Allie watched Charlie open the binder and begin to read. Now that they weren't naked, it was easier to make decisions about her future. For one thing, she was definitely not going to be sharing her bed with him again. She was almost sure of that. She didn't need any more tension in her life. And after all, she barely knew him. And sleeping with him would be bad professionally. It was wisest to break this off now, before she really started to care about him. Because she didn't care about him. She just wanted him. She wanted him right now on the floor of her office. Except there wasn't enough room. Maybe the desk— No. She looked at him, reading the stupid WBBB handbook, that lock of blond-brown hair falling over his forehead. The best thing she could do would be to stay away from him as much as possible. While he was on the air, there would be a glass wall between them, so that was safe enough. And maybe they could discuss the show through memos instead of face-to-face. Eace-to-face made her think of his mouth. Definitely memos. Charlie read something that was particularly inane and groaned. "I told you it would be bad," Allie said unsympathetically. She had to get away from him. She had to do things that did not include fantasizing about being pressed against a wall while his hands— She grabbed her coffee cup and stood up. "Listen, if you're happy here for a while, I promised to talk to some people. If you want coffee, the break room is down the hall, turn to the left, first door on the left. You can't miss it." "Coffee is not going to make this garbage better," Charlie said. "Be sure to mention that to Bill at the meeting at five," Allie said and made her escape.
* * *
Allie got coffee from the break room, smiling absently at Mark and Harry the Howler who were talking cars. She wasn't even mad at Mark anymore. Amazing what good sex and a new shot at a career could do for a woman's outlook. Mark looked at her strangely, so she ignored him. She had enough to do without worrying about Mark, especially since worrying about Mark was no longer her job. This was an incredibly cheering thought in a day that had been pretty cheerful to start with. Buoyed beyond reason, she left the break room and went back to doing what she did best: keeping the station ticking. She picked up the ratings from Albert, promised Marcia they'd have a late lunch the next day to discuss her show and headed for the receptionist's counter. "Hey, Karen," she said as she breezed into the lobby. She picked up a cookie from a plate on the counter and bit into it. "Where did the almond cookies come from?" "Mrs. Winthrop brought them in for Grady again, but he said to leave them here for everybody." Karen looked around and then crooked a finger at her. "Come here for a minute." Allie popped the rest of the cookie in her mouth and went behind the counter, mystified. Karen picked up a basket covered with a baby quilt. "I'm in big trouble, Allie, and I don't know what to do." Allie prayed there wasn't a baby in the basket. Some things were beyond even her ability to fix. Then she looked at the dark circles under Karen's eyes and felt ashamed. "You look awful," Allie said. "What's wrong?" "I have to feed him every hour and I can't get to sleep in between. I've been doing it for two days now, and I'm afraid he's going to die." Karen started to cry, and Allie took the basket from her, expecting the worst. It was almost that bad. Under the blanket, nestled in soft flannel, was a tiny black puppy, no bigger than two of Allie's fingers. "Oh, no." Allie shot ah anguished look at Karen. "What happened?" Karen's words came out in a rush. "Mopsy had her puppies, but there were too many, and he came last, and he can't suck or something, and she doesn't even seem to notice him." She gulped in some air. "And I've been trying to feed him every hour, but I'm not getting much down him, and I think he's going to die." Tears started in her eyes, and she sniffed them back. "And I'm so tired, Allie. I just can't think what to do." Allie put the blanket back over the basket. "Is the formula in here?" Karen nodded. "And the bottle and everything." Allie patted her on the shoulder. "Go home at five and sleep. We'll take it from here." Karen blinked. "I don't have permission to have him at the station. Bill doesn't know." "Bill doesn't have to know. Charlie and I can handle it until two, and then Grady's in." Allie grinned at her. "And you know Grady and nature. He'll probably have this little guy sitting up and begging by morning." Karen's tears moved from a trickle to a gush. "Are you sure? Will Charlie be mad? Oh, Allie, I—" "Go home at five," Allie ordered. "Grady will pass the basket to you at eight, and I'll pick it up again tomorrow night at five. Charlie and Harry will be glad to help. They're good guys. We're covered. Go get some coffee to keep you going until you get off work, and leave everything else to me." Karen mopped at her eyes and nodded. "His name's Samson. That's what I call him when I feed him. I wanted to give him a strong name, you know?" "I know." Allie patted her again, back in control of the world. "We'll save him."
* * *
After fifteen minutes of trying to make sense of Bill's highly original take on broadcasting, Charlie gave up and went in search of the break room and coffee. Mark and Harry, the big tow-headed guy from the lobby, were deep in conversation about Mark's carburetor when he came in, and as far as Charlie was concerned, they could stay that way. "Just came for coffee." He picked up a disposable cup and filled it at the coffeemaker. Then he turned back to the door. "So, Charlie..." Mark was leaning back in his chair, smiling one of those man-to-man smiles. "So, Mark." Charlie kept going. "So you've moved in with Allie and Joe." "Yep." Charlie was almost through the door. "So how was it in the sack with our Allie last night?" Charlie stopped. Keep your mouth shut, he told himself. Get out of here . He turned around. "What?" Mark smiled his man-of-the-world smile. "You and Allie. How was she in the sack? Not what you're used to, I bet." Don't make waves , Charlie told himself. He looked at Mark's smug face and thought about Allie and felt his temper spurt. He walked back and leaned over the table until he was almost nose-to-nose with Mark. "Never... ever... make a derogatory comment about Alice again. Because if you do, I will wipe up this station with you." Mark lost his smile for a minute, and Charlie turned back to the door. "Tough guy." Charlie kept going. "Was she as lousy for you as she was for me?" Charlie stopped. Don't do it . Then he turned around and walked back toward Mark. Mark stood, caught his foot on the leg of his chair and fell over backward to the floor, taking the chair with him. "I warned you not to do that," Charlie told him mildly. He looked at Harry. "Didn't I?" "Yes," Harry said, nodding judiciously. " Yes , I'd have to say that you did." He didn't look particularly put out that Mark was on the floor. Mark glared at Charlie from the floor. "It was just a joke." Charlie frowned down at him. "Don't joke about Allie. It annoys me." He turned to leave and came face-to-face with Karen. "Just came in for some coffee," she said brightly, waving her cup at him. "Fine," Charlie said. "Step on Mark while you're getting it." This will not do , he told himself on his way back to Allie. This woman is screwing up your head. Keep away from her.
Charlie was still scowling when he got back to Allie's office. Threatening Mark had been stupid. He hated being stupid, although Lord knew he should be used to it by now. "What's wrong?" Allie peered at him over a blanket-covered basket on her desk. "You look upset." "Not me." "You sure?" Charlie tossed the handbook on the desk, feeling like a fool. "Well, Mark sort of fell over." Allie froze. "Fell over?" Charlie sat down and sipped his coffee. "He's not hurt. It wasn't that far to the floor." Allie looked severe. "I suppose you had a reason." Charlie shrugged. He insulted you, and for some reason I lose my mind every time I think of you . "I didn't like his looks." "Right. What did he say about me?" That was another problem with Allie. She was too damn sharp. "Don't be so conceited." "He doesn't know you well enough to insult you. What did he say about me?" "His very existence insults me. Can we get back to business?" "I'll find out, anyway." Allie waited and then opened the folder in front of her. "Okay. Fine. We'll do business. Any questions so far?" Charlie gave her the one that had been bugging him since the day before. "Yeah. How did an idiot like Mark get to be a star around here?" Allie blinked at him. "He's not an idiot. He's a good broadcaster. His voice is clear and it makes people feel good. Plus he's great at PR. He's good-looking, and his picture's been plastered all over the city on billboards. He pulls a pretty good female audience." Charlie scowled harder, not sure why he cared. "So why isn't he on TV?" "He's really shy." Allie's face softened, and Charlie got more annoyed. "I know he comes across as a conceited jerk, but he's really unsure of himself. He's never even thought about TV. All those cameras? He'd have a nervous breakdown." "Shy." Charlie snorted. "Hey, not everybody is as comfortable with himself as you are." Allie surveyed him. "You're exactly who you want to be, doing exactly what you want to do. That's pretty rare. Mark doesn't have your confidence, so he relies on his good looks to get him through, but he's still anxious. All the time." Charlie focused on the part of her argument he liked the least. "He's not good-looking." "Yes, he is. He looks like Richard Gere before he went gray." "Mark's gray?" "Richard's gray. Mark is still tall, dark and handsome, and women swoon." Charlie slumped lower in his chair. "He's medium, dark and dweeby." He looked at her suspiciously. "Are you still swooning?" Allie leaned back in her chair. "Nope. I've been cured. Thank you very much." His spirits rose miraculously. "My pleasure, believe me." Allie smiled at him, and Charlie felt himself slipping into lust. Oh, no. He yanked himself back. "What's wrong?" "Nothing." He shook his head. No more Allie. They would work together at the station where it would be almost impossible to make love—he shoved the desk thoughts firmly from his mind—but he was definitely finding another place to live. He'd take her to dinner tonight and let her down easy and then move to a motel. Good plan. He suppressed a sigh of relief at being back in control and returned to the problem of the station. "Who's on before me?" "Harry the Howler. The big guy you met in the hall." Mark's companion in the break room. "I think I just met him again. Calm sort of guy." Allie nodded. "Exactly. That's what I keep telling him, but he insists on howling. Which is not your problem. In fact, I don't see that you have any problems." She beamed at him, the Positive Career Talk smile. "I'm taking over for a paranoid gun-nut, and you think I have no problems." "Of course not. After Waldo, anybody is a step up. And we've been at the bottom of the ratings for so long, you can only go up. Just remember, we're an easy-listening station, and you can't go wrong." "Well, that's our first problem. I'm not an easy-listening kind of guy." Allie looked exasperated. "You must have known we weren't hard rock when you signed on." Charlie shook his head. "Bill told me I could play what I wanted." "Which is?" "Everything." Charlie leaned back and tried to sound as if he knew what he was doing. "I like rock, country, rap, jazz... I like it all. The way I figure it, I'll talk to people and they can call in and talk back and in between I play music I like." Allie shrugged. "Well, Bill is a lot of things, but a liar he isn't. If he said you could do that here, you can do that here, you better go look at our library. I don't know how much of variety we have." "Well, I'll just have to give Bill a shopping list." Charlie hoved the handbook back across the desk to her. "I don't need this. As long as I don't do anything to give the FCC leart failure, I'll be okay." "All right. Now, what do you need to get your show started?" "Nothing." Charlie leaned back and spread his hands out o embrace the world, back in control again. "I can do it all." "Great." Allie pulled the basket on her desk closer to her. 'There's just one other little thing we have to do tonight." She cached under the blanket and pulled out a doll's baby bottle. "Samson needs to be fed every hour. We're going to have to cover this until two. Grady will do the rest. I've already called him, and he's fine with it." "Samson?" Charlie said, totally confused. "The station puppy." Allie pulled back the blanket and Charlie peered over the edge. The tiny dark shape inside looked like an undersize chocolate Twinkie. "That's a puppy?" "Well, he's small right now, but he's going to get a lot bigger." Allie tried to nudge the bottle into the puppy's mouth, but he made no movement to take it. Another one of Allie's lost causes. First Mark, then Charlie's show, and now this puppy. Charlie squinted at the tiny scrap of protoplasm Allie insisted was a dog. "Are you sure it's not dead?" He stepped back as Allie's eyes came up blazing. "This puppy is not going to die." "All right." Charlie had some small experience with animals on the farms he'd worked on during his summer vacations, and all of it told him Samson was doomed, but he wasn't going to fight Allie on it. "Where's his mother?" "He's the runt. Things didn't work out between them." Allie tipped the bottle so the formula ran into the puppy's mouth without him sucking, and his throat made weak swallowing movements. "See?" she said triumphantly. "He's going to be fine." Charlie sat back and watched Allie work over the puppy, tickling its throat to get it to swallow. Well, if anyone could save an embryo dog, Allie could. He'd only known her twenty-four hours, but he already had a healthy respect for her determination. "We may have to do this every half hour," Allie told him. "He's not getting enough this way. He's got to learn to suck." So now he was a dog nurse, too. Well, he liked dogs. And if this was what Allie wanted... "All right." Allie covered the basket again. "He's going to make it. I know he is." At least when the dog died, he'd be there to comfort her. Platonically.