Going once! Going twice! SOLD—to the luckiest woman in the room! Or rather, to her generous neighbor who insists you can’t put a price on love.
“I’m sorry to slow you down, dear. You must be anxious to get inside! I know how much work you put into tonight’s auction,” Mrs. Martin said as Cleo Bradbury took her elbow and helped her out of the car.
“Don’t be silly, Mrs. Martin,” Cleo said, and she meant it. She couldn’t imagine the evening without her sweet elderly neighbor. The singles auction had actually been Mrs. Martin’s idea.
A few months ago, Cleo had come home from her Young Professionals meeting in a frantic state. The committee had put her in charge of the upcoming fundraiser—a gesture both flattering and overwhelming. Cleo had never organized a fundraiser before. Because she was new in town, she had few connections, nowhere to start, and no idea what she was going to do!
The older woman greeted her in the hallway with a smile.
“The cat’s been fusing all evening,” she informed Cleo. “I don’t think he likes it when you go away. He was quite frazzled!”
Then, noticing the concern in Cleo’s eyes, she said,
“And it looks like you’re frazzled, too! How about a nice cup of tea? We’ll talk about what’s bothering you and you’ll feel much better.”
Cleo couldn’t say “no” to Mrs. Martin. She had never met such a kind lady. Kind and spunky! When Mrs. Martin suggested the fundraiser be a singles auction, Cleo laughed out loud with disbelief. Then she thought about it and realized it was a wonderful idea.
“Think of it!” Mrs. Martin mused as she cleared away their empty tea cups. “You could auction off the young people in your organization—all those handsome men and pretty girls! It would be a great success! And who knows? Maybe you’d find someone for yourself, dear.”
On the night of the auction, as they hurried into the hotel ballroom, Cleo hoped the event would be as successful as Mrs. Martin predicted—in more ways than one.
By mid-evening, the auction was off to a strong start. Audience and auction block alike seemed to be having a good time. Men and women of all ages clapped and cheered when the volunteers were auctioned off. From where she stood backstage, Cleo could see Mrs. Martin just beyond the edge of the curtain. When their eyes met, the older woman gave her a “thumbs-up” and winked. Cleo could only laugh. Mrs. Martin was a woman full of surprises.
“Quite a show you put together,” a voice close to her ear said.
Speaking of surprises!
Cleo turned in the direction of the voice and caught her breath. She had seen this man before at one or two of the Young Professionals meetings, but they had barely spoken. She knew only that he was an entrepreneur—the owner of a successful chain of local bookstores. Of course, she also knew that he was tall with a ready smile, friendly eyes, and dimples that could stop traffic—
“I think it’s going very well,” she agreed. And what a relief!
“Are you up on the block tonight?” the man wanted to know.
Cleo smiled and shook her head.
“No, not me. I think it would get tricky to run the event from stage while people bid on me,” she told him.
“That’s too bad.”
They looked at each other for a long moment, during which Cleo’s heart actually skipped a beat.
“I’m sorry, but I never caught your name,” she said at last. Having been single and looking for a long time, she had learned not to let opportunities like this pass her by.
“It’s Jack,” he told her.
Just as he said it, Cleo heard the auctioneer’s voice say the same name over the loudspeaker.
“That’s my cue,” he told her, and brushed passed her onto the stage.
“Jack,” Cleo repeated to herself.
What a catch! She suspected the bidding war would be fierce. And to think, some lucky lady was about to win an evening of his company. Cleo was still glad she wasn’t on the auction block—but she had to admit she wouldn’t mind a chance behind the paddle! This thought made her smile as she was pulled away from stage to settle the bill with the caterer.
“Well, Mrs. Martin, what did you think?” Cleo asked when the auction was over and everyone was mingling in the ballroom.
“It went off without a hitch, dear. And it was so much fun!” Mrs. Martin raved. “I haven’t laughed so hard in years. I’ve been trying to think of a way to thank you for showing an old lady such a good time.”
“You don’t have to thank me, Mrs. Martin! I should thank you,” Cleo insisted. “Don’t forget this was your idea!”
“Your idea, Mrs. Martin?” a masculine voice cut in, and suddenly Jack was standing at Cleo’s side. “Why am I not surprised?”
“Do you two know each other?” Cleo asked, confused.
“We met briefly,” was Jack’s vague reply, smiling that ready smile at Mrs. Martin. “This lady is a ruthless competitor!”
“Ruthless?” Cleo asked, taken aback. She never would have thought she’d hear the word “ruthless” in the same sentence as her kind neighbor’s name!
“That’s right, dear. I bid on Jack. It came right down to the wire, but I won him in the end! And he was well worth the fight. Remember when I said I wanted to thank you for such a lovely evening? Well, what better way to say it than with dimples like this fellow’s?”
Cleo laughed, feeling a blush rise in her cheeks.
“Mrs. Martin, are you saying you bought me a date?”
“Of course not, dear! I don’t believe it’s possible to put a price on love. Just think of it as an evening in the company of a true gentleman. Jack has promised to have you home early.”
When Jack and Cleo exchanged glances of amusement, Mrs. Martin added, “For the cat, dear!”
They all laughed.
When the evening drew to a close, Jack walked Cleo and Mrs. Martin to the car. Before bidding them goodnight, he exchanged phone numbers with Cleo and promised Mrs. Martin he would call her neighbor very soon. As they drove back to the apartment building, Mrs. Martin confessed that she thought Jack was a steal in more ways than one.
“That young man is worth a lot more than what he sold for at the auction tonight,” she declared.
Cleo glanced at the older woman and smiled.
“And what exactly did he sell for, Mrs. Martin?” she wanted to know.
“Now I couldn’t tell you that! It would be in poor taste. But I can tell you this—he was worth every penny.”
Cleo couldn’t have agreed more—no matter what the price!