His lithe movements hypnotized her. A small wind from the east blew inside the opened buttons of his shirt, allowing her to see more of his chest, which looked to be just as robust as his arms.
Without her control, Monica’s gaze ran over his wide back, and when he turned, she took in his narrow hips and strong legs. When he bent, she couldn’t help but move the direction of her gaze to his buttocks.
Realizing where her inappropriate thoughts had taken her, she sucked in a quick breath and looked away. Ah, blast it all! Although he had not caught her gawking, her cheeks burned with embarrassment.
Like a magnet to steel, her attention was pulled back to him. He straightened as he rinsed off the car. This time as she watched the way he moved, memories resurfaced of when she’d been in his arms a week ago. Not only were his arms strong, but his wide chest was rock solid against her bosom—and it contrasted greatly to his gently, seductive lips. At least once a day that memory had crept into her mind, even though she wished it would leave. Yet, how could she ever forget something so sweet that happened to her? How could she forget her first kiss?
The man she was ogling finally turned and noticed her staring down at him. She held her breath. It was too late to turn away now. Her cheeks still burned, but she convinced herself she need not panic. She could still act mature about this.
Straightening, she lifted a hand in a small wave of greeting. “Hello.”
Slowly, he lifted a hand in greeting as a smile tugged on his face. “Well, hello.”
His reply was deep and stirred something foreign in her chest. Either that or she had a bad case of indigestion.
But what should she say now? He looked at her with his cocky, know-it-all grin, and blast it all, he really was very handsome when he smiled. “The Zambino family has a lovely place here,” she managed to speak as she motioned her hand to the yard. “I was just admiring the surroundings.”
“Yes. This place is very nice. I’ll have to take you on a tour of the grounds sometime.” He stood, still holding the hose as the water splashed on the ground.
“Why do you have to take me on a tour?”
“Why not?” He shrugged.
Her heartbeat pounded just a little bit faster. “Well, I’ll have to think about it.”
“You do that.” He winked.
She stepped toward the door. “I’ll go back to what I was doing now. I’ll catch you later.”
He nodded. “Count on it, doll.”
She turned and rushed into the room, shutting the double doors behind her. Taking a deep breath and releasing it slowly, she placed her palms on her burning cheeks. He’d called her doll—the word men used when referring to an attractive woman. He couldn’t be thinking that about her. For certain, he needed glasses! Regardless, she thought their conversation had gone well…as well as could be expected for being caught ogling the handsome man.
Why did her heart insist on speeding up every time he was around? Why did he have to be so darn good looking? He was definitely the cat’s meow. But why, in Heaven’s name, did he have to be part of Zambino’s gangsters?
Because Tony was just that! And because he was a gangster, she had to hate him. She needed to hate him. There was no way she was going to get emotionally involved with someone on the wrong side of the law, and especially someone who worked for the man who killed her stepfather.
The moment was upon her, and Monica couldn’t believe how her body shook with nervousness. Following behind Mary, Monica wrung her hands against her middle. She breathed deeply and slowly, trying to calm herself. She must make a good impression on the children. If they didn’t like her, Mr. Zambino would dismiss her, she was sure.
When they walked into the play room, all six children stopped and looked her way. She held her breath, not daring to even move yet.
“Come children,” Mary said sweetly, motioning her hands for them to come closer. “I want you to meet your new nanny. Her name is Miss Jewell.”
Gradually, the children did as instructed and crept closer to their mother. Mary placed her hand on the tallest boy. “This is Michael Junior, but just call him Junior.” She grinned. “He’s ten years old.”
“It’s nice to meet you, Junior,” Monica said softly. Hard to believe, but he resembled his father perfectly—just a younger version, of course.
“And,” Mary continued, “this is Andrea. She is eight.”
“Hello, Miss Jewell,” the girl said.
Monica thought Andrea was a pretty little thing, with long black hair and blue eyes like her mother.
“And these two,” Mary patted the head of a boy and a girl who looked identical, “are my twins. This is Johnny, and this is Joanna. They are six.”
They looked like their father, too, Monica surmised. She’ll definitely have her hands full with these two.
“And this is Shawn.” Mary reached down and lifted a cute little boy who didn’t really resemble his parents yet, but definitely had the Zambino blood in him, nonetheless. “He is three years old.”
Mary pointed to a little one still in her playpen. “That is Samantha. She’s only eight months old.”
The baby had Michael’s eyes, unfortunately, but Monica wouldn’t hold it against the child. It wasn’t their fault that they had such a corrupt father.
“Right now,” Mary continued, “Samantha still has a wet nurse, so you won’t have to worry about her until she’s a little older.”
Monica smiled her best as she gazed at each one of them again. “I’m so very happy to meet you all. We will have lots of fun. I just know it.”
One-by-one, the children came up to her to get a better look. As they asked her questions, she answered sweetly, trying to help them see she wasn’t someone to fear. Junior, however, stood back and watched her with a critical eye. She was willing to bet that he had seen his share of nannies over the years and just figured Monica was just like the others.
She didn’t want to be like the others. However, she wasn’t going to be here for very long, and didn’t want to become too attached to them—or them to her.
Once Mary left the room, the children opened up a little more. Johnny and Joanna were full of questions, and Andrea was more observant than she was inquisitive. When they discovered she had nieces and nephews, they wanted to know more. Monica received the impression that these children didn’t associate much with others their age.
One question led to another, and soon they were talking about the college Monica attended. She had some happy times in school, and she was thrilled to share with them her experiences.
“Papa told me I could go to college when I grow bigger.” Andrea’s wide blue eyes sparkled with excitement as she leaned against Monica, looking up at her.
“He did?” Monica asked as she sat on the closest chair to her. “How lovely. I’m sure you will love it there.”
Andrea nodded fast. “Papa gives me anything I want, and I want to go to college.”
Monica nodded without replying. Of course Michael spoiled his children. Why wouldn’t he? He gave them prizes and trinkets to show his love for them—without physically showing it. Inwardly, she boiled. Why did men think this was the way to love their children?
“Are you a mommy?” Joanna asked, changing the subject.
“No, I’m not.”
“Are you married?” Johnny asked.
Monica shook her head. “No.”
“Our last nanny wasn’t married, either, but she was going to have a baby. That’s why Papa had to get us another one,” Andrea explained.
Surprise struck Monica hard, but she held in her shock. She didn’t know what surprised her more—that the nanny was pregnant out of wedlock, or that the Zambino children knew about it. “How very interesting.”
Andrea scratched her head. “I saw her crying one night and she told me that she was going to have a baby. The next day I told Papa, and he made our nanny leave.”
“She deserved it!” Junior snapped from the corner of the room. His face reddened with anger as he glared at Monica.
It bothered her that the oldest boy would look at her accusingly. She’d give anything to know what he was thinking. Perhaps in time he’d open up to her and tell her more. Although she wished he’d tell her more now, she knew it wasn’t the time. She needed to let him know he could trust her first. “Was your other nanny young like I am?”
Andrea shook her head. “No. She was older.”
“She was ugly, too.” Joanna made a horrendous face, trying to get her point across.
Johnny pushed his sister aside. “She wasn’t ugly, Jo.” He threw his twin a glare before turning to look at Monica. He smiled, showing his two missing teeth. “But you are prettier.”
Monica tried not to laugh. Why would this boy think that of her when she was trying her hardest to look plain? “Thank you.” She clapped her hands, and looked from one child to the other. “So what things didn’t you like about your last nanny? I would like it if we could be friends. I don’t want to do anything that upsets you or makes you hate me.”
Right away, Andrea and the twins rattled off a list of things they didn’t like about the other lady. Junior and three-year-old Shawn were the only ones who stayed quiet.
“She made me wash my hands clean, even wash behind my ears!”
“I had to finish the puzzle before starting another.”
“She wouldn’t let me play in the sandbox at school because I came home dirty.”
“She complained about Shawn’s messy pants. He’s learning to go potty in the toilet, but sometimes he has accidents.”
“She yelled at us for talking too loud.”
“She made me eat my spinach. Yuck!”
While the three middle kids continued to name off the last nanny’s bad traits, Shawn walked over and picked up a book, then took it over to Monica. “Read story,” he asked, softly.
Monica smiled down at the shy little boy then picked him up and set him on her lap. She opened the book, and right away the others quieted and sat on the floor by her feet. Junior kept by himself over in his corner by the small bookcase. Every once in a while he looked at her and when he did, it was only to give her a disapproving glare.
She began the story in a cheerful voice. “Once upon a time there were three bears that lived in a cottage out in the middle of the forest. One morning, mamma bear made some porridge for breakfast and the three bears sat down to eat it. “This porridge is too hot, Papa bear exclaimed after taking a bite.” She made her voice gruffy and low. “So is mine, momma bear replied.” She quickly changed her voice sweet. “Mine is hot, too, said the baby bear.” Monica made her voice sound like a child’s.
The children giggled at her dramatics as they sat forward, ready to hear more of the story.
Monica continued to read. Relief flooded through her knowing she was able to entertain the children so easily. In fact, this was actually rather fun. She was so engrossed in her dramatic story, that she wasn’t aware that anyone else had come into the room. Not until someone cleared his throat.
Stopping in mid-sentence, she gasped and swung her head to the doorway. Mortification washed over her once again. Michael and his driver, Tony, stood just inside the doorway. Both men wore smiles, but Tony’s mouth stretched wider and he even had the nerve to wink at her. Curse his inconsiderate hide!
**READERS - if you'd like to read the rest of this story, it's on RADISH (an app for your cell phone). Or you can find it on Amazon.com. Thanks for your support!