Inherited: One Child(7)

By: Day Leclaire



He took a quick stab in the dark. “You mention your father, but not your mother.”

She took a quick breath. “My mother died when I was twelve.”

“A difficult age to lose a mother.”

A dry smile kicked up the corner of her mouth. “Is there a good age?”

“No. Even so…You must have learned coping mechanisms.”

“Eventually.”

“Would any of them help Isabella?”

“Some.” She considered briefly. “In theory.”

“Why in theory?”

“Because Isabella isn’t me,” she explained. “What worked for one person might not work for another. It’s not a one-size-fits-all.”

He leaned back in his chair and studied her for a long moment. He was tempted to hire her. So very, very tempted. Again, he sensed a ripple of tension just beneath her calm expression. “You’ve met Isabella. You see how much work it’s going to take to get through to her. Why do you want this job so badly?”

Annalise moistened her lips and answered with care. “Isabella needs help. Maybe I can give her that help. At the very least I’ll find out whether I’m capable of handling special-needs children.”

“I’m not sure I want to hire someone who regards this as an experiment or a test of their capabilities.” She didn’t respond to the observation, though he could tell his comment worried her. “There’s one other detail you should know about Isabella.”

“Which is?”

He decided to lay it out for her. If it scared her off, he’d know she was wrong for the job. “After we explained what happened to her parents, my niece stopped speaking.”

Annalise inhaled sharply. “She doesn’t talk? Not at all?”

“She screams. That’s her communication of choice. So you can see why I’d like the most experienced person possible for this job.”

“Yes, I can understand that,” she conceded. “But I’d still like a shot at the position.”

Jack released his breath in a slow sigh. There were two reasons he didn’t plan to hire Annalise Stefano, despite the urge to do just that. The first and most important was that she didn’t have the necessary experience. Good instincts, but little hands-on practice. What if Mrs. Locke decided Annalise wasn’t knowledgeable enough? He’d have precisely one shot at this. If the caseworker gave the thumbs-down, he couldn’t run out and find a replacement bride. No, whoever he chose would have to be as close to perfect as possible.

The second reason he hesitated was the attraction he felt toward Annalise. It didn’t bode well for a successful working relationship and threatened unending complications down the road. Plus, it didn’t make sense to keep such blatant temptation in his home. Too risky.

He flipped the file closed. “I appreciate you coming in for this interview.”

She fought to maintain her composure. “You’ve already made up your mind, haven’t you?” A dark, husky note slipped into her voice and he gained the impression that she’d pinned a lot of hopes on this job. “You’re not going to hire me.” It wasn’t a question.

“I’m sorry, Ms. Stefano.” He let her down as gently as possible. “You’ve only just completed your studies. You haven’t had any practical experience. I need someone who’s actually worked with children like Isabella.”

She didn’t argue, although he suspected she wanted to. “If you change your mind, you have my number.” She stood and approached his desk, holding out her hand. “Thank you for considering me, Mr. Mason.”

He took her hand again, experiencing that same oddly appealing dichotomy of strength overlaying fragility. Of vulnerability warring with quiet determination. He didn’t doubt she’d have thrown her heart and soul into helping Isabella, and he couldn’t help but wonder if he was making a horrible mistake in not choosing her. He deliberately quashed any doubts. Doubts equaled weakness, and he learned at his father’s knee never to allow weakness to influence a business decision.

Releasing Annalise’s hand, he picked up the list of applicants and escorted her to the door. He opened it and froze. The outer office was deserted. Not a single person remained.

“Well, hell.”

Annalise planted her hands on her hips and surveyed the empty chairs. “I don’t suppose you’d care to reconsider that job offer?”

What choice did he have? Time was of the essence and Annalise had come close—very, very close—to fitting the profile he needed for both a nanny and a wife. “As a matter of fact, I would like to reconsider.”

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