“It’ll just take a minute,” she tells him with a smile. Then her smile drops as she grabs Drew’s arm and drags him away.

While John chats with an associate next to him, Dee leans in and tells me quietly, “I don’t like how your friend was running his mouth at my cousin—and Kate.”

I put my arm around her. “He’s just competitive. It’s business—a dog-eat-dog kind of thing.”

And I have no doubt Drew would give up his right ball for the chance to eat Kate Brooks.

Dee’s not pacified. “If he comes back and decides to be a dick again, I’m going to tell him he’s risking getting his cut off.”

In the weeks since meeting her, I’ve seen many sides to Delores—carefree, seductive, tender, silly. But this is the first time I’ve witnessed her protective side. I’ve got a lot of respect for loyalty. The fact that Dee is so violent about expressing hers is goddamn adorable.

I press my lips to the top of her head. “Let’s just hope it doesn’t come to that.”

When Kate and Drew didn’t return to the conference room within a couple of minutes, I’m guessing Billy went searching for them. Because ten minutes later, Billy and Kate appear at Dee’s side—both looking uncomfortable. Tense. Definitely not happy campers.

Drew doesn’t come back to the party at all.

When Jack takes his leave a half hour later, I assume he and Drew made plans to start bar-hopping early. Given her recent threats against Drew, it’s probably not the best night to bring Dee out with the guys after all. So when the office party winds down, Kate, Billy, Dee, and I hit the city together. We walk a few blocks and grab a table at a just-starting-to-get-crowded tavern that’s hosting an open mic night on its small stage.

Delores and Kate harass Billy to sign up to perform. Billy nudges Kate with an elbow. “Sing with me. Like old times.”

Kate shakes her head. “No way. My singing days are over. I’ve hung up the microphone for good.”

Although her tone is joking, Warren looks . . . disappointed. Maybe even a little wounded.

After downing our first round of drinks, his name comes up and he takes the stage—borrowing one of the tavern’s guitars. He sings a cover of “Here’s to Us.” I don’t remember the name of the original band, but I know their sound leans toward heavy metal and their lead singer is a smoking hot redhead with killer pipes.

And I have to say—I’m pretty frigging impressed with Billy Warren. His guitar playing is really good and his voice is awesome—smooth, with just the right amount of gravel.

Dee raises her glass, claps, and calls, all while bobbing her head in time to the tune. Kate, however, watches Billy with proud—but serious—eyes. I guess some of the lyrics are kind of sad, in a way. Poignant.

They talk about toasting love, good times, mistakes, and moving on.

Warren hits the last note of the song perfectly, and the whole place erupts in applause. Kate smiles and stands when he comes back to the table, telling Billy he did a great job. I shake his hand and say the same. While Dee goes for the more exuberant approach. “Awesome job, Jackass!” Then she hugs him until he turns red.

Kate excuses herself to the bathroom. And I turn to Delores. “So . . . I guess your cousin got all the musical genes in the family, huh?”

Billy adds, “I see you’ve sampled Dee-Dee’s singing skills.”

“Screw you both—I’m an excellent singer.”

Her cousin chuckles. “Sure you are, Rain Man. Cats come from miles around just to hear you—hoping to get lucky.”

I laugh and tap my beer bottle to Warren’s. Then he ducks as Dee whips a pretzel at his head.

Kate sits back down next to Billy, and I can’t help but notice the space between their chairs. Billy leans forward and says, “So . . . I’ve got some news. That music producer who came to my gig a few months back called. He wants me to come out to California . . . says he can get me into a studio.”

Dee smiles joyously. “Oh my God! That’s fantastic!”

But judging by the look on her face, fantastic isn’t what Kate thinks it is at all.

“When . . . when did this happen?” she asks.

Billy shrugs. “A few days ago.” He sips his beer.

“Why am I just hearing about it now?”

Tension sweeps across the air like a swarm of locusts.

Billy stares hard. “When was I supposed to tell you, Kate? You’re never around.”

Her frown deepens. “We live together.”

“And even when you’re at the apartment, you’re not there.”

She looks away and pushes a hand through her hair. Delores watches them—worriedly—like a child of divorce stuck between two bickering parents.

“I can’t . . .” Kate starts. “I can’t go to California now.”

Billy keeps his eyes on his beer bottle. “Yeah . . . I know. That’s why I’m going by myself.”

Kate looks completely blindsided—hurt, and a little angry.

“But . . . we had a plan. You supported me when I was in school and now I . . . it’s my turn to do that for you.”

Billy pushes his chair back from the table. Defensive frustration makes his hands clench and his expression tight. “Well, plans change, Katie. I mean really, will you even f**king notice when I’m gone? ’Cause it sure doesn’t feel like you will.”

She’s about to ask what he means. It’s right there on the tip of her tongue. But she stops short and says, “I don’t want to fight.”

This just pisses Warren off more. “Of course you don’t want to fight. You don’t want to do anything with me these days! You’re too busy to go anywhere—”

“I’m working!”

He ignores her. “You don’t want to argue, or talk; you don’t want to have sex . . .”

Kate’s cheeks flush pink, but I can’t tell if it’s because she’s embarrassed or mad.

“All you want to do is look over your f**king files and decide what suit you should wear to the office.”

“That’s not fair!”

“I know business is a man’s world, but I didn’t know you had to dress the part.”

Delores jumps in. “Don’t be a dick, Billy.”

“Stay out of it, Dee-Dee.”

With fire in her eyes, Kate gets in her financé’s face. “Screw you.”

He laughs in a bitter way. “Interesting choice of words. I’m not sure who you’ve been screwing lately, but it hasn’t been me.”

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