All For You (Anthology)
Halfway There, in the anthology All For You
Chapter One of All For You
"The babies are coming! The babies are coming! Someone call 9-1-1!"
Ryan Patterson glanced up from his computer as a petite blonde raced past his open office. She was wide-eyed, with her hands waving in the air. She looked to be on the verge of complete panic, in case the repeated screaming hadn't been enough of a clue.
He had to admit even running around like a deranged chicken, she was kind of cute. He liked how she wore her skirt just short enough to be interesting. Her hazel eyes were big, her mouth full. Early to mid-twenties. Yup, except for the shrieking, she was what his father would call a damned fine example of a woman.
Ryan stood and stepped out of his small glassed-in office. The woman made a complete circuit of the larger central space, then raced back toward him.
"Did you call?" she demanded, wringing her hands together. "I feel sick to my stomach. It's too soon. At least I think it is. I thought we had another week." She sucked in air. "Did you call?" she asked again.
"I will, ma'am, as soon as I confirm there's a pregnant woman in the building."
It was still early. Just after eight in the morning. Ryan had arrived at six and had been focused on his work. He hadn't even heard anyone walking into the building. His first contact with another person had been the shrieking.
A quick look around the office confirmed that they seemed to be alone. Ethan Hendrix, Ryan's new boss, didn't believe in paying his engineers to sit around. Most of them were already on job sites or up at the manufacturing facility just outside of Fool's Gold. Because Ryan was working on a new design, he was in the main office. He'd been on the job all of a week. Ethan had mentioned something about hiring a temp to handle the phone, but hadn't given Ryan a name or ETA.
The woman stared at him blankly. "There's no pregnant person," she said, as if convinced he was an idiot. "It's Misty. I'm cat sitting and she's pregnant. I told Ethan I couldn't leave her alone, so he said to bring her in. I didn't think it would be a problem because Charity said she wasn't due for a week and they'll all be back by then. They're in Florida for a charity bike race that Josh is—"
The woman drew in a breath. "None of this matters. Misty is giving birth. We have to get help."
Ryan shook his head. "Most cats give birth just fine on their own. They know what to do. If there's a problem, we can contact a local vet."
"Won't it be too late then?" She turned and sprinted for the desk by the front door. "I have to do something." She disappeared behind one of the partitions.
Ryan followed her and found her crouched by a box containing a short-haired tabby and what looked to be one squirming newborn kitten.
"It's happening!" the woman shrieked. "Misty, stop, please! I'll call a vet. I can find a vet."
Misty shot him a look that begged for privacy, along with peace and quiet.
"Okay, then," he said, grabbing the woman by the elbow and tugging her to her feet. "You need to step back and breathe."
"How is that going to help? Misty needs me."
"Misty's doing fine on her own. Come on."
He thought about easing her toward the break room, but it seemed like the last thing the blonde needed was caffeine. She was plenty wired on her own.
Instead he took her to his small office and settled her in the visitor's chair. He took his seat and settled his hands on the computer keyboard.
"Do you know a vet around town?" he asked.
She stared at him. "What? Yes. Of course. Rina's married to Cameron McKenzie. He's the local vet."
Ryan typed into the search engine and got the link to the veterinary practice. "Here's the phone number. They opened at seven and they'll be there until five." He studied the address. While he hadn't been in town long, he thought the office couldn't be very far away.
The woman twisted her fingers together. "We should go now."
"So this is about you, not Misty, right? Because she's doing fine."
Those big hazel eyes narrowed considerably. "Excuse me? Are you saying I'm being selfish while Misty is doing all the work?"
He leaned back in the chair and prepared himself for an interesting discussion. He'd always believed you learned a lot about a person by how she handled a disagreement. When tensions ran high, true character was revealed.
The woman sucked in a breath. He braced himself for shrieking, but was surprised when she sagged back in the chair and nodded slowly.
"I've never been around a cat giving birth before," she said with a sigh. "It's scary. I want her to be okay. I still think she belongs in a feline maternity ward, but your point is a good one. She seems to be doing fine on her own. I guess I can check on her every five minutes and if she seems to be handling it, leave her to become a mom in her own time."
"That seems like a plan," he said, impressed by her ability to be rational and only a little disappointed there wasn't going to be a show. "I'm Ryan, by the way."
Those beautiful eyes widened again, and color flooded her face. "Oh, no. We haven't met, have we? You're the new guy and now you're worried you're trapped with a crazy person."
He grinned. "I'm pretty sure I can handle myself."
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He looked like he could, Fayrene Hopkins thought as she stared into amused brown eyes. Ryan was close to six feet, with broad shoulders. He wore a plaid shirt tucked into jeans and cute rimless glasses.
"You're saying if I came at you with a letter opener, you'd be comfortable wrestling me to the ground?" she asked.
"Are you going to?"
"I'm not into violence. It doesn't move me forward on my four year plan. I'm Fayrene. Fayrene Hopkins."
She rose and offered her hand. They shook. His skin was warm and for a second, as she gazed into his eyes, she felt a slight zap of electricity.
She settled back in the chair and told herself no zip, zap or tingle was going to get in the way of what she wanted. In the office alcove of her small apartment she had large sheets of poster paper tacked up on the walls. Each was covered with a graph or a chart or a list. She was a big believer in taking responsibility of her own happiness and for her that meant getting her business up and running. Zaps tended to derail young women pursuing financial and business success.
"You have a four year plan?" he asked, his tone slightly amused. "Not a five year one?"
She raised her chin. "It was a five year plan, but I'm wrapping year one now."
"How many pregnant cats does it include?"
She laughed. "Hopefully Misty is my last one. I'm a pet sitter. My company provides temporary employees and pet sitting services."
"I have a degree in business," she told him. "I spent eighteen months working for a bank and hated every minute of it. So I quit and spent a month figuring out what I wanted from my life."
"I want to own my own business."
"You've already done that."
"Sure, my name's on the door, but I'm struggling. I want to be financially successful. I'm twenty-four. By the time I'm twenty-eight, I want four employees, all working full-time."
"That's a lot to take on."
"I know, but like I said, I have a plan. When I did my analysis, I saw there was a real need for good pet sitting services in town. Not just someone to come in a feed the fish, but a person willing to really be there twenty-four/seven if necessary."
"That explains the pregnant Misty."
"Exactly." She smiled. "Charity didn't want to leave her alone. So I'm taking her with me. Although she wasn't supposed to be giving birth so soon."
"And the temp side of things?"
"I fill in. Right now I'm spending a couple of weeks here at Ethan's office while his regular receptionist is on vacation. There are a lot of small businesses in Fool's Gold. They need extra help but don't always want to hire someone full time. I fill a gap."
Starting her business had taken every penny of her savings and a loan from her older sister. Dellina had handled the family finances ever since she'd turned eighteen and had taken over the responsibility of raising her two younger twin sisters. Each sibling had a small trust fund left by their parents' life insurance. Fayrene's loan was against that.
Ryan stood and held out his hand. "Come on," he said. "We'll go check on our girl."
Fayrene wasn't sure about touching Ryan again. She'd already felt that one zap. But maybe it had been static electricity and not anything chemical.
She took the outstretched hand and held her breath. The second their palms touched, she felt it. A distinct shivery sensation working its way up her spine. Uh oh. This wasn't good. Her four year plan didn't include time for romance.
Halfway There, in the anthology All For You
Fayrene Hopkins may be only twenty-four years old, but she runs her own business and has big plans—plans that don't involve falling in love yet. She's determined to make her mark on the world before settling down.
She thinks she's got life all figured out—until she meets Ryan Patterson on her latest job. Fayrene senses his interest in her, and she has to admit he gets her pulse racing. Luckily, starting a relationship with Ryan is safe—he's leaving Fool's Gold when his work contract is up.
Ryan has goals of his own and a job waiting for him in Texas. He doesn't expect to get waylaid by a sassy blonde and cozy town. But what started out as temporary is starting to look like the real thing. If only he can convince Fayrene that some plans are made to be broken.
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SUSAN MALLERY IS A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLING AUTHOR OF CONTEMPORARY WOMEN'S FICTION AND ROMANCE NOVELS.