LOVE AUCTION (Rules of Love Book 2)
“Hey girls, anyone up for a little date auction?”
Rayvn Whittaker spun around at the counter. Her boring inventory checklist was completely forgotten at the sight of the beautiful woman who had come in bearing posters. Nina Rempel worked at her husband’s tattoo shop just down the block. Rayvn knew Nina because she’d staged their new shop entirely with antiques from her little store. Her business partners and best friends, Charlotte and Laney, had been thrilled at the sales that month. Since then, Nina popped in on lunch breaks or when she could spare a minute, to check things out. She was a good client, always sweet and kind and in search of new pieces. Even when she didn’t find what she was looking for, she usually bought something anyway; a jar of jam, some fair-trade coffee, a shirt or two.
“A date auction?” Rayvn’s attention was completely captivated. She stared hard at the poster that Nina produced.
“Yup. A date auction. We have ten hot men going up for auction and some great door prizes and a dinner and dessert to die for. I got this guy who gets tattooed at the shop to agree to provide the entertainment during dinner. He actually is a musician, a pianist. His playing is insane. He agreed to donate his time.”
“Wow. I’ve never heard of a date auction. One second, let me get Charlotte and Laney.”
Both her friends were in the back working on antique pieces. Laney had just been out on a pick of her own and was putting the final touches on an ancient hutch she’d revived. Charlotte was working on an old sewing machine she was converting into a sink.
Rayvn’s best friends never ceased to amaze her. They had been friends since high school, ever since their old souls and common interests united and they were there for her through all her personal crap as well. One marriage and one divorce later, they were still her friends. They’d walked with her through every step of the way. Most people couldn’t work with friends or family, but she found herself beyond blessed. It was because of Laney and Charlotte that she got to live her dream. They’d pooled their funds, bought an old brick building downtown and converted it into a haven for antiques, refinished furniture and fair trade, handmade, hand grown finds.
“You guys are never going to believe this.” Rayvn tried to stop grinning like a fool, but she couldn’t help herself. “Nina Rempel just came into the store. She brought a poster for us. For a date auction.”
“Ooohhh!” Laney’s eyes lit up. She had fiery orange hair that was nearly waist length, the palest of skin and a smattering of freckles. She was so tiny and waif-like that she almost looked like a wood nymph with all that flowing, flaming red hair.
“A date auction?” Charlotte frowned. “I doubt Ben would let me go to that.”
“You don’t have to bid! There’s a supper and everything too!” Rayvn rolled her eyes. “Ben would be happy to come along. Unlike my ex-husband, he is the best man anyone could ask for. I’m sure it’s for a good cause.”
Charlotte laughed softly. She was shorter, just past five feet tall and tended to be a little on the curvy side. She hated that about herself, but her fiancé loved and supported her. Ben really was a gem. If only Alex could have been more like him, maybe Rayvn’s marriage would have lasted more than a couple of years. As it was, she was glad she’d got out when she did. At least she still had some life left to salvage.
“Are you actually considering it?” Laney set down her brush. She reached back and swiped a handful of hair behind her ears, leaving red paint streaks all through it.
Rayvn smiled softly. “I have no idea. I thought maybe we could go hear what Nina has to say. She’s been a good customer. She and her husband.”
“That’s right. They have the tattoo place.” Laney frowned, which she tended to do when she was thinking hard. “Sorry. I’ve been inhaling paint fumes for hours. It’s stunted my brain.”
“Oh my lord,” Charlotte muttered. She was smiling though, her blue eyes twinkling. She too pushed strands of blonde hair off her forehead. “It’s too hot back here to be working anyway. Whoever thought of building something in Houston without central air should be shot.”
“The guy is coming at the end of the month. I booked him as soon as I could.” They’d all been saving money for the day their ancient building could finally get the long-awaited air conditioning.
“Thank goodness. It can’t come soon enough. Having the back door open might prevent the fumes from becoming way too high back here, but it does nothing about the heat.”
“Right. Okay, are you guys coming or not? Nina is out there waiting.”
“Yup, I’m in. I don’t even have to hear about it. A date auction! It sounds so romantic.”
“In a sick, twisted, pay to go out with someone kind of way,” Charlotte quipped. She tittered away to herself even though she seemed to be against the idea.
“Well some of us are single and hopeless,” Laney shot back. “I haven’t been on a date in over a year. I would damn well pay for one right about now.” Her eyes swiveled to Rayvn’s face. “Neither has Rayvn! She hasn’t been out with anyone since she got rid of that trash- err- got a divorce I mean.”
Rayvn rolled her eyes. “Now, now. It’s bad to speak ill of the… oh wait. That’s the wrong saying. Unless the marriage is dead. I guess that counts.”
She smiled to cover up the pain she felt whenever she thought about Alex. No, not about Alex. About the events that brought their marriage to an end. It was simple, really. They’d met when she was twenty. Got married at twenty-one. They found out they were expecting a baby a year later. It had been a surprise. Alex wasn’t on board. She thought he’d come around, but when she lost the baby at eight months, she’d been alone in her grief. Alex’s stone-cold heart and the way he’d refused to stand by her, the things he’d said… how he’d refused to hold his daughter before she was taken from them forever… after that Rayvn knew she couldn’t be with him. She’d gone right from the hospital to the house, packed her things and left. She’d hired a lawyer the next day.
“Are we going?” Laney arched one red brow. Her emerald eyes scanned Rayvn carefully, as though looking for all the pain Rayvn hid away. She probably sensed it, but both her friends knew that she was so endlessly tired of talking about grief and loss. They steered around it because she wanted them to, not because they didn’t care for her.
“Yeah. Let’s go. Let’s go hear all about it. I think the idea is kind of silly, but it got my attention. It could be good. She says there’s a good piano player at any rate.”
“Ooooh,” Laney exclaimed again. “Do you think he’s single?”
“I doubt he’s on the auction block.”
“Maybe if you hurry and finish that hutch there, you’ll have enough money to buy a date.” Charlotte grinned and rolled her eyes at the same time.
“I think there are worse things in the world than a night out for a good cause,” Rayvn insisted. “Like, way worse things. Nina says there’s dinner including dessert and piano music and for that, I’m in. Laney’s right. I haven’t been on a date in a long time. I would be honored to take you two as my dates. And maybe Ben. If he wants to come.”
“He’ll come,” Charlotte assured them. She flushed prettily. It was something she always did when she thought real hard about Ben. It was utterly charming and entirely sickening at the same time.
“Maybe you’ll find someone there,” Laney said dreamily.
“Doubtful,” Rayvn said sarcastically. “But I’ll have you girls and you are all I need.”
“No offense, sweetheart, but you don’t fill up the lonely nights.”
“I could.” Rayvn feigned hurt. “How many times over the years have the three of us watched a movie all in the same bed and cuddled together… come on. That has to count for something.”
“You know what I mean. I’m tired of being single. I’ll go, even if I have to pay for a date.”
“That’s settled then,” Charlotte laughed. “Better go tell Nina we’ll take three tickets and we’ll hang the poster up. Laney wants to go and that’s that.”
“That’s that,” Rayvn echoed.
She followed her friends back up to the front slowly, trailing behind. She wasn’t sure why, but she already had an unsettled feeling about the whole idea, even though she was the one who had pretty much insisted on it. It’s for a good cause. She’d just keep telling herself that.