Chapter 10: Comfort and Joy – part 4
After dinner Daniel decided to go forth and mingle, which meant Addison would, too. Her continued good mood was due to champagne, which she now sipped slowly. If not for alcohol she’d have tired of playing belle of the ball. Addison knew all too well that Daniel wasn’t Prince Charming. The closest thing she had to a prince was Teague, and he wasn’t talking to her at the moment. Not that she blamed him, after she’d been somewhat responsible for one of his men resigning.
She caught a glimpse of the Scot halfway across the ballroom. Teague wore his dress uniform, which he filled out even better than his regular one. Then a hand snaked around his waist. Addison blinked at the hand’s owner: a stocky, Mediterranean-looking young man. Apparently Teague had a prince. Lucky him.
The thought left Addison feeling a bit maudlin. To distract herself she reached out for her children. Jake was fast asleep, but Ashlynn held on to wakefulness by her fingernails. She noticed her before Addison could withdraw. Don’t go, Mummy.
I’m not far. You know that.
I know, but I want to know about the pretty dresses and the pretty people.
Addison indulged her daughter. She projected images of the loveliest dresses and couples. Sometimes Ashlynn commented, but mostly she sighed contentedly.
Talking to her daughter kept a genuine smile on Addison’s face as Daniel steered her through the crowd. Then his voice snapped her back to the here and now. “Dr. Myers, Ms. Lindberg, so good to see you here tonight.”
Addison focused on the couple before her: Myers and his Barbie doll. Downing the remaining champagne in her glass was tempting, but Addison resisted. Don’t make eye contact, she told herself. Pretend like you don’t even care that he’s here. Because you don’t.
Daniel squeezed her waist, prompting her brightest smile. She leaned into him like a good mistress. Playing the part would help her survive the requisite small talk. She focused on a spot just above Myers’ eyebrows and laced her voice with honey. “Dr. Myers.” Then she shifted her attention to the blonde, ignoring the coiling, snapping thing inside her that raised its head and hissed. “Ms. Lindberg, was it? I don’t believe I’ve ever had the pleasure.”
To Shane’s great surprise he’d actually enjoyed dinner. All of the credit went to Ingrid, Daisy, Daisy’s partner Susan, and their friends. Their alternately humorous and outrageous stories kept Shane’s mind off Harris and how she hung all over Gibson, the power hungry bastard.
After the meal ended the group drifted to one side of the room, enjoying after dinner drinks and another lunatic story from Daisy’s travels in South America. Once he’d caught his breath from laughing Shane interjected, “Nuh-uh. No way. I don’t care if he was a llama. That’s not physically possible!”
Daisy crossed her arms under her breasts. “I’ve got photographic evidence,” she grinned.
Susan piped, “She does!”
Ingrid waved her hands in mock horror. “There’s no need for that, is there, Shane?”
Grinning, Shane played along. “Oh, no, of course not. I’m sure it’ll make perfect sense after I’ve had a few more cognacs.” The quip earned him a laugh from the group.
After a waiter had taken their empty glasses the group headed for the bar. Both Shane and Ingrid were pleasantly buzzed from wine with dinner and the following cognac. Granted, Ingrid had had three glasses of wine as opposed to Shane’s one, but he knew his tolerance was laughable. With that in mind he decided that he’d had enough alcohol for the evening. Besides, I’ll get a contact buzz from Ingrid any–
Shane started. After a moment he turned to Ingrid; she of all people had “yelled” at him. What? You don’t like psionics.
Ingrid gave him a smile, then pretended to listen to what Susan was saying. (Dr. Gibson and Dr. Harris are headed our way.)
Shane’s stomach lurched. Great. He added sincerely, Thanks for the heads up.
Ingrid squeezed his hand, then leaned close to give him a peck on the cheek. “Shall we leave?” she whispered.
The offer was tempting. Stubbornness, foolishness, or perhaps spite prompted Shane to decline. Part of him wanted to see Harris squirm. The rest of him wanted to prove that he could survive inane party small talk with the bitch.
As their insufferable leader and his mistress–Why is she screwing him? It can’t be attraction. He’s ruthless even by Triptych standards. To get ahead? She doesn’t need to!–approached Shane triple checked his mental shields. He wasn’t going to hide from this, no matter how badly he wanted to simultaneously throttle and jump Harris.
The whore managed to look even more gorgeous the closer she got. Curiously, Harris seemed distracted. I’m that easy to ignore? Shane squashed the pang of hurt. He’d slept with dozens of women, most of whom could have had a modeling career, and Ingrid had already propositioned him for later that evening.
Keeping that in mind Shane turned his gaze to Daniel. Even to Shane’s fashion-impaired eyes the man looked well dressed. “Dr. Myers, Ms. Lindberg,” Daniel said smoothly, “so good to see you here tonight.”
Shane forced words out of his mouth. “Likewise.” He gave Daniel a smile and nodded at Harris’ forehead. Meeting her eyes would be a mistake.
“Dr. Myers,” she said sweetly. If Shane hadn’t known better, he’d have thought she was glad to see him.
Then Harris turned to Ingrid. The bitch’s smile seemed frozen, which pleased Shane to no end. Jealous?
None of Harris’ jealousy found its way into her voice. “Ms. Lindberg, was it? I don’t believe I’ve ever had the pleasure.” She extended one dark, graceful hand, which Ingrid took. Shane knew how soft and warm her skin felt, and the surprising strength in her lithe fingers.
Ingrid’s shout jolted Shane back to the present. He wrenched his eyes away from Addison’s hand, fixing them on Ingrid instead. “…right, Dr. Harris,” she was saying. “Education and Anthropology don’t cross paths often, I’m afraid. It’s good to meet you. Please call me Ingrid.”
“Ingrid,” Harris repeated with a touch of frost. Shane barely restrained a smirk when he realized that he was looking right at her again. He shifted his eyes to Gibson, who seemed amused by the entire exchange. Harris continued, “Addison.”
“A pleasure, Addison.” Ingrid slipped her arm through Shane’s as she replied. Shane thought he saw Harris’ composure slip for an instant. He couldn’t be sure, though, since he was looking at the space between her and Gibson.
“Have you tried the cognac?” Daniel asked, including Ingrid and Shane in his gaze.
Shane jumped at the safe question. “We have. It’s very good.”
“Smooth, and just sweet enough,” Ingrid agreed.
“Excellent,” Daniel smiled. “It’s from my private collection. A little gift to everyone for the holidays.”
“Very generous of you, Dr. Gibson.” Shane barely heard Ingrid’s comment. He was too busy imagining breaking a bottle from the private collection over the man’s head. Somehow he managed a smile.
Daniel slid his arm around Harris’ waist. “Shall we get some, darling?”
“Darling,” Shane growled to himself. Who says “darling” these days?
Harris practically batted her eyelashes at the jerk. “I’d like that.” She turned to Shane and Ingrid. “If you’ll excuse us.”
“Of course,” Ingrid replied, and the oh-so-wrong couple strode away.
On impulse Shane glanced over his shoulder. He wanted one last look at Harris in that dress. Then he’d put her out of his mind. Unfortunately the bitch had a similar idea.
Shane’s and Harris’ eyes locked for a split second. It was long enough for their shields to falter and let emotions and images course between them. Lust, hatred, and familiarity mingled with memories of their bodies moving as one and trying to draw blood from each other with words. Somewhere in the melee Shane told her about the oath-keeping device. He hadn’t intended to. Not like that, anyway.
Ten o’clock. Arboretum.
Shane’s pulse raced as he faced forward. Ingrid was laughing softly, of all things, and his erection pressed against her abdomen, but all he could think about for a few seconds was wondering which of them had set the time and place and how much he was going to be there.
“Helloooo, Shane? This is your date talking,” Ingrid chided. His eyes focused on the woman, who, amazingly, wasn’t pissed off. “Boy, have you got it bad.”
“I don’t,” Shane denied as he wrestled his body under control.
“Liar.” She underscored her point by pressing against his waning hard-on.
“Not helping,” Shane hissed. “Can you blame me when the whore is wearing little more than a slip?”
Ingrid fixed an unamused look on him. “‘The whore.’ Nice.” Shane started to protest, but she silenced him by raising one hand. “Whatever. Can you be my arm candy for a little while longer? Then you’re free to do who– er, whatever.”
Shane almost feigned indignation but decided against it. Ingrid may as well have been psychic, she could read him so well. He was glad that few could. Sliding his arm around Ingrid’s waist, he said, “It’s an honor to be your arm candy.”
Ingrid laughed, then led him by the hand toward Daisy and her friends. “Damn straight.”
Gibson and Harris had disappeared into the crowd, so Shane relaxed a bit. Before they joined the others he said to his date, Thank you for tonight. For understanding.
Shane felt Ingrid fight unease before replying. As she plucked a tiny glass of cognac from a passing waitress’s tray she returned, (You’re welcome, and I’m taking a raincheck. Now get out of my head and kiss me.)
Shane happily obliged.