The Mommy Proposal
“I hear you work miracles,” Nate Huchinson drawled.
“Some times I do.” Brooke Mitchell smiled and took the sexy financier’s hand in hers, shaking it briefly as she stepped into his downtown Fort Worth office.
“Good.” Nate looked her straight in the eye. “Because I’m in need of a home makeover—fast. The son of an old friend is coming to live with me.”
Still tingling from the feel of his warm hard palm clasped in hers, Brooke stepped back. “Temporarily or permanently?”
“If all goes according to plan, I’ll adopt Landry by summer’s end.”
Brooke had heard the founder of Nate Hutchinson Financial Services was eligible, wealthy, and generous to a fault. She hadn’t known he was in the market for a family, but she supposed she shouldn’t be surprised. Nate’s four best buddies were all married, with kids. It made sense that as he approached his late thirties, that the six-foot-five Texan would want to enrich his personal life, too. Brooke had just figured that a man as successful and handsome as Nate would want to do so the old-fashioned way. By finding a woman to settle down with and then have babies. Not that this was any of her business, she reminded herself sternly.
She turned her glance away from his broad shoulders and powerful chest. “So how old is this child?” she asked in a crisp, formal tone, trying not to think how the marine blue color of Nate Hutchinson’s dress shirt and striped tie deepened the hue of his eyes.
Brooke sank into a chair and pulled out a notepad and pen. She crossed her legs at the knee and continued. “What’s he like?”
“I don’t know.” Nate circled around to sit behind his massive antique mahogany desk. He relaxed against the smooth leather of the chair. “I’ve never met him.”
“You’ve invited this kid to live with you permanently and you’ve never laid eyes on him?” Brooke blurted out before she could stop herself.
Nate flashed a charming half smile, the kind car salesmen gave when they were talking about gas mileage that was less than ideal. “It’s complicated,” he murmured. “But I’m sure it’s going to work out fine.” Obviously, Brooke thought, calling on her own experience as a parent, Nate Hutchinson knew as little about teenage boys as he did about decorating. But that wasn’t her problem. Finding a way to do the assignment and collect her commission without getting emotionally involved was. It seemed there hadn’t been a child borne in this world who did not possess the capability to steal her heart…and that went double for a kid in any kind of trouble.
The phone on his desk buzzed. Nate picked up. “Yes. Send him in. I want Ms. Mitchell to meet him.” He rose and headed for the door.
Moments later, a tall, gangly teen sauntered through the portal of the executive suite. He wore jeans and a faded T-shirt he had clearly outgrown, and had peach fuzz on his face, and shaggy dishwater-blond hair. His only nod toward propriety was the tender deference with which he treated the elderly white-haired woman beside him. She walked with a cane and looked so frail even a mild Texas wind might blow her over.
Brooke could feel Nate’s shock, even as he resumed the perennial smooth of a person who made his living charming people into investing with his firm. “Mrs. Walker. It’s been a long time.” He moved to help her into a chair. The youth assisted from the other side.
The elderly woman gratefully accepted their help. “Yes. It has.”
“And this must be your great-grandson.” Nate moved toward the fourteen year old boy, genially extending his hand. “Hello, Landry.”
Hands shoved in the pockets of his jeans, Landry looked around the luxuriously appointed office, ignoring Nate entirely. Finally, with a disgruntled sigh, he cast a sideways glance at his great-grandmother. “Obviously, this isn’t going to work, Gran. So… can we go now?”
“Landry, dear, I explained…” Mrs. Walker returned in her feeble tone.
Landry scowled at Nate. “I don’t care how much money this dude has!” he blurted. “There’s no way he’s going to adopt me and be my dad!”
Nate couldn’t blame the teen for being upset with the quick turn of events. He hadn’t seen this coming, either.
Had it been anyone but Jessalyn Walker asking him to do this, he would have been on the phone to his lawyer, seeking another solution. But it was Jessalyn Walker, who was here, orphan in tow. And it had been her great-granddaughter Seraphina, making the request, through a letter left for Nate. A letter Jessalyn had held on to until yesterday, while she, too, tried to do what was best for all concerned.
Nate dropped his hand. “I’m very sorry about your loss,” he said quietly.
“My mom died a year and a half ago.” The teen glared at Nate, still hovering protectively next to his great-grandmother. “If you were really my mom’s friend, where were you then? You should have been there.”
What could Nate say to that? The kid was right. “Had I known your mother was ill, I would have been,” he assured him.
Landry looked at Nate contemptuously.
“He’s here now, Landry, ready and willing to help us-- just the way your mom wanted, if and when the day came when I could no longer care for you. ” Jessalyn Walker reached out and put a comforting hand on her great-grandson’s forearm. “That’s all that counts.”
Landry’s chin quivered. “You don’t have to take care of me,” he declared. “I’ll take care of you!”
“That’s not the way it’s supposed to be,” Jesalyn reminded him patiently, giving his arm another beseeching pat.
Landry broke away abruptly. “I don’t mind. I want to do it!”
“Landry--” Jessalyn pleaded.
“If you don’t want me around, fine! Go ahead and move into that retirement center!” Landry huffed. “But I’m not signing on for this! And none of you can make me!” He spun around and strode for the door.
Nate took off after him, and caught up with Landry before he reached the elevators. He had no experience with wayward teenagers, but he was pretty certain he knew what was called for here. “If you care about your great-grandmother as much as you say you do, you’ll come back to that office and work things out like a man instead of running away.”
Landry snorted. “Whatever.” He did an about-face and marched back to the office, spine straight, attitude intact. Nate followed him.
Brooke, who had been consoling Jessalyn, gently squeezed the woman’s frail hand and met Nate’s gaze.
“I know you are furious at my failing health. So am I,” Jessalyn Walker told her great-grandson wearily. “But my doctor is right. I need more care than I can get at home. And you can’t live with me in the assisted- living home I’m moving into tomorrow. So it’s either go with Nate today, and give that a try, as I’ve asked, or enter the foster care system.”
Landry’s scowl deepened.
To Nate’s surprise, Brooke stepped into the fray. She fixed Landry with a kind look. “I know this is none of my business but I would advise you to go with Nate. I was in foster care as a kid. I got moved around a lot. It was… not fun.”
This, Nate had not known.
Landry’s eyes narrowed. “Is that the truth?”
Brooke acknowledged sadly. “I lost both my mom and dad when I was fourteen and unlike you had no relatives or old family friends to take me in.” She paused, regarding Landry with a gaze that was as matter-of-fact as it was softly maternal. “Not having any family at all to care about you is a tough way to grow up. I really wouldn’t recommend it, honey.”
Landry’s shoulders sagged. “Can I live with you then?” he asked Brooke.
Brooke looked as taken aback by the request as everyone else in the room, and exhaled ruefully. “I’m sorry, Landry, but that is not an option.”
He crossed his arms in front of him. “Then I’ll take foster care,” he insisted.
Seeing a situation he had hoped would go smoothly rapidly deteriorate into emotional chaos was not part of Nate’s plan. Determined to regain control of the moment, he caught Brooke’s attention and gestured toward the door. “If you two will excuse us, I’d like to talk to Ms. Mitchell alone a moment.”
Brooke didn’t appear to want to go with him, but complied neverhtheless. Her posture regal, she walked down the hall to the board room. Nate held the door, then followed her inside.
The room was elegantly appointed with a long table, and comfortable leather chairs, backed by a floor to ceiling window overlooking the Trinity River and downtown Fort Worth. The spectacular view was nothing compared to the tall, slender woman standing in front of it.
Nate paused, taking in the glossy fall of walnut-brown hair brushing her shoulders. A sleeveless tunic showcased her shapely arms. Matching silk trousers fluidly draped her legs. But it was the inherent kindness and empathy in her golden-brown eyes he found the most captivating. It was no wonder Landry had gravitated to her. Brooke Mitchell was an intriguing mix of saavy business entrepreneur and empathetic woman. She seemed like someone who would know what to do in any situation. And right now, Nate and Landry both needed a woman like that in their lives.
She glanced out at the skyline, then turned back to him. “I understand you have a big problem,” she told him with all sincerity. “I feel for Landry. But there my involvement ends.”
Nate remained determined. “I understand you are a single mother of a thirteen year old boy.”
A delicate blush silhouetted her high, sculpted cheeks. “How did you…?”
“Alexis McCabe mentioned it when she gave me your name and suggested you were the ideal person to help me make the mansion I just purchased a home.” Nate walked over to stand next to her. He glanced out at the view, too, then back at her. “I need help getting Landry situated.”
Brooke inclined her head slightly to one side. “As a single parent, you have to get used to handling these challenges by yourself.”
Again, Nate followed the spill of glossy hair brushing her shoulders, and couldn’t help but notice her fair skin and toned body. She was one sexy lady, in the woman-in-the-office-across-the-hall-kind-of way. And, due to the circumstances he and Landry were facing, totally off-limits. Nate needed to keep his thoughts trained on the issue at hand.
“I will handle these problems myself,” he promised her, “as soon as Landry adjusts to the idea of becoming my son.”
She remained silent, but gave him a look that said, Lotsa luck with that!
Undeterred, he braced a shoulder against the glass and continued his problem-solving. “In the meantime, you have a son close to Landry’s age, and I have a two bedroom cottage on the property. You and your son could stay there while the makeover of the main house takes place, under your direction. The boys could swim in the pool, play on the sport-court, and you could help bring me up to speed of this whole parenting thing.”
Brooke shot him a censuring glance. “You presume a lot.”
Nate countered with what experience told him would be the winning hand. “I’m also willing to pay a lot,” he said bluntly. “Double your usual rate for the next two weeks, if you’ll help me out here.”
Silence stretched between them, as palpable as the sexual sparks he’d felt when he had first taken her hand. Brooke’s services were expensive to begin with. They were talking a lot of money here. “You’re serious,” she noted in shock.
“As a heartbeat.”
Brooke sighed, then muttered something softly under her breath he couldn’t quite catch. “All right,” she said finally, lifting a nicely manicured hand to her hair. “I’ll do it on several conditions.”
Nate stepped closer, inhaling the soft lilac fragrance of her perfume. “And those are?”
Her fine brow arched. “When my work at your place is done, I’m done with the whole situation.”
Nate lifted his hands in surrender. “No problem.”
Her pert chin angled higher. “Two, if the boys don’t get along, they won’t be forced to hang out together.”
Nate agreed readily. “All right.”
“Three. My son Cole is already enrolled for the summer in a prestigious academic day camp that focuses on computer skills and he’s going to go.”
Nate had been involved in organized activities—mostly academic-- every summer when he was a kid, too, and always enjoyed them. “That might be good for Landry, too.”
“If you can get him in, it probably would be great for him,” Brooke agreed. “And four, I make no guarantee how this will all work out. Except to say that you will be pleased with how your home looks when the redecoration is complete.”
Nate admired her confidence. Curious, and more than a little intrigued by the beautiful and accomplished woman in front of him, he asked, “How do you know that?” She hadn’t even seen the property or heard what he had in mind.
Brooke’s radiant smile lit up the room. “When it comes to my work, I never give up until the customer is completely satisfied.”