Crap. What the hell was she going to do?
“Please, please tell me you’d left the tag on the dress as a mistake—that you weren’t planning on returning it in the morning.”
Kat spun around and blinked at the multicolored creature standing in front of her. Her dress was a slinky cocktail number with a plunging neck and spaghetti straps the color of lemon sorbet. It was the perfect foil for the ink on her body. Pulling her eyes up from the amazing artwork, Kat looked into an elfin face dominated by a pair of warm brown eyes. The woman had a series of piercings in her lower lip and along her eyebrow; she had a tiny butterfly tattoo on her temple.
“You look amazing,” Kat said. She sighed. It was obviously her night for allowing her mouth to run away with her.
“Thank you. But you didn’t answer my question. Were you returning the dress?”
Kat looked into the restaurant and scowled in Halstead’s direction. She never discussed one customer with another, but this woman would join her equally inked friends in the bar—birds of a feather—and she didn’t see the harm in answering her question. Kat could spot a trust-fund baby at sixty paces and this woman was not one of them.
She lowered her voice. “Yes, it’s borrowed. I was returning it in the morning. Now I’m going to have to pay for it, which was never the damned plan.” Not sure what it was about this painted fairy that had her spilling her secrets, Kat continued, “God, I could just kill him. I don’t have a thousand dollars to spend on a dress! I don’t have a thousand dollars, full stop!”
“Thirteen hundred.” The girl bit her lip. “It’s a Callisto. Thirteen ninety-five, including tax.”
Kat resisted the urge to bang her head against her desk. She swore, softly. “Dammit. I swear, I don’t care that he’s as sexy as sin and hotter than the sun, he’s a stupid, idiot man!”
Before the painted fairy could reply, Elana Marshall interrupted their conversation by placing a hand on Kat’s shoulder.
Kat spun around and smiled at the youngest Marshall and prayed that Elana hadn’t heard her last emphatic statement. “Hi, Elana, did you have a nice evening?”
The dimple in Elana’s cheek flashed. “I did. Thanks, Kat.”
Elana looked at Pixie Girl, her eyes bouncing from tat to tat, her mouth curving upward. “Love the angel on your arm.” Without waiting for a response, Elana turned her attention back to Kat. “So who is the idiot man?”
Kat wanted to scrunch her eyes shut in mortification. She and Elana were friends, sort of, in a “hey, how are you” sort of way. Elana was an heiress and Kat was Elana’s father’s employee. Kat’s eyes darted to Pixie Girl, silently begging her not to answer. She didn’t want Elana Marshall, who was the ultimate trust-fund baby, to know that her dress was on loan.
Pixie Girl smiled. “Aren’t they all, at one time or another?”
Elana nodded. “Pretty much. And here is one of mine.” Kat smiled at Elana’s date and thought that Elana could do a lot better than the married casting director. She could also do better than her fiancé, Thom, who was really nice but...not for Elana. She needed someone with a personality as strong as hers.
But Kat had bigger problems to worry about than her boss’s daughter’s complicated love life. She had a job to do...a job she needed now more than ever.
Kat said good-night to Elana and turned back to the vision standing in front of her. “I am so sorry, you’ve been standing here forever. Let me walk you to the bar.”
Pixie Girl grinned. “Actually, I’m joining Jonas Halstead’s table.”
Kat groaned and wondered if there was any way this night could get worse.
“Yeah,” said Pixie Girl. “I’m meeting my boss and his friend for dinner.”
“Please tell me that you work for Rowan Brady,” Kat begged her.
She smiled, giving Kat a flash of her tongue stud. “Nope. I’m Sian and I work for Jonas Halstead.”
Well, she had wondered whether this evening could get any worse.
Yep, Life answered her, challenge accepted.
* * *
The next morning, after a night long on worry and light on sleep, Kat heard the sound of a key in a lock. She brushed her hands across her wet cheekbones and rubbed her hands over her thighs, transferring her tears onto her old yoga pants. She heard the familiar thump of Tess’s heavy bag hitting the floor and then her friend, with copper hair and freckles, stepped into Kat’s small sitting area, holding—bless her—two cups of coffee.
“Yay, you’re awake. I didn’t know if you would be,” Tess said, handing Kat a cup. “I got your text message this morning so I thought I’d pop in and see what the ‘catastrophe’ was.” Tess sat next to Kat and peered into her face. “God, have you slept? At all?”
“I got home after midnight and I was too wound up for sleep.” Not wanting to delay the bad news, she nodded at the designer dress lying over the chair. “I need to pay for the dress.”
Tess’s mouth dropped open. “Oh, crap, why?”
“Last night a guest, thinking he was being helpful, pulled the tag off,” Kat told her, her voice flat. “The tag is toast.”
Tess softly swore and wrinkled her nose. “Dammit, Kat, if you’d spilled something on it we could’ve had it cleaned. If it ripped, I would’ve had it mended, but I can’t give a reasonable explanation as to why the label was ripped off.”
Kat held up her hand. “I get it, Tess, I do. Stupid Jonas Halstead.”
“The property mogul and one of California’s hottest bachelors?” Tess’s eyes widened. “He’s an idiot for pulling the label off but, oh, my God, he’s so sexy.”
“He might be but he’s put me in a hell of a position,” Kat grumbled. “How soon do you need the money?”
Tess thought for a minute. “Miranda is away on vacation in Cancun for a month. So, basically, you have that long. And if you give me the money, I’ll buy it and that way you’ll get the staff discount. It’s not much, only ten percent off, but it’ll help.”
Kat squeezed her knee. “Thanks, Tess.” She rested her head on the back of her couch and closed her eyes.
“Or I can pay for it from my savings and you can pay me back,” Tess added.
“Ah, Tess.” It was a sweet offer. It didn’t matter that Tess was her oldest friend. She couldn’t accept her help. Thanks to her father and her ex-husband, Kat had massive issues around money. And trust.
It was easier, safer, cleaner, to go it alone.
Tess placed her coffee cup on the battered table with a thump. “You can’t keep this up, Kat. You can’t keep trying to do it all. You’ve even dropped weight. Are you eating?”
She ate at the restaurant most nights, with the chefs at the end of a shift. In between she lived on coffee and fresh air.
“Kat, something has got to change,” Tess insisted, sitting on the edge of the seat.
“But what, Tess?” Kat demanded, resting her elbows on her knees. “The house June lives in is mine but my evil stepmom has the right to use it for the rest of her life and, in the terms of the will, I have to pay for the utilities and the upkeep. I have to carry the costs on a property I can’t sell or use to get a loan.”
“Why the hell didn’t your dad leave you