THE CEO'S S.O.S.
By Robyn Anders
Copyright 2005 by Rob Preece
All rights reserved. The characters, locations, and events used in this book
are fictitious and used fictitiously. Any resemblance to reality is
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Tyler Atwood stepped from the cold Philadelphia winter into the biggest wreck he'd ever seen.
The guts from a ten-thousand-dollar leather sofa were strewn over the floor of his living room. In the entryway, his great-grandmother's antique Shaker chair was upended--one leg splintered. Yanked from his bedroom like errant soldiers, every pair of shoes he owned was scattered over the floor--every single one damaged. A Picasso, one of the few family heirlooms to survive his father's bankruptcy, was in shreds.
Worse, from an emergency perspective, the liquor cabinet lay shattered on the floor, broken glass shards glistening like diamonds while a dozen flavors of alcohol soaked into a Persian rug that would never again command the forty thousand dollars he'd paid for it only a month earlier. Not a single bottle of the expensive booze looked intact.
The criminal looked at him with soft brown eyes that belied his guilt.
Also looking at Tyler with beseeching eyes was Marcel Dupuis, dog trainer to the stars. "Thees animal is out of control."
"I cannot cope," Marcel whined. "I quit."
"Good. Because you're fired."
Marcel was the fifth dog expert Tyler had been through in three weeks. The guy was supposed to be the best--he even had his own television show. But Harvey had reduced the man to near hysteria in less than a day.
As Marcel slunk out the door, Tyler grabbed his cell and punched the preprogrammed number for the cleaning service, again, gathered up Harvey's leash, and took the criminal out for his evening walk.
Harvey, Tyler's golden retriever mix, was no better behaved outdoors than in. He wallowed in the grimy snowbanks, yanked on his leash, nipped at Tyler, and then began a serenade that might not wake the dead but would certainly wake every inhabitant of Tyler's posh Philadelphia neighborhood.
Before they made it to the neighborhood park, a blue and white pulled alongside.
The cop rolled down his window. "Neighbors are complaining again, Tyler."
In the three weeks since Harvey had moved in with him, Tyler had gotten to know all of the neighborhood patrol officers. This was Clarence. He liked dogs. Sort of.
"If you expect sympathy, don't look to me," Tyler said. "At least the neighbors have a little distance from the source."
Clarence covered his ears as Harvey let out an especially loud bay-at-the-moon howl and then lunged for the cop car's tire. "I'm afraid this time I'm going to have to cite you."
"There's always some way to make the day worse."
Until three weeks earlier, Tyler had his life under control. He'd gone from nothing at twenty-three to one of the elite in Philadelphia's hoity-toity society at thirty-five. His company, one of the largest specialty steel producers in the world, had more contracts than he could shake a stick at. Thanks to shrewd business and a bit of luck, he'd had money, his pick of beautiful, refined women for dates and casual sex, and a nice home.
Now he had the dog from Hell.
"Maybe you should get rid of that animal," the cop suggested.
Not possible. "I told Amanda I'd take care of Harvey and I'm going to do it if it kills me."
"It just might. When was the last time you got a full night's sleep?"
That was a question Tyler didn't want to consider. "Give me the ticket and let me finish this walk."
Harvey lunged to take Clarence's hand off when the cop reached out with the ticket, but Tyler jerked back on the leash before it was too late. Harvey had tried that trick before.
"You thought about taking him to obedience school?" Clarence asked--once he'd rolled up his window almost all the way.
"Been through four trainers so far. No, five. Dupuis only lasted one day."
The cop shook his head then brightened. "My cousin's best friend is a pet psychologist. You know, consults with the animals to see what makes them tick. Maybe you should see her."
And maybe Tyler should have his own head examined. "You got a name?"
"Huh? Oh, yeah. Something Zane." He scratched his head. "Courtney, I think." Bit of an oddball but she does know her animals."
Just what Tyler needed. More oddballs in his life.
* * * *
Courtney Zane leaned back in her office chair and permitted herself the luxury of a cleansing breath. Mrs. Gamble was nice, but she expected way too much from her goldfish. It had taken Courtney an hour to persuade the woman to settle for something less physically taxing on the fish than cuddling.
Goldfish weren't really Courtney's specialty although she kept a large salt-water aquarium in her office lobby. Fish would have to do until she made enough money to buy herself a place with a back yard and space. Since currently she was technically homeless--she was sleeping on the couch in her office--that might be a long time.
In the meantime, Mrs. Gamble and other pet owners like her paid the rent--at least most months. Courtney's biggest fear was that she'd fall behind and have to give up the business that she loved so much.
It had taken Courtney a string of dead-end jobs and years of night school to get where she was. And though her business was modest, she was proud of her progress. She worked as a pet psychologist in a divine office with hardwood floors, exposed brick walls and huge windows with a view of the Philadelphia skyline. So what if her office was in a two-story brick building in a neighborhood that gentrification hadn't yet reached? The rent was affordable. Especially since she didn't have to pay for an apartment too.
She exhaled then reached for the one cup of tea she permitted herself every morning. And almost spilled it everywhere when a horrible howling pierced the supposedly soundproofed office door.
One of these days, she would make enough to afford a receptionist. Until then, she handled that chore herself.
She gave her tea a longing look, then put the mug back on its warmer and opened the connecting door between her office and the lobby.
He was a handsome fellow. Blond, with good posture. Definitely all male. And loud. The dog howled again in a high-pitched whine that could be heard throughout her building and would get her kicked out if she didn't do something about it in a hurry.
"Hi, honey." She knelt by the golden retriever mix and scratched him on the head. He was angry at the world, but she sensed he wasn't going to bite her. "What's the trouble, big guy?"
"I hear you work miracles with animals. Harvey needs a miracle, quick."
She'd almost tuned out the human male to deal with the grieving canine. But now that he'd spoken she could hardly take her eyes off of him.
He looked like he'd just come from a business meeting. His light wool business suit couldn't have cost less than four thousand dollars and the silk tie proclaimed membership in Philadelphia's elite. The overcoat casually draped over one arm was pure cashmere. She had no idea what it might cost, but it was a lot. Only his shoes were a bit off the image. Sure they were hand-made and elegant, but unless she missed her guess, they'd also served as chew toys for the dog.
The man's almost blue-black hair and striking chiseled face looked familiar, but the shadows around his eyes disguised him a bit. It took her a moment to put it together. This was Tyler Atwood, the billionaire bachelor of Philadelphia.
Despite his battered footwear and his tired eyes, Tyler exuded sex appeal. No wonder he was so often the star of the Philadelphia Inquirer society pages. Always with a different babe on his arm.
"I'm Tyler Atwood. I assume you're Courtney Zane?"
"What seems to be the problem, Mr. Atwood?"
It wasn't an especially bright question, especially because Harvey chose that moment to let loose with another of his wailing cries for help.
"The dog, his name is Harvey, is out of control." Tyler almost ground his teeth together. "I haven't slept in weeks. I need help. You were next on the list."
Courtney nodded. Her clientele fell into two categories. First, little old ladies like Mrs. Gamble who had outlived their human friends and now had only animal companions for company. Second, pet owners who had tried everything and everyone else and were about to give up. Tyler didn't look like the type who gave up, but he also didn't look like he had a clue what to do with a dog.
She patted Harvey again, then fed him one of the treats she kept hidden in the apron she always wore in the office.
The treat quieted the dog for a moment and she took the opportunity to untangle his leash from Tyler's arm.
Touching the dog calmed them both; touching the human was a mistake. A zing of sensual attraction went through Courtney like a lightning bolt. She locked her legs in place and tried not to fall. There was a reason she'd gone into pet psychology rather than dealing with people all day and this was a classic example. She was a complete wash in dealing with human relationships.
As if a man like Tyler Atwood would even bother to notice a woman whose long hair was coming down from its pins and probably smelled faintly of dog and goldfish.
"He quieted down." Tyler's voice was a bit hoarse, as if he'd been shouting over the sound of a baying animal for too long.
"Of course he quieted down."
Courtney led the two males into her office and shut the soundproofed door. She didn't think Harvey would start voicing again right away, but she had enough troubles with the neighbors as it was. The dentist, in particular, had complained to their landlord after losing a couple of patients who mistook an animal's howls for the pained cries of dental disasters.
Courtney couldn't afford a large office, but this one had always seemed large enough. Until Tyler's magnetic presence filled it.
He loomed over her, so close that his deep brown eyes exerted a hypnotic attraction. For the first time since she'd moved out from her family home, Courtney felt waves of panic roll over her. She backed up quickly, smacking her thigh against her desk.
Courtney muffled a curse. "Sit down please, Mr. Atwood."
Both males sat, Tyler straddling a chair and Harvey on his rear. He panted and watched Courtney carefully, probably hoping for more treats. She pulled up another chair to the table, putting the dog between the two humans.
"Are there other problems besides howling? Chewing, perhaps?" She tried not to stare at her new client's shoes.
"Chewing is an understatement. It's large-scale wanton destruction--furniture, walls, shoes, you name it. He has good taste, though. The higher the price tag, the more complete the damage."
Courtney made a few notes. "Tell me, has this animal suffered a loss?"
"You aren't going to put him on a couch and ask him the questions?"
Tyler's mocking grin got her back up. "I have another client coming in half an hour, Mr. Atwood. If you want to waste your time belittling my profession, that's your choice. But I don't think that would help Harvey."
She halfway expected Tyler to walk out on her. Instead, he gave her a surprised nod. "Call me Tyler."
"I think we'd better keep this professional." It was hard enough to keep her mind out of the gutter as it was. "Now, I'm trying to run an assessment of Harvey. I assume he hasn't always acted like this?"
"No. He was my sister's dog and he was perfect. She loved him like the child she never had."
Courtney wracked her brain. Had she heard something about Tyler's sister? Unfortunately, she spent more time on the science sections of the Philadelphia Inquirer than she did on the society pages. "Is your sister traveling?"
"She died not quite a month ago. Cancer. Harvey was her comfort as she was failing. The doctors say he probably gave her an extra six months of life. I promised her that I'd adopt Harvey when she . . . after she . . . I owe both of them that."
Tyler was good at hiding emotion but he couldn't disguise all of that pain.
"I'm sorry for your loss." It sounded lame but Courtney meant it. She couldn't imagine how she would deal with a death in her family. Fortunately, her parents remained healthy and even her brother had found a seven-step program that looked like it would stick--this time.
"Yeah. Me too."
"I'll have to examine Harvey to rule out a physical cause of his problems, but I think it likely that his behavior problems stem from missing your sister. Dogs are profoundly pack animals. They identify more closely with their companions even than people do."
Tyler did not appear impressed with her conclusion. "Harvey has been to three vets. Physically he's perfect. Of course he's upset because of Amanda's death. Unfortunately, I can't bring her back. I already know the problem. I want help with the solution."
No amount of physical attraction was going to compensate for Tyler's of attitude, and Courtney found herself perversely grateful. She didn't want to fall for Tyler. It had taken her three disastrous relationships before she'd finally realized that she wasn't good girlfriend material. She always seemed to end up waiting on her boyfriends just as she'd been the little gofer for her father and brother--until she'd finally rebelled and moved out on her own.
She pulled out her palmtop organizer. "All right, Mr. Atwood. Here's what I can do. I'll need to see Harvey in his normal environment to assess the environmental situation and see if there are particular problems that can be removed.
"I guess that makes sense. Can we hurry, though?"
"Suppose I come by your place in, say, two hours. Based on my assessment, I should be able to give you some specific behavioral recommendations that will help Harvey deal with his pain."
Tyler had his own PDA out--a much sleeker, sexier, newer and more expensive model than her own. "No can do. I have an appointment with the Japanese Minister of Industrial Production." He looked up from his PDA, his brown eyes gazing persuasively into hers. "I could give you a key. You could do the assessment and then write up a report."
Courtney had to fight down the urge to succumb to Tyler's magnetism and sex appeal. He probably was used to women dropping everything and scurrying around to suit his convenience.
"Harvey's problem is abandonment, Mr. Atwood. It seems to me that you're busy abandoning him too--and I can't help thinking he'll see that. Have you thought that you might be part of the problem here?"
Normally she didn't like to rub her clients' noses into the reality of the situation, which was that animal behavioral problems were generally caused by their humans. But Tyler Atwood managed to get on every nerve in her body. She didn't figure she owed him any more courtesy than he gave her.
Tyler's jaw tightened for an instant and Courtney realized she had gone too far. He was a client, after all, a customer who could afford to pay his bills. Why should she care if he had his way with every woman on the East Coast? She wouldn't have treated Mrs. Gamble like this.
Then he shook his head. "All right. My place in two hours. I'll send one of my V.P.s to deal with the Minister."
"I'll need directions."
He clicked something on his PDA. "I've infraredded them to you."
"Huh?" She used technology but that didn't make her a computer geek.
"Look." He reached across the table and cupped both of her hands in his strong fingers and used his stylus to click open an application on her Palm. "You can send messages to anyone else this way. Didn't you know that? I sent you a map to my place."
This close to him, she couldn't help breathing in his scent. It was some sort of subtle cologne, simultaneously wintry cold and incredibly hot. The touch of his hand, lightly callused despite his money, felt sent shivers of desire down her spine.
This wasn't good.
* * * *
Tyler planned on spending his two free hours briefing Jack Benson, his vice president of operations and his best friend, for the meeting with the minister. That would be the perfect way to get Courtney Zane out from under his skin. Because something about her curves, her soft throaty voice, her dark hair, and the way she refused to back down, got to him, big-time.
He pulled into his company parking lot trying to figure out why he'd even hired the annoying female. Admittedly Courtney had gotten Harvey to calm down for the first time since the dog had arrived from Richmond where his sister had lived and died. But she'd also treated Tyler like he was dirt. He'd had plenty of that experience after his father's death when the creditors suddenly discovered that the Atwood family fortune was a pile of debt. He didn't need it again.
He wasn't thinking clearly when he parked his Mercedes in his reserved slot, opened the door, and reached for his dog.
Wrong order. Harvey gave a victorious howl, leapt across Tyler out the open car door, and high-tailed it directly into the factory.
Specialty steel plants were dangerous places. Molten metals simmer in vast caldrons, huge rollers flatten steel--or anything else that gets between them--into appropriate thickness and embed expensive ceramics into the lattice of iron. Conveyer belts, and fast-zooming forklifts all add to complete havoc for an inexperienced worker--or an uninvited dog.
Tyler was anything but inexperienced--he'd worked in the plant when he'd had to drop out of college. He grabbed a hardhat and took off after his free-ranging animal.
Harvey hadn't been loose in the factory before, but he proved a natural at the game of escape, narrowly avoiding destruction half a dozen times as he led Tyler through some of the most dangerous areas of the plant.
Jack Benson joined him a half-hour into the chase--to the intense amusement of the workers. Although many of them had worked with Tyler during his days on the rolling mill and the furnaces themselves, the union workers still enjoyed seeing a harmless-looking mutt make utter fools of the 'suits.' They thought it was real funny when Tyler lunged for Harvey, missed, and rolled through a puddle of grease, ruining one of the few suits Harvey hadn't gotten to. Because the steelworkers wore earplugs under their hardhats, they didn't even mind Harvey's continual howls.
As he and Jack chased the dog down a hallway, Tyler managed to give his friend a condensed version of the briefing. They finally caught up with Harvey in a break room, where the dog paused to bury his nose in someone's lunchbox.
"Hey, my wife made those sandwiches."
Jim 'Puffy' Ferguson was a classic cut-up. The one thing he didn't joke about was his food. He claimed that his extra hundred-and-fifty pounds gave him insulation from the furnaces where he worked. He hadn't missed a meal in all the years Tyler had known him.
Tyler snapped on Harvey's leash, then tossed Puffy a fifty. "Have lunch on me, Puffy. And thanks for your help catching the dog."
"Can't get much of a lunch at Le Bec Fin for fifty." Puffy named one of the most exclusive restaurants in town.
"Don't push your luck."
Tyler gave Harvey some water, walked him near the bushes outside the factory to let him do his business and then tugged him back to the car. So much for his meeting plans. But he didn't dare cancel his meeting with Courtney Zane. She was Harvey's last hope.
"We're going to see Courtney again, Harvey," Jack said as the dog gnawed on his leather upholstery. He talked not because he thought the dog understood, but because the sound of his voice did seem to calm Harvey down. Harvey stopped chewing and his ears pricked up. "The pretty lady's going to let you lie down on her couch, let you tell her all about your rough childhood and your feelings about your mother, and then put you on some sort of doggy-Prozac. You'll be a zoned out but happy camper in no time."
Pretty lady? Where had that come from? Between his sleep deprivation and Harvey's howls, he was losing it. Sure the pet psychologist had a smile that grabbed him in the gut, but he normally went for tall leggy blondes rather than short curvy brunettes. Besides, she could be as ugly as Puffy if she could get the job done.
During Philadelphia's rush hour, it took close to an hour to cover the short distance between his office and home. At eleven in the morning, it barely took five minutes. Which was lucky. His Mercedes was well soundproofed, which meant that the noise stayed inside, where he was. And Harvey made plenty of noise.
He pulled into his circular driveway, parked behind a battered Toyota 4Runner, snapped Harvey's leash on before opening his car door, and headed up the walkway to his home.
Courtney was sitting on his front step, reading some sort of animal magazine, and tapping her foot impatiently. Her breath steamed against the cold. He was late.
"We had a delay at the plant," he explained.
"Oh, that's okay." The firm set of her mouth said otherwise. She stood, her eyes firmly aimed at Harvey.
Tyler couldn't understand why the aim of her gaze should bother him. He was paying her to help with his dog, after all. So why shouldn't she pay attention to the animal rather than the man?
She brushed her hands over Harvey's golden coat and stopped abruptly when the dog winced. "What have you done to him?"
"He's burned. He wasn't injured when he was in my office two hours ago."
Damn. Tyler hadn't noticed. He'd assumed that Harvey's noise was his standard complaining, not something specific. "He got loose in the plant. There are lots of ways to get injured there. I didn't realize he'd gotten hurt."
She nodded, but Tyler didn't miss the way Courtney rolled her eyes. She thought he'd been careless: simply let his dog get hurt. Well, in a way she was right. He shouldn't have let Harvey escape. This whole dog thing was new to him. Growing up, his parents had vetoed all pets. Children could be packed off to boarding school, so they rarely interfered with anything important. But dogs were too much trouble.
"We might as well get on with it, Mr. Atwood."
He opened the door to his home and ushered him inside. "Mr. Atwood was my father." Even at the mill, he'd done away with the formalities. Everyone was on a first-name basis.
She sighed, then nodded. "All right, Tyler. I'm Courtney."
Which he already knew.
What he hadn't known was how a pair of jeans would transform her. In her office, she'd been wearing a sort of shapeless dress covered by a funky apron. Now, as she stripped off her heavy coat, he saw that Courtney had changed to a far more practical pair of jeans and a form-fitting t-shirt that hinted at some damned nice curves.
He reminded himself to stay focused on the problem--the dog--but it wasn't easy. Harvey had put a crimp in his dating life and he was feeling female-deprived. That had to explain why his body was responding so intensely to Courtney. She was simply the closest available attractive woman. Once Harvey got back under control, Tyler could rejoin his Philadelphia's social whirl and he'd get back to normal.
"Well, we're here. Why don't you go ahead and run your assessment," he offered. "Let me know when you need me."
"I don't need you, Mr. Atwood."
"Tyler," he reminded her. "And you damned well better need me. That meeting with the Minister was important."
"Tyler," she corrected herself. "As I said, I don't need you. Harvey needs you. I'm not assessing Harvey alone, I'm watching the two of you together."
Harvey interrupted by giving his own opinion of the whole shooting match--a singularly high-pitched howl that rattled his windows in their frames.
"Right. Assessment of both of us."
Fortunately, the cleaning crew had made their daily stop. The shattered bottles and crystal glassware had been boxed up and removed, his shoes had been triaged, and the mortally wounded couch had been covered by some sort of blanket and shoved into a corner.
Courtney's eyes widened as she looked around his expansive entryway. "By the way, nice place."
He thought she was being sarcastic for a moment. The cleaning crew hadn't been able to save the Persian rug and the bare space where his sofa and his grandmother's antique chair had been looked like a gaping wound, but Courtney was serious.
She nodded but she had already moved on. She had a tape measure and was quickly casing the place, measuring accessways.
He had to admire her energy--and the calm way she quieted Harvey with a kind word, a quick scratch to his ears, and another of the tiny treats she seemed to produce from nowhere.
"Does Harvey have a dog door?" she demanded.
"Uh, no. My back yard isn't exactly dog proof, either. But I've hired people to stay with him. They take him out whenever he wants."
Her pause would have been imperceptible if he hadn't been watching closely. "You hired servants for your dog?"
He backpedaled. "Not servants. Dog trainers. They watch him during the day while I'm at work. They're supposed to keep him from destroying too much and maybe teach him to keep his howling under control. I've averaged two citations a day for creating a public nuisance ever since Harvey moved in."
If he expected sympathy, he didn't get it. "What about you?"
"How much time does he spend with the servants and how much with you?"
Tyler was used to tough, in-your-face negotiations but he hadn't expected confrontation from a pretty pet psychologist. "I have long days at the mill. I get home when I can. When I'm not traveling, we go for a run in the morning."
"About how long do you spend with him in the evenings?" She wasn't ready to drop this.
He shrugged. "No special amount of time. I bring work home, but I let Harvey stay with me--until his howling drives me nuts, anyway.
"Then I have a petsitter come in. Except I'm all out of those too."
"One hour? Two hours?" She wasn't going to give up. "Guess how much time."
He considered. "Realistically? Half an hour, tops. I've got a lot going on."
Courtney shook her head. "Okay, basically no time other than a morning run. You say you've taken him to the vet?"
"Yeah. Uh, had him taken."
"I need to see the reports?"
He dug the paperwork out of a file in his den and handed it over feeling like a chastised child.
Courtney flipped through the charts, obviously comfortable with what she was seeing.
Tyler glanced down at his dog. The traitor was blissfully quiet, panting slightly with the tip of his tongue protruding from his mouth. Harvey's rapturous gaze at Courtney spoke to the animal's belief that she was the queen of the universe. So much for a dog being a man's best friend.
"Sit down, please, Mr. uh, Tyler."
When his father had died in an auto accident, the police had made the family sit down first. Since then, those words had always made Tyler nervous.
"The vets said he was physically healthy," he said. "Except for a sore throat, which every single one of them said was caused by excessive baying."
Courtney led him to the remains of his sofa and sat him down. Despite his concerns for Amanda's dog, he couldn't help noticing that Courtney's hands felt good against his arms. The pet psychologist was a small person, probably a foot shorter than his own six foot two. But her hands were strong and confident.
He tried to avoid the worst of the holes in his sofa as he sat down, but that was an impossible task. A spring jabbed through the seat of his pants--and ripped.
Great. Now he'd have to stay sitting down or Courtney would think he was flashing her.
"Give me the bad news. I can take it. What is poor Harvey's problem?"
Courtney shook her head. "You've got it completely wrong, Tyler. Harvey isn't the problem."
"You've got to be kidding. You should see the bills. Harvey's been howling, destroying everything--"
"Harvey isn't the problem," she repeated. "You are."
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