The VIP Doubles Down
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He skewered her with a look. “Are you sure you weren’t a literary agent in a past life?”
“Physical therapy is not easy, so I’ve learned the art of negotiation,” Allie said, stowing the ball back on its rack.
“You call it negotiation. I call it blackmail.”
Gavin slid off the massage table and reached for his shirt, his torso twisting so his muscles stretched and flexed in ways that made liquid heat flow through her. He’d also just demonstrated that her work had relaxed him.
“You look like you’re moving more easily,” she said.
He yanked his shirt down over his head and scowled at her. “Damn it, I am. You just had to ruin my bad mood.”
“I’ve been called obnoxiously cheerful.” She grinned at him.
He couldn’t hold on to the scowl. “As long as you don’t sing ‘The sun’ll come out tomorrow,’ I can tolerate you. Barely.”
“Am I allowed to thank you for the book now?” He’d written an inscription about her mother that had made her cry. “What you said was beautiful.”
“Don’t get maudlin on me,” he said. She could tell he was pleased, though. He came close enough to cup his hands over her shoulders. “Thank you for coming to the book signing. Every time someone asked when the next book was coming out, I reminded myself of our discussions about Julian. It kept me from bolting.”
She had a hard time focusing on his words because she was savoring the warmth and strength of his hands on her. It was odd. She had touched him so often, but having him touch her was an entirely different sensation. She could feel it radiating down her arms and through her chest before it wound deep within her.
“I can’t picture you running away from a book signing,” she said, trying to counterbalance her yearning.
“Maybe not.” He released her as one corner of his mouth quirked up. “I don’t mind offending my friends, but I try never to upset a reader.”
She wanted to close her eyes to hang on to the phantom heat still glowing inside her, but Gavin seized her elbow and towed her toward the stairs.
“Time for a chat.”
He let her precede him up the steps and into his office, waving her into the chair she’d occupied when Irene had stormed in. Allie had wondered if the actress would show up at the book signing and had been relieved when she hadn’t.
“What would you like for refreshment?” Gavin asked, after paging Ludmilla on the intercom.
He cast an exasperated glance at the ceiling. “Ludmilla, bring water, coffee, tea, and a selection of sandwiches.”
Allie decided now was the best time to broach her embarrassing topic. “Before we start on Julian, can I ask you a question?”
He raised his eyebrows. “Have you ever needed permission?”
“Um, I’m not sure if I should go to the dinner party at Chloe and Nathan’s house. Nathan looked surprised when Chloe invited me, so it seems kind of . . . weird.”
His eyebrows arched even more. “Weird?”
“You know.” She made a vague gesture. “They’re really rich and they just met me, and I don’t understand why I got invited.”
“Would you come to a dinner party here?”
“Here? That’s weird for a different reason. I work for you.”
“I’m trying to follow your logic. Not to be a braggart, but I’m quite rich as well. However, my wealth wouldn’t stop you from dining here. Your employment would.” He sat back in his chair. “Whereas Nathan and Chloe’s wealth stops you from dining with them?”
Allie gave him one of her patented don’t-mess-with-a-mountain-woman looks. “You know what I mean.”
“I suppose I do. They’re good people, Allie. Nathan made his money the old-fashioned way, by earning it. Neither he nor Chloe thinks that being rich makes them better than anyone else.”
“Maybe it doesn’t make them better, but it makes them different. And I have no idea what to wear!” Allie said in frustration.
Gavin laughed, a throaty, rich, fully committed sound of amusement. “Finally, we get to the crux of the matter.”
His laughter fizzed in her blood like bubbles in champagne. It was the first time she’d heard him sound purely happy. “My wardrobe doesn’t run to haute couture,” she said.
“I don’t remember Chloe or Miranda wearing anything particularly fancy at the book signing.”
“Trust me, everything they had on was designer.” The simpler the skirt or blouse, the easier it was to tell that it was perfectly cut for the wearer.
“I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Chloe worked for Nathan’s company as a temp. And Miranda was the assistant concierge in Luke’s apartment building. They both know what it’s like not to own designer clothing.”
Allie felt a small measure of relief. “Okay, but do I wear a cocktail dress, a regular dress, or nice pants?”
“Good God, I don’t know. Call Chloe and ask her.”
“What are you wearing?” she persisted.
“I haven’t given it a moment’s thought.”
“Well, think about it now.”
Gavin looked at the ceiling again. “A pair of gray trousers, a black silk shirt, and a tweed blazer. With black loafers. Satisfied?”
“That helps, but I’ll take Chloe’s phone number, please.”
He texted it to her cell phone.
She decided it would be useless to ask him what she should bring as a hostess gift.
“You are still planning to come, aren’t you?” Gavin shifted in his chair.
Allie knew she shouldn’t, but it was too tempting to find out what a billionaire’s dinner party was like. Even more intriguing was the prospect of watching Gavin interact with his friends. “I’ll be there,” she said.
“I’ll pick you up. Now that you’ve become accustomed to riding in a car in New York.”
It had been a luxury to walk out of her apartment this morning and have Jaros, the chauffeur, take her duffel bag out of her hand to stow it in the trunk while she settled on the soft leather of the Bentley’s backseat. It turned out that Jaros was Ludmilla’s husband, which somehow made it all seem sort of cozy and friendly.