KITTY AND THE DEAD MAN’S HAND: Chapter 1
This was embarrassing. I never thought I’d become such a victim of tradition. Yet here I was, looking at the gowns in a bridal magazine.
And liking them. Wanting them. All that satin, silk, taffeta, and chiffon. White, ivory, cream–there’s a difference between white, ivory, and cream, I learned. I could even wear rose or ice blue if I wanted to be daring. Then there were all the flowers and jewelry. Diamonds and silver. If only I could wear silver without breaking out in welts. Okay, gold, then. I could wear gold. I’d be a princess, a vision, absolutely stunning. And all I needed was a ten-thousand-dollar dress.
“I can’t believe it costs this much to take a couple of pictures,” Ben muttered, studying the brochure for a photographer, one of a dozen or so we’d collected. All the brochures–for caterers, reception halls, DJs, tuxedo rentals, and a dozen other services I hadn’t known we needed–lay piled on the table between us, along with magazines and notepads filled with lists, endless lists, of everything we were supposed to be making decisions about. We didn’t even have a date for the wedding yet. My mother had helpfully delivered all this information to me. She was very excited about it all.
We sat at a table for two in the back of New Moon, a new bar and grill near downtown. I had hoped we’d be out of the way of most of the diners and the noise at the bar, which was crowded with a group of after-work businesspeople. The place was busy, almost filled to capacity, and noisy even in back. Which was good, fantastic even, because Ben and I were the restaurant’s primary investors.
“Wedding photography’s big business,” I said, not looking up from the magazine full of gowns that cost more than I made in a year at my first job.
“It’s a racket. What if we got my friend Joe to do it? He’s pretty good with a camera.”
“Isn’t he the one who’s the crime-scene photographer for the Denver PD?”
I shook my head. My wedding was not going to be a crime scene. Not if I could help it. “Do you think I should go sleeveless? Something like that?” I held up the magazine to show a perfectly airbrushed model in a white satin haute-couture gown. I wondered if my shoulders were too bony to pull off a dress like that.
“Whatever you want.”
“But do you like it?”
He sighed. “I like it just fine.”
“You’ve said that for all of them.”
“I’m not going to be looking at the dress. I’ll be looking at you.”
And that was one of the things that made Ben a keeper. I got a little misty-eyed. He was thirty-four years old, a lawyer in private practice, and rough around the edges, because most of the time he couldn’t be bothered with appearances. This gave him almost rebellious good looks. His shaggy brown hair was always in need of a trim, the collar of his shirt stayed open, and his suit jacket and tie could usually be found in the trunk of his car. He also had a smile to sigh over. He was smiling now.
He’d proposed only a month ago, and we were still in the first flush of it all. Once again, I was amazed at how readily I had fallen into the stereotype. I was supposed to be cool and cynical.
We might have sat there staring goofily at each other all night, but Shaun interrupted us, bopping over to our table. “Hey, you guys need anything? More soda? Water?”
Shaun, late twenties, brown skin and dark hair, simultaneously hip and unassuming, managed New Moon. He’d jumped in to make the place his own, doing everything from hiring staff to setting a menu. He was also a werewolf. In fact, I counted six other werewolves here tonight, all part of our–Ben’s and my–pack. This was going to be a werewolf wedding. It seemed like a formality, because our wolf halves had established us as the mated alpha pair. I wouldn’t say it was against our wills, but it all seemed to happen very quickly. Our human sides had taken a little while to catch up. But they did, and here we were, getting married. We were both still a little shell-shocked.
I had wanted New Moon to be a haven for people like us. Neutral territory, where lycanthropes of any description could gather peacefully. So far, so good. The place had an interesting smell–the alcohol, food, and people smells of any downtown restaurant, along with the smell of the pack. Fur, musk, wild. My pack, distinctive as a fingerprint, and because New Moon had a touch of that, it felt safe. Here, my human and wolf sides came together, and it felt like home.
“I’m fine. Actually, it’s getting late. We should probably roll out of here soon.” I started gathering up the mess on the table.
Crouching now, Shaun rested his elbows on the table and regarded the smiling faces of beautiful brides in the magazines. “You pick a date yet?”
“Not even close,” Ben said.
Shaun’s grin seemed amused. To me he said, “Are you changing your last name?”
“Please. That’s so last century,” I said.
“What’s wrong with O’Farrell?” Ben said.
I glared. “Kitty O’Farrell? That’s not a name, that’s a character in a bawdy Irish ballad.”
Fortunately, I didn’t have to defend myself any further, because they both laughed.
“I’ll catch you guys later,” Shaun said, departing for other chores.
“We’re not any closer to making any decisions than we were when we sat down.” Ben now regarded the brochures and paperwork with something like hatred.
“I can’t make any decisions,” I said. “I keep changing my mind, that’s the problem.”
“Then why are we even doing this?”
“Because you asked me to marry you, remember?”
“But do we need the big production? We could just go to city hall and fill out the paperwork.”
“If we did that my mother would kill us.”
Mom wanted a big wedding. These days it was really, really hard to say no to my mother, who was halfway through chemotherapy treatments for breast cancer. She hadn’t been crass enough to drop “I may die soon so you’d better get married now” hints. But then, she didn’t have to. She just had to look at me, and her thoughts bore into me like laser beams.
“She’d understand. She’s not unreasonable.”
“What does your mom say about it?”
“She’s ecstatic that I found someone willing to shack up with me at all.”
That left me giggling. When I thought about it, Ben was right. I didn’t want a big wedding. I didn’t want to have to pick a caterer, decide on an open or cash bar, and I certainly didn’t want to hire a DJ who couldn’t possibly do as good a job as I could, having started my professional life as a late-night radio DJ. But I did want the dress. And I wanted to do something a little more interesting than wait in line at some government office so we could sign a piece of paper.
That got me thinking. I tapped my finger on a catering menu and chewed on my lip. What if there was a way to save all the time, avoid the organizational nightmare, and yet still have the spectacle? All the fun without the headaches? I had an idea.
“What are you thinking?” Ben said, wary. “You’ve got that look.”
“You’re planning something.”
What the hell? The worst he could do was say no, and that would only put us back where we started.
“Las Vegas,” I said.
He stared. “Your mother really would kill you.” But he didn’t say no.
“You can do nice weddings in Vegas,” I said. “It isn’t all Elvis ministers and drive-through chapels.”
I nodded. The more I thought about it, the better it sounded. “It’s like the wedding and honeymoon all rolled together. We’d go straight from the ceremony to the swimming pool and have a couple of froufrou drinks with little umbrellas.”
He just kept looking at me. We hadn’t been together all that long, not even a year. Before that he was my lawyer and always seemed mildly in awe of the problems I managed to get myself into. But I couldn’t always read him. The relationship was still too new. And we still wanted to get married. God help us.
Then he turned his smile back on. “Big scary werewolf drinking froufrou drinks?”
“You know me.”
“Vegas,” he said again, and the tone was less questioning and more thoughtful.
“I can get online and get us a package rate in an hour.”
“And we won’t be paying four figures for a photographer.”
“Exactly. More money for froufrou drinks.”
He shrugged in surrender. “All right. I’m sold. You’re such a cute drunk.”
Uh. . .thanks? “But I’m still getting a really great dress.” Maybe something in red. Me, Las Vegas, red dress. . . Forget the bridal magazines, I was ready for Vogue.
“Fine, but I get to take it off you at the end of the day.”
Oh yes, he’s a keeper. I smiled. “It’s a deal.”
At work the next afternoon, I mentioned the Vegas idea to Matt, the guy who ran the board for my radio show. We were in the break room pouring coffee and chatting.
“Las Vegas?” Matt said. He was another show-business twenty-something, stocky, with his black hair tied in a ponytail. “That’s seriously cool. Whacked out, but cool. I wouldn’t expect anything else from you.”
“You only live once, right? And we’ll have a story to tell at cocktail parties for the rest of our lives.”
“It would be more cool if you’d already done it and not told anyone until you got back,” he said.
“We haven’t decided anything yet. We may still get talked into going the conventional route.”
He looked skeptical. “I don’t know. You found a guy who’s willing to elope in Vegas–let everyone else have the normal wedding. You only get married the first time once.”
There was the philosophy of a generation wrapped up in a tidy little sentence.
That afternoon, Ozzie, the KNOB station manager and my immediate boss, poked his head into my office. I wondered what I’d done to piss him off this week.
“Yeah–what can I do for you?”
“I hear you’re headed to Las Vegas to get married,” he said.
I tossed aside the stack of press releases I was reading. “Where did you hear that?”
He shrugged. “I don’t know. It’s all over the building. It doesn’t matter, because here’s the thing, I’ve got this great idea.”
Ozzie fit the general stereotype of the aging hippie–thinning hair in a ponytail, a general belief that he was enlightened and progressive–except that somewhere along the line he had embraced capitalism and was always looking for ways to make a few more bucks. Why should big industrialists have all the fun? He wanted to beat them at their own game.
“You’ve been talking about doing a TV show for a while, right? I mean a real one, not that disaster in Washington last year.”
Disaster. That was putting in mildly. Never mind that that disaster had made me famous and boosted my ratings.
“I wouldn’t say talking. Woolgathering, maybe.” We’d mostly been looking for ways to piggyback The Midnight Hour onto someone else’s talk show to see if there was a market for it. I’d appeared on Letterman last month when my book came out and managed not to make an ass of myself, despite way too many cracks from Dave about how often a werewolf has to shave her legs. But that was a long way from my own show. Still, any way we could keep cashing in on my instant celebrityhood as the country’s first publicly outed werewolf had to be considered.
“How about a one-off? A special, maybe a couple of hours long, where you do the show live. It’d still be exactly the same–you’d take calls, do some interviews maybe. Just with cameras and an audience.”
Weird. But cool. And so crazy it just might work. “You think something like that would fly?”
“You on TV? You’re photogenic, of course it’ll work. And in Vegas you’ve got an instant audience, access to studios and theaters. I’ve got a producer friend there–let me make a few calls.”
Far too late I realized: he wanted me to work the same weekend I was getting married?
Right. Now both Ben and my mother were going to kill me.
“We’re getting married, and you want to work all weekend?” he said, in the offended tone of voice I’d expected.
“Not all weekend.”
I’d come home from the station, slumped on the sofa, and told Ben the big idea. He was still at his desk, where he’d been working at his computer, and regarded me with an air of bafflement. He’d be perfectly within his rights to call the whole thing off. Postpone it at the very least. I clasped my hands together and twisted the engagement ring he’d given me.
Crossing his arms, he leaned back in his chair. “Why does anything that happens to you surprise me anymore?” He was smiling, and the smile was encouraging. His nice smile, not the “I’m a lawyer who’s about to gut you” smile.
“So. . .you’re okay with this?”
“Oh, sure. But while you’re working, I’m going to go lose a lot of money playing blackjack or poker or something, and you’re not allowed to nag me about it. Deal?”
I narrowed my gaze. “How much money? Your money or mine?”
“No nagging. Deal?”
My fiancé, the lawyer. The werewolf lawyer. I should have expected nothing less. At least he hadn’t said he wanted to cruise all the strip clubs in Vegas.
“Deal,” I said.