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Veronica watched Valentina walk out to the podium from her hiding place at the back of the room. Thankfully, there was no stage set up as with the public and corporate auctions. The carpeted floor muffled her sister's footsteps when she walked slowly to the center of the low platform.
Being paraded in front of the assembled crowd was appalling enough. As soon as Valentina reached the spot for her viewing, Veronica noticed her mercenary sat up straighter in his chair, ostensibly to pay attention, but Veronica watched him for another reason. Now he knew Valentina hadn't visited him last night. The veil provided wasn't nearly sheer enough to shield her sister's face.
After getting a good long look at Valentina, he swiveled his head and stared directly at Veronica, still partially hidden in her corner behind a circular support column. His stern gaze drilled into her soul. If she were to be truly honest, his stare went straight to her moistening core as well.
The memory of the wickedly satisfying night before stabbed through her, and she felt the heat creep up her skin. He'd left a mark on her neck the night before that she'd had to hide for today's festivities.
The mercenary she'd hired scrutinized her from head to toe before his lips twitched into a smirk. He winked once. Veronica wanted to die. He knew she wasn't Valentina, and from his look, she had no idea what he might do next. She pleaded with him using her eyes as a messenger.
Her message: Please don't renege on our deal.
Tyler Blackthorn only had three rules, and she'd broken all of them. It was a miracle he'd shown up at all. That he didn't simply get up and walk out of the auction wasanother. Veronica fearfully played that scenario in her head. Would she have the courage to tackle him around the ankles and beg for his cooperation? She hoped she wouldn't have to put that to the test, because along with submitting, begging was another alien concept to her general outlook on life.
At the podium, the auctioneer leaned into the microphone. "I'd like to welcome everyone to the private auction today. Do I have a first bid from the audience for the lovely Miss Valentina Moorehouse?"
"I'll start the bidding at ten thousand dollars," Brant said. He turned to his best man Clyde with an expectant look because everyone in the room knew what would happen next.
Clyde chuckled. "I'll bid twelve thousand dollars for her, old friend. She's a very pretty girl."
Veronica rolled her eyes at the stupid playacting they did for private auctions. The high bid would win her sister as an immediate wife, but they always engaged in this stupid prearranged bidding game.
Brant put a hand on Clyde's shoulder as if he would hold him back from claiming his rightful bride. Oh, the fake drama of it all.
"I must have her, Clyde. I'm sorry, but I bid fifteen thousand dollars." Brant stood up and fixed his gaze on Valentina.
Veronica's sister swallowed hard. She searched through the room hoping for another contender. So did Veronica.
"The bid stands at fifteen thousand dollars for Valentina Moorehouse. Do I have any other bids?" The auctioneer smiled at Clyde who shook his head and shrugged his shoulders. "I guess I'll have to relinquish her to you, Brant."
Veronica wanted to write better material for the fake ceremony antics and abounding jocularity during these private auctions. The cheesy, crappy drivel provided by the foolish rich to amuse themselves during a life-changing event made her want to throw up.
Because Clyde was relinquishing Valentina to Brant, she concluded that fifteen thousand dollars must be the established amount set between her father and Brant's family.
Veronica stared at the back of Tyler's head and sent him mental waves, begging him not to fail her sister. She bit her tongue to quell her true feelings of wanting him for herself. But she wasn't in danger today. Valentina was.
Tyler remained silent. Veronica closed her eyes. She'd broken his final rule, and he wasn't going to bid.
The auctioneer held up his gavel. "If all the bids have been submitted--"
"I'll bid thirty thousand dollars," Tyler Blackthorn interrupted the auctioneer. Veronica's head snapped up, and an involuntary smile crept over her lips. Tyler, using every cent she possessed, uttered his bid in a calm rational tone.
The room stilled in surprise. An audible sigh escaped from Valentina.
Brant turned with an incredulous expression plastered on his over-confident face. "What?"
The auctioneer found his voice after a few seconds. "The bid is now at the prearranged maximum set by the family. Thirty thousand dollars to..." He looked down at a syntho-page resting on the podium listing today's participants. "Mr. Tyler Blackthorn."
Tyler rose from his chair in one fluid move and walked slowly down the central walkway to the front of the auction room to claim his bride. There was no sound in the room but his quiet footfalls on the aisle carpet.
"But ... you can't have her," Brant sputtered.
"I can if you don't match my bid," Tyler smugly informed him.
"The maximum is set at thirty thousand. All I can do is match your exorbitant bid and even then..." Brant trailed off when the implication became completely clear.
Veronica watched the information wash down Brant's silver-spoon-fed features. Brant finished his sentence in a hushed tone. "We'd have to fight for her."
The auctioneer cleared his throat. "Do you match Mr. Blackthorn's bid, Mr. Wilkes? If so, we'll move to the tie-breaking physical match. The two of you will fight for the lady, and the last man standing is the winner."