On a sidewalk in downtown Boston, two thousand miles from home, Kelly Williams should have been standing on the brink of sweet success. Instead, she caught the distinctive whiff of failure.
Jet-lagged and dazed, Kelly braced herself against the people jostling to get to work, her cowboy boots and snug jeans at odds with the tailored suits and designer outfits of the crowd. She peered up at the big, glass office building matching the address of the business card she clutched in one hand. At the roof, huge metal letters spelled out SINGLETON INDUSTRIES.
Please. She was supposed to believe the building was named after Dean? Dean the devil-may-care, Dean the definitely not-at-all-serious Singleton? This big, fancy office building, not to mention the corporation it housed, was named after the casual smile of a man she’d met sliding quarters into a slot machine in time to the song he’d been whistling?
The man she’d foolishly allowed to become her lover, and more, two nights ago?
“Drat,” she muttered, wishing her upbringing allowed her to use a word that was much, much stronger.
The whiff of failure was becoming a positive stench. Here Kelly’d thought she was going to do something strong for a change, take action when a man walked out on her, instead of sit huddled in her apartment, crying.
So she’d begged off work and maxed out her credit card ‑‑ only to end up at this phony address Dean had put on his sham of a business card.
She was no closer to the bum than before.
With a furious groan, Kelly spun away. She tried to calm down, but it was so…stupid. Indeed, she’d been so stupid since three days ago when Dean had looked up from the slot machine and into her face, his easy grin fading. She’d been sucked in by his seemingly awkward, apparently sincere, charm.
Oh, he’d been an operator, all right. He’d got her, a seasoned chorus girl, to believe every honeyed word and warm look he’d tossed her way. He’d acted like he understood her desire to desert the life of glitter in order to build a real home, a home with a man who truly loved her. Kelly supposed he had understood that part, for he’d used it. He’d sweepingly declared he was that man. He’d said they were made for each other.
And she’d believed him.
She’d married him.
Just so he could have a one-night stand.
An awful pain constricted Kelly’s chest. She’d been in love, while he’d ‑‑ he’d ‑‑ She gritted her teeth and shook the pain away. Uh-uh. No matter what he’d intended, she wasn’t going to cry.
She was going to seize her self-respect.
Kelly brushed a windblown strand of hair from her eyes and straightened her shoulders. She would declare to Dean, the world, and herself that she deserved to be treated better. She didn’t deserve to have a man marry her, and the very next morning sneak out on her.
Her smoldering anger burning once more, Kelly narrowed her eyes and turned back to the black glass office building. Her gaze traveled up to the huge metal letters and her brain began to function again.
Okay, so the building wasn’t named after Dean, but he’d known about it. He’d put this address on his fake card. There was a good chance he was related to whoever actually did run Singleton Industries.
Yes, maybe he was related. Maybe someone inside the building knew Dean.
Better yet, maybe someone knew where Dean was.
The possibility galvanized Kelly. She strode toward the busy revolving glass door at the base of the building and joined the crowd filing into the lobby.
A gleaming black elevator took her to the top floor, the one indicated on the phony business card. Kelly’s jaw set as she took in the expanse of elegant marble, the partitions of polished oak paneling, and the humming professionalism.
Dean, the man who didn’t even wear a watch, wasn’t going to be found here.
But she didn’t expect to find him, Kelly reminded herself. Just her next clue. An address ‑‑ a real address ‑‑ would be nice.
Her cowboy boots clicked on the smooth wood floor as Kelly approached the closest cubicle, one that looked like reception. The fringes of her lucky faux-deerskin jacket flicked over the marble countertop as she held out the well-worn business card. “Do you ‑‑ Well, have you ever heard of this guy?” she asked with a polite smile.
The woman on the other side of the marble counter skimmed Kelly’s smile and looked down at the card, the one Dean had given her the night they’d met. The incandescent lights gleamed on the receptionist’s sleek chignon as she gave the card a good, long stare. Then she looked up to give Kelly an even longer stare. “That’s his personal card,” she finally said, sounding suspicious.
“His ‑‑ ?” Kelly blinked. “You mean…it’s real?”
Confusion now tinged the receptionist’s earlier suspicion. “Of course.”
Of course. Kelly drew her hand back to look at the card, herself. It was real. It was real. That meant ‑‑ Her breath rushed into her lungs. Her head jerked up. “Then he’s here.”
“He’s here.” Heat immediately flooded Kelly’s veins. He was there. She’d found him. Broad smile, gleaming eyes, aura of sincerity and acceptance. Handsome. Oh, handsome as all get out. Something inside her convulsed with an emotion that felt a lot like longing.
Kelly instantly pulled herself back from that brink. Not longing. None of his sincerity stuff had been real. He hadn’t loved her. He’d left her. “I see, the card is ‑‑ ahem. What I mean is, could you tell me where to find him, please?” Kelly did her best to disguise her riotous emotions behind another polite smile.
The receptionist tapped the end of her pen on her desktop. “Well, since you have his personal card…” She turned to glance at a computer monitor looming at her side. “According to this, Mr. Singleton is in a conference right now.”
“Mr. Singleton? Is in a conference?”
“That’s right.” The receptionist turned back to Kelly, stone-faced.
Kelly looked back at her ‑‑ and laughed. Apparently Dean was a close enough relative he’d been put in a job that rated a ‘Mr.’ from the company receptionist, but had to pay for it by sitting through a business conference. She could just see him, lounging in the back of the room and folding paper airplanes. Oh, it was a sad fact that despite the many choices of men available to a dancer in a glamorous Las Vegas production, Kelly always managed to pick the goof-offs, the dead-beats, and the lying bums.
The receptionist glanced back at her computer. “The conference is supposed to last all day, but there will be a break for lunch.”
“Lunch!” Kelly’s eyes went wide.
The receptionist regarded Kelly thoughtfully. “You do have Mr. Singleton’s personal card, so I suppose it would be all right if you waited.”
Kelly gaped at the woman. She was supposed to wait for Dean, the scum-sucking slug, until lunch? The horrible part was that she could feel the ‘good girl’ part of herself starting to agree to this delay. She didn’t like to make trouble. Why not wait?
And then Kelly remembered Dean had used the very same word yesterday, right before he’d left her.
Pressure built behind Kelly’s forehead. The memory was painfully clear. Wait, Dean had said, while strolling with a smile toward her front door. He would only be gone for a minute, to pick up donuts and coffee. Be right back, he had said.
And Kelly had believed him. Of course she had. She’d loved him.
And now she was supposed to wait? In the wake of her deep pain over the betrayal roared a powerful combination of anger and fear. If she sat back, obliged ‑‑ waited ‑‑ for a man who’d done that, what would it make her?
Kelly looked straight at the receptionist. “I’m not waiting.”
Before she could chicken out, Kelly sidled around the marble counter.
“Now, just a minute,” squeaked the receptionist, rising from her seat.
But Kelly was already stalking down one of the polished halls. Reason told her it could take a while to track Dean down in this big office building. Common sense screamed she was stepping out of bounds, but she couldn’t stop now. She was determined to retrieve her self-respect.
“This way?” Kelly twirled to face the receptionist, who was scuttling after her down the hall. “You might as well tell me, honey, or I’ll be opening every door in the place.”
“Now, really, you can’t ‑‑ ”
“Oh, can’t I?” For once in her life, Kelly would. Heart pounding, she twirled forward again, groped for the first closed door she saw, and whipped it open.
She found a glossy wood table and a dozen black leather chairs ‑‑ all empty.
“Wait ‑‑ ” the receptionist squealed.
There was that word again. The worst part was Kelly had waited. She’d waited amid the tousled bed sheets, a stupid smile on her face, expecting to see Dean come back through the door. She’d waited long after it had become clear he’d gone farther than the corner donut joint. She’d waited until she’d had to admit she’d done it again, let herself get used. Even despite the extraordinary precaution she’d taken. Even so!
But this was it, the last time.
“Call security,” Kelly heard someone order behind her. She felt alarm, an amazed shiver at her own gall, but her rage, and a kind of fear, overwhelmed everything. If she stopped now, she’d never be able to look herself in the mirror again.
He’d promised her love, then sneaked out. She could not wait to deal with that.
Kelly wrapped her hands around the knob of the next door down the hall, telling herself she was going to keep on trying if it took all day, if it took all night ‑‑
Kelly flung the door open and stopped dead. A dozen business-suited professionals seated around a convex table stared at her in shock.
But the business-suited professionals filling the room were not what stopped Kelly’s heart. What did that was the one man standing at the head of the table, a pointer in his hand and a fancy Italian designer suit stretched across his broad shoulders.
“Dean,” Kelly breathed.
Or was it? He looked so odd in that suit, as if he were born to it. His jaw was unexpectedly clean-shaven and the dark curls Kelly had loved to tousle were ruthlessly tamed.
Most peculiar of all, he stared at her in the same manner as the rest of the people in the room. As if he’d never seen her before in his life.
Kelly felt a hard bump in the progress of her quest. He was supposed to shrink back in guilt. He was supposed to crumple in shame and panic. And for heaven’s sake, he was supposed to look like Dean. Faded blue jeans, crooked grin, come-get-me eyes.
This man looked like he’d been carved from a slab of Massachusetts granite. His lips were a straight slash of severity and his glacier-blue gaze was steady. Indeed, not a single part of him moved as he stood there, pointer upraised. Strong and cool, he looked like ‑‑ a king.
He looked like he could be the actual, real-life head of Singleton Industries.
Kelly felt a shiver run down her spine. Her rage slipped. Was this Dean?
But a commotion behind her ‑‑ security? ‑‑ propelled her back into action. “Okay,” she said, and straightened. “Okay, so you didn’t feel anything, the way I did. That’s no crime. But ‑‑ ” She drew in a steadying breath against a sudden upwelling of pain. Two days before she’d hoped for so much, been so happy. “But why’d you have to go and make promises?” she whispered.
That’s when she caught it, finally, his reaction. He flinched. Five hours flying and maxing out her credit card ‑‑ for a flinch.
The next instant strong arms seized her from behind. Security. It was almost laughable. He was the dirty rotten crumb, but she was about to be thrown from the premises.
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