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Authors: Gail Sattler

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BOOK: Secret Admirer
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At his words, Shannon retracted her foot, which had not yet touched the floor of the car, and backed up. “What?” she asked as she straightened. She obviously hadn't known he had moved so close to the car, because when she turned around her eyes widened when she discovered they were now only inches apart.

With the car behind her, Shannon couldn't back up. Todd didn't move. They were so close he could have simply lowered his head—and kissed her. He suddenly wanted to kiss her more than anything he'd ever wanted in his life.

“Well? Did you want something?”

“I. . .uh. . .” Todd's brain backfired. He couldn't do it. Not only would she not have expected such a thing from him, but they were in the middle of an almost deserted parking lot. He stood there with his mouth hanging open.

Shannon giggled. “What's the matter? Does calling me Shan instead of Shan-nooze when we're out of work short-circuit your vocal chords?” She raised her hands, rested her palms on his chest, and gave him a gentle nudge backward. “While I appreciate your not calling me that anymore, you're standing so close I can't focus properly. Was there something you wanted to tell me?”

He wanted to tell her he loved her. He shook his head. “It's not important. I'll see you in the morning.”

Todd waited while Shannon got into her car and drove away, not moving until she'd left the lot.

He could hardly wait for morning and the start of a new day at work.

❧

Todd walked slowly into the office and looked around. Since he was earlier than usual, none of the office staff had arrived, which was what he needed. He hurried to Shannon's desk, picked up the note he'd left from the day before that was meant for her to read this morning and replaced it with a new one. He rammed the old one into his pocket, hurried into the lunchroom and began making a pot of coffee to be ready when everyone else arrived.

Just as the last drop dripped into the pot, Todd heard footsteps in the doorway. He peeked over his shoulder, hoping it was Shannon, but it was only Gary.

“Good morning, Todd. You're in early.”

“Yeah. I left a little earlier than usual, and traffic was light.”

“You have good timing. You know I've given Bryan the day off. Rick called me on my cell—he's sick and won't be in. I have to go out for a meeting with a couple of new accounts in an hour. I want you to pull one of the drivers in to help with the phones and reshuffle his route. I'll see if I can get someone off the casual list to come in on short notice. Do you know where it is?”

Todd glanced up at the clock. If he was to endure a testing period to see if he was worth his salary, today would be the day. He only hoped he'd learned enough in a month to meet Gary's expectations. “I don't know. Last I saw the list, Bryan had it. I don't understand his filing system, but I can try to find it.”

“Never mind. Shannon has a copy. I'll use that one,” Gary said as he left the lunchroom.

Todd poured his coffee, then froze, nearly overflowing it until he realized what he was doing.

Gary was going to get the list from Shannon. But Shannon wasn't in yet.

That meant Gary was going to get into Shannon's desk.

He couldn't stop his supervisor from looking for something he legitimately needed, but Todd had his own good reasons for not wanting Gary to open her top drawer. Maybe he would only go through the bottom drawer where Shannon kept her files and nowhere else.

But Todd couldn't take the chance.

He left his mug on the counter and dashed across the lunchroom to the office. “Hey, Gary,” he said, trying his best to quell the panic and sound casual as he entered the main office area. “I think I know where it is. I'll be right back.”

Just as Gary straightened, Todd heard the thud of a drawer closing. Because he was looking at the front of the desk, he couldn't tell which drawer Gary had been in.

“It's okay,” Gary said, holding a paper in his hand.
“Shannon is very organized. I found it. Let's get busy. I have to be out of here soon.”

Todd swallowed hard and returned to the lunchroom for his coffee. He had to tell himself that since Gary's expression had been neutral, he hadn't seen the new note Todd had left for Shannon this morning. If Gary had opened the top drawer, the stark white paper with the red ribbon and red foil wrapping of the chocolate kiss would have been impossible to miss.

The phone started ringing at the same time he set his mug
on the counter. He handled the call quickly, then chose a dri
ver to help him. While Gary made a few phone calls from his office, Todd called the foreman and talked to him about pulling the priority deliveries out of Bill's truck and loading them into another. By the time Gary found a driver to replace Bill, Todd had everything under control. Or at least everything would be under control until the phones started ringing.

Gary stood beside Todd at the counter, checked the changes he'd made to the routing, and nodded. “Looks good. I have to go. Call my cell if you need me, but everything looks fine.”

Todd forced himself to smile. “Yeah. See you sometime after lunch.”

Six

Shannon gritted her teeth as she watched a couple of the ladies from the accounts department yakking incessantly while standing in front of the lunchroom counter. She didn't want to be rude, but the kettle had boiled, and she could now make her tea. Or at least she could if she barged between them and elbowed them out of the way, which was almost what Todd had done to poor Faye the other day. Normally, she wouldn't even consider being so rude, but Shannon wanted to get to her desk.

Not that she wanted to get to work so fast. She wanted to open her drawer to see the new note of the day.

Finally, she couldn't stand it any longer. She walked forward and stepped between them to reach for the kettle, smiling politely while they stared at her in silence for interrupting them.

She dunked and redunked her tea bag, wondering if it took this long every day or if she'd somehow picked a low-quality tea bag this morning.

Even though the tea wasn't as dark as she normally liked it, Shannon tossed the bag into the trash and walked to her desk as quickly as she could without spilling anything or making it look as if she was rushing. Todd had spilled his coffee the same day he'd barged in front of Faye, and she didn't want to do the same. She had been impressed that he'd immediately wiped up his mess. Whenever the other dispatchers slopped coffee onto the floor, they let it dry, and the janitors got it when they washed the floor at night. Mostly, she didn't want anyone to notice her.

Shannon's stomach fluttered as she opened the drawer. The same as every other day for over two weeks, a little white note, fastened with a red ribbon tied to a chocolate kiss, lay in the center of her pencil tray. Keeping the note low so no one could see what she was doing, Shannon pulled the ribbon off and set the kiss aside.

Dearest Shannon,

When I think of you I don't know where to begin

Your magical voice is like a sweet violin.

My heart beats with joy at the sound of your laughter,

And your happy smile fills me with joy ever after.

Your Secret Admirer

Shannon smiled. The note was tender and sweet and oddly flattering, even though the poetry itself hadn't improved. Today, though, something was different, but she couldn't quite figure out what it was.

She tucked the note into the envelope containing the other notes, unwrapped the kiss, and popped it into her mouth. While she savored the rich chocolate, Shannon turned her head toward the opening for the lunchroom. Any second now, Todd would be walking through the doorway.

She hadn't told him about the notes, but he'd promised to keep his ears open to any conversation concerning her. Of course, it was too early to hear anything. Once he arrived, she would simply remind him.

Instead of Todd, Faye walked into the office. Shannon found herself strangely disappointed.

She couldn't stop thinking about Todd. Not only had she spent the evening with him, she'd actually enjoyed herself. In many ways, he was the same old Todd she'd known since she was a kid. Yet it was the first time she'd talked to him as a single man and not as her brother's annoying friend.

Then, when they were leaving, he'd acted so strange. Todd always radiated confidence and control; yet he was at a loss for words. He'd even stammered. She didn't know what was going through his mind, but with Todd Sanders, it could have been anything. He couldn't have realized how charming his momentary lapse had been, but it showed her a side of him she didn't know existed. At the time, she'd almost been inclined to give him a hug, but since it was Todd, she'd erased the thought from her mind.

“Hi, Shan.”

“Good morning, Faye. Is Todd in the lunchroom?”

“Nope. Haven't seen him yet.”

Shannon checked her watch. Most days they arrived about the same time. Today she'd come in a few minutes early to be sure she could read the Secret Admirer's note in private. With the clock now showing ten minutes after Todd's usual arrival time, a niggling worry started to prod Shannon. She rose and unlocked the filing cabinet so she could get his phone number out of his personnel file; but just as she touched the folder with his name on it, the familiar sound of Todd's laughter echoed from the dispatch office.

With a quick push, she closed the drawer and engaged the locking button, then walked to the dispatch office. She found Todd and one of the drivers in the small room, talking with someone she'd never seen before through the window opening into the drivers' area. Bryan, Rick, and Gary were nowhere to be seen.

“Todd? What time did you get here? I wanted to talk to you.”

“About what?” When he turned to face her, he was still winding down his laughter. His eyes were moist, and he swiped over them with his sleeve. “Did you need a form for Terry? He's been here once before, about four months ago, Gary says.”

“No, it isn't that. I just wanted to remind you about what we talked about yesterday.”

He grinned, and Faye's words echoed through Shannon's head. Todd truly was even more handsome when he smiled. In the throes of his laughter, his smile was almost magnetic. It was the same smile she remembered from her high school days, when she briefly had a mad crush on him; only now the years and alleged maturity added attractive little crow's feet to the corners of his big, brown eyes. “I haven't forgotten. I'll keep my ears open and let you know if something comes up.” With the other men standing behind Todd, neither one could see his face. Using that advantage, Todd placed his hand over his heart and gave her an exaggerated wink. “Promise.”

Shannon opened her mouth, but no words came out. Her heart started pounding, just as it had back in those foolish high school days.

Before she said something stupid, Shannon spun around and strode out of the room. She busied herself with her work, ignoring all around her until Faye appeared at the front of her desk to announce it was time for coffee break.

They had barely sat down before Faye started talking. “Have you been in the dispatch area today? It's nuts in there.”

Shannon nodded. “I know. Where's Gary? He should be in there with both Rick and Bryan off.”

“Gary had a bunch of meetings lined up this morning, and he couldn't cancel. Todd seems to be doing okay in there, considering.”

“I noticed you checked on him fairly often.”

Faye smiled. “Yeah. I got him coffee a couple of times. I thought he could use it. He said he really appreciated it.”

Shannon sighed. “You've got it bad. Maybe there's medication for that.”

Faye grinned. “Get serious, Shan. Todd's different from anyone else I've ever met.”

Shannon nearly choked on her tea. “You can say that again.”

Faye's smile disappeared. “I don't know what you have against him.”

Shannon looked down into her mug, not able to face Faye as she spoke. “I already told you Todd is my brother's friend. Let's just say we haven't always gotten along that great over the years. I guess I'm finding it a bit strange to see him so normal, for lack of a better word. I can't help but expect this is a bad dream and I'm waiting for the punch line. Any moment, I feel as if I'm going to wake up, and he'll do something to embarrass or insult me the way he did when we were kids. I know I shouldn't feel that way. After all, it's been over a month now, and he's been nice to me and everything's been fine.”

In fact, things were more than fine, even outside of work when no one was around he'd have to answer to or see the next day. When the bookstore closed, she'd enjoyed their time together so much that for a moment she'd wished the store was open until midnight, just so she could have stayed to talk with Todd longer.

Faye smiled dreamily. “Yeah. He's mighty fine.”

Shannon rolled her eyes. “Oh, puh-leeze.”

“I can dream, can't I?”

“He's not some movie star or idol in one of those teen magazines. He's just Todd.”

“If you've known him for years, haven't you ever thought of what it would be like if something developed between you?”

Briefly, when she was going through a period of teenage insanity. She wondered if Faye had heard a word she just
said about how sometimes she didn't know whether to
scream or cry after yet another unpleasant day spent with
Todd and her brother. Before she could answer, Faye contin
ued her questioning.

“Haven't you ever considered what it would be like to be alone with him, like on a romantic date?”

Actually, she had been alone with him prior to last night, but it wasn't on a date. Craig and Todd were in the garage at her parents' home. She'd gone to tell Craig their mother wanted him for something, so Craig went into the house, leaving her alone in the garage with Todd for a few minutes. For entertainment, Todd asked her to hold some kind of auto part she hadn't known was greasy until it was too late. It took ten solid minutes of scrubbing to get the slime and oily stink off her hands, then a whole day to get the grime out from under her fingernails.

She set her empty mug down on the table with a thud. “I'm sorry, Faye, but I have enough problems with men without adding Todd to the mix.”

Faye's eyebrows quirked. “Oh? Is there something you're not telling me?” She leaned closer over the top of the table. “Is it someone here? What's happening? Did you find out who gave you the chocolate kiss? I couldn't find who was giving them out. In fact, no one knew anything about chocolate kisses.”

Shannon sucked in a deep breath. “Oh, Faye. . .you didn't go around asking, did you?”

“I asked a couple of people where they came from, but not many. Why?”

“Because it was just meant for me. There was a note attached.” Shannon leaned toward Faye, then straightened, not wanting anyone to see they obviously wanted to keep their conversation confidential, as that would attract attention. “I'm afraid I have a Secret Admirer.”

Faye's eyes widened. “Wow! That's so exciting!”

“Shh!” Shannon fanned one hand in the air, then hunched in the chair. “Don't tell anyone. I have no idea who it could be. Think. If you were asking around about the chocolate kiss, then that makes at least a couple of people I can eliminate from my list. Who did you talk to?”

“Nanci and Brenda.”

Shannon's heart sank.

“Sorry. I didn't ask any of the guys. I didn't think any of them would be bringing stuff like that to work. That's why I just asked women. I didn't specifically say you had one. I just walked up to them and asked if they had chocolate, and both said no.”

“I guess that's okay then. Whoever he is, he has to know I'm trying to figure it out. I just don't want him to think I have an investigative team out looking for him, or he'll stop doing it, then I'll never know.” She didn't want to tell Faye that Todd
was already helping her. From past experience, she knew Todd
could be very tight-lipped when it suited him. No one would ever know Todd knew about the Secret Admirer or that he was helping her discover the man's identity.

Faye, on the other hand, was not known for being discreet.

“Just keep your ears and eyes open, but please don't say anything to anyone, and especially don't ask questions. If you hear something, tell me, and I'll take it from there, okay?”

Faye nodded, the personification of seriousness. “Okay.”

Shannon pushed the chair back and stood. “We had better get back to work. I have a million things to do.”

Shannon couldn't stop thinking about Todd, even though she didn't see him. His absence in the lunchroom during break times only served to show she'd come to expect his presence. He was buried in work, dealing with a system he wasn't entirely proficient at yet, while doing the volume of at least two people. He only came out of the dispatch office a couple of times, when he ran for the washroom, then right back.

By the time Gary finally returned, it was half an hour before quitting time. Bill left the room, but she still didn't see Todd.

When it was time to go home for the day, Shannon hadn't completed all she'd wanted to do to meet her payroll deadline for the next day. Rather than leave it for the last minute, she took advantage of the quiet office to work undisturbed.

Twenty minutes after everyone else left, Todd emerged from the dispatch room at a slow pace, the wear and tear of a stress-filled day apparent on his face and in his posture.

She couldn't help but feel sorry for him.

“Hey, Todd. How did things go in there?”

“Okay, I guess, but I can't remember ever being so tired.” He turned and looked at Faye's empty desk. He pulled her chair out and sank down into it. “Since it's just you and me here, do you mind if I talk to you about something?”

Shannon had a feeling she knew what he was going to say. She'd seen Faye going in and out of the dispatch office a number of times, sometimes with Todd's coffee mug in her hand; other times, Faye was empty-handed. Shannon didn't mind helping him out or giving him a bit of womanly perspective, but she didn't want to do it in the middle of the office. Even though the other regular day staff had left, Gary was still in his office and could appear at any time. Also, not all the drivers were in, and the afternoon-shift warehouse staff members were just beginning their day. Any one of them could walk in at any time, and often did, once they realized she was still there.

Shannon stood. “I have a better idea. You look so tired. Let's go to my place. I just happen to have a great lasagna left over in the fridge from yesterday. All I have to do is heat it up and make a salad, and we'll have a ready-made dinner. We can talk then, without any worry about being disturbed.”

BOOK: Secret Admirer
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