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“Hallmark moments and complexity of plot and characters smoothly stirred together into a delicious ambrosia. Full five stars and maybe two hankies.”Audible reviewer
The proposal is fake, but his feelings are real. A heartwarming friends-to-true-love story.
Billionaire businessman, Roland Baker, has moved on with his life but never opened his heart to love again since losing his wife six years earlier. The nanny he hired to help raise his two girls has, piece by piece, woven the broken strands of their lives back together. So, when her ex-boyfriend breaks her heart, he’s ready to jump in with a fake proposal to help her save face.
June Green always wanted to be a nanny. She loves her position, working for the hottest billionaire in Atlanta and taking care of his beautiful daughters. When her ex-boyfriend parades his new fiancee in front of them all, she’s devastated… until Roland gets down on one knee, surprising everyone.
He’s her friend, her boss, and the most eligible bachelor in town. Anything more between them would be too complicated and could risk the life she’s grown to love. But an unexpected date leads to a surprise, spine-tingling kiss that changes everything between them and sparks feelings she can no longer ignore.
Release date: December 31, 2019
Publisher: Black Lab Press
Print pages: 244
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The slap of half-melted ice cream hitting her foot made June Green wrinkle her nose. She squeezed her eyes shut, then glanced downward.
“Emma, was that your ice cream that just landed on my toes?"
Emma's eyes widened. A smudge of ice cream on the end of her dainty nose caused June to press her lips together tightly to keep from laughing. The six-year-old had a way of making her laugh, even when she was frustrated.
"I asked you to eat it over the table. Didn't I?"
Emma nodded sagely and leaned her ice cream over the table. Another splat as a glob of goodness hit the surface of the table this time. Emma grinned.
"Thank you, much better."
"I'm eating mine over the table," piped up Caitlin. At ten, she knew better than to drip her treat all over her nanny's foot, and she wanted to make sure June noticed.
June smiled. "Thank you, Caitlin. That's wonderful."
Emma's face sagged.
"You're doing a great job as well, sweetheart."
June tickled beneath Emma's chin, and she giggled, her green eyes flashing with sudden happiness.
They'd usually be swimming in the home pool this time of day, but it was being repaired that morning, and she'd suggested they try the neighborhood pool instead to beat the heat. At least an ice cream truck had stopped by, giving them a chance to cool down with the sweet treats. June had already eaten hers and was waiting on Caitlin and Emma to finish theirs—an exercise in patience and restraint as she watched ice cream dribble down the sides of their cones and drip to the table below.
The July rays beat down on them from overhead, heating the Dunwoody neighborhood swimming pool and its surrounds until her hair felt as though it was on fire. She ran a hand over it and decided they should take one more swim after they finished their ice creams, then head home, or they'd all be burned to a crisp.
"What's that blue on your cheek?" asked Emma before pushing her tongue out as far as it would reach to rake it up one side of her ice cream.
June frowned, and pushed fingertips to her cheek. "No, the other one," said Emma, her brow creasing in concentration.
Another swipe and June glanced at her fingertips.
"I think that's from the tube of zinc you and your sister were playing with earlier. You know, the one your dad brought back from his trip to Australia last month. Somehow it got on me as well."
Emma giggled. "Sorry, June."
June sighed, she must have looked like a complete mess to anyone watching: hair wet and plastered to her scalp, blue zinc on one cheek, ice cream drips over various parts of her body and sporting a mom- style single-piece black swimsuit reserved for swim- ming lessons with her charges. Thank heavens she didn't know anyone at the small neighborhood pool today.
She packed their water bottles back into the soft, cooler-bag, along with a packet of crackers and the bottle of sunscreen. Then she shook her foot, sending the oﬀending dessert flying.
She blanched and spun around at the sound of a voice behind her.
"Casey?" Her ex-boyfriend stood a few feet away from her. He was bending at the waist, wiping the ice cream she'd just flicked from her foot oﬀ his leg.
He straightened and grinned. "Hi, June. How are you?" He waved to the girls who smiled back and continued licking.
Casually he wrapped one arm around the waist of a tall, thin stick insect. The woman had long, shining brown hair—the ends of which tickled her waist— large doe brown eyes, and a thin nose pointed over June's head.
She quirked an eyebrow. "This is June?" Casey nodded. "Yep."
"You look well," added June, her cheeks burning. She hurried to smooth her hair, grimaced, then gave up.
"I am, thanks. This is Phyllis," he said.
Phyllis held out a hand, thought better of it, and waved once instead. "Hi." Her two piece swimsuit perfectly accentuated her lithe figure. Large sunglasses obscured most of her angular face.
June swallowed. "It's so nice to meet you." Only it wasn't. Especially considering she and Casey had broken up a mere two weeks earlier, with him saying things like he needed space, and room to breathe. Well, he didn't have a lot of space right then. Phyllis was pushed up against him as though she wanted nothing between them but sunscreen.
Casey's gaze raked over her, and he sighed. "Well, I guess we'd better keep moving."
Phyllis nodded and combed one hand through her perfect, shining hair. A sparkle on the ring finger of her left hand caught June's eye. June’s heart plummeted to her feet. Was that…?
Casey noticed the look on her face, and his cheeks flushed pink. "Oh, uh, yeah. We're engaged."
June's brow furrowed, and her eyes narrowed. "What? You're engaged?"
Phyllis's nose angled higher still, and her head cocked to one side. "That's right. We're engaged, getting married in the fall."
"I'm so happy for you." June pushed out the words, but her nostrils flared.
"I guess we'll see you around," Casey said before wandering oﬀ.
They were gone in a moment, and June was left steaming on the plank seat beside the weathered picnic table. Casey was engaged? How was that possi- ble? He had to have been seeing Phyllis while he was still dating June. There was no way he could have met a new woman, begun dating her, and then gotten engaged in two weeks.
Sadness clogged her throat, and June let her face fall into her hands. How could this be happening? She'd loved Casey and thought they were headed for the altar, but now he'd marry someone else. It didn't make any sense. It wasn't right—they were good together. Granted, he obviously hadn't been on the same page as her or they'd still be together. But perhaps that was just an oversight on his part. He wasn't ready, he’d said, but she was.
Only, now he was ready to make the commitment to someone else. Someone she could clearly see wasn't right for him, just by the tilt of her head and the pompous wave of her hand.
She'd been the right woman for Casey, only for some reason he hadn't seen it. There should have been more time. They'd only dated for a year, and obviously, he'd needed longer to see who she really was, even though they’d spoken of marriage more than once during that time.
She sighed. It was true, she'd seen the cracks in their relationship months ago when he'd failed to invite her to his best friend's birthday party. Or the time he'd overlooked booking her a ticket on a ski trip with his buddies and their wives and girlfriends. He was forgetful, it was true. Her boss, Roland Kirk, had told her that wasn't forgetfulness, that Casey was a jerk. Still, he was so apologetic that she'd forgiven him.
Time and again.
Still, it hadn't been enough.
"I've finished my ice cream!" cried Emma with a messy grin.
June smiled and reached into her backpack for the wipes she always had on hand. "I'll bet that was yummy. I know mine was. Here you go, sweetheart."
She wiped Emma's face clean, then reached for Caitlin who backed away with a grimace. "I don't need that," she said. "I don't make a mess like she does."
June's eyebrows arched high. "Okay. You just tell me if you ever want a wipe. Are you done?”
Caitlin nodded. "I'm going in for another swim." "Take your sister!" June called after her.
Caitlin turned on her heel with a roll of her eyes, then beckoned for Emma to follow her. June shook her head, the pre-teen attitude had already kicked in. She dreaded meeting it head-on in a few years. She followed them slowly, wading into the shallow end of the pool. The girls splashed and squealed, chasing each other in the water.
She remembered two years earlier when she'd first taken on the job of looking after them. Emma hadn't been so confident in the water and she'd clung to June with both arms, not wanting to let go and swim. She watched them dive beneath the surface, kicking their way across the pool then bursting free to gulp for air, still laughing.
She missed those times. Missed the arms around her neck, and the little round eyes looking up at her for help.
And now Casey was gone from her life. He'd marry the stick insect, and they'd live happily ever after with their brood of tall, thin children. She sighed and ducked her head beneath the surface. He'd never really seen her. Never understood just how good for him she could be if he'd let her. If only she could do something to show Casey what he was missing, maybe he'd change his mind and come back to her. She just hated the smug way his stick-insect fiancee had looked at her. If June couldn’t get him back, she’d settle for making him believe she’d moved on and was happy without him.
* * *
The house was quiet, but as June scanned the kitchen and living room, she shook her head. How could two children make so much mess in only one afternoon? It always surprised her, even though she'd been working as the nanny for the Kirk family for two years already. Still, even with the spilled ice cream, smudges of zinc, and a messy house, she wouldn't give it up for a moment. She loved taking care of Caitlin and Emma and dreaded the day their father, and her employer, Roland, no longer needed her.
She sighed and got to work, grateful the girls had gone to bed without too much fuss. It didn't take as long as she'd thought it would to clean up, and soon the downstairs was neat and tidy. The house was far too big for her to clean alone, and Magda would be there in the morning to get it sparkling. For now, a quick tidying up was all it needed. There were definitely perks when you worked for a billionaire like Roland Kirk, and having a full-time cleaner was one of them.
Grabbing a spoon and a container of leftover chocolate mousse Magda had made them for dessert out of the refrigerator, June wandered through the cavernous living room, through a door, and into the quiet media room. She slumped into an armchair and flicked on the widescreen television set.
She pushed a spoonful of mousse into her mouth, her eyes flicked shut, and she groaned. It was so good. Chocolate mousse was her favorite dessert, and this time Magda had even shown her how to make it. Not that she was likely to put in the eﬀort. She had her hands full with the children, and cooking wasn't really her thing.
There wasn't anything on, and after a quick flick through the channels, she opened Netflix and began surfing through the options. It had been a while since she'd watched a movie that didn't involve animation. Finally, she settled on a romantic comedy. Just as the story got started, she heard the front door open then bang shut.
She smiled. Roland was home.
His footsteps echoed across the tiled kitchen floor and stopped in front of the refrigerator. After a few moments, she heard his voice.
"Hello? Anyone around?"
She chuckled. "I'm in the media room."
They could shout downstairs and the children wouldn't hear them. They were sleeping soundly upstairs, and she carried a baby monitor on a clasp fixed to her belt, so she'd know if they stirred.
Roland poked his head through the door. "There you are. How was your day?"
She raised her spoon in the air, swallowed her mouthful of mousse, and frowned. "Good and bad."
He walked into the room and dropped into the armchair beside her with a sigh. "I could say the same." Then, he eyed the mousse. "That looks good. What is it?"
"Mmmm. I had sushi for dinner, and as much as I like it, it's just not quite as satisfying as say…chocolate mousse." His eyes sparkled.
She laughed. "I knew you'd want some. I even brought you an extra spoon."
He grinned. "Ah, you know me so well."
She handed him the clean spoon that had been waiting on a napkin on the small side table next to her, and he dug out a large scoop of the dessert.
"Mmmm. Yum. So, what happened today?"
She muted the television and spun in her seat to face him. The news she had to tell him deserved their full attention.
"I took the girls to the neighborhood pool this morning because ours was being repaired."
"And you'll never guess who was there."
He quirked an eyebrow and reached for another spoonful of mousse.
"Casey,” she supplied.
"Casey, as in your ex-boyfriend? Why was he at our neighborhood pool?"
"His aunt lives around here, I'm assuming that's why. But anyway, that's not the big news—he was there with his new fiancée!"
Roland fell silent. "Did you hear me?"
He nodded. "That was quick."
"Quick is an understatement." She slouched down in the armchair and set the container of mousse on the side table with a groan. "He wanted space and told me we were getting too serious too fast. And now he's engaged to a woman he hardly knows!"
"I'm sorry, June."
She ran a hand over her face and squeezed her eyes shut tight. "Maybe you were right about him. He didn't love me the way I thought he did, after all."
Roland leaned forward in his chair, his red hair glowing in the ambient light from the flashing screen of the muted television set and rested a hand on her arm. "It's time you forgot about that jerk. He was never good enough for you anyway. You're amazing— you're smart, kind, thoughtful, beautiful. He didn't deserve you. And you know what they say?"
She frowned, and her eyes blinked open to land on his sincere face. "No, what do you they say?"
"The best revenge is to be happy."
"Really? That's what they say? Surely they could come up with something better than that." She blew a burst of air between pursed lips and wrinkled her nose.
She didn't want revenge. She wanted Casey to see that he’d made a mistake and the stick insect could never bring him happiness. Sure, he wasn't perfect, but they’d had fun together. At least, they had at the beginning. He'd been grumpy lately, stressed out by his work. He was a math teacher at the local high school, and it took a lot out of him. At least, he told her that every other day, so it must have been what was bugging him.
If happiness was the best revenge, surely making Casey jealous at the same time would be an added side benefit. She shouldn’t want revenge. It wasn’t right. No, she’d be the bigger person and just accept this new state of aﬀairs. “Aﬀair” being the operative word. She slumped down in her seat, wrinkling her nose.
"He does get jealous," she murmured. "Huh?"
"Whenever another guy showed interest in me, he'd always notice, and it'd make him crazy. That's what I should do—find someone amazing to propose to me right in front of him. That’d show him how much of a mistake he’d made.”
Roland arched an eyebrow with a quizzical look. "That's not exactly what I meant…"
"No, it's a great idea. Right now, he's feeling pretty smug. He’s sorry for me, but he doesn't want me back. He's happy with the stick insect."
"The what?" Roland's eyes widened.
"That's what I call her. She's tall, and impossibly thin, and has this long nose…never mind. You had to be there, I guess."
He shook his head. "You're getting too worked up about all this. Just forget him. Move on. He's not worth it, believe me."
"You just don't know him the way I do…"
A burst of air from his mouth made her frown.
"Pﬀft. No, you don't really know him. I've known guys like him my whole life, and I'm a lot older than you. I have more experience in these things and trust me, you're much better oﬀ without him. I can't believe you're not able to see that."
"You're not that much older than me," she pouted. "You're twenty-four, I'm thirty-two. That's eight years, and it makes a big diﬀerence." "Eight years isn't too much…"
He frowned. "Too much for what?"
"Nothing." He wouldn't understand. She knew Casey wasn't suited to the stick insect. She didn’t really want him back, but she couldn’t quite accept he’d given up on her for someone else.
Roland stood and reached for the dessert. He tucked it under his arm and headed for the door.
"Where are you going?"
"To bed, and you should too."
"But what about my idea for getting back at Casey?"
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