“You’re staring again. Why don’t you just go ask her to dance?”
With practiced indifference I take another sip of my scotch. My first and last drink of the night. I look at the man who just threw that question between us, my partner and best friend. I contemplate ignoring him, but I know from experience Marc won’t let this go until his curiosity is appeased. Or until he annoys me to his satisfaction.
“She’ll say no.”
“Why do you think that?” I know full well the innocent expression on his face is bullshit. “Just because she’s said no every other time you’ve asked her to do anything the last three years? I mean, tonight could be the night.”
I grunt and turn my back to him, indicating my appreciation for his sense of humor. I also turn away from the incredibly tempting sight of Sloane Reed in black body-skimming cocktail dress. The dress isn’t particularly revealing – as the event planner for tonight’s black tie fundraiser she’s technically on the clock. She wasn’t exposing an obscene amount of leg or showcasing an abundance of cleavage. She was all class. But still sexy as hell.
I take a healthy sip of my drink, finishing it off. I’m fairly confident Sloane Reed could wear a shapeless sack and I would still think she was the most gorgeous woman in the room. Any room.
But Marc is right. She’s spent the last three years shooting me down at every opportunity. Except the first opportunity. The first night. I’m annoyed by my body’s reaction to the memories that filter through my brain and for a brief minute I contemplate breaking my rule and ordering another drink.
No. Technically I’m here in an official capacity. What I should do is go shake some hands, allow the events photographers to catch me with the right people and get some good publicity for the Bureau.
These bi-annual events for The Bridge have become a beautiful exercise in torture for me. Twice a year Sloane organizes amazing fundraisers for the wealthiest of Chicago’s citizens and provided them an opportunity to donate to help victims of human trafficking get back on their feet. The Bridge provides countless valuable resources – everything from counseling to job placement for survivors – and lobbies for stronger prevention laws. The Bureau office here in Chicago often trotted me out for these events. A few years ago a joint task force I was on, broke a big public case and the media decided they liked me. So now, whenever we’re looking for good press, I’m the one they put a tux on and send out for the cameras.
In general, I’m fine with this unofficial role as long as it doesn’t keep me out of the field working on cases. I like people. I’m good at reading them, figuring out their angle, what they mean not just what they say. It’s what makes me good at my job. Marc calls me a human lie detector but really I just notice little details other miss.
Which makes my inability to figure out Sloane Reed so frustrating. I get too many mixed messages from her to get a good read.
I spend an hour making small talk, shaking hands, posing for photos. Once again Sloane catches my eye, this time talking to another woman I recognize. Another man might decide to leave her alone, especially on a night she’s working. Another man might get tired of the sure rejection. Another man might return to the bar for another drink.
Instead I decide to have a little fun.
“Margaret,” I call out. I see Sloane stiffen at my voice. I pretend to ignore her reaction and turn my smile on Margaret Doyle, the Executive Director of the Bridge. Margaret is a 70 year old socialite, who lost her husband fifteen years ago and now spends his millions promoting good causes. She’s all polite manners, compliments and smiles at first glance but I recognize a master manipulator when I see one. As far as I know she only uses her powers for good though, so mostly I find her entertaining. And a little intimidating. I give her no reason to manipulate me. I’m not at all sure I’d come out the winner.
Margaret turns a bright smile on me and I give her a quick kiss on the cheek in hello. I give the expected compliments on the success of the evening before finally turning my attention to Sloane.
“Great job on the event tonight, as usual.”
“Thank you.” She smiles stiffly. “If you’ll excuse me, I have to check in with Brice,” she says referring to her assistant.
“Margaret, I’ll speak with you shortly.” She begins her escape. I’m pretty sure she’s just attempting to avoid spending time with me.
Margaret agrees dismissively before zeroing in on me. “Josh, I just heard about your transfer, such wonderful news.”
This old bird has eyes and ears everywhere. That transfer for Marc and I just came through this morning.
Before I can respond, Sloane turns back to us. “You’re transferring?”
I smirk at the hopeful note in her question. I’m sure she’s imagining me boarding a plane for D.C. No such luck, beautiful. You’re just going to have to keep dodging me. “Just into a different department. I’ll still be in Chicago, don’t worry.”
She flushes a bit at my subtle call out and I feel my grin widen.
“I see. Congratulations.”
Seemingly oblivious to the tension in our little circle, Margaret weighs in again. “I just could not be happier. Ever since the Blackwell Ring arrest, I thought you would be a perfect addition to the Civil Rights team. You-”
“The Civil Rights team?” Sloane interjects.
I pause a second before answering, studying her reaction. I swear she paled at Margaret’s announcement.
“I’ll be focused primarily on human trafficking cases.”
“Isn’t that wonderful?” Margaret gushed. “To have an ally like Josh bottom-lining our cases?”
Sloane’s smile seems forced as she repeats, “Wonderful.”
And finally she makes a hasty exit.
What the hell was that about?
I watch her cross the room no closer to figuring her out.
I tune back in to Margaret chattering away, grabbing a glass of champagne from a passing waiter.
“That woman,” she’s saying, “she works like a demon for us. You know since she has taken over these events we’ve nearly double our fund-raising efforts?”
“That is impressive.” I had no doubt she was good at her job. The proof is how smoothly these nights go. I’m aware she doesn’t need to check in with her assistant, she was just looking for yet another excuse to get away from me. Ever since that night three years ago, she rarely allows us to be in the same space for long and never alone, despite my best efforts.
“There was something I wanted to speak to you about, actually. Would you be interested in serving on our Board of Advisors? I would love to have another law-enforcement perspective. The meetings are usually every other month for about three hours, so hopefully not too much of a time commitment with your schedule.”
“Of course. I would love too.”
“Excellent,” Margaret beams at me. “I’ll have Sloane send you the information first thing on Monday.”
I jolt softly with surprise, glancing quickly in the direction my tormentor had just disappeared. “Sloane? Why, Sloane?”
Margaret smiles knowingly and explains, “She’s become the unofficial secretary of the Board. Takes care of all the logistics and communication between meetings.”
I eye her speculatively. “Margaret Doyle. Are you playing matchmaker?”
A look of such manufactured innocence comes over her face I burst into laughter.
“Well dear. I know you don’t need any help in that department, a good looking fellow like yourself. But she’s a stubborn one I’ve noticed.”
I nod, still chuckling and she slips her arm through mine leading me through the crowd. She pats my arm affectionately. “I’ve noticed you noticing too.”
I grimace. If she only knew.
Meet a much younger Sloane here.