Texas Hellcat, страница 1
By Shelley L. Stringer
Also by Shelley L. Stringer
The Southern Series
SOUTHERN COMFORT – CHANDLER’S STORY
Copyright 2015 by Shelley L. Stringer
This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review. The story contained within is a work of fiction.
Names, characters, corporations, institutions, organizations, events, or locals in this novel are either a 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.
This story contains explicit sexual scenes and adult situations and language and is only for readers over the age of 18.
“Advertising, this is Kelly Sanger. May I help you?”
“Kelly-cat, I need your help!”
My heart sank. Anytime I heard my baby sister’s voice on the other end of the line, I knew I was in for a boatload of trouble. I glanced around the office finding everyone else involved in their own work dramas. I turned my back to my desk and whispered into the phone.
“What’s going on, Dana?” I sighed, waiting on the latest disaster to unfold and mentally calculating the balance in my meager checking account. Dana’s phone calls always left me emotionally and financially drained.
“Rick left me and I can’t pay my rent. You know I’ve got the baby now and can’t get a job to pay enough for child care…”
I took a deep breath. “How much do you need?”
I could sense her biting her lip on the other end. “Just four hundred this time. I have the other half, and four hundred will get me by until next month.”
Weighing my options, I shut my eyes. There was no way I could let her skip out on her rent, not now when she had a baby. Then I thought of my nephew and I smiled. I’d only seen Masen a handful of times since she had delivered, and he’d stolen my heart. I’d do just about anything for Masen. And paying her rent meant she wouldn’t show up on my doorstep.
“Okay, I’ll help you this time. Did you open a checking account like I told you to?”
“I’m sorry, but I never got around to it. Can you just send it Western Union?”
I sighed. “Sure. It will be there this afternoon.”
“You’re a doll.” And just like that, she sounded carefree and worry-free. Never a thought about tomorrow, just the immediate here and now concerned my baby sister.
“Have you thought anymore about what you’re going to do since you have Masen? Dana, you have to get a job or go to school or something,” I began.
“Kelly, I have to go now. I’ll call you later…I love you!”
I stared at the receiver in my hand and then gently replaced it on the cradle. Four hundred dollars would practically drain me, and payday was still weeks away. I leaned over and pulled my purse from the bottom drawer of my desk. When I grabbed my wallet from the bottom, the phone rang on my desk, startling me. Reaching to pick it up, I dropped my wallet on the floor and it rolled under the desk to the front edge.
I uttered a soft curse word as I picked up the phone again. “Advertising, this is Kelly.”
“I’m expecting someone at one o’clock. Make a reservation for two at the University Club, and show him into my office when he arrives!”
My boss, Dan Carter, never asked me to do anything. He just bellowed orders at me, and if I was efficient enough to suit him, he might present me with a condescending smirk or a snide remark. My boss was a class “A” jerk.
“Sure, I’ll send him right in.”
Before I could get the answer out of my mouth, he hung up. I wasn’t in the mood to overlook his boorish behavior today. In a small fit of rebellion, I stuck my tongue out at the phone, and then stood to retrieve my billfold on the other side of the desk. I found myself face-to-face with his one o’clock appointment. I could feel all the blood in my body pool in my cheeks. The cryptic smile on the client’s extremely handsome face told me he had witnessed my show of displeasure with my boss.
“Ahem. Miss…Sanger, is it?” He leaned around to view my nameplate on my desk. “I’m Liam Covington. I believe Mr. Carter is expecting me?”
I swallowed the rather large lump residing in my throat. Finding my voice, I finally replied.
“Yes, Mr. Carter will see you now. Please follow me.” I managed to scoot around the desk and lead the man across to the suite of offices housing our vice-presidents. I knocked twice and then opened the thick mahogany door leading into Carter’s office.
“Yes?” he snapped at me, none too pleasantly. I was secretly pleased he appeared rude and agitated, hoping our guest would know my actions earlier weren’t without provocation.
“Your one o’clock is here.”
I pushed the door opened wider and stood back for the man to enter. I studied him in detail. He towered over my five-foot seven-inch frame by at least a half foot or more. Wearing a dark charcoal gray suit, white shirt and grey tie, he looked very much like the CEO of some major company. The look was somewhat out of place on him. With an extremely athletic build, he appeared to belong on a basketball court and not in an office building. As my eyes met his, I drew my breath in. His deep blue eyes sparkled beneath thick, dark brown wavy hair.
“That will be all, Kelly!” Carter rudely dismissed me.
“Uh-hem…Kelly, is it? I think this is yours.” I turned just as the tall, ruggedly handsome Mr. Covington handed me the wallet I’d sought under my desk. He must have picked it up before I stood to greet him. A strange pull…a sort of static electricity ran through his fingers to mine when he lightly brushed my hand with his in the exchange.
“Thanks,” I muttered under my breath. My pulse quickened with the contact. What the hell was wrong with me? I hurried back to my desk to make their lunch reservations. That task accomplished, Mr. athletic blue eyes was quickly forgotten as I rifled through my billfold and purse until I found my Visa debit card. Checking my watch, I had just enough time to run to the bank and Western Union to wire the money to my sister before I had to return from lunch.
I decided walking would be much faster than driving. Downtown Austin was a challenge, especially if you were strapped for time. It would take longer to reach my car in the parking garage, drive through the crazy traffic and one-way streets to the Western Union by campus, fight for a parking space there, and then return to navigate the garage again. I’d barely made it six blocks before I was cursing the flirty high-heeled open-toed boots I’d opted to wear this morning. I’d felt like I rocked the outfit earlier in the day…now I just felt like I was walking on rocks. Once there, I wired Dana’s money, grabbed a bottle of mineral water, and then began the twelve block trek back to my office building. By the time I reached my destination, my lunch break was over by ten minutes. I prayed as I impatiently tapped a toe in the elevator I would beat my boss back from his power lunch. But when the elevator doors opened, my heart fell.
Dan Carter and his new client were standing in the open seating area. Carter’s eyes narrowed, watching me cross to my desk.
“Since when did our lunch break extend past an hour?” he commented nastily. Mr. Covington met my eyes, and then his gaze darted quickly back to Dan.
I took a deep breath and squared my shoulders.
“I’m so sorry, Mr. Carter. I had to run an errand on foot, and just now got back. I’ll gladly
He waived his hand dismissively as he muttered, “Don’t bother. I can’t imagine what you could possibly have to do worth fifteen minutes on the clock, one way or the other.”
My cheeks heated, but not from embarrassment. I was livid. Carter was putting on a show for this client, whoever he was. In truth, my entire day, each and every day, was spent on projects Carter should have been managing himself, but farmed out to me. Once completed, he passed them off to upper management, never crediting me or the other girls in the office who’d actually performed the groundwork.
I smiled what I hoped appeared to be a gracious smile, repeating this mantra in my head…“Stay the course. Do good work. He can’t be your boss forever. Stay the course.”
Carter turned back to the mystery client. “Liam, there will be a space available for you to use just past mine in the corner offices. We’ll have everything ready for you on Monday. If there is anything you need, call me and I will be happy to have one of my girls see to it.”
“I’ll look forward to it. Although, I think I would like the view better out here,” he said under his breath as he stroked a long finger across his bottom lip, studying me intently. The blush rose in my cheeks again. Great! All I needed was another ivy-league hot shot with balls and a title who thought he could charm his way into every executive assistant’s bed in the office. We had enough of those already. Mr. Covington moved to the elevators, and watched me with a sexy smirk on his face as the elevator doors closed. My cranky boss turned and rushed back to his office.
“Spill, Kelly! Who is he?”
I knew before I even turned around the questioning voice belonged to my roommate and longtime friend Tana. I turned to find her long, leggy frame leaning against my desk, her arms folded across her chest..
“Liam …somebody. Just another over-paid hot-shot executive, I’m sure,” I muttered, rolling my eyes and replacing my purse in the bottom drawer.
“Hey, you going for drinks tonight with the rest of us?” she asked. She flipped the calendar on my desk.
I considered my blank computer screen, which by now should have been filled with some new ads for one of the businesses we’d just signed as a client. I sighed, wondering how I was going to make it on the money I had left in my bank account after wiring the emergency funds to my sister.
“No, I need to work. I’ll probably put in a couple of extra hours here and then go home and crash,” I replied. Tana shrugged.
“Just so you know, you’re beginning to worry our other roommates. They think you have been dropped here from another planet. You know the one, where all the non-drinking virgin twenty-three year olds come from.”
“I’m SO not a virgin,” I shot back, glancing up at her just when my boss stepped into view behind her.
“And that is the very piece of information I’ve been dying to know about you, Ms. Sanger,” Carter retorted wryly. He passed my desk and slammed the mahogany door behind him.
Tana glared at my boss’s back, and then rolled her eyes as she looked back at me. “Come on, Kel! You never go out with me anymore!” She put on her best full-on pout. “Jen and Sunni are going too. I need you. You know how to take care of me, and we work the room together.”
I was tempted. The war was raging inside me--Kelly the lonely college graduate without a social life was arguing with the Kelly who still had mountains of college debt to pay on the only MasterCard in her wallet.
“No, I can’t. Sorry. But I’m only a phone call away if you cross paths with a tall, dark and handsome billionaire who won’t leave you alone until you fix him up with a five-foot seven-inch brown-haired, brown-eyed girl named Kelly…”
Tana gave up, throwing a kiss over her shoulder. I didn’t look up from my desk again until I noticed the office was dark. The only light was the glow from my computer screen and the sunset behind the office building to the west of ours. I stretched, feeling tired but satisfied with the three mail-out ads I’d managed to finish. I saved each of them to a pdf file and forwarded them to Mr. Carter for approval. At least he’d have something to pick on Monday morning when he decided to speak to me.
The parking garage was dark and deserted when I walked across my level from the elevator. I’d never been so late leaving the office that I was alone in the garage, and it was very unsettling. The staccato clicks of the heels of my boots echoed in the darkness as I neared my road-weary Camry. Tiny hairs stood on end on my face and neck, seemingly charged by the electricity in the air. I finally reached the driver’s side door, unlocked it hurriedly and then dropped the keys in the floorboard. I slammed the door in a panic. Fumbling for my keys, I finally located them and straightened. As I worked the key into the ignition. my eyes darted around in the darkness. The engine roared to life and I threw the car into reverse, wheeling across the empty spaces to the exit ramp. My heart pounded in my ears so fiercely a headache was forming at the base of my skull. I had the sickening feeling someone had followed me in the dark, but as my headlights whirled around the sixth level of the garage, I saw no one.
“Hey, hot stuff, make room,” a soft voice whispered in my ear. I napped on the sofa in our living room. I’d fallen asleep watching late-night television with Prue, Tana’s Persian cat, curled up on my chest.
“I’m not sharing the quilt,” I mumbled back. I knew the voice. Tom Braxton, Tana’s on again, off again boyfriend, crashed on our couch more than he crashed at his own apartment.
“Baby, I’d love to crawl under there with you, but Tana has a mean left-hook, and she has a strict rule about me being above the covers with other girls,” he joked as he moved my legs over to share the sofa. I raised my hand and handed him the remote without even opening my eyes.
Tom had dated Tana since our freshman year. Everybody loved Tom. He was friendly, funny and athletic, and he was on the ten-year plan at UT. He’d changed majors at least four times since I’d known him, and his parents jokingly referred to his latest major as “professional student.”
“Well, if this dating dry spell continues, she might just have to share you,” I joked, finally opening both eyes.
“I don’t share chocolate, toothbrushes, or boyfriends,” Tana shouted from the kitchen. I rubbed my eyes and pushed up just as the rest of the crew piled through the large double doors to our apartment. Sunni and Jen giggled, stumbling into the living room, purses and boots flying in different directions as they introduced two cowboys they’d picked up at the bar.
We lived in a five-story, converted warehouse just blocks from 6th street and all the night life Austin had to offer. All of the exterior walls were exposed brick, and two of the four bedrooms were salvaged office cubicles we strategically placed for moveable walls. There was a large galley kitchen just inside the front door, and a large bathroom we all had to share, complete with four shower stalls. The main room was great for gatherings or parties, comprising most of the apartment. A large 60’s style kiva fireplace at one end pretty much left the rest of the apartment open. Three miss-matched sofas formed a perimeter around the area in which we all gathered in the evenings. In the center hung a big eighty-inch flat screen TV which Sunni’s dad had sprung for, along with all of the computer, video and surround sound any tech-junkie would be proud of.
Sunni’s dad worked for a high-tech Austin firm, and she’d hired on to the same company part-time until after graduation. She and Tana bore most of the brunt of our exclusive downtown Austin rent. I would never have been able to afford such digs, but Tana insisted we continue to room together after four years together on campus at UT. Her family had money, and she inhabited the only real bedroom in the apartment. Sunni and Jen had the two makeshift bedrooms with moveable walls, so I inhabited the half-finished loft. An antique metal fire escape was the only access to the loft, built across the side of the apartment. With a creative decorating job, the loft had become a quaint retreat for me. Tana had insisted my space wasn’t worth more than two hundr
I stretched, patted Tom affectionately on the leg as I deposited Prue on his lap, and disappeared up to my refuge. Once I topped the stairs and dropped to my mattress on the floor, Sunni yelled out in her thick, Indian accent.
“Your mysterious, beautiful loner-act is only going to be attractive a few weeks more, and then it’s going to be pathetic, Sanger.” I wondered just how many tequila shots she’d had before dragging cowboy number two home with her.
“It’s no act…I am mysteriously beautiful!” I yelled back as I peeled out of my sweatpants and slid into bed. I pulled the heavy fringed drapes across the rod at the end of the bed. I’d found them in an alley behind an old theater and thought they’d serve as a good sound proofer for my room. They were perfect, giving the loft a boho-chic feel. Curling into a ball in the middle of my large bed, I sighed and willed myself into not feeling sorry for myself. I couldn’t stand to wallow. I’d worked really hard at the fitting in thing during college, and tried my hand at drinking and partying. I’d even let Tana drag me to some sorority functions, against my better judgment. I’d learned a lot from Tana, and I’d come a long way from my childhood. Tana had tried her best to mold me into a normal Texas college student, but my teenage years had been anything but normal.
My mother, Cathy Sanger, was a beautiful, damaged woman. She’d been married four times by the time my baby sister and I were in middle school, and Dana and I had no idea who our father was, or if we even shared one. As the sounds from the party filtered through the velvet drapes to my sanctuary, memories flooded in with the muffled noise.
“Kelly-cat, who’s with mommy?” Dana whispered.
“Shh. Be quiet, mommy doesn’t want us to make any noise,” I cautioned her in the dark.