Read an Excerpt
By Lillian Duncan
Pelican Ventures, LLCCopyright © 2011 Lillian Duncan
All rights reserved.
"Unacceptable," Jeffrey Howard whispered.
Heads whipped around as if a bomb had exploded, instead of a whisper.
No, no, no! This can't be happening. Reggie Meyers's insides turned to mush, but she turned towards the head of the table with a smile pasted on her face. She laid the pen down on the contract. It wouldn't do for others to notice her hand shaking. A trembling pen would be a dead giveaway.
"I'm sorry. Did you say unacceptable?" Reggie looked at the owner of Lightning Bolt Enterprises.
"That's what I said." The older man's snow white mustache twitched.
Maybe, it was a joke and he was trying not to smile. She waited for the punch line. It didn't come. If she blew this deal with Lightning Bolt, she'd get fired for sure. Her future at Benton and Greene, Attorneys at Law looked bleak.
"I'm sorry. I don't understand."
The man stood. "I thought you were a lawyer."
"I am —"
He marched over to her. Leaning down, he jabbed at a word. "Right there, can't you see? It says if but it should say when. It makes the contract unacceptable."
"It's just a clerical error, Mr. Howard. We can cross it out and write in the correct word and initial it. It's no big deal."
"Missy, it may not be a big deal to you, but it is to me. I won't deal with a company that doesn't know the difference between if and when."
Reggie glanced around the table. Not one person looked at her. Not a good sign.
Ignoring his disrespectful tone and words, she spoke again, hoping not to sound like she was begging. She stood, almost nose to nose, except he was over six foot tall and she was a foot shorter. "I'll have a new contract printed up and it will be ready in thirty minutes."
Mr. Howard looked at his watch.
He was going to agree. It would be OK.
He gave the famous lightning bolt smile that had made him and his company renowned. "Sorry, these negotiations are now over." His blue eyes twinkled, then he turned and walked out the room.
Her mouth fell open. Three months of negotiating, over. Just like that. She'd be out looking for another job within the week. Her probationary year wasn't finished yet, so Benton and Greene could do whatever they wanted. I won't cry in front of all these people. "I don't understand."
Marta Hagan looked up from the papers she was gathering. "He was a high school English teacher."
* * *
Cleveland-Hopkins Airport teemed with tired, frustrated, and cranky people as Reggie waited for her luggage at the carousel. We've forgotten the spirit of thanksgiving. A tall, blonde curvaceous woman swung an expensive bag over her shoulder, greeting Reggie with a smack.
"Ow!" Reggie touched her forehead expecting the fancy initials to be embedded in her skin. The woman stared down at Reggie's five foot frame. "Oh my! I thought I hit something. Are you OK, sweetie?"
"I'm fine, really." Humiliation stained her face.
Long, tapered fingers tapped Reggie's forehead. "Eww ... my bag must have hit you hard. Your forehead matches my nail polish, and I think it's fixing to swell up." Whistling, the woman shook her head. "Darlin', you need some stilettos ... you know, elevator shoes?"
"Perhaps. Thanks. I guess these instruments of torture aren't enough." She lifted a foot to show off her cute new heels. Reggie bit her lip. She looked up at the blue sky from the atrium windows encircling the baggage claim area.
A beautiful sight.
The woman looked down. "I sure am sorry about the bump on your noggin."
"It's just a dull ache, I'm sure it'll be fine by morning."
Slinging her long blonde locks behind her, the woman lowered her head and squinted. "I can hardly see it at all. Just a tiny lavender-tint in the center of your forehead. Don't worry, sweetie, you should be home long before it turns dark purple. Come on, follow me." She twirled around and headed towards the luggage bins.
Reggie followed in the blonde's wake. When her suitcase came around, Reggie tugged it off the moving carousel and turned towards her new friend. "Thanks for helping me get through the crowd. Hey, I don't even know your name?"
The woman flicked a wave and glanced back. "Barb."
A grin spread across Reggie's face as she thought about the famous doll and the woman who looked just like that toy. Pulling up the handle of the luggage, she zigzagged her way through the human wall and out to her car.
Her head hurt, but the pain in her feet triumphed. What had possessed her to choose heels on a day spent trudging through crowded airports? Her favorite running shoes would have been a better choice. She rubbed the dull thump in her temple as though it might help her feet and headed out to the parking lot.
Exhausted and hungry, Reggie drummed bright red fingernails on the steering wheel and scowled at the clogged arteries of Cleveland's nightly commuter nightmare. The traffic jam resembled her life, a jumbled out-of-control mess going nowhere. Her mind flashed to the call she'd made to her boss informing them of the failed meeting.
A high school English teacher. As if that explained everything. And as usual, no one at fault, but herself. It wouldn't be fair to blame the assistant who typed up the final contract. It was her responsibility to double check.
It wasn't her first mistake at Benton and Greene, but it might very well be her last.
Reggie sighed. She'd been positive her life would be perfect after accepting her first position as an attorney less than a year before. Sure, she had more money but ... but so what?
The car behind her inched up. She glanced at him in her rearview mirror. Coming home from her business trip the Wednesday before Thanksgiving had been a bad idea. The fact that it was a holiday hadn't even crossed her mind.
Checking her watch, she calculated the last time she'd eaten. Reggie leaned over and grabbed her purse. She plunged a hand deep inside, gliding over each item like a woman reading Braille. Frustrated she wiggled her finger into one of the corners. A crisp crackle followed by a stab of stiff plastic gave her hope.
Pulling her hand out, a single wrapped butterscotch dangled from underneath her nail. "Yes!" She fist- pumped the air. A piece of candy would tide her over. She unwrapped the butterscotch, popped it in her mouth, and savored the sweet buttery taste before focusing once again on the traffic.
Spying a hole in the traffic, Reggie pressed against the gas pedal and her car shot off the entrance ramp into the slow lane. She checked her side mirror. She swerved into the middle lane and smiled in victory. One more lane to go.
Reggie frowned. A second and a third thump followed. The car shimmied and swayed. Not good. A flat tire? Could this day get any worse? She flipped the right turn signal but nothing happened. Looking over her shoulder, an old beat-up truck lumbered along in the slow lane, but she could make it. She motioned, hoping he would see her. Reggie took a deep breath, and made her move. Tires screeched.
She breathed a sigh of relief. She hadn't heard the thumping noise in the last minute either. Maybe, it wasn't a flat, after — a tiny black and white dog darted out from the bushes at the side of the road and charged into the traffic. She slammed on the brakes.
Reggie looked in the rearview mirror, but all she saw was blue. Panic bubbled up, but before she could react, the truck slammed into her.
Reggie lifted up out of her seat. Each second felt like ten. She moved forward as if swimming in sludge. Her head moved towards the windshield while her body twisted in another direction. Where was the airb —
Her head slammed against the window as the car spun out of control. She stomped the brakes, but the car kept spinning. After what seemed like hours, the car jolted to a stop.
Stunned, Reggie sat in her car immobile. Her breath came in little gasps. She lifted her head off the steering wheel and pain ricocheted across her skull. Closing her eyes, Reggie put her head down, working hard to stay calm. It's a nightmare. The whole lousy day isn't real. This many bad things don't happen to one person in one day. It has to be a dream.
After a moment, she opened her eyes. Nope, Still in the nightmare.
She inventoried injuries. No blood, thank goodness. After wiggling her toes, she stretched her back. She massaged the spot where her stomach hit the steering wheel. Tender, but not too bad. No serious damage. Everything seemed to be working, but she'd managed to hit her head in the exact same spot as before.
Someone knocked on the window, startling her. Twisting her head, a small moan escaped. Pain shot across her shoulders.
A pair of vibrant blue eyes peered in at her. His mouth moved, but Reggie didn't understand the words. Her head throbbed. He opened her door and bent down closer. "I wanted to know if you're OK."
With measured movements, she lifted her head. Blue eyes, the color of the sun-kissed Caribbean ocean, stared back with concern from underneath a ball cap. Sunlight fanned around his head giving an angelic aura. He smiled, and for a moment, she forgot where she was. Then, she remembered. "You hit me."
His eyes widened in surprise. "You swerved into my lane and didn't use your turn signal. Then, you slammed on the brakes."
Reggie stepped out. The sky dimmed. The whine of cars and eighteen wheelers grew distant and she swayed.
Callused hands clamped onto each arm, guiding her forward until she landed face first, into a chest of red flannel. The shirt smelled of fresh cotton mixed with the muskiness of his cologne. Smelling salts to her senses. Warm, strong arms surrounded her, as she struggled to remain standing.
"Are you all right?"
Horns blared. The squeal of brakes nearby sent a shock of fear through her.
"Do you need a paramedic?" He gave her a gentle shake.
She took a deep, slow breath and exhaled. Another horn sounded, startling her as a car whizzed by. The man's dark hair, curling from under the brim of his hat, flapped in the car's wake, and he shifted his body closer to her car.
He turned his attention to the traffic. "Look, if you're OK, we need to get off the highway before we both get hit. Can you walk?"
"The dog. Where's the dog?"
"I didn't see any dog. You probably imag —"
A boy crawled out of the bushes. "Bootsie!"
Reggie moved out of the man's arms and rushed over to the boy. "You need to stay back. It's not safe out here."
"My dog. His leash broke. I've been chasing him." He wiped tears from his dirt covered face.
"OK, stay calm. I saw him a minute ago."
"There he is. On the other side." The man from the truck announced.
The dog barked as he zeroed in on his boy.
"Oh, no." Reggie moaned. Visions of the dog running into traffic and being smashed in front of this little boy danced in her head.
The truck driver waited for an opening, and then dashed across the highway. Horns rang out, but the cars slowed. He picked up the little black-and-white dog and crossed to where she stood with the little boy. The puppy yapped and clamored to get to his owner.
"OK, now you need to go. This isn't a safe place. Can you find your way home?" Reggie asked.
"I just live right over there." He pointed beyond the bushes. He clasped his dog and ran back with his canine buddy tucked safely under his arm.
"I told you I saw a dog."
"Maybe you should sit down. You don't look so good."
"I think I'm OK." Reggie tugged at her skirt, wishing she'd worn something more comfortable. She hobbled to the back of her car.
"Oh, no." Her beautiful car. Smashed into a bright red accordion. Frowning at the truck driver, she rubbed the trunk. "Look at it."
He shoved the bill of his hat upwards away from his face. "I see it. Looks bad, but at least you weren't seriously hurt."
Taking a step back, she pulled up to her full height. Hands on hips, Reggie turned to the truck driver. "I thought I had a flat tire. I had to get off the road. I waved at you. You should have let me in."
"Do you think people driving down the highway at seventy miles an hour can see into car windows?" He folded his arms and stared down. "Next time, try your turn signal."
"I did, but it must be broken." Biting her lip, she refused to cry. Attorneys were supposed to be tough, not fall apart over every little thing.
"You're lucky you didn't get hurt, but you've got a nasty bump on your head."
"Actually, this happened earlier." She touched the knot.
"Having one of those days, huh?" A slow grin formed as he cleared his throat "Doesn't your car have an airbag?"
"It's supposed to. It —"
"Let me guess ... it doesn't work." He looked ready to laugh.
"I guess I didn't do a very good job picking out my first car." She couldn't help but crack a smile, a small one. Dizziness swept over her once again and she reached towards the car for support
"Are you OK? I think you hit your head on the steering wheel. You didn't have your seatbelt on." The man stared at her with concern.
"What are you? The seatbelt police?" Tears welled up. Just calm down. It wasn't his fault. She took a deep breath. "I did have my seatbelt on, but it must have came unlatched."
The man shook his head. "I'm sorry, I didn't see the dog, I didn't have time to brake. I wouldn't have hit you if I'd seen him, too.
A police cruiser pulled in behind her ruined car.CHAPTER 2
"I can't believe you're giving me the ticket."
Traffic had resumed its normal pace. They stood off the shoulder of the highway in the grass near the spot where her car had come to rest.
She waved the citation at him and with her free hand pointed at the driver of the truck. "He hit me from behind. It's his fault, and besides, I couldn't hit the puppy."
"You should never risk your own life for an animal." The truck driver said.
"You're the one who ran across the traffic to get the dog."
"Totally different. I didn't want the little boy to see his dog get hit."
"See, he admits there was a dog." She turned back to the policeman.
The officer's lips curled in a half-hearted smile, his voice polite, but firm. "We've already been through this, ma'am. Hire a lawyer if you want to fight it."
"I am a lawyer."
The two men shared a look.
The officer nodded. "Explains a lot."
The truck driver grinned, but said nothing.
She took a deep breath. Stay calm. It's the low blood sugar making you irritable.
"You may have a problem getting a tow truck the night before Thanksgiving." The officer said.
"I have a headache and I've been traveling all day." Reggie wilted. Now, what?
"Look, let's call a truce and let me drive you home, deal?"
She looked at the traffic speeding by, and then at the man's battered old blue truck. The bumpers had more rust than chrome and the windshield had a crack almost as long as the window. She wrinkled her nose.
"Not much to look at, but it gets me where I need to go."
Reggie's face warmed. She hadn't meant to be rude. The man was trying to be helpful. "Right now it looks a lot better than my Beemer, but I'm not in the habit of letting strangers pick me up."
His Caribbean blue eyes twinkled against his tanned skin. "I'm hurt. Really, I am. How can you say we're strangers after all we've been through?"
Looking into his warm eyes, she didn't feel quite as chilled as she had a moment before. Her blood sugar was too low, and her body ached.
The man probably wasn't a serial killer. He was quite handsome in a country sort of way. He was tall and tanned, in spite of the cold weather, and Reggie noticed his broad shoulders in the red flannel shirt he wore. He must be tough — no jacket. His dark brown hair curled over his collar. His faded jeans and cowboy boots looked worn from work, not a fashion statement. He'd be perfect in a tough-guy commercial if he wore a cowboy hat.
"I'm Dylan Monroe and this officer has my name and address." He held out his hand. "If anything happens to you, I'll be the first guy he comes looking for. So, whaddya say?" He pointed at his old truck. "I know it's not a fancy car, but it will get you home."
Reggie turned to the officer. "What do you think?"
"Up to you, ma'am, but I think he's trustworthy. He's never even had a traffic ticket unlike —"
"None of those tickets were my fault."
"It never is." The officer laughed as he walked away. "I'd take you home, but it's out of my jurisdiction. You'll need to have this towed within forty-eight hours or you'll get another ticket. Drive safe and Happy Thanksgiving!"
Excerpted from Pursued_w4861 by Lillian Duncan. Copyright © 2011 Lillian Duncan. Excerpted by permission of Pelican Ventures, LLC.
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