Courage To Believe

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When a mix-up occurs and Mary O’Toole is hired as nanny to sexy-as-sin CEO Jacob Stone’s daughter instead of his executive assistant, she’s too desperate to pass up the income. But after one look into the little girl’s sad eyes, and she sees the pain behind Jacob’s eyes, there’s no way she can turn her back on this hurting family.

Jacob has to contend with the most demanding, stubborn, sweetest nanny he’s ever hired. She waltzes into their home and turns everything upside down. Including his emotions. How will he manage when she leaves? Because, eventually, like every other nanny he’s ever hired, she’ll get fed up with him and quit. He has a bad habit of pushing too hard and being too stubborn. It’s just his way.

Just go in there and get it over with.

God, I can’t deal with the rejection again.

Yes, you can. Just go in there and get it done.

Then I can go crawling home to my sister and tell her she was right. I should never have come to New York. I never should’ve left home.

Mary stared at her reflection in the mirrored wall and cringed. How could she go back to Belle and tell her she’d failed? Her sister had warned her that New York was a place that chewed up women like her for lunch.

She’d been right.

Mary dug into her purse and pulled out her lipstick-Coral, nothing too bright-and smoothed it on. Then she pulled out a tissue and blotted it off. What good would lipstick do when the rest of her looked like a frump?

Yeah, Belle had been right. New York was populated with tall, beautiful, size two women. Mary wasn’t a size two, she was closer to a twenty-two. Okay, not quite a twenty-two anymore, but darned close. Who would have thoughtSex And The City was an accurate portrayal of life in the Big Apple?

And this was her last chance to make it. She’d made it through the pre-interview with the outgoing executive assistant two days ago-a very strange interview it had been-and had been called back for the final interview withhim. Mr. Jacob Stone. The CEO of Stone Enterprises.

Until last week she’d never heard of the man, which wasn’t surprising considering her lack of knowledge of any business bigger than the mom and pop convenience store she’d worked in since she was sixteen years old. But she’d read up on him before her interview. If Donald Trump was the king of New York, Jacob Stone was the crown prince. According to Forbes, within five years he might even be worth more than Trump himself.

This was her last chance. She was out of money, and she had to be out of the Y by the end of the week. With only her return bus ticket to Vergennes, Vermont-touted as the third oldest city in the United States, and also the smallest-she had nowhere to go but up.

She had to make it on this one.

Taking a deep breath, she prayed for luck. Prayed for a chance with this man. Then, still staring at herself in the mirror, almost turned tail and ran. Who was she kidding? Almost thirty-two years old, fresh out of a small state college, and sixty pounds overweight with flame red hair. What CEO of a New York based corporation would hire her for the prominent position of executive assistant?

The door to Stone Enterprise’s main office swung open and Mrs. Brocton, the out-going executive assistant who’d done the pre-interview, stuck her head out into the hallway. “There you are, dear. He’s waiting on you.”

Mary’s stomach threatened to send back the salad she’d had for lunch. She should have skipped the meal, but the thought of sitting in an interview with her stomach growling had been more of a threat at the time.

“Come along, Ms. O’Toole. Mr. Stone doesn’t like to be kept waiting.” Mrs. Brocton had to be close to seventy, petite, only five one or two, and had a better figure than most thirty year olds Mary knew.

“Yes, ma’am,” Mary finally said when she got her tongue to work. “I’m sorry.”

Mrs. Brocton gave her a warm smile and patted her arm. “You’ll do well, Ms. O’Toole. You’re just what he’s been looking for. Come along.”

Mary followed her into the spacious outer office, past a long desk with a young, beautiful blonde woman sitting behind it. The windows lining the wall gave a rather dreary view of a gray New York cityscape. The clouds hung so low she couldn’t even see the Empire State Building. The woman at the desk looked up and smiled, then turned back to a stack of papers. Through another door they went, this one leading to Mrs. Brocton’s office. Then, in front of her stood the huge, dark wood door that led to Mr. Jacob Stone. She knew this because the gold plaque right there on the mahogany read: Jacob Stone CEO.

“I think I’m going to be sick,” she whispered to no one in particular.

Mrs. Brocton gave her another smile and this time she could swear there was a bit of pity in the look. At her five foot eight height, Mary felt like a giant-an ogre-next to the beautiful, petite woman.

Mary swallowed. “I’m okay. Let’s just get this over with so I can go home.”

Mrs. Brocton’s smile faltered a bit, but almost immediately returned. She pushed open the door on silent hinges and walked briskly into the office. “Mr. Stone. Ms. O’Toole is here for the interview.”

“Thank you.” His voice was low. Smooth. She’d seen his picture in Forbes, but he was even more handsome in person. He had a full head of smartly combed back black hair with a sprinkling of gray at the temples, and when he looked up from whatever he’d been reading on his desk, Mary was met by startling, deep blue eyes. “Come in. I have another meeting in fifteen minutes.”

Mary stepped into the office and casually wiped her right palm on her slacks to make sure it wasn’t moist when she shook his hand.

“Have a seat.”

Obediently, she lowered herself onto the edge of the comfortable leather chair opposite his desk. Darn it. She should have shaken his hand. Where had all her training gone? She debated standing back up and extending her hand over the wide desk, but that would look utterly stupid at this point. Her heart thudded in her throat, and a trickle of sweat slid down between her breasts.

“Mrs. Brocton has informed me you are perfect for the position, but, considering the importance of this job, I needed to meet you in person.”

He was back to reading from papers on his desk as he spoke. He wore a white dress shirt, and my goodness, his shoulders filled it nicely. He sure didn’t look like most of the businessmen she’d met in the last month. There wasn’t a hint of the two martini lunches she’d noticed on others. His face was chiseled, and, from what she could see of his body behind the desk, the rest of him was the same. Shirt collar open at the throat and no tie in sight. His sleeves were rolled to his elbows, exposing lean, tanned forearms. Even his hands looked sexy. But not as sexy as that chest. She’d lay odds, what with the tan and all, that he didn’t get that kind of physique from any gym.

“Ms. O’Toole?”

She raised her gaze from his chest. Uh oh. She’d missed whatever he said. Her face heated. She hadn’t been thinking of his body that way, she reassured herself. She never thought of a man’s body that way. Not for a very long time, anyway. And certainly not Jacob Stone, one of the richest men in America.

Clearing her throat, she tried to remember what he’d said, but her brain had turned the consistency of oatmeal. Cooked, soggy oatmeal. Maybe it was the pollution. Growing up in Hicksville, Vermont, she hadn’t inhaled so much car exhaust in her life, and she’d been breathing unsanitary New York air for almost a month.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Stone, what did you say?”

His even black brows furrowed slightly, but his voice remained steadily unaffected as he said, “I asked if you could start today.”

“I…uh…” Today? This kind of thing didn’t happen. Certainly not to her. “Yes?” her voice squeaked.

“You don’t know?”

“I mean yes, sir. I’m sorry. You caught me off guard. Of course I can start today.” Like she’d throw away the chance of a job with the illustrious Jacob Stone!

“Thank God,” she thought she heard him mutter, but couldn’t be sure. He shuffled the papers on his desk. “Mrs. Brocton will call for the car.” He paused and looked up with those bluer than blue eyes. “Do you have your own transportation, Ms. O’Toole?”

She shook her head.

“That’s fine. My driver will be at your disposal most of the time, for any errands you might need to run.” He put the papers in a manila file folder. She glimpsed her name on the top one, but it wasn’t her resume. “As I was saying, Mrs. Brocton will call for the car. Angelina arrives home from school sharply at three-thirty. One hour of play time, then one hour of homework. Be sure to spend extra time on the math, she seems to be struggling lately.”

He pulled open the top drawer of his desk and drew out a blue tie. Silk, if she wasn’t mistaken. The exact shade as his eyes. He flipped up the collar of his shirt, did up the buttons, and began tying the tie.

“Dinner on the table at six. I try to make it home in time to eat with her, but if I don’t, don’t wait on me. Her bedtime is eight-thirty.”

He stood up and rolled down his shirtsleeves as he walked to a door on the paneled wall. It was a closet, and he drew out a black jacket that matched the slacks he wore. As he put it on, fabric drew tight against his wide, sculpted chest, and his pants hung from narrow hips. Mary had never seen a living work of art before. Until now.

“Tomorrow morning over breakfast we’ll go over the rest of the particulars.”

“Breakfast?” Mary blurted out. Since when did executive secretaries have breakfast with their bosses?

He gave a brisk nod as he checked his cuffs. “I leave the house at exactly seven forty-five. Breakfast is at seven. Angelina leaves for school at eight-thirty, so you can see that she’s dressed and has a lunch packed after I leave.”

Mary’s right temple began to throb. Who was Angelina and why was Mary getting her dressed for school? And packing her lunch?

Mr. Stone came back to the desk and picked up his briefcase from the floor, set it on the desk, and opened it. Finally he looked up, probably wondering why she was sitting there like a lump. Confusion swamped her. She didn’t know what to do, what to say. She’d been given a job by Jacob Stone, but it obviously wasn’t as his executive assistant.

“Is there a problem, Ms. O’Toole?”

Think fast, she silently commanded herself. Real fast. “How much does this job pay? Mrs. Brocton didn’t go over that in the pre-interview,” she added, hoping she didn’t sound like the uncultured idiot she felt like.

“Seven-fifty a week.” He placed some files in his briefcase. “Plus room and board, of course. Sundays and alternate Saturdays off.”

Her quick mind did the calculations, but it didn’t take a rocket scientist to know that if she didn’t have to pay rent in New York City, seven-fifty a week was way more take home pay than she’d ever see as his secretary. Whatever the heck this job was, she was on it!

Mr. Stone clicked his briefcase closed and hefted it off the desk. “I have a meeting.” He pointedly glanced at his watch. “If you have any immediate questions, Mrs. Brocton can help you. Otherwise, we’ll speak in the morning.”

“I…” Oh, she had questions all right. Mrs. Brocton’s strange questions during the interview were falling into place. Questions like, did she like children? Did she cook? Had she ever run a household before? Silly Mary had thought it was some kind of corporate personality test.

He raised an eyebrow at her but said nothing. He didn’t need to. His eyes said it all. He’d hired her, but he didn’t look happy about it.

“Thank you, Mr. Stone.” Mary rose from the chair and finally got the chance to extend her hand across the desk. “I look forward to working with you.”

He took her hand in a firm, no-nonsense shake. Mary was shocked to feel slight calluses. Definitely not the typical businessman. His skin was warm. Dry. A quick shiver ran up her arm. Goodness, he was potent. No wonder he commanded so much respect from those who worked for him. Those who wanted to be him.

“Fine, then,” he said as he headed for the door. He held it open and let her precede him into Mrs. Brocton’s office. “Mrs. Brocton, please call Sam to bring the car around front.”

“Of course, Mr. Stone,” Mrs. Brocton said, looking up from her desk. “Anything else, sir?”

“Pray this meeting goes better than the last.” He then turned toward Mary, gave a stiff nod, and left the office.

“So, I take it he hired you?” Mrs. Brocton said quietly. She had the good sense to look slightly sheepish, her fair skin even flushed slightly.

Biting back the annoyed retort on the tip of her tongue, Mary nodded, then asked calmly, “Would you please tell me what job I was just hired for?”

Mrs. Brocton’s face lit up with that warm, gentle smile, and she reached across her desk, lifting a picture from the corner. “You’re to be nanny to Jacob’s seven-year-old daughter, Angelina.”

Mary took the picture from the woman and studied it. Jacob Stone sat stiffly, with an even stiffer smile on his lips, as if he didn’t smile often and wasn’t comfortable with the action. On his lap sat the prettiest little girl Mary had ever seen. Long golden curls hung over her shoulders, and bright blue eyes the same color as her father’s glinted with mischievous humor. Even her grin, with her two front teeth missing, was beautiful. Mary’s heart melted on the spot, and she hadn’t even met the girl.

Longings she’d set aside in order to further her future resurfaced and brought the quick sting of tears to her eyes. Blinking rapidly, she handed the picture back to Mrs. Brocton.

“I see,” Mary said softly. “And cook, too, I suppose?”

Mrs. Brocton set the picture back on the corner of the desk. “Yes. And a little cleaning. But he has a maid service come in twice a week to do the deep cleaning,” she rushed to say.

Mary swallowed. Her right temple thumped, and that annoying pinch returned to her stomach. “Tell me,” Mary said, taking the seat in front of Mrs. Brocton’s desk. “Does this job come with medical benefits?”

She needed to see a doctor, but she’d not been able to afford one in a very long time. She was past due for a physical, and these odd pains were starting to worry her.

Mrs. Brocton sat down behind her desk. “Oh, my yes. After the thirty-day probation period you will get full medical, dental and optical. And an option to join the retirement plan.”

The twinge in her stomach kicked up a notch as her heart thumped with excitement. Seven-fifty a week. No rent. Full medical. Retirement plan. This was too good to be true. And she wouldn’t have to work in a stuffy office. That was the best news she’d gotten in a very long time.

Two years. That was all it would take to have enough saved up to go to art school. Heck, with this job and the lack of bills to be paid, she’d even get that trip to Paris she’d dreamed of her whole life.

“Vacation,” she blurted out.

Mrs. Brocton chuckled. “Two weeks a year, paid.”

“Oh, my goodness.” Tears again. Mary blinked and glanced off to the side, hoping she didn’t break down.

Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.

She had to. She had to know why.

“Mrs. Brocton, I applied for your job.”

The lady flushed a bit. “Yes. Well.” She fidgeted with a gold pen on her desk. “I’d prefer if you didn’t mention that little detail to Jacob.”

Mary’s eyes widened.

“I mean…” Mrs. Brocton folded her hands on the desk, leaned over slightly, then said in an almost conspiratorial tone, “I’ve been interviewing for a nanny for three weeks, ever since the last one walked out, and you were just what I’ve been looking for.”

A frown pulled Mary’s brows together. “I don’t understand.”

With a smile, Mrs. Brocton leaned back in her chair. “You’re too sweet for the corporate world, Ms. O’Toole. You seem to me more of the mothering type than possessing the ability to kick butt. Little Angelina needs someone soft in her life.”

“I’m not soft.” Offended by the little woman’s words, Mary straightened in the chair. She’d spent years building her backbone, finally getting strong enough to stand up for herself and pursue the life she wanted, not the one her sister and good for nothing husband had wanted her to lead. Ex-husband, she silently amended.

Mrs. Brocton’s sugary sweet smile was getting rather annoying.

“Ms. O’Toole. Answer me honestly. Do you want to be Mr. Stone’s executive secretary, or his daughter’s nanny?”

Mary stared at Mrs. Brocton and saw, for the first time, what the woman was seeing. She wasn’t cut out for executive life. She might have grown a backbone in the past couple of years, but she wasn’t vicious. From what she’d seen, a person needed to have more than a little venom to get ahead here.

And she didn’t have the look, either. Even Mrs. Brocton, who was at least twice Mary’s age, was probably no more than a size five. She almost groaned with the final realization that she just plain didn’t fit in. And never would. Not that she hadn’t known it before now, but this was the first time anyone had actually said the words to her-besides her sister, who she could ignore.

“Why’d the last nanny quit?”

With a sigh, Mrs. Brocton fiddled with her pen once again. Mary thought that a corporate woman would be better at hiding her guilty conscience.

“Mr. Stone likes things his way. If they’re not his way, he lets you know.” She reached into the top drawer of the desk and drew out a sheaf of papers. “This is the schedule he’s lined out. He likes things kept…timely.”

Mary took the papers from her and scanned them. “My goodness.”

Mrs. Brocton nodded. “He’s a very punctual man.”

“Anything else I should know?”

“He’s a widower, but I’m sure you already know that.”

Mary nodded, not wanting to look dumb even though she hadn’t known. Forbes hadn’t mentioned it in his financial statistics. Nor had it mentioned that he had a daughter.

“He was very attached to his wife, as he is his daughter. And his mother for that matter. He tends to put the women in his life on a very high pedestal, so it would be best if you need to discuss Angelina with him, that you are extremely diplomatic about it.”

Oedipus complex? “His mother, Eunice Stone, takes Angelina every other Saturday. Those would be your Saturdays off.”

“All right.”

Mrs. Brocton handed her a business card from a little dispenser on the desk. “This is my direct line. If you have any questions, please feel free to call.”

“Thank you.”

Mary didn’t know what else to say. Part of her was annoyed that Mrs. Brocton had pulled the old switcheroo with her application, but on the other hand, this job was much more up her alley.

So much for two years of studying and her newly acquired degree. That was a waste of time, energy, and money.

“I’ll call Sam to pick you up,” Mrs. Brocton said as she picked up the phone.

Permanent link to this article: http://annaleighkeatonbooks.com/2014/09/courage-to-believe/

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