~~Katherine Nichols sat at her desk, staring at the flashing
cursor on the
screen of her laptop, the page before her completely blank. With a frustrated
sigh, she pinched the bridge of her nose between her thumb and forefinger.
Briefly closing her eyes, she counted to ten. Sighing again, she tilted her
head first left and then right until she heard the crack in the back of her neck
that was supposed to signal a release of tension.
Deciding that a little fresh air and a brisk walk was just what she needed
to clear the cobwebs or whatever it was that was muddling her brain, she
stood and walked over to the heavy drapes that covered the sliding glass
door that led to the deck.
She pulled the drapes back, disappointed by the subdued light that
entered the room.
Rain, big, fat, wet drops struck the planks of the redwood deck with a
loud splat, although the heavy glass doors remained tightly closed. So much
for that idea, she thought to herself as she let the drapes fall back into place.
Maybe she should head upstairs for a nice long run on the treadmill?
There was nothing like the release of some endorphins to stimulate her
She returned to her desk instead, plopping down into her ergonomically
designed office chair, not even glancing at her computer, just staring off into
space as she set the chair in motion, spinning half-circles from left to right
and back again.
This was how her literary agent and best friend, Claire Brady, found her
when she entered the office. "Hard at work, I see," she said with just a hint
Kate spun to face her, startled. "Jesus, Claire! I didn't even hear you
Claire shook her head as she strode purposefully into the room, the
bottoms of her dark-gray dress slacks damp from the rain. Her pretty face
was tight with irritation as the high humidity had her shoulder-length red
curls kinking wildly all around her head.
"You should keep your door locked, Kate," she scolded. "I could just as
easily have been an escaped convict looking for a long overdue piece of
Kate ignored that. "So, what brings you all the way up here on a day
like this?" she asked suspiciously.
"The answer to your prayers." She removed a newspaper from its plastic
baggie, unfolding it as she approached the desk. She laid the paper out right
in front of Kate, an expertly manicured peach fingernail tapping impatiently
against a particular article. "Check this out!" Claire half sat on the edge of
her desk as Kate began reading the article:
"10th Annual Auction to Benefit the Homeless"
Break out your checkbooks, ladies! Triple-platinum recording artist
Jason Grey has agreed to auction himself off for a night of dinner and
dancing with one lucky winner. For a mere $5000.00 per ticket, you will be
entered into a drawing, conducted by the man himself, this Saturday, May
17th, at 3:00 p.m. at the auction site in Central Park West.
The winner will receive a complimentary room at The Ritz and a limo
ride from the hotel to one of Manhattan's five-star restaurants, where she
will enjoy a five course meal with Mr. Grey, who will then accompany her
on a brief tour of the sights before the limo returns her to the hotel.
Ticket sales begin at 8:00 a.m. and close at 12:00 p.m. sharp on the day.
All participants must be at least twenty-one years of age, have two forms of
valid ID, and a certified check made out to "Friends of the Homeless," in
the amount of $5000.00.
All proceeds from the event help to finance homeless shelters and soup
kitchens across the Tri-state area. Other events will include an auction of pieces of fine art donated by many philanthropists across the region as well as an auction of free passes for hotel stays, limo rides, and fabulous dinners at many of Manhattan's premier spots. These auctions will be conducted in the traditional manner, by bid…
Kate's attention was drawn to the too-small photograph of the recording
artist mentioned. The man was too hot, and unbelievably talented. She'd had
a huge crush on him ever since the first time that she'd seen him in concert,
five years ago when she and Claire were in their sophomore year at college.
She refolded the paper, removing his face from her vision.
"And how exactly is this the answer to my prayers?" she asked
"Easy. You're going to buy a ticket. You're going to win. And you're
going to get to spend some quality time with the object of your desires!"
Claire grinned broadly, her green eyes dancing with amusement.
"You're psychic now?"
"No…but, I can't explain it. I just have a really good feeling about this."
Kate was all too familiar with Claire's "good feelings." Those feelings
had gotten Kate started on the career path that she was on right now. "Okay,
but I still don't see why you'd want me to get involved with this type of
thing. Sure, I support a lot of charities, but this seems kind of silly."
"A lot of charities have been enlisting all types of celebrities to donate a
few hours of their time for stuff like this. Apparently people are more
willing to make large contributions if they're getting something in return."
"Sure, and a lot of celebrities donate their time because it's good
"True, but who cares what motivated him to donate his time?" Claire
said excitedly. "The point is that this time, it's your celebrity who's offering
himself up for a few hours. That's why you should be involved!"
"He's not my anything." Kate reminded her. But, God, what wouldn't
she give? She sighed wistfully.
"Listen, girlfriend, I've done my best to try to get you out of this rut."
It took Kate a second to follow the change in topic. Claire was referring
to the series of blind dates that she'd roped her into over the past year.
"I know. Please stop," Kate begged earnestly.
Claire glared at her, then said, "All of those men that I set you up with were single, successful and attractive, and still you dismissed each and every one of them without even giving them a chance-"
Kate cut her off. "Sure they were attractive, but I wasn't attracted to any
of them. Why would I want to date someone that I have no interest in
sleeping with? Or going to bed and not sleeping, to be more precise."
"That's a valid point, which is why I've brought this to your attention.
You are still hot for this guy?"
"Who isn't?" She shrugged. "But that's just a fantasy, it has nothing to
do with the real world."
"Hey, don't sell fantasy short. It's how we make our living."
"You know what I mean."
"Speaking of…how's the book coming?"
"It's coming along," Kate mumbled, fiddling with the folded newspaper,
not making eye contact.
"You are such a liar!" Claire accused gently. "How are you supposed to
write about sex and romance when you're not getting any?"
"Gee, thanks ever so much for putting that out there!" Kate glared at
Claire sighed. "Listen, Kate, I've known you for a long time, and I
know that it's not in your nature to discuss your private life, but I need to
ask you something." She paused for a minute. "What exactly happened
between you and Brian?"
Brian had been Kate's boyfriend junior and senior year at school and for
the first year following graduation. But they had parted ways soon after
Kate's granddad had passed away.
"You're worried that I'm nursing a broken heart?" Kate asked astutely.
Kate sighed. Claire was right when she'd said that she didn't like to
discuss her private business with anyone. More specifically, she didn't
discuss her intimate relationships with her friends, much to their annoyance.
But if talking about Brian would get Claire to stop setting her up with every
available man that she could find…
"Brian and I decided to call it quits after Granddad died, and I told him
that I would be moving out here and not selling the property like he wanted
me to." Kate's grandfather had willed her the lake house and property, and although her family had used it as a vacation getaway for years, she had made it her home. She loved it here.
"Can you blame him?" Claire asked frankly.
Claire was New York City born and raised and shared Brian's opinion
that she was crazy to give up her Manhattan apartment and move out here to
Kate sighed heavily. "That's not really the point. Brian and I were
never…it was all very…lukewarm, if you know what I mean?"
Claire raised a perfectly waxed brow at this bit of information.
"He didn't support my decision to turn down the job with the petroleum
company and he didn't think much of my writing either. And when I told
him that I wanted to move out here permanently? Well, we just agreed that
we wanted different things out of life. The break-up was mutual and
"I see," Claire said quietly.
"So, no, I'm not heartbroken or pining away for him, believe me."
"Well, that's good news."
Kate's smile was a little sad. "That was two years ago, Claire. You
really thought that I was still hung up on him?"
"I didn't know what to think," Claire said, just a little defensive.
"You're notoriously closemouthed."
Kate began to squirm with discomfort as she watched the expressions
chase across her friend's face. She could tell that Claire was puzzling
something out and that she wouldn't be satisfied until she'd confirmed the
conclusion that she'd obviously come to.
"I know that you haven't been in a relationship since Brian… Does that
mean that you haven't gotten laid…in two years?" Claire asked
"God, you say that like it's some kind of tragedy!"
"For a young, beautiful woman such as yourself it is a tragedy!"
Uh oh, Claire would never give it a rest now. Kate sighed with
exasperation. "Why are we talking about this, again?"
Claire must have sensed that she was making her uncomfortable because
she backed off. Changing the subject suddenly, a teasing grin lit up her face
and she said, "Let's talk about your celebrity crush instead."
"I don't want to talk about him, either."
"Now, Kate, there is nothing to be ashamed of. God knows that I've
indulged in a few steamy fantasies about the man myself. Not to mention
that action star from all the martial arts films. Do you ever wonder what a
man who can move like that is capable of in bed?"
"We're not talking about a few steamy fantasies. You make it sound like
I'm some starstruck adolescent running around in his photo-T and writing
our names inside little hearts all over my manuscript!"
"You have a photo-T?"
"It came with the deluxe edition CD," she said defensively.
"Please tell me that there's no poster in your bedroom?"
"Well, technically it's in my bedroom."
Claire shook her head sadly.
"It's not on my wall," Kate continued. "It's all rolled up in the back of
"Well, it wasn't a very good picture."
"How is that even possible?"
"Bad hair day?" Kate postulated.
Claire giggled. "See? You've made my point for me. You are still hot
for the guy."
"Yeah, me and at least half the female population of the planet." Kate
decided to humor her. "So let's just say, hypothetically, that I enter this
drawing. The chances of my winning would be like hitting the Mega
"The chances of that are like one in a gazillion. You'll only have one or
two hundred competitors, tops."
"Are you kidding? A middle-aged housewife from the suburbs would
hock the family mini-van on eBay in order to buy into this."
Claire laughed out loud. "Wow! You got it bad!"
"You think I'm joking? Just you wait and see."
Claire shook her head, still chuckling.
"Now where was I? Oh yeah. Let's just say, by some miracle, I win this
thing. It's just dinner. There will be security people and reporters lurking
around, watching every move we make. Not to mention the fact that I would
probably end up making a complete fool out of myself."
"Why do you say that?"
"He's famous, Claire, and unbelievably attractive. I seriously doubt that
I would be able to maintain my composure in his company."
"At the end of the day, Kate, he's just a guy."
"I know that." She sighed heavily. "And by all accounts he's a pretty
terrific guy, but he's so far out of my league that it's ridiculous, and my
social skills are sketchy, at best."
"Hey, any guy who is willing to prostitute himself for a good cause is
pretty terrific in my book."
"It is just dinner," Kate pointed out, again.
"And what you are, dear friend, is incredibly gorgeous. That goes a long
way in making up for your lack of social skills. Trust me on this."
"I'm not talking about using the wrong fork or knowing what topic of
conversation is appropriate, I'm talking about making a fool out of myself
by staring or possibly even drooling." Or being unable to resist the urge to
crawl under the dinner table so that she could drool all over his lap. The
corner of her mouth twitched as she pictured herself doing just that. She had
always had the ability to laugh at herself.
"He really gets to you, doesn't he?" Claire seemed a little worried.
"The truth?" she asked.
"He is my fantasy guy. All of my heroes are based on fantasy versions
of him, in one form or another. He inspires me, gets me in touch with my
inner, horny teenager." There was just a hint of laughter in her blue eyes as
she watched for Claire's reaction.
"When you say, 'Get in touch with,' you are speaking figuratively,
right?" Claire had a straight face, but her eyes were filled with laughter.
"That is so not your business." Kate glared good-humoredly.
"There's no need to be embarrassed, Kate. Self-gratification is a
perfectly healthy way to satisfy your needs, especially given your unique
circumstances." Claire bit the inside of her cheek to keep from laughing.
"Ouch!" Kate looked around for something to throw at her, but she
came up empty handed. She quickly changed the subject. "In any event, this
conversation is pointless. I haven't agreed to enter this contest, and if I do?
My chances of winning are slim to none."
"What have you got to lose? You donate anyway. I know for a fact that
this is one of the charities that you support."
"True, but as I said, it seems silly, and maybe even a little desperate."
"Desperate? It's not speed dating, it's a 'dream date,' a fantasy come to
life for a few hours at least. I mean how often do any of us little people get
to hobnob with the rich and famous?"
"My point exactly. I'd probably just end up embarrassing myself."
"Kate." Claire sighed with exasperation. "Would you please just take a
chance? Just this once?"
"I don't know Claire…"
"I am not going to enter the drawing, just to increase your odds."
Kate was suitably impressed. "Wow, that's big of you. How can I ever
"Cheer up. Get laid. And finish the damn book on time! But, if not, I'm
sure that I can get you an extension."
Kate was sure of it, too, considering the fact that Claire's dad owned
Premier Publishing, the publisher that handled about eighty percent of the
authors that Claire's agency represented, herself included.
"Come on, Kate, live a little! Life is too short, and please, tell me when
an opportunity like this is going to present itself again?"
"You'll do it?" Claire was practically jumping up and down.
"Yeah. You know what this means don't you?"
Claire raised a quizzical brow.
"I'll need to go shopping. Just in case."
* * * *
Once the decision was made, the women headed into the kitchen for
coffee. Kate brewed a fresh pot, and the two of them sat at the island that
was in the center of the room and made plans for the upcoming weekend.
They talked for an hour or so before Claire left to meet another client
that lived further upstate. Kate closed the front door behind her, smiling to
herself as she turned the lock.
She thought about everything that Claire had said as she headed back
into the kitchen for another cup of coffee.
The auction really was for a good cause and she would have written
them a check anyway. But this contest? She would never enter something
like that if Claire hadn't talked her into it. Sure, she'd give anything to
actually meet the man, to talk with him and get to know him, even a little,
but there was no way that that was going to happen. She wasn't going to
But…what if she did? She couldn't keep her overactive imagination
from considering the possibility. What would she say? Would she even be
able to string two words together? Would she be able to keep her hands off
She giggled to herself. Of course she'd be able to keep her hands to
herself. It didn't matter how hot the man made her, she was not an
aggressive person sexually, or at all, for that matter, despite the erotic
musings that she'd entertained earlier.
She rinsed the coffee pot and mugs and set everything in the drainer
before she made her way back to the office, stopping on the way to turn on
the stereo in the living room, Jason Grey's CDs already in the changer.
The man had a beautiful voice, even when he was belting out a powerful
rock song. She loved his ballads, though, the majority of which he wrote the
lyrics and music to himself, with other members of his band. And, God,
what he could do with a guitar. It was no wonder that his albums still
debuted at the top of the charts, although the first one had been released
nearly a decade ago.
She'd always been a fan of his music, but hadn't developed the huge
crush that she had on him until the first time that she'd seen him live. Her
physical reaction to him had been instantaneous and powerful and had taken
her completely by surprise.
He'd made her so hot that her panties were soaked by the time she'd left
the concert grounds, and he hadn't even noticed her. Well, of course he
hadn't, there had been thousands of people in attendance. Literally.
Claire had noticed her reaction to the man though, but hadn't said
anything about it at the time. It had taken her several weeks to drag the
details out of Kate, and then she'd done a complete one-eighty, never again
teasing Kate about her celebrity crush. Until today, that is.
A few months later, she'd started dating Brian, and the entire incident
had been dropped, by Claire at any rate. And Kate had never admitted to anyone that it was not her handsome boyfriend that held her tight in her
She sighed heavily as she continued on into the office, stopping to pull
the drapes all the way open before she sat in her office chair, staring
mindlessly at the rain streaking down the door to the deck as that sexy voice
filled her head.
She was standing in the front row, surrounded by women screaming,
whistling, singing, everyone's attention focused on the gorgeous man on the
stage. He smiled and thanked the audience time and again, his seductive
voice and laughing eyes drawing everyone in.
His gaze seemed to settle on her again and again as the night wore on,
and when the concert came to an end, his eyes met hers, filled with curiosity
and heat. He raised a brow in inquiry and she simply nodded, anticipation
throbbing through her as he turned to ask one of the security men to escort
Kate sighed with frustration as she realized how even that much of the
fantasy had affected her. Her panties were just as damp as if he'd been
standing right in front of her. What was wrong with her? That this man, this
stranger, had such an effect on her, it just wasn't…normal.
Her body had prepared itself for sex, her womb clenched with need, her
clit throbbing painfully against the material of her panties. This was
ridiculous. She was going to have to see to her body's needs.
She unbuttoned and unzipped her jeans as she headed back into the
living room. She stretched out along the sofa, using the remote to hit replay
on the CD before she cranked up the volume.
Her hand slid between her legs, beneath the crotch of her panties, and
she sighed with relief as she began stroking her aching clit, her eyes drifting
closed as she picked up the threads of the dream.
* * * *
She was out the door by 6:00 a.m. Friday morning, an overnight bag
riding shotgun in her cherry-red Jeep. It was an hour from her place to the
train station and another three hours to Manhattan. It would have been
quicker to drive, but she hated city traffic, so she left her Jeep in the Park-NRide
and boarded a southbound train.
The trip was uneventful and she was in a pretty good mood when she
arrived at Penn Station. Maybe Claire had been right after all. She'd been
spending too much time in isolation.
She made her way to the subway tunnels, boarding another train that
would take her closer to the suite of offices that housed Claire's agency as
well as Premier Publishing. She was supposed to meet her at her office and
then the two of them would have lunch and do a little shopping. Claire had
made arrangements to take the afternoon off.
Kate was surprised that she was actually looking forward to this. She
hated shopping, which was a complete contradiction, because she loved new
clothes. She had to laugh at herself and the odd quirks of her personality.
She had been feeling bored and restless, maybe a little lonely, she
realized as she exited the train, probably the reason why she'd been
struggling with the manuscript that she was working on. Suffering from a
severe case of sexual frustration wasn't helping either, she admitted to
herself as she climbed the stairs that would lead her up to the street.
She was looking forward to seeing Jason in person again, too. She
hadn't been to a concert in over a year and watching him doing interviews
and a performance on TV wasn't the same. He wouldn't be performing at
the auction, but he would be there selecting the winner. That was good
enough for her.
The sun was peeking through the clouds as she strolled along the
sidewalk, and this cheered her up even more. She was so tired of all the rain
these last few weeks. Considering everything, she was really glad that Claire
had talked her into this.
She made it to the suite of offices just before noon. Entering the
building, she immediately strode over to the information desk.
"Hey, Ms. Nichols. It's been a long time. What brings you in today?"
Michelle, the short and bubbly brunette who manned the desk, greeted her
There were at least two dozen businesses in the building and there must
be thousands of people passing through here each week. Kate was surprised
that the girl remembered her.
"Hey, Michelle, how have you been? I'm actually amazed that you
"I'm a fan, loved your last book!" She giggled and winked.
Kate smiled. Her work was hardly the steamiest stuff out there, but it
was still classified as erotic fiction. "I actually have plans with Ms. Brady
this weekend. I'm meeting her for lunch."
"I'll announce you." She picked up the desk phone and called upstairs,
letting Claire's assistant know that Kate had arrived. "Okay, gorgeous, I'll
send her right up." Michelle turned back to face her. "Marcus says that
Claire got called into a last-minute meeting, but that she shouldn't be too
much longer. He asked me to send you up."
"Thanks, Michelle. It was good seeing you again." Kate smiled and
turned to walk toward the elevators.
She exited on the fourteenth floor and turned right, pushing through the
swinging glass doors, three doors down, that bore Claire's name.
Claire's assistant, Marcus, sat behind his desk in the reception area, and
she smiled in greeting.
He stood and came around the desk, walking up to her, he placed first a
hand, then a kiss on each cheek, right before he planted a wet kiss smack on
her lips. "Hey, gorgeous," he said, grinning.
"Hey! Don't kiss me with those lips. God only knows where they've
been!" She had a huge grin on her face, to take the sting out of her words.
"Uh…like you've never…"
"Not by proxy." She grinned wickedly.
"I adore you, do you know that?" His light brown eyes were alive with
"I do." Her grin turned affectionate.
"So, let me have a look at you?"
She rolled her eyes as she did the customary turn around.
"Ah, Kate, you look so good, I almost wish that women did it for me."
He half-sat on the edge of his desk, arms crossed over his chest, his grin
bigger than ever.
"A compliment, I'm sure." She took a seat on the comfy sofa that was
directly across from his desk. "So, will Claire be much longer? We have
plans," she added, unnecessarily.
"Yes, I know, and let me tell you that I'm beyond envy. An afternoon of
shopping in high-end boutiques! Can you imagine anything more blissful?"
"A root canal?" she suggested half seriously.
Marcus laughed out loud. "You are truly the strangest female!"
She just smiled and ignored the act. He was playing it so far over the top
that it wasn't funny.
He sighed wistfully. "Still, I so wish that I was coming with, but we
couldn't both of us take the afternoon off," he said, referring to Claire. "I
would have loved to help dress you up for your big day."
Kate's face fell in dismay. "She told you?"
"Sure. And let me just reiterate that I'm green with envy. I would be
entering that drawing myself, but rumor has it that he's a card-carrying
heterosexual. What a waste!"
Kate simply glared at him.
"Did I say that out loud? My bad!" He grinned and winked.
"Do you know what amazes me? It's the way that you two seem to think
that I'm going to win this thing. I'm sure that I'll only be one of many. The
odds won't be that good. Yet, still, here I am, about to spend an obscene
amount of money on outfits that I may not even need."
"Oh, pooh! So what if you don't win? Save the clothes for the next
event. It's not like there isn't always another opportunity for dressing up,
right around the corner."
"Did you just say 'pooh'? Seriously?"
"Never mind that. Well, I'm rooting for you, dear heart. One of us
deserves to be blissfully happy."
"It is just dinner," Kate reminded him.
She switched the focus of the conversation to him. "So I can tell by your
tone that your love life is about as exciting as mine at the moment."
He sighed dramatically. "Men."
"You should meet us for drinks later. We can commiserate."
He cheered up considerably. "I am so there!"
Claire returned from her meeting right then. "Sorry, Kate, let me grab
my bag out of the office and we'll be on our way." She strode past the two
of them and Marcus called out to her retreating back.
"Hey, boss? Kate invited me out for drinks with you two later. That cool
He turned back to face Kate. "Okay, beautiful, it's Friday, so I'll be
outta here by five sharp. I'll give you a call, and if you're still shopping? I'll be happy to help out. If you're done? We'll talk about dinner and drinks. Deal?"
Claire locked up her office and strode over to stand beside them, the
strap to her purse slung over her shoulder. "Ready?"
"Yes, ma'am. See you later, Marcus."
"Count on it."
They rode the elevator down to the lobby but stopped in their tracks as
the doors slid open. A rather large crowd of reporters, some with mikes,
some with cameras, surrounded a tall, dark-haired man just inside the wide
glass doors that fronted the building.
Claire grabbed Kate's arm and dragged her quickly across the lobby
until they stood behind the information desk. Michelle was busy dialing up
security on her desk phone and Kate turned to face Claire.
"What's that all about? Who is he?" she asked, referring to the harriedlooking
man in the center of all the chaos.
"That's Brandon Boyce, suspense author. His latest book just made New
York Times Bestseller."
"Mr. Boyce, has your recent divorce affected your creativity at all?" A
reporter shouted out from the back of the throng.
"Will you be suing your ex-wife for custody of your children?" A
female voice rose above the general din.
"Any truth to the rumors that your extra-marital activities led to your
divorce?" Another reporter chimed in.
"What the hell does any of that have to do with his novel?" Kate asked
Claire shrugged. "That's the price of fame. The public will want to
know anything and everything about you."
"Yeah? Well, do me a favor. If I ever become that famous? Shoot me!"
Claire grinned broadly. "No way girlfriend! You famous equals more
money for yours truly."
Kate glared at her but she couldn't contain her amusement for long and
the corner of her lips began to twitch as Mr. Boyce finally made it into the
elevator, muttering, "No comment," just one more time.
"Is it even legal for them to be asking those kinds of personal questions?" Kate asked as the remaining reporters that were unable to cram \into the elevator with him, all crammed into the one on the left as soon as the doors slid open.
Claire shrugged before she turned her attention to Michelle. "You called
security, Michelle?" she asked.
"I did, Ms. Brady. Hopefully they can deal with them before they
manage to disrupt anyone else's workday," she replied with a frown.
"Okay. I'll see you later then." They came out from behind the desk,
strolling across the lobby to the front doors and Michelle threw a wave as
they exited the building.
The sun was shining brightly as they stepped out onto the crowded
sidewalk and Kate stopped to rummage through her bag for her sunglasses.
Once she put them on, she turned to Claire, who had slid hers on as well.
Still, Kate noticed the strain around her eyes and she asked if anything was
wrong, and if it had anything to do with the scene that they had just
Claire answered as they began strolling through the crowd, looking for
somewhere to eat. "No, it's not that, and it's nothing bad either. That
meeting that I was called into?"
Kate simply nodded.
"Apparently Premier Publishing is trying to acquire a smaller publishing
firm that's been in the red for quite some time. Daddy called me into his
meeting with the board, because if this thing happens? A lot of new clients
will get shuffled my way."
She continued, "There's nothing definite and I won't begin to go into all
the legalities of the thing, but it's looking like I'm going to be extremely
busy for the foreseeable future. Of course, the merger will provide for the
clients to either come over to us or seek other representation."
Claire had a good working relationship with her father's publishing
company. She'd interned there during her senior year and could have been
hired on, but she'd wanted to do something on her own. So she'd opened her
own literary agency, taking on a partner who was older and more
experienced to bring in clients until she'd established a reputation of her
own with other people in the business. Now, her partner and she represented
about a dozen or so authors each. And Premier publishing, as well as a few
others, usually recommended her agency to authors seeking representation.
Kate nodded. "Well it stinks to hear about another company going
under, but at least the employees and clients will be offered some protection.
That can only be a good thing, given the state of the economy."
"Agreed. Enough shop talk," Claire said as she shook off her
professional persona. "Let's eat, then we can talk about the look that you're
going for and take it from there."
They strolled along the sidewalk until they found a restaurant with
outside tables. They took a seat and a waitress came over to them with a pair
of plastic menus, taking their drink order before hurrying off.
"So," Kate began, "for dinner in a five-star restaurant, high quality
evening wear is required."
"Obviously," Claire agreed.
"Now for the auction itself, I've been toying with a few different ideas."
"Like?" Claire asked suspiciously..
"Well, I'm thinking that he's a rocker, after all, despite all those
unbelievable ballads. So he may not be into the sophisticated look. He's
probably into sexy fun. I'm thinking skin-tight leather dress, spiky heels.
Ooh, and do you think that I have time to get a tattoo? I could get a
temporary. I mean, I'll never see him again, so how would he know? Maybe
get some piercings in strategic places…" She allowed her voice to trail off.
"Define strategic places, because you already have a belly-ring."
Kate just giggled.
The waitress returned with a tray bearing two waters and two Cokes.
After setting their drinks in front of them, she removed an order pad from
the pocket of her apron. "Are you ladies ready to order?" she asked, smiling.
Kate chose a chef's salad with creamy Italian dressing and Claire opted
for a turkey wrap. The waitress smiled, retrieved the menus, and took off to
place their order.
"Or," Kate continued, "maybe a pair of designer hip-huggers, leather
boots, that photo-T…Oh shit, I left it at home." She looked genuinely
"It's nice to see you in a better mood." Claire grinned at her.
"It's nice to be in a better mood." She grinned back.
"Still, we are pressed for time, so…"
"I'm going with the jeans and boots, but I want to pair that with a silk
blouse. What do you think?"
"Sounds perfect. I know just the place."
The waitress returned with their lunch and they fell silent while they ate.
Kate watched the endless city traffic surge past in both directions, while
a sea of pedestrians skirted the outside eating area on their way to wherever.
She didn't hate the city, exactly, she just preferred living in the country and
always had. The summers that she'd spent at the lake house with her parents
and then her grandparents had been some of the happiest times in her life.
She'd have to admit that it had been her desire to keep her family close,
to keep those memories alive, that had driven her decision to move out
They were all gone now. All she had left of them was a collection of
photographs and those memories.
Her thoughts drifted to the time right after her grandfather's death, when
her relationship with Brian finally came to an end. The sad thing about it
was that it had been a relief. She'd reached the conclusion that he was not
the man for her long before he'd realized it himself, but she hadn't known
how to go about ending it.
Brian was a good man, attractive, intelligent, motivated, but she'd
always felt that there was something missing. She hadn't been sure exactly
what that was. She'd only been nineteen when they'd started dating, but by
the time they'd graduated she was pretty sure that they were just too
different to make it work, which was probably why she'd resisted his
suggestion that they move in together.
They'd grown further apart after that until they finally admitted to
themselves and to each other that it was time to separate and move on. They
hadn't stayed in touch, but there were no hard feelings. In fact, she wished
him only happiness.
"Hey, where'd you go?" Claire's voice brought her back to the present.
"Sorry, I was reminiscing."
"Missing Manhattan, are you?" Claire teased.
Claire grinned as she picked up the check with a "my treat" look, and
they headed off to the shops.
The first one that they stopped in was small but upscale. They sat and
waited for the stylishly-dressed sales assistant to lead them through the
store. They oohed and aahed over several dresses for about an hour until
Kate declared, "This is it!"
She had chosen a cream-colored, satin halter dress with a matching
jacket. Claire examined it critically. "Let's see how it looks on you." The
sales assistant led them back to the changing rooms, before she glided off to
help another customer.
Kate entered the changing room and disrobed, pulling the satin dress
over her head and smoothing it down her body, reveling in the feel of the
cool material against her skin. She only hoped that it looked as good on her
as it felt. She stood before the mirror once she had adjusted the dress to her
The dress clung to her curves, ending halfway to her knees and molding
to her flat abdomen. The only looseness in the material was the draped
fabric that covered her breasts, descending from the scooped neckline. The
halter straps ran up the sides of her chest and buttoned at the nape of her
She focused her attention on the reflection from the mirror behind her,
examining the back of the dress. It began just above the curve of her butt,
leaving her entire back bare.
She slipped into the jacket and turned in front of the mirrors to examine
herself from every angle. The jacket was short, designed to end just where
the dress began in the back, so that if the wearer were to stretch even the
least little bit, a tantalizing view of bare skin would be revealed. She smiled
with satisfaction and exited the changing room.
Claire and the sales assistant had been patiently waiting. "So, I love this
and I'm buying it regardless, but do you think that it's appropriate? Or, does
the color scream 'wedding party'?"
Claire spoke first. "I think that it could absolutely be worn to a wedding,
but it looks amazing on you. My first rule of shopping is to go with your
Kate turned to the sales assistant, who was supposed to be an expert on
such matters. "I agree with your friend. You look amazing and the coloring
"Okay, we have the dress. Now let's accessorize and find an outfit for
the day." Claire wasted no time while Kate returned to the changing room to
put on her own clothes. Kate handed the dress to her over the door and by
the time she returned to the sales floor, the dress was boxed and bagged. She
handed over her credit card and they were on their way.
By 6:00 p.m., they had matching satin stilettos and panties, a pair of hiphugging
designer jeans, calf-high leather dress boots, and a silk blouse that
was nearly the same color as the dress.
Kate really liked the blouse, too. It had three-quarter sleeves with wide
cuffs and a plunging V-neckline. There were only three buttons in the front
and then the material flared out. As she walked there would be brief
glimpses of the diamond that she wore in her navel.
She had brought jewelry from home, so there was no need for any more
Marcus had joined them just before six and gave his stamp of approval
to the entire ensemble. He paid for a cab to Claire's place, where they
dropped off the packages and freshened up before heading out to dinner.
He chose a really nice bar and grill and they spent the next few hours
talking and laughing over dinner and drinks. It was the first time that the
three of them had been out together since Kate had moved out of her
They called it quits around eleven, Marcus agreeing to meet them at the
Manhattan Avenue side of Central Park at nine the following morning.
Kate accompanied Claire back to her place. She was completely wiped
out from the long day of travel and shopping, so she declined Claire's offer
of a nightcap and headed off to the guest room. She slipped into her
nightgown and brushed her teeth before she crawled into bed, falling asleep
as soon as her head hit the pillow.
~~Saturday morning dawned clear and warm, a perfect spring day. Claire
was already showered and dressed when Kate entered the kitchen.
"Morning," Kate said through a yawn. "You look nice." Claire was
wearing designer jeans with a sleeveless, green silk blouse, draped down the
front as was Kate's dress. A matching pair of green flats covered her feet.
Claire took a quick sip of her coffee before returning the greeting.
"Morning, sunshine. You need coffee?"
"No thanks, just a shower. We're pressed for time, so I'll just grab
something from one of the vendors once the deed is done."
She headed to the bathroom to shower and change, briefly drying her
long, wavy black hair and leaving it loose, as was her preference. Make-up
applied, jewelry in place, she returned to the kitchen, her bag slung over her
"Let's do it!"
They arrived at the park a few minutes before nine.
Kate spotted Marcus immediately, dressed in casual slacks and a shortsleeved,
button-down shirt. He was chatting up some guy who looked like
the poster boy for fun in the sun.
He turned away from his companion when he spotted them making their
way toward him. His face lit up like a Christmas tree. "Gal pals! Don't you
both look good enough to eat?" he said, grinning.
Claire just glared at him. Marcus was nowhere near as flamboyant as he
was pretending to be.
Kate watched them with a smile. Although, technically, they were
employer and employee, Claire and Marcus were very fond of each other,
and the three of them had been friends since college, although Marcus had
been a year ahead of them.
He wedged himself between the two of them, offering an arm to each,
which they accepted graciously.
Once the introductions had been made, Mr. Fun in the Sun, or Michael
as he liked to be called, begged off with a vague promise of, "I'll call
"I have to ask," Claire began curiously, "was that a brushoff? Because
in the heterosexual world, that would be considered a brushoff, and I'm
wondering if the same rules apply?"
"Gee, Claire, you can be so insensitive sometimes!" Kate scolded. "The
man has feelings, you know." Kate patted Marcus's arm consolingly.
"It's all good, ladies," Marcus said, as if he didn't have a care in the
"So," he continued, "who wants to hear about the shenanigans going on
over at the Jason Grey ticket booth?"
"Tell us!" they said in unison.
Marcus began speaking as if he was divulging state secrets. "First of all,
security has been dragging off young girls all morning. Apparently several
of them tried to pass fake IDs."
There was a minimum age of twenty-one for participation in the
"But the real drama was when this guy came up and literally dragged a
woman off the line." Marcus shook his head sadly. "There are some truly
crazy people in this world. Apparently the woman was his wife. I don't
think it's serious though, he didn't look like the violent type."
Kate threw Claire an "I told you so" look and Claire just shook her
"How many women do you think will enter? Five grand is a lot to
spend, especially in this economy," Kate said.
"I don't think that they'll be able to process more than two hundred or
so. There's only a four-hour window to purchase the tickets," Marcus
"I wonder why they limited themselves like that," Kate reflected. "They
could have raised a lot more money if they'd allowed people more time."
"Yes, but the profits would probably be offset by the increased cost of
security and crowd control," Claire chimed in.
"I guess that makes sense," Kate said. "There's a crowd of fans gathering already," Marcus pointed out. "All hoping to catch a glimpse of 'His Hotness.'"
It was Kate's turn to glare at Marcus, but he just grinned and shrugged.
"In any event, it's a real shame about all the drama," Claire reflected.
"It'll put people off wanting to be involved in this type of fundraiser."
They arrived at the ticket booth and Kate got in line. There were about
two dozen women ahead of her, so she didn't think that she'd have to wait
that long. She idly searched her surroundings, looking for an appropriate
vendor, beginning to feel the effects of her skipped breakfast.
Marcus came up to her. "Listen, sugar, Claire and I are heading over to
the fine arts pavilion," he pointed to the makeshift structure, a few hundred
yards away. "They don't open until ten, but they have brochures available so
that we can see what's being offered. Join us when you're done?"
"Sure." Kate watched as the two of them headed off, moving up in line
as another woman completed her transaction.
She reached the booth a few minutes before ten, withdrawing her ID and
the certified check from her purse, as per the article's instructions.
She noticed several security people wandering around. After all, there
would be a lot of money changing hands today. And as Marcus had pointed
out, a huge crowd of Jason Grey fans.
The booth attendant smiled politely as she verified Kate's ID and check.
Kate wrote her name and address on the back of the ticket that the woman
handed her and the attendant tore it in half along the perforation, handing
one half back to her.
An independent auditor verified that the number on the ticket that she
held matched the number on the ticket that would be placed in the drawing,
and then asked her to confirm the verification. Once that was done, she
placed her ticket in her purse and left the booth, passing the three dozen or
so women that had lined up behind her.
She went in search of a vendor, needing to eat something before she
joined Marcus and Claire over at the pavilion.
Her breakfast ended up being a London broil skewer, a soft pretzel, and
a Pepsi. Once she'd eaten, she disposed of her trash and made her way over
to the pavilion, eventually finding her friends examining what was, in her
opinion, a really ugly sculpture.
"All set?" Claire asked. "Yes. Now I just have to figure out what to do until three o'clock."
Marcus linked arms with her again. "There's plenty to see, plenty to do.
What do you think of this?" he asked, referring to the sculpture.
"I think it's ugly," she answered truthfully.
Claire laughed out loud. "That's what I said."
"Well obviously the two of you are artistically handicapped, but I won't
hold it against you." Claire took his other arm and the three of them spent
the next few hours wandering around the auction.
Kate spotted a heavy, leaded crystal vase that she wanted and Claire was
interested in a few of the paintings. When it was time to head over to the
drawing, Marcus stayed behind to bid for them, having been given specific
price caps not to be exceeded.
As they got closer to the drawing booth, they could see that a temporary
stage had been set up and that the number of security personnel had more
than doubled. A large area in front of the stage had been cordoned off and
only those fans that held a ticket would be allowed into this section.
An enormous crowd of fans and by-standers had gathered around the
barrier and a large section had been reserved for the inevitable crowd of
newspaper, magazine and T.V. reporters who were assigned to cover this
event. Kate squashed her displeasure at the sight of them, realizing that this
was all for a good cause and that they could use all the publicity that they
could get. A black limousine with tinted windows was parked nearby and
several plainclothes security people hovered around it, speaking into their
"Jesus," Kate remarked nervously. "It looks like the freaking Secret
"Lifestyles of the rich and famous," Claire responded drily as the two of
them slowly made their way through the crowd of women, all hoping to be
the one holding the winning ticket.
* * * *
In the back of the limo, Jason sat, sipping from a glass of whiskey that
he'd poured himself about ten minutes before. His manager, Caroline, sat
across from him, frowning with disapproval. He smiled to himself. He
swore the woman thought that she was his mother sometimes. A twinge of grief followed that thought, and he took another sip of his drink as he turned his attention from the past to the near future.
He was not looking forward to this "dream date" thing. He was a firm
believer in giving back, he just thought that there had to be a better way to
do that, a better way than having to spend an entire evening with some
He chastised himself for the ungracious thought. He would be nothing
without his fans and he knew it. Most of them were terrific and he
appreciated their continued support, but some of these women? The way
that they threw themselves at him was a real turnoff. Of course, they'd take
away his man card if he ever copped to that in public, not to mention the fact
that he'd single-handedly tank his career.
He smiled to himself as he recalled his adolescent fantasies. What
teenaged boy had never dreamed about becoming a rock star? Dreamed
about having countless women at his feet, ready to do anything and
everything just to spend a little time with him, just to be able to tell their
friends that they'd been with him?
The problem was that teenaged boys grew into men, and although many
of his contemporaries still indulged in the fantasy, living a life of
promiscuity and debauchery, the novelty of all that had worn off for him
He was no saint. In the beginning when it was all brand new, when he'd
been a horny teenager who'd let the constant attention go to his head, he'd
been just as bad as anyone else in the same situation. He'd had more casual
sexual encounters than he cared to remember. On one occasion, three
women had accompanied him back to his hotel room after a concert, and
although he'd come half a dozen times, he'd eventually ended up bored and
His forays into a monogamous relationship had been just as
unsatisfying, the last one in particular. He'd managed to convince himself
that he was in love with Megan and she with him. That was, until she'd
moved on to bigger and better things, or more specifically, to the producer
that she'd been screwing for months.
He sighed bitterly and polished off the drink, reaching toward the minibar to fix another.
Caroline stopped him. "You're on in five minutes. And try not to look so miserable, would you? To look at you, you'd think that you were headed off to your execution instead of a lovely evening spent in the company of one of your devoted fans."
"Jesus, Caroline, I don't know how I let you talk me in to this kind of shit," he said irritably.
"Because basically you're a decent guy, and that's rare in this business.
So put on a happy face, and go on out there and make some lucky young
woman's life, okay?"
He sighed heavily as one of the security guys rapped on the window,
signaling that it was showtime.
* * * *
Claire had discreetly slipped a crisp one hundred dollar bill to the guard
who was verifying ticket holders, and then accompanied Kate into the
cordoned-off section. They slowly inched their way toward the stage and
were only about three or four rows back when the announcer stepped up to
the mike. "Good afternoon, ladies! How are you all doing on this lovely
There was a barrage of screams and whistles. Kate did not indulge.
"That's great! Well, it's about five minutes to three, so without further
delay, I'd like to present Jason Grey!" The volume of the screams and
whistles was deafening. As before, Kate did not indulge. She simply
watched him as he jogged up the steps, striding across the stage to accept the
mike from the announcer's outstretched hand.
Grinning broadly, his eyes hid behind dark sunglasses, he addressed the
audience. "Thank you so much."
The screaming and whistling started again and it was beginning to
annoy Kate. The din had drowned out that amazing voice of his.
When the crowd had quieted down some, he began speaking again.
"I've been told that we're on a tight schedule, so unfortunately, we'll be
keeping this short."
A chorus of boos followed this announcement.
"Sorry about that, ladies. The good news is, it's time to get out your
The women, who weren't already clutching them in their hands,
retrieved them from wherever they had stashed them. Kate removed hers
from her purse and Claire peeked over her shoulder, memorizing the
There was a great deal of fanfare as the independent auditor, flanked by
his own security detail, crossed the stage to stand solemnly in front of Jason,
holding a clear plastic bin full of ticket stubs.
A hush fell over the crowd and Jason wished everyone good luck before
reaching his hand into the container. He grabbed a single ticket from
somewhere in the middle, and handed it to the auditor, who made a note of
the number before he returned the ticket to Jason.
"Everybody ready?" He grinned at the audience before he read off the
"Holy shit!" Claire hissed beside her.
Kate glanced at her ticket again. 1-5-3-7-4. But how could that be? She
was bombarded by the sounds of disappointed women, the ones not holding
the winning ticket. She held the winning ticket. She said nothing, and Jason
called out the numbers again.
Claire grabbed her hand and raised it into the air. "1-5-3-7-4, right
Everyone turned to look at them at once, the crowd of disappointed
women, the group of men on the stage, and Jason Grey.
She couldn't say that their eyes met. They were each wearing
sunglasses, but still, a tingle of something penetrated her shocked senses. If
Claire didn't have her hand in a painful grip she may have actually passed
No, that isn't right, she reminded herself. She wasn't one of those
screaming, crying, passing out, or underwear-tossing fans. She was simply
someone who deeply appreciated his incredible talent. And his good looks,
of course. And was someone who'd had more sexual fantasies about him
than she cared to remember.
The announcer was back at the mike. "Congratulations! Please step on
stage, miss, so that the ticket may be verified by our independent auditor."
Claire hissed in her ear, "Just breathe, dammit!"
"I got it!" Kate said weakly. "I mean, I'm okay."
Claire reluctantly let go of her hand and Kate had to flex her fingers a
few times to regain feeling as she walked to the edge of the platform,
climbed the stairs, and crossed the stage, smiling weakly at the group of men
She avoided looking at Jason directly, concentrating instead on inhaling
and exhaling as she passed her ticket to the auditor for verification. He
checked her stub against the ticket that Jason had pulled out of the bin, the
half that had her name and address written on the back. He asked her, her
name and address and she responded, confirming that she had purchased the
ticket. Satisfied, he nodded to the announcer who spoke into the mike.
"We have a winner! Congratulations again, miss."
The man shook her hand and she responded, "Thank you."
Kate turned to face the rest of the men as Jason stepped away from
them. He stepped up to her and took her hand in his.
~~Katherine Nichols sat at her desk, staring at the flashing
cursor on the