Kat spun around when her cell phone rang, and the stiletto heel on her brand new shoes snapped, knocking her off-balance. She crashed down on the living room carpet with a loud thump, grunting out a string of vile curses. Her short, sparkly dress twisted around her hips as she scrambled to get up, and a few sequins fell off when she collided with the coffee table. The phone slid off the glass top, bounced twice, and hit the floor. She snatched it off the ground as the last bars of “Tank!” played, brought it to her ear, and winced as the missed call beep blasted her eardrum.
“Son of a bitch,” she muttered, and checked the caller ID to see who had caused her all this grief. Dean. It figured. Her eyebrows furrowed. She hadn’t expected to hear from him for another few days. He was supposed to be out somewhere swank tonight, spending a very expensive, very exclusive New Year’s Eve with his girlfriend, Marine. The more expensive, the better. Marine wouldn’t settle for anything less. And she would not be happy if she knew he was calling Kat in the middle of their date. There had to be something wrong.
She slipped off her broken shoes as she called him back, grimacing when she tossed them into the trash can. It was a damn tragedy to have to throw out a cute pair of shoes. This was not a positive omen for the evening.
“Hey, Kat,” he answered on the second ring, and the familiar sound of his deep voice made her smile. Dean had a way of always making her smile. He also had a way of getting under her skin and driving her crazy too, but right now it was good to hear his voice. She’d missed him a lot during the Christmas break.
“Hey, yourself.” She switched the phone to her other ear and pushed open her bedroom door. Going out tonight was probably a bad idea. She still didn’t understand why shewas beginning to regret letting Ron talk her into this ridiculous blind date. If there was any time left to back out, she would have. Well, maybe that wasn’t entirely true. She was kind of excited. Curious anyway. She’d been so stagnate lately. It was time to shake things up. “What’s going on?”
“Nothing. I just got back and I wanted to say hi.”
“Huh-huh,” she said, allowing him to hear the skepticism in her voice. This was not a “just say hi” call. Something was up. She could feel it. “I thought you’d be out with Marine by now.” She knelt down in front of her closet and pushed her half-unpacked suitcases aside. Her shoulders sagged as she peered into the dark, chaotic recesses. She was never going to find anything in there. Why had she never organized? Maybe that ought to be her New Year’s resolution. She dug around and pulled out a pair of red, patent leather Mary Jane’s, which she examined and promptly tossed aside. Definitely not right. “What are you guys doing tonight?”
He took a deep breath and exhaled. “Mari and I broke up.”
Kat sat back on her heels. That was news—and not the bad kind. The last time she’d seen them together, Marine had been clinging to Dean’s arm as hard as usual. Found someone with a bigger wallet, did she? formed on her lips, but she bit the words back. He knew exactly how she felt about Marine. He didn’t need to hear it right now. “What happened?”
She heard the phone shift and knew that he was raking his fingers through his thick, curly hair. It was what he did whenever he was upset. “It started out like it always does, you know? She bitched about my job, cried over all the money I was ‘losing’ by not going somewhere else, and then she got all twisted, went on this rampage about how we can’t get married if—”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa.” She shook her head so violently, her hair got caught on a button of the only business suit she owned. She winced as she pulled herself free, ripping out a fair amount of hair in the process. “Please don’t tell me you proposed to her?”
“What? No. But it’s what she wants.”
I’ll bet. Marine was no fool. She was entering her late twenties and while she was a working model, she wasn’t one of the elite. One day very soon she was going to be nothing more than an old face in a sea of younger, fresher faces. For women like Marine, marrying well became the next logical step. Dean was an excellent candidate. He was young, ambitious, an award-winning designer on the ground floor of a successful boutique web design and marketing firm. He’d already been headhunted a number of times by the corporate giants. If he ever decided to make a move, he’d be able to name his price. And, as an added bonus, he looked great in a suit. “I don’t understand. You broke up over that? You guys have had that fight a million times before.”
“Well, this time when she left, I didn’t stop her.” He paused. “I haven’t heard from her since.”
Good riddance, she almost said aloud. He deserved so much better. “When was this?”
“Tuesday.” She heard him sit down on his couch, the familiar creak of the springs in the background. “Right after the holiday dinner.”
Kat’s mouth dropped open. “Before Christmas? Dean, that was over a week ago! You’re just telling me now?”
She could feel him shrug, see his sheepish grin. “You were in California, and I only got back from Colorado last night. There was nothing you could do.”
She huffed in reply and dove back into the closet. There was probably something she should be saying, some comfort she should be offering, but he didn’t really sound all that upset, and a deep, mean, little part of her was glad Marine was gone. A deep, selfish little part of her actually rejoiced. “So, what happens now?”
He didn’t get a chance to answer because Kat yelped as a pile of boxes fell down around her head.
“Kat,” he called, his voice sharp with alarm. “Are you all right?”
She couldn’t help but smile. She knew without any doubt that he was on his feet, that he’d leapt up the moment she screamed, and was ready to jet over to her place to save her immediately. Sir Galahad had nothing on Dean. Sickening as it was, it never failed to strum a cord way back in the depths of her black, little heart. She wasn’t used to people wanting to care for her and every time he did, it left her feeling a bit unbalanced, yet oddly touched. But, no matter how sweet, it was the reason behind most of his problems. He was a sucker for a female in distress—or at least the ones who were convincingly in distress.
“I’m fine,” she said, pressing her palm against the side of her head where the corner of a box had struck. She supposed she should have been grateful there was no blood. A great, big river of blood gushing out of her head would only have made the night that much more awesome. “I’m trying to get ready for Ron and Alan’s party.”
“I didn’t think you were going.”
“I wasn’t.” She had intended to stay home and work, maybe have a glass of champagne alone at midnight, but then Ron approached her the day after the holiday dinner with his idea, and she had randomly said yes, surprising both him and herself. A sigh escaped her lips as her gaze touched the disarray spanning out into the center of her bedroom. She should have stuck with her original plan.