Series: Tough Texan Series #2
Genre: Contemporary Western Romance
Release Date: October 30, 2020
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FATE MOVES IN MYSTERIOUS WAYS… Cowboy attorney North Thurston needs a nanny for his eighteen-month-old son, Dain ASAP. In the small town of Rankin, Texas, his pickings are slim. Faith Cimmernan works nights at the local nursing home and jumps at the chance to care for Dain as she used to care for her younger foster siblings. The joyful and loveable young boy fills her once lonely life with happiness and laughter, and North leaves her longing for more of his valuable time. They have both struggled with sadness in life, and a delicate bond begins to grow into a deeper relationship.
…OFTEN CHANGING THE COURSE OF YOUR LIFE… As the chemistry between North and Faith heats up, danger lurks around the corner. North wants nothing more than to give his love to Faith and enjoy the gift of her in his life. But fate may have different plans, and he may be the only hope to protect her. Ultimately, they will have to let their hearts guide the way…
North’s eyes flew open, the sound of his son’s crying loud in his ears. Thump! That would be Dain’s little pajama-clad feet hitting the floor as he climbed from the crib. Heaving an exhausted sigh, North sat up in bed as a still howling Dain appeared in the doorway, blanket dragging behind him. North opened his arms. “Come here, little guy. Did you have a bad dream?”
Dain’s crying slowed as he snuggled his face into his daddy’s neck. “Pacie. Pacie.”
I should take the damn thing away, but it gives him so much comfort. He patted his son’s back. “Let’s go find it, shall we?”
He entered Dain’s room, which was right next to his. In the dim glow of the nightlight, he could see the pacifier just under the bed. Stooping, he picked it up.
Dain snatched it from his hand and stuck it in his mouth.
North laughed softly. “Hey, I was going to wash that off first, kiddo.” Taking a seat in the recliner by the crib, he tucked the blanket around his son and hummed as he rocked him back and forth.
Dain heaved a sigh and snuggled against his daddy’s chest.
North closed his eyes, hoping his son would fall asleep quickly. Being a single parent was desperately hard. If only Susan had lived. The familiar pain of that memory stung. Though the early agony of her death had passed, he still missed her. Missed holding her in his arms. Missed the comfort her love had given him. He’d had to find peace with his grief, though. It was the only way to be a healthy parent for his son. But he would never forget her.
Still, he hadn’t dated. Hadn’t wanted to. As a single dad, it took everything he had to manage his job as an attorney while trying to get home at a decent hour.
He groaned quietly. Surely tomorrow he’d get some calls about a new nanny. His previous one had decided at the last minute to return to school, moving and leaving him high and dry. His parents were watching Dain in the interim, but it wasn’t a permanent solution. North had put flyers out this afternoon—he glanced at the luminous dial on his watch—make that yesterday afternoon, and the calls should start rolling in. Rankin, Texas being a small town meant that any chance of employment was met with enthusiasm.
Patting Dain’s back, he sang You Are My Sunshine, one of his son’s favorites. It never failed to put him to sleep. His little muscles relaxed and soon his light, even breaths against North’s neck told him his son was out. North rocked him a while longer, gaining comfort from his small body.
The layered shadows of the room enclosed North like soft pillows. Though it was dark, he knew every picture on the wall, every decoration. Susan had spent days making the nursery’s little-boy-cowboy theme perfect. She’d been so excited for the birth of their first child. Sometimes, when North woke in the night, his need to hold her in his arms felt almost unbearable. That was when he missed being married most. Reason told him it was only his lonely bed affecting him. And he couldn’t be a good daddy to Dain and still mourn his dead wife. He had to be positive, invested in this life without her. That was what she would want.
He rose and laid Dain in bed, covering him with his soft, fuzzy blanket. He didn’t stir, just sucked hard on his pacifier.
Sighing deeply, North returned to bed. The rocking had relaxed him too. Sleep seemed near. Sliding under the covers, he rolled on his side facing the door—never looking toward the empty side of the bed. He’d learned that lesson long ago. Closing his eyes, he prayed for good news tomorrow.
* * *
Faith pulled on her long-sleeved button-down shirt, wishing the red weren’t so faded—wishing she could have afforded to buy something new before her interview this morning. She’d ironed it; the creases in the sleeves were sharp with spray-on starch. Her jeans were worn and faded, but they were the best she had, and they’d been starched within an inch of their life. Her boots—well, the coat of polish had sunk in like an oak branch in quicksand. But she’d buffed them hard anyway. They appeared better than before, but that wasn’t saying much. She closed her eyes at her reflection. She looked like what she was—a grown-up foster kid without a penny to her name.
That didn’t mean she was a slacker. She worked the night shift at the nursing home in town and that paid her bills. There just wasn’t a dime left over, ever. That’s what this job interview was all about. Bouncing from one rotten foster home to another, never knowing where she’d end up next, her one dream had been buying her own home when she grew up. If only she could land this job, she could start saving for that goal.
Opening her eyes, she took another hard look at herself. Her thick blond hair was long and straight as a string. This job called for a more professional appearance. After all, they would be trusting her with their child. She grabbed a baggie full of hairpins, and soon her hair was swept up in a pretty French twist. She dropped the pins in her purse in case she needed reinforcements and turned for the door. God, please let me get this job. Please, I want a place of my own. You know how much. I’ll be the best nanny ever, I promise.
After locking the door, she turned toward the driveway. Her heart sank as her gaze landed on her 1988 Volkswagen Rabbit. No way could she hide her poor state of affairs driving up in that thing. Rusted and dinged and dented, the old car had poverty-stricken written all over it. Demoralized, yet determined to go through with the interview, she unlocked the old, faded-green heap and got in. Before she started the engine, she put the address into her phone’s GPS, noting that it would take her fifteen minutes to arrive. Not too bad, though she’d have to hustle each morning if she landed the job.
As she followed the directions out of town, she figured the family must live on a ranch or something to be so far out. That was kind of interesting. She’d never been on a ranch before.
She’d always taken care of her younger foster siblings, so watching over just one child should be a snap. Keeping the younger kids out of her foster parents’ way had kept them safe and far happier than the alternative. She’d made sure the little ones made it to the table to eat and, if they were sick, took them food and fed them. She’d given them their baths and read to them at bedtime. All the things that fell through the cracks in foster homes.
Leaving the younger kids had been the worst part of foster care. Well, almost the worst. Fighting off the attentions of older boys and one foster dad had been the absolute worst. She shuddered at those memories and put them from her mind. Aging out of the system had been the best thing that had ever happened in her life. The State of Texas made no attempt to smooth the transition from foster care to real life. Children were thrust from the system with no planning or assistance whatsoever.
Taking a right-hand turn, she entered a long dirt drive. Desert pasture dotted with soaptree yucca and clumps of natural grasses lay on either side of the fenced road. At the end, she passed a beautiful historic home with two huge barns down a short drive. Then she took a final left turn, eventually pulling up to a gorgeous modern home with large windows and an expensive, lifted black pickup truck parked outside.
She closed her eyes and leaned her head back, imagining herself with her faded-out clothes and scuffed-up boots entering the rich-looking house and asking for a job. Suddenly she wanted to turn around and break the speed limit back to town. She didn’t belong here. No way would they hire someone like her. Her hands clenched the steering wheel.
She pressed her lips into a thin line. No, she wouldn’t back out. This job was critical if she were ever to make her dream come true. If they didn’t want her, well, then she’d head back home and go to sleep. But she’d have given it a shot.
She snatched her purse from the seat and swung her door open. Maybe they would see that she was a good person. It was all she could hope for. Striding with all the confidence she could muster to the front door, she knocked firmly and waited.
Footsteps approached from inside and she held her breath, realized it, and blew out noisily. When the door opened, a tall, handsome man in a charcoal-gray suit and tie smiled at her, his eyes sweeping her up and down. Damn. She bit her lip. That look right there would make his mind up. He’d realize she wasn’t fit for the position.
He stepped back. “Faith? You’re right on time. I appreciate that. Come inside.”
Eyes down, she clutched her purse and walked into the entryway, following him until they reached the den. It was definitely made for a man. Dark hued furnishings and leather and oak abounded. Mounted game hung on the walls.
He gestured for her to enter the room ahead of him. “Have a seat. We’ll talk in here. Can I get you a cup of coffee?”
She’d probably throw it up, her stomach was so tight. “N-no, thank you. I’m fine.” She sat down in an overstuffed leather chair, feeling even smaller and more insignificant, if that were possible.
He smiled and took the couch opposite her, crossing his legs and laying his arm across the back. “So, I remember you said you have experience with children?”
“Yes, sir, I sure did.”
“Please, call me North.”
He kept smiling a moment, then said, “Well, like I said on the phone, I have an eighteen-month-old son who needs watching while I’m at work. His name’s Dain. I leave here at seven forty-five. At three-thirty, the nanny takes Dain down the road to my parents’ house for the afternoon, so the shift is a little less than eight hours. Of course, there will be plenty of food in the house. The nanny is welcome to eat whatever I have here. When the time comes, the nanny will help with potty training. Do you have any experience with that?” He paused, still meeting her gaze.
His eyes were actually very kind, and she hadn’t expected that. She glanced down to collect her thoughts, then looked up again, gathering her courage to speak about her embarrassing upbringing. “I was raised in foster care. I kind of took it on myself to watch out for the younger kids. I potty trained the little ones in all the homes I stayed in.” She looked away, thinking of why she’d done it. It kept them from being spanked and scolded or worse. “I’m patient and I know that being positive and encouraging is mostly what it takes.” He’d drawn his brows together slightly when she’d mentioned being in foster homes. Was that judgement or sympathy? She couldn’t tell.
“I think you have the right idea, though I’ve never potty trained a child. My mother has, and I’m sure she’ll be glad to offer advice or assistance.” He smiled, then asked, “Do you cook at all?”
Damn, she’d never been taught to cook. Another black mark against being raised in foster care. “I’ve taught myself recipes from the internet, but just simple ones.” She could feel heat rising up her neck. “Some of the ingredients the more difficult recipes call for are kind of expensive.”
He nodded but didn’t seem to be too worried about it. He said, “Luckily, babies don’t have very eclectic tastes, do they?”
She needed to be honest with him. “I want you to know I have another job. I work nights at the nursing home. I’ve been there three years. My plan is to leave my shift in the morning, change clothes, and come straight here. If the fact that I work somewhere else makes a difference, I wanted you to know right now.”
“Is there a particular reason you’re applying for a second job? In other words, will this job here be important to you for a specific reason?”
Would he think someone like her dreaming of owning her own home was crazy? A short stab of anger hit her heart. Well, it wasn’t crazy. Somehow, she’d do it. “I want to save to buy my own home. What I make at the nursing home doesn’t allow for that.” She made herself hold his gaze. She wouldn’t look away in embarrassment—she had owned this dream most of her life and he wouldn’t make her ashamed of it.
He nodded, pursing his lips and looking off across the room, appearing to think for a moment. When he turned back, he asked, “Do you have to work late much?”
“No, sir, I mean, North. And I already told the director that I was applying for a day job and that if I got it, I wouldn’t be able to work doubles anymore.” She wanted to cross her fingers so badly.
He slowly nodded his head. “Then, I don’t think it’s a problem. I assume you know how to change diapers? I use disposables and wipes and ointment with each change.”
She nodded vigorously. “Oh, of course. And I’ve given a million baby baths. Like I said, I watched out for my little brothers and sisters.”
He was silent a moment, looking at her.
Uncomfortable, she looked down, clasping her hands tightly together.
When she looked up, he asked, “Did you move from home to home a lot?”
The old pain stabbed her, and she sucked in a breath. “Yes, I did, unfortunately.”
His eyes darkened with sympathy. “It must have been hard to leave your little brothers and sisters when it was time to go.”
She swallowed past the huge lump that had developed in her throat and whispered, “Yes, it was,” and stared down at her hands again.
“Faith,” he said gently, “I’m so sorry you had to go through that. It’s a terrible way to grow up.”
Still looking down, she nodded and shrugged. “Thank you.”
He leaned forward and clapped his hands on his knees, startling her. Smiling, he asked, “How soon can you start?”
Her jaw dropped. What? After finding out all that garbage about her, she’d gotten the job? She grinned so wide it hurt her mouth. “Tomorrow, sir, er, North. I can start tomorrow. I’ll be here at seven forty-five.”
He smiled. “Come on, let me show you around the house and where all of Dain’s things are.”
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