Hadley told the waiter, gesturing to her nearly full plate.
there something wrong, madam?” he asked.
shook her head. She’d eaten little, but she chalked that up
to her state of mind, not the food or the menu. Dinner had actually
been a pleasant surprise. She’d anticipated stodgy French
or chop-house surf and turf, not an intriguing fusion menu that
would have done any pricey Manhattan restaurant proud. Seared ahi
tuna and Thai lobster spring rolls side by side on the menu with
pecan-crusted pork loin and duck in huckleberry reduction suggested
someone creative was at work. And the guests were tucking in with
stayed at a low buzz, a tribute to good acoustics. Women in evening
dress smiled and toasted with their escorts. Jackets required. How
long had it been since she’d dined anywhere with a dress code?
How long since she’d dined in a room so permeated with luxury?
Sure, there were plenty of stylish restaurants in New York. None,
though, that so vividly brought back the memory of another era.
sharp longing for someone to share it with.
her head to ward off the thought, Hadley stared out the dining room
window at the snow that had begun drifting down outside. Across
the way, the lights of the conservatory bled out into the frozen
night. She’d sat in countless hotel restaurants on her own
during one business trip or another. It had never bothered her before.
Probably it was the shameless romance of the place that was getting
to her. The Hotel Mount Jefferson was a haven for romantic getaways,
a place where couples could glide across the dance floor and toast
to love at their tables.
wasn’t part of a couple. She wasn’t part of anything,
just a solo person trying her damnedest to stay out of the funk
she’d been fighting for days. She didn’t need anyone,
she reminded herself. She’d seen what it brought.
was it that all she wanted just then was to be held?
a nice evening tonight?” asked a voice behind her.
turned her head to see, not a waiter, but the stranger from the
afternoon. And her funk was forgotten.
made an impression in the cold light of afternoon. Now, he jolted
her system into awareness. No jeans and sweater this time. Instead,
he wore an exquisitely cut gray suit that only made him look taller,
leaner. Cufflinks gleamed at his wrists. A tie chain made a graceful
sweep across his silver and blue patterned tie. He looked like he
belonged in a plush VIP lounge somewhere, swirling a balloon glass
of brandy while he talked high finance.
dressed up, I see,” she said, wishing for those moments in
the afternoon when she’d had him to herself.
worn a drape-necked tank in cream silk jersey. Paired with a narrow
black skirt, it had seemed demure enough. Until he stood looking
down at her. Goose bumps rose on her arms that had nothing to do
with the temperature. She glanced at the windows. “Your snow
has started, I see.”
thing you decided to come inside. We’d have had to send a
Saint Bernard out looking for you.”
a keg of brandy as my prize?”
can get a brandy in here if you want it, with no risk of frostbite.”
benefits of civilization.”
was something in his eyes, a light, an invitation to fun. She felt
a little flutter in her stomach and glanced down. She should be
more disciplined; she wasn’t here to play around and he was
probably with someone. But it was so tempting to for once not think
about work, to be just Hadley, just a woman.
“Don’t you have to get back to your party?” she
Gabe didn’t answer right away, trying to avoid staring at
the pale gleam of her throat in the soft light. He’d worked
his way across the room to her, stopping a number of tables to greet
the guests, chat a little, charm a lot. And the whole time, he’d
been utterly and completely aware of her as she stared out at the
night, that wistful look back on her face.
to wipe it away. He wanted to see the spark of fun again, the spark
of heat, the expressions that brought that delicate face alive.
Just for a moment he’d stop by her table and with her, as
he had the other guests. Harmless.
he saw the bare tablecloth across from her. “I don’t
have a party to get back to. I saw you and thought I’d stop
by and say hello.” And to look at her one more time. In the
candlelight, she was luminous, the extravagance of bare shoulders
backlit by falling snow. “Mind if I join you?”
to the bottle of wine on the table. “Would you like some wine?
It’s a very good cabernet.”
Thank you, though. So how was the rest of your day?”
right. I wandered around for a bit, caught up on work. How about
around, caught up on work.” Thought about you.
sound too fun to me.”
one to talk. I thought you were here for a break before work heated
up. What is it, a business conference?”
her head. “Just some meetings next week.”
right now it’s the weekend. You should be relaxing, I don’t
know, going to the spa for a massage.” Naked on the table,
her back smooth and gleaming.
one to play with, I guess.”
a tragedy,” he said softly. “We really need to do something
about that.” The candlelight threw shadows in the hollows
of her cheekbones.
“Do you have any ideas?”
background, there was a thump of bass and the snick of brushes on
snare as the combo tuned up. Gabe remembered his assurance to Richie.
“I can think of one. Do you dance?”
like to music.” He rose and held out an arm.
on the tip of Hadley’s tongue to say no. She never danced.
On her very rare nights out, she might go to a ballet but that was
about as close as she came. Certainly, she wasn’t in the habit
of taking to an empty dance floor in front of a roomful of people.
Somehow, though, she found herself pushing back her chair and rising.
to look up at him, even in her heels. Amusement flickered in his
eyes. In the subdued light, they looked darker than before. Hadley
hesitated, then tucked her hand through the crook of his elbow,
feeling the fine-weave wool soft against her fingers. She was far
more aware of the hard solidity of the arm beneath the fabric as
they threaded their way between tables. He smelled of something
clean and woodsy and completely male.
polished wood of the dance floor, he stopped and turned to her.
“Do you know how to waltz?”
somewhere in the distant sands of time, she dredged up cotillion
lessons. “I did when I was thirteen.”
and took her hand to pull her into dance position. “It’s
like riding a bike. Just hold on and go where I lead you.”
sang up her arm at the shock of palm against palm. In defense, she
rested her left hand against his shoulder. He was close, so close.
Close enough for her to see faint flecks of gold in his green eyes.
enough to kiss.
count is one, two, three. Back, side, touch, basic box step. Smile,”
he said. “It’ll be fun.”
was ”Moon River,” dreamy and slow. His hand pressed
against her back; if he pulled just a bit more, they’d be
embracing. Suddenly, it felt as outrageous, as daring as dancing
must have back in the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries, when women
and men barely touched in public.
he counted the steps for her, but with the urging of his hands the
old motions came back. The awkwardness evaporated and they began
to move, dipping and flowing around the floor. Hadley laughed aloud.
“This is wonderful.”
I tell you? You should trust me.” Expertly, he led her into
a whirling turn. Then several other couples drifted onto the floor.
She stiffened, aware of the people behind her, stepping forward
when she should have gone back, stumbling on the sleek leather of
for a minute and leaned toward her. His eyes darkened.
sprinted through her veins. A touch? A kiss?
at me,” he murmured instead, his mouth just a breath away
from hers. “Trust my lead.”
time when they started again, they moved as one. It was like floating,
she thought, anchored by his eyes, the light press of his fingertips
at her back. When she’d walked into the hotel she’d
felt like she was stepping into another world. And she had. This
wasn’t her, this woman being swept around the floor in the
arms of a handsome stranger. The rest of the room ebbed away until
only his face mattered. The rest of the world, the rest of her life
was irrelevant. In that moment, that glorious moment, all she wanted
notice when the music ended. She couldn’t look away. It was
as though she were diving into him, seeing the answer that he wanted
as much as she wanted. When he leaned his head toward her it seemed
completely natural. Her lips parted. Just a taste, just a touch.
She held her breath?
are extraordinary,” he murmured. And bowed.