Wonders Of The Heart Ruth Scofield Ëèòàãåíò HarperCollins EUR TO EVERYTHING THERE IS A SEASONAnd Spring had just arrived in Chad Alexander's household. Namely, Spring Barbour, an effervescent young woman who brought a breath of fresh air to the jaded businessman's world–along with a storm of temptation….A TIME TO HEALOfficially, Spring was under Chad's roof for one purpose: to look after his orphaned kid sister. But as she sensed the anguish in her handsome employer's lonely heart, she suspected the Lord had another plan….A TIME TO LOVEUntil Spring came along, Chad's life was about work and worry. Now it was bursting with so much more: faith, laughter–even hope that he might build a future with the woman who had changed everything…. Spring wished she had artistic talent. She’d love to capture Chad on paper as he looked this very moment. His hair reflected golden streaks under the lamplight, and the shadowed light gave his nose strength while it softened the tired lines around his mouth. An unexpected tenderness crept over her; she wanted so badly to smooth those lines away, to feel the texture of his skin beneath her fingers. The man needed to go to bed…to sleep solidly until morning. It couldn’t hurt to merely suggest he call it a night. She lowered herself beside him, keeping her focus squarely on his face. She leaned forward to place her hand on his shoulder. His soft breath brushed her skin, sending a quiver up her arm. RUTH SCOFIELD became serious about writing after she’d raised her children. Until then, she’d concentrated her life on being a June Cleaver–type wife and mother, spent years as a Bible student and teacher for teens and young adults and led a weekly women’s prayer group. When she’d made a final wedding dress and her last child had left the nest, she declared to one and all that it was her turn to activate a dream. Thankfully, her husband applauded her decision. Ruth began school in an old-fashioned rural two-room schoolhouse and grew up in the days before television, giving substance to her notion that she still has one foot in the last century. However, active involvement with six rambunctious grandchildren has her eagerly looking forward to the next millennium. After living on the East Coast for years, Ruth and her husband now live in Missouri. Wonders of the Heart Ruth Scofield www.millsandboon.co.uk (http://www.millsandboon.co.uk) But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. —Matthew 6:33 Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for. —Hebrews 11:1–2 To the BICC gang. May you all continue long and creatively as each of you balance life with gracious dedication to love, family, your talent and our Father. And to my daughters, Karen, Laura and Lisa, who do the same. God bless you. Contents Chapter One Chapter Two Chapter Three Chapter Four Chapter Five Chapter Six Chapter Seven Chapter Eight Chapter Nine Chapter Ten Chapter Eleven Chapter Twelve Chapter Thirteen Chapter Fourteen Chapter Fifteen Chapter Sixteen Chapter Seventeen Chapter Eighteen Chapter Nineteen Letter to Reader Chapter One Chad Alexander unlocked the door and entered his apartment. Too tired and hungry for comfort, he wondered if there was anything edible left in his kitchen. He should’ve swallowed his distaste for airport food, he guessed now, and grabbed something before starting for home. He didn’t think he had any energy left to visit Harry’s Grill, the closest place where he could order a decent meal. He listened for his sister, Honor Suzanne. On first observation, the apartment was fairly quiet. A CD played. He recognized the music only as a classical piece. One table lamp shed a narrow stream of light from the living room. He set his bags down in the foyer, habit making him glance at the hall table for any mail that had caught up to him. Picking up the half-dozen on top, he stepped from the hall into the living room. A blur of dark diaphanous skirts flashed by him in a whirl, bringing him up short. A pale bare foot paused, burrowing deep into the smooth off-white carpet, while its mate rose eye-high, arched and pointy-toed. Shapely arms reached high, fingers poised in a graceful arch. Ever slowly, the head bent backward on a delicate neck. Dark locks swung free of the dancer’s shoulders creating a graceful motion into the air. Caught up in the beauty of the dancer, he could only stare for a long moment. This wasn’t his sister. Spotting him, the young woman returned his look from upside down and froze. “Oh! Oh, my!” She righted herself instantly and spun to glare at him. “Who are you?” A moment before, he’d thought her to be a friend of his sister’s, but now he revised his opinion. She was older than fourteen-year-old Honor Suzanne by a good five years. “I may well ask you the same,” he said with sudden suspicion. What was this young woman doing here? Was she a neighbor? A dance teacher? He hadn’t authorized the expenditure, though he had no objection. “I live here,” she answered, her blue-green eyes taking on a suspicious glint of their own. He saw her gaze run over his unshaven jaw and wrinkled sport coat, giving him the impression she evaluated him with a decisive checklist in mind. “How did you get in? I can call Security, you know.” “That isn’t necessary,” he muttered, letting irony lace his words. If he’d been a burglar or otherwise bad guy, her actions held all the intimidation of a mouse’s. “I have a key.” “You do?” “I do. Where’s Mrs. Hinkle?” “Who?” He hardened his jaw, as her gaze went a little wider. Did she think he’d buy that innocent act? What was she trying to pull? Some kind of scam? Something was definitely out of kilter here. “Mrs. Hinkle. Where is she?” “Um.” She pursed her nicely shaped lips into a pretty pout. “Sir, are you sure you have the right apartment? Perhaps—” Just a shade too polite. Not a New Yorker. She was a good actress, he’d give her that. Was that it? Was she one of the many young things who came to New York every year hoping to break into theater, and she’d conned her way into his household? “Uh-uh. You can’t pull that.” His irritation boiled to the surface and he stepped closer, eyes narrowed. “This is my apartment.” “I think, sir—” She retreated, two spots of color blossoming in her cheeks. Her gaze never wavered from his face as she fumbled behind her for the phone lying on the shadowed lamp table. “—that you should identify yourself immediately, or I will call Security.” “That’s an excellent idea, missy. Call Security. And you may identify yourself! And tell me where my sister is,” he demanded, his tone harsh and threatening. “Explain what you’ve done with her.” “Chad!” Honor Suzanne shouted behind him. She quickly stepped around and into the room to stand beside the young woman. “Here I am—don’t get yourself into a twist. Nothing’s wrong.” “Honor,” he croaked. He waited a moment to let his pounding heart slow down. “It’s about time you made an appearance. I thought— I was beginning to think the worst.” “Well, there isn’t a worst. At least, not now,” Honor insisted. “This is Spring. And you don’t have to scare us out of our back teeth. It’s late and you’re home early. We didn’t expect you till next week.” “Sorry,” he mumbled, glancing at his watch. Ten o’clock wasn’t late by New York standards. Unclenching his hands, he twitched a shoulder in irritation. Why should he apologize for coming home at any time he chose? Spring continued to stare at him, eyes wide, then she abruptly caught her breath as though breaking a spell. “Chad.” Her color spread into her hairline. “Of course. I should’ve known. I’m so sorry. I’m the one to apologize, and I do so humbly. You obviously didn’t remember about me being here. I’m Spring Barbour.” She thrust her hand forward in a rather formal offer to shake hands. He took it slowly, enveloping her slender fingers and palm in his for a required moment. He felt the delicate bones beneath, and slid a thumb across warm skin. “I don’t recall being told of your presence at all,” he murmured. “Oh, really?” she said with a slight frown in Honor Suzanne’s direction. “Sorry. I suppose that information must have been lost along the way? But you don’t look like those snapshots Honor has of you, do you? Not much, anyway. My goodness, they must’ve been taken ages ago. Otherwise, I would’ve recognized you right off. You should have something professionally done, really.” She dropped his hand, leaving his palm with a sense of loss. “But it doesn’t matter now…” She trailed off. Good. She’d hushed. He’d begun to think she never breathed. Yet her voice was soft, with a gentle accent. He glanced at his sister, wondering about her choice in friends. At twenty years her senior, he didn’t know much about teenagers, and supposed he’d have to study a bit to get up to speed. Spring moved to turn off the CD player, her midnight blue skirts, made of some floaty material, dancing around her ankles. Raveling threads tickled her toes. He noticed for the first time that the hem wasn’t stitched. He’d already noted she had only one sleeve in the top, the neckline slanting to reveal a graceful white throat. Her dark hair fell like feathers against her bare shoulders. “That’s a long ride in from the airport, isn’t it?” she picked up again as she turned back. “What time did you land?” “Couple of hours ago,” he muttered, wondering who and what she was. He still wanted to know where Mrs. Hinkle had gone, thinking the woman had better have a doggone excellent excuse for allowing this young person to move into his apartment. Where was the girl sleeping? He’d had to give up his den to accommodate the housekeeper. Another body in his apartment would put a big crunch in his life, on his space. And privacy. He had enough adjustments to face as it was. “I’ll just bet you’re hungry,” Spring continued. “Did you have anything? No? Honor, did you finish that English paper?” “Uh-huh. Eight pages,” Honor said, looking pleased. “It’s much better now, since you showed me where I missed my theme. Bound to pull an A.” “Good. Then you can start the tea kettle while I change. I’ll only be a minute. Chad, why don’t you go on into the kitchen with Honor, and I’ll be there in a minute to find something for you to eat.” “You will?” Why should she? He could take care of himself. And he wasn’t a guest! And where was that blasted housekeeper? But his words only trailed her, as Spring disappeared down the hall. He turned to his sister. “Where’s Mrs. Hinkle?” “Um, Chad…” Honor laid a hand on his arm, anxiously coaxing him past the dining room alcove and into the kitchen. “Mrs. Hinkle isn’t here.” “I can see that.” The dining alcove was a mess. The table was covered with some of the same dark cloth Spring wore, and a sewing machine sat at the end. Scraps and loose threads lay on the floor. He yanked his gaze back to his sister’s face. “Where is she?” “I fired her.” “Excuse me?” He halted in the middle of the small kitchen, realizing that something had changed there, but unable to give it the attention it deserved in the face of Honor Suzanne’s news. “You can’t be serious.” “Well, I am. I did. I hired Spring, instead.” “You what?” He couldn’t believe what he’d heard. No one in their right mind would allow a fourteen-year-old to hire or fire an employee. What had the employment agency said? Who had she talked with? “I hired Spring…” “How could you? What about the employment agency?” “They didn’t have much to say about it after the letter I wrote. I didn’t like Mrs. Hinkle.” “Now wait a minute. You wrote a letter to the agency? Why, what was the need?” “I told you, I didn’t like Mrs. Hinkle.” “You said nothing before I left about not liking Mrs. Hinkle. Why didn’t you inform me? Talk to me? And merely not liking her isn’t enough reason to take such drastic action.” “I tried to talk to you once, but…” Honor turned away to fill an enameled tea kettle he’d never seen with bottled water, before setting it on a burner. “Well, you were so busy, and, anyway, I didn’t know about Mrs. Hinkle until after you left.” The mild statement, carrying a good degree of guilt, hit him straight between the eyes. He hadn’t heard Honor because he’d been too busy to listen to her teenage twaddle. He hid his sense of frustration, and mentally chided himself. He might not have been eager to take Honor Suzanne into his life, but he’d had no other choice when she’d become so depressed after their father died, only two years after Honor’s mother had passed away. Now he was all she had, her only living relative. He ran a hand against his jaw and turned away to shed his jacket. True, he’d been too involved in getting his last-minute arrangements in place for an extended absence to interview many candidates. It all had happened at once; Honor coming to live with him as he was preparing for a working trip through several European countries. “Tell me why you didn’t like Mrs. Hinkle,” he said, pulling out one of two kitchen chairs at the tiny table meant for one. “She came well recommended by the agency. Couldn’t you have lived with your dislike until I got home?” “No, I couldn’t. She was impossible. And I don’t know why they recommended her,” she muttered. “She steals.” “Steals?” He frowned, silently questioning how such a woman could have gotten past the agency screening. “Are you sure? Could you have misinterpreted something you saw?” “No, I didn’t, Chad.” She thrust out her small chin, reminding him of her mother, Sandra. He hadn’t liked Sandra. “I saw her going through your desk,” Honor insisted. “I left my desk double-locked.” Uneasiness began to set in. He didn’t keep a lot of important papers in his home office unless he was working there, but he still didn’t like the idea of anything being disturbed. He did keep a list of his private bank numbers and associated interactions in a notebook in the bottom drawer, but it would have to be an experienced thief to take advantage of the coded knowledge. He’d check his desk contents before going to bed, but said now, “Well, there isn’t anything of movable cash value in there, anyway. And I left the household funds in a special account. Mrs. Hinkle only had to charge anything else you needed.” “Well, she pried the desk open,” Honor insisted. She reached for a pig-faced cookie jar, half-filled, which he’d never seen. “In fact, you can see scratches on the brass key holes, if you look closely.” Frowning, he rubbed the base of his neck where a headache was forming. The problem was more serious than he’d thought. “What did you do? Why didn’t you call me?” “I didn’t think I should bother you with it, Chad. You said you wouldn’t have time to keep track of what’s going on at home. Uncle Walter and Mr. Lester took care of it.” Walter Peebles, his father’s friend and accountant, and Lester Brown, their building super. He’d have a long talk with Lester first thing in the morning. Right before he called the agency. He’d reach Walter before he went to bed. “Didn’t want to be bothered?” Guilt nearly choked him now; he had said it. He’d failed royally as a brother. “Honor, I merely meant I wouldn’t have time for, um—uh-oh, stuff it. I’d have taken time to deal with this problem, whatever it was.” He took a cookie from the plate Honor set on the table. Home-baked oatmeal, a longtime favorite. “But you said you were really, really busy on this trip and for me not to expect a lot of communication from you since you’d be moving around a lot,” Honor persisted, half-accusing. She poured boiling water into an old, crackled ceramic teapot and covered it with a bright red cover. The teapot was another item he didn’t remember. “You couldn’t come home till your business was finished, that’s what you said.” She set out three china cups; at last, something he recognized. Vaguely. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d entertained at home, but he thought those to be the ones his girlfriend of two years ago had purchased for him. Honor set out a small jar of honey, and spoons. “So I decided to handle it myself. And I had Dana’s help.” “Who’s Dana?” “Dana Bates. My minister’s wife. She knows about these things, Chad, and she helped me find Spring.” “Hmmm… A minister and his wife.” He rubbed his jaw, then ran his hand against the back of his head, while visions of smug, do-gooding people marched through his thoughts. That’s all he needed—interference from another direction. He’d had enough of that from well-meaning old family friends after his father died, leaving his estate in a mess. He probably should put this off until he’d had some sleep; after all, Honor was safe and sound, and he couldn’t pursue an investigation on anything stolen until morning. But…he wouldn’t. “All right.” He let his breath out on a long-suffering note. “Tell me about Spring. Last name. Who is she? Where is she from? Where did you find her? What are her references? And how old is she?” Chapter Two “My name is Spring Eve Barbour, and I do assure you, Mr. Alexander, I’m a very reputable person.” Spring stood in the kitchen doorway, addressing Chad formally, letting him in on her awareness of the seriousness of his questions. She didn’t feel at all nervous, trusting in Uncle William’s dictates to always deal with the truth, but she thought if she’d had anything to hide, Chad’s narrowed stare might unnerve her. “I’ll be glad to trot out my references if you want to see them, but Dana will verify that she checked my credibility and found that I am who I am and all that stuff before Honor and I struck our bargain.” Spring moved into the small kitchen on this last. She took into account the deep lines fanning Chad’s eyes and the taut skin across his cheekbones, and wondered if he’d stay awake long enough to eat anything even if she prepared it. Opening the refrigerator door, she stared at the contents to determine what might be the quickest thing to serve. He’d want something hot, she thought, but a man that seriously tired also needed something reasonably balanced on his stomach before he went to bed. “How about scrambled eggs and ham?” She turned to look at him over her shoulder as she asked. He’d removed his jacket and tie, and unbuttoned his shirt a few buttons down. His head rested against the wall, causing his eyes to go half-mast, the blue irises deepening to a dark stirring. They caused a stirring in her middle, too. Something that spread throughout her like hot sweet cider in her mouth, with a spicy kick on the edges of her tongue. “And, um, I’m twenty-three.” Why that was suddenly important, she didn’t know—except that she wanted him to know. She might be new to the Big Apple, but she wasn’t too young and naive to care for a young girl. Yet that wasn’t the only reason she wanted him to know she was well past legal…for anything. “Twenty-three,” he repeated as though he didn’t quite believe her. His quick glance down her faded jeans and T-shirt didn’t help her cause. Spring knew she didn’t look her age. Her twin, Autumn, and she had found it rather funny these last few years when someone mistook them for younger, but it had never been a real problem. A little makeup usually helped, but she seldom wore it unless she was going out. Since he hadn’t said no to the eggs, she pulled out the egg carton and other ingredients, and faced the counter and stove top to work, which gave him her back to view. Spring no longer wondered about his skepticism. It was natural. While she’d heard all about Honor’s problems with her predecessor, obviously Chad had gone about his business in ignorance. She hadn’t given much thought to the fact that his messages from Europe were sketchy. She’d thought Chad had been informed about the change in the household. About her being there. Now she was in an awkward position. “Honor, why don’t you toast a couple of biscuits, too. Or—” she glanced at Chad again, gauging his reaction “—would you prefer toast? All we have on hand is wheat bread.” “Whatever you have is fine,” he muttered. “And yes, I think I would like to see those references, if you don’t mind.” “All right. I’ll find them while you eat.” “Really, Chad, you don’t have to do that,” Honor protested. “Dana already checked all of Spring’s references and found them excellent. Besides, Spring really helped me out of a jam, and we get along terrifically. You just don’t know—” “That’s just it, kiddo. I don’t know. And I do need to see them. What kind of a lawyer would I be if I didn’t pay close attention to details? Or follow up? It’s my job to look into the inner workings of corporate issues and mergers, and make sure the reported backgrounds and company assets and potential is as stated.” “But I couldn’t have—” “He’s quite right, Honor,” Spring said, sending her young friend a “Cool it” glance. She’d corner Honor later over this lack of communication, but now wasn’t the time. “He’d be a poor kind of brother to accept me at face value without checking my references, when we live together. Um, rather, when I live in your apartment and come from who-knows-where, as far as he knows.” Her agreement didn’t seem to placate him much, but Chad’s attention turned to the plate of fluffy eggs and slice of warmed ham she set before him. A moment later, Honor retrieved a couple of biscuits from the toaster oven, split, buttered, then browned under the broiler as Spring had shown her. She placed them next to his plate. Spring found the sugarless strawberry jam and set it in the center of the table. Spring stepped back and folded her hands in front of her. On the other side of Chad, Honor shifted from one foot to the other, pursing her mouth. Chad looked from his sister to her, then down at his plate. It struck Spring that they were like two young servant girls from a century ago, hovering over the master to see what else they could do to please him. She wanted to laugh at her mental image, drawn from reading all those English classics of which Uncle William approved. Plus the historical novels she read undercover, to which she’d been addicted in her teen years. She bit her lip to keep her giggle under control. Honor gave her a puzzled glance, to which she answered with a slight shake of her head. Spring did miss her sister. Autumn would have read her mind instantly, and understood her line of thought. Even if Spring explained it, Honor Suzanne was simply too young to catch the humor. Then she saw the rising suspicion in Chad’s glinting dark blue eyes, and her humor vanished. He’d never get the joke. Well, smothering him with kindness wasn’t such a good idea, Spring decided. He wouldn’t understand the attention as mere kindness, or he’d misinterpret it altogether. Turning, she left the kitchen to search for her references. A month ago, she’d no notion that she’d find being a companion to a young girl to hold so much complication. Or fun, either. She and Honor got along as though born to be friends. Honor was as new to the city as she, and they’d been exploring Manhattan together in their free time. A few moments later, she reentered the kitchen. Chad had nearly cleaned his plate, she quickly noted. “…and you should see some of the collections! Funny stuff from a long time ago. Centuries, even,” Honor said, telling of their recent visit to the Design Museum. “Most of it wasn’t funny when it was designed,” Spring reminded her with a grin. “And a generation or two past doesn’t quite make it into the ‘centuries’ category for Mrs. Pine or Mr. Steward, now does it?” Chad raised a brow. “Who?” “These old people at church,” Honor explained, then hastily added, “But they’re really neat. They, like, visited our Sunday night Jumpstart a couple of weeks ago and told us about how it was when they were teenagers. Mr. Steward enlisted in the Army to fight in World War II when he was only seventeen.” “What’s Jumpstart?” Again, Chad raised a brow, but then lowered it into a frown. Finished eating, he leaned back in his chair and sipped his tea. Giving it a quick glance, Spring noticed his startled reaction at the herbal concoction. Yet he made no comment, merely returning his cup to its saucer. “It’s our weekly meeting for high schoolers, mostly,” Honor explained. “Lots of college kids come, too. Only, we have more than just kids who attend. It’s awesome, Chad. You should come sometime. Spring does, and—” “What do you do there?” “We Jumpstart the week with Bible Study and prayer and encouraging stuff. And Josh Nolan, our youth minister, usually talks, but it’s not like a heavy sermon or anything.” Chad’s eyes began to droop. “Perhaps you’d rather hear all of this tomorrow,” Spring murmured, thinking they were losing his attention fast. It wasn’t fair to overload an already exhausted mind, and expect that mind to later retain an ounce of intelligent memory, Uncle William used to say. Of course, he would say that especially when she and Autumn wanted to talk to him at the same time. Spring smiled inwardly at the memory. Uncle William had died a few months before, having urged her and Autumn to pursue their dreams, and leaving each of them with a small legacy to do so. Now she was having adventures in New York City. Chad assessed her face a moment before saying, “Some of it can wait. Right now, I want to know more about you, if you don’t mind.” “Sure. Of course. Here you go—” She placed a copy of her resume in front of him. It gave her educational background and work and personal references from Kansas City, her hometown. She hadn’t a wide range of worldly experience, she was ready to admit, but she felt perfectly confident in watching over Honor Suzanne and guiding her schoolwork. After all, she’d been the more nurturing of the two sisters at home, and could run a household with perfect ease. “I attended a Midwest community college, which I know isn’t very impressive by any of the big school standards, but I’ve worked steadily since I turned eighteen and I have a good work ethic. Uncle William saw to that. He raised my sister Autumn, and me.” “What are you doing here in New York?” Chad asked. “I’m a dress designer. Or I want to be. I’ve been putting in my applications around the city and showing some of my sketches.” “I see. And do your duties here leave you enough time for all that?” His tone had an edge of sarcasm, but Spring ignored it while Honor gazed adoringly at her brother. “She’s bound to be accepted someplace, Chad,” Honor put in enthusiastically. “She’s really good. That dress she was wearing when you came in is for one of the women in our church. She’s a ballet dancer and needed a dressmaker, so Dana suggested—” “You run a business out of this apartment?” Chad sat forward abruptly, his tone sharp. “Well, it’s not exactly a real business,” Spring answered. “Only a little sewing.” “Do you accept money for your services?” “Um, yes. A few dollars. But—” “You must stop it immediately! This apartment is strictly residential and has an airtight code against using it for business purposes. You could get us fined or kicked out of our lease for such an offence.” “Oh, I—I’m sorry. I didn’t realize—” “We didn’t know that, Chad,” Honor said, her lower lip beginning to tremble. “Don’t be mad. We just thought to earn a little extra spending money…” “Spending money? I think for what I pay you,” he all but sputtered at Spring before turning to Honor, “and your allowance, that you’d have quite enough for mere pocket money. What have you been buying, anyway?” Spring decided it wasn’t the time to inform him she hadn’t been paid, or that Honor hadn’t received an allowance for weeks. Already, she knew it would disturb him. He’d learn the necessary details in due time. “Nothing out of reason, Mr. Alexander. Only tickets to special exhibits and a few restaurant meals.” Few was the operative word, Spring thought, with New York prices so much higher than what she was used to. “But that didn’t come out of anyone’s salary.” “No, I’m sure it didn’t. Household accounts, I suppose. Well, I’ll look at the receipts and do the accounting tomorrow. You did keep receipts, didn’t you?” Spring hadn’t meant the expenditures had come from the household accounts, but she guessed he’d discover that soon enough, too. “Actually, I didn’t see a need.” His frown deepened. “Really? How did you expect to justify the budget I left for you? What about the credit card bills?” “I didn’t see a budget.” She brushed her bangs from her eyes, beginning to feel a little ruffled. “Sorry. But you’ll find everything is in order since I’ve been here, and we have no outstanding bills. We simply pay cash as we go.” “Is there anything left from the discretionary fund I left for Mrs. Hinkle’s use?” “What discretionary fund?” Spring asked. “No, Chad. That’s what I wanted to tell you,” Honor said. “There’s nothing left in the cash account or the credit card limit. Mrs. Hinkle spent it all, including my allowance, in the first ten days after you left.” “What?” His mouth dropped as he tried to take in what Honor had said. “But there was enough there to cover everything except the most dire of emergencies, and she was directed to apply to Walter Peebles if there was any greater need. How could she have run through what should’ve lasted three months?” “Well, she did. And Uncle Walter turned down a couple of requests she made to him. When I called Uncle Walter, he told me what to do. We notified all our credit card accounts, and closed out the two bank accounts and opened new ones. Dana and Spring helped me do that. But you have to sign the new bank cards, Uncle Walter said.” Chad brushed a hand over his face. Had he fallen through a rabbit hole? “Let me get this right. You say Mrs. Hinkle took all the cash I’d left for spending money, cashed out the household account, and made inroads on the credit cards, and you caught her jimmying my desk, as well?” “That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you. Spring—” “Good grief, Honor Suzanne—” Chad nearly shot out of his chair. “Why didn’t you call me? What on earth were you thinking, not to inform me of such a huge problem?” “Well, we did tell Uncle Walter. And we told him everything we’d done to take care of it, and he said we’d done the right things and he didn’t see that anything more could be done until you got back and not to disturb you.” “Did he lend you money to get by on? Who’s been paying the bills? What have you been using this last month for incidentals and such?” “Oh, Chad, that’s where you’ll be so proud of me.” Honor’s adoring smile spread a charm all its own, Spring thought, a loveliness already showing the promise of womanhood. “See, Spring and I reached a bargain. She lives here in exchange for being my adult companion and friend. No money exchanged. We share actual expenses. Isn’t that a wow deal? Daddy would say my Alexander blood is showing up.” Chad remained quiet for a long moment, his gaze slowly returning to Spring’s. “No money exchanged? Okay, then. What have you been living on for a month?” “Well, our cupboards have become a little bare,” Spring confessed with a quick smile. In truth, they had a need to do a major restocking. “But we have another sitting job lined up for tomorrow night.” “You’ve been living on baby-sitting pay?” he asked incredulously. “Not totally,” Spring replied. “Then what have you been living on?” “Well, I’ve paid into our mutual kitty a bit,” she admitted. His suspicious gaze went as icy as an Alaskan glacier. “All right. What do I owe you? I’m sure there’s a payback for you. What is it you want?” Spring sighed. Could this man be any more exasperating? Chapter Three “You don’t owe me anything, Mr. Alexander.” Spring gave him a straight-on serious look to let him know she hadn’t tried to take advantage of anyone, neither Honor nor him, in his recent absence. Though, she could understand his concern; she was yet a stranger. She certainly realized how difficult it had become these days to accept someone at simple face value. “Honor and I made a fair exchange in our bargain,” she continued, hoping he’d see the advantage to their arrangement right away. “And Mr. Peebles made sure all the necessary bills were paid, the utilities and things like that. Honor and I are bubbling along very well on our own. We merely earn extra spending money when we can.” “And how have you done that?” His tone was so frosty, Spring thought he’d ice up the remaining tea in her cup. That reminded her to pour him another of the still hot brew, but she only got a downward twist of his mouth for her trouble. Oddly, she liked the way his mouth moved. Wide and sensual, she thought it very expressive. Right now Chad wasn’t in a good mood. Understandably, he was tired and confused, and angry over matters that were beyond his control. But on a normal day, with a regular routine, when he felt comfortable and relaxed, his face would lighten a lot, wouldn’t it? What would bring a smile to his mouth then? And what would that smile be like? “Baby-sitting,” Honor answered with pride. “But never alone and only in our apartment complex or for church families. And once, a mother paid us to run her little girl’s birthday party. That was fun. We often get dinner, too, when we sit in the evenings, so we—” “You what!” His outrage stung. Honor fell silent, while Spring reassessed his temper. Maybe she’d underestimated his mood just a tad. She pushed the jam jar forward a bit, thinking he could use a little sweetening, and pointed out, “It’s an honored profession, Mr. Alexander.” “Well, it may be,” he said, pulling his mouth into a straight line. “But I don’t want Honor to do it anymore. She doesn’t have to work, and she’s too young, just a kid. Whatever possessed you? I don’t want her out on the streets, or out…out at night.” “That’s right, Chad, I’m a kid and kids baby-sit to earn money all the time.” Honor’s chin came out while her eyes flashed stubbornness. “There’s nothing wrong in baby-sitting or having a job.” “But to depend on getting dinner when you sit?” “It’s an accepted practice, Mr. Alexander,” Spring added in a placating tone. “Even teens from wealthy families baby-sit, and often have supper with the children. And there’s safety in being a team. I promise you, it isn’t robbing Honor of study time, and we make a strict rule of being home by ten on a school night.” “That’s not the only thing that concerns me,” he muttered. “If my associates get wind of this, they could misconstrue the entire situation.” “Well, we needed the money,” Honor said with a finalizing note. “And Daddy would have said I’m not too young to learn about balancing my finances.” “Baby-sitting money?” Chad shook his head. “How could you need that piddling amount? Surely, the matter isn’t that bad, or Walter Peebles would’ve notified me. Or Jonathan.” “Who’s Jonathan?” Spring queried, to which Chad gave a disbelieving glance. “Jonathan Feathers? The senior partner in my law firm.” “Oh, Mr. Feathers doesn’t know anything about it,” Honor said. “And we begged Uncle Walter not to contact you. You couldn’t have done anything without coming home, and we didn’t feel we should interrupt your trip. Besides, Spring and I wanted to take care of ourselves. And we have.” Chad’s features settled into angry, stubborn lines. His stare caught Spring’s in a glacier mass. She wondered if he thought she was responsible for the entire series of events. Or, that she’d taken advantage of them for her own gain? “Well, I’m home now,” he said on a hard note, “and I’ll take care of the finances and Honor’s allowance. No more outside jobs, d’you hear? You won’t need the money any longer. Or, at least, Honor won’t.” “But, Chad, I like baby-sitting,” Honor protested, her fist on a hip. “I’m good at it. And Spring and I are gaining a reputation by sitting as a team. The kids like us, and the parents like us even more. We’ve even sat for Mr. and Mrs. Peebles.” Chad groaned and closed his eyes. “Oh, great! I really needed to hear that…” Spring added hastily, “We weren’t unsafe, if that’s what worries you. They sent us home in a cab, although it wasn’t late. Lester was kind enough to wait up to see that we got into the building safely.” Eyes flashing like roman candles, Chad opened his mouth as though he wanted to swear roundly, but with one look at Honor’s gaze, both pleading and puzzled, clamped it tightly closed and drummed his fingers on the table. “All right,” he muttered through his teeth. “I’ll talk to Walter first thing in the morning and get a few things straightened out. Go to bed, now, pet. I want to talk to Spring alone.” “I don’t think that’s fair, Chad.” Honor tossed her long dark braid behind her shoulder. “Spring’s my friend and I—” “Whether it’s fair or not, go to bed!” “It’s all right, Honor.” Spring laid a consoling hand on the girl’s arm. “Perhaps you should go on to bed. You have that math final first thing tomorrow and need to sleep. Nothing drastic is going to happen tonight. We’ll smooth things out.” “Chad?” Honor’s gaze implored his compliance. “Okay, okay. I promise I won’t clobber your friend here, or eat her alive.” Honor visibly relaxed and let out a sudden giggle, dimples flashing. “Okay. But you won’t fire her or anything, will you? Please?” Chad took a deep breath and swung his chair away from the table before answering. “I won’t take any action concerning Spring without discussing it with you first, is that all right? Now will you go to bed?” Still, Honor hesitated, and he added, “We’ll let you know in the morning if there’s any change in the current, uh, living arrangements.” “Well, I think I should have a vote in what that is. In what happens now.” Chad seemed to gather whatever remnants of patience he had left as he answered one last argument. “I’ve heard your vote, Honor. I’ll consider the matter from your viewpoint as well as my own, I double promise you, okay? Now scoot.” Spring turned her back and finished wiping the counter. After stacking the teacups into the small dishwasher, she closed the door and listened to Honor’s footsteps fade. Behind her, Chad rose, and she glanced over her shoulder. No longer angry, he appeared only exhausted. “I’m going to take a quick shower and change. Do you mind staying up a while longer so we can have our little chat?” “Of course not,” she agreed. “But are you sure you’re up to it? I mean, we can talk tomorrow morning just as well.” “I’d rather not put it off. I’ll meet you in the living room in twenty minutes or so.” Spring waited as instructed, curled up in a deep chocolate-colored leather chair. The twenty minutes stretched to thirty, then forty. She was ready for sleep, too, she thought, and yawned. A morning person, she usually turned in when Honor did. He reappeared finally, wearing cutoff sweats. His hair was still damp. It was nearing midnight, and he hadn’t bothered to shave. Her first thought was that he appeared far less formidable in a more relaxed state. Then her heart beat picked up ten paces, and she changed her mind. Masculine and sexy, his broad chest and strong arms showed a body used to regular workouts, and he’d been somewhere recently to maintain a healthy tan. She felt a bit wary at her own response, and hugged a bright melon-hued pillow against her chest. He let out a gusty sigh as he sat down on the leather couch, leaned back, and simply stared at her for a long moment. She felt the force of his gaze all through her body. It was all she could do to sit still and remain silent. “All right,” he said finally, and leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. The red pillow became a real shield. She tugged at its corners. “I’ve checked with Walter. He’s happy with your references, and since he knows this minister and his wife that you and Honor think walk with the angels, I’m willing to let you stay on in the capacity of housekeeper. For a while. If things work out, maybe we can come to a more permanent agreement. But I still have questions…” “That’s fair enough. Fire away.” “How long have you been in New York?” “Not quite three months. I came in April.” “What brought you here? Job? Family? Ambition?” “Oh, I guess you could say all three.” Her fingers became more sensitive to the pillow stitching, and she imprinted the corner against them. “I want to study dress design with a lead designer if I can, and perhaps go on to Paris someday. Even Italy, maybe. But New York…” She waved a hand, letting her excitement show. “Oh, I just wanted to spend time here. I love American designers, and sure hope to find a niche with one. For a year or two, anyway.” She dared to meet his gaze momentarily, wondering what lay beyond the tired depths, wondering how much he was really interested in hearing of her plans. But he didn’t interrupt, and she didn’t know what to do but keep on chattering. “But it’s hard to get a decent appointment, you know? Oh, I could get a job as support personnel, I suppose, and maybe I’d be smart to do that, get my foot in the door and all that. But I’d like to find someplace where they appreciate my designs, too. Where they’ll give me a chance.” Glimpsing his face, she abruptly hushed. He drew a deep breath. “Okay… And you did say ‘family’? You have family in New York?” “No. I mean, I have family. A twin sister, Autumn. But not in New York. She lives in Kansas City. She, um, didn’t want to come.” “I don’t follow. Why would that bring you to New York?” “Well, you see, Autumn and I have never lived apart. Except for a few minor choices, we’ve always done things as a twosome and rarely been separated. We thought it time for each of us to, uh, sorta find our own identity.” “And you had to come to New York to do that? Wasn’t that a little drastic?” “Mmm, my goodness, yes. Er, no, not drastic in that sense. But I have a better chance at finding my place in the design world here, and Autumn’s a hometown girl through and through.” He looked a little weary. “Got that. But why would a young single woman, who’s after a career of any kind, want to hire on as a housekeeper, of all things? Away from the singles’ scene. And further, with the limitations and responsibility that looking after a young girl would bring? I’d think it would cramp your…ambitions.” “Well, not all that much. I mean, I don’t feel confined. Not yet, anyway. We’ve had too much fun doing the tourist thing to hurry, both of us being new to the city. I haven’t pushed it. Up until now…well, I’ve had time during the day to make a few rounds while Honor attends school. But lately we’ve been talking about summer plans, and that will change our routine.” She glanced at him with sudden inquisitiveness. “You do know she completes her classes this week? The private school is on a little different schedule than the public system.” “Actually, that’s one thing I did know. That’s the main reason I returned early.” “Oh.” “So tell me, Spring. How and why did you take the job here? If you moved to get away from always pairing with your sister, haven’t you merely changed the person and the locale if you and Honor are always together?” “It really isn’t the same. I am nine years older than Honor, and we aren’t viewed as a set. Here, there’s only one of me.” “Ah, I see. Well, what is this bargain you and Honor Suzanne have both mentioned?” “Oh, that.” She traced the pillow stitching, back and forth. “As you must know, New York apartments are very expensive, and while my Uncle William left me enough money to live modestly for a year or two without worry, he also taught Autumn and me to live rather frugally when we could and not to squander money.” He raised a brow. “The point being?” “So, when I began attending the church, I thought it would be a good place to find a roommate. I didn’t want to just pick someone from the ads or anything, you know—that’s not always safe in New York these days, is it? Anywhere at all, I suppose. Then Dana and I began to talk, and she introduced me to Honor.” “And?” “We made our bargain. I’d be her companion and resident adult, and in exchange, I live here rent-free. We pooled our resources for food and other cash demands.” “But if Honor wasn’t getting her allowance, what cash resources did she have?” “Oh, we told you that. Baby-sitting and other odd jobs.” “Ah, yes, the baby-sitting…” “And the other things. Like organizing and running that birthday party for the busy mother. You know, that could become quite a nice little business, if you ask me. Honor and I have been talking—” “Oh, no, you don’t.” He put up a hand, palm out, and leaned against the couch once more. “I don’t want my home turned into a business center. Besides, you can’t, remember? No business may be run from this complex.” “That’s a shame. We could—” “Whatever you wish, Spring, it won’t happen here.” Spring sighed. “All right.” “Now we need to come to a better agreement over your terms of employment.” “My terms of employment?” “Yes. If you are to remain in this apartment as housekeeper and Honor’s…uh, helper companion, we have to have a firm understanding about what to expect from each other, don’t you agree?” Spring had thought she and Honor were more friends than housekeeper and charge. At home, she and Autumn had shared household chores, although she’d been the shopper for household goods and groceries. It seemed only a little different between her and Honor—except she’d been teaching Honor to cook and they were learning New York ways together. But she hadn’t felt like an employee. Still, she had free rent here, and in an excellent neighborhood. She loved Honor, and they had a growing bond in the excursions they did together, especially the Bible studies on Sunday evenings at the church. They were opening her mind as nothing else ever had. The church was only a few blocks away, and easy to reach. She liked her situation here. How much could possibly change by Chad being at home, too? He’d merely be another person to rotate a schedule around, to prepare a meal for. And if she and Autumn could accommodate the finicky eating habits of Uncle William and his need for a spotless house, she supposed she could meet Chad’s requirements. Would being tagged a “housekeeper” really make that much difference? “Well…” “Yes?” “Honor and I share the household chores now, plus the shopping and cooking. I usually run any other errands during the day, but I have used much of the time Honor is in school to make my rounds of the design houses and such. I wouldn’t want to lose that freedom.” “Mmm… As I say, we’ll have to see how all that works out, won’t we? Now, you will be compensated for your time. Would the salary I offered Mrs. Hinkle be sufficient?” Spring gasped. “More than enough. I’m not sure…” “But without the need to earn extra money—” he said it as though it left a sour taste in his mouth “—you’ll have more time to take care of the apartment, now doesn’t that make sense?” “Yes, of course, but I’d keep the apartment clean regardless, you see. And as I’ve said, Honor and I share the chores.” She grinned and tossed out, “She actually likes dusting.” He returned her glance with one of skepticism, then firmed his mouth. “You’d better accept what I offer, Spring, or move on. I’m inclined to be generous in view of your picking up after the mess left by Mrs. Hinkle. And your very kind, extended involvement with Honor Suzanne’s needs. Walter speaks highly of your efforts.” “That’s nice of Mr. Peebles to say. But Honor and I are friends, Mr. Alexander.” She couldn’t prevent her hurt from showing, though she made a valiant effort to speak evenly. “Whatever I’ve done for Honor, I did from that starting point. I don’t need payment for it.” “I didn’t intend an insult…” He ran a hand through his already tousled hair. “Boy, I’m tired. What I mean to say is, you stepped into a sticky situation, from what Walter tells me, and I recognize—” “Let’s just call it even for now, Mr. Alexander.” “All right. For now. But if we’re to share the apartment on, um, these terms, you must call me Chad.” “Yes, that makes sense. And you are exactly right, Chad. We must see how we all get along before we reach a permanent agreement,” she added and stood. “You can put your money into a household account for Honor and me to draw on, and I’ll keep a running account so that you’ll know where it’s being spent. Then I’ll take, say a couple or three morning hours a week for myself, and you won’t even miss me. Honor and I can stay on our routine, and you can let us know when you’ll be home for dinner. So how about a month’s trial for all of us?” Five minutes later, Chad stood in his bedroom, staring at the neatly made bed as he ran a hand against his unshaven jaw, wondering just what it was he’d been caught up in. Just how on God’s green earth had he lost control of his personal living situation? Of his own apartment? Chapter Four From his office the following morning, Chad contacted a first-class private investigator. Walter Peebles had suggested he take the matter to John Allen, of Allen and Parker, a discreet firm his colleagues had used a time or two. “I don’t have an investigator in Kansas City, so it will take a day or two to find someone. Or else send a man out there to do a proper job.” John’s deep voice rumbled as he spoke. “Even with the Internet, faxes and phones, it’s better to do personal background checks, to the depth you’re wanting, in the geographical location where a person lives.” “Fine. That’s fine,” Chad muttered. “Just get it done as fast as possible. I don’t want any delays that can be avoided. This young woman is already living in my home.” “I’ll have someone on it no later than this afternoon, Mr. Alexander,” John soothed. “Before we’re through, we’ll know the girl’s dress size, her favorite music, food and color, and how many boyfriends she had in the fourth grade. If there’s anything in her background that doesn’t spell squeaky clean, we’ll find it.” “I’ll wait for your call.” Chad hung up and rested against his high-backed chair, his hands laced behind his head. His thick, overgrown hair brushed over his hands, and the thought passed through his mind to get it cut this morning. If he could make the time. Swiveling, he stared out of the twenty-fourth floor window at New York’s skyline. He’d been impressed with his view from the moment he moved into this space, and proud to be a part of New York’s unique society. Though oddly, he hadn’t missed this sight while in Europe nearly as much as anticipated, he thought now, and it had no power to soothe him this morning. He still felt unsettled. Flexing his tight shoulder muscles, he pushed that thought aside. Analyzing his reactions could wait. He’d come home to more pressing matters. He’d had to take care of his own personal needs before he began on his workday. He hadn’t stopped thinking about Spring, or his newly challenged home situation, all morning. Rising earlier than normal, he’d discovered he hadn’t been early enough to avoid signs of his new housekeeper. A full pot of freshly ground and steaming coffee waited for him in the kitchen at six-thirty. The New York Times, untouched and pristine, lay on the tiny table. Alongside the paper were two boxes of cereal, both sugarless, and a bowl, spoon and a banana lay upon a cherry-red place mat. He saw nothing of Spring. That she’d anticipated his breakfast needs startled and annoyed him at the same time. It all smacked of a too-perfect picture, and his suspicions notched even higher. But if he’d hoped to pretend his life was still his own, that breakfast layout had put it to a speedy end. He’d taken his coffee and ignored the banana and cereal. His reverie tumbled when Anne Martin, his personal assistant, came bustling in and set a cup of coffee, strong and black, beside his hand. He’d come into the office early to get a jump start on his day before most of the staff came in, and a good piece of that had flown out the window. Irritated with himself for dawdling, he twirled back to face his desk. Work waited. “Welcome back, Chad. Glad you’re home early. The office wasn’t the same without you,” Anne told him brightly. Anne, a well-groomed brunette in her thirties, tossed him a concerned glance. “Thanks.” He shuffled through a pile of catch-up work that would take him about a week to plow through, matters that only he could handle within the firm. He may as well get started. “You look like…well—” she frowned “—you don’t look as though you’ve had much rest.” “No, I haven’t. Long flight and only a few hours’ sleep.” He shrugged and took the list Anne handed him. The list, from Jonathan Feathers, the senior partner of the firm, contained things that needed his immediate attention. “What’s up?” “Lots.” Anne took a chair facing him, causing him to look up. She never sat unless she had something serious to say. “I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this, Chad…but we’ve been in somewhat of a tizzy this week.” He leaned back in his chair once more and gave her his full attention. “Okay, shoot.” “Jonathan had a gall bladder attack and has been out of the loop.” “Is he all right?” “For the moment—but he may face surgery. He’s resting at home.” She took a deep breath. “And old Dale died suddenly two days ago. Half the staff is leaving at noon to attend his funeral in Connecticut. Jonathan already knows you’re back. He wants you to attend if you possibly can.” Chad bit back his first reaction; Jonathan being out of the office just as he returned put a double load on everyone. And now a death? “Old Dale?” He’d been rather fond of old Dale, a longtime staffer, even though they’d had little in common and their paths seldom crossed. “Well, I’m very sorry to hear it, and we’ll miss him, but it’s not all that sudden, surely? His heart had been failing. How’s his wife doing? The funeral’s today, is it?” “Yes, today. At two-thirty. And Tillie is okay, but…” Anne continued to fill him in on everything going on in the firm, down to the engagement of their new receptionist. He gave her his usual concentrated attention, pulling out the nuggets that concerned him most, and took notes of what, if anything, he should do about them. He then gave her a few directions of his own to follow. After she’d gone, he settled back to prioritize his day. The long drive to Connecticut for the funeral would take most of it. He called the garage where his car was stored and arranged for it to be readied. It hadn’t been used in the weeks he’d been gone. When he’d done that, he found himself gazing out the window once more. He’d brought home a lot of business with his European contacts, and the firm, Feathers, Sanders, Sanders & Alexander, was set to grow. It was a bad time to lose old Dale. They’d have to hire someone to take the old man’s place as soon as possible. He wondered why Walter Peebles hadn’t mentioned the loss last night. Yet Walter wasn’t an insider with the firm, and last night, his own concerns had been strictly personal. Walter had been his father’s friend and accountant, older than Chad by a dozen years. Chad had used Walter’s expertise a lot these past six months since his dad’s death. Walter had been a big help in finding Honor Suzanne’s private school, as well, after she’d refused to remain at the boarding school to which he’d first sent her. Chad trusted Walter’s judgment about most things. And Walter had insisted he had nothing to worry about in Spring. Yet he simply couldn’t let it stand without further investigation. “You can do as you please,” Walter had told him last night, “but I think you’ll find my opinion supported, Chad. Spring Barbour is as solid and sound as she appears. Nothing about her to alarm anyone.” “That’s easy for you to say, Walter. You aren’t allowing an unknown girl to take complete charge of your household. We don’t know what kind of behavior she’s capable of, or what’s in her past.” “Well, going through the employment agency didn’t insure you against an unscrupulous woman, now did it?” “That’s another matter, Walter. That agency has a lot to answer for, and I intend to take it up with them first thing in the morning. But this girl came here out of the blue. I need to know more about her.” “Do as you see fit, Chad, but I’ll bet you my tickets to the next Yankees game that she’s as clean and as sweet as she seems. No drugs or wild behavior for her.” “That’s just it, Walter. The girl seems altogether too picture perfect to be true. I don’t think such a woman exists in this day and age. What’s her angle?” “No angle, other than she needed a place to live while she gets her feet wet. This city takes some getting used to for out-of-towners, Chad, don’t you remember? But you got it right the first time. A girl, that’s what Spring still is—not yet a woman, if you know what I mean. The worst thing you can say about Spring is she’s naive and too innocent for her age. You might want to watch that. But that isn’t all bad, pal. She makes a great little chum for Honor Suzanne.” “I suppose you could have a point,” he’d responded slowly. He hadn’t been ready to give up his objections against the situation thrust on him, even while he realized he had little choice at the moment. He didn’t like losing control. He liked being in charge, making his own choices. “And a blessed good point,” Walter continued, “but I have to say that my Libby is the one who made it. Chad, you must know your father kept Honor Suzanne on a rather tight leash after Sandra died. The girl needs young company. She needs more friends her age, someone to help her be a teenager at the right time of her life. She needs to go places, and do the teenage thing, you know what I mean? I think Spring’s a good one to help her do that.” That was the point at which he’d thanked Walter and said good-night. Now Chad thought that waiting over the next few days for the investigative report on Spring was going to demand more of his energy and patience than he’d like. A lot more. Running a hand across his forehead, he pulled the stack of case files Anne said needed his immediate attention toward him. He might get a little work done before he left for the funeral. Spring spent the day cleaning and making sure everything in the apartment sparkled. Flicking a last particle of dust from a lamp, she gazed around the sunny living room, noting how the rather austere furniture looked so much cozier with the few bright pillows she’d added. Chad hadn’t said a word last night about the way she and Honor had brightened the apartment. They’d had to do something with the drab decor, they’d both agreed. Perhaps Chad was the kind of man who didn’t notice such things. Or care. She hadn’t planned to spend the morning cleaning; before Chad came home, she’d actually planned on making a call on two small design houses that Dana had suggested. And in the months she’d been in New York, she had yet to approach any of the design schools for an application. She pushed that idea aside. She had time, and she wasn’t sure she honestly wanted to attend any of them yet, rationalizing it was because she wanted to be creatively free to do her own thinking. That she felt a bit intimidated by the whole idea, she wouldn’t allow into her thoughts. Under the circumstances, she supposed she was lucky not to be out apartment hunting. Facing Chad had been far more nerve-wracking than she’d anticipated, although she’d known it would come. What she’d expected, she wasn’t now sure of, but it wasn’t…Chad. His disconcerting stares had run through her like the rising tide, leaving a mini-wake along her veins as it settled. If it really had settled. She wasn’t sure. How they would get along on a day-to-day existence remained to be seen, but if he continued to look at her the way he had, she was likely to turn blue with holding her breath. Perhaps his odd effect on her would wear off in time. Uh-huh. And she was likely to be invited to dinner at Trump Towers. Twirling away from the dining room, she giggled and set a CD to play. It was too late to make any kind of business rounds today. Perhaps, since Honor would be completing her math finals, Spring would bake a pie to celebrate, instead. She liked baking pies. Her thoughts often did their most creative design work while her hands were otherwise occupied. She’d come up with a lovely idea for a summer suit just yesterday, and was eager to buy some lightweight fabric to make it up. Sighing, she realized that would now have to wait. Her personal activities had to be curtailed and arranged around her daily housekeeping chores. She wouldn’t have as much time to follow through with her own plans. Ah, well. There were worse things than living on New York’s upper east side and making a salary, while looking for the ideal job. At least Uncle William’s exacting demands for a spotless house would not go to waste. She and Autumn had learned to clean, cook and sew with the best little Good Housekeeping examples Uncle William could find. She could recall his often repeated words as though he said them at her shoulder now: “A disordered home denotes a disordered life.” She smiled. Uncle William would approve of her. She’d been smart and frugal with her funds, and hadn’t had to spend much of her small inheritance. But she sincerely hoped Chad had no occasion to peek into her bedroom. It was a shambles, with stacks of fabric and sewing debris piled wherever she’d found available space. Her main task there was to at least keep the pins off the floor to prevent injury to her bare feet. Or she needed to remember to put on her shoes. The quiet ring of the phone caught her just as she slid the pie into the oven. She’d taken a couple of messages for Chad already today—female voices, sounding young and sophisticated, or savvy and businesslike, asking to have Chad return their calls. Spring had taken several such calls when she first took up residence with Honor, but over the passing weeks the calls had slowed and stopped. News of Chad’s return had rocketed now, she thought in amusement as she grabbed the kitchen extension. “This is Chad,” he said in return to her hello, then proceeded to give her directions with a firm, instructional tone. “I’ve arranged for a household account for anything you or Honor may need, and opened up a couple of charge cards for Honor at Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s and a couple of other places. Did you find the cash I left on the kitchen counter for groceries?” “Yes, as a matter of fact, I did. Thanks, I’ll restock the cupboards and fridge. Is there anything particular you’d like for dinner?” “Don’t think I’ll make it home for dinner. Sorry.” “Oh. Well, is there a message for Honor?” “Um, no, I…just tell my sister to follow her usual routine. I’ll stop into her room to say good-night before going to bed.” “All right. Chad?” “Yes?” “Honor would like to enroll in a summer ballet class, if it’s all right with you.” “Sure. Why shouldn’t it be?” “Well, it runs through August. I didn’t know what your summer plans may be.” “Plans?” He sounded distracted. “Many people don’t like to be tied down through the summer months,” she explained. “If you have family vacation plans, it may interfere.” “Ah.” He’d caught her direction, but his immediate “No, I don’t have any further plans for the summer” put an end to her hope that he’d take a week or so to spend with Honor. The girl needed her brother’s company, in Spring’s opinion. She’d noticed too many lost, plaintive expressions on the child’s face while Honor had thought herself unobserved. “If she wants to join the class,” he went on quickly, giving her the feeling he was in a hurry to wrap up the conversation, “it’s fine with me. Whatever equipment or clothing she needs, use the charge cards. I’ll discuss it more fully later, all right?” “Yes, of course, I only thought—” But he was gone before she could voice her thoughts. She sighed, picked up a stack of bills lying beneath the phone, then set them down again. They were no longer her worry. Glancing at her watch, she realized Honor would be home soon. She made up her mind. Since Chad wouldn’t be home until late, why shouldn’t she take Honor to register this very afternoon? Then they could buy what Honor needed for the class, find a bite to eat, and run straight on to the Wednesday night teen gathering at church. She could deliver the finished dress to her customer Mary Beth, on the way. But she wasn’t about to tell Mary Beth that this was the last sewing she could do for her. Chad couldn’t dictate whom she sewed for, and if he didn’t know she was being paid for it, he couldn’t object. Chapter Five Well after nine o’clock, Chad drummed his fingers along his leather chair arm while he valiantly tried to keep his attention on a repeat of a boring TV comedy. Being stressed out wasn’t how he’d pictured his evening, on his long drive home from Connecticut. After the demanding, intense day, he’d simply wanted to come home and relax. Read a couple of case studies on the new businesses he’d brought home from Europe, and go to bed early. After all, he still felt short of sleep. Only, the apartment had been empty when he’d expected to find two giggling, chattering girls. Or at least one of them practicing a ballet twirl. It was too quiet for comfort. Not even the TV had been on. Faced with all that silence, he hadn’t been able to get beyond taking a quick shower and planting himself down in the living room. Oh, he’d taken his files out of his briefcase. He’d even shuffled through a few papers, but it was no use. He couldn’t concentrate. Where were they? What were they doing? His mind leapt to a hundred possibilities, most of them filled with possible dangers for two very innocent girls in the big city. When he finally heard a key in the front door, Chad glanced at his watch for the tenth time in thirty minutes. It’s about time, he mentally muttered as two low feminine murmurs reached his ears. He pushed out of his chair; his stride lengthened as he headed their way. He rounded the living room corner into the entry hall just in time to catch a huge yawn on Honor’s face. “Where on God’s green earth have you two been? Do you know what time it is?” “Um, about a quarter to ten?” Spring answered, giving him a questioning gaze. “What’s the matter?” “Matter? You tell me. Where were you?” “Don’t get all bent outa shape, Chad,” Honor answered. “We only went to the teen Bible Study.” “A Bible study?” he scoffed. “On a school night?” “So?” Honor shrugged, giving him a puzzled I-can’t-believe-this-is-a-problem stare. She moved past him into the living room, where she set a scuffed, leather-bound Bible on the end table. “It’s Wednesday.” Chad turned to follow. His sister spoke as though he should understand completely with that bit of casual information. As though Wednesday held an aura all its own. “What’s Wednesday got to do with it? I expected you to be home hours ago on a school night. Studying and into bed at a decent hour.” He turned to Spring as she came into the larger space. “Is this how it’s been? You let her stay out as late as she wants, baby-sitting till all hours and whatever…running the streets?” “We’re not ‘running the streets,’ Chad. We’re only doing wholesome activities. Stuff that most teens do. And if Honor needed more sleep than she does, I’d probably see that we’re home earlier on a school night. But she does just fine on the mornings after we’re out.” “What about homework?” He pursed his mouth, irritated and feeling like his old set-in-his-ways grandfather, yet unable to help himself. He was responsible for a growing young girl now, and it was up to him to monitor her activities. Spring should know that. “I’ve done my homework. And it’s not even ten,” Honor protested, but then her voice softened. “Don’t be upset, Chad. It’s a common night for midweek Bible study and prayer. Families often go there together.” “Well, you might’ve told me.” “We didn’t expect you to be home yet,” Spring answered in a conciliatory tone. “You said you had business matters to see to and would return late.” “I didn’t know what time I’d get home, but…” He rubbed a thumb against his temple. The funeral had proved more involved and emotional for some of the office personnel than expected, and as the partner representing Jonathan Feathers, he’d stayed longer than planned to offer the widow his assistance. “Well, at least you’re home,” he mumbled grudgingly, “You can go right to—” “Uh-huh.” Honor headed toward the kitchen. “What did you buy at the store today, Spring? I’m starved.” “—bed,” he finished under his breath as he realized Honor was ignoring him. “There’s fruit in the fridge,” Spring said, her eyes flashing with humor as she followed Honor. She barely covered a grin. “And some light cottage cheese.” “It’s a good thing we had burgers and fries before,” Honor grumbled, her head already in the refrigerator by the time Chad paused in the kitchen door. “Isn’t it a well-known fact that teens need lots of junk food?” “Cottage cheese is food,” Spring protested. “In whose opinion?” Honor shot back. “Well, I suppose you could have a tiny slice of the apple pie I baked this morning,” Spring conceded. “In honor of your passing your math final.” “You baked an apple pie?” Chad asked, a bit incredulously. “Yummy!” Honor swung the fridge door closed. “How did you know I’d pass my final?” “Oh, I had faith you would,” Spring returned. She reached for a plastic keeper sitting on the counter corner. She lifted the pie out, set it on the table and reached for plates, while Honor scrambled for forks. Glancing Chad’s way, she said, “I’m surprised you didn’t find it.” “I…didn’t even think…” He’d found cheese and crackers earlier, but he hadn’t thought to look in that container. His stomach clutched in hunger as he stared at the golden-brown crust. It looked as good as any offered in one of New York’s finest bakeries. Better. All his jumbled worries of the day seemed to dissolve as he eagerly scooted his chair out and accepted the generous cut Spring handed him. “Mmm…” Honor let her appreciation be known past a mouthful of pastry. “Is this the kind of temptation into sin we’re supposed to guard against?” “Do you mean gluttony?” Spring asked, a mischievous smile edging the corner of her mouth. “Should I stop making these?” “Not on your life!” Honor mumbled. “Well, I wouldn’t want to be the cause of your downfall.” “I think it’s all right if we don’t indulge beyond reason,” Honor said on a highly contented sigh. “That would be gluttony. But Josh said something tonight I’ve been thinking about.” “What’s that?” “The easy way it sneaks up on you. Temptation, I mean. I know he was talking about the drug and alcohol thing, about how it’s easy to follow your friends when you think they’re cool and they’re doing cool things. Getting into sex is a really big thing for lots of kids, too. But he meant more than that, didn’t he?” “Yeah, I’d say that,” Spring agreed. She glanced at Chad, her gaze questioning his thoughts on the subject. “It happens in little ways we don’t expect.” “Uh-huh. Like when I lost my temper with Shanna, at school today. Honestly, she ticks me off on purpose. She’s such a know-everything snot. But it didn’t make it better when I mouthed back at her.” “Who’s Shanna?” Chad asked. He’d listened and watched with interest as the teasing byplay between Spring and Honor turned serious. He was beginning to understand how little he knew of his sister’s life. “Is she a friend?” Êîíåö îçíàêîìèòåëüíîãî ôðàãìåíòà. Òåêñò ïðåäîñòàâëåí ÎÎÎ «ËèòÐåñ». Ïðî÷èòàéòå ýòó êíèãó öåëèêîì, êóïèâ ïîëíóþ ëåãàëüíóþ âåðñèþ (https://www.litres.ru/pages/biblio_book/?art=39925274&lfrom=390579938) íà ËèòÐåñ. Áåçîïàñíî îïëàòèòü êíèãó ìîæíî áàíêîâñêîé êàðòîé Visa, MasterCard, Maestro, ñî ñ÷åòà ìîáèëüíîãî òåëåôîíà, ñ ïëàòåæíîãî òåðìèíàëà, â ñàëîíå ÌÒÑ èëè Ñâÿçíîé, ÷åðåç PayPal, WebMoney, ßíäåêñ.Äåíüãè, QIWI Êîøåëåê, áîíóñíûìè êàðòàìè èëè äðóãèì óäîáíûì Âàì ñïîñîáîì.