Against the Heart(4)

By: Kat Martin

She decided to leave her number on a slip of paper just in case, and began digging around in her purse for a pen. That’s when she saw him, the handsome blond man with the brilliant blue eyes who was intently studying the board. He was over six feet tall and broad-shouldered. Worn, faded jeans hugged a set of very nice buns. He was carrying a note pad, she saw, jotting down phone numbers.

He didn’t look like a serial killer so Meri took a chance. "Are you looking to hire someone?"

He glanced down at her and she felt a jolt when those cool blue eyes fixed on her face. "Actually, I am. I’m looking for a housekeeper."

"Well, there’s a coincidence. I was just getting ready to put my number up on the board. I’m very good at housekeeping."

"It’s really more of a cleaning job," he said.

She thought of the ten dollars that was all she had left in the world. "I can do that. I don’t mind hard work and I’m very efficient."

Lily tugged on the hem of her T-shirt. "Mama, I’m hungry."

"In a minute, sweetheart." She turned back to the man, desperation mixed with hope. "I’d do a good job for you. I’m a very hard worker."

Those cool blue eyes ran over her, taking her measure. She was five-foot-six, not too short, and after her job as a trainer, she was in excellent physical condition.

"I was really looking for someone older," he said.

"I’m twenty eight. That’s old enough to clean a house."

His mouth edged up. He had a very sexy mouth. Funny...she had never thought of a man’s lips that way.

"I see you have a daughter," he said. "What would you do with her while you’re working?"

Her stomach knotted. She really needed this job. "She’d stay out of the way, I promise. She’s very well behaved--aren’t you sweetheart?"

Lily started jumping up and down. "I’m hungry. I’m hungry!"

Meri lifted her up and propped her on a hip. "If you’ll be good, I’ll get you one of those orange-vanilla ice creams you like. But you have to be quiet until Mama finishes talking to this nice man."

Lily started nodding, visions of ice cream dancing in her four-year-old head. "Okay."

Meri set her back on her feet. When she looked at the man, she could read the amusement on his beyond attractive face. "As I said, she’s usually well behaved," she said. "You wouldn’t even know she was there."

His amusement slowly faded. "I’ll be honest, Ms...?"

"Jones. Meriwether Jones. People just call me Meri. This is my daughter, Lily."

"I’ll be honest, Meri. The house is a real mess. It’s going to need hours of hard work to get it in shape. I think you’d be better off--"

She caught his arm, stopping him mid-sentence. "I really need this job. I promise, if you hire me, you won’t be disappointed."

His gaze traveled from the reddish-brown hair she had braided into two long plaits, paused at the pink T-shirt that read I AM WOMAN, moved down over her jeans to her pink canvas sneakers. He looked at Lily, who stood quietly now, big blue eyes a little lighter than his staring back into his face.

"All right, fine. You’re hired. But my father lives in there and he isn’t going to like having a kid in the house. You have to keep your daughter away from him."

Her heart was thumping. This could be the answer to her prayers. Or a least to her immediate prayer that she could earn enough to get to a city where she could find a real job. "That won’t be a problem. He won’t even know she’s there."

"I guess we’ll see."

"How far away is the house?" Meri thought of the Chevy and wondered if she needed to use some of her remaining ten dollars to put a gallon of gas in the tank.

"Not far. Just up the road. How soon can you start?"

Her stomach growled. She’d been feeding Lily, but she was afraid to spend her last few dollars on food for herself.

"If you have something there to make sandwiches, I can start today. In fact, I can start as soon as I get there."

The man pulled out his wallet and handed her two, twenty-dollar-bills. "Get some bread and meat and whatever else you need. You don’t happen to cook, do you?"