Black Jack (Elite Ops 4)

Page 61

Travis turned to Lilly’s uncle and stared back at him with a hard gaze for long seconds before saying, “You won’t convince her to let me go, Harrington. Don’t even try it.”
Desmond grimaced. “I’m figuring that out, but it’s something her mother isn’t happy over.”
“And her brother?” Travis asked. “I notice he’s not here to celebrate her return to the family fold.”
For a second, regret and grief flashed in Desmond’s pale blue eyes. He turned away for a moment before sipping from the drink he held in his hand.
“Jared is having a hard time coming to grips with this,” he finally stated as he stared down his nose at Travis. “But I have a feeling you’re already aware of that.”
Aware of that didn’t fully describe it. He knew damned good and well that Jared Harrington had turned his back on his sister at the hospital, proclaiming that the woman lying unconscious before him was not his sister.
Her face had changed, but her relationship to him hadn’t. Still, Jared had denounced her, just as he still denounced her despite the DNA tests that assured the world she was indeed who she purported to be. She had changed her looks, her name, her life, he had claimed. She had disowned her family first.
Travis stepped back as the guests began to file into the ballroom, stopping to greet Desmond, then moving to the buffet and drink bar.
As Senator Stanton greeted Desmond, Travis noticed the other man’s gaze sliding toward him as though curious. Several minutes later Santos and Rhiannon made their appearance as well, their business personas firmly intact. Cool, professional. Just a hint of danger.
“Mr. Caine, it’s good to see you again,” Rhiannon greeted him, resplendent in a long silver and black strapless ballgown that gave her the appearance of one of the fairies she was named for.
“Rhiannon, Santos.” Travis nodded as they shook hands, well aware of Desmond’s interest as he watched them.
“It’s wonderful to see Lilly again,” Rhiannon commented with a cool smile. “Santos and I have been worried about her.”
“There’s no need to worry,” Desmond growled. “She’s safe with her family, where she’s supposed to be.”
Rhiannon’s brow arched. “I believe that’s how we came to meet Lilly to begin with,” she stated softly. “The dubious protection of the bosom of her loving family. I hope you take better care of her this time, Lord Harrington.”
Harrington’s jaw tightened furiously as his pale blue eyes shot enraged flames Rhiannon’s way. Her response was yet another cool smile before she moved at Santos’s urging to join the party inside.
“I don’t like your friends,” Lilly’s uncle informed him as he turned an angry glare on Travis.
Travis shrugged. “Friends and acquaintances are two different things, Harrington. But she does have a point.”
“And that being?” he snapped.
“Lilly’s family didn’t protect her diligently enough. A mistake I don’t intend to make.”
Travis turned his gaze back to Lilly then, watching her portray the genteel English lady to perfection as she helped her mother greet the guests as they filed in.
She was sleek and well-mannered with just the slightest hint of reservation as she spoke to the guests who were once close friends.
Those friends had married in the past six years, had had children, moved away from the interests they had once shared and accepted the death of the young woman they had called their friend.
Now, they were facing her again, and sensing the changes within her. Changes that made them wary and uncomfortable.
As the line began to thin, he snagged a drink from a waiter’s tray and moved closer to her.
“Thank you.” There was a gleam of desperation in her gaze that he was certain even her mother hadn’t seen as she took the champagne and sipped at it. Very ladylike. But he noticed she consumed more in one sip than most ladies would in the same situation.
“The band is starting up,” he murmured as he bent to her ear. “Shall we go inside, snag a plate from the buffet, and dance a bit later?”
“Lilly has duties to attend.” Lady Harrington turned to him with a frosty smile and a gleam of hatred in her eyes. “Do be a nice gentleman and amuse yourself elsewhere.”
He felt Lilly stiffen beside him. “That’s enough, Mother,” she said gently. “If you’ll excuse me, I believe I will take Travis up on his offer. We can talk later.”
“Lilly.” Lady Harrington caught her daughter’s arm as she turned to leave. “Don’t consort with him in public. It’s bad enough you do so in private,” she hissed for her daughter’s ears alone.
“I love you, Mother.” She kissed her mother’s cheek before turning, accepting Travis’s arm, and moving slowly away.