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And while I wanted to thank Mr. Davenport for having guided me just enough to get my foot in the door of this life, the door to the venue was slightly more interesting and pulled my full attention away.
Colin was sneaking in behind a couple in black and white-checkered clothing, dressed from head to toe as a pirate.
Not just any pirate, though. He was full-blown Jack Sparrow-esque down to a days-old beard and a sword—a real sword, I was pretty sure—at his hip and so many little details that I almost couldn’t tell it was him because the whole outfit looked so authentic. And while I was somewhat convinced no one would be able to recognize me after John’s little minions dressed me up, Colin spotted me from a distance and gave me a smile before he navigated his way through the crowd.
“Hey, Beck,” he said when he arrived. “You look amazing.”
He said it so lightly, so easily, and I wished I could do the same when I opened my mouth and said, “You’re a pirate.”
He glanced down as if he’d forgotten. “Right.”
“I did tell you this was a masquerade, not a costume party, didn’t I?” I said. Though I was pretty sure they were almost the same thing…
Laughing a little, Colin lifted a garment bag he was holding, which I hadn’t noticed because the rest of him was so distracting. “I could have changed in the car,” he explained, “but honestly, with this crowd, I’d feel less judged showing up as a pirate than having a button done wrong.”
I couldn’t stop staring at him, and it was becoming a bit distracting. His white shirt wasn’t fully buttoned, and I was seeing a whole lot more of Colin than I’d seen before. “Uh.” I coughed. “Macy’s idea?” I guessed.
He grinned. “She loves Halloween. She always gets to choose the costumes, and she’s pretty particular about the details.”
“I wish I could have come trick-or-treating with you guys,” I said.
“I’m going to go change,” he replied and briefly touched my elbow before he slipped away through the crowd.
I tried not to let myself get too disappointed. I hadn’t seen Macy since being in San Francisco, and for a while I figured that was because we were both so busy. But lately, it seemed like any time I brought up the idea of hanging out with her too, Colin managed to change the subject or disappear.
As soon as Colin was gone, I turned back to the Davenports because I wasn’t entirely sure what to do with myself. Until it was time to give my little speech, I was probably supposed to mingle, but I highly doubted any of these attendees wanted to talk to the outsider who had infiltrated their favorite charity group.
Thank goodness for Mr. Davenport, who must have sensed how lost I was as he said, “How are you settling in, Miss Alvarez?”
Before I could answer that question, his wife took me by the hand as if we were the dearest of friends. “How long have you known Colin Donovan?” she said in a mock whisper that was plenty loud for anyone around us to hear.
I really didn’t want to talk about Colin, not with the woman who supposedly had been trying to get in contact with him for a long time, but I knew better than to be rude to someone as high up the social ladder as Lyra Davenport. “We met a few months ago,” I said and put on a smile. “He’s been a lot of help while I’ve been settling in.”
Her smile wide and fake, Lyra looked like a plastic version of her daughter as she took me in. “It’s a pity I don’t have any more daughters to throw at him, but at least my Lanna made a more than worthy match.”
I hadn’t seen Lanna or her husband since that dinner party at the Fosters’, but they did seem happy together. I doubted that was what she meant, though. More likely she was referring to Adam Munroe’s booming art trade business. Did this woman know anything outside of the surface level?
“I’m not sure Colin is looking for a wife,” I said and tried not to grimace because that was probably true. How could anyone replace Jada?
“I’m not sure he would let you choose one for him if he was,” Mr. Davenport muttered under his breath. Perhaps he was more like his son, Matthew, than I’d realized, and I suddenly liked him more than before.
Lyra waved both comments away as if she didn’t have a care in the world. “Oh, everyone is looking for a partner, whether they know it or not,” she said. “What about you, Miss Alvarez? Has anyone struck your fancy since coming here to San Francisco?” Perhaps it was my imagination, but her blue eyes seemed to flicker to the staircase where Colin had disappeared. “I hear there are quite a few dashing young men out there in the regular world.”
“Lyra,” said her husband with a frown.
She waved that admonition away as well. “Yes, I suppose you’re technically one of us now,” she said. “Though perhaps not for long?”
I stared at Mr. Davenport, trying to figure out how much he had told his wife about me. I would have thought there would be some sort of client confidentiality privilege, particularly in a case like this. The look he returned, though, was genuinely innocent and almost sympathetic, and that worried me more than the possibility of a chatty lawyer. How many people were discussing me and how long I would be able to last in this world?
What, had someone set up a betting pool?
“Miss Alvarez?” said John Foster behind me at the same time the enormous clock on one end of the ballroom struck eight. I had to stop worrying about what people were saying behind my back.
It was speech time.
Though the music stopped when I stepped up to the microphone in front of the orchestra, the chatter around the room didn’t dim even a little. I had to cough into the mic, which sounded ridiculous, and even then I barely caught anyone’s attention. I was tempted to start singing, just because I knew that would insult their sensibilities enough to get them to look outside themselves for one moment, but a ridiculously loud whistle broke through the buzz of conversation. I peered through the spotlights in search of who I had on my team, and even though I couldn’t see his face, I was pretty sure the man towering over the rest of the crowd was Catherine’s husband, Seth. I was even more positive when he gave me a thumbs up.
“Good evening,” I said into the mic, and heads swiveled in my direction.
So many heads.
Relax, Beck. They’re not going to eat you.
I took a deep breath. Welcome was done. Now for the thank you. Then to the have fun part. Easy. “On behalf of the Alvarez Trust, I want to thank each of you for coming out tonight with your wonderful donations. It is people like you who help us make the world a better place, and all of us here at Alvarez recognize your generosity. I…”
My words got lost on my tongue because I had looked up when I caught movement at the far end of the ballroom, where a set of stairs came down from the upper level of the venue. And though he wasn’t exactly close by, the sight of Colin Donovan left me suddenly breathless. The pirate had become a mask like everyone else, but I was pretty positive no one wore a black cape like Colin wore it. No one could have a simple black mask like him and look like he was the most important man in the room. No one could smile at me and make me feel like the rest of the world disappeared.
Not like he could.
It all came crashing back when John Foster coughed right in front of me.
“Have a wonderful time tonight,” I stammered, and I knew I wasn’t going to be capable of anything beyond that. When I nearly tripped stepping down from the platform where the orchestra sat, I gripped John’s arm and said, “Please tell me that’s all I have to do tonight.”
Though he was clearly confused, he nodded. “I mean, it would be best if you stayed for the full event, but there aren’t any other duties for you to perform.”
No wonder people were trying to decide when I would crack and run away from this life.
“Good,” I breathed at the same time Colin appeared from the crowd.
He’d always been handsome, but this was something else. This was somehow a step above the sharp and pristine businessman I knew he was.
“You clean up nice,” I managed to say when he came up to my side and slipped his hand into mine. “Though I’m not sure how I feel about the beard.”
Some men really worked facial hair. Some didn’t. And though Colin looked just as distinguished as always, he didn’t look like himself.
He quickly shook John’s hand and muttered a cold greeting to Mckenna, who had been actively pretending I wasn’t even here, and then he grinned at me as if no one else existed in the room. “Like I said, Macy is a stickler about details. It’ll be gone in the morning. Do you dance?”
I stared at him. “Do I what?”
“I bet you do.” And before I could argue, he pulled me into the crowd.
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