The Right Man for Katherine
Brad has vowed never to risk his heart again. But he hadn't counted on the power of one woman's touch to make him reconsider. He thinks at last he's found a woman he can trust—until a secret from her past makes him believe otherwise.
“Here, let me help you with that.”
Katherine Connolly tightened her grip on the box containing her personal belongings, and turned to see who owned the deep, masculine voice. She stiffened her spine. Brad Hunter, senior partner of Hunter, Morgan & Fanelli. After the way he and his colleagues had treated her, she wanted nothing to do with any of them.
“I can manage very well by myself, thank you.” The box began to slide, and she hoisted it onto her hip. She couldn’t help noticing that the light shot threads of silver through his dark hair, making him look slightly older than his thirty-one years. His eyes, more gold than hazel, put her in mind of a tiger’s. An apt comparison, she thought, considering his reputation as a shrewd litigator. She swung around and continued along Fifth Avenue, past high-rise buildings, squeezing through crowds, toward the nearby bus stop.
“Wait a minute,” he called.
With a sigh, she drew to a halt. When he moved in front of her, she looked up—something she didn’t usually have to do. He was one of the few attorneys in the prestigious New York firm tall enough to dominate her five-foot-nine height.
“Is this your last day, Miss Connolly?”
She jutted her chin. “Yes, Mr. Hunter, and if you want to know, I’m not too happy about it.” Startled by a blaring horn, she almost dropped the box. “When I took on the job, I was told it would last a year. I didn’t count on being dismissed three months early.”
“I’m really sorry. But there was just nowhere to place you after your boss retired.”
She looked away. Maybe the firm did have a reason to let her go, but she couldn’t understand why they’d fired her friend, Harvey. As far as she knew, Harvey was a good attorney. After his dismissal for what he’d termed a mere personality conflict, he moved out of town and she still hadn’t heard from him.
Brad glanced at the box. ”How are you getting home?”
“On the train. I’m taking the bus to Grand Central.” It would be better to take a cab to the station with this heavy box, she realized. But the bus was cheaper.
“Where do you live?”
“Dobbs Ferry.” Drops of rain fell on her bare arm, and she stared at the darkening June sky.
“I live in Irvington,” he said. “I’d be glad to drive you home. My car’s just over there at the parking garage.” He glanced toward the street filled with rush-hour traffic.
Katherine tightened her lips. No way did she want to be cooped up in a car with this man for the next hour. “Thank you, but here’s my bus now. It takes me right to the station.”
The smell of diesel exhaust filled the air as the bus braked to a stop. “Goodbye, Mr. Hunter.” She swung around so quickly the box slipped from her grasp and fell to the ground, its contents spilling out in all directions. People rushing by stared before continuing on their way.
“Oh no!” She dropped her shoulder bag and began gathering up her belongings. Brad bent on one knee to help her.
Damn. She watched the bus accelerate from the curb, its tires slashing the wet road. Could this day get any worse? The next bus wouldn’t be along for at least twenty minutes. She pushed a strand of shoulder-length auburn hair from her face. “Please take care,” she warned when Brad reached for her knitting.” I don’t want the stitches to unravel.”
“What are you making?”
She placed the knitting back in the box, then laid a book on top. “A baby blanket.” She stood and smoothed down the full skirt of her green cotton dress. Her cheeks burned when she saw him fix his gaze on her abdomen. “It’s for the Senior’s Centre. They sell anything I knit, and I pay them a commission.” She had to do everything she could to earn money for college so she could get her teaching certificate. She reached down for her handbag and, in a subconscious gesture, held it over her stomach.
He smiled, revealing straight, white teeth.
She wouldn’t bother telling him she’d never been that close to a man. Refusing to return his smile, she settled her handbag on her shoulder and bent toward the box.
Before she could touch it, Brad snapped it up and held it under one arm.” It doesn’t make sense to stand out in this drizzle when you can ride with me.”
Suddenly the sky split open, and a virtual torrent burst forth. “Well, how about it?” he asked with more than a hint of impatience.
She blinked rain from her lashes. “I… oh… all right.”
“Here, could you carry this?” Smiling, he held out a black leather briefcase.
No sooner had she taken the briefcase than she regretted her decision to ride with him, but by then the man had walked off with her possessions.
She hurried to keep up with his long-legged stride, then stood beside him, waiting for the traffic light to change as a river of cars and yellow cabs rushed back and forth, horns blaring. A taxi driver rolled down his window and yelled obscenities at a passing car.
“Let’s hurry before it changes again,” Brad said when the light turned green.
They had just reached the sidewalk when the light changed and the traffic surged past.
Brad glanced down at Katherine. “Good old New York. It’s a great place but, like in all cities, the driving is horrendous. Some of those drivers would run you down rather than wait for you to get out of their way.”
Katherine chuckled. “Why do you think I wear running shoes to and from work?” She felt a downward swing of emotion when she remembered she had no work to run to anymore.
Brad glanced down at her white leather shoes, then his gaze travelled slowly up her stocking-clad calves to finally arrive at her face. “You’re beautiful,” he said.
She looked away, unwilling to acknowledge a compliment she felt sure he intended as an appeasement for the way his firm had treated her.
She followed him along the sidewalk, squeezing through the crowds. Within minutes, they reached the parking garage.
He handed a ticket to the attendant, who rushed off to get his car. “Here we go,” he said when a black BMW pulled up beside them. The attendant hopped out and swung around to open the passenger door.
Brad shoved the box into the trunk and Katherine handed him his briefcase.
Sinking into the cushiony comfort of the leather seat, she settled her handbag on her lap and shook rain from her hair. Until now, she hadn’t realized how exhausted she felt.
As Brad pulled onto the avenue, she wondered whether he knew she and Harvey were friends. Perhaps not. Brad and the other senior partners worked near the front of the building, while the associate members and personal assistants occupied the back offices.
On the rare occasions when she and Brad had passed each other in the hallway, he had accorded her no more than a brief, “Hello.” According to scuttlebutt, he was still grief-stricken over the loss of his wife three years ago. Katherine’s boss, Mr. Wilson, said Brad vowed never to become emotionally involved with another woman.
“Again, I’m sorry we couldn’t find a place for you,” he said. “But I promise we’ll contact you if a job opens up.”
She shrugged. “The firm doesn’t usually hire temporaries.”
“Well, not usually. We made an exception because Lou Wilson’s long-time personal assistant became ill. We thought he’d stay on for another four months, but he changed his mind.” He cast her a quick glance. “I promise I’ll ask around and see if any of the other attorneys in the city need help.”
“Thank you.” She supposed she’d better try to stay on his good side in case there was a chance he might find her a job.
The light turned red and he braked to a stop behind a taxi. “Why are you only looking for temporary employment?”
“I’m hoping to go back to college in September to get my degree in education so I can teach grade school. Two years ago, I had to drop out to take care of my mother. She… she died a little over a year ago.”
He met her gaze. “I’m sorry to hear that. Is your father living?”
She shook her head. “Dad passed away eight years ago.”
“No. I wish I did. How about you?”
“None. I often wished I had a brother. So you want to be a teacher. I think you’d make a good one.”
“Really. What makes you think that?”
“Just intuition, I suppose. You have an easy manner that would appeal to kids.”
“Thank you.” If she didn’t get a job soon, she might not have enough money to pay her tuition. Tax, utilities, food and other sundry items ate a large hole in her savings. She stared at the drizzle on the windshield and resolved to dismiss negative thoughts. Her bank account wasn’t entirely depleted and she received a small monthly payment from the young couple that rented the upstairs flat in her house. She had her health, and she must believe she’d get a job doing something even if she had to work for minimum wage.
Brad pulled onto the ramp leading to the expressway. When he had eased the car into traffic, he leaned back in his seat. “I’ll bet you like kids.”
“I do, actually. Especially little kids. My mother was a teacher.” She found herself remembering the role her mother had played in her decision to work with children, the stories, both happy and sad, that her mother would tell about her students. “Some kids with unhappy home lives would tell Mom their troubles. Sometimes, she’d become emotionally drained from her inability to help them.”
“It’s fortunate that these days there are social workers and psychologists to help such kids.” Brad steered the car to the exit leading to Dobbs Ferry.
“You’re right. And that can be reassuring to everyone concerned.”
He pulled smoothly away from a stop sign. “What street do you live on?”
“Gardenia. I’ll show you when we get closer.”
Presently, he turned down a street lined with shops, then parked the car across from a grey frame house. “Be right back.”
She watched him walk through the rain toward the house, his movements graceful and self-assured. He wasn’t classically handsome, yet she had to admit there was something about his features that compelled a second look. His face was lean and sculpted, the cheekbones high, the nose a trifle too aquiline. The square jaw gave an impression of strength and authority.
He climbed the porch steps. Before he had a chance to knock, the door opened and a blonde girl of about five, dressed in a blue hooded raincoat, rushed out to meet him.
Daddy? Katherine stared in surprise as Brad scooped the little girl up into his arms and dotted her face with kisses. Not only had she not known he had a child, but she found it difficult to reconcile the officious corporate attorney with this seemingly tenderhearted father.
A dark-haired woman came out to stand on the porch, and waved goodbye.