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The crash from the kitchen was so loud, it sounded like a car coming through the wall.
Sara Kaufman's heart hammered inside her chest as she dropped her dust cloth and ran toward the noise.
"Help! Sara, are you there?"
It was Miss Greer. The thready voice calling for help confirmed Sara's worst fears. Her elderly employer was hurt.
Sara reached the kitchen door at the same time as Reece Remington, one of the guests at the Sunsetter Bed-and-Breakfast where Sara lived and worked. They bumped each other trying to fit through the door side by side.
Reece stepped back and let Sara enter first. "Was that Miss Greer?" Concern etched his handsome face.
Sara was about to answer, but Miss Greer called again. "Sara?" The voice came from the open pantry. "Is that you?"
"I'm coming, Miss Greer!" Sara and Reece rushed to the pantry. Through the doorway they could see their white-haired landlady lying amidst an avalanche of boxes and canned goods. Flour covered her faceit looked as if an open bag of the stuff had fallen on her head.
"Oh, my God, what happened?" Sara's first instinct was to reach for Miss Greer and get her back on her feet, but Reece stopped her with a hand to her shoulder.
"Don't move her," he said. "If she's injured, that might make things worse."
"What happened?" Sara asked again.
"I'm not sure." The elderly lady sounded less panicked now that help had arrived. "Maybe I slipped on something. When I started to fall, I grabbed the shelf and pulled half the pantry down on top of me and now I'm stuck. Thank goodness it was the flour that hit me in the head, rather than the economy-size can of cling peaches."
"Are you injured, Miss Greer?" Reece asked."Does anything hurt?"
"Now, don't fuss over me," she groused, moving her head around so they could see she at least hadn't broken her neck. "I think I can stand up if you two help."
Sara and Reece both squeezed into the pantry. It was a tight fit, with all three of them in there, and under other circumstances Sara would have enjoyed the proximity. Reece was a thoroughly delicious man, tall and rangy with broad shoulders showcased perfectly by the starched, button-down shirts he wore. If only he would relax a little
Reece took one of Miss Greer's arms and Sara took the other, and they tried to pull her up. But they'd moved her only a few inches when she howled in pain and they were forced to gently set her back down.
"Where does it hurt?" Sara asked.
"I'm calling an ambulance." Reece exited the pantry, which at least made it easier for Sara to breathe in there. All that maleness crammed into such a small space was a little distracting.
"I'm sure it's not serious," Sara said, though she wasn't sure at all.
It scared Sara to see Miss Greer like this.
Sara had worked at the Port Clara, Texas, B and B for more than ten years. The older woman wasn't just her boss; she was family.
"What am I going to do?" Miss Greer asked. "What if I've broken something? You hear about old people breaking their hips and never coming home again."
Sara wished she had an answer, or even some be-lievably reassuring words, but she'd never been much good in an emergency. All she could think to do was hold Miss Greer's hand and squeeze it.
Reece was already on the phone. He was calm, no sign of panic, and Sara took several deep breaths, trying to follow suit. The paramedics would come, and maybe they would determine it wasn't a serious injury.
Then they could all laugh over the mishap, and Sara could clean up the pantry, fix the broken shelf and make soup and sandwiches for everyone.
She was glad Reece was here. He obviously knew how to handle a crisis.
She squeezed Miss Greer's hand again. "How bad does it hurt?"
"It's not too bad if I lie still," the old lady said, but her brow was creased with tension.
Sara nibbled at her lower lip. Maybe Miss Greer's hip wasn't broken. Maybe she'd just sprained it or something.
Reece returned and got down on his knees beside Sara. "The ambulance is on its way, Miss Greer. Can we do anything to make you more comfortable while we wait?"
"I suppose I should get ready for a hospital stay," Miss Greer grumbled. "Sara, you go pack me a bag. I want my own nightgown so I don't have to wear one of those things that's open down the back so everyone can ogle your hindquarters. Reece, you go find my pocket-book. I'll need my Medicare card."
The woman gave orders like a general.
"One of us should stay with you," Sara said.
"Why? I'm not going anywhere."
Sara exchanged a look with Reece as she pushed to her feet, and tried not to smile. Miss Greer must not be in too bad a shape if she could still be ornery.
Sara had only been in Miss Greer's bedroom a couple of times in all the years she had worked there. Her landlady was intensely private. The room was as neat and clean as a monk's cell. Sara hunted around until she found an overnight case on the top shelf of the closet.
She reached for it, but it was a few inches too high.
"Let me get that." Reece came up behind her and stretched his arms over her head, easily reaching the case. She felt the heat of his body almost, but not quite, touching her back, and her skin tingled with awareness.
Whether he meant to or not, he'd tempted her since he and his two cousins had moved into the B and B a few weeks ago to deal with an inheritance from their uncle.
Reece handed her the small, cloth-covered case. "Here you go. Do you know where her purse is?"
Sara looked around. "Ah. Hanging on the hook on the back of the door."
She opened the dresser and haphazardly filled the suitcase with nightgowns, underwear and socks, because Miss Greer's feet were always cold, even in summer. Reece, the fake alligator purse clutched between his large hands, watched her.
"What?" she said. "You think I'm doing it wrong?"
"She might like her clothes folded."
"You think I should fold Miss Greer's underwear?"
"She obviously likes things neat. Maybe you should pack a robe, too. And a toothbrush."
"You want to do this?" she asked Reece, who seemed not entirely comfortable amid all the accoutrements of an old lady. He looked excruciatingly out of place surrounded by cabbage roses, lace doilies and the faint scent of violet water.
"No, no. I guess you're doing fine."
Apparently not, given his suggestions. "Why don't you check on Miss Greer? I'll be done in a minute."
She did not need help packingshe did it all the time. Her best friend, Allie, teased Sara that she could live for six months in the Amazon with only what she could stuff into her backpack.
When Sara finished cramming the overnight case with everything she thought might come in handy, she returned to the kitchen, but she paused in the doorway to watch Reece and Miss Greer. He brushed flour off the elderly woman's face using a handkerchief and a gentle touch. Sara couldn't hear what he said to her, but his voice was low and soothing.
Miss Greer watched him with obvious adoration on her face. She reached up to pat his cheek, and he squeezed her bony hand, sandwiching it between his and holding it there, looking comfortable with the display of affection.
The slight irritation she'd felt toward Reece vanished. Any man who could show kindness and affection to an old lady who wasn't even a blood relativeand look at ease doing sowas okay in her book.
Miss Greer treated him like a favorite grandson, and Reece sometimes even made the gruff old woman smile.
Sara strode into the kitchen. "Here's your overnight bag. Can I do anything else? Do you want something to eat?" Nothing was hopeless if you had a big bowl of spicy tortilla soup in front of you, along with a thick slice of homemade bread and real butter.
"Thank you, dear," Miss Greer said, "but I can't eat right now. What am I going to do? A broken hip is serious business. I'll be out of commission for weeks, and who's going to run the B and B, I ask you, if I'm in the hospital? I have guests arriving todaysix people!"
"Don't worry about that," Sara said. "I can handle things until you're back on your feet."
"What about your trip to California?" Miss Greer asked. "Anyway, the B and B is a full-time job and I can't afford to pay you a salary. You do more than your fair share, given that I'm only paying you room and board."
Sara did need money to live on, which meant she had to work other jobs sometimes, like the temporary gig providing meals at an independent movie shoot in California.
"That job has been postponed," she said breezily.
"But what about the business end?" Miss Greer asked, a note of desperation creeping into her voice. "Sure, you can clean, and the customers seem to like the breakfasts you've cooked, but you're a disaster with finances."
Sara tried not to take offense at the blunt comment. She knew this wasn't an indictment of her trustworthiness, but confirmation of the fact that she was dreadful when it came to managing money. Everybody knew that. If there was such a thing as numbers dyslexia, she had it.
"Please try not to worry," Sara said. "We'll work something out. Hey, I know. Reece could handle the money side."
"Excuse me?" Reece said, giving her a panicked look.
"He's here anyway," Sara continued as if he hadn't objected, "and he's a CPA, so you can be sure he's competent. He's doing all the bookkeeping for Remington Charters, and you know Allie wouldn't allow that if he wasn't good with money."
"Oh, would you, Reece?" Miss Greer asked. "You're such a good guest, and I hate to impose when you and your cousins have been so nice, but I would rest easy knowing knowing Sara doesn't have to handle everything."
Reece removed his glasses and rubbed one eye before answering. "Well sure, I can do that for you.
But I'll be going back to New York next week. If I don't return soon, I'll lose my job."
"I thought your family owned the company," Sara said. "Isn't your boss your father? He wouldn't fire you."
"You obviously don't know my father."
"Don't you still have lots of vacation left?" she asked him. Cooper, Reece's cousin, had said this was Reece's first vacation in eight years. Eight years! How did he stand it, the same job, crunching numbers day after day after day?
"I hadn't planned to use it all," he said. "But don't worry, Miss Greer. I'll stay for at least a few more days, and if you need to be in the hospital longer than that, we'll work something out."
The doorbell rang.
"That must be the paramedics," Sara said as she went to answer it.
Reece tried not to feel annoyed that Sara had volunteered him for a job before consulting him, knowing he couldn't refuse in front of a woman lying on the floor with a broken hip.
"Just promise me you won't leave the finances to Sara," Miss Greer whispered. "Don't get me wrong, she's a lovely girl, sweet and generous to a fault and a hard worker. But she doesn't have a head for business. Have you ever seen her checkbook? It's the stuff of my nightmares."
Reece couldn't help it, he actually shuddered. He'd caught a glimpse of Sara's checkbook when she'd brought it out to pay one of her hippie-artist friends for a handmade ceramic teapotan entirely useless item in his opinion, but Sara had been in raptures about it. The checkbook register was written in five different colors of ink and had more cross-outs than a third-grader's book report.
"I know exactly what you mean," Reece whispered back.
"You can't let her touch the B and B's checkbook or the calendar. She'll write down the wrong dates."
"I'll handle it, promise," Reece said. "You focus on getting well."
Miss Greer pinched his cheek. He hadn't let anyone get away with pinching his cheek since he was eight years old. "You're a good boy, and so handsome, too. How is it no woman has caught you?"
A few had tried, especially after a radio station had named him one of the top-twenty bachelors in Manhattan. But he suspected most of them had been more entranced with the cachet of the Remington family name than with Reece himself.
The truth was, he liked living alone. He liked having everything just so, and the one time he'd gotten close enough to a woman that she'd halfway moved in with him, it had driven him crazy.
"She's inhere." Sara directed the paramedics into the kitchen, where they had Miss Greer on a stretcher in no time. The older woman didn't complain, but Reece could tell by the tension in her face that she was in pain.
"We'll follow in Reece's car," Sara said, patting Miss Greer's arm as the stretcher passed by her.
Reece waited until the stretcher had cleared the kitchen door. "We will?" he said to Sara.
"Of course we will."
"Shouldn't we call someone from Miss Greer's family?"
"She doesn't have any family. She's never married or had children. And we can't let her go to the hospital by herself."
"I thought I would stay here and clean up the mess in the pantry," Reece said, "and fix the shelf. Shouldn't one of us be here to take care of the guests?"
"The guests know where we hide the key. They've all stayed with us before, so it's no big deal. But if you want to stay here I guess that's okay."
"Isn't it kind of unsettling, just letting strangers into your house to roam about?"
Sara laughed. He loved to hear her laugh, the sound a bell-like tinkling. "You New Yorkers! You think the Silversteins are going to steal us blind when we have their credit-card information?"
Good point. He nodded.
"Anyway, B and B guests are nice people in general. That's what I've found. They never steal anything."
Personally, Reece thought Sara was far too trustingof everyone. The way she wandered all over the world, crashing wherever someone offered her a bed, sharing meals at the homes of people she barely knew, anyone could take advantage of her.
But she would never believe him. Something bad would have to happen before she would become suspicious and skeptical like him.