“Did the company buy your suit?” she challenged.
“Corporate credit card.” There was a distinct note of triumph in his voice. He gestured to the navy dress. “You’re not going in that.”
“Yes, I am.”
“Like it or not, Amber. Part of your function tonight is to be a billboard for Tucker Transportation’s success.”
She could barely believe he’d said it. “A billboard?”
“Don’t get all high and mighty. It’s part of the gig.”
“You’re saying I’m visual entertainment for your boardroom cronies? Do you want me to jump out of a cake, too?”
The saleslady had just returned with the dress and her mouth dropped open at Amber’s jibe.
“It applies to me, as well,” said Tuck. “Thanks.” He smiled at the saleslady and took the dress from her arms. “I can’t show up in a cheap suit.”
“I don’t imagine you own a cheap suit.”
“Don’t pretend you don’t understand my point. You know full well what I mean. You and I both have to look the part tonight.”
Amber hated that she did, but she got what he meant. And he wasn’t wrong. She glanced at the rich cobalt blue dress. The irony was that it would be perfect with her shoes.
She looked for a graceful way forward. “Tell me this isn’t the first time Tucker Transportation bought somebody a dress.”
“This isn’t the first time Tucker Transportation bought somebody a dress.”
She gave him a skeptical frown.
“I think,” he added. “Okay, I don’t care. My rationale is sound.” He glanced at his watch. “And we’re running out of time. You might want to do something with your hair.”
“What’s wrong with my hair?”
The saleslady piped up. “We have a lovely salon in the hotel.”
“Can you get her an appointment?” asked Tuck.
“This is ridiculous,” Amber muttered. But she scooped the dress from Tuck.
It would be, by far, the most luxurious thing she’d ever worn. But if the man was determined to drop that much money for a single evening, who was she to fight him?
* * *
In the opulent ballroom, Tuck had to struggle to keep from staring at Amber. He’d expected the dress to transform her from her usual librarian look. But he’d had no idea the effect would be this dramatic.
The salon had styled her hair in an updo, wispy around her temples, showing off her graceful neck and highlighting her amazing cheekbones. Her makeup was subtle, but deeper and richer than she normally wore. Her thick, dark lashes and artfully lined eyes reflected the deep blue of her dress.
At the moment, he was trying hard to concentrate on Norm Oliphant’s description of his newly evolving supply chain, but he was torn between watching Amber and glaring at the dozens of men checking her out. Didn’t they realize she was with him?
Dinner was over and a music ensemble was filing into the room. Lighting was being subtly adjusted, dimmed around the perimeter, slightly brighter to highlight the polished wood dance floor.
“I hope there’s some good news about your father,” said Norm.
Tuck checked his wandering mind and told himself to behave like Dixon. Kassandra had been gorgeous as well, but he was certain his brother had never let that detract from business discussions.
“We’re all encouraged,” Tuck said to Norm.
“So you’ve seen him recently?” asked Norm’s wife, Regina.
Tuck wasn’t sure how to answer that. Truth was he hadn’t seen his father since they’d move him to Boston. But how was that going to sound?
Amber smoothly and unexpectedly stepped in. “Tuck has become so pivotal to the day-to-day operations, Jamison is insistent that he focus on the company. Jamison has his wife with him, of course. She’s been a stalwart support every day during his recovery. But he gathers peace of mind knowing Tuck is at the helm.”
Tuck could have cheered. It was all lies, of course, made up on the spot, which made her explanation all the more impressive.
“Where’s Dixon in all of this?” asked Norm.
Amber stepped slightly closer to both Norm and Regina, lowering her voice, throwing Norm off balance with the intensity of her gaze. “I’m sure you heard what happened. With Dixon’s wife?”
“We did,” said Regina, leaning in.