Cobb (Lighthouse Security Investigations #9) - Maryann Jordan


In many ways, the gala was similar to other black-tie events that Cobb had attended over the years. The men were in tuxes, most of them designer labels that had been tailored to a perfect fit. The women were in swirls of elegant evening wear, their gowns complemented to perfection with the jewels they wore about their necks and wrists, hanging from their ears, and adorning their fingers. Most of the attendees were middle-aged or older, but as the wealth distribution in New Mexico had shifted over the years, younger affluent people mingled in the crowd. After all, the invitations had been sent to persons who had the social standing and money to not only attend but also be willing to make large donations to the charities represented.

A string quartet sat on a small balcony, the delicate notes drifting in the background over the gathering, neither drowning the noise of people chatting nor too soft so the musical entertainment couldn’t be enjoyed. A few couples swayed to the music while others smiled with indulgence as they continued to converse.

A long table was against one wall holding silver warming trays as the waitstaff, wearing the requisite white shirt and black pants, stood nearby to assist guests as they placed the hors d’oeuvres and delicacies onto the small crystal plates. Other servers moved unobtrusively among the gathering, balancing trays filled with champagne flutes and more hors d’oeuvres. More staff glided around the room, whisking away the empty plates to ensure the invitees weren’t standing with a half-eaten cheese and salmon puff ruining the effect of their appearance.

His gaze continued about the room, and he stifled the snort ready to erupt. The venue was massive, the main room reaching over forty feet, although there were plenty of shadowed nooks and crannies as pathways meandered throughout. He could honestly say that despite the similarities, he’d never been to a gala quite like this. Unlike most black-tie events, the room was not brilliantly lit. There were no crystal chandeliers dangling from the ceiling. Instead, bones were suspended from wires hanging from the dark, cavernous ceiling. Ancient bones. Prehistoric bones. Bones that had been meticulously connected in an intricate puzzle, creating a whole from the many parts.

Dinosaur bones.

And instead of expensive floral arrangements in glass and silver vases on marble pedestals, the guests wandered through the multiple exhibits filled with dirt, palm trees, large ferns, and more massive dinosaur skeletons.

It seemed a curious place, but in the back corner, tucked under a twenty-foot-tall Tyrannosaurus Rex, was the open bar, making sure the guests were well-lubricated, hopefully encouraging them to open their pockets when it came time to make donations to the local charities.

Cobb remembered the first black-tie event his parents allowed him to attend when he was sixteen years old. Of course, if it had been held here, he would’ve loved it. Instead, that event, like so many of the others his parents attended throughout the years, was held in an expensive ballroom. He’d been excited, feeling like a man, only to have been sorely disappointed when he discovered the gala was filled with adults and the only other young people were the college-aged servers. At least there had been the one dark-haired beauty that caught his eye. While she wouldn’t risk getting fired by openly flirting, he’d followed her subtle invitation and met her down the hall and inside one of the coat closets. That alone made it one of the more memorable galas.

As soon as he’d joined the military, he’d left his parents’ world behind to serve in places that would never know such luxuries and served with men and women who didn’t give a fuck about crystal goblets, brie pastry, and foie gras.

Even though he was an attendee and probably expected to hobnob, he preferred standing to the side, his attentive gaze roaming about the darkened room. It was a habit born of many years of always looking for the unexpected.

Now, he watched the familiar greeting dance that always occurred at events like this. People who were meeting with good friends offered handshakes that included a pat on the shoulder for men and cheek kisses for the women. If someone was chatting with an acquaintance that could not improve their social standing, it involved a shorter handshake, no shoulder pat, and only air kisses for the women. If someone was approaching an acquaintance that they hoped would be beneficial either socially or financially, a hearty smile followed a robust handshake and a cheek kiss