Authors: Kathryn Brocato
Copyright © 2014 by Kathryn E. King.
All rights reserved.
This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission from the publisher; exceptions are made for brief excerpts used in published reviews.
an imprint of F+W Media, Inc.
10151 Carver Road, Suite 200
Blue Ash, OH 45242. U.S.A.
ISBN 10: 1-4405-8237-8
ISBN 13: 978-1-4405-8237-0
eISBN 10: 1-4405-8238-6
eISBN 13: 978-1-4405-8238-7
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, corporations, institutions, organizations, events, or locales in this novel are either the product of the author's imagination or, if real, used fictitiously. The resemblance of any character to actual persons (living or dead) is entirely coincidental.
Cover art © 123RF/David Maixner
This book is dedicated to Dolores Brocato.
Angie Brownwood looked around her office in search of items to toss into the cardboard box she was using to pack her personal belongings prior to leaving her job at BrownWare Business Software Company. She found almost nothing to pack, other than her personal coffee cup and her personal coffee maker, which were already lovingly settled in the box.
After spending a grand total of five years working at BrownWare, you’d have thought she would have at least two cardboard boxes full of miscellaneous personal items. Angie looked around regretfully and shook her head. She had no life, and that was the whole problem. Apparently, if you had a life, you collected personal items as something to show for all the time you spent in a location.
“He’s on his way here, Ang.” One of her colleagues from the software development lab stuck his head in her door. “He’s really gone ballistic this time.”
Angie shrugged. She was so tired, she literally no longer cared. “It doesn’t matter. I’m on the way out the door. In case he hasn’t heard, I quit.”
Her friend glanced over his shoulder. “He’s heard. See you.”
Angie watched the young man dart off. A fraction of a second later, her father appeared in the doorway.
“You can’t quit,” he snapped. “For your information, I’ve already fired you.”
Angie looked at him in wondering silence. Five years of striving to excel, striving to win his approval, and what did she have to show for it?
Not much, if she counted the contents of her cardboard box. She had been such a disappointment to him, he even used her one spectacular success to fuel his anger at her.
“You think that stupid game has made you somebody,” he raged, as if he read her thoughts. “Everything you know, you learned here, and now you think you can take over my company. The company
There was more, but Angie tuned out and cast her gaze around her office. Nothing else caught her eye, so she folded in the cardboard tabs and picked up the box.
“Since I no longer work here, you should have nothing further to complain about,” she said. “Maybe you can get back to business instead of fighting with me and Peter.”
“You’re darned right you don’t work here anymore. You’re fired!” her father yelled.
Angie rolled her eyes and headed out the door for the last time. “Bye, Daddy.”
He didn’t follow her as she had feared. Angie exited the building that housed BrownWare and another software company and headed for the parking lot. To her own surprise, every step away from BrownWare caused a corresponding surge of energy and a lift in her spirits. She had been so tired, she figured she’d need a nap before she could begin implementing her plans.
She intended to get a new life, and she had laid careful plans as to how to go about it. The first step involved updating her wardrobe. The second step involved moving halfway across the country to the house she had just inherited. The third step involved readying herself to step into a whole new career.
The further she got from BrownWare, the more Angie could hardly wait to get started.
• • •
Garner Holt stared, temporarily stunned, at the sheet of paper he had just extracted from an envelope and unfolded. In spite of his recent trials and tribulations, hope sprung eternal within his breast.
“Oh, Lord,” he breathed prayerfully. He pressed the paper flat and pushed it across the diner booth toward his brother-in-law, Clifford Jones. “What do you think, Cliff?”
The two men shared office space in a house across the street from the New South Diner and had formed the habit of meeting for breakfast every morning. Cliff, a short man with curly, blond hair and a tendency to gain weight easily, cast a swift glance over the elegantly typed résumé.
“Sounds like your salvation, buddy.” He grinned. “It also sounds too good to be true. A Stanford grad who wants to be a legal secretary?”
Garner frowned and studied the résumé once more, then shrugged. “As long as she can type, file, and is willing to clean up some of the mess in my office, I don’t care if she went to clown college.”
“Hire a maid,” Cliff recommended. “It’s a lot safer. How much would you like to bet this is Mindy Adams using some phony name to get to you? I heard she took some computer course once upon a time.” Cliff regarded the résumé suspiciously. “I’ve been wondering why Mindy hasn’t pretended she was a legal secretary and applied for a job in your office before this.”
Garner tried in vain to imagine the spoiled daughter of the town judge at a computer for longer than five minutes at a time. “Mindy would fall apart the minute she was expected to do more than type her name. According to this, the woman is new to the area. Look at these skills.” Garner grew almost reverent when he reread the sheet. “I’ll bet she’s middle-aged and tough. Just what I need to chase off husband-hunters like Mindy.”
In spite of having lived in Smackover most of his life, Garner still wasn’t accustomed to the attention he received from the single women in town. He definitely wasn’t rich, he didn’t consider himself particularly handsome, and he wasn’t a man who enjoyed much of a social life. In fact, he’d have said he was a poor risk for marriage, considering his past romantic experience and his tendency toward suffering every stress-related illness in the medical texts. But he was single, and apparently that was all that counted these days.
Yes, a tough, efficient, battle-axe of a woman who could keep his business in order was just what the doctor ordered.
“Yeah,” Cliff said, chuckling. “Just what you need. A secretary who’ll organize you like you were a kid in grade school.”
“Who cares? I could use a little organizing, and I need a secretary.
“You could use some organizing, all right,” Cliff agreed, with sinister emphasis.
Garner flushed but said nothing. During the two years he’d been practicing law in his hometown of Smackover, Arkansas, he’d let more than a few things slide. Although he never neglected his clients, his entire attitude about life had undergone a major readjustment.
For instance, he was no longer a fanatic about anything except his physical well-being, and that had become second nature. Garner had learned first-hand what stress could do to a man. For that reason, he avoided many situations and cases that might raise his stress levels, and in spite of that, he still found himself overwhelmed with work.
“I don’t know what happened to you in Dallas, and I’m not sure I want to,” Cliff muttered. He glared at his plate. “But I’ll tell you this much. Chicken breast was never meant to be a breakfast food.”
Since Cliff had put on a few pounds recently, he was allowing Garner to dictate his choice of food.
“Shut up and eat. Your stomach doesn’t know it’s getting chicken,” Garner said without taking his gaze off the thick sheet of paper in his hand.
“My nose and my mouth sure know they’re getting chicken instead of bacon with buttered toast and two eggs over easy.” Cliff studied his plate with a definite lack of interest then lifted his guileless, brown gaze to focus on something behind Garner. “Wow. Get a look at that. There’s someone new in town.”
Smackover was small enough that any stranger was instantly noticed. Garner twisted in the narrow booth to look at the woman entering the diner. This particular stranger was more visible than most. Every male in the small diner took careful note of her.
She was a leggy, young girl of average height with a mass of pale blond hair floating around her shoulders. She could have done with a judicious application of makeup, thanks to the excessive paleness of her skin and the big, dark circles beneath the most beautiful, innocent blue eyes Garner had ever seen. She wore a pair of white Bermuda shorts and a shocking-pink blouse that attracted any eye not already focused on her. She created a welcome splash of exotic color in the small cafe.
But the most striking thing about her was the fascinated way she gazed at everything and everybody. She seemed enthralled by each item her gaze fell upon, including the waitress, crusty old Dolly Sims.
Garner, who had forgotten what it was like to greet each day with eager expectation, paid special attention to the girl’s enthusiastic expression. It made him feel extra-old on this particular morning.
Too bad she was still in her teens, he thought cynically, watching the girl approach. He knew from experience that once a woman got older, she lost her enthusiasm for life and centered on one thing—herself. Garner let himself enjoy the gentle sway of her hips and the tiny waist above them. Some lucky male would probably snap this one up the minute she turned twenty.
The girl walked to the booth behind Garner with the springy, elastic step of youth. When she passed their booth, she cast a happy smile in their direction. A fresh, lemony scent that reminded Garner of a spring meadow followed her.
“Now there’s a darned good-looking woman for you,” Cliff said, lowering his voice. “She reminds me of Laura. It’s that look of happy expectation.”
“That’ll change,” Garner predicted with disgust. “What do you expect from a sixteen-year-old?” He studied the résumé again—the résumé that promised salvation. “I’d better call this number first thing. She’s bound to be in huge demand.”
“Your sister hasn’t changed.” Cliff peered over Garner’s shoulder. “She’s still got that joy in life that first attracted my attention, and we’ve been married three years now. Three
years, by the way.” He watched the girl a moment. “What makes you think she’s sixteen?”
“She looks sixteen, therefore, she must be sixteen.” Garner studied the résumé again, conscious of his brother-in-law’s steady gaze. He knew Cliff was curious about his time in Dallas and his failed marriage. Even after two years, Garner still didn’t care to tell anyone, including his relatives, what a fool he’d been. “If you’re through torturing that chicken, let’s get back to the office so I can hire my new secretary.”
“But I haven’t had anything to eat,” Cliff said plaintively He picked up his knife and fork and bravely attacked the chicken breast. “Calm down, Garner. She’s probably sitting by her phone, waiting for calls.
“Her phone has probably been ringing since six this morning if she sent résumés to every lawyer in town.” Garner plucked a pen from his shirt pocket and circled the phone number. “Let’s hope I’m the only one who needs a secretary.”
Dolly Sims, the crotchety waitress who had been at the small diner since it was the Old South Cafe, stalked past them with a glass of water and a menu in her hands. She glared at the girl. Garner bit back a smile and wondered if the girl’s expression of enthusiasm would dim in the face of that glare.