(Book 1 of the Three Cross Faith Series)
Metal crashed metal. Niki Daniel's head smashed into the steering wheel, her car leaping forward toward the busy intersection. She snapped back into her seat, thrown around like a rag doll.
Horns honked when the light turned green, but she wasn't going anywhere. Niki stayed still until the excruciating pain in her head finally reached her brain. Her car door opened, but she didn't care. Instead, she closed her eyes, trying to figure out what had just happened.
"Are you okay, ma'am?" The male slight southern drawl made her want to turn to look, but she hesitated because of the throbbing pain in her head. "Ma'am? Can you hear me?"
A hand touched her shoulder. She opened her eyes and moved her head an inch to the left to see his face. "Who are you?"
"I should be asking you that, because you look so familiar." The man was very handsome, with bright blue eyes, strong muscular features, and a Stetson hat covering part of his wavy brown hair. "What's your name?"
"Let me think for a moment." She raised her hand, feeling the pain from a bump forming on her forehead. "Niki Daniels. Yeah, that's it."
"Are ya sure?"
She inched her hand over to the passenger's side, turning her head a bit. Sudden agony seared through her neck, making her wince, but she succeeded in pulling her purse to her lap. Her wallet lay on the top, so she grabbed it and opened it to her license, registration, and insurance card.
The man glanced down at the license then back at her face. "Yes, you're Nicole Daniels. I bet your nickname is Niki. Do you know where you live?" He covered the license with his hand as she closed her eyes.
"New York City. I live in Queens and I'm heading to work. I think I'm in Manhattan." Sirens sounded closer to the car. "I'm going to be late for a meeting." As a wave of nausea hit her, she sucked in a deep breath to stop it from continuing. Mind over matter worked, she kept telling herself.
"I don't think you're goin' anywhere." He moved his hand to the back of her neck. "Does that hurt?"
"It doesn't feel great, but I think I'll live."
He kept moving his hand down her spine, inching her whole body forward while holding her head and neck in line. He asked her how it felt with each touch, finally telling her to move her feet.
"I'm fine," she said. "I just bumped my head. I really have to get to work."
The sirens stopped and within a minute, a police officer approached her car. "Are you injured?" he asked her.
"I'm fine. I have to get to work, so can we move this along?" She was more than irritated, knowing she had a deadline.
Stetson Man stood up, his hands flying to his hips as he addressed the cop. "She has a head injury. I think she may have whiplash as well."
"What happened?" the officer asked Stetson Man.
He turned and pointed behind him. "I just got out of the taxi way back there when it took off at full speed toward the red light and hit her. She was stopped at the light. She needs medical attention."
"No, I'm fine," Niki said. Hurry up, she thought, but the nausea kept her from saying more.
The officer wrote down the information and took her license, registration, and insurance cards. An ambulance pulled up to the scene and after a few moments, an EMT approached her car. "Are there injuries here?"
Niki took a deep breath and stared forward, still shaken. "No. I don't need any help. I have to get to my meeting right there and I don't want to be late." She pointed at the building in front of her, remembering where she worked. "Am I allowed to go?"
"Not until you sign this." The EMT thrust a release form into her hand. She couldn't lower her head or concentrate very well on it, so she just signed it, hoping it wasn't anything she'd regret later.
Stetson Man knelt beside her. "I think this is a mistake, Blondie. You could have a number of medical problems."
"I'm fine and my name's not Blondie."
"I like that name." She could hear the smile in his voice, but didn't want to turn to look as he continued. "You have long golden blonde hair and blue eyes, making Blondie a great nickname. It really fits you."
Niki touched her forehead and stared at her steering wheel. "I'm wondering why my seatbelt didn't hold me back."
Stetson Man leaned toward her ear. "You weren't wearing one," he whispered.
"But I put it on…didn't I?" She turned her head to see his face, grimacing from the pain in her neck. She reached up and grabbed it, hoping the action would take the pain away.
Stetson man shook his head. "Unless the seatbelt released, I'd say no. I can take you to the hospital if ya want."
"No, I'm fine, but thanks for your help."
The officer returned to the car, still writing as he mumbled to himself. She just wished he'd hurry up.
"I need to get to work," Niki said to the officer, not turning toward him. "Can I go yet?"
"Sure." The officer handed her the cards from her wallet. "We'll be in touch."
"How's the man who hit me?"
"He's headed for the hospital," Stetson Man said. "Can I get your phone number so I can make sure you're okay later today?"
What was wrong with this man? Didn't he know this was New York? People didn't help strangers. "No, that's fine." She didn't trust him or any man. She also didn't like being the center of attention. "Thanks anyway." It was time to move on and forget this even happened, she hoped. However, she had no idea what shape her car was in. She'd have to get it fixed when she could afford it.
The officer handed her an accident report, they finished their business, and Niki closed her door. After she drove to the parking garage next to her building and pulled into her assigned spot, she rested her head on the back of her seat, feeling awful. There was no way she'd make it through the day, so she'd have to fake it somehow.
Once she pushed her car door open, she stood—in agony—and stepped to the back to view the damage. Her bumper was pushed in and the dent covered the whole trunk of her four-door dark blue car. She'd have to find someone to fix it, but not today. She didn't have the time.
The day started out pretty rotten but she was determined to make it. She had to meet their new client, Austin Cole, a famous contemporary Christian music singer. He was the first Christian singer for their music publishing company, since the market was bigger than ever for religious bands. Niki knew her company was only after the money, but it didn't matter. She was on a bigger mission to make a name for herself at the business.
Since Wanda, the person who'd initially worked with Austin, was out on maternity leave, Niki had been named his manager. She just wished she'd met the man before she had to present him to the higher-ups. If Wanda just hadn't gone into labor early, Niki wouldn't even be in the meeting. But Niki was very thankful. Christian musicians were hot right now, and this man could take her career places.
Niki removed her purse and briefcase from the car. She shut the door and headed to work. As soon as she rounded the back of the car, the bumper fell off. Typical for her day. With a moan of loud agony, she bent over and lifted the metal object. She popped open the trunk, threw the bumper inside, and shut it. If she could just start the day over again, she'd be much happier.
Every muscle in her neck hurt as she entered the building. Her head throbbed, and even the simple task of opening the door to the building made her groan. Maybe she should've listened to Stetson Man and gone to the hospital? At least then, she'd have medications to block out the pain and oncoming waves of nausea.
Once in her office, she locked her purse in the top desk drawer, dropped her coat on the chair, and opened her briefcase on top of the desk. As she lifted the paperwork for her newest client from inside her briefcase, she checked the clock on the wall. Two minutes until show time. She just wished the pain would subside before then and wished she had some aspirin, at least. But when she felt another wave of nausea, even aspirin sounded dreadful.
Niki left her office and glanced toward Sherry, her secretary. "I'm off to that meeting."
The woman didn't even look up from her paperwork. "I know. You also have a two o'clock with Mr. Glick, too."
"Yes." The big boss from Glick and Collins Music wanted Niki to sway other Christian bands to join them, since they'd just about landed Austin. It wasn't going to be easy, because Niki didn't even consider herself a Christian. God had left her high and dry years ago. But if the singers could bring her fame, so be it.
She walked to the conference room and pushed the huge door open, hiding the pain in her neck as much as she could. While pasting a smile on her lips, she faced Mr. Glick, Tom—her immediate boss, and Janet—Mr. Glick's assistant.
"Good morning," she said. "I believe our client will be here momentarily."
"Did you meet him yet?" Mr. Glick lifted his eyes from the paperwork on the table in front of him. A frown covered his face as he stared at her. "What happened to you?"
Niki lifted a hand to her sore head. It probably looked worse than it was, because the lump forming on her forehead felt huge, at least the size of an egg. "My car was hit this morning by a taxi. I'm fine." She waved him off, hoping she wouldn't be the center of attention. She was walking on thin ice at this job, so she couldn't chance any other problem.
"Did you go to the hospital?" Mr. Glick asked.
"No, I'm fine. I didn't want to be late for this meeting." Niki sat in the chair beside Tom and opened her folder. She went through the paperwork, ignoring the nausea in her stomach and the agony in her head and neck.
"I need to update you before this meeting," she said. "Mr. Cole has a young three-year old daughter, but has help at home so he can go on tour. He has the songs to make an album and they've started the recording, I think. His fan base is solid, but mainly in his home state, so we're thinking a publicity campaign is needed to sell him nationwide. He likes performing in churches and prefers intimate groups of listeners. He has a band, but I don't know if the band can travel or not. I have a band that needs a lead singer, and we can make that happen if his band can't help."
Mr. Glick nodded. "Let's see what he says, first. If he wants to go solo, he may just need backup singers. We can record the background music then work with a minimal contingency."
She made a note about the background music. "I didn't get the demo CD for him. Does anyone know where it is?"
Janet took a deep breath and blew it out slowly in frustration. "Wanda's secretary has it and won't give it up. She plays it all day long and takes it home with her. I think it may be scratched from overuse. She said Austin's the next best thing to take her heart away or something like that."
"Great," Niki muttered. "A groupie already."
A knock at the door had everyone turning, that is, except for Niki. She moved her chair so she wouldn't turn her head. The pain and nausea had gotten worse. She told herself she'd take something to deal with it as soon as the meeting was over. She just wished she could stop shaking on the inside.
The door opened and a secretary popped her head inside. "Mr. Cole is here."
"Send him in," Mr. Glick said.
She grinned. "He's really hot and sexy." The door shut while the group chuckled.
"Do you have a headshot yet?" Mr. Glick asked Niki.
"No, sir. I think Wanda went into labor before she could ask for one."
"That's fine. We'll have a professional take a headshot." He glanced down at the papers resting in front of him. "Where's he from?"
"The south, I think, but I'm not sure from where." Wanda hadn't even written down the man's address. She'd really dropped the ball on Niki at the last moment.
The door opened and the secretary held it for the man. Niki saw the hat before she saw the man. A Stetson entered, attached to an extremely handsome, tall, blue-eyed man, dipping his head to make it through the door.
Niki's mouth fell open. Her new client was none other than Stetson Man from the car accident.