scale? Or when he saw her walk into the ballroom pale and shaken? When had he gone from being attracted to the woman to caring about her feelings? Damn if her likability wasn’t getting to him, too.

They managed to get through dinner and the awards presentation without incident. Unless you counted Bernard Jenkins’s pompous droning. Honestly, did the man ever come up for air? The guy spent the entire meal giving Patience and Ethyl a grape-by-grape account of his recent trip to the Tuscan vineyards.

Bernard’s date, Natalie, wasn’t much better. When she wasn’t agreeing with Bernard, she was laughing and tossing her hair as though every word Stuart said was the most fascinating thing she’d ever heard. The woman reminded him of Gloria. Continually on the lookout for a brighter horizon. Aging local celebrity or rich lawyer. Nerdy law student or elderly silver magnate. They made their decisions based on whatever put them on top.

Ethyl was at the podium announcing the winners of the silent auction when a flash of movement caught his eye. Turning, he saw Patience texting away on her cell phone. Suspicion tried to take hold but failed. Tonight, he was suspicioned out.

“I’m sending Ana a picture of you accepting her award,” she said when she noticed he was watching.

“I don’t think she’s awake at this hour.”

“No, but this way she’ll see it first thing in the morning, and I get extra brownie points.” Her smile knocked the wind from his lungs.

“And finally, the gold bracelet donated by Basmati Jewelers was won by Paul Veritek.” A smattering of applause floated across the room.

“You didn’t win,” Patience said. “Sorry.”

“I’ll live.” He wasn’t sure what had possessed him to bid on the bracelet in the first place. Seeing Patience’s bare wrists had him offering up a bid without thinking. In a room filled with expensive jewelry, the simplicity stood out. But then, she didn’t need jewelry, or makeup for that matter, to stand out, did she?

“And that concludes our program,” Ethyl announced. “We look forward to seeing you next year.”

“Guess that means the evening is over,” Patience said.

“All but the dancing.” Right on schedule, a Big Band standard began to play. As he watched couples making their way to the dance floor, Stuart was suddenly gripped with the desire to join them.

“Feel like dancing?”

“I thought you said you wanted to leave right after the ceremony.”

He did. He also told himself putting his arms around Patience again was the worst idea ever, but now he couldn’t think of anything he’d rather do. “I changed my mind. A few dances might be fun.”

“I—” He’d caught her off guard, and she was struggling with what to say. The hesitancy made his palm actually start to sweat like a high schooler.

“Okay,” she said finally. “Why not?”

His thrill over her acceptance was like a high schooler’s, too.

He led her to the far edge of the dance floor, where the crowd wouldn’t swallow them up, and pulled her close. Last night’s embrace had been tentative and accidental, but here on the dance floor, he was free to hold her as close and for as long as he liked.

They moved in sync, their bodies slipping together in a perfect fit. Not surprisingly, Patience moved with a natural rhythm, her lower half moving back and forth like the waves in an ocean. Or like a lover meeting his thrusts. Stuart rested his hand on her hip and savored every shift beneath his fingers.

The song ended, and another ballad began. And another. They danced and swayed until the deejay announced it was time to say good-night.

Patience lifted her head from his shoulder. Her eyes were as bright as he’d ever seen then, with a sheen that looked suspiciously like moisture. “Thank you for chasing Dr. Tischel out of my head,” she whispered.

That was all it took. Something inside him started to fall.

* * *

They walked up Beacon Street in silence, both of them pretending to act matter-of-fact even though they both knew their relationship had changed. How and why could wait until later. Right now, Stuart was content listening to the click-clack of Patience’s heels on the sidewalk and reliving the feel of her curves beneath his hands. As for Patience, she was letting her fingers glide along the fence lining Boston Public Garden. “A fancy cake for Mrs. F,” she said in singsongy tone under her breath.

“Whose Mrs. F?” he asked.

She flashed him a nostalgic-looking smile. “It’s from a bedtime story I used to read to Piper about a man delivering cakes around Boston. A fancy cake for Mrs. F who lived on Beacon Hill. I think of the line whenever I see this row of houses.”

Another memory involving raising her sister. Interesting how easily she shared those memories yet said so little about her own childhood. Beyond what he’d pulled out of her over dinner, that is. It was as if she didn’t have a childhood of her own, Considering the shadows he’d seen in her eyes last night, maybe she hadn’t.

So many pieces of her he didn’t understand, so many parts unrevealed.

The story she described was one you read to a young child. “How old is your sister anyway?”

“Piper? Twenty-two.”

Eight years younger. “So you read your sister a bedtime story when you were a kid?”

There was a stutter in her step. “Yeah, I did.”

“I’m guessing your mom worked nights.”

“Um...not really. She was just...busy.” The evasiveness had returned, only this time what she didn’t say came through loud and clear. If he had to guess, he’d say she’d started raising Piper long before their mother passed away. A child raising a child. He’d been right; she hadn’t had a childhood of her own. She
was
like those damn dogs on the humane society poster, only instead of sympathy or guilt twisting in his gut, he wanted to wrap Patience in his arms and hold her tight and tell her she never had to be on her own again.

“I’m—”

“Don’t.” Stepping in front of him, she cut him off. “You’re about to say you’re sorry, and I don’t want the sympathy.”

“Okay, no sympathy.” He understood. Sympathy was too much like pity. “How about admiration?”

“How about nothing? I did what I had to do. Trust me, I didn’t do anything special,” she said, turning away.

Except that Stuart didn’t trust her, or had she forgotten? Had he forgotten for that matter?

BOOK: A Millionaire for Cinderella
5.34Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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