Almost Like Love

CHAPTER ONE

“This was a mistake.”

As Kate Meredith stared at the East Village club from inside the taxi, her courage evaporated. She glanced down at herself and cringed at the sight of the bare skin Simone had insisted she put on display.

How had she let her friend talk her into this outfit? A leather miniskirt and a bustier, for God’s sake. A bustier that, by the feel of it, had been designed by the Marquis de Sade out of black lace and agony.

At least she didn’t have to worry about humiliating herself inside the club. She’d never make it that far on the four-inch heels Simone had convinced her to wear. The minute she stepped onto the sidewalk, she’d fall flat on her face.

“This is not a mistake,” Simone said firmly. “As far as I’m concerned, this is the first rational thing you’ve done in years.”

Kate turned her head to glare at her friend, who didn’t look like a poster child for rationality at the moment. She was wearing a dress made of canary-yellow plastic along with fishnet stockings and combat boots, and her short black hair was spiked with a product that had turned her normally silky locks into lethal weapons.

“This is your world, not mine,” Kate said, turning back to look at the line of people waiting to get into the club. “I don’t belong here. I look like a kid playing dress-up. Why did I let you—”

“The only thing I did wrong was failing to pour whiskey down your throat before we came here. Let’s go rectify that now, shall we?”

Simone reached across her to open the cab door and then practically shoved Kate out onto the sidewalk. Kate teetered on her heels but didn’t actually fall, and by the time Simone paid the driver and came to stand beside her she was reasonably confident she could keep from face-planting on the asphalt.

While she was standing, anyway. She wasn’t so sure about walking. And as for dancing…

She gripped Simone’s shoulder. “Not my world,” she said again.

“May I remind you that your world kicked your ass today? That’s why you came to me, remember?”

It was true.

Kate had woken up that morning with a job and a fiancé. Eight hours later, she’d lost both of them.

So she could plead temporary insanity, couldn’t she? Why else would she have pounded on Simone’s door and announced that the two of them were going shopping—and then clubbing? She never went clubbing with Simone. She loved her friend like a sister, but they had very different ideas of what constituted a funFriday night.

“I was obviously out of my mind. It was your job to talk me down off the ledge, not hand me a cape and tell me I could fly.”

Simone laughed and put an arm around her waist. Since Kate was towering over her even more than usual, the hug brought Simone’s face into contact with her left boob.

Simone took a step back and studied Kate’s cleavage with satisfaction. “Your tits are awesome in that. If I ever get implants, this is what I want them to look like.”

Kate wriggled her shoulders in an effort to relieve some of the pressure on her C cups, which, ratcheted up by the bustier, now resembled double Ds.

“I can’t take a deep breath in this thing. And it’s digging into me.”

“No beauty without pain. I’m sweating like a pig in this dress, but do you hear me complaining? No, you do not.”

Kate sighed and smoothed her hands over her hips. “I’m sweating, too, and it’s not even summer yet. Okay, you know what? I’ve completely satisfied my urge to cut loose. Mission accomplished. I think it’s time to go home now. I think I—”

The theme song from Doctor Who played inside her purse. Someone was calling her.

It was Chris. It had to be. He wanted to tell her he’d made a huge mistake—that he loved her, missed her, couldn’t live without her.

“Hello?” she said breathlessly, not even bothering to check the caller ID after she fished the phone out of her purse.

“Kate! Oh, sweetie, how are you doing?”

Not Chris. Jessica.

Jessica, who was getting married in June. Jessica, who’d roomed with her and Simone in college and had asked them to be bridesmaids. Jessica, who’d once christened her “Little Miss Boring” after she stayed in their dorm to watch the series finale of Battlestar Galactica instead of going to a frat party.

Kate sighed. “I’m fine, Jess. What do you need?” Jessica never hesitated to make use of her many bridesmaids for wedding-related tasks, and even though it was ten o’clock at night, that was no doubt the reason she was calling now.

“What do I need? Don’t be silly. You can’t think I’d be so cruel as to ask you for a favor when your heart is breaking.”

Oh, great. Who’d told Jessica about—

“Tom and I ran into Chris tonight, and he told us what happened. He asked if he could bring Anastasia to the wedding.”

Anastasia? Her name was Anastasia? No wonder Chris hadn’t mentioned it when he’d announced that he’d fallen in love with another woman.

“Tom said yes before I could say a word. But after we left the restaurant I made him promise that if you have a problem with it we’ll tell Chris he can’t bring her. After all, you’re in the wedding party—and I’ve known you longer than he’s known Chris.”

Kate’s hand tightened around the phone. There was a roaring in her ears—the sound of a dam breaking, or possibly her head exploding.

“Of course I don’t have a problem with it.”

Her voice was eerily calm. Reasonable. Sweet, even.

“Oh, Kate—you’re so brave! And don’t worry. We have plenty of time before the wedding to scrounge up a date for you. You won’t have to face Chris alone.”

Jessica was going to scrounge up a date for her?

The roaring grew loader.

“You don’t have to do that. I already have a date.”

Her mouth, apparently, had decided to lead its own life.

“You do? Who is it?”

“No one you know,” Kate said quickly. “He’s, um, a rebound fling.”

“A rebound fling? You’re having a rebound fling? What’s he like?”

An excellent question.

“Well, uh—he’s not much in the brains department, but he’s amazing in bed.”

“You’ve had sex already?”

Considering that Kate had had sex with exactly three men in her life and had been single today for a total of six hours, Jessica had some reason to sound stunned.

“Yep. Lots and lots of sex. Actually, I think that’s him at the door. He must be back for a”—what was the phrase?—“booty call. So I’ll talk to you later, okay?”

She stuffed the phone back into her purse and took a deep breath. For the first time tonight, she no longer felt like an awkward giant beside her petite friend. She felt like a Valkyrie. Like Athena going into battle. Like—

Simone was grinning at her. “You’re having a rebound fling with a fictional guy?”

“He won’t be fictional for long.”

Her friend raised an eyebrow. “Really. And where are you planning to find him?”

Kate nodded towards the club. “In there.”

Simone looked skeptical. “I don’t think the men in there are your type.”

“Exactly. I’m sick of my type. I’m sick of people like Jessica assuming I’ll sit in my apartment and cry over Chris until her wedding, which I’ll be forced to go to alone because I couldn’t scrounge up a date. I’m sick of—I’m sick of—”

And suddenly it came out—the truth that had been bubbling up inside her since the network cancelled her show and her fiancé cancelled their relationship.

“I’m sick of myself. I’m sick of being the well-meaning idiot everyone feels sorry for. I’m sick of always trying to do the right thing and always getting screwed. I’m sick of thinking about everyone but me.”

The bustier didn’t seem so painful as reckless courage swept through her. “From this moment forward, I’m going to be a selfish bitch. I’m going in that club to find a man with tattoos and piercings and bad news written all over him. I’m going to bring him to Jessica’s wedding and make Chris Corrigan eat his cheating heart out. I’m going to use him for sex, and then I’m going to dump him. Ruthlessly.”

“Ruthlessly?”

“Ruthlessly.”

Simone patted her shoulder. “Okey-dokey. Let’s go find you a rebound fling.”

Kate’s new-found confidence faltered for a moment. “Can we have a drink first?”

“Absolutely. Many, many, many drinks.”