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Paul Wentworth was working toward his second term as governor, and he was helping the rich part with their money.

He’d asked Shannon to attend the event to show the world that there weren’t any hard feelings between him and his ex-wife.

“This can’t be easy for her,” Gabi whispered while watching Shannon speak with a few members of Paul’s staff.

“She didn’t have to say yes.”

“That isn’t the kind of person she is,” Gabi said. “Is she pursuing her photography at all?”

“I don’t think so. She still has her studio and storefront, but she’s never there.”

“I understand taking time after the divorce, let things settle, but it’s time to move on.”

Hunter leaned in, kept his voice low. “Maybe she needs a few blind dates.”

“I can’t imagine she’s hurting for invitations to dinner,” Gabi told her husband.

Hunter slid a hand around his wife’s waist and kissed the top of her head. “A lot of men are intimidated by beauty and success.” He lowered his voice so only they could hear. “Maybe your marriage service should have a sideline dating service.”

“Isn’t the Internet full of those?” Gabi asked.

Hunter looked above many of the heads in the room. “I doubt there are very many people in this room on Tinder outside of those serving food.”

Lori swept the room with her gaze. She liked the idea. Out of the ashes of Alliance marriages, there was a need to acclimate the women, and a few good men, to the dating world.

Lori’s eyes flittered to Hunter, who lifted his eyebrows as if to say, hey, my idea has merit.

“I guess we know why you’re so rich,” Lori teased him.

He waved his hand in the air. “I won’t even ask for a finder’s fee.”

Shannon looked up, met Lori’s eyes with a silent plea.

She set her drink down. “Looks like I’m needed.”

Lori approached her friend with purpose. Go in, extract, keep it polite.

Shannon stood among three men and one woman, people Lori didn’t know.

Lori walked up to Shannon, placed a hand on her arm. “I’m sorry to interrupt. Shannon, you wanted to speak with the Blackwells before they left, right?”

The conversation she’d interrupted dissipated.

“That’s right. Thank you so much. I’m sorry.”

The shortest of the three men spoke up. “I’d still like to know how you feel about—”

“Lovely chatting with you,” were Shannon’s parting words.

“Thank you,” Shannon said under her breath as they walked away.

“That bad?”

“Some people gossip more than the tabloids.”

They approached Gabi and Hunter, and Shannon made a show of hugging Gabi and accepting a kiss to the cheek from Hunter.

“How are you holding up?” Gabi asked.

“I’m all right. I miss some of these people.”

“And the ones you don’t?” Hunter asked.

Shannon smiled. “I don’t have to talk to them anymore.”

“There is always a bright side,” Gabi said.

Hunter stopped a waiter walking by and handed Shannon a glass of wine. “Now tell me, why are you doing this alone? I know a lot of men who would love to be by your side . . .”

“I don’t—”

“Even if it’s just for show,” he whispered with a wink. “Probably put lots of wagging tongues and inappropriate questions in their place.”

“I . . .” Shannon glanced over to where her ex-husband was standing. “Maybe next time.”

Hunter laughed. “Check with these ladies, I’m sure by the time you’re ready, they’ll have a pool of men prepared to help.” With that, Hunter made an excuse and left the three women there to talk in his wake.

“What was that all about?” Shannon asked.

“I think he’s trying to find more work for us,” Gabi said.

“I really like the idea,” Lori told her.

“What idea?” Shannon asked.

“A dating service.”

“Don’t you already do that?”

Lori found her glass and tipped it in Shannon’s direction. “You know the answer to that.”

“Well, not for me. I don’t want to date anytime soon.”

“And how would tonight have looked if you had someone hanging on your arm willing to say the right things to those who ask?” If nothing else, Lori would like to see if Paul had any emotions when it came to his ex-wife. As long as Shannon wasn’t getting on with her life, there was no way of really knowing if Paul ever had a thing for her. If he didn’t, fine . . . but if he did . . .

“Hmmm . . .”

Lori’s smile met Shannon’s.

“Heads up, ladies. Incoming,” Gabi announced.

Paul, in his perfectly polished suit and shined shoes, took a spot behind Shannon. “Thank you for coming,” he said to her.

Lori saw her draw a fortifying breath before she turned to him with a practiced smile. “Hello, Paul.”

He kept an appropriate distance, his smile wasn’t cold, but it wasn’t full of warmth either.

“How are you doing?”

“I’m doing well.”

There were people watching the two of them, and the noise around them came to a low murmur.

“Would you tell me if you weren’t?” he asked quietly.

“I’m not your responsibility any longer, Paul.” Shannon’s reply was spoken softly.

His jaw tightened and the next words he uttered were close to Shannon’s ear and only heard by her.

Her attempt at a smile was weak as he turned and walked away.

Oh, damn, was that moisture in Shannon’s eyes? “My brother cleans up really well. Next time, we come armed.”

Shannon cracked a smile.

“Only a few more minutes and we can get you out of this room. Just hold your head up,” Gabi coached Shannon.

“It’s been two years. This should have been easy.”

“Men never make things easy.”

“This from a happily married woman living the dream.”

Gabi rolled her eyes. “That man never makes my life easy.”

“Yeah, but he makes it worthwhile,” Lori chimed in.

Gabi blushed.

Noise around them said people were starting to move around again.

Gabi tugged Shannon away.

“I’ll meet up with you.” Lori needed a quick word with the governor.

As the other women worked their way to the ladies’ room, Lori squared her shoulders and started toward the man who had upset her friend.

“Excuse me?”

A woman she’d never seen before cut off Lori’s path. Tall, dark hair, with high cheekbones and full lips. “I’m sorry, do I know you?” Lori asked.

The woman looked at the ground. “No, I’m sorry . . . are you Lori Cumberland?”

“Yes, and you are?”

“I’m Susan.”

Out of habit, Lori glanced at Susan’s left hand to see if there was a ring molding on her finger. When approached at these events, most of the time it was a referral.

“Can I help you, Susan?”

“Maybe.” Susan lowered her head and voice. “I heard from a dear friend that you might be able to help me.”

“You’re in need of a divorce?”

“No.” Susan smiled. “I need a husband.”

At first, Lori wondered if maybe Hunter was working the room, drumming up clients for the nonexistent dating service.

“Uhm . . .”

“You know, a temporary one. I was told Alliance could help.”

Light shone as the pieces fell into place. “Oh.”

“Are my resources correct?”

“Maybe. But I’m not the one to talk to. Do you have a card? I can have someone call you.”

The woman blew out a sigh. “Oh, thank goodness.” With long, red fingernails, she picked out a card in her handbag and gave it to Lori.

The name Susan Wilson was printed on plain gray cardstock with a phone number.

“This is you?”

“Yes . . . and no. I have to explain in private.” Susan looked around them. “I’m sure you understand.”

Lori smiled, tucked the card away. “Of course. Someone will get back to you.”

With a nod, Susan walked away.

When Lori looked up, Paul was no longer in sight.

Chapter Twenty-Five

When another week passed without so much as one sighting of Ruslan and his men, Lori shooed off the bodyguard.

“Neil isn’t going to be pleased,” Cooper told her as he tried to talk her into changing her mind.

“Good thing Neil’s opinion isn’t needed here. I might feel a little guilty if I thought you’d be out of work, but I know that isn’t the case.”

“The Harrisons will be back in a week. I can hang until then.”

Lori felt the need to pack Cooper a lunch to send him on his way. “And I’ll talk to Sam in a week. Sooner if I need to. Now c’mon . . . you’re a young guy. I’m sure there’s some hottie out there waiting to spend time with you.”

Lori stood behind her desk and checked the time. Her next client was in five minutes. She’d scheduled the time to buzz Cooper off between clients to avoid argument.


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