Allison Robbins needs to relax… or else.
The middle child in a family chock-full of Type A’s, she’s determined to get promoted before she turns thirty. What she doesn’t anticipate: panic attacks that look like heart attacks, just before one of the biggest presentations of her career. Under doctor’s orders Allison has to find a nice, physical hobby.
After a series of unfortunate attempts, she finally settles on the perfect pursuit for a California girl: surfing. She’s even commandeered the services of surf instructor Sean Gilroy — just the guy to teach Allison’s uptight self how to chill. But aside from being unsettlingly cute in a wet suit, Sean seems like the stereotypical surfer: casual, laid-back and entirely certain that things will take care of themselves. In other words, the polar opposite of Allison’s world of stress, coffee and more stress.
Sean Gilroy has never experienced anything like the force of nature that is Allison. Before he knows it, they’re making each other crazy — and making each other hot. But he’s worried that she’s never going to embrace his lifestyle — and that the changes he’d have to make to fit into her life would destroy the core of the person he is.
As he learns to step up, and she learns to hang out, the two of them learn one important thing: sometimes, the last person you expect to fall for is the one person you really need.
“We are going to land the Kibble Tidbits account, or we are going to die trying!”
Allison Robbins nodded vigorously at her boss Frank’s vehement statement. She noticed that everyone else at the conference table at Flashpoint Advertising was also nodding in agreement.
“I don’t have to tell you how big this account is,” Frank said, pacing around the conference room table like Patton rallying the troops. “We’re talking millions of dollars in media placement, more millions in brand advertising development and creative development and direct mail. Their parent company? Only one of the largest fast food restaurant chains in the United States!”
Allison tried not to think about the fact that one of the largest fast food restaurant chains in the United States also had a dog food product. There wasn’t any correlation.
Frank continued, undeterred. “And, if we land this part of the account, the Kibble Tidbits dog food product, there’s a good chance we could get the whole damned shooting match!”
Frank gestured to Allison, and she stood up. Her heart was beating fast, the usual before she had to make a presentation. She had enough adrenaline in her bloodstream to bench press a school bus.
“Frank’s asked me to pull together some notes on how we’re going to attack the proposal,” Allison said. “Gary? You want to run the slides?”
Gary, her assistant, instantly had the laptop and projector running like clockwork. Before they hit the lights, though, she noticed several people rolling their eyes and sneering ever so slightly. She didn’t blame them, she supposed… it was the day before Thanksgiving, it was three o’clock, and a lot of them hoped to go home early. Beyond that, she knew she didn’t have their unswerving support.
It hurt a little, sure, but she knew it.
The fact was, if they managed to land this account, Frank was going to be promoted to Vice President. That meant there would be an Account Supervisor position open for the taking, for one of the very account executives sitting around this table. Every single one of them was aware of it.
And Allison was going to have it, or die trying.
Everyone also knew that Allison was probably first in line for the job, she thought, clicking her laser pointer on, which only added to their resentment. That hurt just a touch more.
Her heart was still dancing wildly in her chest, but she pushed the sensation aside. She was next in line for a damned good reason. She was the best at what she did. Period. End of sentence.
“They’ve been saturating the market with some feel-good stuff, but more of today’s consumers are getting more health conscious – not just for themselves, but for their pets…”
She started to run through the slides, her voice never wavering. The slides were very convincing, and she noticed lots of people taking notes. The slides ought to be convincing. She and Gary had been here till midnight getting them done.
“In addition to that, we’re going to suggest a direct mail campaign to veterinarians, and maybe a coupon to the consumers themselves…” She paused. “Gary? Could you check the thermostat? It’s getting a little hot in here… I’ll bet they cranked up the heat again.”
That’s when she noticed everyone look around at each other. She felt like she was on fire.
“Not too low,” Marianne, one of the other execs, said hastily. “Actually… honestly, I’m a little cold.”
“Really?” Allison realized that a couple of people were nodding, and to make matters worse, they were all staring at her. She took a deep breath, or as deep as she could manage, and tried to ignore the heat rushing through her. It was nothing. Probably just a little… well, she was only twenty-nine, so it wasn’t a hot flash. Maybe something she ate. “So, to continue. What we’re recommending…”
Her heart suddenly pumped faster, demanding her attention. What the heck…?
“Allison?” Frank asked, when she paused noticeably. “You all right?”
She struggled for focus, reined herself in. “Sure. Anyway, it’s all there in the handouts.” She wasn’t going to be able to continue. The feeling threatened to overwhelm her, and she forced herself to keep her voice steady. “You don’t need me to walk you through it. Especially when most of you probably have turkey and pumpkin pie on your minds, not dog biscuits.”
She got a polite business-laugh, and she realized that Frank was still staring at her curiously as she went back to her seat. She sat down because she was afraid she’d fall down. It felt about a million degrees in there. Worse, she was starting to find the atmosphere absolutely cloying. It was like breathing fog. She looked longingly out the hermetically sealed window.
Just one deep breath…
“Great job, Allison. Of course, that’s what I expect.” Frank walked to the front of the room. “I also expect everyone to be putting in overtime on this one. Whatever it takes. So enjoy your turkey or pie or whatever… because come Monday, we go to war. You can go ahead and go home early, if you like.”
His eyes said but not if you want to get the promotion.
They all thanked him… and then filed out, going to their respective offices. Nobody was leaving, Allison felt quite sure of that.
Allison felt her head start to pound in tempo with her heart.
Frank hung back, staring at her. “What the hell was that about?” he asked, as Gary packed up the projector and laptop. “You didn’t even go over your presentation, after all that work.” He squinted at her. “And you look sort of pale.”
“Frank, I am sort of pale,” she said, laughing it off. Or trying to. All she wanted to do was rush outside and take some gulping breaths, but she forced herself to get up slowly, steadying herself. “I’m in here at six-thirty, don’t leave until eight. When do I have time to tan?”
“Well, make sure you’re not coming down with a cold,” he said, with a grumpy note of concern.
“I will,” she said. A cold. Maybe that was it. The flu…
“Because I really need you on point for this. We can’t afford to screw this up.”
“Of course.” Like she didn’t know that?
He waited a second, just to let her know that he was serious, then he left. She walked slowly back to her office. She felt nauseous.
Gary was putting the laptop away, but he stood up. “What happened?” He repeated Frank’s question, but unlike Frank, his voice rang through with real worry.
“Nothing,” she said. “Can I ask you for a favor?”
He looked at her, frowning. “Your wish, my command, yadda yadda. What do you need?”
“Did you bring your car?”
He blinked at her from behind his wire-rimmed glasses. “Um, yeah. What, do you need me to pick something up?”
“More like drop something off,” she muttered, grabbing her briefcase from behind her desk. “Come on. I’ll tell you on the way.”
They walked to the parking lot at a fairly decent pace. She could see some people glancing at her, obviously wondering if she were leaving early. She kept her expression schooled, and ignored the desire to hold Gary’s arm for support, letting him talk about her schedule, the upcoming presentations… the works.
When the doors opened to the outside, she took in a deep, explosive breath.
Gary glanced around, then put a steadying arm around her waist. “Whoa. What the hell?”
“Anybody looking?” No matter how hard she breathed, she still felt like she couldn’t get enough air.
“No.” Now his voice crackled with worry. “What’s going on?”
“You’re taking me to the hospital,” she whispered. “Slowly. Something’s wrong.”
If anyone could look casually panicked, it’d be Gary. She almost laughed at the war of emotions on his normally impassive face. “You got it.”
She got into his car, barely grinning at the way he sedately pulled out of the parking lot… and then gunned the engine when they were out of sight of the building.
“What is it? What’s happening?” Now that they were safely out of earshot, Gary’s voice rang out like a very high-pitched trumpet. “You looked awful. I thought you were going to pass out.”
“I feel like I can’t breathe,” she said, finally leaning back against the cushions. “My heart’s beating like a wild woman.”
“Does it hurt?”
“Well, it’s not what I’d call comfortable,” she snapped.
“Do you think it’s a heart attack?”
“I don’t… well. Hmmm.” She tried to remember what it had been like when her father had his three heart attacks. The problem was, she’d never actually been there when he’d had them. All three times, he’d been in his office at work.
That probably wasn’t a good sign, she thought, gnawing at her lower lip.
She rolled down the window, tried to take deep breaths as the beginning of rush hour Los Angeles traffic zoomed around her. They pulled into the Emergency Room with a squeal of tires. Gary practically carried her to the door.
“I am not completely incapacitated here,” she said.
“At least you feel well enough to bitch at me,” he said, with his usual straight face.
In a shorter amount of time than she would’ve expected, she was shuttled off by a nurse practitioner. “So? You’ve got chest pains? What type? What time, exactly, did they start?” The woman asked.
“A little squeezy, and my heart’s beating like crazy. They started about an hour ago.”
“Have you had any heart problems before? Any heart attacks?” She handed Allison an aspirin, which Allison stared at. “Take this.”
Allison did as she was told. “No heart problems personally, but attacks run in the family.”
“Feel nauseous? Dizzy?”
“A little of both,” Allison admitted.
“Lie down. Breathe this.” The nurse put the tubes of oxygen in Allison’s nose and then started unbuttoning Allison’s shirt, sticking her with EKG pads. “Are you taking Viagra?”
Allison was so surprised, she sat up, strangling herself on the oxygen hose. “Am I taking what?”
“Are you taking anything like Viagra?” the nurse repeated impatiently.
Allison couldn’t help it. She let out a burst of nervous laughter. “Do I look like I have erectile dysfunction to you?”
“Gotta ask it, whether you’re male or female. Okay. Just lie back and let me check this out.”
Allison did, focusing on her breathing.
“Ms. Robbins… have you been under any stress lately?”
“Well, sure. Who isn’t?” That probably shouldn’t have come out as defensively as it did.
“Are you regularly under pressure?”
“Only when I’m awake,” she tried to joke, then thought about the last nightmare she had – a client review where she was giving a presentation in nothing but granny panties and a big grin. “Okay. Sometimes when I sleep.”
The woman nodded knowingly. “Well, I can’t say this conclusively, and the doctor’s going to want to talk to you, but from everything I’ve seen, you aren’t having a heart attack.”
Allison slumped back against the gurney. “That’s a relief.”
“But I will say one thing,” the nurse added. “You seem to be having the mother of all panic attacks.”