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By Cathleen Galitz
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneHeather Burroughs stood in the doorway of her new employer's massive living room unable to believe what she was seeing.
Unable to stomach what she was hearing.
Since no one bothered answering her persistent attempts at making her presence at the front door known, she let herself in and followed the sound of a deep voice to the spot where she presently stood rooted in horror. Matching that voice to a particularly handsome face did little to allay Heather's fears that she had just been hired by a monster.
A monster who was presently taunting a child with a cookie.
"Say it, Dylan," the man coaxed, his voice straining with impatience.
He was so intent on imposing his will upon the toddler that he remained unaware of Heather's presence. A cherub of three reached out a chubby hand for the treat dangled in his face, only to have it snatched away the instant his fingers touched the sugary delight. Tears pooled in a pair of eyes the exact same color and shape as his tormenter's. It spilled down his ruddy cheeks and caused the monster to mumble a slight invective under his breath.
"Come on, Dylan. Just say it!"
Heather knew firsthand what it felt like to have a cookie dangled in front of one's face, and she wasn't about to stand idly by andwatch her new employer play such mean-spirited games with his son - even if it did mean losing her job on the very first day of work.
Even if that job meant the difference between financial independence or possibly living on the streets.
"Give me that!"
Ignoring the man's startled look, Heather marched into the room and grabbed the cookie from his hands. She proceeded to bend down, wipe the tears from his little boy's face with the cuff of her sleeve and give him the cookie. Dylan accepted it with both hands and a look of pure gratitude, shoving as much of it into his mouth before his father could confiscate it. When he grinned up at Heather through a mouthful of gooey chocolate, it was all she could do to keep from sweeping him up in her arms and making a break for the front door.
"Just who do you think you are, lady, and what in the hell do you think you're doing?" Tobias Danforth demanded to know.
He glared at her from a squatting position on the floor. The denim of his jeans was stretched taut over thighs that strained as he rose to his full height of six feet. He towered over Heather, who barely weighed a hundred pounds soaking wet. In tennis shoes, she was almost a foot shorter than he was. She felt like David facing Goliath.
Without a slingshot.
Summoning her stage presence, Heather responded in a regal tone that belied the fact she was the underling and he, technically, her boss.
"I'm the nanny the employment agency hired, and what I'm doing is putting an end to you taunting this boy. In case you're unaware of it, Mr. Danforth, Dylan is a child, not an animal to be trained with doggie biscuits."
"How dare you -"
"I dare because I care," she countered, sticking her chin out as if daring him to take a shot at it.
Those icy-blue eyes of his pinned her to the spot like some hapless butterfly in a child's science fair project. Nonetheless, if this fellow thought he was going to label Heather Burroughs a mere cowardus interruptus, he had another thing coming. Having endured the training of some of the most sadistic music teachers on the planet, it was going to take a whole lot more than an imposing presence to make her back down.
"And you think I don't care?"
His voice was sardonic.
And as cutting as the eyes trained on her.
What she beheld glimmering in those arctic depths was a ferocity that would send a wild wolf scurrying for protection. Placing her hands on her hips, she held her ground. Albeit on shaky legs.
"I doubt if Protective Services would approve of your type of parenting any more than I do," she told him, suddenly glad for the schooling that kept her voice from quavering in times of duress.
"Get out of my home, lady."
Though spoken so softly that the child caught between the two of them didn't so much as flinch, the man's words tore through Heather like bullets.
Why after twenty-five years of compliance she had finally discovered her backbone was as much a mystery to her as it was to her parents. They had all but disowned her for turning her back on their dreams. A neophyte at standing up for her beliefs, Heather had yet to develop the skills needed to temper her newfound assertiveness with prudence. The truth of the matter was that she was in no position to sacrifice this job unless she was ready to humble herself and, as her father had so bluntly put it, "come crawling back" to him for his support.
Still, she had no desire whatsoever to work for a man who struck her as being so very like her stern, demanding father. A man determined to withhold his approval unless his child performed up to his level of satisfaction.
Stiffening her spine, Heather started toward the door. She reminded herself that throughout the ages, scores of renowned musicians testified that poverty was good for the soul.
A tentative, childish voice stopped her in her tracks.
Excerpted from Cowboy Crescendo by Cathleen Galitz Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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