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"Spare the rod, spoil the child" Josiah Morgan on his parenting philosophy of raising four boys on his own.
Suzy Winterstone didn't like the Morgan ranch. It was too big, too isolated and very scary at night. She walked inside the house, feeling chills that weren't from the January wind. The front door actually creaked when someone opened it, just like in an old movie. She told herself the hinges were cold and hadn't been used recently, but then she remembered Josiah Morgan had told her he had a farmhand who kept an eye on the property. So the hinges weren't unusedthey were simply spooky.
All of five-foot-five and weighing about a hundred and thirty pounds, Suzy wasn't prepared to grapple with ghosts. According to Josiah's letter, a live-in housekeeper was badly needed at the ranch. She needed a job, and she dreamed of employment that would allow her to watch over her children. Here was a golden opportunity to achieve her heart's desire. Josiah Morgan said she'd be doing him a favorhe'd been very generous to her in the past and this job offer was no exception. Upon hearing that her boyfriend of three years had ended their relationship and had taken off for parts unknown, leaving her high and dry with twin babies, Josiah had set up a trust fund for the girls' college expenses. She'd felt very fortunate, but Mr. Morgan was known for his generous acts in the town of Union Junction. Some people said the old man was crazy, but most people thought he was kind and grandfatherly, including Suzy.
Suzy had been working as a nurse at the hospital up until her maternity leave and was fortunate to have insurance. She could always go back to nursing, but creaking doorsaside, this would be a wonderful place to work for one year. Josiah wanted it kept clean, and he wanted it decorated for every holiday, as if a family lived there. Knowing she had sewing skills, he wanted new drapes made for the house, for which he'd pay her extra. The fabrics he'd chosen were stored somewhere in this cavernous dwelling, but she could select other fabric if she wishedas long as she made the house what Mr. Morgan called "gracious living suitable for grandchildren."
Suzy walked into a large room with a fireplace, noting the window casements were about eighteen feet high. She went up the stairs, peeking into the cold bedrooms. Lack of human warmth chilled the house, and she could understand why Josiah felt it would be better to have her family living in the house in his absence.
She decided to take the joband first thing tomorrow, she was oiling the front door.
She was still preoccupied with those squeaky hinges when she stepped into the last room on the back hall. Like the others, it was dark and cold. Josiah had the heat in the house turned low, and for January, she would want it warmer for her babies. This back room might be suitable for hershe could make a nursery out of the room across the hall.
She screamed as something grabbed her and tossed her onto a bed. Still shrieking, she scrambled away, only to be caught in strong hands as a light flipped on.
The most handsome man she'd ever seen imprisoned her against his body. His dark eyes gleamed like a pirate's, saucily admiring his prey.
"What have we here?" he asked, pausing to allow for her answer, yet she sensed he didn't really expect or want one. Fear charged to a panicky boil inside her. "A very beautiful, very bad burglar?"
"I would never steal anything!"
He gave her a long perusal, raking her from her head to her toes and back up again. She gave him credit for not staring at her breasts, but he certainly made her feel as if he'd undressed her. She couldn't hold back a shiver.
"A trespasser, then." He slowly smiled. "I'll have to call the local police. Lucky for you I know some of the fellows here." He held her a little tighter, his wolflike gaze locked on her face.
He was toying with her. Anger-charged adrenaline made her brave; she jerked her arm free from his grasp. "I'm the new housekeeper. And since Mr. Morgan said no one would be here but me and my family, I'm pretty certain you're the trespasser and I'll be the one calling the police."
The handsome man frowned. "Well, we have a problem. I'm supposed to be living here alone, or possibly with any of my brothers, if they show up. There was never anything said about a female. I'm Josiah Morgan's third son, Dane Morgan. Who the hell are you?"
She lifted her chin. "My name is Suzy Winterstone. Your father hired me."
She could swear he backed a foot away from her.
She nodded. "Yes." The fact that he seemed to know her name didn't appear to be a good thing.
"Pop hired you to be a housekeeper?" he demanded. "Here?"
She gave him a confident glare. "Yes, he did."
He stared at her for a minute and the overriding emotion she saw in those dark eyes was now anger. He frightened her; he looked like the sort of man who might not play by the rules of common decency, capable of tossing her out on the porch to soothe his temper.
"Damn Pop," he finally growled. "Just when I hoped he might be mellowing, he proves himself to be the blue ribbon-winning jackass of all time."
"Mr. Morgan has been very good to me and my family"
He pulled her to him, kissing her hard, tasting her unrelentingly before he pushed her away. "I am not my father. If you choose to accept the position, be aware you'll be living here with me. And I am not an easy man to live with."
She forced herself not to capitulate just because his kiss had unnerved her. "I guess that's supposed to scare me. You're obviously hoping to discourage me from taking this job. I hate to dash your hopes, but Mr. Morgan wants me here, and I need the job. To be honest, I'm less afraid of you being on the premises than my babies and me being here alone." Mr. Tall, Dark and Handsome was just going to have to put up with her presence.
"Oh, yes, the babies. The pink-ribboned treasures intended to enhance my father's golden years."
"Is there a problem with that?" She looked him over, admitting to herself that he certainly was sexy, but sexy wasn't always a worthy trait in a man. "You seem to have an aversion to children, so I'm not sure why it would bother you if your father has an interest in my babies."
He shook his head, crossed his arms over his admirably broad chest. "You're forewarned that nothing that happens here between you and me will ever entail an altar or a wedding ring."
She shook her head. "You can bet your boots on that, mister. This house is big enough for the both of us, and we need never see each other. I expect wood brought in for the fireplacesI've counted fourand I don't want muddy footprints or beer cans left about. Mr. Morgan didn't say anything about me playing house with a man or waiting on anyone hand and foot, and I will inform him of the parameters we are agreeing upon."
" Ihaven't agreed to anything."
She backed to the door before he could pounce again. Not that it had been an entirely unpleasant experiencein fact, Dane was a pretty good kisserbut her blood was still boiling like crazy at being jumped by the Adonis in the doorway. She'd never been much for hide-and-seek, so it was best to put this awkward relationship on professional footing. "You'll have to take any grievance you might have with me up with my employer."
"And no doubt Pop would side with little bitty Miss Babymaker." He stepped one foot toward her, laughed when she fled down the hall.
"Jerk," she murmured as she went down the stairs, "we'll see how hard he laughs when I short-sheet his bed and sprinkle rice in it."
If the arrogant swine thought he was going to chase her out of a well-paying job and a chance to stay home with her children, he'd find himself greatly mistaken. Some men were just too hunky for their own good clearly Dane was suffering from too much ego.
She would set him straight.
"And we'll draw straws for bedrooms!" Suzy called up the stairs, just to assert herself more fully. She heard his laughter echo down the hall.
"So Suzy Winterstone is cute," Gabriel Morgan said to his older brother, Dane, who was visiting him and his wife, Laura, at their comfortable house. Dane had to admit, Gabriel had adapted well to living in this small domain with his growing family. But still, that just meant the youngest of all the Morgan boys had fallen under Josiah's thumb.
Dane would not be doing the same. "She's much more attractive than I would've imagined. I suppose I have to give Pop points for good taste in women." He sighed, heavily put-upon. "However, she has a bit of a mouth on her." A mouth he'd kissed, and would love to kiss again. He liked blondes, especially round, sunny ones like Suzy.
He shouldn't have done it.
Dane heard Laura laugh in the kitchen as she caught his remark. Her childrenhis niece and nephewwere baking sugar cookies with their mother. It was a nice way to take the edge off a cold day, and his stomach rumbled at the aroma. He sure hoped he'd be offered one of the treats.
"What kind of mouth?" Laura asked, setting a glass of milk in front of him. His hopes for being included in the cookie-tasting rose exponentially. "Pink and tempting?" she teased.
"I meant she talks a lot," he said with a mock growl, knowing his sister-in-law was giving him grief. Still, he wasn't going to admit to kissing Suzyhe'd never live it down since he'd protested his father's incessant matchmaking from the start. "She doesn't shut up."
"Hmm," Laura said, "how much could she have said in such a short amount of time? Didn't you say you only talked for about five minutes?"
"And that was plenty. During that time she set rules, gave commands and pretty much tried to show me who was going to be boss." He looked hopefully toward the kitchen, wondering if that confession had been enough to earn him a cookie.
Seeing his eager glance, Laura laughed. Gabriel chuckled.
"Penny, will you please bring your uncle Dane and your dad that platter of cookies?" Laura said. "Suzy simply sounds organized to me, Dane."
"Like someone in law enforcement, and I've had my fill of people like that." Dane took the platter from Penny gratefully. "Very pretty. How many am I allowed?" he asked Penny.
"Only two if you don't want to spoil your supper."
Penny was nearly five years old now and wise to the house rules.
"Two?" he asked, looking at Penny with his best uncle smile. "But I don't think I'm going to be getting any supper."
"That's because you didn't play your cards right with your housekeeper." Gabriel took the platter, moved two cookies to Dane's plate, three to his own, and handed the tray back to Penny. "Please put temptation out of Uncle Dane's way, honey."
She smiled at Gabriel and took the plate back to the kitchen. Her little brother, Perrin, followed, anxious for his own treat.
"How come you get three?" Dane asked. "Not that I'm trying to be ungrateful or anything, but I am older than you."
"Because I'm in good with the women of my house." Gabriel grinned. "I get extra sweets."
"Great." Dane bit the head off the sugary reindeer and closed his eyes. "She sings, Gabriel, all the time."
"Bro, she's only lived there since this morning."
"But it's nonstop. She sings to the children. The children sing back, in those little nonsense voices, and then Suzy praises them, so proud of their efforts. The noise level is pretty constant."
Laura laughed again. He considered the lightly falling snow outside, and the gray skiesboth signs the temperature would be dropping. "I can't stay long.