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The exchange was so blatant, so audacious that Kate Blake couldn't believe she'd seen it. It was intermission and the lobby was crowded. People swirled past her, laughing and talking as they waited for the opera to resume. Kate stood frozen in their midst, fingers curved around her glass of orange juice, her indigo eyes wide, afraid even to blink.
She hadn't imagined it. Brad had handed another man a packet of white powder and taken money in return, right there in front of half the population of Seattle.
Perhaps, she thought desperately, it was all a mistake. Perhaps she had only imagined that the packet contained cocaine, and that Brad, the man she'd meant to marry in less than a month, had just accepted money for it.
In the next instant, Brad turned, tucking a folded bill into the pocket of his coat as he moved. His eyes met Kate's, and it was clear that he knew she'd seen. There was no apology in his gaze, however, only defiance. Then he was looking at his companion again, and Kate might not have existed at all.
She felt dizzy, and then claustrophobic, and she knew she had to get out into the fresh air fast. She set her cup aside and hurried toward the main door.
Outside, Kate gripped the stair railings in both hands and dragged in deep, clean breaths until the choking sensation passed. A glance back over one elegantly bared shoulder told her that Brad hadn't followed. He probably hadn't even noticed she was gone.
She looked up at the dark, star-speckled sky aglow with city lights, and her vision blurred as tears filled her eyes. She was torn. One part of her wanted to go back inside, grip Brad by the lapels and demand to know why he'd thrown everything away; another preferred to pretend that nothing had changed.
Kate inched down the stairs, still grasping the railing with both hands. Brad was the man she'd planned to marry. He was her father's campaign manager. And she'd just seen him break the law in the most brazen of ways.
A thousand thoughts whirled through her head. This wasn't new behavior for Brad; she was certain of that. And yet she hadn't known. She'd been engaged to him and she hadn't known what kind of man he was! How could that be?
There were no cabs lined up in front of the theater, since the opera would run another full hour. Kate looked back again, knowing she should go inside, call for a taxi and wait in the lobby until it arrived. But something within her demanded action. She needed to walk, hard and fast, with the cool, clean night wind blowing against her face. She started out in the general direction of her downtown condominium, chin held high, her grandmother's antique brass evening bag swinging at her side.
Hard-eyed street people watched her pass, but there was none of the usual panhandling. Kate supposed that in her present mood she didn't look approachable.
Moments later, as she passed a popular department store, her pace slackened. The breeze had dried her tears. Kate's reflection in the windows regarded her forlornly as she took in her own tall, slender body, the sleek designer gown that had cost the earth, the soft and loose arrangement of her dark hair.