SUSAN MEIER

Baby Beneath the Christmas Tree


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don’t call employees babe.”

      “All right. Great. No babe.” Brody pulled his sunglasses down his nose and peered over the rim at Gwen. “Sorry about that, sweetie.”

      “We don’t call employees sweetie, either!” Drew said, his temperature rising. If he didn’t know better, he’d think the kid was deliberately antagonizing him. “How about an apology?”

      Brody glared at his dad. “Fine. I’m sorry. Why don’t you just write a list of rules so I know what I can and can’t say this next month? “

      With that he stormed through the kitchen, all but knocking the swinging door off its hinges as he punched through it.

      Though Drew knew he should go after him, he had no idea what to say to this new version of Brody. That was part of the problem. Sixteen years ago, when his ex had moved herself and their son to Colorado, two thousand miles away from Drew, he’d protested. But in the end she hadn’t budged, and his visits with Brody had become something like two-week vacations, spent on tropical islands or at ski resorts.

      They’d always gotten along well. Until this trip. Now, Brody was suddenly obnoxious. Drew had absolutely no idea what the heck he was going to do with him for the entire month of December. One-on-one in a house so far out in the country that it didn’t get cable TV, they were going to be miserable. Especially since Drew wasn’t even sure when or why Brody had turned into such a mouthy kid or where to start with discipline.

      He did, however, know exactly what to say to an embarrassed employee. He turned to Gwen. “I apologize for my son’s behavior.”

      “Not a big deal,” she said with a laugh. “He’s what? Fifteen? Sixteen? He’s testing the water. All kids do it.”

      A steamroller of relief rumbled through Drew. At least the relationship with his temporary administrative assistant would be normal. Then she smiled at him, her pretty green eyes shining, her full lips winging upward, and everything male inside of Drew responded. Her thick, shiny blond hair framed a heart-shaped face with bright eyes, a pert nose, and generous lips made for kissing.

      Involuntarily, his gaze once again swept down the red sweater and tight jeans. He rarely went out, and when he did the women he dated were nothing like Gwen. They were tall, cool sophisticates. Models. Starlets. But there was no denying that this gorgeous blonde made him wonder what it would be like to kiss her—

      He groaned inwardly. He wanted a normal working relationship with this woman! Plus, even if he was the kind to dabble in affairs, she was too young for him, and an employee. If those weren’t enough, he had responsibilities as Chairman of the Board of his grandfather’s conglomerate. The pressure of holding top position in a global company left him no time for anything but work. That was why he’d only spent vacations with Brody. Why Brody had had time to change without Drew even realizing. Why he had to figure out how he’d handle him for the four long weeks of December.

      “I think I’ll grab Brody and get our bags.”

      She winked. “Good idea.”

      Her wink was cute. Not flirty, but happy. And for some reason or another that sent a sizzle through Drew when he’d already reminded himself he wasn’t allowed to be interested. Eager to get away from this confusing situation, he headed for the door that Brody had stormed through, and found himself in a hall and then a foyer, where Brody was bounding up the dusty steps.

      He glanced around in renewed disgust. Cobwebs hung from the ceiling and created feathery loops on the walls. The house wasn’t even clean enough to sleep in, but they had to stay here. There wasn’t a hotel in tiny Towering Pines, and they were too far away from a city to drive back and forth. Plus, Jimmy Lane loved the idea that Drew was one of the original Teaberrys. He wanted to visit the Christmas tree farm. He wanted to see the mansion. Somehow or another Drew was going to have to make this place sparkle before his visit.

      But as Brody stormed away Drew knew he’d have to deal with that later. “Hey! Aren’t you going to help me with the bags?”

      “Don’t you have people for that?”

      “Not here!” Drew yelled, as Brody continued up the steps. “Except for Ms. McKenzie, who’s my assistant and not yours, we’re on our own.”

      “Oh, I get it. You can use Ms. McKenzie for personal things, but I can’t.”

      Something in the way Brody said that stopped Drew cold. Not because he shouldn’t have an assistant, but because he was attracted to her. The entire time he’d been in the kitchen he’d kept losing his train of thought and stealing inappropriate looks at her.

      Brody huffed out a sigh and started down the stairs. When he reached the bottom, Drew led him out the front door.

      Stepping into the falling snow again, Drew headed toward his black SUV. The six inches that had blanketed West Virginia that morning gave the farm the look of a Currier and Ives painting. Even in disrepair, the big redbrick house had a solid, steady feel to it. Huge pines wrapped it in a warm embrace. Snow covered the fence and outbuildings, making everything sparkle.

      Brody glanced around. “What a dump.”

      A sting of guilt whipped through Drew as he popped the hatch of the car. “Just because it isn’t our cup of tea, that doesn’t mean the farm is a dump.”

      “Whatever.” Brody reached in and dragged his duffle bag out of the rear compartment. It fell into the snow with a thud. Brody sighed heavily. “What good is it to be rich if you have to carry your own luggage?”

      Anger surged through Drew. “Life isn’t only about comfort.”

      Yanking his duffle from the snow, Brody looked up over the rim of his sunglasses at his dad. “Whatever.”

      Drew knew he was in over his head with this kid, and he needed to fix this situation, fast.

      CHAPTER TWO

      GWEN heard Claire’s soft cries through the small monitor she had on the kitchen counter. Without a second thought she turned and ran back into the hall, through the sitting room of the maid’s quarters that she’d managed to clean before the Teaberrys arrived, and into the bedroom.

      “Hey, Claire-bear. I’m here,” she whispered, lifting her baby out of the portable crib. She kissed her warm cheek, changed her into a fresh one-piece sleeper and returned to the kitchen, fighting a funny feeling of confusion in the pit of her stomach.

      For some reason or another she’d expected Andrew Teaberry to be older. Like sixty. Not thirty-five or so. She also hadn’t expected fathomless dark eyes or gorgeous black hair. The hitch in her breath and the way her stomach had plummeted when she’d looked at him were also surprises.

      Grabbing a bottle from the refrigerator, she told herself to stop thinking about how attractive her new employer was and get her baby fed and into her carrier before he returned from getting his bags. She wasn’t sure how or where they’d work in this dusty house, but she wasn’t assuming anything. From the way he’d instantly dealt with his son for calling her babe, it was clear he wasn’t a man who took well to mistakes or assumptions. So she wouldn’t make any.

      She placed the bottle in the warmer she’d brought. As it heated, Claire began to cry. Gwen tried to comfort her, but her crying only grew louder.

      “Come on, sweetie. I know you’re hungry, but it will only take a minute to warm your bottle.”

      Just then the swinging door swung open and Drew burst inside. His horrified gaze fell to Claire, then swung back to Gwen. “Is that a baby?”

      She laughed nervously. “Well, it’s not a Siamese cat.” She rocked her sobbing child, trying to get her to settle down. This was no way for him to meet her baby! “This is my daughter Claire.”

      He gaped at her. “You brought your baby to work?”

      This time the flip-flop of Gwen’s stomach had nothing to do with the attractiveness of her boss and everything to do with fear. “I told you about Claire in my interview.”

      “You told me you had a child. You didn’t say you were bringing