Finding a Hart

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Chapter 4

Stephanie

Disappointment hit me hard when the realization of what that meant washed over me. “You’re going to be gone all next week?”

“Yeah. But I’m going to make it up to you.”

“How so? I’m starting to doubt your abilities. You haven’t even guessed my name yet,” I teased gently, trying to hide how pleased I was with the thought that he was going to miss me.

“What if I bring you back some Ghirardelli chocolate?” His green eyes were bright as he looked at me. “I might not know your name yet but I know damn well you won’t turn down sweets… Erica.”

“Wrong name, right assumption in regards to my eating habits.” I finished off the last of the scone and started gathering up our garbage. “And those chocolates won’t make up for it completely but it’s a great place to start.”

He helped me clean up and we both stepped outside into the air that was way too nippy for Southern Arizona. He walked me to my car, something that he’d been doing since our second morning, and we both stopped near the door. He released a sigh and shoved his hands into his pockets.

“It’s going to be a long week, Vanilla Latte.”

“It will fly by and you’ll be back here with my chocolates before you know it.” Before I could change my mind, I stepped forward and pressed a kiss against his cheek. “Safe travels, City Roast.”

He grinned and opened my car door for me, the same thing he did every morning, and I slid in behind my steering wheel.

“Don’t find any new coffee partners while I’m gone,” he told me with a stern expression on his face but the corner of his lips twitched slightly. I just chuckled and shook my head.

“I wouldn’t dream of it. See you a week from Monday?”

“Ten days,” he confirmed before closing my door softly. He stood in the parking lot watching as I backed out and held his hand up in a wave that I returned before driving away.

I was a few minutes late but it wasn’t a big deal. I put in so many hours that I could have come in at noon every day and still manage to work more than forty a week. Besides, I wasn’t habitually late and my boss knew it.

The day went by quickly but that was only because I had so much to actually do. It never failed that Fridays were the busiest and it seemed to be even worse since I had planned on leaving at a decent time.

“Son of a bitch.” I reached up and hit the side of my computer monitor with the palm of my hand in an attempt to get it to work. “You can’t freeze now.”

“You know that actually doesn’t do anything to help, right?”

I looked up and scowled at the man in front of me. When I say I looked up, I looked up. Keon Swift was six-foot-six, towering over me by ten inches without heels, and by a hell of a lot more when I was sitting at my desk. His handsome face had a mischievous smile plastered to it and he reached up to push the dark hair out of his light-brown eyes. If I hadn’t been so damn exhausted from staying out so late with Bettina and the Lampkins, I might have smiled back.

“It makes me feel better. I haven’t saved anything in about thirty minutes.”

He sighed and came around behind me so that he could lean in and take a look at my screen. The smug bastard wasn’t just good looking- he smelled nice, too.

“Before you throw it out the window, let me see what I can do.”

Sure enough, Keon had the screen unfrozen with just a couple of clicks. I stared at him with my jaw dropped as he walked back around to sit in one of the chairs in front of my desk.

“How did you do that?”

He flashed a smirk that I was sure broke hearts left and right. “I have mad skills, Steph. On top of being your best employee, I also can work most electronics.”

“Don’t make me fire your ass,” I grumbled, unable to hide the slight smile that hit my lips. “How was the removal?”

Keon’s face fell. “Heartbreaking but those kids deserve better. I got them all settled into the Fowler household. I’ll work on finding them a permanent placement tomorrow.”

I sighed and glanced out my office window. The city was bustling twenty-three stories below as people started to wrap up their workdays. Up in our office, it felt like the days never ended. Even when we went home, we still had work with us one way or another. Some cases were so bad or pathetic that they stayed in our minds. Some caseloads were so much work that we fretted over them constantly. Sometimes we had on call shifts to cover so we really did take work home. Sometimes we got random calls about our kids vandalizing Italian restaurants. It was never ending.

But I loved it.

I had worked for the State of Arizona for over five years in the Department of Child Safety. I’d started as an intern with a fresh undergraduate degree and was hired on full-time once I finished my graduate degree in social work. Being a caseworker in the Prevention and Support department meant that we dealt mainly in child abuse and neglect, two things we saw way too much of.

I had been promoted to supervisor just six months before even though I was a lot younger and had less seniority than a few of the other caseworkers. I had initially been worried that the others would be resentful towards me because of it but the transition to my new role had gone well and I felt like I had finally settled in.

Keon was a newer hire, a part of the first group of candidates I’d had my hand in hiring and training five months before. He had quickly become a standout and gave every case his all. I was very proud of my protégé.

“I’m just glad Judge Randall is overseeing it instead of Miller. Three different times he sent the kids back to that home and each time was worse than the last. I understand wanting to keep kids with their parents as much as possible but he put them at risk every time he ordered us to give them back.”

“I know,” Keon replied quietly. And he did. The Whalen kids had been my case before I made supervisor and I’d transitioned it into Keon’s care when I lightened my caseload. Their mother was a drug addict who routinely cooked and dealt meth in her home. The kids needed to stay away from her until she got her life together. If she got her life together. “Are you staying late tonight?”

“Nope. I actually need to leave here in about twenty minutes.” I saved my document and glanced at the to-do list I had taped on the side of my screen. “Who’s still here?”

“Me, Rachel, Denise, and Francis. Well, and Robin because the two of you work way too much.”

I chuckled at the mention of my boss, the manager of our department. If anyone worked more than I did, it was Robin.

“Go home, Keon. You’re on call tomorrow, right?”

He nodded his head and stood from his chair, flashing me his charming smile. “Don’t have to tell me twice. See you Monday, Steph.”

Thirty minutes later, I turned off my monitor and packed up my things. Once my heels were back on my feet, I stood and poked my head into the office next to mine.

“I’m leaving.”

My boss, Robin White, looked up at me with an expression of fake shock. Hell, it could have been real shock, honestly.

“Are you sick? Is it the apocalypse? Stephanie Gibson is leaving on time for once?”

“Hi, pot. I’m kettle.” I grinned at her and she chuckled softly. She had about fifteen years over my twenty-six and was a wealth of knowledge. With her chestnut colored hair and brown eyes hiding behind a pair of glasses, she could manage to look friendly or intimidating depending on what was happening. She had been one of my mentors in the department and I credited her with everything I knew.

“Touché.” With her hand up in a wave, she then used it to shoo me away. “Have a great weekend, Gibson.”

She wasn’t the only one with something to say as I walked through the office. My employees all seemed shocked to see me leaving before them. I waved off their jeering and bid them all a good weekend as I headed to the elevator.

Alyssa’s car was in the garage when I got home but the house was silent, telling me she was sleeping. As quietly as I could, I started getting myself ready for dinner. I picked out a red dress that had three-quarter sleeves and a skirt line that hit my knees. It was classy, showing very little cleavage, but tight enough to accentuate my hips and boobs.

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