Baby Beneath the Christmas Tree

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rippled over her. Suddenly feeling like a downtrodden waif, brought to the castle for the king’s pleasure, Gwen cuddled Claire to her chest.

      “You’re dusty.”

      That wasn’t at all what she’d expected him to say. So nervous her voice shook, she said, “I cleaned the maid’s quarters so Claire would have somewhere to sleep.”

      He said nothing, only narrowed his eyes at her, as if trying to figure out if she was lying. So she hastily added, “I brought my vacuum, cleaning solutions and a bucket and mop from home.”

      “You know how to clean?”

      She frowned. “Of course I know how to clean.” A thought struck her and she said, “You don’t?”

      He shook his head.

      Her spirits lifted. “There’s another thing I could help you with.”

      He raked his fingers through his hair and looked at sleeping Claire again. She could almost see the wheels turning in his head as he drew the obvious conclusions. Claire wasn’t a bad baby. Gwen knew how to clean. And this place was filthy.

      “I won’t even ask for more money.”

      His mouth dropped open, then he snorted a laugh. “Right. As if you’re in a position to bargain.”

      “Come on,” Gwen said, a slight note of feminine pleading in her voice. She instantly regretted it when his gaze caught hers and that “thing” sprang up between them again. The air she breathed turned hot and shivery. Something like electricity arched between them.

      It was another item in the laundry list of problems they had. His son was trouble. The house wasn’t falling apart around them, but did need a good cleaning. She had a baby who might disrupt everything. And they were attracted to each other.

      But he also had a business he was trying to buy. In their phone interview he’d told her he needed to be in West Virginia to be close to the seller. And now he needed somebody who could bring order to the chaos of this house.

      “Maybe I should ask for more money?” Cheeky, perhaps even a tad over-confident, she strolled over to him. “You’re stuck here. There is no cleaning service in Towering Pines. You’re also lucky you found me—an administrative assistant who doesn’t mind a temporary job and has time to work at your beck and call. You have what? Four weeks to negotiate this deal before Jimmy Lane loses interest and moves on?” She smiled. “I think you’re the one who isn’t in a position to negotiate.”

      He held her gaze. “So you’re saying it wouldn’t cause a problem for you if I asked you to clean this kitchen while I left for a conference call?”

      “Are you going to give me the raise?”

      “How much?”

      “Another two thousand.”

      His eyes narrowed, but they never left hers. “All right. But you’d better be worth it.”

      She strolled away, suddenly seeing that the best way to communicate with this man was as an equal. And maybe that was what Brody was doing wrong? Not quite sure where that thought had come from, she shook her head to dislodge it and went back to the negotiations at hand.

      “Sure. I’ll clean in between administrative assistant assignments. As long as you don’t mind that I wear old jeans and ugly sweatshirts.”

      He crossed his arms on his chest. “Look around. There’s nobody here to impress. And even if there were this house would ruin any chance we had of impressing them.”

      She couldn’t help it. She laughed. “Yeah. Big-time.”

      “So we have a deal? You work as my administrative assistant when I need you and clean in your downtime. You can dress any way you want and bring your baby.” He caught her gaze again. “As long as you keep her out of my way.”

      “Does ‘out of your way’ mean you don’t want to see her? Because I was hoping I could keep her in the same room with me. I have a swing that will rock her to sleep and keep her sleeping for hours.”

      He groaned and squeezed his eyes shut, but in the end he sighed and said, “Fine. But if she cries you leave the room.”

      “Got it.”

      “Great. As long as we stick to our commitments, this should work out fine.” He walked over and held out his hand to shake on the deal.

      When Gwen took it, little sparkles of awareness danced up her arm. Their gazes caught and clung.

      Now all they had to do was forget about their attraction.


      DREW turned to leave the room, his hand tingling from just touching Gwen’s. He told himself it was ridiculous to be attracted to somebody closer to Brody’s age than his own—and with a baby, no less—but it didn’t stop the tightness that had captured his chest.

      “Um, Drew?”

      He stopped. Half afraid she was about to say something about their attraction—maybe even tell him she didn’t want her old boss hitting on her—he faced her.

      “We still need supplies.” She winced. “I brought my equipment from home, but no real cleaning supplies. To make the bathrooms usable I think we need some disinfectant cleanser.” She caught his gaze. “I also noticed there are no sheets or towels or pillows. No laundry detergent, dishwashing detergent, dishes or silverware. Or even basic pots and pans. You could also probably use a coffee-maker—”

      Relieved that she was focusing on the job, Drew reached for his wallet. “And food?”

      “And food.”

      “Okay.” He pulled out several hundred-dollar bills. “Can you take care of getting all of that?”

      “I don’t think we have a choice.”

      She glanced at the stack of bills then back up at him. “You do realize we don’t have a Saks Fifth Avenue, right? I’m only going to the local discount department store.”

      “Are you telling me you have too much money or not enough? “

      “I’m saying the sheets won’t be silk.”

      He laughed.

      A wonderful feeling filled her again. Her pulse scrambled. Her knees weakened. Her brain became fuzzy and dreamy. When he wasn’t being angry with Brody, he was actually a fun, nice guy—

      That had to be irrelevant! It would be insanity for a woman with a baby to find a man who obviously didn’t like kids attractive. Especially a boss. A rich boss. A man so far out of her league she shouldn’t even be looking at him.

      Drew’s cell phone rang in the silent kitchen. He clicked a button and said, “Teaberry.” A pause. “Actually, I don’t even have my laptop set up yet. The fax, printer and two boxes of files are still in my SUV.”

      He walked toward the kitchen door. “I pretty much know Jimmy Lane’s biggest objection to the Teaberry Corporation buying his company is that I’m not a local, but I’m fixing that. I’m moving into my grandparents’ old homestead,” he said, shoving against the swinging door and then disappearing behind it, effectively shutting off his conversation to her.

      Ignoring the unwanted sparkle still twinkling through her, Gwen glanced down at sleeping Claire. “Well, this is going to be different than what we’d expected, but not something we can’t handle.”

      Once Claire was dressed in her snowsuit, Gwen left for the store. A few more inches of fresh snow had fallen on the road since her last trip, making the drive down the mountain slow. She spent an hour at the discount department store, and another hour at the grocery, trying to guess what two rich guys would be able to cook for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

      With her shopping completed, she stopped at her house. Not only did she pack extra clothes for Claire, she packed extra clothes for herself. She’d leave at least two outfits of cleaning clothes and two outfits of administrative assistant clothes in the maid’s quarters, just in case.

      She also packed