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|Strings of the Heart(Runaway Train #3) by Katie Ashley|
“I would love it.”
Without a word to any of us, Ellie closed the piano lid and rose off the bench. She then crossed the room to stand in front of the mirror. The humming started up again as she peered at the coming and going guests. Trudie smiled. “I’m afraid I won’t be able to get her to bed until the party is over. She wants to take it all in.”
“Can’t she go?” I asked before I thought better of it. When Rhys stared at me in surprise, I ducked my head. “I’m sorry. I just thought maybe we could take her for a little while. Let her see everything up close and personal, rather than from the window.”
“I think that’s a fantastic idea,” Rhys said.
I jerked my head up. The intensity of his stare caused me to shiver. There were so many emotions radiating in his eyes, but gratitude was one that I could plainly make out. “Really?”
He turned to Trudie. “Can you find her something more appropriate to wear?”
“Yes, I believe she has a few dresses in the closet.”
Rhys nodded and then went to Ellie’s side. Tenderly, he touched her shoulder. “Ellie, do you want to go with Trudie and find a dress to wear to the party? You’ll look so pretty, and you’ll get to see all the people you’ve been watching tonight.”
Slowly, she released her hold on the curtains. Turning from the window, she went to Trudie’s side. “Let’s find you something to wear, shall we?” Trudie asked. She and Ellie left the living room and went into one of the bedrooms.
When the door closed behind them, Rhys exhaled a long breath. With a gracious expression, he said, “Thank you for suggesting that.”
I shook my head. “I don’t know if it was the right thing. I mean, your mother and father didn’t think she should go.”
Rhys shook his head. “Don’t worry about what they said. They’re just trying to save face in front of their stuck-up friends.”
I hoped he was right. The door opened, and Ellie appeared in a demure, beaded black dress. Her hair had been swept back with a glittering headband.
“Don’t you look beautiful?” Rhys exclaimed, closing the gap between them. He hugged her gently, as if careful not to crowd her. She patted his back with one of her hands. “I’m so lucky to have two beautiful ladies escorting me to the party.” Glancing over his shoulder at me, Rhys’s wide smile lit up his entire face. It was good seeing him so happy, and I was so grateful that he was letting me share the moment with him and his sister.
As we started to the door, Trudie stopped Rhys. “If you need me, I’ll be here.” I could tell that although she was thrilled that Ellie was going to the party, Trudie was also worried.
Rhys nodded. “It’ll be fine. I’ll let her see everyone and listen to the music. I’ll make sure to bring her back in an hour so she doesn’t get overstimulated by the crowd.”
“That sounds good.” Trudie patted Ellie’s arm. “Have fun, honey.”
As we started up the brick pathway, Ellie walked slightly ahead of us, craning her neck to take in the sound of the string quartet coming from the tent off to the side of the house. “She’s going to enjoy the hell out of the music,” Rhys said, as we walked up the stairs and into the kitchen.
Ellie paid little attention to the people overfilling the main hallway and other rooms. She had a singular focus it seemed, to find the source of the music she was humming. Rhys, on the other hand, was the consummate Southern gentleman. He spoke to everyone he saw—shook hands with the men and kissed a few women’s cheeks. Each and every time, he made sure to introduce me. All the while as he socialized, he kept a cautious eye on Ellie.
When she had gotten to the ballroom door that led out onto the veranda, she had stopped. It seemed she had found her perfect spot to listen to the music and watch the dancing partygoers. Those who didn’t know her cast frustrated looks when she wouldn’t move aside for them.
“Excuse me, Eddie,” Rhys said to a bald man in a red and black checked kilt. He then crossed the room to go to Ellie’s side. He gently took her by the arm. “Why don’t we sit at a table, so you can see and hear better?”
While she didn’t appear to acknowledge him, Ellie did let Rhys lead her over to a table in the back of the veranda. I eased down beside Rhys. Glad to be off my feet for a moment, I, too, enjoyed listening to the quartet. My gaze flickered around the room, taking in the guests. Several were in kilts like Rhys, but most of the men wore tuxes. When a waiter stopped at the table, I gladly took a flute of bubbly. Thankfully another appeared with a tray of hors d’ oeuvres. After I greedily devoured the napkin of goodies, I craned my neck to see where another waiter was.
Rhys chuckled beside me. “What?” I asked.
“There is real food in the dining room if you’re hungry.”
Embarrassment warmed my cheeks. “I guess scarfing that down didn’t look too ladylike, huh?”
With a roll of his eyes, Rhys said, “Like I give two shits about anything ladylike.” He leaned forward. “What I do care about is if you’re hungry.”
“I am.” And for more than just food. I’d like to have you as the appetizer, main course, and dessert. Those were the thoughts derailing my mind in the middle of the party.
He smiled. “Then let me get you a plate.” After waving one of the waiters over, Rhys said, “Please bring me three settings of the dinner course.”