I turn and head for the kitchen to put the flowers in water.
“Are you ready?” I ask as I return to the foyer.
“When you are.”
“We’re not taking the Jeep?” A classic red convertible Mustang is parked in the drive.
“It’s a beautiful night for a drive in the ’Stang.”
“Uh, I worked on this hair for a long time, Ty. It’s not convertible-safe.”
He laughs and presses a button in the car and the roof closes smoothly. “Better?”
“Thanks.” I sit in the soft vinyl seat. “I didn’t know you were into classic cars.”
“I like to tinker.” He shrugs as he pulls onto the highway. “It’s a hobby, not an obsession.”
“Ah, so that’s why you like to change your oil yourself.”
“Yeah, I suppose so.” He nods, smiles warmly, and takes my hand in his, then pulls it to his mouth. “You are stunning, Lo.”
“It’s the dress.” I smooth my free hand down the soft skirt.
“It’s the woman wearing it,” he murmurs, and kisses my hand again. “Are you okay with coming to this thing tonight, given that Jack will be there?”
“We live in a small town, Ty. I see Jack here and there. I can’t avoid it even if I want to.” Jack is the athletic director for the school district, and given that this is a fund-raiser for the high school athletic department, Jack will be there.
“I’ll be by your side all night.”
My gaze turns to his profile as he pulls into the recently built O’Malley Center, which houses a five-hundred-seat theater and a grand ballroom for special occasions. “He won’t threaten me here. It’s too public.”
“You still haven’t told me what he threatened you with last week.” Ty turns his gaze to mine, but I just shake my head and look away. “You will tell me eventually, you know.”
Not if I can help it.
The valet opens my door and offers me a hand, helping me from the car. Ty is quickly by my side.
“You’re tall in those shoes,” he murmurs in my ear. I’m just the right height that all I have to do is tilt my head up slightly and my lips will meet his.
So I do.
I press my lips to his in a chaste, simple kiss before he presses his hand to the small of my back and ushers me into the ballroom.
Round tables are covered in black tablecloths with white place settings. Simple centerpieces of orange, fall flowers grace each table. At the head of the room stands a podium, and along one wall is a long line of tables full of silent-auction prizes.
Ty snags two glasses of champagne from a passing waiter and hands me one. “Shall we go browse?” He gestures to the auction tables.
The auction items range from spa days and handmade quilts to ski packages and trips for two to Mexico.
I sign my name on a trip for four to Disneyland, and Ty raises his eyebrows. “Are we going to visit Mickey?”
“No,” I giggle. “My publicist and her family could use a vacation.”
His eyes soften as he runs his hand down my bare back. The man can’t keep his hands off me, and it’s quickly becoming addicting. “That’s nice of you.”
I shrug as he leads us farther down the tables. He bids on a few things before we decide to go find our seats for dinner.
“Ty! Come sit with us!” Cara is waving from a table smack-dab in the middle of the room. Josh is sitting next to her, looking hot, but uncomfortable, in his suit.
“Shall we sit with Josh and Cara?” Ty asks, linking his fingers through mine.
“Sure.” I nod and smile at Cara as we approach.
Josh stands and shakes Ty’s hand, then shakes mine. “You look lovely, Lauren.”
“Thanks. You both look fantastic.” Cara’s dress is gray and fitted, showing off all of her curves. Her blond hair is loose and hanging in big curls. Josh’s black suit and gray tie look magnificent on him.
He pulls on his collar and fidgets in his chair with a grimace. “I hate wearing a suit.”
“Suck it up.” Ty laughs as he pulls a chair out for me. “It’s only for a few hours.”
“Maybe we can find something fun to do with your tie later,” Cara suggests, and bats her eyelashes at Josh. He looks down at her with such tenderness and affection it takes my breath away.
Ty finds my hand under the table and links our fingers again, giving me a gentle squeeze.
The room is filling with beautifully dressed people, and soon two more couples join us, completing our table.
“Where is Jill tonight?” I ask Cara.
“She said, and I quote, ‘I would rather walk through the bowels of hell without sunblock than go to that thing,’ ” Cara replies with a wide smile.
“So, how does she really feel?” I ask with a straight face, making everyone laugh.
“I think she had a date tonight,” Cara confides, wiggling her eyebrows.
“On a Thursday?” Ty asks with a scowl. “With who?”
“We’re all out on a Thursday,” I remind him.
“She didn’t say who.” Cara shrugs. “I’ll get the dirt later.”
Conversation flows around the table while our dinner of chicken cordon bleu with pilaf is served and devoured. I glance around the ballroom and spy Jack near the front of the room, laughing with a group of his colleagues. His eyes catch mine and he offers me a smug smile before rising and moving to the podium. I automatically stiffen at the sight of him and just pray that he’s smart enough to stay away.
He can be so embarrassing. He rarely cares what he says or who hears him.
“Excuse me,” Jack speaks into the microphone, calming the conversation around us. “First, I’d like to thank you all for coming tonight to support the athletics department here in Cunningham Falls.”
Ty threads his fingers through mine and leans in to whisper in my ear, “You okay?”
I just nod, and he squeezes my hand in silent support, and I’m thankful to have Ty here with me. He grounds me, which surprises me. I’m growing to really like him.
To trust him.
“Each dollar raised tonight will go toward buying new uniforms and equipment for our athletes, as well as help pay for lodging and transportation to events out of town.” Jack clears his throat and gazes about the room. “I’d also like to take just a moment to thank you for so graciously welcoming me into this community. I’m proud to work for a school system that continues to produce such amazing athletes. As most of you know, I was married to one of the best athletes Cunningham Falls has ever seen, and I’m confident that with your help we can continue to make you proud of your students.”