Pauline nodded and zipped her bag closed, then lifted her chin. Why had she become a quivering mess? No more time for fear. Time to go get that prize. If she wanted it. Did she really want to live in Italy for a year? Oh, crumbs, what was she thinking when she pressed send on the online application?
Her mother tapped Pauline’s watch.
“Time to go.” She gave her daughter a light kiss on the forehead. “I’m going to miss you, but this is going to be the best year of your life. You’ll see, girl.”
Her mother gave her such an assured nod, some of Pauline’s doubt faded. Not all, though. On jelly legs, she made her way through customs and to hand in her luggage. As she picked up her suitcase, a tingle ran up her arm. The Album lay in the centre, padded with all her clothing. She’d signed her name on it the night before. A sense of strength trickled into her bones. Could The Album actually speak to her? She almost felt it tell her it would be with her and help her. It assured her she’d walk the right way and have success.
Okay, I think I can handle this flight now.
I’m ready. Italy, here I come.
Looking for Love - The Album 1 - Ella's Story
Andrea tugged on the album and nearly dropped it. A white envelope fluttered to the ground. Like a rugby team tackling the ball, the girls dived after it, but Ella scored first.
“Hands off. This…here…it’s mine!” She pressed it into her chest. “I get to read it first. Sit down now.” She tried to sound gruff.
Groaning and whining, they sat down eventually but craned their necks toward the envelope.
“Read it aloud,” Pauline begged while she leaned forward in her seat, her embroidered blouse further highlighting her bohemian style.
“Okay, okay, if you insist.”
Her fingers trembled as she tried to open the envelope. It wasn’t sealed, the flap merely tucked into the folds. She pulled out a yellowed letter several pages long.
“Whoa! Your relative had a lot to say.”
Even Carol had dropped the too-mature expression she’d developed over the last few years from a broken heart battered by insensitive men. The same old story they’d all experienced.
“Well, what does it say?” Pauline asked, her eyes shining with curiosity.
Ella cleared her throat and read.
To The Next Owner of The Album,
“Sounds ominous.” Carol sat on the edge of her seat.
Ella’s heart rate accelerated. For some reason, it felt like the next few words would change her life forever. Goose bumps ran up her arms. Maybe now, she’d get out of the doldrums and find something to wake up for every morning.
If you have signed to take over ownership of The Album, your life will never be the same again.
“Signed? You didn’t sign anything. Where are you supposed to sign?” Andrea asked.
“Just wait.” Ella held up her hand. “Let me read on. Then we’ll find out.”
You may never use The Album for your own purposes. It is strictly for an unselfish service to your community and the world. Now that you are the proud owner of this magical book, you will possess powers undiscovered by the people around you.
Now all this sounded quite mysterious and mystical indeed. She glanced up and smiled at the gaping mouths of her friends. Things were picking up fast. Excitement, new and thrilling, sent its tendrils through her being. Blood pumped in her ears, and her fingers and toes wriggled.
You may only divest of these powers when you sign off ownership of The Album to someone else. Please pay careful attention to whom you sign off ownership. They must be a trusted person whom you know very well. The very reason why you have been chosen…
“Huh?” Ella giggled. “Did Uncle Stan know me well?”
“Maybe he didn’t know of any other relative he could trust,” Pauline said.
Ella’s head spun. She could think of many cousins more talented and responsible than she. Successful, accomplished. With a life.
“Go on, will you?” Andrea stood up and knelt at her feet, her nose pressed in the air like an eager child. Once again, she acted very different around the girly group—not the usually poised, controlled career woman others knew her to be. “Really, you get distracted way too easily.”
The Album enables you to help people from all walks of life. It opens the door for you to see what suitable mate they should choose for the rest of their existence upon the earth.
Carol and Pauline gasped.
Surely not! I must be dreaming—projecting my inner desires into some fantasy. Ella’s breathing increased, her palms becoming sweaty.
“Go on.” Andrea groaned.
All you need is a photo of the couple and to place each photo in the frames in the first two pages of The Album. The other pages will come to life with their story. You can then read their story in images and work out for yourself if they make a happy ending.
Wait, what? For real?
The pregnant silence echoed the hundreds of questions streaming through her mind.
It's Called Feng Shui
The resort reception area was almost a clone of the one in the spa, yet with three indoor plants and a fountain instead of a large fish tank. Palms were potted in large urns sculpted like Greek columns. Minimalist was a good word for the décor — simple blues, silver, and white — peaceful colors and clean lines. Renni didn’t have much time to consider the connection she made with Feng Shui and Mr. Richie’s comment to her earlier, because he was the one behind the reception desk. Bracing herself for his usual glare, she walked up to him and smiled.
“Don’t you take a break?” She rested her hands on the counter. Close up, he was austere but also uncomfortably handsome. Maybe his austere manner added to the handsome, almost unapproachable feel he gave her, like a demi-god one had to pay homage to in order to gain his approval.
A laugh wanted to bubble out of her at the image. Somehow, he didn’t intimidate her as much as Peggy made out he should. She liked his cold exterior, because she knew it hid something brewing and bubbling beneath the surface. At the moment he was the perfect antithesis to the flirty Curtis. Maybe he was one of the many treasures Block Island enticed to be discovered. Also, she loved that he didn’t idolize her like other men did. He couldn’t care less if her band had won an American Music Award for Favorite Rock Band or reached the top of the charts.
“Your hair’s still black.”
“Donna did a good job, didn’t she?”
“At least it’s not as black.”
She laughed and then took a breath. The exhaustion of the last few months still wanted to take away her laughter and her oxygen. It weighed heavy on her, and she suddenly didn’t feel like fighting with her new boss.
“I’d like a room, please.”
“We only have one available. We’re fully booked.”
“I’ll take it.”
He froze for a moment, his eyes large, and then he put on a professional smile. “It’s next to the penthouse suite on the top floor.”
“Um…do you live here?”
“In the penthouse suite.”
Figures. The man doesn’t fancy being near to me. Too bad. I need to rest. For a long time.
He gave her a figure. Oh well, her savings would be seriously reduced. She sincerely hoped she would soon find a rental home on the island.
“But it’s in terrible disrepair. I haven’t allowed anyone in there for months it’s in such a bad state. So, I won’t charge you anything to stay there.”
He grunted. “You probably won’t say thanks when you see it. I’ll fix it up for you.”
“You don’t have to.”
“I should.” He focused on a computer screen and input something with lightning-fast finger-work.
Okay, maybe Peggy was right. He did have good inside. Buried deep inside.
“You’re very kind.”
He jerked his head up and stared at her, his mouth gaping.
“How come you haven’t removed the metal yet?” The mouth transformed to a thin line immediately.
“Um…I want to do it in front of a mirror in private, if you don’t mind. The room does have a mirror?”
Was that a blush? “I’m not sure. I’ll have to check.”
“May I have the keys?”
He unlocked a panel on the wall and removed a key from a hook. When he put the key in her hand, tingles ran up her arm. Whoa! She hadn’t felt that way with anyone the last few years except for Curtis. Curtis! Did she have to think of him?
A Better Promise
Alicia faced him, her dark brows puckered in a frown and her tiny mouth pursed. Did she hold back tears? What had he done now? He hadn’t intended to imply she was dowdy. He wanted to help her.
“You can send me to one of those fancy image consultants, but it won’t help. I don’t buy clothes, okay?” Her green eyes flashed, and he was taken aback by her nerve.
“Why not? I pay you a good salary.”
“I have to support my family with it.” She turned away, her shoulders taut.
“I thought you moved away from family.”
“I send them money every month. I’m not trying to get your pity, Braedon. I’m quite happy to help them, but splashing out on the latest fashion has never been my passion in life. I can think of better things to spend my money, on like saving the environment or taking ph—”
“That’s a very noble cause, but don’t you think you deserve to be spoilt sometimes?”
“No.” An awkward silence widened the gap between them.
“What happened to you?” he asked.
She turned to face him, her lips quivering. “What do you mean?”
“What happened to you in your past that you are so timid and withdrawn, like you don’t believe in yourself or don’t believe you deserve anything good?”
Blotchy red patches formed on her cheeks, and he suddenly wished he could rewind twenty minutes. He’d gone too far now. Would she quit and leave him in the lurch like Sindy? Sure, he could find another assistant, but he didn’t want her to leave. Her quiet presence soothed his soul. He looked forward to work every day now just to see her.
“I don’t have to believe in myself, Mr. Fouché. I only have to believe in God.” She looked down and then promptly stormed out of the kitchen.
Braedon shouted through the door, “But God loves you and wants to bless you,” wondering if she’d heard his words. He could imagine her response to that would be something like: “God doesn’t spoil his children, he only disciplines them.” Maybe he could insist she had to dress better for her job, but he didn’t have the heart to do that. It would be cruel and insulting, but he did wish she would loosen up and enjoy herself more. She deserved it.
The Dance of the Firefly
After supper, Jamey pulled Rowena down the passage.
“Wow,” she said. “What a pretty room.” She wasn’t just saying it. Cameron had put everything into his daughter’s space: Disney Princess curtains and matching duvet set, with fluffy soft toys displayed on floating shelves shaped as crowns. In the corner sat a four-poster, with a pink net cascading down the sides, a requirement in Zambia to keep malaria mosquitoes away at night. The nets were inconvenient, but Cameron had used hers to add a dreamy effect.
“Even your mosquito net has lacy edges,” she said, picking up a corner and fingering the sturdy lace. “Where did you get it?”
“My daddy asked a lady to make it girly.”
“He’s very kind.”
“Look at my Barbie dolls. I have three ballerina ones. This one….” Her voice went quiet, almost reverent. “My mommy bought me this one a few months before she died. Her legs and arms bend, and she has a second pair of ballet shoes. Some black ones.”
“Now that’s pretty. I love black ballet shoes.”
“I did my first principal role with black ballet shoes. I was the bad witch in a show we danced in.”
Jamey stared at her. “Why did you want to be the witch?”
She suppressed a laugh. “I didn’t want to be a bad person, but the role was the hardest, and I considered it a privilege to be chosen.”
“Did you get a curtain call?”
“We all did. My teacher did a great job in writing the story and choreographing the ballet steps for us. The dance was so popular, we even did it in front of the president of Zambia.”
“Wow. My mommy used to dance in front of thousands of people. She was very popular.”
“What was her name?”
“She used her old name for her ballet name. Samantha Palmer.”
“Oh.” Rowena swallowed a lump in her throat. Samantha Palmer had been a well-known prima ballerina who danced for the South African Ballet Theatre, now called the South African Msanzi Ballet Company. She should know. She’d tried to get in there, with no success. Samantha had been one of her idols. The most graceful, delicate dancer she’d ever watched. Her role in Romeo and Juliet had been the highlight of her career, giving her international recognition. That had been five years ago. How long ago had she died? How had she died?
“Your mommy was a very talented dancer. You must have inherited some of her talent.”
“You think so?” Jamey asked. “It’s hard, though.”
“Trying to dance like her.”
Her breath hitched. The girl had a difficult act to follow.
“You don’t have to dance like her. You must dance your own way. Everyone has his or her own style. You need to work on your strengths and concentrate on what you can do.”
Jamey nodded. “But Daddy misses watching Mommy. I’ve seen him play her ballets on the DVD player all through the night. If I could dance like her, maybe Daddy would be happy again.”
She suppressed a gasp. No wonder the kid had hated her ballet lessons. The pressure had been enormous on her.
“Your daddy is happy with you being a child and having fun. You don’t have to be too serious with your ballet, yet. It takes years to learn how to dance like your mother did.”
She nodded, her lips quivering.
“Your mommy would have wanted you to enjoy ballet. She wouldn’t want it to be something hard and too serious.”
“And it’s not your mommy’s ballet Daddy misses,” she said, taking Jamey into her arms and giving her a tight squeeze. “It’s her company at home. He watches her so he can remember her as a person.”
Jamey’s face was wet with tears.
“I’m sorry your mommy died.” Rowena wiped a tear away with her hand. “My mommy died a few days ago. I miss her so much.” She swallowed the lump in her throat. “I can imagine how you must miss her, being a kid.”
“But your daddy loves you whole bunches. He cares for you deeply.”
Jamey jumped off her lap and grabbed a puzzle. “This is my favorite. It’s of a hedgehog and a mole.”
“It’s cute.” Rowena was relieved to get away from the difficult subject of her deceased mother. She couldn’t bear to see how much it hurt Jamey not to have her mother with her. As much as she hated being without her mom, at least she’d had her growing up.
“We can make the jigsaw on the table in the lounge while the others watch rugby. I can hear them all cheering in there.” She lowered her voice to a whisper. “Don’t tell anyone, but I hate rugby.”
The girl giggled. “Me, too.”
She linked pinky fingers with Jamey. “Perfect. Then we can build the picture together and pretend to watch. Okay?”
The child nodded, the box gripped in her arms, her eyes shining. The smile came back, and Rowena let out a breath she hadn’t known she’d been holding. How could she become so attached to a kid so quickly? Something weird had happened. From worst student to tiny friend, a miracle had occurred. How could she push her new little friend away because her father made her feel uncomfortable—and too aware of her womanhood?
His Halloween Kisses
She felt his breath upon her face, heard him mumble something, not sure what. His voice was right by her ear, or so it seemed. The wind drowned out what he’d said, but all she wanted to do was feel him, sense him, allow him to take over her senses fully, so she didn’t feel any more fear.
Her heart went crazy. He was kissing her. His mouth pressed on hers, exploring her lips with such courage, such boldness, such impudence. How dare he?
She wanted to slap him, wanted to pull his hair, wanted to shout to him, “Get out! Who do you think you are?” but her body didn’t listen. Her lips sought his with fervor, with need, with joy. They moved up and down, exploring every texture of his mouth, the plumpness in the centre and the way they tapered out thinly to the edges; the moist, softer part just on the inside of his mouth and then horrors, she touched his tongue, just the tip, but it sent a swirl of pleasure through her, causing her heart rate to soar through the roof. She felt like she plunged the depths of mischief, of intrigue—kissing a stranger in the dark.
His hands brushed the back of her neck, and fingers ran through her hair. He stroked her wet cheek, oh so gently, while his mouth still remained on hers, locked in the sweetest kiss of her whole lifetime so far.
Should she pull away first?
She couldn’t. She didn’t want to.
She needed this. Needed to forget everything. The confusion of the last few months. The uncertainty. The fear.
Three Tiers for Win
Her hands shook as she spooned the mixture back into the food processor and he came closer to peer into the bowl. Electricity seemed to ooze out of his pores instead of sweat. She had a strong desire to rub the raised hairs on her arms.
“What are you doing?” he asked.
“I’ll mix the baking powder into a paste and add it in.” Wish he would go away so I can do this in peace.
“Aren’t the guys missing you?” she asked.
“Trying to get rid of me?”
Her cheeks throbbed, and she steadied the dish she was holding with all the willpower left inside of her.
“I’ll only go if you let me make myself some coffee. The other guys are drinking sports and fruit drinks. I feel like coffee.”
She laughed. “Are you eating right for your training?”
“Okay.” She couldn’t help smiling. This guy was becoming more and more appealing with each minute.
“Ooh, there’s biltong.”
“It’s Mick’s. But I have some chocolate if you’re in the mood for being naughty.” Why did she say that? Now her face must be as red as a tomato because of the thoughts running through her head.
“Do you think he’ll mind if I grab some?”
She considered offering to buy Mick some more. The poor guy was starved. “What exactly did my brother buy for you all tonight?”
“Chicken salad.” The face he pulled forced a strange squeaky giggle out of her. She would have given her usual trill laugh if she didn’t feel so embarrassed and overwhelmed with strange feelings for the guy.
“I wish I had something else to offer you.”
“Come out to dinner with me. Then I can order a man-sized steak.”
Flustered was not a strong enough word for Elaine at that moment. She could swear the temperature in the kitchen was as hot as the oven and that the room was about to explode. “I have to bake a cake.”
“That can wait, can’t it? Tomorrow’s another day. If you want, I’ll help you with it.”
The guy was probably aiming to get into the Olympics team. They had two months left before the trials. He couldn’t be serious about giving up a training day to help some silly girl bake a wedding cake? That idea didn’t match the solid, oozing-with-masculinity man with piercing steel blue eyes, standing a mere two feet from her. She must be dreaming. Maybe she’d fallen asleep next to Peggy on the sofa, and she would wake up to find this all a crazy dream.
“I think a cup of coffee will have to do then.” He turned around and pushed the kettle button on. She hadn’t said ‘no,’ and now he was giving up. Her heart plummeted to zero in two seconds. She’d just missed the opportunity of her life to go on a date with the hunkiest piece of male on the planet.
What was she thinking? Of course it wasn’t a good idea. She wasn’t setting herself up for disappointment going with someone smooth and driven like him who would hurt her as soon as the athletic or model type woman came along.
It was Thursday, the 30th December, and Dan was rounding off some edits on an article for the February magazine. Kate, the feature editor, needed to come up with something more unique next time. It was too late to change the piece now — okay, maybe he was too tired to bother, and he had the next week to get through. He would worry about her story once the reunion was over.
Lisa still hadn’t had her hairdo. Would they have to lie about her drastically changing her hairstyle to outdated and unsuitable? He sighed. She was proving to be quite interesting though. He’d rummaged through the bag of presents she’d wrapped and left in his office this afternoon before she knocked off. They were beautifully decorated with ribbons and cards, written neatly in her curly handwriting style. He’d opened the one card and read it, astounded at how she’d written the verse to a poem before a quick “happy Christmas” wish. The woman was into detail. Maybe his family would approve for once. They’d have to get used to the idea that the relationship would end eventually though.
Someone knocked on his office door. Lisa, at last.
“Come in. I thought you were finished work hours ago.”
She smiled at him and then propped her hands on her hips.
“So?” She gave a sigh — loud and raspy. “Typical male!”
He gasped. “You had it done finally. Looks great!” Looks more than great. Wow, transformation.
“Thanks.” Her smile was genuine and soft. That was the first time he caught a glimpse into the real Lisa. Maybe she was starting to thaw. Finally.
“No, don’t get that employee-boss look in your eyes. Try to relax and pretend that we actually belong together.” He took her by her stiff shoulders and pulled her into a hug.
“It’s like hugging a statue,” he whispered into her ear. Her soft hair brushed against his tongue. He pulled the strands away gently with his finger and accidentally touched her cheek with his lip.
She stepped out of his grasp. “I don’t know if I can do this.”
She craned her neck around frantically at the doorway.
“Everyone’s gone home.”
“You love that word.”
“Okay, if not a hug, let’s try a kiss.”
Her eyes were wild.
“Have you ever been kissed before?”
She nodded numbly.
“Too bad. You have to grin and bear it. I can’t be that bad.”
He reached for her hands, pulled her close and pressed his lips to hers. Sweetness flooded his being, spearing right into his inner core. What was inside this girl’s being that surged into his?
Even though her lips were unresponsive, he kissed her further. Then he pressed her chest against his. For a moment she stiffened, and then she relaxed, obviously realising there was no way out and she had to play along with it. But he wasn’t playing anymore. This was for real. He wouldn’t tell her that though. That would make her run a mile.
She pulled away and turned around, wiping her mouth with her hands.
“Not bad,” he teased.
“I’d better get going now. I’ll see you in the morning.” Her voice was shivery.
“Have you packed yet?”
She nodded, her back to him still.
“See you then.”
She was out the door without showing her face once. The back of her head was gorgeous. That hairdo did something to her whole demeanour. If only it would warm her up to him a little.
“You’re making a mistake, Ryan. Coming in here and trying to bring up the past. It’s too late now. I’m committed to Mark and have found a life for myself. You never wanted me then. You loved Annie.”
“I didn’t love her. I loved you. And you promised forever….”
His voice was resigned, and then he winked at her as if to dispel the tension. It did no such thing.
The letter at the back of the sketch had promised she would love him forever, hadn’t it? She had believed she would never love anyone as much as Ryan and that he showed her what true love was.
“You never loved me.” She dropped her gaze onto her lap. “We were just good friends.”
Pushing up her chin to pretend that her heart wasn’t zinging with emotion, she started to walk toward the one wall to adjust a painting. He grabbed her hand. She tried to pull away, but he firmly pulled her close.
Heat and energy radiated off him and his manly scent encompassed her. Even his breath was a sweetness she wanted to drink in. She took in the shape of his face, his mouth which drooped slightly to the left, his skewed jaw line and the prominent cheek bones. His eyebrows were dark and perfectly shaped, and he had such long eyelashes. Yanking her burning hand away, she made sure her back was facing him.
“I was blind to the true treasure. All the time when I was going out with Annie, I really wanted you, but I couldn’t do that to her—dump her for her best friend. I’ve loved you for years, Tess. I’ve been trying to find you. No other woman has measured up, and I’ve had several relationships. And you’ve become so beautiful.”
She faced him, her mouth partially open, devoid of words. He’d loved her? Why didn’t he tell her then before it was too late?
His gaze followed her from head to foot, and heat branded her face while a spark ignited her body.
“But I wasn’t then. You thought I was ugly. You must have because Annie was so beautiful and you never looked at me.”
“I did. Besides the kohl and black clothes, you were adorable, especially in your pajamas.”
Tessa wasn’t usually one to blush easily, but fire lapped up her whole face and neck. “But the way you used to look at Annie. She had the most stunning legs. Long and muscular.”
Ryan smiled. “You have better legs than Annie.”
She pulled back. For a moment, he had her in a trance. Maybe she should leave Mark and pursue this. Jump right in. No, of course not. Who was Ryan now, anyway? She hardly knew him. He could disappear again. Mark cared for her and he was the perfect match to build a family. That’s all she needed.
Wedding Gown Girl
Blake sat in the veterinary’s waiting room, his folder full of printouts of the websites on pet care he had found, as well as the graphics and features he was offering for their new website. A strong scent of animal fur, excretion, and excrement, as well as pungent antiseptic, filled his nose. What a relief he’d given up on his childhood dream of becoming a vet. With such a sensitive nose, would he ever get used to that smell? A man with a mangy German Shepherd dog sat opposite him, the dog’s tail thumping the floor. Another young lady sat two seats to his right, cradling a bulldog puppy in her arms. The puppy slept peacefully, and Blake wondered if there was anything wrong with it or whether it was just coming for a check--up.
The front door opened loudly, and a woman almost ran into the cramped waiting room, headed straight to the reception desk. She carried a large, bulging cardboard box. Her back was to him, but her neck was familiar. That short, tightly cut blonde hair couldn’t be missed.
“Please, you have to help me. I think my cat is dying.” Everyone in the room turned their heads to watch her.
“What is the problem, Ma’am?” the receptionist asked calmly.
“She was giving birth in my car, and then she started howling madly. I think the fifth kitten won’t come out. It’s stuck.”
The corners of Blake’s mouth curled up a little at her bluntness. She strained under the weight of the partially broken box, and her neck was flushed. He got to his feet and came to stand near her, feeling for her distress.
“I’ll call the vet straight away. Please take a seat,” the receptionist said.
She struggled with the box and nearly dropped it. Blake thrust his hands under the bulging middle and helped her to carry it to one of the seats.
“Mr. Reynolds!” Her blue eyes were large, red, and glistening with tears. Her hair was a mess and her shirt crumpled and stained with blood. Yet she looked so beautiful and so soft and sweet.
“What’s wrong with your cat?” he asked, unsure how to help her.
“She’s gone quiet now, but she was howling like crazy a moment ago. I sped here as fast as I could. I’ve watched her give birth many times before, but she’s never sounded so desperate.
And she’s been like this for a whole hour. The kitten should have come out by now.”
“You may come through,” the receptionist called.
“Let me help you with that box,” said Blake.
He helped her carry it into the vet’s treatment room. They placed it onto the cold steel table, and the vet opened it. Kienna peered inside. The cat gave a weak meow at the sight of her face and then closed her eyes.
The vet felt her abdomen while the cat squirmed and squawked.
“There is a problem with the birthing of the last two kittens.
I’m going to perform a caesarean section on her right away. Is that okay with you?”
Kienna nodded, her face pale and her usually full mouth, a thin line.
“She’s not out of danger yet, but there is a chance. Let me prepare her for theatre. You may wait in the waiting room. May I also tie up her tubes at the same time?”
“Okay.” Kienna touched her cat lovingly on the head, kissed her briefly, and then shuffled out of the room.
Blake followed her.
She sat down on the edge of the seat, her foot tapping on the vinyl floor and her hands moving constantly.
“I get the feeling this cat means a lot to you,” said Blake, moving closer to her.
She nodded, her eyes redder than before.
Next moment, he clasped her hand tightly. He was shocked at his impulsiveness, but pleased to be of some comfort to her. “I’m sure she’s going to be just fine. The vet knows what he’s doing.”
She stared at him, her cheeks flushed and her eyes wide, but she didn’t let go of his hand. “Thank you.” Her voice was barely audible.
The next twenty minutes were quiet and emotionally draining. Kienna must have paced the room several times in her heels while he tried to keep his eyes off her shapely, muscular calves. The more he took in the sight of the woman before him, the more he wanted her. What was it about her that was so appealing and yet, a few weeks back, he didn’t even notice? Was he so blinkered with Rachelle? No, he could appreciate a beautiful woman, but it was true that he thought Rachelle was perfect. How could he have been so mistaken? All the more reason not to allow his attraction to Kienna to go any further than just that. He could date her, maybe, just for the fun of it, but without emotional attachment and commitment. It would get his mind off the hurt of Rachelle’s rejection. Maybe a fling was just what he needed.
The waiting room began to fill up with people, animals, and pungent smells. He glanced down at his folder and wondered if he should get back to work because he wasn’t going to get much of a free moment with the vet at this rate. But every time he saw Kienna’s pained face, he knew he couldn’t abandon her. The cat would probably be fine, but she kept on looking at him for affirmation. He assured her several times. Just as one of the customers left in a huff because of the long wait, the vet came through in his starched white coat.
“Ms. Worndell, please, may I speak to you?”
Kienna nodded and walked through. Blake followed her as he suddenly had a bad feeling.
“I’m sorry. She didn’t make it. Miraculously, one of the kittens did make it. This kitten is very special to have survived that ordeal.” He reached back to the box behind him and handed her a tiny black, grey, and white tabby, its face rounded and rat--like with eyes tightly shut. She took the kitten and cradled it in her arms.
“What do I do about Slinky’s body?” She spoke with a shaky voice.
“We will take care of it.”
“Please, may I take her and bury her? That’s all I ask.”
“If you insist. We just wanted to save you the trouble.”
She turned to Blake. He was surprised that she knew he was there. “Will you help me? I know just the place to bury her, but it’s far from here.”
“Sure.” His mind raced. How was he going to explain this to his boss? But he had to help her somehow.
“The other kitten too – I also want to bury her.”
“I will get the bodies for you now,” the vet said.
“Let me just pay at the front office.” She looked immenselycalm as she made her way to the front. “Why are you here today, Mr. Reynolds? I’m sorry, I’ve been so caught up in my own problem that… You don’t have an animal.” The frown on her face was deeply furrowed.
“I’m here with work matters – I’m setting up a website for the vet practice.”
“Oh dear. I can’t expect you to come with me to bury Slinky. I think they should keep the bodies. I also have to get back to work. I’ve been so silly. And I shouldn’t have got you involved in my minor issues.”
He moved towards her and put his hand on her shoulder. “For you, it was very important.”
“Why do you care?”
“You cared about me.”
Tears filled her eyes, and he felt like he’d been socked in the gut. This strange lump in his throat at a woman’s tears was unfamiliar. Rachelle and Layla had mostly cried when they were angry.
The receptionist asked for her payment, and Kienna paid for the operation. She turned to face Blake.
“I’m going to keep that kitten as a memory of Slinky. Would you like one of the other kittens as a thank you for helping me today?”
Blake arched his eyebrows. “I wouldn’t know what to do with it.”
“I’ll have to show you.”
“Will you explain it to me over dinner tonight?”
Her face flushed deep red. “I don’t know. I mean, you were just about to get married a few days ago. I don’t think it’s right.”
He was speechless. He had expected her to jump at it. Plus he was still supposed to be in love with Rachelle. Going out with Kienna was proof he was on the rebound. But to heck with the rules and what was good for him. He wanted her, even if it was for one night. He would be sensible another time, later.
“I’d better get going. Let me know if you want a kitten in about six to eight weeks’ time when they’re big enough. Thanks once again for helping me.”
She walked away, the kitten still cradled in her arms and her handbag recklessly slung over her shoulder. He rushed to her and touched her shoulder.
“Wait. Don’t you need help looking after newborn kittens without the mother? What are you going to do?”
She shrugged. “I don’t know. Buy baby bottles.”
“I can help you.”
“I have to get to work.”
“Me, too. I’ll call you later.”
She nodded with little emotion visible on her face and then disappeared out the door. He’d probably made a fool of himself. She must think that he was some type of Casanova, asking her on a date the same week he was going to marry another woman. No wonder she wasn’t interested. He would have to come from the friendship angle instead. Not a good idea with regards to the state of his heart, but at least he had a distraction from the pain – something to think of other than Rachelle.