Eve Marlow’s heels clicked confidently against the polished floor as she strode down the hall toward her producer’s office. She paused outside the door, running her fingers over the front of her dress to smooth any wrinkles before lifting her hand to knock.
“Come in,” Greta called from inside.
Eve grasped the handle and pulled the door open. Greta sat behind her desk, glasses perched on her nose as she looked up from her computer screen. But she wasn’t alone. Bruce Koslowski, Life & Leisure’s director of advertising, stood beside her. “Greta,” Eve said with a polite smile. “Bruce, this is a surprise.”
“Hello, Eve,” Bruce said with an equally polite nod.
“Have a seat.” Greta gestured vaguely to the guest chairs in front of her desk.
Eve sat, placing her laptop on the edge of the desk.
“I’m afraid I have some bad news,” Bruce said.
Eve nodded. “Greta told me this morning that the ratings for our season two premiere weren’t as high as we’d hoped, but I’ve put together several proposed adjustments to Do Over’s advertising plan that I think should—”
“Actually, that’s not why I’m here,” Bruce interrupted. “You can discuss advertising with Greta later.”
More bad news? Eve straightened in her seat, clasping her hands loosely in front of herself. “All right.”
“We have to pull episode eight,” Bruce said.
“The ice cream shop?” Eve said, incensed. “That’s one of our strongest episodes. Why on earth would we scrap it?”
His lips drew into a frown. “The owner has been charged in a sexual assault.”
Fuck. Eve felt a heavy sensation in her stomach, as if the remnants of her lunch had hardened into concrete. “That’s…not good.”
“I know,” Greta agreed. “It’s a publicity nightmare. There’s no way we can air it.”
“Is there time to shoot a replacement?” As the CEO of Marlow Marketing, Eve had built an empire helping underperforming small businesses reach their potential. Two years ago, the Life & Leisure channel had offered her a television show--Do Over—that followed her as she worked. Each episode featured a different business, offering viewers the chance to become invested in their success as she helped them rebuild. Season one had been a runaway success. So far, season two was off to a lackluster start, and without this episode, she might be in real trouble.
“It’s possible,” Greta said. “But the timing would be extremely tight.”
Bruce’s frown deepened. “I’m afraid there’s no room in the production budget to reshoot, even if you were able to fit it into the schedule.”
“I’ll make room in the budget,” Eve said automatically. This was what she did for a living, after all. She saved failing businesses, and now she would save her television show, because if she didn’t get her ratings up, Do Over would never get renewed for a third season. “I’ll draw up a revised advertising plan.”
“If you’re able to make room in the budget, I’ll think about it, but I’m not making any promises,” Bruce told her. “Have it on my desk by the end of the day.”
She nodded. “Consider it done.”
Bruce left, and Eve slumped in her chair. “How much time do I have to find a new client and shoot a replacement episode?”
“Not much,” Greta told her apologetically. “You’d need to bring me the client’s name by Friday, with filming to begin next week.”
Eve pressed her knuckles against the edge of the desk in front of her, letting the cold wood bite into her skin, providing an outlet for her frustration. “Friday, as in the day after tomorrow?”
“Yes. And first, you’ve got to make room in the budget and have Bruce sign off on it,” Greta reminded her.
“I’ll do that right now.” Eve stood, picking up her laptop.
Greta nodded, waving a hand in Eve’s direction. “Go work your magic. You’ll pull this off. I have full confidence in you.”
“I will,” Eve confirmed. She left Greta’s office and strode down the hall toward her own. They had hundreds of leftover applications from their season two casting call. The trick would be finding someone who could bring her the ratings she needed, when she’d already chosen what she’d believed to be the ten strongest applicants from the bunch. Hopefully, she’d overlooked a potential breakout star.
First things first. She closed the door to her office and spent the next two hours reallocating funds from Do Over’s already stretched advertising budget to allow her to shoot the replacement episode. As much as she needed those advertising dollars, she needed a full season more. She emailed the revised budget to Bruce and settled in to sift through previously rejected season two applications.
But as the sun slid behind the Manhattan skyline outside her window, she was no closer to finding a replacement client and her stomach had begun to growl obnoxiously. Stifling a growl of her own, she packed up to head home. She’d find something to eat, change into her pajamas, and keep working.
Preferably with a glass of wine.
Since it was going to be a late night, she stopped in the break room to fix herself a coffee for the ride home. She spent her thirty-minute subway ride making notes on her phone, outlining ways to maximize what remained of her advertising budget. While Marlow Marketing wasn’t in any trouble, Do Over was dangerously close to cancellation. She enjoyed filming the show. It had become an important part of her brand, and perhaps most importantly, it had tripled her income. She wasn’t going to lose it, not when she knew it could be saved.
Her cell phone rang as she exited the subway, and Greta’s name showed on the screen. Eve connected the call. “Please tell me you’re calling with good news.”
“I am, actually,” Greta told her. “They’ve signed off on your revised production budget. All you have to do now is bring us a new client in time to get the replacement episode filmed.”
“Excellent.” Eve exhaled in relief as she dodged a bike messenger, stepping aside to let him pass. “I’ll let you know as soon as I have a name.”
“Friday,” Greta reminded her.
“Got it.” Eve tossed her empty coffee cup into a nearby trash can. A tiny, muffled cry echoed from somewhere, and she paused. “Did you hear that?”
“Hear what?” Greta asked.
“Nothing. Listen, I’ll check in with an update tomorrow morning, okay?” She strode down the street toward her building, intent on getting upstairs, out of these heels, and warming up something for dinner. Where had that cry come from? Had it been something on Greta’s end of the line? It hadn’t sounded human, more like an animal. Probably someone nearby on the street was watching a video on their phone or carrying some kind of exotic pet. This was New York City, after all. She’d once seen a man carrying a tiny pig in a backpack.
But an uneasy feeling deep in her gut worried that the sound had come from inside the trash can, and it only grew stronger with each step she took. Holding in a sigh, she turned and walked back to the bin. It was filled almost to the top with garbage. Eve couldn’t believe she was even contemplating poking around in a public trash can. God knew what was inside, but it was sure to be disgusting.
She grimaced as she stood there, listening. Other than the steady hum and honk of traffic, laughter from a couple passing by, and the distant roar of a jet overhead, she couldn’t hear a thing. She was being ridiculous. Hours of work awaited her in her apartment, so she had no idea why she was standing here, staring at a trash can. To satisfy her conscience, she turned on the flashlight on her cell phone and shined it inside.
There was her coffee cup, laying on a plastic grocery bag at the top of the garbage pile. No animals. Nothing but gross, smelly trash. She wrinkled her nose, shining the light quickly over the rest of the bin, but…did that bag just twitch?
It twitched again. A sick feeling washed over her, all thoughts of ratings and clients wiped from her mind. With her free hand, she reached cautiously into the bin, nudging aside her coffee cup to uncover the bag beneath it. She hesitated before touching it. What if the movement was caused by a rat, rooting through the rubbish? Or something even less friendly?
But that stubbornly uneasy feeling in her gut made her grasp the knot where the bag had been tied shut and lift it out of the bin. Something inside squealed, and Eve’s heart slammed into her ribs. Her skin prickled. Oh God, there was really a live animal trapped inside this bag. What kind of sick joke…
She knelt and placed the bag on the ground. Cautiously, she tore a hole in the plastic, keeping her fingers well away from the opening in case whatever was inside tried to bite her. She’d just free the rat and be on her way. But the tiny creatures inside weren’t rats. The bag was full of some kind of baby animals that looked like…were those kittens? Tiny newborn kittens, eyes closed and barely moving.
Eve exhaled harshly, as if the wind had been knocked out of her. She ripped the bag all the way open and reached inside. Her fingers brushed soft black fur, and the kitten mewled softly, rooting its head toward her hand. It was cool to the touch.
“Jesus,” she murmured, scanning the rest of the animals. She counted six total, a mixture of black, gray, and one solid white kitten. Not all of them were moving. Oh fuck. Were they even alive?
She stripped out of her blazer and laid it on the ground. Carefully, she lifted the kittens out of the bag one by one and placed them inside her jacket, trying not to notice how cold and stiff they felt beneath her fingers. The temperature hadn’t quite reached seventy today, average for mid-April in Manhattan. She needed to get them inside and warm, and then…what?
She’d call the animal shelter. Yes, that was the logical next step. She eyed the bag they’d been inside of. Should she take it with her? Was it evidence? Was it a crime to throw a litter of kittens in the trash? She sure as hell hoped so. And so she balled up the empty grocery bag and tucked it inside her blazer, which would be going straight into the wash—if not the trash—once she got home. She scooped the edges of the fabric together, forming a makeshift sack for the kittens, and hurried toward her apartment building.
A cool breeze whipped through the thin material of her blouse, and she shivered. Several people gave her strange looks as she cradled her blazer in front of herself. She resisted the urge to tell them off, reasoning that in their position, she’d give herself an odd look too.
Eve Marlow, up-and-coming reality television star, behaving bizarrely among rumors that Do Over’s second season is off to a disappointing start.
This day could really just stop now. She’d had enough. Walking briskly, she rounded the corner and approached her building. She’d take the kittens inside, call the shelter, and get them on their way to help and veterinary care. Then she could get back to work.
Morris, the doorman, held the door open for her. “Good evening, Ms. Marlow.”
“Evening, Morris. Thank you.” She offered him a brief but grateful smile on her way to the elevator. There hadn’t been a peep out of the kittens since she’d put them in her blazer. No wriggling. God help her if she was carrying a jacket full of dead kittens up to her apartment right now. What if they were covered in fleas? Or had rabies? Was she endangering herself by bringing them inside?
She punched the button with her elbow and waited, toe tapping impatiently, until the elevator arrived. It carried her swiftly to the eighth floor, and she let herself into her apartment. There, she stood for a moment, unsure what to do next and halfway terrified to look inside her blazer.
But her discomfort was no excuse for further endangering their lives. She lay her blazer on the kitchen table, spreading it flat. A few of the kittens stirred, mewling as they scrambled toward each other for warmth.
Several of them didn’t move at all.
She shuddered. They were so cold. Thinking fast, she went into the bedroom, rummaging through her closet until she found the heating pad she used when her back started acting up. She carried it to the kitchen table and plugged it in before laying the jacket full of kittens on top of it. “Now to find someone to take you.”
She washed her hands—just in case—then sat at the table and pulled out her phone. She looked up the nearest animal shelter, only to receive an automated recording that it was closed for the night. Same story at the next shelter. And the next. It was only seven o’clock. Wasn’t there any place to take abandoned animals after hours? These kittens wouldn’t make it until morning. Not to mention, she didn’t have time to deal with this, not in general and especially not tonight.
Eve stared at the furry pile of kittens. What the hell was she going to do with them? She’d never had a pet, never cared for an animal in her life. She had no idea how to care for these, but they were obviously too small for solid food. They probably needed milk. Maybe she could warm up some of the half-and-half she kept in the fridge for her morning coffee, but what would they drink it out of?
They were so small, so helpless.
Irritation warred with concern inside her as she typed “what to do if you find abandoned kittens” into the search bar on her phone. The top result was a YouTube video with the thumbnail of a woman with lavender hair holding a kitten about the size of the ones Eve had found. For lack of a better option, she pressed Play.
“Hi, everyone. It’s your favorite kitten rescuer, Josie Swanson, here to tell you what to do if you find an abandoned kitten or litter of kittens,” the woman in the video said.
Eve leaned back in her seat as the knot in her stomach loosened. This video might be exactly what she needed. Josie was pretty, with warm eyes and an endless smile. Eve had never been a fan of unnatural hair colors, but the lavender seemed to work for Josie, accentuating her bubbly personality.
Unfortunately for Eve, the video mostly covered how to care for newborn kittens rather than where to take them. But, worst-case scenario, it might help her keep them alive through the night until she could drop them at the shelter in the morning.
“The important thing to remember is to never bring a litter of orphaned kittens to an animal shelter,” Josie said, staring earnestly into the camera. “Most shelters aren’t staffed to care for bottle-fed babies and will have to euthanize them. The best thing to do is to reach out to local animal rescues and ask for their help. I’ve included a list of resources in the description below.”
Well, this wasn’t good news, but that seemed to be the theme of Eve’s day. Then again, maybe she could find an animal rescue that would take the kittens tonight. She scrolled through the links below the video until she found a kitten rescue in New York City. According to the contact information, Josie herself ran it. Maybe Eve’s luck had turned. She’d give the kittens to Josie and be done. Josie would know exactly how to care for them. She had over a million subscribers and countless videos detailing all the kittens she’d saved.
Eve clicked on the contact button and composed a quick message detailing her situation, adding URGENT to the subject line, because she wasn’t sure these kittens would survive another hour without intervention, let alone overnight. And as much as she needed to get to work and find a client for her replacement episode, she did not want a pile of dead kittens in her kitchen…or on her conscience.
Not knowing what else to do, she rewatched Josie’s video while she waited. They’d need kitten formula, which she could apparently get at most pet stores. So much for the half-and-half in her fridge. She had just pulled up a list of local pet stores when her phone rang with an unknown Manhattan exchange.
Eve connected the call. “Hello.”
“Hi,” came the vivacious voice from the video. “This is Josie Swanson. You’ve found a litter of abandoned kittens?”
“Yes,” Eve told her gratefully. “Someone dumped them in a trash can.”
“It happens all the time, unfortunately,” Josie said. “About how old are they, if you had to guess?”
“Newborn, maybe,” Eve said. “Their eyes are still shut, and I think their umbilical cords are still attached. Can I bring them to you tonight? I’m honestly not sure how long they’re going to survive otherwise.”
“I’m so sorry, but I can’t take them. I’d be happy to meet you, show you how to care for them, and give you some supplies, though.”
Eve’s stomach clenched in a combination of disappointment and frustration. She’d been so sure Josie was going to help her. She was tired and hungry, her feet ached, and she needed these kittens out of her apartment so she could get back to the mountain of work awaiting her. “I don’t understand. You run a kitten rescue. Why can’t you take them?”
“I really wish I could, but I own a bar in Brooklyn, and we’re short-staffed at the moment. I’m tending bar twelve hours a day, and these guys will need round-the-clock care.”
Eve bristled at the implication. “I work full-time too. I can’t keep them.”
“Look, you’re in Manhattan, right?” Josie asked.
“Tell you what. Bring them here. I’ll make some calls while you’re on your way and see if I can find someone to take them for you. If not, I can give you some formula and show you how to care for them, at least temporarily.”
“Bring them to your bar?”
“Yes,” Josie confirmed. “Sorry, but I’m working all night.”
Eve’s entire body tensed, and her pulse quickened. She couldn’t handle walking into a bar, especially not tonight. Her gaze fell on the kittens. What choice did she have? But if she brought them to Josie’s bar, she was going to convince her to keep them, because there was no way Eve was bringing them back home with her. “I’ll be there in half an hour.” BUY IT NOW: Amazon (included in your Kindle Unlimited subscription!)