“Are you sure the dress isn’t too much? I mean, it’s only a small party. Right?” Katie asked as they turned onto his mother’s street.
Brandon rolled his eyes. Katie had asked that same question when he picked out the dress for her to try on. The teal green lace fabric hugged her curves in all the right places. In all honesty, it might have been a little too sexy for his mother’s tastes, but he liked it. “It’s perfect. Besides, you like the dress. Don’t you?”
“Of course. I think it’s hot. It goes well with my Christian Louboutin’s.” She smiled and lifted a foot.
Brandon assumed she was talking about her shoes since they had bought both the dress and purse at the mall. “Yeah, sure,” he took the chance to give Katie a nice long look over. Maybe he had been a little too enthusiastic about picking that dress out.
Normally he was a pretty laid back, reserved guy. Right now he was considering having a quickie in the car before they went in the house. “Maybe we should skip this and go home. While the dress looks beautiful on you, I think it’ll look even better on the bedroom floor.”
“Honestly Brandon, haven’t you had enough for the day?” She laughed, gave him a long kiss, then got out of the car.
“You can be cruel woman,” he whispered in her ear as they walked up to the front door.
“I’ll make you a deal. If you can behave yourself for the next four hours, you can put this dress wherever you want when we get home.”
“Ugh. These are going to be the longest four hours of my life,” he groaned right as his mom opened the door.
“Oh, Katie! Brandon! I’m so glad you could come to my little get together.” Sarah Hughes smiled while eying Katie from head to toe. Her perfectly groomed eyebrows rose just a bit when she looked at Katie’s dress.
Brandon scoffed. Little, yeah right. There were at least twenty cars outside of the house. Sarah really had outdone herself tonight, he thought as they walked through the foyer towards the patio.
“I hope you don’t mind, but everyone is outside. It’s such a lovely night. It would be a shame to waste it indoors.”
“Of course I don’t mind. I think being outside is a marvelous idea.” Katie smiled then wrapped her arms around Brandon’s waist. “Isn’t it, love?”
Brandon had to hide his grin as he wrapped his arm around her bare shoulders. Katie was really putting on a show for his mom. The way she held her arms emphasized her cleavage. “Yes, it is,” he replied then gave her a quick kiss.
“Well, uh hmm.” Sarah cleared her throat. “That certainly is a lovely dress you’re wearing, Katie.”
“Thank you. Brandon picked it out. He was particularly partial to the lace detailing.”
“Yes, I was.” He grinned.
“Well, you certainly have interesting taste, dear,” she blurted. “Now, everyone is anxious to see you. Come, you two.”
Sarah guided Katie and Brandon out the back door to the immaculately trimmed backyard. Sarah took great pleasure in keeping her garden perfect at all times. Tonight she had gone the extra mile. A long rectangular table, covered in a white tablecloth and fine china, lined the back of the deck. A large, circular table covered with various types of appetizers was placed at one corner. The centerpiece of the party was a large wooden dance floor on the lawn just below the deck. Sarah had several strings of Edison lights surrounding the structure.
Katie and Brandon made their way to the bar to get drinks.
Sarah was not far behind. Most of the attendees were friends of Sarah. A few of Katie and Brandon’s friends were present, but not many. Sarah was definitely playing dirty tonight. “Oh well. Two can play at this game,” Katie whispered.
Brandon chuckled at Katie’s statement. Sarah appeared not to have noticed, which made it that much better. Tonight definitely wouldn’t be boring.
“This really is lovely, Sarah. It’s so kind of you to do this,” Katie commented.
“Anything to make my Brandon and his... well, what exactly are you?” She asked.
“Mom,” Brandon started, “you know exactly what Katie
Sarah frowned then inspected Katie once again. This time she did not try to disguise her disapproval and condescension. “Tell me, Katie, do you plan on sticking around this time?”
“Mother,” Brandon seethed. “That is none of your business.”
“It is my business,” Sarah retorted. “I just want to make sure you’re happy.”
“Yes, Brandon’s happiness is very important to me.
Fortunately, I have learned plenty of tricks to keep him more than content.” Katie gave an innocent smile that belied her less than innocent innuendo. “Now if you’ll excuse us. I see Rebecca over there and I would love to catch up with her. We haven’t had a chance to talk much since I arrived.” Katie did not wait for a reply. She just grabbed Brandon’s hand and walked away, ignoring Sarah’s open mouth.
Brandon nearly spit out his drink at Katie’s bold but subtle statement. He was thankful that she pulled them away before he was forced to speak. He glanced back at his mother. Her mouth was still agape with shock. It was a refreshing sight indeed.
“You certainly seem to be enjoying yourself,” Brandon whispered to her. “I’ve never seen anyone make my mother speechless. I knew there was a reason I loved you.”
Katie gave a mischievous grin. “Well, she started it the moment we walked in the door. Did you see the way she was looking at me? If she thinks I’m a slut I might as well play the part.”
Brandon stopped and faced Katie. “You’re not a slut. Don’t ever say that. She’s just jealous that I don’t need her anymore.
Please, don’t ever use that word to describe yourself again. It’s not true and it hurts me.” Brandon scolded. He knew she probably meant it as a joke and not as a reflection of herself. But he was still processing the revelations she’d made last night.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it that way. I was only joking. But I promise I won’t describe myself as that again, not even in a joking manner.” She kissed his cheek.
“Thank you.” He interlaced their fingers. “Now let’s find Rebecca.”
“She’s over there, with your brother.” Katie pointed to the back corner of the lawn. “Can I make a request?”
“Anything you want. It’s yours.”
“Please no talking shop with Rebecca tonight. I want to enjoy a brief reprieve from the maniac hunting me for just a night.”
“Of course. Let’s just enjoy our friend’s company tonight,” he agreed, squeezing her hand.
“Thank you.” She smiled.
They made their way across the lawn and Katie found herself regretting wearing heels. The grass was soft and dewy, making her heels sink in just a bit. Eventually they reached Rebecca and Brandon’s younger brother, Callum. The two were having a heated discussion over baby names.
“Rebecca, I know you love the name Albert.”
“Well of course. Albert Einstein is one of—if not the greatest—modern physicists. He had an IQ of over 160. We all know this child is going to be brilliant. He should have a brilliant name.”
“Well, regardless, I’m not naming my son Albert.
Remember, he has to go to school with that name. Do you really want him to suffer?”
“Well Albert is certainly better than Bo. We don’t live in the backwoods.”
“Hey, Bo Jackson is one of the greatest athletes in history. Our son would be lucky to have a name like that.” Callum smiled. Bo Jackson had always been one of his idles.
“You honestly think that he won’t be made fun of with a name like Bo? I can think of at least five different jokes to make just off the top of my head.”
“Oh really? Like?”
“‘Hey Bo, where’s your arrow?’ Or how about ‘Bo, you know why your name’s so short? Because your parents knew you wouldn’t be able to spell something longer.’”
Callum attempted to hold back a chuckle. “Those aren’t funny at all.”
“Uh huh, that’s why you’re trying not to laugh.”
“So, am I to assume that I’ll be having a nephew soon,” Katie interrupted.
Rebecca turned at the sound of Katie’s voice. “Katie,” she exclaimed then wrapped her in a big hug. “Is it true? Are you really back for good?”
“Yes. I’m sending in my letter of resignation on Monday. I’ll have to go back to New York for bit. I need to get my things and I might do another story or two. I don’t want to leave the paper high and dry since they did so much for me. But after that I’m back.”
Rebecca squealed with joy. “That is the happiest news I’ve heard all year. Tell me, what do you plan on doing?”
“Well, first I’m going to sleep for a bit. After that I’m going to spend all my time helping you get ready for your baby.”
“You can paint the nursery. Callum’s taking too long and I’m not allowed to do it myself.” She frowned.
“Hey, no problem. It’ll be just like college.” She laughed. “Now, what color am I painting the room? Blue? Pink?”
“Probably yellow since we don’t know the baby’s gender.” “Oh.” Katie’s eyes drooped. “I thought since you were discussing boy’s names that...” she trailed off.
“Oh no, we’ve already agreed on a girl’s name.” “Really? What is it?”
“Elizabeth Anne,” Rebecca smiled, “after my grandma.”
“That’s a fabulous name. And while I’m at it, Albert is a perfectly acceptable name, Callum. Much better than Bo.”
“See, the word master agrees. Albert it is.” Rebecca grinned.
Callum frowned. “I’m not going to win this one, am I?”
Both girls shook their heads and laughed. Callum turned a pleading look at his brother.
“I’m sorry Callum, but I’m afraid I would be useless here.” He chuckled. “You know those two. Once their minds are set there’s no going back.”
“Okay, fine.” He threw his hands up and smiled. “But we make Bo his middle name. Then let him choose.”
“Callum...” Rebecca began.
“Hey, it’s only fair,” Katie retorted.
“Ugh, okay,” Rebecca sighed. “Well, I hope it’s a girl then.” “I’m going back to school,” she stated, changing the subject.
Rebecca smiled. “It’s about time you got your PhD. I’m tired of being the only doctor in the family.” She giggled.
Katie laughed. “Well in a couple of years they’ll be two of us. Dr. Katie Quinn, it has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?”
“A very nice ring to it,” Rebecca agreed.
“Lord Help us,” Brandon playfully groaned. “Her ego’s already big enough as it is.”
“Is not,” Katie quipped then gave him a playful punch to the bicep.
“Big baby,” Katie mumbled. “What?” Brandon replied. “Nothing, dear.” Katie smiled.
Rebecca was close to tears she was laughing so hard. “Honestly Katie, it feels like you never left. You two have to stop. Laughing makes my belly hurt.”
“Sorry,” Katie said.
Rebecca slowly stopped her giggling until eventually she was back to normal. “So, where are you going to stay? Are you moving back in with Brandon or getting your own place?”
Katie was silent for a moment. “Well, I have a pretty substantial amount saved. I guess I could get my own place,but I’d rather save that for school. I know I won’t be able to work while I’m getting my degree. So I guess, for now, I’ll crash at Brandon’s. That is if he doesn’t mind.” She laughed.
“I guess it would be okay. Of course there will be some… hmm, favors I might ask.” He winked.
“Whoa! Whoa! TMI,” Rebecca exclaimed.
“You have a dirty mind, Rebecca Harmon-Hughes. I was only talking about laundry and cooking.” He chuckled.
Katie could feel the red on her face. She had never been so embarrassed in her life. “Brandon Adam Hughes,” she whispered into his ear, “remember the deal we made earlier?”
“Well, you’re about to have a hot date with a cold shower instead of me.”
Brandon gulped. “I’m sorry.”
“Thank you. You’re forgiven,” Katie whispered then gave him a kiss on his cheek.
“Oh, I’m so glad you’re back,” Rebecca said, interrupting their private conversation. “I’ve missed you so much. Our phone calls were never enough.”
“I know. And I’m glad to be back. The experience I had in New York was amazing, but Columbia really is my home.”
Rebecca nodded. “You wanted to chase your dream, Katie.
There’s nothing wrong with that. I’m glad you came back. I just hate it was under these circumstances.”
“Yes, well. Let’s forget about that for now.” Katie stated. “Of course. Now tell me, are those Christian Louboutin’s you’re wearing?”
“Why yes they are. They were my first splurge in New
Brandon and Callum gave the girls their space while they talked about shoes and shopping. Neither one of them had an interest in the subject.
“You look happy, Brandon. Happier than you have in over a
“Yes, well, Katie coming back is a gift. One that I intend to
“Have you talked to Mom about the ring yet?”
“No, not yet. I’m not quite sure Katie’s ready for that kind of commitment. It’s been a long year and we have some ground we need to cover. But once I’m sure and she’s settled I’ll talk to Mom.”
“Speaking of, I saw the interaction between Katie and Mom on the deck. I must say, I was impressed.” Callum laughed.
“Yeah, well, Katie has a special talent for knocking Mom off her high horse.” Brandon grinned. “It’s one of her many talents.”
Callum smiled. “So, what brought Katie back to Columbia?
Rebecca told me she arrived here on Thursday.”
“It has to do with a case I’m working on.” Brandon’s jaw tightened.
“The Alaina Watson case?” “Yeah. Did Rebecca tell you?”
“No. You know she never talks about work at home,” Callum said. “I saw the story on the news. When they showed the girl’s picture on TV I couldn’t help but think how much she looked like Katie. Has someone threatened her?”
“It’s complicated. I’d rather not talk about it right now.” Brandon had no desire to think about Katie in danger, especially now that she was back for good. “Just know that I’ll do whatever it takes to keep her safe.”
“I know you will.”
“So, how long have you known about this party? Callum chuckled. “Since Katie arrived on Thursday.” “I figured it took her more than half a day to plan this,”
“Yeah, well, you know how she is.” At that moment Sarah made the announcement that dinner was ready.
“Well, it appears we are being summoned,” Brandon sighed. “You’ll sit with us of course.”
“Oh yeah. I already changed the seating cards. Mom had Katie sitting right next to her while you were at the other end of the table by me and Rebecca. Mom is now sitting next to Agnes Mitchell.” Callum snickered.
“I’ve taught you well.” Brandon gloated then walked towards Katie, wrapping his arm around her waist. He took a long look around the backyard, searching for anything amiss. He saw nothing. With a sigh of relief, he guided Katie towards the deck.
Katie and Brandon were in the middle of the dance floor, swaying to the sound of Train’s Marry Me. They had been dancing together for the past twenty minutes. “It’s been awhile since we’ve done this,” Brandon whispered, resting his chin on Katie’s shoulder.
“I know. I’m sorry,” she whispered back.
“I’m sorry too,” he replied, pulling her in closer.
Katie savored the feel of him; the scent of him. His cologne and aftershave complimented each other perfectly. “Still using Armani I see.” It had been a Christmas present for him a few years ago. It was one of her favorite scents.
“Just for you.”
Katie smiled and listened to the song. She rested her head on Brandon’s chest, listening to the rapid heartbeat underneath. “I like this song. I like the lyrics,” she declared, still listening to his heart. It gave a little leap at her statement. She smiled.
“Me too,” he replied then lifted her chin until she was looking into his eyes. “Are you hinting at something?”
Katie smiled and was about to answer when Brandon’s mom barged up and ‘politely’ pushed Katie away, nearly knocking her to the ground. Brandon groaned in frustration. Sarah seemed not to notice.
“I’m sorry Katie, but you’ve been dancing with Brandon for quite some time now. I’m sure you wouldn’t mind if I took a turn for a bit, would you dear? I mean, you will have him to yourself tonight.” She smiled.
Katie took a deep breath. She wasn’t going to cause a scene —not tonight. Still, Sarah would not get off completely Scott free from her rude intrusion. She quickly straightened herself and approached Sarah. Katie was taller than Brandon’s mother, but with the added height of her heels, she towered over her. She stepped close to the inconsiderate woman until she was all but standing on top of her. Then she looked down and smiled. “Of course I don’t mind. How could I deny such a request? After all, he and I do live together. I get to see him every day.” Katie turned and walked off the dance floor. She did not turn to look at Sarah Hughes’ infuriated face.
“I think I know who your stalker is,” Rebecca chuckled as Katie walked towards the bar and ordered another glass of wine.
“I wish,” Katie replied dryly. “I could take her on in my sleep. No, she’s far too conceited to actually kill someone. She prefers public power plays. Besides, I haven’t known her long enough.”
“You seem to know quite a bit about the killer’s psychology. Did you get another degree while you were in New York?”
“No. I asked a psychiatrist friend of mine about the case today. I wanted her opinion on the whole thing.” Katie sipped some wine.
“You never did mention seeing a psychiatrist,” Rebecca frowned.
“I wasn’t seeing her personally,” Katie clarified. “She helped me with a story I wrote a few months back. It was the one about funding for mental health services for veterans.”
“Oh, yeah. I remember that story. You did a great job by the way.” Rebecca smiled.
“Thanks. I hope it made a difference. It’s not like it was new news.”
“True, but you approached it in a whole new light.” Rebecca commented. “I do love reading your writing. You should really write a book one day.”
“Well thank you.” Katie grinned.
“Now, how about we stand here and watch your poor boyfriend try not to hit his mom.”
“Brandon would never hit his mom.” Katie smiled. “Yeah, he’s far too principled to hit someone unless it’s in self-defense.”
“True. But that’s not the reason he wouldn’t hit his mom,” Katie remarked.
“Oh really? Then do, pray tell, inform me as to the reason why he wouldn’t hit her.”
“Because the cry of a banshee signals imminent death.” Katie chuckled.