Tennessee Rescue(2)

By: Carolyn McSparren

The man was laughing at her! “Sir, I am formally requesting your assistance in getting the wildlife—” she pointed to the insignia on his khaki shirt “—out of my house and back into the wild. Thank you in advance for your assistance.”

Then he really did laugh. Well, more of a snort, but he obviously considered her amusing. She was not amusing. She was a serious executive—okay, a currently unemployed executive—moving into the shambles of a house she’d inherited in the middle of nowhere. She’d expected grime and peeling paint. She hadn’t expected live creatures inside. Definitely not skunks.

As long as they were in residence, she didn’t plan to be. Either they’d have to go or she would. But where? She couldn’t afford to live in a motel for very long, even the rent-by-the-hour place close to the interstate. She had to shepherd her savings and severance pay, in case she didn’t get a new job right away. She’d rather die than ask her father and stepmother for money to tide her over, although they’d gladly help her out if she was desperate. She didn’t plan to ask them unless or until she was desperate.

She’d expected that after three years of renters and six months standing empty, Aunt Martha’s house—her house now—would have problems, but skunks? Ridiculous.

It might take months to find another job as good as the one she’d just been fired from. Until then, she needed to live as frugally as possible. It made no sense to live in a motel while she owned a three-bedroom house on five acres; she’d inherited the place from her aunt Martha with taxes paid and no mortgage. It was empty and urgently needed renovation, but it had a roof and working plumbing. Good enough. She was a stranger here. She wouldn’t have to deal with personal questions.

Aunt Martha’s inheritance was the only thing that did belong to her free and clear at the moment. She still owed money on her SUV, and her little town house in Memphis still carried a hefty mortgage. She didn’t want to sell it. She’d told her agent to try to rent it furnished on a short-term lease.

Okay, so she was escaping. She simply had to get away from all the damned sympathy! Who loses both a job and a fiancé in twenty-four hours?

Living in the boondocks near the Tennessee River was strictly a stopgap. She was a city girl. Period. She’d loved her childhood summers up here with her aunt, but Martha was gone and Emma wasn’t a child anymore. In those long-ago summers she’d come here to a place and a person she loved, someone who’d cared about her, too. Now she wanted sanctuary. She was lucky she had this sanctuary.

“Does your pantry have a door?” Mr. Wildlife asked. Finally, he stood aside to let her in.

She stayed under the porch overhang. No sense in dripping all over his living room floor. “Yes, why?”

“Shut the door on the skunks and forget them. Either they have a way out and will leave on their own, or you can let them out tomorrow morning in the daylight.”

“With all this rain? They’ll freeze.”

“Probably not.”

“Then they’ll starve! Will they find their mother?”

He sighed. “Wish I could say yes, but skunk mothers don’t abandon kits. I suspect she’s roadkill.”

“Oh, no! Then I’ll have to look after them!”

He shook his head. “Not in Tennessee you don’t. It’s illegal to foster abandoned skunks.”

“Why on earth?”

“In east Tennessee they can be rabid. Here in west Tennessee we haven’t had a rabid skunk in a hundred and fifty years.”

“But the law still applies throughout the whole state? So you’re just going to let them starve or get eaten by coyotes? No way!” She turned on her heel. “Thank you, Mr. Officer, sir. Go enjoy your dinner. I’ve got this.”

She could feel his eyes on her back as she stalked down his front path, across the road and through her front door. She didn’t exactly slam it behind her, but she gave it a hard shove. She’d left all the lights on, so she could see her way among the boxes she’d brought with her. She brushed the rain off her short hair, tiptoed through the kitchen and stuck her head in the pantry.