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Sheltered by the Millionaire

By:Catherine Mann

Sheltered by the Millionaire
Catherine Mann

       One

The airbag inflated. Hard. Fast.

Pain exploded through Megan Maguire. From the bag hitting her in the  face. From her body slamming against the seat. But it wasn't nearly as  excruciating as the panic pumping through her as she faced the latest  obstacle in reaching her daughter after a tornado.

A tornado for God's sake.

Her insides quivered with fear and her body ached from the impact. The  wind howled outside her small compact car on the lonely street, eerily  abandoned for 4:30 on a weekday afternoon. Apparently she was the only  one stupid enough to keep driving in spite of the weather warnings of a  tornado nearby. In fact, reports of the twister only made her more  determined. She had to get to her daughter.

Megan punched her way clear of the deflating airbag to find a shattered  windshield. The paw-shaped air freshener still swayed, dangling from  her rearview mirror and releasing a hint of lavender. Files from work  were scattered all over the floor from sliding off the seat along with  the bag containing her daughter's Halloween costume. Then Megan looked  outside and she damn near hyperventilated.

The hood of her sedan was covered by a downed tree. Steam puffed from the engine.

If the thick oak had fallen two seconds later, it would have landed on  the roof of her car. She could have been crushed. She could have died.

Worst of all, her daughter would have become an orphan for all intents  and purposes since Evie's father had never wanted anything to do with  her. Panic pushed harder on Megan's chest like a cement slab.

Forcing oxygen back into her lungs one burning gasp at a time, she  willed her racing heart to slow. Nothing would stop her from getting to  her daughter. Not a totaled car. Not a downed tree. And definitely  not...a...panic...attack.

Gasping for air, she flung open the door and stepped into the aftermath  of the storm. Sheeting rain and storm winds battered her. Thank heaven  she'd already left work to pick up her daughter for a special outing  before they announced the tornado warning on her radio. If she'd been at  the shelter when the warning sirens went off she wouldn't have been  able to leave until given the okay.

But if she'd left at 1:00 to go to the movie as they'd originally planned, Evie would have been with her, safe and sound.

As a single mom, Megan needed her job as an animal shelter director.  Evie's father had hit the road the minute Megan had told him about the  unexpected pregnancy. Any attempts at child support had been ignored  until he faded from sight somewhere in the Florida Keys. She'd finally  accepted he was gone from her life and Evie's. She could only count on  herself.

Determination fueled her aching body. She was less than a mile from her  daughter's Little Tots Daycare. She would walk every step of the way if  she had to. Rain plastered her khakis and work shirt to her body. Thank  goodness her job called for casual wear. She would have been hard  pressed to climb over the downed tree in heels.

At least the tornado had passed, but others could finger down from the  gathering clouds at any minute. With every fiber of her being she prayed  the worst was over. She had to get to her daughter, to be sure she was  safe.

The small cottage that housed Little Tots Daycare had appeared so cute  and appealing when she'd chosen it for Evie. Now, she could only think  how insubstantial the structure would be against the force of such a  strong storm. What if Evie was trapped inside?

Sweeping back a clump of soggy red hair, Megan clambered over the tree  trunk and back onto the road strewn with debris. She took in the  devastation ahead, collapsed buildings and overturned cars. The town had  been spun and churned, pieces of everyday life left lining the street.  Glass from blown-out windows. Papers and furniture from businesses.  Pictures and books. The tornado's path was clear, like a massive mower  had cut through the land. Uprooting trees, slicing through lives,  spewing a roof or a computer like it was nothing more than a blade of  grass sliced and swept away.

She picked her way past half of a splintered door. Wind whistled  through the trees, bending and creaking the towering oaks. But she  didn't hear the telltale train sound that preceded a tornado.

Thoughts of Evie scared and waiting dumped acid on Megan's gut. Even  knowing the Little Tots Daycare workers were equipped to handle the  crisis didn't quell her fears. Evie was her daughter.                       
       
           



       

Her world.

She would trudge through this storm, tear her way through the wreckage,  do anything to reach her four-year-old child. The roar of the wind was  calling to her, urging her forward until she could have sworn she  actually heard someone speaking to her. Megan. Megan. Megan. Had she  sustained a concussion from the wreck?

She searched around her, pushing her shoulder-length hair from her  face, and spotted a handful of people every bit as reckless as her  venturing outside for one reason or another. None of them looked her  way...except for a looming man, a familiar man, charging down the steps  of one of the many buildings owned by Daltry Property Management. For  three and a half years, Whit Daltry had been a major pain in the neck  whenever they'd crossed paths, which she tried to make as infrequently  as possible.

The fates were really ganging up on her today.

Whit shouted, "Megan? Megan! Come inside before you get hurt."

"No," she shouted. "I can't."

His curse rode the wind as he jogged toward her. Tall and muscular, a  force to be reckoned with, he plowed ahead, his Stetson impervious to  the wind. Raindrops sheeted off the brim of his hat, as his suit coat  and tie whipped to and fro.

He stopped alongside her, his brown eyes snapping with anger, warm hand  clasping her arm. "I couldn't believe it when I saw you through the  window. What are you doing out in this weather?"

"Dancing in the rain," she snapped back, hysteria threatening to  overwhelm her. "What do you think I'm doing? I'm trying to get to Evie. I  had already left the shelter when the tornado hit. A tree fell on my  car so I had to walk."

His jaw flexed, his eyes narrowing. "Where is your daughter?"

She tugged her arm free. "She's at Little Tots Daycare. I have to go to her."

And what a time to remember this man was the very reason she didn't  work closer to her daughter's preschool. When the shelter had decided to  build a new facility shortly after she'd signed on as director three  and a half years ago, Whit had started off their acquaintance by  blocking the purchase of land near his offices-which also happened to be  near the day care. The Safe Haven's board of directors had been forced  to choose an alternate location. Now the shelter was located in a more  industrial area farther from her daughter. Every single work day, Megan  lost time with Evie because of an arbitrary decision by this man.

And now, he could have cost her so much more if something had happened to Evie.

Whit grasped her arms again, more firmly this time, peering at her from  under the brim of his hat. "I'll get your daughter. You need to take  shelter until the weather clears. There could be more tornadoes."

"You don't know me very well if you think I'll even entertain that  idea." She grabbed his suit coat lapels. "There's no way I'm sitting in a  gas station bathroom hugging my knees and covering my head while my  Evie is out there scared. She's probably crying for me."

"Look at the roads-" He waved to the street full of branches and  overturned vehicles. "They're blocked here too. Only a truck or  heavy-duty SUV would stand a chance of getting through."

"I'll run, walk or crawl my way there. It's not that much farther."

He bit off another curse and scrubbed his strong jaw with one hand.  "Fine. If I can't convince you, then we might as well get moving.  Hopefully, my truck can four-wheel it over the debris and drive that  last two blocks a lot faster than you can walk. Are you okay with that?"

"Seriously? Yes. Let's go." Relief soaked into her, nearly buckling her knees.

Whit led her back to the redbrick building and into the parking garage,  his muscular arm along her back helping her forge ahead. Time passed in  a fugue as she focused on one thing. Seeing her daughter.

Thumbing the key remote, Whit unlocked the large blue truck just ahead  of them and started the engine from outside the truck. She ran the last  few steps, yanked open the passenger door and crawled inside the  top-of-the-line vehicle, surprisingly clean for a guy, with no wrenches  or files or gym bag on the floor. No child's Halloween costume or box of  recycling like what she had in her destroyed car, and- Oh, God, her  mind was on overdrive from adrenaline. The warmth of the heater blasted  over her wet body. Her teeth chattered. From the cold or shock? She  wasn't sure and didn't care.                       

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