Authors: Reana Malori
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
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This is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to any actual persons, living or dead, organizations, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
Packing her suitcase, Cherie tried to stop the tears from flowing. She had to leave, but she didn’t know how she would say goodbye to her babies. Although she didn’t birth them, in her heart, those two sweet darlings asleep in the other room belonged to her. And now she was leaving them. Could she really do this?
Sitting heavily on the bed in the midst of her scattered clothes, Cherie thought back to the first day she had met Sean and Christina Harper. And their father. It was a day she would never forget.
Cherie had been new to Northern Virginia and really didn’t know anyone. A new graduate from the University of Virginia, she’d wanted to put her Business Management degree to good use. She hadn’t had a clue how to go about getting a cushy office job, and she’d really needed someone to give her a chance. The only problem had been she couldn’t find anyone willing to hire a fresh face with lots of enthusiasm but no real work experience.
With her money running low and her options looking even bleaker, she’d visited one of those temp agencies she’d heard about. Telling the recruiter she would accept any position they’d had available, the desperation in her voice had been clear to anyone willing to listen. Cherie had known she was capable of almost anything and could perform any job that came her way. The only holdback for her had been no one else did. So, when the agency had told her there was an opening as a nanny for two motherless children, she’d jumped at the chance.
She’d always loved children and wanted at least two or three of her own one day. Since she wasn’t quite ready for her own kids just yet, the next best thing was to help take care of someone else’s. She could spend her time giving them all the love and attention she could.
Walking up to the Harper house, no strike that—mansion, that very first day, she could now admit she’d been nervous as hell. Educated though she might have been, there had been no way the owner of this house would trust her with the care of his two young children. Resigning herself to the fact she wouldn’t get this job, she’d felt her best chance at salvaging the opportunity would be to go in there with confidence and friendliness. If nothing else, she would walk away with her ego and pride intact. She wouldn’t be turned away because she wasn’t nice or engaging enough. Experience was one thing, but she could accept that.
Knocking on the massive wooden door, she’d heard yells and screams and feet pounding on the floor. Damn, how many kids did this guy have? There was no way there were only two small kids, aged two and a half years old, in this house. It had sounded like a freaking army platoon running toward the door!
Bracing herself and getting ready to flee if a stampede came her way, she’d been shocked and pleasantly surprised when the door had opened. A Greek God had greeted her, or at least a descendent of one. She’d been shocked because the door had swung open so fast, she simply wasn’t expecting it. But her surprise—her wonderful surprise—stemmed from the Gorgeous man who’d opened the door, and she did mean Gorgeous with a capital G. She’d lost all ability to speak and her mouth had gone as dry as cotton when he’d turned his piercing blue eyes on her.
“Yes? May I help you?” She could see the look of desperation in his eyes and heard the stress in his voice.
“I’m Cherie Gilbert. The agency sent me to interview for the nanny position.” Looking past him to the wreck of the house, she’d given him another look and tried not to smile. “Is this a bad time?”
“No, no, come on in. I was expecting you, but things got a little hectic around here.” Opening the door wider and motioning for her to come in, he’d run his hand through his dark-chestnut hair. Trying not to look at him, but knowing she couldn’t resist, Cherie had allowed herself an excuse to get an eyeful by pretending to look around the foyer. Seeing he’d stretched out his hand in a gesture of greeting, she’d given him her most dazzling smile and reached out her own hand to grasp his. When he’d spoken again, his smooth voice had pulled her in even more, “I’m Rick Harper. Nice to meet you, Ms. Gilbert. Please come in and have a seat.”
“Thank you. Very nice to meet you as well. So, I understand that you have two children. Twins?”
“Yes, Sean and Christina are both 2½ years old.” Running his hand through his mussed hair again, he’d continued, “Once they became mobile, I couldn’t keep up with them, no matter what I tried. The last nanny left about one month ago to relocate with her husband to the UK.” Looking away from her, she could see the haggard look in his eyes and it had almost broken her heart. “She did wonders for us after Susan died. We were so lost and I didn’t know what to do with two small babies. She was a godsend.”
Motioning for her to sit down on the nearest couch, he’d left the room with a brief, “I’ll be right back.” Looking around, she noticed there were still traces of a woman’s touch. It hadn’t seemed as if much had changed since his wife had died, or maybe there had been another female presence around the home. She’d been curious about the circumstances surrounding this family, but she wouldn’t put her foot in her mouth to ask. Noticing some photographs on the mantle, Cherie couldn’t resist her curiosity and had gone to take a look.
Several photos were lined up side by side showing different stages of life for the home’s family. A beautiful woman with honey-blonde hair was dressed in a stunning wedding gown in one picture. In another was a beautiful couple, a woman that she’d assumed to be Susan Harper alongside Rick Harper, smiling at each other as if no one else existed in the world.
Several other pictures were of a pregnant but glowing Susan. Others reflected Rick Harper in various poses and positions, always with a smile on his handsome face. There were no pictures of Susan and the two children, but there were plenty of Rick and the children. And there were other pictures of other family members experiencing various stages of fun with Rick and the two kids. The one thing she’d noticed was their father no longer had the same aura of happiness he’d displayed in the earlier photographs.
Cherie had realized his wife must have died during childbirth or shortly thereafter and couldn’t help but hurt for him. No husband expected his wife not to be around to help raise their children. Heart hurting for the pain he’d endured, she’d started to slowly turn around when she’d heard that darn stampede coming her way again. These two kids were definitely mobile and it had sounded as if they were on the run from the law.
Ah, yep, on the run from the law, all right. Daddy Law. What had greeted her had made her heart stop beating and swell with love. Right then and there, she’d known she would do everything in her power to stay here and raise these two beautiful children.
They’d skidded to a stop at the door to the room she’d been standing in and had just stared up at her. Sean and Christina Harper had the bluest eyes she had ever seen, reminding her so much of their father’s eyes. Their honey-blonde hair was similar in color to their mothers and their chipmunk cheeks had been begging to be pinched and kissed. She’d fallen in love with both of them almost instantly.
Squatting down to be on their level, she’d reached out her hand. “Hey, sweetie. My name is Cherie, can you say Cherie?” Watching Sean and Christina eye her with cautionary glances, she’d waited patiently for them to decide if they would like her or not. She wouldn’t rush them. She’d known waiting would be a necessary part of gaining the children’s trust and she really wanted to gain theirs.
Just that quickly, Cherie had made a decision. They would need her; and if she’d been honest with herself, she’d need them just as badly. Finally, Sean had taken a tentative step towards her on short, chubby, but very sturdy-looking legs. On the way, he’d picked up one of the many toys on the floor, a stuffed bear with a missing eye and one arm hanging limply to the side. It had definitely been a wellloved teddy. He’d handed her the toy and waited until she’d grabbed it. “Nice bear. What’s his name?”
As she was speaking to Sean, he’d turned around to grab his sister. Tugging her hand, he’d helped her walk back over to Cherie and stood in front of her squatting form. “Stay wif us. Pway wif us.” Reaching for her hand, Sean had pulled her behind him and Christina and led her to the pile of toys at the side of the room.
With a start, Cherie had realized she had inexplicably forgotten about Mr. Harper. The man truly was unforgettable with a body to die for and sexy bedroom eyes. It had proved that his children were simply irresistible to her and that she belonged here with them.
“Oh, I’m so sorry. They are just adorable and I couldn’t say no. Is it okay if I play with them for just a bit?”
“Uh, sure. I’m just surprised. They don’t usually take to anyone so quickly. You can’t imagine how many potential nannies have come to the house and the kids have run screaming in the other direction. They haven’t slowed down for five minutes today and now look at them.”
Sitting down in a chair across from Cherie and the kids, he’d simply watched while they’d played. He’d asked a question every once in a while about her background and experience. She’d asked him questions in return about the children’s routines, likes and dislikes. After about two hours of conversation, she’d noted the time and had discovered this had been the most relaxing interview she’d ever had. The children had been curled in her lap, one on each side, while she’d been sitting on the floor and leaning against a chair, caressing their soft, silky hair.
“Cherie, how did you do it? You have no idea how difficult it is for me to put them down for a nap. You must have a magic touch with children.” Smiling inside, she’d realized they had already reached first-name basis. Her insides had fluttered upon hearing her name flow from his lips.
Looking down at the children and then up at Rick, she’d shrugged and smiled. “I love children. I always have. They are the innocents of the world and all they want is someone to love them. I can do that. It doesn’t matter that they’re not my children. I’ll take care of them and cherish them as if they were my own.”
Cherie came back to the present when she felt tears streaming down her face. Wiping her eyes and looking around her room, she knew she couldn’t do it anymore. She loved those two children so much. She couldn’t see her life without them in it.
And their father…well, he had broken her heart for the last time. After that first day, he had checked her references, such as they were, and she had interviewed with the other members of the household. Rick had offered her the position within the next few days after that first meeting.
She’d loved every minute of it. From the very first moment, she’d felt accepted. Never once feeling like an outsider, Cherie had always been treated as a member of the family. Until this past weekend.
How could he say what he did? How could he disregard her like that to his colleagues and friends?
Fine, she would show his ungrateful ass what she was made of. She might love his children, and she could secretly admit that she loved him, too, but he would never know it. She was a pretty woman, not stick thin, but nice and rounded with just enough junk in her trunk to turn a man’s eye.
She knew he found her attractive. There had been several times when she’d seen a glimpse of something more in his eyes as he looked at her. On occasion, she would catch him watching her in a way that reflected more than just professional respect. Maybe that was why it hurt so much. Wiping her eyes, she had to accept it was over now. She would force herself to be strong enough to walk away from him.
Calling in a favor from a friend, she knew the best thing for her was to leave and move back to the Richmond area. She would at least have a place to stay for the next few weeks while she got herself situated. She’d been taking some additional classes at the local university, as well as teaching classes nights and weekends at the local community college, while Rick stayed at home with the twins. Holding the right credentials, she could get a full-time job at the local college in Richmond and move on with her life.
Steeling her nerves, she continued packing her items, fairly certain Rick wouldn’t come to her room tonight. She had been so pissed at him last weekend that he’d kept a wide berth around her for the past few days. Emptying her drawers and mumbling to herself about stupid-ass men who wouldn’t know a good thing if it jumped up and bit them in the balls, Cherie failed to hear the light knock or hear her door open.
“What the hell is this, Cherie? Why are you packing your things?”
Shocked to hear Rick’s voice tonight of all nights, Cherie froze for a second before turning around to him. She had never seen him so livid, but she didn’t give a flying fuck. He could be pissed all he wanted. Dammit, she was pissed too!
“Get out of my room, Rick! You have eyes. You can see what I’m doing!” The look of shock on his face almost did her in. She wasn’t backing down. She could do this.
His voice was cold as ice when he spoke again. “What it looks like to me is that you’re trying to leave us. I want to know why!”
“How dare you?! How can you even ask me that question after what you did this weekend? Do you realize what you said to your friends and how it made me feel? You heartless son of a—”
“Stop right there. I have no idea what you’re talking about! I said nothing, nothing that would warrant this. Explain this to me!”
Really getting into it now, Cherie let loose on Rick with all the pent-up hurt she had inside. Knowing the kids were tucked away in bed and wouldn’t be waking up anytime soon gave her additional courage to speak her mind. “I heard you, Rick! I heard you tell your friends that the only reason I was still around is because the kids needed me. Given the chance, you would fire me in a heartbeat! Deny that you said those words, Rick, I dare you!”
When he dropped into a chair at her accusations, she saw the truth in Rick’s eyes and knew the hurt would never go away. After all this time, after all she had given. Things had gone horribly wrong. This was her family, dammit, and he had ripped it all apart.
“Cherie, wait. Let me explain. You didn’t hear everything.”
“Do you deny that you said it? I heard you, Rick!”
Rick’s eyes became shuttered. He slowly dropped his head in his hands and propped his chin on his closed fists. “Yes, I said it.”