Authors: Katie Lane
Tags: #Contemporary, #General, #Romance, #Western, #Fiction, #Fiction / Romance - Contemporary
Cassie ignored the comparisons. “Okay, so maybe Sutton isn’t entirely responsible, but he played a big role in it.” She grabbed the planner out from under Amy’s nose and flipped to the next week. “Set up a meeting with him on Monday.”
“Right. Then Tuesday.”
“Most people take the holidays off between Christmas and New Year’s.”
“I bet he doesn’t,” Cassie said. “Just try it.”
“Speaking of the holidays”—Amy came around the desk and gave Cassie the once-over—“please don’t tell me that you’re planning on wearing jeans to the Christmas party.”
“Of course not. I brought something to change into just in case I didn’t have time to go home.”
“You never have time to go home. So what did you bring?”
“My burgundy dress.”
“No.” Amy stared her down. “I refuse to let you wear that thing one more time. Not when it belongs in the wardrobe vault for
Saturday Night Fever
“But it’s a Liz Claiborne.”
Amy looked at her in disbelief. “My God, woman, you need to read some fashion magazines once in awhile instead of
. Liz might be fine for tea with your in-laws. But if you want to make a statement—attract attention…”
She swept out of the office and in less than a minute returned holding a hanger covered in long white plastic. “You need Versace. I took the liberty of shopping for you today at lunch.” She closed the door behind her. “I charged it to your credit card account, of course.” With a smile a mile wide, she whipped off the plastic to reveal a slinky red—
Cassie lifted an eyebrow. “Where’s the rest of it?”
“The shoes and accessories are in my office.”
“No, I mean, where’s the skirt that goes with it?”
“This is it.” Amy held it up to Cassie and nodded her approval. “Perfect.” She reached for the rubber band that held Cassie’s hair back and tugged it out, along with more than a few jet-black hairs. “You desperately need a cut and some highlights.” She plucked at the thick strands. “Lucky for you, men love long hair.”
“Cut it out, Amy.” Cassie grabbed back the rubber band. “I’m not you. The men who work for me would laugh their asses off if I tried to strut around like some froufrou girly girl.” She jerked her hair back into a ponytail.
Amy crossed her arms and glared. “You’re being stubborn again, Cass. Just because you dress femininely doesn’t mean men won’t take you seriously. Besides, you’re the boss’s daughter; no one would dare laugh at you. Not with Big Al as your daddy and four brothers. So live a little. Lighten up. Stop acting like one of the guys and start acting like a woman. A very attractive woman who needs to get laid before her female parts become an exhibit at the Smithsonian.”
Cassie’s eyes widened. “It hasn’t been that long.”
“Try eighteen months.”
Eighteen months? Had it been eighteen months? She turned back to the window and quickly did some mental calculations. Yep, it had been eighteen months since she’d been dumped by Mike. And not really dumped. Their split had been a mutual agreement after she’d come home to find him wearing a pair of her thigh highs. She might’ve forgiven him the hosiery if he hadn’t stretched out her most comfortable pair of black pumps.
She turned back around. “Okay, so it’s been eighteen months. So what?”
“So what?” Amy stared at her. “Are you telling me you’ve been so busy you haven’t had time to miss sex?”
No, she missed it. So much so that she just recently had to clean off all the hard water deposits from the pulse setting on her shower massager.
“So what do you want me to do,” she asked, “grab the
first guy that walks through that door and slam him down on the couch?”
Amy laughed. “I would like to see that. Especially if the next guy through the door is Grumpy Gates. But how about just having sex with one of the hot escorts you hire?”
Cassie glanced around to make sure no one had slipped into the room without her noticing. “I told you not to talk about that,” she whispered.
Amy shrugged. “Why not? It was my idea.”
“And a stupid one, at that.”
“If you think so, why do you keep hiring them? Especially when all you do is take them to public functions, then go your separate ways.”
It was a good question. Why had she gotten into the habit of picking up the phone and ordering a guy just like she would chicken teriyaki from Mr. Tokyo? Maybe that was it. It was just so easy and convenient. And as much as she’d told Amy it was a stupid idea, it had worked out pretty well. Especially for a woman who had a family like hers.
If her brothers and father weren’t scaring men off, her sister-in-law and married cousins were trying to fix her up with “the perfect man.” The perfect man who always ended up being some imperfect date that she had to suffer through. She either spent the evening searching for conversation starters or fighting off some sex-crazed guy’s advances. Hiring a man to escort her was much simpler. The escorts were a little young, usually college students, but nice and well mannered. And because they didn’t particularly want anyone to know what they did for a buck, they were discreet. Sometimes she would get the same guy
and sometimes she’d get someone different. It didn’t matter as long as her family assumed she was happy playing the field.
“So why don’t you just have sex with one of them and get it out of your system?” Amy asked.
“Because I could catch some fungus or worse, that’s why.”
“And you don’t think you could’ve caught something from Mike? If a man is sneaking into your underwear drawer, he’s sneaking into other places he doesn’t belong. Besides, haven’t you ever heard of a condom?”
“Those aren’t fail-safe, you know.” Cassie walked over to the couch and flopped down.
“Okay, so you don’t want to screw the hunka-hunka-burnin’-loves,” Amy said. “So stop hiring them and try to find a nice guy to date. Or do you just like the control so much that you’re addicted?” Her brown eyes narrowed. “That’s it, isn’t it? You can’t control your dad or your four brothers, but you can control some young sap for money.”
Man, the truth hurt.
“Shut up, Amy. Just because some of us have found the man of our dreams doesn’t mean the rest of us can be as lucky.”
The sparkle faded from Amy’s brown eyes, and she seemed to deflate right in front of Cassie. “I wouldn’t say I’ve found the man of my dreams.”
“What do you mean? Did you and Derek break up?”
“No.” Amy flopped down next to her and smoothed out her wrinkle-free skirt. “I just wouldn’t call him the man of my dreams.”
“But I thought you said he would make a perfect husband.”
“He would—I mean, he will.” Amy picked at a piece of lint on the arm of the couch. “He might not be the man of my dreams, but he’s dependable and very organized. Besides, I learned a long time ago that dreams don’t always come true. It’s much better to plan out your life and work toward things that are achievable. Derek is a great guy who loves me and Gabriella. What more could a girl ask for?”
Cassie thought she could ask for a lot more. “So you don’t love him?”
There was a long pause before Amy shook her head. “But love isn’t everything. I loved Gabby’s dad and look where it got me.”
It had gotten Amy pregnant and then cast off like a dirty shirt, not only by her high school sweetheart but by her own family. Amy was nineteen when she showed up at M & M with nothing but a GED, a baby girl, and a heart the size of Texas. Since then, she’d worked hard to be a good mom and put herself through college. After all she’d been through, she deserved to be happy. But since Cassie was struggling to find happiness in her own life, she wasn’t about to give advice. So she kept her mouth shut and stared down at the scuffed toes of her boots.
After a few minutes, Amy spoke. “Look, I’m sorry for getting on your case. I guess I’m just worried about you. Since your father’s heart attack, you’ve looked so lost.”
Cassie wanted to say “you don’t know the half of it” but instead she forced a smile and said, “I’m okay, really. I just need a little time off. And possibly some good sex.”
“Now you’re talking.” Amy stood up and forced a smile almost as fake as Cassie’s. “I’m going home to eat dinner with Gabby, so I’ll see you at the party. The rest of your outfit
is on my desk, along with a few little Christmas gifts.” Before she closed the door, she issued one last order. “Live a little.”
Once Amy was gone, Cassie leaned back on the couch and looked at the tiny garment that lay across her desk. Maybe Amy was right. Maybe she was spending too much time at work. But since her father’s heart attack, she felt as if the weight of the company was on her shoulders. Her uncle and brothers helped, but her oldest brother had a family to worry about, Rory had just returned from Chicago, Patrick liked working on site, and Mattie was still in college. Which meant that she was the only one her dad could count on. She wasn’t about to let him down.
Getting to her feet, she walked over to the desk and lifted the dress up to her body. But certainly one night wouldn’t make a difference.
What the hell; it was almost Christmas.
Maybe it was time to get a little festive.
A few hours later, Cassie wasn’t sure if she looked festive or like a desperate hooker. The dress was a
with a hem and neckline that ran at opposite angles, showing off her right shoulder and a whole lot of left thigh. The “few little Christmas gifts” Amy had left included a strapless bra that shoved her boobs together and a satiny pair of panties that covered very little of the front and none of the back. Then there were the shoes, which weren’t shoes at all, but some kind of torture chambers that imprisoned her feet in skinny, crisscrossed red straps that ran from ankle to toes and kept her feet from sliding off the skyscraper spiked heels. Mike would have drooled over these puppies, she thought. Not that his size thirteens would’ve fit in them.
The entire ensemble made Cassie feel like a tall, flashing red light that said something like SEX FOR SALE; COME
AND GET IT or DESPERATE, SEX-STARVED WOMAN NEEDS BREAK FROM SHOWER NOZZLE.
But Cassie didn’t have much of a choice. Her burgundy dress and shoes had mysteriously disappeared from the executive bathroom. Or not so mysteriously, considering how devious Amy was. Cassie could’ve gone home and changed, but her escort for the evening was bought and paid for and hopefully on his way to the office to meet her. There was no way she was going to dole out five hundred bucks so some college kid could go home and play video games for the evening.
So Cassie did what she always did in a no-win situation—she went with it, applying more makeup than she normally wore and leaving her hair to fall down her back in long dark waves. The only thing she didn’t apply was lipstick. Her lips were full enough without drawing attention to them. She gave her reflection in the mirror one last annoyed look. If this wouldn’t degrade and undermine her authority in front of all the employees, nothing would.
On the way back to her office, the phone rang, and since everyone else had left for the night except for Juanita the cleaning lady, Cassie wobbled over to the receptionist’s desk and picked up the receiver.
She adjusted it around her dangling diamond earring, the only thing she had planned on wearing, and answered, “M and M Construction.”
“Hi, Mama’s angel. I’m glad I caught you.”
“Hi, Mom. What’s up?”
“I wanted to let you know that I’m making your father stay home tonight.” In the background, Cassie could hear
her father ranting something about how her mother and the damned doctor had ruined all his plans.
“Should I come over?” Cassie sat down on the edge of the desk and examined the last of Amy’s gifts, a red beaded clutch purse. She fiddled with the rhinestone latch, trying to figure out how to open it.
“No, sweetheart. He’s fine. But if he goes to the party, all he’ll do is talk business and Dr. Matheson doesn’t think it’s a good idea.” This time Cassie heard exactly what her father thought of Doc Matheson. “Listen, dear, I need to go and calm him down. I’ll talk to you later. Have fun at the party.”
“Yeah, Mom. I will.” Cassie hung up the phone. Maybe it was best if her father didn’t come. If talking business didn’t give him another heart attack, her outfit certainly would.
Frustrated with the entire evening so far, she yanked at the latch on the purse. It flipped open, spilling its contents all over the floor. Cassie looked down at the pile of red and black foil-covered condoms surrounding her high heels.
She laughed. “I’ll get even with you if it’s the last thing I do, Amy Walker.” She squatted down and began to scoop the condoms back into her purse, heedless of her unladylike position.
A deep and very masculine cough had her teetering on her heels and almost falling backward on her butt. Grabbing on to the edge of the desk, she regained her balance and got to her feet. Although the sight that greeted her had her reaching out for the desk again.
A man stood by the Christmas tree in the foyer. Not a
man really, more like a vision. The clear lights that twinkled around his dark head made him look like something straight out of a dream. A wet dream. Man, Elite Escorts had outdone themselves this time. This was no gangly college boy in an ill-fitting rental tux, but a mature man in a tuxedo that looked made-to-order for his tall, muscular frame.