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Page 54 of Third Time's a Charm (Holland Springs 3)

The sound of music rushed over her, grabbing her attention.

She had no desire to join the crush of bodies, and Gabriel, ever the gentleman, didn’t pressure her to do so. Instead she absorbed the party, her joints becoming stiffer as the fear of discovery permeated her bones. People-the famous and notorious-laughed as they mingled with locals, made jokes and toasted each other with champagne.

The entire ballroom was macabre, decorated like a Regency period horror movie set. Fabric swaths of black and silver extended from the enormous chandelier in the middle to the edges of the ballroom. Dark corners flickered with ghostly apparitions. Paintings hung around the room changed from proper lords and ladies to rotting corpses. Zombie servers wove in and out of groups, carefully balancing trays of champagne and hors d’oeuvres on the tips of their sickly gray fingers.

“Is that who I think it is?” Gabriel’s brows shot up as a notorious politician and socialite ducked behind a cluster of potted plants.

She had the absurd notion to giggle. “Yes and over there, standing under the portrait of a rotting lady in purple, is—”

“The guy who played James Bond last year.”

“And over there…” Her line of vision collided with a familiar face.

Heath Ambrose, hometown star and major league baseball player, winked at her. He stood beside his brother, Luke, at the buffet table. Or maybe it was Logan. She couldn’t tell the twins apart from the back. Neither wore a costume. Instead they opted for black tuxes and half masks. Heath held his mask as he leaned back to check out a Marie Antoinette with mocha-colored skin and a flirtatious smile.

She thought she heard Gabriel growl and her eyes flew to his face. “What’s wrong?”

Gabriel nodded in Heath’s direction. “He’s been after Bella for years.”

“And?”

“She’s too good for him.” His indigo eyes grew hard. “Don’t tell me they belong together, because it’s not happening.”

“My lips are sealed,” she said with a little smile.

“That doesn’t make me feel any better.”

“You didn’t ask me to,” she reminded him.

Gabriel grunted, but she couldn’t blame him. He didn’t want his sister to get hurt or disappointed by a man not ready for a serious relationship. Too bad she didn’t have a big brother looking out for her. Then maybe she’d be…She’d be exactly as she was—alone.

“Heath’s actually a nice guy,” she said, earning a look of disbelief from Gabriel. “He would walk me to class in school and protect me from the ones who weren’t so nice.”

Unconvinced, Gabriel shook his head. “If he’s so great, then why didn’t the two of you ever date?”

She grinned. “Well, he did give me my first kiss, but do you really have to ask me that question?”

“You and Romanov done?” The question wasn’t meant to be prying. In fact, she knew Gabriel was concerned about her.

“We never started.” She searched the ballroom again, not wanting to be caught unaware. Sasha was here, lurking in the background. Or shadows like a very bad man.

Gabriel’s muscles tensed beneath her fingers as his ex and her husband appeared in the foyer. The couple didn’t notice them as they waved at obviously familiar faces and melted into the crowd.

“You weren’t meant to be together.”

“But we tried to be anyway.”

“Summer told you,” Rose said and then paused as a ripple of awareness shot through her. She began again, “She told you not to go looking for the spring.”

“Your sister says a lot of things. None of which are ever good ideas,” Gabriel muttered.

Turning to him, Rose said, “You don’t have to stay. I can do this on my own.” Hadn’t she always?

Gabriel gave her a tight smile. “I appreciate it, but I keep my word.”

“Not at the expense of you being uncomfortable. Although I could tell you who you should be dancing with tonight,” she teased, then the image of a woman kissing Gabriel came to mind, shocking Rose with its clarity.

Gabriel held up his hands. “I don’t want to know who I’m supposed to marry.”

“I thought you didn’t believe in my ‘powers’.” She blinked the image away. That woman wasn’t here tonight. She wouldn’t be caught dead in this place.

A dimple appeared in his cheek. “I don’t—especially on Halloween.”

Rose laughed quietly as they walked further into the ballroom. Despite her mask being firmly in place and only a handful of people knowing she was here, tension crept into her spine as the party-goers flickered their eyes over her. But no one said a word or even stopped to point at her.

“Looks like Romanov got a really good turnout. Wonder if he’d agree to hosting one of these for the Center? We could really use the money.” Gabriel stopped a waiter passing by with a tray of champagne and grabbed two glasses, handing one to her. “Thanks for being so understanding about Miguel.”

She backed against up against the wall and Gabriel followed her, his costume making her smile. There were holes in his clothes and small bread rolls were glued to them. As soon as he explained that he was a “holy roller” she’d burst out laughing. It had helped relieve the rapidly multiplying butterflies in her stomach. Unfortunately, pop rocks had taken their place, pinging around her insides and burning.

“It’s not your fault he ran away.”

Gabriel shrugged. “There’s always room for my improvement.”

“Changing what people think of you is hard. Sometimes, it’s impossible.” She flinched as Jason Everett sauntered by with a pretty date wearing butterfly wings and purple hair.

“Sometimes there’s nothing to change about yourself.” Gabriel handed her a glass. “Although, you could change the company you keep.”

Did everyone know she’d been played for a fool by Sasha? Or had Jason been running his mouth again. “You mean Alexander?”

“Speak of the devil,” Gabriel murmured and Rose followed his line of vision.

Sasha stood at the top of the staircase, surveying the ballroom like he owned the place. Dressed in all black, his golden hair a sharp contrast to the severity of his costume, he looked like a man bent on debauchery. The woman inside of her wanted to join him, but she quickly reminded her of exactly what type of man Sasha was. Of course that woman didn’t care.

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