The VIP Doubles Down
Page 26

 Nancy Herkness

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His affable host mask fell away, and he frowned, saying with a note of irritability, “Allie.”
She almost laughed as she gave up and walked toward him. This was the Gavin she knew.
Seth positioned her between Gavin and Chloe, who had been selected to hold a copy of Kendra’s book in a way that made the cover visible without looking like a deliberate display. “If you don’t already have a marketing manager, I’d hire this guy,” Allie murmured to Gavin as she watched Seth finish the arrangements and raise his cell phone to snap several shots.
“A thousand thanks from all of us at Murder Unlimited,” Seth said. “This will be on the store’s Facebook page and as many other outlets as I can persuade to use it.”
As everyone relaxed and fell into more natural poses, Seth jogged up to Gavin. “Would you mind checking my caption and adding a couple of names?”
Gavin took the proffered phone and pointed to the photo. “That’s Chloe Russell, Nathan’s fiancée. And this is Allie Nichols, my, er, assistant.” He lifted an eyebrow at Allie and gave her a half smile before he tilted the phone so she could see it. She winced at the sight of her hair looking like a splotch of orange paint, but everyone else appeared to be at a cozy cocktail party that just happened to include books.
“Will you e-mail me a copy?” Gavin asked as he handed the phone back to Seth. “I’ll put it in my scrapbook.” Another slanted smile at Allie.
Kendra bolted almost as soon as the photo was taken, but the rest of the group stayed around, chatting for another few minutes. Allie was flattered and touched that Gavin kept her by his side, making sure she was included in the conversations.
As people began to say farewell, Chloe leaned in to give Allie a quick hug. “We’re having a little dinner party Saturday night—just a few friends, including Gavin. Why don’t you come? We’d love to have you.”
Astonishment robbed Allie of coherent thought. She caught an echo of the same feeling on Nathan’s face as he glanced down at his fiancée. “Um, I, well, thank you.” She had no idea whether to accept or decline. She had no plans for the weekend, so there was nothing holding her back except the fact that these people were ultra-rich, and she was nearly flat broke.
“Great,” Chloe said, misunderstanding Allie’s stammer and giving her a happy smile. “Gavin knows our address. Come at seven.”
“Thank you.” Panic banished astonishment. What did you wear to a billionaire’s dinner party? What sort of hostess gift could you bring to people who could buy literally anything? Could she ask Gavin any of these questions?
As she debated, Gavin’s friends departed, leaving the two of them alone in the VIP room.
“I’d better go home, too,” Allie said, her head spinning. “I have a very tough patient to see tomorrow morning.”
Gavin snorted. “I am putty in your powerful hands.” He reached into the book carton and pulled out a hardcover wrapped in a plastic bag. The angles of his face softened, and she felt her breath flutter in response. “This is for you. With my thanks for coming. I signed it.”
As Allie accepted it, their fingertips brushed, sending a flicker of pleasure over her skin. “I wish Mama could see this. Me getting an autographed Julian Best book from the author himself.” A tiny burn of tears stung her eyes.
“Maybe the last Julian Best book.”
She looked up to find Gavin’s expression had turned desolate.
Allie shook her head. “You’re going to write a boatload more if I have to pummel them out of you.”
That chased away the bleakness. “And that’s why I asked you to come here,” he said, his sea green eyes changing from stormy to intent. He took a step closer so she could smell the rich leather of his jacket. “There’s just one other thing I need to do.” He stretched out his hand to stroke her hair before he picked up several strands to rub between his fingertips.
His movements sent a tingle dancing over her scalp that made her eyelids drift half-closed to savor the delicious sensation.
“It’s as silky as it looks, but not as warm,” he said, his voice a rasp. “It should singe my fingers like a flame.”
“Then it would set my clothes on fire,” she managed to say.
His eyes changed color again to something unsettling as he continued to toy with her hair. “H. Rider Haggard wrote a book called She in which the heroine bathes in magic flames to make herself immortal. That’s what your hair makes me think of.”
“Um, I’ll see if they have a copy here.” Between the low rumble of his voice, the hot light in his eyes, and his touch on her hair, Allie was having a hard time breathing.
“It’s a love story, not a murder mystery,” he said, holding her hair a moment longer before he stroked it back into place alongside her face, his fingers lingering on her cheek for a fraction of a second longer.
This was even more confusing than the dinner invitation. Maybe she wasn’t cut out for working with rich people.
“I’ll order it from Amazon.” She needed to leave, but he seemed to have hypnotized her so she couldn’t move.
He barked out a laugh. “Don’t let them hear you say that in this store.”
“I’ll see you in the morning,” Allie said, relieved and disappointed to be released from his strange magnetic spell. She forced herself to walk calmly to the bookcase where she’d stuffed her coat, seizing it and bolting out the door, just like Kendra Leigh.
Gavin seemed to have that effect on people.
Chapter 10
Gavin had been monosyllabic throughout his treatment, but Allie was used to his moods by now, so she just did her job. He had tensed up again, so she had to really probe the knots. It was the nature of her work: one step forward, two steps back. The human body didn’t heal in a linear progression.
Besides, she had some idea of what his appearance at the book signing last night had cost him, given his lack of a new book to sign or even to promise for the future. She hoped Kendra Leigh appreciated the guts it had taken for Gavin to support the first-time author with his public presence.
As she walked over to get the swiss ball, Gavin snapped, “Can’t we dispense with that today?”
“You know it will help.”
“Not where I really need help. You owe me a discussion about Julian.”