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ANNA NOWELL stared at the telephone receiver she had just hung up. "Okay, don't panic," she told herself. "This is just a little bump in the road. Nothing to worry about."
But even as she whispered the words, she knew there was everything to worry about.
For two years she had been house-sitting Morning View Manor, the Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, mansion belonging to Donovan Barrett, Anna's wealthy employer and absentee owner. In all that time, Mr. Barrett had never once stepped foot on this beautiful lakefront property. With the exception of the gardeners who showed up to take care of the manicured grounds, Anna had lived here alone, playing at being lady of the manor.
Now Donovan Barrett was coming here. What was that going to mean for her?
A lump formed in Anna's throat. She knew what it meant. It meant that a house sitter was no longer necessary. She was going to lose her job.
She ran one hand over the rich golden oak of a nearby table and stroked the lush dusky-blue upholstery of a chair. Her days of pre-tending that she belonged here, that she had been born to privilege, were over, but not being able to pretend that this fantasy house was hers was the least of her worries.
All the time she had worked here, she had lived rent free and had been able to save a sig-nificant portion of her income. This job had paid better than most positions that were open to a woman without a university degree. Working here had not only allowed her to live a fantasy, but it had put her closer to being able to afford her dream of adopting a child.
Closer, but not close enough. She had saved some money but she could still not support another person for any significant length of time, not in theway she wanted to. And she would not bring an innocent baby into the poverty she had grown up with, the kind that had driven her father to abandon his family and had led to a painful and lonely ex-istence for Anna. She would never subject a child to that kind of life. Not ever.
Her throat ached at the thought that she might have to postpone something she had wanted for so long, a child she could lavish with the kind of love she had never known. But truth was truth and she had grown used to meeting it head-on when she had to.
Anna swallowed. "Face it. Things have changed."
The woman on the phone had been Donovan Barrett's Chicago assistant. Tomorrow morning Mr. Barrett would move from his home base to his Lake Geneva estate.
It was less than a two-hour drive by car and yet that distance would be life-changing in so many ways.
Anna took a deep breath. She had been hired to do a job and she had done it. Donovan Barrett had needed a house sitter and now he wouldn't. It wasn't the man's fault that she wished he was staying in Chicago. Now she had to get the house ready for his arrival. She wasn't jobless yet. "And I'm not beaten yet, either," she said, though her fear was still there. She knew little of Donovan Barrett other than what his assis-tant had reluctantly told her and what the area gossips had read on the Internet and shared. Born to wealth, he had been a renowned physician until the tragic accidental death of his young son. Dr. Barrett had given up his practice and become a recluse. In the eighteen months since his son's death, Donovan Barrett had become difficult. He disliked closeness; he disliked people. He craved darkness and quiet.
Anna loved light even though her upbring-ing had been filled with darkness. She loved conversation and music and company, perhaps because she'd had little of that in her life growing up.
She sounded like just the kind of person Mr. Barrett disliked, but,
"He'll need at least a skeleton crew," she told herself. "A cook?"
If she'd been in the mood to laugh, she would have laughed until tears rolled. She was a terrible cook.
"Okay, a maid, then." A house with ten bedrooms, six bathrooms, and a kitchen the size of a small city needed lots of cleaning.
Could she realize her dreams on a maid's pay?
Anna frowned. None of this worrying was getting her anywhere. The truth was that much of the house had been closed off for two years and now it had to be opened up, gotten ready. In less than twenty-four hours. If everything wasn't perfect, if the house didn't glow, if it didn't meet the exacting specifica-tions that a man like Donovan Barrett was un-doubtedly used to, she would appear incompetent. All hope of securing another position here would be gone. She would be jobless, homeless. She would have to dip into her savings until she found another place to work, and her hopes of becoming a mother,
Anna closed her eyes. She resisted the urge to smooth her palm over the empty place on her abdomen where other women could carry children and she took a deep, energizing breath. Self-pity wasn't allowed. It was pointless.
"Get a grip," she told herself, standing taller. "Get to work."
Maybe if she did a good job of preparing the house for its owner, she and Donovan Barrett might come to terms.
"Miracles can happen," she whispered as she set off to clean what needed cleaning, to take the dust covers off the furnishings in the rooms she had not spent much time in and to do her best to impress the man who held her fate and the fate of her unknown child in his hands.
She had to try to win the man's favor, and from what his assistant had implied, he wasn't a man particularly interested in doling out favors.
Donovan Barrett was on his way to a destiny he wasn't interested in. But he had his reasons for being in Lake Geneva, and it was here he intended to stay.
Having only visited once, he barely re-membered the picturesque resort town set midway between the metropolitan areas of Chicago and Milwaukee. He did know that the lake was a summer retreat for many wealthy Chicago families and had been ever since the Civil War. His ex-wife, Cecily, was the one who had chosen the house. In retro-spect, he supposed she'd wanted to get him away from his practice long enough for him to pay attention to his family, but it hadn't worked. He'd shown up once, to sign the closing papers, and had gone straight back to his patients. He'd never returned.
Driving past the shops now, he passed a long, low Frank Lloyd Wright-style building, the library, overlooking a grassy park, a beach and the east end of Geneva Lake. In the bay were small boats, sailboats with rainbow-colored sails, and a cruise ship with a paddlewheel and an open second deck filled with passengers. For a moment Donovan imagined how much Ben would have loved riding on the historic-looking vessel.
If only he'd brought his son here once. Just once. Ben had only been four years old when he died.
Donovan gripped the steering wheel and drove on toward Morning View Manor, cursing himself for all the ways he had failed his child, including not being able to save his life despite the fact that Donovan was a doctor. Rage rushed through him, and he re-membered why he had come here.
Not to forget.