The Missing Heir(10)

By: Barbara Dunlop

She shook away the wayward feeling and quickly exited the car. Zachary was upstairs waiting, and Roth was in the wings with a team of high-priced lawyers. Amber didn’t have time for kisses or fantasies or anything else.

* * *

Cole advanced through the hotel lobby, heading for the escalators that would take him back to the ballroom.

It didn’t take him long to spot Luca coming the other way, a pretty blond woman at his side.

“There you are,” said Luca as they met. “I wondered what had happened to you.”

“I left something in the ballroom,” said Cole.

“This is Destiny Frost. Turns out, she’s a friend of Amber Welsley.” Luca’s expression was inscrutable.

Cole played along, pretending Luca hadn’t planned to meet Destiny. “Nice to meet you.” He offered his hand.

She shook, and hers was slim and cool. “It’s a pleasure.”

“I offered Destiny a ride home,” said Luca. “You coming with us?” His expression told Cole a third wheel would not be particularly welcome.

Cole tipped his chin toward the escalator. “I have to grab something upstairs. Can you swing back and get me later?”

Luca gave a satisfied smile. “Will do.”

“Luca says you’re from Alaska?” asked Destiny.

“We are,” Cole replied.

“I’ve never been there.”

“It’s beautiful, magnificent.”

“It must be cold.”

Luca stepped in. “I’ve already offered to keep her warm.”

Destiny smiled and shook her head. “He’s shameless.”

“But harmless,” said Cole, intending to be reassuring, but also being honest. Luca was a perfect gentleman.

“I’ll text you on the way back?” asked Luca.

“Sounds good.” With a nod to both of them, Cole headed for the escalator.

He was going against the crowd, most people on their way out of the event. So he easily made it to the ballroom and headed for the chair where they’d parked Amber’s shoes.

To his surprise, they were gone.

“Seriously?” he muttered out loud.

He glanced around at the departing crowd. At an event this highbrow, somebody was going to steal a pair of shoes?

Then he caught a glint of gold in one of the waiter’s hands. He squinted. It was definitely Amber’s shoes. The man was headed toward a side exit.

Cole made a beeline after him, feeling better about human nature. The waiter obviously thought they’d been abandoned and was taking them to the hotel’s lost and found.

Cole wound his way through the tables and took the same exit, coming out into a long dim hallway. One direction obviously led to the kitchen, the other down a narrow flight of stairs. It seemed unlikely that the lost and found was in the kitchen, so he took the stairs.

At the bottom, he spotted the guy about thirty yards away. He called out, and the man turned.

“The shoes,” called Cole.

Before he could say anything more, the man bolted, running a few steps before shoving open a side exit.

“Are you kidding me?” Cole shouted, breaking into a run.

He burst through the side door, finding himself in an alley. He quickly scanned the area and spotted the guy at a run. He sprinted after the man. When he caught up, he grasped the guy’s left arm and spun him around, bringing him to a sliding halt.

“What’s going on?” Cole gasped. “You’re stealing a pair of shoes?”

“They’re my girlfriend’s.” The man was gasping for breath.

“They’re my girlfriend’s.” As he spoke, Cole couldn’t help but take note of the man’s unshaven face, and the rather wild look in his eyes. “You’re not a waiter.”

The man reached in his pants pocket and pulled a knife, flicking open a six-inch blade and holding it menacingly out in front of him.

“They’re shoes,” said Cole, adrenaline rushing into his bloodstream. Admittedly, they were nice shoes. And given the Hendersons’ wealth, they were likely ridiculously expensive. But what could they possibly bring this guy on the black market?

The man snarled. “Do yourself a favor and walk away.”

No way was that happening. Cole was returning Amber’s property to her. “Give me the shoes.”

“You want to get hurt?”

Suddenly, a low growl sounded next to Cole. His skin prickled, and he glanced cautiously down. But the mangy dog was staring at the man with the knife. It didn’t seem to be threatening Cole.

“He’ll go for your throat,” Cole lied.

The man glanced furtively at the dog.

The dog growled again.

“Drop the knife, or he’ll attack.”

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