Chapter Twenty-Three

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The burly security guards hustled May, Welkin, and Grant from the auction room, shepherding them with a steely stare and closing the doors behind them with a heavy thunk. Back in the grand foyer the crowd loitered, chatting and mingling a little longer before disappearing into the night. Grant straightened the sleeves of his jacket, muttering indignantly under his breath while May stood numb and motionless in the wake of their unceremonious denial.
"Grant, what just happened?" she asked, her voice tight with rising anxiety. "I thought you said Necar was expecting us."

"Yes, please tell me I didn't sit through that opulent spectacle for no reason." Welkin pulled a face, gazing around the room with unveiled disdain.

"She is," Grant growled through gritted teeth. "The pompous son of a bitch just has his head too far up his own ass to stop and listen." He peered through the crowd, which was moving like a flock funnelling slowly out of the room now. "We aren't leaving until we talk to her. Come on, I have an idea."

Grant lead the way, weaving carefully through the dense throng of guests. Their voices and Champagne-soaked laughter echoed around the vaulted ceiling, making May feel deaf to anything else. She followed at Welkin's heels, squeezing between people who unknowingly filled in the space behind the Star when they passed.

A heavy foot stepped down on the trailing hem of her gown. She jerked to a halt, afraid to try tugging the skirt free for fear it would backfire and she would wind up more exposed than she already was. May turned and found the offending foot belonged to an unsuspecting man with his back to her. Loud as it was, May had to tap on the man's shoulder to get his attention. When he turned, she pointed at the floor. He was quick to step aside, mouthing an apology before turning his booze-red face back to his conversation. Gathering her skirt, May looked up and discovered her friends were nowhere to be seen.

"Shit," she muttered, peering between the finely coiffed heads in front of her for any sign of Welkin's glossy blonde hair. "Where did they go?"

Rather than spotting her company, May's eyes met the dark gaze of the handsome stranger from the auction. Once again she found him watching her intently, sending a shiver of unease running up her spine. Before she could look away the man began winding his way through the crowd. He was making his way to her.

May's mind switched gears. She was in no mood to be fending off some creep.

Fucking Lety and this stupid dress, she thought bitterly as she surged ahead and wove around bodies in hopes of losing the man.

But finding Grant and Welkin was proving far more difficult than shaking her stalker. Every time she thought she was in the clear, the man's face would appear over someone's shoulder to her right or between the heads of two people behind her.

Alarm bells were sounding in her head now. There was something troubling about this man's persistence, and she wasn't keen on finding out what that something was.

May doubled back toward the auction room. Pushing passed the bodies she had already squeezed by once already – she had nearly been out of the room by the time she decided to turn around – May planned on finding one of the security guards and hovering at his side until the room emptied out. If she had been allowed to wear Welkin's arm cannon in she wouldn't need to hide like a kitten behind the bulk of some bulldog of a man, but she wasn't too proud to do whatever she needed to do to stay safe.

She broke from the back of the crowd, her high heels clicking on the hard tile and her eyes searching around for a security guard. But there was no one left at the back of the room, which was why no one noticed when a hand came from behind her and pressed firmly over her mouth while the body it belonged to shoved her into a dark empty hallway that branched from the foyer to the rest of the manor.

Panic punched its way up May's throat. She screamed against the palm over her lips and drove her sharp heel down, missing her assailant's ankle by a sliver. She lifted her foot to try again but was whirled around and backed up against the wall before she had the chance.

Just as she suspected, it was her stalker's face May found peering back at her through the shadows. He held a finger in front of his mouth before she could make a sound.

"I'm not going to hurt you, Miss Gardener. Madam Devereaux sent me to fetch you."
May shook her head, her thoughts tripping over themselves. At first she thought this man had nabbed the wrong person. The name Gardener didn't register in her panicked brain. But the name Devereaux caused her to pause. She blinked dumbly at the man, who took a step back and gestured down the hallway. "If you would just follow me–"

"Was that really necessary?" May hissed as her fear gave way to indignant anger.

"I'm sorry for frightening you." The man seemed unphased by her venom. "It was difficult to get you alone."

May tensed. "And why would you want to do that?"

"Madam Devereaux would prefer to speak with you in private."

"What about my friends?"

"Just you, ma'am."

"Right." May narrowed her eyes in suspicion. "How do I know you're not just some sketchy pervert?"

"I'm no rapist, if that's what you're implying." The man was so blunt about it that May's mouth dropped open in surprise. "Nor are you, well... you're not exactly my type, ma'am."

"Oh!" The way he emphasized ma'am told May all she needed to know. She huffed a quiet laugh. "For what it's worth, you're not mine either."

A hint of a smile played at the corner of the man's lips. "I'm glad we understand each other. Shall we?"

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