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Now, this is the life, Sally Gregg thought to herself. Swaying palm trees, a private pool, a house with every amenity known to man.
She tipped her sunglasses down and craned her neck to peer at the structure behind her. Not just a house, she corrected. It was a friggin' mansion. Nestled in Houston's prestigious River Oaks subdivision and situated on two lush acres, the house rivaled its neighbors in both design and size.
Too bad the interior doesn't reflect the traditional style of the exterior, she thought with regret. She supposed the ultramodern design suited her boss, but the mix of chrome and black lacquer didn't do a thing for her.
Thankfully her boss had limited the changes he'd made after purchasing the house to the inside and had left the exterior and landscaping alone. As a result, the backyard was an oasis, as soothing to the soul as it was to the eye. A clever blend of French doors and floor-toceiling windows offered spectacular views of the pool and landscaped lawn beyond from inside the house.
Sure beats the heck out of the view of the parking lot from my apartment window, she thought with more than a little envy. With a sigh, she pushed her sunglasses back into place and settled on the lounge chair again.
But she'd have a house someday, she promised herself. Maybe not as large and grand as her boss's and definitely not one with a River Oaks address, but she'd have a home.
The only thing that kept her from having one now was money. Thanks to the generous salary her employer paid her and her own prudent lifestyle, she was steadily chipping away at that particular roadblock. Having learned frugality the hard waybynecessityshe knew how to stretch a dollar until it all but screamed for mercy. As a result she was close to becoming debt free, while still managing to squirrel away money toward a down payment.
Which she'd already have, if not for Brad.
She scowled at the reminder of her ex. She never should have given him the money, she thought bitterly. She, better than anyone, knew he'd never pay it back. Brad was, and always had been, fast with a promise and slow on delivery.
It was bad enough that she'd wasted four years of her life with a man who didn't care for her, but then he'd decided to prolong her misery by showing up unannounced on her doorstep every time he needed money. For some stupid reason, he'd gotten it in his head that she owed him, which was insane, considering she had been the sole breadwinner throughout their marriage. Now she was forced to constantly move, in order to escape his mental abuse and the demands he made on her. As a result of the forced nomadic lifestyle, she had few possessions and even fewer friends.
She stubbornly pushed the thoughts of her ex from her mind. She wasn't letting Brad, or anything, for that matter, spoil her stay in paradise. And house-sitting for Vince Donnelly was exactly that. Paradise.
She shivered deliciously, thinking the stars definitely had been shining on her the day she'd snagged the job as Vince's executive secretary. Besides house-sitting for him when he was out of towna perk she hadn't expected when she'd accepted the jobshe received an above-average salary and more benefits than any of the other positions she'd applied for after moving to Houston. Granted, Vince wasn't the easiest man to work with. He was obsessive, demanding and micromanaged all of his employees. But he was also successful and drop-dead gorgeous.
Not that his looks had factored into her accepting the job as his secretary, she thought judiciously. Money was her motivator.
She remembered the shock she'd experienced when she'd walked into his office for her job interview and gotten her first look at the owner and founder of Donnelly Consulting. Based on the size and value of the company, she'd expected an older man. One with at least a spattering of gray at his temples.
What she'd found was a thirty-six-year-old hunk with the disposition of a grizzly bear.
With a shake of her head, she sat up and reached for the bottle of sunscreen, squirted a blob on her palm. Thirty minutes, she promised herself as she smoothed the cream over her arms, chest and legs, then she'd go inside and tackle the tasks her boss had e-mailed her overnight.
Grimacing, she mentally added workaholic to her boss's faults. The man was relentless. In the four months she'd worked for him, she'd never known him to take so much as a day off, which was a shame, since his business trips took him all over the world.
With a rueful shake of her head, she lay back and closed her eyes again. If she were required to take business trips all over the world, she'd darn well stay over a day or two and see the sights. Tokyo. Paris. Venice.
She smiled dreamily, easily able to imagine herself floating on a gondola along the canals of Venice.
She shot up from the chair, to find her boss standing in the open French door.
"Vince," she said dully. Remembering how she was dressed, she snatched up a towel and whipped it around her. "What are you doing home? You aren't supposed to be back until Monday."
"Cut the trip short. Wasn't feeling good."
She peered at him more closely and had to admit he did look kind of sick. His face was pale, his shoulders stooped, his clothing rumpled. "Did you pick up a bug or something?"
Shaking his head, he rubbed a hand across his chest. "Heartburn. Something I ate must not have agreed with me."
She started toward him, praying whatever he had wasn't contagious. "When did you get sick?"
"Hit me last night. Caught a red-eye home." He braced a hand against the doorjamb as if needing its support as he turned inside the house. "Did you update the spreadsheets on the Holmes deal?"
She rolled her eyes, but dutifully followed him inside. "No."
He shot her a frown over his shoulder. "Didn't you get my e-mail?"
"Yes. This morning. I planned to do it this afternoon."
"I need that report now."
Before she could remind him it was Saturday and technically her day off, he clamped a hand over the back of a chair and bent double with a groan.
"Vince?" When he didn't reply, she moved around him to peer at his face and saw that his skin had turned a deathly gray and his breathing was labored. "Vince? Are you okay?"
He pressed a hand against his chest. "Can't breathe," he choked out.
She bolted for the kitchen, calling over her shoulder, "Stay right there. I'll get you a glass of water."
A step short of reaching her destination, she heard a loud crash behind her. Quickly reversing her direction, she raced back and found Vince sprawled on the floor and the stainless-steel end table that usually stood beside the chair on its side less than a foot from his head. She burned a full twenty seconds wringing her hands, trying to think what to do, then noticed his cell phone clipped at his waist. Snatching it from its holder, she punched in 911.
"911 operator. What is your emergency?" She pressed a shaking hand to her forehead. "I'm not sure. I'm at my boss's house. He said he wasn't feeling well. I went to get him a glass a water. He must've fainted or something because now he's lying on the floor."
"Is he conscious?"
She shifted her gaze to Vince's closed eyes and gulped. "No."
She frowned in confusion. "What?"
"Sally Gregg. Please," she begged. "Send an ambulance. I don't know what to do."
"Your relationship to the victim?"
"What difference does that make?" she cried. "The man needs help!"
"Try to remain calm, ma'am."
She drew in a deep breath and slowly released it, telling herself that losing her cool wasn't going to help things. "We're not related. He's my boss."
"The victim's name?" "Vince Donnelly."
She rattled off Vince's address.
"For God's sake!" she snapped. "I don't want you to call me, I want an ambulance! He could be dying!"
"Ma'am, I understand your concern, but I'm required to collect this information."
"It's 555-423-6597," she said in a rush. "I'll leave the front door open."
Before the operator could ask her any more ridiculous questions, she threw down the phone and ran to unlock the front door, then raced back and dropped to a knee beside Vince.
"Vince? Vince, can you hear me?"
She held her breath, watching his face for a reaction and bit back a moan when not so much as an eyelash fluttered. "Vince, please," she begged. "Hold on. An ambulance is on the way."
There was a rap on the door. "Houston Fire Department! Is there an emergency?" Sally jumped to her feet. "In here!"
A man appeared, followed on his heels by a second man carrying a bag.
The first to arrive moved to stand with Sally, while the other dropped down beside Vince and began pulling equipment from his bag.
"What happened?" the man beside Sally asked. She wrung her hands. "I don't know. He just returned from a trip. Said he wasn't feeling well. I went to get him a glass of water. He must have fainted, because I heard this loud crash. I ran back and found him lying on the floor."
"He's breathing," the second fireman reported. A third man appeared and dropped down at Vince's head to support his neck while the second fireman fastened what looked like a thick, padded belt around it.
"What's he doing?" Sally asked in concern.
"Applying a C-collar," the man at her side explained.
"In the event he injured his neck when he fell, the collar will prevent further damage."
Gulping, Sally watched as the men continued to work, one attaching a heart monitor to Vince's chest, the other wrapping a blood pressure cuff around his arm.
Sally snapped up her head to see two more uniformed men rushing into the house, carrying a stretcher.
The man beside her quickly shifted his attention to the EMS team and reported, "Male, midthirties, possible cardiac arrest. Witness reports he passed out and hit his head on the table. We're holding C-spine, have applied oxygen via nonrebreather at fifteen liters per minute. Blood pressure 178/96, pulse is 102 respirations at 24 rapid."
Wide-eyed, Sally scooted out of the way and watched while the EMS team positioned a backboard beside Vince. On the count of three, the fireman rolled Vince to his side, and the EMS team slid the backboard into position. After lowering Vince to the backboard, they cinched straps around him to secure him. On the count of three again, the men lifted him onto the stretcher.
"You'll need to meet the ambulance at the hospital," the fireman told Sally, as the other men gathered their equipment, preparing to leave.
Sally took a step back. "Oh, I'm not family," she said. "I'm just his secretary."
The fireman gave her a slow look up and down and Sally cringed, knowing what he must think. A woman at her boss' house on the weekend wearing a towel wrapped around her? No, this didn't look good, at all.
The EMS team started toward the front door with Vince. The fireman placed a hand in the middle of Sally's back, urging her to follow.
He stopped on the porch. "Can you notify his family?" "The only relative I know of is his mother, and she's confined to a nursing home."
"Then you'll need to go to the hospital."
"But I'm not family," she said again.
"Admittance is going to need whatever information you have to offer."
Leaving Sally on the porch, the fireman went to help the others loadVince into the back of the ambulance. One of the EMS team hopped into the back with Vince, while the other ran to climb behind the wheel of the vehicle. With lights flashing and siren screaming, the ambulance took off down the circle drive and bounced onto the street.
As Sally watched the vehicle disappear from sight, she sent up a silent prayer for Vince, then whispered another for her own forgiveness.
She might've prayed for Vince, but it was really her own welfare she was worried about.
If anything happened to her boss, she knew she'd be out of a job.