Authors: Sloane Meyers
Tags: #Contemporary, #Romance, #Fiction, #Paranormal, #Bear, #Werebear, #Adult, #Erotic, #Shifter, #Mate, #Firefighter, #Wildfire, #Sexy, #Boyfriend, #Secret, #Risk, #Smokejumper, #Beast, #Nurse, #Dreams, #Biggest Desire, #Tough Times, #Crashes, #Run Away, #New Life, #Rethink, #Future, #Intersects Past, #Past Demons, #Heartache, #Lonely, #Scared
Mindy didn’t often dwell on negative feelings, but she felt hatred for Mr. Stewart bubbling up in her chest. He didn’t deserve to be in charge of these sweet children if he was going to deny them a forever home based on his own stupid prejudices. But she would prove to him that his prejudices were misplaced. She didn’t know how, but she would find a way to get together the money Mr. Stewart required.
These kids deserved someone going to bat for them, and fighting for them. Mindy was ready to fight.
When Mindy finally arrived home that night, her body had reached a state of complete exhaustion. All she wanted to do was collapse into bed, even though it wasn’t even ten o’clock yet. But her mind wouldn’t stop racing. She kept running over figures in her head, trying to figure out where she could scrimp or save even more to build up her nest egg even quicker. She tried to guess what her future raises or bonuses might be, but even when she estimated on the high side, she was coming up short. As she went over numbers in her head, one thing became clear—if she wanted to grow her savings account to fifty thousand dollars within the next decade, she was going to need to bring in some extra income on the side.
Mindy sat on her couch in her dark townhome, and started running a string of Google searches on her smartphone: “make extra money,” “ways to bring in extra income,” “grow savings faster.” Her mind started spinning with all of the options the internet was throwing at her.
She closed her eyes, and tried to just focus on breathing for a moment. There had to be a way to make this work, and she wouldn’t give up until she found it. She would sort through her options, until she found the one that worked.
A few moments later, her phone beeped loudly, telling her that she had a text message. Her eyes flew open, and she looked down at the caller ID. To her surprise, she saw the name Bailey Webb displayed on the screen. Bailey had been a patient of hers at the hospital after a recent hotel fire in Red Valley. Bailey had been in Red Valley for a work trip, and didn’t know anyone. Since all of Bailey’s things had burned up in the fire, Mindy had loaned her a hundred dollars to help her out. Bailey hadn’t even had an ID to get back home to Washington D.C., where she was from. Bailey had seemed grateful, but Mindy hadn’t heard from Bailey since the day she left the hospital. Mindy had begun to think that she might never see the loaned money again, but she had decided to just consider it a good deed. Bailey had been through a lot, and paying Mindy back was probably not the top thing on her mind. Mindy let it go, and hoped that the good karma she had sown would eventually come back to her.
But now, Bailey had texted Mindy to tell her that she was still in Red Valley, and was planning to stay in the area indefinitely. She wanted to know if Mindy was free to meet for coffee the next morning so that she could pay back the money she had borrowed. The next day happened to be Mindy’s day off from the hospital, so she texted Bailey back to accept her invitation. In some small way, she took it as a sign from the universe that everything was going to be okay. Here was a hundred dollars that she had considered lost. It was the first hundred of the extra forty thousand that she needed. It wasn’t much, but it was a start—and it was just the hint of encouragement that Mindy needed.
The next day, Mindy met Bailey bright and early at The Sweet Crust.
“Hey, Mindy,” Bailey said, stretching her arms out to give her a hug. “It’s so good to see you. Thanks for coming out to meet me.”
“Are you kidding?” Mindy answered. “I wouldn’t miss a chance for coffee and pie at The Sweet Crust. I love this place.”
“Me too,” Bailey said with a mischievous smile. “Especially now that I’m dating one of the owner’s friends.”
“Wait what? You’re dating someone?” Mindy asked with a grin. “That didn’t take long. Although, I can’t say I’m surprised with someone as beautiful as you. Now I see why you’re staying in Red Valley! Who’s the lucky guy?”
“Actually, you’ve met him. He’s the firefighter who saved me from the burning hotel, and then brought me pie when I was in the hospital. His name is Trevor.”
“No way! That guy?” Mindy asked. Mindy had actually discovered The Sweet Crust pie shop because of the pie Trevor had delivered to the hospital while Bailey was staying there.
Bailey blushed, and looked down at her coffee. “Yeah, that guy. It’s a little crazy, but actually, a lot has changed for me in the week or two since I met you. I quit my job, even before I knew I was going to be dating Trevor. Nearly dying in a fire made me realize that I was wasting my life on something that I didn’t even care about. Then Trevor and I started dating, and we really hit it off. I decided to stay here, and open a jewelry business. I saw a bunch of vendors at a farmers’ market in San Francisco selling handmade jewelry. Selling jewelry is something I’ve always wanted to try, but never had the courage to do. But I took a leap of faith, and I’ve already got a booth reserved at the farmers market next week. I’ve been busy all week making jewelry to sell at the booth. I also set up an online shop, and orders have been flooding in through there. I’m amazed at how quickly it’s taken off, but it just confirms for me that I made the right decision in following my heart and staying here. My biggest problem right now is figuring out how to keep up with all of the orders. I think I need to hire an assistant.”
“I’m so happy for you, Bailey,” Mindy said. “It sounds like you’ve used a bad situation as a chance to really turn your life around.”
Bailey nodded. “Yeah, it was a little rough getting everything sorted out, but it was worth it. I decided to sell most of my stuff back in D.C., and only have the most important things shipped to me. I don’t have a ton of storage space where I’m living right now, so it was a good chance to get my life in order. And, in the middle of all this chaos, one of the things that slipped to the back burner was paying you back. I’m really sorry about that,” Bailey said, as she reached for her purse that was hanging on the back of her chair. She pulled out her wallet and fished out a crisp hundred dollar bill, then slid the money across the table to Mindy.
“Thank you so much for loaning me the money, even though I was pretty much a complete stranger,” Bailey said. “It made a huge difference for me in those first few days.”
“It was nothing,” Mindy said. “It’s not even that much money, and you seemed like a genuinely nice person who really needed help. I’m sure you would’ve done the same for me if the roles had been reversed.”
“I’d like to think so,” Bailey said. “Although, you never know how you’ll react in the situation until you’re in it. The way you reacted shows how much character you have.”
“Well, I’m so glad I had the chance to meet you, and I’m so glad to hear that you’ll be staying around here,” Mindy said. “I don’t have that many girlfriends, since working at the hospital makes it hard to have time to get out and meet people. I would be more than happy to make grabbing coffee and pie at The Sweet Crust a regular thing.”
Bailey laughed. “You won’t get any resistance from me if you want to set up a regular coffee and pie date.”
“That’s the spirit,” Mindy said. “Now, tell me about your new boy toy. I can’t believe you’re dating a firefighter. And, if I remember correctly, that guy who dropped off the pie for you was one of the hottest firefighters I’ve ever seen.” As soon as Mindy said the words, she involuntarily thought that she’d seen some sexy firemen in her day, but none of them could compare to the way Zach looked. Mindy felt a little horrified that she had even let that thought cross her mind. All she really knew about Zach was that he was a smokejumper and a really obnoxious drunk. She definitely shouldn’t be daydreaming about him. Mindy furrowed her brow and frowned, but Bailey didn’t seem to notice as she kept talking about her new romance with Trevor.
“Yeah, you know what the funny thing is, though? He’s not a normal firefighter like the ones that work at the station. He was volunteering at the station when the hotel fire broke out, but he’s actually a smokejumper. Basically, he fights wildfires by parachuting out of the plane to the front lines of the fire. It sounds crazy, and scary, but he seems to love it. He even convinced me to go skydiving with him, which I have to admit was the experience of a lifetime. I was terrified, but I’m glad I did it and got a small taste of what he does. His job is pretty badass, but I know I’m going to worry about him this summer when the wildfire season starts and he’s jumping out of planes all the time.”
Mindy sat staring at Bailey with her mouth slightly open. “Trevor is a smokejumper?” she said. “That’s really random, because I met a smokejumper two nights ago. I wonder if they know each other.”
Bailey narrowed her eyes suspiciously. “You’re kidding me,” she said. “The smokejumper wasn’t named Zach by chance, was he?”
“He was,” Mindy said. “I’m guessing that means that you do know him.”
“Yeah, I do know him, unfortunately,” Bailey said. “He’s on Trevor’s crew of smokejumpers. There are six of them—five guys and one girl. Zach is the only one who I don’t like. He’s a total jerk. He’s got some issues over some bad breakup or something that happened years ago. I don’t really know the full story, but it seems like this girl hurt him pretty badly. I guess he can’t let it go, and he doesn’t want to see anyone else happy. He’s really mad at Trevor for dating me. The other night, when you met him, he had just stormed off from a barbecue the smokejumping crew was having. He was so mad that I was at the barbecue that he literally left in the middle to go to a bar by himself.”
“Wow,” Mindy said. “He sounds like a total charmer. When I met him, I thought he seemed a little unstable, but I had no idea he was at the bar because he was angry about a friend dating someone. That’s ridiculous. He was so upset that he drank more shots of whiskey than I can count, and I ended up driving his drunk ass home. Not only that, but I had a tire blowout on the way to the hangar where he lives, and I had to change it by myself in the rain. He was too drunk to do anything but wander around the car and tell me how beautiful I was. Then, to top it all off, the next day he showed up at the hospital looking for me. He was so blackout drunk the night before that he couldn’t even remember which bar he had left his truck at. I guess the only thing he could remember was meeting me, and that I worked at the hospital. He tracked me down so I could help him find his truck. He struck me as a first-rate douche bag, but you just confirmed it for me. I mean, if he’s been hurt by a woman, then I guess I understand being a little gun shy about dating someone new himself. But he shouldn’t begrudge his friends their happiness.”
“Exactly!” Bailey said, slamming her palm on the table. “What kind of asshole can’t be happy for his friends when they find happiness? Especially when the whole awful breakup or whatever it was happened so long ago.”
“I’m surprised he still has friends, if that’s the way he’s acting,” Mindy said.
Bailey gave Mindy a strange look. “Yeah,” Bailey said slowly. “Zach and Trevor and the rest of the crew just go way back. And they have a lot in common.”
“Well, still, it seems like an awful way to treat your friends—and a good way to lose them,” Mindy said.
“Yeah,” Bailey said with a shrug. “He’s definitely not the favorite person of anyone on the crew. But they tolerate him. I’m actually worried that if I do hire an assistant to help me with my jewelry business, that Zach is going to flip out about that. I’m running the business operations from a small corner of the hangar where the crew lives. So, if I hire someone, they’ll probably have to do a lot of work out there. Zach hates strangers. He can’t stand having anyone around that’s new. I’m going to have to warn my poor assistant that Zach isn’t exactly the most welcoming person on the planet.”
“Wait a minute,” Mindy said. “How serious are you about hiring an assistant?”
“Pretty serious,” Bailey said. “Actually, I probably should have already hired someone given the amount of orders that I’ve had come in. But I’ve been so busy working that I haven’t had time to look for someone to help me work. Ironic isn’t it?”
“Would the hours be flexible?” Mindy asked.
“Sure,” Bailey said. “I mean, jewelry can be made pretty much any time of the day or night. I don’t really care when my assistant does it, as long as they do a good job and get it done.”
“Hmm,” Mindy said, and got a thoughtful look in her eyes.
Bailey narrowed her eyes. “Wait a minute,” Bailey said. “Are you asking because you want the job? I thought you were really busy at the hospital the majority of the time.”
“Well, I am pretty busy there. But I’ve had a situation come up where I need to make some extra money on the side. The only problem is that my schedule at the nursing job makes it difficult to take a second job. But if I had a flexible schedule, with work that could be done at any time, that would be perfect. How much help do you think you need?”
“I’m not sure,” Bailey said. “It’s hard to say at this early stage. My best guess would be ten to twenty hours a week. If you want to take the job and see how it works out for you, then you’re definitely hired. I can always hire a second assistant if the hours are too much for you by yourself. And you’ve helped me out so much and been such a great friend to me, that I would love the chance to do whatever I can to help you.”
“Oh my word,” Mindy said. “That would be amazing. I promise I’ll work hard to learn how to make the jewelry well. I really need to boost my income, but I’ve had no idea how to go about doing that. I need about forty thousand more dollars in my savings than I have right now.”
Bailey almost spit out her coffee. “Forty thousand dollars? First of all, I will give you as much work as I possibly have to give you, but I can tell you it’s not going to be forty thousand dollars’ worth. But second of all, how in the world did you find yourself in a situation where you need forty thousand dollars?”
Mindy sighed as she looked across the table at Bailey. She hadn’t told any of her other friends about her struggle to convince Mr. Stewart to let her adopt from the orphanage. She didn’t think they would understand. They would probably tell her that Mr. Stewart was doing her a favor, and that she needed to focus on having fun and enjoying herself during the last years of her twenties. Mindy didn’t want to have to defend such a personal choice, so she just kept her mouth shut about it. But Bailey seemed somehow different from her other friends—more calm and levelheaded. And since Bailey had just been through a pretty big life-altering experience herself, maybe she understood what it felt like to want to take action on your dreams right away.