Cooper's Folly

Cooper's Folly

Mary Strand

January 2014 $11.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-4-075

He may not be Mr. Mom, but he could be Mr. Perfect.


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One burned-out lawyer applying to work as a nanny.

One stressed-out single mom desperate for help.

Two kidlets looking for a daddy.

Crazy? But they might just make a family.

Molly’s eyes took another quick sweep of him. Gorgeous. But she needed a nanny not as a stud, and she needed one today. "This isn’t a joke?You’re serious about this job?”

He nodded.

Molly reviewed her options one last time. Unfortunately, with her job on the line and two small children depending on her, she had just one. This man. This—okay—tall, very attractive, very blond, very tempting man. She had neither the time nor the tolerance for casual or even not-so-casual flings, but she appreciated a gorgeous man when she saw one. She wasn’t dead yet. Cooper Meredith was clearly not dead yet, either. More Saturday-night-date material than nanny material, but maybe she could make this work until she got home from New York.

"Well, Mr. Meredith?What’s your answer?”

"Ms. Perrell, it’s a resounding yes.”

Mary Strand writes romantic comedy, YA, and women’s fiction novels. You can find her at, follow her on Twitter (@Mary_Strand), or "like” her on Facebook.


Coming soon!


Chapter One

Minneapolis lawyer goes berserk, yells "handle your own freaking cases” at senior partners, grabs fishing pole, and runs into the seventy-five-degree sunshine known as a Minnesota summer. Last seen with a keg of beer and a pickup truck with bumper sticker, I QUIT.

Fantasies. Cooper Meredith had them.

Three o’clock. No, to be precise, it was 3:06. Another endless Friday afternoon.

Cooper leaned back in his burgundy leather chair and scowled at the antique gold clock on his desk. Seeking a second opinion, he turned to his Rolex, then to the grandfather clock in the far corner of his office. No luck. Exactly two and nine-tenths billable hours until he had a hope of slipping away without raising the eyebrows of senior partners. And then only two more working days until Monday—which was more a reality than a joke at the one-hundred-and-eighty-lawyer firm of Pemberton, Smith and Garrison.

Note to the file: Destroy all clocks.

Idly, Cooper imagined his mother’s white-gloved, horrified expression at the vision of her precious Bulova smashed beyond recognition at the hands of a crazed, hammer-wielding junior partner. Sources at the firm said Meredith took off a black wingtip and bashed a Bulova clock on his desk while shouting, "I never wanted to be a lawyer, Mom. I wanted to run a waterski shop on Lake Minnetonka!” Wincing, he admitted certain defeat once again at the hands of Mom’s elegant ambitions for him. Back to the drawing board.

A trial lawyer at Pemberton, Cooper had already argued several cases before the Supreme Court at the ripe old age of thirty-four. That level of success had come at a steep price. His personal life, this thing called a "life” in general, no longer existed, but he still remembered his old life. Leaning back, arms behind his head, legs strewn across the one bare patch of wood on his desk, Cooper drifted back to long-ago summers when the piles were of dirt, when intense negotiations meant convincing Mom that he needed a new bike, when the hardest task he faced every day was skimming barefoot behind a speedboat on Lake Minnetonka without crashing.


Flinching at the interruption, he looked up to see his best friend, Jake Weaver, slouched in the doorway. Even after all these years, Jake still claimed he could satisfy endless legal issues, women, and other pursuits with time to spare—and he somehow did. But how? By not making partner, for one thing. By settling for just good enough.

"Let’s cut out early and grab a beer at the Blue Saloon.”

"Sorry. I have to put the finishing touches on the brief for the Hadley case. One stray comma, and Garrison goes berserk. You know how he is. My weekend is toast.”

"You already made partner, Coop, and the Hadley case will still be here a year from now. Who cares? Live a little. I hear Betsy’s been asking about you. Not many guys would pass up that opportunity.”

"Tell you what. Do us both a favor and seize that opportunity for yourself.” Cooper could picture the reaction of Betsy Vickerman—a stunning brunette lawyer in a competing firm whose curves, brains, and ego were off the charts—if she heard him offer her up to Jake.

When reached for comment at Meredith’s Lake Minnetonka summer house, fellow lawyer and brunette stunner Betsy "The Bomb” Vickerman could only fan herself and stagger outside long enough to say, "Coop was worth the wait.”

Shaking his head to clear that thought, Coop caught Jake’s bemused gaze and wished he hadn’t.

"Coop, you’re killing yourself. Life isn’t about Garrison or clients or, for Pete’s sake, the latest Supreme Court opinion. Since when did an ‘all-nighter’ mean staring at a computer screen, and not having a sweet pair of legs wrapped around you until sunrise? You’ve left the old Coop behind somewhere— knowing you, probably waiting to be filed alphabetically.”

Cooper stood, turning his back on his friend as he stared out at the Minneapolis skyline from the forty-seventh floor of the Healey Building, one of the best views in downtown Minneapolis. What was wrong with him? Work. Seven days a week, twelve to twenty hours a day, killing himself over pointless cases for ungrateful clients. "I just can’t stop the flow of work. Garrison keeps dumping it on me while he runs out and plays golf. I’m so pissed off, I could wrap a golf club around his—”

As if on cue, Thomas Garrison appeared in Cooper’s doorway. Silver haired and silver tongued, his skills as a rainmaker kept the Pemberton firm rolling in clients and Cooper buried in lawsuits. Without fail, a visit from Garrison meant more unwanted work, half of it something a kid in the mail room could do. Stiffening, Cooper mourned the lack of a trapdoor underneath his desk.

Too late to run. Too late to hide.

"Good work on that petition yesterday, Meredith. Impressive. With your attention to detail, I’ve decided to let you take my place in the trial lawyers’ writing forum. As secretary, you’ll gather and edit every lawyer’s bio, but we’re only talking a couple hundred lawyers. I’ve, er, let that task slide for a year or so, and it’s due Monday, but I’m sure you’ll have no trouble fitting it in with your caseload.”

Unbelievable. Cooper glanced at Jake, who rolled his eyes.

"I appreciate the honor, Tom, but I don’t have the time—”

"Excellent. Glad to hear it, Meredith.” Without waiting to hear more, Tom Garrison ambled down the hall, another load off his desk and on someone else’s.

Cooper threw his stapler at the wall, nailing his framed law-school diploma. The glass shattered and landed all over the floor.

It pretty much summed up his attitude.

Jake snorted. "The old guy hasn’t lost his touch. Speaking of which, if we can get you out in the boat next weekend, I’ll bet you haven’t lost your touch with lunker bass. You need a break, Coop. Come on.”

"You heard Garrison. I’m in a hole so deep, I won’t be able to dig myself out until next year.”

His gut clenching, Cooper stared without blinking down at his black wingtips, then at the patterns in the parquet floor. He wished a hole would appear and swallow him. Not that there was much of him left to swallow. "The senior partners here think they own me. Do this. Do that. Get my lunch. Tie my shoes. No mistakes, but if I do something great it just means more work. When I divide my salary by the hours I’m putting in, I might as well be making minimum wage.”

Not waiting for Jake’s certain comeback, Cooper kept going, raising his hands in surrender. "And why bother? Is there some real person we help? It’s always a big corporation that doesn’t know I exist, not the poor unfortunates we talked about in law school.” He felt like he’d been doing this forty years, not nine. "It’s not fun anymore.”

"When was it ever fun? The problem is you always saw practicing law as part of you. It’s just a job. Maybe it pays better than some other careers, but my life doesn’t depend on this place. Yours shouldn’t, either.”

Glancing at the Star Tribune tossed on his desk, Cooper’s eyes burned with an intensity he hadn’t allowed even Jake to glimpse in a while. He felt his spine stiffen, something it hadn’t done—at least around Tom Garrison—in way too long. "Jake, you’re absolutely right. I’m tired of being Garrison’s whipping boy, tired of doing this, tired of everything. You can have the money. I’m getting out.”

Jake sputtered, spilling the cup of coffee in his hand. "Wh-what are you talking about? I didn’t tell you to quit, just to find some balance. Take a vacation. Ask for a few weeks’ or a couple months’ sabbatical. Say you’re taking care of family issues. Health issues. Whatever. All you need is a hobby, or a new woman, or—”

Cooper, squaring his shoulders, glowered at Jake. "I’ve been unhappy here since... well, forever. I worked like a dog all those years to get into a top firm and make partner, and for what? More work? No, this is the best idea I’ve had in way too long.”

Jake’s eyes grew wide. "Coop, you—”

Cooper slashed a hand through the air to cut off Jake’s argument. "The classifieds are filled with jobs. I’ve got money saved, but I don’t want to blow through it if I don’t have to. I just need enough to get by until I figure out what I’m going to do with my life. I’ve wasted enough time here.”

"What are you going to do? What’s the rush?”

"It’s time. At this point, I’d take pretty much any job that pays okay, sounds easy, and gives me some semblance of a life. Maybe just for the summer. With all those degrees I have, it should be a snap.”

Leaning over his desk, Cooper opened the newspaper to the classifieds, perusing column after column. Teaching. Insurance. Marketing. Telemarketing. Sales. Domestic work. Outdoor work. Health care. Childcare. The list was endless.

Jabbing his finger at the ads, Cooper looked up at Jake. "Whatever my finger hit just now, I’m doing it. I’m going back out there and doing something that makes me happy. A job is just a job.”

"You can’t be serious.” Jake slammed the door to Coop’s office before striding over to him and grabbing him by the shoulders. "Talk to me, Coop. This is a joke, right?”

Cooper shook him off. "Whatever job my finger is on, that’s what I’m going for.”

He grinned. This was the first impulsive thing he’d done since fifth grade, when he’d eaten a spider and promptly threw up all over Mrs. Josifek, who took a leave of absence for a month.

Ignoring Jake and the look he knew was plastered all over his friend’s face, Coop glanced down at his finger—at the words printed beneath his finger—and tried not to think about whether he was making the mistake of a lifetime. He’d know soon enough.

Practically since birth, Cooper’s mom had drilled into him that the "right” life was stuffy, conservative, and focused on law and financial success. Everything else was "folly.” Until the word "folly” made him want to cover his ears and scream. Until, finally, "folly” became the exact opposite of him.

He couldn’t wait to tell Mom what he was about to do.


The law firm of Pemberton, Smith and Garrison confirms that junior partner Cooper Meredith has left the firm following recent erratic behavior including assaulting a clock, telling senior partners to perform certain physically impossible acts on themselves, and leaving for Lake Minnetonka with what Meredith referred to as beer, gear, and Betsy"The Bomb” Vickerman.

In related news, Meredith is currently reported to be seeking work as a nanny.



Chapter Two

Molly Perrell paused, frowning, as she hung up the phone. That was odd. Something... unusual... about this nanny, but she couldn’t put her finger on it. Sheesh. You’re analyzing everything to death. Forget about it.

Her Manolos tapping out a staccato beat on the tiled kitchen floor, Molly continued to ponder, unable to stop her mental gyrations. She had received an incredible number of applicants in response to her ad. Which was good. There were a lot of crazies, incompetents, and just plain losers out there in the world, many of whom seemed to be applying for the job as her nanny. Which was not so good.

Nannies who couldn’t drive. Or couldn’t speak English, let alone read even the simplest books to Alec and Emma. Or didn’t like children. Or were still children themselves. Or seemed to have problems with lying, stealing, and things she didn’t want to think about, much less read about in their criminal records. Or had the sort of tattoos and piercings they could’ve only acquired in prison or on a drunken binge. After three weeks of this, Molly had a great deal more respect for the people in her personnel office, who put up with job applicants like these on a daily basis.

She could place another ad. Same results, probably. Try that agency again? They struck out the last time, but maybe she’d just had bad luck. A lot of her friends had sung their praises. With the fee they charged, they ought to be good. The fee didn’t matter so much—she’d gladly pay it for the right nanny—but the agency was always swamped with households needing a nanny, especially in the summer. It took at least a month to get a decent one. Maybe longer.

Running her hands through her hair for what seemed like the hundredth time that day, Molly stopped her pacing and sank into the nearest chair. She had hoped to have a nanny a week ago. What on earth was she going to do?

The one time she asked a big favor of her ex, he’d actually promised to take the kids during her New York trip this week. She was such a fool to believe him. To trust him. Drew had broken yet another promise. This time, he’d done it too late to allow her time to find an alternative.

After firing her last nanny, an ex-military woman who’d been so charming in her interview but less charming after she showed the kids how to waterboard their "enemies,” Molly had struggled to cobble together a patchwork quilt of childcare for the twins. Her luck had ended yesterday with Drew’s call.

This latest candidate sounded so good on paper. Almost too good. Shuffling through the pile of applications that arrived yesterday, Molly lingered on the neatly typed letter on crisp, ivory stationery. Meredith Cooper.

Everything about this woman seemed exceptional. Education, references, employment. Molly hadn’t heard of Pemberton—although the name sounded familiar—but it appeared to be a day-care facility. This nanny candidate, Meredith, had worked there for nine years and spoke glowingly about the experience she’d gained. It sounded like she worked more with babies, but she also mentioned mediating a number of disputes. Among children? Meredith was looking for shorter hours in her next experience, but that didn’t sound like a problem based on the horrendous hours she said she’d been putting in.

It was a little odd, though, that Meredith didn’t sign the application letter but had just typed her name. And so formally. Cooper, Meredith. She also described her experience in such a careful, almost legalistic manner. Molly more often saw language like that from the "suits” three floors up at the office, who scouted out and bought new locations for Harrowby’s, the large department store chain for which Molly worked as the senior buyer.

Molly had dealt with far stranger applications than this one in the last three weeks—by a long shot—and she couldn’t afford to be picky. Especially today.

Another odd thing, though. When Molly called Meredith just now, a distinctly male voice spoke on her answering machine. But who knows? If it didn’t affect job performance, Meredith’s sleeping arrangements didn’t matter. And it might be perfectly explainable. Maybe Meredith had a guy friend record her answering machine message for safety reasons. Some of Molly’s other single friends did that.

Molly leaned back in the chair, crossing and uncrossing her legs distractedly as she replayed in her mind the answering machine message. "Hi. You’ve reached me. Leave a message. I’ll call.” There was something elemental about that man. Strong, sure of himself, to the point. Yet, at the same time, warm, even teasing. Suggestive. Virile, as Brooke, her next-door neighbor, was forever saying about some man or another.

Molly rolled her eyes at the thought of Brooke, who had too much time on her hands these days. Get a grip, Molly. Since when did she start losing it over a few words on an answering machine?

In any case, she didn’t have the time or energy to think about a man right now. Her flight left at nine-thirty tomorrow morning, and Molly desperately needed a nanny. Today.

Crossing her fingers for luck, she hoped Meredith was the miracle she’d been praying for.

THREE O’CLOCK. Cooper checked the time, the address, then his reflection in the rearview mirror. Somehow, he had to shake that deer-in-the-headlights look, or he would never pull this off. Suck it up, Coop.

What the heck. He wouldn’t be going back to Pemberton.

After yanking up the parking brake, Cooper opened the door of his torch-red Corvette convertible and unfolded himself from the car. He sure wouldn’t be able to buy this car on a nanny’s salary. But he’d already paid for it and, for that matter, every other toy he could ever need or want. How happy did any of that make him?

Okay, the convertible made him happy, especially on a gorgeous, sunny, blue-sky day like today. But the nanny job didn’t need to pay well enough to buy him this little beauty. He already owned it.

He reminded himself, again, that this whole nanny gig was a joke. A lark. Something he’d bragged to Jake he could do. He wouldn’tgo back to Pemberton, but after treating himself to one carefree summer, he’d be ready for something serious again.

Serious but less soul-sucking.

Cooper shook his head, stretched, and cast a cursory glance over the neighborhood. The Morningside neighborhood of Edina, just past the western edge of Minneapolis, definitely had a suburban feel, but it wasn’t so far from the urban hub of Minneapolis that he felt like he’d completely left civilization for the boonies. Morningside was a quick fifteen-minute drive—at least, when Cooper was driving—from his high-rise condo in Loring Park on the fringes of downtown Minneapolis. For all the differences, though, it might as well be two hours.

Cooper loved his condo and his neighborhood. Downtown, hip, cosmopolitan—part of the young, money-to- burn, urban professional world, surrounded by more theaters, restaurants, bars, and stores than anyone could ever find time for. Lately, though, thoughts of green grass, trees, lakes, and wide-open spaces had flitted through his brain.

Morningside’s lush trees graced almost-too-manicured lawns that smelled of lilacs, roses, and freshly mowed grass. Wide, clean streets filled with kids laughing, playing ball, pausing only for the passing of an occasional minivan or sport utility vehicle or, in Cooper’s case, sports car. The five- and six-bedroom, ivy-draped Colonials everywhere he looked, with three-car garages and more than a few swimming pools, looked more like mansions than houses.

To Cooper, it also looked like what he’d known growing up. If his next job took him here, he could get used to it.

He glanced up sharply at the sound of birds chirping in the trees and sky above him. They weren’t chirping "folly, folly,” were they?

No. Of course not. Shaking his head, he stepped across the boulevard and strolled up the front sidewalk to the massive front entrance of the Perrell home. He commanded his stomach to stop jumping as he glimpsed the backyard swimming pool and state-of-the-art tree house beyond an open gate, scanned the endless toys and balls scattered throughout the yard, and observed a high-pitched screech coming from the general direction of the tree house.

Wait... screech? No, the ad clearly said this woman had two happy kids, which left out screeching ones, so some neighbor kid must be using the tree house. Cooper didn’t mind signing on for a couple of easy, happy kids, so with any luck he wouldn’t have to spend much time watching the bratty neighbor kids who liked hanging out in this tree house. He would have to be clear about that with Ms. Perrell. After she gave him the job.

Willing but unable to postpone the moment of truth, Cooper took an extra second to brush back a perpetually stubborn blond lock from his forehead, then rang the doorbell. The chime echoed throughout the house. Before the echo faded—before he had time to come to his senses and run, not walk, back to his car—the rat-a-tat-tat of either a machine gun or an impatient woman’s heels exploded down the entry hall.

Preparing to do battle with either, Cooper plastered his best aw-shucks, you-can-trust-me smile on his face. For once in his life, he wished he’d taken more time to observe the ultra-smooth Jake Weaver in action with women. Cooper had never lacked for skills in the courtroom, but he had a feeling he was in over his head in this situation.

The machine-gun heels came to an abrupt halt, giving way to the screen door wildly swinging open and prompting Cooper to take a nimble step back from the fast-approaching doorknob. Mesmerized by the bright red pumps that almost caused him to jump out of his own shoes, Cooper recollected his purpose for being there and brought his gaze north of her shoes. Slowly.

Long, willowy legs that could stop traffic—at least, if he were driving. Short, but not short enough, sundress with a wide red belt accentuating a surprisingly thin waist. Farther north, thin shoulder straps performing a small feat in holding up the dress and its contents. A neck that seemed to reach for the stars, although it ended abruptly at the base of the most stunning face Cooper had ever seen. Red lips, aristocratic nose, and wide-set, flashing eyes in the deepest shade of emerald. The vision was completed by frothy, pale blond hair he usually saw only on a kid, cut in one of those short, professional styles that, on this woman, somehow triggered a completely unprofessional reaction in him.

Cooper blinked, clearing his head. He’d maybe been expecting a comfortably attractive, friendly-looking mom with dirty handprints on her jeans and messed-up hair, a woman distracted and disheveled by rambunctious, out-of-control kids. This mom looked like she could’ve just stepped off the pages of one of Cooper’s own mom’s fashion magazines. She had five-foot-long legs that cried out an invitation and flashing eyes that—

Were flashing, impatiently, at Cooper.

"I’m so sorry, really, but I don’t have the time for whatever you’re selling. I have a busy schedule. Thanks. Have a good day.” The woman didn’t look the least bit sorry as she tried without success to shut the door. She looked at the end of her rope.

Cooper’s left knee—yeah, the one he’d impulsively stuck in the door when it started to swing shut—throbbed. He weighed the pros and cons of extricating his leg, debating whether any job, let alone this one, was worth the amputation of a limb, not to mention the embarrassment of having his pals know the size of the foe who’d done the damage.

Reaching any decision was difficult, of course, when the woman on the other side of the screen door left him feeling a little bit stupid. And, oddly, quite a bit outmatched.

Finally recollecting that his opponents in court admired his gift for out-talking anyone, anywhere, Cooper pulled himself together. Sort of. Certainly, this couldn’t be PS and G’s finest trying to string together a simple noun and verb? After all, until this agonizing moment, he’d had full command of the entire English language and a healthy chunk of Latin, too.

A sudden stabbing pain behind his right knee saved Cooper from further meandering through the wasteland that, in the last couple minutes, his mind had become.

Just as he acknowledged that he would never walk—or talk—again, the screen door flew open and hit his leg as well. Cooper staggered backward from the sudden and unexpected return of his left leg, tripped, and sprawled against a porch rail. Two wild monkeys leaped on top of him. One playfully threw her arms around his right pants leg, threatening to hug it to death, while the other climbed up his left thigh and began bouncing tennis balls off Cooper’s stomach while he kept asking if Coop knew how to play catch. When the woman pried them off, Cooper regained his feet. Regaining his dignity? Not so fast.

"Mom-meeee!” The female urchin began to shriek and clung, trembling, to the woman, who had long since abandoned the protection of the screen door. "Is this man trying to hurt you?”

"No, sweetie, of course not. But thanks for protecting me so well.” The woman—Ms. Perrell?—softened her voice as she spoke to the little girl. The soothing tone sure wasn’t the same as the one with which she’d greeted Cooper.

The little girl beamed at her mom’s praise. The clinging and trembling slowed but didn’t stop completely.

The little boy, meanwhile, squeezed the tennis ball in his chubby little fist and declared that Cooper must not know how to play baseball. Amused, Cooper reflected that a few of his opponents in court would’ve liked to taunt him like that without fear of reprisal.

His miniature opponent appeared quite thoughtful about Cooper, sizing him up as if for battle, despite assurances from Ms. Perrell that he wasn’t a "bad man.” Hell, how does she know? Did he look like a wimp, totally incapable of inflicting harm? Well, yeah, maybe, if these two squirts were able to handle him so easily.

Busy grinning at the two little kids, Cooper didn’t hear the woman’s question until she repeated it a second time. Or maybe a third.

"What is it that you want? I have an appointment, and I just don’t have the time to deal with anything else today. Is it something that could wait until another day, Mr.... ?”

Now or never. "Meredith. Cooper Meredith. But I believe your appointment is with me, so hopefully it won’t have to wait until another day.” Cooper beamed his most affable smile her way, to counteract his otherwise pathetic opening. He suspected, though, that the look of stark disbelief plastered on Ms. Perrell’s face was mirrored on his own. By some miracle, his legs remained standing, and both kids were awestruck in blissful silence.

It didn’t occur to Cooper until moments later that the kids’ awe wasn’t focused on him, as he had first assumed, but on the sight of someone successfully baffling their mother. At about the same time, he realized that these pint-sized, hyper, semiprofessional wrestlers were the four-year-old twins this delusional woman referred to in her ad as "practically perfect.”

Cute and protective of their mom and probably in need of some serious sugar detox, yes. Practically perfect, no.

Was it too late to retract his resignation? What had he done? Why had he ignored Jake’s irritatingly sage advice? And where the hell was the nearest bar?

Out of the corner of his eye, Cooper noticed the boy nudge the girl, as the girl giggled in a high-pitched little titter. The boy’s eyes roamed over Cooper now, pretending an impassive, even blasé, gaze that was undone now by almost frenzied nudging. The girl stared in fascination. Cooper fought the urge to look down at his shirt to see if part of his lunch had managed to land there. He didn’t need to wonder long.

"Mommy, he’s cute, and you said he’s not a bad man. Do you like him? Can he come play with us? Does he like hot dogs? Can he stay? Does Uncle Steve like him, too?”

The woman, roused to her senses by the incessant stream of questions voiced by the little girl, finally interrupted the interrogation. "Emma. Alec. Go inside, please. I need to speak to this man, and then he’ll be leaving. You can play in the tree house again later.”

No movement from the troops, who continued to stare at Cooper, spellbound. At least the questions stopped. Something to be grateful for, he supposed. So far, that appeared to be a rarity around here. Meanwhile, the queasy feeling in the pit of Cooper’s stomach grew, with three pairs of emerald eyes now trained on him.

He winced as a slight groan escaped, killing all hopes of faking the confidence it took to bluff his way into this job. His only remaining hope was to leave with what remained of his dignity—if not his knees—intact.

Ms. Perrell’s look hadn’t changed, unless it was growing even more irritated than it had started out. "You heard me, Emma and Alec. Inside. Now. No more stalling.”

She had more control over them than Cooper had suspected. With one last peek at him, they headed inside. And stood, still peering at him, on the other side of the screen door, threatening to push their noses or their chubby little hands right through it if they pressed any harder. Ms. Perrell sent them into the living room and shut the inside door. From the look on her face, it wasn’t so she could have a chance to get to know him better.

"Listen, I’m sorry about the kids. They, um, like to play. But I was expecting Meredith Cooper at three o’clock. You show up and tell me you’re Cooper Meredith. I’m looking for a nanny, not...” Her eyes perused him from head to toe, and he could’ve sworn she sighed. As in, she didn’t mind looking—and, yeah, the feeling was mutual—but maybe not on a Sunday afternoon when she obviously needed a nanny. She ran a hand through her hair, staring past him now. "I don’t know what to say. Is this a joke? A prank someone’s playing? I have to travel out of town tomorrow for work. I can’t cancel my trip.”

"I’m not—”

She held up a hand. "I’m just trying to be honest. It’s been a tough day, and I wasn’t expecting this.” Her gaze caught his and lingered on his eyes and mouth a moment too long before darting away again. "I’m sorry. Really. I wasn’t expecting you.”

"Look, Ms. Perrell. You’re jumping to a lot of conclusions. Let me explain.” Beads of sweat trickled down Cooper’s forehead, removing all hope of passing himself off as the confident man he once was. A lifetime ago. Maybe this morning.

"I’ll give you five minutes, Mr. Meredith.” This time she definitely sighed. "Go for it.”

MOLLY HAD NO idea what this man could possibly want. He seemed respectable and even harmless—although you never could tell these days—but he must have an ulterior motive, right? Was Drew playing a joke on her? No, that didn’t make sense, especially after he’d dumped on her like this at the last minute.

Drew hadn’t cared enough about her or the kids when they were still married to bother with a practical joke. He didn’t even exert himself enough to claim his weekend visitation rights with the kids, since it might interfere with his flavor-of-the-week girlfriend. No. This whole thing didn’t make sense.

Her eyes took another quick sweep of him. Gorgeous. She’d always been a sucker for those tall surfer-blonds with the big, sky-blue eyes, and one was standing right in front of her. On the slim side, with broad shoulders that seemed frozen into a careless shrug. She knew the type. The guy exuded confidence. So like Drew, and yet... not at all.

Well, no time for this now, unfortunately, even if a guy who looked like he did would ever take a second glance at her. Anyway, she needed a nanny, not a stud, and she needed one today.

Those amazing blue eyes looked sincere. Hard to believe. "I’m sorry you’re upset. All I’m here for is a job interview.” As he paused, he wiped his hands on his slacks. "I’d hoped if you met me, you’d give me a shot.”

"Wait a minute. This isn’t a joke? You’re serious about this job?” Reeling from the new twist in what she had assumed was someone’s idea of a practical joke, Molly’s brain finally registered, almost as an afterthought, the rest of his words. He wanted a shot. Almost as if he were desperate for work, despite what the labels on his clothes and the car parked in front of Molly’s house told her. "What, or who, are you?”

He thrust out the palms of both hands, as if to halt her.

"Hey, if I’m stuck having to make my case in five minutes, you’ve got to stop the cross-exam.”

His impulsive response amused her, and she spared him a grin. "Fair point, counselor. You get two more minutes.”

His self-assured demeanor slipped a bit as he reflexively straightened his nonexistent tie. Pretty funny, actually, since he wore a casual polo shirt. "How’d you know I’m a lawyer?”

Her grin became a grimace as shock dawned into comprehension. Oh, God. This was worse than she’d thought. Had Drew sent a lawyer to check up on her?

No. Impossible.

Drew wasn’t a cheapskate and never had complained for a moment about the financial burdens of supporting his kids. So much for her first theory. Well, it had to be something. It always did. But why did it have to happen to her, and when there was no time to deal with it?

As Molly pondered the situation, the fates, and why they seemed to have it out for her, Cooper Meredith’s voice interrupted her thoughts.

"Anyway, yeah, I’m a lawyer. Or used to be.”

Still lost in thought, Molly only faintly registered his words.

When she didn’t say anything, he continued. "I practiced at the Pemberton law firm downtown for the last nine years. Although I did pretty well there, I realized it didn’t give me what I want out of life. I saw your ad and thought it sounded like a perfect opportunity for a guy who loves kids and would relish the chance to have a hand, as a caregiver and maybe even a role model, in the lives of a couple of ‘bright, happy’ children.”

The "bright, happy” words from the ad she’d placed weren’t lost on her. If the guy wanted a job, he sure didn’t show it. But Molly’s dilemma was acute. She couldn’t imagine anyone leaving a high-powered law firm to babysit her kids. There was obviously a story there. On the other hand, her gut told her that he was an okay guy. No experience with kids, she’d bet, but not someone who would harm them or burn down the house. And she still had time today to check his references and make sure he was on the level.

More pressing, at least right this moment, Molly had no other prospects whatsoever for a nanny, and she was booked on the nine-thirty flight to LaGuardia in the morning. If she had to cancel that trip, she’d be in deep trouble with her boss at Harrowby’s. She hoped she wouldn’t regret this.

"Do you have any experience with children? Do you have any idea what you’re in for?” If the guy wasn’t at least honest, Molly would have to let go of her rash idea, no matter how much it wrecked her travel plans or what it cost her at work. But maybe this could be salvageable.

His eyes riveted on hers. Held them. Molly was the first to blink. "Frankly, Ms. Perrell, most of my experience with children came when I was in high school and college. Camp counselor, youth leader at church, sailing and waterski instructor, babysitter to a million cousins. I have references. I also spend some time with my married friends’ kids, but the truth is, in the last several years I haven’t been able to do much that didn’t involve work. Not with kids, not even with adults. I don’t want a life like that. That’s why I need this change. This is what I want to do.”

The truth? Probably. Or close to it. She couldn’t dismiss him out of hand, certainly, even if those were just interview lines the guy had picked up in law school. Maybe she ought to throw him out in the street, but she needed him. He probably knew it.

Molly reviewed her options one last time. Unfortunately, she had just one. This man. This—okay—tall, very attractive, very blond, very tempting man. The guy had the most beautiful blue eyes, with flecks of gold, reminding her of the sky on a hazy August day at the lake. Hips slim enough to slide her arms around. The hint of contoured muscles under his shirt that gave him an indefinable sense of power. Of strength. The type of man her next-door neighbor, Brooke, would eat for lunch. And dinner, and most definitely breakfast.

Molly had neither the time nor the tolerance for casual or even not-so-casual flings, but she appreciated a gorgeous man when she saw one. She wasn’t dead yet. Cooper Meredith was clearly not dead yet, either. What had Emma said? Oh, yeah—cute. Very cute. More Saturday-night-date material than nanny material, but maybe she could make this work until she got home from New York. With a little help from her sister-in-law and a little luck.

She drew in a long breath and slowly let it out. Paused. Made her decision. "If, and I mean if, your references check out in the next few hours, you’ve gotten yourself a temporary job. I’ll just have to pray nothing goes wrong. You start tomorrow morning at seven-thirty sharp. I’m leaving then to catch a flight, and I’ll be in New York until Thursday afternoon. We’ll revisit the wisdom of this then, when I’ve had time to think and after you’ve weathered a few days of ‘children’s law.’ Your hours this week are seven-thirty to six. My sister-in-law, Nancy, will take the kids every night while I’m gone, and she’ll call you tomorrow to arrange that. If all of that works for you?”

When he nodded, Molly explained the salary and benefits, which she knew were standard. "One more thing, Mr. Meredith. Despite what my ad said, for you, for obvious reasons, this is a ‘live-out’ position. I hope you understand?”

He replied with just a slight tilt of his eyebrows. Silence. Molly tried to wait him out but couldn’t stand the suspense. She needed him. She steeled herself for the inevitable refusal but asked anyway.

"Well, Mr. Meredith? What’s your answer?”

"Ms. Perrell, it’s a resounding yes.”

GIGGLING AND pushing each other away from the second- floor window where their noses had been plastered since their mother sent them inside, two towheaded children chortled with glee.

"A new one! Yeah! A guy, too. He’ll do guy stuff with me, not that sissy stuff you always want to do.” Alec pumped his chubby fists at the idea and also didn’t mind teasing his twin sister, even though it was tough calling her "sissy” without being punched in the mouth.

"And he’s so cute! Maybe Mommy will like him a whole lot, and he can stay with us forever and ever.” His sister, just as excited about their new nanny, didn’t even hit him. "Maybe he’ll know how to braid my hair.”

She flipped her hand through her hair, which wasn’t much longer than his.

"Oh, Emma, don’t be such a dope.”



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