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If anyone had told Monica a week ago she’d be meeting Michael Zambino in person, she would have called them liars to their face. But here she was, putting on her most conservative, non-form flattering dress, very little make-up, and wearing no jewelry. The less flattering she looked, the better. Strange thing was…this disguise wasn’t very different from how she usually appeared. Regardless, for her interview with Michael Zambino, she wanted to be the plainest Jane he’d ever seen; no fancy beads, lace or feathers. She’d styled her hair into a bun to appear like she was the Librarian at her school. Monica even borrowed a hat from the old bird, Mrs. Jenkins, next door. How else was she going to convince Mr. Zambino she took her job as a nanny very seriously, and would only concentrate on his children?
The drive to the Zambino mansion made her palms sweat as she gripped the steering wheel. Taking deep breaths to calm her erratic heartbeat wasn’t working as she’d thought, but there was no way she would back down. Securing a position in the Zambino household was top priority, and the first step to finding her stepfather’s killer.
As she came upon the mansion, she sucked in a deep breath. Only at night had she driven by this house, and in the daylight, the place was magnificent. Blue trim decorated each window frame of the Victorian style white house. Arched doorways and a steeply gabled roof were other highlights of the structure. Red bricks lined the large wrap-around porch and steps. The second story also had window balconies as beautiful green vines decorated the boxes.
A ten-foot fence circled the property and a guard stood at the main gate. The man was as tall as he was round, and by his scruffy expression, she knew he would not let anyone enter unless they had an appointment.
He came forward with a clipboard in his hand. “What’s your name?”
“I’m Monica… Jewell.” It took her a moment to remember that the last name on the application was her birth name, Jewell. The school records made her register with her birth name, and for the first time, she was extremely thankful they had. “I’m here for my interview with Mr. Zambino.”
He glanced at his list then nodded and moved back to let her enter.
She drove to the front, parked the car and climbed out. Her legs trembled as she made her way up the steps to the double doors with brass knobs. After she knocked, a butler answered the door and showed her into an office, just off from the main hall. Decorated in green and brown, the room definitely gave her the feeling of being somewhere professional.
She swallowed hard, knowing she was actually inside a mobster’s house.
Two high-backed leather chairs with clawed wooden legs stood in front of the large desk. It was then when she finally noticed the man behind the desk because he stood and sauntered around in front to greet her.
He didn’t look dangerous. He was tall with a muscular body. Then again, any man that worked with the mafia would have to be incredibly strong. His square face held a pleasant expression and his eyes warmed when he smiled. Perhaps in his mid-fifties, the man had very little gray highlighting his receding brown head of hair. Very few wrinkles marred his face, except when he smiled, and then they were only around his eyes.
He held out his hand in greeting. “Good afternoon, Miss Jewell. I’m Eddie Larrendino, Mr. Zambino’s secretary.”
Taking a deep breath for courage, she smiled and shook his hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
“I’ll interview you first, if you don’t mind.”
“Not at all.”
He motioned to one of the brown leather chairs in front of the desk. “Please, take a seat.”
After she had positioned herself in her chair, he walked back around his desk and sat. He picked up a piece of paper and glanced at it before meeting her gaze.
“Miss Jewell, tell me about yourself.”
She held her hands together tightly in her lap and began an incredible lie. Well, most of the story was true, but she would build herself up if she had to. “I’m twenty-three and I’ve been attending the University for three years now. I have only four more months to go before I graduate. I have been taking classes in child psychology and teaching, and I have received good grades with high honors. When I was still in high school, I took a part time job watching the neighbor’s children in the evening. I’m very good with children. On one occasion, I rescued a child who had slipped into the small pond near their home, and I saved him from drowning.”
“How commendable.” He nodded. “What kind of social life do you have?”
Shyly, she lowered her eyes and looked at her folded hands. “I’m sorry to report I don’t have much of a social life. I spend too much time with my studies to have many friends.”
He looked at the paper, then up at her again. “Would you be able to give me the name of the family who you watched after school…for reference, of course.”
“Well, they moved out of town the year I graduated high school, but I’m sure if I asked around, I could find people who might know where they are living now.”
“All right. That would be fine.” His eyes riveted back to the paper again as his eyes scanned the page. When he was done, he placed the paper on the desk and stood. “Excuse me for a minute. I’ll be right back.” He walked around the desk and out another door that was joined to the office.
Nervously, she jiggled her leg in a fast rhythm. She couldn’t blow it. She had to impress them somehow. As she glanced around the room, pictures of classic cars hung on the walls. Norman would have gone hog wild for sure. Then again, if Norman were still alive, she wouldn’t be risking her own neck by being here.
Time seemed to pass slower, but soon the door opened and Mr. Larrendino entered, followed by another man who wore a pinstriped suit and had the body of a brick wall. Another man walked behind him, and right away Monica guessed him to be Michael Zambino. Not only was he dressed nicer than the other men, but he held a certain kind of power as he waltzed into the room as if he were King Midas. Immediately, his gaze zeroed in on her.
Arrogance surrounded Michael Zambino by the haughty tilt to his head, the lift of his chin, and the way he arched one eyebrow. The head-honcho was also a large man, but not as tall as his secretary. He also had wide shoulders, and a broad chest and legs that were designed like tree stumps.
This man fit his Italian heritage through and through, and unfortunately, he had the good looks of an Italian as well. He appeared to be in his early forties, but looked younger than his wife Mary, because his face held fewer wrinkles. His hair was midnight black and thick, cut short. His eyes were so dark they looked black, also. Still, no matter how good-looking he was, danger lurked about him like an evil shadow. She shuddered inside.
Mr. Larrendino and the other man stood by the large bookcase at the back of the desk, each on the opposite side of their employer. Michael sat behind the mahogany roll-top desk, linking his fingers together and resting them on the hard wood.
“Miss Jewell,” he began. “I’m Michael Zambino. I have a few questions to ask you. Do you mind?”
Her heart beat wildly and she tried to act calm. “Of course I don’t mind. This nanny position is after all for your children. Is it not?”
He nodded. “Yes, of course.” He leaned back on the chair, resting his chin on his steepled fingers as he studied her.
It was quite unnerving to have this powerful, dangerous, and yes, possibly corrupt, man assessing her, but she sat through the agonizing torture, anyhow.
“Miss Jewell? May I call you Monica?”
“Yes, you may.”
“Monica, the question that appears in my mind is why you would take a nanny position and possibly lose the chance of finishing school when you only have four months left before graduating?”
Panic grew inside her like an inflatable balloon. Why hadn’t she thought of that? Of course the people who were with the mafia would think that. Oh, dear.
She glanced from one man by the bookcase to Michael Zambino’s secretary. Were they ever going to leave? “Uh, well,” she stumbled nervously.
Michael motioned his hand in one of his guard’s direction. “Don’t worry about them. They are here at my command. Just regard them as pictures on the wall, if you must. They will not bother us.”
She nodded. “All right.”
Knowing she had to tell another lie, she silently prayed God would forgive her and understand why she had to do this. “As much as I regret the possibility of not finishing school, it is more important for me at this point in my life to find a job so that I can find a place to live. I am currently living with my cousin and would rather not burden her any longer. Besides,” she tried to smile again, “school is not completely lost for me. I can always go back and finish later.”
Michael studied her for a few minutes longer. “What is the reason you are living with your cousin now?”
Swallowing hard, her hands squeezed together tightly. “I was living at the college, but after my father died I no longer had the money he was paying for my room and board. My cousin let me live with her until I found a place on my own.”
Michael glanced back down at the page in his hand. “Yes, your father, Kyle Jewell, died five months ago of heart disease.”
He did? Monica knew the look of surprise registered on her face, so quickly thought of a way to cover it. “Yes, he did. But how do you know that?”
Mr. Zambino grinned. “It’s my job to know everything about the people I interview.”
She nodded, but kept quiet. She was relieved to know Kyle’s death worked perfectly for her plans.
His focus moved back to the page in his hand and remained there for only a few moments longer before he put it down on the desk. His gaze lifted and met hers. “Are you interested in working for me, Monica?”
“Yes, very much, sir.”
“You would be required to live here in this house with the children. You would be their nanny, not their teacher, although you would be allowed to play some teaching games with them, if you like.” He paused before adding, “Do you still want the job?”
She smiled big, not believing he’d actually chosen her, and that she’d get the chance to avenge her stepfather. “Oh yes, thank you, sir. Thank you so very much. You have no idea what this means to me.”
He still remained in his chair as he looked at her. It took him a few seconds before a grin appeared on his face. “Monica? What would you say if I told you that you can finish college and still work for me?”
She lifted her eyebrows in surprise. “I can? How?”
He grinned in that all too arrogant way Monica was used to seeing by now. “Oh, I can pull a few strings. Don’t you worry about it.”
“Indeed? You can do that?”
It was at this time when the other two men in the room chuckled. Monica had almost forgotten about them being there. Michael laughed too.
He stood from his chair, walked around the desk, and sat on the corner right in front of her. “You’d be surprised what I can do.” He reached out and took her cold and clammy hands in his, pulling her up out of the chair. “Come. I’ll introduce you to my wife.”
He dropped her hands and walked with her to the door. The other man whom she hadn’t met yet, opened the door for both of them.
“Mary?” Michael called as they stepped into the long hallway.
Monica recognized Mary from the other night, and she hoped that Mary didn’t recognize her. Mrs. Zambino smiled brightly.
“Hello,” Mary greeted nicely.
Monica studied the other woman’s expression closely. Mary’s eyes twinkled when they met Monica’s, and a wide smile tugged on the corners of her mouth. Mary’s obvious acceptance made her feel at ease. She could get to like Mrs. Zambino, she decided.
“Mary. This is Monica Jewell, our new nanny.”
Mary took her hands and clasped them with Monica’s. “Oh, really? I’m so very happy to meet you. I know you’ll just love the children and I’m sure they will love you, too. In fact, they are outside. Let me go—”
“Mary.” Michael stopped her with a strong voice. “Let us allow Monica to return home and pack first. She can meet the children tonight after supper.”
Mary quietly stepped away from Monica and dropped her hands. “That would be fine,” she said, meekly.
Michael turned to Monica. “I’ll send my chauffeur home with you to help you get your things together.” He turned to the man standing next to him and nodded. The guard swung around and hurried out the front doors.
Monica’s heart dropped as panic suffocated her. How had she forgotten about that man? She for certain hadn’t stopped thinking about their kiss. “Oh, please don’t. I have my own car. I can go by myself.”
“Monica,” Michael said sternly, yet sweetly, “your first lesson will be learned quickly. When I offer you my assistance you should be wise and not turn it down.”
If Monica were not acting right now, she would have told Michael Zambino what she thought about his bullying tactics, but she needed to hold her tongue. She glanced at Mary who silently communicated with her eyes that Monica better do as Michael says.
Monica looked back at him. “I…I would just hate to impose.”
Michael’s stern expression left his face and he laughed merrily. “Monica, you are now a part of the Zambino household, so you will not be imposing, I assure you.”
The front door opened and the gorgeous chauffeur sauntered inside. This was her first time seeing him in the light, and he was even better looking than he was in the shadows. He strutted right past her and stopped by Michael without giving her a second glance.
Michael clasped the driver on the shoulder. “Tony, I would like you to meet the newest member of my household.” Michael turned and pulled on her arm, making her step forward more. “This is the new nanny, Monica Jewell.”
Tony glanced at her and nodded. Just as he started to look away, his attention snapped back to her as he gave her another once-over. When his eyes widened, Monica silently groaned. He recognized her.
The corner of his mouth stretched into a wide smile. “Hello, Miss Jewell. Happy to make your acquaintance.”
Monica’s heart beat in a fast rhythm, and wished it wouldn’t act this way whenever this particular man smiled. Her knees also weakened slightly, but it was a completely different weakness than she had felt earlier before coming here.
She returned a smile, although shaky. “Nice to meet you too, Mr.—”
“Kelly. Anthony Kelly is my name, but everyone just calls me Tony.”
“Tony?” Michael spoke up. “I need you to take Monica to her apartment and help her pack her things. She will be moving in tonight.”
Without taking his eyes from her, he nodded. “Yes, Mr. Zambino. I will be most happy to assist Monica.”
Michael turned toward her. “Tony will take good care of you. When you return, Mary will have your room ready and instruct you on what needs to be done.”
Monica smiled the best she could at the over powering and domineering man. “Thank you, once again.”
He gave her a nod, and then turned and walked away from them, making their conversation final.
She switched her attention back to Tony. From the gleam in his eyes, she knew their ride to her apartment would not be relaxing at all.
**READERS - if you would like to read more, I have the next 16 chapters on Radish, which is a free phone app. https://radishfiction.com/