Part Q, in a continuing story from A to Z [link to the beginning]
Zoey followed Ferraro into his study, prepared to stand her ground, knowing she had done nothing wrong by letting Sam shoot traps. Both she and Benton had been there to supervise every second. The girl had not been exposed to any risk whatsoever.
Ferraro closed the door firmly behind them and went to stand behind his desk. “Sit.”
“I prefer to stand.”
His voice was quiet, full of command. “Sit. Down.”
Deciding it wasn’t important enough to warrant an argument, Zoey sat. Ferraro sat then as well and she waited while he studied her with those dark intense eyes of his.
She stared right back, refusing to be the first to look away.
“Where did you learn to shoot like that?” he asked, surprising her by leading with that rather than a reprimand.
“My father taught me,” she said, giving him the truth. But not all of it.
“Benton is a decorated marksman. He is not easily impressed.”
She didn’t know what to say to that, so said nothing. Just returned his steady look.
“Ms. Prescott. My niece has been sheltered, perhaps overly so since her parents died. She was sickly as a baby and is not used to strenuous activities. I’ll not have her health endangered.”
Endangered? Zoey stopped herself, barely, from flying into a rage. She also bit back her opinion about the absurdity of “sheltering” a perfectly healthy teenager. Physically stifling and emotionally crippling were more like it. Bad enough the poor kid needed bodyguards, she didn’t need everyone around her going into a panic if she dared to raise her head from her studies on occasion and venture into the world. Then again, how they chose to raise Sam was none of Zoey’s business. Even if she was coming to care for the girl.
“Sam was never in any danger today,” she said instead. “And in case you failed to notice, she had fun.”
Ferraro regarded her quietly before he spoke again. “I rarely fail to notice anything.”
Zoey felt a shiver of nerves. No, she imagined he didn’t.
He cleared his throat, changing the subject. “Speaking of my niece, there is a ball coming up presently and she will be allowed to attend.”
Zoey knew about this ball. Everyone knew about the famous Ferraro ball and its charity fundraiser, which had not been held in the two previous years. Not since the accident. He was hosting the darn thing this year, but she had somehow managed to forget it was happening soon.
“As you are in residence,” he continued, “you will be expected to attend as well.”
Oh, no. No way was she attending some fancy costume ball, especially not this one. Not as a freaking guest. “No. That is, no, thank you. I’d prefer not to.”
Ferraro waved a hand in dismissal. “Of course you will. Everyone does, the entire staff.”
Zoey shook her head adamantly, prepared to refuse again, but his next words stopped her.
“Samantha has never attended before. There will be a good deal of attention focused on her. I think she finds the prospect intimidating.”
Damn, Zoey was going to have a tough time getting around that. Maybe she could talk to Sam, build up her confidence, get her excited about it.
“If it were up to me, we wouldn’t–” he broke off. Obviously, this was not an easy topic. “The ball was special to my brother and his wife. It will be difficult, for all of us, and . . . I believe Samantha would appreciate your presence.”
Well hell. Zoey knew when she was defeated. She nodded, slowly, signaling her acceptance.
“There is a rather large room on the second floor, adjacent to the ballroom, filled with costumes from previous events. Clothes that belonged to–” he paused, “to Paul and Cerise. Most of which, I understand, have never been worn. You and Samantha are to choose whichever outfits suit you. Arrange with Mrs. Darby for any adjustments. Let her know if you need–” his glance briefly skimmed over her, “er, any other items.”
Good god, was the man blushing at the thought of undergarments? It might have been amusing, except Zoey suspected she was slightly flushed as well. In fact, as the reality of the situation began to sink in, she suddenly felt a bit clammy and ill at the thought of dressing for a fancy ball. She hadn’t worn a dress, any dress, since she was Sam’s age. Maybe younger.
Zoey Prescott didn’t do dress-up. Ever.
She honestly couldn’t decide which prospect made her feel more queasy: dressing up and appearing in public in a formal ball gown, or the knowledge that her entire team would be there to see it.
Q is for Queasy