Click on image to enlarge.
by Nell Dixon
Description: Mr. Right Now meets Ms. Forever. Some matches take a lot of work. Max Richardson doesn't do commitment. But he will do anything to persuade his sister to let him provide a stable home for his niece, Emily, while her parents try to work through their marriage problems. Including renting a country cottage, hiring a nanny and--um--acquiring a fake fiancée. Thea Sinclair had to give up her dreams of marriage and children when she came home to nurse her father through his last illness. She's prepared to be Max's landlady, housekeeper and Emily's nanny. She's not prepared for him to persuade her into a pretend engagement--or to find pretence becoming reality as she starts to fall in love with a man who's sworn off marriage forever. This book has been previously published in print form, and is the winner of the Romantic Novelists' Association category length Romance Prize 2007.
eBook Publisher: Samhain Publishing, Ltd., 2007
eBookwise Release Date: February 2011
1 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [235 KB]
Reading time: 151-211 min.
Max stared at the house then glanced back down at the sheet of paper in his hand. He couldn't possibly be in the right place.
"The house itself is an architectural gem, offering the perfect family environment." He read the letter from Ginny, his former secretary, out loud in disbelief and looked up once more at the facade in front of him. "This is never going to work."
Stone gargoyles peered down from their ledges and nooks. Curved and curly fascia boards with peeling paint sat on top of the bright red bricks like melted icing on a particularly ugly cake.
Max shook his head. "All this place needs are some bats around the turret and a storm cloud on top!" Right on cue, the dark grey sky which had threatened rain all morning decided to oblige.
What on earth had Ginny been thinking of when she had suggested this place as a suitable home for his niece? Even if Thea Sinclair was the Mary Poppins-like paragon of virtue Ginny had kept boasting about, there was no way his sister would allow him to bring his little niece, Emily, to live here.
Convinced he was wasting his time, he tugged impatiently on the large brass angel bell next to the front door. No one appeared from inside to answer the unmelodious clanking.
Stepping back a pace, he surveyed the blank windows. The house appeared empty--Ginny's friend had obviously forgotten he was coming. Annoyed at having driven so far in vain, he turned towards his car. The summer shower had rapidly developed into a fully-fledged downpour when a small boy in shorts and a tee shirt raced round the corner of the building and cannoned into Max's legs.
"Can you come and help Thea? Only she's stuck!"
Bemused, Max followed his young guide around the corner to a sash window on the side of the house. A feminine pair of damp, denim-clad legs waved wildly in the air as their owner attempted to free herself from the weight of the frame. The sash had closed firmly on her bottom, trapping her half in and half out of the window.
"Are you trying to break in or get out?" Max addressed the rain-soaked bottom. The rest of its owner was inside the house. A muffled reply and more agitated leg waving answered him.
"The wind blew the door shut and we got locked out. Thea thought she could squeeze in through the study window but the frame slid down and her bum is too big," explained the small boy helpfully. "I'm Tom, I live next door."
Max groaned. He hadn't made a horrible mistake. He should have recognised Tom from the hundreds of photos Ginny had shown him when they had met at his office last week. This house was Stony Gables and this must be the bottom half of his hostess.
Mentally cursing Tom's mother and her bright ideas, Max seized the sash and managed to pull it upwards a little so the weight of the frame was off the woman's back. Immediately, the legs disappeared inside the house with a crash and an agonized shriek.
"Are you all right?" He tried peering inside through the glass but couldn't make anything out in the gloom. Rainwater dripped off his hair and the end of his nose. What had started out as a fine summer's day had soon turned into a cold, wet one and he was soaked to the skin.
"I'm fine, come round. I'll open the front door," a disembodied female voice called.
Max couldn't see where she had gone.
"You're very wet," Tom announced.
"So are you," Max replied grimly and followed his little helper back around to the front of the house. The young woman waiting to greet them on the step was not the cardigan-wearing, middle-aged spinster he had pictured from his chat with Ginny.
Instead Theodora Sinclair appeared to be a slender young woman in her mid-twenties, who in addition to possessing shapely denim-clad legs and a rather delectable bottom, also had a cloud of wild, blonde curls and silver toe rings on her bare feet.
Thea surveyed the two dripping-wet people in front of her with dismay. So much for her carefully planned welcome. She tugged her tee shirt down to cover the gap above the waistband of her jeans and thought ruefully about the sedate new summer dress she had hanging upstairs in her bedroom. The wet and cross-looking man in front of her would never want to stay here or hire her to help him care for his niece now. It was typical of her luck to stuff things up, and her knees hurt from where she had crash-landed onto the study floor.
"Come in, I'll find some towels. Tom, go through to the kitchen." Biting her lip in despair, she ushered them both inside.
"I'm so sorry about this." She bustled around the large old-fashioned kitchen, pulling towels from the wooden airer in the scullery. "Tom followed me outside and a gust of wind caught the door." She peeped at the stern face of the sodden man in her kitchen. Perhaps he would see the funny side. "I forgot the sash weights in the study window weren't balanced right. Every now and then it slides itself shut. I must have knocked it when I climbed through." She blinked at her guest, looking hopefully for a glimmer of understanding. "Silly sort of thing, could happen to anybody."
She laughed nervously. Shut up Thea, she told herself. Her guest wasn't smiling.
"It happens to you a lot, Thea," Tom added. "Like when you fell off the veranda roof rescuing Action Man's parachute and when Mum's geese got out and chased you."
Thea enveloped Tom's head in a towel and began to rub vigorously at his short spiky hair. "I'm sorry, I haven't introduced myself properly--I'm Theodora Sinclair. I presume you must be...?"
The formidable man paused in his drying. "Max Richardson." He began to unbutton his wet shirt, which clung to his broad shoulder blades. Oh sugar, it was him. Her last wild hope that he might have been a passing double-glazing salesman died.
"I take it you were expecting me today?" He didn't sound as if he were very sympathetic about her mishap with the door and the window.
"Yes, Ginny said you'd be here about eleven. Everything's all ready."
He lifted one dark eyebrow as if he questioned this assurance and, peeling off the wet shirt, he draped it over the back of one of the scrubbed-pine kitchen chairs.
Thea knew she was staring at the well-developed muscles of his chest, but her power of speech seemed to have deserted her. Ginny had said her former boss was good-looking but she hadn't said how good. Only when his hands moved to the waistband of his trousers did Thea manage to utter a squeak of protest. He wouldn't, he wasn't. He couldn't.
Frowning, Max fumbled in his pocket and, pulling out a set of car keys, he tossed them over to her. "Would you mind getting my holdall from the boot of the car? I'm freezing cold."
Flustered, Thea watched, horrified, as he unzipped. He was.
"Are you going to take your pants off too?" Tom enquired innocently from his cosy cocoon of towels. Thea grabbed the keys and fled crimson-faced into the rain towards Max's gleaming silver Mercedes.