Authors: Catherine Mann
A life-and-death rescue leads to love for a single mom in
bestselling author Catherine Mann’s Texas Cattleman’s Club story
Texas tycoon Whit Daltry has always been a thorn in Megan Maguire’s side, especially when he tries to put the kibosh on her animal shelter. But when he saves her daughter during the worst tornado in recent memory, Megan sees beneath his prickly exterior to the hero underneath. Soon, the storm’s recovery makes bedfellows of these opposites. Until Megan’s old reflexes kick in—should she brace for betrayal or say yes to Whit once and for all?
Megan leaned to kiss his cheek in a heartfelt thank-you just as he turned to answer.
Their lips brushed. Just barely skimmed, but a crackle shot through her so tangibly she could have sworn the storm had returned with a bolt of lightning.
Gasping, she angled back, her eyes wide, his inscrutable.
“Um.” She inched along the riser. “I need to get Evie, and um, thank you.”
She shot to her feet, racing toward her daughter, away from the temptation to test the feeling and kiss him again.
That wasn't what she'd expected. At all. But then nothing about Whit had ever been predictable, damn his sexy body, hot kiss and hero's rescue.
* * *
Sheltered by the Millionaire
is a Texas Cattleman's Club: After the Storm novelâAs a Texas town rebuilds, love heals all woundsâ¦
* * *
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One of my earliest memories is of playing in the backyard with my beagle Bo and my duck Willie. I grew up in a home with pets—dogs, cats, gerbils, fish, and yes, even a duck. My sisters and I learned through our parents’ example about the responsibilities of caring for another living being. We learned the importance of compassion and commitment. I hope I’ve passed these lessons on to my children as well with our menagerie of pets.
Even as drawn as I was to animals from a young age, I had no idea that one day that affinity would lead me to expand my net of care wider as I embraced the animal rescue mission. I now serve on the board of directors at my local Humane Society, where I’ve also fostered over a hundred puppies and special-needs dogs.
When the opportunity came to write a book about an animal shelter director, I leapt at the chance to share a story with readers about a cause so very dear to my heart. I hope you enjoy reading
Sheltered by the Millionaire
as much as I enjoyed writing it!
SHELTERED BY THE MILLIONAIRE
Books by Catherine Mann
Acquired: The CEO’s Small-Town Bride
Billionaire’s Jet Set Babies
*An Inconvenient Affair
*All or Nothing
*Playing for Keeps
*Yuletide Baby Surprise
*For the Sake of Their Son
¤One Good Cowboy
Sheltered by the Millionaire
Baby, I’m Yours
Under the Millionaire’s Influence
The Executive’s Surprise Baby
^Rich Man’s Fake Fiancée
^His Expectant Ex
Propositioned Into a Foreign Affair
^Millionaire in Command
Bossman’s Baby Scandal
^The Tycoon Takes a Wife
Winning It All
#2031 “Pregnant with
the Playboy’s Baby”
‡The Maverick Prince
‡His Thirty-Day Fiancée
‡His Heir, Her Honor
^The Landis Brothers
*The Alpha Brotherhood
¤Diamonds in the Rough
Other titles by this author available in
Catherine Mann lives on a sunny Florida beach with her flyboy husband and their
four children. With more than forty books in print in over twenty countries, she
has also celebrated wins for both a RITA® Award and a Booksellers’ Best Award.
Catherine enjoys chatting with readers online—thanks to the wonders of the
internet, which allows her to network with her laptop by the water! Contact
Catherine through her website,
, find her on Facebook
and Twitter (
), or reach her by snail mail at P.O. Box
6065, Navarre, FL 32566.
To my parents, Brice and Sandra Woods.
Thank you for the joyous gift of always having pets in my life as a child.
he 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.
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.
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.
She could only think of her child. “Thank you for doing this, Whit.”
“We may have had our differences, but these are extraordinary circumstances.” He looked at her intensely for an instant as he set his hat on the seat between them. “Your daughter will be fine. That day care building may look small but it’s rock solid, completely up to code. And that’s me speaking as a professional in property management.”
“I understand that in my mind.” Megan tapped her temple. “But in my heart?” Her hand trembled as it fluttered to her chest. “The fears and what-ifs can’t be quieted.”
“You’re a mother. That’s understandable.” He shifted the truck into four-wheel drive and accelerated out of the parking lot, crunching over debris, cracked concrete and churned earth. “How did the shelter fare in the storm?”
Her gut clenched all over again as she thought of all the precious charges in her care. “I wasn’t there. I’d already left to pick up Evie when the warning siren went off. The kennel supervisor is in charge and I trust him, completely, but telephone service is out.”
She felt torn in two. But she had a stellar staff in place at the shelter. They were trained to respond and rescue in disaster scenarios. She’d just never expected to use that training to find her child.
Already the rain was easing, the storm passing as quickly as it had hit. Such a brief time for so much change to happen. And there could be worse waiting for her—
Her chin trembled, tears of panic nearly choking her. “I was supposed to take the whole afternoon off to go to a movie with Evie, but we had a sick employee leave early and a mother dog in labor dumped off with us... If I had kept my promise I would have been at the afternoon matinee with Evie rather than copping out for a later show. God, she must be so terrified—” She pressed her wrist to her mouth to hold back a sob.
“You can’t torture yourself with what-ifs,” he said matter-of-factly. “There was no way to see this coming and no way to know where it would be safe. You were doing your job, supporting your child. Deep breaths. Be calm for your kid.”
She scrubbed her wrist under her eyes. “You’re right. She’ll be more frightened if she sees me freaking out.”
Whit turned the corner onto the street for the Little Tots Daycare. The one-story wooden cottage was still standing but had sustained significant damage.
The aluminum roof was crunched like an accordion, folded in on the wooden porch. Already other parents and a couple of volunteer emergency responders were picking through the rubble. The porch supports had fallen like broken matches, the thick wooden beams cracked and splintered so that the main entrance was completely blocked.
Megan’s heart hit her shoes.
Before she could find her breath, Whit had already jogged to her side of the truck and opened the door.
“No,” she choked out a whisper. She fell into his arms, her legs weak with fear, her whole body stiff from the accident. Pain shot up her wrists where, she realized, she had burns from the airbag deployment.
None of it mattered. Her eyes focused on that fallen roof. The blocked door. More acid churned in her stomach as she thought of her little girl stuck inside.
“I’ve got you,” Whit reassured her, rain dripping from the brim of his Stetson.
“I’m okay. You can let go. I have to find my daughter.”
“And I’m going to help you do that. I have construction experience and we need to be careful our help doesn’t cause more damage.”
No wonder the other parents weren’t tearing apart the fallen debris to get inside.
“Of course, you’re right.” Hands quaking, she pressed a palm to her forehead. “I’m sorry. I’m not thinking clearly.”
“That’s understandable. We’ll get to your daughter soon. You have my word.”
Whit led her past the debris of the front porch, then around to the side, where the swing sets were uprooted, the jungle gym twisted into a macabre new shape. Painted Halloween pumpkins had scattered and burst. He called out to the handful of people picking at the lumber on the porch, offering advice as he continued to lead Megan around to the back of the building. The gaggle of frantic parents listened without argument, desperate.
She couldn’t imagine a world without her daughter.
In her first trimester, she’d planned to give her baby up for adoption. She’d gotten the paperwork from a local adoption agency. Then she’d felt the flutter of life inside her and she’d torn up the paperwork. From that point on, she’d opted for taking life one day at a time. The moment when she’d seen her daughter’s newborn face with bright eyes staring trustingly up at her, she’d lost her heart totally.
Evie was four years old now, those first sprigs of red hair having grown into precious corkscrew curls. And Megan had a rewarding job that also paid the bills and supported her daughter. It hadn’t been easy by any stretch, but she’d managed. Until today.
Whit guided her to the back of the building, which was blessedly undamaged. The back door was intact. Secure. Safe. She’d been right to come with him. She would have dived straight into the porch rubble rather than thinking to check....
Megan yanked out of Whit’s grip and pounded on the door. Through the pane she could see the kids lined up on the floor with their teachers. No one seemed in a panic.
The day care supervisor pulled the door open.
“Sue Ellen,” Megan clasped her hand, looking around her to catch sight of her daughter. “Where’s Evie?”