Chapter One: Not an Airhead
Tooty drove her old Ford Ranger, gray in color under all the oxidation, to the front of Jacob and Julie's cottage. Parking in a cloud of dust, she sat for a minute and tried to calm her nerves. She was about to meet Maxwell Henry--the famous author. Sarah had explained his real name was Miles Brightman, and he was staying at the cottage while Julie and Jacob visited Maude and Clyde Hix in Alaska. Tooty had often heard stories about the former employees of the Lazy M Ranch and how they had struck it rich as gold prospectors. Now in their eighties and sixties, with Maude being the older, they still lived in the same cabin they'd built after moving to the wilds years earlier. Tooty understood Julie's desire to spend as much time with the old-timers as possible. She and Jacob were going to have a blast.
Okay, you've stalled long enough. It's time to get the embarrassing part over.
Tooty bit her thumbnail and still didn't move to open her door. She remembered Miles from Julie and Jacob's wedding reception. He was the guy in the wheelchair. Actually, he was the hot older guy in the wheelchair. Even now, she cringed remembering their encounter. She'd gone in search of her mischievous four-year old and seen him checking out the man's wheelchair. When she'd approached, she'd heard Harris say, "Hi, my name is Harris and, hey, that's a really cool chair. Ya wanna take me for a ride?"
Rushing forward, she hadn't reached Harris in time to stop him from climbing onto the man's lap. The startled expression on the guy's face had said everything. He wasn't used to kids. Besides that, she didn't know how severe his physical challenge was and whether Harris could injure him. When she'd reached to grab her son off his lap, he'd said, "No, leave him." After that, he'd told Harris about his wheelchair and shown him how to operate it, both manually and with battery assistance. Of course, Harris had been fascinated and oblivious to his faux pas of just climbing on the guy's lap. With a mixture of mortification and gratitude, she'd stepped to the sidelines to watch.
The man had finally said, "Well, Harris, looks like your mother is waiting for you, you better hop down now."
That's when Tooty had stepped forward and bent to lift Harris into her arms. As she was lifting, he'd glanced from her to the man and said, "Hey, I need a daddy. You wanna marry my mommy? Don't you think she's pretty?"
Tooty had looked from her son's innocent brown eyes into the man's Mediterranean blue ones and literally froze. She'd seen his shocked look and then a slight quirk of his lips, like he was trying not to laugh. Before he could say anything, she'd jerked Harris off his lap. "I'm really sorry. My son just says whatever comes to his mind."
Harris defended himself. "But Mommy, Grammy says it too. She says I need a daddy and you need a man. What's wrong with him?"
"Ah…ah…I'm really sorry." Knowing there was no way to salvage their fiasco, she'd simply walked away carrying Harris. She'd never felt so embarrassed in her life. Every cell in her body felt like it was on fire—even her scalp.
Shaking the memory and inhaling a calming breath, Tooty forced her hand to the door handle. She was turning scarlet again just thinking about meeting Mr. Brightman and had half a mind to flip the ignition key, back the truck up, and peel out of the driveway, never looking back. Of course, she wouldn't do that. She needed to earn money, but, more importantly, she'd never forgive herself if she turned down an opportunity to work with a famous author—an author whose every book she'd read at least twice.
* * *
Miles shifted his wheelchair so he could see out the living room window. He watched the young woman step from her battered pickup. So this was the girl with the strange first name Sarah had referred. Her dark strawberry colored hair looked familiar. When she'd almost reached the porch, recognition slammed him and he groaned. It was the girl from the wedding; the one with the cute, but rascally little boy—the boy who'd ask him to marry his mommy and become his daddy. He groaned again when the doorbell rang. Rolling his chair to the door he opened it and pasted a smile on his face. "Hello, please come in," he said politely.
The girl opened the screen and he backed his chair up. "H-hello. My name is Tooty Townsend and Sarah said you were looking for a personal assistant."
He rolled toward the back of the house. "Let's go to the kitchen. I've got coffee brewing and we can talk about it." He paused at the kitchen entrance and waited for her to enter. She waited for him to enter. Finally, he said, "Please go in and pour yourself a cup of coffee; that is if you drink coffee. I think there's tea in the fridge."
Self consciously, she said, "Okay," and walked past him. At the counter, she reached for one of the cups he'd set out and lifted the pot. "Can I pour you one, too?"
"Yes, please." He rolled his chair to the drop leaf table and motioned for her to sit across from him. She set his coffee in front of him and took a seat.
When she lifted her cup to her lips, he noticed her hand was trembling. Shit. He didn't want to scare the girl. She didn't look much older than eighteen or nineteen. She was probably much too immature to act as a personal assistant, but then again, she already had a child. That could mature a person fast.
They both spoke at the same time. Miles cleared his throat, "You first."
She looked at him with her big brown doe's eyes. "I just want to apologize for the incident at the wedding reception. My son can be quite vocal, but he's only four years old…" she defended him, but didn’t finish her sentence.
Miles chuckled. "No apology needed. At least he speaks his mind. No beating around the bush."
His words seemed to ease her nervousness and she sipped her coffee again without trembling.
"Your turn," she said.
It took him a second to realize that she was waiting for him to say what he had been about to. "Oh, I was just going to ask you to relay any experience you've had in working as a personal assistant." He saw her eyes slide to the table.
"Um, I-I haven't actually worked as a personal assistant, but I did good in school and I'm an avid reader. I've read all your books. I also worked for Mrs. Smiley at Beautyluscious Beauty Shop as the receptionist for six months. The reason I'm not still there is because she retired and the new owner laid me off to save money."
Miles wanted to groan. He'd let her down easy. Keeping a straight face, he asked, "Are you working anywhere now?"
She didn't elaborate, and he finally prompted, "Can you tell me where you're working and what you're doing?"
"I-I work after hours at Boot Bustin' Barn cleaning the club. The owner said he's gonna work me into a waitress position."
Miles stared at his coffee. This interview was going nowhere fast. Even though she indicated she'd read his books, he wondered how literate she was.
"Do you know anything about computers? Do you think you could handle checking and replying to emails?" He glanced up, surprised to see an almost hostile expression on her face.
Before he could say anything, she said, "I think I can handle checking emails and writing correspondence. And yes, just in case you're wondering, I have a high school degree and I can read and write. Sarah wouldn't have sent me if she didn't think I was capable. However, it appears that you have doubts, so I'll just say goodbye and wish you the best in finding the right person."
She started to stand and Miles darted his hand to hers. "Wait. I didn't mean that to come out quite the way it did. It's just that you're so young and I want to be sure–"
She interrupted, "You want to be sure I'm not an airhead."
Damn it. She was twisting his words. He looked at her, and said, "Exactly."
A tiny smile drew up the corners of her mouth. "Mr. Brightman, I had a child when I was sixteen and I've been taking care of both of us ever since. I assure you I am not an airhead. But I'll release you from having to make the decision of whether or not to hire me. Good day." She stood.
"You've got the job. Be here at nine tomorrow morning."