From Nanny to Mom
Tessa Pierce moves to the small town of Rosewood, Texas, hoping to forget all about romance. But her handsome new boss, Morgan Harper, is making that difficult. And his little girl is winning Tessa's heart more and more every day. The hardworking widower barely has enough time for his child, and certainly none for his beautiful new assistant. But when Tessa steps in to help take care of his daughter, she shows Morgan the close-knit family they could be. If he doesn't want to lose her, Morgan will need to unravel her mysterious past and prove to Tessa that her future should be with him.
About the Author
Bonnie K. Winn Author of 36 historical and contemporary romances, Bonnie has won numerous awards for her bestselling books. Affaire de Coeur named her one of the top ten romance authors in America. 14 million of her books are in print. She loves writing contemporary romance because she can explore the fascinating strengths of today’s women. She shares her life with her husband and two winsome Westies. Her son&his family live nearby.
Read an Excerpt
Tessa Pierce crossed then recrossed her legs. For the past ten years she had been on the other side of the desk during interviews, but that wasn't the reason she was uncomfortable. Morgan Harper, owner and president of Harper Petroleum, didn't so much make her nervous, just more on edge than she'd expected. She knew the workings of oil and gas companies, how to work for a single-minded boss. Mr. Harper affected her in a different way.
"My assistant, Miss Ellis, knew exactly how I wanted things done," he was saying. "She worked for my father, then me, so she had years of experience. Retiring was" he paused "appropriate considering her age. But I don't have time to train someone new in every aspect of my business."
Tessa tilted her head in the direction of her résumé, laid neatly on his desk. "As you can see, I've had considerable experience in most areas of the oil and gas industry. Through its subsidiaries, Traxton has a hand in all stages of production."
Morgan didn't glance at her résumé. Tessa had the uncanny feeling that he had memorized the document. "Ten years with one employer is unusual for someone your age."
"I joined Traxton Oil right out of college. And they promote from within."
Morgan placed two fingers at one temple, indenting the skin as though trying to ward off a headache. "You've been with them this long, so why make a change?"
It was a question Tessa had prepped for and the truth had never failed her. "I want a new start because of my divorce."
His eyebrows lifted. "Houston's a pretty big place. Not enough room in it for you and your ex?"
"No," she replied simply, evenly, definitively.
He stared at her, his dark eyes appearing to bore for truth or deceit. "Cindy Mallory told me you intend to relocate to Rosewood. That the cottage that comes with the job is a big incentive. You should take into consideration that Rosewood's nothing like the city."
Her voice remained even. "That's what I'm counting on."
"If your references check out, when can you start?"
"Immediately. I've already worked my two weeks' notice."
"And if I don't hire you?"
"With my experience, someone in oil country will. But I would enjoy having a good friend here in town. Cindy and I have known each other since we were kids. And I like what I've seen of Rosewood. Houston's invigorating, constantly busy. I'm not" she cleared her throat "in need of that right now."
"Bad divorce?" he asked.
Her lips tightened.
"Sorry. Not in the accepted lineup of interview questions. Then again I've never met anyone who claimed to have a good divorce, so I think I have my answer." Abruptly he stood.
Tessa stood as well, waiting for his decision.
"If we can work out an acceptable salary and employment contract, I assume you'll need some time to get moved."
"I brought the necessities. I can send for the rest of my things."
He glanced down at the calendar. "Since it's Thursday, plan to start on Monday."
So it was a yes. She exhaled, fighting the urge to slump in relief. Perfect situations weren't plentiful. And this one promised to be near ideal. Although Cindy had offered her guest room, Tessa didn't want to impose. Since the divorce, she had needed a lot of downtime. Alone time, she admitted, hating that it was true. Time when she didn't have to talk about her ex, Karl, why everything had gone so wrong. Why she was now alone.
Morgan frowned. "Do you have transportation?"
"My car," she replied.
He opened a drawer in his desk, then fished out a key. "Dorothy is my housekeeper. She'll show you to the cottage."
Holding her portfolio and purse with one hand, she extended the other.
He dropped the key into the palm of her hand. "I don't know what Cindy told you, but the cottage isn't anything elaborate. Miss Ellis was comfortable there, but I doubt it's what you're used to in Houston."
Tessa lifted her gaze, meeting his. "I'm sure it will be fine." Anything without Karl, without memories, would be welcome.
Morgan glanced at his watch. "You'll find Dorothy in the rear hall. She's expecting you."
Tessa drew her dark eyebrows together. "You were that sure I'd be right for the job?"
He neither smiled nor scowled, but she saw a flicker of disapproval in his eyes. "Dorothy is just that good."
Tessa slipped the key into her jacket pocket, then extended her hand. "I look forward to Monday."
His handshake made her swallow. Silly. She was accustomed to shaking plenty of hands during business hours. Still Tessa turned toward the doorway of the study, trying to focus on where the rear hall would be.
* * *
Morgan watched her walk away. Efficient. That had been apparent from her résumé and the first words of her interview. He had expected her to be. Cindy and Flynn Mallory were good friends and he knew they wouldn't oversell Tessa's abilities. But something else had also been apparent. Tessa was guarded. Very guarded. He had never been divorced, but he guessed it was an ugly process. For a woman who had been very rooted in her career and life, Tessa was acting like an outlaw on the run. Cindy had unconsciously reinforced that impression when she had told him that Tessa was solid and dependable. Ten years with Traxton. No moving around.
Morgan hoped he hadn't made a hasty decision. But piles of work were growing daily. Miss Ellis had been so efficient he hadn't completely grasped how much work she took on. He rubbed his temples, wishing the headache away. He didn't want to take more aspirin. They did little to help any longer. Get rid of the stress. Words his doctor repeated, his parents advised, his friends cautioned. As though he could wrap up the stress and mail it away like a package.
"Daddy!" Poppy called out as she skipped through the doorway.
His expression softened. "Right here." Reaching out, he picked her up and settled her in his lap.
"Guess what?" she asked in her most dramatic four-year-old voice.
He infused his response with interest. "What?"
She leaned close, as though imparting a state secret. "There's a pretty lady in the back hall."
"Really?" he asked, managing to sound puzzled. "I have always thought Miss Dorothy was pretty."
"No, silly! Another lady!" Poppy's big blue eyes widened.
"Did you meet her?" he questioned, loving the joy Poppy found in everything.
"Nope. I hid behind the drapes. In case she wasn't 'posed to be in our house. She's all dressed up like she's going to church, the way Dorothy does."
Morgan flinched. Church wasn't a subject he ever wanted to dwell on again. "Ladies dress that way to go to work, as well."
"Miss Ellis didn't," Poppy pointed out.
No, Miss Ellis was the last of a dying breed. She had worn shirtwaist dresses to work each and every day. Unlike Tessa, who sported a chic contemporary silk suit. He guessed her dark hair was long but she had swept it up, so he couldn't be sure. Went well with her aquamarine eyes that seemed to lighten and darken at will.
Morgan pulled himself back to the child he adored. "Miss Dorothy should have your lunch ready pretty soon."
"She said I could have chocolate milk if I eat my little trees."
Morgan hid his smile. Broccoli. Dorothy cooked it at least once a week for him, as well. He didn't set a very good example, pushing it around his plate without eating a single stalk. Dorothy, being Dorothy, never gave up.
He couldn't have made it without Dorothy. His parents were already retired when Poppy's mother, Lucy, died. They had rushed home from their latest journey and had been there for him and his infant daughter. For the first three years, they had put their own dreams and plans on the back burner so they could help him care for Poppy. But he knew they longed to pursue the travels his father couldn't make when he had been running Harper Petroleum. Morgan didn't intend to let them postpone their adventures a day longer.
After they returned to their travels, he, Dorothy, her husband, Alvin, and Miss Ellis had pulled together to care for Poppy. He had tried hiring a nanny, but that had felt too impersonal. Not really knowing the woman, Morgan wasn't comfortable having her as Poppy's primary daytime caretaker. Not that his parents needed to know he'd let the nanny go. They would no doubt feel compelled to come home. "Who is the lady?" Poppy questioned.
"She's taking Miss Ellis's job."
Poppy frowned. "Miss Ellis was real old."
And she hadn't possessed Tessa's beauty. The thought flew into his mind from left field. He hadn't cared what any woman looked like since Lucy. "That's because Miss Ellis had the job for a long time."
"Is the new lady going to get old here?"
Morgan smiled. "I don't think so."
Poppy digested this. "Can we fly my kite?"
He glanced at the pile of work on his desk. "It's almost your lunchtime, short stuff."
"Dorothy said it's in thirty hours."
Morgan did a quick mental translation. "Thirty minutes to an hour?"
She nodded, an emphatic up and down of her head. "And Dorothy said you have to come eat, too."
Considering he'd known Dorothy since she had changed his diapers, their roles of employee and employer blurred, but never in a way he minded. He hugged Poppy, then set her down. "Now, you'd better scoot."
She blew him kisses, which he caught in an upraised hand. If only all of life could be so sweet.
Tessa trailed Dorothy around the compact cottage. She hadn't expected much by Morgan's description. Pleasantly surprised by gently worn French country furniture and the terrazzo patio, she sighed.
"Something you don't like?" Dorothy asked.
"Just the opposite." Tessa turned in a semicircle. "It's so inviting. The soft colors and materials."
"Miss Ellis wanted to redecorate. Well, back before her arthritis got so bad. Said this looked old."
Tessa lifted one shoulder. "That's part of why I like it." She touched the edge of a cabbage-rose drape. "The history. It could have been this way a century ago."
Dorothy cocked her head, indicating Tessa's slick suit, one that had fit in perfectly in downtown Houston and definitely in the twenty-first century. "And you like that it looks old?"
"How I dress and how I like to live don't exactly match, do they?" Tessa smiled, a small smile. "I've lived with hard-edged, supermodern furniture before." Because Karl liked it. "Seemed brittle."
Nodding, Dorothy plucked an invisible speck from a plump pillow. "When I put my feet up at night, I want them resting on something comfy. My husband, Alvin, would have a fit with glass tables and whatnot."
"I agree with Alvin." She paused. "Do you mind me asking where you and your husband live?"
"In the big house. On the main floor, past the kitchen and the butler's pantry. We have our own set of rooms. There are two other cottages on the property, but it's a lot easier on us to live in the main house. Taking care of a family isn't an eight-to-five kind of job." Dorothy plopped her hands on her hips. "Say, did you bring your overnight things?"
"I packed a small bag. I'll be sending for my clothes."
"Well, if there's anything you need, that you maybe forgot, I'm bound to have it or know how to get hold of it."
"Thank you, Dorothy."
"New job and new place to live all in one day." Dorothy shook her head. "That's a lot to take on."
Tessa firmed her chin so her lips wouldn't tremble and give her away. "It's all good."
"Even so." She hesitated. "If Morgan's a little gruff, don't let it get to you. He's been that way since It's just his way. Well, wash up. We'll eat lunch in about twenty minutes. Casual dress."
"I'm not very hungry"
"Need to eat something," the housekeeper insisted with a parental look that didn't invite protest.
When the door closed behind Dorothy, Tessa slipped off her jacket, then kicked off her heels. She loved the feel of her bare feet against the cool heart of pine floor.
Padding across the main room to the kitchen, she opened a cupboard and found a teapot and supplies. Loose-leaf tea, Tessa noticed with interest. Also a variety of herbal teas. The former tenant had clearly been a tea lover, as well. Having kept herself together to appear cool and collected for the interview, Tessa felt drained. It was difficult to appear upbeat and enthusiastic when she wanted to crawl under the covers and never come out. A hot cup of herbal tea and the comfortable-looking chair near the window seemed like a perfect way to lift her spirits.
She had hoped to escape lunch with her new boss, but at least she could cut the meal short, using the valid excuse that she needed to send for her belongings. They wouldn't amount to much. Karl could keep the furniture in their condo. She had taken the precaution of packing her sentimental items and bringing them along. Clothes could be repurchased, but good memories were irreplaceable. But how many good memories did she really have connected with her marriage? Few, she now realized. And even those were single-sided.
After a quick call to Cindy to let her know she'd gotten the job, Tessa enjoyed a cup of tea. Sighing, she knew she had to change for lunch. She truly wasn't hungry, but didn't want to offend Morgan or Dorothy.
Opening her bag, she retrieved a pair ofjeans and a cotton blouse. Glancing in the mirror, even she could see the fatigue traced through her expression. Eyes now constantly dry from crying herself to sleep looked red and raw. It was a wonder she had gotten the job. She rummaged in her makeup bag and found the eye drops. Some fresh blusher and lipstick helped a bit.
She just had to remember to keep upbeat, to squash the unhappy note that colored her voice these days. Tessa leaned closer to the mirror. "You're a mess, you know. Perk up." She probably should have chosen coffee instead of herbal tea for the caffeine pickup. Too late now.
Tessa decided she preferred entering the big house through the kitchen rather than ringing the bell at the set of big doors in the front. It was the route Dorothy had taken them to the cottage. She knocked lightly. A small child appeared in the doorway.
Not expecting her, Tessa drew in her breath. "Ah. Hello. I'm Tessa. Dorothy is expecting me for lunch."
"Daddy, too," the poppet replied, holding a well-used stuffed dog in one hand, staring intently at Tessa.
"Yes." Tessa paused, remembering what Cindy had said about the motherless child. "I'm going to be working for him."
"But not like Miss Ellis," the girl informed her.
The child shook her head. "Miss Ellis got old here and you aren't going to."
"Okay, Poppy, that'll be enough," Dorothy said, coming up behind them in time to hear the child's last remark.
"But Daddy said"
"We don't repeat what others say, do we? Now, wash up and we'll start lunch." Dorothy lifted her gaze. "Morgan's having a plate in his study. He tends to focus on his work. But we're still glad to have you join us."
"I don't want to be any trouble," Tessa reminded her. "I'm not that hungry."
"Then hopefully, you'll appreciate a simple meal. I made sliders."
Tessa raised her eyebrows, thinking the term was a progressive reference, one she hadn't expected.
Dorothy reached for a dish towel. "Now, I know they're just small hamburgers, but Poppy had them at lunch in Houston with her dad and thought they were so much better than full-size hamburgers." Dorothy rolled her eyes. "So, now we have lots of little burgers. I made a salad in case you eat healthy. I sneak veggies in, too."
"Sounds good. I don't have any dietary restrictions. I suppose I should, but I pretty much eat what I like. Then I run or walk long enough every day to burn some of it off."
Dorothy's eyes were observant but kind. "Doesn't look like you need to."