Busted (Promise Harbor Wedding)
Author:Sydney Somers

chapter Eleven


“In over your head,” Jackson repeated slowly.

It was a stupid thing to say, and Hayley regretted it the moment the words left her lips. It would only lead to more questions, questions she didn’t even have answers to.

Jackson waited, his expression calm, but his eyes determined to figure something out. They’d both be better off if he turned around and went back to work and she…

She let out a breath, unsure of what the hell she was supposed to be doing. She’d put the robberies completely out of her head after this morning, focusing on cases she could make headway with.

The renovations had become a way for her to wind down, and since Jackson had those under control, she didn’t know what to do with herself. She’d already stopped by to see Gramps on the way home from work, not really anticipating Jackson being here when she got home.

She should have known better. What she couldn’t wrap her mind around, though, was why he continued to come back. He wasn’t gaining anything from the renovations, and she’d done enough damage, accidentally or not, that he shouldn’t even want to be anywhere near her. He could be with Josh or hanging out at Stone’s with Matt.

“Are you hiding out here?”

Jackson cocked his head. “Not following you.”

“I cuffed you, tased you. Hell, I pulled you out of a freaking tree.” All of that couldn’t be worth the little bit of positive publicity stemming from a fake romance. It just didn’t make sense. “Is it safer to hide out here where no one can make demands of you or ask you about your accident or your plans?” Because that would make sense to her. He’d avoided anything to do with the kids and had avoided the subject of not playing hockey a few times.

“Is it so bad having me around?”

Okay. That hadn’t been the response she’d been expecting. Truthfully, she’d half expected to annoy him with the comment, maybe even piss him off and send him on his way. That she would know how to handle.

“When you’re not avoiding me, that is?” he tacked on. “I know you like me.”

“Liking you isn’t a problem.” Liking him a lot apparently wasn’t a problem either.

“Good. Now what happened earlier that upset you?”

“It doesn’t matter,” she insisted.

“It does matter. You can’t let what people say get to you.”

“That’s awful easy for you to say. You do what you want while the rest of us have people depending on us. We all can’t be reckless without thinking about the consequences.”

“The only opinions that matter belong to the people who care about you.”

She shook her head. “It’s not that simple.”

“It is,” he pressed. “It has to be—otherwise you end up turning into the person everyone else is convinced you are.” He grabbed her hand. “I’m sort of an expert on these things.”

She looked around the room, looked at anything but him.

“Young Hayley may have been a hellion,” he continued, “but she understood whose opinions counted for something. Maybe you had a rough time dealing with your dad’s death, but in the end you straightened yourself out without giving a crap what people like Bernice Cabot or Eric thought of you. Are you really going to waste time worrying about it now?”

Part of her knew he was right, knew there was more to him than what the media portrayed.

“If people look at you and see only the rebel you used to be or the woman caught kissing the notorious Jackson Knight—” he wiggled his brows, “—and not the great friend or hockey coach or kick-ass police detective, then isn’t that their loss?”

She was afraid to admit he was right, afraid that if she did she wouldn’t have a reason to keep her distance. He wasn’t staying in Promise Harbor and she didn’t want to be left with any more holes in her life. She’d have a huge one to deal with soon enough with Gramps.

“Let me help you, Hayley.”

“For how long? Another day? A week?” Until Gramps dies? She kept the latter to herself, the pain of it clutching viciously at her heart.

“Hey.” He caught her hand.

She tried brushing him off, but part of her desperately needed a shoulder to lean on for just a second. The depth of that need stunned her as she wrapped her arms around his neck and pressed her face against his chest. The scent of him—soap, sawdust, male—surrounded her as fully as the arms holding her close.

She drew in a breath, her chest catching in a shudder she barely clamped down on. Her eyes burned, but she squeezed them tight, refusing to give in to a single tear. Not now. Just a shoulder to lean on for a minute. That’s all she needed.

“Hayls?” He tipped her face up.

Tears firmly in check, she forced her eyes open, meeting his gaze. He traced the curve of her cheekbone, his touch gentle, soothing and unlacing every carefully tied knot holding her together inside.

She was good at moving forward, focusing only on the moment and not letting fear of losing another loved one break her. So why did something as simple as Jackson’s touch compromise all that? Weaken her so completely?

He ran his thumb down to her chin, sweeping across her bottom lip. Her stomach bunched, reacting to the desire that flared in his eyes. When he didn’t immediately kiss her, she pushed up on her toes, opening her mouth over his.

Sweet heat flooded her system, and she gripped the back of his neck, grazing the ends of his hair and getting as close to him as possible.

Kissing him should have been a bad idea, but she couldn’t seem to make herself care. Thoughts of flavors of the week and puck bunnies slipped away under the delicious weight of his lips slanting across hers. Who could think about anything rational with six-feet-plus of warm, hard male nudging her back against a wall and pressing into her in all the right places? Places that were suddenly burning up with a hunger she knew full well he could satisfy.

Like he had since his arrival, Jackson surprised her. He didn’t deepen the kiss beyond a lazy caress of his tongue along hers, rubbing soft and slow. God, so slowly. It was almost maddening wanting so much more—and knowing she shouldn’t—and loving the tenderness that stole her breath.

“Jackson,” she whispered against his lips.

He didn’t let her get out any more than that, catching her mouth in a warm, drugging kiss that went on and on.

The firm grip on her waist heated her right through her clothes, and she couldn’t help but roll her hips, melting down inside. Melting all over the damn place for him.

“Hayley?” The impossibly cheery voice preceded a knock on the front door. A door that opened a second later. Bernice poked her head in just as Jackson backed away from her. “I have the paperwork you need to sign about listing the house.”

Crap. She’d forgotten she made the appointment with Bernice a couple weeks ago, assuming most of the renovations would be completed by then. Although she’d planned for Matt to deal with the actual paperwork.

She glanced down to where Jackson held on to her hand. Squaring her shoulders, she faced the door and let go of Jackson. No more leaning on him. “Sorry, Bernice. Matt’s actually looking after that part.”

The former high school gossip queen glanced at her watch. “My schedule is too full today to drop by Stone’s.”

Hayley highly doubted it, but she wasn’t about to argue. The house wasn’t ready to be listed yet anyway, but Matt could certainly sign off on it and Bernice could add it to her active listings when Hayley gave her the go-ahead.

“I might be able to drop in tomorrow to see him,” Bernice added. “Actually, it would best if he could swing by my office.”

“I’ll let him know.”

Bernice glanced around, noticing the new wall paint. Moving quicker than Hayley would have given her credit for, Bernice dodged around her and headed deeper into the house. “You’ve been busy,” she said to Jackson. “Didn’t think Hayley would be able to handle all the work on her own.”

Of course not, Hayley thought, sighing inwardly. Maybe Bernice’s interruption was for the best.

Jackson ignored the real estate agent in favor of sending Hayley a molten look that promised he hadn’t forgotten where they’d left off. Telling herself it wouldn’t happen did nothing to stem the rush of fire that sparked every single nerve ending.

“I love the crown molding,” Bernice crowed from down the hall, and Jackson perked up.

“Think it will add to resale value?” He trailed after Bernice.

“Absolutely. Even more so when buyers hear who did the work.”

He shifted uncomfortably. “That doesn’t need to be common knowledge, does it?”

“Are you kidding? Half the town already knows and buyers will love it.”

Jackson shot Hayley a helpless look, but suggesting they keep his involvement in the renovations on the down low was moot the second Bernice spun around like she’d just discovered a real estate gem.

“You know, if your renovations drum up as much interest in this property as I think they will, imagine what kind of draw you’d be for the benefit Friday night. The bachelor auction,” Bernice clarified.

“Aren’t bachelor auctions…outdated and sexist?” He didn’t sound even a little bit convincing.

Hayley snorted. “Tell that to the Miss Universe pageant.”

Bernice opened her mouth to respond, but Jackson beat her to it. “I’m not the bachelor auction type.”

“It’s for a good cause. All the proceeds are going toward the fund for Kyle’s lung transplant.”

“I’m not really on the market,” he pressed, nodding to indicate Hayley.

Bernice waved that detail away. “It’s just a date. I’m sure Hayley could spare you for one evening, knowing the kind of money you could raise for Kyle.”

“I’m happy to make a donation—”

“A donation would be greatly appreciated, and we’d make even more money with women bidding on you as well.” Bernice beamed, probably dying to get on the phone and tell the whole town how she’d convinced Jackson to join the auction.

Jackson shot Hayley another helpless look, this one far more pathetic than the last. And just a little bit adorable. She shrugged, trying not to smile at how Bernice had just roped him into the event.

“I’ll do it if Hayley agrees to bid on me,” Jackson insisted.

Hayley shook her head. “I wasn’t planning on bidding,” she said. She’d already volunteered to help Matt run the bar that evening. Plus she’d done the preliminary legwork for the benefit by lining up sponsors for the silent auction and other raffle prizes, more than happy to leave the more complicated details to Bernice and Kyle’s mom.

Bernice frowned again, not looking impressed with Jackson’s compromise, and she had no qualms about giving Hayley an accusing look, as if his stubbornness were entirely her fault. “It’s for Kyle.”

“Fine. I’ll bid.” She could bid and then sit back and serve drinks to the rest of the women content to break their bank accounts for a date with the infamous Jackson Knight.

“Great. My next stop was printing up the programs for the benefit, so it’s good that I have time to add your name to the bachelor list.” Bernice nodded to the renovations. “You are really good with your hands, Jackson. Try to remember to have Matt stop by and see me, Hayley.” She walked out of the house.

Yeah, she’d get right on that. Hayley rolled her eyes.

Once they were alone Jackson gave her a smug look.

She turned away, tossing back over her shoulder, “I agreed to bid. Not to win you.” She didn’t glance back to see what he thought of that.





Hayley didn’t want to win him.

That one thought continued to pester Jackson into the next day and late evening as he worked out front at Stone’s. His back was killing him and his hands were tired and sore from a couple blisters, but staring at the completed wheelchair ramp more than made up for it.

It was a small addition, but necessary in Jackson’s mind. Kyle should be able to get himself inside the pub without anyone carrying him up the stairs. He’d done a little research to make sure he knew what he was doing and had a local contractor he’d played hockey with look it over earlier that afternoon.

The guy had been impressed with the amount of work Jackson had gotten done in the timeframe he had to work with. Jackson had been a little bit impressed with himself too.

He couldn’t wait to show Hayley. Hayley who wasn’t going to try and win him.

No matter how much he enjoyed working with his hands, or the unexpected satisfaction that came from building something, his thoughts continued to circle back to Hayley.

He’d even heard from his agent, and now that the Sentinels general manager was back from holidays, his meeting was on the books for early next week. Things were finally coming together, but instead of researching the Sentinels franchise and reviewing team footage to get his head back in the game, he’d spent all day working on a ramp and thinking about a woman who was counting down until he left town.

She wasn’t avoiding him at least, but she’d been careful not to be alone with him whenever their paths had crossed since she’d insisted on bidding only.

Mildly annoyed with himself, he tossed the tools lying on the stairs into the bin at his feet. Some of the tools he’d borrowed, but the rest he’d bought, though he wasn’t sure what he’d do with them when he was finished with the renovations at Coach’s place. Living downtown, close to the arena, would be a must if he got the coaching job, and his schedule wouldn’t leave much time to work on a fixer-upper of his own, giving him with no reason to hold on to the tools.

Tires crunched over the parking lot gravel, and he turned as the familiar black truck pulled in to the empty spot closest to the ramp.

The door opened and from the second her feet hit the ground, he couldn’t look away. Sandals that showed off painted toenails, form-fitting jeans that he knew without a doubt would make her ass look amazing, white button-down shirt that revealed a snug black tank top, and a smile that brought his own instantly to the surface.

“Hey.” She surveyed the ramp that had been little more than a frame the last time she’d been by. “You’ve been busy. Nice work.”

He grinned. “Heard you had your hands full with a drug bust this afternoon.”

She shrugged, reminding him how much he loved the way she never took credit or bragged about the hard work she did.

“A few thousand in heroin, right?”

She nodded.

“That how you got that bruise?” He gestured to the black-and-blue mark the size of a baseball on her forearm.

“Unfortunate collision with a car door.”

He nodded, having already heard how one of the three suspects had thought he was going to make it to his car until Hayley caught up with him.

She shoved her hands in her back pockets. “I guess I’ll let you finish up.” She started for the steps.

“I’m already finished, actually, and Matt’s not around. He borrowed my car.” A slight exaggeration. He’d moved it around back earlier. “I could use a ride if you don’t mind.”

She tipped her head. “Where are you headed?”

“To bed.” He deliberately left out whose bed he planned on sleeping in.

The corners of her eyes narrowed. They both knew he wasn’t getting anything past her. Still, she didn’t give him a hard time or remind him what they wouldn’t be doing.

“I need to drop a couple tools off first, if that’s okay.”

“Sure.”

He loaded the bin of tools in the back of the truck and hopped in next to her. After spending the day chatting with every local or tourist who wandered outside to watch him work, Hayley’s company bolstered his mood.

Jackson gave her directions as they drove along, watching her from the corner of his eye.

After they made the last turn, she glanced at him. “You do realize I know every route to Sunset Bluff, right? No matter how many random turns we make on the way.”

He laughed, but didn’t deny it.

A couple minutes later she guided the truck into the gravel lot that dead-ended in front of the woods.

She opened her door and walked around to the passenger side. “Okay, let’s go.”

“You’re kicking me out? Is this still payback for having to clean the truck out when we were teenagers?”

She held the door open and he slid out, making sure to rub against her as he moved past.

Hayley rolled her eyes, but instead of climbing back in the truck like he half expected, she bypassed the worn path many tourists discovered while exploring the bluff and climbed over the large, flat rocks that rose above the small parking lot.

He followed, having forgotten the less traveled path that appeared to end at the edge of the trees lining the bluff. Hayley threaded her way between them, leading the way to a narrow opening that looked out over the water.

The sky was on fire from the setting sun. Streaks of brilliant gold colored the thick clouds, fading to deep purples and pinks along the horizon. He marveled first at the view of the ocean, massive and powerful, and then the woman next to him, the wild strands of her blonde hair caught in the breeze and making her look even younger than usual.

“I haven’t been up here since I was a kid.”

“It’s a nicer view. Quieter.”

“You come here a lot,” he guessed.

She shrugged. “When I have things on my mind, though it’s been a while.”

He leaned back against a tree, arms crossed. “So now that you have me here, whatever will you do with me?”

“I don’t have any wicked plans to seduce you, if that’s what you’re thinking.”

He sighed. “I was trying not to get my hopes up. Lucky for you—” he hooked a finger through the loop on her belt, “—I’m wicked enough for the both of us.” He brushed away the strands of hair trapped by her lip gloss at the corner of her mouth, and tucked them behind her ear.

With the path clear, he touched his mouth to hers, immediately sinking into a kiss that ignited his insides from the first breathy moan she made. The feel of it between their lips made his heart pound faster than hockey sprints, and all it took was one woman.

One cute and sexy woman curling into him like he was the only thing holding her to the bluff.

He pushed his tongue into her mouth, greedily taking as much as she’d give and hoping like hell it would be enough to pull him back from the brink of losing control. He’d spent too much time thinking about her today. Had spent too much time thinking about her since coming home, and he didn’t have a clue what it would take to shake the increasing need to be with her.

Or worse, if he wanted to shake that need at all.

Jackson broke the kiss, letting his gaze roam over her, drawn to where her breasts were pushed up to the neckline of her tank top. He bent to kiss the soft skin that smelled so incredible.

Already so damn hard for her, he pulled her hips forward, groaning into her breasts when she rubbed along his cock. He lingered over each kiss, licking a slow path to where he tugged the material down to expose her nipple.

The puckered tip hardened in his mouth, and Hayley clutched his shoulders, moaning low by his ear. The decadent sound spurred him to push the other side of her shirt down, letting him suck the neglected nipple into his mouth, curling his tongue around her, pulling her deeper between his lips.

She moaned again, a little louder.

“Careful. Someone might hear you, Detective.”

She smiled, the curve of her lips so sexy he was aching to see her on her knees, looking at him exactly the same way. “And?”

Laughing, he framed her face and drew her back to his mouth. Rough and uninhibited, the kiss tugged at him. The taste of her was driving him crazy, and the more he had, the more he wanted.

He whipped her around until she was facing the tree trunk he’d been leaning against. He positioned her hands on the trunk in front of her.

She laughed. “Is this where you frisk me?”

“Something like that.” He smoothed his palms up over her ass, kneading the firm muscle.

His cock nudged the denim, and he rocked his hips forward, pressing into her. She edged back, meeting each slow, teasing thrust. He nipped the side of her neck, then sucked the sensitive skin between his lips.

Hayley tilted her head, giving him better access that he took full advantage of, teasing the curve with a gentle nip. He moved his hands from her hips to her thighs, molding his palms to her, sliding up and down along the inside of her thighs before finally cupping her through her jeans.

Her breath caught, and her lips grazed his jaw as she turned, seeking his mouth. She forgot about kissing him the second he undid the button on her jeans and slipped a hand inside.

“Already wet for me?” He slid beneath her panties, feeling exactly how slick she was. His fingers traced the seam, spreading the moisture up to her clit. She trembled under the swirl of his thumb across the plump knot.

“More,” she pleaded, arching her sweet ass back to rub against him.

Looking down to where he pressed into her, he imagined how it would feel to sink inside her from behind. He buried his face against her shoulder, breathing in the scent of her. The heat and fierce need were like a fever burning him up, but he was growing used to it.

The emotion tangled up in it was a different story. The swell of it in his chest that had him going motionless, holding on to her for just a minute, left him in unfamiliar territory.

“Jackson?”

He closed his eyes, then pushed a finger inside her, retracing the path back to her clit, stroking and rubbing until she was drenched.

Her nails scraped the bark, and she writhed in his arms, her breaths coming faster. She trapped her lip between her teeth, biting down as he played with her, pushing her closer to the edge.

Tension turned her body taut, and with another flick of his fingers across her clit, she shuddered, going wild as her orgasm hit. Moments later, she sagged into the tree.

Almost drowning in the need hammering his system, he brushed her hair aside and pressed his lips to her neck, lingering there until he could draw a breath that didn’t rob him of all rational thought.

It took a lot longer than it should have.





Hayley was a no-show.

Jackson scanned the crowded bar, searching for a glimpse of the blonde he couldn’t get out of his head. At least two hundred people had shown up for Kyle’s benefit so far and there didn’t seem to be an end to the steady trickle of traffic pouring into Stone’s.

But none of them were Hayley.

After they’d left Sunset Bluff yesterday, he’d been desperate to strip her down and finish what they’d started. The walk back to the truck had been borderline excruciating, his hard-on refusing to go down even a little.

He’d been ready to explode by the time he got her into the shower, where she’d gone down on him. They hadn’t even finished getting cleaned up before he dragged her out of there, intent on finding a bed and getting her beneath him. He’d made it four feet down the hall before the urge to be inside her had trumped everything else. Against the wall, he pushed up into her for just a second, and fuck it had felt amazing.

Almost as amazing as keeping her close when she’d finally fallen asleep. There was no way he was letting her sneak out on him again. Not that she didn’t try. She just didn’t get very far before he dragged her on top of him.

“Great turnout, huh?” Matt flashed the smile of a man who could appreciate the added business.

Hawks hockey jerseys flashed blue and white around the room, identifying the kids here to support Kyle. The kid of the hour was hanging out next to the buffet table—along with most of the players, actually. Every once in a while a parent had to step in when they got a bit rowdy, but Jackson had to give them credit for behaving and sticking close to Kyle.

The bar was hopping, and Jackson enjoyed the temporary breather from his spot behind the bar.

“Nice digs.”

Jackson ignored Matt.

His friend laughed. “Bernice dressed you, didn’t she? You could have ended up in something worse than a Hawks jersey. She could have made you wear one of those hideous bridesmaid dresses.”

Truthfully, Jackson couldn’t decide what outfit would have been worse. The jersey made him much too identifiable in the crowd, and he would have preferred to blend in. Everyone was supposed to see the merchandise, though, according to Bernice. He’d been fully prepared to argue with her about the jersey being overkill when Coach had come along, insisting he should be proud to wear it. Guilt trip all the way.

“He was playing you, you know?”

“I know.” Jackson picked Coach out in the crowd. He was sitting in a wheelchair at a table next to Matt and Hayley’s mother. Coach didn’t give a rat’s ass what Jackson wore. The old man just wanted to watch him squirm.

“How come he thinks you and Hayley are a real couple?”

Jackson shrugged. “People talk.”

That apparently wasn’t gonna flying with Matt. “Why did you guys let him believe that?”

“He was going to cut off Jackson’s pecker.”

They both turned at the sound of the voice.

Nurse Trudy pushed her empty glass toward them. “Refill of Bromance Ale, please.”

Jackson gaped, unsure whether he should ask her what the hell she was talking about, or protect his groin.

Matt refilled the glass, waiting until the nurse returned to Coach’s table. “What was that about?”

“I have no idea.” And frankly he had the feeling he was better off not knowing.

“Gramps couldn’t figure out why Hayley was fine with you being in the auction, so he gave her two hundred dollars to make sure she wins you.”

“He did what?”

Matt nodded. “Pulled it from under the mattress in his hospital room.” Matt filled another drink and turned back to him. “You nervous?”

“Nope.”

“Then why have you been drying that glass for three full minutes?”

He countered that with another question. “Why would I be nervous?”

“Maybe you’re worried she won’t show.” Matt frowned, looking a little stunned by the possibility he might be right.

Jackson shrugged. “She’s my cover, right?”

“Sure she’s not more than that?”

Setting aside the glass before Matt made any more assumptions about what it meant, he wiped at the counter. “It’s not… We’re not serious like that.”

Matt folded his arms like he was settling in to be convinced. More than a little disconcerted, Jackson opted to say nothing. It would be better than dismissing the whole thing and come off sounding like a dick and angering his friend.

That made way more sense than allowing himself to wonder if there was anything to what Matt said, and whether or not he was the one who had ended up a little over his head.

“Our next bachelor is Matt Stone.” Bernice’s voice carried above the crowd, and Jackson nearly sighed in relief.

Matt clapped him on the back. “Whatever is going on, just know that I love you, bro. But if you break my sister’s heart I’m going break your legs. And cut off your pecker.” Grinning, he hopped over the bar and was swallowed by the crowd.

Jackson poured drinks, ignoring the nervous tension spinning figure eights in his stomach as the bidding on Matt started. Everyone had turned away from the bar to watch the two women caught up in a bidding war for Matt.

Six hundred dollars later, Matt went to the petite brunette Jackson remembered from the wedding reception.

And that wasn’t good because that meant Jackson was next, and Hayley still hadn’t arrived.





“Dressed to kill, Stone.”

Hayley grinned at Gauthier’s comment, laughing when the lemon doughnut he was eating squirted a glob of yellow jelly down the front of the detective’s shirt. He scooped it up on his finger and shoved it in his mouth, then motioned for her to spin.

She rolled her eyes but accommodated the simple request, enjoying the breezy feeling of the cotton summer dress flowing around her knees. The snug black and white material hugged her from breasts to hips, then dropped in flattering waves. She’d only worn it once before and was glad she’d discovered it at the back of the closet at her apartment.

“Aren’t you supposed to be at the benefit?”

“Just running a little late.” Not unheard of when she mixed work with renovations. She’d lost track of time while painting her nan’s sewing room, preferring to do that room herself.

She grabbed her forgotten cell phone off her desk, and when she turned back around, Gauthier was already walking away, probably heading for the bathroom to clean his shirt off.

“Hayley,” the rookie from the other night walked toward her, a couple in their midforties trailing close behind. “Could you show this couple down the hall? I’m going to send Gauthier in to talk to them. Our favorite felon struck again.”

“May I?” She took the file he held out, skimming the preliminary notes on the break-in at their rented condo and reported loss of nearly two thousand dollars in cash. Clearly not credit card or travelers check people. She noted the address, putting it in a more upscale tourist area that their thief hadn’t ventured into before now.

Resisting the urge to volunteer to interview them in more depth herself, she motioned for them to precede her down the hall. “Detective Gauthier will be right with you.”

“Aren’t you the cop who—”

Hayley inwardly braced for “…is dating that hockey player.”

“—chased down the burglar a couple nights ago?” The woman pointed to the stitches at Hayley’s hairline.

Relieved that their recognition had nothing to do with Jackson, she nodded. Maybe she had gotten too caught up in what people thought, forgetting her work spoke for itself.

“I think we should talk to you instead.”

Hayley glanced at her watch, knowing she was going to be cutting it awfully close. “No problem.”

She led them into the small conference room, making a few additional notes and trying to figure out why the couple appeared familiar. At first she thought maybe they’d been in town for the wedding, but a memory of seeing them with Eric at Stone’s earlier this week solved the mystery.

Forty-five minutes later Hayley hurried up the steps to Stone’s. Finding a spot had been impossible, forcing her to park a few blocks down.

She walked right into a wall of people standing around. Apologizing, she squeezed past them just as she spotted Jackson on the makeshift stage where the dance floor normally was.

She grinned, her smile falling almost just as quickly as the auctioneer she couldn’t see announced, “Sold!”