Read an Excerpt
"Bugger off, sister dear," Bridget said, shaking her head. This time, her younger sister had lost her mind. "No way am I strutting on that stage to be auctioned off like a sheep, no matter how worthy your cause is." And it was a worthy cause. They all were.
"Or how eligible a bachelorette you are?"
"There is that," Bridget agreed.
"Or how badly you need a date?"
She scowled. "Hitting below the belt."
"But true," Mary countered. "Maybe if you actually had a date, you wouldn't spend all your money on batteries for your toys."
"I keep the battery economy going," Bridget defended. "Without me, hundreds of people would be out of work. Besides, I can find my own dates, thank you very much." She just didn't want a date, or ... well, that's what she told herself.
Mary narrowed her eyes. Bridget shuddered. That look had dragged her into more misadventures than she could count. Fortunately, she'd had many years to recognize the tactic, and Bridget was a master at the art of the dodge.
"I'm in a bind, and unless you help out," Mary said dramatically, her blue eyes filling with tears, "the entire night will be a failure."
Bridget couldn't help herself. She laughed. "Nice try. No way could tonight be anything other than a great success. You've done an excellent job, like you always do." Impulsively, she kissed her younger sister on the cheek.
The charity auction hadn't officially started, and they already had to shout to be heard above the raucous crowd and energetic band.
Not another person could squeeze a primped and shaved body inside the doors of the I Heart That City bar. In honor of the event, the entire dining roomhad been made to resemble New York, with a nighttime cityscape painted on plywood boards and a Statue of Liberty off to one side. Some patrons were even sporting goofy green Lady Liberty head wear.
Tonight, in the unseasonable early spring heat, glitz and glitter had replaced the casual blue jeans. Richmond's movers and shakers had replaced tourists and regulars. Energy buzzed in the air, like something electric.
A news crew jostled itself into position near the newly built stage, in the long shadow of Lady Liberty herself. A society reporter scribbled notes and smiled like a politician angling for office, and a food critic had taken advantage of her position by ordering the most expensive prime-cut steak on the menu. And everyone in attendance was thirsty.
"I'll write you a check," Bridget promised. "A big one." She'd write one for all the tips she received in a month. Here she was again, making silent bargains with God to get out of another of her sister's schemes.
"We need you," Mary said. "With you up there, we'll get a check that's for a whole lot more money than you'll ever donate."
"I doubt that. For the love of God, who's going to bid on a waitress?"
"Plenty of men like you." She smiled. "Please?"
Bridget looked at her little sis. As a child, Mary had brought home every stray dog and cat she'd found. She would cry at the store if she saw a stuffed animal that was missing an eye or an ear. The tears would only stop if their parents relented and bought it for her. All of them still indulged her tender heart and cause du jour, but enough was enough.
Bridget hated to be the center of attention. She wanted her private life kept private. Besides, she wasn't sure she could stand the humiliation of knowing she'd fetched less money than anyone else. How could she compare to the beauty queens and cheerleaders? "The answer's a definite, positive no."
"Drinks are up!" Joel shouted from behind the bar.
Somehow, Mary had even managed to talk Joel into donating the space for tonight's fund-raiser. Mary could twist nearly anyone around her little finger, but tonight, not her older sister.
"The children need you, Bridey," Mary said.
As a child, Mary had been unable to pronounce Bridget, so she'd called her older sister Bridey. Mary still used the childhood name when she was trying to drag Bridget into another of her wild schemes.
"Bridget!" Joel shouted. "A little help, please?"
Poor guy made a sound that was somewhere between exasperation and desperation.
"Coming!" She started to move away, but Mary grabbed her elbow.
"I need you since Carmen got sick."
Carmen Ortiz was not only a TV news weather reporter, she was hot, as famous for her short, tight skirts as she was her personality and meteorological skills. She was used to being in front of people, accustomed to the limelight. And people wanted to date her.
Bridget Kelly was famous for pouring a Guinness with a great head and fending off randy customers who wanted to pinch the butt she'd wiggled into a pair of tight jeans.
"For the last time, I am not getting on that stage to be auctioned off."
"How bad could it be? A guy makes a huge donation to Children First. You get a night out, he gets your company, and some deserving kid has a shot at a college education. Just think of it. A couple hours of your time and you can do all that good."
"No fekking way."
Mary pouted, a real, childlike pout, complete with turned-down lower lip. "If that's your final answer..."
"You'll make thousands," Bridget said. "Tens of thousands. And you won't need me to do it."
Bridget nearly did a jig on the way to collect her tray filled with good American beer, a few microbrews, and two pints of Guinness. All in all, she'd gotten away from Mary easily enough. She'd expected it to cost her at least two months' tips. Maybe Mary was softening.
"Your sister's something else," Joel said.
"I'm proud of her." Mary had organized this entire event from idea to invitation, and she had a knack for squeezing money out of even the tightest of Richmond's mavens.
Bridget made her rounds with the tray and collected more orders. Crown Royal, neat. A bottle of merlot. A pint of Guinness, from her native Ireland. A pitcher of Bud.
The band wound down, among a cacophonous roar of approval.
Then Mary, in her element, took the stage. The spotlight hit her. Her sequined gown seemed to ignite. Her blonde hair seemed alive.
Bridget could have laughed. She was as tall as her sister, but that's where the resemblance ended. Her own hair was fiery red, and her figure was a bit more ... voluptuous. She preferred jeans to gowns, cowboy boots to heels. How could Mary have even suggested Bridget get on the same stage?
Mary thanked everyone for coming, and then she introduced the emcee for the evening, Steven Walker, one of Richmond's most prominent bankers. Tall, with a baritone voice that made her think of sultry Caribbean summer nights, shoulders like a linebacker, skin the color of bittersweet chocolate, and a head shaved bald, he unfortunately made Bridget remember how long it had been since she'd had sex.
Mary was probably right. It was time for Bridget to start dating again. It had been at least half a year, maybe nine months since she'd had a screaming orgasm, well, one where her own hand wasn't involved.
Still, she'd had some quality time with her most recent indulgence, her Lelo vibrator. That didn't stop her from lusting after the sexy Steven Walker. Even though she'd orgasmed only a couple of hours ago, she suddenly craved another.
She hustled back to the bar, using the empty tray to fan herself.
Not that it helped.
Lately she'd spent way too much time watching and fantasizing and not enough participating.
She'd have to do something about that. Only trouble was, when she actually asked a guy for what she wanted, he generally freaked out. They were okay with the handcuffs. Most of them were okay with blindfolds. But when she asked for a spanking...
So how did she tell her sister she'd rather be alone than disappointed?
She turned in the drink order. "Hurry it up, Joel! Keep this crowd happy!" She turned her back to the bar, resting against it. From here, she had a view of the side of the stage. Her sister was there with a clipboard, and she was standing next to a young, nubile woman, barely dressed, her midriff bare. Steven introduced her as their first bachelorette--a cheerleader for the Atlanta Falcons.
The bidding for a date with her started at a thousand dollars and reached ten thousand in under a minute.
Everyone who placed a bid got a giggle and a wave.
"You say something?" Joel asked.
"If I were a man, I'd rather have a root canal than go out with her."
He grinned and shoved an unopened bottle of wine across the bar. "I can see the appeal."
She rolled her eyes. Barbara or Buffy or Missy--whatever her name was--even appealed to gay men.
She put a corkscrew in her apron pocket, grabbed three wineglasses, and headed back into the crowd.
Bidding ended at thirteen thousand and change. Bridget was pleased for her sister, but she thought the winning stockbroker could have made a better investment.
A Sunday at the Richmond International Raceway followed by dinner with a NASCAR driver went for nearly ten grand. A man won. The representative from the raceway looked less than pleased.
Bridget uncorked the wine at the customer's table and poured a small amount into a glass for one of the gentlemen to sample. He pretended to know more about tasting than he actually did; she pretended not to notice.
"And now," Steven said, "for our next eligible bachelorette..."
Her customer nodded his approval, and she started to fill all the glasses.
Steven began reading from a note card. "This date includes a weekend stay at a restored James River plantation. Get away from all the stress as you enjoy seclusion and luxury."
That sounded delightful, like something she would enjoy.
"Your bachelorette is a local favorite, and in fact, I'm told many of you here know her."
Curious, Bridget glanced up. There was no one standing next to her sister, waiting to go onstage.
"I'm willing to bid two thousand myself," Steven said. "Gentlemen, who will raise me five hundred for an evening with I Heart That City's very own Bridget Kelly?"
Her mouth fell open.
She met her sister's gaze. Mary grinned and blew her a kiss.
Then the spotlight scanned the crowd until the operator found her.
She stood there, frozen.
"Close your mouth," her customer said helpfully. "And give me the bottle of wine before you drop it." He pried the bottle from her fingers.
"Twenty-five hundred," came a voice from the back of the room. She looked around frantically, but she couldn't see who'd placed the bid.
"Let's get you up here," Steven said.
She shook her head.
"Don't be shy," he told her. "It's all for a good cause."
Bridget was going to kill her sister.
"Three thousand," Steven said from the stage.
A pity bid, she knew. Mary had probably put him up to it. Anything to raise money.
The people at her table started to clap and chant her name.
Someone was going to die.
"Go on, Bridget!"
She recognized Joel's voice. Cripes. Was he part of the conspiracy as well?
One of the good-natured guys at her table gave her a slight shove toward the stage. "You're cut off," she told them. "No more wine for you. Ever."
Other people--traitors--gave her gentle pushes. She heard one of the other waitresses shout, "I'll cover your tables."
Helplessly swept along, an usher helped her up the stairs to the stage.
Steven planted a kiss on her cheek. "You're a good sport," he whispered.
"No. I'm not." She stood there, blinded in the spotlight. She was aware of her too-tight jeans and her painted-on sweater. Strands of her hair had escaped from the confines of their clips and caused a riotous disarray around her face. All the other eligible bachelors and bachelorettes were dressed to kill. And she was dressed to wait tables.
Someone was going to die. Tonight.
"We're at three thousand for a date with Bridget. Who'll give me thirty-five?"
She strained to see who was calling out the bid, but in the glare of the lights, she was nearly blinded.
"Thank you," Steven said to a second bidder. "Forty-five, anyone?"
This was insane. She hadn't had a date in months, hadn't slept with anyone in even longer, and now men were willing to pay thousands of dollars to date her?
Steven dropped out at seven thousand, leaving two men, neither of whom she could see, competing against each other.
Unbelievably, the bidding ended at nine thousand dollars.
Nine thousand dollars for an evening with her? Who would be willing to lay out that cash for a date with a waitress?
The man in question stood. The spotlight hit him.
"No. No no no," she whispered.