AGNES CANESTRI

Sweet Romance For All Ages

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GFake-dating the Single Dad

 

Chapter One

 

Ginny shifted her weight to the left on the bench. Just an inch more. Yes, now she could catch all the words the two mothers were saying.

     “I swear to you, Margaret, if I could, I’d take that nanny job myself. Nick Peterson is the hottest single dad in the entire school. Plus he’s rich as hell.” The woman with a pixie-cut and dreamy eyes swooned.

     Ginny tilted her head. They were definitely talking about a position. And for nobody else but the acclaimed writer Nicholas Peterson. 

     Could her pathetic stalking finally be paying off? 

     The woman’s friend shook her red curls. “I’m not sure, Amy. He’s eye candy, I’ll give you that, but he’s always so solemn around us. He never lets his son come to any of the playdates I organize for Dave. That poor kid is picked up by a driver each day right after school.” 

     Ginny grabbed a napkin from her bag and dropped it purposefully beside the redhead’s sandals. She bent to collect it and poked the woman just enough so that she’d notice.

     When the redhead’s glance fell on her, Ginny said, “Oh, so sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you. Hey, wait a minute? Are you Margaret, by any chance? Dave’s mom?”

     The woman’s thinly-picked eyebrows shot up. “Yes, I am. Do we know each other?”

     Ginny swallowed. She’d let herself be carried away by the spirit of improvisation. Now she had to go with the flow. “No, not personally. But…mhmm, I’m the nanny…well, was the nanny of one of Dave’s friends, uh…Fred.”

     Fred is a common name among kids, isn’t it? Ginny could swear she’d bumped into at least three boys called Fred during her misfortunate interview at the school.

     The woman’s face lit up. “Freddie Knight? Ah, really? What a pleasure. His mom raved about your skills of getting her little fellow tucked into bed on time.”

     Ginny plastered on a smile. “Well, yes. That’s my specialty.”

     The woman with the pixie hair chimed in. “What are you doing here now…sorry, I didn’t catch your name…”

     Ginny bit her lip. Should she give her real name or use a fake one? It might be better not to associate herself with this little stunt she was pulling. These women might forget her face, but a name could stay engraved. “Jessica, Jessica Smith.”

     The redhead smiled. “Nice to meet you, Jessica. Are you taking care of a kid now? That’s why you’re on the playground?”

     Ginny sighed and wiped her forehead. “No, I’m not working. I just like this park. It’s so nice to watch the kids play. The guards let me in because they’ve seen me here with Freddie. My contract with his parents ended, and I’m rather picky about taking on new families. I need to make sure they have the right parenting principles and all.”

     The women nodded as if Ginny had said something sagacious. The redhead even murmured. “How true.”

     Ginny’s throat swelled. Riversmith was supposed to be the best institution in the state, if not in the whole country, which was why Ginny wanted to work here so badly. Let’s hope that not all mothers in the school are this clueless.

     She scolded herself immediately for her unfriendly thoughts. She’d probably picked two very trusting mothers, that’s all. And it was much better for her purpose anyway. 

     Right, my purpose. 

     “I overheard you speaking about a nanny position. Do you think it’s something that could be interesting for me?” Ginny threw a side-glance at them while wearing her most innocent smile.

     This was the decisive moment. Now they either exposed her as being a spying freak or helped her get the vital information she needed. She held her breath.

     The pixie-haired woman nodded. “If you mean the job in Nick Peterson’s house, then yes. I think a qualified nanny like you should jump on this offer.”

     The redhead pouted. “It might not be all fun and glory. Nick could be a challenging boss.”

      Her friend huffed. “Aren’t all parents a little exhausting?” She chuckled as if her comment was funny. “At least Nick would be a treat to look at. Also, I’m sure the Knights paid you well, but it would be nothing compared to what Nick Peterson could offer. I’ve heard that nothing is too much for him when it comes to his son.”

     Ginny scratched her chin. “Do you know if he’s already contacted an agency?”

     The women looked at each other. The pixie-haired one shrugged. “Not sure. But I don’t think so. I only heard this morning that he wants someone. He was talking about it with the teacher and asking for recommendations.”

     Ginny’s heart jumped. This would be perfect. If she contacted Nicholas Peterson today, she might be able to get the position before any other candidate was even considered.

     She smiled at the mothers while shouldering her bag. “This is good news. Well, I’ll see whether I manage to speak to Mr. Peterson. Thank you for the information. I’ll go now. Have a great day.”

     The two women waved to her as she stood. 

     Ginny hurried toward the nearby parking lot, keeping her eyes on the ground to avoid being stopped by anyone. It was one thing to pretend she belonged to the school’s playground in front of a few parents and another to explain to the guards why she had no kid with her when she’d told them she was here to pick one up.

     She got to her orange Chevrolet and jumped into the driver’s seat. As she closed the door, the heat slammed her in the face. Ouch, she’d forgotten to put up the sun-shield again when she parked.      Sweat pearls ran down her neck, dripping on her silk shirt and leaving wet smudges. 

     She put the key into the ignition and rolled down all the windows. She positioned her phone on its holder and pressed call before she drove out of the parking.

     After a few rings, her sister’s soprano answered. “Hey, Ginny, what’s up? Any luck with your crazy plan?”

     Giada had been teasing her about this idea all week. But it worked, didn’t it? 

     A smug smirk spread on Ginny’s lips. “You know what? Actually, yes.”

    Giada must have been drinking something because a slurping sound echoed in the loudspeaker. At      Ginny’s words, her noise stopped. “What do you mean, yes? Did you find someone for the recommendation?”

    Ginny bit her lip. Okay, it hadn’t quite worked out yet, but it was going to. “No, not exactly. But I found a father in desperate need of a nanny.” 

     She waited for her sister’s reaction, but there was only silence on the other end.

    Ginny cleared her throat. “Giada, are you still there?”

     “Sure, I am. I was just waiting for you to continue. So a dad needs a sitter for his kid. What does it have to do with you?”

     Ginny gritted her teeth. Couldn’t Giada see it? It was so obvious. “It’s easy. I’ll apply to be the nanny.”

     “Why would you do that?” Giada’s voice sounded surprised.

     Ginny forced herself to remain calm. Just because she had it all laid out in her head, didn’t mean    Giada could understand it. Her sister wasn’t telepathic, even if it sometimes seemed that way. 

     Ginny gripped the wheel and leaned in toward the phone. “The father in need of help is Nicholas Peterson.”

     “That Nicholas Peterson? The writer?” Giada gasped.

     Ginny giggled. “Exactly. His son goes to the Riversmith preschool. I figure if I work for him for a couple of months, he might give me a pretty recommendation letter for when the winter application is due.”

     “Wow, sis. It could really work. So did he offer you the job already?”

      An uneasy feeling settled in the pit of Ginny's stomach. This was the only problem with her plan so far. How was she going to get in contact with Nicholas Peterson? She couldn’t just call him and say,  “Hey, I overheard two moms on the school playground talking about a job vacancy at your place.” It would sound lame, to say the least. Maybe his number wasn’t even listed.

     “No,” Ginny sighed, “it wasn’t him who told me about it. I eavesdropped on two mothers. I told them I used to be a nanny for one of their kids’ classmates.”

     Giada laughed out. “Oh, Ginny.” Then she became more serious. “It doesn’t matter. You should just drive by his house and stick with this story. Maybe you should omit the spying part and say that a mother told you there’s an open position.”

     Her sister was right, she could continue with this fib a tiny bit longer. 

     Ginny nodded. “Why not? I’ll do it right away.” Her eyes flicked to her blouse. “But maybe I’ll drive home first and freshen up. My car is an oven and I must look like a piece of grilled cheese.”

Giada snorted. “Yeah, it’s better if you do that. By the way, have you ever read anything by Nick Peterson?”

     “Nope. Should I have?” Ginny changed the gear and turned off the highway. “Now that you say it, it’d certainly be a plus if I could at least name one of his books. But he writes mysteries. Those give me the creeps.”

     There was some squishing noise on Giada’s end. “I’ve got one of his books right here. Giordano’s just finished reading it. It doesn’t seem that scary. He actually writes well, I think.”

     “He better. Makes tons of money with it, I hear. Fine, I’ll swing by the bookstore and get one of his novels before I drive to his…wait, I don’t even know where he lives.”

In her stroke of genius, she’d omitted this crucial detail. Should she have asked the two moms on the playground? Was it worth driving back in hopes of finding them still there?

     “No worries, I’ll ask Giordano to find it out for you. I’ll text you the address in a bit,” Giada reassured her.

     Ginny relaxed. Wasn’t it handy to have a private detective as a little brother? 

     “Great, speak to you later then.”

     “Okay, bye.” Her sister hung up.

     Ginny steered her car towards the busy shopping streets of Phoenix Bay and managed to fit her car in a narrow parking spot. As she got out, her eyes drifted to the silver sun-shield on the backseat.       She shrugged and closed the door. This would only take a minute. 

     She strolled to the Readers’ Paradise bookstore while picturing in her mind what to wear to her meeting with Nicholas Peterson.

 

 

 

Chapter Two

 

Nick’s eyes clouded over as he stared unblinking at his screen. He’d rewritten the same sentence five times already. Maybe it was time to call it a day. His muse had apparently decided to take a day off. Or maybe, considering these past weeks—a sabbatical.

     He closed his laptop and sighed. The muscles in his neck hurt, so he rolled his head in small circles hoping it would ease the pain. It didn’t help. 

     Of course, it wouldn’t. The tension he felt didn’t come from sitting and working. 

     He fetched his phone and dialed his lawyer. Maybe Andrew would have some good news today. He’d promised Nick he would check in with the newly appointed judge.

     While he waited for the ringtone, he grabbed the picture from his table. It was his favorite photo of Jacob. The boy wore a pirate costume and a funny black hat that was too big on his little head. 

     Nick’s lips moved to a smile, but the movement died as soon as it came. His fingers contracted around the frame. He couldn’t let Heather take Jacob away from him. A small click warned him that he risked breaking the fragile glass if he didn’t loosen his grip. 

     He placed the picture back on its place and shifted the phone closer to his ear.

     Andrew’s even tone answered. “Hi, Nick.” 

     Why wasn’t Andrew launching into a detailed account of their case as was his habit? This wasn’t a good sign.

     Nick’s throat dried out. “Andrew, what’s wrong?”

    “Why would you assume anything is wrong?” Andrew added a dry chuckle, but it only alarmed Nick further. 

     Answering questions with more questions was Andrew’s basic strategy when he felt cornered. Nick had seen him use it way too many times.

     Nick pressed a hand to the table. “Andrew, spill it. How did your meeting with the new judge go?”

     His lawyer sucked in a breath. “Well, Judge Martha might be a tougher cookie than we assumed. She’s all for the idea that a young child deserves to grow up in a family. The fact that your ex is filing the case while she’s married—”

     “Yeah, with her fifth husband.”

     Andrew clicked with his tongue. “I know, Nick. But it doesn’t seem to matter. Judge Martha said Heather and her husband came to see her on Monday, and they seemed—I’m quoting this—‘a wonderful couple and your ex-wife capable of fulfilling her maternal duties.’”

     Nick’s extended palm rolled into a fist. “Isn’t the judge aware that my capable ex walked out on her son when he was practically a baby?”

     “Yes, she is. But apparently Heather showed remorse about her past actions. She claimed that she’s always kept herself informed and was preoccupied with what happened to Jacob.”

     Nick’s knuckles whitened from the pressure. “That’s a lie, and you have to prove it.”

     Andrew sighed. “Yes, it is. And I’m already assembling the right paperwork to counteract her statements. However, this isn’t our major issue.”

     “Then what is it?”

     Nick straightened, wondering what else Heather had come up with this time.

     “It’s Judge Martha’s clear preference for couples as caretakers. When Heather told her that she wanted to make all good by raising Jacob in a real family…well, I have to say your ex scored some serious points.”    Andrew’s voice sounded apologetic. 

      Nick’s jaw clenched. So he had correctly anticipated Heather’s move. He’d known she would use the broken family card to try and get leverage on him. 

     His eyes moved to the scrap of paper on which Jacob’s teacher had scribbled down the name of the nanny agency. “Don’t worry, Andrew. I’ll take care of this. Soon Heather won’t be able to wring my single status to her benefit.”

     There was a pause on Andrew’s end, then the lawyer gulped loudly. “Are you planning to go forward with your absurd idea? Nick, for heaven’s sake.”

     Nick felt the frustration constrict his chest. Wasn’t it Andrew who kept telling him he needed to find a woman? Then what was his problem? “I’d like to remind you that you were the one who suggested I needed a woman in my life to succeed in the trial.”

     Andrew groaned. “I told you to date somebody, to get a girlfriend. I certainly didn’t suggest that you go through a nanny agency and then—”

     “It’s my decision how I choose the person I wish to be part of our family. Isn’t it?”

     “Yes, it is, Nick.” Andrew conceded with an exasperated sigh. 

     Nick nodded. “That’s what I thought.”

     It very well was his choice to make. Nothing was more important than that Jacob liked the woman Nick would pretend to date. 

     As for Nick, she could have three teeth and one eye as long as his son cared for her and she for his son. Anyways, it was only a temporary arrangement. Once the court ruled in his favor, he could stop with the charade.

     “So did you contact the agency yet?” Andrew asked.

      Nick shook his head. “No, I only got a good reference this morning. I’m calling them later to see if they have suggestions for me. But I’ll find her soon enough, I promise. Meanwhile, you could hint in front of the judge and Heather’s lawyer that I’m seeing someone.”

      Andrew exhaled. “Fine, whatever you wish.”

      Nick tapped on his table with his free hand. “Great, I’ll call you in two days.”

      As soon as he hung up, there was a knock on his door.

      Marcia, his housekeeper, peeked in. “Sir, someone is looking for you. A young woman.” She wiggled her brushy brows and pulled her lips into a grimace.

      Nick’s mouth popped open. 

      A young woman? For him? He wasn’t expecting anyone. “What does she want, Marcia?”

      Marcia shrugged. “She said she’d only tell it to you in person. But, Sir, she is bonita. I can see these things. You better let her in.”

     Nick’s nostrils flared. As much as he liked Marcia’s amiable character, she shared her opinions too frequently with him. 

      What did he care if Marcia thought the woman was a looker? He still didn’t want any visitors during his writing time.

     But looking at his housekeeper’s eager glint, he knew Marcia would only insist if he refused to meet the woman. He wasn’t in his most productive mood anyhow. 

     He waved his hand. “Fine, send her in.”

     Marcia disappeared, and in a few seconds she was back, pushing his study door ajar.

     The woman following Marcia entered. Her long straight hair framed her face like a dark cascade, and her mouth was set into a tense line. She clutched her purse with one of her hands, while the other played with the ample skirt of her polka dotted dress.

     Who was this woman? And what did she want from him?

     He stood up and walked to her. He stretched out his hand as any gentleman would. “Good afternoon. Nick Peterson.”

     The woman accepted his greeting while her lips moved into a shy smile. It made her eyes drift in the shape of two almonds. “Hi, I’m Ginevra Biagi. Nice to meet you, Mr. Peterson.”

     Nick tried to tear his glance from her lips, which sparkled in the color of ripe raspberries. “You can call me Nick if you wish.”

     The woman’s smile widened. “And you can call me Ginny.”

      Marcia clapped a hand to her mouth, as if trying to stifle a giggle.

     Nick threw a severe glance at her, and Marcia immediately excused herself. “I have a lot to do. Let me know, Sir, when I need to let the miss out.” Marcia went out, closing the door.

     As soon as his housekeeper disappeared, the room became awfully quiet.

     Ginny’s eyes bounced between his table and the sofa in the corner of his study. Right, where were his manners? He motioned toward the sofa. “Do you want to sit?”

     Ginny twitched at the sound of his voice but then nodded. “Oh, yes, sure. That’s kind of you.”

They walked over to the sofa and settled down. 

      Ginny crossed her ankles and smoothed down her dress. Then she raised her eyes at Nick. Her irises glistened in that peculiar blue shade that only the summer sky could have after a refreshing tempest. 

     Nick’s breath quickened as he stared at her.

     Ginny cleared her voice. “Mr. Peters…uhh, Nick, you must be wondering what I’m doing here unannounced, right?”

      Nick raised an eyebrow. “Well, the question did cross my mind. Do you care to enlighten me?”

      She inhaled as if preparing for some kind of big revelation. “I’m here about the nanny position.”

The nanny position? 

      Nick’s jaw dropped. How could that be? He didn’t even call the agency yet. Was it possible that Jacob’s teacher had already done that for him?

     He scratched his chin. “Excuse me, but how do you even know about this? Are you from the Happy Child Agency?”

     Ginny blushed, and Nick couldn’t avoid noticing that the pink color looked good on her. 

      She shook her head. “Not really. I…uh…I heard about your need for a nanny from a mom at Riversmith school playground.”

     Nick stifled a snort. That was so typical. Women just couldn’t keep things to themselves. He’d explicitly asked Jacob’s teacher to keep his request private. And what did she do? Went gossiping about it. 

     Nick knew the kind of glares he got whenever he went to Jacob’s school. Many mothers drooled over him just because he was rich. Well, more prosperous than the average wealthy folks in Riversmith, for sure. It was natural that they would discuss his private life.

      Ginny must have noticed the annoyance her announcement unleashed in him because she stirred and lowered her gaze. “I’m sorry, I can see that it was a mistake for me to be so straightforward by coming here.”

      Nick didn’t know why, but his irritation vanished at the sight of her embarrassment. “No, it’s okay. I’m looking for some help, yes. But it’s not the usual babysitting job. I’m not even sure I can find someone for it through the agency.”

     Ginny’s eyes snapped to his face, a smile playing around her lips. “Ah, really? Luckily for you, I’m not your average babysitter.”

Curious to see how this sweet fake romance romance enfolds?

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