Kat was glad to put the last of the holiday lights on the top shelf of the storage room. The season was nearly over, but it was far enough over that she could move on to one she could tolerate more. New Year’s was a time she saw to start over and, of course, to get drunk.
Three days before the evening of partying, she pulled out lights that hinted more of the party atmosphere and began to decorate her store. A few balls with silver sparkles on them were hung from the ceiling. All sorts of decorations filled the ceiling when she was done. Stepping back, she smiled. This was more her style.
After turning the lights out and locking up, she made her way down down the back loading ramp of the mall. The winter sky was lost in the haze of the bright lights that flooded the parking lot and bounced off the heavy snow falling.
She paused at her door with the key ready to be inserted and let her eyes fall on Todd’s truck. She hadn’t seen him in three days since he had dropped off some lightbulbs to keep her in her storage room. He had given her a lingering kiss but hadn’t stuck around to talk. Mumbling something about getting back to work, he left.
Had she done something wrong? She couldn’t figure it out. They had gone out for dinner the day after Christmas. Everything seemed to go well. She had hoped to invite him to her friend’s New Year’s Eve bash, but not seeing him kind of prevented that.
Shaking the depression off, she quickly inserted the key and slid into the car. It was only a matter of seconds before she had the car on and the heat turned on high. Rubbing her gloved hands and blowing on them, she stared at the snowflakes that fell on her windshield. It wasn’t long before she zoned out in an attempt to forget the frigid temps in the car.
A knock on her window caused her to jump with a scream escaping from her mouth. She looked up at a smiling Todd. Rolling down the window, she gasped, “What are you doing? You nearly scared me to death.”
“I doubt that,” he drawled as he leaned in and gave her a lingering kiss.
The feel of his lips on hers took what was left of her breath away. She felt herself get lightheaded. Her heart raced.
“Wow,” she breathed.
A smile tugged at one side of his mouth. “That’s one word for it.”
“I…I was wondering if you had plans for New Year’s Eve.” She had trouble keeping her mind from taking his lips again. “A friend is having a party.”
He reached out and with his gloved hand caressed her cheek. “Sure.”
She let the breath she had been holding out slowly. “Really?”
He chuckled. “Yes. I have to work the next few days at the south stripmall. There was a leak in the roof.”
Kat couldn’t hide the disappointment she felt. “O…okay. Uh, it starts at nine Thursday night.”
“How far is it from your place?”
“About twenty minutes.”
“Okay if I pick you up at nine? I have to work until we get that leak sealed and check over the rest of the roof.”
Kat smiled. “That works. I’ll see you then.”
Todd leaned in and gave her another gentle kiss. “Until then.”
Kat watched as he walked away. She couldn’t help but admire how his jeans clung to his backside. His winter coat was short enough to give her the view.
Once he was out of sight and inside the building, she moved the car out of the parking lot and onto the busy city streets. A smile brightened her face. The day was looking much sunnier now.
Kat hummed a tune as she finished her makeup. Pursing her lips, she swiped the bright red lipstick across them. With a small dance, she skipped into the bedroom and pulled her dress from the closet.
The silver material shimmered as it slinked down over her body. It molded to her as the netting that covered the dress billowed out around her like a small cloud. She adjusted the spaghetti straps on her way back into the bathroom to work on her hair.
When the doorbell rang, she had her hair successfully curled and pulled back into cascade of ringlets falling from the crown of her head. One last satisfied look in the mirror, she smiled and rushed to the door. Stopping before opening it, she took a deep breath and calmed herself.
With a confident look, she opened the door and lost it all. Before her was the best looking man she had ever seen. Todd leaned against the doorframe. Her eyes moved from his loafers and up to his fitted black jeans. A red button down shirt hugged his tight abs with a black blazer covering it. The top buttons were left open to reveal a sculpted chest with a few hairs teasing the eyes.
Kat found herself struggling to breath as she met his eyes. A flutter in her stomach brought a light headed sensation. “Wow!”
“I take it you like what you see.”
Another flutter tickled her from his voice. “You could say that.”
His eyes roamed down over her outfit. “I know I like what I see.”
She gave him a smug smile before walking back toward her bedroom to grab her shoes. “I’ll be right out,” she tossed over her shoulder.
Rummaging in her closet, she found her black heels. She slipped them on and grabbed the black, lace shawl she had bought specifically to go with the dress. In the living room, she found Todd looking at pictures on the wall.
Kat took her coat from its hook next to the door. “Yes. That’s my parents and my brother.”
“You look like your mother.” He gave the picture one last glance before helping her with her coat.
“Everyone thinks that.” She buttoned up the wool coat and pulled a scarf around her head. “Okay. Ready?”
“Anytime you are.”
The party was in full swing when Kat and Todd arrived. Bodies filled the house and spilled out onto the patio despite the snow. Music pulsated throughout the building as people moved in rhythm with it. Kat gave an approving glance over the scene. Silver and gold garland hung from the ceiling. Lights were strung along the wall, giving the room an even more festive appearance.
Kat waved at a few people as she handed her coat to the person assigned to taking them at the door. She gave the man a double look. Something about him looked familiar. A shout across the room pulled her attention away.
Her friend, Diane, made her way through the crowd. They had been friends since high school. While Kat had dark hair, Diane was the complete opposite with natural blonde hair. Both were close to the same height and build. But while Kat was more shy and reserved, Diane was the outgoing flirt.
“You made it.” Diane pulled Kat close for a hug. “And who is this?” Diane gave Todd a suggestive smile as she looked him up and down.
Kat felt a slight tug of jealousy. She took Todd’s arm and pulled him toward her. “This is Todd. We work together.”
Diane took Todd’s offered hand. “So nice to meet you. Kat hasn’t mentioned you at all.”
“Why don’t we get a drink?” Kat took Todd’s hand from Diane. Her eyes narrowed at her friend. “In the kitchen?”
“You know where to go,” Diane drawled.
Kat tugged at Todd’s arm and led him through the crowd and away from her friend. The look in Diane’s eye didn’t sit well with her.
They found another one of Kat’s friends tending the makeshift bar in the kitchen. The young man gave Kat a bright smile.
“Hey, Kat. How’s it going?”
Kat smiled back. “Great, Pat. What do you have for us?”
“I have the standard beers and wine coolers. But I could also whip up some mixed drinks. Got a handy mixer back here.”
“I’ll just take a cooler. Todd?” She turned to the quiet man beside her.
Todd pensively watched the man taking their drink order. “Beer.”
“Miller? Pabst? Or craft?”
“Any craft will do.” He took the offered drink and directed Kat away from the kitchen.
She frowned as she sipped her drink. “What’s wrong?”
He quickly smiled and pulled her close for a kiss on the nose. “Nothing.”
Kat let it slide as friends came up to greet them. They talked and danced as the magic hour grew closer. With fifteen minutes to go, Pat walked up with a tray of champagne glasses. Kat took one as she walked off to the beckoning hand of Diane, leaving Todd to take his.
Pat met Todd’s steady gaze. “Fancy seeing you here.”
“What do you want?”
“I think we both know what that is.” Pat glanced in Kat’s direction. “I’d advise you to leave our girl alone.”
Todd took a sip from his drink. Taking his time swallowing, he smiled. “I don’t think so.”
Pat’s response was interrupted as Kat walked up. “Diane’s getting ready to do the countdown.” Kat put her hand on Todd’s arm.
Pat moved on to hand out the glasses. Kat frowned again as she looked at Todd’s steady gaze that followed Pat’s departure.
“Is something wrong?”
Todd leaned down and gently laid his lips on hers. “What could be wrong?” he asked with their lips touching.
Kat’s heart skipped a beat. “Nothing.”
In the background, voices began the countdown in unison. “Ten…Nine…Eight…Seven…Six…Five…Four…Three…Two…One.” A shout filled the house.
Todd increased the pressure of the kiss. Kat sighed as she opened herself to him. A new year. She was enjoying how it was starting.