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"I need a man."
When Cathleen McAlister voiced that thought aloud, she was glad the only person around to hear her was her best friend and business partner, Lisa Meadows.
Now that she had Lisa's attention, she figured she might as well continue her tirade. The office had closed an hour ago, and their staff was probably home by now. The two of them were working late to prepare for a financial seminar they would be presenting tomorrow at one of Birmingham's largest employers, the Myers-Hansel Corporation.
"What good is all of this without a good man to go home to at night?" she asked, waving her hand at the beautiful office that the both of them shared. To say the office was plush was an understatement. Even the reception area was downright luxurious.
Lisa chuckled. "Hey, I do have a man to go home to when I leave here, Cat. You're the one who decided not to get seriously involved with anyone while climbing the ladder of success. You saw a man in your life as a distraction. I saw one in my life, while climbing that same ladder, as extreme satisfaction."
After rolling her eyes at Lisa, Cat did something she'd seldom done in all her twenty-eight years: admit to being wrong. "Okay, stop gloating, will you? I admit I made a mistake. I had a good thing, and I blew it."
"No," Lisa said quickly and with a pointed look. "You did more than just blow it. You shattered it into a thousand pieces when you told Rory just where he could go that night."
Just hearing her ex-boyfriend's name made certain parts of Cat's body tingle. As much as she'd tried, it had been hard for the past year to banish Rory Dawkins's gorgeous image from her mind. Even now she could see him vividly---tall, bowlegged, and in a pair of jeans. She didn't know of any man who could wear them better or get out of them quicker. Then there were his broad shoulders, narrow waist, fine-as-a-dime butt, and a too-handsome-for-his-own-good face. And she couldn't forget his performance in bed. She hadn't known what the big O was until she'd hooked up with him. When it came to making love, he had it down to an art form.
Good grief, she mentally chided and stubbornly admitted, she had been celibate since their breakup, desperately missing the best thing she'd ever had and foolishly given up, all because she'd start seeing Rory as a threat. He endangered all the goals she had laid out for herself in life.
She could now confess to being downright stupid for letting him walk out of her life. He had started talking about marriage and babies, and she was still thinking of ways to expand her business and make it the most sought-after financial consulting firm in Birmingham---no, the entire state of Alabama.
The word commitment hadn't been in her vocabulary, and the moment he began hinting at such a thing, she'd sent him packing and told him not to return. Since then, she had discovered how wrong she was in focusing solely on making it to the top. During her climb, her life had gotten lonelier, and it had lost the meaning it once had. And on top of everything else, her body was going through months of sexual withdrawal, and even the mere mention of Rory's name got her panties wet.
"I know I screwed up with Rory, and I regret everything I said. That's why I'm placing him on my wish list."
Lisa lifted a brow as she turned away from the computer and the PowerPoint document she'd been working on. "What wish list?"
"It's a list of the things I want, and Rory is at the top of the list. In fact, he's the only thing on the list, which means I'm going to have to think of a plan to get him back."
"Well, good luck on that one. The last few times he was over to our place, he didn't even ask about you. In fact, he hasn't in quite a while. And like I told you, according to Peyton, he's seeing some woman who works for Cochrane Enterprises. And although I haven't met her yet, Peyton has, and he said she's a cutie, so it seems your loss was her gain."
Cat frowned. "Do you have to rub it in?"
"It serves you right for letting a good man get away. I tried to warn you, but you wouldn't listen. You were in love with him, Cat. That much was obvious, but you had to have things your way or no way. You hurt him deeply, and some men can be unforgiving about things like that. Peyton would be, and the reason they're best friends is because they usually act and think alike."
Lisa then glanced at her watch. "And speaking of Peyton, let's finish up here so I can leave within the next twenty minutes. He's picking me up, and we're going to Mangos for dinner."
"I will get Rory back, Lisa."
Lisa gave her a doubtful look. "You're welcome to try."
"I'll do more than try. I'll succeed."
"Good luck---because after the way you dumped him, you're definitely going to need all the luck you can get."
Rory Dawkins had heard enough and stepped back from the door and quickly left the reception area to head out of the building. His best friend had asked him to come inside to let his wife know he'd arrived a little early and was outside circling the block. They had tried reaching Lisa on her cell phone and discovered she didn't have it on, and her office number had defaulted to a voice mail.
At first Rory had hesitated, knowing there was a strong chance he would run into the one woman he had never stopped loving. But he was determined to face Cat and pretend he was over her just as he'd assumed she was over him.
Evidently that had been a false assumption.
He had overheard Cat and Lisa's entire conversation. Once Cat had declared she needed a man, his ears had perked up, and he decided to listen, shamelessly so. And he was glad that he had. Now he was torn between laughing and punching a damn hole in the nearest wall. So, the woman who had kicked him to the curb because he was becoming too "habit forming," as she'd so elegantly put it, had placed him on, of all things, her wish list. And she intended to try to get him back?
Hell, he agreed with Lisa. Let her try. He would love for her to try to get him back. He had wondered how long it would take for Cat to wake up and finally realize that the two of them belonged together. But now that she'd come to that conclusion, did she think that she could just waltz back into his life? He needed to show the spirited, successful, and sexy Cat McAlister a thing or two about men. Nobody liked being dropped like a hot potato and then picked up later like a hot fudge sundae.
He might be on Cat's wish list, but he couldn't forget that this same time last year he'd been on her dish list. And for that very reason he was determined to prove to her once and for all that mega success was nothing without ...What was the phrase Lisa had used? Oh yeah, "extreme satisfaction."
Cat definitely had a lesson coming, and he would enjoy being the one to teach it. And it would be a while before he told her that he hadn't been involved with a woman at Cochrane Enterprises. It was a story that he and Peyton had fabricated for Lisa's benefit, since they knew she would occasionally try pumping him for information to feed to Cat regarding his love life or lack of one.
He and Peyton had agreed it was better for Cat to believe he had moved on with his life and was not somewhere pining over her, as he'd actually been doing. A man did have his pride, after all, and at thirty-three, he was too old to play games. But this was one game he intended to play, since Cat had unknowingly placed the ball in his court.
As he stepped onto the elevator, he thought that twelve months was a long time for the woman he had always considered his future wife to finally come to her senses, and he wondered just what her strategy was going to be. But no matter what her overconfident and goal-oriented mind came up with, at least he would be prepared.
A full-curve smile touched his lips. Cat McAlister was going to find out that a prepared Rory Dawkins was a force to reckon with.
Copyright © 2005 by Brenda Jackson