Huge Deal - Lauren Layne

PART ONE

1

Tuesday, March 26

“Okay, so where are we with the ice sculpture?”

Kate Henley let the question hang in the air unanswered for about seven seconds longer than comfortable, hoping that the asker would hear the ridiculousness of the question and retract it.

Claudia Palmer merely blinked at Kate with eyelashes that may or may not have been real and waited for Kate’s response.

Kate let out a tiny internal sigh. She’d mastered it over the years. It was the kind of sigh nobody else knew was happening, but it allowed Kate a moment of silent acknowledgment that she was right, even if the other person didn’t realize it. Yet.

If Kate had learned anything in her twenty-seven years, it was that there was a certain power in being underestimated. And at five foot one, with boring brown hair, boring brown eyes, and a penchant for prim clothing, Kate was the queen of flying under the radar when she needed to. Other times, being underestimated wasn’t powerful so much as supremely annoying.

Times like now.

“Still working on it,” Kate finally replied. “General consensus is that a six-foot ice sculpture in a warmer-than-usual spring is going to be a pricey endeavor.”

The other woman gave a practiced, dramatic wave of her hand. “Please. If Givenchy can pull it off in Milan in August, we can do it in Manhattan in April.”

Kate surreptitiously checked the time on her iPad: 2:14 p.m. Cue the slow clap for Claudia. Her boss’s girlfriend had made it fourteen minutes into their meeting before name-dropping one of her famous designer contacts. A new record.

“Okay, so you’ll take care of that,” Claudia said, looking back down at her tiny spiral notebook. “I’m still undecided on who we should have supply the oysters. I’ve heard good things about Oysters XO. Have you worked with them?”

“Sure, several times,” Kate said. “But—”

“Okay, maybe I’ll hand off this task to you as well,” Claudia said, tapping her lip with a perfectly manicured red nail. “I’m thinking a mix of East and West Coast. What do you think?”

“I’m thinking Kennedy’s allergic to shellfish,” Kate said.

Claudia didn’t even glance up. “So? He won’t be the only one at this party.”

Um. “But it’s his birthday party.”

Claudia apparently hadn’t mastered the silent sigh, because hers was audible and annoyed. “Kennedy will understand that other people like oysters, even if he can’t indulge. There’ll be other food for him to eat.”

And chances are he’ll be so horrified by the ice-sculpture statue in his likeness that he won’t even notice the shellfish he can’t eat, the Maroon 5 cover band he can’t stand, the guest list of people he doesn’t know . . .

Kate was on the verge of letting Claudia know exactly what she thought of her party plan when the other woman reached across the conference room table and touched her arm. “Thanks again for helping me with this. His mother kept offering, but it’s important to me to show Diane that I can do this on my own. That I care about her son as much as she does.”

Kate forced a smile in response, even as she privately doubted that someone who’d been dating Kennedy Dawson for all of two months could possibly care about the man as much as his own mother. Not to mention, Claudia was hardly doing this “on her own.” Kate should have known better when Claudia had asked if she could “run a few ideas” by Kate for a small surprise get-together for Kennedy.

In reality, Kate was spending nearly as much time on this damn party as she was her actual job as Kennedy’s assistant, and she