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I hate parties. This one was no exception. The past year had been wasted on one fantastic marriage and a messy divorce. Now, I was damned lonely and regretting being divorced in the first place and having married in the second place.
Divorce tends to force a person to analyze her whole life in much the same way a scientist sets a magnifier over an insect and blows it right out of proportion. My conclusion was that my life needed a major overhaul, and I didn’t have a clue where to start.
Holding a glass of Chardonnay in one hand and a limp cheese stick in the other, I made the rounds of Jeremy Stone’s annual staff party, alone yet surrounded by a huge and noisy crowd. The party allowed everyone to celebrate the end of the year without religious affiliation becoming an issue.
Jeremy was the kind of man who never did anything halfway. In one corner of the ballroom, a twelve-foot Christmas tree glittered with blinking lights and sparkling glass decorations. The walls were decorated with red and gold Christmas banners and occasional mistletoe. The food on the groaning buffet table would have been superb if I’d had any appetite.
I tried to convince myself I wasn’t looking for a guy. Hadn’t my ex, Chase, cured me of searching for a sexy hunk for a one-night stand? Those love-‘em-and-leave-‘em deals tended to evolve into one-sided, long-term affairs where I usually got the bad end of the bargain.
My eyes roamed the crowd, hunting for that one spectacular guy who didn’t have a bimbo wearing crimson-red lipstick and not much else draped over his arm. That took care of three-quarters of the guys there. I looked at Mark Anson, the CEO of Hackleman and Farnsworth. Balding, spreading midlife paunch, and adorned by Suzanne Berkovich. Now she was a real piece of art. A strapless, midnight-blue mini-dress flaunted her melon-sized breasts, and when she bent over to take a peek at something on the floor, her lack of panties was more than obvious to all the guys who didn’t bother to make any pretence of ogling her.
Okay, so her lack of undies gave me ideas. I’ve got big breasts, too. Breasts Chase used to tease to hard points and suckle and nip with his teeth. I breathed a heavy sigh, admonishing myself to forget Chase Turner, but how do you forget a man who does you but good for two years then was gone? Sex simply isn’t enough to hold together two people in a marriage. I patted my chignon, surreptitiously checking that the diamond hairpins were still where they were supposed to be. They only needed to stay in my chocolate-brown hair for a few more minutes, then they could take the next year off.
Suzanne’s syrupy-sweet voice dripped over me like honey pouring onto the counter and pooling on the floor. I straightened my shoulders, dug my thoughts out of the gutter—with Chase—and said in my best what-do-I-give-a-damn tone, “Whose husband are you aiming for tonight, Suzanne?”
“Oh, of all the nerve!” she shot back, tossing her long blonde tresses over one shoulder. The twit. The top of her left nipple was beginning to slide out of the slinky dress. My pulse picked up a few beats.
“Are you about to have another of your accidental wardrobe malfunctions?” With an easy smile, I made my getaway. Whenever I had a wardrobe malfunction, I always put the accident to good use. Like making the onlooker hot and bothered. Making him pant with desire. Suzanne and I had grown up together. She’d always been the girl the jocks chased after. I had been the studious one with the gold glasses and the slightly overweight figure.
She followed me. “You know, you’ve sure got some attitude. Just because I’m prettier than you,” she said in a huffy voice.
“So? Do you think that bothers me? Look who you’re hanging out with now.”
She carefully ran her tongue over her lower lip, probably not wanting to get blood-red lipstick on her teeth. Now wouldn’t that be a disaster? I saw the moment a retort lit up in her head. “At least, I’ve got someone. You’ve got no one at all.” With that she turned her back on me, tossed her hair over her shoulder again and flounced off.
Tit for tat. She was right. No matter who she was attached to, I had no one, and despite my best efforts to like it that way, I wasn’t winning this lonely hearts battle. And the realisation rankled with me.
I milled around some more, no longer in the mood for annoying chitchat. I saw most of these people in the hospital at least on a weekly, if not daily, basis, and that was enough for me. Heading for the door that seemed a gazillion miles away through three thousand people, I bumped into Sewell Koening. He was the only guy at the party who owned more stocks and property than everyone else combined.
“I’m sorry,” I mumbled.
My jolting his elbow had caused him to spill wine on the front of his shirt. He didn’t seem perturbed in the least but laughed it off as he dug a handkerchief from his breast pocket and unsuccessfully wiped at the mess. I liked him. For a guy. In fact, it was tempting to take him home as a souvenir.