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Andi Temperly has everything she ever wanted: the perfect job, a handsome fiancée, and loyal friends. Until that disastrous day robbed her of all the things she loved.
What was she doing back at Manny’s Rib House after all these years? It had been okay in high school when she cleaned tables and took out the trash to earn money for her school trip to Spain. Andi Temperly glanced at the clock, relieved to see it was time for a much needed break. Untying the soiled apron around her waist, she tucked it under the counter.
“Oh. My. Lord.” Andi grouched as she fell into a hard chair in the back room. Wincing, she put her tired feet up on two boxes stacked near the door. Why didn’t anyone ever tell me how hard this job is on a person’s feet? She didn't dare take her shoes off or they'd never go back on.
She knew she should be grateful instead of whining. She needed the money and this job was better than nothing. Okay, it might take a bit of ingenuity, but I can find something better than this. Get a grip, girl. This is not, repeat, not the end of the world. You’re made of stronger stuff, so quit the pity party. There’s lots of opportunity out there. Maybe tomorrow I’ll get lucky?
“Hey chickee, break time is over!” came the loud bellow from the beefy cook at the stove. Andi glanced up at the likes of Goliath behind a filthy apron and wrinkled her nose. Another jerk, but this one owned the place and she'd better hop to it or lose another job.
Andi groaned as she lifted her five feet-five inch, hundred and twenty pounds of unwilling flesh and bones off the chair. I’m smart, hard-working, educated, reasonably pretty and presentable. So how come I’m not marketable these days? Okay, so the economy is bad, but there has to be another way to make a living. Isn’t there some unwritten law stating better things always come along after a big let-down? It can’t happen soon enough as far as I’m concerned. .
At ten o’clock, thankful her shift was over; Andi slid into her coat, pocketed her precious tips, hobbled out to her car and drove home.
Desperate to wash off the clinging smells of ribs and fried chicken, she went upstairs littering the steps with clothes as she undressed on the way to the bathroom for a long hot shower.
Wrapped in a thick terry cloth towel, she padded across the bedroom floor, and pulled an aquamarine, silk lace-trimmed nightgown from her lingerie drawer. If ever she needed a time to treat herself, this was it. She fingered the delicate French lace before sliding the gown over her head. It smoothed down the length of her body like a soft caress. She sighed as the irony honed in. She'd bought it for her honeymoon, and now Scott would never see her in it.
“Damn you, Scott, you broke my heart.” She took it off and tossed it across the room. Rummaging in a drawer she came up with faded boxers and a bedraggled T-shirt. “I thought you were the one,” she muttered, as she punched her way into the shirt and jammed her legs into the boxers and yanked them up. “Scott Adams, what did I ever see in the likes of you?”
Her bedroom, once a dull tan, now a pleasing blend of pinks and greens, helped to relax her. Mementos from her trips to Europe as a flight attendant were on display in a glass cabinet. Andi reached for the copper statue of the Eiffel Tower and held the cool piece of metal to her cheek. Emotionally drained, she returned the statue to its place and went downstairs.
Too tired to eat anything sensible or nourishing, she nuked a bag of popcorn and headed into the den to watch “Rear Window,” with her favorite actor Jimmy Stewart: her tranquilizer. If only I could find my very own Jimmy Stewart. His slow-paced drawl and quiet charm had a calming affect akin to a child’s favorite blanket. She laughed at the thought of a grown woman with a security blanket. Heck, why not?
Hugging a sofa pillow to her chest, Andi watched the main character, L.B. Jeffries, confined to a wheelchair, become more and more absorbed with the parade of characters that lived across the courtyard from him. One disappears and Jeffries suspects foul play.
Andi pressed the Pause button, dashed into the kitchen, refilled her bowl, and grabbed a bottle of water from the fridge. She hurried back, and nestled into the couch cushions, the bowl of popcorn on her lap. The part that scared her witless was up next.
The killer, suspecting Jeffries of watching, waits until dark, then... Andi's muscles tensed as she leaned forward and watched the man on the screen steal across the pitch black courtyard.
Suddenly Andi’s side yard sensor light went on. She crept to the edge of the couch, pressed mute on the remote, and cocked her head to listen. A dog barked a few doors down. She jumped as a second light flashed on, the one in the back of the house. Biting her lip, she tiptoed into the kitchen, raised the shade over the sink halfway and peered outside.
She thought she heard something. What? Her eyes darted from one end of the yard to the other. Below the window she heard the sound of branches snapping. Her heart rate doubled. The rhododendron bush shuddered and swayed from side to side. Just yesterday, the mailman had told her the house three doors down had been robbed last week. Was she the next victim?
A long, dark figure carrying a flashlight slithered out from behind the rhododendron bush. At the sight of him, she choked back a scream.
“Bonnie, Bonnie, where the devil are you?” The voice was deep and husky.
Was this guy some kind of a nut; possibly an escapee from the state hospital?
She watched as he bent over and brushed the dirt and pine needles off his sweat pants.
Opening the window a crack, she called out, “Hey, you! Just what do you think you're doing?”
The shadowy figure ducked behind the bush. “Believe it or not, I'm looking for a cat. Bonnie, here Bonnie, damn cat!”
“You know,” she said, pushing up the window, “a normal person would ring the doorbell and ask permission before prowling around someone's yard, allegedly looking for a cat.”
Just then, the rusty gate squealed open. An elderly woman wrapped in fur poked her head in the yard.
Good Lord! Who are these people, and why did they think it was okay to invade my space without permission?
“Jack,” the woman called, “Is my Sweet Bonnie with you?”
Andi rolled her eyes. “So he answers to the name Jack,” she muttered.
Dressed in navy sweats Jack stepped out from behind the shrub. She heard him groan under his breath. Forcing a smile, he waved.
“Katherine, not to worry, just introducing your neighbor to Bonnie.”
“Oh, that's nice, dear. Now, don't be too long. It's Sweet Bonnie's bedtime.” The gate shut behind her.
When the old lady had left, Jack dropped to his knees and crawled back behind the bushes.
Andi jumped back from the window as a gray and white striped cat the size of the QE II leaped up on the sill, hissed, flicked her thick, bushy tail back and forth several times, sending two terracotta pots crashing to the porch floor.
“Okay cat, you've had it. This is my house and the sooner you know it, the better.”
Grabbing her coat from the hall closet, she slipped it on, broom in hand she marched outside, reached over and gently nudged the cat with the handle. Obstinate, Bonnie arched her back, gave a nasty hiss, latched onto the trellis, and clawed her way to the top.
“Forget the bushes,” she called, “she's heading up the trellis!”
Jack pushed his way through the shrubs and galloped up the steps. The cat pounced on the roof, her yellow eyes glaring down at them.
“Sorry about this,” he said slightly out of breath. “Where do you keep your ladder?”
“My ladder?” Does this place look like Home Depot? He couldn't be that bad if he went to all this trouble to rescue a cat for an elderly woman. “Sorry, I don’t have a ladder.”
“Figures,” he mumbled. “Be right back.”
What next? The answer came dashing toward her, a geriatric ladder slung over his shoulder.
“Okay, here we go.” He adjusted the wooden rails against the house. “Seems a little shaky, can you hold it for me?”
“Sure.” She braced herself and gripped the sides. He scrambled up after the cat. A howl pierced the night air. “Ouch! Darn it!”
“What happened?” She craned her neck to see if he was hurt. He checked his hand, and yelled, “Splinters, hundreds of them. This prehistoric monstrosity is shredding.”
Shivering, she tugged her coat in closer and watched as he climbed to the top. “Can you get her down?”
“Relax. Don't worry, I’ll get her down. Try to find the humor in this for both our sakes.” He swung a leg over the side, hoisted himself onto the roof and grabbed the disgruntled cat by the scruff of the neck. Bonnie squirmed in his grasp, leaving nail tracks up his arm. “Darn cat,” he grumbled thumping down the ladder.
Andi folded her arms across her chest. “Humor, did you say humor? I don’t mean to nit-pick, but my kitchen window is covered in cat spit and my beautiful terracotta pots are trashed.” She pushed back a strand of long auburn hair from her face.
“Sorry about that. I’ll send someone over tomorrow to clean up the mess. As far as the pots go, I’ll replace them as soon as I can.”
“Thank you.” Their eyes locked as he walked past, holding the squirming cat to his chest. His magnetic brown eyes captured her attention briefly. A flash of heat crossed her face and she reminded herself he was probably an idiot like most of the men she had met.
“Poor thing,” she crooned. “She must be scared to death. Has this nasty man upset you?”
Jack's jaw dropped. “You must be kidding.”
She laughed. “I am. I've just moved back home and I'm afraid I've been too busy to get to know any of my neighbors.” She assumed he lived across the street. “I’m sorry I wasn’t more helpful. It’s been that kind of day.”
“You mean the one from hell?” He grinned.
“Ah, I see you're familiar with it too.”
“Yep. And I apologize for intruding and scaring you half to death.” A to-die-for smile spread across his face. “Well, welcome back home.”
Not trusting that sweeter-than-honey smile, she said goodnight and hurried inside. She leaned against the closed door and thought, perhaps the day hasn’t been so bad, but I’m not about to trust another man, especially a handsome one.
~ * ~
Jack crossed the street, turned in his tracks and studied the house across the way. He kissed the top of the cat’s head, shook his head at what Bonnie had put him through and labeled himself certifiably nuts.
After depositing Bonnie into Katherine’s waiting arms, he drove back to his office. The job proposal he’d been working on before the cat incident had to be finished in time for tomorrow’s meeting. Back stiff, eyes strained, he checked the time; eleven-thirty. What he’d give for a cup of coffee—and then he remembered the all-night donut shop around the corner. He flipped into his jacket and jogged the distance. Ordering a large coffee to go, he reached for his wallet and came up empty. The cat—damn. The wallet must have dropped out of his pocket somewhere in her yard. “Cancel that,” he said, “sorry I forgot my wallet.”
He ran back to the parking garage, slid into his car and drove back to Pond Street and parked across the street. Her house was dark. Jack made his way around back, opened the gate slowly and crept inside the yard hoping the motion lights wouldn’t give him away.
“Here I go again,” he muttered, dropping to his knees as his hands explored the dirt in search of his wallet. A gust of wind kicked up and slammed the nearby trees. A branch flew past, struck the house, and fell to the ground, missing him by inches. He held his breath, sure the lights inside would go on. If she caught him now, she’d really think he was up to no good. A downstairs light flicked on. A minute later, it went off. He exhaled loudly.
She was right about one thing, he thought, he should have had the good manners to ring her doorbell and ask if he could look for the damn cat. This gal was a firecracker. Hazel eyes with flecks of gold, a splash of freckles across her nose and cheeks, and a mouth made for kissing. Cute, but what is she really like? Drop it! He knew he wasn’t ready to get involved with anyone yet, maybe never. Moving his hand to the left, his fingers touched leather. Bingo! He shot up and bolted to his car.
Mother of five grown children, Jeane and her husband live in the coastal town of Hingham, Massachusetts. A retired nurse, she has returned to her first love, writing. Jeane, an avid reader, says there’s nothing better than getting lost in a good book.
Book Publisher: Wings ePress
No. of Pages: 258
Paper Weight (lb): 11.0
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