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Authors: Erica Lucke Dean

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BOOK: Erica Lucke Dean - To Katie with Love
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I waited until the water stopped running before I opened the door. I almost ran to the sink to wash my hands, careful not to break the spout on the silver-plated soap dispenser, and debated as to whether I should use the impossibly perfect hand towel or simply wipe my wet hands on my blouse. I finally decided on the towel and spent almost a minute trying to shape it back into the same careful folds I’d found it in.

When I stepped back into the darkness of the room, he jumped up from the bed. “Better?”

I bit my lip, thankful he couldn’t see me blush in the dark. “Much. Thanks.”

“You must be tired. It’s after one. Can I get you anything? Some water maybe? You should probably hydrate yourself. It will help with the hangover later.” He moved to lean against the wall next to the bathroom doorway and fidgeted with the buttons on his shirt.

He fidgeted. Cooper Maxwell fidgeted?
It didn’t seem possible. I was the nervous one. I didn’t think I’d ever seen him so anxious. “You’re being very nice, but I should just call a cab so you can get some sleep. You shouldn’t have to babysit me.”

“I don’t mind,” he answered too quickly, flashing that high-voltage smile for just a half a second before reining it back in. “Besides, it’s late. Why don’t you just stay the night.” He said it more like a statement than a question. “You looked like you were rather enjoying the bed.”

“You have the nicest sheets. I’ll bet they feel amazing on bare skin.” The line had sounded innocent enough when I tested it out in my head, but as the words sputtered out of my mouth, I knew they hadn’t come out that way.

His eyebrows shot up, and he grinned. “Be my guest. I’d love to get your opinion on that.”

My mouth fell open. I stood there, gaping like some sort of fish, for an impossibly long minute while I pulled myself together. “Um… could I get that drink of water now?”

“Sure.” He laughed. “Be right back.”

He left me standing in the dark beside his bed while he disappeared into the adjacent sitting room. He came back in less than a minute with a cold bottle of water. He took off the cap and held out the bottle.

“Thank you,” I managed to whisper, infinitely aware of the fact that even in the dark, he could probably see the bright red blush burning my face. I could feel it. I practically glowed. I took a swig from the water, and then another, catching a drop with the back of my hand as it ran down my chin.

“The sheets really are magnificent against bare skin.” His smile wasn’t mocking but sweet.

“So… um… could you tell me how I ended up in your bed?”

A distinct flush colored Cooper’s cheeks. “I didn’t know where you lived, so I brought you home.”

“As drunk as I was, I’m surprised I was able to walk.”

He hesitated. “I had to carry you.”

“Oh.”

“May I?” He waited until I nodded before he reached out to touch the sheer fabric at my shoulder. “This can’t be very comfortable to sleep in. I’ll get you something of mine. Wait here.” He disappeared into what I had deemed the Chandelier Room with Adjoining Toilet—CRWAT for short.

I shifted my weight, leaning against the massive bed, unsure if I should sit or stand. “I don’t want to cause you any trouble. I’m fine, really,” I lied. I was extremely uncomfortable in the claustrophobic outfit Silvia had gotten me. I wanted to say how I had been dying to get out of it all evening, but I knew how that would sound, so I kept quiet and took a big sip of water.

He stepped back into the room and handed me a long-sleeved, white cotton T-shirt and a pair of gray sweat pants. “It’s no trouble at all. And while I certainly enjoyed seeing you in this—” He touched the sleeve of my blouse again. “—it doesn’t really suit you very well, does it?”

I laughed. “No, it certainly doesn’t. This was all Silvia. I can promise you that.” I took the clothes into the CRWAT and locked myself in to change. His shirt was too big, and the sweats were way too long. The sleeves fell past my hands, so I pushed them up my arms a little and tugged on the sweats to pull them up as far as possible. I had to roll the waist band over three times to keep from tripping on the bottoms. When I came out, he watched me with a look I couldn’t quite interpret, but it didn’t make me uncomfortable. The entire situation was awkward, but at the same time, I felt safe with Cooper.

“Silvia will be glad her outfit was a hit.” I flashed my most innocent smile and set my folded clothes on his nightstand.

“Remind me to thank her the next time I see her.” He grinned.

My legs turned to Jell-O. I took a step back to put a little distance between us and tripped over the leg of the sweatpants, shattering my fragile grasp on stability.

He stepped forward and grabbed me before I hit the carpet. “How do you manage to get through the day when you fall so much?” he whispered against my hair as he hauled me back to my feet.

I was instantly aware he hadn’t let go of me, despite the fact that I appeared to be standing again. He held me against his chest with his hand splayed lightly across my back, heat radiating through the thin cotton of my shirt. My heart hammered in my chest so loudly there was no question he could hear it and probably feel it too, given his close proximity.

“I-I’m just a little clumsy, I guess. Do you think I’m still drunk?” I could barely hear my own voice over the rushing in my ears.

But his grin told me he had no trouble hearing me. “Well, if you are, then I’m going to have to abandon my next thought. I would never take advantage of you that way.”

When did he get that grin? I’d seen it more times in one night than I had in the whole year I’d known him, and each time he flashed it, I was liquid mush. I couldn’t manage more than a raised eyebrow in response.

“I was going to kiss you. But if you’re still drunk, that would be ungentlemanly of me.”

Okay, that did it. I groaned.

He leaned in, lips not even an inch from mine. “Well?”

I held my breath and waited to see if I would wake up again, but I didn’t. “I don’t feel drunk, really.” I let out a breath.

“I’ve wanted to do this for a year,” he murmured, then closed the narrow gap between our lips.

He kissed me tenderly, holding himself against me but not so close as to be ungentlemanly. Even in my earlier sex dream, the butterflies had been tame compared to the fluttering going on with
this
passionate kiss.

His breath tasted faintly of the peppermint I had smelled earlier, as if he had brushed his teeth recently, and I decided I would always remember Cooper that way, with wonderful, minty-fresh breath. The incredible restraint in the way he kissed was just enough to send my heart flying but not so much as to stop it completely.

I wanted more of him. I reached around and tangled my fingers in his hair, and he stepped up the kiss another notch. His arms wrapped around me, smashing me harder against him, until I could feel every inch of him against every inch of me, and still it wasn’t enough. He whispered my name between breathless kisses, and I could have sworn he called me Katie.

The instant the kiss broke off, I was extremely aware of my situation.

Oh. My. God.

I’d just made out with Cooper Maxwell. While I was
awake!

“Okay, well, that was… wow. So, I really should be getting back to bed now.”

Cooper’s eyebrows shot up, and my cheeks burned.

“Alone.”

“But it’s my bed,” he argued, leaning in and placing kisses on each corner of my mouth then trailing down my neck. “Shouldn’t I get to go, too?”

I had no idea if he was serious or trying to completely unhinge me, but God, that sounded really good. My stomach did flips again. But not the good kind. In fact, my stomach was starting to do crazy dives, like seagulls do at the beach.

Oh, no.

“I think I’m going to be sick.” My hand shot up to cover my mouth as the first wave started from the deep recesses of my stomach and ended up all over his bare feet and expensive carpet.

 

IS IT POSSIBLE TO DIE OF A HANGOVER?

 

S
omehow, I managed to drag myself out of bed Monday morning and get dressed for work without throwing up again. Oh, I was completely recovered from the hangover. I’d spent a miserable Saturday afternoon sprawled out across my bed, stopping just short of slapping a rubber nipple on the Pepto-Bismol bottle as I nursed from it like a baby.

No, my ailment on Monday morning had very little to do with that kind of hangover. I was suffering from a love hangover. Well, lust hangover, maybe. And my sense of dread at going back to work where I might have to answer questions about Friday night was getting to me.

I’d ignored Silvia’s calls all weekend. Instead, I sent her a text to say I wasn’t feeling well. That was actually pretty easy. No one could possibly question my not feeling well all weekend. I’d been rather intoxicated when they last saw me.

And speaking of the last time they saw me…

If I wasn’t completely terrified to bring up the topic, I would rail at them all for having run out of the bar, leaving Cooper to deal with my drunken ass. I wasn’t afraid of the ribbing I would get. I would gladly take it with a smile if I could avoid the obvious, “So… Cooper drove you home?” I could hear them already, each of them taking turns, asking me questions, and then compiling the data until they had the whole picture.

That was one picture I was not interested in seeing plastered all over the walls of the bank. The entire weekend was already spent replaying it in my head until I could see and smell and taste every tactile moment of the time I spent with Cooper. Oh, the humiliation of it all. I had made out with him like the high school girl Silvia was apparently trying to turn me into, then barfed all over his floor.

He’d insisted on taking care of me while I vomited first onto his feet and then into his toilet. Then he made me a cup of tea and tucked me into his bed where I slept most of it off. Late Saturday afternoon, Cooper finally drove me back to my car while I sat in abject silence. I sensed that he wanted to say something, but I played sick to avoid conversation.

Talk about your great first dates… if I could even call it a date.
I could pretty much forget about a second one. Worse than that, I didn’t know if I could ever face him again.

I wasn’t at work for more than forty minutes when I looked up and caught Silvia doing her third sweep past my office. She hadn’t lost a bit of that smug look on her face. She was waiting me out until I couldn’t resist telling her about Friday night.

I could resist. It was too much of a horror story. And just like every horror story, it had started out pretty good—a secluded cabin in the woods, or moving into the perfect house that had been priced to sell after the “accident,” or spending time with your dream guy—but disintegrated into madness and mayhem. I pulled out my calendar and stared at my list of appointments for the day. Of course, Cooper was right there, sandwiched between Mrs. Gilroy and lunch. But his name wasn’t written in my handwriting. No, Silvia’s swirly script taunted me from the page. She obviously found great pleasure in torturing me.

This is a recipe for disaster.
And with the way things had gone since my birthday, I didn’t have much hope for the
rest
of the year, unless he’d just changed his appointment. I flipped through my datebook to Tuesday. There he was, just like every other Tuesday. Nope, it hadn’t changed, just Cooper, two days in a row.

I considered faking a migraine and passing off my appointments to Vicky or June, but June wouldn’t put up enough of a fight when Vicky called “dibs” on Cooper, and I didn’t think I could stand it if he were sitting across a desk from Vicky. Not when I knew about her Fantasy Threesome list. He was her number one draft pick, after all.

I shuddered. No way was Vicky getting anywhere
near
Cooper if I had anything to do with it. I would simply have to endure the embarrassment of seeing him. I could manage professionalism; I was sure of it. What I wasn’t sure of was how he would react to seeing me again. Would he laugh at me for having been so wretchedly drunk? Would he be disgusted by the memory of me puking on his floor?

My face grew hot at the memory. Could anything be more hideously mortifying? I only hoped he’d been able to get the stain out of the carpet.

Vicky took her turn pausing outside my office with a smug look of her own. She wore her cut-low-in-front and slit-high-up-the-side work suit. I recognized an emerging pattern. She always seemed to wear something inappropriate when Cooper had an appointment with me. Or was that just my imagination? Either way, I felt a jolt of protective fury. I stamped it down, shaking my head a little.

“You’ll never guess what I did on Saturday,” Vicky blurted as she tossed her jacket onto a hook and spun around to face me.

I didn’t even want to guess. It was too scary. It could be anything.

“I got a piercing!” she squealed.

I’d heard her talking about it often enough to know exactly what she’d gotten pierced, and my barely recovered stomach rolled at the thought.

“Feeling better?” Vicky asked, flipping her fiery hair over her shoulder. “I hear Cooper’s coming in today.” She flashed a wide grin that reminded me instantly of why I preferred Silvia as a friend.

I couldn’t care less about the professional ramifications of Vicky wanting to steal my client because there were none. Her zeal had nothing to do with Cooper’s portfolio and everything to do with Cooper himself, and I didn’t want her dragging him further into her fantasies.

I knew I couldn’t have him for myself. Not really. I had to maintain our professional relationship. I definitely wouldn’t be able to kiss him again. That was the hardest truth to accept. And I was seriously waffling on that part. I wanted more, but more wasn’t possible. In fact, I wanted more so badly I hadn’t read a single page from any of my books since
the kiss
.

That was a big deal. I never went to bed without reading at least two chapters. And it wasn’t as if I didn’t try. I just couldn’t concentrate. I would start to read, but my mind would wander back to Cooper… and his amazing peppermint breath.

The first thing I did when I got home Saturday morning was scatter my stack of books across the floor and plant myself in the middle of the pile, newest book in hand. Desperate to disappear like always, I flipped through to the sticky notes tucked between the pages. I’d only read that one a few times so far, but the desire to lose myself in the book had vanished. Even my favorite vampire had no draw for me.

One stupid kiss and I was abruptly thrust back into the real world where real men could break your heart, a place I’d purposely steered clear of by living in my safe little bubble of fictional romances. And no matter what I wanted, I couldn’t begin a relationship with a client.

So if I could only have him professionally, then I was going to fight tooth and nail to keep that little bit of him, even if that meant going up against Vicky to keep him.

I managed to extract myself from her and her insanity and closed myself in my office for the rest of the morning, only surfacing for my first appointment, the blue-haired Hitler herself, Mrs. Philomena Gilroy.

From the moment Mrs. Gilroy—lamenting her poorly producing retirement portfolio— stormed out the door an hour later and I’d settled myself in my chair, my desk phone had been ringing nonstop. I recognized the name on the caller ID and ignored the calls for as long as I could. Each ring drove me closer to the Cliffs of Insanity, so I finally had no choice but to answer. She wouldn’t have stopped calling, and no one else would be able to get through if she kept the line tied up. I was merely delaying the inevitable anyway. I hadn’t returned her phone calls all weekend long. I knew what she wanted—the same thing she always wanted.

I hit the speaker button. “Hi, Mom.”

“Well, did you meet anyone nice this weekend?”

Yep, same question as always. She didn’t even bother with the usual pleasantries, just cut right to the chase. Worse, she knew I’d gone out for my birthday. My only hope to get off the phone before lunch was to keep my responses short and sweet. “Nope.”

“Do you mean to tell me with all the people you were out with, you didn’t meet anyone at all? No nice men? Not even a maybe?” She sighed. “Have you ever wondered if perhaps your standards are too high?”

“Maybe.” No doubt about it. My standards had just been raised into the stratosphere.

“Well, did you at least dress nicely? If you don’t dress up, you won’t attract anyone, you know. You didn’t wear one of your boring work suits, did you?” Her questions almost made me think she might be psychic. Almost.

Then again, if I didn’t know better, I’d worry about Silvia talking to my mother, feeding her information and conspiring against me. But I knew that wasn’t possible. Mom didn’t have the self-control to keep something like that a secret from me. Besides, she hated Silvia. She thought of her as competition.

Pathetic.

Why couldn’t I have two gorgeous men vying for my affection? Instead, I had my mother competing with my coworker for my attention. I rolled my eyes at the absurdity of it all and launched into my best lie-but-don’t-lie defense. “Oh, I dressed up all right. You wouldn’t have recognized me.” Technically, not a lie.

“Well, if you didn’t meet anyone, why didn’t you call me?”

Now,
I was going to have to lie. I couldn’t possibly tell my mother I had passed out drunk, woken up in the bed of the most beautiful man I’d ever seen, and after kissing him senseless, puked on his ridiculously sexy feet.

I took a deep breath. “My phone is broken.” Big lie, but it always worked. For all she knew, I had broken six cell phones in less than a year’s time. I reminded myself to come up with a new excuse next time. And I was sure there would be a next time. I checked the clock again. “Mom, I have to get back to work. I have a really busy schedule today. I’ll call you later.”

“Do you promise?”

Damn!
I wasn’t really planning on calling her later. Maybe I’d get hit by a bus on the way home. I laughed.
Yep. Pathetic.
“Okay. I promise. I’ll talk to you later. Bye.”

Crossing my mother off my reluctant to-do list, I decided to go check my hair and makeup. Cooper was due in my office in T-minus twenty minutes.

I mentally slapped myself for even thinking that way. Why should I care what my hair or makeup looked like just because Cooper Maxwell was on his way? I didn’t check my hair or makeup for any of my other clients.

I sat in my chair for a minute, twirling my pen between my fingers before getting up to check my hair and makeup anyway. I still wasn’t used to the new cut Silvia had talked me into getting. I liked it, but I had no idea how to style it yet.

I dampened my hands and smoothed down the places that poked up. I checked my makeup and clothes in the mirror. I was as ready as I would ever be. I’d dressed a little extra special. I told myself it was because the billowy blouse and wool pencil skirt were the most comfortable things I owned. Even though the fabric was scratchy, the outfit looked really nice, managing to make the most of my curves without making me look fat and without sacrificing my reputation.

Unlike Vicky.

I walked into the lobby to catch Vicky laughing at something Phil had said. I rolled my eyes. Even at my most desperate, I didn’t think I would ever stoop that low.

I sat at my desk, trying to compose an email. I had to erase and start over three times. I finally gave up. I couldn’t concentrate. I looked at the time again. Cooper was probably parking his shiny black BMW at that very second. I wondered if I would have that same thrill whip through me when he walked in wearing the usual designer suit and perfectly combed hair. Was the intense attraction I’d felt Friday night simply a product of too much liquor and an overactive imagination?

My stomach rolled at the memory. If he was wearing jeans and the gray Henley, I was doomed.

Silvia floated past my glass office door again and paused to wink at me. A surge of adrenaline rushed through my veins, and I jumped out of my chair, tipping it to the floor. Not an easy thing to do with a rolling chair. Quickly, I righted it then wrenched my door open and practically ran through it, slamming directly into the wall of someone’s chest, just as I saw Cooper step around the corner.

“Kiss me, Kate!” Dean Maynard’s sing-song voice carried throughout the lobby, vibrating against the walls.

The wind was knocked out of me, and I would have fallen flat on the floor if Dean hadn’t reached around to steady me.

I tried to wriggle free discreetly with no luck. “Cole Porter does
The Taming of the Shrew
?” I asked with a nervous laugh.

“Ah, she knows the show. But will she oblige me with a kiss?” He tilted his head in my direction.

I tried to laugh, but it came out strangled. “I didn’t know you were coming in today.”

“I always come in on Mondays. Usually the afternoons, I know. But I couldn’t bear another minute away from my best girl Katie.” Dean grinned. “Besides, I need help with my money.”

Cooper stood quietly off to the side, his jaw clenching and unclenching. The contrast was immediately apparent as I stood gaping, first at Dean, then Cooper. I’d always thought Dean was good looking with his light brown hair and dark eyes, cute in a nerdy sort of way. But Dean was no Cooper Maxwell… not even close.

“I have an appointment right now.” I smiled over Dean’s shoulder at Cooper.

Dean wrinkled his brow and then turned to look. “You don’t mind if I steal her away, do you?”

Cooper stepped forward. “Actually, I do.”

Dean ignored him and linked his arm with mine. I flashed a panicked look in Cooper’s direction as Dean dragged me toward my office.

“I’ve recently come into a rather large sum of money…”

I heard Dean speaking, but I wasn’t paying attention. I was too focused on Cooper across the room. I glanced around Dean to see Silvia rushing out of her office. She patted Cooper’s arm as she spoke to him, and he nodded, looking in my direction. Thank goodness Silvia got to him before Vicky.

BOOK: Erica Lucke Dean - To Katie with Love
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