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It was a sunny Saturday afternoon in mid-June when Meg Perry arrived at the home of Logan McKendrick. Sunny and warm and quiet—the day had a lazy feel to it. And yet Meg felt anything but the kind of laid-back, calm composure that should have gone with a day like that. She was wound up and fighting butterflies in her stomach as she stopped her car engine.
She took a deep breath and a quick glance at herself in her rearview mirror, trying to chase away some of those butterflies.
She'd pulled her wavy red hair back into a professional-looking French twist. She'd used only a slight dusting of blush to give her pale skin some color, a few swipes of mascara so her green eyes didn't look washed out, and a pale lip gloss just as a finishing touch.
Presentable, not flashy—that had been her goal and she was satisfied that she'd accomplished it. But it still didn't help her unwind.
Analyzing her tension, she didn't think it should have come from meeting-new-people-jitters since she knew the McKendrick family. At least she knew them the way everyone in her small hometown of Northbridge, Montana, knew even people they weren't close to—she knew of them. Or she had, ten years ago before she'd left Northbridge to go to college. But they didn't seem to qualify as strangers, so meeting them shouldn't have been causing her stress.
The butterflies in her stomach also shouldn't have come from feeling on edge about the job interview she was there for when the discussion was only to confirm the terms of her employment as nanny to Logan McKendrick's three-year-old daughter. A position that Logan's sister Hadley had essentially hired her for on the phone because Meg's credentials were far and away more than any nanny needed—she had a Ph.D. in child psychology and was on sabbatical from Children's Hospital in Denver after four years of work that had been considerably more complicated than nannying.
But the butterflies were flitting around anyway and she supposed they were just another part of the residual effects of The Incident—or what everyone referred to as The Incident. She'd been easy to rattle since then. Which was part of why she was there…
She got out of the car and brushed the lines out of her beige linen slacks, making sure her cream-colored camp shirt was tucked in. Then she headed for the two-story farmhouse that was sporting a fresh coat of yellow paint trimmed in white.
As she climbed the steps onto the wide front porch, she could see through the screen that the front door was open. But there were no signs of life inside, so she pushed the button for the doorbell. It didn't make a sound. Maybe she hadn't pushed it hard enough. She tried again. But again, no sound.
She was five minutes early, but she knew Logan and Hadley were expecting her.
She tried the doorbell a third time.
"It dudn't work," came a quiet little voice just before two puppies appeared from behind the open front door inside.
Meg glanced downward to discover a very small child barely peeking at her from behind that same door.
Big brown eyes peered at her warily and beyond those a pair of Spiderman swim goggles that the child was wearing on her forehead, the little girl was hidden behind the door.
"Hi," Meg greeted in her most inviting tone of voice. "I'm Meg. I'll bet you're Tia." The three-year-old she was to be nanny to.
The little girl's only response was a timid nod of her head of curly blond hair. It was cut short and caplike but not so short that the curls didn't bounce with the nod.
"Are you swimming today?" Meg asked because of the goggles, thinking that maybe a pool had been added to the old Ludwig farm at some point and that maybe that was where Logan and Hadley were.
But Tia gave a negative shake of her head in answer to that, offering nothing more and ducking coyly behind the door, completely out of sight.
The dogs were wrestling with each other in the doorway, growling playfully. Meg hunkered down as if they were what she was really interested in, knowing that while a three-year-old was naturally shy with strangers, they didn't like sharing the spotlight and that that might help draw Tia out again.
"Oh, aren't you two the cutest things. Come over here and see me…."
The puppies stopped their wrestling and came noses first to the screen, tails wagging, eager for her attention.
"Hello. Hello, you little sweethearts," she cooed to them.
As Meg had anticipated, Tia reappeared from behind the door, even coming farther out than she'd been before. Far enough for Meg to see her round, rosy cheeks and the long eyelashes that fanned her big brown eyes. Far enough for Meg to see that she was wearing a Spiderman costume to go with the goggles.
"Those are my dogs Max and Harry," she said.
"Max and Harry," Meg repeated, still focusing on the puppies. "I don't know what kind of dogs you are, Max and Harry, but you're just babies, aren't you?" she cooed some more.
"Max is a doodle and Harry is a re-doodle," Tia informed her, still timidly but with some authority, finally coming to stand in the doorway with the dogs.
Meg wasn't sure what doodles were, let alone re-doodles. But the information was coming from a three-year-old, so she doubted it was reliable.
"And you're Spiderman today," Meg said, aiming her attention at Tia again, who seemed more ready to accept it.
"I'm Spidergirl," Tia corrected.
Meg nodded. "Now that I look again, I can see that. Spidergirl—of course. Well, Spidergirl, I'm here to talk to your dad and your aunt Hadley," she told Tia. "Could you get one of them for me?"
"Tia? Where are you and what are you up to?" came a woman's voice just then. A split second later, the woman herself appeared at the opposite end of the hallway that ran from the front door, alongside a staircase leading to the upper level, to the kitchen in the rear of the house.
"Oh! We didn't know someone was here," the woman said when she spotted Meg. "Is that you, Meg?" she asked as she hurried to the door.
"It is," Meg confirmed.
Because the hallway was dim and there was bright sunshine in the kitchen, the woman was in silhouette until she reached the entry. But even then Meg didn't recognize her. She had not been Logan's or Hadley McKendrick's contemporary growing up. At twenty-nine, Meg was six years younger than Logan and four years younger than Hadley, and with an age gap like that, none of them had had any reason to take notice of each other. Add to that the facts that Meg hadn't been close friends with any of Logan's and Hadley's younger half siblings, that both Logan and Hadley had left Northbridge when they'd graduated high school, and they really were virtual strangers except that Meg and Hadley had recently spoken on the telephone about the nanny position.
So, when the other woman reached the front door, Meg said, "And you must be Hadley," to make sure. Besides, not only had she and Hadley McKendrick not been friends, not only had more than a decade gone by since they'd even seen each other, but the Hadley McKendrick Meg had any recollection of at all was very heavy and the woman who came to the door was anything but.
"Yes, it's me," Hadley answered with a laugh. "I know, I'm half the woman I used to be—almost literally. I lost a hundred pounds."
"That's quite an accomplishment," Meg marveled.
Hadley pulled the puppies out of the way and opened the door as Tia looked on from the sidelines again. "Come on in. We didn't know you were here."
"Oh, I know, it needs to be replaced. I should have warned you but I forgot about it."
Meg went into the entryway and Hadley latched the screen door behind her. Then to her niece, Hadley said, "Tia, your daddy is in the backyard. Go get him and tell him Meg is here."
"I'm Spidergirl," Tia insisted.
"Okay, Spidergirl, go get your dad," Hadley amended.
Very seriously, as if she were about to take flight, Tia lowered the goggles over her eyes and then ran down the hallway Hadley had come from. But at the same moment Tia reached the opposite end of it, a tall man appeared there, too, and the three-year-old crashed into him.
Because of the silhouette effect caused by the lighting, the most Meg could tell about the scene in the distance was that the tall man weathered the blow and scooped the little girl into his arms to carry her back with him.
"Hi," he called as he did.
Meg assumed he was Logan McKendrick. She barely recognized him, too, when she got her first clear view of him as he joined them in the entryway. He hadn't had the kind of transformation his sister had, but Meg didn't recall him being so staggeringly handsome, either.
Broad shoulders and a lean muscular body went with the height that was at least an inch over six foot. His hair was a shiny walnut-brown that he wore slightly long with the top swept to one side and sideburns that were a sexy fraction of an inch longer than Meg was used to, too. He had perfectly peaked lips, a straight nose, and translucent, pale, pale blue eyes that were so mesmerizing that it took Meg a moment to stop staring at them and realize he'd suggested that they go into the living room.
"So you're Meg Perry," he said when they had, motioning for Meg to sit on the rocking chair across the coffee table while Hadley sat on the tweed sofa. He took up the other end of couch, settling Tia on his jean-clad lap so she could rest back against his yellow polo shirt.
"Yes, I'm Meg Perry."
He was studying her closely, and being under the scrutiny of those remarkable eyes that had an almost ethereal quality to them made the butterflies take wing in her stomach again.
Then he said, "I remember your brother Jared—he was a year older than me—"
"And I was the same age as your brother Noah," Hadley put in.
"But other than that," Logan took up where his sister had left off, "I only have a faint recollection of two redheaded Perry girls."
"Kate and I both have red hair. We're the youngest of the four kids," Meg contributed. "And don't feel bad, I can't say I honestly remember you two, either."
"So we start fresh," Logan decreed.
"Sounds good to me," Meg answered.
With that settled, Logan said, "From what Hadley told me about you, there's no question that you can do the job—you have a doctorate in child psychology?"
"Right." Meg could see that that left him wondering why she was there for a nanny job, so she tried to avoid any questions she might not want to answer and said, "I'm just taking a little time away from it to have the summer back home."
That kept him from digging any deeper. "And Hadley checked your references—you come with nothing but high praise, so I can't see that there's anything for me to worry about with you. I'm thinking that maybe I should just give you an idea of what I want on this end and you can decide if it's a job you're willing to spend your time doing."
"Okay," Meg agreed, wishing she wasn't finding it so difficult to concentrate. And she didn't understand why she was. She talked to parents all the time—even some who were notably attractive—and she'd never had any problem. But for some reason she just kept getting lost in looking at Logan McKendrick, at comparing the man he was now with the boy she barely remembered and judging him somehow so much better looking.
Stop it! she told herself firmly, glancing at Tia for a moment's diversion as the little girl raised the goggles to her forehead again, climbed from her father's lap and went to tease the puppies with a chew toy.
"We bought this place because it gave us housing, workspace, a showroom and some future expansion possibilities all in one," was the first thing that Meg actually heard again. "That means that we'll be living, working and running our business from here, but I still want it to be a relaxed, family atmosphere."
Meg knew that Logan McKendrick and Chase Mackey—another Northbridge native—were the Mackey and McKendrick of Mackey and McKendrick Furniture Designs, and that that was the business he was talking about.
"Of course Tia's safety is important," he was saying. "In all the usual ways, but I also don't like to have her around the workshop when any of the equipment is being used—a lot of our tools and equipment and machinery are dangerous to her. So you'll have to make sure she doesn't get away from you."
"Absolutely," Meg said.
"I don't expect you to be the maid, so you don't have to worry about household chores—although if you wanted to set up Tia's room for me, I'd count that as a huge favor. I still haven't been able to get all of her stuff out of the moving boxes."
"And I need Grilla," Tia added from the floor, obviously listening even as she played with the dogs.
"Grilla is her stuffed gorilla," Logan McKendrick explained. "He has to be in that room somewhere but—"
Meg smiled. "I love to organize. I'd be happy to set up Tia's room and maybe we can find Grilla together."
"That'd be fantastic," he said as if it took a burden off him. "I'd also like for this to be a sort of communal living arrangement."
Alarms went off in the reserved Meg. "Communal-living arrangement?" she repeated, wondering what exactly he was suggesting. She knew next to nothing personal about this man or his sister. They could have gone out into the world and become some kind of freaks….
"Hadley said I'd have an apartment separate from where you live," Meg added.
For some reason, her qualms made Logan McKendrick smile a small, one-sided smile that didn't alleviate her concerns because although it was appealing and made him all the more handsome, there was also a devilish quality to it.
"Did your whole body just clench up?" he asked with a laugh.
"Logan!" his sister chastised.
"Well, it's true," he said.
Meg didn't wait for Hadley to say more. She just went on, trying a different tack. "What do you mean by communal living?"