Kenzie Daniels scooped the papers off her desk and made a few clicks with the computer mouse, promptly shutting the machine off. A quick glance at the clock on the wall told her that it was nearly eight in the evening. Most of her co-workers had already gone home for the night. They had the right idea.
Before sliding the documents into her handbag, she retrieved her cellphone and checked the list of messages.
The first one was from her mom. It showed a picture of a very undecorated cake, with the caption, “Wish you were here to do the flowers for me!” Isabelle Daniels might be the world’s most brilliant baker, but she lacked any artistry skills. Whenever Kenzie visited her mom’s home, Isabelle would pull her into the kitchen to place decorative flowers, designs, and letters on her baked goods.
The next few texts were from Avery Jennings, one of Kenzie’s closest friends, demanding her presence at a local bar they often visited after work. Avery had recently started seeing a man, who had the unfortunate trait of often being a pain in her side. Why Avery stayed with him, was anyone’s guess. It was also a wonder that they even had time to spend together outside of all the girls’ nights and bottles of wine that had taken place in the last month, during the time of the relationship.
Kenzie typed out a reply text, letting Avery know that she was just leaving the office and would be there soon.
With a last look around the darkened floor of the software design company, she grabbed her bag and made a beeline for the elevator. Her feet throbbed with an intensity that she never thought possible. In an effort to be taken more seriously in her position as a project manager, she had recently stepped it up in the wardrobe department. Dress to impress . . . or so they said. It had yet to make any real difference in how her supervisors interacted with her, but she remained hopeful.
At the elevator, she hit the button and waited for it to ding. When the doors opened, the janitor stepped to the side, making room for her to slip in.
“Notha’ late night, Miss Daniels?” he asked, adjusting the bucket of cleaning supplies in his hands before moving out of the lift.
Kenzie wiggled her thumb against her index and middle finger, signifying cash. “Someone’s gotta do it.”
He shook his head. “Enjoy your evenin’ now, Kenzie.”
“Night Pat.” She smiled as the doors closed, and then immediately sagged against the wall and slid the shoes off her feet. The relief consumed her entire body. Seriously, whoever thought high heels were a good idea should be tossed unceremoniously out of society.
She usually enjoyed the eleven-floor elevator ride, but tonight she knew it wouldn’t be enough to help her relax. She needed something stronger.
Two floors down, her phone buzzed with an incoming call and she sighed when she saw the familiar digits of the foreign number that had been her single source of annoyance in the last several months. Like clockwork, he never failed to call and leave the message. And also, like clockwork, Kenzie hit the ignore button and waited for the notification of a voice mail.
Then, she deleted that too.
When the elevator slowed to a stop and the doors dinged open, she slipped back into the pumps and made her way towards the front doors of the building.
The security men made their jokes, and she played along, but breathed more than fresh air the moment she stepped out onto the Seattle streets. She embraced the January rainfall and waited for the taxi that she had dialed earlier.
When it finally pulled up along the curb, she slid into the back seat and gave the driver the name of the bar. Feeling the need to keep the silence at bay, he commented on the weather and how dreary the city was this time of year. He was right, but Kenzie wasn’t in a mood to participate in the discussion. After ten hours of listening to people gripe and stress about everything that needed to be finished, she was so ready to be done with people.
People, meaning everyone except Avery and Mya. Tonight, they fell into the category of individuals necessary for the sanity of her soul.
The windshield wipers on the taxi swished back and forth, flicking the falling rain off. Passing lights glinted through the darkness and she leaned into the leather seats, trying to push the events of the day aside and look forward to some much-needed girl time.
The taxi slowed to a stop and she handed the driver some cash before stepping out onto the curb. More people graced the streets here, but even then, it was a Monday night, and most of the city dwellers were not milling about the downtown bars.
Goodman’s was a small, but classy establishment. The cozy atmosphere and friendly staff were two of the three reasons that the girls regularly selected it as their first choice. The third, being the happy hour discounts. Although, due to Kenzie’s late arrival, she would be missing out on that particular aspect.
It had taken a lot of night outs to finally come across this hole-in-the-wall bar. Once they found it, though, they rarely strayed anywhere else.
Inside, she located her two friends easily and smiled when she met Mya Lancaster’s eyes. When the petite brunette returned with a wave, Avery flipped around to look over her shoulder, then she gave Kenzie the, “You should have been here ages ago” look.
“There’s no way they make you work that much at the firm,” Avery said, pointedly. “They had better be paying for overtime.”
Kenzie shrugged, and slipped off her shoes again—for what she hoped was a longer period of time than the eleven-floor elevator ride. “How long have you been here?”
“Seeing as we’re on our second round already,” Mya piped up. “Long enough.”
It was then, that Kenzie noticed her distinctive change in clothing, from the way she usually dressed. Avery took in her observations and rolled her eyes.
“She’s interested in one of the new hires. He works in home loans.“
“It’s a good look,” Kenzie said, referring to Mya’s fitted blouse, tucked into the pencil skirt and strappy high-heeled shoes. She pulled out her ID and handed it to the bartender and ordered a French martini.
“I’m certain he has a girlfriend,” Avery remarked. She flipped her dark curls over her shoulder and swiveled on the stool, towards Kenzie. “He’s barely said a word to any of the females on the floor.”
“Umm—” Kenzie began, but Mya cut her off.
“He’s not gay!” she stated, emphatically.
Avery pursed her lips together. “Well, it’s certainly one of the two, but that’s beside the point.”
“Maybe he’s just shy?” Kenzie offered, looking towards the bartender as he slid the martini glass and a coaster in her direction.
“That’s what I told her,” Mya said, with a narrowed glance at Avery. She took a sip of her beverage. “We can change the subject now.”
Kenzie hid her amusement and focused her attention on Avery. “Since I know you are dying to share, tell me what Kyle did this time.”
“This morning, I told him we were going to go out for dinner, and I know he heard me, because he acknowledged it and even asked what time. Didn’t say a single thing about having other plans. My parents are in town, you know, and I wanted them to meet him. An hour before I got off work, I sent him a reminder text. Not a nagging—” she put up her fingers for air quotes. “You’re a man and therefore probably forgot about our dinner plans, but rather a friendly, hey just letting you know text.”
She stopped to take a sip of her drink before continuing. “Then he replies that he had plans with his guys. Some golf club thing. I didn’t even know he golfed. And it’s January—I mean, who golfs in January? Besides people in warmer states.”
“Maybe he’s not ready for the parent part,” Mya put in.
Avery shook her head. “We talked about all of that. It’s been a month now and he should know if he’s ready or not.”
Kenzie gave her friend a reassuring smile. She never quite understood the concept of having the string of men trailing behind her—ones that didn’t work out for a variety of reasons. But that was Avery: going all in the moment she thought something was right, or because it was fun, and maybe she could get the ‘right’ out of it later. A certainly flawed concept, but despite the lengthy conversations on this topic, Avery was determined to keep doing it that way.
“He said Nicholas wants to see you again,” Avery said, turning towards Kenzie. “He keeps asking about you.”
He kept texting her too. Not to the point of being creepy, just steady, “Hope your day is going well!” type of messages. Kenzie would reply when she wasn’t busy, but beyond that, had no desire to pursue anything with the man. Their first and only date had not gone well. He talked about himself the entire time, barely letting her get a word in otherwise. It was an immediate turn-off and Kenzie had decided there would be no second outing.
His texts were deceiving, and if she hadn’t spent the whole date looking like a gulping fish, she might have given him another chance.
“At least he didn’t ask you how much you make at your job,” Mya teased.
That one had been Miles. He was quick to relay his six-figure salary to her and discuss the intricacies of his stock-trading career. It seemed interesting enough, but he was very one-track minded on the finance subject. She let him pick-up the tab for their dinner, with no attempt to take it.
Kenzie had no issue with paying for a date—especially if it had been her idea, though most of the men that she went out with, insisted on paying.
The only one in a long while who did not immediately reach for the bill, had been Miles. The waiter brought it to them and then Kenzie reclined in her chair, sipping the rest of the wine from her glass. Miles’ hesitation, and a slight frown, when it came to paying the bill, had Kenzie wondering if it was the actual cost of the meal or rather feeling put-off by her lack of contribution of her salary. It didn’t matter, their date was done and again . . . there would be no second.
“You’re too picky, Kenz,” Avery said. “Maybe if you gave them another chance, they would be different.”
“How would that be better?” Kenzie asked, incredulously. “One day, I get Jekyll and the next day he’s suddenly Hyde? That’s exactly what I don’t need.”
Avery rolled her eyes. “No, I’m saying, maybe they aren’t on their best behavior for the first date because they’re too nervous to know what they are doing. I get nervous on first dates too, so it’s understandable.”
“The first date is when they should be doing things right,” Mya stated. “And I doubt you, get twitchy, or talk too much, or lose your heightened sense of etiquette. I’m with Kenzie on this one, if a man can’t be half-way decent on a first date, then there are some definite issues that I don’t want to be responsible for fixing later on.”
“I think we need another round,” Avery said, straightening in her seat and raising a hand to get the bartender’s attention. “Mark, we need more alcohol!”
He smiled huge at her and made his way down to their end of the bar. “What will it be this round, ladies?” He placed both palms on the counter, and Kenzie could have sworn he flexed, having Avery’s attention on him. Not surprising, since her half-Indian ethnicity had provided her with dark, sultry eyes, bronzed skin and an overall exotic appearance. She was gorgeous, and Kenzie would have seriously questioned Mark’s manhood had he not seemed to take notice.
“We’ll have . . .” Avery’s face turned mirthful. “A round of shots. Something good.”
Kenzie shook her head. “Geez, Ave, it’s Monday night.”
“Yeah, and I ain’t carrying your butt home,” Mya declared.
“Oh, you both are not getting out of this. It’s happening. The fact that it is Monday night is the reason for a round of shots—not an excuse to get out of them.”
Nearly two hours later, the girls were bent over in laughter as they left Goodman’s. Mya and Avery took the first taxi and Kenzie assured them that hers was on the way shortly. They said their goodbyes and then Kenzie pulled her jacket tighter around her to ward of the night chill. The rain had slowed to a soft drizzle, but combined with the moderate humidity of the coastal city, had her wishing she had opted for a warmer coat.
She was feeling good after her time with the girls. They had hashed out their men issues and she was confident that both Avery and Mya weren’t nearly so confused over their relationship problems.
Kenzie bounced lightly on her feet, trying to increase the circulation in her toes. She couldn’t wait to get back to her apartment and remove the heels. She also couldn’t wait to don her comfy pajamas and finally be able to breathe again, without the sophisticated, but stuffy work clothes.
Cigarette smoke wafted through the air, from a group of people standing nearby. As her eyes scanned over them, Kenzie took a second look at another individual—a man who looked a bit out of place.
He stood just apart from the group of three sharing a cigarette butt, and he was looking at her. Tanned and—
Kenzie’s breath caught and she quickly blinked, turning away. It had to be the alcohol getting to her. She was clearly hallucinating model-like men just standing outside of downtown Seattle bars.
A drop dead, gorgeous man who happened to be staring at her.
When she couldn’t take it any longer, she ventured another glance, and shockingly discovered he still watched her. Oh god . . . and now he was walking towards her.
Kenzie wasn’t sure whether to be upset or grateful when she saw her taxi pull up to the sidewalk. Before the man could reach her, she moved to the street and opened up the rear door.
The cab driver greeted her and she gave him her apartment address. Before they could pull away from the curb, however, the other rear door opened and much to Kenzie’s astonishment, the man from the sidewalk slid in next to her and closed the door.
“This is—” But he cut her off, before she could finish her sentence.
“Hello, Kenzie Daniels.”