Authors: Erica Lucke Dean
Tags: #Romance - Humor - Banker - Atlanta
|Erica Lucke Dean - To Katie with Love|
|Erica Lucke Dean|
|Red Adept Publishing (2013)|
|Tags:||Romance - Humor - Banker - Atlanta|
Table of Contents
To Katie With Love
A Red Adept Publishing Book
Red Adept Publishing, LLC
104 Bugenfield Court
Garner, NC 27529
Copyright © 2013 by Erica Lucke Dean. All rights reserved.
First Kindle Edition: April 2013
Cover and Formatting:
This eBook is licensed for the personal enjoyment of the original purchaser only. This eBook may not be resold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you are reading this eBook and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Amazon.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to locales, events, business establishments, or actual persons—living or dead—is entirely coincidental.
Your faith in me has never once wavered, even when mine was hanging by a thread.
THE BIRTHDAY PARTY
ook around, Katie. Somewhere out there is the perfect man for you. You just need to take your nose out of a book long enough to find him.” Vicky’s crimson lips spread in a wide smile, and I resisted the urge to stick my tongue out at her.
“Oh, leave her alone,” Silvia said, peering at Vicky over her leopard-print reading glasses. “It might do
some good to read once in a while. I assume you know how.”
“Very funny.” Vicky rolled her eyes, tossing her flaming hair with a flourish. “You clearly didn’t notice the leaning tower of paperbacks on her nightstand. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many books in one place. They practically block the light coming in her bedroom window. And that—” She poked my arm with a lacquered fingernail. “—is bordering on pathetic. You’re just a few cats away from being a cliché.”
I opened my mouth to speak, but she cut me off.
, Katie, wouldn’t you rather have a flesh and blood man in your bed instead of a dusty old book? There are dozens of guys in here. Don’t you think at least one of them could drag you away from your stupid romance novels for a change? I’ll bet you’ve got a book stashed in your purse right now.” Vicky pointed at the bag I clutched in my lap. “Go ahead, Silvia. Prove me wrong.”
Silvia shook her head and chuckled. “I’m not going to dig through her purse.”
“There’s nothing wrong with reading romance novels,” I whispered, releasing the strangle hold on my bag to shove it behind my back against the booth.
“Oh, sweetie…” Silvia patted my hand. “Vicky isn’t saying there’s something wrong with reading romance novels.”
what I’m saying,” Vicky said, then took a long slurp of her frozen margarita. “And for the record, you don’t just
them. You read them again, and again, and
. Most of the books I saw were held together with tape. Do you ever get anything new, or do you keep reading the same ones over and over?”
“I get new ones… sometimes.”
Vicky had one thing right. I did have a book stashed in my bag, and I should have been home, tucked into bed with it. So what if I had a thing for romance novels? Okay, maybe
wasn’t a strong enough word. It didn’t quite define the entire scope of my relationship with the paperback romance.
would be more accurate.
But despite what my coworkers might think, I wasn’t some un-dateable old maid, spending her nights curled up with six cats while crocheting gaudy afghans in retro-seventies colors and sipping warm milk. I didn’t even own an
“If you ask me, you’re wasting the perfect opportunity to find Mr. Right,” Vicky chirped.
Mr. Right? A quick scan of the smoke-filled bar proved my point. Not a single guy in the place even remotely resembled the lead in my nightly fantasy. Okay, so it wasn’t a very big room, but like Vicky said, the place was packed with a wide assortment of men—like the guy with cheese dip down his front and his buddy, laughing hyena-man. As far as I was concerned, not a single one warranted a second glance, certainly not an invitation into my bedroom. Definitely no one worthy of butterflies in my stomach.
Vicky raised an eyebrow. “Well?”
“Well, he isn’t here now,” Silvia answered, and I could have kissed her. “Which reminds me, what happened to June and Phil?”
Vicky shrugged, slurping down another mouthful of her drink.
“Maybe they aren’t coming.” I was ready to slide out of the booth and make my escape. “We should probably just go.”
Silvia glared at me. “You’re not going anywhere. I’m sure they’re on their way. They wouldn’t dare skip your birthday party.”
Perfect. I was trapped.
“You know,” Vicky said, “you’re way too old to be single.”
My mother was fond of saying that very thing, far too often. But they were both wrong.
I’m still in my prime.
As a matter of fact, I don’t think I’ve even reached my prime yet.
I’m only twenty-eight years old.
“Happy birthday, Katie!”
The rest of my coworkers had finally arrived, honking plastic party horns and waving a heaping shot of Grand Marnier in my face. Just what every girl needs on her birthday—liquor. Twisting my lips to the side, I contemplated the drink placed in front of me.
Vicky picked up the shot and shoved it into my hand. “You
know you actually have to swallow to get drunk, right?”
I examined the glass filled with orange-colored liquid and shuddered. “You guys. You know I don’t drink.” A rush of heat spread across my face and down my throat as I remembered the last, disastrous time they’d talked me into drinking.
June smiled, her rich brown skin crinkling around her eyes. “Drink it.” As the permanent designated driver of our group, she lived vicariously through the rest of us.
“Oh, come on. You’re such a novice, James.” Phil, my branch manager—or BM as we liked to call him behind his back—made a point of never using my first name. He shook his bald head. “Just drink the damn thing.”
Holding my breath, I put the glass to my lips and, with another shudder, took a sip, the first of what I feared would be many.
By nine thirty, Silvia, June, and Vicky were flitting around the room, trying to convince Phil to sing karaoke. I sat alone at the table, wishing I was home with my imaginary cat and my fictional boyfriend.
“Aren’t you going to come watch Phil make a fool out of himself?” Silvia’s sudden reappearance startled me back to reality. Her highlighted, teased hair reminded me of one of her Yorkies.
“Uh…” I wasn’t about to stand elbow deep in strangers by the stage just to listen to our boss sing karaoke, especially not dressed in the
Hookers R Us
outfit Silvia had given me for my birthday, no matter how amusing that might be. I also didn’t want to be anywhere near there after the morbid dedication they just played. Who would dedicate a song to a murdered politician? And did they have to mention a dead guy on my birthday? That might very well be a jinx.
Well, at least I’m wearing black.
“Come on, Katie. It’ll be fun.”
Tugging at the tight leather skirt barely covering my thighs, I glanced down at my knee-high stiletto boots, remembering the way my legs wobbled dangerously when I walked in them. “No, I’m fine.” I flashed Silvia the best fake smile I could manage.
She frowned. “You aren’t going to find anyone worth checking out over here, sweetie. Trust me, Vicky already looked.”
Vicky leaned over the booth, her red hair only inches from my face. “There’s nobody worth bending over for, that’s for sure,” she said with a wink.
Silvia snorted. “We’ll be back in a few minutes.” Then she turned to Vicky, grabbing her by the elbow. “Come on. Let’s go watch Phil sing.”
I watched Silvia’s spiky caramel hair bob as she dragged Vicky away from the table and made her way through the crowd—shoving bodies out of her path with a perfectly manicured hand—and it occurred to me how much she reminded me of my mother. They were both a little bit scary. And like my mother, Silvia was forever trying to drum into my head how I would never find a real man as long as I kept pining for a character in a book.
Ironically, Silvia was the one who gave me the first three volumes in a series of vampire romance novels, introducing me to my fictional boyfriend… and my new favorite author—
. Like we were kindred spirits, the woman spoke to me, as if she’d poked through my fantasies and written them down. I’d already read every book of her
series cover to cover and back again so many times the pages were pulling loose.
What I wouldn’t give to jump back into volume five,
Blood of the First
, the one I’d tucked into my bag. Bright orange sticky notes peeked out from between the pages to mark my favorite sections, and I’d seriously considered pulling out my trusty highlighter from the desk drawer and highlighting a few really juicy parts. But at midnight, the time I was typically immersed in the story, I hardly felt like climbing out of bed to dig for a marker. And besides, that would be pathetic.
So instead, I’d memorized the page numbers.
I reread my favorite passages each night before slipping off to sleep, hoping Mr. Tall, Dark, and Handsome would visit my dreams. Sometimes, I imagined I was falling asleep in his arms.
My fantasy man was simply better than any real man I’d ever met. Romantic, mysterious, and did I mention hot? Sure, hot in print, but I had a really good imagination. Besides, real men all seemed to be interested in the same type: the cocaine-chic supermodel. But that definitely wasn’t me.
So what if my dream guy had a few drawbacks? Besides being completely one-dimensional, which was not much different than a lot of the real men I’ve dated, and a seven-hundred-year-old vampire with fangs—he was and always would be trapped inside the pages of a book.
But all men had their flaws.
“Oh my God! Did you hear Phil?” Vicky landed in the booth across from me, and I nearly jumped out of my skirt. “I laughed so hard I almost peed myself.”
“Oh, I’m pretty sure she
herself.” Silvia flashed a wicked grin as she slid in beside me.
Vicky pursed her lips and glowered at Silvia as she waved for the waitress. “How long does it take to get a drink in this place?”
June squeezed her plus-sized bottom into the booth beside Vicky. “He wasn’t so bad. I thought he was almost good. I believed he found paradise by the dashboard light. That was a Meatball song, right?”
“Meatloaf, June. Meat. Loaf,” Vicky said.
Meatball or Meatloaf, it didn’t really matter. I’d heard Phil sing. In fact, I was pretty sure all of Atlanta had heard Phil wailing up on stage. June was being too nice. But June was always too nice.
“James, did you drink my beer?” Phil shouted as he got closer to the table.
“Don’t be ridiculous. Katie would never drink beer, let alone
beer,” Silvia said. “You drank it before you went up there.”
“Did you find any hot guys in the five or so minutes we were gone?” Vicky asked me.
“Do you mean besides Phil and his Day-Glo golf pants?” I bit back a grin. “It’s not like I could’ve missed him coming from a mile away.”
“What’s wrong with my pants?” Phil laughed, and I practically got a contact high from his beer breath. “You don’t like green?”
“Don’t you listen to them, sweetie.” Silvia patted my hand. “I have a feeling you’re going to find a nice man very soon, someone with infinitely better taste than Phil, and a lot more hair.”
“Hey now, don’t hate. I have hair. I just choose to shave it off.”
“Because you’re essentially bald,” Silvia said, laughing.
I didn’t have to say anything. Silvia already knew the only
man I’d ever be interested in. And he was completely off limits.
So where did that leave me?
Smashed into a booth, three hundred sixty-five days away from the big three-oh, breathing in secondhand smoke and sucking down shots with the people who were nearest and dearest to me in the whole wide world… the people from work.
I had just one word for that. Pathetic.
The waitress came by with another round and handed me a shot I didn’t order. Perfect. Like I said, what more could a girl ask for on her birthday?
I pressed up against the wall of the booth and sipped from my second drink. The amber liquid warmed me all the way down, and I felt my inhibitions drifting away. Silvia gave me a thumbs-up, and I threw back the last swallow, eyeing the room once again. The place had gotten crowded, but I still didn’t see anyone worthy of a good stomach flip. I was, however, vaguely aware of my name being called over the speaker system.
I cringed as I heard, “… birthday girl, Katie James. Where are you, Katie?”
My friends started to cheer, and a beaming Silvia shook my arm. “That’s you! Get up. Go sing!”
. As my clapping and shouting coworkers nudged me out of the booth, I felt the color drain from my face and thought I might faint.
The simple fact was I loved to sing… when I was alone. I’d never sung in front of a crowd, certainly not at a karaoke bar. Yet, there I was, being propelled toward the stage by Silvia, the real manager in my office, title or no title.
I dragged myself forward, feeling more like I was headed to the guillotine than the stage, looking back to my table for moral support the entire way. They waved me on, cheering like a bunch of high school girls at a pep rally. Even Phil.
I spun around to watch where I was going, and a guy shoved a microphone in my hand. Next thing I knew, I was facing a crowd filled with semi-drunken college students and business bankers. Dozens of eyes stared at me, and I really wished I hadn’t worn the short skirt and form-fitting blouse Silvia had promised would make me look hot.
I was a banker, not a prostitute. I didn’t dress
. I dressed professionally—not
kind of professionally. Well, not usually, anyway. But on the night of my big birthday soiree, I was Silvia’s science project.
I stood in the wash of the spotlight, my heart slamming in my chest beneath the sheer black blouse. My insides did a mini flip as I started to sing the first line of the Etta James song.
Then I saw
step through the door—the most beautiful man I’d ever seen in all my twenty-nine years. He was the epitome of
—at least six-two if I was any judge—
—thick wavy hair, just long enough to run my fingers through—and
—with that sexy just-rolled-out-of-bed look that always made my heart race.
A serious ripple began to build in the pit of my stomach. I could only see him in profile, but he obviously hadn’t shaved that morning, maybe not the day before either. He could have stepped right out of one of my romance novels. I couldn’t have written him better myself.