Anyone but You Read online

  “The respect she has for you is awesome,” Alex said. “Must be because you’re not an ER specialist.”

  “I dated her once,” Max said.

  “That explains it.” Alex stood up and headed for the door. “Go away. I have to work.”

  “Don’t forget tomorrow,” Max called after him. “Family day. The whole Farkle family.”

  “Right,” Alex muttered under his breath as he strode down the green-tiled hall. “Dr. Farkle, and Dr. Farkle, and Dr. Farkle, and Dr. Farkle, and Dr. Farkle.”

  “What?” Zandy asked him as she tried to catch up with him.

  “Don’t ever go into the family business, Zan,” Alex said. “It’s hell being low man on the dynasty.”

  “They trying to talk you out of the ER?” Zandy skipped a couple of times to keep up with him, her legs a good six inches shorter than his, so he slowed for her.

  “Yep,” Alex said.

  “Don’t do it.”

  Alex looked down at her, surprised. “No?”

  “No,” Zandy said. “You need this place. And it needs you. Ignore them. They’re all suits.”

  Alex grinned at her. “Even Max?”

  “Max is an ape,” Zandy said. “But you’re the good guy. Stay with us.”

  “Well, I’m planning on it,” Alex began and then he heard the sirens and moved toward the doors, forgetting Zandy and Max and the whole Farkle family as he went to do what he loved best, saving lives on the run.

  “YOU GOT a what?” Charity stood in the middle of Nina’s high-ceilinged apartment and stared at Fred, amazed.

  “Charity, this is not just any dog.” Nina tensed, still doubtful herself about the wisdom of buying an animal for comfort. Charity wouldn’t buy a dog for comfort. She’d buy a red leather miniskirt at the boutique she managed, yank her long kinky red hair up on top of her head and tie it in a knot with a black stocking, and go out and find a new man. At least, that’s what she’d done the last time one of her relationships had pancaked on her, before she’d found Sean, her One True Love. Sean was actually her Twelfth True Love, but as Charity said, who was counting?

  Since Nina’s chances of wearing a leather miniskirt were slim to none, she sighed and turned her attention back to Fred, sitting like a lump in the middle of her hardwood floor, looking up at her with bemused adoration. Fred was better than a leather miniskirt. He might not get her a new man, but he’d give her unconditional love. Fred was definitely better.

  Charity didn’t see it that way. “You move out of that mansion on Lehigh Terrace and into this apartment in this Victorian hovel, on the third floor of this Victorian hovel, and there’s not even an elevator—”

  “If you wouldn’t wear four-inch heels, two flights of stairs would not be a problem,” Nina murmured.

  “—but that’s not bad enough, you’ve got to get a dog.” Charity blinked down at Fred. “That is a dog, isn’t it?”

  Fred stood up, turned his back on her and walked away across the floor, his butt swaying majestically.

  “Charity, I need Fred,” Nina said. “I feel better already. He has personality.”

  Charity nodded. “That’s what I smell. His personality.”

  “I didn’t want to give him a bath right away.” Nina watched Fred as he explored the living room, stopping to investigate her fig tree. “Don’t even think about it, Fred,” she warned him. Then she said to Charity, “I wanted him to feel at home first. He’s only been here an hour, but I had to call you right away. I knew you’d want to meet him.”

  “If he’s been here an hour, he’s seen home.” Charity surveyed the apartment with disgust. “How you could move from your place to this…”

  “I didn’t move from my place, I moved from Guy’s place.” Nina followed Charity’s eyes around the room, caressing the oak wainscoting and the tiny beige print wallpaper, the veneer fireplace and the fat ruby-upholstered couch and lopsided chair. “This is my place, the first place I’ve ever had that’s all mine. I loved it the first time I saw it. I’ve been here a month now, and I feel more at home than I did after sixteen years in that mausoleum of Guy’s.” The thought of Guy made her shake her head. “We should never have gotten married. We didn’t want any of the same things. I never wanted that house on Lehigh Terrace. He never wanted a dog.” Fred began to move again, and Nina felt the tension ease out of her shoulders as she watched the miscellaneous collection of independent canine parts that was Fred move past her on his way to the couch. “I always wanted a dog. And now I have Fred.”

  Fred sniffed the couch again. He’d sniffed it several times since he’d arrived, but now he made a decision. His haunches quivered and tensed as he crouched, and then with a mighty leap he flung himself onto the overstuffed cushions, hanging there for a long moment, a triumph of hope over biology, only to slide slowly back to the floor and land with a soft thud as his butt failed to achieve lift-off.

  He took it pretty well, considering.

  Charity looked at her as if she were demented. “And you’re going to run up and down the stairs twenty-six times a night to water this animal, right? And what about during the day? You work, for God’s sake. I can just see Jessica’s face if you bring Fred into the office.” She shook her head, and her red ringlets bounced as they swung back and forth. “You’re nuts. I love you, but you’re nuts. Your divorce was just final, you’ve only been an editor for six months so there’s that stress and you’re settling into a new place. Why bring another headache into your life?”

  Nina sighed and sat down. “Speaking of headaches, Jessica gave me a new book to work on. It’s worse than the last one.”

  Charity looked disgusted. “Is she trying to bankrupt that press? She needs to publish something with some oomph in it.”

  “No, she’s doing what her daddy did before her.” Nina watched Fred waddle over to them, the couch humiliation evidently forgotten. “She’s trying to keep the tradition going.”

  Charity nodded. “Right into the toilet. She might as well call it the Boring Press.”

  Nina closed her eyes. “I know it. The whole place is going to fold, and I’ll be out of work, and Jessica will kill herself because she’s brought the family institution to ruin. And I don’t know how to save it, so that depresses me. And I love this place, but it was lonely, and I was coming home so down about work and Jessica, and I just needed something warm to cheer me up.” She took a deep breath. “And that’s Fred. He’s already cheered me up. Just having him around cheers me up.”

  Charity watched Fred as his chin sank closer to the floor. “I can see how he’d do that. Peppy little fellow.”

  Nina ignored her. “And I have a plan for watering him. Come here.” She walked to the big window next to her couch and shoved up the heavy old windowpane. “See?”

  Charity followed her, and Nina gestured to the black metal fire escape outside.

  “The fire escape is only about a foot down from the window.” Nina stuck her head out. “This is the third floor, and the back is all fenced-in, and the gate is always closed except on trash day. So I’m going to train Fred to use the fire escape.” She pulled her head back in. “Isn’t that great?”

  Charity nodded, and then patted her arm. “That’s great, Neen. It really is.”

  “Don’t feel sorry for me.” Nina folded her arms across her stomach. “I’ve got everything I wanted. I was the one who left Guy, remember? I was the one who got fed up with the high life and living for his career. And it was the right thing to do. I love this apartment, and I love my job. It’s just—I get lonely.”

  “I know.” Charity nodded. “It’s okay. I know.”

  “I’m forty,” Nina said. “I know this is the prime of my life, I know this is when life begins, I’ve read all the articles, but I’m forty and I’m alone and—”

  “I know.” Charity put her arms around her and held her tight. “I know. You’re going to be okay.”

  Nina nodded against her friend’s shoulder. “I just wanted somebody to