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Authors: Lisa Ballenger

Do Not Disturb

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Do Not Disturb

By Lisa Ballenger

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

To D…..Love Always

CHAPTER ONE

 

“Not now,” Allison moaned, sliding her hand under
her suit jacket, pressing her palm to her rumbling stomach.

She surveyed the parents shoulder to shoulder in
the elementary school cafeteria. Not a starving face among them. Fast food next
time she was running late. At least indigestion wasn’t noisy.

Tuning out the principal’s voice, she concentrated
on the financial statements on her lap. She had to finish these calculations
before she got home. Her daughter needed help with a science project and
Allison didn’t need another night of working alone at midnight.

She clutched her pencil and clenched her teeth,
launching that pain through her jaw.  Relax, her dentist had suggested when
he’d taken a peek at her ground down molars. She released her locked muscles by
wiggling her lower jaw.

Soon everything would be better. Graduate school
completed, the Chief Financial Officer slot hers and closer to providing the
kind of life her daughter deserved – a mother with free time and financial
security. Flexing her knotted shoulders, she tackled the column of numbers.

"To conclude the meeting I'd like to
recognize the co-chairs of this year’s Halloween Carnival, Allison Hill and
Brett Tyler."

The Halloween Carnival? Allison's head popped up
as she slapped her notebook shut, hiding her papers. She didn’t volunteer to
help with that again.

"I think most of you know Allison.” Sara, the
president of the Parent Teacher’s Organization pointed Allison’s way. “But
stand up anyway will you?"

Bodies twisted and heads turned, eyes zeroing in on
Allison hiding in the back row.

Slipping her notebook and calculator onto her
chair with one hand and smoothing her skirt with the other, she rose and nodded
to the smiling audience. Of course they were smiling, they weren’t nuts enough
to be in charge of the Carnival.

"And Brett’s over here." Sara turned to
her left. "He's new to Tampa but anxious to be involved. Brett, I believe
your daughter's in the sixth grade?"

When a man several rows from the front stood and
waved, the group rapidly abandoned Allison, clearly more fascinated with the
newcomer.

"Yes, and Caroline loves her new
school." His deep voice bounced off the plastered walls as he turned to
Allison. "I’m looking forward to working on the Carnival. Don’t have a lot
of experience in it, but I'm sure we can make it work." Brett stopped to
grin. "Can't we, Allison?"

“Of course,” Allison said, trying not to stare at
him... but gracious he was tall. At least six-four, maybe even six-five. He
overpowered the folding metal chair as he grabbed the seat with his hand and
pulled it under him to sit down.

Sinking slowly back to her chair, her eyes glued
on Brett, the hem of her skirt snagged her notebook. “Damn,” she muttered,
capturing the pad just before it tumbled to the floor. Sitting quickly, she clutched
the edge of the notebook, grimacing as the chair legs scraped the linoleum.

"Sara said he's not married,” the woman in
front of Allison whispered to her neighbor, “but I bet that won't last long
around here.” The pair craned their necks to gawk between the parents in front
of them.

Allison shifted her head, just enough to see Brett
lean forward and rest his elbows casually on his knees. His red knit shirt
stretched across his broad back and the short sleeves grew tight at the band as
his biceps flexed with his arm movements. There was a shadow of a beard and his
thick brown hair was cut short, but not close enough to stop the ends from
curling.

Allison ran a hand down the back of her own hair,
nudging at the wild strands that had escaped their tethering at her nape. That
was an idea worth considering - controlling crazy curls by shaving them off.

When Brett lifted his head and glanced her way,
she jerked back, moving out of his line of sight.

She stuffed her work in her briefcase and buttoned
her suit jacket over what had started the day as a smooth, tailored cotton
blouse but had since disintegrated into rows of disgusting creases. It was
going directly into the donate pile when she got home and next time she went
shopping, if she couldn’t wad it up in a ball and have it come out wrinkle
free, she wasn’t buying it.

Slinging her purse over her shoulder, she weaved
her way to the front of the room. It should only take a second to speak with
Brett and schedule a meeting then she could go home. Home, where she couldn’t
get caught staring at strange men.

Several women swarmed around Brett forcing Allison
to stop a few feet behind him. The comments she’d heard earlier appeared to be
on target. He wouldn’t last the school year a single man.

"Pardon me. Brett, if you have a
minute..."

"Ladies, please excuse me." Brett turned
around slowly, smiling again, flashing those perfect teeth.

Had to be braces. No one was born with teeth that
straight. Allison ran the tip of her tongue along the back of her teeth, recalling
the endless years of a metal filled mouth, pushing her lips out so far it was
almost impossible to close them. Just what she didn’t need back then, another
excuse for the boys to avoid her.

"Nice to meet you." As her hand became
engulfed in his warm, calloused fingers, he glanced toward her feet.
"Finish your work?"

"What?” She dropped her eyes to the bulging
briefcase she’d set on the floor and propped against her leg. It now inched
slowly down her calf, drawing a red line on her pale skin.

She looked up quickly, trying to distract him as
the handle snagged her shoe. "You know how busy days can get."

Wow, she thought, forgetting about the mess at her
feet, she actually had to look up to see his face. Yes, he was definitely
six-five. She was an expert at measuring heights. After years of towering over
classmates, some of the guys had passed her five feet eleven inches late in
high school, but even then they weren’t wild about dating such a tall girl.
Sure, tall was fine for supermodels, but when it came to prom dates...

"Well, I don't want to hold you up then,”
Brett said, breaking into her thoughts. “What do we need to do?"

He had the most unusual shade of gray eyes. Pale
one minute, then dark.

“Allison?”

“Yes?” She blinked. Was she actually getting
poetic about a man’s eyes? Whipping her phone from her purse, she changed her
calendar to the weekly view. "I thought we’d arrange a time to meet this
week." She waited, but he didn’t budge. "To plan the
carnival..." she continued.

Brett smiled. "I don’t need a calendar, I
know what I have planned." He peered over her palm. “It looks like you
have a full schedule. You sure you have time for this?"

"Of course I do.” She ran a slim finger over
the appointments, stopping on Tuesday. "See. Right here. No that won’t
work.” She scrolled to another day, “Yes, we could...” then sighed. “Just
great.”

“What?”

"I only have a little time during lunch on
Thursday –“

"That's fine. I’ll come by your office."

"Well, Okay.” She rapidly typed the
appointment into her calendar. “I’m sure it’s inconvenient for you, but I
really appreciate it.”

“It’s no problem.”

“That’s very nice of you...” she dug into her
purse, “here’s the address," and tugged out one business card slinging
five more against his chest. "Oh my gosh. I'm sorry.”

She began to kneel when he touched her shoulder.

"Please, let me." He gathered the
scattered cards and stacked them on her phone. "Here."

She laughed.  “We’d better not let me handle the
food at the carnival or we won’t have anything left to sell.”

 “Sounds like a smart move,” he smiled, tucking
her card in the back pocket of his slacks.

“Hello Allison. Brett,” a female voice said to her
left. “Hope we’re not interrupting, but we didn’t want Allison to get away
before we thanked her for some mortgage information she gave us,” Jody said,
looking at Brett. “She’s a lifesaver.”

“You’re welcome.” Allison touched her friends
arm.  “The rates have actually come down some more and I’ve given John your
name, so he’s expecting you to call. You let me know if you need anything
else.”

“Buying a house, Bill?” Brett asked.

“Just refinancing and putting in a pool for the
kids.”

“Sounds like fun.”

Bill rolled his eyes. “Oh yeah, now we have a
magnet for all the teens in the neighborhood.”

“But at least they’ll be home,” Jody added,
looping her arm around her husband’s waist.

“Even more fun.” Bill groaned at his wife then
narrowed his gaze at Allison. “Well, Allison, are you going to tell us what
it’ll be this year? I already have a bet with Tom and Jack that you’ll resurrect
the elf.”

“You know the elf’s dead, Bill,” Jody said. “I say
it will be something new and horribly scary.”

Allison shook her head. “You’ll have to wait and
see.”

“You an elf?” Brett ran an exaggerated look up and
down Allison’s long body.

“Yes, an elf.” She raised her chin. “And don’t
forget, Jody, just because he’s dead, doesn’t mean he won’t show up again.”

“Allison is the master of Halloween costumes.”
Jody jumped in to explain. “You won’t believe it when you see her. At the first
Halloween carnival no one even recognized her and we spent all evening trying
to guess who she was.”

“I can’t wait,” Brett laughed, “but I vote for the
regular elf, not the dead one.”

She reached for her briefcase. “Well you’ll just
have to wait, too.” She rumbled through her purse and pulled out her keys.
“Sorry to break up this utterly charming conversation about me, but I need to
get home. I don’t want Kelly’s sitter to quit on me because I'm late again.”
Nodding to Brett she twirled away. “See you Thursday at noon. Call if you get
lost.”

Allison pushed through the crowd, the heels of her
shoes echoing over the hum of adult voices, but not drowning out the rushing of
blood in her ears. Her blood pressure must be sky high. She was going to have a
stroke and teeth ground to a nub if she didn’t calm down.

Throwing her briefcase and wilted suit jacket on
the front seat of her six year-old Honda, she slid in and cranked the engine.
Turning the air-conditioner on high, she directed the vents to her face.

She was hot.

And it wasn’t the heat of the Florida September.

“This is not good,” she said to the sexy image of
Brett replaying in her mind.

CHAPTER TWO

 

Allison stood at her bathroom mirror poking at the
dark circles under her eyes. The claims that cover up makeup worked miracles
were lies. The brush in her other hand lay motionless in the air as she backed
away from the mirror, but her mind raced.

It was Thursday and she was nervous.

Moving the brush to the top of her head, she
tugged it through her thick mane, hoping the movement would control her
trembling fingers.

She’d only talked to Brett for those few minutes
at the school meeting, but her mind wouldn't let go of him. His face crept
through her thoughts at the oddest times.

Day and night.

She’d convinced herself that once she saw him
again, this peculiar preoccupation would disappear.

Maybe it had been too long since she’d had a date
if she could become this obsessed over a man just because he was tall, had
killer gray eyes and a dazzling smile.

“For heaven’s sake,” she moaned out loud. She
sounded like a teenager. She paused as her brush got stuck on her hair. “I am a
grown woman...” She gave the brush a jerk. It rolled into her hair, wrapping
the curls around the bristles.

“No,” she cried, delicately pulling the strands
loose in tiny clumps. "Blast these curls.” Grabbing a paisley silk scarf,
she tied the mass at the nape of her neck. “Maybe I should just cut them all
off."

“Don’t do that, I love your hair.”

Allison turned to her ten-year old daughter standing
in the doorway of the bathroom. "Thanks sweetie." She rubbed Kelly's
long straight locks. A reasonable light brown, thank goodness. “I guess it
could be worse.”

Yes, it could’ve stayed that ghastly red she’d
wanted to rip out when she was a child. She’d even had her cousin hack it all
off when they were five, after a friend convinced her it would grow back
straight and blonde. At least her mother was right, it finally did darken into
a more tolerable auburn. Twenty years later.

“It could be blue like Sandy’s grandmother,” Kelly
said. “Although it looks kind of interesting on her.”

Allison laughed. “I’m not sure I’m the blue hair
type.”

Suddenly she realized her daughter was still in
her underwear. "Why aren't you dressed?"

"I don't know what to wear."

"What do you mean? You have plenty of
clothes." Allison leaned into the mirror applying lipstick, hoping to add
a little bit of life to her face. Maybe she should be a ghost this Halloween.
Wouldn’t even need a costume.

"But it's picture day, Mom."

"Picture day?" Spinning around, Allison
dropped the tube to the bathroom counter, slashing burgundy on white marble.
"Today?"

"Yeah, remember the note from last
week?" Kelly raced over and caught the lipstick as it rolled toward the
edge.

“A note?” Allison took the tube, used a tissue to
snap off the broken edge and replaced the top. She didn’t remember a note.
Surely she hadn’t ignored her child while juggling work, school and the million
other tasks on her list.

Kelly stuck her head under the counter and pulled
out a roll of paper towels and a blue liquid spray. “It was with my report
card.”

“Oh. I think I remember. I got so caught up in
your grades I must have stuck the note in my purse and...” Allison grabbed the
cleaner and towels from her daughter and captured her in a hug. "I’m sorry
I forgot.”

Her daughter pulled back and grinned. “I think you
owe me ice cream for this.”

Allison shook her head and smiled, letting some of
her guilt dissolve. “A triple scoop I’d say.” She released Kelly then gently shoved
her out the bathroom door. "Let’s go find the perfect outfit.”

“What about the mess?”

“I’ll get it in a minute. Your clothes first.”

“Thanks, Mom.” Kelly ran toward her room. “Let’s
find something blue. It’s my favorite.”

“Shouldn’t be a problem since that’s all you want
to buy anymore.” Allison set the cleaning supplies on the bathroom floor and
followed her daughter. How did she luck up and have such an understanding
child?

 

#

 

"Hi, I'm Brett Tyler. I have a meeting with
Allison."

Hearing his voice outside her office, Allison’s
stomach clenched.

"Allison-"

"I heard, Susie." She interrupted her
administrative assistant standing in the door. "Offer him some coffee or
something and tell him I'll be just a few more minutes."

She slid the papers from her desk to their labeled
hanging folder in the credenza then located the carnival file.

This was only a meeting about a school carnival.
She was in control. Fidgeting with the file, she positioned it in the middle of
her desk blotter. Every day she met with the officers of the bank and breezed
right through without a thought. Closing her eyes, she practiced the relaxation
technique she’d learned in high school. It had taken her through exams, college
interviews, and into her success at the bank, it could surely get her through a
few minutes with Brett Tyler.

Stopping at the door to her office, she watched
him.

Relaxing in a leather chair, he was immersed in a
financial magazine.  He certainly wasn’t nervous, she thought, as he shifted
his elbow to the arm of the chair and kept reading.

With his short sun tipped brown hair and tan skin,
she could tell he hadn’t spent his summer in an office. Distinctive, thin white
lines ran from the outer edge of his eyes and into his hairline, obviously made
by the sunglasses tucked in his front shirt pocket. Allison remembered her last
three months of non-stop work. She would’ve killed to get outdoors, even for a
day. 

Dressed casually in a navy long-sleeved shirt with
the cuffs turned up at the wrists and pressed khakis, nice loafers, tan legs...

"You ready?"

"What?" She jumped at his voice.

Brett stood, resting his hands on his hips and
smiling. "Let’s talk carnival."

As Brett stepped toward her, she turned, took a
deep breath and calmly walked into her office. She was fine. This would be
easy.

"Come on in." She motioned to the
visitor’s chair across from her desk. “Hope you didn’t have any trouble finding
the office.”

“Not at all.”

She reached for her notebook as she sat. She
needed to get busy and get him out of here before she did something more
foolish than ogling his legs.

"I've outlined the tasks I think are required
for the Carnival." She glanced his way. He relaxed back in his chair, his
legs spread wide in a typical male fashion.

She quickly shifted her eyes to his face when she
realized she’d been staring at his large hands resting on the tops of his
thighs. She needed to get him out of her office. Now. "I was on the
committee last year, so I know what it involves," she said in a rush. 

Brett nodded. "Aren’t you going to eat?”

“Eat?”

Waving to Allison's left, he pointed to the
sandwich Susie had delivered thirty minutes earlier, its bread now sagged over
the edges of the turkey, the lettuce dragging on the waxed paper.

She shook her head. “I’ll eat later.”

“That how you keep in shape? Skipping meals?”

How could he tell what kind of shape she was in?
She pulled her jacket front together. This silk blouse was a little more fitted
than some of her others, but...

“Allison?”

She glanced back as he inclined forward, his
twinkling eyes leveled intently on her, driving every rational thought right
out of her head. Those gray eyes.

Blinking, she broke the connection. “I think we’d
better talk about the carnival.” She accomplished her goals when she
concentrated.

“Is that breakfast?” He nodded to the half-eaten
bagel on the credenza.

Why was that still there? She never left food
sitting around. She never left anything out of place. Sinking into her chair,
she gave up on trying to get him out the door quickly.

“I forgot about it.” She tossed the stale bread
into the trash. "I've been trying to catch up all day. Ever since I got
behind helping my daughter dress for picture day.” She shook her head. “I can't
believe it wasn’t on the school calendar. Don’t they know kids lose notes?”

"But they announced it.” He looked confused.
“At the meeting the other night and updated calendars were at the front of the
room."

"Oh." She bit her lower lip. This
multi-tasking wasn’t working out as well as she thought. Maybe she needed to
streamline her daily task list. "I...I guess I wasn't paying attention at
the meeting."

"Yeah, it's hard to keep up with everything.
Children, job..."

Allison shot straight up in her chair. "But I
can do it.” She was not out of control just because she forgot about picture
day and a little food. “I just need to be a little more organized and -”

“I don’t think it’s possible to be more organized,
Allison.” He waved a hand around her office.

She started to relax just looking around. Pencils
stood sharpened in a cup on the corner and the weekly monetary bulletins were
tacked with precision on the cork board above her computer. Not bad. Get rid of
the food and her office would be back to the way she needed it.

She’d trained herself early to stay organized. Without
order and structure it would’ve been impossible for her to accomplish what she
already had in life...and what she had planned for the future.

“I'd guess you’re extremely efficient. Including
trying to eat while you work. Unless, of course, you don’t really have anything
to do in this fancy job of yours.” He fingered her nameplate sitting at the
edge of the desk. “What exactly do you do here anyway?”

“I’m the...” She snapped her fingers and jerked
out the middle drawer of her desk. “Oh yes, that reminds me. I put this
together for you.” She handed him a glossy black folder with the bank’s name on
the cover in gold.

Brett peeked inside where she’d tucked brochures
in the pockets.

“It’s information on the services we offer.” She
leaned over the desk, pointing to each of the marketing materials organized by
financial service. “Checking. Savings. Loans. Since you just moved I thought it
might help.”

“Mercy.” Brett flipped through the documents.
“This is really nice of you.”

“No problem. If you have any questions, I put in
all the business cards of the people to call.”

“You really are efficient, aren’t you?” He smiled.
“Especially for a dead elf.”

“Elves are very smart,” she said, smiling back.
“Especially the tall ones.”

“I’ve always liked tall elves myself.” He winked.

She sat back quickly, gripping the arms of her
chair. Was he flirting?

“Allison, sorry to interrupt, but Mr. Carson needs
you in a meeting in ten minutes.”

Allison yanked her gaze to the door. “Mr. Carson?”

Suzie stood still, her wide eyes darting between
Brett and Allison.

“Thanks. Tell him I’ll be there.”

“Okay.” Suzy answered sweetly and smiled as she
turned away.

Great. No telling what Suzie’d heard Brett saying.
Allison twisted her chair toward her credenza and opened a file drawer,
struggling to switch her mind to work. The only men that visited Allison’s
office talked about banking, never about elves.

 She zipped through her folders, pulling out the
ones she might need. First she needed to get through the meeting with Mr.
Carson. She could handle Suzie’s curiosity later.

“I'm terribly sorry about this, Brett,” Allison
said into her credenza. “Especially after you came all the way down here.”

“I know when I'm being replaced by another man.”

"What?" She twirled her chair back to the
front, her mouth hanging open.

He was flirting.

"I tell you what.” He braced his elbows on
the desk and picked up the task list she’d placed in front of him. “Why don't I
contact the other committee members and make some assignments?" He pointed
to the typed names with corresponding phone numbers. "Then I'll call you
so we can plan the next meeting with everyone." He looked up. "How’s
that?"

"You sure you have the time to do all that? I
hate to dump this on you. Here you are new and, well...it just doesn’t seem
fair.”

"My time's very flexible.” He pointed to the
computer screen displaying her monthly schedule. “Much more than yours I
see."

She shifted to the left to hide the screen from
his scrutiny. His time certainly sounded more than flexible. No calendar, a
tan, time to pop in to see her at the last minute.

"How can you..." She stopped. It was
none of her business he didn't have anything else to do while she could barely
find time to breathe.

"How can I what?"

"Nothing," she said, standing. "If
you’re sure you have the time, it would really help me out." She walked
around the desk and stopped by his chair.

Brett unfolded his large frame a few inches away
from her, so close she caught a hint of his cologne. She unconsciously took a
deep breath.

"I guess I'd better go, huh?" His voice
was low, almost husky.

Startled by his nearness and the realization that
she was standing in her office relishing a man’s cologne, she stepped back.
"Sorry...I...”

"I'm gone." He strolled to the office
door and looked over his shoulder. "And don’t forget to eat. Wouldn’t want
you to waste away on me.”

Watching his back as he left, Allison gripped her
folders flat against her chest. She was only thin, she wasn’t wasting away.

 

#

 

Discussing monetary policies and planning the
bank’s strategic investments was the part of her job Allison enjoyed the most.
Just talking with Walter Carson, her boss and the chief financial officer,
usually sent adrenaline rushing through her.

But today was different.

While Walter took phone calls, thoughts of Brett
slipped right past the normally captivating overnight interest rates.

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