The Ties that Bind(5)

By: Emilie Rose

The downside of accepting a live-in position meant Anna couldn’t pay her neighbor to babysit, and Elle’s family needed the money. “I’m sure I’ll need you when I get back. This is a temporary situation.”

“I’m going to miss you and Cody.” Elle’s lips quivered.

Anna pulled the fragile teen into her arms. “We’ll miss you, too.”

Anna’s new boss returned, stopping abruptly behind the girl and scowling as he took in the scene. “Ready?”

Anna released Elle. “Almost. Elle, this is Mr. Hollister. I’ll be taking care of his little boy, Graham.”

Hollister’s mouth opened then snapped closed as if he were going to speak then changed his mind.

The teen blinked back her tears and sniffed. “N-nice to meet you, sir.”

Anna smoothed a hand over Elle’s baby-fine hair. “Elle lives next door. Honey, why don’t you check my fridge for perishables? Take them to your place. No need to let them spoil here. Oh, and there are a couple of open boxes of cereal and a jar of peanut butter in the cabinet. Grab those and the bread on the counter, too.”

Elle shuffled off. Hollister hiked an eyebrow. “You feed the neighbors?”

How did he manage to make that sound like an insult? “She watches Cody for me when I’m tutoring students. With us gone she won’t make any money.”

“I’m sure she can afford a few missed trips to the mall.”

“It’s the missed trips to the grocery store I’m worried about,” she replied as quietly as possible.

His apparently perpetual frown deepened. When Elle returned with two bags loaded with food he scrutinized her in that same uncomfortable way he had Anna until Elle squirmed and shot a worried glance at Anna.

“You sure you want me to take all this, Miss Anna?”

“Absolutely, Elle. It’ll spoil here. And you know I hate waste.”

“Do you have a cell phone?” Hollister asked Anna.

“No.” Another casualty of her finances.

He pulled his wallet from his back pocket and extracted a business card then a couple of bills. He folded them in quarters and covered them with his card before Anna could make out the denomination. Then he wrote on the back of the white rectangle. “Keep an eye on Ms. Aronson’s place while she’s gone. You can reach her at this number if any problems arise.”

Elle goggled at the money then him then Anna. Anna had to bite her lip to hide her surprise. She nodded, encouraging Elle to take whatever he’d given her. “I’d appreciate it, Elle. I’ll try to keep you updated on when Cody and I’ll return. Oh. Wait.”

She rushed from the room and brought back her windowsill herb garden. “You might as well take this too. The plants will die without water, and you and your sister can experiment with the different flavors when you cook. Be sure to write down any good recipes you concoct for me.”

“Sure. That’ll be fun.”

Hollister nodded toward Cody’s high chair. “You’d better bring that.”

He followed Elle out of the apartment carrying Anna’s remaining luggage. She folded up the lightweight high chair, locked up and trailed him down the stairs.

She stopped beside him on the sidewalk. “That was nice of you. Giving Elle the money and contact information, I mean.”

“It was nothing.” He closed the trunk on her stuff and stowed the baby chair in the backseat.

“Her father’s disabled and—”

“I don’t care, nor do I need to know her circumstances.”

His cold tone cut like a new scalpel, revealing the armor-plated personality his assistant had mentioned. “Yessir.”

For a moment he’d seemed human, compassionate even. But she must have misread him.

She hoped she wasn’t making a huge mistake.

* * *

Pierce didn’t buy Anna’s goody-two-shoes act.

He’d taken her home rather than put her on the train not out of generosity, but because he’d wanted her taking over the care of Kat’s kid immediately. And he’d wanted insight into the woman who had hoodwinked his usually astute executive assistant.

Sarah had been with him since his father’s sudden death had forced Pierce to take the reins of the company seven years ago, and she’d been his father’s executive assistant for twenty years before that. No one knew the company like she did, and in all the time they’d worked together he’d never once doubted her intelligence as he did today.

But she was too valuable an employee to lose—especially now at crunch time with thousands of scholarship applications still left to go through and his aggressive agenda for Hollister Ltd. He had a distinct impression she’d have quit if he hadn’t hired Aronson.

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