Katie Winfield plotted the seduction with military precision.
Exactitude wasn’t her typical modus operandi. On the contrary, she was usually quite spontaneous and in fact, had a reputation as something of a free spirit. But she and Richard had been flirting for weeks with no forward motion in their relationship. Tonight would thrust them toward a whole new level of intimacy.
Embracing the advance planning she normally eschewed, Katie picked up a pencil and ticked off the items on her ‘to do’ list that she’d already accomplished.
Facial and pedicure. √
Sexy French maid costume. √
Tantalizing new perfume. √
Catch-me, do-me stilettos. √
Auburn wig. √
Black silk stockings. √
Push-up bra. √
Erotic face mask. √
Lots and lots of condoms. √
Just reading over the list made her feel all warm and tingling and melty inside. This evening—during the ultra-posh Boston Ladies League charity costume ball thrown annually on the Friday before Labor Day weekend—she intending on bedazzling the pants off Richard Montgomery Hancock the III.
Katie had spent her lunch hour shopping and had just returned to work fifteen minutes late and out of breath. Furtively, she kicked the loot further underneath her desk, and then darted a glance over her shoulder to see if her boss had noticed her tardiness.
“What didja buy?” asked her office mate, Tanisha Taylor, as she sauntered through the door, grande soy latte in hand.
“Nothing much.” Katie shrugged.
At five-nine, Tanisha towered over Katie’s own five-foot-three-inch stature. They were both twenty-four and they’d started working as graphic artists at Sharp Designs on the very same day ten months earlier. It was the longest Katie had worked anywhere and she was starting to feel edgy.
With her radiant, caramel complexion and deep chocolate brown eyes, Tanisha was a drop-dead beauty. She wore her hair in a tightly braided shoulder-length style that made her narrow face look even thinner. She possessed the leanly muscular build of a dancer, quite the opposite of Katie’s well-rounded, non-athletic figure. They made for an unusually looking pair.
Today her coworker was dressed in a lavender silk blouse tucked into a pair of straight-leg, black slacks and sensible black flats. But Katie knew from the wild nights they’d recently spent closing down bars that beneath that the buttoned down attire lurked the adventuresome soul of a Nubian goddess.
Tanisha spied the red and black striped bag from Fetching Fantasies and dove for it before Katie could block her. Tanisha set down her latte, perched on the edge of Katie’s desk and peeked inside the bag.
“Oo-la-la, what have we here? Parlez-vous Francaise?” she teased.
“Just a costume for the Ladies League masquerade party.” Katie snatched the bag away and clutched it to her chest. “No biggie.”
“You are going to be the hussy of the ball in that getup.” Tanisha grinned.
“That’s the general idea.”
“Spill it, who’ve you got lined up in your crosshairs?”
Katie slowly shook her head and returned Tanisha’s sly grin.
“Don’t give me that. I know you’ve got something up your sleeve.”
Katie tilted her head, lowered her eyelashes and slanted Tanisha a sideways glance. “Do you know Richard Hancock?”
“Everyone in town knows who Richard is. What are you trying to do? Ruffle all the blue blood feathers in Boston?”
That comment pulled her up short. Why did she suddenly feel as if her conscience was a target and Tanisha’s accusation a straight flying arrow?
“What makes you say that?”
“Why else would you want to hook up with Richard ‘The Dick’ Hancock? He’s sooonot your type.” Tanisha hopped off Katie’s desk and plopped down in front of her drafting board.
“What do you mean? Richard is a very handsome guy.”
“I’m not talking about his looks.”
“What’s wrong with Richard?”
“Nothing is wrong with Richard, what’s wrong is that you’re plotting to seduce him at the Ladies League ball.” Tanisha clicked her tongue.
“What’s so bad about that?”
“Face it, Katie. You’ve got a knack for causing a stir.”
“You do. Who got caught kissing the CEO’s son under the mistletoe at the office Christmas party?”
“Hey,” Katie said defensively. “How was I to know he’d just gotten engaged?”
“That’s my point, K. You don’t always take the time to ask the right questions and it often lands you in hot water. Subconsciously, I think you enjoy causing a scandal.”
“I do not.” Did she?
“Either that or you’re into self-sabotage. Which is it?”
“If you say so.” Tanisha sounded skeptical.
“I say so.”
“And De Nile is just a river in Egypt.” Tanisha snorted.
Was she sabotaging herself? As the youngest of three sisters growing up in a household run by their loving mother and strict naval officer father, Katie had done a little acting out for attention, but so what?
She’d played hooky a few times in high school. She got caught sneaking out her bedroom window to meet a boyfriend once or twice. She enjoyed making Great Aunt Josephine’s upper crust nose wrinkle in disapproval by listen to hip-hop and using street slang and wearing jeans to family gatherings. Honestly, she’d never done anything too radical. Katie just liked having fun. Her motives were no more complicated than a Cindi Lauper song.
Well, okay, maybe sometimes it got stifling with her two older, oh-so-perfect sisters. Brooke was the beautiful one and Joey was the smart one and they were both as good as gold. By default, that left Katie with the title of wild child. But everyone had a family label, right? She just chose to wear hers proudly.
To be honest, even after their father had passed away five years ago, she and her sisters had still lived a fairytale life. They’d been lucky, blessed, until this past year when the Winfield sisters’ world had totally collapsed.
Katie didn’t want to think about it, but the rush of memories overwhelmed her and she felt herself caught in a tornado of emotion that squeezed the breath from her lungs. She forced a smile, determined not to let Tanisha know about the sorrow knotting up inside her.
But a smile couldn’t stop the sad feelings.
In January, Katie and her sisters had received the horrible news that their beloved mother Daisy had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Katie had denied it for as long as she could. She’d pretended it was all a big mistake, that their mother was fine. But each day Daisy Winfield grew weaker and sicker until Katie could deny it no longer.
After that, she’d gotten angry. When Brooke had told her that she was in the second stage of grief, the comment had pissed her off. Sainted Brooke, who never did anything wrong apparently leap-frogged right over the five stages of grief. She’d quickly skimmed from denial to anger to depression and bargaining straight on through to acceptance.
Katie, according to Brooke, had never gotten past anger.
Maybe she hadn’t. But how was she supposed to get past it? Her mother had only been fifty-three when she passed away in July, just six months after she’d been diagnosed.
It wasn’t fair.
Katie closed her eyes and inhaled sharply at the remember pain of that awful night their mother had died. Involuntarily, she laid a hand across her heart and felt a solid ache for the loss of her mother.
“Katie?” Tanisha’s voice snapped her out of the past and back into the present.
She opened her eyes.
Tanisha had an odd expression on her face as she canted her head and a dark braid fell against her chiseled cheekbone. “You all right?”
“You don’t look all right.”
“I’m all right.”
“Does this shopping spree and Ladies League seduction have anything to do with losing your mother?” Tanisha nodded at the shopping bags crammed underneath Katie’s desk.
Her coworker was more perceptive than she imaged. Tanisha’s party girl personality gave the impression that she wasn’t the type to pry into her friend’s deep, dark secrets, which was probably one of the reasons Katie had been drawn to her. She was not a fan of digging in her psyche.
“Why would you think that?” Katie forced a laugh but it came out sounding strangled and strange.
“I was just thinking that maybe you’re looking to seduce Richard as a way of drowning your sorrow. You know, choking pain with pleasure.”
“No, no. Of course not. That’s ludicrous. I can’t believe you thought that.”
“This coming weekend is the two month anniversary of your mother’s death.”
“So maybe instead of facing what’s upsetting you, you’re seducing Richard Hancock instead.”
“Well, I’m not,” Katie snapped.
Tanisha held up her palms. “Oookay, I was just checking. No need getting testy.”
“I don’t get it. What do you have against me hooking up with Richard?”
“He’s just not what you need right now.”
“Why not?” she asked. “He’s fun and flirty and likes to have a good time.”
“You’re two of a kind.”
“Again, why is that a problem?”
“Come on, be honest, do you even like Richard?”
“Sure.” Katie shrugged.
“What do you like about him?” Tanisha lifted a finger. “And you can say anything physical.”
Why couldn’t she think of what she liked about Richard beside his thick blonde hair and his radiant white-toothed smile and his big, broad tanned hands? He wasn’t terribly bright, nor was he horribly reliable. But come on, she wasn’t talking about marrying the guy. She just needed to get laid.
“Can’t do it, can you?”
“No, you’re the funny one. He just laughs at your jokes.”
Eeps! Tanisha was right, but Katie didn’t want to admit it. “Okay, then that’s what I like about him. He makes me feel funny.”
“Funny ha-ha or funny weird?”
“Now you’re just giving me a hard time. What’s the deal?”
Tanisha took a deep breath. “Let’s drop the conversation. We’ve both got work to wrap up before the holiday weekend.”
“No, seriously, I want to know.”
“You sure?” Tanisha arched an eyebrow. “You promise not to get mad at me?”
“What do you mean? I’m not an angry person.”
“You didn’t used to be,” Tanisha braved.
“But I am now?”
“Well, sometimes, kind of, ever since your mother passed away.”
That stunned her. To hear it from Brooke was one thing. As the oldest, Brooke had often seen it as her job to monitor Katie and correct her behavior, but to hear it from her friend was another story.
“It’s okay,” Tanisha said. “Everyone understands. You’ve been through a lot. But instead of hooking up with good time guys like Richard, you might be at a point in your life where it’s time you checked out the other side of the fence. Maybe you should try being with someone more substantial.”
“I don’t get it. Where is this coming from? You party and flirt as much as I do.”
“Yeah, but I do it because it’s just part of who I am. I think you’re doing it as some kind of rebellion you never outgrew. Deep down inside you’re a lot more traditional than you want people to believe.”
“If you want to party and flirt and have lots of casual sex then great, do it. Don’t apologize for it. But if you’re doing it simply to prove to yourself that you’re not like the rest of your family, maybe you should take second look at what kind of lifestyle will really make you happy.”
“This is ridiculous.”
“Winfield,” boomed a gruff voice from the across the room.
Katie swiveled in her chair to see her boss, Max Kruger standing in the doorway. A persistent frown rode his bushy eyebrows. Max was fiftyish, sported an out-of-style crew cut and he had a penchant for wearing chinos with crisply starched white shirts. He looked like a basketball coach and managed his employees with the same sort of affable crustiness.
“Yes, Mr. Kruger?”
“You’re going to have to stay late tonight.” File in hand, Max strode into their office.
“But it’s the Friday before the holiday weekend,” Katie said, feeling her plans for seduction slipping away. All she’d wanted was to end the evening in bed with Richard. She’d been dreaming about the feel of a masculine arm around her waist, the smell of a man’s scent in her nostrils, the sweet oblivion of an orgasm.
“I have plans.”
“Do you like your job, Winfield?”
Max thrust the file at her. “Then you’re staying late. Kringle’s Krackers didn’t like the color fill on the logo. They want something more ghetto chic.”
“For overpriced saltines?”
“Hey, it’s what the customer wants. They’re going for a whole new demographics.”
“What’s that? Dock rats?”
Max tried not to smile at her joke. He managed to keep a straight face, but his eyes lit up. Katie could tell he agreed with her, but the customer was always right. “You’ve got to come up with a new palette by Monday.”
“But Monday is Labor Day.”
“Kringle is a Canadian company. They don’t celebrate our Labor Day. Get to it Winfield, unless you intend on being here until midnight.” Max turned and stalked from the room.
Katie groaned and swiveled her chair back around to her computer. Muttering darkly under her breath, she grabbed the Kringle Krackers file.
“Maybe you should look at this as a sign,” Tanisha said.
“What do you mean?”
“That you’re not supposed to seduce Richard Hancock at the Ladies League masquerade ball.”
She paused a moment, giving Tanisha’s suggestion some thought. “I could take it as a sign,” she said. “Or I could take it as a challenge to see how quickly I can get this project mopped up and get over there.”
Tanisha shook her head. “I gotta hand it to you, K. Whenever you put your mind to something, you put your mind to it.”
“Nah.” Katie grinned. “I’m just deeply into self-sabotage.”
SUBSCRIBE TO LORI WILDE'S NEWSLETTER!