Chapter One

Beep! Beep! Beep!

A hand swung over a swatted the alarm off. Ugh, Monday already? Maxine's lithe body moved with catlike grace as she stretched her arms above her head. Slipping from under the covers, she dashed into the bathroom.

Standing in the shower, Max thought back to the events of her weekend. Weekend, ha! She had gotten an urgent call from Mr. Carson, her boss, on Saturday morning telling her that she needed to complete a particularly large proposal for him over the weekend. Now, one might say that proposal- creating was not exactly in her job description, however, as a personal secretary, there wasn't a whole lot that the man wasn't allowed to ask of her. And it wasn't as if he was taking her away from something else.

She had no family to speak of. And her love life, well let's suffice it to say that non-existent was a fairly generous description of the activities in that arena.

Having come out of the shower, as she started dressing, Maxine began to ponder exactly why she was so unattractive to men. Looking in the mirror, she took in her appearance critically.

At 5'7", although not overly tall, her lithe form and long legs did give her the appearance of being much taller than she was. Her hair was auburn and hung to the middle of her back. Green eyes and an olive complexion completed the picture. She was a beautiful woman, but that was not how Maxine perceived herself.

Damn this body of mine!, she fumed. I don't want to be a model, Maxine thought, I just want to be noticed. Starting from the bottom and working up she silently cursed all her flaws - the two scars on her shins from a shaving mishap as a teenager, the round hips that ruined her chances as a gymnast, breasts slightly too large for her thin frame and the hated 'beauty mark' on the base of her neck.

Maxine, what's the use? You can't change these things, so get over it. You've got a good job, and a nice apartment. Be happy with what you have; ignore the rest.

Deciding to take her own advice, she slipped into her favorite pinstriped pants, a silk taffeta dress shirt and smart pair of black mules before twisting her hair into a ponytail, swiping on some lipgloss and rushing out the door.


"Maxine! Get in here!," a man's voice bellowed.

Ahh, 7a.m. on a Monday and he's already in a mood, Maxine thought, it's going to be a great week. She hadn't even gotten the chance to sit down, and already the shouting had begun.

Maxine walked with purpose into Mr. Carson's office. She loved her job, she really did, but sometimes she wondered about the man she worked for. He was the owner of one of the fastest growing companies in America and literally worked himself into the ground, bringing her along for the ride.

"Good Morning, Mr. Carson. Did you have a good weekend?" Her reply to the grumpy, but strikingly handsome man behind the cherry wood desk was sickeningly sweet and intentional. She had no idea as to what he had done this weekend, but hopefully it was exciting because he had certainly ruined her own.

"Good weekend - ha! I should think not. In fact, that is why I called you in here. I need you to take this off my hands." As Nathaniel said this he bent behind his desk and picked something up, something that looked like a baby. He then proceeded to drop the baby into Maxine's arms.

"Mr. Carson! What are you doing with a baby?" Maxine was stunned. Never in her 5 years working for Carson Ltd. had the mention of Nathaniel fathering a child ever come up. Not that he hadn't had plenty of chances to, she was sure. Nathaniel attended many a charity function, and always with a different, stunningly attractive woman as his escort - Maxine knew because she was the one who dealt with purchasing and sending the break-up gifts and fielding the 'take me back' phone calls that followed each event.

Still, the tiny creature in her arms bore quite a resemblance to his handsome guardian. Stop that, Maxine! He's your boss and he's never given you so much as a second glance. Get all those crazy ideas out of your head!

Nathaniel was now moving about the office, piling toys and blankets into the portable playpen and setting it up beside Maxine's desk. "Well, Ms. Vernon, if you must know my half-sister and her husband were killed in a car accident over the weekend, and as I am listed as Caleb's legal guardian in their will, custody has automatically reverted to me. Now, I have no inclination as to how to deal with a child, and since you are a woman, I would assume that you do. Please tend to him for the rest of the day. Also, I need you to cancel all of my scheduled appointments for the day as I have a funeral to attend. Thank you, that will be all for now."

Even though Maxine had meant to offer condolences, his last statement made her fume. The gall of that man to think that because she has a uterus that she was born with some innate sense of childrearing. Maxine carried the sleeping bundle over to the playpen and gently placed the baby on his back, only to turn right back around and into Nathaniel's office.

"Mr. Carson! I am not a nanny! If you need someone to care for your nephew, then you need to hire a person specifically for that job. I have no better an idea of how to care for infants than you do." Maxine turned to storm back out of the office but was stopped by Nathaniel's reply.

"Maxine, surely you and your husband have children. I just need you to apply the same skills you employ to care for your own children until I can find a suitable caregiver for Caleb."

At this, Maxine became further enraged. "My husband?! What husband?! Do you see a ring on my hand? No! That's because I don't have a family of my own! My life revolves around making sure your's runs smoothly. What would ever give you the idea that I had a family - do I ever talk of a husband, or decorate my desk with my children's school pictures?" She was mere inches from him now, and repeatedly jabbing his chest with her pointer finger as she spoke.

Nathaniel could do nothing but stand there in shock. Surely she had a family. Maxine was such a beautiful young woman; he just assumed that someone had already scooped her up. Heavens knows she was sunshine and calm in his own very hectic life.

"Maxine, I-I had no idea. I just assumed that someone had. I mean that you were. What I'm trying to say is that it never occurred to me that you'd be anything else but married." Nathaniel's reply came softly and less articulately than he might have hoped.

The two just stared at one another for a long moment until a baby's cry broke the silence.

"I had better see to Caleb, Mr. Carson. If you'll excuse me." Her words were clipped as Maxine left Nathaniel's office, closing the door behind her as she went.

Picking the baby up, she cradled him in her arms. "You sure have a peach of an uncle - easy on the eyes but hard on the psyche. Don't worry, I'll take good care of you until we find you a wonderful nanny." Maxine couldn't help but kiss Caleb's little forehead, he was simply the most beautiful child she had ever seen. What a shame it was to have lost his parents at such a young age. At least he would never have to deal with the hardship of losing them. Her softly spoken words seemed to lull the baby, and he was soon cuddling close to her chest and gurgling happily.

She hadn't heard Nathaniel open the doors, and he startled her when he spoke, "Don't know how to care for babies, huh? You seem to be doing just fine."

Moving to lean against her desk, Nathaniel crossed his arms and said, "Listen Maxine, I meant what I said. I don't know how to care for children and I know that I need to find a nanny but I also know that I need to find an excellent one and it could take some time. Now, I have an offer for you. If you would consent to be Caleb's interim nanny, I would be willing to pay you a rate of $50 an hour for your time plus your regular salary as my personal assistant. You would be expected to focus mainly on caring for Caleb - your usual tasks can be divided among the company's various secretaries. The position would last until a suitable nanny could be located, at which time you would resume your normal tasks. What do you say?"

Maxine was dumbfounded, not so much by the position he was offering her but rather by his demeanor. In all her years as his personal assistant, Nathaniel had never once spoken to her in such a defeated manner as he now was.

Quickly thinking over the logistics of the offer, Maxine asked, "Exactly how many hours a day would I be expected to work?"

Nathaniel replied, "Twenty-four. I'd need you to move into my apartment for the duration as well. My hours are too long and hectic to promise that I could be home at such-and-such a time to let you off everyday. I would cover all your expenses as well. Please Max, I'm begging you here."

Maxine was taken off guard with his informality and the need in his voice. So, she did that only thing she knew to do - she agreed.