Kate Reed sat in her new apartment, reveling in the feeling of having her first 'grown up place.' She'd spent the last 8 years depending on someone else; Lauren's place, the office couch, her Dad's boathouse, before she negligently blew it up, and Justin's apartment before their divorce. Change was in the air, and she was feeling very introspective tonight.
Reflecting on her recent relationship blunders and highlights, Kate Reed looked around at her new walls adorned in rich butter yellow and realized something: for the first time, in a long time, she didn't feel the urge to run. She felt content to just be herself—no apologies.
So what if she wasn't the perfect lawyer, but a mediator instead? So what if she had some relationship baggage, and who doesn't, as people get older? So what if she totally crushed the hearts of two men in the last several months. Justin being the first, and Ben Grogan, her partner-in-crime at Reed and Reed, being the last. Cringing at her last thought, she started to hang the housewarming gift from Justin.
Of course she didn't realize how much Ben liked her until the morning after she ditched their dinner/date for a quickie at Justin's place, thanks to Intel from Leo. Her heart still ached when she thought of poor Ben, knocking on Leo's door in the middle of the night looking for her. Kate had no idea she meant that much to him—his pseudo confession in their Tahoe hot tub confirmed that. If only he had known how close she was to kissing him then.
All these feelings were bubbling up to the surface, and were becoming bit much to handle on a Friday night, so she played her favorite album, grabbed an open bottle of her favorite Cabernet, ripped the cork out via her teeth, and poured a very healthy serving, internally toasting herself for conquering her fear of being fully independent.
As the rich, oaky flavors coursed down her throat a lot of different emotions warred deep inside her. The most overwhelming of which was a sense of closure. A new chapter of her life was beginning and she was eager to welcome it.
Noticing the pink hues coming from her windows, she made her way out on to the terrace to enjoy the spectacular view that made her fall head over heels with the apartment.
Funny, how Ben, of all people, could pick an apartment more suited to her taste than Justin a man she had known, dated and eventually married since graduating law school. Little things, like the heart-shaped stone he put on her desk from Tahoe; the cases he helped her fight, all the while risking a loss to mar his perfect record. The apartment was just icing on the ever-growing cake.
As if on cue, Kate felt a presence to her left and heard someone start talking to her.
Only one man's voice had the power to make her want to melt where she stood, run shrieking in the opposite direction, and smack the smirk off of his devilishly handsome face, all at the same time.
Completely shocked and mouth agape, Kate looked over to find Ben Grogan casually leaning against the terrace railing opposite hers. With his shirtsleeves rolled up, Kate caught a glimpse of toned muscle beneath designer cuffs. As if she had no will of her own, her gaze started to go lower to his very fine tailored slacks, when he said:
Thankfully this snapped her out of her shocked stupor. She brought her eyes back up to his face, and tried desperately to ignore for the moment how incredibly gorgeous his smile was. Realizing she had yet to say anything, and was still staring at his mouth, she brought her attention to his eyes, shook her head to clear the dirty thoughts, and blurted out the first thing that came to mind.
Not the most articulate response, but hey, at least she managed to stop ogling him, which she prayed to God he had not noticed. Approaching the end of his terrace nearest hers, his smirk turned into a full watt smile, which caused her heart to flutter and then slam into her chest 20 beats faster than normal.
Kate tried again to form coherent speech around the sizable lump forming in her throat as Ben lithely approached the end of his territory.
Eyeing her skinny jeans and baggy violet sweatshirt, he cocked his head to the side.
"Have any plans for dinner?"
Any minute now she was going to hyperventilate and pass out if her breathing did not slow down soon. Dinner? How was she going to dodge his attempt to court her less than fifty feet from her doorstep every day? Not to mention her attraction to him was growing exponentially by the minute. She blamed the wine. Alcohol = bad thoughts about off limits coworkers. Well, one coworker. Oh crap, she was supposed to be answering his question…'come on Reed—get your head together.'
"Er…I…was going to stop by Lauren's to make sure I didn't forget anything." There, that ought to satisfy him.
Of course, Ben knew Kate better than she thought he did and called her bluff.
"Yeah…is that why I saw her wearing a killer dress walking arm-in-arm with Archer headed towards his car? They seemed pretty cozy to just be meeting for 'business drinks,' so I think you might want to steer clear of her place tonight…if you get my meaning."
"Ugh, Ben why do men always go directly to sex? Huh? You just assume they are going to have sex after one date. She barely even knows the guy…"
Satisfied to have gotten her talking again, he bowed his head and smiled.
"Because, Katie, I myself am a guy, and I tend to know how we think when we're lucky enough to share the company of a beautiful, intelligent woman." …'try working with her everyday…'
Point taken, Kate backed off and tried to steer the subject to more neutral ground.
"Well, I guess it's nothing that can't wait till morning…"
He smirked his trademark smirk and started to maneuver the conversation back to the question at hand.
"Great, so that means you're free. Do you want to eat in, or go out?"
Kate took a moment to compose herself.
"Uh…Ben, look I appreciate the 'welcome wagon' gesture and all, but I was kinda thinking I would just unwind tonight." Surely that ought to get rid of him—he wouldn't resort to begging…would he?
"Now Katie, what kind of neighbor would I be if I didn't help you navigate the treacherous delivery options available to us?"
Electricity shot down her spine every time he used his pet name for her…she could barely stand it at this point. 'I am totally screwed…how am I going to survive this level of flirtation on a daily basis? …definitely need to limit my wine consumption, for one.'
The doorbell chiming 'Ding, Dong' loudly brought her out of her reverie. Looking over at the now-empty balcony, Kate realized Ben had taken it upon himself to bring their conversation inside her apartment.
Taking a deep breath, Kate crossed her living room to crack her door, but not allow him entry, just yet.
"Ben, it's not nice to leave a lady in the middle of a conversation…"
"I know, Katie, but I saw you shivering and I didn't want you catching cold in the spring night air…besides, I have all of these menus for you to choose from, so what do you say? Will you let me in?"
Kate noted the arch in his eyebrow as he mentioned her 'shivering…' He knew what he was doing to her—of that much she was certain. It was just a matter of how long she could put off the inevitable.