The music stopped and a man with a sweeping mustache clapped his hands and yelled in a leather-lunged voice, “Time to change partners, folks!”
Shuffling feet and swirling skirts followed the command as everyone rushed around to partner up with someone new. It took some fancy footwork on Brett’s part to reach Kate’s side before anyone else did. He only hoped that Foster played his part the way they’d practiced.
“May I?” he asked, holding out his hand.
Kate hesitated. Her big blue eyes said yes, but something held her back. No doubt she was worried that Foster’s jealous streak would flare up and he would make a scene.
Brett cleared his throat. Come on Foster. This is your big moment. Do it the way we practiced. It took much in the way of visual prodding and clearing of his throat before Foster finally got the hint.
“Sure, go ahead,” he said, looking like he’d bit into a lemon. It wasn’t how they’d practice it, but at least Foster got some of it right.
Leading Kate away, Brett glanced over his shoulder at Foster. “Whistle,” he mouthed. Instead of showing his jealousy or acting it out, Foster was supposed to whistle. If his tuneless whistles didn’t chase the green-eyed monster away, nothing would.
Facing Kate, it suddenly seemed imperative to recall his purpose in asking her to dance. It was the only way he could think to prove to her that Foster had conquered his jealousy or, at least, was trying to.
Brett slipped his arm around her tiny waist and closed his fingers over her dainty soft hand. She draped her arm over his shoulder and rewarded him with a brilliant smile that made him tingle inside.
Though he was a good head taller than Kate, they seemed perfectly matched as he circled the dance floor effortlessly with her in his arms. His heart pounded, but fortunately the music muffled the sound. So, this was how it felt to float on air.
Brett could almost feel Foster’s visual daggers as he steered Kate around the other couples. Foster’s pursed lips and red face suggested he was whistling up a storm, and the strange looks directed his way seemed to confirm it. Hoping Kate hadn’t noticed, he led her in such a way as to block Foster from view.
“I’m surprised Frank didn’t object to me dancing with you,” she said. “He doesn’t usually like me dancing with anyone but him. He can be so jealous at time.”
Brett gazed into her starry eyes. If she didn’t stop looking so utterly fetching, he’d give Foster plenty to be jealous about.
Now was the time to say something positive on Foster’s behalf, but he couldn’t think much past the present moment.
“As a young child, he was bounced from family to family,” she continued, relieving him of having to jump to Foster’s defense. “He never had a real home until he came here to Haywire. And even then, he grew up without a mother. Mr. Foster didn’t remarry until Frank was in his late teens.” Her eyes softened into pools of appeal. “A background like that would make anyone feel anxious. That’s why he’s…”
“Afraid of losing you?”
She moistened her lips, calling attention to her pretty pink mouth. “Something like that.”
Catching himself staring, Brett cleared this throat and gazed over her head. He forced himself to concentrate on the fiddler, the refreshment table, the other dancers. Anything to keep from drowning in the depth of her blue eyes.
“Horehound will help,” she said. “Or perhaps you’d prefer peppermint? For your throat, I mean.”
His gaze locked with hers. “My throat?”
“I noticed back there, that you kept clearing your throat and coughing.”
“Oh, that. Yes, you’re right. Maybe some…hard candy would help.”
She smiled up at him. “You can pick up a bag when you stop by the shop tomorrow for the list.”
His mind went blank for a moment until he recalled the list of customers she’d promised him. “I’d be much obliged.” He spun her around and then pulled her back. Holding her close, he felt her stiffen in his arms.
“Something the matter?” he asked.
“It’s Frank,” she said. “Look! He’s all red in the face.”
Brett followed her gaze. Foster’s overwrought whistling had turned his face as red as an overripe tomato.
Her face lined with worry, she pulled away. “I better see what’s wrong.”
Before he could stop her, she rushed to Foster’s side, whose arms, Brett told himself, she belonged. Not a thing was wrong with his throat, but he sure in blazes was worried about the condition of his heart.