The Ties that Bind(8)

By: Emilie Rose

Hollister drove around the cobblestone circular drive and stopped in front of the sprawling gray stone house with white trim. Anna hadn’t noticed before, but the house’s cool colors and lack of flowers made it unwelcoming. Like its owner. Not that the landscaping wasn’t lush and impressive, but it was monochromatic. Green. Like money.

The front door opened and Sarah Findley stepped out, looking a bit harried. She held Cody’s hand and carried a red-faced Graham. As soon as Anna stepped from the car her son pulled free and rushed toward her. His little arms lifted and he bounced on the balls of his feet. “Up, Mama. Up.”

Anna scooped him up and rose, hugging him close. He smelled of sweaty little boy and sunshine.

Hollister’s assistant bypassed her boss and handed Graham straight to Anna, leaving Anna to juggle two warm, wiggly bodies.

“I ordered a second crib and had it installed in the guest suite while you were out, Anna. I also ordered dinner for all of you. It’s waiting in the kitchen. I’m off. There’s a bubble bath waiting for me.” She extended her hand toward her boss. He dropped the keys into her palm.

It seemed a little unusual given Hollister’s obvious wealth that he and his assistant were sharing a car. But then so many things were not making sense.

“Mind if we unload before you race off?” A trace of humor warmed Hollister’s voice and a crooked smile lifted one corner of his mouth—the first smile Anna had seen from him. Her breath caught. He was quite attractive when he wasn’t being a sourpuss and his eyes were actually warm instead of coal hard. But that his affection was aimed toward his assistant instead of his son bothered her. He hadn’t even looked at Graham once since their arrival.

Sarah smiled. “I’ll even wait until you’ve put my bags in the trunk.”

That’s when Anna noticed the suitcases by the base of one of the large porch columns. The assistant’s eagerness to leave only increased Anna’s anxiety level. What was wrong with this picture?

Sarah turned toward Anna. “I didn’t show you your rooms earlier. Why don’t you go ahead and check them out. Top of the stairs. Turn left. The nursery and your suite are over the garage.”

Anna glanced questioningly at her new boss. He nodded. “I’ll bring up your stuff.”

“I… Okay, thanks.” She took the boys inside. Graham laid his head on her shoulder and popped his thumb in his mouth. Poor tired puppy. She had no clue of his schedule, but she suspected his naptime wasn’t far off.

She set Cody down in the foyer. “Let’s go upstairs, baby.”

He scampered on all fours up the steps ahead of her. Anna paused on the landing, noting there were no baby gates at the top or the bottom of the stairs. That was a safety hazard that had to be remedied.

Following Sarah’s instructions, Anna turned left and located the first room above the four-car garage. The bedroom was beautifully decorated in soothing blues and greens. An original John Singer Sargent seascape hung above the bed’s headboard. She wanted to linger over the artwork, but instead focused on the fact that the only sign this was a nursery were the two cribs pushed against the walls and a baby monitor on the dresser. There were no toys and the only other paraphernalia usually associated with babies was a bag of disposable diapers and a box of wipes on the dresser.

She laid the now-sleeping Graham in a crib, checked to make sure his diaper was clean then covered him with a light sheet. Her mind reeled with questions. Why was Graham sleeping in what was clearly a guest room? Why hadn’t the house been childproofed? None of the outlets were covered. Who had taken care of the child prior to Anna’s hiring? Why was Pierce so cool to his son?

Cody darted through an open door into an attached bathroom. “Bap,” he squealed in high-pitched excitement. “Biiiiiig bap.”

Anna followed. Cody’s eyes were nearly as large as the garden tub which would allow her to bathe both boys simultaneously. “We’ll have a bath later. Let’s go find mommy’s room, Cody.”

She herded him down a short hall and through a small sitting area with a television and a gas log fireplace before locating the second bedroom. It had another queen bed, a Frederick Church original above the headboard, and the other half of the baby monitor on the bedside table. She found an additional luxurious bathroom and a walk-in closet bigger than her apartment bedroom through a connecting door.

Again, the space was beautifully decorated, but as sterile as a hotel room—albeit with better art. She heard a car drive away and from the large window overlooking the front yard spotted the Lexus exiting through the gate. Her mouth dried. If her new boss was a womanizing jerk she’d soon find out.

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