Chance Encounter

Chance Encounter by Jill Shalvis



“What?” Ally meant to sound fierce but she might as well have been a squeaky mouse. “You…can’t do that.”

“Oh, yes, I can.” Professor Langley Weatherby III, every bit the antiquated snob his name suggested, peered over his small wire-rimmed spectacles. “You’re no longer a librarian at this university, Ms. Wheeler. Consider yourself officially unemployed.”

“But—” Ally loved her work, loved everything about it, the feel of the glorious old books in her hands, the scent of aging paper, the pleasure of helping students soak up all that knowledge.

And the silence, most of all she loved the silence.

“We’ll give you two weeks’ severance pay,” the professor said. “More than generous, given the scandal.”

Ah, yes, the scandal. Not that anyone had let her forget it for one moment. It hadn’t been her fault, and feeling her throat burn, she swiped at the moisture in her eyes, as if flicking away a pesky piece of lint instead of her hopes and dreams.

The professor let out a heavy sigh and thrust a handkerchief beneath her nose. “You do see our position,” he said gruffly, but with slightly less antagonism. “We can’t let you stay now.”

It was hard to believe that little Miss Goody-Two-shoes had gotten herself into so much trouble. First with the professor, then the head of the school himself, and finally, when no one had believed Ally’s story, with the authorities. She’d even had an eventful ride to the San Francisco police station for questioning, an experience that would surely headline her nightmares for the rest of her life.

Ironic, since in all of her nearly twenty-six years she’d never so much as been sent to the principal’s office. “But Thomas was the one who stole the classics,” she said for at least the hundredth time.

“They were priceless first edition literary classics that had been at our university for decades, Ms. Wheeler. Your boyfriend used your special clearance to steal them.”

But what would she do without her job? Her heart and soul were embedded in these brick walls, because here she wasn’t mousy Ally. Here she was important. She belonged.

“This decision is final.”

She wouldn’t beg. With her stomach somewhere near the vicinity of her feet, she stood, lifted her chin to the level of the professor’s aristocratic nose, and walked out of her beloved library for the last time. She passed the biology building, the Social Studies Hall and the Student Union before moving toward the park, her second favorite place on earth. Here was where she left her car every morning, so at the end of a day filled with books, she could unwind by feeding the squirrels.

Fired. Fired. Fired. The word rang in her head.

Well, if being let go was the worst thing to ever happen to her, then so be it. So she’d been forced to leave the best job she’d ever had. She’d survive. Probably.

But where was her car? Craning her neck, she looked to the right, then to the left— Oh, no.

Had she really thought her day couldn’t get worse?

Her fifteen-year-old tomato-red Escort coupe, temperamental and spunky at the best of times—of which this wasn’t—was gone all right. It had rolled down the steep hill.

And smashed into a plush, very new-looking BMW sports car.

HER ANSWERING MACHINE had just clicked on when Ally wearily made her way into her apartment.

“Ally?” came a cranky, smoke-ladened voice. “I know you’re there, pick up the phone this instant!”

“I don’t think so,” she said, grateful to have avoided Mrs. Snipps, landlady from hell.

“Listen missy, I sold the building.”

Ally dropped her purse and stared at the machine.

“I’m retiring to the Bahamas.”

Ally sank to her couch.

“And you have until next month to get out,” the cragly voice continued. “Six weeks. Don’t cause me any trouble, girl.”

At the sound of the dial tone, Ally let out a choked laugh. “Trouble?” she muttered. “It’s only my middle name.” She was jobless, and now soon to be homeless as well. Not to mention the major dent her car had put into that brand-spanking-new BMW. She had insurance, but she also had a very high deductible that might as well be a million dollars for all her ability to pay it.

Another mirthless laugh escaped. Her life was not only over, it was pitiful.

The phone rang again.

What now? Dammit, she was tired. Tired of jumping at the sound of the telephone, tired of being insecure and mousy all the time. Suddenly mad, she straightened on the couch.

No more doormat, she decided as she yanked up the receiver. “Hello!” And because being forceful felt so good, she added, “Who is this and what do you want?”

“It’s Thomas.”

At the sound of the confident masculine voice, her nearly nonexistent temper exploded. How dare he call after destroying her life. “You! You— You big jerk!” Oh great. Was “you big jerk” the biggest insult she could come up with?

“Listen, Ally,” he said quickly. A strange clinking sound came over the phone. “I need you to get me a lawyer. Like yesterday.”

What had she seen in this guy?

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