Fool's Gold Series
"Katie, honey, you need a date for your sister's wedding."
"I had a date, Mom. He's marrying the bride."
"All right, fine. Your sister stole your boyfriend," Janis McCormick said with a sigh. "And it was wrong. But that was nearly a year ago. It's water under the bridge. They're getting married. The whole family is flying in and we have two hundred other guests. We're going to have a long weekend of all kinds of events and, trust me, you'll feel better if you have date. The extended family will torture you if you don't and that will make us both crazy." Her mother finally paused for a breath. "For me, Katie? Please?"
At times like this Katie really hated the whole concept of growing up and acting mature. There were situations where a good temper tantrum seemed like the exactly right solution to a problem. Like this one. But she'd never been into drama—that was her sister's thing. And it was difficult to refuse her mother. Mostly because Janis didn't ask for very much. She was one of those warm, loving parents who worried and slipped Katie an extra fifty dollars every time they had lunch, despite the fact that Katie had been on her own since college and had a great job that she adored.
"Mom," she said. "I love you. You know that."
"Don't say but. I'm on the edge as it is. Your sister is driving me nuts. I didn't have to start coloring my hair until she got engaged. I swear, the second she brought over bride magazines and started talking tulle, I began going gray."
Katie leaned forward in the booth of the restaurant. She and her mother were having a quick lunch to talk about the latest changes Courtney had made to her wedding. The fact that it was only two weeks away didn't seem to worry Courtney.
Nor had stealing Katie's boyfriend.
She wasn't going to be bitter, Katie reminded herself. She was going to rise above petty emotion. Courtney was her sister and the sisterly bond was powerful and lasting. And if Courtney woke up with a zit the size of Cleveland on her wedding day, well, that would be fun, too.
Katie cleared her throat. "However, as much as I would love to bring a guy to the wedding festivities, there isn't anyone. We're talking Fool's Gold. You know there aren't a lot of single guys hanging around. I can't come up with anyone I would trust to pretend to be involved with me."
"Are you telling me you haven't dated since you and Alex broke up?"
They hadn't broken up. Katie had brought Alex home for one of their usual Sunday night dinners with Katie's parents. Something she and Alex had been doing regularly for months. The only thing that had been different about that night was the feeling Katie had that Alex was going to pop the question. Mostly because she'd accidentally found a receipt for a diamond ring in his coat pocket when he'd loaned it to her at a football game.
Katie hadn't been sure Alex was the guy she wanted to spend the rest of her life with, but she'd figured being unsure was normal. After all, how could anyone know any particular guy was the one? Only he hadn't proposed. Their friendly dinner had been interrupted by Courtney's unexpected arrival. Alex and Courtney had taken one look at each other and Katie had ceased to exist.
"Katie?" her mother asked. "You're not seeing anyone?"
"No. I've been busy with work and not in the mood."
Her mother sighed. "It's four days of family and stress. I know I don't want to have to field questions about your lack of love life and you have to want it even less. You have to bring a man. There has to be someone."
Dear God, no.
Katie thought about banging her head against the table, because honestly, the pain would be less. "Mom, no."
"Why not? He's smart and rich and very funny."
And his name was Howie. He was the son of her mother's best friend. The two women had been doing their best to fix up their kids for years. Katie resisted with all her might. The last time she'd seen Howie, he'd and his mom had been visiting Fool's Gold. He'd been maybe sixteen and smart enough that he was already in college. Tall, skinny, with too-short pants, thick black-rimmed glasses and a way of peering at her as if she were an uninteresting form of bug. They'd had nothing to say to each other.
"Most of the time I'm willing to take one for the team. But I'm not interested in Howie," she said firmly. "I'd rather deal with the awkward questions." No one was desperate enough for Howie—certainly not her.
"Katie, don't make me use my bad mom voice."
Katie smiled. "Mom, I'm twenty-seven. The bad mom voice doesn't work on me."
"Want to bet?" Her mother sighed again. Worry darkened her eyes. "Please? I'll beg. Do you want that? I'm desperate. I want you to have a good time." She paused. "Well, as good a time as you can have at this. And I don't want you to worry about what everyone else might be thinking. It's four days. You'll barely have to see each other."
It was four days trapped in a hotel with her family at the top of a mountain. Where was she supposed to go to avoid them and Howie?
"He's doing some big project at work," her mother added. "I'm sure he'll be busy most of the time."
Katie hesitated. Not just because she adored her mother but also because the questions from family about why she wasn't married had begun to border on brutal. There she was—the older sister—still not married, no prospect of a boyfriend. Courtney could barely go fifteen minutes without falling in love.
"Fine," Kate conceded at last. "Just for the wedding, though. Nothing more. Ever."
Her mother beamed. "Wonderful. I'll let him know. This is going to be wonderful. You'll see."
Wonderful? Katie could think of a lot of words but that wasn't one of them. She was already knee-deep in regrets. Four days with Howie? Fourteen years ago, they'd barely lasted an hour in each other's presence.
The only bright spot in the whole thing was that back then he'd disliked her as much as she'd disliked him. Maybe he would do a better job at telling his mother no and then none of this would be an issue.
"Mother, I won't." Howard Jackson Kent said firmly.
Two simple words. They didn't matter in and of themselves, it was the tone that was going to come back and bite him in the ass. He could already feel the teeth.
"We'll ignore the fact that Janis McCormick is my best friend," his mother said, staring at him from across his desk.
They were in his office, his mother having dropped by unexpectedly between his meetings. There was only one way she would have known he was free, which meant later he would be having a little chat with his personal assistant.
"We'll ignore the fact that Janis has asked for my help."
If only that were true, he thought, leaning back in his chair and rubbing his temple.
"You could do it for Katie," his mother said. "She's such a nice girl."
Never words to make a single man's heart beat faster, he thought grimly. "Katie and I don't get along."
Granted, it had been a lot of years ago, but he remembered that summer afternoon clearly. His mother had insisted he come along with her while Tina met with her best friend. He'd agreed and had regretted the decision the second Katie had looked at him, then sighed with obvious disappointment.
Katie had been opinionated, only interested in sports and obviously contemptuous of him. Sure he'd been a nerd and awkward and he'd never communicated well with others. But she'd been difficult and unfriendly. She'd also threatened to beat him up. At the time, she probably could have.
"Things could be different now," his mother said. "She's lovely."
His mother straightened in her chair. Tina Kent was small, but he knew better than to judge her by her size.
"Do you remember ten years ago when I had breast cancer?" she asked.
He held in a groan and nodded. Not this, he thought. Anything but this.
"You were in college. I didn't want you to know how bad it was because I wanted you to focus on getting your masters."
It was in that program he'd developed the software that had launched his company and turned him into a multi-millionaire in three short years.
"Mom," he began.
She held up a hand. "When you came home, you were worried. I promised you I would get better." She paused expectantly.
"I said I would do anything if you would," he said dutifully.
"I kept my promise. Now it's time for you to keep yours. You're going to be Katie's date for the wedding. You'll spend four days at the resort in Fool's Gold, and you'll do everything you can to make Katie feel like a princess."
Dammit all to hell. Why couldn't he be like some of his friends and never talk to his parents? Why did he and his mother have to get along? Except for this obsession with Katie McCormick, his mom was a great woman to have around. They'd always been able to talk and he respected her opinion. But right now he would give anything for a brief but meaningful estrangement.
"Mom," he began, then shook his head. It was four days. Surely he could survive that. "Fine. You win."
She smiled broadly. "Good. Janis was there for me every day when I was sick. I'm so happy to finally be able to repay her, at least a little."
"You're selling out your only son. What will the neighbors think?"
"That it's about time you found yourself a woman."