“I’ll chat you up a bit,” Stephanie continued. “You are gorgeous, and I can-”
“Jared is not, I repeat, not interested in me. You’ll only embarrass us both if you try to match us up.”
Stephanie took another sip of her coffee, a dreamy faraway expression in her eyes. “I promise, Melissa. I won’t do a single thing to embarrass you.”
Melissa had waited all morning for a chance to privately warn Jared about Stephanie’s matchmaking plans. She could hardly walk up to the front door of Stephanie’s house and knock. And Jared, as far as she could tell, hadn’t come out of the house.
Standing over a tub of water in the tack room, she had a decent view of the front porch. Her hands were red and slippery from the glycerin soap, but at least the job was straightforward: wash the tack, dry the tack, polish the tack. She’d worked her way through a decent-size pile of leather.
When lunchtime came along without a sign of Jared, she started to worry. If Stephanie was already matchmaking, he was probably plotting his escape from the equestrian center. If she didn’t do something soon, there was every possibility that he’d leave before she got anything more for her story.
She had to find a way to get hold of him.
She clicked through the possibilities in her brain until finally she came up with a viable plan. If she could somehow get her hands on his cell number, she could talk to him without Stephanie knowing.
She pulled her hands from the warm water, shook them off and dried them on a towel. Her cell phone was in her taupe canvas tote bag, and it didn’t take her long to get directory assistance and the Chicago number for Ryder International. The receptionist put her through to Jared’s assistant.
“Jared Ryder’s office,” said a friendly female voice.
“I need to speak to Jared Ryder,” Melissa opened, hoping the office would give her his cell phone number.
“I’m afraid Mr. Ryder is not in the office today.” The voice remained friendly and professional. “Can I help you with something?”
“Do you happen to have his cell phone number?” Melissa mentally crossed her fingers that the woman would be willing to give it out.
“I’m afraid I can’t provide that information. Is there someone else who can-”
“Would you be able to get a message to him?” Melissa moved to plan B.
Some of the patience leached out of the woman’s voice. “Can I get your name, please?”
“So you can get him a message?” Melissa’s hope rose.
“He may not get it until next week.”
“I need him to get it today. Right away if possible.”
“If I could just have your name.”
“It’s Melissa. Melissa Webster.” She used the alias she’d used on her résumé.
“And what is the message regarding?”
Good question. Melissa racked her brain. She sure couldn’t say she was a reporter, but if the subject didn’t seem important, the secretary might not send it to Jared right away. “Saxena Electronics,” she offered impulsively.
“You’re from Saxena?” The skepticism was clear.
Melissa could only assume most Saxena employees had East Indian accents. “I’m affiliated with them,” she lied. “The message is that Melissa Webster needs to talk about Saxena right away. In private,” she added, ending with her cell phone number.
“I’m not sure-”
“Please believe me that it’s important,” Melissa put in quickly.
The woman hesitated on the other end of the line.
“There’s no risk,” Melissa pointed out. “If it’s not important, he’ll just ignore it, right?”
“I’ll see what I can do.”
“Maybe a quick text or an e-mail?”
“I’ll see what I can do.” The voice had turned stony.
It was definitely time to back off. “Thank you,” said Melissa with as much gratitude as she could muster. “I really do appreciate this.”
The professionalism and the formality came back. “Thank you for calling Ryder International.”
“Thanks for your help,” Melissa offered once more before hanging up.
Then she plunked her phone back in her bag, readjusted the clip that was holding her hair back and pulled her damp tank top away from her chest. She hated to go to lunch looking like this, but it was a long walk back to her cottage, and there was no way she could skip the meal.
As the days went by, her respect for cowboys and stable hands had risen. They worked extremely hard. A salad or a protein shake might cut it in an office, but out here, calories were essential.