Unexpected Secrets, page 1part #1 of Hard Limits Suspense Romance Series
Hard Limits Suspense Romance, a Sy-Ops Security & MedRom Novel
Copyright © 2018 by EVA GREER
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The characters, events, agents, and agencies portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, or governmental agencies is purely coincidental and not intended by the author. This is not based in fact, it is a work of fiction.
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This book is dedicated to my uncle, S.L., a retired Navy SEAL, and my favorite hero.
35. THIRTY FIVE
OH, IT’S NOT OVER
It was the last place I wanted to be—or ever thought I would be.
Yet when I looked at the little nugget sitting to my left, a smile spread from my heart straight to my lips. Mackenzie Mills, my new little ward sang the chorus at the top of her lungs; sometimes on key, and sometimes not so much.
A scowl formed on my new employer’s face as his blue eyes connected with mine and his forehead creased in a deep frown, as though he were scolding me, as though he disapproved of smiling in church.
It took all my willpower not to roll my eyes although his eyes widened as mine narrowed slightly. I didn’t try to hide my disdain.
I was tired of churchgoers who pretended to be saint-like, claiming to be followers of God even, who really wanted people to pretend to be something they’re not simply because they are inside a church building.
It made my blood boil.
I turned back to the reverend standing at the front behind a large oak pulpit, but I didn’t hear anything he was saying. I was seething with anger.
This was exactly why I didn’t attend church, but it was a condition of my employment contract—the good doctor wanted the nanny for his daughter to set a good example—and this was only day number one.
My thoughts wandered to my new employer—Doctor Gabriel Mills. There was a lot to learn about him. I’d researched him extensively prior to my interview for the nanny position—an interview that took over five hours.
Gabriel Mills, M.D., was a renowned psychiatrist and worked part-time for the government. For some unknown reason he’d chosen to settle in the small, obscure town of Yarmouth, Maine a year after the tragic death of his wife.
I had applied to his ad for a nanny on a well-respected and nearly impossible to get into national nanny service. The ad was detailed, which I appreciated. I wanted to know exactly what was expected of me and how much time it would demand from my true purpose in considering Yarmouth as my new home and nannying Mackenzie.
Now that I’d spent a few hours with them, I realized that the detail behind the ad said a lot about the good doctor. Would I have applied if I’d known?
At this point, I’d have to say yes, although at the moment, I’m stuck in church, and it was my first visit to a church in a very long time.
I’d found most churches to be filled with hypocrites, so I’d made the decision to follow God in my own way rather than in a traditional church-going-kind-of-way, years ago. But for this job—attending church was something I could endure.
He was still scowling when looked back so I responded to his scowl with a sweet smile and gently nudged Mackenzie to sit as the song came to an end.
Mackenzie looked as though she’d been shaken from a trance, and I glanced back at her a second time.
For a five-year-old, she’d already been through a lot with losing her mom and having to move to a new state and town. Yet there was an innocence about her, and the joy that shone from her eyes.
Longing flooded my chest—I’d felt that way once, too, but the innocence of child-like faith felt far removed from me now.
Mackenzie snuggled up against me and I put my arm around her, suddenly overcome with the need to protect her from the real world, from knowing how harsh and non-God-like it really was.
My breath caught at the ache to shield her—protect her—to keep her in that place of innocence as long as possible. I instinctively kissed the top of her head, and little Mackenzie intertwined her fingers with mine, and at that moment I fell in love.
Just like that.
I felt Dr. Mills’ eyes on me, studying me. My friends had always told me I was an open book and easy to read. I felt heat creep into my cheeks but met his eyes dead on, lifting both eyebrows in a challenge before turning my attention back to the message.
My stomach flipped—he might be a well-respected psychiatrist, but I wasn’t about to let him intimidate me. I was here to do a job—to take care of his daughter and to do it well—but I’d be damned if I were going to let him into my life any more than that.
I couldn’t get distracted from my goal. This job was going to provide me with the time needed to make it happen and pay the bills.
My mind wandered, walking through step-by-step how I would accomplish it, imagining exactly how I would spend my time off away from Mackenzie.
Before I knew it, the reverend was inviting people to bow their heads and close their eyes—and I had absolutely no idea what his sermon had been about.
“Zee, come on, it’s time to wake up,” I encouraged, tousling Mackenzie’s hair.
“Go away. I don’t want to.” The little girl grumbled.
“But I made your favorite breakfast, and if you want time to eat it, you’d better get up now, little one.”
“What? You made pancakes?” Mackenzie’s sleepy eyes opened, suddenly shining and very much awake as she sat up in her bed.
I smothered a smile. “You’ll find out once you’re downstairs—fully dressed, young lady. Got it?”
“Got it,” Mackenzie grumbled. “Hey! How come you call me Zee?”
“Why do I call you Zee?” I corrected, a smile tugging at my lips.
“Why do you call me Zee
I bit my lip at the nickname I’d given to Mackenzie’s father. He was a cold duck.
My breath caught at the innocence and openness of my new ward—no wonder her father was so protective—I couldn’t believe the connection I was already feeling with this child after just two days.
“Because you seem like a Zee to me. You’re happy and full of life and joy. Is it okay if I call you Zee?” I watched Mackenzie carefully. There was so much still to learn about this little girl—what she had gone through, how she had dealt with her mother’s death. The last thing I wanted to do was to cause her more angst—I might be calling her a pet name that her mother used, or a name my new little ward didn’t like.
“Okay…” Mackenzie said, her eyebrows knitted together in deep thought. “Then I shall call you Thea,” she declared as her whole face lit up.
“Really? Where did that come from?”
“Daddy and I looked up your name, Athena was the goddess of wisdom and warfare—she was fierce! You don’t seem so fierce,” Mackenzie said as she studied me intently, her head cocked sideways, “so you need a nickname, too. It will be Thea,” she declared with all the authority she could muster in her five-year-old body.
The apple didn’t fall far from the tree.
No one had ever called me a nickname before. My parents hadn’t allowed it at home, and it seemed like most kids didn’t quite know what to do with my name, so I’d always gone by my given name, Athena.
My throat grew thick with the thought of my parents, but I quickly shoved it down and released air through my pursed lips.
“You don’t like it,” her eyes wide, filled with uncertainty.
“I love it, Zee,” I smiled to assure her. “Thank you. It’s the first nickname I’ve ever had.”
“Me, too!” the little girl exclaimed as she jumped out of bed, giving me a spontaneous hug as she raced to the bathroom that adjoined her bedroom.
I laughed, turning quickly to move to the kitchen and get the pancakes started, but I stop short when I notice Dr. Mills’ imposing frame in the doorway of his daughter’s bedroom.
He filled the entire frame with his 6’5” height and broad shoulders. I have yet to find a gym in this massive house, but he had to work out. His arms were crossed, and I watch a streak of pain flicker through his eyes before he masked it with the intense scrutiny I was becoming accustomed to from his arctic blue eyes that rarely, if ever, showed emotion.
Is he a robot, I wondered? No—that was pain I’d seen flash through his eyes, there was no doubt about that.
I moved toward him, but he turned away with the grace of a panther and was halfway down the hall before I even reached Mackenzie’s door.
An odd one. I suppressed a shiver as I scurried toward the kitchen to begin cooking the pancake batter I’d made it earlier this morning, when the sun was just beginning to kiss the sky, slowly making its way up over the horizon.
I couldn’t wait to see the expression on Mackenzie’s face when she saw the pancakes piled high on her plate with a pat of butter and delicious maple syrup coursing over the sides.
A smile danced on my lips as I reached the kitchen, moving around the massive island to turn the Wolfe gas stove top on; the cast iron grill would be at the perfect temperature for pancakes in less than a minute.
I’d only been here two days, but already it was beginning to feel comfortable. It was a dream kitchen—the walls were all painted white with a beautiful gray and white quartz backsplash behind the stove. The stainless appliances were top of the line, and the furnishings minimalist with clean lines—everything except the table, that is.
It was a long, rustic farm table that was marked with scratches and carried with it the worn look of a well-loved family heirloom. I wondered if it had been his wife’s and if the marks came from family gatherings, holiday parties, and intimate dinners with just the three of them.
I didn’t know what happened to his wife, or how she had died, but I could tell it must have been very painful for the doctor, and I was fairly certain he was still in love with his dead wife.
I felt a tinge of jealousy and abruptly pushed it away, shaking my head. Where did that come from? He’s my employer—nothing else—and this just is just a means to an end, I reminded myself.
Mackenzie prefers to eat at the large kitchen island, so I set a place for her there and flipped the final pancakes just as she came flying through the door.
“Are those all mine?” she asked with eyes as big as saucers.
My response was interrupted.
“Hey now, you don’t think you get to eat all of those, do you? What about me?” Dr. Mills asked with a lopsided grin, following close behind his daughter.
This is such a different side of him. He’s so relaxed around Mackenzie—so normal, even. I paused to study them. It’s a nice break from the intensity he always directs at me.
“Oh Daddy, I’ll let you have a bite or two if you’re lucky,” Mackenzie teases, giggling as he picks her up, swings her around and gently sets her on the bar stool, laughing as Mackenzie squeals. Then he takes a seat next to her and looks at me. “You’re missing a plate, Daddy, I guess you don’t get to eat.”
They both looked at me so expectantly that I burst into laughter, placing a plate with two pancakes in front of Mackenzie and one with four in front of Dr. Mills.
“Hey, that’s not fair!” Mackenzie exclaims as she dives into her pancakes.
“What do you mean? I’m bigger than you are, and it takes more to fill my belly.”
“Yea, but Thea said she was making pancakes for me; how’d you end up with more?”
I giggle. “There’s plenty for both you and your dad, Zee. Don’t let the amount worry you, okay?”
“Okay, Thea,” she replied, her mouth stuffed with her final bite. “These are really good. Can I have one more?”
“I think this one has your name on it.” I smiled as I placed a pancake with an embedded chocolate chip smile in front of Zee, who squealed for the second time and dug in with a vengeance.
“These are delicious, Athena, thank you.” Dr. Mills nodded in approval, giving me an appraising look.
Did I just see a break in the Great Wall, I wonder, but I say, “You’re welcome, doctor.”
“It’s Thea, Dad.”
“Thea?” he asked as though he hadn’t overheard my conversation with Mackenzie just moments earlier.
“Yes,” she declares emphatically with a conspiratorial glance toward her father. “Thea gave me the nickname of Zee. But she doesn’t look like a goddess of war. She’s really pretty, right, Daddy?”
But Zee didn’t wait for her father’s answer, and I breathed a sigh of relief. I don’t really want to know what he thinks about that. Or do I?
I turned back to the stove as Mackenzie bantered on about the meaning of Thea being “godly” and that Thea was the goddess of light and mother of the sun, moon, and dawn. “Isn’t that cool, Daddy? Isn’t that a better name for her than a war person?”
“I think both names are wonderful, sweetheart. Is it okay with Athena that you’ve given her a nickname?”
My skin prickled, and I could feel his scrutiny even though I wasn’t facing him. More than anything, I wanted to keep my back to them, rather than let him see the flush that’s creeping up my face. But the right thing to do is to let Mackenzie know I love her new nickname for me.
“Thea?” Mackenzie asked, uncertainty filling her voice.
I put the cast iron pan down, and turned, moving directly in front of Mackenzie. My face softens. “I love the nickname, Zee. It’s the first nickname I’ve ever had, and I love what you chose and why,” I assured her, giving her litt
I’m rewarded with a smile that stretches from ear-to-ear.
“Are you done with your breakfast?” I asked.
Mackenzie nods and rubs her belly. “Yup. There’s no more room. And my name is Zeeeee!”
“Then scoot.” I laughed. “We don’t want to be late for school.”
I reached for the plates as Zee scampered away.
“I can pick up,” the doctor insisted. “The Jeep keys are hanging on the hook next to the garage door, and it’s yours for the day. If you would please come back after dropping her off, I’ll give you a card to use for any necessary purchases, and we can review the contract.”
He wasn’t asking.
“Of course. I’ll come back right after dropping her off.” I wanted to argue the point about who was going to pick up, but it wasn’t worth it. Not on day two.
I took a deep breath to calm my nerves. I’m seriously going to have to get a grip on my reaction to him if I’m going to continue working for him. It’s not that I’m interested in him. Although he is attractive—or is it that his impressive height, jock’s body, closely trimmed beard, arctic blue eyes, and pure intensity simply made him impossible to ignore?
Regardless, I’m not planning to be in a relationship with any man for a very long time—if ever—and that isn’t going to change. Certainly not for arctic man.