Substitute Bride (Beaufort Brides Book 2)

BOOK: Substitute Bride (Beaufort Brides Book 2)
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Substitute Bride

Beaufort Brides, Book 2

 

Noelle Adams

 

This
book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the
product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance
to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.

 

Copyright
© 2015 by Noelle Adams. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce,
distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means.

 

Proofreading: Vanessa Bridges,
PREMA
Romance

 

 

One

 

Rose Beaufort tried to smother a
yawn as she poured out crispy rice cereal into two bright pink bowls.

She hadn’t gotten very much sleep last night because six-year-old
Jill had woken up twice with nightmares, and Rose had been awakened by her
cries and had gone into her room to comfort the girl. But she’d been the Harwood
girls’ nanny for more than two years now, and she could go through the
breakfast routine without conscious thought. She topped the cereal off with
milk, scattered sliced strawberries on top, and then brought the bowls over to
the girls, who were both sitting at the countertop bar on the large kitchen
island.

“My strawberries aren’t good,” five-year-old Julie said,
frowning down at her cereal.

Rose quickly checked the fruit in question. “Sure they are.
They’re just darker red than some of the others we’ve gotten. They haven’t gone
bad yet.”

“I don’t like mushy strawberries.” Julie was a particularly
verbal child, especially for her age, but she was also a perfectionist, and was
always very unhappy when things in her life weren’t just so.

Rose knew how to deal with the girl by now. She used to take
Julie’s complaints seriously, which only nurtured them into real temper-fits.
Now, she knew better, and she always just shrugged them off. She reached over
and popped one of the strawberries from the bowl into her mouth. “Mm,” she
murmured, shaking her head. “Not mushy at all. I’ll eat them, if you don’t want
them.”

Julie frowned down again at her bowl and then soberly
scooped out a bite, one small strawberry slice perched atop the cereal. She put
the spoonful in her mouth and chewed for several seconds. Then she gave a
little nod. “It’s okay.”

Rose hid a chuckle by turning around to face the
single-serve coffee pot, where her coffee cup had been sitting forgotten for a
couple of minutes. She gave it a dash of cream and took a sip, closing her eyes
for a minute and trying to wake up. She had a long day today, since the girls
had dance practice after school and then a birthday party at a skating rink
this evening.

When she turned back around, she saw that Jill had only
stirred her cereal in her bowl. Jill was a year and a half older than her
sister and had the same long, red-brown hair and hazel eyes. But Jill was much
more quiet and introspective than Julie, and Rose sometimes worried that she
brooded too much. “Are your strawberries not good, Jill?” Rose asked casually.

“They’re okay.” Jill stared down at her bowl as she finally
took a bite.

“Are you tired this morning?” Rose reached over to tilt up
the girl’s chin so she could see her. It was a fair, pretty face with a small
nose and a sprinkling of freckles. There were slight shadows under her eyes,
but her lips weren’t pale and she didn’t look sick.

“No. Just thinking.”

“What are you thinking about?”

“Nothing.”

Julie looked over at her sister as she chewed, a trickle of
milk streaming down her chin. “Are you thinking about Mya’s party tonight?”

Jill shook her head.

“Are you thinking about your dreams last night?” Rose asked,
suspecting this was the case. For the last few weeks, the girl had woken up
periodically with nightmares, which was a little worrying.

Jill shrugged and looked down, proving that Rose’s
suspicions were right.

“What did you dream?” Julie asked, her eyes wide and round.

“Nothing.”

“Well, you dreamed about something,” Rose murmured, wiping
down the stray rice crisps from the counter. “You don’t have to tell us what it
was, if you don’t want, but it’s not nice to lie to us and say it was nothing.”

“Oh.” This seemed to hit home with Jill. Her little forehead
wrinkled.

Julie put down her spoon and leaned her head on her sister’s
shoulder. “You can tell me and Rosie.”

It was a very sweet gesture, and it touched Rose’s heart. It
also appeared to have an impact on Jill. She gave a big sigh and stared down at
her cereal bowl unblinkingly. “It was no big deal. It wasn’t scary.”

“Then there’s no reason not to tell us,” Rose said, leaning
on the counter so she was closer to the little girl. “Sometimes dreams are hard
to talk about if they’re scary, but it usually makes you feel better if you
do.”

“It wasn’t scary,” Jill repeated. “It was about a evil
stepmother—like from the movie. She was mean to us.”

Rose’s breath hitched in her throat at the implications.
“What did she do?”

“She yelled at us and made us work all the time and she
threw Topsy out on the street.”

Topsy was the girls’ little white Cockapoo, much beloved and
long-suffering as she was constantly dressed up in outfits for pictures and
playing house.

“That was mean,” Julie said with a gasp, fisting her hand
around her spoon again and continuing to eat. “Poor Topsy.”

“Was the stepmother the one from the movie?” Rose asked
lightly, carefully watching Jill’s face.

Jill’s eyes shot up quickly and then back down. “Ye—yeah.”

Rose knew that wasn’t true. The girl just didn’t want to say
who the evil stepmother in her dream had been—which meant it was almost
certainly Genevieve Brown.

Genevieve was their father’s fiancée and one of the
snottiest women Rose had ever met.

She knew the girls didn’t like their future stepmother. They
tried to do as their father told them and get to know her, but the woman made
very few efforts, as far as Rose could tell. She acted overly sweet whenever
James was present, but Rose wasn’t deceived. She didn’t seem to care for the
girls at all.

Rose hadn’t realized Jill was so worried about it, though.

This dream—as childish as it was—was troubling.

“Well,” Rose said, pitching her tone to be encouraging, “the
important thing to remember is that dreams aren’t real. We would never let
anything happen to Topsy, would we?”

“No!” Julie exclaimed.

“No,” Jill agreed, less enthusiastically.

“And your daddy wouldn’t let anyone be mean to you,” Rose
continued with a smile. “So you know what we do with bad dreams?”

“We file them away in the back of the drawer and tell them
to
stay
there!” Julie was grinning now, making the motions of putting a
paper in a file and then sticking it into a file cabinet.

James, the girls’ father, worked from home a lot, so they
were very familiar with office supplies.

Jill’s expression was clearing, so Rose caught her eye and
gave her a significant look. “What do we do?”

With a long exhale, Jill gave a little smile. “We file it
away in the back of the drawer.”

“And tell it to
stay
there!” Julie added.

“Did someone have a bad dream to file away?” The male voice
came from the side entrance of the kitchen, surprising Rose so much she gave a
little jerk.

She turned to see James Harwood, her employer of two years,
walking into the kitchen in a dark gray suit and blue tie. He wasn’t a
traditionally handsome man—with a too high forehead and a too square jaw—but
Rose thought he was attractive anyway. He had brown hair and broad shoulders
and hazel eyes like the girls’. He was in his mid-thirties and already a rising
executive in an international corporation.

His wife had died two and a half years ago quite suddenly
from a random brain aneurysm. Rose had started working for him as the nanny of
his girls a few months later.

She instinctively glanced down at herself to make sure she
was presentable. She wore a baggy T-shirt and a pair of yoga pants, and her
hair was pulled back in a ponytail—none of which was very flattering.

It didn’t matter, of course.

The first year she’d worked for the Harwoods, she’d gotten
up an hour early every day so she could be showered and fully dressed before
breakfast, but she’d given up on that eventually as she started to feel more a
part of the family. No one cared what she looked like at breakfast, and it
seemed better use of her time to shower and dress after she’d taken the girls
to school.

It wasn’t like she was any sort of a beauty-queen, even when
she was dressed up. She had long brown hair and normal brown eyes, and she was
just a little too curvy, always needing to lose about ten pounds. She was here
to take care of the girls—not wow anyone with her appearance.

“Jill had a bad dream,” Julie informed her father, as he
made a bee-line for the coffee pot. “But she already filed it away.”

James turned his gaze on his oldest daughter as coffee
streamed into his mug. “Is that right, Jill?”

“Yes. It’s all over now.”

“Good.” He stepped over and brushed the girl’s hair back
from her face so he could better see her expression. “Did it wake you up last
night?”

“Yes, but Rosie came in and took care of me.”

James glanced over at Rose, a question in his eyes.

She gave him a little smile. “She was brave and went right
back to sleep.”

Jill seemed pleased with this praise and squirmed on her
stool.

James turned back to her. “You know you can wake me up any
time you want to, if you get scared at night.”

“I know,” Jill said soberly. “But Rosie took care of me.”

Rose couldn’t read James’s expression as his eyes moved a
few times between her and his daughter, but whatever mental conclusions he had
drawn seemed to satisfy him. He turned back to grab his coffee and took a long
sip. “So what’s happening today?” he asked.

He tended to be rather absent-minded, and he could never
keep a schedule in his mind. His assistant kept him on track at work, and Rose
kept him on track at home.

“The girls have dance practice this afternoon. Then they
have a birthday party at a roller-skating rink this evening. You said you had a
work dinner tonight, so you probably won’t see them until bedtime.”

“Oh. Right.” He’d obviously forgotten about his work dinner
tonight. “Whose birthday is it?”

“Mya’s!” Julie informed him, grinning brightly. “She’s going
to have pink strawberry cupcakes!”

“Sounds good. I wouldn’t mind having one of those.”

“They’re not for
you
!”

Rose picked up Julie’s empty cereal bowl and then glanced at
Jill’s. “Take three more bites, Jill, and then you need to run and brush your
teeth so I’ll have time to do your hair before school.”

Jill obediently took three more quick bites before she
dropped her spoon and slid off the stool. The girls disappeared from the
kitchen in a flurry of red-brown hair and whispers.

“I should be back by eight this evening, so I’ll be here for
bedtime,” James told her as he took another long sip of coffee.

“Okay.”

Because she was watching, she could see him wince slightly
as he swallowed. When he lowered the mug, he absently rubbed the side of his
face.

“Does your jaw hurt?” she asked.

He dropped his hand quickly. “It’s okay.”

She was neither surprised nor deceived by his attempt to
cover. After working for him for so long, she knew him really well. “Do you think
you’ve been clenching your teeth at night?” she asked. “That would make your
jaw sore.”

“I don’t know,” he said, frowning at her. “Not that I’m
aware of. I said it was fine.”

She watched as he took another sip of coffee and saw the
slight wince, even though he was clearly trying to hide it. His teeth must be
sensitive. That, in addition to the sore jaw, almost certainly meant he was
clenching his teeth at night.

He had a lot of stress at work, and she suspected there was
a lot of stress involved in being engaged to Genevieve Brown.

She had no idea why he was going to marry the woman. Of
course, she was gorgeous, but James had always been a smart man. Surely he
could see beyond her looks.

Rose had never known his first wife, but from everything
she’d heard, the woman had been both sweet and pretty. How hard would it be for
James to find a woman like her to marry now?

Genevieve wasn’t good for him. Rose tried to be supportive,
but she couldn’t help but hope something would come between them before the
wedding, which was fortunately still eight months away.

James could do a lot better than Genevieve. It wasn’t Rose’s
place to say anything, but she’d spent a lot of time thinking about it in the
last couple of months.

James deserved a lot better, and his little girls did too.

***

James Harwood always went to his
home office to work for an hour in the mornings, before he headed into the
office. Normal office hours in the company were eight-thirty to five. If he
went in at seven-thirty, then his assistant would feel like she needed to
arrive that early too, so he always waited to go in.

He found he usually got a lot done in that morning hour,
with no one to call or stop by, the way they always did when he was at work.

This morning, however, his jaw was killing him, and he was
having trouble focusing on the emails he was trying to sort through in his
in-box.

His jaw had been hurting on and off for the last month or
so, but it had gotten a lot worse this week. It hurt when he chewed and when he
smiled and when he wasn’t moving at all. And anything hot or cold would send a
shooting pain through his teeth.

He was sure Rose had been right when she’d suggested he was
clenching his teeth. He wasn’t conscious of doing so, but he’d been feeling
unusually stressed when he went to bed, and he would wake up sometimes with his
jaw muscles exhausted.

It was just an annoyance and a distraction—one of those
trivial things that tended to get in the way of what was most important—so he
tried to push the pain from his mind.

Jill was having bad dreams. He needed to ask her about the
dreams tonight before bed. He didn’t like how quiet she sometimes was—as if she
kept her fears and concerns to herself.

He was trying to read through an email that had come through
last night when his phone beeped with a text. When he pulled up the message, he
was greeted to a photo of Genevieve.

BOOK: Substitute Bride (Beaufort Brides Book 2)
12.33Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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