Garrett flicked the switch for the overhead light in his office, bending over as he did so he wouldn’t miss the cat zipping by. His gaze swept the space in front of him, to the left, then the right. Beige carpet, the leg of a cherry desk, several crumbs from yesterday’s cookies baked as a thank-you by Mrs. Crane and…one woman’s naked foot.
He stood there for a second, blinking. One woman’s naked foot.
His gaze traveled up. A naked foot, attached to a naked leg. Garrett jerked upright and found himself looking at a twenty-ish blonde who filled out a lab coat – his lab coat – in ways that should be illegal.
His jaw dropped open. Not a word came out.
She, however, didn’t seem so surprised to see him. She smiled, a soft look that took over her face and reached into her gray-green eyes. A strange feeling of connection zipped through Garrett, which was odd, because he knew he’d never met her before. And yet, he felt as if he should know her.
“I’m so pleased to meet you, Dr.-” her gaze flicked to his desk, then back. She sounded slightly out of breath, which caused a weird hitch in Garrett’s own breathing. “Dr. McAllister. I’ve been anxious to talk to you.”
“What are you doing in my office? Wearing my lab coat?”
“I told you. I wanted to talk to you.”
He could barely get his mind around any of this. “What? Why?”
If she had on any clothes at all, they were very short and hidden by the knee-length white jacket. Either way, he couldn’t focus on anything but the creamy length of her legs and the way the oversized jacket dipped in front, giving him a too-brief peek at the rounded pale curves of her breasts.
“I, umm…I wanted to talk to you about ah…a…job.” She gave a quick, firm nod.
He quirked an eyebrow. “A job?”
“As your…assistant. You know, helping with the animals.” The smile again, secure, confident.
Had he been in some kind of fugue state yesterday and forgotten he’d hired her?
No, impossible. He’d never forget hiring a woman like her. Besides, people didn’t exactly clamor to work for him. His last two assistants had said he lacked any kind of people skills before they’d slammed the door and left for good. Not to mention most of his annual budget was poured into keeping the shelter up and running.
Although he needed the help, he preferred to work alone. Dealing with people was a hell of a lot harder than dealing with animals. People asked questions. People stared. People, he’d found, could disappoint you and let you down when you needed them most.
He’d already been down that road one painful time too many. He didn’t need a second journey.
“I don’t have an opening for an assistant right now.” Another glimpse of her legs, then his gaze traveled up to her lean, heart-shaped face and deep emerald eyes. “At least, I don’t think I do.”
A slow smile spread across her face like peanut butter on toast. Her gaze locked on his, and she took a step forward. “A busy vet can always use more help, I’m sure.”
He gestured at her, a hundred questions in the movement of his hands. “How did you get in here?”
“That’s rather a long story,” she said.
He crossed his arms over his chest and leaned against the doorjamb. “I have time.”
“Well…” Her voice trailed off. She bit her lip and took a step back, settling on the corner of his desk. When she sat, the lab coat rode up, exposing more of her thighs.
His heart rate leapt to five times the normal rate. Garrett swallowed and forced his jaw to stay in place this time. Maybe this was one of those reality show pranks where someone had set him up with a gorgeous woman pretending she wanted a job.
“I…” she glanced around the room again, then back at him. “I was here late yesterday to talk to you about a job, but you’d already left. Your receptionist said I could find you here early in the morning. I got ah, turned around when I went to leave and accidentally got locked in.”
“It’s a small building. Not exactly full of halls and wrong turns.”
“I was nervous.”
She looked like the kind of woman who never got flustered. Her story had more holes than a cheap pair of socks. And yet, he sensed a vulnerability about her, as if she wasn’t used to asking for help or relying on others. Much like himself, he realized. And for some odd reason, that made him want to help her.
He needed more sleep. Clearly, he wasn’t thinking straight.
“I didn’t see you when I came back late last night,” he said.
“I fell asleep in your chair. When I’m asleep, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade could come by and I’d never hear a thing.”
“Must be nice to sleep that deep,” he said quietly, then drew himself up. He wasn’t here to confess his insomnia problems to a stranger, especially one without any clothes on.
The way the coat drifted over her and peaked above her breasts, he suspected she was nude. Completely nude.
Oh boy, was he going to have a lot of fantasies running through his head over this one. He’d never look at that coat the same way again. “Do you, ah, always dress like this for a job interview?”
“I…I spilled some coffee on my clothes last night and washed them out in the sink. I slipped on this to wear until they dried. I didn’t expect you to be here so early. I hope you don’t mind.” She crossed one leg over the other, which only served to hitch the coat up further.
He gulped. “Uh…no.”
She smiled again. “Good.”
“Did it hit your shoes, too?”
He looked pointedly at her bare feet.
“Oh, ah, yeah. Coffee all over them.”
“Must have been a hell of a big mug.”
She nodded quickly. Too quickly. “Huge.”
He should send her packing. Mentally, Garrett started ticking through the inconsistencies in her tale. “Why-”
“Well, let’s get to work,” she said, interrupting him with an enthusiastic clap. “I bet the animals are starving.”
“I don’t need an assistant.”
“I find that hard to believe. There are lots of animals here. You definitely need help.”
“I can’t afford an assistant. I can barely afford me.”
“I’ll work for peanuts.”
She had an argument for his every reason not to hire her. “But-” he tried one last time, sputtering like an engine that couldn’t quite quit.
“Give me a trial run this morning and if I don’t work out, I’ll take off your lab coat and leave you alone. Sound fair?”
A mental image of her stripping off his jacket popped unbidden into Garrett’s mind. For a second, he considered firing her just to see her remove it and walk out the door.
She would never do. For one, she was distracting. For another, she was much too pleasant to be working with him. He’d have to be nice, and that was something Garrett rarely succeeded at.
“I don’t work well with other people hovering around me,” he said.
“You won’t even know I’m here. I’ll be quiet as a cat.” She winked.
He thought of the dozens of patients that would be in and out today. The paperwork still sitting on his desk that he hadn’t gotten to in weeks. The stack of unreturned phone messages. The supplies list he needed to go over. The records he needed to finish updating. Not to mention the three dozen animals currently residing in the shelter.
And today was Miss Tanner’s annual visit with Sweet Pea. That alone was enough reason to bring in reinforcements.
He wasn’t about it to admit it, but the stranger in his office had impeccable timing.
“Okay, I’ll try you out today. But,” he held up a finger before she could say anything, “just today.”
She beamed. “Great! I love working with animals.”
“You might want to-” he gestured at her, not knowing what words to use.
“Want to what?”
“Ah, put something on beneath the coat.”
“Oh.” She blushed, and the red extended down her chest, flushing bright against the white fabric. “My clothes probably won’t be dry for hours. Any chance you have something in a size eight here?”
He thought of telling her to just go buy something, but the thought of her parading down the street to K-Mart in nothing more than his lab coat stopped him. “Try the storage room. Tiffany probably left a few things there.”
“Assistant number three. She had a backup closet of clothes here in case she wanted to change.” Garrett scowled. “When she quit, she left pretty fast. Missed half her damned wardrobe.”
“Why’d she quit?”
“We had a disagreement over which kind of mammals Tiffany should be tending to.”
The woman raised her eyes.
“Tiffany had more interest in creatures with two legs than the ones with four.”
“Oh.” She paused, then her mouth opened. “Oh.”
Garrett shifted on his feet. The room seemed awfully warm. Furnace must be on the blink again.
Yeah, that was it.
“I have to get to work,” he said. He went to reach for the hook that normally held his lab coat, realized where it was, and jerked his hand back. Without a second glance at the woman or his jacket, Garrett turned on his heel and left the room.