What happens when a single mom’s four-year- old daughter falls in love with Mr. Right and she doesn’t?
Maggie Tyson’s rule: no bad boys. Her incarcerated ex-husband broke her of that attraction. Needing to escape his threats and the scrutiny of the people in her hometown, Maggie relocates to New York City. Determined to not make the same mistakes, she has a mile-long list of dos and don’ts. Unfortunately, her daughter, Cecily, doesn’t like to follow them. When Cecily wanders away from her and right into Rick Stone’s office, Maggie knows he’s the exact type she’s been trying to avoid. Can she resist him or will she succumb to his willful charm?
Rick Stone’s rule: bed them don’t wed them. Running a multibillion-dollar business doesn’t leave him with much time to do anything else, particularly with an overbearing grandfather breathing down his neck. But when a man works hard, he needs to play even harder. Voted America’s most eligible bachelor, Rick doesn’t have any problems getting women into his bed—except one.
Two auburn beauties stumble into his life.
One will break his heart.
The other—heal it.
Will he love or leave them?
Mama’s Rule #1:
Don’t talk to strangers.
Rick strolled into the office and collapsed into the leather chair behind his desk. Piles of manila folders spread across the top, reminding him of all the work he still had to do tonight. He reached for a file, and a movement to the right of his shoulder caught his eye. A pudgy white mouse was propped on the computer keyboard a few feet away. He stared in disbelief as the rodent licked its furry arm and scrubbed its face. Where did it come from?
“Herbert, Herbert. Where are ya?”
The urgent request drew his attention to the hallway and then to his watch. Seven o’clock, no one should be here at this hour. On a Friday night, his employees always left at five.
“Herbert. Come here.”
The muffled traffic noise of New York City twenty floors below didn’t mask the demanding voice that got louder and closer to his doorway.
Before he could get up to investigate, a little girl with candy apple red hair shuffled into his office, peeking to the right and the left. “Herbert, ya in here?” she demanded, ducking down on her knees and searching under the sofa to the right of the entry.
Careful not to startle her, he stayed behind his desk and gently cleared his throat.
The little pixie’s head popped up, and she rose from her knees, plopping a thumb in her mouth. She took a step toward his desk and then another and another, her brow pinching tighter with each move. Lips clasped around her finger, her words came out garbled. “Woo see Heverp?”
Surprised by the unexpected visitor, it took him a few seconds to recall her question and a couple more to figure out what she asked. When he did, his gaze darted to an empty computer keyboard. Crap.
Bent over and searching under the desk, he saw no sign of the runaway mouse. When he scooted his chair back to stand, he felt a poke on his shoulder. He turned and came face to face with dozens of freckles sprinkled across the bridge of the little girl’s nose and cheeks and an overwhelming bubblegum-flavored aroma. Her huge, light green eyes stared at him.
“Woo okay?” She pulled her moist thumb out of her mouth and set it on his chin, resting her palm on his cheek.
When was the last time anyone asked him that?
“Ya look funny.” She leaned forward, her knees resting against his shin, and patted him on the shoulder with her other hand. “Itta be okay.” She soothed like a wise old woman, her upper gums glistening and revealing several missing teeth.
A scratch and tug along the hem of his pant leg drew his attention to the floor.
“Herbert, no,” she scolded, scooping the mouse into her arms and petting the furball’s back. The rodent returned the affection, rubbing its pointy nose along her cheek.
His employees brought their children to the annual company picnic, but he never thought twice about them. This child, though, intrigued him. What was she doing here? Where were her parents? About to ask her, all of a sudden a furry stomach was shoved into his nose.
“Ya can hold him.”
He clasped the mouse’s bottom and guided it downward, suspending the animal between them.
“He don’t bite,” she stated with utmost sincerity.
“Who are you?” he prompted as the impatient creature squirmed in his palm.
“Cecily Bryna Tyson,” she announced as if she were the queen of England being presented to her constituents, back straightened and chin held high.
“Well…” He pressed his lips together, resisting a smirk, and offered a formal greeting in return. “It’s nice to meet you. I’m Richard Maxwell Stone.”
“What ya doin’?” Cecily scanned the room again, her eyes coming to rest on his computer, the Gateway Enterprises logo scrolling across the screen. “Ya got games on here?” She tucked Herbert into the front pocket of her sunflower-patterned dress and buttoned the flap enclosure. Shuffling around Rick, she wandered over to the large monitor behind him. Herbert’s pink nose and arms poked out. She shoved the mouse’s clutching paws back in. “Stay.”
“Uh, is he going to get out?”
Cecily sighed. “Prob’ly. He don’t like it in there.” She punched several buttons on the keyboard. The monitor came to life, displaying an ocean desktop scene. She glanced at him. “Can I play?”
“Cece, Cece, where are you?”
They both turned toward the door.
An adult version of the pint-sized girl appeared in the doorway. This variation, though, had hair on the cherry side of auburn with twists of milk chocolate streaming through the strands. A messy ponytail slung high on top of her head, and thick, curly waves fell over her shoulder, instead of bright, reddish-orange pigtails like Cece’s.
“Cece, come here.” The woman’s stern tone communicated there better not be any arguments. Cece marched across the room. “My daughter shouldn’t have run off. I’m sorry if she disturbed you.”
A company logo and name written in gold script in a circular pattern above her left breast caught his attention: Westlake Security Services. His best friend, Matt, owned the firm adjacent to his office. She’d have to pass his suite to get there, yet he’d never seen her before. He inspected her uniform, a gray polo shirt and black slacks. An outfit he’d seen many times before, but it never looked that good on anyone else. The fabric, tucked in at her waist, had a cut that hugged her handful-sized breasts, and slim pants accentuated her curvy hips.
He lifted his gaze and found the woman ushering Cece out the door. “Wait.”
Cece turned, beaming a huge smile at him. “I would a told ya bye.” And just as fast, her little face morphed from happy to perturbed, aimed at her mother, and with her arms crossed, Cece shook her head.
Without missing a beat, and as smooth as his mother would have, the woman redirected Cece. “Say good night to Mr.…”
“Stone, Rick Stone.”
She set a hand on Cece’s shoulder, nudging her and casting a do-what-your-mother-says stare. “I have to get back to work. Say goodbye to Mr. Stone.”
“What’s your name?” He couldn’t let her get away that fast.
“Margareta Cassidy Tyson,” Cece shouted with emphasis, a pause between each distinction. “My mama works here.” She pointed toward the hall. “She plays on a phone and ʼputer. It got lotsa buttons.” She shook her head, pigtails flinging back and forth over one shoulder then the other, followed by an overdrawn sigh. “She don’t let me push ʼem. Don’t ya think I should get to push ʼem? He let me push his.” Cece looked up at her mother and shot her arm toward him, her shrugging shoulders communicating, “See, everybody can do it. No big deal.”
Rick chuckled and then stopped when Maggie spun around, hands set on her hips. He rubbed his palm along the back of his neck and shifted from one foot to the other as an uncomfortable silence engulfed the room. “Let me explain.”