By Your Heart is almost here, but to help with the waiting, I decided to share an excerpt. Dean is about to get a surprise…
Dean fought the urge to tug at his tie for about a hundredth time tonight.
“I didn’t sign up for this,” he muttered into his glass, but Alicia was standing close enough to hear.
“It was bound to happen at some point,” she told him as she put her flute down on a tray and smiled at the waiter passing by their corner of the room.
“No, it wasn’t,” Dean argued. “Nate and Shawn had never missed one day of work at our old firm. I was within my rights to assume it was going to be like that in our own company, too.”
“Trust me, Shawn would rather be here than at home with a fever,” Alicia said dryly. She had been their office manager for close to two years now, but most importantly, she was Shawn’s girlfriend, and Dean considered her a friend. Which was why he’d asked her to accompany him to this party, knowing full well that he needed adult supervision if he was to be set loose on a bunch of pompous, rich people on a Friday evening.
He should’ve known she wasn’t going to make it too easy for him.
“I’d prefer a fever, thank you.”
Alicia tugged at his arm in the direction of the tables. “Come on, let’s eat. Maybe that will cheer you up.”
It wasn’t a bad strategy. If there was one bright point of this evening, it was the magnificent food. Dean would gladly set up camp at the buffet table and let Alicia mingle and make a great impression. He was of the opinion that the best thing he could do for their networking efforts was to stay hidden.
Normally, he did just that and stayed away from all the parties, but with Shawn sick and Nate visiting his future grandparents-in-law, Dean had to step up. A lot of parties he would’ve ignored, but not this one. It was hosted by a woman who had been the first to give Foster, Young, and Urban a chance, back when Dean and his best friends had just started their fixing business. That made their attendance at Dana Malik’s charity event mandatory in his book.
Dean just wished it was scheduled for any other weekend, not the one that both his partners were unavailable for.
He looked at Alicia, who was smiling as she watched the mingling crowd. “You’re actually enjoying this.” His tone came out more accusing than he’d intended, but before he could apologize, she waved him off.
“Yes, I am,” she said, picking another canapé off the plate in front of them. “Free food, free drinks, a chance to dress nicely and chat with new people… What’s not to like?”
“The second half of what you just said,” he muttered and picked up a piece of chocolate cake that melted all over his fingers before he put it in his mouth. It was really good, though, so he had to resist the urge to lick the chocolate off.
Another reason not to like this place, he thought as he reached for the napkin. Waste of perfectly good chocolate.
“Oh my God, I knew you were going to be difficult about this, and Shawn warned me to expect even worse than what I imagined, but you’ve still somehow managed to surpass it anyway.” Alicia turned her back to the room as she spoke, so no one but him could see her eyes roll.
After Dean cleaned his fingers and dropped the napkin into a small bin next to the table, he turned and almost collided with someone. For a moment, he thought Alicia must have moved closer while he wasn’t looking, but then it hit him in a split second. His mind registered the scent of the familiar perfume just as he glanced at her face.
Just when he thought the day couldn’t get any worse.
“Excuse me,” he made himself say as he took a step back.
At least she looked as surprised as he did. Her eyebrows moved up and down in a flash, but Dean caught it, just like he noticed the way she covered her stomach with one hand—her old gesture of nerves.
“It was my fault, I walked up too close,” she finally said. Her hair was longer than he remembered, but aside from that, she hadn’t changed much. There were times when the last few years seemed like another lifetime to Dean, but sometimes, like right now, it seemed as if it had barely been a month.
Marissa still looked the same.
And seeing her still rattled him to the bone.
“How are you, Dean?” she asked when the silence stretched a bit too long.
“Good,” he said, the standard answer rolling off his tongue. “I’m good. You?”
And Marissa, since she had always liked sending him a curveball, just shrugged. “Could be worse.”
She grimaced right after she said it and waved her hand. “Sorry, it’s been a bad week. Ignore me.”
As if I ever could.
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