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From New York Time’s bestselling author of the Neighbor from Hell series comes a heartwarming romantic comedy about the only thing that matters when you’re about to lose everything that you’ve ever wanted.
The one person that you can’t live without.
She should probably mention that she had no idea what she was doing, but since that would probably result in her new boss, Devyn MacGregor, CEO of Carta Hotels and the incredibly handsome man that didn’t look like he knew how to smile, firing her, Andi Dawson decided that it would be in her best interest to keep that fact to herself. After years of doing a job that had slowly destroyed her will to live, she needed a change, something different, something that gave her a clue about what she was supposed to do with her life, but more importantly, she needed to figure out how she was supposed to keep a secret that could destroy the only thing that mattered to her.
Just. One. More. Time.
Devyn was so close to having everything that he’d ever wanted when everything suddenly went to hell. He should have seen this coming, should have stayed focused, and he really should stop thinking about the small woman that he should probably fire. He had four months to fix this and he had no idea how he was going to do it, but he knew that he was about to make the biggest mistake of his life.
“Stranger danger!” Andi yelled, knowing that it was the only thing that was going to save her as she gave up her hold on her backpack and wrapped her small arms around the metal table leg, hoping that it would be enough to save her.
There was a heavy sigh, and then, Uncle Shawn was reaching for her again, but Andi refused to let go, knowing that it was the only thing that was standing between her and being forced to go into the fourth grade. She wasn’t going anywhere and as soon as Uncle Shawn realized that, he’d stop trying to drag her away from the safety of the table that had cost her three juice boxes and a box of animal crackers so that she could be closer to the bookshelves by the timeout mat.
“This is for your own good,” Uncle Shawn, the principal of Adams Elementary School, the closest thing that she had to a father, and the man that should really understand the importance of a solid foundation that only kindergarten could give her, said.
“No, it’s not!” Andi said, stubbornly shaking her head as she tightened her hold around the table leg, hoping that it would be enough to save her since the boy sitting on the floor next to her refused to help her.
“Can I have your crayons?” Drew, her twin brother and the boy that clearly didn’t understand what was at stake here asked, sounding bored as he searched through her Winnie the Pooh backpack.
“No, you may not have my crayons!” Andi said evenly, releasing her hold on the table leg so that she could reach over and-
“Oh, come on!” Andi muttered, unable to help but groan when Uncle Shawn took advantage of the move and pulled her out from beneath the table that she’d been forced to hide beneath when it became obvious that he wasn’t going to let this go.
“You’re going to love the fourth grade,” Uncle Shawn said with the same smile that he’d used on her when he’d tricked her into taking that placement test. She should have known that he was up to something, especially when he’d promised that she could get an extra book from the library if she did a good job.
He’d used her weakness against her, something that she would not forget.
“No, I’m not because I’m not going,” Andi said with a firm nod as Uncle Shawn placed her back on her chair as she did her best to ignore the curious stares being sent her way by the kids that never seemed to appreciate her efforts to teach them the fundamentals of advanced algebra.
“Don’t you want to learn more about math and science?” Uncle Shawn asked with an encouraging smile while Mrs. Jenkins stood in the corner, looking really hopeful that she would say yes.
Normally, that would probably bother her, but since Mrs. Jenkins refused to mix up storytime with books from the list that Harvard University highly recommended to encourage a lifetime of success so that she could check them off her bucket list, Andi didn’t care. Besides, she wasn’t going anywhere. Not when this was where she belonged. Admittedly, she hadn’t been happy when she found out that he’d signed her up for kindergarten since it got in the way of learning calculus, but she’d adjusted her plans so that she could stay with her brother, knowing just how much he needed her.
“I want to stay with my brother,” Andi said, knowing that Uncle Shawn would never willingly separate them when he knew just how much Drew depended on her.
“Andi, I don’t think that’s such a good-”
“I’ll go with you,” Drew said, cutting Uncle Shawn off with a heavy sigh as he climbed out from beneath the table and grabbed his Mickey Mouse backpack.
“Really?” Andi asked, unable to help but smile.
“We’re in this together,” Drew promised her, shrugging it off like it was no big deal, but at that moment, she swore that she would always let him have the last juice box.
“Thank you,” Andi murmured with a sniffle even as she couldn’t help but admit that this might be for the best. As much as she loved naptime, she felt that her time would be better spent focused on higher academic pursuits, and she had to admit, she didn’t see that happening if she stayed in kindergarten. She also didn’t like the idea of leaving her brother behind, not when he needed her so much.
She was his rock.
Andi just couldn’t leave him, not when she knew just how lost he would be without her. She-
“When do they have snack time in the fourth grade?” Drew asked, taking her hand in his and giving it a gentle pull as he headed for the door.
“There’s no snack time in the fourth grade, buddy,” Uncle Shawn said as Drew suddenly came to a stop.
Nodding, Drew cleared his throat as he released her hand and said, “I see.” With a heartfelt sigh, he gave her a gentle push towards the door with an absently murmured, “You’re on your own,” making her frown.
Sure that she’d misheard him, Andi turned around only to end up narrowing her eyes as she watched her brother sit down on her freshly vacated seat with a satisfied sigh and an absently murmured, “This is a really nice chair.”
Shaking her head in disgust, Andi said, “You traitor!” as Uncle Shawn took her hand in his and led her towards the door, her glare never leaving the boy that would be lost without her until she found herself walking down the long hallway and heading towards the other side of the building where the big kids’ classrooms were.
“I-I don’t think this is such a good idea,” she found herself mumbling as the messy drawings and rainbows painted on the hallway walls slowly began to disappear and were replaced by book reports, essays, and poster boards depicting the water cycle.
“Everything will be fine,” Uncle Shawn promised her, giving her small hand a reassuring squeeze.
Shifting her glare to him, Andi demanded, “Why are you lying to me?”
Chuckling, he took her backpack from her as he said, “I think you’re really going to like your new teacher.”
“And I really think that I should go back before I miss recess,” Andi said as Uncle Shawn led her to the classroom at the end of the hallway.
“This will be great. You’ll see,” Uncle Shawn said as they walked into the classroom lined with desks instead of tables like her old classroom. There were posters of volcanoes, the Periodic Table, grammar, and past Presidents decorating the walls instead of cartoon characters of the alphabet and numbers. She glanced towards the back of the room to find bookshelves filled with books and board games, along with a large beanbag chair that looked inviting.
“You must be Andi. My name is Miss Thomas,” a blonde woman with a warm smile said as she gestured to the empty desk in the front row.
Swallowing hard, Andi glanced from the desk that looked too big for her to the large boy occupying the desk next to hers and couldn’t help but notice that he didn’t look particularly happy to see her, and finally, back up to her uncle. “I really don’t think this is a good idea.”
“It’s a great idea,” Uncle Shawn reassured her as she found herself herded towards the desk.
“You’re going to love the fourth grade,” Uncle Shawn said, smiling as he picked her up and placed her on the chair as she frantically shook her head, knowing that this wasn’t going to end well. That was followed by a murmured, “One second,” as he picked her back up and set her down on the floor along with her bag so that he could place a small stack of dictionaries on her chair when he realized that she wouldn’t be able to see over the desk.
Once he was done, her uncle gave her that same smile that got her into this mess in the first place. Her eyes narrowed as he picked her back up and carefully placed her on the stack of dictionaries with a satisfied sigh. For a moment, Andi simply sat there, glaring at her uncle before she shifted her attention to her new desk and-
Was that a history book? Andi wondered as she reached for the large book hidden in her desk as the realization that they actually used real books in the fourth grade had her sitting up straighter. It was! Excited to see what tales awaited her, Andi flipped the book open and…frowned when she saw the cartoon picture depicting the Boston Tea Party. When she saw the large print, she grumbled in disappointment, closed the book, and sighed heavily as she sat there, resigning herself to five more months of boredom.
Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad, Andi tried telling herself as she glanced back at the door to find Uncle Shawn standing there, shooting her a wink and a reassuring smile that was supposed to make this better. It didn’t help, but she loved her uncle and she knew that he was only trying to help her. Forcing a smile, Andi shifted her attention back to her new teacher and couldn’t help but wish that Drew was here. At least in kindergarten, she had her brother to keep her company. She honestly didn’t know how she would-
“Time for today’s math challenge! Remember, whoever can answer all five math questions correctly will get quiet time for the rest of the day,” Miss Thomas announced, immediately putting Andi on alert.
She freaking loved quiet time!
“No one has been able to get all five questions right so far, but I have a good feeling about today,” Miss Thomas said with a warm smile as Andi sat there, watching her write the first math problem on the whiteboard as groans erupted throughout the room.
“300 multiplied by 500.”
“2345 divided by 82.”
“2356 multiplied by 23.”
“7389 multiplied by 84.”
“And finally, 23,432 divided by 26,” Miss Thomas finished with flourish as she moved to place the dry-erase marker down and-
“150,000, 28.597561, 54,188, 620,676, and 901.230769!” Andi rushed out as she carefully climbed off the stack of dictionaries and headed towards the back, only to stop, turn around and grab her bag before she made her way to the bookshelves that she fully planned on becoming better acquainted with.
After a quick search, Andi settled on a historical adventure that looked promising, grabbed her juice box and baggie of cookies out of her bag and settled on the beanbag. With a satisfied sigh, she took a sip from her juice box and looked up to find everyone in the classroom staring at her in disbelief. Blinking, Andi asked, “What’s wrong?” as Uncle Shawn pushed away from the wall with a heavy sigh and headed towards her.
“Why don’t we go with Plan B, huh?” Uncle Shawn asked with a sheepish smile as he reached for her and-
“Wait! What are you doing?” Andi demanded as she found herself thrown over her uncle’s shoulder and carried back towards the door. “Wait! Don’t do this! I was acclimating! Acclimating!”
Twenty Years Later…
Carta Hotels’ Corporate Building
She should probably be concerned by the fact that the incredibly handsome man leaning back against the wall was still watching her every move, but at the moment, Andi couldn’t stop watching the woman screaming, “I’m not going back!” as she shoved the security guard trying to calm her down out of the way and-
“Miss Dawson?” came the politely murmured words that reluctantly drew Andi’s attention away from the woman that managed to take the guards standing in her way by surprise and glanced at the older woman waiting for her by the receptionist’s desk.
Maybe this was a bad idea, Andi absently thought as movement from her right had her glancing back and-
Definitely a bad idea, Andi decided, swallowing hard as she forced herself to look away from the woman now taking down a security guard with a headlock and reminded herself that she was here for a reason. She needed a change, Andi reminded herself as she plastered a polite smile on her face and stood up only to frown when the man that had been watching her since she sat down pushed away from the wall and moved to join them.
Curious, Andi watched as he approached the woman waiting for her and held out his hand for the resumé in her hand. She opened her mouth to argue only to close it, clear her throat and paste a forced smile on her face as she handed Andi’s resumé over with a softly murmured, “Of course.”
“Miss Dawson, if you’ll come with me?” he said absently as he glanced down at her resumé while Andi couldn’t help but notice the pitying look the other woman was sending her. That couldn’t be good, Andi thought even as she followed the mystery man that commandeered her interview, curious to see where this was going.
“Why did you leave your last job, Miss Dawson?” he asked when they reached the elevator just as the doors slid open.
“There weren’t many opportunities for advancement,” Andi said, still wondering why she’d stayed as long as she had, especially when they-
“Do you cry easily?” he asked, not bothering to look up as he continued reading her resumé.
“Not that I’m aware of?” she murmured, taking in the large man standing next to her from his neatly combed black hair, ocean blue eyes, and the firm set of his jaw and couldn’t help but wonder if he ever smiled.
“Do you know how to make coffee?” he murmured, glancing up at her.
“I know how to order coffee,” Andi assured him. When he stared at her, she cleared her throat and said, “If it’s okay with you, I would rather save the obligatory lies for something else.”
“You’re planning on lying to me?” he asked with a slight frown as he leaned back against the wall and considered her.
“Planning? No, but it’s expected at this point,” Andi said with a sad shake of her head.
“Is it?” he murmured, glancing back down at her resumé.
“Yes,” Andi absently mumbled as she glanced at the buttons slowly lighting up and couldn’t help but wonder where they were going.
Nodding, he pointed at her resumé and asked, “Which part did you lie about?”
“Running,” Andi said, wondering if it would be considered rude at this point to ask who he was. Probably, she thought, biting back a sigh.
“You don’t like running?” he asked, glancing back up at her.
“Not unless a homicidal clown is chasing me, and then, I hope for the best,” Andi assured him with a solemn nod.
“Understandable,” he murmured as he considered her. “Did you lie about anything else besides your hobbies?”
“I may have left a few things out,” she admitted, knowing better than to tell him everything.
“Like?” he asked, throwing her a questioning look that she chose to ignore.
“Things that don’t pertain to this job,” Andi said, wondering if she would have been better off taking Uncle Shawn up on his offer to work at the school, but she would really rather avoid going that route if she could, knowing how it would end.
“That sounds ominous,” he murmured, looking thoughtful.
“It does, doesn’t it?” Andi said, really hoping that this wasn’t going to end like the last interview.
“Ever been arrested?” he asked, returning his focus to her resumé.
“Does being detained at Disney for trying to kidnap Eeyore count?” Andi asked, deciding that whatever job that she was currently interviewing for was probably her best bet at the moment.
“Depends on how old you were when you did it.”
“Four,” she admitted, still regretting her decision to involve her brother.
“Sounds like you were ambitious,” he said as she took in his expensively tailored suit, perfect haircut, and freshly polished shoes and quickly determined that he was upper management. Maybe a VP? Andi thought, hoping that he didn’t work in the accounting department since that wouldn’t work for her.
“I was determined,” Andi assured him.
“Ever embezzled?” he asked, throwing her a questioning look.
“No, but I do have a bad habit of raiding supply closets,” she admitted with a helpless shrug, knowing that she probably should have kept that one to herself.
At his questioning look, she admitted, “I have a pen addiction.”
“I think I can handle that,” the man that still hadn’t told her what job she was interviewing for murmured. “Do you have a problem with long hours?”
“Will it involve running?” Andi asked, blinking up at him.
Lips twitching, he said, “No.”
“Then, I’m good,” Andi said, nodding as the elevator doors opened and a plump woman carrying a stack of folders joined them.
“Then, I’ll see you tomorrow at seven,” he said with a nod, already walking off the elevator before his words had a chance to register, and once they did, the doors were already closing behind him, leaving her standing there, frowning as the elevator slowly made its way back downstairs. She probably should have asked more questions, Andi thought, worrying her bottom lip between her teeth. She considered waiting until she was home to find out who her mystery man was, but…
“Excuse me, but do you know who the man that I was talking to is?” Andi asked, wondering what she would do if he worked in accounting. Probably not show up, Andi decided, feeling her shoulders slump as the thought of going through another interview had her biting back a groan.
“Mr. MacGregor? He’s the CEO of Carta Hotels,” the woman said with a polite smile.
“Oh…” Andi mumbled, unable to help but frown since that left her with more questions than answers.
“Why do you ask?” the woman absently asked, shifting her attention to the stack of folders in her arms.
“I think he just gave me a job,” Andi said, only to frown when the other woman suddenly went still as she slowly looked up with a horrified expression on her face and said, “Oh, God, you poor thing.”
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