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Authors: Jane Graves

Tags: #Contemporary

Stray Hearts

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Stray Hearts

 

 

Jane Graves

 

 

 

 

 

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Stray Hearts

Copyright © 2013 by Jane Graves

All rights reserved.

 

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About Stray Hearts

 

When Kay Ramsey catches her fiancé cheating on her, she takes revenge on him in a
most
creative way. She's shocked when he sues her, and even more shocked when he actually
wins
. Then he tells her he’ll forget the money she owes him—
if
she’ll perform a hundred hours of community service at a local animal shelter. 

Battling an empty bank account and a childhood fear of animals, Kay can't imagine a worse sentence—until she meets the sexy veterinarian in charge, Dr. Matt Forester. Suddenly a hundred hours may not be long enough!

 

 

Chapter 1

 

“Are you Kay Ramsey?”

When the stranger called her by name, Kay took the chain lock off her apartment door and eased it open a little wider. The voice belonged to a balding, beady-eyed little guy holding a white envelope.

“Yes,” she said warily. “I’m Kay Ramsey.”

He handed her the envelope, then gave her a sly smile. “Have a nice day.”

As he disappeared down the stairs. Kay took the envelope back into her apartment, where she opened it carefully to avoid smearing her just-polished nails. She pulled out the document it contained, and for a moment thought she was going to be sick.

“Kay? What’s the matter?”

Sheila McCann, her across-the-hall neighbor and world-class nail artist, capped the bottle of Peony Pink, set it down on the dining-room table, and then plucked the document from Kay’s fingertips. She scanned it quickly, her eyes widening as she read. “Robert is
suing
you?”

“Yes! Can you believe it? All I did was get his dogs a lousy haircut, and now he’s suing me!”

Sheila raised an eyebrow. “Sweetie, I think it’s the
way
their hair was cut that kinda miffed him.”

Kay collapsed onto the dining-room chair, wishing her nails weren’t wet so she could hide her face in her hands and pretend none of this had ever happened.

If only she had Sheila’s approach to life, she’d be a whole lot better off. If Sheila had been engaged to Robert Hollinger and found him half-naked in his office with another woman, she would have tiptoed calmly through the pile of discarded clothes, grasped him firmly by his excessive chest hair and told him, in so many words, that his after-hours activities had caused her to have an unexpected change of heart about their upcoming nuptials. And that would have been that. 

Unfortunately, Kay had approached things a little differently. 

She’d slipped away from the scene of the crime unnoticed and called a mobile dog-grooming service. At her direction, they had rounded up Robert’s favorite status symbols—three snooty, prizewinning, slobbering, hyperactive, brainless cocker spaniels—and given them haircuts to her
exact
specifications. 

The dogs remained blissfully happy throughout the entire experience. But when Robert came home and saw those precious extensions of his manhood looking as if their coats had been run through a blender, he’d gone predictably berserk. She’d felt really good about it at the time. She didn’t feel so good about it now.

A major item on Kay’s to-do list:
Be more like Sheila.
Right up there with
Get another job before you lose your apartment
and
Never, ever get engaged to the boss.

“How could I even think of marrying a man who has dogs?” Kay said, fanning her nails to speed the drying. “I mean, how stupid was that?”

“If you’d loved him, you’d have worked it out.”

“No way. You know how I feel about animals.”

Kay just couldn’t help it. She was never so uncomfortable as when a stray dog came bounding toward her or a cat scurried across her path. When she was a kid, her older siblings, Claire and David, had zeroed in on the one thing their timid little sister feared the most— animals—and used them to terrorize her at every opportunity. Intellectually, Kay knew that the worst thing the average dog was likely to do was lick her to death, but she just couldn’t reconcile that commonsense point of view with the emotional reaction she had every time she came into contact with anything furry.

“What am I going to do, Sheila? I’m broke. I don’t have any money for a lawyer.”

“There’s always Claire.”

Kay was horrified at the very thought “No. No way.”

“She’s an attorney. And she’d do it for free. When you’re family, you have to do stuff like that, even if you’re Claire.”

“Maybe I’ll just represent myself.”

“Against Robert?”

Kay groaned. This situation was getting worse by the minute. What were the odds of both Claire and Robert showing up in the same nightmare?

“You’re right,” Kay said. “I guess I don’t have any choice. I’ll talk to her about it tomorrow.” Then she squeezed her eyes closed. “Oh, God. This means I’ll have to hear the lecture.”

“What lecture?”

“The one about how impulsive I am. About how I do stupid things. About how irresponsible it is to be almost thirty years old and not have a real career—”

“You just haven’t found your niche yet. Some people take longer to bloom, that’s all.”

“Well, I’m not doing a lot of blooming as a legal assistant. Why did I let Claire talk me into that? And why did I go to work for Robert, much less get engaged to him?”

“Because he’s your family’s idea of Mr. Right—which is why you should never listen to your family.”

Kay slumped in her chair, closing her eyes. “It’s going to be horrible, Sheila. By the time he gets finished with me, they’re going to take me out back and shoot me.” She turned to her friend with a plaintive look. “Will you come to my execution?”

“Stop worrying. It may not be as bad as you think.” Sheila gave the summons another once-over. “You know, when it comes right down to it, this is really just a frivolous lawsuit.”

Frivolous lawsuit? Kay felt a glimmer of hope. Frivolous lawsuits usually got thrown out of court, didn’t they? She glanced sideways at Sheila. “Do you think so?”

“Sure. After all, you didn’t really hurt the dogs. You just made them...lighter.”

“So you might say this lawsuit is...what do they call it? A mockery of the judicial system?”

“Exactly.”

Kay’s mood was improving considerably. “Then you’re telling me Robert could end up embarrassed?”

“Yeah.”

“Humiliated? Disgraced, even?”

“It’s possible.”

Kay pondered that for a moment, then decided maybe Sheila was right. No judge would ever take this lawsuit seriously. If Robert insisted on going through with it, he was going to end up looking like a fool, and she’d walk away with her head held high.

Kay settled back in her chair with a sigh of relief. She held out her nails and was pleased to see that the Peony Pink was still intact.

Maybe everything was going to work out after all.

 

"Five thousand dollars?
Five thousand dollars?” 

With the
whap
of the judge’s gavel still ringing in Kay’s ears, she turned her astonished gaze to the plaintiff’s table. Right on cue, Robert gave her a snide little victory smile, and it was all she could do not to cross the courtroom and slap it right off his face.

She spun around to face Claire. “Claire!
Do
something!”

“It’s over,” Claire muttered, clicking her briefcase shut. “Now let’s get out of here before you embarrass me even more than you already have.”

Kay followed her sister into the hall of the courthouse. “But five thousand dollars? Just because I got his dogs a stinking haircut?”

“All he had to prove is loss of income as a result of what you did. Without hair on his dogs, he says he can’t show them, sell puppies, collect stud fees—”

“But it’ll grow back!”

“The judge bought it. That’s all that matters.”

“I was sure you’d beat him, Claire. I was sure—”

Claire screeched to a halt and spun around, meeting Kay nearly nose-to-nose. “I wasn’t prepared. And do you know why I wasn’t prepared? Because you didn’t bother to tell me the extent to which you desecrated those dogs. I had to find out when the photos were passed around the courtroom!”

Kay shrank away a little and shrugged. “I really didn’t think it was any big deal.”

“No big deal? You had that grooming service shave
Up You
into one of the dogs’ coats. Why did you do that?”

“It was supposed to be
Up Yours
. They ran out of dog.”

Claire shook her head. “You’ve got to learn to control that manic streak. It makes people think you’re unhinged.”

“He cheated on me! It was a perfectly normal reaction—”

“Perfectly normal?” Claire gaped at her with disbelief. “Perfectly normal people yell a little, or throw a place setting of china across the room. They don’t pay someone to fire up a small appliance and create graffiti on dogs!”

“Okay, okay.” Kay held up her palms. “It was stupid. I was wrong. I should have known Robert would come unglued. I just never thought—”

“That’s right. You never think.”

Kay stared down at the floor, withering under Claire’s blistering gaze.

“You know, Kay, I was beginning to think you’d gotten yourself together. You finally got a marginal amount of education, a decent-paying job—”

“I never wanted to be a legal assistant in the first place. That was your idea.”

“So what would you have done if you hadn’t gone to school to become one of those? Stayed a waitress the rest of your life? Or maybe you’d have gone back to New York to resume your promising career as an actress? Or returned to your brilliant occupation as a telephone solicitor? Or—God forbid—gone back to that tacky public relations firm.”

“Promos-R-Us is
not
tacky.”

“Their clients are used car salesmen and exotic dancers!”

Well, okay. So it was tacky. Kay shrugged. “I was just looking for my niche. That’s all.”

“Niche, my ass. You
are
looking for another legal assistant job, aren’t you?”

“Yes, Claire. I’m looking.”

“Thank God. I was afraid you were going to run away and join the circus.”

Kay hated this. She felt her sister’s disapproval the same way she’d always felt her mother’s. And she knew it was because Claire had turned
into
her mother—a no- nonsense professional woman who put her law career above all else and had little patience for anyone who chose otherwise. All her life Kay had stood on the perimeter of her family, a wandering black sheep beside a snow-white herd of overachievers.

“Excuse me, Kay. I wonder if you have a moment?”

Kay turned to see Robert standing behind her, and her blood pressure skyrocketed. His ultrapolite tone didn’t fool her for a minute. “Look, Robert, if you’ve come to collect your money, forget it I don’t have five thousand dollars.”

“Yes, I assumed you’d be a little strapped for cash.”

“I wouldn’t be ‘strapped for cash’ if you hadn’t blackballed me to every law firm I’ve applied to!”

“Unemployment is up, Kay. You can hardly blame your unsuccessful job search on me.”

That really ticked Kay off. Her “unsuccessful job search” had nothing to do with the availability of jobs. After all, McKinney, Texas, was only a short drive down 1-75 from the suburbs of Dallas, where business was booming. She’d gotten interviews for several legal assistant jobs in the past month, and they’d all seemed interested in hiring her—until they’d checked her references.

“You’re blackballing me,” Kay repeated. “And if I could prove it, you’d be the one with a lawsuit on your hands!”

To Kay’s disgust, Robert merely smiled. “I’ll tell you what. Why don’t you just forget the money? You don’t owe me a dime.”

Kay blinked. “Excuse me?”

“You heard me. Forget the five thousand. I’ll tell the court it’s paid in full.”

Kay stared at him, dumbfounded. What was it about this man that scrambled her brain? He’d dragged her through a civil court case, whining about his shaved dogs, and now he says “never mind”?

Claire took a menacing step forward. “What’s the catch?”

“No catch, really.” He turned to Kay. “All you have to do is agree to perform a hundred hours of volunteer work.”

Volunteer work? Now Kay was completely befuddled. Robert’s tragically advanced case of ingrown eyeballs made him about as philanthropic as Midas. Sure, he contributed to charities, but only for the professional visibility it afforded him. So why would he trade five thousand dollars for a hundred hours of her time?

“That’s it?” Kay said warily. “That’s all you want me to do?”

“That’s all. One hundred hours of volunteer work.” He paused. “At the Westwood Animal Shelter.”

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