“I don’t know how much you know about how things are done here in Willow Bay. There’s a rather small, tightly knit group of individuals who basically scratch each other’s backs. They all sit on each other’s boards, attend each other’s golf tournaments and charitable balls. Write checks to each other’s causes. Most of the big events occur during the height of the season. Things like the Heart Ball, the Emerald Ball—”
“The Annual Garden Party, the Sunshine Festival.”
Niko didn’t bother to tell Lesley he’d worked both traffic and crowd control at some of those events.
Their meals arrived. Niko looked at his steak sandwich. It looked decidedly unmanageable with grilled onions, peppers and melted cheese spilling out from beneath the bun. He wondered if he was supposed to pick it up and eat it or leave it on the plate and use a knife and fork. Why was nothing simple here in the land of the rich and influential? He didn’t have money to blow on dry-cleaning his sports coat. He picked up his utensils and leaned toward Lesley. “You’re setting me up for something. Why don’t you cut to the chase?”
He sliced into the sandwich before realizing he didn’t need the knife. The steak was that tender.
“You’re very sharp, Mr. Morales. I need to remember that.” Lesley speared a bit of salad on the end of her fork.
Niko finished his first bite. “Isn’t that how business works? I wanted something from you. Now you want something from me. I’m not as sharp as you think, though, because I haven’t figured out what it is you want.”
“I’d like you to be my escort.”
Niko almost choked on his second bite. He managed to swallow it and drink some tea.
“I’m sorry. Did you say escort? As in service? Sorry, Miss Robinson. I’m not for sale. If you’ll excuse me.”
He laid his napkin next to his plate and pushed his chair back. Lesley seized his wrist. “I didn’t say escort service. I said escort. As in dinner companion. Dance partner.” She glanced around the dining room. “Sit down,” she hissed. “People are staring.”
Niko resumed his seat and placed his napkin across his lap. He made no move to continue eating. Instead he simply stared at Lesley.
She leaned against the back of her chair and lifted her chin. “I am obligated to attend all of those events. It’s expected. It comes with the territory of being a member of my family. We are part of this community. My mother is involved in planning numerous events each year. I’m expected to be involved also, or to at least be a presence.” She glanced out the window. Niko thought he saw something sad and lonely flit across her features before she looked back at him.
A light bulb came on as what she was offering sank in. She’d introduce him to all her rich, influential friends who would donate money to the center, if he attended all those balls and parties with her. At least that’s what he thought she was getting at.
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