Sofia followed Mallory out the main entrance to the ballroom, into the corridor which led out to the Lobby. A tuxedoed man stood with his back to her in the middle of the Persian patterned industrial carpeting. Mallory cleared her throat and Silas turned around to face Sofia. In his evening wear, with his hair tied back, he seemed far more serious, far more dangerous than the shorts-and-tees shopkeeper she’d fallen for in Hampton.
The click of the ballroom doors closing behind her echoed behind her eyes, which threatened to spill over.
Silas spoke first. “You look beautiful.”
“You look different.” The first words that popped into her head.
His laugh was unchanged, but it dried up when she couldn’t muster an answering smile.
“Silas,” she croaked, “why are you here?”
“Because we need to talk,” he said simply, “and it only seemed fair to do it on your home turf.”
The familiar anger boiled up her spine. “We have nothing to talk about, and ambushing me where I work is hardly giving me home court advantage.”
The doors at the far end of the corridor opened, and a pair of tuxedoed men entered. Sofia knew from their posture and demeanor that they were part of Hermit’s detail. As they advanced, she realized one was Elliot.
Elliot wasn’t what he was without reason. He sensed the tension immediately. “Everything okay here, Ms. Buck?”
A giggle bubbled up. Of course he would retain his professional facade in front of a perceived threat. “I’m fine, Agent Winter. Thank you.”
Elliot took Silas’s measure, then waited a beat before nodding to his partner. The pair of agents continued into the ballroom. Silas watched, noticeably impressed.
“You’re acquainted with the Secret Service Agents here tonight?” He tilted his head. “You do run in exalted circles.”
She blew a breath out though her nose and bit back a sharp reply. “Agent Winter and I know each other personally.”
“I get it.” Silas spoke softly. “I handled it all badly. And you made your position clear when you gave your proxy to the lawyer in Portsmouth and went ahead with the sale. You called my bluff.”
Sofia could hear the speeches starting in the ballroom. “I have to be back in there.”
“You were always going to be the fourth partner.”
Her fury broke. “You manipulated me. It doesn’t matter what the motivation was. You trapped me into selling, you made me think you loved me, that we had something more than just a boardwalk flirtation. Goddamn it, Silas! You betrayed me, just like he did.”
She spun, shaking and dry-eyed, and pushed her way through the doors.